Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Shards of glass

Last night or, to be more precise,  just before dawn this morning, I awoke from a dream that I remember in startling detail. I was at some sort of tribal, artsy party on a beach. I had applied all kinds of beach debris--shells, small stones, bits of seagrass, and crab claws--to my body with glue. I was covered in bits of the sea and quite proud of my creativity. There was a man there (James) whom I had known as a boy when both of us were in high school. I wasn't that interested in talking to him, but after I had fully adorned myself in sea bits, I sat beside him as he leaned against a sand bank alone, in silence, staring at the water.

When I sat down he put his arm on my shoulder and, still looking at the water, said, "You know, I really used to love you back then."

My hands were covered with glue and my mouth was full of shards of glass. I said, "I want to tell you a story. But wait until I get this glass out of my mouth." I removed glass and more appeared. I continued removing it, waiting to tell James my story.

At that point, my former bastard bully of a husband stood at the shore and shouted at me, "What are you doing with him? You get away from him!"

I saw the ex-husband without feeling any emotion other than mild amusement. He didn't frighten me or make me anxious. I just chuckled and said, through the shards of glass in my mouth, "I don't care what you think. I'm free now." And I awoke.

My first drowsy thought was to thank God for the dream. "Thank you, Lord! Thank you--you know I needed to feel that. Thank you!" And I recall thanking him for my interaction with James and my confidence that I could remove the shards of glass--not for my lack of fear or emotion toward my husband.

But now, hours later, the images of the dream still vivid, I wonder why I was so grateful to God for the dream. I know that dreams are often God's way of sending us messages. But what was the message?

Having sharp things--pins, needles, glass, or fish hooks--in my mouth, throat, sometimes my arms, is a recurring image in my dreams. Always I remove some and more appear--I can never get them out. I used to interpret that as meaning I was frustrated that I wasn't able to express myself without retribution.

My sense is that my gratitude was more because I knew that James loved me when we were young. I was fully aware that it was in the past. And this time I felt that I could get past the shards of glass and tell my story and that my husband was just a silly, angry guy on the beach. But the intense feeling of gratitude, that the Lord had sent me a message, I still can't decipher. I need to sleep on that.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Demo

For months I've been silent. Last week my mother died after years of struggle. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

A few days ago I was in a fancy downtown office building for a meeting. During a break I sat in an empty conference room, staring out the window, asking the Lord to bring me some peace. I was staring vacantly at a the shell of a building directly across from where I was sitting. The building looked like a bomb site, either being torn down or completely renovated. Something caught me eye that I had not noticed at first. Above a dumpster, spray-painted, was the word DEMO. I realize the word meant that this was the designated receptacle for discarded materials. But it meant something different to me. My childhood nickname, the name my mother called me even until her dying day, was Demo. Pronounced deemo, it is the name my family has called me all my life, derived from Donna Demo because they said I was a demon.

Was the Holy Spirit playing a little trick on me, when out of nowhere in a most unexpected setting, just days after her death, there appeared the name my mother called me? I had been thinking about her, that I wasn't what she wanted me to be. I was her ugly duckling, the one born with a deformed head (a story told so often, I could recite it with her). I was the one who never had the right hair--always the hair--until, when she died I had no hair at all. But when she was dying, I laid my head on her shoulder, and she rubbed her gnarled fingers across the stubble on my scalp and said, "Your head actually turned out fine. You have a nice-shaped head after all. My baby girl. My Demo."

Now she is gone.

Just like before she died, when I said my strength was failing, I relied on the Lord's strength. I asked Him to give me compassion and caring and He filled me--not through my efforts but from His deep well. Now I am depleted. She has died--I watched her dying, yet it still seems so unreal.

And what do I need now? I feel frozen, exhausted. Again I will go to Him--to the Lord, my Lord who provides. I need rest to refresh my energy. Lord, please fill me with joy, with a new appreciation for life. I need comfort. Please show the way to a new purpose. I have tried to do your work, fulfilled my obligation to my mother--admitting that I often did it with a begrudging attitude. Please forgive me for that.

It's my mama, Lord. It seems incomprehensible that she is gone, after all these years of courting death, she finally surrendered. Lord, fill me with a new spirit. I know you have been equipping me for this, but I can't find the "on" switch. Fill my heart with what I know in my head. I need your spirit to fill my emptiness. I know it's there, that there is joy, a new purpose in me that hasn't reached my heart yet.

More prayer. More time with you. More trust. And total surrender to your will.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Walking home

Imagine this: An elderly woman, her life now counted in months, weeks, perhaps only days. She is distressed and questioning what will happen at the end of her days--will there be nothing, will she see God, will she ever be with her beloved husband who departed before her?

Despite spending a lifetime following her faith, she now doubts. That seems to me to be a cruel conclusion to a life spent observing her religion as closely as she could.

So a priest comes to see her to discuss her concerns. She is old school, she hangs on his every word. He is a priest she has known for years and she trusts him to interpret God's plan for her. She tells him she wonders if God exists, she fears death because it could simply be the end of everything. What if there's no life after death? What if she never sees her husband again, never sees her parents, or all those she loved who went before her? The promises of Scripture ring hollow and, in her advanced age, she can't remember what it was that once gave her hope.

And the priest tells her that he feels the same way, that he has the same questions. I imagine some words of comfort, reassurance came after he told her that he shares her fears. He probably said, " . . . but the Lord has told us not to fear . . ."

She only heard what he said before the "but" statement. All she absorbed is that the priest, the one with the direct line to God, the one whose faith surely must never waiver, that the priest has fears too.

So she, who can be outrageously funny and talkative and the life of the party, is now despondent and fearful. This is not the way it should be. I want to see her at peace, assured of her salvation, resting in the anticipation of an eternity spent in perfect bliss. She deserves to walk home in peace, basking in love.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

He still loved me

I told him I didn’t love him. He still loved me.
I cursed him, mocked him, dismissed him as irrelevant. He still loved me.
I said I didn’t want him or need him, that he just got in my way. He still loved me.
He saw all my many flaws, knows how much I have failed. He has seen me sin boldly and he still loved me.
When I blamed him for everything that went wrong in my life and said he simply didn’t listen to me or care about me, he still loved me.
I scoffed when he said he would die for me. Then he did.
There was that time when I was in the boat with the fishermen. I watched him on the shore, building a fire, and heard him shout to the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side. I jumped from the boat and swam to the shore to be with him. I was cold, shivering and afraid. He wrapped me in in a blanket, sat with me by the fire holding both of my hands in his, and I looked deeply into his dark eyes. He still loved me.
And I came to know, so deep in my heart, in spite of all my protestations, in spite of all the effort to run from him, to hide from him, to deny his existence, that I love him. Perhaps because of all my efforts to deny him, to not love him, I now love him with a love so fierce and deep that it has become the single most important thing in my life. He has taken away my fear and shame and he has given my life meaning. He never gave up on me and will never leave me.  And he still loves me.
Tomorrow is his birthday. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cream of chicken and wild rice soup



It's snowing and I'm thinking about comfort food, specifically Panera's cream of chicken soup. I like the soup at Panera, but it tastes a little of garlic powder and I wanted to improve it, so I started searching for an easy recipe that would replicate it. Voila! Combining a couple of recipes I found online, plus a little improvisation and this is what happened. It's good, worth saving, and really easy--one pot. I made a big pot of soup, probably about 12 or more servings. 

See what you think.



Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

What you’ll need

1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil 
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
8 cups chicken stock (or water with 2 TBS Penzey’s chicken base)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 4.3-ounce boxes of Rice-a-Roni Long Grain and Wild Rice with seasoning packet
How to do it

Place the carrots, celery, onion, and olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.

Allow to simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add chopped chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add garlic, spinach, chicken stock, and 2 cups of milk to the mixture and blend.

Add pepper, oregano, and bay leaves.

Mix and allow soup to simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Whisk together the other 2 cups of milk with flour until smooth. Whisk into soup.

Place rice and seasoning packets into soup and mix until combined.

Simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Add a little milk or water if too thick.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bury me deep

Thanksgiving was the best I can recall. I am so  . . . thankful. I had the glorious opportunity to spend a few days in Austin with all my kids and grandchildren. My heart is full.
During the visit, in the middle of an ordinary conversation with my daughter and son-in-law, I felt compelled to throw in something about death.
“ . . . Barton Creek might be a nice thing to do tomorrow,” said my daughter.
“Not to change the subject, but I’ve changed my mind about cremation,” I blurted out. “I read that it’s really not good for the environment because it uses too much energy and can create noxious fumes.” The fumes from my cremation could be more noxious than most. I don’t want to be blamed for polluting the air.
I explained the natural burial concept. At Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, where I’ve gone on retreat, the Trappist monks maintain a natural cemetery on the property. Burial there involves no embalming. The unembalmed body is either put into the ground in a plain wooden coffin that will disintegrate with the corpse, or the body is wrapped in a simple linen shroud and dropped into the earth. I like the linen idea. (I once read that after her husband Alfred Stieglitz died, Georgia O’Keeffe stayed up all night to rip out the tacky satin lining from his coffin and replace it with white linen. That alone says so much about her.)
At the natural cemetery, the body, wrapped in a linen shroud, is buried in sacred ground, either in the meadow or in the woods, within view of the Shenandoah River. The grave is marked with river rocks engraved with the name of the person in the ground below. I have seen this cemetery and walked in the woods among the stone-marked graves. It’s quite serene and lovely.
My thoughtful son-in-law suggested an even simpler option. Apparently, somewhere near San Marcos, Texas, there is a place called the Body Ranch where bodies are left out in the open, naked and resting on their backs, to decay naturally. The natural decomposition process is studied for forensic research. There might even be a body left in a car to study the particular details of decomposition in those conditions. I wonder if they try different makes and models of cars. Does a body decompose differently in a 1967 black Ford Mustang than in a 2012 Olds Cutlass? This Body Ranch alternative does not appeal to me. I’ve seen the pictures.
My beloved daughter and son-in-law then carried the discussion to another level. They maintain a compost pile in the back corner of their property. It was suggested that I might saunter on out to the compost heap until I die. No fuss, no bother, just walk down there and wait. I expressed concern about vultures. No problem, they’re bird watchers. Just consider me a feeding station.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fierce

Okay, this is just between the two of us. You have to promise not to let anyone else see this monstrosity. I'm letting you see the photo of me with a bald head.

There is a bit of a story behind this. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I have hair issues. I have alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss. It sucks. Through visits to multiple doctors I've had blood work and skin biopsies, only to find there is no cure. My hair has disappeared in ugly chunks. And just to make things a bit more lively, a recent skin biopsy on the top of my head showed that I have squamous cell cancer on my scalp that requires surgery. Because my hair was falling out, and because I need to have my scalp surgically messed up, I initiated a pre-emptive strike and got a buzz cut. Chris, a guy I'd marry if he wasn't already married, cut my hair (#2 clipper guard) and pronounced that I looked "fierce". Fierce is better than pitiful, better than helpless or sad or whiny. The photo is my attempt to put on a fierce face just after my head was shorn. To me it seems more the look of a woman who is leaning toward angry resignation when she would rather be fierce. What expression do you imagine Joan of Arc had as her captors lit the fire about to consume her?

The fierce phase has not been fiercely executed. I wander from fierceness to shame, days spent in hiding. For several weeks I have done what I call Mass for Shut-Ins--watching the Sunday church service on the Internet. But today I went to the morning service with a hat on. The hat got hot. I went to see my mother after church, refusing to remove the hat. I forewarned her, but she didn't really understand until she saw it. My mother saw my head a couple of weeks ago, screamed, and said, "I can't stand looking at you!" Nice. Now the hat stays on, no matter how much she begs me to see my head. This condition doesn't work well with my mother's obsession with appearance. Her obsession with hair is pathological. How ironic that she would get me as a daughter.

Tonight I went back to church for the 5 p.m. service. I took my hat off in the car because I was just too doggone hot. Still feeling the shame, I sat in a dark spot in the last pew in the church, rows away from anyone else. Alex, one of our pastors, came up to me in my hiding place in the back and asked me to do the wine at communion. I sucked air, said I was trying to hide my bald head in the back. He was going to let me off the hook. But, in an uncommon burst of courage, I said, "No! I'll do it. There's no better time or place to be bold."

Yes, I did it. I held my bald head high and walked to the front, under the bright lights for all the world to see. And I did feel emboldened, like God could see me and He still loves me. Giving up the deceit, the hiding, the fear and literally letting myself be seen with a flaw that humiliates me, has set me free. Only through the grace of God could this have happened, in His house, in His time. I may still lose confidence on occasion, I may waver between fierceness and shame, but fierce feels better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arms too short

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Genesis 32:24-26

Claire asked me if perhaps I was not able to communicate with the Lord because I was angry with Him.
“Good point,” I replied. “Sometimes I’m afraid to be angry with Him when I should have nothing but gratitude.” And I recall the line from Ted Loder’s prayer in Guerillas of Grace where he says, “I wander somewhere between gratitude and grievance.” Between gratitude and grievance—that space that feels so familiar to me. Always a little angry, a little guilty, a little frustrated, despite my desire to live in a never-ending glow of love and gratitude.
Claire reminded me of the passage in the Bible where Jacob wrestles all night with a man he first thought to be an angel. Later he realizes it was God himself wrestling with him. Jacob needed rest, but instead he spent the hours fighting with God, ultimately to find his faith strengthened. If Jacob could wrestle with God, then maybe it was something I should consider.
A few years back there was a musical on Broadway called, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God—unfortunately I never saw the show but the title was memorable enough and the image of a person trying to box with God, and failing because of short arms, obviously stuck with me. The phrase originated in a poem by African American poet James Weldon Johnson, who in a poem entitled The Prodigal Son wrote, “Young man—Young man—Your arm’s too short to box with God.”
So, with intention, in the privacy of my own home, I had it out with Himself. I sat on the sofa and spoke aloud, telling Him (as if He was hearing this for the first time—it is to laugh) everything that pissed me off in the history of my long life. I started with my grandmother dying, through the horrible dissolution of my marriage, to my present day bald head, and lots of other things among those highlights. He sat there and took it like a man. And I felt as empty as I felt after giving birth.
I wrestled with Him and He blessed me. The struggle left me feeling deep peace and a renewed faith. He didn’t care that I purged all that anger and shook my fist at Him. He just loved me, loved me in spite of my tangled human frailty. He loved me through my brokenness and ingratitude. He loved me despite my mistaken belief that I deserved something better than what He gave me.
His presence, His love, His never-ending patience was the only thing that was left. Gone the anger, the resentment, replaced by enormous love. And I realized that He is fighting with me, not to give me what I think I deserve, but to give me something much more than I deserve. He gives me a life better than anything I could imagine. His presence is so tangible sometimes, His love so real, that it takes my breath away.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the rubble

Mexico City, September 2017

Rubble, piles of rubble

Dust, silence, shouting, people rushing to save those who may be trapped

And this is how I see God

I am beneath the rubble

He is searching for me and I for Him

Sometimes I am in the rubble, crying out for Him

He hears me, yet I don’t know He is there

Sometimes I am in the rubble, silent

Not knowing I need Him, perhaps not caring if I die there

He never ceases His work to rescue me, even when rescue doesn’t seem possible

Yes, He allowed the circumstances that put me in this place, at this time

In the rubble

The rubble has something to teach me

Something unimaginably profound

Thank you, Lord

Thank you for loving me, for your unceasing efforts to bring me to you

Come find me

Please

This morning, reading about and seeing images of the earthquake in Mexico City, it reminded me of my evolving relationship with God. Then I read this prayer by Ted Loder from Guerillas of Grace and the picture became clearer:


 
 
O Eternal One,
It would be easier for me to pray
        if I were clear
                and of a single mind and a pure heart;
        if I could be done hiding from myself
     and from you, even in my prayers.
But, I am who I am,
        mixture of motives and excuses,
                blur of memories,
   quiver of hopes,
                knot of fear,
            tangle of confusion,
        and restless with love,
     for love.
I wander somewhere between
        gratitude and grievance,
                wonder and routine,
                       high resolve and undone dreams,
                               generous impulses and unpaid bills.
Come, find me, Lord.
Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
        Help me accept what I am,
                so I can begin to be yours.
Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
        young enough to question,
               simple enough to giggle,
                      old enough to forget,
                             foolish enough to act for peace;
         skeptical enough to doubt
                the sufficiency of anything but you,
         and attentive enough to listen
                as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
                       into the chancy glory of my possibilities
                              and the power of your presence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Water, water

Nearly every day lately, clouds darken, thunder growls, and torrents of summer rain gush from the sky. It’s too much for my downspouts. Water overflows the roof and soaks the back of my house. I called the gutter guy. Again. I have an ugly history with water so I take no chances.

I’m wondering if there are some minor water gods whom I have offended. I’m deep into a love/hate relationship with water and I fear they’ve got the upper hand.

In a nominal effort to appear to be an optimist, let me first discuss the love. The universe is divided into two camps—bath people and shower people. (There also may be a third outlier camp of people who don’t bathe at all, but I presume they live in hand-built cabins in Montana where they build bombs with paper clips and elk droppings and have not communicated with other living beings since the dawn of the millennium.) I am firmly in the bath camp. I can’t sleep if I don’t take a bath. I spend my entire day counting down the hours until I can take a bath. I sometimes take more than one bath in a day and it’s a sacred ritualistic thing for me, well beyond being clean. Candles, lavender bath oil, Spanish monks singing Gregorian chant, the whole works.

I love water. But my hate of water is also fierce and unrelenting. I hate the free-range water in my house.

The first serious incident happened about ten years ago. I noticed the carpet in the corner of my basement, at the foot of the stairs, was discolored. After pulling out large pieces of drywall on two floors, the plumber found that there was a leak in a waste water pipe. It was expensive and messy. I thought I had paid my dues to the water gods.

A few years later, I called the refrigerator repair person because my icemaker wasn’t working. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the refrigerator—it was the water line to the refrigerator. Next step—the plumber. Okay, fixed. Or so I thought. The water gods were snickering. Later that evening I went into the basement to get a light bulb. Water was running down the basement walls like a waterfall in a fancy hotel lobby. I had to turn off the water main to get it to stop. Something in the icemaker water line had failed. Plumbers, drywall repair, paint, carpets pulled up, more mess. The water gods were having a fiesta.

Next? A puddle of water under the kitchen sink. A friend fixed it for me. Didn’t work. I put a metal pan under the drip. I emptied it daily, offering my little daily homage to the water gods. They aren’t easily satisfied.

Spring came. It rained. I smelled something rank in the basement. My family room carpet was soaked and part of the drywall was discolored. My neighbor’s downspout was cracked, causing water to soak the foundation of my house. The man who repaired the carpet from the icemaker leak came back. He’s now on a first-name basis with me since I’m sending one of his kids to college. I paid to fix my neighbor’s drainage and reinforced my own drainage system for another layer of protection. Ha, it is to laugh, said the water gods mockingly, with a decidedly French accent.

Next—more rain, more water in the basement. Not as much water, but still leaking. It appeared that the crown of my chimney (three floors up from the basement) was cracked and water was seeping all the way into the basement fireplace. The carpet repair guy is on speed-dial. Two days of masonry work and a couple of thousand dollars and that leak went away. The water gods were doing high fives. 

Then the hurricane season came and brought a day of torrential rain. A stream of water was flowing out of an electrical outlet in my basement. There was a leak in the window well. I had the window well removed, the wall bricked up and sealed, and had all the drywall repaired. It cost me again. The carpet fixer guy? Not this time. I replaced the carpet with a floating wood-look floor that could be removed in case of flooding. It wasn't cheap. The gods were laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their crummy little faces.

The latest and most horrific episode involved freezing rain and a flat roof—you know what’s coming—it’s an ominous combination. Water was dripping out of one of the ceiling lights in my dining room. The usual first step, I called the plumber who tore big holes in the ceiling. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the plumbing because there is no plumbing in this ceiling; it has to be coming from somewhere else. It escalated—water out of all the ceiling fixtures on the first floor, water running between the walls and seeping up out of the wood floors in the upper level. Water in the basement. I could hear it trickling inside the walls and it was seeping into the house much faster than I could remove it. Long sad story—the roof had cracked under the weight of freezing rain and the ice began to thaw. I screamed out for mercy. Tarp over the roof, clean-up crew, a new roof, removal of ceilings and walls, painting, insurance appraisals, repairs ad nauseum. I know it’s hot in the desert, but I’m willing to give it a try. The water gods wouldn't dare follow me to the desert. Would they?

I suppose I should look at this amount of water in perspective. My first bad water experience involved much, much more water—the Atlantic Ocean. It was the summer I turned 12. My family went to Bethany Beach on the Delaware shore for a day trip. It was hot and the beach was packed blanket-to-blanket with people searching for some respite from the heat. My father stayed on the shore, watching my younger brothers while my mother and I waded into the ocean. We floated in relatively placid surf on a rented rubber raft. There was a growing distance between me and my mother, who was alone on the raft. As I tried to swim back to her, I lost ground, swimming forward but moving backward into the ocean. My feet no longer touched the ocean floor. I was quickly becoming tired as I moved farther from my mother and she began to realize that I was in trouble. After the fact, I knew that she began screaming, but all I knew at the time was sheer terror. I had never heard of a riptide and had no strategy to save myself. A riptide is sort of passive-aggressive water, looks innocent enough but has a really nasty streak. I was gasping, swallowing the ocean, when two lifeguards reached me and put me on a raft. I don’t know how much time elapsed, but as we neared the shore, they asked me if I wanted to ride in on a wave. Bad idea, but I must have agreed. The wave threw me and I washed up on shore like a half-dead mackerel. Obviously much more water than I could handle.

Maybe these water gods who are out to get me have been trying for many years. The lifeguards who saved my life in 1960 thwarted the water gods’ plan to snuff me at an early age so now I’m paying the price one drop at a time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

For longing


blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.
may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
by John O'Donohue


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Down from the mountain

Photo of sunset, Telluride, Colorado, taken on my 70th birthday. God's gift to me.
The plan was to leave the old hag on the mountain, to let the old woman rot out there in the elements. But she got packed in my suitcase; she’s not leaving me.

Had I written this entry 10 days ago, it would have been different. Ten days ago, I would have said the trip to Colorado was a failure. I couldn’t breathe at the altitude, even though the altitude had not been a major problem in my previous trips to Telluride. In previous trips I was younger. I cut the trip short, lost 10 days at the condo that I had paid in advance, and flew home from 10,000 feet to an altitude of one foot above sea level. That’s a lot more oxygen and a relief to be able to breathe deeply.
The bold adventure in which I planned to spend a month alone, high in the Rocky Mountains, failed. My body bailed on me. My scheme was to spit in the face of my 70th birthday. People were telling me that I was brave, had such independence and spirit. And I gloated about how I was going to sit on the mountain with God, in the “thin space” between heaven and earth, where the voice of the Lord is deafeningly near. I wanted a mystical experience for my 70th birthday and I boldly was going to climb a mountain to get it. But like a scatterbug, I couldn't even focus on communicating with God in Telluride. I blamed Him for not showing up.
The old hag and I flew home to a giant pity party. Disappointment, shame, and embarrassment were at my doorstep. Poor me—I would have to report to all those who thought I was so brave that I failed in the great adventure. But after a few days at sea level the lights came on and I realized that the trip had been motivated, shaped by my desire to do something big, something remarkable. I wanted praise and adulation. My motivation was not so much to be at peace with God for a month but to show people that I could do it. I could see that my thinking was warped and then began to see that the trip wasn’t wasted, even though what it had to teach me was not what I expected. I realized that the entire plan to go to the mountains to scoff at my age and to get some great revelation from God was driven by ego, not by a desire for communion with God. It was totally about me, how I wanted to be seen as independent, adventurous, and deep.
The Lord wanted me to come down from the mountain, both literally and figuratively. He brought me down off my high horse. He didn’t cooperate with my silly ego exercise. He had other plans. He turned my mourning into dancing; He removed my clothes of sadness and clothed me in joy. (Paraphrase of Psalm 30:11.)
Honestly, it’s so good; not what I hoped for, but much, much better. It makes me smile to realize that I thought I had engineered the experience, but God stepped into my self-centered plan and made it infinitely better. It just looked like failure because it wasn’t what I wanted. He said, “Silly girl, why do you have to go high in the Rockies to be with me or to find meaning in your life? You can find those answers in the streets, in the shoe aisle of the thrift store, at the bedside of a dying friend, or in the quiet of your kitchen.”
It’s all good. I didn’t need to be on the mountain with my ego but to come down from the mountain to be with Him. What I thought was failure turned out to be a victory. I wanted to learn something and I did.
 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Failed minimalist

How long must I stand in the bright light of my closet before I purge the mess in there? How many times will I take out that olive green skirt that’s too tight, only to return it to the rack in case I lose weight? I liked that skirt and it still might work if I lose 10 20 30 pounds. Also, the skirt under discussion comes above my knees and I hate to show my knees. Otherwise, it’s perfect. Perfect for a younger, skinnier, much hipper version of myself.

Like a moth and a lightbulb, I’m drawn to those magazine articles that hype minimalist living. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg has a collection of jeans and black t-shirts, not much else. He has been quite successful and no one criticizes his fashion sense. Image how easy it would be to grab the next clean black t-shirt and head out to make a million dollars for a day’s work.

More times than I can count, when it comes to purging one’s wardrobe, the expert minimalist du jour suggests that you ask yourself, “Would I buy this again?”

My usual answer is, “No! Of course not! I already have an olive green skirt—see it shoved in the back of my closet? Why would I buy another one exactly like it?”

Sometimes the minimalist suggests that the maximalist take everything out of the closet and create three piles: a KEEP pile of things in perfect condition that fit and work for one’s lifestyle, a MAYBE pile for the things that aren’t perfect but are hard to discard, and a DONATE pile of definite give-away items. For the weak, they might suggest putting the MAYBE things in a box to reconsider at a later date. I hate the idea of a MAYBE pile because it would be an indication that I might be indecisive. In theory, I deplore weakness in a closet purger, yet in the end I go through the closet and keep almost everything. What if I do lose a lot of weight and need a black lace mini dress? It’s already there—no need to go shopping.

Years ago my daughter made me discard my two pairs of “parachute pants”—navy and khaki. I loved those pants but she called them “MC Hammer pants” and I caved because she kept saying, “It’s Hammer time.” I miss the pants. They may even be back in style now. What if my granddaughter is going to a 60s party and needs a hippie outfit? Surely, somewhere in the back of the closet, there’s a leather fringe jacket and a long denim skirt that I lovingly sewed out of a pair of deconstructed jeans and a couple of old flannel shirts. Where is that skirt? I might want to wear it again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Child grown old


Someone asks you, “How old do you really feel? In your heart, how old are you?” Most people my age say they feel like they are 21 or 35, maybe 40 years old—nowhere near the 60, 70, or more that their drivers’ licenses reveal. As for myself, I have no answer to this question, but my birth certificate tells me I’m turning 70 in a few days.
For years I’ve been threatening to run away, but never actually did it. This time my threat took wings and I have found myself high in the Rocky Mountains, in Telluride, Colorado. I have rented a small condo on the San Miguel River for a month. Here in the valley the elevation is over 9,000 feet, and I am at the base of a mountain where the elevation is over 10,500 feet, beyond are the 14,000 feet peaks of the San Juan range. My aging lungs haven’t quite caught up with the reduced oxygen up here.
So I came to the mountains looking for God, listening for Him to give me instructions, a blueprint for me at 70. I am facing this looming birthday with trepidation. I want to reboot, to leave behind the pains of the past, the destructive habits, the pity story that I have slogged through for so long. No more squandering the precious time I have, no more being mired in a past that will never change, no matter how long or how intensely I turn it over in my head.
What I haven’t yet embraced is that the past doesn’t have to form an unchangeable person. How many times have I do-si-do-ed around this? Even the mountains change. They change seasonally and have changed totally in the millennia since the formation of the Earth. Waterfalls and small streams continue to erode the rock, creating crevices and valleys. Just overnight there was a small landslide that brought red rocks tumbling down over a mountain trail. If the enormous mountain looming over me can change, then so can I. 
So I have come to this town in the Rocky Mountains seeking change, transformation. I read a Richard Rohr meditation this morning that said, referring to the Gospel of John (John 12:24-25), that part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger. Whoever loves his life loses it. I need to leave part of this old woman on the mountain. Leave the old hag who has let pains of the past hold her back from living fully in the present. But I’m afraid; I can’t take anymore loss. I want people I love to stay. I want my youth to stay, but it slips out of my fingers.
Out of nowhere, a couple of nights ago, I heard the words, “Just be. Just be happy.”
I was stunned—but no doubt where those words came from.
And I pray: Lord, show me how to love my life exactly as it is. Let me live simply in the sacrament of the present moment. Let me embrace the losses as part of the natural transitions of life. Let me look forward to the unexpected things that I can treasure in the next phase of life. Show me how, Lord, show me the way.

Monday, June 5, 2017

God, glory, and the baldheaded woman

“Shame. Embarrassment. Humiliation. Depression. All of these over a long period of time. My condition has gotten worse and I’m tired of trying to hide it, tired of all the time and energy wasted trying to hide my shame. So in an effort to declare myself free of this nuisance, I’m coming out.”

I wrote that on this blog on January 1, 2016, about my hair loss. At that time, I got my hair cut short, then went further into the Annie Lennox realm and had my hair bleached to within an inch of its life so the scarcity of hair wouldn’t be so obvious on my white scalp. It wasn’t enough. My hair continued to fall out and the shame continued.

I have alopecia, an auto-immune condition that has caused me to lose a lot of hair. The entire lower part of the back of my head is bald. That big bald patch is creeping up the back and sides and I have growing bald spots all over my head. After consultations with five different doctors over a period of time, I am faced with the fact that there is no cure for this and it is likely to continue.

A woman’s hair has been called her crowning glory. So much for that—no hair, no glory. But here’s the thing—it’s a real condition that I can’t pretend doesn’t exist, and somehow, I have to come to peace with it or live my life hiding in shame. It’s not just theoretical, not something I can ignore or wish away. This is my reality.

There’s a lump in my throat as I type these words. It sucks. But. The important stuff, the truth comes after the “but.” But somehow, I am going to find the strength, the confidence to face it full-on. The truth of this is that I can’t do anything meaningful without the strength of God so I’m leaning into Him, praying, putting my shame and heartache at His feet. I will walk proudly, my balding head shining in the sun. (Ugh!) My glory doesn’t come from my hair. I’m claiming His glory for my own, the reflection of His goodness inside of me.

Do I hide in shame or truly walk in freedom? I choose freedom. And I consider that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes. I have this and He will give me the strength and dignity to hold my head high. I expect that something meaningful will come out of it in time, something I can’t yet imagine. God can be found in all things, especially the painful things. His will is a gift that I can’t appreciate yet. So, I will wear this baldness with dignity, not shame.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an even shorter haircut, a buzzcut. I’m not even trying to hide the baldness any longer—it’s out there for anyone to see. I’ve been asked if I have cancer. Just yesterday a man at church asked me if I was getting “medical treatment.” Without being specific, friends ask how I have been with a telling urgency in their questions. It looks like the side effect of chemotherapy. I’m grateful that they are concerned about me but it’s obvious that I’m not hiding it well.

How do I feel about it? Sometimes weird, sometimes painfully ugly, yet sometimes bold and free of pretense. I want to see what the Lord is planning with this baldness in this life at this time. Forget the crowning glory. I just want it to be a reflection of His glory.