A time for every season

Outside my window the leaves are falling one by one.

They let go with reluctance, clinging to branches, but eventually they will surrender. They do so, I believe, because their innate Divine wisdom knows they must make way for a new season, for dazzling colors that will litter and carpet the earth.

tree losing leavesEven as summer fades, life is abuzz with children and youth starting school.

I’ve seen quite a few Facebook photos of young ones with backpacks, parents anxiously waiting at bus stops — or of young adults in their dorm rooms, parents holding in mixed emotions. Then tears shed. Moms and dads returning to the vast emptiness of their homes.

Kids going to school. Growing older. Retirement. A divorce. Yes, a new season often entails loss of some kind. It always does.

Sometimes — in the midst of all that — we fail to grieve the season that is passing. We often neglect to sit our bodies and souls down and weep, cry, scream — whatever we need to do — to admit, “Life is changed and different now. And it will never be the same.”

I know for me I have been feeling the loss of an old season for some time.

When my father had his stroke three years ago, I lost the dad I once knew. He was no longer the man who advised and encouraged me, but a different person due to cognition problems and his inability to find the right words. And I had to learn to move into a new season of life with him.

It’s been painful at times, remembering the dynamic man he used to be. Sometimes I grieve that loss well — by that I mean I can accept and feel the sorrow of this situation. And other times, I cling with tight fists wanting it to be the way it was.

But it never will be.

eye cryingFor most of us, change will involve letting go of what was, but even as we do that, we may ask ourselves — what’s next? I believe this is the part that may frighten us. We are no longer where we were, but many of us may have no idea about what’s waiting.

We have said good-bye to an old season, but the new is not yet clear.

This is called “liminal time” and I’ve written about this topic in a past blog post, the experience of the ground feeling shaky under our feet and not really knowing what’s next.

Dr. Joan Borysenko, author of the best-seller Minding the Body, Mending the Mind advises us to be patient during this “no longer” and “not yet” stage. As unsettling as it may feel, it’s OK to be in the unknown, she reassures. Liminal time allows us to be open, spacious and flexible, allowing what’s next to unfold.

But for that to happen, we must first grieve our losses as to open up a space for what’s ahead. We must see how we are clutching our fists and holding on. We need to learn to be with “what is.” These remain lifelong lessons for me. 

As a season ends in our life, it may have been a good one. After all, not all experiences — as we judge them — are bad. It may be that deep down we have this inner knowing that it’s time to end whatever it may have been — a job, a relationship — and we can say good-bye. We can move on without drama because that season has served its purpose.

Through it all, because we are human, we will feel emotions. We will mourn what was. And like the trees this time of year, we can allow the leaves of our loss to drop at their own pace, one by one.

letting go open handWe can breathe, be patient, listen and wait to see what evolves. We can slowly unclench our fists and open the palms of our hands to receive whatever the next season may bring.

It’s not easy for most of us. It never is for me.

But it is life, my dear friends. It is life. And there indeed is a season. To everything. And to every purpose under heaven.

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The flower blooms

The following story took place almost 20 years ago when I was doing my internship for a degree in counseling psychology. To protect the privacy of this person, I’ve changed a great many of the details.

I share this with one wish — that if you are about to give up hope, please know that healing is possible.

And most important, if you are contemplating hurting yourself, call a friend, hotline or counseling center. Someone is there to listen. If you know someone who is hurting, reach out.

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I sat across from the young woman and felt helpless. She had come to me in deep emotional pain. Her suffering was palpable, the room suffocating with grief.

How might I serve her best? I tried to remember my training and reminded myself to stay present, to offer unconditional positive regard and to listen.

women cryingShe could not look at me, her eyes downcast, her hair falling onto her pretty face, hiding it. But she did not think of herself as attractive thanks to a deep gash on one cheek, a permanent and agonizing reminder of the day that had changed her life.

I listened as she struggled to find words, how she had been shuffling from job to job. Waitress. Retail clerk. Now, nothing. Only hopelessness. Despair. Guilt.

I knew those emotions too well. I knew how life could be brutal to sensitive souls, how sometimes resiliency was lost and we needed to re-connect to our center with the support of a listening heart. It was one of the many reasons I had wanted to enter this field, because I understood. And I wanted to help.

“But it was my fault,” she whispered. “Someone died.”

Her story unfolded in layers, like a tightly compressed flower bud, opening its petals one by one. It wasn’t until the fourth session that she told me about the car accident. She, driving. Somehow surviving. The other person, dying. And she had the facial scar to remind her each and every day.

It had not been alcohol or drugs or recklessness. Simply cruel fate.

An obscured figure behind frosted glass

I could only be present in that session when she said, “I don’t want to live.” She stopped, looked down at her hands on her lap and said, “I have a gun at home.”

My breathing stopped. Duty to warn. Duty to warn.

We learned this as part of our training. If someone posed a threat to themselves or someone else, we had a duty to warn the authorities. But was she serious? And what should I do? My stomach churned as I sat there, listening, waiting.

I asked more about the gun. Where was it? Was it loaded? Did she have a plan to use it?

The more she talked about the gun, the more she seemed to move away from the idea of using it. I sat there, praying inwardly, “Please God, help me to know what to do or say.”

I asked her to promise me that she would not use the gun. To call the center — or me — if she had any desire to use it. I asked to see her for an extra session that week.

With that crisis behind us, she began to open up more. The unfolding of the petals was still tenuous and uncertain, but the more she trusted me and our work together, the more she began to trust herself.

We continued for six more months of therapy until my internship ended. When we had our last session, she was in a more centered space in her life.

She was now able to look me straight in the face. Her hair was groomed; she wore makeup. She even smiled — something she rarely did — and said she felt more motivated about looking for a better job.

freedomI affirmed her for all the progress she had made. I assured her that she alone had come to this point of healing, that she had the power to make positive changes and that I had simply been a facilitator and a companion on the journey.

After I graduated with my degree, I decided not to pursue a career in counseling. Perhaps it was the pain of that one young woman — or perhaps witnessing too much sorrow in the people who had come to my internship door — that I decided not to make a career change from writing to counseling.

Friends in the psychology field told me to give it time, that I would develop better boundaries. But I knew my sensitive heart would never be able to do this work. So I returned to my writing roots. Life went on.

A few years later, I met a friend for dinner — near the counseling center where I had interned.

The restaurant was busy at the dinner hour and the hostess greeted us at the door. She was polished, attractive and graceful. She looked me straight in the eye and held my gaze, making me feel a bit uncomfortable. Did I know her?

She continued to look at me and said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

Recognition came in ripples as I stared into her beautiful face. I swallowed hard when I noticed a barely visible scar on her cheek covered with makeup.

Without wanting to divulge more in front of my friend, she gave me a knowing smile and led us to a table.

“Whatever you want on the menu,” she said. “It’s on the house.”

It took me awhile to absorb all this. She had transformed. Not just outwardly in her appearance, but inwardly, with a confidence and self-esteem that dazzled. I didn’t recognize this as the same person who had sat with me in such pain those few years ago. That same person who had wanted to die.

desert_flower_by_shadowsoffenrirSometimes the Divine blesses us with a sacred moment. We can only bow in awe at this mystery, when we are privileged to witness God’s healing work in another.

Sometimes we are humbled to see how connected we are, how we need each other to heal, how we are one. 

And sometimes we marvel at the courage of others and our own courage, how through some transcendent grace it forges its way through the sorrowful cracks of life.

And sometimes, when it does, how the flower blooms. Oh, yes, how it blooms.

 

 

 

The circle game — again

I can’t believe another year has come and gone. Joni was right. It is the Circle Game. Faster and faster. So here’s my blog post from last year. Thanks for letting me share it again.

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I’m celebrating a birthday soon. A piece of paper from a Texas hospital tells me I was born on August 18, 1949. You do the math. It’s not pretty. I’ve had some thoughts about aging and share them here. Spoiler alert: There is talk of God in this one.

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I have officially been an older person for some time. I still remember the shock of seeing the “senior citizen” discount on the Denny’s menu and the ads on TV for AARP, realizing I was eligible for both.

I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, sadly a body that isn’t the one I had when I was 40, much less 50.

old people shadowsThose “forgiving” pants that writer Anne Lamott talks about aren’t as forgiving anymore and I ask myself: How did this happen? I exercise and eat right.

But as I get older I find I have to work extra hard at it with less energy. And wasn’t it just the other day I was a gawky beanpole, going to a Beatles concert or a greenhorn working at my first newspaper job, terrified I would fail at this writing thing? Um. Nope. Happened decades ago.

So here’s the truth of it, kiddos:

Time flies as you grow older. Really. To some of you it may not seem that way, but believe me, I think there’s some kind of Divine accelerator button that gets pushed after each decade. It could also be a quantum physics thing but I’m not sure.

And that’s also part of the aging process. You learn. If you’re open, you do learn. I used to laugh when older folks would say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” Truth.

You learn that life gets messy; people can be loving or cruel; your bank account ebbs and flows; some nights dread and anxiety will drown your soul because you feel you haven’t done a danged thing with your life that amounts to anything.

And then life will turn around and gobsmack you with the birth of a child, the perfumed scent of earth after a summer’s rain, an unexpected $5 you dig out of your jeans pocket.

If you’re a spiritual being — and I believe we all are — you learn that God is in everything and everywhere. Even in that politician or dictator or serial killer you despise.

self loveGod doesn’t play favorites and loves each person with this kind of cosmic abandon I will never fathom.

It’s such a relief to know that this love is totally accepting, always available and beckoning me, even though I screw up a lot and don’t always tap into it.

And as to that word “God.” We seem to have really created messes over that one.

In whatever ways you term that Divine source of love — and how can you define something so ineffable — that Supreme Being starts to become more visible to you as you age, in all creation, from that speck of a spider to raging waterfalls to that person sitting next to you on the train, sound asleep and snoring.

As to my writing: I always thought I’d write a best-seller by now. I smile at that one because while I believe almost all things are possible, some things happen and some don’t for Divine reasons I’m not privy to. I’ve learned the art and craft of writing over 40-some years and feel I’m pretty danged good.

But sometimes, if I’m honest, I get frustrated when I see others being published and successful, and I’m still struggling. Then I say:

“A word with you, God. Time is getting short here. I’m doing my part and I’m writing my little heart out. What about you? Are you doing your part, God? You may be eternal and have a thousand years, but I don’t.

As you approach the end of your timeline, you find that life starts taking more and more things and people away.

letting_go_by_bandico-d5s1eyhYou’ve lost those you love or you look at those you love who are dying and you weep in anticipation of that, knowing it is part of the process and you will grieve and have bad days and then go on again. And you realize your turn is getting closer and you wonder — what will that feel like?

After all, you’ve never had this particular death experience before, and yes, fear creeps in, as well as wonder and awe at approaching another stage of life that is probably pretty amazing.

So two stories to end: A friend of mine lost her mother a few years ago. She was having a bad time of it and woke one morning to find the most unusual, magnificent sunrise streaked across the skies.

Then she heard her mother’s voice: “This is only a small portion of what it’s like here, to be in the presence of God. The face of God is so beautiful I don’t want to miss a single second of it.”

And then there’s Sam, a neighbor who is 95. Lanky and tall, he walks twice a day, if not more, puffing away at his cigar. I asked him once about the secret to a long life.

He told me: “I smoke my cigar, I take a nap, then I take my medicine.” He paused and winked. “And you know what my medicine is, don’t you? A shot of whiskey.”

healing energy handsSo here’s to that shot of whiskey, to not missing a single second of the face of God, right here and right now, and to the insanities and joys of the human experience.

As I head into another year of my life, I hold on to one of my favorite quotes by Ram Dass:

“We are all just walking each other home.”

Thanks to my companions of the heart, who love me, put up with me, support me and grace me as we walk each other home. I love you all.

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(Blogger’s Note: And nope. I didn’t write that best-selling novel this past year. God willing, and if the Circle Game comes ’round again, I will. In the meantime, enjoy Joni.)

 

 

Sabbath time

When I was growing up all businesses were closed on Sunday. Nothing was open. Absolutely nothing. Except the drug store, in case someone needed medicine.

Sunday was a designated day of rest.

In our break-neck, fast-paced world, that sounds foreign, doesn’t it? But in the early 1950s, everything and everyone slowed down on Sunday. We all took a deep breath and then exhaled all the cares of the past week, be it work or school or plain old crazy life.

Our family went to church on Sunday morning and then after, we did two things I remember loving. Dad took us for milkshakes at the corner drugstore.

And after we had glugged down the cold, frothy drinks, we did something unheard of today.

We went for a Sunday drive. In the paneled Studebaker station wagon.57Commander_Parkview_wagon

Now that may sound odd to those who have their faces glued to an electronic device, but let me tell you — it was pure joy and adventure. The hot Texas air poured through the open windows as dad maneuvered the car out onto the open road without a clue as to where we might head.

“Let’s see where we end up,” dad would say.

We’d drive past wide open fields bordered with barbed wire fences and dotted with cattle and tumbleweeds. We’d pass old shanty shacks and see Mexican woman hanging laundry on the line. We’d sing and tell stories inside the car — or sometimes my brothers would fight with each other, let’s be honest here — but mostly, we’d drive winding, dusty roads and head out into the horizon.winding road

And do nothing but enjoy it.

I loved it.

Why? Because we were together. As a family. We were exploring the beautiful world God had created. And we were content with where we were, in the moment, with each other.

We were in rhythm with the heartbeat of the world.

Today, we are so sucked into the chaotic tempo of our schedules and timetables that we’ve forgotten to stop. To breathe. To take Sabbath time.

Sundays now are like any other day. Not special or sacred. We are connected to all things digital or shopping at the mall or on social media — not that any of those are wrong or bad — but they take us away from a day set aside for rest.

They take away a holy opportunity to step back from the craziness of life and breathe.

weary 1And we need it. Especially today. Lately, the world feels as if it’s spinning out of control. We may have no power over the upheavals around us, but we do have a choice to renew ourselves one day a week. Sundays can be that day, a time to shut out everything that plagues us and to replenish body and spirit.

In an interview, minister and therapist Wayne Muller (and one of my favorite authors) says of Sabbath time:

“The Sabbath has a joyful uselessness to it. We are not supposed to accomplish anything of any significance so that we can stop looking for what’s not there and have the time to drink from what’s already here.”

Taking that time is critical to our well-being, Muller adds.

” … in spiritual practice we invite forces larger than us, such as Jesus, Mary or the Buddha, to work on us in some way. Some amount of time is required for us to be worked on. Healing doesn’t always require us to work; sometimes we need to be worked on.

“Sabbath allows us to compost in a way that the quiet seeds planted in the soil of our bodies, hearts and minds can germinate … we lose the harvest of our practice if we don’t have time to take our hands off the plow and rest in the hammock of delight provided for us by the Sabbath precepts of many spiritual traditions.”

Sadly, some of those spiritual traditions drum up memories of Sundays that were dry and boring and anything but healing. But Abraham Hesholl, the Jewish scholar, calls the Sabbath the day of delight. It’s a day to be nourished, as the Divine intended us to be. It is a gift we can accept or refuse.

sabbath restDad made sure we received that gift on Sundays. That we were nourished with a milkshake and a drive into the countryside. And then when we returned home, we replenished ourselves with long afternoon naps or playing outside in the tall grass.

So, when was the last time you relaxed into Sabbath time? Took a Sunday drive? Did absolutely nothing.

Try it. You might like it. And don’t forget that milkshake. It will do your soul good.