“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living
It is incredibly hot, I am sweating profusely, and I am afraid. My muscles are taut and my back aches from the strain. The sweet little dog in my lap senses my anxiety and stares at me with a knowing look. Our storm shelter is very crowded but eerily quiet; all the adults are praying. The fear is palpable.
I’ve been in this shelter built under our garage floor before, but this time is different. This time the sweetie is with me, his first time to be in the shelter. Typically he is working twenty seven miles away so I tackle the ice storms, blizzards, earthquakes, 80 mph straight-line winds, destructive hail storms, and the horrific tornadoes that wreak havoc in central Oklahoma.
Another reason this time is different is because this tornado is two blocks from our home, and we can hear it howl.
You gain new respect for your own personal space when you are in a metal box underground with three other adults, four children under the age of ten, (two of whom are crying) an 80 pound Labrador retriever, a 24 pound terrier who has left a gift on the floor, a trembling Chihuahua, and one very nervous cat. Did I mention she still has claws?
It was not our turn this time, but tornadoes strike so often here you feel that sooner or later your number will be up. Tornadoes have begun their yearly rampage through my state; it’s practically a rite of passage. This is something I loathe, dread, and take damn seriously.
Oklahoma City is the epicenter of “tornado alley” in this country. Yep, just south of OKC, in Norman, the Oklahoma University School of Meteorology and the National Storms Laboratory pioneered state of the art tornado forecasting and tracking.
We have storm chasers reporting with moment to moment updates like nowhere in the world. When I was in England I met a man from Spain who asked where I was from. When I said Oklahoma he replied “Oh, you have big spinning wind?” Yes, that would be us.
May is different here. We huddle in front of the TV frequently in the spring; glued to the screen waiting, watching, and listening for news of a new mesocyclone descending with the potential to leave devastation in its wake.
We totally get the meteorology lingo; we know what the “dry line” is, what “PDS” means, what a “sink drain” refers to, and the difference between an F-2 and an F-5. We surely know a wall cloud when we see one and we keep an eye out for circulation.
And, we know precisely what that moment feels like when you must make a decision about what you will do, where you will go. You have about fifteen minutes to gather yourself, your family, and pets. It is not a drill; it is the worst reality. We central Oklahomans do this over and over again in the spring.
The meteorologist points to a graphic showing that at 6:30 the tornado will be four miles away, at 6:45 it will be three blocks way, and at 7:00 the stupiddamnshitty thing will be on top of you! So you gather the pets, wallet, water, boots, bike helmets, blanket, iPhone, iPad, flashlights, and head for a windowless room to put as many walls as you can between you and the funnel.
Before we got the storm shelter I would announce (despite Sweetie’s protests) that we were packing it up and heading to Baptist Hospital. Under Baptist there is a long underground tunnel locals take shelter in during tornadoes. There you’ll find people of all ages and their pets lining the halls, waiting, listening and wondering what will be left of the life they have built when they emerge. Just a typical spring day in Oklahoma City.
These non-relenting tornado strikes are like episodes of atrial fibrillation that keep knocking the breath out of you time after time. Folks show the stress; they now have that post-tornado face. Locals know the look; these are the faces of grave loss, whose lives are forever changed. They go through their days unable to come to grips with what has blown their lives to bits. Whether or not your home is hit, the big wind opens a wound of uncertainty in your spirit.
We never dreamed that horrific 1999 scenario would be repeated May 20th, 2013 to practically the same degree, same location, and same sad path. In-ground shelters are selling like hand warmers in the tundra. And, the brand new neighbors who just moved here from Hawaii and shared our storm shelter last Sunday—-they have already installed their own underground shelter.
“…I’d been caught up in some wild cyclone, like Dorothy throw into Oz, with not a good witch in sight to save me.” ― Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon
Category Archives: Stressing Me Out
Head in the Oven?
“They don’t seem to understand, I’m too far gone to try. Now these lonely memories, they’re all that I can do. And I’m down to seeds and stems again too.” –Bill Kershen
Sometimes life is difficult. Days stretch out ahead with unrelenting demands, some you care about, others not at all. Somehow you will yourself to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying. I have the urge not to.
Drained from years of striving I want to sit right down and refuse to do anything, it’s too much stupiddamnshitty work! You know other people do it-give in to consuming weariness and forget how to try. I want to fall in the floor and whimper like a four year old who’s been told they can’t have McNuggets. This is not the same valley I always crawl out of but a deep trench that has me trapped.
While I’m at it I’ll stop choosing to keep myself emotionally stable. It’s my turn to go round the bend, just veg for a while, refuse to communicate, live in my own self-absorption. I’ll stop digging down to the bottom of my soul to find something worth salvaging. Get in the car and go-just anywhere! Other people go that route, why not me?
I won’t vacuum either; I loathe vacuuming. You push a heavy, deafening, incredibly awkward metal sucking machine around until you jerk your arm out of the socket and ten minutes later the floor looks just as it did before you sacrificed your rotator cuff. I’ve run out of parts to injure. Maybe things are looking up.
Weariness strains your endurance repeatedly to combat a new symptom, new syndrome, new injury, or another body system gone awry; unwept tears flow unrestrained. Coming so frequently that your lashes fall out, you are truly the bluest girl on the block.
“The tide you never valued has gone out.And you are marooned on unsure ground.Something within you has closed down;And you cannot push yourself back to life.” –John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
Life has not been a tidy pleasant picture. It’s been the full catastrophe complete with struggle, omissions, grand mistakes, fear, poor judgment, lies, resentment and anger. But, for twenty two years now I’ve come out swinging time and again if only in the twelfth round. Why? Because of the gifts.
Living with years of unrelenting physical pain gifts you with tender gratefulness for good days. Loss of control gifts you with reliance on God. Years of heart breaking physical struggle gifts you with uncanny empathy for the struggles of others. Inability to continue treasured activities gifts you with new talents. And shared feelings shine the brightest light on those who truly love you.
Years ago after a painful back injury I cried (whined actually) to my ever supportive loving sister that no one understood my physical problems. Her response was one of the best gifts I have ever been given. She said “I want you to start at the beginning and tell me-all of it. Don’t stop till I understand”. I did.
Those who reach the finish line in a car or on cycle do not earn the distance walker’s lessons. I am blessed, not everyone gets gifts like these and there is no short cut that allows it-just suffering.
‘Meg’ Magrath: “Why’d you do it, Babe? Why’d you put your head in the oven? Babe: “I don’t know … I’m having a bad day.”— (Crimes of the Heart, 1986)
“I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself “well, that’s not going to happen” ― Rita Rudner
It started as far back as junior high school. My brother and I baked a cake for Mom for mother’s day; we chose angel food because it looked easy. When it began to rise we were horrified, would it run over the pan getting gooey cake all over Mom’s oven? We would surely incur her wrath for that, so we took a fork and pushed the cake back down into the pan-hard. For those of you who have never done this, I can tell you that it produces a white rubbery disc that doubles as an bowling ball. We all knew the sad truth then, I would never be admitted into Le Cordon Bleu.
Besides, kitchens will hurt you-damn near every time you go in. Before Sweetie and I got together the kitchen and I had an agreement, I would use it only for storage and it promised never to hurt me. After thirteen years together my kitchen terror has lessened, but I still don’t trust those sinister jagged objects! I typically emerge with a singed hand, scraped knuckles or sliced fingers and to add insult to injury, there is something very wrong with everything I make. I was quite content when the items in my refrigerator consisted of a few containers of yogurt, fruit, nuts, vegetables, wine, milk and cookie dough! I’m no Donna Domestic, but I got along quite nicely—until I met Sweetie.
The dilemma is, my husband is a chef. He insists I didn’t cook a thing for him for six months after we met. He’s probably right, I was panicked to cook in front of him much less FOR him! There is no end to the litany of culinary disasters! It is soooo much less expensive to dine out- when as much goes into the trash as into the tummy!
I don’t get it; my Mom was arguably the best cook in the county. My entire life the woman was stocked up for impending famine; she could have fed the entire Lewis and Clark expedition crew at a moment’s notice. People from everywhere called her routinely for culinary advice. My brother is a super Cajun cook, my sister performs one culinary feat after another and my nieces and cousins are great cooks too-evidently the cooking gene is recessive and not uniformly passed down!
It aggravates the snot of out me to hear “Anyone can follow a recipe!” Folks, I am living proof that everyone cannot! I try to emulate Mom’s cooking skills using her recipes, follow each step and focus. To my chagrin these efforts produce miserable concoctions. It seems to be cyclic; for a couple weeks I am totally frustrated with my efforts and resolve never to cook again. Then I’ll rally, channel Mom for a few weeks and cook five or six things in a row that don’t give us indigestion.
All this commotion does not go unnoticed by the Sweetie. He is very tolerant of my culinary inadequacies and God bless him, he’s appreciates the effort. But the man has actually eaten some absolutely dreadful things, like enchilada pie that tasted more like wet tortillas and tomatoes. There was the Key Lime pie that produced an instant pucker the minute you put it to your mouth. And, then there was the time I cut the end of my finger off. I started with a large Band-Aid, progressed to several Band-Aids with gauze and ended up walking around the house with a mini pad taped to what was left of my finger!! You can’t make this kind of thing up!
When it comes to culinary arts, yes to some degree you can acquire skill. But for the most part it’s like boobs, either you got em or ya don’t. Well, I guess you can procure those too. So it’s more like singing, which I can do quite nicely, either you have the chops or ya stink. In the kitchen, I’m as stinky as they come.
“I ate her cooking for eighteen years,” he whispered. “You get used to it.” “Oh yeah, when?” “I think it happened around the seventeenth year,” Henry said.” Michael Buckley, The Everafter War
“Mattie sat at the table, obsessing, orbiting around herself. She was sick of her worried, hostile mind. It would have killed her long before, she felt, if it hadn’t needed the transportation.” ― Anne Lamott, Blue Shoe
I could be having a sweet dream about Jude Law right now, but no. Instead I’m lying in bed wrestling with an unwelcome visitor, worry. I’ve about reached the grand mal hissy fit level-over things that will resolve without this trauma. I feel like I’ll spontaneously combust. There is no word in the English language that adequately describes how I hate this sporadic reoccurrence. Evidently there is a genetic predisposition in the Valentine clan for my reaction to this; it was also passed on to my eldest niece. When she was little Gramps bought her a tiny dapple Shetland pony whom we named “Hissy Fit” in her honor. Is it just me, or some manner of collective anxiety passed down to me through generations, or passed down to women, or to Americans?
Each time I wake in the night and worry myself into heartburn, headache and enough generalized anxiety to warrant a high dose cocktail of anti-anxiety meds I ask myself, why are you doing this? Again? What we give our energy and attention to grows, multiplies. If we study something we are interested in most likely our attraction to that subject will increase as our knowledge of it does. Similarly, if we dwell on problems they will take on lives of their own. Unless you are extremely fortunate and your life has been a bed of roses or you are the grand puba of peace and all things spiritual, you know what I mean. Worry raids our quality of life, steals our moments, makes us ill and complicates our relationships.
Even as a grade-schooler I had the worry cloud over my head at times. I remember our speaker at sixth grade graduation saying “The past six years probably went by very quickly for you. The next six will go by even more quickly and the six after that even faster.” I think I’ve obsessed about how I use the time I have on this earth since then. There is a condition that affects the bladder causing tremendous inflammation called interstitial cystitis. This occurs when the area between the cells becomes inflamed. I believe many of us have interstitial anxiety, worry that creeps in between the fabric of our lives, between our thoughts, between our moments.
But how do we move past this habit of worry? I use the word “habit” because I do think to some degree our brains become trained to worry. I know this because when I wake in the middle of the night unworried my brain seems to search the database to FIND something to worry about! Jesus, who was spectacular at cutting to the chase, said “Therefore do not be anxious about your life. . . but seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:31-32)
In 1998 through 2000 I gave particular time and focus to deepening my spiritual life; I placed this above everything else in my life. About this time I had a dream that I was seated upon a huge pile of paper and wondering what to do with it all. As I sat there I realized I was seated on a stack of worries! It finally dawned on me that they were just paper and I could burn them.
What do you think happened during this three year period? Worry just about ceased and life fell into place in astounding ways. I know this, lived this and still fall into old habits. I don’t mean to channel Pollyanna; my life has not been without tremendous struggle and this process is not easy. But if we heed the advice of Jesus and keep refocusing on God, the nights and the dreams can both be better. I’ll see you on the other side Jude.
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.
The Battle of Little Valentine
I have a “carpe diem” mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day. They make me want to slap a dead poet. ~Joanne Sherman
Years ago my brother and I were having pizza at Promenade mall in Tulsa when he gave me a long curious look and said, “Sister, I’m not sure if I trust a person who can eat just one piece of pizza!” I understood our difference. Our fellow homosapiens exhibit behaviors that baffle and sometimes annoy us. WC Fields said he didn’t trust non-drinkers. The Sweetie looses it when he sees someone back into a parking space. For me, it’s the stupiddamnshitty morning people. Waking up with bright eyes, a smile on your face and feeling rested falls into that dodgy not-quite-human category as far as I am concerned. A roommate I had in my late twenties began chirping at 6:00am before her feet hit the ground! I wanted to slap her. The number of times I have awakened with enough clarity to make a complete sentence is about five.
My Dad is a morning person and so is my sister; I’ve wanted to beat them both a time or two also. In fact when I was a kid my Dad was hell-bent on transforming me into a morning person; he thought I was just lazy. We lived in a wonderful three story house in South Dakota (the tundra, not so wonderful) and my room was upstairs. Dad and Mom grew weary of trekking up and down the stairs in failed attempts to wake me for school so they launched a full blown tactical assault.
Dad’s initial campaign consisted of a slapping me on the butt and flipping the bright lights on. Yes, this did wake me at least for a while and pissed me off considerably, but I fell right back to sleep. It then escalated to threatening me with spanking, grounding, and loss of privileges. When I weighed my options, typically I chose to go back to sleep. The next strategic maneuver dad tried was a chicken. Yes, I did say chicken. No, it wasn’t live but may as well have been. It was this huge plastic rooster which produced an absolutely ghastly crow-which he placed right by my head. Yes, this woke me up, pissed me off and I went right back to sleep. Then he bought a cow, same principal as the rooster. Pumping the tail of the cow generated a blood curdling MOOOOO, which woke me, pissed me off and I was right back to sleep. We were at a stalemate until Mom and Dad bought walkie-talkie telephones- yep, just like the army. This was in the day before cell phones you remember. I had no efficacious exit strategy; I was disarmed. Dad kept calling me on the walkie-talkie phone until I surrendered and finally peeled myself from the warm bed. They did not resort to water boarding; the hateful walkie-talkie campaign was successful.
When a child has such strong aversion to waking up in the morning- parents please realize that they just have a vastly different circadian rhythm! God did not make all of us morning people!! Really. I actually used to put my clothes on for the next day under my pajamas so the getting ready for school process would not be so taxing. That is until Mom came in one night to check on me and thought I was burning up with fever because I had on so many layers of clothing. At this juncture I should admit that I have NEVER out-grown this aversion to mornings. Even my career reflects my inability to rise and shine. I’ve been an account executive in sales all these years for a reason. When you office in your home and set your own schedule you can start the day more or less as you want. There is still nothing shining about me in the morning, nothing!
But, I do recognize the gifts of morning; the fresh undisturbed air, the clean slate waiting to be written, the quiet uncluttered dawn, the sunlight beginning to glitter on the wet grass and the precious gift of one more day. The morning seems to take shape best when I consciously intend to have a good day. To set those intentions, I spend some time each morning in the silence. Somehow God finds me there, knows I’m dumb as a rock in the morning, speaks to me anyway, and loves my company.
Meltdown, Faith and Fine China
You don’t just wake up one morning brimming with faith. That would be sweet, no? Typically I wake feeling like I’ve had a collision with a circus train. Fortunately I am married to a man who feels exactly the same. The morning mantra at our house is “don’t touch me”, “ don’t speak to me”, and “If you think I am picking up that Chihuahua poop in the living room floor at this hour you are sadly mistaken!” I suppose there are things about which faith does come easily. I have complete faith that any meal my husband, the chef, prepares will make my toes curl. However, even after following the recipe as carefully as my almost non-existent culinary skills allow, I have absolutely no faith the chicken marsala I’ve just spent hours agonizing over will be edible. To my credit, only three people who have tasted my creations have become seriously ill.
I joined a contemplative meditation group in 1994 that met each Tuesday for a couple years. Many were part of the same church congregation and very active members, me not so much. As the group started I thought to myself “My nieces were right, I’m not holy enough”. I am an introvert and not comfortable being part of a group, especially a potentially judgmental church posse. The theme that first night was “Be Still and Know God”. Although I “Knew” God, I was not on a first name basis with the ”Be Still” notion. Our weekly routine was to introduce a topic for the evening and meditate for 30 minutes. I felt down to my shoes that I didn’t belong and could no more be still for thirty minutes than I could cook a meal Julia Child would devour with gusto. I had no faith in the process or in my ability to meditate. The ONLY thing I could think of was Blue Bell ice cream. “Be still and know God.” I told myself. “Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla”, my unholy inner spirit shouted back. “Empty your mind so God can speak to you.” I pleaded with my wandering mind, “Blue Bell Dutch Chocolate” said my worthless little spirit.
Months later the group had a retreat in the country; one of the activities was to go out into nature and find an item that represented our personal spiritual journey. I only found a paper cup, which didn’t exactly spring from nature. It certainly wasn’t natural for me when I began meditating either. I saw that paper cup as my developing spirit; it was paper then but it would grow, evolve. I could see the evolution from paper, to thin plastic, to thick resin, to glass, and someday to fine china. From this, I learned faith can grow.
If ever something will teach you faith, it is most certainly marriage. There is nothing that will test your mettle like cohabitating for years on end with another human who has as many opinions, idiosyncrasies, faults and illusions as you-particularly if your partner is male. As my Mom says, “If it has tires or testicles you are going to have trouble with it!” For me, trusting a marriage partner has not come easily; I came by this through years of exposure to people I should never have given my trust to. My relationship track record prior to meeting my husband was dismal, in part due to the fact that my partners’ moral compasses were broken and they had become stupiddamnshitty dirt bags. I grow weary. So, my approach has developed into a periodic renewal of faith in marriage and in all things.
More than once in my life I have experienced the “dark night of the soul”. It proved to be more like the “dark two years of the soul”, a crisis of spirit so deep I didn’t have the strength for faith to materialize. Life was daunting and overwhelming, and I felt that little of what I did really mattered. When you are in the midst of this sad fatiguing time the things you typically rely on for guidance don’t work. Praying is so difficult you either cry or just mutter a weak “help”. Your intuition goes right out the window, if you are lucky enough to sleep you don’t dream, and you can’t focus on those things that are life affirming. What I learned from this cruel void was to look inward for God, to look to the Christ within, not out there somewhere in the heavens. I came to see that to have faith, we must choose to have faith.
This is not to say that life is hunky dory from then on. Take last week for instance. My laptop contracted a virus, the mother of all viruses just to be clear here. And despite that I had what my local computer Guru promised was the “best virus scan available”, my pretty pink computer that Sweetie bought me crashed and left this world, NEVER to return. This is the computer all my business records are on and more importantly the same computer the book I am writing is on, a book I have poured my heart into for 3 years now and cannot replicate. I did have a backup on flash drive but could not, even if Dr. Evil put a kryptonite gun to my head, find the thing! I am not saying I melted down, but my head did spin completely around according to the staff at Three Geeks and a Grump. To say I was a bastion of hope and light is not exactly correct. After two days of stewing, fretting and waiting, my data was retrieved by the Geeks. I hugged all of them repeatedly and promised to fund college savings plans for their children. I was once again reminded that where faith is concerned we don’t have to be able to see the future, just take one step and a time, turn the corner and take another. It takes practice. We commit to keep practicing and commit to keep choosing faith-our entire lives.
Twenty Five Summers
That relentless Oklahoma City wind brought a dark cold cloud last week. Those who refer to Chicago as the windy city sure never spent a winter here! This time of year I begin to feel a familiar feeling of dread and an overwhelming desire to flee the bitter weather that is inching toward me. As I drive through my neighborhood I see golden leaves shimmer in the sunlight and know the next couple days will turn them to shriveled brown memories. A chill comes over me that generally does not cease till spring. I am not a fan of winter. In fact, winter scares me a bit. I spent the first eight years of my life in South Dakota and I know how frigid air can change your life or end it. As soon as the cold hits I undergo a transformation. I feel an ache in every part of my body, I become stiff, my muscles grow tight, I become grumpy, and poof- I am Estelle Getty complete with attitude. Summer on the other hand makes me come alive! I can walk in the park at eight o’clock at night, open the door early in the morning and not get chilled, enjoy an extra range of motion in my limbs and sit on the patio and read-just a few of the things I will not be able to do soon.
I was thinking of summer today and how few I may have left, maybe just 20 to 25. That gets your attention doesn’t it? More and more I feel such a sense of urgency about my life. I don’t want to waste the time I have left on lower things that steal my time, my energy, my peace, and my clarity of thought. I worked for a publishing house in the 1980’s and had the summers off. I used to turn the television off all summer, do volunteer work, read, write and walk. I could do without most of the television programs shown now. I don’t want to fill my head and distract my spirit with vulgar mindless prattle. The same goes for loud talking people who rattle on incessantly (regardless of what they are rattling about). I also have grown weary of those extra violent moves, and I never need to see another Transformer as long as I live. Is this how we are choosing to define our lives?
I do not think this is what God had in mind for us. That path leads to unsatisfied lives and fatigued souls. What God has in mind for us is to focus on higher things, fill our lives with books that teach and inspire, programs that both entertain and enlighten, and people who nurture their best selves and encourage us to do the same. The thing that actually matters most in this life people miss completely, doing the work of the soul. This is why we are here my friends.
I read everything I can get my hands on written by Sue Monk Kidd (author of “The Secret Life Of Bees”) who started out as a nurse and had the privilege of being present for the last moments of some of her patients’ lives. From reading her stories, their regrets were not of things they had done, but of things they had not done, of forgiving words not spoken, trips not taken, time not spent with children, and deeds not done for those in need. Marianne Williamson tells the story of a Jewish man named Arlan who dies and meets God. The man is afraid God will ask him why he was not Abraham or why he was not Joshua, but what God asked him was “Why were you not Arlan?” The strongest regret of all is for not living authentically, for not having the courage to express who we are.
Many of us fail to show ourselves, because at the end of the day we feel that cold winter wind come over us and hear that old “Not Good Enough” song playing. I’ve heard it, put it to bed and then felt it wake again. It happens to us all, but what we should remember is that we need to do absolutely nothing to be worthy. We simply are worthy just as we are and we are treasured by a loving God who sees us fully and is our biggest fan. The highest, strongest desires of our hearts are there because God placed them there and wants us to live them out. When we fall short, act like fools, cuss the dog, drop the ball at work, say hurtful things to loved ones, forget who we are, and hate ourselves for it; God is there with us and sad with us. Grace is a wonderful thing; it assures us that tomorrow we can count on God’s renewal to warm our cold tired bodies and assure our spirits that another summer is just around the corner.
As you walk into the sanctuary of St Augustine’s Episcopal Church, there is a quiet spot in front of a peaceful stained glass window where you can light a candle, kneel, and pray. Folks often kneel there and lift up concerns for loved ones. Today my prayer was for me. I found myself verbalizing my frustrations to God. Immediately I heard a suggestion. God does show up if you ask.
The incident reminded me of one of the first blogs I wrote, back in 2012. Below you may read how that day unfolded.
I am in labor. I’m soon to be sixty, but quite clearly in labor. I’ve been in labor for a couple of years; it is a long time to be in labor, and it does hurt like hell. I have grown weary of it. I can’t speak from experience when it comes to the labor of childbirth, but this labor of the psyche and spirit is protracted and frustrating!
Something in me is struggling to wake up, morph, and materialize. I want to season into a wise old woman who has earned a listening ear. This is why I began blogging, a burgeoning desire to share my observations, stories, depth of experience and spiritual journey. By sharing my own truths, my passions, my personal stories and what sustains me in dark times, perhaps the reader will find a thin little slice of hope.
The chapter has slammed shut on a wonderful career; my work life has wound down to an unfulfilling necessity. I find myself meditating on more substantial matters. How can I make the rest of my life “a proud statement rather than a sad apology. . .”? Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone.
There is no end to the little annoyances inherent in this labor process that feel distressing. I was in McDonald’s last week when I suffered a particularly jolting blow. I don’t eat at McDonald’s. But, I have no issue with buying a bottle of water, placing my ever spreading derriere in a booth and having my way with their Wi-Fi service.
I stepped to the counter to order my water and was greeted by a woman who looked old enough to be my grandmother. Did I mention that I am just this side of sixty? When I asked for a bottle of water, the woman replied, “I can get you a senior coffee for less than that.” There it was, the dreaded adjective, “senior.” I could hardly breathe. When I recounted this tale to my ever-the-smart-ass husband his reply was “Did you take her up on it?” Stupidamnshitty man.
Taking action is my antidote for the angst this labor process has fostered. So, I have been walking a great deal the past few months.
I was walking one hot morning in August; I know, a bit masochistic for late summer in Oklahoma City. I came upon a children’s race on the park trail. Only a few kids were finishing up as I walked along and I met a woman and her daughter of about seven on the trail. This child was not one of the kids on the trail with an athletic build and a spring in her step. She was a beautiful petite little blonde with braided hair, thin, and a bit fragile looking.
She was really struggling to finish the race and finally just stopped, defeated. Through sweaty tears I heard her cry “Momma, I just can’t do it!” I saw the fatigue on her tiny face and knew exactly how she felt. Earlier that morning I’d been that same crying child; I could not will my worn little body to function.
Tired through my soul with fatigue, three years of sleep deprivation, illness and foggy thinking I fell to my knees in pain and desperation, right on the living room floor. I cried out to God for help and heard my answer pretty clearly. “Get up off the stupid floor and walk, you’ll feel better!” I did it.