Simple gifts

The other day I walked in the park.

As I ambled by the swings and slides, a woman who looked like she might be a grandmother was with her granddaughter. The child was perhaps four years old. Her blonde hair tousled in the wind as she bent down and picked up a frayed, sad-looking dandelion.

She came bounding toward me — ignoring her grandmother’s calls to come back — and said: “Look! I’m going to give this to my mom when I get home.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said as she held it toward me, beaming.

Then she began stomping on the ground in her purple-and-pink glittery sneakers, looking down at them, trying to make them “do” something.

“No more light,” she said.

Her grandmother came toward me and smiled. “They used to light up more but I guess they’ve lost some of whatever it was.”

I told her to have fun and walked away thinking, how often have I lost my light, whatever it is that I once had. And what has been causing me to lose it?

Perhaps the clutter of many things. Holding on to worries. Agendas. How I think life “should” be instead of accepting how it is. In other words, not letting go, not simplifying.

When I was in the workplace, there was a saying some of you may know: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. If I’m going to be totally honesty here, I have a personality that makes things harder than they should be. I tend to make things more complicated.

I used to get frustrated with that part of me. Now I have come to accept that it’s all part of the unique package that makes me who I am. I am someone who still likes to hold on, someone still learning to “let go” and simplify — and someone who is still trusting in faith there is a Higher Power who moves life along in divine right time and flow.

I am also gentle, or at least learning to be, with all those parts of myself, as I would with a young child. As I might with that little girl in the park.

Would I have yelled at her and told her, “That’s an ugly dandelion!”? Never. Then why would I berate those inner child parts of me that need love and even more love? Especially those parts that delight in the simplest of things?

The older woman I am becoming also needs that love, especially as she is often — not by choice — having to let go and simplify her life. In fact, children and the aged both dwell in a certain simplicity that no longer requires agendas, pride, ego, money, promotions, “things” or whatever it might be. They are content with what is, in the moment.

To be truthful, I am still coming to terms with the losses of my life’s journey as I age. A friend of mine told me he feels like he’s lost his mojo. I understand. And one better, I often feel, as the Mad Hatter said to Alice, “‎You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more… muchier… you’ve lost your muchness.”

Sue Monk Kidd, one of my favorite writers, says this:

“Finally, I began to write about becoming an older woman and the trepidation it stirred. The small, telling ‘betrayals’ of my body. The stalled, eerie stillness in my writing, accompanied by an ache for some unlived destiny. I wrote about the raw, unsettled feelings coursing through me, the need to divest and relocate, the urge to radically simplify and distill life into a new, unknown meaning.”

Like Sue Monk Kidd, I am learning to radically simplify, to distill life into a new unknown meaning.

At the heart of it, I believe that’s why simplifying poses such a challenge — we are face-to-face with some “new unknown meaning.” It isn’t how it used to be. We start as pure beings, simple and free, then gather a lot of “guck” along the way.

Now, in our later years, we are being stripped away to uncover the beauty that has been there all along. We simplify. And while it may be challenging, it is also freeing.

Even my prayer life has entered into simplicity. I am breathing in love, breathing out love. And like writer Anne Lamott, I am saying these three simple prayers:

Help me. Thank you. Wow.

I am learning to be like a child again, delighting in a dandelion. And learning to accept and love the older woman, finding it’s OK to lose some of my muchness. To stomp on my sneakers to discover perhaps a new and more engaging light.

When I simplify and let go, it opens up space to be free. To dwell in the now. To be the soul and body I was created to be.

And that simply makes me say “Wow!”

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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.)

 

 

The shadowlands of a writing relationship

My blogs usually aren’t about writing so bear with me, folks.

This post is an entry to a writing contest. The rules are that the topic focus on “writing and doubt” — two areas I know well.

If I place first, second or third, I win a bundle of cool writing “stuff” as well as promotion for my blog.

And kudos to writer Bryan Hutchinson for this clever marketing idea. This contest not only promotes his book Writer’s Doubt: The #1 Enemy of Writers (And What You Can Do About It) and his new online course — but through the winning essays, he hopes to inspire and encourage writers to keep writing. Here’s the link: http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-2016/

So, here’s my blog post entry for the Writers Crushing Doubt contest hosted by Positive Writer.

Wish me luck! And may these words inspire and encourage.

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Ever want to give up writing? I mean really give up?

For many of us, the answer is yes. I know I have. Countless times. But when I have doubts about continuing to write or calling it quits, I’ve come to see that struggle as healthy. Those doubts tell me that I am in an honest-to-goodness relationship with my writing.

book-child-dreams-fantasy-imagination-Favim.com-123786And relationships, as we all know, have their good days and bad days. Look at the meaningful relationships in your life now. I’m sure you’ve had contented and amazing times, as well as times when you wanted to walk away from it all. And yet, you stayed.

The truth is, when we are truly invested in and committed to our writing, we are in a real relationship. That means we stay. No matter what. No matter how many doubts we may have.

In many spiritual teachings to “stay” has great power. To “stay” means that we are completely “present” to whatever might be happening. We stay during the days of doubt, rejection and uncertainty. And we also “stay” when we rejoice in a chapter finished and a book finally written and published.

Author Anne Lamott says it this way:

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me–that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

In her classic book Bird by Bird, Lamott also writes:

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

In my own life, I had waited, watched and worked for some time. Among other pieces, I had written an essay that felt intensely personal, too transparent to put out into the world. After many rejections, I shoved it in the desk drawer where it gathered dust for years. One day, however, I gave it one more try.

I brushed off doubt, drummed up faith and sent it off to the annual writing contest of Writer’s Digest magazine. Not only did it place in the top 100 of the inspirational category, but my essays placed in the top 10 the following two years.

So, if nagging doubts show up, they are there to test our relationship with writing and push us through the gritty days of stark fear and terror that come with our craft and our calling. Most likely those doubts will never go away, those questions of  Am I called to do this? Should I be doing this? Does it matter?”

typewriter butterfliesBut we will also have those days of blessed contentment — of a sentence well crafted and a poetic phrase that conveys our hearts.

At the end of one of my favorite movies, Shadowlands, writer C.S. Lewis offers advice that could be applied to our writing:

“Why love if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore. Only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chooses safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”

So, dear writers, we are always living in the shadowlands of our relationship with writing — the pain now is part of the happiness later.

In the end, perhaps doubts are not to be crushed, but to be embraced. They hurt. But they can make us better writers if we choose to move beyond safety.

We can’t have one without the other. And that’s the deal.

(This blog post originally appeared in a varied form in Birth of a Novel blog: https://birthofanovel.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/being-in-a-writing-relationship/)

Watch and pray

Last year when dad ended up in the emergency room, I watched.

I remember him on that hospital bed, writhing in pain, soaked and feverish. I looked at the wall clock as it ticked away the hours — 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m. as we waited for a room to become available. I sat by his side, trying to comfort him, as his fever spiked to 103 or more.

praying-1bAnd I prayed. For him to be out of pain. For peace, for him and for myself. Thankfully, dad did recover.

I share this story because I believe many of us in our lives have watched and prayed with and for a loved one. Perhaps a family member who was ill or struggling through a personal problem. Watched and prayed for a child to be born. Or watched and prayed with a parent or child in the dying process. And how many times lately have we watched and prayed as wanton terrorism has taken lives?

I’ve been reflecting on those two words — watch and pray — as we end Holy Week in the Christian tradition and head into Easter.  Jesus asked his disciples to do this with him in the garden before his death. They weren’t very good at it because they fell asleep. I suppose a heavy Passover meal and plenty of wine will do that.

But perhaps the disciples didn’t get it. Maybe we don’t either. And does watching and praying make any real difference in the fabric of our ordinary days?

I believe it does and that we are called to do both. But they can be challenging. Why? Because watching and praying require a certain attentiveness to the present.

Watching is an awareness that is not so much of the eyes but of the heart. It is an interior waiting and listening to the Spirit where we are deeply paying attention. We are the silent observer to a deep mystery, an experience that confounds us that we may not completely understand.

And in that watching, if we allow ourselves, we are changed. We become more human, more compassionate, more loving. When we move in this direction, we open to prayer.

Jesus-in-GethsemaneWhat is prayer? I find labels dangerous, and semantics are often misconstrued, but for me prayer is simply this: A communion with the Divine — however you find it, wherever you find it. You may discover the Divine presence in nature, in a chapel, in the woods, in rote words, with beads, or in a monastery. It’s anything that takes you to the interior space where you are fully present to the God of your knowing.

One of my favorite writers Anne Lamott says there are only two prayers she uses: “Help me, help me, help me.” And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I love these prayers because they cut through all the theological bullshit that God probably dislikes. They are honest and real, and if anything, I believe the Divine loves honest and real.

Throughout our day, we have many invitations to watch and pray. I did the other day. I chose the line at the grocery store I thought was the shortest, but as usual, the one that moved the slowest. The cashier seemed to be taking his time. I found myself becoming annoyed. I began to pray, “Help me!”

But as I waited, I also watched — him and my own feelings. He took his time with each customer, especially with the elderly woman ahead of me. He joked with her and made her smile.

I found my heart softening and my impatience melting as I watched. And now I prayed “Thank you” — a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving that he had been sent as my teacher and was a light in a very dark world.

"In the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on to another, just as one candle is lighted from another," says the encyclical "Lumen Fidei" ("The Light of Faith") from Pope Francis. Pictured are worshippers holding candles during the Easter Vigil at St. Jude Church in Mastic Beach, N.Y. (CNS file photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (July 5, 2013) See POPE-ENCYCLICAL and ENCYCLICAL-EXCERPTS and ENCYCLICAL-GLANCE July 5, 2013.

We are each called to be that light, not just at Easter, but in every moment of our lives. And we are called to be that light especially as we watch and pray through the mystery of it all — the births, the deaths and the petty annoyances in between.

Anne Lamott has said: “On this side of the grave we’re not going to understand the mystery of God and grace … we know so little.”

But that “not knowing” can also be a gift. It beckons us to trust. It is an invitation to open our heart to a Divine Power who loves us and is with us, in our personal daily struggles and in the world at large.

A loving force who even as we watch and pray, also watches and prays with us through it all — in the Garden and in the empty tomb. Dying with us. Rising with us.

 

 

 

 

Write from the heart

Sometimes life pulls us away from those things we love so we might tend to other pressing matters. This is where I am now in my life. I love writing this blog, but instead of writing a new post, I am re-purposing this from another blog I was proud to be a part of it.

Birth of a Novel continues to offer informative and enjoyable posts for writers by talented author and blogger Sandra Carey Cody and you might want to visit.

To the end, this post is about writing.

After all, my blog “Stories for the Journey” is sub-titled “Reflections on writing, life and the spirit.” So perhaps it’s time to offer some words about the writing process. And even though it’s focused at writers, please be open. You might find something helpful, hopeful or enlightening here as well — as a reader, as a fellow traveler on the journey.

Here is an abbreviated version of “Write from the Heart” as it was published in December 2011, from the Birth of a Novel blog.

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heart you are hereLet me tell you a brief story. Seven years ago I wrote an inspirational essay about my mother. For those many years it languished in a desk drawer. Why? Because it was deeply personal. By sending it out into the world I knew I would be revealing my heart. I would be vulnerable and I risked appearing maudlin, too serious — at worst, foolish.

Still, something within me whispered, “Share it. It might touch others.” At the last minute I sent it into a prestigious writing competition and it placed well among thousands of entries nationwide.

What’s my point in telling you this? I believe as writers we are challenged to “write from the heart.” Terrifying? You bet. But plumbing such depths is also what I believe to be our calling as writers. When we have the courage to be authentic — when we dare visit and share those deep, hidden places with their fears, sorrows and memories — then our writing in some mysterious way also touches a universal chord.

In her book Bird by Bird,  Anne Lamott writes:

“So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable, worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this.”

How do we write from the heart? I have no definitive answers. I do believe, however, we must make room to hear what our hearts are telling us. For some it may be meditation, prayer, gardening or a walk in the woods. Ultimately, it’s allowing ourselves a receptive space where we can get out of our heads and into the sacred place where our own truth resides. And then, we must have the courage to put ourselves on paper for others to see.

It’s a lofty challenge but according to Roger Rosenblatt the only one of worth. In his book Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Art and Craft of Writing he states:

“Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart … and the heart you must move is corrupt, depraved and desperate for your love … you must write as if your reader needed you desperately, because he does.”

His final words are even more compelling:

“For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy of your love. Love it. Have faith in it. Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing — word after word after word.”

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writefromtheheartMy prayer is that this blog continues to move or touch your heart in some way, and that I can speak for our sorrows — and our joys — word after word after word. Thank you!

The circle game

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.

God 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.

book-child-dreams-fantasy-imagination-Favim.com-123786As 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. 

Do you have any influence with a publisher or agent so my words can get out to a wider audience? Say what? You’ve had me ‘on hold’ for the last few decades and forgot to look at that blinking light? (Old-timers will get that one.) Well, pick up, for God’s sake! Um. For your sake. My sake. Whatever.”

woman at sunsetAs you approach the end of your timeline, you find that life stops giving you things and starts taking them away.

You’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, I’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.”

So 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.

HANDSTOUCHINGS-33_000

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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