Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Am Waiting... Advent 2010

Once upon a time the thought of Christmas would fill me with anxiety. Don't get me wrong. I love the season. Not as much as I love Easter. Yes, I'm that kind of weirdo, but I love the joy of Christmas, the music, the bright colored lights, and the giving, giving, giving.

I'm sure I don't have to get into how much is lost in the commercialization of the holiday (holy day!). You've all heard that before. But the last few holiday seasons I've made a greater effort to tune into Advent. It actually makes Christmas far more meaningful. See, you can't blaze through Advent in your rush to get presents you don't want to buy for people who don't really need them. Advent an invitation to slow down. Sometimes it urges us to simply stop. You ease yourself down on the dirt floor of your life, and sit quietly by Mary in labor. You can be the midwife to the coming Christ. Or you can wait with her for his birth as the shepherds did, or the animals. You can search the sky for the North Star, or search your life for any signs that his coming is near, then ask yourself what it all means to you.

Oh, what a winter this will be for me, my dear friends. So much is changing, even the rhythm of my intentional community. For the first time, we had our shared meal here at The Sunshine Abbey instead of Third Street House. I have to say, it was wonderful having the Samson's here. I made a pot of great northern beans, and a pan of chicken paprika and rice, and broccoli. An icy rain pelted the city, and this was extra comforting comfort food. We don't have a dining room table right now, so we all sat in the living room--some of us on the floor. Everything was simple. The room was full of love. I felt happier at home than I have in a long time. This was a new rhythm, not particular better or worse than our former rhythm. Just different. Much of my life will be thus. Different. I don't really need to judge it as anything more than that.

Advent, too, is a new rhythm. We've left ordinary time, and now our gaze is toward Bethlehem. We are waiting for the baby to be born. But our eyes our also lifted skyward. We are waiting for the King to come in the clouds in glory. And oh, my friends, we should also be looking within, waiting for Christ to be born anew in our hearts.

What are you waiting for? What needs a savior in your life today? I ask myself these kinds of questions everyday. Some of my musings go on Facebook and Twitter as I share Advent with whosoever will come. But some of the questions are asked in God's presence alone, in the silence of my heart. And the answers belong to him, as many other things in my life should belong only to him.

Yet, here you are, and here I am with you. So, I invite you to take these next few weeks to share in Advent with me. Sit with me at Jesus' feet. We can all be Mary of Bethany, rather than Martha. We can all do the one needful thing: wait.

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her." Lk 10:41-42.

In the tenderness of Jesus, the coming Christ child,

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding Water

God always surprises me with his stubborn refusal to do things like I thought he would, or use what I think he'll use to help me. But I'll get to that in a bit.

September was coming. I always begin to fall in the Fall. And lovies, I fall hard. But this season was worse than others. I came home from Xavier and my marriage fell apart (I was afraid to tell you). Seam by seam I watched it unravel. I tried to stop it. And then I didn't. And then I did, but it didn't seem to matter, and then I got angry and didn't give a damn. The kids went to school and my brain seemed to scramble. I became so disorganized. I abandoned daily community prayer, unwittingly damaging my relationship to my community. And then I abandoned prayer period. When I started my job my immune system was assaulted. I had virus after virus, infection after infection. It felt as if the lights went off and God was gone. Winter came very early for me. In my soul I was cold, light was absent, and the ground of my heart was fallow.

It became clear to me that the only meager defense against the onslaught of awful in my life was prayer. I did not return to the community prayer that rooted me in love, friendship, and tradition. No, I dragged on alone, and begged God thousands of times a day to help me. Help my children. Show me what to do. All I could see at home was hurting people, and I had no idea how to help them. I ranted and raved. I stopped speaking to my Beloved Jesus, accusing, "You can help me but you won't! Where are you?" and then, a few days later, I'd beg him for help again.

One day, Nia, Abbie and I were at the library. Books have been fine helpers to me, and I begged, "Please, pretty please, Lord, help me. Send me some guidance." I looked up and Finding Water was in front of me. I'm going to confess, I tend to lean toward spiritual classics often written by people who are dead. Now and then I'll read a luminous volume, such as Mary Karr's Lit, or Kathleen Norris' Acedia. That ol' Ragamuffin's books always please me. My spirituality is catholic. Note that little "c." I'm into a universal church, but there are certain leanings that I have and they are definitely Catholic with the big "C." I have been a little snooty about books that don't fit that bill. The Artist Way was one of those books I've dismissed, even though I've known for years it's helped countless people.

I've had a copy of The Artist Way for years, and I thought, "I wish this was a Christian book." I can't believe I was so judgmental now, because the principles in The Artist Way are Christian at the roots, so simple, and friends, God is in the simple things. Finding Water, part of the series, is about the art of perseverance. If I needed one thing at that time it was to persevere amid all the chaos in my life. What surprised me was I found in her book the language of recovery. The slogans that have kept people sober for decades began to sober me, as drunk as I was on despair. "Let go and let God. "Easy does it." "Show up." "You do the quantity. Let God take care of the quality." I began to slowly release my grip on the situation, along with my illusion of control. I did not expect God to do what I could do for myself. I asked him to give me the serenity to accept the things I could not change, the courage to change the things I could, and the wisdom to know the difference. I asked for him to show me his will and give me the power to carry it out. I began to look for water. I found it in a communion chalise mingled with wine. I found it frozen like beads on a fallen leaf on chilly morning walks to work. It hid in beauty. I found it again bubbling in my dry soul. And yes, I found it in that book, and the tools Julia Cameron recommends: morning pages, artist dates, and walks! Baby, did I ever walk. And my healing began to emerge.

My marriage is still unwell. Very unwell. I don't know if it will survive. I have a lot of ashes leftover from the many fires that had to be put out recently. But ashes are useful. If you have a little sackcloth, you can sit in them and repent. If it's lent they make wonderful crosses on your forehead. Okay, those ashes come from last year's palm fronds. But what a wonderful metaphor: the ashes from your life as your cross, your sign of remembrance that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Your ashes indicate your deep, ever present need for God.

So, I've found my water, friends. I take my walks. I'm a little short on artist dates, but I'm working on that. I've started writing again, for fun, to feed my soul, and for editors to purchase! And now I've returned to you, asking you once again to forgive me for making such a mess of things. But most of you know I always return, a little worse for the wear, a little wiser. This time I'm twenty pounds smaller! And I'm ready to begin again. Advent is coming, the season of penance, and followed by Christmas, the season of joyous celebration, and frankly, very good eating,  we'll begin our 3D journey again, at the new year, taking it up at the half way point where we left off. I have a wonderful prayer book to tell you about, that my community is excited about. Despite myself, life is good. God is good, as they say, all the time, even when you can't see that.

Thank you for staying with me.

Much love,

Friday, November 05, 2010

TGIF, and a Little Praise

I made it to Kentucky Clinic today. That's where I used to have my primary care. Yesterday I was soooo blessed to have called. I was hoping I'd be able to convince my former caregiver to prescribe me antibiotic eye drops without coming in, only to find that drat! I had to go in. But I didn't have enough money. That's when the triage nurse told me they had a financial assistance program. She asked me to come in first thing this morning and see a specialist about it.

I'm sooooo glad I did. I thought the program was a payment plan for a single visit, but it turns out I qualify to get regular medical care and pay only a $20 deductible. Can you say, "Hallelujah!?" I can, and I did! This eases a tremendous burden on me. I'm so thankful to the Lord. A few days ago, I read that miracles often happen in ways you don't expect. I'd gotten so discouraged about all this, but it turns out grace was present and active. Turns out grace is always present and active, despite all evidence to the contrary, maybe especially when there's all evidence to the contrary. I didn't get instantly healed from pink eye, but pink eye became the vehicle for me to receive some form of health insurance.

Why is it so easy for me to forgot God's great love? If we ask our good Father for bread, we aren't going get more rocks than Charlie Brown did trick-or-treating. I think it's time for this lil' complainer to start a gratitude journal to help me remember not only the blessings I can see, but when my faith bulb grows dim as it so often does when I'm buffeted by challenges in every direction, to recount the blessings and graces I've already experienced.

There's so much on my mind. I want to tell you so many things. One post at a time. For now, pink eye ointment, and a little rest after a looooooong, sleepless night. Thank God it's Friday, even though I so agreed to work all weekend to make up for the days I missed. I'm happy you're still on the journey with me, and do have a lovely weekend.

Much love,

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Do I Need Quiet???

Years ago, when I was in love with religious "tracts," and passed them out--well--religiously, one with this poem by Alice H. Mortenson was a particular favorite of mine:

I Needed the Quiet

    I needed the quiet so he drew me aside
    Into the shadows where we could confide,
    Away from the bustle where all the day long
    I hurried and worried when active and strong.
    I needed the quiet tho at first I rebelled,
    But gently, so gently my cross he upheld,
    And whispered so sweetly of spiritual things,
    Tho weakened in body, my spirit took wings
    To heights never heard of when active and gay,
    He loved me so greatly he drew me away.
    I needed the quiet, no prison my bed,
    But a beautiful valley of blessings instead –
    A place to grow richer in Jesus to hide
    I needed the quiet so he drew me aside.

                                – Alice H. Mortenson
Sigh. I loved that poem so much,  but today it kinda makes me sad. My spirit has so not taken wings, though I wish it would, and fly me some place tropical. Like, really, really tropical.

I've got pink eye now. My restful week of homeschooling and a shortened schedule began with me working full time Monday and Tuesday because we were short staffed at the daycare, and going real easy on the homeschooling. Tuesday night I took a nap after dinner. I thought I would give Nia and I the luxury of sleeping a little later our first homeschool day on Wednesday. I'm telling you, I was absolutely fine when I went to sleep. Three hours later, I practically needed a crane to open my right eye. How in the world did that happen? And here I am, Thursday afternoon, having been turned away from every low cost clinic my tired little feet could take me to today, with one, pink, runny eye that feels like ground glass is lodged in it.

I don't think I've ever worked a job in which I've asked myself almost every week, "should I keep this job?" God knows I'm grateful for it. Jobs are hard to come by--or at least they have been for me. My boss really works with me. She's lovely in that regard (and many others), but I keep getting sick. No insurance complicates matters even more. Before I could pop over to the doctor and get meds, or an excuse, whatever. Now the requirement of a doctor's note takes me on an epic quest. I won't get into the details, but trust me, I've prayed several times today alone to know what the answer to my dilemma here is.

What could a job that keeps making me sick mean? Is there meaning in it? I don't want to go all "The Secret" on you, but I keep wondering if there is something I'm missing here--something simple and basic. Could this constant deluge of viruses, bacterial infections, yada, yada, yackety, smakety, be like a neon sign saying, "THIS IS NOT THE JOB FOR YOU!" Unfortunately, that would make me pursue it harder. Beat me up, and I'd keep coming back. Or rather, the old me would, until I was beat up a few too many times not to learn to say, "OW! THAT HURTS!"


What do you want me to do, God? Every time I think I know your will some dynamic changes. Knowledge of what you want can be slippery. I think I've got some insight firmly in my grasp, only to realize I've been holding on to air. Maybe the poem is right. Maybe all this madness in my life--marital discord, sickness, money problems, chronic pain--all of it swirls around the quiet at the proverbial eye of the storm.And I need the quiet so much heart (and body) ache needs to build on. 

What do you want, God? How do I find my place to grown richer in Jesus? Will you hide me in you, so at the very least, I can hear your voice? Will you help me do my job? I want to get better. I want to be well enough to write, and love, and heal, and mother, and teach, at work, and at homeschool. 

Lord, have mercy on me.

Help me.