Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gift from the Sea

This past weekend's visit to Cherry Grove Beach, SC, was wonderful.

The women I went with are beautiful, strong, creative, forgiving, adventurous, loud, funny, and dear friends. Every conversation, meal, prayer, joke, every bit of it was conducted in the language of the angels: Spanish. What fun we had! What a workout my brain got!

What stares we got from our fellow Southerners! I admit I was a little nervous sometimes when our noisy gaggle meandered past people wearing the Confederate flag - yes, people do wear it on their clothing and hats and display it on their towels and vehicles. That's a part of living in the South that still sends shivers up and down my spine. Anyway...

I read and journaled and slept later than usual.
I walked the beach, collected a few shells, took tons of photos, and did a lot of thinking.
I sat mostly in silence on the beach, listening to the conversations my friends had, and trying to discern the response being offered to us by the sea. Is there any sound as soothing or as relaxing as that of the water on a bright, sunny, hot spring day? I'm not sure there is.

It was a fabulous weekend. I soooooo needed the time away. The break. The time with women who I hope will be friends forever. They are mis latinas: Ale, Alejandra, Ana, Zonnia, Doris, Wilmania, and Estela. Gracias por todo hermanas y amigas. Las quiero muchisimo.

Only one thing went wrong all weekend. And it happened within ten minutes of our arrival. I broke a table. Yup, I picked up my bag, hit a glass table top, and watched in horror as it slid off of its perch atop two lovely dolphins onto the tile floor and shatter into too many razor sharp pieces. Can you see the dolphins in the background? I moved them over there so that we could sweep up the mess I'd made. I managed to cut my elbow while cleaning it up. Yes, I cut my elbow. Don't even ask how; that's how uncoordinated I can be at times. Nicely done, Gail. Nicely done. I owe Doris a few dollars to replace it.

So much went right though. Perfectly, in fact.
This sunset is one of the countless things that went splendidly well.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Therapist is Awesome!

I burned a stick of incense a few days ago.
I marveled at how it actually "burned up."
I'm still trying to learn the lesson from that...

Tonight, he listened to me pour out my sorrows.
My secrets.
My complaints.
My concerns.
My dreams.
My doubts.
My plans.
My perversions.

He asked great questions.
He provided solid suggestions.
He confirmed that I am on the right path.

And then he said: "Pain is inevitable; pain is a part of life.
But misery is optional.

My lips stopped moving. My thoughts did too.
I opened my journal to a clean sheet of paper and wrote it down.

He also said that the best thing I can do for my family is to take care of myself. To that end, I'm going away for the weekend with a few women friends.
To rest. To recover. To be refreshed.
To laugh. To sing. To dance.
To walk on the beach. To listen to the ocean.
To eat and drink and be very merry.
I am sooooooooooo looking forward to it.
And I need this break even more than that...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Echo Within

Along with all the other things I've been pondering lately, this topic/theme/issue of being the woman I was born to be, of living the life I was meant to live has come up repeatedly. I know I'm supposed to be a good wife, a great mother, a dedicated homeschooler, and the like. But that stuff is mostly about what I do and who I am in relation to other people. I've been wondering about who I am on my own, or "who I be." Isn't there a refrain somewhere that says something like, "I am 'a human being' not 'a human doing'"???

Recently I was asked to review a book by one of my favorite authors, Robert Benson. He is quite the prolific writer, having produced more than a dozen volumes. Check them out here. To say that I was honored that an author I admire has enough respect for my thoughts and my blog to ask me to read a book of his and write a response to it was... well, terrifying. At first, I was honored, and then terror took the place of honor. After receiving the book in the mail, I put off reading it for a few days, pondering the gravity of what I had committed myself to undertake. What if I say something stupid or misrepresent the book somehow? What if I'm not a good enough reader? What if he regrets asking me? What if he demands that I issue a public apology for my utterances?

I had to step back and get a grip.
Take a few deep breaths.
Consider the source of the request and the book: Robert Benson.
I have never read a book of his that I did not want to quote in its entirety in my journal or on this blog.

So I picked the book up again. Tentatively. Gingerly, I opened its cover. And I read it in less than six hours - during which time I frequently stopped to put it down, stare wildly at the cover, try to imagine how he had managed to read my mind and journal so clearly, and then I would pick it up again, hoping he would be the one who would finally answer all my soul's questions.

When I got to the final page, I found that very few of my questions had been answered. In fact, I had more questions than ever. And I couldn't have been happier. I was thrilled to discover that I am not alone in my hunger to simply "be" and not always "do." I am not alone in my yearning to listen to the Voice Without as well as the voice within. I am not alone in my love of Thomas Merton's wise words and my tendency to use them as jumping off points for much of my spiritual writing and thinking. I am not alone in my frequent urge to tell my friends, family members, and anyone else who will listen to my ramblings that the best way to get to know themselves, to identify and solidify their own voice, and to appreciate their unique vision of the world in which they live is to keep a journal.

I have since begun to read the book again, hoping I've missed something, glad I haven't, but still hungry for every meticulously chosen word and delicate turn of phrase.

I carry it with me on my daily rounds, even when I doubt I'll have time to open it. Somehow having this pithy volume in my bag has made it safer for me to pay closer attention to the Voice that resounds within.

I have copied quotes into my journal.
I have read sections to my daughter.
I have mentally composed a list of 50 or so questions that I want to ask Robert when I meet him. And I am definitely planning to meet him; after all, he has to show me the scar on his thumb that he earned while working his first job at his father and grandfather's printing company.

The Echo Within is a quiet book, a gentle book, an enthralling book, a funny book, an insightful book, an autobiograpical book, a confirming book, and a challenging book.
One of the challenges is to trust that The One who Spoke Us into being
is still speaking to us, in us, and, because He has not stopped speaking, is still creating us. It is the ongoing speaking of that Voice that creates and sustains the echo within.

Another challenge is to recognize that the voice that we hear inside our heads, our hearts, our souls - the voice that, in my case, sounds a lot like my own voice - is worthy of my attention and trust.

Early in the book, Robert writes: "Somewhere deep inside of me, perhaps in the truest and most holy part of me - that part of me that is the most me there is or ever will be - there is an echo of the Voice that spoke me into being and is still speaking the incarnate word who is Robert."

A couple of pages later, I found this gem: "We must learn to listen deeper and deeper, seeking out the true voice within us that echoes the Voice of the One Who made us." And, "We worry that we are just talking to ourselves. If it sounds like me, it cannot be God, we think. And so we are afraid to trust what we hear, afraid to trust that voice that has been within us all along."

The book leads the reader through the journey of hearing, waking up to, being, looking for, waiting for, living out, knowing, choosing, and dreaming the voice, the echo within - and determining how best to be the incarnate word that each one of us is. How to stop all the "doing" and understand our "being."

The chapter I have marked up the most (I hope Robert and his publicist weren't expecting me to return this review copy for a future sale...) is entitled "Waking." Who wouldn't draw a squiggly box around a passage like this with red ink?

"We can be awakened to our calling, drawn in the direction of it, in different ways. For some it is the smell of the paint, the feel of a page, the warmth of a stove, the sound of a tool. Others of us awakened in other ways - a conversation with a teacher, an article we read and could not forget, a photograph that showed us a place we thought we could belong to someday.

"Something that catches our attention and rings true within us. It resonates with the echo within us, one might say, and we are off, off on the journey to discover what we have been spoken into being to become."

I grew up in and have attended churches most of my life where the voices of women have been hushed, silenced, discredited. We are meant to be silent. And to mention the possibility of "listening to the voice within" was and is tantamount to heresy.

Always doubtful that God means for any of us to be silent, always certain that I have a lot to say - even if not many people want to listen - I have consistently moaned and groaned when those dominant and domineering voices bellowed, disputed and dissented as often as courage and opportunity permitted, and when none of that seemed to make an appreciable difference,
I began to simply ignore those voices and pay more attention to my own voice.
To the echo within.
To voices like Robert Benson.
And to The Voice that began all the talking in the first place.

After years of deep prayer, meditation, journaling, retreats, seminars, silence and solitude, and perhaps with a smattering of good fortune, I hope to be able to echo (pardon the pun) the words that Robert delicately and self-assuredly pens in the final pages: "But (I'll let you read the book and discover what that 'but' refers the reader back to...) according to the guy on the plane, I am a something - not a famous one or a well-known one or even one who gets to read his things with an orchestra. But I am the something I have always dreamed of being."

Friday, April 17, 2009


a nap in the sun
is the perfect antidote
to whatever ails you.

Sometimes our dog, Maya, teaches me the most profound and true lessons.
Oh that I would listen and learn more attentively.
Watching her nap so peacefully, I had to smile.
And wonder at her total surrender to that spot in the sun.

Then the lesson came: be here now.
Surrender fully to live this moment, this situation in this place.
Right here, right now.

The truth is not only that "all shall be well,"
but it is also this: "all is well right now."
Wherever I am, whatever I am facing,
all is exactly as it should be.
Whatever "it" is.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On leaving the door open...

Too much thinking lately. Pondering. Wondering. Journaling.
Too much. I am too much in my head. Asking too many questions.
Finding too few answers. On every topic: politics, parenting, art, music,
marriage, faith, friendship, loneliness, travel, love, health, wealth, redistribution of wealth, paying taxes, passion, sex, celibacy, solitude,
living the life I am meant to live, teaching, coaching, Valladolid, San Francisco, Madrid, Rome, airports and airplanes, backpacks and carry-ons, wanting to run away from home, wishing it was.

Big stuff.

"The sense of disaster and helplessness. And one must say it is all right? It is absurd. There is no clear answer to it. The point is not to decide between this and that crazy answer when all the answers are crazy. There is no clear answer...

"All this torment comes from the contradictions I have allowed in myself by being open. By not closing all the gates and doors and carefully locking them and then winding myself up in a blanket and going to sleep. All the things a hermit should not do, I have done... I have not closed the doors. I should be writing the new English version of some hymn nobody is ever going to sing."

Learning to Love: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 6, 1966-67, by Thomas Merton, Trappist monk at Gethesemane Abbey, Kentucky

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is this Friday good?

Lent ended last night. It is Good Friday today - although I have always wondered how that name was given to the saddest day on the Christian calendar. But no matter the name, this day of sorrow is upon us today.

Once again, I give you the words of Henri Nouwen from Show Me The Way.

Good Friday: day of the cross,
day of suffering, day of hope,
day of abandonment, day of victory,
day of mourning, day of joy,
day of endings, day of beginnings.

During the liturgy at Trosly, Pere Thomas and Pere Gilbert took the huge cross that hangs behind the altar from the wall and held it so the whole community could come and kiss the dead body of Christ... Everybody seemed to know very well what they were doing: expressing their love and gratitude for him who gave his life for them. As they were crowding around the cross and kissing the feet and head of Jesus, I closed my eyes and could see his sacred body stretched out and crucified upon our planet earth

Walking with the people in Paradise, Nicaragua
- a profoundly misnamed place -
to the place where we would distribute food.

(This is the part that touches me most deeply ->)

I saw the immense suffering of humanity during the centuries: people killing each other; people dying from starvation and epidemics; people driven from their homes; people sleeping on the streets of large cities; people clinging to each other in desperation; people flagellated, tortured, burned, mutilated; people alone in locked flats, in prison dungeons, in labor camps; people craving a gentle word, a friendly letter, a consoling embrace, people... all crying out with an anguished voice:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?"

And later: As they came - walking or limping, seeing or blind, hearing or deaf - I saw the endless procession of humanity gathering around the sacred body of Jesus, covering it with their tears and their kisses, and slowly moving away from it comforted and consoled by such great love... With my mind's eye, I saw the huge crowds of isolated, agonizing individuals walking away from the cross together, bound by the love they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own lips. The cross of horror became the cross of hope; the tortured body became the body that gives new life; the gaping wounds became the source of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation.

Today I think of the hungry, frightened friends we made in Nicaragua, the mournful, newly homeless victims of the earthquake in Italy, the still homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina, the fires in Texas and Oklahoma, the tornadoes in Arkansas, the uninsured, the unemployed, the bankrupt, the foreclosed upon, the mentally ill, the chronically ill, the dying, the doctors and nurses and caregivers who serve them and us, those in prison unjustly, those being held captive by unsanctioned rebels and sanctioned soldiers, those killing and being killed in war zones, the hungry, thirsty, lonely, and sorrowful all around the world. The list goes on. The tears flow on.

On this misnamed day, the cross is a device of deep torture
- and a symbol of deep love.
It is the greatest mystery of all time.
It is also the story that gives me hope.
It is the story that sustains me in the darkness hours.
Sorrow lasts for the night, I have read, but joy comes in the morning.
For some, "the night" seems to last for years...

In an entirely different context, my dear and distant friend Jen has listened to me give the details of the saddest and most painful story of my life, a story I am still living through, and she has said to me many times, "This is not the end of the story." She is right. So very right. This sorrow is not the end of the story.

Taken at the Vatican. Michelangelo's Pieta.

Her words are more right than ever on this day:
This is not the end of the story.
How do I know? Because it's Friday - but Sunday's coming!!!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Writing and Signing a Non-Compete Clause

I watched Oprah today - a show on motherhood. I saw someone I know on the show, which was great for her! And she was wearing jewelry made by someone else I know, which was great for her!

One of the main points of the show was the ways in which moms hurt ourselves and one another with our constant comparisons. Whose children are happier, cuter, smarter? Whose outfits are cutest, most expensive, least expensive, and worn by the most siblings? Whose photos and scrapbooks and Christmas photos and family letters are most clever or funny or interesting or boastful about our families? And the list goes on and on.

As I watched, I wondered what Karen had that I don't have - why couldn't I be on the show? I wondered what Andrea had that I don't have - why couldn't someone have been wearing jewelry I have made? As I watched the show, I realized how often I have allowed myself to get caught up in the comparison/competition thing! Then I realized that all those jealous, self-critical, snarky thoughts were stupid - and I stopped myself in my tracks and quickly wrote to both of them (leaving comments on their blogs) and congratulated them on their work and wisdom and creativity. And I realized that the entire thought process I had gone through as I watched the show was exactly the point of the show: listen to one another's stories. enjoy one another's successes. share one another's burdens. be-friend one another. be real. be honest. be true. just be me. let them be them. let go of the urge to compete, compare, and be contrary.

So I pulled out my journal and began to compose "a non-compete clause" that I hope to incorporate into my life. Here's what I have come up with so far:

I am committing myself to not compete with -
* other mothers
* other wives
* other daughters or daughters-in-law
* other sisters or sisters-in-law
* other homeschoolers
* other churchgoers
* other teachers
* other homemakers
* other travelers
* other writers
* other women in general

I am committing myself to not compete with others based on their:
* religion or lack thereof
* height, weight, muscularity, fitness level
* skin color, ethnic or cultural background
* hair style or lack thereof
* accent
* first, second, or third language
* colorful language
* shoes, clothes, accessories
* blog or website
* photographs or artwork
* artistic ability or lack thereof
* intellectual or educational background
* career choices
* income or apparent wealth
* house or neighborhood
* car or lack thereof
* parenting or educational choices
* children: behavior, ability, grades, athleticism
* spouse or ex-spouse or future spouse
* political persuasion or lack thereof

Even as I make this list and add to it, I already find myself comparing and competing: Will I be as good at giving up my prejudices and competition as _______ is? Will I be better than _______ because he/she is _________? That's what I'm already thinking, and I haven't even finished writing the blog post.

I am being made painfully aware of how ingrained competition and comparison are to my psyche. It's going to be a challenge to free myself from my immediate urge to compare and contrast and compete. What I hope and pray is that, by raising my awareness of this problem, I will be able to make strides in towards freedom from constant competition.

It's not that I expect to stop noticing the differences. I will never stop noticing the differences. I don't even want to stop noticing the differences between us as women and mothers and family members and people in every category of life. What I want to stop doing is assigning unmerited value to those differences in an effort to either put myself on a pedestal far above others or put others on pedestals far above myself.

With all that in mind, I hereby declare that I am entering into a non-compete contract with myself and those around me.

I hereby declare that I will try to stop telling a story about myself in an attempt to outshine your story.

I hereby declare that I will try to stop berating myself for any and all of my faults in an attempt to elevate others and their skills, but that I will accept and embrace my messy, sticky, stuck, beautiful, wide-open, wonder-filled life - just as it is right now.

I hereby declare that I will attempt to listen to you speak without cutting you off in an attempt to impress you with who I think I am and what I think I know.

I hereby declare that I will try desperately not to compete with you for attention, time, energy, pity, or the urge to be right.

I hereby declare that I will breach this contract very soon, that I will mess this up very often, that I will forget what I am writing here and will be snippy and snappy and mean in how I talk to and about other people at some point in the not-so-distant future, so I ask for forgiveness in advance.

I hereby declare that I am turning off my computer and going to bed.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Last Day...

Please go here, read the post, and please, please, please vote for my dear friend, Jen Lemen, and her dream to take love notes and hope notes around the world and return filled with love and hope to her home and family. Tomorrow (Friday, April 3rd) is the last day to vote. Her project is hovering at #2 in the list. Can we put her over the top tonight? Can we???


I'm beggin' ya...