Friday, March 26, 2010

Hope for today - not tomorrow...

Here's a quote from Sue Monk Kidd's book entitled, When the Heart Waits. It is on page 142 -

"In the desert, the Israelites became beggars in the best sense of the word, opening their hands and trusting. And what happened? God sent manna. Not a forty-year supply to stockpile, but enough for one day. They had to hope and trust for tomorrow's, but it always came.

It made me think how true that principle of daily trust is in the experience of waiting. God sends us the strength and nourishment to heal, create, and become, not all at once but as we need it. Hope is the act of opening our palms day after day, trusting that we'll receive what we need."

That's the kind of trust and hope I'm after these days. The kind that has my hands and heart and eyes and soul wide open to receive all that I am meant to have for this day, for this hour. Not enough to stockpile for the next 40 years, not for 40 days, not even for tomorrow. For this moment, right here, right now. Light for this step of my path.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I keep returning to the same place...

I keep returning to my bookshelf, to the words of Henri Nouwen. His passion, his depth of emotion, his honesty draw me in every time I open the pages of his books. Right now, I am working my way through Home Tonight, one of his two works based on the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke chapter 15.

He points out that it is our suffering, our lack of faith in how deeply loved we are and our unwillingness to change our faulty way of thinking and living, that sends us out into the world, like the younger brother in the parable, plunging ourselves into even deeper suffering.

You and I know spiritually about belonging, leaving, and returning. We, like the young prodigal, can learn to act ahead of our feelings, trust that love is there, and make our shaky return. And we will do it more readily if we come to know the God figure in the story. Before now I was never able to see how the love of the father embraced not just the return of his younger child but also his running away from home. That is an enlightening consideration prompting me now to question, 'Do you mean you were actually there in my leaving?' and 'Does this mean that I can come home and you'll still be there for me?' (page 25)

Or perhaps we are more like the older son, the one who stays home, does the right thing, is never "the wild one," but we are equally far from home, distant from the love that is ours to enjoy, because we think we have to "do the right thing"  in order to be loved.

Resentment, the curse of the faithful, the virtuous, the obedient, and the hardworking, settles itself in the human heart and causes havoc. That is why it's important to think and reflect upon it. All of us who give our lives for loved ones, work hard, and objectively have many virtues to be praised, are sometimes not really free from the burden of resentment in our hearts. (page 59)

I have come to realize that I am both older and younger prodigal daughter. I want to run away from home all the time - well, whenever I'm not trying to be the perpetually perky and loving and never-angry, never-resentful superwoman.

Henri Nouwen suggests that the goal of the spiritual journey is to get to the place where we believe, truly believe that we are loved unconditionally whether we stay at home or hit the road for a while and live a prodigal life. Along the way, we learn to see the pain and suffering in others and embrace them, walking together through the shadows and valleys of this life journey. We see ourselves in those around us. We see others in ourselves. We welcome the wanderers home. We encourage the ones at home to celebrate themselves and their lives. We, the wanderers, return home - again and again. We, the homebodies, learn new ways to live joyfully and exuberantly right here at home - in between the meals and loads of laundry and dusting and mopping.

I keep returning to the same place. The place of itchy feet and wandering eyes - heart, soul, and spirit yearning to hit the road and squander something. To let my imagination,, and my passport transport me to worlds heretofore unknown.

But before I can pack my bags, I have to do the laundry.
So I return to the laundry room, the ironing board, and the overflowing sink...
Once again, I return to the same place.
Once again, I am home.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hearing Voices

Am I the only person who hears voices from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep? I will spare you all the voices and questions I hear, but here are a few highlights. And these are just the ones I have heard in the past 24 hours or so.

* Upon rising:
     "Why are you getting up so late? _________ has probably been up for hours studying the Bible/meditating/praying/reading/writing/creating art/drying fruits and vegetables to put in her root cellar/digging a root cellar/planting all the food she will need for the rest of this year in her backyard garden/planning her family's homeschooling lessons/cooking breakfast for her family already."
     "How long has it been since you changed the sheets?"
     "When will you start to wear sexy pajamas to bed? Doesn't your husband deserve a sexier wife?"
     "What about your 20 minutes of sitting with legs folded and mind emptying?"
     "What about memorizing another chapter of the Bible before breakfast and planning a weekend retreat based on your reading?"
     "Why do you sleep so much?
     "Why do you sleep so little?"

* Upon entering the bathroom:
     "Are you going to use that toothpaste? It isn't organic or even all-natural."
     "That cream? How many red list chemicals are in that stuff? It doesn't matter how much better and healthier your skin looks; appearances aren't everything."
     "When will you get your eyebrows threaded again? Sure, it hurt, but beauty comes with a cost."
     "I cannot believe you got your eyebrows threaded. What exactly was the point of that?"
     "Do you really burn incense in your bathroom? Isn't that just adding smoke and pollution to the environment?"
     "And that cleanser? The fragrance, the chemicals, the artificial color - your entire family will have cancer because you use that stuff. You know that, right?"
     "Ant baits? Seriously, Gail? All God's creatures deserve to live. You should gently guide them back outside with thoughts of peace and freedom."

* Upon getting dressed:
     "Are you going to wear that? Not one piece of this outfit matches any other piece."
     "Didn't you get that at Good Will? What would _______ say if she knew that?"
     "Didn't you buy that at the mall? How can you support multinational corporations that have a stranglehold on the worldwide economy that way?"
     "__________ has way better taste/shoes/clothes/accessories."
     "What's up with that bra and the old lady panties? Could they ride any higher above your belly button? Oprah's crew would call for an under garment intervention, for sure."
     "Are you gonna use that bag? Patterned bags are for teenagers, aren't they?"
     "That's too matchy-matchy. It doesn't have to match; it has to 'Go.'"
     "What does that even mean? And who cares what you wear anyway?"

* Upon entering the kitchen for breakfast:
     "Once again, you forgot to clean the kitchen thoroughly before you went to bed. You are already behind."
     "You are going to take those vitamins? Are they organic and vegetarian? Are you taking the right dosage for your age and weight? You aren't taking enough ________. What about additives in those vitamins? Are they water-soluble or fat-soluble? Chewable vitamins? Aren't you a child or an adult?"
     "Coffee again? Caffeine will surely give you more cysts in your breasts. And the sugar? You are killing yourself and the environment with every single spoonful."
     "There is not a single cold cereal on the market that is healthy. But you still insist on eating it?"
     "Oatmeal is better in some ways, but yours isn't organic or Irish or steel cut. When are you gonna get your act together and eat some decent food? Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you know."
     "Go out again for breakfast? Will you order butter on your bagel and an egg and BACON? Are you out of your mind? What about the chickens and cows cooped up in their pens for their entire lives? What about the pig that gave its life for your bacon? How selfish are you, Gail?"

*Upon beginning our homeschooling day:
     "Are you even qualified to teach these kids here at home? What if you completely screw them up for life?"
     "What do you know anyway? What can you possibly pass on to them?"
     "No Latin or word origin studies? No memorizing the timeline of American history? They can't name all the countries in Africa with their capitals and currencies? No biology or chemistry labs? No music lessons? What kind of half-assed school are you running here?"
     "What do you mean - you are forcing them to study specific subjects? You should be allowing them to be completely and radically unschooled. Let them lead the way themselves, choose what they want to study and when."
     "And how can you possibly do Bible studies with them? Why not let them discover their faith walk for themselves? Plus you curse/get angry/lie/covet/skip church altogether sometimes; you are a terrible example and a hypocrite."
     "If you are going to do Bible studies with them, then why aren't you making them memorize more verses?"
     "Chores for the kids? What are you, a taskmaster who had children and decided to homeschool them so that they could be your housebound servants?
     "You mean your kids don't do all the chores in the house? They are supposed to serve willingly - at home first and then out in the world."

* Upon doing chores around the house:
     "How can you say you care about the environment when you use the dryer/bleach/that laundry detergent/that floor shine product/that mop/that broom?"
     "You should get rid of the carpets and put down hardwood flooring. The allergies/filth/bacteria/germs living in the carpet will kill you all."
     "You spend way too much time ironing. You're so vain. No one cares what you look like."
     "You don't iron enough. Why aren't you ironing all the kids' clothes and your sheets and towels the way they do in Spain? You are so lazy."
     "You should unplug every appliance that you aren't using. You waste money and the electrical energy emanating from all these electrical appliances is adding to your chances of getting cancer."
     "You aren't cooking a vegan/vegetarian meal? Think of all the animals suffering for your meal."
     "You are making a vegetarian/vegan mean? Think of all the farmers suffering because you don't eat more meat."
     "You should be eating only raw food. Cooking kills all the nutritional value of your food. The pots leech chemicals when they get hot. Plus the electricity wasted..."
*Upon going to the gym for exercise:
     "You work out four or five times a week? Is that all? You are one lazy woman."
     "You work out four or five times a week? Are you obsessed with your body? Insanely vain?"
     "You should be lifting more weights. You are not getting any younger. Work that body as hard as you can while you still can."
     "You shouldn't be lifting weights at all. It's bad for your muscles and bone structure."
     "You are a terrible dancer/weight lifter/treadmill walker. You can't do anything right."
     "Are you gonna wear that outfit to the gym? Shouldn't you iron those pants? That tee shirt is more than five years old. Don't you have anything newer than that?"
     "You call yourself serious about working out and that's all you can do? That's as fast as you can go on the treadmill? You've never been in  a cycling class? You still weigh that much?"

*Upon ending my day:
     "Are you gonna watch television again? Aren't there Bible verses you need to read? A Bible study you need to attend? Carpets you need to vacuum? Dishes you need to wash? Games you need to play with the kids? Books you need to write?"
     "Aren't you going to get on facebook and check up on people, respond to their clever comments with clever comments of your own, check other people's status, and come up with something even more clever to put on your own page? How else will your friends know everything you are up to and be impressed by everything that you do?"
     "What? Another week has gone by without you writing a blog? What will your readers think? What if they don't come and check your blog again ever?"
     "What? You think you have something to say that anybody cares to read? No one checks your blog anymore anyway. Why do you keep up this stupid blog?"
     "What? You wrote a blog and didn't write about ____________ or defend ______________ or bash _________ or try to convince people to _____________ and stop _____________? Why bother to write if you won't touch on the real truth about topics that really matter?"

Plus there are a few voices and questions that resound above and below and all around all of the aforementioned:

* You call yourself a Christian/feminist/good wife/good mother/environmentalist/well-read person/well-traveled person/open-minded person/evangelical/Baptist/tolerant/trustworthy/black/thinking person/Democrat (What? You're a Christian and a Democrat???)/loving daughter/caring sister/attentive cousin-sister-in-law-daughter-in-law/member of the church/writer/blogger/friend/_________________ (fill in the blank) and you talk that way/watch those movies/read those books/don't ______________ every day/attend _______________/shop there/ don't shop there/travel to those places/have never been to those places/have friends like that/believe that/don't believe this/_____________________ (fill in the blank)?

*You seriously call yourself all those things, Gail? You call yourself any of those things? Why do you label yourself so often? What good are labels? Shouldn't you be striving to live a label-free life?

*What would Jesus do?

*What would __________________ do?


Yes, friends, it gets mighty noisy in my head sometimes. Gratefully, I am learning how to shut out most of those voices or at least ignore more of the questions and commentary that is constantly streaming through my mind. I must say that writing them down today (and there are tons more in my journal that didn't get included here) has made me laugh at myself and at how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much of my life trying to live up to all those expectations - and many more than these. In writing them down, I have already felt a sense of freedom from them. Naming them and releasing myself from their power.

Am I the only one who hears this many voices in my head? (Are you seriously publicly admitting that you hear voices? Really, Gail???)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lonelier than ever...

I am still sweaty from one of the most energetic exercise classes in Charlotte. One hundred women of all shapes, sizes, colors, backgrounds, language groups all dancing and singing and laughing and having a great time. Lots of laughter and hugging and basking in the deep and beautiful energy of women together.

But I come home and feel lonelier than ever.

My husband is one of the funniest people I know. He can make a stroll through the supermarket a reason to wet my pants with hearty giggles. When we watch television together, his commentary makes me laugh so hard that my stomach hurts.

But when we turn off the television and drift off to sleep, I feel lonelier than ever.

At this point in my life, I have more friends, true friends, soul sisters who love me dearly, who would drop everything to take my call or come rescue me or vouch for me or take care of me without question, in my life right now than at any other point. They come to my house to hang out with me. They meet me for coffee. They invite me to lunch. They invite me to visit them all over the world. I have no doubt that these women are on my side, no matter what.

But when I hang up the phone, turn off the computer, or head back home after spending time with them, I feel lonelier than ever.

I have had boy-friends and man-friends. I have cousins, aunts and uncles, brothers, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, pastors and priests and other spiritual mentors that I have loved and that have loved me deeply and passionately in my 44 years of life.

But relationships change. Relationships end. Many have endured for decades. Even within the relationships that are likely to last for the rest of my life, I feel lonelier than ever.

I have several shelves of journals and photo albums that chronicle the many adventures and blessings I have had in my life. I often pull them out and reminisce around the anniversary of particularly meaningful trips. And on days when I feel the call of the road, I will choose a travel journal at random and joyfully relive the journey.

But when I put the journals and albums back on the shelves, tuck my memories back into their carefully labeled cubby holes in my soul, and return to my ordinary, daily life, I feel lonelier than ever.

Don't feel sorry for me. Don't worry about me.
This is a loneliness that I am learning to embrace.
This is a loneliness that I must live.

Henri Nouwen explained it this way:

It is important to move from a "first loneliness" to a "second loneliness." The first loneliness is a kind of emotional loneliness: needing friends, family, and home. But when all those needs are more or less met, you learn there is a second loneliness. God is calling you to deep, personal intimacy, an intimacy that is wonderful and very demanding. God asks you to let go of many things that are emotionally, intellectually, and affectively very satisfying. You must grow into the trust that this deeper loneliness is not to be overcome, but lived. You must live it with trust, standing tall. You must try to say, "Yes, I am lonely, but this particular loneliness sets me on the road to intimacy with God. It does not pull me away from God or my deepest self, but brings me closer to the source of love in the depths of my being."

It's very important for us to dare to welcome the fullness of our second loneliness because it relates to the oldest mystical traditions about the spiritual journey. The "dark night of the soul" is another expression of the second loneliness.

This second loneliness is one that sets me interiorly on the road to communion with the Divine and at the same time brings me in touch with my deepest self in relationship with brothers, sisters, and good friends.

It is paradoxical but real. The more I find intimacy with the Creator of my life, the more loneliness I experience. And at the very same time this loneliness offers me a new sense of belonging to the family of Divine Love that is much greater and more intimate than any belonging that the world can offer. The world of communion with the Great Spirit that is truly experienced as a world of loneliness and the highest level of separation from my human yearning to be loved, is also revealed to me as the highest level of belonging to the Creator of the galaxies and being part of the human race.

(Quotes are taken from Home Tonight: Further Reflections on The Parable of the Prodigal Son and From Fear to Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son - both written by Henri Nouwen.)

Mine is a loneliness that is rich and deep and thick and heavy - all at the same time. This is a level and type of loneliness that I have felt for a while, but until I read Nouwen's words I thought I was misreading my feelings. And I have certainly been mistaken in my failed attempts to fill the lonely place in my heart and soul.

For most of my adult life, I have believed that the right words spoken or written by the right person at the right time with the right tone of voice would make me feel alright. When the right people liked me enough and told me often enough how they felt, I was okay. For a while, my attention-gaining scheme worked. The right words and emotions and feelings and attention flowed in my direction freely and often. It felt great.

But it was never enough. I always wanted more: more text messages, more emails, more phone calls, more attention, more meals together, more sex. More. More. More. Undoubtedly, I have driven some people out of my life because of my desperation for approval and affection. To them, I owe an apology for my addictive behavior.

More than that, I owe myself a thousand apologies for all the ways in which I have broken my own heart and given the pieces to people who are even lonelier than I am and whose hearts are more wounded than mine.

Finally I get it. I understand that the relationships I used to cling to for dear life are not and have never been the source of life. The affection I longed for will never touch or caress or heal the deepest wounds in me. Marriage and friendship and companionship ease the first loneliness, but have no effect on the second loneliness. None whatsoever.

This second loneliness is not going away. I cannot shop or eat or drink or dance or exercise or travel or even write it away. I have found that it is only in my times of silence and solitude, prayer and meditation, pondering not only the wonder of creation but also the Creator, reading The Word and hiding it in my heart, grasping for and basking in all the time I can be alone with The Alone, that I discover that the depth and breadth and unsurmountable nature of this second loneliness. For brief periods of time, the loneliness eases. But finally, I am finding peace with being alone with and being lonely for The One who came to give me new and abundant life. I am profoundly lonely for and with the Lover of my soul.

Today, I confess that, with all the love and friendship and laughter and joy and peace that pervades nearly every area of my life, I am lonelier than ever. And I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On Keeping the Sabbath

A dear and distant friend, known around the world as Goddess Leonie, has established a fabulous habit called "Switch Off Sunday." She unplugs from the internet and other external stimuli in order to rest and be rejuvenated.

A couple of weeks ago, she asked me to share some of my Sabbath keeping practices with her and her readers. This morning, she has honored me and my words more than she will ever know by posting my musings on her blog. Here it is.

Thank you so much, Leonie, for including me in your circle of sister-friends.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Life's Simple Pleasures...

With earthquakes and tsunamis and rising waters and falling rocks and mudslides and drought and famine and war and ginormous executive bonuses and rampant job loss happening all over the world and right here in our own country, I am taking more time these days to focus inwardly a little. To take stock of the many blessings that I have known in my life. When I am feeling most effusively thankful, I pull up old photos and look back at the people and places that have brought joy and laughter, new perspectives and old world cities into my world. Today I am celebrating a few of my life's favorite simple pleasures. Care to join me?

Not much makes me happier than sharing a slice of the best key lime pie in Charlotte with a loved one. Well, one thing that makes me happier is eating that hunk of pie without having to share it, but sometimes I do invite others to partake of it with me... On the occasion captured in this photo, Heather and I shared not only the pie, but also the urge to photograph the pie. It was truly a work of art. Within minutes, however, it was gone. Lovely!

Ours is a sports loving family. We have been known to attend athletic events where we don't know anyone participating- and I'm not even referring to professional sports. On this particular night, we were guests of a friend who has season tickets to the UNC Charlotte 49ers basketball games. Can you see the 49er mascot hoisted on the celebrating fans? He disappeared into the sea of revelers just seconds after this photo was taken. I hope he's okay now. Go Niners!

When it snows, I stay inside. Period. Well, unless I need a good workout - in which case I go outside and shovel the driveway. After which, I rush back indoors, sweaty and cold and sore. From the safety of my kitchen, however, I thoroughly enjoy taking photos of snowy formations on the back deck. On this particular day, I was entralled by the way in which the snow formed delicate piles and peaks on the frame underneath the seat. I admit to staring at that peak as well as the one on the birdfeeder in the backyard for inordinately long periods of time that day. Many wonders of this world I live in fascinate me.

One of the simplest and most profound pleasures in life, at least for me, is eating out. Going out to eat with new friends, especially. A couple of weeks ago, I went out with a new group of friends to celebrate the birthdays of two of them. We talked and laughed and ate and drank and talked and laughed so more. I don't remember much of what we said, but I do remember how welcomed and accepted and loved I felt. I am enormously glad I snapped this photo as a momento of that evening. I am even happier to know those amazing women and to have been included in their number.

I don't draw or paint much. But I do make collages. Here is one I made that brings a smile to my face every time I look at it. (Actually this one has far more writing and far fewer other elements than most of my creations.) In it, I pay homage to one of the most emotionally transformative and spiritually formative trips I have ever taken - the one I took to Italy less than a month after September 11, 2001. My heart and soul have not yet recovered from that journey - and for that, I am enormously grateful.

Of late, I have been feeling that old familiar feeling of "itchy feet" - a name my niece gave to our shared and perpetual yearning for the road. Because I cannot escape physically at the moment, I have given my mind and spirit leave to wander. I have flipped thru photo albums and travel journals. I have clipped words and images out of National Geographic Traveler and affixed them in and on the outside of my journals.

Apparently my subconscious is in the same restless state as my conscious mind. Lately I have had many dreams of getting lost. In the dreams, I am not afraid or anxious. In fact, I am quite happy to be displaced, forgotten, and alone. After the first few dreams, I asked myself - why that dream? It didn't take me long to figure it out.

Because one of my life's simplest and greatest pleasures is to get lost.
Lost in the pleasure of a meal I didn't have to prepare.
Lost in the joy of cheering on a team.
Lost on a bubbling river of conversation.
Lost in the back streets or alleys of a tiny Tuscan village.
Lost in wonder, joy, and love.

Hear my recently oft-repeated plea: "American Airlines,* take me away!"

* Or Iberia or British Airways or Delta or US Air...