Category Archives: Gratefulness

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

“The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”

-Henry Ringling North, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story

 

At about seven years of age, I first went to the circus in South Dakota. I was overwhelmed with the largest crowd I had ever seen, the organ music, the enormous animals, and sheer excitement of it. They were selling tiny green chameleons that magically turned the color of your blouse or anything else you placed it on. I never gave a thought as a child to the fate of the little creature, the performing animals who were constricted to circus life, or the folks who lived the circus life.

I haven’t been to the circus for forty years. Even before we knew of the alleged mistreatment of animals and the perils of circus life for performers, I hated to see wild animals in captivity. I remember the last time I attended watching a regal white tiger run circles ad nauseam within a huge sphere; it was heartbreaking to me. I’m sure it was to the animal too. That was my last circus.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy

 

I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Where We Came From

Where We Came From

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost

 

In the late afternoon I walk out in the garden and step under the Weeping Balsam trees; feathery very low hanging branches brush my skin and I marvel the trees do not fall forward. True to form, the Morning Glories have shriveled back into themselves and the Hydrangeas look like they could use a long drink.

Yellow Daffodil Tiny15

Feather Tree-tiny

The little red, citrine, melon, and blue, glass garden lights are glowing.  They bring a smile to my face, primarily because they are so pretty they make me feel like I have entered Fantasia, but also because I have failed twice at setting the timer for them to come on at night as they should.

I was well into my thirties before I ever planted a single plant. I used to kvetch to my Mom that she always wanted me to “grub in the dirt” with her. Gardening was just not my thing back then.  I was my thing back then.

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The Whole Pu Pu Platter

The Whole Pu Pu Platter

“Let us rise up and be thankful; for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” –Buddha

Sometimes an unwelcome piece of advice can be the catalyst for life change. I had just moved back to Oklahoma City from Albuquerque after a protracted painful split with my fiancé. Broke and broken, I was heart sick that my dreams had turned from promising to improbable. I was also learning to live with Lupus when I sustained a rather serious back injury. I was off work for four months; lying in the floor flat on my back, taking Loritab each day and crying much of the time. I was single, living alone and the nearest family member was four hours away. It didn’t help that the man I was dating at the time expected me to keep a big smile on my face 24/7, not exactly a model of empathy. Every movement I made was excruciating and with no one to help everything was a struggle.

By that time I had been in spiritual direction about three years and met with my spiritual guide, Pat once a week. She knew I was not only struggling physically, but that my emotional state was really at the lowest ebb of my life. We were discussing my struggle one day when she suggested “If I were you I would focus on gratefulness at this time.” I couldn’t breathe much less respond to her. I said nothing, but I remember thinking that Pat was one egg roll short of a Pu Pu Platter. How could she suggest that I be grateful at this time? Grateful for what?

But I trusted Pat, so I started a “grateful journal” and began listing ten or so things I was grateful for each day. They didn’t have to be monumental; in fact, entries like warm socks, chocolate chip cookies, a good book, or a week without having to pick dog poop off the floor made the list repeatedly. As months and years went by the items on my list morphed into gratefulness for my sweet little pets, for feeling well enough to walk a mile, for the presence of my parents in my life, for a deepening spiritual life and for the fortitude to tell that stupiddamnshitty boyfriend to go take a long walk off a short pier!

I came to see that a grateful heart helps you walk through the door to a deepened spiritual life, to grow up spiritually. Once you walk through this door you cannot go back. This journey is the journey home and God consistently beckons us to wake up our soul and leave behind what no longer serves us. Although there was some grief in this, it was soon replaced with wonder. It certainly was not happiness that made me grateful, I was very unhappy at the time. It was gratefulness that finally made me happy.

“Awful things happen to an awful lot of us and it’s a happy moment when you start noticing some kind of payoff. Cancer survivors for example, notice that they’re breathing in a way other people don’t. And because they are breathing they are grateful in a way a lot of people aren’t. And grateful is a good place to wind up in life. It beats poor me.” ―Betty Rollins

Grumpy Pants, Holy Summons

Grumpy Pants, Holy Summons

“I ain’t no porcupine; take off your kid gloves. Are you ready for this thing called love?” Bonnie Raitt-Thing Called Love

Fatigue and pain make you grumpy, and clumsy for that matter. Sweetie has grounded me from drinking from any receptacle that does not have a wide bottom. It seems my spill frequency is not at an acceptable level. It’s not so much that I am clumsy, or not careful enough; it’s that as my body glides along my limbs don’t seem to g-l-i-d-e with it. They are painful, stiff and tired and this contributes to the clumsiness. Sweetie disagrees with this theory, but let’s assumes I am right. Anyway, presently I am grumpy. This condition is not terminal and usually no one gets hurt. It is rare for me to remain in this state for more than a week; but the neighbors are grateful I have prayer, meditation and writing so God can coax me out of it.

Planting your words in black and white for the world to see is a daunting process. There is nothing like getting naked in front of hundreds of people some of whom you have known for years, but also folks you’ll never meet-from Germany, Malaysia, France, South Korea, the UK and Russia. My intention is to write honestly but nothing has actually prepared me for the vulnerability you feel once your undressed words are out there. I have to rely on prayer, the years of journaling  I’ve done and those little serendipitous events that direct me and nudge me forward, in the right direction.

I am a strong proponent of having a spiritual practice in your life. I grew up in the church; I am grateful my parents gave me substance I could build on. I don’t believe that you should adopt the religion or spiritual practice of your parents without assessing what is right for you. I’d have missed so much if I had. I’m a spiritual seeker and have been since I was six; I remember deciding that relying on God made more sense that relying on people. I do attend church, but have gone for long periods of time when I did not; I had my own church service at home. On days when I don’t feel well or lack motivation to actually take off my sweats I still do. Daily and weekly spiritual practice is the bond that holds my life together. My practice generally includes prayer, reading, meditation and journaling –in that order. I’ve been doing this for twenty two years now and I do find renewal from this practice, courtesy of God.

Yes the disenfranchised and the grumpy can rejuvenate with consistent spiritual practice! If you don’t have a daily spiritual practice I recommend meditation; you simply shut up long enough to hear God’s voice. Many of us pray, pray, pray a litany of unending petitions to God. I’ll bet he wants to turn his iPhone to mute. Meditation requires no special knowledge or training and it can change your life in ways you can’t imagine. When we go within we can begin to focus on what really matters. Just start with five minutes each morning. Remember, I do rise but I am not proficient at shining, so if I can do it you can do it. Get your cup of Dark Ethiopian java blend or Oolong tea and get awake enough so you don’t go back to sleep–or to bed. Actually, I do my longer meditations in the afternoon or evening.

Put on some light instrumental music (white noise may be better for you) and make sure you have uninterrupted time and space (to start, 10 minutes or so). There are fantastic meditation CD’s out there; you may have to try two or three before you settle on one that is conducive to meditation for you. Get comfortable in an upright seated position and close your eyes. Very deliberately bring your attention to each part of your body, slowly relaxing each part and focus on the in and out of your breath.

To the degree you can, empty your mind (you’ll have to do this over and over.) Then, invite God to be with you and just listen. It is a simple process, but not necessarily easy. It may be helpful to use a guided imagery meditation CD or download to start. I highly recommend those of Belleruth Naparstek, psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer. You can check out her series at www.healthjourneys.com/. Just to name a few, the gifts you will receive for consistent practice are peace, clarity of purpose, blessed quiet, relaxation, ideas, love and the awareness that thousands of other grumpy people will be collectively listening to God at the same time.

Life is Short

Life is Short

“I could even feel how perishable all my moments really were, how all my life they had come to me begging to be lived, to be cherished even.” ― Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

The bed is warm and comfy, the scent of coffee has floated into the bedroom and the dream I’m in is fading. I begin to stir and slowly open my eyes. I stretch a little trying to wake up and start thinking about the day ahead when I feel it begin to cover me. It starts at the top of my head like thick Pepto-Bismol being drizzled over me, creeping down onto and into my entire body. I feel that sad sickening feeling coat my throat and chest and then settle in my gut. I recognize this unwelcome visitor, it is heartache. Then I remember; my Mom passed a few days ago. My Mom passed, with my sister Jan and me holding her hands. Heartache has come to settle in.

I want to be enveloped by God’s love so fully that I can’t feel this consuming pain. I also want some kind of assurance that I was a good daughter; I want to know that I did extend myself for my mother the best I could. I want to feel that I focused on things that mattered with her. When your heart is broken, any level of intuition or discernment you have been fortunate enough to have, to hone, to listen to and act on to goes right out the window. So for now I sit in the unknowing, sure of one thing only-that my Mom and I loved each other dearly.

Life is short. You tell yourself you have time, plenty of time. You don’t. My mom used to tell me she still felt like a girl inside, only now do I understand what she meant. Even though I just turned 60 I feel like I’m 35 or 40, not physically but otherwise. A lifetime will sneak up on you before you know it. One day you’re stealing kisses in the back seat of Bobby Joe’s car with his many octopus arms coming at you from all angles; you’d push one away and here came another. High school boys are just dreadful creatures. The next thing you know you’re 60 with a growing awareness that the ride will be over before your ready.

For me it’s like eating ice cream; no matter what size bowl I have I always want more when the bowl is empty-100% of the time. So I pick up the bowl and lick it clean just like an over stimulated six pound Chihuahua who wants more. I am aching for more of my Mom, more time with her, more laughing with her, more meals with her, more being her daughter. I suppose many of us also yearn for more when we too reach the end of life’s path. Most of us wish to live as long as we can with quality of life. And, some would actually choose more time without quality of life. There is trepidation for our departure for many. The wise old woman I am struggling to nurture inside would be ready. She would as gracefully as she could usher in the next phase of her spirit’s journey, releasing that tight hold on this life.

I will never look at our time here in the same way; I feel a strange oneness with the world I have not felt before. It’s a new awareness that most everything we do impacts someone else. There is also a renewed awareness that even though we are spirit, we are meant to experience fully this short stay in our physical bodies, the tastes, the touch, the sights, the wondrous sounds and love we are graced with. The time we have here is precious; we empty our bodies of youth and fill our spirits with love and lessons we need. My Mom has passed and her spirit has gone to what’s next and I know God was waiting to welcome her and is her biggest fan.

60, Thick and Grateful

60, Thick and Grateful

Exactly when did I become thick in the middle? I wasn’t thick six months ago; I was mushy in the middle but not thick. Mushy I understand; I’ll be 60 this month and for 22 of those years I’ve taken Prednisone for Lupus. And although I launched a hostile take-over to get my body back five months ago, I am a senior citizen, according to AARP at least. So, I have earned the mushy. I don’t necessarily think thick comes with age, but I have seen some changes in my friends the past few years. Come to think of it, most of them are thick! Up to now I have avoided thick, it is clearly not working for me. I suppose thick is just one more in that multitude of things I will add to the joys of turning 60.

In truth, there is much to be grateful for at this “senior” threshold. Most of my parts still function really well, I pass most folks walking the trail at the park. This is in part because I inherited my Dad’s long stilt-like legs which look fine on him but ill-proportioned on me. They do however enable me to make great time on the walking trail. And, in spite of living with Lupus, Fibromyalgia and a few more autoimmune conditions-I am out there. This is not a “walk in the park” for me. Well literally it is, but not so much figuratively. Walking is always painful, sometimes very painful. Just pick a joint, go ahead any of them, yep it hurts. Or pick a muscle, yep that hurts too. I don’t saunter along either; I walk as hard and as quickly as I can for the aerobic value. I am emmensly grateful that I can walk.

I am grateful for the years I had before I turned 38, before the pain started. So many people are diagnosed with painful conditions much earlier, many in childhood. They will never know what it is like to walk 20 miles a week with no pain, or ride horseback 16 miles and feel great when you stop. I also have work that provides a livelihood which is something at this age, discrimination is alive and well and I don’t take it for granted. I am in a loving marriage with someone I look forward to seeing and who still makes me laugh each day. And I do have world class friends; I’ve never seen a more engaged, intelligent, caring, resourceful and creative group. (most of them are thick)

A huge blessing in my life at 60 is that my parents are still on this earth. I am able to see them fairly often and hope I make a difference in their lives as they go through these last difficult years. I am also grateful that inspite of all the pain and difficulties that have come my way God is still constant, my desire to know God is still constant and the renewal that affords me is priceless. I can live with the thick.