Been a While

My blog website tells me it has been a loooong time since I’ve written anything. Over the last few years, I’ve read a number of books by writers about how they write–rituals, practices, habits, etc. Each one starts or ends with “Put your behind in the chair and start writing.”

Simple, yes. Also challenging.

I could give you excuses like being busier than usual or some extra doctor appointments. But I still don’t have a paying job. And I don’t live with small children. Just that retired man, who doesn’t require much attention. I wish I could say I’d been going through closets and drawers and bookshelves purging my belongings so we can downsize. I’d be lying.

I did start jotting down random thoughts and ideas this week. Here’s what I’ve got.

1.I read an essay recently written by a dad whose daughter wanted to buy a “distressed” pair of jeans, the kind that come already ripped and faded. Like all of us who once thought we were rebels, he was appalled at the cost of the jeans and also shocked by how repelled he was by the raggediness.

The article made me remember when my older daughter bought a townhouse in Charlotte. She got to choose flooring and paint. She chose “distressed” dark wood flooring. (like this picture) Not what I would have picked, but she liked it. It was actually an upgrade from the basic flooring.

We walk around our house these days, the retired man I live with and I, and discuss what we need to do to get it ready to sell. I refuse to put thousands of dollars into the house and then leave. We do both agree that the upstairs hardwood floors need to be refinished. They looked “distressed” after 25 years of wear and tear.

Huh?

2.I drove 3 1/2 hours to the NC mountains a few months ago to visit my college roommate. She lives in a  “tiny house”  on the side of a mountain with a gigantic Newfoundland dog and 2 small dogs. Kitty and I talked–a lot–and we ate and we went on a skinny, scary mountain road with no guardrail and a very long way down on my side to see wild moose (we saw the fleeing backside of one) and then we watched Hillary Clinton in her white pantsuit accept the nomination to be the 1st woman president. It was great.

I stayed at a close-by hotel. (We are way past sharing space like a dorm room!) The morning I left, I used Yelp to find a locally owned diner for breakfast. When I got ready to leave, I asked the waitress for my check and she told me someone had already paid for me! I asked if she’d tell me who it was and she said she couldn’t. It felt weird to walk out without paying. But if the person was still there, he/she saw me smile like I hadn’t smiled in a good while. I smiled all the way downhill to home. Now I need to pay it forward.

3.I had my annual physical this week. I told my doctor that even with all my various medical challenges and surgeries and daily medications, I consider myself reasonably healthy for my age. On a 1-10 scale of healthiness, I’d say I’m 7-8. He just smiled.

The glass is half full.

It’s all about attitude.

4.I started thinking the other day about which of my daughters would have a harder time when I die. I have no idea what triggered that train of thought.  They will both suffer, I think, each in her own unique way. I pray they will be able to help each other.

I didn’t linger long in that place.

I did start thinking about my relationship with my mother and how I grieved when she died. For the first time I was grateful we hadn’t been real close. The loss and hurt were maybe less intense.

Another place I didn’t want to linger.

5.You know those recipe videos that pop up on Facebook with 2 hands dumping and mixing ingredients? I re-post the ones that look good to me (sorry, friends). That way they are on my timeline so I can find them later. I have NEVER gone to my timeline and printed out one of the recipes. I don’t know why not. They’re usually easy and often crockpot recipes. I have more energy early in the day so crockpot recipes work well for me.

I think I’ll search out and print some after I finish writing.

6.I used to pride myself on always being on time. When my girls were little, I had a friend who had a daughter about the same age who was equally prompt. Gail and I would often pull up at some event like a birthday party at the same time. We would laugh in a “aren’t we just the best” way.

I lost my ability to always be on time. I’m convinced I developed late-onset ADD with menopause that will never leave me.

Yesterday, I managed to get ready to go somewhere on time. My hair was all the way dry, my outfit worked, I wasn’t rushed. I felt good. The retired man I live with pulled into the garage after his Men’s Breakfast just as I went out to my car. He came around and gave me a hug.

“Robin,” he said softly and sweetly, “you shirt is inside out.”

I looked down the front. No tag. “No, it’s not,” I said, like he’d said it was backwards.

“Take it off, ” he said. (Our garage faces the backyard.)

He was right. So much for having my act together

And that, my friends, is humility.

I need help.

From God.

From the retired man I live with.

And from my friends.

(I was still on time!)

 

 

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Published in: on October 29, 2016 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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“Amma, Who Made God?”

We were all at the Mellow Mushroom, a local pizza place, to celebrate the birthday of the retired man I live with–his sister, our 2 daughters, two sons-in-law, and three grandchildren, 6,4,and 4 (cousins, not twins). They put us outside on the patio. Good move.

It was a beautiful spring evening–not hot, not cold, no clouds and a light breeze. The cousins danced in an open corner to the soft-rock music coming through speakers and the adults talked and laughed.

The kids came and sat with us when the pizza came. Atticus, 4, the only boy, sat next to me. We talked a bit about how good the pizza was. He’s an introvert, kind of quiet and an observer. He plays alone for long periods of time with his legos and he likes to line up his Hot Wheels just so. We think he might grow up to be an engineer.

After eating for a while, he looked up at me and asked,  “Amma, who made God?” I stared at him for a few seconds and then said, “Well, Atticus, I don’t really know.” He asked me again and I gave the same answer. By this time, his daddy across the table heard us and he said, “Atticus, God has always just been there and at some point he decided he needed plants and animals  and people so he made them.” Atticus thought for a minute and then said “Maybe Jesus made God.” I said, “Well, actually, God is Jesus’s Daddy.”  He ate the rest of his pizza and said no more.

Atticus went to a church-sponsored preschool the year was 3. He learned at preschool to fold his hands, bow his head and say a blessing before he eats. He usually insists we all participate. There’s not much cuter or more moving than chubby 3 or 4-year-old fingers folded in prayer. He’s been at home with his mom for the past school year. I don’t think they talk about God.

The sense of wonder that Atticus awoke in me with his question lingers. Where did that question come from? We sure weren’t talking about God on the Mellow Mushroom patio.

When my first grandchild, Adaline, was born, we all marveled at the obvious deep connection between her and her 86-year-old great-grandmother. My theory, and I’m not sure where this came from, was that babies at the beginning of life and the elderly, nearing the end of life, complete a circle when they are together. The baby remembers where she came from and the older person senses where she is going. It’s a spiritual connection that we marveled at.

I picked “Amma” as my grandmother name very carefully. Actually, I eliminated a lot of things I didn’t want to be called first. I wrote about that in one of my first blog posts (here). I called myself a spiritual elder when I explained it to my daughters. I believe God will show me how to spiritually accompany these children.

Every time I’m with my grandchildren, I feel close to God. I just figured it was because of the joy and awe I feel looking at them. Maybe, instead, it’s because they are closer to God.

When I told a friend of mine about my conversation with Atticus, she told me she had a picture in her mind of Atticus holding God’s hand and with his other, he’s holding my hand.

In that vision, I am Amma.

Some links to information I found online about research into children’s spirituality:

http://www.newsweek.com/what-do-children-understand-about-god-223404

http://www.vox.com/2014/7/30/5949421/are-kids-born-with-an-innate-belief-in-god

https://www.bigquestionsonline.com/2013/03/05/are-born-believing-god/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211511/Why-born-believe-God-Its-wired-brain-says-psychologist.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/3512686/Children-are-born-believers-in-God-academic-claims.html

http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Child-Parenting-Lifelong-Thriving/dp/125003292X

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on May 19, 2016 at 12:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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Elf on Vacation

Maggie popped into the kitchen from the garage wearing her Frozen (a link) pajamas made like thermal long underwear and sleep-fuzzed hair. The picture of Elsa that covered her chest was faded and the elastic at her ankles was loose. Favorites do wear out.

Maggie brought her parents to go to church with us on Easter Sunday. Her mother took her to go to the bathroom and change clothes. She looked like an angel when she came back. She wore a long white dress made of soft cotton with pastel smocking around the neck and little puff sleeves. White tights, white patent leather mary janes with rhinestones on the strap and brushed hair with a big white bow completed the look.

I was stunned. I looked at her mother and asked, “Did she want to wear that?” Her mother gave me a look and said, “We had a long talk before we left.”

You see, even before Miss Maggie turned 4 in January, she had strong feelings about what she wanted to wear. (She goes to a Montessori preschool and they talk about “strong feelings”–what you and I might call pissed-off-ness or stubbornness.) Her school encourages parents to let kids pick their own clothes, which can result in some interesting combinations.

I’m looking at a printed picture of Maggie posing as “Elf on Vacation,” as one of her teachers labeled her look. Imagine this on a slender 3-year-old whose hair was slow to grow and looks like very blond mullet (a link): a pair of red tights with white horizontal stripes from the thigh to the ankle that end in a thicker green stripe edged with red-and-white-polka-dot ruffles. On top she wears a short sleeved t-shirt tie-died in bright primary colors. She hold an orange tote bag in one hand and added a pair of too-small pink sunglasses to complete the outfit. She posed with her left hand propped on a wall and her left foot nonchalantly crossed over in front of the right one. She looks COOL.

I love her spirit and how she knows what she wants. I tell her mother that her independence and spunk will be good things eventually. Right now their mornings can be a bit intense, with strong feelings on both sides. I admire her mother for letting her go to school as she wants, even if she is wearing a sleeveless dress and the temperature won’t be above 40. She adds a sweater to her school bag and off they go.

What would you wear if you knew no one would criticize or laugh at you?

Does your outside match your inside?

We play many roles and wear many masks. A friend gave me an excerpt titled “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” from a book called Healing the Child Within by Charles Whitfield, PhD. ( a link) Here’s some of it:

Don’t be fooled by  me. Don’t be fooled by the face I wear. For I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that’s second nature to me, but don’t be fooled…

I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness is my game, that the water’s calm and I’m in command, and that I need no one. But don’t believe me…

Beneath my mask lie confusion and fear and aloneness…

I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear being exposed….

I’m afraid you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me…

I don’t like to hide…I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me…

Each time you’re kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings!

Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.

I’m sad that no one encouraged me to be more like Maggie as Elf on Vacation. I don’t want to wear wear red tights with white horizontal stripes around my thighs (no!!), but I’d like to be more outrageous than a black t-shirt and jeans sometimes.

I take off my mask more willingly when I remember that I am a Child of God. That means I’m okay. I’m good enough. God loves us because of our quirks, not in spite of them. We are made in God’s image. What amazing quirks God must have!

Published in: on April 17, 2016 at 1:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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In The Merry Month of May!

Does anybody besides me remember May baskets on May 1? We moved 4 times while I was in elementary school (another topic for another day), but I think this must have been when we lived in a new suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. We made “baskets” to leave on people’s front porches. I remember ringing the door bell and running, but not what was in the baskets.

This isn’t about May baskets because we don’t do those here and, really, I haven’t done them since the late 1950’s. Which explains why I don’t remember details of the custom, I guess. I just wondered if anyone else did them. And remembers more than I do.

I celebrate a lot in early May.

The retired man I live with was born on May 6. He was a premie and blames his mother’s trying to fatten him up for the number of fat cells he carries around as an adult. He sings the Beatles song “When I’m 64” (here’s a link, with pictures) a lot these days. I always say “Yes, I will and I do.”

I’ve written before about not being good at gift-buying (see here), but this time I had an idea and bought it and wrapped it and had it ready the morning of his birthday. He was totally surprised and said, “You never get me anything. This is great!” I don’t think it mattered what was in the package.

Oh. Lesson learned.

May 9 is my “AA birthday.” It’s the day I picked up a silver chip in front of a lot of people at an AA meeting. That meant I didn’t want to drink anymore. For the 28 years since then, I’ve gone to meetings and continued to learn how to “live life on life’s terms” using the 12 Steps. Look at them sometime (here’s a link).

I keep going back to meetings for several reasons. One, I have good friends there. Two, I’ve heard too many stories from people with long-term sobriety who quit going to meetings, drank again, and then had to come back and start over. I don’t want to do that. Three, it’s where I learned about how to have a personal relationship with God. Four, it’s where almost all of my wisdom about how to wear my life as a loose garment rather than a wetsuit comes from. (And all my clever expressions like that) Five, I am reminded that alcoholism is a chronic illness with no cure. Meetings are my medicine. Also, I feel an obligation to be there for the new person. On the walls of many meeting rooms is this pledge:

I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there.

And for that, I am responsible.

I thank God for the women who were there when I came. They loved me when I didn’t love myself. My home group is a Saturday morning women-only meeting. Sometimes, I think I’m the oldest woman in the room. And that’s okay. I hear young women talk about their mothers (of course!) and sometimes I wince, but mostly I’m glad I got sober when my girls were young. They like me now and want to spend time with me. They let me be alone with their kids. Sober, I’m kind of fun!

May 11 is the anniversary of the day the retired man I live with and I got married. We were 22 and 23 on that sunny May day and didn’t have much of anything except college degrees. The air conditioning wasn’t working at the reception site so my long hair got all big and frizzy. My dress had long satin sleeves and Mike had long sleeves under his tux jacket and we were really hot so we left pretty quickly. His used car broke down right before the wedding so my parents let us go on our honeymoon in their station wagon with wood on the sides. And got his car fixed for us for our wedding present.

We’ve been through a lot in the last almost-41 years. We came close to splitting up a couple of time, but never did. We’re both convinced God wants us to be together. There’s really no other explanation.

I still love him and still think he’s the best-looking man in any room. He makes me laugh and he takes unselfish care of me when I have surgery. He tells people I’m mean as snake and I call him Old Man when he drives. We’re both introverts (that helps) and we live a pretty quiet life. We’re proud of the family we’ve created and are thankful our daughters still like to spend time with us. And now we have 3 adorable grandchildren!

I celebrated Mother’s Day a week early this year. I took both daughters and their families to the beach for a weekend. We had a perfect Saturday playing on the beach and eating and talking. I told them they could have Mother’s Day with their own families this year. I know they love me.

I know they love me, the retired man I live with, my daughters, their husbands (I’m an awesome mother-in-law!) and Adaline, Maggie, and Atticus, my grandchildren. How grateful I am to be able to say that.

 

 

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Bring It On! Here I Am. Let It Be. I Accept!

While I was procrastinating this morning about writing a blog post, I called one of my grown daughters. I thought I accepted a decision she and her husband made last week. I listened to myself, once again, begin to manipulate her into changing her mind.

I tried to stop.

Eventually I did.

I’m not proud of myself.

And she didn’t change her mind.

After that phone call, I got down to business. I looked back through some quotes/ideas I saved for non-inspired writing mornings. I found one after another about “acceptance.”

Halfway through copying and pasting them into this post, I made the connection between all these quotes and my earlier conversation with my daughter.

Oh.

Guess I’m the one who needs these. How humbling.

I thought I was doing this for you!

My friend, Lisa, picks a word for the year each January. Her word for last year was “accept”. She wrote this on her blog:

“Accept is one of those words that often gets a bad rap.  Sometimes it’s confused with giving-up.  On the contrary, accepting is about choice and power. It’s about recognizing what you can and can’t control and taking the next.right.step for yourself.

When life isn’t going as you’d prefer, accept that you can handle it.  You really can. Accept that you can simply say,”Bring it on! Here I am.  Let it be. I accept!”

One of Lisa’s heroes is Michael J Fox.  Here’s what he says about acceptance:

“I don’t look at life as a battle or as a fight. I don’t think I’m scrappy. I’m accepting. I say ‘living with’ or ‘working through’ Parkinson’s. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through.”

Acceptance, for me, requires a gut-level faith that something bigger than me is watching over this world and that it all makes sense on some level above my pay-grade.

The Serenity Prayer

God,

Grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

This next one is a challenge!

The Welcoming Prayer

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

Amen.

(For an explanation and some instruction in using The Welcoming Prayer, click here.)

Sometimes I forget that things can get better. I need to remember hope can be part of acceptance.

“Grounded hope is hope with acceptance. Acceptance is a tricky concept. Accepting your circumstances can sometimes be perceived as though you have resigned to your situation. Some see it as giving up. Submission. But on the contrary; acceptance is an active and dynamic process.

Acceptance is about moving forward despite your circumstances. It is moving forward and bringing your circumstances along with you. When your hope is grounded by accepting your reality, then you are able to transcend your past and begin to build your future…Pairing acceptance with hope…frees you to move forward through your situation and to a point where true healing can begin.”  (Danny Burgess, Ph.D.)

“Instead of making the world around us or our own selves into the image of what we think is good, we enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms (my italics).  We embrace what is given to us–people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city–just as they are given to us, and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what God is doing.”  (Eugene H. Peterson)

We enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms.”

You mean this process is never going to end?

I’m never going to get it once and for all?

Bummer.

So, to my daughter–I’m sorry I pressured you again. It wasn’t fair and I will now re-read all these quotes on acceptance and hope that they will come to mind the next time I need them.

PS: Just as I finished this, hours after our conversation, my daughter called to say she and her husband changed their minds about doing what I hoped they would do. (But not because of anything I said.)

My God has a sense of humor!

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (9)  
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What’s Your Story?

Everybody has a story. I love to hear and be surprised by those stories.

I spent 3 days last week with 6 other people at an annual spiritual retreat on the NC coast. We spent some of the retreat time in silence. (Yes, we like that.) We gathered several times for group contemplative prayer (website).  We also ate Girl Scout cookies and talked and laughed a lot when we weren’t in silence.

I might not have picked these people off SpiritualFriend.com (an actual website!), but God brought us together through the programs of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (website). I think God chuckles about that.

We all share an awareness of God’s presence. We recognize our need to be still enough and quiet enough to be led and guided by God. We pray for each other. And we enjoy our time together.

We learned more about each other as we shared our stories.  I get to hang out with some interesting people.

One woman was once a weather girl for 3 months in DC until, in her own words, “I was fired for being awful and wearing no make-up.”  She also worked for quite a while in the trust department of a major bank until she got MS. Now she has her own business selling handmade cards and posters. (Cheap Therapy, handcrafted paper art that celebrates life)

Another woman has her Ph.D in American Studies. She taught classes like Women in the Arts and Literature and Ecology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.  Now, in retirement, she is a published poet and passionate about our Earth and its health.

One of the men is a Southern Baptist minister who serves as an interim pastor for churches who are searching for a new minister.  That means he learns about and helps to mediate all the opinions and factions that exist in any church and leads them (hopefully) to consensus about who they are and what they need in a pastor.  Can you imagine?  He also is a photographer.  He shared a magnificent sunrise photograph for us to sit with and ponder during our silent time.

One woman worked for a number of years in a Catholic parish, leading groups and formation classes. She recently retired. She has 9 grown children so she has always been a busy person. She is still figuring out just what to do with her free time. She started with de-cluttering in her house.  I need to follow her example.

The other man, African American, told us he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was 13.  He was once a long-distance truck driver and a Marine. When he left the Marines he went to seminary and is now an Episcopal priest. He led us in Holy Eucharist sitting on a hearth and wearing well-worn jeans and biker boots. I think God liked that.

In her younger days, another woman was a street performer in California.  She is a Unitarian Universalist minister. She is comfortable doing liturgical dance (a definition), which uptight me can’t imagine.  She and her husband started and run Plenty Fresh Food Bank (website), Neighbors Growing and Sharing Food, which is on Elephant Curve Rd. (best street name ever!) in southwest Virginia..

So, what stories do your friends have?

Ask them. You might be surprised.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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A Turtle Creates a Village

God, I offer myself to You–

to build with me and to do with me as You will.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Your will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.

May I do Your will always.

(3rd Step Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous)

I sat quietly with this prayer daily, starting in January, 2005.  It took the place of resolutions.

In late February, 2005, I found an odd lump in my groin.

On April 15, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer–non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I had 2 malignant lymph nodes, but no symptoms and I felt fine.  After tests, the treatment plan was “watch and wait.” That took a while to accept. God and the doctor and I have “watched and waited” for almost 10 years.  Still no symptoms and no treatments. Dr Sherrill says at each checkup, “It’s still in remission.”

Go back and read that prayer again.  I’ll wait.

I started writing emails to a group of spiritual friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I wanted people to pray for me and I felt compelled to share what happened and how I dealt with it, including my faith journey.

I’ve written before about being an introvert and a turtle.  When things get hard, I pull into my shell.  I’ve learned, though, that I can invite people in through my writing.  And I often feel pushed to write for this blog by a powerful and irresistible force.  I can resist for a while, but God starts writing in my head and it doesn’t go away.

This piece started forming in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I had cervical fusion surgery on December 2, 2014, to correct a place at the top of my spine that moved to a dangerous position because of damage from my rheumatoid arthritis.  A piece of my spine was impinging on my spinal column at the very top.  A fall or car accident could have ended my ability to breathe.

I’ve had several other surgeries, including a total knee, in the past 10 years, but nothing scared me like this one. It was “a big surgery,” Dr. Pool, the neurosurgeon told us. I asked the retired man I live with the morning of the surgery not to let them keep me alive on a ventilator if things went wrong.

The first couple of weeks after this surgery were very hard–lots of pain. I was grateful to be whole and breathing and alive.

Before the surgery, I started another email list of pray-ers.  And once again I could feel the power of the prayers. I don’t know how to explain that, but I know it’s real. I felt surrounded and encircled by God.

I try to tell God that I’ve fulfilled my 3rd Step Prayer obligations.  10 years is enough of this “take away my difficulties so I can show how God works in my life” stuff.  But more challenges come.

With each surgery, each setback, each test of patience and hope, I learn again that things will change.  And it’s all a bit easier when I remember God is with me. Not everything can be fixed completely. Sometimes it’s just different. Then I figure out how to live with it and keep going as best I can.

If I ever write a memoir, I think I’ll title it “Okay, God, Now What?”

 

 

 

I Need a New Beach

I said goodbye to my brother last week.  Well, really, I said goodbye to Carolina Beach last week.  Before he died in July, 2013, my brother worked and lived around Carolina Beach for about 30 years. So, many years ago, when I decided to run away from home, I ran to Carolina Beach, 4 hours down I40.

I had never been on my own.  I went to college 25 miles from home, met the retired man I now live with at 20, married him at 22 and had 2 kids by age 27.  I chose to be a 30-something stay-at-home mom of 2 little girls with a husband who was gone overnight several nights a week.

I needed to go away alone every so often to find the Robin hidden inside the wife, mother, friend, volunteer, room mother, and Sunday School teacher.

I felt safe at Carolina Beach.  My brother worked on a charter fishing boat, but he showed me where a couple of his friends worked if I needed help. I knew where the police station was and he knew some of the officers.  He pointed me to a safe motel, where I could get an affordable oceanfront room.

I discovered that the ocean fed my spirit and my soul.  I could rest there. Carolina Beach became my “thin place”–a place where the barrier between me and God became permeable.  I found Robin.

Last week I spent 2 nights in an oceanfront room.  I couldn’t rest.  I couldn’t feel God. I missed my brother.

Down one street was the motel he and his wife managed in the 1980’s.  Down the street behind McDonald’s and Hardees,  the charter fishing boats docked in their designated spaces.  I used to go watch when his boat came in and he cut up the fish they caught that day.  Near the boats was the diner where he took me to eat.  Across from the hotel, behind the pancake house, was one of the nice restaurants where I’d buy him dinner. It’s a seafood restaurant, but sometimes he’d order steak.  I’d laugh.

He always understood that I came to the beach to be alone.  He spent his days interacting with people and treasured his evenings alone.  We usually had dinner once or twice while I was there.  It took years for us to get comfortable enough with each other to sustain a conversation through a meal.

When he got cancer last year, he called me.  When he was admitted to the hospital, a week before he died, he asked me to come.  I was with him when he died.  I’m grateful now for all those uncomfortable dinners.

One day soon, my daughters and their families will join me and the retired man I live with for one last visit to Carolina Beach.  We will pour his ashes in the ocean and say goodbye.

I need a new beach.  Someplace where I can rest.  And tend my soul.

 

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 9:05 am  Comments (9)  
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All Are Welcome Here

Almost 300 people gathered at Kanuga Conference Center in the woods of the NC mountains.  All were somehow touched by HIV/AIDS.  The Southeastern dioceses of the Episcopalian Church have sponsored this annual June retreat for over 20 years. Clients and patients mixed easily with staff and volunteers from agencies in NC, SC, AL, FL, GA and even Texas.  Some rode many hours on buses.  Others carpooled.  For many, this was their only trip beyond their home county all year.

I attended this year, my 4th time.  I listened to stories of loss and loneliness and hope and resilience.  Many voiced gratitude for a place of no shame where the dominant message was “You are welcome here.

A young man in his 20’s told of being born HIV positive.  His mother died shortly after his birth and he was adopted at 3 weeks old from the hospital. At 8, his mother told him he was HIV positive.  He went to a support group and found a best friend.  As he reached adulthood, his adoptive mother died and then his best friend.  He was ready to stop his medications and die, too.  He found Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.  He participated in a men’s support group and the men nurtured him and loved him and he decided to keep on living.

Another man shared that he doesn’t take communion at home because he is HIV positive and doesn’t want to make anyone else uncomfortable by drinking from the communal cup. He gratefully took communion and drank from the cup at the sunrise lakeside worship service because all were truly welcome that morning.  He cried telling his story.

At that same lakeside worship service, just as the priest was consecrating the bread and wine, a flock of geese circled the lake, flew over our heads, and landed softly on the water.  They stayed there, floating, as we went to the front for communion.  Flying geese are a Celtic symbol of the Holy Spirit.*

I volunteer at Higher Ground, a house in my town where people infected and affected by HIV gather. I’m on the board of directors for its parent agency, Triad Health Project.

Once a month my church provides lunch at Higher Ground for about 30 people, sometimes more.  Over the years, we have fed over 6,000 hungry mouths. One time I fixed baked chicken breasts.  I knew how many I cooked and I knew from counting heads it wasn’t enough.  We had leftovers.  And no way to explain them.  There is always enough food.

Once or twice a month I lead a group, called Robin’s Nest on the calendar. Sometimes we write in journals–everyone gets one and they’re stored in a big wicker basket in the back room.  We’ve played with Model Magic, weird stuff that’s like new-age Play Dough. We’ve used markers and crayons.  Always I play music, usually soft jazz like Kenny G or Boney James. We’re quiet for a while and then everyone has a chance to share.  We talk about life and death, faith and fun, anger and love.  We tell our stories. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry.  We listen and we are heard.

Most of the folks who participate have lost something because of their disease.  Lovers, family, honesty about themselves, mobility, health.  They are more likely to talk about what they have gained.  For some, days free from addiction.  For most, faith in a loving God.  Often, it’s Higher Ground, where they have a community of welcoming friends who care where they are and ask how they’re doing.  They daily choose to keep on living because they have come so close to dying.

Nine years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I went to Higher Ground.  I knew they would understand my fears and would show me how to keep living each day, one at a time.  When my rheumatoid arthritis is acting up and I’m in pain, Higher Ground is one of the few places I will go.  They accept me as I am and it’s okay.  They offer compassion; there is no pity.  They know how to live life on life’s terms.

I know the Holy Spirit was at Kanuga. I saw Her geese. I feel God’s presence every time I pay attention at Higher Ground.

14 years ago, I resisted the call to Higher Ground.  I had just resigned after  6 1/2 years as a Hospice volunteer coordinator and I said, “I don’t want to be around people who are going to die.” I’m not sure when or how that changed.

People I love have dwindled and died.  But more have come close and then gotten well again.

I think I have more to learn from my friends at Higher Ground.  My heart needs to continue opening to new friends.  I’m willing to take the risk.

 

* “Wild Goose” is a Celtic spirituality metaphor that evokes unpredictability, beauty, and grace.

 

 

 

Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm  Comments (7)  
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I Thank You, God, For The Wonder of My Being (a psalm)

My God,

All those years it didn’t show and no one had to know.

Pain, yes, but no one can see another’s pain.

Now, some days I limp or have use my cane,

Food falls off my fork. I wear my napkin like a bib.

I ask for help and grind my teeth behind the smile.

Must I say “No, I can’t” after “Yes, I can”?

“Can we reschedule? I’m in the hospital.”

“I can’t help–my back is in spasms.”

“I can’t come–it’s a bad arthritis flare.”

My God,

I’m tired.

I’m humbled.

I’m embarrassed.

I want to be whole and healthy,

I want to walk for miles on Your green and flowering earth,

Or just to move more easily.

I want a simple boo-boo to simply heal.

Instead a hole in my elbow requires surgeons and stitches,

Bandages that won’t stay on and packing with silver

And lots of poking with the wooden end of a Q-tip.

An infection requires 3 days of IV vancomycin in room 1342

And 8 days of cleocin pills 3 times a day with lots of yogurt.

All because the dog tripped me months ago

And when I fell I banged my elbow.

I feel fragile these days.

My soul is weary.

I feel ashamed

Of illness, of frailty, of looking older than I am,

Of vulnerability, of dependence, of need, of fear.

My soul cries out to You

Help me!

And so the word “Acceptance” appears on the blackboard in my brain

As I lie in the MRI machine with my face 2 inches from the rounded wall

And my ankle is stretched in a way it doesn’t go

That makes it still hurt a week later.

And so in an article in an email,

I read about Passivity:

The less I do, the less I commit, the less I expect of myself,

The less I’ll disappoint or feel incompetent.

I know why I sit.

And so I read about Resilience:

The ability of something to return to its original form

After being pulled, stretched, pressed, bent.

 Terry reads “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou as liturgy Sunday.

“Just like the moon and the suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes spring high,

Still I rise…

Leaving nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear…”

And so I walk for 15 minutes at Bicentennial Garden

And I hear the birds and see the flowers

And look into the eyes of other walkers.

I receive the smiles and greetings of those I pass.

I gather in Your beauty,

Revel in Your gentle breeze,

Feel the muscles in my legs move

And send blessings to my malformed feet.

I move out into Your Grace.

And so I say “Yes” when my daughter says “I need you.”

I say “Yes, I can do that today.”

And so I will drive to Raleigh to be with Maggie,

The embodiment of Your joy and wonder and love.

My God, I thank you.

My Spirit thanks you.

My Soul is full of Your Grace.

 

(The title is from a chant by Isabella Bates on the CD “Sound Faith.”)