Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Life's Messy

The Mystery within..

There was a vacuum cleaner commercial some years back with the slogan, “Life’s messy.  Clean it up.”  I’ve learned from life’s traumas to keep cleaning because like vacuuming it’s not something I do once.  Learning from trouble requires ongoing engagement.  The important thing is to do the work again and again.  If there were no struggles, would we ever know true forgiveness?  And how else would compassion be learned?  

My traumas taught me about hope, trust, patience, reflection and planning along with forgiveness and compassion.  I heard Martin Luther King had said, “Struggle is about hope.”  His words helped me accept my angst in caring for my aging parents.  Also enlightening and comforting, was a copy of a Teilhard de Cardin’s prayer, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”  That prayer seemed to find me whenever I really needed to let go and trust things would eventually work out.  I also remember being very open to everyone and everything around me during that difficult time.  My heightened awareness to the people, places and things I encountered daily were the source my learning, along with reflection and writing that clarified the next steps I needed to take.

I sometimes long for that heightened alertness that made me so very present to what was going on around me, but not the accompanying trauma. Lately, I tried applying Bessel A. van der Kolk’s recommendation to hover calmly and objectively over my thoughts, feelings and emotions as a way to access mindfulness and not be highjacked by my emotions.  It did help me respond to others more calmly and made me want to plan for better outcomes in daily living.

What if we could all know struggle stands for hope and to trust mindfulness will eventually lead us to better life outcomes?  

Monday, January 12, 2015


The Mystery within...

This weekend I accepted a reciprocal invitation to share a meal, and continue renewing an old friendship, with a couple my late husband and I knew before we were married, and while our children were young.  Our reminiscing took us back to the first places we lived after marriage, and the subsequent dwellings we occupied that eventually led us to our present homes.  We marveled at the advancing ages of our children, and grandchildren, and shared our health status and other challenges that come with age.  We became quite aware of our temporal timeline.  I was stunned by how fast time has streaked by in the intervening years, and grateful to be renewing this old bond.  It led me to reflect on what I have learned, and I am still learning, about friendship.               

One of the most affirming acknowledgements and insight I received regarding friendships came in a Clinical Pastoral Experience handout I received back in the 1990’s.  It was a joy to find this Xeroxed copy again of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper column written by the psychotherapist Philip Chard titled, “Some of us don’t need many people to be truly happy.”  Basically the article acknowledged that we are a social species but that not all of us are cut out for “…a life crowded with people.”  Chard further wrote, “Many of my clients could benefit from being less people-focused, not more.”  ‘Mostly what makes people crazy is other people,’ is how one associate puts it.”  And …”while it has been rightfully said that you can’t know yourself without being known by others, it is equally true that you can’t know yourself without finding time to be alone with just you.”  I still look forward to reading Chard’s continuing weekly columns.   

And the guests on this week’s On-Being podcast, Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin – The Inner Life of Rebellion, told of the human aspect of rebellion that includes the importance of a discerning community and inter-generational friendships that connect us to both our inner and outer lives thereby transforming us into life-giving people.  Our soul was compared to a shy wild animal that knows how to survive and only makes an appearance in a safe space.  Paradoxically, we also need both chutzpah and humility, be open to critics, and to know our hidden wholeness that will allow us to experience discomfort and learn in public.  It was said that we are each other’s health care workers, and faithfulness trumps effectiveness.

And I am currently reading Bessel A. van der Kolk’s book, “The Body Keeps the Score” telling how the trauma’s we experience affect us, mentally and physically, along with our relationships with others.  He writes:  “Being able to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions (an ability I’ll call mindfulness throughout this book) and then take our time to respond allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain.  This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.”  Responding to others with a friendly face and soothing voice does create a safe space where others and we can feel calm.

What if all our hearts could be tied together in friendship?      

Monday, January 5, 2015


The Mystery within...
Saturday morning I put on my navy blue sweatshirt with the white swirl of our Milky Way Galaxy on it.  It has an arrow pointing to the place I occupy in this massive blur with the words, “You are here.”  I needed to wear this, keep my troubles in perspective shirt, since I lay awake Friday night worrying about another leak that has made itself apparent in my five-year-old sunroom.  I told myself, “You can either let this really upset you or you can let it test your mettle to find a remedy.”  It reminded me of a previous water problem I had many years ago when my son took apart an upstairs bathroom leaky faucet but didn’t turn off the water supply in the basement, and then went to Home Depot for a part he needed.  I went with him.  When we came home there was water pouring out of my kitchen chandelier, running down between the walls, and seeping up under my hardwood floor. The next day I saw Fr. Alex Luzi and he asked how things were going.  I told him of my in-home waterfall and he acknowledged that is upsetting and then said,  “But in the whole scheme of things there are much worse.”  I was grateful for his words back then and for remembering them now.

It doesn’t take much to imagine worse things.  Near and far people are homeless, food insecure or starving.  Sex slaves and child prostitution are not isolated incidents.  And those over 200 Nigerian girls that were kidnapped last April are still missing.  There are forced marriages, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, and domestic abuse.  Discrimination, killings, torture, trauma and mental and physical suffering have touched many of us, or those we know and love.  So yes, in the whole scheme of things I am grateful to know, but wish there weren’t, so many worse things than a leaky sunroom.

What if putting our own troubles in perspective could somehow test our mettle to help alleviate the many worse things happening in our world?     

Monday, December 29, 2014

One Word

The Mystery within...
This week choosing one word that would represent growth for me in 2015 was an e-mail exercise sent to me by my publisher, David Gawlik of Caritas Communications. It evoked in me indecision, challenge, thought, and discernment.  David later told me his chosen word was Listening.  His word took me back to 1975 remembering the late Father Carl Alberte.  He sat in rapt attention when I took him the portion of money I received from my husband’s funeral specifically designated for masses.  I told him I’m keeping the rest of the money because I’m going to need it, and I don’t believe in paying for prayers anyway.  I also shared with him why I felt closer to my husband than ever before.  I was the only one who spoke until I said, “I have to leave now.  I’ve got a lot to do.”  He replied softly, “I’m sure you do.”  I felt totally heard and it was heavenly.  Many years later, remembering the power of being truly listened to, I crafted a memento from a thin slice of translucent blue/green agate that resembled an ear at one of Cathy Gawlik’s (David’s wife) Women Gathering retreats to remind me to be a better listener.  It now hangs in the window above my kitchen sink.  It’s been there so long I don’t even notice it any more.  I know I could be a better listener, but listening didn’t feel like it should be my one word for 2015.

I wrestled with other words--freedom, justice, and equality.  They all seem to be wrapped up in the word courage, which I probably will never have enough.  But still courage didn’t feel like the one right word for me.  But it did lead me to the word fear and then I knew I was now getting close to my word.  I thought about the toughest, most fearful time in my life thus far, when I was confronted with my aging parents’ care needs and defied all expectations for my “proper” role.  It was that extreme sense of fear that heightened my presence to my surroundings, everyone in it, and my self worth.  In that awareness, answers to my troubles came from everyday experiences and eventually became my story in “God Never Hurries.” 

So now in 2015 I am wondering do I have to know extreme fear in order to be truly present to my surroundings, others and myself?  I think not.  I could look for the lessons and blessings in what I am experiencing and feeling each day.  I could return to the earth more, where God once touched me, and gave me the courage I sorely needed.  And I could go back to working at sitting quietly everyday and just be with the Word that resides in me.  I am relieved to know my word for 2015 is Presence.

What if we could all find one word in 2015 to help make the world and us a better place to be? 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ego Resolutions

The Mystery within...

This past week I knew communication from a deep level.  The awareness came to me through a soft, kind voice that sounded as if the Mystery within her was speaking directly to me.  It came from a place where Compassion resides and Kindness rules.  When I walked out into my garage to check on the status of the remaining CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes to be picked up, ending this season’s deliveries, a subscriber was there.  She thanked me for being a pick-up site host and said it is so convenient for her.  I told her I was glad this season is ending.  She wasn’t in a hurry and drew me out to say more.  I felt safe in sharing a bit of pick-up frustrations with her.  Then the Mystery within her said quietly, “Whenever you deal with people there are always problems.”  From my deepest self I heard her helpful words.  Gratefully and humbly I said, “You are right.  Thank you for reminding me of that.”

My garage encounter reminded me of an opening poem I read some thirty years ago in Jennifer James’ book, “Success is the Quality of your Journey.”  The poem was written by the famous Anonymous:

New Year’s Resolutions

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
 Love them anyway.
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. 
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. 
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. 
Be honest and transparent anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. 
Build anyway. 
People who really want help may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.
Give the world your best anyway.
The world is full of conflict. 
Chose peace of mind anyway.

So it is decision time again for me.  Will I be a host pick-up site next year?  It could be fertile ground for ego resolutions and training. 

What if we could always speak to one another from a place where Compassion resides and Kindness rules?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Decision Time

The Mystery within...

My refrigerator suddenly sounded terminally ill. The frozen yogurt was turning to soup.  I was beginning to have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach until I realized I could decide how this new wrinkle was going to affect me.  I reviewed my knowledge and resources. 

I called my neighbor to get the name of a local merchant she recently dealt with who gave her a loaner refrigerator until she could get delivery on a new unit.  She then offered me some of her freezer space temporarily.  I called the dealer and also its service department and heard what I knew I would hear.  Ten years is the average life expectancy for refrigerators today.  I decided I didn’t want to put repair money into an eleven year old one. 

As I drove to the store I remembered how I shuffled some money around after I purchased my new car and held out an extra thousand dollars for emergencies, grateful now for that foresight, as well as my car that got me to the showroom.  There was only one salesman who was on his cell phone--for a very long time.  I hoped it was a really important call.  An office staff person showed me a few models but could not answer all my questions.  When the salesman finally came over he apologized for his call and said he may have to take a call back from his doctor.  He had an anguished look on his face and told me he is having sever back pain.  (I was pleased I decided not to jump to conclusions regarding his cell phone use and that I currently did not have sever back pain.)  My purchase options were limited to color only on one model that would fit in my existing space without moving a cupboard and kitchen counter.  That made my decision easy.  We closed the deal.  I told him I was sorry for his back trouble and he filled out a $50.00 dollar rebate form for me and thanked me for shopping locally. 

I most likely would have saved money if I shopped around but I also gained from my decision to shop locally.  I did not have to drive to a major shopping area, find parking and endure holiday crowds.  I did not get a loaner refrigerator but made due with my helpful neighbor’s freezer space, my forty-year old refrigerator in the basement, and a cool garage.  Instead of a “woe is me” attitude over my refrigerator’s demise I became grateful for the trove of food I have, and that I will be able to pay for a new refrigerator.  I am thankful for all my other appliances that are currently working, and for the large serving spoon I was really missing that turned up under my old refrigerator.  And this change also got me to clean under my stove and mop the kitchen floor—a long time needed accomplishment.  The delivery order was for Monday between 9:00 a.m. and noon, with a note to please be patient if they arrive later, since they may run into problems with earlier deliveries—a nice touch I thought to restrain my ego.  The truck pulled into my driveway at 3:00 p.m. with my acceptance in tack. 

I know all of life’s challenges come with hidden gifts.  Some take longer to realize.  My refrigerator’s demise taught me I can consciously decide to look for them.

What if I, and the rest of us, could approach all of life’s challenges looking for their hidden gifts?           

Monday, December 8, 2014

Key Found!

The Mystery within...

I was amazed at how thrilled I was to find one of my two car key’s that had gone missing about six weeks ago.  When I spotted it at the bottom of my glove/ mitten/hat drawer, my heart leapt for joy with a simultaneous smile and an audible “Thank you!” on my lips.  The intense joy of finding that key surprised me.  I had abandoned actively looking for it but I still harbored some hope it might show up.  And there it was.  And I wanted nothing else that day to detract from my happy find.  And that thought stayed with me as my evening unfolded.

Later I could have gotten perturbed with a friend, who was picking me up for dinner that night, and was an hour late without any definitive explanation.  But I told myself, I’m happy because I found my key and I’m not going to let this detract from the joy I was still feeling. When he picked me up I found out the delay was due to his brother, who was in the hospital for nine days needing a transfer to a psych ward, which the social worker had finally just secured in another hospital, and the move needed to be done that night.  So after we ate dinner, and made a quick stop at my friend’s daughter-in-law’s Christmas craft show, we went to pick up his brother who was supposed to be ready to go at 9:00 p.m., but wasn’t.  During the hour plus wait for him I realized I was on the hospital floor, and very wing, where I once served as a Clinical Pastoral Experience student.  In my mind's eye I saw myself walking those halls back then and realized how much I had discovered within myself and grown in the almost twenty intervening years. I also was able to witness again the awesome care and compassion of some nurses, grateful for that awareness.   Finding my key joy was still intact.

After the three of us got in the van and headed for the other distant hospital, it became apparent the GPS system was taking us in the opposite direction from where we needed to go.  But I just sat in the back seat enjoying the two brothers who interacted like Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man,” one of my favorite movies.  The GPS was reprogrammed.  We were turned around, and finally arrived at the next hospital’s darkened locked entrance with an outside phone that directed us to the adjacent Emergency door.  I was asked to wait in the car.  The motor was running and the hazard lights were on.  I turned off the motor but could not figure out how to turn off the blinking red lights.  So I sat there for another hour plus aware of a few lit rooms on floors above, where others were caring for the sick, remembering some of my family’s and my need in crisis and healing.  I took stock of how relatively well I still am physically and felt humbling gratitude.  Finding my key joy was still intact.

When my friend returned I told him I could not figure out how to turn off the hazard lights.  He showed me.  He turned the key and there was no response from the engine.  He told me I could have left the engine running.  I just let that comment pass.  I told him there seemed to be security personnel patrolling the area and maybe we could get them to charge the battery.  A short while later we were on our way.  When he dropped me off at my house it was after midnight.  I heated up my leftover spinach stuffed portabella mushroom from the restaurant and finally got in bed in the small hours of the morning.  Finding my key joy was still intact. 

The intense Joy I knew must live deep inside me.  Accepting what is, humbling gratitude, and letting some things pass helps me hold onto it.  What if we all found our lost Key?