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Clouds, Go Figure

Clouds, Go Figure

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” ― Rumi

 

The first hours of daybreak are not my finest. On the very rare occasion I am forced into wakefulness as the big shining orb begins to rise, my surly attitude can be transmuted by a spectacular sunrise.

Do you know what it takes to see a beautiful sunrise? Clouds. It takes more than just a couple higher clouds. Fall and winter months produce the best sunrises because the angle of the sun is lower. More violet and blue light scatters, causing the sky to be very blue. The sun’s rays pass through the cloud layers for a longer time and this enables us to see those glorious melons, blues, reds and yellows.

Clouds, go figure. Without clouds, there is nothing for the sun’s rays to reflect off of, to show us the beauty in our world. Struggling and suffering are clouds in our lives that can propel us toward strength and growth.

If we spend our entire lives doing everything in our power to avoid suffering we miss completely the power we e-a-r-n from the process. People go to such great lengths to avoid pain and suffering that they end up with lives lived on the surface. You know them, people who avoid having difficult conversations and allow their relationships to remain superficial, are so afraid of a job interview that they stay in the same job their entire career, never learn to swim or ride a bike, or never speak up for themselves at work. You never get what you really want out of life like this do you?

I When I was a kid in South Dakota I was scared silly to graduate from the “Tadpole” swimming class to the “Minnow” class. When it came time for the next class I spent a second term in “Tadpoles” because I was so afraid of what might be expected of me as a “Minnow”. Finally I put my big girl panties on, tried the next class and turned into a Mermaid, jumping off the diving board, turning flips off the side of the pool, diving into the water, and swimming laps with confidence.

Had I not moved through the suffering I would have missed the joy of the process, not to mention the mermaid stage of my life and that little green swimsuit that earned me the moniker of “pear butt”! The only way to get to the other side was to suffer.

Look around you. Those who do the work, earn the gifts. They have learned the dire truth of letting go of the safety net or moving outside their comfort zone to gain something much better.

Cheryl is no morning lark either. In spite of this, for as long as I can remember, the first thing she does in the morning is stretch and do some light weight bearing exercise. She makes no big production of it and few know she does this. (Well, up to now, sorry Churl.) Her reward for this dreadful morning sacrifice is some fairly chiseled arms, and more upper body strength than most women her age and size.

Lorna forgoes spending on unnecessary household items. Her gift is enough discretionary money to travel all over the world, and wonderful memories to take with her. She just chooses memories instead of things.

There is pain involved in good decisions more often than not. These decisions make our lives better, markedly better.

The safe way we have always done things is not always best. I might have remained in just one career and perhaps been closer to retirement than I am now. In no way do I regret the changes I have made. The gifts from my tenure at ten or so post college jobs over forty years are tremendous resilience, courage, friendships, communication skill, travel, an expanded world view, expertise in various fields, and the confidence that I can do most anything I intend to do.

Fear generally is the thing that halts the growth process, fear of suffering. We fear failure, rejection, embarrassment, financial trouble, loss, physical pain and the unknown. And yes, we have all experienced these. They are the real deal. Being rejected is humiliating, failing is frustrating, having your heart broken is devastating, changing jobs can scare the blonde off your hair, but suffering is the place we begin to earn the gifts.

Not particularly to my liking, suffering is also one of the ways we gain self-knowledge. We all know folks who have allowed themselves be taught by suffering, instead of immobilized by it. In her memoir “The Hiding Place”, Corrie Ten Boom recounts being held in Ravensbruck, a notorious Nazi women’s concentration camp as a Dutch Jew who aided other Jews during World War II. That desperate time taught Corrie who she was and who she was not. Most of all, it taught her gratefulness. What she had suffered during the war gave her the knowledge and empathy to run a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors after the war.  Like Corrie, we also learn reliance on God from suffering. Corrie was able to share with thousands how God’s love brought her through the ordeal.

A different type of suffering is that which we must allow. When we do not allow these sacrifices, not much life happens either. Want energy? Exercise. Want financial stability? Do your homework, seek the advice of a financial advisor, and follow it. Want to meet someone wonderful? Do the interior work to become someone wonderful. Want to love your work? Quit that job that sucks you dry of creativity and do something you have passion for!

Our spiritual lives are no different. 

We want to feel close to God, to have discernment in our choices. But will we do the spiritual work to know God? I love my church, but just going to church on Sunday morning and expecting to grow in spiritual wisdom is like standing in the kitchen each day and expecting to become a great cook. We all know how that turns out. . .

You have heard the phrase “fruits of the spirit”. I believe those fruits of the spirit are earned gifts developed over time with consistent effort.

When I was a kid I turned to absolute stone when my Dad used the word “discipline”, the dreaded “D” word. Oh, he wore that tired word out! Talk about suffering, I wanted to just lob off my ears as he yammered on. As I have matured however, I have come to understand that applied discipline yields growth. This is also true in our spiritual lives.

Spiritual practice takes so many forms, prayer, meditation, reading and studying spiritual material, writing, sharing our faith lives with others, attending church or spiritual groups, going on retreats or quiet time in nature listening to God.  We utter a litany of prayers but we do little listening. Whatever path we choose, growth takes place when it is done with intention, consistency and discipline.

Here is the dismal truth folks; we must suffer to get to the really good stuff in life. Yes it is generally uncomfortable, painful, and sometimes downright frightening but the sweetness on the other side is like no other. Pain and sacrifice can mean a step closer to our dreams. People who do not make the leap suffer too because of their indecision; they just never reap the reward.

 

“Thirty-nine years of my life had passed before I understood that clouds were not my enemy; that they were beautiful, and that I needed them. I suppose this, for me, marked the beginning of of wisdom. Life is short.” ― Iimani David

 

 

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What We Kept

What We Kept

“I want to take all our best moments, put them in a jar, and take them out like cookies and savor each one of them forever.” ― Crystal Woods, Write Like No One Is Reading

 

I moved recently, and learned some things about myself. One of them is that I am exceedingly and rather pathetically sentimental. I found items preserved for years that reasonable adults do not to cling to.

I have two jewelry boxes, not because I have marvelous jewelry, but because they are both filled with small treasures.  The content, bits and pieces of my life.

I found name badges from jobs gone by; there were many. What do I think I can do with these?

Actually, one did come in handy on a date with a memory challenged bucket head who kept calling me Linda. I went to my car and retrieved one of them, put it on, went back into the restaurant, pointed to my name, Karen, and asked him if he thought he could just read it. Again, boy can I pick em!

There were three large copper colored sequins at the bottom of one box. These were tossed onto me by Bernadette Peters at her concert with the OKC philharmonic. To date, they have imparted no more musical talent than I had before.

Enormous peach colored, dangling, ball earrings were way back in the corner of the larger box. Dad chose these for my birthday all by himself when I was about fourteen. I also found a blue western blouse in the closet he helped me buy for a rodeo when I was in the eighth grade. The man would rather take a poke in the eye with a sharp stick than shop for or with a woman. But, do I really need to cart these around for 40 more years?

In that same closet I found a long, glittered, wildly patterned, purple dress I wore in 1972 when Kelly and I were chosen as a duo for the Varsity Revue at Oklahoma State University. I thought I’d wear it to my church’s annual Mardi Gras fund raiser.

I could get it on it on but I could not breathe-much.  I could not bend-at all. I wore stretch pants and a top.

Two little lapel pins that say “Never too Old to Rock and Roll” were in the bottom drawer along with an old ticket stub from a Kenny Loggins concert, circa 1985, marked $8.50. Under the lapel pins was a check made out on my account for one million bucks and signed by Kenny, right after he kissed me. Backstage passes-those were the days!

An extra large, very brittle, medication capsule Dad used for horses when he was in practice rolled out from the back. Really? There was a champagne stained Golden West Broadcasting bookmark signed by Gene Autry dated November 5th 1980, and a worn out “Winnie the Pooh” watch.

So many things I should have let go of years ago, like the three tiny pink buttons from my Aunt Alma’s nightgown that I wore for years. They are what is left of it.

And, evidently I am a Christmas card hoarder. Who knew? You could wallpaper the louvre with the cards I found! To my credit, I kept lovely ones. Maybe I’ll find something creative to do with all of them one day. . .

Three cat eye marbles rolled out of a tiny marble bag. Dad sewed Mark and I these bags himself to hold our marbles when we were kids. I can’t just toss those can I?

Examination of a crumpled, very old cocktail napkin with a really nice ink sketch on it revealed a little note on the backside that said “Someday, when I get a job, will you marry me?”  I did not.  I suspect this was kept for the ink sketch.

There was also a Christmas list sent to me by my niece Katy when she was about nine. On it, her hearts desires. At the bottom she closed with “I love you more than life itself”.

There were a couple treasured cassettes from my singing days, recorded with Howard, the singing partner of my youth. “Make the World Go Away. . .” I wonder if I even have a device to play them on now.

The pièce de résistance though was a glob of candle wax. Yes, I saved a glob of candle wax.  It is a particularly artful, lovely glob. I saved it not because it held a particularly warm memory from a night of extended passion, but because it was striking. I offer exhibit A, to the left.

Why do in the Lord’s world do we keep these things? Because, they give witness to our lives. It really happened. I still miss her. We were all there. It was a beautiful trip. I wish I could do that again!  I was in love then. My Mom was proud so of that!  That was so much fun. . .

Think back. What are you silly sentimental about? What did you keep?

“Sentimental blackmailing is the melodrama done by heart over our brain.” -Upasana Banerjee

Meltdown, Faith and Fine China

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.