Monday, March 30, 2009


On Wednesday a friend in another city died after a long effort with cancer, but we couldn't find out any information until Saturday. Go, Annie, Go!!

On Sunday, an online friend committed suicide and left us a note on his private blog. May he find peace and acceptance.

Tomorrow is my mother's 91st birthday; I hope she's enjoying it in heaven; she didn't enjoy a lot in her lifetime.

I've been re-membering the people in my life who have died during this Lent. I don't want their memories to die for me. Some are pleasant; some are not. But, none deserve to be forgotten.

The bootlegger's son who taught me to shoot a bow; he died in a car accident shortly after we graduated from high school.

Kaffee, who prompted me to try for a loan for divinity school and helped me through the process - encouraging me all the way - from breast cancer a year later.

Alison, who was my pal in divinity school - the cigarettes eventually got her through metastasized cancer.

Tim, my next door neighbor in divinity school, who died of AIDS and left his walking cane by my door.

Chelsea, the organist at my wedding, who also died of AIDS and was ashamed to tell.

Bill, my godson, who was older than me, but called me "Mom" because I sponsored him for confirmation, a Vietnam vet who died of illnesses contracted there.

Debbie, a church friend, who let me walk her "helping dog" after the church service and became a special friend.

Bill, who put me on the road to good sobriety, good counseling, good medical help, and offered me his vulnerability in seeing his dark side - of prostate cancer.

David, my brother, who died needlessly in an accident on a oil line repair barge in the Gulf when I was 16 years and two weeks old.

Marty, my nephew, deaf after a baby illness, who committed suicide at age 34.

Sue, my sister-in-law, who tormented me through young adulthood and became my sister in the process - in an operation to repair a stomach ulcer.

Martha, a patient in the Alzheimer's Unit in Wallingford, CT, where I did my CPE - she forgot how to eat and I sat with her for two weeks.

Dixie, an elementary school buddy, whose mental illness finally caused her to end her life.

Aunt Clyde, who loved me and was ashamed to tell me that she had sclerosis of the liver because she didn't want me to think she drank - she did when she was young but not for many years.

My first husband's niece who died at birth because both her parents had used many drugs and she was born with a partial head.

The child who was buried in a pasture in a shoebox, wrapped in a new baby blanket that my Mom bought for the family.

Untimely deaths. Yet, one by one, I remember all that I can and hold them to the light, knowing that they live.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More on personal economies

So, income is certainly going down a good bit - estimates from financial advisors range from 20 percent to 50 percent. Twenty percent, we can handle; fifty percent scares me. But, fear is good. This makes me more aware of how life used to be for me. Even at 50 percent of current income, we will live without fear of losing necessities.

And, our advisors estimate that the economy will begin to turn upward again at least by this time next year. I'm not so sure. Maybe for us that will be true, but for the general public that live on labor intensive income (i.e. working for a living), they are looking at some lean years for perhaps a decade. And, if the war in Afghanistan doesn't get better soon, the whole plan could be skewed for all of us.

I'm glad we made up a line-item budget so that we can see where we might cut expenses. I'm sure that my yarn budget is getting used up by the trip to Stitches South in April. And, we're not taking any big trips - like a cruise. Cutting the electricity bill. Not buying gifts. Kayaking instead of jet skiing. Yeah, those are the kind of cuts we'll be making.

Fortunately (so far anyway), my goddaughter's income is not being cut - social security disability, SSI, that kind of stuff - and she will still be able to buy food. You can bet that one gift I won't be giving up is the food help that I give her.

In comparison, my budget cuts are absurd. The local soup kitchen clientele has doubled. Their shelves are almost bare of food - but they have lots of clothes from the people like me. Some elderly people will die this summer, because they don't have air conditioning and they are afraid of violence if they open their windows.

Poor me. I'm just turning off lights and appliances that I don't use much. Poor me. I'm not taking a cruise. Poor me.

Mind you, I'm not in that top category of getting a million dollar bonus. I wonder what Oprah is giving up...or Donald Trump...or Dick Cheney? Even the middle class worker (who may be laid off and losing a home) would wonder at the extent of luxury that I enjoy, never mind those higher on the income scale.

Am I going to be like the young man who wanted to be saved and asked Jesus what he might do to attain the kingdom of heaven? The answer was to give all you have to the poor and follow me. My answer is "No way." I like what luxuries I'll keep. But, I will be more mindful of those with less. While gifts to my peers may be cut, gifts to help others with less will not. How are you cutting back or giving up or giving away?

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Here's the eagle sitting in the tree next door. I spotted him from the high window in my bathroom as I'm watching the osprey circle around.

Too much knitting information

In the process of trying every yarn in our shop, I have come to some conclusions about the various fibers available. Protein yarns (wool, llama, camel, alpaca, etc.) stick together and are easy to knit and crochet. Cellulose yarns (cotton, linen, sugar cane, bamboo, rayon, tencel, etc.) often separate easily and are more difficult to knit. Even some wool that has been treated to prevent shrinkage (washable wool)splits a lot.

The finished product, however, is worth the time you take in preventing splits.

In my visit last month to Virginia Beach yarn shops, I did see that small installation of hyperbolic crochet to form a replica of coral reef. So I brought home a brochure about the display in California and looked up the web site. I was amazed at the creations...and fascinated. Most of the pieces were made from acrylics because they hold the form so firmly.

I love Peaches & Creme cotton worsted and double worsted. So, I pulled out a ball of peacock (turquoise) worsted and began with a straight line of 20 crochet chains. I increased every third stitch. This afternoon at our knitting group, the ball was finished and the piece is beginning to look like brain coral, crenelated (doubling back on itself, wavy, ruffled)somewhat but not too much. I'll post a picture tomorrow (uhhh, today later). This is how coral grows, and the photographs of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs show many shapes of growth.

Okay, so now I'm hooked (pun intended) on making a small display of coral reef growth including some of the sponges and other types of coral. I might even try a fish or two. But, instead of using acrylics, I want to do it in P&C cottons mixed with some eyelash and maybe some wool for felted pieces.

Sea slugs (sounds horrible, doesn't it?) are actually beautifully colored creatures that look little like the slugs we find on our plants and walkways. They fan out from a center hole (mouth) and are bright colors. (Picture nicked from the NOAA site, I think)

To get this striation, I think I'll have to use a variegated yarn or a worsted weight color crocheted with a size 10 white and pop a bright little scallop on the edge. If you want to see some beautifully shaped and colored pieces "google" coral reef crochet. Margaret and Christine Wertheim were the co-creators of the reef structure in California and others contributed to the setting - including Sue Van Ohlsen (sp?), whom I met at her yarn shop, The Knitting Corner in Virginia Beach.

Back to protein versus cellulose yarns: To achieve some of the textures in constructing my crochet (and probably some knitted) reef, I will need to use both kinds of fibers. Perhaps such a project will teach me some patience in my fiber work. Not only will I have to be careful with splitting fibers, I will have to figure out how to do that odd shaped opening that will be the beginning of my soon-to-be-begun sea slug. Ideas are welcome.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Happy Birthday

Several friends are having birthdays today. I've wished Jill Bethune Wood, who was a journalism major at MSCW at the same time I was, a very happy birthday on Facebook.

However, Freida McDonald, once of Daphne, AL, happy birthday wherever you are now. We lost track of one another when I moved away, and I've missed you.

Also from Daphne, happy birthday Anne and Gary Underwood; we were at Cursillo together, I think.

Strange to look in my birthday calendar book and find names I barely remember. I've moved around so much that I'm not sure where I knew some of these people. Marcel from Burundi worshipped at our church in Winston-Salem for a while. He had applied for asylum here, and I don't know where he is now. Sally and Lucy whose parents separated and they moved away. Mary Robert, priest and friend, who loved my EFM classes. And, on that same page, my grandfather Mike, who died when I was five. I adored him even though I know now that he was a philanderer, a hard worker when he worked, an alcoholic, super conservative, and possibly abusive to his family. But, he loved me.

How the friends from other places slip away unless we make a real effort to stay in touch. I admit the computer makes it easier now. I would never write letters to all the friends and family that connect with me through emails, Facebook, instant messages and such.

So, Freida, if you're out there, leave me a message.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thoughts on the Economy and Spirituality

Our income will be cut by 20 percent in the next few months because of the declining value of our retirement portfolio, which is half of what it was a year ago. Amazing, isn't it, that something so amorphous as a portfolio, which really isn't on paper at all but in a computer bank several places, could affect our lives so profoundly? Paper money has baffled me from the beginning. When they recalled the silver certificates of one dollar bills, I realized that the actual one dollar bill had no meaning at all except that which "the economy" gave it. And, it actually costs more to manufacture a penny than it's worth. You can sell pennies for scrap metal and make more money...except that I suspect the law prohibits that.

Back to our declining income. I admit that "I see, I buy". Usually it's yarn or clothes, sometimes books, occasionally beads. However, I already have so much that I don't need more. My therapist says that sometimes I'm trying to fill the "love tank" because I don't get the responses I need from those who love me - not that they don't love me enough, but I don't recognize their ways of expressing that love enough to fill up my needs.

I know that my partner loves me, and I know that God loves me. Whose love am I missing? Both. Do I fail to see/hear/know God's love for me? How does God show that love to me? How does my partner show love for me? Why don't I recognize it? Why do I feel compelled to do things that "make me feel good" to supplement love?

Of course, you know that I don't have answers to those questions. And, you may be wondering what declining income has to do with recognizing love. For me, I spend money if I don't recognize love...partner's love, God's love, friends' love. In a month, I will have much less to spend, and I will need to be able to recognize that love more and more.

I am minded of Janis Joplin's "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." If I have love, then losing income won't matter so much. We will have enough for our basic needs and more. My concentration could be on filling my basic need for love by perceiving how much I am loved.

My prayer is that I learn to recognize expressions of love and let them fill my heart and soul and mind and body.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Minimalist Structure, Maximum Effect

Today's retreat for our flowering LGBT Ministry was much better than I expected - in fact, not what I expected at all. Led by a wonderful man who has been affected by the discrimination shown LGBT people, the retreat proceeded from why we joined the group originally to how the group has/is changing/is being now to what we are about to naming the group ---- and only then did we consider structure. We decided on a steering group with leadership functions instead of positions. Of course, functions have names - a coordinator because someone has to be named for contact, a finance person to handle money, a scribe to handle minutes and a communications person to handle getting out the word about the LGBT Ministry. We decided that four people were not enough; so the fifth person volunteered to help do the work in the steering group. No votes were taken except for the name and that was by consensus.

I even volunteered to be the communications person for the I have all the big worksheets to transcribe and send to the group. I like doing that. Since I spent about 20 years in advertising and public relations, I should be able to do that job well. And, I can do most of it from home without worrying about being somewhere early in the mornings (which I don't do well).

This minimalist structure and the cohesion of the group will lead, I believe, to having a maximum effect on the ministry actions that we hope to attain. We are writing a mission statement that will help guide our work - welcome, ministry, action. Our first effort is hosting one of the Thursday soup luncheons during Lent.

Much emphasis was put on membership in the group being OPEN. No requirements for doing other things in the church, no requirements that you be a member of the church, no requirements that you be Christian, no requirements except respecting the dignity of all people, which is in our baptismal covenant. I like that. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

We had eucharist at the end of the retreat work, and I thought, "This is my church. Someday I may move into the church building across the street, but, for now, this group, this confederacy is my church."

I bless God for giving me such an appropriate community in which to worship.

Christ Church across the street

Spirituality and Structure

After Jesus death, the 12 male apostles didn't take long to form a heirarchy with Peter and James vying for leadership. Peter was the apostle to the gentiles and James stayed in Jerusalem. Both died as martyrs. Their followers should have learned from that that heirarchies just don't pay; however, during that first century or two the Christians, as the began to be called, seemed to be heavily into S&M. People kept getting thrown to the lions or tigers or whatever hungry beasts the Romans could find - mostly because they claimed that Jesus was King. Other terminology might have suited them better. Maybe they could have practiced expansive God-language, a choice that more and more liberal churches are using now.

When I took CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) in seminary over 15 years ago, the model was to be abusive of your peers in sessions - because we learn from pain. No, no. My group agreed up front that we would not be abusive toward one another, that we would work together to help each other learn the best ways of being pastoral, of being the hands and feet and mouth of God in helping people. And, we did. We did not set up the heirarchy of the leaders being in charge; we saw that they were teachers and learners just as we had some things to teach them and were willing to learn from them.

Structure in the organized church seems to mean business-like goal-setting, heirarchies, and formal meetings. Much good is done in the world by these organizations. Even evangelism in the mega-churches is done this way. However, some studies show that one to one invitations work better than anything else. Word of mouth is better than advertising. Smiles at the door are better for getting people to return than ushers who seat people formally.

Spirituality is done now with spiritual directors instead of people journeying together. While our teens are encouraged to be leaders within their groups, they meet the full force of structure when they are invited to diocesan conventions - mostly as observers of how to do it right. Delegated authority quickly becomes heirarchy, even when it's rotated every few years. The position holds the power, and some of that power rubs off on the person who holds that position. More often than not those people who have held the position in the past are elected again when they become eligible. That's structure. Leaders form positions, groups set mission statements, goals and actions. When someone strays from the structure the positions gently encourage the person to return. If the person does not return, the structure goes on.

About spirituality in structure: very seldom works, especially for the loners. We loners often have a spirituality that is inclusive and works in mysterious ways in all sorts of directions. We understand structure and organization, positions and goals, but they don't apply to our understanding of spirituality or pastoral care or being with God. We stray or we rebel. We are left to wander or we are kicked out (either in reality or ignored until we leave).

More about spirituality: Being with God is what spirituality is all about. Conveying that experience to others and helping them find it is pastoral care. We do it every day of our lives. Being alone with God is wonderful, but we also need to be with others who understand spirituality as we do. So, we go to church and we tolerate the heirarchy, the structure, the organization until it overshadows our souls. Then we feed elsewhere. Balance is hard to find.

Lord, help me find balance.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

When things work right

Gratitude. This morning I made a long gratitude list as I lay snuggled in my comfy bed with two cats, listening to partner's coffee making and the birds chirping. When life is comfortable we can make gratitude lists. When life is uncomfortable, we seldom can think past our discomfort to make such lists. However, when a friend called this morning with a migraine, I was deeply grateful that I don't have them any more. No matter how much pain I have with my restless leg syndrome or the fibromyalgia, I don't have migraines.

I rinsed out the sink with the sprayer and thought about how much water I was "wasting" when some people do not even have safe drinking water. Our water doesn't taste good but it's safe. I want to help others drill wells so that they don't have to use river water or search for springs that may have gone away.

The owner of the store at Merchants joked with me this morning - spring must be getting in his blood because he's been glum all this winter. And, I'm grateful. We joked about the upcoming bike rally here in May and looked enviously at the bike riders who were buying gas and water for the day. And, I was grateful for the smiles and the joy of those who were enjoying our beautiful day.

I walked to Merchants - just two houses away - something I could not have done six months ago. And, I was grateful, even though I only lasted six minutes on the treadmill this morning.

My grocery list is made, and I know I have enough money to buy everything we need and probably some extras. My goddaughter struggles each month to feed those in her household - buying in bulk, looking for mark-downs and out-of-dates, and going around to various churches seeking food. She has no car and getting over to the church where she can get "angel food" boxes is now impossible. Buses don't go there. and, I'm grateful for good food to eat.

However, several nights ago, my restless leg syndrome would not be quieted and I slept little - up and down - heat, stretching, more medicine - finally still enough to sleep, but exhausted, about 4 am. I'm not sure how thankful I was then. I had a warm house, warm clothes, computer games, two loving cats, and plenty of room to walk around. In retrospect, I'm grateful.

Perhaps next time I have troubles, I will be grateful for the blessings that I do have instead of focusing only on my problems...but I doubt it.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference - and the mindfulness to be grateful at all times.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Parish Retreat

I always take several deep breaths before I begin a blog entry and they usually end with a large sigh. I'm confused, ailing, bewildered, angry, happy, but always having some large emotion. Tonight I'm reflecting on the parish retreat of this past weekend.

Large church, partner attends, I don't. She talks about many people, and I have faces for most of them now. But, they seem a generation before me or a world away. Most have grandchildren. Most have been married many years or are widows. Many really are an older generation. But, even the younger ones have families. Many of them still work every day. Most are doing okay financially even in this crisis.

They were pleasant people. The music was good and reminded me of my long-ago Cursillo experience. In fact, some of the music transported me back to that time, and I could lay to rest the discomfort that has continued for so many years. I'm not attending to please the bishop (he wasn't there), I'm not seeking ordination, I didn't have anything to lose at this retreat - only to gain.

The program likened our journeying to an Appalachian hike - the trailhead, the base camp, the decisions about directions, the barriers, the hope, the going forth. I've never hiked, but the symbolism made sense. And, he said several key phrases and words that brought my current spiritual/worshipping self to mind and challenged me to find answers.

We stayed at our condo about a mile from the retreat center, and I slept through the Saturday morning part...a much-needed rest after working three full days last week- three very busy days. The retreat was good for me, but superficial. I was not moved in any deep way.

However, as I discussed it with my therapist this morning, several good things that happened arose in our conversation. My putting away the pain from Cursillo, my not feeling threatened by any hierarchy, my dreams not depending on someone's opinion of how I acted at the retreat. I was present and smiling for my partner.