Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Rose

There is a lovely Christmas song....  that anyone who ever sang in a school or church choir probably had the great privilege to learn.  The notes float out and around you and if you are lucky enough, you sing in some wonderful venue where the notes resonate around the room and back, singing, ringing, floating in a kind of Christmas music magic.  The last time I sang this, it was with my precious children for a Christmas Eve service.

My memories are many - and sweet - of singing with my children.  From the first days of their lives, holding them gently in front of me, looking into those eyes that were so recently bound to me physically... inside of me, and now were a separate, breathing, heart-beating entity magically and lovingly created.  I sang 'Ash Grove' and 'Summertime' and 'It Had to Be You'....... and continued to sing them every night putting them to bed after lights were out.

There were long car trips home to see grandmothers - 'journeys of misery' as my drama-queen daughter dubbed them - where we played the 'Matching Game' and sang at the top of our lungs along with the songs, repeated time after time until we were ready to move on, starting with all things Raffi and Hans Christian Andersen - 'Down By the Bay' and 'The Ugly Duckling' will always be songs with a story in our house - and eventually on to the Broadway musicals that inspired my talented babies eventually to recreate on the stage (Godspell and Les Mis to name a few).

I remember the first Christmas Eve service that my children stood with me in a darkened sanctuary and sang 'The Friendly Beasts'.  That first Christmas Eve was the beginning of many family performances, eventually leading up to us singing together as a complete family - Tom included.  Tom will say that these are among his favorite memories.

And there were the nights sitting in a darkened theater waiting to hear those grown babies singing from the stage while I sat, breath held, in the audience. And, yes, crying.  For joy.  For the memories.  For love.

Babies.  There is such magic and such power and such overwhelming and profound love that goes with that word.  So much so that just trying to write this, the tears are streaming down my face.

And this time of year, I think of the baby that this whole season was created to celebrate.  The Christmas Rose.  My relationship to this baby is simple.  I call myself a "Christmas Christian" because it is the life that this baby went on to lead that thrills and inspires me.  I don't need or care whether he was the result of a miracle any greater than the pure miracle of conceiving and bearing a child into this world.  I don't need a 'virgin birth'.... but I love the story and the tradition and the life that was the reason the story was ever told to begin with.

And I think of the mother, young and frightened, huge with a child that I know she wondered about.  I'm referring to true 'wonder'... filled with awe at the absolute miracle of being able to help create and grow inside of her a human life until it was able to take its first breath independent of her body.

All mothers feel this way, don't they?

And then the miracle of delivering that child into the world and getting him through his first year, alive and well and walking.  And then helping him learn to 'be' in this world on his own, year after year, kissing boo-boos and rocking to peaceful sleep and cheering him on as he continued to grow and separate more and more from where he first started.... deep inside of her, connected and part of.

And I remember standing in front of The Pieta in St. John's Basilica in Rome with my husband and the father of my babies, and weeping with him, at the sheer power and beauty of a mother's agony and love, holding her precious child in her arms.  I was looking at a marble sculpture, but could literally feel the searing pain of that mother, holding her grown baby in her arms after his life had been extinguished.

At that moment I wanted to rattle the rafters of every public/political building in the world and throughout history that had ever entertained the discussion of war and death.  I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that babies were never made to slaughter.  Only to love.  We make our babies to live and thrive and love and continue on in the world, not to march into war and die.  Mothers would never declare war.

Would they?

Tom and I had been to Florence and saw so many of the Christian paintings of pain and torment and death.  We wondered how anyone who had not been steeped in the stories of Christmas and a loving Christ wouldn't be frightened away by these images of sorrow and fear.

But this one sculpture, this Pieta..... this one silent declaration of love and loss and love eternal..... this could change the heart of anyone.

No, I don't need a virgin birth.  And I don't require someone else dying for my sins.  I believe we were all made in the image of God and will - all of us - return to that light and love, regardless of choices made or beliefs or lack thereof.  I do pray for peace and compassion and enlightenment and awakening.  And I pray that everyone who wants to hold a baby in their arms - and to sing to - would have that chance.  And to see it grow strong, healthy and happy into a world of peace and purpose. 

Because that, to me, is the Christmas miracle.  That we can experience a Christmas Rose of our own.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyuOIYCERc4

Merry Christmas.  Blessings and love.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Trees

Trees captivate me.

Some of my earliest memories are of trees.  I remember lying in the grass and watching the sunlight playing through leaves and just....wondering... about being alive and breathing and being in love with that perfect moment of stillness and beauty. (We are so wise as children and then, for some reason, we lose it.)

My brother Paul and I used to scout through the woods looking for treasure and adventure and one day discovered a magnificent beech tree.  This particular tree was like a ladder to the clouds and we knew we had discovered something incredible.

The first thing we did was climb that behemoth!  The branches were close enough to the ground that small people could easily reach and swing skinny legs up and over and then it was just a hand-over-hand climb up, up, up.  The trick was to keep climbing and always concentrate on the next hand and foot hold... and never, ever look down.  I know this because the once that I did look down, I was frozen in place.  My precious brother and best friend had to help me down, one branch at a time, until I was close enough to earth that I felt safe.  Lesson learned?  Keep looking up.

We immediately ran home and reported our find to our mother who promptly agreed to be shown this monster tree.  She put aside the work she was doing and followed her excited and happy children back into the woods to check out their discovery.  Mama had exactly the same reaction to that tree as we did.  She started climbing.  It is a wonderful thing to discover for a child that you have a mother willing to drop her work, follow you into the woods and then climb an enormous tree!

When mom moved into her current home, she wasn't satisfied until she had a beech tree sapling planted squarely in the middle of her enormous back yard.  She planted it for Paul and me.  That's love.

Over the years I have continued to be drawn to trees to the extent that my husband refers to me as a Druid, an apt moniker.  He has had to stop the car in order for me to take pictures of particularly striking trees.  I have an album dedicated to the pictures taken over the years and a dream to publish my work or display it somewhere.  Tom has seen me throw my arms around particularly impressive trees as well as witness me mourning the mutilation or death of trees.

The only thing sadder than the untimely death of a beautiful tree (through storm or fire or ill-planned construction) is the scalping of a tree in the name of tree husbandry called topping - as if something akin to tree torture could be considered beneficial to the life and growth of a tree.  I know that those responsible for this kind of abuse believe that they are doing the tree a service but they wouldn't dream of cutting off fingers and toes of a child to help them grow better.  I see no difference.

But enough of my personal rant and back to what I love.....

There is something profoundly beautiful about a tree in winter.  Partly because without all the dressing of green or outrageous fall colors, a winter tree stands proudly naked for all the world to see without regard to age or infirmity assuming, of course, that it hasn't been trimmed and topped and pruned into submission or some other definition of beauty.  A winter tree shows us what it is truly made of.  We can see that each species of tree has a specific shape and quality making it uniquely an oak or a maple or a sycamore or a walnut.  It doesn't hide its weathering or wear.  The breaks and falls it has taken over the years can be seen, but one can also see the self-healing the tree has accomplished given enough time.

Ruthie B is in love with trees for all these reasons.  I especially love the metaphor they represent to a life well lived -  their strength and individuality and character, their ability to provide shelter and protection,  their invitation to climb and explore and reach for the stars.... and their willingness to expose their hearts for all to see.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks

It is the last day of November as I sit here capturing this thought.  The Christmas lights have been officially lit on 'The Plaza' and the Mayor's Tree is aglow.  The seasonal songs have long been playing on radio stations and in stores.  How we do love to rush our holidays in this country!

Oh, I love the nativity and the carols and the coming snow and the twinkling lights and presents under the tree, too.  But it is this holiday of food and family and parades and footballs games and gathering together that I am most thankful for.

Because?  Because of the promise that Thanksgiving makes to all of us.

It is the one day that, all family strains and cares aside, we really do understand we are expected to stop and reflect and be thankful for everything in our life.  Every wee thing.  Every major thing.  Everything.

And I am.  Boy howdy, I am!

At a recent writing workshop we participants were given a list of journaling tools to help our writing juices flow.  One of these tools is to keep a 'Gratitude Journal' in which we would write every day three things we are thankful for then answer why these good things happened to us.  What did we do to bring these good things about?  Then, once we understand what led to these, keep writing what else we are grateful for.

So, I wrote.

I am thankful for my family:  For my mother, who prayed me into existence and who lived selflessly all her life for her children.  For my husband who knows me better than (almost) any other human being on this planet.  Who understands my passions and moods and need to GO!  Who has loved me through the ups and downs of an often-tumultuous marriage and has stood by me when I needed encouragement and behind me (pushing or kicking) when I needed a little more.  And for my children without whom I do not honestly know how I lived before.  They are the reason I was born. 

What did I do to deserve these precious people?  This is a hard question to answer.

I lived and loved.

I am thankful for my healthy, strong body.  I am incredibly aware that I am fit and strong despite my years.  This isn't an accident.  I spent plenty of years being not so fit and healthy, just getting by, getting on airplanes, going from one hotel and one company event and meal to another and not really paying much attention to the toll it was taking on my body.

Then one memorable day I was in Colorado traveling with my young children and husband and looking at the sign at the head of a mountain trail deciding if I 'had it in me' to make it up what had been warned was a 'strenuous' trail.  I was saddened and dismayed that at the tender age of 40-something I was really questioning whether this trail was something I was capable of doing.

So, what did I do to bring this thing about?

I listened to my heart's desire and started walking.

At first I used my poor dog as an excuse to get me going.  He walked with me until he just couldn't anymore and would lie down in the shade getting his second wind, looking at me pitifully to just, please, stop already!  And I kept walking. Eventually I walked 60 miles in 3 days as part of a cancer awareness walk.  Then I walked 27 miles in one day just to know I could.  Now I am hoping to walk across my state of Missouri next year with a delicious band of Wild Women who will be walking across the U.S.A.

I am thankful for my mentors and teachers and friends.  They have instilled in me my wish - my prayer - to speak and live my truth with courage and wisdom and love.  They have encouraged me to use my outside, out-loud voice and not be afraid of what will come out.  I thank you Diane and Orlando, David and Charlie and Jim.  Thank you Kim and Jenny and Diane, Susan and Sheri and Helen.  Oh, the list is so long and I pray that I have told you who you are!

What did I do to bring this 'good thing' about?

I listened and I loved and listened some more.  

What other things can I think to be grateful for?  Oh, is there ever enough room to record it all?!  For wine and music and dancing.  For beautiful food and romantic movies and books.  For glowing sunsets and crisp sheets and snow.  For thunder storms, birthdays and soft April afternoons.  For trees on fire with fall colors and reflections in the water.  For last first kisses and whispered dreams.  For love and laughter and baby-powdered baby-bottoms.  For the ability and forum and freedom to write these words.

For enough days to say 'Thank You'.

It's really a great exercise.  I recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shadows

Last week was one of those exquisitely beautiful autumn weeks.  The air was simultaneously warm with a light chill, the leaves were dancing circles on the breeze to the ground and the sun was coming at the most interesting angle through the remaining leaves on the trees creating a golden glow.

Everything seemed just a little magical and other-worldly.

I happened to be in Indiana, my home-state and where my mother and many of my friends can still be found and somewhere I go as often as possible to escape my now and step back, in many ways, to who I was a lot of yesterdays ago.  And as is my custom when I am home and have spent too many hours in the warmth and stillness of my mother's kitchen, I walk the country roads that are laid out in such grid-like precision that miles are easily stepped off and exact measurements of time can be given to worrying mothers so they won't, well, worry so much.

And I had my camera.

It was late enough that the sun was starting to sink in the west and the shadows were getting long.  I love that time of evening especially for the light and shadows, regardless of the season, but especially in the fall for the additional colors that are showing up on tree-tops and in field furrows.

As I walked this particular stretch of CR 800, I came upon a tree still standing but shattered by time and weather.  I am intrigued by trees.  One might say I am passionate about trees, especially when they have been defrocked by the seasons and are standing proud and strong, showing their species by their bare-boned limbs.  This one, though, had been standing naked for a long time.

I stopped to take in this tree, watching the play of light and color from the setting sun behind me and tried to find the best spot to capture the tree's remaining essence.  I also liked the idea of capturing me taking the picture via my shadow.

The picture was snapped, and I continued on my walk finding many other lovely Indiana fall images that would make it into my camera and, eventually, my photographic journal of this particular trip home.

Back home again in the heartland, I reviewed all my pictures and was particularly pleased with this one.  The colors were lovely, though the tree wasn't quite as singular in the picture as it had been the moment it was taken.  I am always amazed at what the human eye sees in the moment that somehow the camera never can capture.  Still, I liked this picture.  And it haunted me.

 I was reminded of the spiritual lesson of the continuous shadows in our life - the lesson to be conscious of the shadow, ever-present, that is really working for the accolades of 'job well done, good and faithful servant'.   When we work at the soup kitchen in order to show compassion for others who don't have the luxuries of plentiful food and dependable shelter, is the compassion shaded with the relief of 'thank God that isn't me' or the hope that this small kindness is building another step on our stairway to heaven?  When we write a check to the homeless shelter or the soup kitchen or the church, is it considering the need at the other end, or the tax deduction on ours?  When we ask for prayers for another, is it truly lifting that person up or is it a more acceptable, elegant form of gossip?

And my personal shadow game is that of jumping to judgment or conclusions about another only to honestly have to admit that what I am not liking in their actions is something I recognize and dislike in my own.  My lovely teacher and mentor reminds me again and again that we cannot see in another what we don't recognize in ourselves.

That lesson applies to the beauty and talent and specialness we 'recognize' in another as well as the ability to see and label bad behavior.  A friend of mine routinely flies into fits of road rage when fellow travelers aren't driving in a way to suit him/her, but is one of the worst drivers I know.  Another friend is  the first to love the gentleness of a human spirit, but fails to recognize their own gentleness.  Another announces they 'hate liars' but doesn't seem concerned about the small deceits that pepper their own reality.

If I am wounded by a lack of compassion or understanding, have I given any thought to my inability to empathize with the one who is the seeming perpetrator?

I have caught myself jumping to conclusions and judgments recently and thankfully am recognizing the sameness of those judgments and lingering guilt inside of me.  Not only is it time to release my opinions of others, it is time to finally let go of the corresponding sadness inside of me.

Shadows are everywhere in nature - outdoors and internal.  Sometimes they are nearly invisible, when the shining light of personal recognition is directly upon us, and at other times they stretch long into our horizon.  Shadows aren't bad or good.... they just are.  Just like that weathered tree.

So I labeled the picture - A mere shadow of her former self.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Searching for a Voice

Lying in bed listening to the birds begin to sing as the day dawned here in the heartland of America I thought about this new project/assignment to be an Empowerment World Mentor.  What a wonderful opportunity and what an amazing challenge to help another woman find her voice and to encourage her to speak her truth and change her world forever.

And what a tremendous responsibility.

It made me think, again, of the prayer I have been saying - the mantra I have been repeating - for several years.  'May I speak my truth with courage, wisdom and love.'  This prayer originated, really, with the second-guessing I continually put myself through either on my job or with my family and friends, or in my life in general.  It seemed that at the end of the day I would find myself questioning the things I had said and their impact on the people around me............  Did I speak wisely?  Was what I said fair and truthful?  Did I make a fool of myself or, worse..... someone else?

So much of what is written or said is through the emotional lenses of anger and fear manifesting often as sarcasm and contempt - which only seems to inspire the same in others.  My personal initial reaction to the expression of anger is to put up a wall and attempt to remove myself.  Not healthy, I know, but as they say in some parts of the country.....'just sayin'.

It appears courageous to share anger and fear when that seems to be what is really going on.  Whether it be the political situation or personal.  Maybe it is discussing religion or relationships.  The environment or education.  But is it really the truth?  And is it really effective?

I believe we have to look for the impulse behind the words that we speak - either out loud or in writing - to determine their impact.  When we speak from anger, righteous or not, we speak from fear and a position of weakness.  And people usually respond accordingly.

But, when we continue digging through the layers of anger and fear and keep looking for the kernel of truth we should eventually find it in love.....  there is something, eventually, based in love that motivates us.  Think about it - when we are angry or scared... isn't there always love threatened at the emotional center?

When we find the love based truth, then the words we speak can have the most lasting impact.  When we speak our truth with courage wisdom and love then we can never question or second-guess what we say.

I think the secret of being heard always is and will ever be in using the language of love.

Just sayin'.....

Monday, October 4, 2010

Handprints

I am just home from a weekend in the woods with a growing group of friends that have known each other, some of us, since kindergarten.  All of us from high school because we graduated together.  This is not some notorious group of friends that were inseparable then and have maintained the 'clique' all these years. No, this is a group of strikingly different individuals who have come together after 30 years and fallen in love with just being together talking and laughing, sitting around a campfire or a dinner table (or the occasional bar) sharing memories and stories. 

Sharing life.

When I came home, I felt a definite loss of air in my 'joy balloon'.  Coming home meant my sweet husband and warm bed and much healthier eating, to be sure.  It also meant several hundred miles between those wonderful people and months before I would be able to laugh and love with them again.  And I started thinking about the song from the musical "Wicked" that has always touched me deeply.  One of my favorite lines goes like this:


So much of me 
Is made of what I've learned from you 
You'll be with me 
Like a handprint on my heart

Handprints on my heart.  What an incredibly beautiful concept!  What a lovely way of thinking about all the people that have touched our life in some way.  And how completely true.  

So I started thinking about the handprints on my heart that have been left there throughout my lifetime.  This really correlates to the "Listen to My Life" class in which a group of women have gathered to listen to the telling of our stories and to help each other figure out how God/the Universe is working in our life through our experiences. I struggled last week with how to share my story, and now I know it will be telling the story by those very handprints.

Our hearts are covered with handprints.  Parents, siblings, friends, teachers, lovers have all left their marks.  Some are more gentle than others.  Some are more like bruises.  Each and every one of them has made an impression.  The trick, really, is in learning how to appreciate each of them for what they were.... for what they are. 

And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...

The people that come in and out of our lives are responsible for helping us rewrite the way our stories are to be told, if we only will take the time to understand the impact they make.  The parents who, though imperfect, were doing the best they knew how.  The friends who were wrestling with the same fears and insecurities.  The colleagues who had the same things to accomplish and prove.  The lovers that appear and then leave, but from whom we have discovered one more aspect of ourselves.  The spouses who appear and stay through thick and thin teaching us that commitment is a working gift.  The children who are born to us with their own lives to lead - joys to experience and sorrows to bare - and from whom we can learn much, if we just take the time to watch and listen.

 Thousands and thousands of handprints.  

And some of the 'prints' are not from hands, but from events.  Imprints maybe?  Some are from a whole list of the 'firsts' - first day of school, first time we learn our parents are fallible, first time a bat or a ball or a club connects with a ball so perfectly, first time we look into the face of our child, our first wish for a 'do-over' in life.

And some are historic events.... the assassination of a president, a war that leaves the world shaken and grieving, a car accident that leaves classmates dead or permanently scarred, a wall and a country that crumbles after a lifetime of being 'the enemy'.  September 11th, 2001.

I am learning to be thankful for all the prints that have been left on my heart - even those that felt more like a pinch - and hope to keep making room for more, because.... 
   
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?  
But because I knew you 
I have been changed for good.

I just want to make sure that all of these handprints are changing me for the better because I am recognizing them for what they are and learning from them.

And I pray that the handprints I am leaving are ones that translate to love.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Listening

A couple of weeks ago I started a class entitled 'Listen to My Life' that has been run several times in the past by one of my dearest friends.  Penny is a pastor at one of those monster churches - we fondly refer to it as 'Six Flags Over Jesus' - that is attracting people by the thousands.  She has more work to do than any 3 people normally can manage AND she worked with this group of women who were gathering to tell the story of their lives and listen to the tellings. 

Penny, knowing me as well as she does, knew that this class would be something I would be drawn to and fall in love with.  What's not to love, really?  Women?  Gathering together to talk about the things that matter most to them?  Talking about their life stories?  Talking about how God has worked through and played in their lives?  Learning to listen exquisitely and ask questions - not for clarification, but to help others better understand their story?

Eating brownies, for God sakes?!

Yeah, that sounds like me, alright.  Penny knows me well.

So, last night was the beginning of the reflection of lives, not just the 'meet and greet' that has been happening the last two weeks (in which this WOO thrives, by the way...)  I knew it could be awkward.  I knew it would be hard.  I knew there would be tears.  And laughter.  I knew some people would be uncomfortable.  I knew my heart would open and break at some of what was going to be shared.  I knew that we risk much telling these stories.  (We have all sworn to confidentiality, so there won't be any sharing here, unless it is my story.)

What I didn't realize and am now processing is how much the stories of others would unlock places inside my heart and my mind and my memory.  I had a journal there with me and was quickly writing as others spoke, remembering things that needed to also go into my story.  I didn't want to miss a word of what was being said and didn't want to work on me as others were sharing to the depths of their souls.  But, I was surprised that I could forget some really important events that made such a difference in my life.

So I scribbled furiously, listening as attentively as possible and wondered at the forgetting.  Why would I forget the jobs?  College?  Talking about my father?  My mother and brothers?  Odd things, really, to leave out of a life's story.  And then the pit of my stomach started churning.... really hurting in a fear-like kind of way.

I took a picture once that reminds me of this familiar feeling.  We had been hiking in New Zealand with a tour and were told that early one morning our guides would be going to the river and feeding the eels.

Really.

So early the next morning I hiked down to the river and watched as the chicken scraps were thrown onto the river bank.  Within moments, the water was churning and writhing with these eels, all black and sinewy and slithering over each other. 



It looked like my definition of Hell.  And it reminded me of the way I feel, sometimes.  

I recognized the feeling I was having during this Tuesday night class as a stage fright kind of feeling, but didn't know why I should be suffering from anything like that.  I didn't have to say anything that night, I wasn't going to be 'on' with a less than complete life story... I had another week or two to be able to fill it out more completely.  And, besides, no one in that class would know whether I had really done my homework or not.  I had nothing to be afraid of.

If that was what it was.

What was I feeling?

Ah, yes.  The sadly too-familiar feeling of not being authentic - not really being 'true' to myself.  This prayer for authenticity I have said for years continues to be answered in opportunities to 'be' my prayer and here it was.  Again.

I have spent so many years being 'the strong one' - in my family, in my church, with my friends.  Goodness, even as a little girl I felt like I needed to be 'strong' for my mom.   She had gone through so much heartache in her life that I decided at a very young age never to do anything intentionally that might hurt her. 

And here I was, again, presenting the 'strong side' of Ruth.  Although the story I had mapped out was one that had ups and downs, I recognized that I had left out anything that might show me as fragile or flawed or weak.  I was mapping out vulnerabilities... but I was leaving out the stories that might really show some of the inner rooms of my heart that had never been truly explored.

There is a reoccurring dream I have that puts me in a house - a familiar house in my waking - that, in the dream,  I live in.  The house changes occasionally, but thematically it is the same.  I am walking through a house I know intimately, but keep opening doors to new rooms or finding stairways to new levels that I had never explored or discovered before.  Mostly, the dream house rooms are crowded with the trappings of life - furniture and clothing, dishes and pictures.  And cobwebs!  But occasionally, those rooms are painted white and pristine and echo-y empty.

Always I wonder, in my dream, how I could live somewhere and not know all that is there to know about the house and the rooms and the things in them?!  How could I occupy something as important as a home and not know everything in it like the back of my hand, not explore it and open all the doors and the closets and the drawers?

And clean it up, for pity sake?

And how is it possible for me to occupy my own life and not be opening all the doors and climbing all the stairs?  And yes, even cleaning out the cobwebs if need be.

So, life.... I am listening.  Truly, lovingly listening.

And I know what you have to teach me will be profound.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Continuous Loops

I just finished watching a movie called "Happy Accidents" with Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio that neatly fits in my all time favorite love story category of 'love through space and time'.  My fascination with this kind of story started with 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' when I was a little girl and was later fed by 'Somewhere in Time'.  Other notable offerings in this genre are 'Ghost',  'The Lake House', 'Sliding Doors' and, most recently, 'The Time Traveler's Wife'.

The all time great, though, (in my opinion) is 'Groundhog Day' with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.  This movie qualifies on so many levels of the requirements of love transcending time and space that it almost represents its own category.  It also represents, in my opinion, one of the finest lessons on Buddhist teaching made available for mass audiences to 'get' (or not).

In a nutshell for anyone who may not be familiar with the story; the hapless hero so despises his life that he shows nothing but disdain for himself and others.    He wants only what feels good immediately and has zero empathy or compassion for anything or anybody.  So, life (that great equalizer) conspires to make him repeat the same day - ad nauseum - until he 'gets it right'.....

He gets to do the same day - the exact same things - over and over again until he learns to make the best of it all.  Until he learns his lessons - compassion, loving-kindness, empathy, balance, joy.

In other words, he gets to relive that one day of his life until he learns to 'love' enough.

A movie-primer on reincarnation, the greatest of continuous loops.

I happen to believe in reincarnation and always have from probably my earliest thoughts on life and how we came to be here.  I have never accepted the premise that we 'only go around once'.  My mother always told a story of looking into my newborn eyes and marveling on the wisdom they contained those first precious days.  She recited this poem to me often....

Baby
George Macdonald (1824 - 1905)

Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.

Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?
Some of the starry spikes left in.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok'd it as I went by.

What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than anyone knows.

Whence that three-corner'd smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.

Where did you get this pearly ear?
God spoke, and it came out to hear.

Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.

Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs wings.

How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.

But, how did you come to us,  you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.

How could I not believe that I had come from something and somewhere else?  Continuous loops are just in my personal programming.

Some have told me that reincarnation is just an elegant and convenient way for us to 'get away' with (literally) murder - amongst other things - here and now and never really get 'caught'.  They argue that if everyone believed they could just come back and get another chance at life as opposed to fearing an eternity of punishment, then we would be giving ourselves permission for all sorts of gratuitous and bad behavior - why would anyone live their lives with any decency or morals if there aren't immediate consequences to fear?  Personally, I think that argument speaks more to individual feelings of repression than a true sense of human decency.  And I know that argument has made most of the world's religions a lot of money over the centuries.


(I also happen to believe that reincarnation was an early accepted tenet in Christianity......  after all, we Christians have always talked about and continue to expect 'the second coming' of Christ and we are NOT referring to a different guy!)

But.  The continuous loops that got me writing today are the ones we experience in this lifetime.  Everyone has them.  Call it karma, if you want, but it is dealing with the same nonsense over and over again; the same obnoxious boss or co-worker, getting stuck - again - in the slowest moving line, dealing with the same kind of relationships again and again.  Basically, running into the same reoccurring storyline with different situations and people.  Same stuff, different day.  Over and over again.

For me there are a couple reoccurring story-lines that I just know are mine to figure out in this lifetime. (No, not sharing what mine are, just that they are....)   Even though there was always a 'deja vu' quality to them, I was floored by them each and every time and they left me - often - devastated or flummoxed or both. 

I recently heard a sermon on prayer that discussed the possibility that an answer to a prayer is not being given what we have prayed for, but being given instead the opportunity to be what we are praying for - to live into the prayer, if you will.  If our prayer is for courage, the answer is being given the opportunity to be courageous.  If my prayer is to be authentic, then maybe I am continuously being given the opportunity to choose authenticity.

To go back to the movie 'Happy Accidents',  the character played by Ms. Tomei has a need to fix people - boyfriends in particular - and is seeing a therapist to try to break the legacy she has made for herself and feels she is making progress, repeating her self affirmations into the mirror day and night.  Then she runs into Sam who seems healthy and normal, until he starts telling a story of being a time-traveler who has come back just for her and she just knows she is in her continuous loop.  Again.

(Just in case anyone wants to see it, I won't be giving any spoiler information so keep reading.)

The therapist has convinced her that until she learns her lesson she will continue to doom herself with picking wrong men and ending up broken and alone every time.  The solution to her reoccurring storyline is to learn her life's balance and to look for her joy without letting anyone invade her boundaries and upset that balance.

(Okay, one spoiler.  All things aren't as they appear.  There is another continuous loop playing out.... and there is a happy ending.  I guess that really was three.  So there.)

In my current love-through-space-and-time life story, the great good news is that I have started to see these story-lines for what they are as they are beginning.   That doesn't mean I am always responding differently, but at least I am beginning to recognize them for what they are - one more opportunity to work on something that I still have to do in this lifetime that will make me stronger.  The chance for me to - again and again - live my prayer for authenticity and truth.  I think that when I figure out how to live consistently into the opportunity presented, maybe the deja vu of that loop will cease to be.

So, there may be Grace in continuous loops.

Who knew?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Day of School

I wonder how many books, essays or stories have been written about the first day of school? Probably a daunting number, but no matter.  That's what was on my mind today as I was walking and that's what I want to think about here in this out-loud, online kind of a way that is a blog.

Today was the first day of school here. School buses were out early stopping traffic to pick up their passengers clad in shiny new everything - clothes, shoes, faces, book bags.  Everything.  As I watched those kids board those buses, I started thinking about all the first days of school that have been a part of my life and all the emotions that accompanied them.  And so I write.

That real 'first day of school' - the one with no prior experience of anything having to do with school other than what my brothers and mom said - was probably one of the most emotionally charged days of my life.  The pure excitement and joy about a new human experience.  The first steps of independence - of growing up and walking away to do and be without mom's help.  Anything could happen and everything could be accomplished!

Mom has a picture of me walking down the lane to the bus following my brothers like a baby duck with a handkerchief pinned at my shoulder.  I remember it so well... even the embarrassment of that handkerchief.  Climbing on that bus was entering a new world.  There were children of all ages.  A few were my age, obvious by the very wide eyes (and handkerchiefs or notes pinned at their shoulders).  Others ranged in age just like my brothers up through high school.  Even though I had a 16-year-old brother, the teenagers frightened me at first, but ended up being kind and helpful probably remembering their first day of school, too.

Our bus was driven by Charlie who owned a small country store and had been driving a bus almost as long as all the kids on it had been riding to school.  Charlie was kind and strict and everyone on his bus knew his rules and obeyed them so we all felt safe and our parents knew we would be okay.  I recently heard that Charlie finally retired at the age of 80. 

I wonder if anyone drives a bus anymore for 50 years?

That day was the first day of being in love with teachers and classrooms and circles of kids like me.  There was a snack time with graham crackers and milk, and nap times lying on the floor like little puppies on rugs with the lights dimmed.  Did we sleep?  Could we manage being still long enough?

I couldn't manage being quiet.  I was moved every day for the first I-don't-know-how-many days because of talking.  Well?  Everything and everyone was so interesting and I had something to say! Probably today little people like me are considered attention deficit something and medication is recommended to keep us still and quiet and focused.  Back in the once upon a time of my first days of school my teacher just loved me enough to quietly move me and remind me that talking caused that.  I talked therefore I moved!   A lot.

Then, subsequent 'first days' came into being, bringing sights and smells and sounds that are ancient history now.  Purple print on slightly damp pages being one in particular.  Brand new leather shoes.  Girls in frilly dresses and boys in dungarees.  Children playing red rover and on monkey bars.  I imagine the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new boxes of crayons are still wafting through the classrooms today, but that may be obsolete soon, too.

I wonder what scents from today's classrooms will be remembered years from now?

And I wonder when it was we started being more worried about what others thought of us than of what we thought of ourselves?

Maybe for me it was when we moved from the house in the country to live in town with my grandmother.  The new school was only blocks away from our house, so we walked to school and even home for lunch because it was assumed that most moms stayed home.  My first day of school there was my scariest because this time everything was new to me, but known to the rest of my classmates.  And I was in a full length cast and on crutches.  That was the first time I remember feeling like everyone was looking at me.  Maybe they were.  Probably they weren't.  May be they all felt like they had something stare-worthy. 

That twisting, tugging, self-conscious phase lasted through middle school when on that first day of school I was more concerned whether the cute boy who sat behind me in home room would notice me (he didn't) than what class I was taking.

I wonder if that kind of preoccupation is the fodder for the life-long dreams of getting half-way through a semester and not remembering what or where the classes were?

Lots of 'first days of school' followed, through high school and, for me, college.  Music will always be a major anchor through those first days;  'War' (Huh! Good God, y'all!), 'You've Got a Friend', Brandy (I didn't say I always liked the songs!) and my all time favorite.... 'Let's Get It On'.......  because by that time, of course, I was.

Then the first days of school were those of my children (not immediately, though from the previous sentence it might appear possible...) and I was the mom waving bravely at the bus keeping the separation tears at bay until the little person I loved most in the world was safely on his or her way.  I wanted Charlie to be driving.  I wanted to pin handkerchiefs to their shirts.

I should have pinned a note to my little boy saying he was NOT a walker because his first day of school ended with him coming through the door having navigated the mile-plus of busy streets and no sidewalks on foot.  I learned what a courageous little man I had and hugged him hard against me, imagining all the things that might have happened but didn't.  Then I learned the touchy role of angry parent with a school system that could determine my child's attitude toward school for the rest of his life.  I trod gently.

I remember watching my pre-teen daughter walking into her middle school for the first time and tugging on the hems and tails of her clothing in obvious self-conscious discomfort.  And I remembered it again.  I remembered thinking I was the one others would be watching critically and determining 'un-cool' before I had a chance to prove myself.  I ached for her.  I wanted to run up and put my arms around her to tell her she was completely beautiful and, more importantly, smart and talented and didn't have anything to be self-conscious about.  I didn't, though, because that would have made it worse.

She wasn't alone.  I watched every other girl her age twisting and tugging and looking to see if anyone was watching.  And I knew there were other moms and dads out there remembering and hurting for their little girls.

And guess what?  My children were 'talkers' too!  Unlike the teachers or my mother from long ago, I knew that talking would NOT be the curse that was impressed upon me.  Their teachers were kindly told that, though I would indeed discuss appropriate contribution in the classroom with my kids, I would never see it as anything but a blessing.  I would always prefer that my children have the confidence and courage to speak out as opposed to sitting and watching silently on the sidelines.  And the teachers couldn't  - and fortunately didn't - disgree!

I wonder if I did the right thing?  I will probably always wonder if I did the right thing when it comes to raising my kids.

So, today was the first day of school and for the first time in my life (almost) I didn't have any connection with it.  My daughter is a college educated woman with a loving husband and no longer tugging on her shirt tails (mostly) and my little walking boy is newly graduated and now commuting to his job in a town more than a thousand miles away from me.  It is an end of an era.  And the tears are close to the surface.

Except.

This past year has been my year of being 4-years-old with nothing to do but wake up and look forward to a fresh, wide-opened day of discovery.  I loved being 4 now as I did then.  It has been a freedom and a joy.  And just as I was excited then about being 5 and looking forward to my first day of school, I am joyfully looking forward to this next great adventure, whatever that may be.

I am, though, entering this next stage with the full knowledge that there will be emotions of every kind to explore along with new ways of being in this world.  There will be fascinating people to know and love as well as so many places yet to explore.  And there is much work to do which I consider to be our love made manifest in this world.  

All this while I am still learning not to tug at my clothes and worry what other people think of me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Woo is a Strength

The 28 years prior to this last one of me 'being 4' were spent in the belly of corporate America.  To get to the belly, of course, one must be chosen, tested, tasted, consumed then swallowed - sometimes whole.  And once in the belly, the corporation works on digesting the consumed into something useful to the corporation and, many times, unrecognizable to what that 'one' once was. 

This isn't being bitter.  This is just being honest about the experience.

I often wondered, after the many interviews for the various positions starting with the original and then slogging through the 'lateral' moves and the actual promotions that followed, why would they interview me, choose me, place me, then want me to be different?  My manner of 'being' in an interview was to always - always! - be authentic to the best of my ability.  I always figured - and later coached people - that if the interviewer liked who they saw in an interview and ultimately chose that person, no one would ever be disappointed in the hire or the resulting job - not the interview-er or -ee. 

But.

Invariably along the way the message came across 'we love you, now change'.....(there is a play with a similar title and I am not trying to usurp their creative product... it's just what I want to say.)

For a lot of years of my life this message just seemed to go along with the new job.  Once the new position was landed, the newly hired me went through some amazing metamorphosis that included getting 'less good' at what stood out so brightly in the interview.  (Many will recognize this strange tendency for employees to be less admired or heard , I am sure.  It is why consultants are so popular and so well paid and why so many people once they leave their company will be accepted right back as a consultant...probably making more money!)

And that just never made sense to me.  I didn't change.  I didn't embellish to get the job.  I knew I would have to grow to fit a new position, but a learning curve was an expectation of mine that I never thought unreasonable.  It sounds like I am saying no one was ever pleased with my performance, and that is far from being the case.  But there seemed to be a lot of trying to make me into something different -  something un-Ruth.

My loving husband just reminded me that for most of the years I was working my way up the ladder, corporations were trying to diversify; hiring something other than white males.  His comment is very astute.... they were hiring others but hoping for them to fit the same mold.  'It' looked different, but they wanted 'it' to act the same.

My last position -which I loved with a passion - was a training position which went hand in hand with a lot of different kinds of self assessments to be used in the classes that were given ranging on any number of different criteria from leadership style, emotional intelligence, communication style to personality style or conflict resolution style, etc.  You get the picture.

One of the last, hottest assessments we were using looked at what a person's 'strengths' were.  The idea was that working with strengths was a heck of a lot more productive than trying to 'correct' weaknesses and everyone seemed to agree with that!  Books were purchased, tests were taken, personal strengths were identified and workshops were scheduled to look at the individual's strengths to identify how teams were diversified and how best to work with those individual strengths.

The trouble began after the assessments started being taken and results disseminated.  It became quickly apparent that, in the opinion of many 'leaders', there were good strengths - the kind you wanted more of on your team and even considered interviewing for - and bad strengths - the ones that raised eyebrows and were considered risky or questionable.  Sidebar conversations could be overheard (easily) discussing who 'had' which strength and now having the easy answer to why people acted the way they did. 

Now to say that this was completely NOT in keeping with the intentions of the program is to truly understate intentions.

The workshops did let people know strengths could be over-used, which then made them liabilities, but the bottom line was the message that strengths were just that - strengths.  And when one worked to their strengths, really great things could be expected.  And joy. 

My number one 'strength' is identified with the simple, strange word of 'WOO'. 

So, what does it mean, to be strong at 'Woo'?  Allow me to explain further, and I quote; "Woo stands for winning others over."  Strangers aren't scary, in fact they can be enthralling (this was always a problem for my mom!)  A Woo-er loves getting into conversations, making people comfortable, making connections, then moving on.  There aren't strangers, only unmet friends.

Oh, that is me!

I loved getting this assessment!  For the first time I felt like some corporate one out there finally 'got' me!

Unfortunately, Woo was not a popular strength in my particular fold of corporate America, which was made clear in those 'overheard' sidebar conversations.   Managers said they would ask strength questions in an interview and if 'Woo' came up, would avoid it at all costs.  If a team member were struggling, 'Woo' might be the 'well, it figures' diagnosis, but with no real prescription other than weeding it out.  Jokes were made at the expense of 'Woo'-types, not realizing that a 'Woo' was in the room.

My strength started to become something I wouldn't divulge unless it was absolutely necessary.  Kind of like having herpes - if you were just flirting, nobody needs to know, but if you are going any further, better say something. 

Then I started doing my own self-assessing. I began to embrace this identified strength and listen to my heart and not the murmurings of others.  If others have a problem with someone like me, maybe it isn't my problem.   

Everything that made me who I am - the authentic Ruth that I had been praying for all these years - isn't a problem.  I am the person who loves to walk into a room and meet everyone.  I am the person who believes friends are around each and every corner. I am the person who understands that people want most to be seen - really seen - in this world and go about seeing them and loving what I see.  I am the person who listens - and hears - what others have to say and generally remember it after.  My family calls me 'The Governor' because we are always the last ones leaving church.

I never learned why my company tended to sideline 'Woo's, because I determined that being authentic was more important than being corporately acceptable.  On one of my last evaluations the comment was made that my  'enthusiasm can be overwhelming'.. and it wasn't meant as a strength. 

I am a Woo.

And that is good enough for me.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Peacocks are Pretty

When I was a little girl I used to twirl around and pretend I was a ballerina because I thought ballerinas were the most beautiful, graceful human creatures I had ever seen.  I wanted to be a ballerina and for a few exquisite months was able to take ballet lessons from Miss Sheila at the YWCA Armory in my little town.  Which meant my hard working mama needed to stop what she was doing and take this 5-year-old ballerina wanna-be to those lessons and wait around until they were done.  That didn't last long, though, because mom's rule was that if I didn't practice 30 minutes every day she wouldn't spend the money on those lessons.

Well, I couldn't practice 30 minutes a day on anything besides playing so the lessons stopped and my dreams of being a ballerina were limited to the amount of twirling I would do through the house and in front of the big mirror in the bathroom.

Inevitably as I twirled, I would ask my mom to 'look at me' and then want to know if she thought I was pretty.

My mother was and is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.  She isn't beautiful from outward fussing about makeup or clothes.  Back then she wore old house dresses and only put on lipstick when we went out of the house to town or to church.  I can still remember watching her opening the lipstick tube and twisting the bright red out and circling her lips, smacking them just once.  Perfection.  That's all it took!   And she had beautiful wavy hair and elegant, upright posture and the most luxurious voice and a laugh like wind chimes - the lower, mysterious ones that I have hanging all around my home now.

I worked for years to be able to answer the phone and say 'Hello' the way she did.  She used to work as the church secretary and a family story was when she answered the phone with that sultry 'hello' and the man on the other end of the line, who had been attempting to contact his favorite watering hole, confessed he had the wrong number but was sure glad he mis-dialed a house of God just to hear that voice.  I am proud to say that now I do answer the phone with my mother's voice and my daughter is following in her footsteps, too.

But, when I was twirling and stopping to ask my beautiful mother if she thought me pretty, her reply was always the same;

'Peacocks are pretty, but they have tiny brains.'

I knew she was teaching a lesson about being humble and to value things other than outward appearances.   I knew she loved me.  I knew she was encouraging me to be smart and kind and good. I knew that she did not admire women who were too focused on the outward - clothes and makeup.

And I still wanted to be pretty.

Like her.

I didn't stop asking because like most little girls who were beginning to see glamorous women on the television I was very much aware of what was considered beautiful and wondered how I compared.  And every time I asked, the response would be the same....'Peacocks are pretty'.

Did my mom think that pretty always meant not very smart?  Which did I want more; smart or pretty?  Did it have to be a choice?  Couldn't anybody - ever - be both? 

Eventually I started junior high and had to start figuring out those answers on my own.  There were pretty girls with beautiful clothes.  And makeup.  And a mother who couldn't afford the one and wouldn't allow the other.  Somehow I had to learn to fit in and honor my mother as well as my dreams of having it all. So I did what most 13-year-old girls do to fit in; I packed makeup in my bag and rolled my skirts up past my knees as soon as I left the house. Eventually, as is always the case, mom caught the tell-tale smudges of mascara and knew that she had lost a battle.  But she won the war by allowing me to wear as much makeup as I wanted as long as she couldn't tell I had it on.  

I was convinced that prettiness and small brains were not necessarily hand-in-hand commodities. After all, my mother was both.  A girl could be very smart, kind AND pretty.  A girl could also be very pretty and very silly or, worse, beautiful and cruel.  There were choices and my mom had given me the gift of making them.


I wanted my mama to tell me I was pretty, but she did me one better.  She convinced me I was beautiful and worthy and could do anything I chose to do.  She encouraged me to work hard and was happy for me when I played hard.  She supported me in every decision I made and loved me through all the many mistakes.  She gave me her shoulder to cry on when my heart was broken and she talked me through my fears of getting married again when I had met my soul's match on earth.  Mom encouraged me to be a good and loving and consistent parent with my two beautiful children.  When I was being a selfish partner, she called me on it.  She even was there to help me decide when I had 'enough' and should climb off the corporate express train and become my own non-career person.

My mom taught me the really important lessons in life.

Peacocks certainly are pretty and not very bright.

And I am not a Peacock.

Thank you, Mama.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mercy On Me

I have gone to church most of my life.  My first memory of church was, almost literally, the little church in the vale.  It was a tiny, old Methodist church tucked well back a country road surrounded by woods and an ancient graveyard.  It was so quaint that it had two entry doors, one on each side of the church facade.  Only one door was used,  but there were two for that once-upon-a-time when women and men were required to enter into and sit in church separately.  There was still an ancient group of gentlemen that maintained their lifelong pews on the left-hand - mens side - of the church.

I loved going to church.  I loved the dusty/musty smell covered up with furniture polish from the cleaning earlier in the week.  I loved the coolness of the church basement where Sunday School classes, Christmas gatherings and wedding receptions were held.  I loved that my mom was the piano-player which allowed the 4 of us, my brothers and I,  (my father never went with us) the freedom of drawing on the bulletin, slouching, and staring at other people, which most children are expressly prohibited from doing and going into the giggles unchecked during the hymns.  I loved the way men and women dressed up - farmers during the week wearing their Sunday best to include all those hats.  I loved running around in the cemetery playing tag while the adults were filing past the preacher saying their say.  I loved the food that was laid out for potluck dinners.  I loved the way the adults would fuss over the children.  And I especially loved the music.

I was steeped in the old rugged cross in the garden of prayer, the rock of ages on sinking sand, being able for bringing in the sheaves,  and Christian soldiers marching as to war, then on to Zion.  I still have the old hymnal - barely an inch thick and dated 1944 - and thumbing through the pages I can hear, even today, the bass cadence of that east wing of old men singing 'Oh, come, come, come, come, come, come.....' while the rest of us were finishing the invitation to 'come to the church in the wildwood....'

There was a revival held one summer to convince us all of the fire and brimstone that was waiting if we didn't beg for the Mercy of the Lord as we lay down our sins at His feet.  I may have been all of 5 or six, but was acquainted enough with the ways of the church to understand the gravity of the alter call.  And to my mother's dismay and impotence to stop me (because she was busy rocking the rafters with her piano playing) I walked up to that altar several of those nights of that revival to admit that I was a sinner and beg that He have Mercy on Me.

I am not sure whether mother finally convinced me that repeated responses to altar calls were, basically, overkill and that Jesus did indeed know my heart and I could just relax in my seat for the rest of the revival.   But after a few repeat visits, I finally did keep my seat.

I was moved.  I wanted God's Mercy on Me.  I wanted to live in heaven and I wanted to be a good girl now, above all else.  It was only years later that I would remember with embarrassment and some shame those trips to the alter and wonder what could all those adults have possibly been thinking letting a small, crying child go up repeatedly to an alter asking forgiveness? 

Eventually, like many young people who grew up 'churched', I found  myself wanting to 'steal away'.  But this was now stealing away from, as opposed 'to' Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, the mortification I felt personally by all that begging for Mercy as a child translated into an anger, then disdain for the preachers who could so terrify a child into thinking that she was a black-hearted sinner who needed to be washed clean by anything, let alone blood.

It was only when Lauren was born that I knew I wanted my children to grow up with the church as a foundation.  Even though I had begun to veer from the path of a professed Christian,  I wanted my daughter to know the prayers and the songs, the stories and the traditions that were in and at the heart of me. 

I wanted her to understand that what moved me most about the message of the church was not fear, but Love.    I wanted her to know that Love was the only thing that really means anything in this world and was, really, the only thing we are 'commanded' to do.  In each of those 10 commandments  Love is the foundation.  I didn't want her frightened about the sinning and the blood and the dying.  I wanted her touched  - and led - by the Love. 

I was recently reminded that the beginning of my true, personal spiritual quest came when I was in my early 20's in the form of a book about a seagull named Jonathan. I resonated with the message and understood that there was truth there.  The book was written especially for 'people who know there's more to this whole living thing than meets the eye.'  Jonathan wanted to spend his time learning to fly - to soar - rather than merely existing.   So do I.

Throughout my spiritual journey I have studied various world religions and become aware of the similarity of most as well as the shared Genesis of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.  I was particularly struck with the truth of a quote credited to Martin Luther King, who formed the first Protestant church.  He said, 'No one can do my dying for me, therefore no one can do my believing for me.'  Amen to that!  Interpretation seems to be something that can't be told or given, but must be personally made.  I am convinced there is no one 'true' religion yet have never* questioned the ever-presence of one eternal (non-anthropomorphic) God that loves unconditionally and never punishes.

I say I am 'Buddhistian' because the tenets of Buddhism ring most clearly true to me except for my unshakable belief in God and God in us.  It is the lives - not the deaths - of the Masters that move me and for that reason I identify myself also as a 'Christmas Christian'. 

Recently I attended a funeral of a good and faithful servant of the church.  During the service the unanimous prayer to ask God to 'have Mercy on Me' was begun and I was shaken to my core.  Just as it seems ridiculous to ask the ever-present God, source of all things everywhere, to 'be with me' in prayer, so does it feel insincere to ask an unconditionally loving God to 'have Mercy'.  It dawned on me with the brilliance of sun in the morning that the one to whom I should be asking Mercy was ME, for in my life I have been my own worst critic and enemy and have rarely shown myself the loving kindness that Buddha suggested or that Jesus spoke of when he said to love our neighbors as we did ourselves.

God have Mercy on me?   Not even close.

But.

Loving God, help me to feel and know your presence in all things.

And.

Ruth?  Have Mercy on Me.



* Okay.  Once.


 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wedding Tears

I have a friend, a Facebook friend named Ruth who I haven't actually met but have fallen in love with through her whimsy and through what I can only call her kindred spirit.  She uses the term 'wedding tears' when she reads something that touches her, or at least that is what I am assuming.  When she writes those words, there is absolute recognition of what she means in the very heart of me.

Wedding tears. Oh, have I shed many of those in my life.

Happy.  Sad.  Joyful.  Pensive.  Hopeful.  Wistful.

Weddings have always been a mystery to me even though I have attended several, participated in a few, had 2 of my own and been the MOB for one.  But the mystery has changed definition along the way, along with the tears being shed.

My name is Ruth and I was a wedding cynic.  My first actual 'wedding tears' were tears of anger.  What was all the fuss?  People who really didn't know each other that well were promising until death did them part and I didn't really think so.  All that money and all those people and all those guests celebrating something that probably wouldn't last as long as the toasters they were getting.  Oh, I was jaded, alright. 

I didn't start that way, of course.  I believed in all of it.  I was the little girl that walked 5 miles into town with her mom and stood in line on sale day for the doors to open to the toy store where I could buy a wedding dress for my Barbie.  The only 'store-bought' clothes she ever had.  And I wore the slip on my head and clutched the bouquets of dandelions picked for imaginary weddings.   I watched the movies and fell in love with all the leading men and cried at all the happily-ever-afters and believed they were true.  I watched Sound of Music and knew that two people could love each other that much.

But I was newly divorced and hurting and thought that marriage was a hoax perpetrated on those little girls who grew up wanting to be those brides and not really thinking about what 'ever after' really meant, happily or not. 

Angry tears led to heart broken tears.  My best friend was in love and marrying someone I didn't know very well.  I was afraid for her.  I was afraid I would lose her.  I was afraid of her getting hurt.  And I wanted the dream she was buying into.  She was very much in love and seemed to know what she was doing (she is still married, happily, all these years later) and I wish I had any hint of a clue to the mystery.  My heart was breaking for a thousand reasons.  She was so certain and I didn't know what that felt like. I was sure I never would.

Then the tears became scared tears.  I was getting married again to a man who was my best male friend and who wanted the same things I wanted and who was as insane as I was to be getting married on a dare 2 weeks after we decided that getting married was probably a good idea.  What were we thinking?  I don't think anyone who knew us would have bet we would be married 6 months later and that included both the bride and the groom.  Like I said, what were we thinking?

But the marriage 'took'.   Moves were undertaken and houses were purchased, Children were born and raised.  Fights were fought and reconciled.  Separate ways were taken then merged again.  Friendships were made and lost and kept.   Parents aged and died.  And 28 years later we are still together.

Tom is still my best friend and the love of my life.  And along the way, through him,  I have learned something about the mystery of marriage.  It is no longer something unexplainable and obscure, but that which is sacred, which is what I always missed before.  I didn't ever really 'get it' about marriage being a sacred, astonishing thing that two people enter into and that changes them forever.  Before it was just 2 people making promises they probably couldn't keep.   Now I truly understand that the two do become as one, if entered with eyes and hearts wide open.

And it is through Tom that I finally understand the mystery of Grace.  Unconditional, forgiving, always growing, undying, forever-after, forever-more love.

Lauren, my precious daughter, got married a year ago and I went through all the emotions, once again, for her.  Did they know each other well enough?  Did they love each other with their eyes wide open?  Did they know what they, individually, wanted enough to forge what they wanted to be as a couple?  Did they understand the sacredness of the commitment they were making to each other?  And I came to the conclusion that none of us really understands a thing until they experience it.  I knew that this young couple loved each other with a resolve and wanted the same things the way her father and I did.  I believed in them as individuals and could do nothing other than believe in them as a couple.  They will be their own family and they will experience the same things their parents and the rest of the worlds' couples have experienced throughout time.

Isn't she beautiful?  The light of my life and the center of my heart.  Remember the picture of me after the slide?  And the expression on my face.  Yeah.  She got those from me......

It is a mistake when we wish couples 'happily ever after' because that is untruthful and unfair.   Now, when I go to weddings I wish the couples one 'simple' thing.  I wish them everything.  Joy and sorrow. Laughter and tears.  Good times as well as hard ones.  Gain and loss.  Victory and defeat.  Because that is what life is made of and if a couple can expect to experience all of it together, then, truly the two will become one.  And then I cry for all that they will go through, all that I have wished them.  All I know they will experience together.

Wedding tears.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Birthdays and Tiaras

I recently had a birthday.  Most of us do.  But for some reason not everyone is as in love with their birth day as I am.  And I mean, I am in LOVE with my birthday.

I was born in May in the drowsy mid-50's in a sweet little town in Indiana.  We lived on a farm, though we weren't farmers.  We were just the renters, but the farm was working all around us.  Cows and tractors and lots of fields full of growing things.  Woods to explore and creeks to ford and all the time in the world to do it.  Winters were cold and white and creeks and springs and wells froze solid.
But May was my birthday month (and my Mom's and older brother's) and it was made for me.  It was a time when the first of May was still celebrated as 'May Day' and children made baskets for hand-picked flowers and hung them on doorknobs.  (I don't think anyone anywhere does that anymore.  But I remember it).  I felt that the whole month was made to celebrate my birthday.  And I knew that, no matter how drab the month may have started,  by my birthday the whole world would be the most exquisite green.  Only much later did I discover that the gem stone for May was the Emerald, which was only fitting; a green stone for the greenest month.

My earliest memory of a birthday may just really be of the pictures I have seen taken of that day.  Mom dressed me in a navy blue dress (made out of her wedding dress!) with a white lace Peter Pan color, black tights, white anklets and black Mary Janes.  We went to a park and had a picnic.  What I remember was a huge slide that did a twist and a turn before it deposited me laughing out loud at the bottom.  I know this because the picture shows me with this amazed, smiling, open-mouthed look on my face emerging from that slide.

I have spent most of my life with that look on my face.

Somewhere along the way birthdays got unpopular.  People didn't claim their birthdays or didn't want anyone to know it was their birth day.  I never 'got' it, but I played along for many years.  I pretended that I didn't really care.  Birthdays were narcissistic events or at least proved you were getting older, which wasn't a good thing,  and should be ignored. I hated it, but I went along with it.

Until I turned 50!  Five - Oh.  Something about 50 needs to be celebrated.  I threw myself a girlfriends' party and asked everyone (God help me, I did!) to wear red hats and my friends, being the  amazing group of women that they are - all of them - did!  (I am actually a little embarrassed about that, now, but at the time I thought it fitting.)  And my husband, who is the love of my life, actually planned a surprise party for the next night and all of the women who were with me the night before came BACK the following night with their husbands for Round 2 of Ruth's 50th. 

The cat along with the red hat were out of the bag.  I couldn't pretend any longer that I didn't care about my birthday and decided that, no matter where I was or with whom, I would love my birthday out loud along with all that it meant.

Because my birthday meant that my mother, who loved me so much that she prayed for a little girl to come into her life, had an answer to her prayer.  My birthday meant that I got the chance to come here - to this beautiful planet - to learn who I was and figure out why I was here. It meant friends and school and first kisses and swimming lessons.   It meant I could meet Tom and learn to love him the way he always deserved to be loved - and to be loved unconditionally by him.  And it meant that I could give birth to my own precious babies and finally know the indescribable love that my mother felt for me.  The circle was complete.

So, somewhere along the way, when I was celebrating another birthday - usually on the road in some kind of meeting or training class - I let people know it was my birthday and that, if I could, I would wear a tiara all day long in celebration.  When asked another year what I would do for my birthday I mentioned the likelihood of yard or housework, but always with that imaginary tiara in place!

And this year my very precious friends made that tiara a reality.

Thank you Jenny.  Thank you Helen.  Thank you Tom.  Thank you Lauren and David.  Thank you mom.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.  This life hasn't always been easy, but it has always been an adventure just like that spiral slide.  What more could we really ask for?
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Just for today....

Just for today I will not anger.
Just for today I will not worry.

Those are the first two of 5 principles of Reiki that Tom and I recently learned when we went through our Reiki I training.  The idea of the principles is to repeat them every morning and every evening like a mantra or a prayer and then to practice them throughout the day.

The premise, of course,  is that worrying is a waste of time and energy and that anger doesn't contribute anything good to yourself or to others or the world in general. And, Reiki being what it is, doing either just doesn't really match well.  Thankfully you don't 'lose' your Reiki when you fail miserably at keeping any (or all!) of your prayer (or your promise to yourself).

Because just the other night I had a swift descent into both, simultaneously.

The storyline goes a little like this.  My precious 85-year-old mom and I have made a pact that, since my retirement, we will talk each and every day and have done so pretty consistently for this past year.  But it had been 2 days since we talked and she couldn't get in touch with anyone and proceeded to scare herself sick with worry.

Which made me Angry.

I wasn't Angry at Mom.  I was Angry at me for not calling.  Okay, I was a little miffed at mom for even going to the Worry place.... but I understood why she was so upset.  Because I did the same thing immediately with my son.

I started to Worry.

I realized that I had called and sent him a text earlier in the day and hadn't heard from him, either.  And everyone knows that today's young people live with their phones attached somewhere close to their bodies.  If they don't answer or their phone goes straight to VM, something or someone is dead!  So I went to the same deep, dark place my mom had just been and for which I was still upset and couldn't sleep.

Then I was Angry at myself for Worry-ing.

So why do I/we do it, anyway?  Oh, I wish I knew.  I wish Anger and Worry were as easy to identify and abolish as Jealousy is, at least for me.  I know that when I am feeling Jealous that, basically, whatever relationship I am in is not a very healthy one and I, well, end it.  Pretty much just like that.  Not without warning, but if I feel that green thing descending over me I know I am in t.r.o.u.b.l.e.  And I don't like that feeling at all..... so I choose not to.

But Worry?  Well.  We usually don't worry about things that aren't very important or that we can do something about or about people we don't care for deeply. So it just isn't something that can be 'walked out' on.  It's genetically coded in our emotional DNA.

And Anger, I am learning, is just an indication of fear, which is the premise of Worry, to begin with.  It doesn't contribute anything positive, but it is certainly something from which something (about myself) can be learned.

I haven't solved anything yet, but I am still working on it.  And I am saying my five Principles every morning and evening, with this twist:

Just for today I will not anger. 
Just for today I will not worry. 
I will not get angry about worrying and I won't worry about getting angry.  
Okay???

Oh, and David is fine.  He dropped his phone in the toilet and it was dead.  

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ruthie B in love with.....

Baseball!

I don't have a favorite team (except whatever team David is playing on at the time) and I don't know hoot about stats or averages or records.  I just love the game.  I love going to whatever park or diamond it is and watching - really watching - the game.  

And I root for both teams.  This gets me very odd stares sometimes and, when David was playing, reminders of just whose team I was 'on'.... until my friends told the remind-or that 'she roots for everyone'...and I did. 

I love the hot dogs and the beer, even if it isn't (I just typed 'sin't' and thought that funny because typos are just psychological slips, in my viewpoint) on my diet at any moment.

I love baseball rain or shine, blistering or chilly.  I don't mind waiting for the game to start if it has been called off.  I want to stay to the bloody end, even if the score is completely lop-sided.  I just love being there.

I don't know why, really.  Maybe it is the pace that the game is played.  More 'real time' instead of the hectic pace of everything else.  Maybe it is the dreams of the players on the field.... dreams that may just be starting, or years of dreaming being realized.  I love the mythology and the story-telling in general.

Maybe it is remembering 8-year-old Nick in the outfield picking dandelions and hearing all the parents yelling for him to 'look up, Nick!'.   And he looks up just in time for the ball to fall squarely and solidly in his mitt.  Maybe it is the memory of the conquer-the-world smile on his face mixed with the confusion of 'what just happened?!'

Maybe it is the memory of a distant father who sat on the front porch in nice weather or in his chair when it rained listening on the radio to the Cubs or the White Sox play distant games.  Or the memory of watching my brothers and that father play backyard games that I was always too little to join.

Or maybe it is the sound of baseball being played in the park that backed up to our home.... late night games that I would listen to from the safety of my bed...... mixed with the sound of the carousel that still haunts me.  The sounds of summer.

Then again, most likely it is the memory of playing catch with my then-3-year-old son and watching him play catch with his father as he got older (and when his throws became a little too wicked for me to catch without injury).  And watching him in countless games through scorching Missouri summers and glorious falls.  He pitched.  Wonderfully.  Most moms whose sons pitch will admit they die a little when their son is on the mound.  Not me.  When David pitched all was right with my world.

Yes, when I am watching baseball, all is right with my world.

Who wouldn't love that?