Saturday, July 23, 2011

Called into the silence

Asking questions.
Listening for answers.

Being still.
Being quiet.

Long walks.
Staring up into the trees.

Pens, markers, stickers, ephemera.
Empty journal pages.

Eight days.
Spirit. Peace. Truth.

I leave tomorrow morning for a week of silence.
I'll be back sometime during the first week of August.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday's Blessings

Being that I missed Thursday again (how do I keep missing Thursday? what is happening to my Thursdays?), I've decided to share some of Friday's blessings.

1. a good night's sleep - I am enormously grateful that I don't have any trouble falling asleep or staying asleep thru the night

2. a loud alarm clock - electricity is an under-appreciated blessing. it keeps the clock going, turns on that blasted alarm, and keeps the air conditioning going thru the night. it does a few other things as well.

3. an upcoming visit to the beauty parlor - these locs need some loving from somebody who knows what they are doing.

4. aloe vera plants and their healing properties - all four of us have benefitted from the juice of the healing plant both internally and externally.

5. a fully functioning washing machine - and its partner, the dryer. I am grateful that I've never had to beat our clothes on a rock or against a wall or scrub them up and down an old-fashioned washing board.

6. books - not much makes me forget about life's challenges quite like an enthralling book.  I don't usually read novels. I don't usually read novels based on specific times in history, especially war time history. But this book has me by the throat at the moment, and it won't let me go. Check out The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

7. coffee with soy milk, sugar, and peppermint syrup - I know, sugar, sugar, sugar. And I love it, love it, love it.

8. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert - they make me laugh. they make me think. they make me want to scream. they make me want to vote!

9. readers who comment, who challenge me, who encourage me to keep writing.

10. several conversations and email exchanges with people as a follow-up to and continuation of my piece on "inner hierarchies." apparently, we all struggle with them. it has been an honor and a joy to discuss this topic with so many women (and men) who are asking a lot of the same questions and feeling a deep dissatisfaction with many of the answers we are recieving. it is a joy to hear their thoughts and to share mine. this life journey, this faith journey is not an easy one, and I am glad to have so many wise, willing, and wonder-filled women (and men) to walk it with.

11. my trusty ten-year-old minivan - with 141,600+ miles, it hums along, hauling me, my family, and our stuff from place to place. it has left me stranded only 2 times in all the years i've had it - once in 2004 with a flat tire and once last summer with "a throttle body that needed to be cleaned." I have no idea what that means, but after having to leave it at a garage next to the restaurant where I'd been eating dinner one night, I was terrified that they would call me in the morning and tell me it was a $1300 job. Nope - it cost less than $20 to fix, and we've had no problems since. (I know I've written about my minivan before, but I love this car. And true love must be declared publicly and often. This van has been more faithful and reliable in the ten years we have had it than the Jaguar we leased for only two years. That car, as beautiful as it was, as spectacular as the sound system was, as comfortable as it was, spent too much time in the repair shop. And the folks at Jaguar didn't seem the least bit surprised about the problems. No apologies. Just "Okay, bring it in." Or better yet, "You should bring it in as soon as possible." Gee, thanks, guys.)

12. having woken up this morning with most of my mind still in tact, with the roof still in place above us, with a strong and healthy body, with my husband and children still alive and well, and the blessed assurance that all is well, all is well, all manner of thing shall be well.

I am blessed indeed.
I am grateful.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thankful Thursday*

* written on a Sunday

 a garden in a pot outside a local museum

Yesterday I was reminded by a dear friend that I haven't done the whole Thankful Thursday thing in a long time. She was right. I've been negligent. So on this Sunday evening, I will do some thanks giving.

I am thankful for:

1. friends who remind me to be thankful. I've been a little cranky here on the blog lately. Sorting through a lot of painful truths. Focusing on negative influences in my life, tough decisions I've had to make, and not remembering how wildly blessed and deeply loved I am.

2. friends who reach out to me and reconnect after an extended period of silence. It is always good to be remembered. It is even better to be told that I am being remembered.

     2b. friends who don't reach out to me. sometimes silence is better for all involved.

3. blueberries. I LOVE blueberries.

4. my journal. I've been filling lots and lots of pages lately with many thoughts, questions, discoveries, resolutions, declarations, and soaking it with many tears.

5. air conditioning and ceiling fans. Summer in the south is no joke!

6. Horny Toad dresses. I've got four of them - and I wear them often.
isn't it cute?

7. banana daiquiris made with overripe bananas.

8. solitude in my study, lying flat on the floor, thinking, praying, crying, making plans, ditching other plans, pondering all that is yet to come.

9. seeing all the school supplies on display at Target. Because I have stocked up so excessively in years gone by, I don't need buy much this year, but I love looking at all the composition notebooks, pens, crayons, calculators, highlighters, erasers, pencils, and thinking back on how much I loved going back to school, the classes, my friends, the teachers, the whole shebang. I was a card-carrying geek (I sometimes made cards that I carried with me - schedules, assignments, notes for teachers, goals, etc.) during all my years of schooling - from kindergarten all the way up to completing my master's degree.

10. safety during and after all the terrible storms that have passed through the south and through our own neighborhood. This is an image of the house across the street from us after a rather furious deluge a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately no one was hurt - and despite all visible evidence to the contrary, the house wasn't badly damaged.

11. twenty years of matrimony (or is it martyrimony???!!!) Steve and I celebrated our anniversary at the Westglow Resort and Spa in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. While awaiting my first massage there, I sat down in a lounge chair next to Gloria Steinem! What an honor and a privilege to meet her and her gorgeous posse of powerful and thoughtful and gifted women. They were all funny, warm, welcoming, and seemed to be enjoying themselves thoroughly.

sitting in the meditation lounge at the spa

sitting on the side porch before lunch

12. an upcoming week-long silent retreat at a Jesuit spirituality center up in Pennsylvania. I will be swallowed down into 23 hours of silence every day except for one hour a day when I will speak to a spiritual director. I cannot wait!!!

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Inner Hierarchies - Part 2

Not long after posting yesterday's post, I started feeling guilty. (Inner hierarchy raising its head again...)

After all, there are people at church, both men and women, who have been loving and kind towards me and my family, before, during, and after our family crisis. There are people from other churches, religions, and entirely different belief systems altogether, including people I have met online, who have been nothing but loving and kind, who have welcomed me into their homes and lives, and some who have come into ours and become part of our family. How does my inner hierarchy deal with those people? Why do I feel like I need to categorize people so often anyway?

As I continue to ponder this vast topic of hierarchies, a whole new set of questions arises.

What about those pastors and priests who have been gentle and caring towards me on this messy spiritual journey of mine? 
What about the pastors who put me on this heart-rending, life-changing journey by introducing me to writers like Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Brian McLaren, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael Yaconelli, Lauren Winner, Donald Miller, Rob Bell, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Sue Monk Kidd?

What if it's not about pastors or priests or elders or deacons or laypeople at all? 
What if all the degrees, titles, and positions were stripped away and we just worked harder to love and support one another as human beings, as brothers and sisters, and as the suffering souls and wounded spirits that we all are? 

Who have I judged, rejected, and pushed aside because of the hierarchies I have bought into and benefitted from?
Which hierarchies do I need to extricate myself from in order to live more fairly, justly, and lovingly with others?
Whose forgiveness do I need to seek for my conceited, judgmental, and exclusionary attitudes?

This hierarchy thing is deeply embedded within me and it's gonna be mighty hard to extract it from me and me from it. It has taken me 45 years to get to this place of recognizing the insidious nature of this power-brokering system; I sincerely hope it doesn't take that long to get myself out of this mess. Then again, I've got nothing but time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Inner hierarchies...

A really smart guy I know recently introduced me to a phrase I'd never heard before, but a phenomenon that I know well: inner hierarchies. We were talking about church at the time - and how churches tend to operate with rather rigid hierarchies - who is in charge, who is next in line to be in charge, and, most importantly, who will never get to be in charge. He said that the reason so many people put up with all the power-mongering and bad behavior at church is because we each have our own inner hierarchies that allow us, that push us to accept those external hierarchies. We have internalized all those rigid hierarchies - mostly without even realizing that we are crushing ourselves from within just as efficiently as they are crushing us from without.

As I listened to him speak, I looked back at my own history within the church hierarchy system. I have spent ALL my life, until about a year ago, going to church religiously, taking it all in, swallowing it all, hook, line, and sinker - including and perhaps especially the parts that insist, that I, as a woman, will never be in charge. They were in charge. They had been ordained or approved by people who had been ordained, so who was I to question what they thought or said or demanded. Whoever "they" were.

About three years ago, I decided that I was no longer interested in being in charge at church. I had been involved in church leadership for a long time, teaching classes, leading retreats, going on missions trips, translating Sunday sermons from Spanish to English, even traveling to other churches to teach and translate. I loved doing all of that stuff, I really did. It felt like I mattered, like my voice mattered, like my presence at church mattered.

Then my family and I were plunged in the deepest challenge of our lives, and no one who was in charge at church seemed to be terribly concerned about our crisis. They all said they were praying for us, which was nice to know, but there were precious few phone calls. No visits here at our home. Nothing. Well, except for the folks who were way down on the hierarchical pyramid - the women, mainly the Latina women. They called. They wrote texts. They sent cards in the mail. They came to visit. They brought food. They cleaned my house. Looking around at those beautiful faces, those loving, kind, generous women, I decided that I was done with bowing down to the hierarchy. Those same dudes who couldn't take the time, who wouldn't make the time to reach out to us in tangible ways when we needed their power, their influence, and their leadership to mean something tangible - screw 'em. I was done with believing that having a seminary degree and a few extra letters either in front of or behind your name meant that you deserved extra homage or attention. Done. 

A year ago, I followed up that decision with a more practical one: I stepped down from participating in and attending church. I needed to step completely out of and away from the entire system. At least for a while. Which was great. Which has been freeing. Which continues to be life-affirming.


Except that many characteristics of those external hierarchies have begun to manifest themselves within me. My inner hierarchies, which served me well when I was serving the church well, began to make demands, rules, and statutes of their own. If I wasn't good enough to lead at church, how could I be good enough to take the reins of my own life and make my own decisions?

I began to ask other people for approval and permission for things that had nothing to do with them. I began to ask other people what I should and shouldn't eat or drink. What I should and shouldn't wear. Where I should and shouldn't go. Whether or not taking abuse from people who said that they loved me was okay because they said that they loved me. Whether or not forgiveness meant that I had to allow hurtful people to hurt me again. How could I trust myself to make good decisions for myself? After all, who was I? Who am I? How can I know? How will I know? Can I trust myself at all? 

Because if "the heart is desperately wicked," how can I trust my heart?
(What if I have a new heart, a healed heart, a trustworthy heart?)
If "the flesh" is something to be overcome, how can I trust my body?
(What if my body is a recording device and remembers everything that has happened to me, good and bad, and is ready, willing, and perfectly able to lead me away from danger and into deeper joy?)
If my mind is constantly under attack, how can I trust my mind?
(What if I have the mind of Christ? I don't always do what Jesus would do, that's for sure, but what if different responses and decisions are possible, are mine for the taking?)
The list went on and on. 
(And, fortunately, so have the alternative questions and responses.)

I have discovered that my inner hierarchies are more insidious, controlling, insulting, belittling, and demeaning than anything I had ever experienced outside of myself. Every day I answer some form of the same questions.

* Wow, that looks and smells great. But you don't deserve to eat that. That's not for you. 
* Sure, that felt like an insult. But who are you to judge what other people think or say?
* Sure, you have been ignored for the fifth time by the same person. But who are you to demand a response? You have to wait your turn, until your request reaches the top of their all-encompassing lists. 
* Nope, that was not an appropriate way for her to speak to you. But who cares what you think or feel or need?
* Surely I am the only one who is sick of being yelled at in church, being relegated to submissive and inferior positions, and having my friends and loved ones reduced to groups and subgroups that can be condemned, rejected, and dismissed offhand. And since I'm the only one who feels this way, I'd better sit down and shut up. 

And when I'm not looking inside myself and questioning everything I think and feel, I look outside myself and ask other people, usually the same people over and over, to take over and make everything okay.
* Can you please tell me how to be a better mother?
* Can you please tell me how to be a better wife?
* Will you please love me? Take care of me? Make me feel better?
* Can you please help me to get back to being that person who never had any questions or wondered why so many things and people and relationships and situations seem so unbalanced?
* Can you please tell me how to stop wanting something/someone/someplace that are not mine to want?
* Will you please just take control of my life, total control, so that I don't have to think for myself? Or speak up for myself? Or act in my own interests? 

My inner hierarchies, like scaffolding holding up a structurally weak edifice, are redundant and are slowly being taken down. Deconstructed. The facade crumbled years ago. Renovation isn't even the goal anymore. It's time for the entire building to fall. It's time to rebuild from the foundation up. 

Monday, July 04, 2011

Sometimes I am completely overwhelmed...

In the quiet moments, in the solitary moments, in the busy moments, in the active moments, sometimes I am completely overwhelemed.

When I think about all the people that had to be born, raised, educated, and encouraged so that I could sit at the kitchen counter in a home I love,
when I think about all the people that it took to create the minivan I have driven for the past ten years,
or the airplanes that have flown me safely back and forth across not only this country but also several lakes, rivers, and oceans,
or the the bricks and roofing shingles and floor boards and drywall that went into building this house,
or the minds, hands, and circuits that went into creating the computer that I am typing on right now...

when I think about the tea leaves that were harvested, dried, packaged, and shipped so that I could drink the cup of tea that is next to my computer,
or the hands that picked and washed and packaged and shipped the raisins, cranberries, pine nuts, romaine leaves, soy beans, egg, carrots, rice, black beans, and parsley that made up the salad I just had for lunch,
or the cotton that was picked, dyed, woven, cut, hemmed, folded, packaged, and shipped so that I could have clean sheets, pillowcases, towels, pajamas, tee shirts, skirts, socks, and everything else that cradles me in comfort, warmth, and modesty,

when I think of all the people I have met along my life's journey - in libraries, shops, airports, schools, museums, classrooms, churches, restaurants, coffee shops, and online -
when I think of how many twists and turns our lives took in order for us to meet when we did, where we did, so that we could become friends, fall in love, widen our hearts, deepen our affections, dream bigger dreams, live more fully, laugh more deeply, and follow the way, the truth, the life together,
when I think of the love, the courage, the strength, the peace, the joy, the wonder, the gratitude, the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness that I have been granted,
when I think of the sorrow, the tears, the fear, the uncertainty, the questions, the anger, the resentment, the bitterness, the misunderstandings, the insults, the abandonment, the separations, the betrayals that I have both caused and suffered,
when I think of the second and third and fourth chances, the healing, the reconnection, the hope restored, the wounds tended to, the shoulders offered, the strong hands extended towards me and out from me,

when I think of all of that, when I look back on this amazing life I have lived, I am overwhelmed. Sometimes I gasp in awe of it all. Tears flow freely. I cannot help myself. I do not want to stop myself. I have been blessed beyond all that I could ever have asked or imagined.

I do not say that in order to suggest that my life has been simple, easy, wrinkle-free, or tangle-free. It has not been any of those things. I do not say that in order to suggest that there is nothing in my life that I wish to change, exchange, replace, do away with, or utterly destroy. That is far from true.

But when I think about all that I have seen, tasted, experienced, endured during these 45 years of life, when I think about all the voyages I have taken and returned safely from, when I think about all the homes I have lived in, the hotels I have stayed in, the restaurants I have eaten in, when I think about all teachers and coaches and pastors and mentors and therapists and priests that have shared wisdom and knowledge with me, when I think about the handful of especially brave souls who have scaled the walls of my heart and, rather than taking over, have instead taken up residence within me, when I look around and honor the fact that our house is still standing, we are still together as a family, and that all is relatively well at the moment,

when I ponder all of that for a few moments,
I am overwhelmed -
And I am deeply grateful.

What overwhelms you when you stop to think about it?

Saturday, July 02, 2011

"We are beautiful"

One of my favorite writers, thinkers, adventurers, photographers, heck, one of my favorite people in the world, Jen Lemen, wrote a fabulous piece about how beautiful we are as women. Kristin Noelle, whose blog is one of my favorites, posted a link to Jen's piece. Kristin is writing some fantastic stuff at her blog. Her writing keeps me honest. So very honest.
I read Jen's piece, oohed, aahed, moaned, and groaned. Then I printed it out, gave a copy to my beautiful daughter, glued another copy into my journal, and now I am posting it here, for all you beautiful women and handsome men to read, ponder, and take to heart. 
Cuz she's right: We are beautiful. All of us. And this moment of breathtaking beauty is going to pass, change, transform into something else. Enjoy it now. Right now. Please. 
Here are Jen's words...
We are beautiful women who have no idea we are beautiful. We stand in front of the mirror and tear ourselves apart, going over every seeming imperfection, every flaw, every bit of evidence that we are not as we were once so long ago.

This is insanity.

In five years, we will salivate for this skin. In ten years, we will have nothing but respect for this ass. In twenty, we won't care about any of it--scanning our pictures instead for signs in our eyes that we were present and willing to be honest and real and incredibly brave, no matter what the state of our abs.

We are aging, every one of us, everyday, all the time. This body will not stay.  It will morph and change. It will get weaker, and yes, it will die.  And until that moment, this body will house the very essence of us.  This body will play host to all our hopes and fears, our most true and alive moments.  This body will hold every second of our existence on this planet, and it will remember down to the cells everything that made us laugh and cry.
Today, get out your big camera, your phone or your point and shoot and honor your body.  Your perfection (or lack thereof) is not the point.  What matters is that you turn your gaze on what is holding you together right now.  What matters is that you love and cherish the essence of who you are before it's too late.