Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Birds

This area has a plethora of water fowl - shore birds, lake birds, marsh birds - and I love them all. My smallish digital camera has a 300x zoom, and it takes such great pictures - correction - I take such great pictures with it. I've learned to lean against a tree or some other stable object to take distance shots. And, I've learned where to place my hand so that it braces the camera without covering the lens or interfering with the zoom...and without turning it off accidentally. I'm learning again about light and dark and all the things that go along with good photography. I still remember all the things I learned about black and white photography in the mid-1960s and later in 1979, but I don't need to know how to "dodge" or "burn" with digital. Or do I? Mostly, I shoot on automatic with a setting to steady the movement of the camera.


But, I really love Adobe's Photoshop Elements. This marvelous bird is the center of attention, but the original shot included another bird's tail and wing on the left of the picture. With Photoshop Elements, I "healed" that picture! Zap, the offending bird image is gone, replaced by something that vaguely resembles an alligator but is probably taken from the shoreline above.

And, I can make a dull picture look as if it was taken on a sunny day or totally smear the background to appear as a portrait. Oh, I love it.

I can even put a watermark on the picture to indicate my ownership and copyright - Well, I could if I could figure it out. Yesterday, I tried that. I could get it onto the pictures, but I couldn't put it where I wanted it to be on each picture; so that's a task for another day.

When I was making these pictures, I was seated on the ground 30-40 yards from the birds. The sun was bright and warm, and I couldn't see the viewing screen on the camera; so I was taking pictures using the viewfinder. Unfortunately, I can't do that with my glasses on. And, without my glasses, I can't see clearly what I'm framing nor the exact content. I seem to get some lucky shots even so. I've never seen a pelican with its beak open! And, you can see where the bird's neck is pushing the soft part of the beak out. This is funny!

And, check out this tern with a small fish in its beak! I couldn't see that. Nor could I see what this wood stork had when I photographed it a week ago. And, look! It's a fairly large fish. Large enough that the stork had to carry it up the bank so that it wouldn't flop back into the water. Astonishingly enough, the other storks did not pester him for his fish. I've seen birds fighting in the water for fish.

Here's another lucky shot! I was at Lake Miona talking with a fisherman early one morning (after eating a great sausage biscuit at Hardee's in Wildwood, FL) when a heron jumped onto the pier and began making cheeping noises. The man explained that the heron was Bert who liked to eat those fish that were caught but not okay enough to survive going back into the lake (catch and release). I noticed that Bert's tongue kept flicking out as if he was licking his lips. So I got him in close focus and said, "Okay, Bert, stick out your tongue again." He did!! Isn't he funny?




Friday, July 13, 2012

Crocheting lately

My freeform piece was published in the book of the International Freeform Crochet Guild's 2012 Challenge: Inspired! Art and Music in Fiber. You can see my entry and all the others at the Guild's website .

I chose to interpret Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of the red hills of New Mexico near Ghost Ranch. Although her paintings smoothed the hills into subtly shifting patterns of red, the real hills are marked with erosion, shifts in angle and light. The blue represents not only the sky but also the mountains behind the red hills.

I also participated in a group crochet-along (CAL) to bead crochet around a cabochon. Here are my two pieces:


















And, I've done a small beret in Plymouth's Kudo yarn, a self-striping yarn:

A health program

Twelve step programs are a systematic way that we can employ to live fuller, happier lives. The first step is to admit you are powerless over (whatever) and that your life has become unmanageable. Then you come to believe that a power greater than yourself can and will help you manage. Thirdly, you turn your life and your will over to the care of that power greater than yourself (ie, God).

I began my alcoholic career in my early teens. One day in my 30s I awoke on the bathroom floor in my own vomit and was horrified at myself. I'd like to say that I quit drinking that day and never tasted alcohol again. Not that easy, but never that bad again.

In my late 30s I quit even trying to have a social drink - the bathroom floor image haunted me and my whole body rebelled against it. I admit that I've had a sip occasionally (maybe 4 times in 30 years), but I joined a 12-step group some 7 or 8 years ago.

That third step is the hardest for me. I've always known that my life was unmanageable - worse at times than others, but turning my will over to "someone" is not my idea of fun. So, I have to struggle in my non-alcoholic drunkenness for periods of time before I'm ready to turn my life and my will over to the care of God. There's a special prayer for that. And, sometimes I have to pray it for many days before I believe that I can do that. Eventually, the peace begins to settle on me, and my life becomes easier.

So, I'm praying again:
"God, I offer myself to Thee--to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!"(page 63, Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Journal entry on empowerment - long

Yesterday was interesting, empowering, and very satisfying - even if it was a bit disconcerting. Since moving to The Villages, I've been searching for a primary care physician that would listen to me. Instead of finding that, I've found one two who wanted to walk in and begin telling me the results of tests and what they were going to do about that. When I would try to describe what I was feeling, I was shushed, ignored or else I felt that the doctor was making fun of me.

Yesterday on the second visit with my second primary care physician, the doctor walked in and began talking about my tests. I had a cartoid artery doppler sonogram, and the results were not very good. 50% blockage one side, 40% the other. Of course, the doctor said that this test did tend to provide an screening and the results were often a bit higher than actuality. I asked if I could speak, and I told him that I thought I might have been having TIAs because I occasionally felt as if I were "bonkers". That was the only word I could think of to say. He said something about turning to his ???? - perhaps he said thesaurus. But, the important thing to me was that he interrupted me when I was saying something I felt was very important.

Now, the first visit, he spent some time telling me that he allotted only 20 minutes per person and that if I had more problems than 20 minutes allowed, I would need to make another appointment. I felt some discomfort with his manner the first visit, but I was trying hard to find someone for primary care since I have been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The doctor said that "bonkers" was not in the medical dictionary - You did say "bonkers". Yes, sir, I did. He turned to his computer and pulled up something on the screen and displayed it on the large screen. I don't remember what else he said, but this dialogue made me feel he was making fun of me, and I said so.

He became angry and said I might need to see someone else. I was a bit stunned. So, I asked, will you tell me my A1c number? He said, "NO. This session is terminated. Your next doctor may request your records." And, he stood up.

I stood up and said, I believe I'm entitled to my records; then he called the front desk to tell them that I was terminated as a patient. I am still in a bit of shock, but I stood and walked out - somewhat shocked.

So, I stopped at the desk to ask about my records, and the standard charges would apply: $1 per page for the first 25 pages and 25cents per page thereafter. I thanked the women in the office. At the office window I saw the woman who had referred me to this doctor. When I said we had terminated our relationship, she was not surprised but said, "Well, it took us four tries before we found someone."

End of incident description.

For several weeks, I've been having times when I can't think properly, times when I feel disoriented, anxious, and unable to express myself. My vision has blurred, but I thought that was because I had been working on small crochet projects, intensely focused. I found that I could not figure out what was going wrong with a computer program that I had been able to work just fine previously.

I really wanted to tell the doctor those things. I am concerned that I'm having TIAs, and his findings with the cartoid artery emphasizes that. I need to make some changes in my lifestyle - more than I've already done with the diabetes (which hasn't been going well). I have also been very depressed. And, I've been alternately very angry and apathetic.

The empowerment comes from being able to tell the doctor that I felt he was making fun of me...from resisting any retorts or anger and just walking out. I did not have to feel put down, made fun of or talked down to. I did not have to put up with his attitude. (And, I'm sure he felt that he did not have to put up with mine since I did not laugh at what David said were probably jokes. I sat there quiet and probably stony-faced.)

Outside, David and I talked for a moment as my anger built, then I walked to my car and drove away. I went to Cracker Barrel Restaurant to have some tea and think and maybe cry. David, God bless him for being so loving, simply followed me there, and we sat quietly while I cried in my tea for a bit.

I am not crazy. I may be having TIAs, but I have taken this doctor's words about my cartoid arteries and my triglycerides to heart...literally and figuratively. I am no longer depressed. I can do something about the triglycerides, and I have researched cartoid artery problems and TIAs. I know what to look for now. I am not helpless nor losing my mind - at least not yet.

Meanwhile, the computer problems are primarily incompatible software communication and my ignorance (not stupidity nor crazy) of html computer language. A kindly person has taken over what I have done, and I was able to figure out how to send him all of my files. I am still me.

I know that I am still in pain with my fibromyalgia, that I need to monitor my blood sugar more closely and my diet, that I need to begin an exercise program, that I need a primary care physician who will listen to me and help me understand the changes that my body is experiencing as well as run necessary tests and who will practice the "art" as well as the "science" of medicine with me.

So, I am enlightened, empowered, and on my way to better health. Thanks to a doctor who was not my style.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

St. Petersburg satellite crochet coral reef

At the last minute I contributed three items to the St. Petersburg, FL, satellite crochet coral reef (sponsored by Florida Craftsmen Guild) that is part of the the Reef Project by the Institute For Figuring. In the multitude of colorful and fanciful creations, I was asked to contribute some star coral and a school of fish. Star coral can be colorful and are definitely exciting. Closed star coral look like the "buttons" of Irish crochet, and that's how I made them. Then I added the tiny yellow centers. Open star coral look like tiny cups with picots around their edges - often picots in colors different from the cup.

So here are my star coral (open and closed) and my few little fishes.The rest of the photos that I took of the exhibition are at https://plus.google.com/photos/100586301720544091100/albums/5752391320003636593

 

Sunday, June 03, 2012



You are The Moon


Hope, expectation, Bright promises.

The Moon is a card of magic and mystery - when prominent you know that nothing is as it seems, particularly when it concerns relationships. All logic is thrown out the window.

The Moon is all about visions and illusions, madness, genius and poetry. This is a card that has to do with sleep, and so with both dreams and nightmares. It is a scary card in that it warns that there might be hidden enemies, tricks and falsehoods. But it should also be remembered that this is a card of great creativity, of powerful magic, primal feelings and intuition. You may be going through a time of emotional and mental trial; if you have any past mental problems, you must be vigilant in taking your medication but avoid drugs or alcohol, as abuse of either will cause them irreparable damage. This time however, can also result in great creativity, psychic powers, visions and insight. You can and should trust your intuition.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

"In my dream, the angel shrugged and said, if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination and then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand."
— Brian Andreas

On my soapbox about poverty

Last night I had dinner with a group after a wonderful barbershop chorus concert.

One man across the table from me was from Memphis, and we talked about how poverty was causing once prosperous neighborhoods to become slums - in much more graphic language than that. We agreed that poverty was a major cause.

Another man said he'd seen a tv opinionater interviewing someone in a "welfare" line (my words, not his): Do you have a car? yes Do you have a television with cable? yes Do you have a cell phone? yes Then why are you here looking for a handout if you have all these things?

I answered about the lack of public transporation, the cost of telephone land lines, the fact that cable television is the only affordable entertainment for many poor people.

But, this morning I awoke angry: I am angry because these things are true. A person in poverty stricken Clarksdale, Mississippi, may pay $20 for someone to take them to the grocery store where they will spend their $18.21 in food stamps and their $3 in copay on 3 necessary medications at the drug store next door. They may buy a gallon of distilled water for $1.19 (or 89 cents if they can get to Wal-Mart) for their mother's oxygen machine or their own CPAP. They may spend $4.80 for 8 rolls of cheap toilet tissue for all 5 people in the house for a month. They'll buy hot dogs and sandwich meat, along with 3/$1 veggies, microwave popcorn and soda. Hot dogs and sandwich meats provide cheap protein. Popcorn and soda are the monthly treat. That's it. And, I suspect the food stamps won't cover all of it. In some places toilet paper can't be bought with food stamps.

We make missionary trips to other countries and continents to help people in distress. It's easy to build a church or a school building - and those things need to be done. It's not easy to solve the problems of poverty in our own very rich country. The answer is not necessarily political or religious. Some churches send missionary teams to cities to help repair homes or work in soup kitchens or some other type of organized humanitarian outreach. But, that is just picking up loose pebbles on the edge of the landslide.

I freely admit that I am one of the privileged people of the world. I have food to eat, a great home, air conditioning/heating, a washer and dryer and enough money to pay my home maintenance. I drive a car anywhere I want to go. I can read books that I get from the library or buy for my Kindle. I have several hobbies and the materials to make things. I have someone who loves me and makes sure that I am okay. I am blessed beyond my ability to appreciate.

My anger fizzles. I don't have any creative ideas about how to stop poverty from taking over neighborhood or even cities. I don't have any creative ideas about how to help my god-daughter get out of poverty. I will cry and rant and rave when my less-than-normal-intelligence schizophrenic god-granddaughter seriously hurts her mother or worse, but I don't have any idea what to do to prevent it. No government agency or religious group or humanitarian relief exists to provide this granddaughter a safe home. No one has resources to put the small group home to work. My god-granddaughter will end up in jail, homeless, or dead, and I can't do a blasted thing to prevent it.

I pray. I send money occasionally, boxes of necessaries (cost of shipping more than cost of contents), gift cards. I call, I pray.

I hope they have enough to eat this week. I pray that some church food pantry will be giving out meat so they can have protein. I call to let her know that I care.

So what about the people who stay locked up in their homes in cities, afraid to go outside because of thugs, thieves, drug dealers and users, and others who prey on the weak? What about the rural poor who don't go to the few free clinics around because they can't pay someone to take them? What about ......??????

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Love, Loving, Loved - too little, too much

I always said my epitaph should be "she lived, she loved". Now I'm wondering at who's expense have I lived and loved. Even though I'm the one who has lived my life, I found that I needed to research some of it. My remembrances were not clear. In researching my life, I've figured out some things.

My mother loved me. Yes, she loved my brother more. She understood him. But, she spent a large part of her life and income trying to make it up to me that she loved him more. I took it - sometimes easily, sometimes with dread, sometimes with rancor - but I took whatever she offered. And, I took advantage by knowing that she would offer. She kept trying to fix me and my life. But, she did love me. I just didn't turn out to be what she wanted or expected.

My brother was my hero, my protector, my teacher. He was a whole lot more than I had from any other male relative (or any relative) but he wasn't that grand. I don't know if he had dreams, vocation, or didn't know how to have them. His life was small and full of bravado. A slight man, he tried to increase his power through guns, knives, and violent accessories - black jack, brass knuckles, studded belt. If he had ever tried to fight, his hands would have been broken horribly. His long fingers were beautiful but more suited to guitar and piano than fighting.

My father ran away from responsibility and futility all his life. The eldest son of a mediocre farmer, he did not want to farm. I've seen pictures of him cutting timber - not sure where - huge logs. Perhaps with my maternal grandfather's logging crew. My maternal grandfather was also a bootlegger. My father drank a lot before the war, according to Mom. And, World War II sent him back a miserable alcoholic with nightmares, delusions and straight into a family dependent upon him for their welfare. He tried to farm. He tried to be a carpenter. He failed, and he returned to the Navy. After 12 more years, he failed again and was discharged before retirement - without pension or disability. And, he drank. Then, he became violent. The remainder of his life was alone.

And me? I was the princess, cossetted but never learned responsibility, adored but never learned how to love. I grasped at every opportunity to leave a family where I didn't fit. But, then, I didn't feel as if I fit anywhere. I did love - a lot of people along the way. But, I hurt a lot of people also. I ran from responsibility, I ran from hard work, I ran from people who wanted me to be more than a spoiled brat. I gave a lot of love until I was afraid to give. And, I left. I worked a lot of jobs until I might succeed, then I left. I learned a lot of things until I might have become knowledgeable, then I left.

Being what I think you want me to be is my modus operandi. Leaving is my solution. Depression the chronic malady. Someday I may learn that wherever I go, there I am.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A year and some later

It's been more than a year since my last blog. Father, forgive me. I have spent that time isolated from the real world, tucked away in a utopian retirement community where all the houses are essentially the same, most of the people are super conservative politically and Roman Catholic or conservative literalist Christians. And, they are mostly white. The black couple several houses down moved away. The gay couple is selling their house.

Some days I just feel like vomiting. And, other days I enjoy looking at the fancy golf carts, colorful hats, bright flowers and sunshine. Yes, God, you have blessed central Florida with sunshine, and I am grateful. I am also mightily grateful for air conditioning and a well-insulated home. The humidity is relatively low here; we have rolling hills and horse farms; we have little towns; and we have lots of thrift stores. My favorite thrift store is moving, and I have several tubs of stuff to take them when they have finished moving.

The black people I see are glimpsed sitting on crates and smoking around the back doors of restaurants. The Hispanic people are either well-to-do and live in the retirement community or tucked away in rental trailers in isolated mobile home parks. We saw a man riding a beautiful horse this week; we stopped and talked with him. He was Hispanic; I'm told he was from Argentina. I'm also told there are Cubans about, but I don't see them.

So what's it like to live in la-la land? I don't get out much except to eat out. I knit, crochet, read, sit and go to the doctor. We ride out to local lakes sometimes so that I can see water - and touch water - living water. I pet the cat. I take my medicine; I feel better and I've lost 25 lbs. in this past year. But, I may need a knee replacement sometime soon. Second opinion coming up a week from today. So, I don't walk much and I don't do any weight bearing exercise. My body is wearing out before I'm ready for it to do that.

People play golf here - I'm not sure that anyone knows how many golf courses are in the 25 mile radius of us. Too many. They are mostly brown now - greens and tee boxes are green - not enough rain. But everyone's yard is watered once or twice a week (depending on which county you live in and if you know how to adjust your automatic system). Succulents grow well, but petunias are like cut flowers at my house - dying almost as quickly as I buy them.

There are so many clubs for so many reasons that I can't begin to comprehend them all - Indiana Club (and clubs from most other Northern states), Cloggers, Ukelele, Line Dancing, and a heaping handful of knitting/crochet/quilting clubs, art clubs, photography, computer, iPad/iPod, all kinds of singing groups, theatre groups, stamp collectors, snowbirds, orchid - the list is endless. And, many of them have fundraisers for charitable organizations - both national and local. And, there are volunteers, but apparently not enough since every week a new list of organizations seeking volunteers is published.

Did I mention that you can get to 62 different restaurants in your golf cart? My goal for the year is to eat lunch in every "country club" restaurant in the community. I will have to do that more than once a week to make my goal.

I have a few facebook friends locally, and they are mostly raving conservatives who post awful things about the President. I'm not sure they know that gays exist, but I don't see hate posts from them on that topic. They seem convinced that all the country's problems are because we elected a non-American, Constitution-hating,  hypocrite who doesn't pay his secretary enough, and has a wife who wears outrageous clothing. No comments about his daughters so far. I refrain from commenting because I just get put-downs when I do. I just delete. But, I do post items that reflect my own thinking; no one comments on them.

The neighbors trimmed their big palm tree last week, and I drove right past my house looking for the big palm tree that I use as a landmark. Now, my landmark is the bright red fire hydrant across the street.

I went to a knitting/crochet club one day for a few hours. People sat in cliques, and I joined one of them, but they talked about their common home town. I haven't been back. I did manage to snag a few skeins of yarn from 7-8 boxes that someone donated from a recently deceased person.

The local paper publishes stories about people in the community along with columns from other retirement communities in the area. It's just too good to be true. Life is one big round of golf, concerts, clubs and eating out. The Barbershop Chorus has members from other area towns and communities; so you don't hear much about their winning third place in the statewide contest or that they sell singing valentines to raise money each year. Bocce and pickleball are big here. And, a bottom banner in the newspaper tells you what pool Heidi Johnson of Chatham Village likes best.

We have family pools, community pools, and some other kind of pool - all designated such by who can swim in them. Your ID card is required when you enter a recreation center and every "village" has one. And, a gate key is necessary to enter, unless you just push the button and get your picture taken. A few gates have attendants whose chief duty seems to be to greet each resident and raise the gate arm for those of us who can't get close enough to the card reader to make the gate open. I think they also record service people who come to work on something for those of us who live here.

Yet, I am content. I am loved and cared for. I have everything I need. I am comfortable. I wonder how long I can stand this.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Christian Year - A Cycle

It's Maundy Thursday - foot washing and altar stripping evening service - perhaps one of the most important Christian liturgies. Humbling ourselves to kneel at ground level and wash the dirty, dust-covered feet of people we may not even know - serving others. We may look up into their eyes; we may focus on the uniqueness of each foot and the variety of creation. We may be silently praying or reflecting on how much we value ourselves.

But this is a night of celebration really. It was Passover, a seder meal celebrating the Hebrews' safe flight from Egypt where they had been slaves. They ate and had some sort of ritual, maybe like the current Jewish Seder, maybe not. But, Jesus put a new twist on it. He took water and washed the feet of his companions as a symbolic gesture of servitude, his putting others before himself. As usual Peter got excited and rebelled, then acquiesced and went overboard with the idea of being washed. I imagine Jesus just kept washing feet.

So, we wash others' feet, symbolic of our servitude and our love of Jesus.

Then, after re-enacting Jesus' action, we take away all the articles of church-hood: we strip the altar and the sacred space of all traces of Christianity. We take away the crosses or cover them with black or red cloth. We remove the candles. We roll up the clean white linen that covers the altar. We remove the decorative coverings of the lector's stand and the Bible. No flowers. No incense. No bread and wine waiting on the table. No vessels. And, then we lower the lights and read Psalm 55 together. The lights go out, and we are left in darkness. "Jesus done left Chicago"...and all Episcopal churches on Maundy Thursday night. The one we believed would save the world has gone, and we, humble in our servitude, are left to carry on.

The disciples hid after Jesus' arrest and were very afraid after his crucifixion. We cannot hide. Most of us will go to work on Friday. The celebration is over. Most of us await the Feast of the Resurrection that we celebrate on Sunday. Our lives go on between Thursday night and Sunday morning. Symbolically, Jesus is not here nor with you or you or you. Jesus is gone. The Saviour is dead. Buried. Smelly and decaying body is all that is left.

This is part of the cycle of the Christian year that began in late November with Advent - the awaiting of the birth of the Christ Child. It's all symbolism. We can have the crucifixion any day of the year without waiting for the church cycle. We can wash feet any time you wish. No calendar is needed to be Christian. Our life events that correspond to the Jesus narrative don't occur on any fixed schedule. If the co-pay on a needed operation is more than we can afford, it's Black Friday, and we hope for Sunday and the resurrection. If a baby is born, it's Christmas and we celebrate with gifts and thanksgiving.

If we choose to follow the church calendar, then we will be in rituals throughout this Holy Week. After Sunday, we will take a little holiday from our efforts. If we choose not to follow the church calendar, then we can celebrate the Seder now with good food, music and dancing. We can save the mourning for times when we sorrow for the evils of life. We can ignore the crucifixion this month or we can live as though Jesus is truly gone. The Feast of the Resurrection is our hope that we can be humble while doing great things as we follow Jesus. But, this church calendar stuff is arbitrary...a schedule fixed by the church bosses long ago. Our lives aren't as neat as this cycle. So mourn tonight if mourning is your time. Dance tonight if dancing is your time. Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything, but it didn't say that all our times would coincide. So, I'm doing my rejoicing on Maundy Thursday. I'll mourn when the times call for it. But, I'll keep the Feast of the Resurrection always in my heart - for hope is life.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where is God?

Of the thousands of pictures from the recent Japanese calamity, this one epitomizes great human (and animal) needs - the need to be comforted when one is afraid, the need to be cared for, the need to care, and the ability to express the need.

This is a panda in Japan being comforted by a man who has probably brought food (see the green plastic bin in his left hand).

When you were afraid, wouldn't it have been nice to be comforted? Didn't you ever want to just hang onto someone in complete disregard for what might be appropriate? And, haven't you ever risked yourself by offering comfort?

The universality of comfort is one of the reasons I believe in  God, Immauel (God with us). We humans need far more comfort than other species. We need that God With Us feeling a lot. We need to know that someone is walking beside us to comfort (and to guide) us as we journey through life.

Of course, I know how inappropriate this would be (and probably how smelly), but some days I would just love to curl up in the arms of that panda and be encased in warm fur. God with me in the form of a panda. And other days, I want to reach out and scritch someone's head just to let them know they are not alone; someone cares.

God cares mightily for all of us. God is with all of us. And, I don't know why bad things happen - like earth quakes and tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns. All I know is that God is with us all the time...whether in the man caring for the panda or the panda in need.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Let's talk about wilderness. Let's talk about stability. Let's talk about decisions. Let's talk about Lent. Lent is the time before  the Feast of the Resurrection when Christians give up something, take on something, make a change in life that inspires reflections. One year I gave up chocolate, one year Coca-Cola; one year I read and studied a spirituality book. I see that some friends are keeping a gratitude journal all year this year.

I'm in the wilderness again this year. The habit is life-long. I'm always making decisions that land me smack dab in the middle of some quagmire, a searing breathless void, a blowing dirty wind. And, if my life were a murder mystery, I would be leaving a string of dead bodies behind - jobs that could have matured into real professionalism, boxes filled with...filled with heavy rocks of things in my life, credit card debt, stops and starts that cost me time and money, spouses who moved along to other relationships, friends who slipped into the duskiness of a time past. My life is not that kind of story but I do have plastic tubs of memory things. I do have an analysis of lots of decisions that were precipitate. I do still operate on the fight or flight mode, and fighting is not my style. So I flee. Snatched from the jaws of success, happiness, good things.

On the other hand, I have a great sense of humor, a wonderfully creative mind, intuition, a loving heart, a willing hand. I have made positive influences in a lot of lives. Recently, three wonderful young women drifted back into my life - three best friends in high school when they were 16 or 17 and I was a cool Momma figure. I have created programs that helped hundreds of people. I have written words that brought joy and wonder to many. I have hugged and listened and loved all sorts of people.

Lent is very personal to me as you can see. It's the time when I think about and write about all the people I've hurt in life, all the times I've made a mess and failed to clean it up, the dead ends I've pursued, the pain that I and others have suffered because of my decisions.

God is good, all the time. I never face this task alone. I know that God has been along this path before me and with me on other trips along this way. Jesus wandered this path, too. He had to decide what was good and right and reconciling. God and human. Choosing which to use when - or maybe using both all the time and recognizing humanity's abilities and inabilities.

Jesus: Okay, if I turn these stones into bread, I can feed all the hungry people. And, if I can turn these stones into bread, then I could turn them into anything else I want. Ooops, better not go there. Back to the bread and the hungry. Okay, let's see, since I'm human, this body will eventually die. No one else can turn stones into bread and feed the hungry. By then, they'll be dependent on me, and when this body does its "dust to dust" business, they'll be starving again. Okay, turning stones into bread equals bad idea. I could teach them to bake - well, but then they'd need all the supplies and equipment, and the people who have them are going to want something in return. And, I am not a baker anyway. I could learn, but it's not my forte.

Jesus to sharecropper: No, it's not your forte either. We've been down that road together. You did okay with that home repair program for a while, and then you found something that sounded more interesting and you passed that one off to someone else. Did some good while you were on it, but gone by the wayside now. And, remember the Kid's Cafe that you and Miriam cooked up - fed the kids supper, got tutoring (at least some) and helped keep the little kids off the street. That worked out okay for a bit; then we all got tired, and the school took over, but they went under and you don't know what's happening to the kids now, do you?

Jesus: Sigh. Here I am plodding along this path or snake track when I could be sitting in that beautiful pool in the ruler's house in Jerusalem. Why am I doing this? I want a drink of cool water! Now! Ummmm. Thanks, Mrs. Raven. I apologize for shouting. Yes,, yes, I know that producing a cup of cool water out here was not the easiest thing in the world to do. But, why am I out here alone, cold at night, hot in the daytime, dazed from the sun and watching for rattlesnakes? Why don't I have people waiting on me? After all, you know who I am. Sigh. Who am I? Right now, I'm just another Joe doing what thousands have done before me - looking for answers, for my spot in the world. And, I don't occupy that great house or bathe in that pool or have human slaves.  I'm out here because I need answers. Last year I was in that fetid swamp doing the same thing. Who was with me then? I've forgotten. Oh yeah, that was sharecropper.

Jesus to sharecropper: Are you back out here again? I thought you had it all figured out. No? You couldn't breathe? Why are you always getting into situations that leave you breathless? You think too quickly. And, you think too much of yourself. A computer guru? Yeah, right. You did well enough on that, but some things are still hanging. Where are you with them right now? You don't know the answers, I see. Hey, computers are not my thing; don't ask me. And, what about your godchildren - those individuals that you promised to help sustain spiritually. Your goddaughter still in that bad neighborhood and not going to church. No transportation, you say. Where are her children who call you Grandma? And, what about that young fellow HIV positive? Have you encouraged him lately to stay off the crack? You're asking me about stability for yourself???? If you'd just stay still long enough you could find out about stability. And, that need you seem to have for chaos and confusion. I'm surprised that you've missed the rattlesnakes as long as you have. Oh, I see the scars. Well, why don't you watch out where you're going? Ask for a little help with that, okay?

Jesus: I'm so special that I could throw myself off this cliff and I wouldn't be hurt when I landed at the bottom. Why I might not even land at the bottom; I could float right back up - like a bungee cord. Tee Hee. Headline: Jesus Experiments with Bungee Jumping. What an attraction that would be! I could get them all out here and do my stunts and then tell them about being one with God and how they can do it, too. Oh, wait. I forgot. They probably couldn't master that bungee jumping stuff without getting killed. And, I don't want to see them dead before they reconcile. Bad idea, I guess. Or maybe, they would see me as their Saviour. That's what I want to be - a saviour. I'm going to go around and save people. I'll solve all their problems and they will realize that God is good all the time. Yep. That's the ticket. Hmmmm. We're back to that business of this body wearing out again and some other details that I'm sure I've forgotten. Maybe that's not the way to be a saviour.

Jesus to sharecropper: You did what? Since last year in the swamp? Tell me about it. You got scared and ran away. Sounds like a good idea to me. Running away when you're scared can be a good thing. But you hurt a lot of people, and you made some bad decisions about money, and you lost most of your friends, and now some people who trusted you think you're a charlatan? Maybe a little more processing time could have helped that situation...a fighting flight is not what was called for. Now you're complaining about ... Oh hush. You know how to do things right and justly. Stop sitting on your bottom and get busy with the things you're good at doing.

I'll see you again later during this journey. Watch out for the snakes, take your time in deciding what you're doing, and get up and do it. See ya later, sharecropper.

sharecropper: Wait, I want to be with you. We can make decisions together. You're good at this stuff. What? Oh yeah, I remember the Passover and what happened to you. I thought that was what was intended. Maybe not? I'm tired of talking about all this sad stuff. Let's sit in the shade during the rest of this hot day and doze. No more decisions or reflections. No snakes right here. Let's just be copacetic for a while. Thanks. a little tent would be good. ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What I want

In my youth I was accused of wanting the impossible. In late middle age, I made the impossible happen.

Now I am 65, and what I want most is to be wanted, to have "your" approval, to be important to more than just one someone.

Like most seniors, I have experience in several fields - journalism (writing facts, editing, proofing), photography (first film then digital and computer manipulation), Episcopal church (I know the Episcopal Church), spirituality (everything from Ignation Discernment to Quaker silence to handfasting to mind bending with music or deprivation of sleep), non-profit social services (management, coordination, working with boards, grant writing - everything a small director has to do), lgbtq issues (been there and back again, several times), pain (physical from chronic disease, mental from trying to be whoever you wanted me to be), computer software and some hardware (keeping somewhat up to date - more than most people my age), .....

No one wants my skills now. People say, "Go volunteer." But, many volunteers do menial tasks, necessary but not using their skills or talents...just their presence. Sometimes that's all that God requires - my presence.

"People" say - Just enjoy yourself. Do what you want to do. After so many years of pleasing employers, mother, husbands, female partners, friends - I have little idea what I really want. I can tell what I want by making the mistake of choosing something I don't want. I traded my 5 year old Prius for a new Ford Escape. Then I realized I wanted a Prius; so I lost money to get a new Prius.

I moved to a place where I could have an active lifestyle. Chronic disease said, "No, that's not what you will do. You will long for this, but you will not be able to do it." How to change?

Again, as in youth, I do want the impossible. I want to be me. I hope that I can be me before I die and not the person I think "you" (whoever you are) want me to be. I've done the impossible before. Maybe God will help me do it again.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Divorce is a strange critter

I have been divorced twice and left a committed relationship once, and I can tell you that divorce is a strange critter. My first husband became drug dealer and addict and quit coming home. Mississippi has no-fault divorce, and in 30 days or 90 days or something like that, we were free to go. That was after I told him to come and get all his stuff. He didn't come when he was supposed to; so I put all his clothes and other belongings in paper bags outside the door of my (formerly our) apartment. Eventually, he showed up, after the apartment manager contacted his boss, in his semi and stuffed all the sacks into the side compartment. Later he claimed that the side compartment came open, and his stuff left a popcorn trail along the highway somewhere in Oklahoma. At least, he thought that was what happened.

My second husband and I went through some rigorous pre-marital counseling sessions wherein he agreed that someday we would make the decision about whether or not my mother would live with us, and we examined the likelihood that I would continue to gain weight. After six months he threatened to leave me. I asked him where he was going - no good answer; so he stayed. This happened on a regular basis: he would decide to leave, I'd ask where he was going, he'd decide to stay. In between we had lots of fun together and went lots of places that neither of us would have gone alone. Finally, he stated firmly that he was leaving. I told him he couldn't leave without me (we were living with my mother and that was not good). So, we took off together to find a place where we could get jobs. We settled in North Carolina, and things went well for six months.

Mother was seriously ill, and I'm an only child with a severe guilt complex. So, I galloped down to Mississippi to stay with her. She didn't get better, and the decision about her living with us was a reality. He said okay. I found a house. We all moved in. I had part-time work; he was a teacher in high school. Then, I wrecked the car; he bought a clunker. He began spending late afternoons and Saturdays doing school things. He fell in love with the teacher across the hall. Finally, he said he wanted a divorce. I cried on his shoulder; I had no one else. Shortly, thereafter, I was fixing a problem with his computer and found his love letters to this teacher. We divorced. He paid no alimony, none of his tiny pension fund, but we divided the debts evenly. And, I paid for the lawyer in the settlement. I refused to pay for the divorce, and he finally filed a year or so later. So, we were divorced.

Then, he told me that he had married me because he thought he couldn't find anything better. That's a real confidence builder! No wonder his family hated me.

Okay, so far, everyone relationship I've had ended with the person leaving me. I've never left anyone. Over the years of relationships, I've lost two cars, many friends, a lot of money, and been left hanging out to dry. So, then I'm in a relationship with a wonderful woman. I love her, but living together becomes more and more hazardous to our health. Feelings of aloneness and desperation at not being able to enjoy similar things make us feel as if we are walking on eggs all the time. Something precious was underfoot - those wonderful blown eggs that have been decorated in intricate designs - that's what we walking on - and they're being destroyed. We have counseling for two years. Improvement - regression. Both of us got tired.

Someone came along who loved me long ago and who claimed to still love me. I seized the feeling to give me impetus to leave. Here was the love, the caring, the white knight who would save me. And, I felt swept up in the feelings of long ago mixed with the need to love and be loved in the now. So, I called it quits, packed up and left. The haggling over property began, and, with each step I took in the new relationship, the haggling became worse. I hastened the process. I came with nothing to the old relationship, and I took away a small sum of money, in relative terms to possessions held jointly. I had been supported and indulged for 11 years.

Being the one to leave was not easy. Love dies a hard death, even when new love is springing forth. My desire for a natural death (one of the legal papers to change) wavered towards self-destruction several times. A sense of meaninglessness overwhelmed me. Separating and packing took much longer than I had thought possible - how intertwined and interdependent we had become. I left a lot of "stuff"; I tried to leave the  house without much obvious change except my presence and my empty studio. My energy failed and someone was hired to haul my stuff to storage.

Holidays came. My best friend and my former partner were now big buddies and spent Thanksgiving together. My best friend no longer answers my phone calls or emails. Online buddies "defriended" me as they heard how awful I had been and misconstrued some comments. Why I even took my partner's old Christmas stockings! NOT. What on earth would I do with them?

I have come to the conclusion that being left by a partner and leaving a partner bring the same pain, grieving and loss. I'm looking forward to some sunshine, and I pray, if this relationship ends, that I die first.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Looking at the world in 2011

My very learned friend the Very Reverend Nicholas Knisely, Dean of the Cathedral in Phoenix, AZ, wrote a great blog today: Entangled States  - he was making New Year's Resolutions about his study and preaching for 2011. He used words I haven't heard since we were in seminary together almost 20 years ago. Hermeneutics and others.

However, he proposed to look at traditional ways of approaching scripture in preparation for preaching and delve into other ways than we learned. He mentioned allegory - I like that since I do a lot of story-telling in the modern vernacular - a kind of allegory that helps people relate to scripture in a different way.

Our classmate, David Keill, posted a picture of himself getting ready for General Ordination Exams (GOEs) and mentioned that he had used a reference to the Simpsons in one of his answers. Unlike yours truly, David aced the exams, and I suspect that Nick did, too. People today seem to respond to the myth of a story - the essence that is true to life regardless of whether the story is factual or not.  Helping people find the myth, the idea that will bring them closer to God is what we are supposed to be doing when we preach - at least I think so.

Also, Nick is going to take another look at atonement. Good Baptist that I have never been, I still think of blood atonement/sacrifice when someone mentions this. Atonement for our sins (okay, so I need a good definition of sin before this sentence began, but not going to happen) is mentioned many times in the scriptures, and Jesus' death and resurrection are the traditional way of thinking of atonement. God's son had to die to atone (make right) our sins. I have never been very good at atonement - especially not the stringent atonement that 12 step programs call for. And, I've never understood the idea that God's sending Christ to earth to die and rise from the dead could possibly do anything for my sins. Christ isn't my saviour because he died and rose from the dead; Christ is my saviour because he was God incarnate in humanity. He came to reconnect me and everyone else with God.

And, he's going to look at the energy situation as it relates to churches - of course, that's not how he put it. He said, "Energy Price impact on parish and diocesan life". Christmas Eve I was in a mega-church for a candle-lighting service. The technology was amazing, and I wondered if the techies were paid or volunteer. I wondered at the cost of heating and cooling such a huge arena - well, semi-circular with a large balcony where we sat. The seats were almost all full. Children covered the stage for the reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. The buildings of this mega-church were built when energy prices were cheap. They do not have any conservation measures. Lights are standard, the HVAC system will need major repairs or replacements soon, spaces are design conscious instead of energy conscious.

Small churches are closing their doors, not only because they lack trained clergy leaders but also because the buildings have deteriorated and cannot be maintained or replaced with energy efficient new ones. Other reasons contribute to this closure also...the number of people who are unemployed or under-employed, the cost of living (falling housing prices have distorted this), and general disillusionment with organized religion.
I admire Dean Nick a lot; he's also a physicist and writes about string theory and black holes and things I don't understand. But, I think he has some good ideas, and I'll probably follow along with his study during the year. I wish David Keill would post a similar note about his study and teaching for the coming year. David plays in a band, remodels houses and sells them, and has a wonderfully different viewpoint of life than Nick or me.

One thing I may add for myself is a closer look at the energy level of people. Living in a retirement village, I see all sorts of energy levels, but I wonder if the younger people (young adults through early grandparents) have enough energy to keep up with technology, make a living, raise a family, stay connected to extended family, do good in the world and have a spiritual life. My gut tells me "No", and then I wonder what's happening to our children who probably get less attention than they need.

I also intend to keep the litter box emptied more often since it is next to my computer.

Values

Okay, values are like opinions, everyone has them. Some of them are not helpful for living among people. Some are not helpful for preserving the earth. Some are downright destructive. But, most values have both positive and negative sides. For instance, financial values: The love of money is the root of all evil...the Bible says. Having money means having enough food, clothing, shelter, safety. Money can buy a lot of good things. If you don't have enough money, you beg for used clothing, you apply for Section 8 or government housing, you hit the food pantries regularly, and you are not even close to having personal safety. Short of a disaster (natural or created), money can produce safety, good food, new clothing, houses, recreational toys, etc.

If you work and save your money, you can provide for yourself - usually. If you have capital investments, then you need to make sound decisions about your money. We are all concerned about money. For most of us, the question is, "How much is enough?" Divorce attorneys make a lot of money helping people decide that question.

If you only have enough to provide the major needs in a bare way or even a halfway decent way, you know exactly how much is "enough". If you have made a lot of money or inherited a lot of money, you have a vaguer idea of how much is "enough". That's a value decision. Anything that comes along more than that "enough" requires a decision, and that's where values are important.

We humans tend to congregate with and marry persons who have similar values - values about money, being on time, eating meals together, respect, violence, animals, and what is "enough". When we step outside that group with similar values, we tread on dangerous ground. Racism, ageism, sexism and most of the "isms" are generated when we meet and interact with people who have different (but equally valid, good and useful) values.

Now, that's what I want to consider - who judges what is equally valid, good and useful in values. What happens when two people marry who have different values? They either learn from one another or the marriage ends quickly in divorce. Even when they learn from one another, the marriage may still end in divorce. Counseling may help or not.

Love transcends values. Sometimes love is a conscious decision. Sometimes love is a chemical reaction. Sometimes love draws opposites. But, love pays little attention to values. Sex pays even less attention to values. Mixed marriages - those of people of differing values - are harder to maintain and more frequently end in divorce. That's why we have premarital counseling. Of course, pre-love counseling would be better.

How much is "enough" changes with how much you have. How much is "enough" changes with your chosen group. How much is "enough" changes throughout our lives. The values behind that decision of how much is "enough" don't often change. We may acquiesce to another's value decision(s), but changing values is as difficult as changing our beliefs in a higher power or lack of belief. The change requires being "born again", a mountain-top experience, or being broken - a startling event that causes us to look at life differently.

I pray that we will all have those startling events to change our unhealthy values, that we will delve more deeply into the values we have that promote peace and earthly goodness. And, I pray that we will look carefully and consider with love all those people whose values differ from ours.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Liturgical favorites

Being an "incarnationist"  rather than a "resurrectionist", Christmas is my favorite time of the year. When we begin singing the O antiphons, I sigh deeply and sink into the knowledge that God became like me. The Christmas carols and anthems make my heart leap as Elizabeth's baby leapt in her womb when Mary visited.

Somehow though, part of the Easter service fits better with this part of the year to me.

The Light of Christ!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Carrying the Past

I don't understand people who don't carry the past with them. Dave says I "dwell" too much, and perhaps that is so. But, I just found a plastic bag full of negatives and proof sheets that belong to someone I once knew - photos of people loved, activities loved, bits of the past. I retrieved them from the trash. Thrown away - good memories along with bad. Now I must decide - mail them to a person who threw them away or throw them away myself.

I collect buttons and lapel pins from all sorts of places, many bought at thrift shops, many from places and events where I have been, most of them have meaning for me. Some are employment pins given each five years for services rendered to the company - a recognition of work. A few are college or specialty school pins. These are from people I never knew. I keep them because they deserve to be remembered - even by a stranger. Did they retire and decide to leave this little bit of their past behind? Are they dead and relatives or friends got rid of the bits and pieces of their lives? Or did they just decide to toss it in the thrift shop basket - a trinket that no longer mattered in their lives?

So, I collect the bits and pieces of people's lives - in pins and buttons, in old jewelry pieces, in photos of kinfolk long dead, in letters I wrote to various people (now returned and waiting for the truth of my life to surface  - will it confirm or contradict my memories and my journals?). I collect bits of unsought confessions of weaknesses and mistakes, joys of success and blessings, pains both physical and mental/emotional as people seem to feel they can talk to me. I listen. I am with them where they are.

At least until they begin to toss aside pieces of their past as if they don't matter any longer. Then, I lose part of my empathy. Losing my past would be like losing an arm or leg. I would know something had been there that I could have used today - the body's nerves feel missing pieces. Surgeons cut them out, cut them off and pathologists analyze them; then they are disposed of - the garbage of a body part that no longer functioned.

Some days I carry my past and others' pasts with me too much. When I awake in pain, I am more aware of those pasts and how precious are the lessons learned. When I awake without pain, I can ease these pasts into lessons for today, reaching out to use them.

Today I hurt. The negatives and photographs I found confirm my connections to my past and others' pasts. I hold them close in prayer and thanksgiving. Now, it's time to put them back in the plastic bag and get on with the day. May each person whose past I carry feel the love I am sending from where I am today.