Thursday, March 29, 2007

tinker bell & co

This is a double header, or maybe I'll just do tomorrow's blog today. I went to an art therapy symposium this morning at a Catholic university in our general area, very nice campus, rather large school. I went to a continuing education program hosted by the U. for students, faculty and workers in the field. The speaker was (is) the dean of a large East Coast university, has written several books, travels the world lecturing and is an artist himself. I don't know what I expected, but I had high hopes. Being that I have sort of landed in the middle of people suffering from addictions due to my son's problems and am learning on the fly how to be of assistance to them (hopefully), I thought the art therapy situation would be a natural for me, and might give me more tools and more insight in my volunteering and group encounters.

I cannot describe to you how the morning went except to say I think it made me realize I need anger management classes. I cannot believe how inane, vapid, without any real substance whatsoever and thoroughly semantic someone who claims to be an expert in a field can be, or appear, or communicate him or herself, excepting perhaps if you are a politician. This one seemed to have all the right moves for that profession, but who needs the constant spotlight when you can have an adoring and (mostly) female crowd hanging on your every Birkenstocked word without it? I am trying to think what he said-what DID he say, before the oversized sheets of cheap butcher paper, tempra paints and old, broken oil pastels were passed out for us to "express ourselves". What was the topic anyway that led me hear-what sounded so compelling I felt it was an appointment with destiny? More like an appointment with a Timothy Leary look-alike, equally doped. And his middle-aged Tinker Bells, first "expressing themselves'", and then dancing (excuse me, moving) to their pictures. His whole deal was, "don't label". Just let patients, clients, play...and yes, I saw this philosphy in action when Brandon was on the psyche ward of a local hospital. He constructed a miniature wooden car, painted it black and had some slogan of doom painted on the back. There was something especially hideous about seeing him there in sweats, painting a child's toy, right after he committed murder and tried to kill himself.

They are all kidding, right? How in the world does this help anyone? Ok, I could go for the freedom of expression track if someone is catatonic or lacks the apparatus to speak. I was so angry at the way my money was used for this supposed "symposium" I got lost going home, and it struck me as I was driving in circles the wrong direction, that this was the perfect analogy for what I had just been through. I was expressing myself, driving around. It was a beautiful day. There were lots of pretty sights. But the intended object, "get home", was eluding me. What is the intended object of art therapy? Therapy has to do with healing. Healing has to do with exposing what is ill, out of joint, not in line, making well. There has to be a measurable road home. Playing with paints is not it. That may make everyone feel better for a time, but I can tell you if I foisted the same exercise on the prison inmates I visit weekly, I'd probably get beat up or laughed at, and those ladies are the most honest people I know.

the human stain

I've had a moment, and the realization is spreading so far into my mind and my existence I'm not sure how to respond, a moment of knowing how far my own humanity denies the presence of God in my life. I now catch myself at every turn being motivated to do things because of my own self-will rather than trusting, or even taking the time to remember, this little human package has a stamp on it, "Property of the Most High". I feel my own sinfulness in a way that does not make me cringe or feel guilt, but the simple truth of how far it extends in all that I am and how much it keeps me from knowing God and letting Him have His way in my life. I don't need to drag myself down to an altar rail, fighting every step. I long to "shuffle off this mortal coil" in every way I'm so tired of dragging around this body of death. I wish I DID know at every turn what He wanted, because let me tell you, what I want brings about nothing.

I sense His love, I know His life in me from a distance, like a popping and fuzzy radio transmission. There is nothing wrong with the transmission, only the transmitter. Most of what I receive I attempt to translate into "do". I "do" this, and therefore have a way of physically saying, ok, I'm obedient. But it's more than that. I have to get from "do" to "be". My mind and soul need to be permeated with God-thoughts and God-intentions. Mine are so rutted and grooved with Sue-thoughts and intentions I don't know where one ends or the other begins, and I feel lonely. I'm tired of living with just myself. I need to clean out the house, not because it's dirty or the furniture doesn't match. I need to clean it out because I want Someone else to be welcome.

Was it a Loggins and Messina song that talks about this-somehow fragments of melody and lyric just passed through my mind, talking about a "heart hotel"....that it's furnished, but "there is nobody living inside"...I don't think I've made the Holy Spirit terribly welcome in mine. Do I really want to know what God wants or what He thinks? When do I stop manipulating and pulling strings, using people and His gifts to get what I think I need or want. Shoot, I'm not even sure I know. Wait, yes I do. I need love. Everyone does. A friend of mine just blogged about that, that we need love or our lives go on the fritz. That is what the song was about-make it welcome, open the shutter, pull up the blinds, put out the welcome mat for the One who is love defined.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 happens.....

Some things in life simply tire me out, and need to be let go of. I can't control what other people do. My partner in prison ministry wisely pointed that out. We were talking about forgiveness, and I told her I try to keep short accounts in this life. She said five people may accept your forgiveness, but we always tend to dwell on the sixth that doesn't, or the one thing that isn't right among so much that is.

I guess that is where my mind is today and I have to pull it away, just like someone pulling me away from a knot of people whispering about me and looking with furtive stares. Why do I do this to myself? I have a hard time letting go. I don't always understand how other people think, and therefore cannot impute motives to what they do (or don't do). I can only worry about my motives.

I also cannot build my life around what other people want, need, think, expect, wish of me. That is a recipe for disaster. As it is for anyone else, and so I try hard not to do that to other folks. But you need those few who hang with you no matter what and put up with the needing and wanting, the thinking and expecting. Oh well, I've never been one to stay stuck forever. Guess it's time to move on for sure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

being still

I'm attempting emotional quietness in my life. I am almost done with Annie Dillard's classic, "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", and the whole book reminds me that I live not seeing much of anything. The book is all about this woman's observation and exploration of a specific area of nature, but really only in terms of location. She threads her observations to larger, sometimes disturbing truths that most of us never, ever get near in life, let alone touch on. In order to accomplish this she lived alone for the most part and spent her days simply being still and watching the world around her. There were no attempts to manipulate, analyze, control data or make a sermon out of what she saw, because what she saw spoke so eloquently in it's own workings.

As for myself, I realize I'm so noisy I can't hear myself think, let alone anyone else. I also began to read the letters of Simone Weil, and as much as Annie Dillard observed the outside world, Simone Weil observes the inward world. Along with that book I am reading the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Edith Hamilton's Mythology. I have forgotten that I need to let my mind wander about on it's own and digest things slowly. Weil was one to recognize the multiple revelations in a culture's old stories and through the scriptures, and somehow I am beginning to gain that skill maybe a little. But revelation unfolds through quietness.

I need the quiet, and I know saints of old and wise men of many cultures understood that quietness begins in the soul. The whole world can be screaming and twirling around us at lightening speed, but we can be centered and still in the midst. Sunday I had to pick up my daughter Becky from the Poconos, and the whole trip was hurried and tiresome. I got there on fumes and had to find a gas station immediately to get home. The first one I saw on the way I was in the wrong lane of traffic and getting to the right one probably would have caused an accident. I drove down the highway to another one, which I realized was closed upon sitting there. The third was out of my way further down the road, and was jam-packed. I sat and waited, and waited and waited for an open pump. Finally....and the thing stopped at one gallon. Ok, not enough to get home. I swiped my card again, and once more...nothing. The attendant motioned me over to another pump and he tried. Nothing. He tried again. Nothing. He tried another pump and NOTHING. He apologized and I zoomed off in a hurry, as though that would help matters. I went back to the first station, and realized there I forgot the gas cap at the other one. I was so angry I hardly knew how to respond. Now writing this all down makes it seem easy to deal with. But my fury knew no bounds. I gassed up, bumped illegally over a lane divider and cut across three lanes of traffic to go retrieve my stupid gas cap. When I got to the other ill-fated station that was thick with cars just ten minutes before, it was deserted and the cashiers were outside having a smoke. I don't know why, but that made me even angrier, plus my cap was gone. Inside I seethed with rage, blamed them all for being idiots, got mad at everything my daughter was saying and the fact that we had a passenger.

I tried to calm myself, I knew it was ridiculous, I knew we would get home just fine. But I still overreact when things like that happen. I did everything I could and there was nothing more I could do. But in doing so I was torn inside. My anger raged through my body and soul like shards of glass. Annie Dillard observes we get through life ragged, like the butterfly with part of a wing shredded by a bird, or insects minus legs or antennae. We get digested and ripped the further we go. But we learn to adapt. And the best way to avoid predators and injury is to move slowly, observe carefully and stop when necessary.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

the new Jerusalem

Studying two vastly different aspects of life, financial intelligence and investing, and prison ministry, has shown me people tend to stick to what is safe and what they know, even if taking a mininal risk will create a huge gain in their own life personally and the lives of other people. Sometimes it takes a serious wake-up call in a life to jump the known trail and head off into uncharted woods. What happened to Brandon certainly caused that in our lives. Another thing that has caused a change of mind is our financial picture and thinking about daughter #2 heading to college in a year. We barely have the money to pay one parent plus loan for one child. We have nothing to give the next one. We have no savings to speak of, and we are looking at the other side of middle age. How much more can we work?

As far as prison ministry goes, I can tell you, because I was one of them, most people don't trust enough to go into a place to share their faith and life that makes them uncomfortable unless they are forced. I prayed and prayed for revival in our area, expected great things, but never really left the comfort of the inside of a church. Because of our son I walked into court rooms, rehabs and prisons. I did not want to. But, duh, isn't that where lots of hurting people are? You can be fairly sure without needing an audible voice from heaven and a fifty-foot billboard. Now this may not be where everyone needs to go, but clearly, if you do, your presence there is almost certainly guaranteed to make a difference. The investment of time will multiply so expotentially there is no comparison to the gift. So if Christians truly believe what Jesus said about the importance of His Great Commission, to go into all the world to preach the gospel to everyone, um, wouldn't you want a ready-made audience? I'd much rather be inside magnetic doors than say, a place where "normal" people are who have no idea they need God. The only thing it takes is being willing to step out of your comfort zone-just stick your head out of your routine box!

Same thing with financial knowledge. The whole idea is creating assets that make wealth without spending inordinant amounts of time. Everything in our heads says you don't get something for nothing. But really, you can-just qualify the "nothing". The something we need to have is the proper knowledge and understanding of how money works past the old advice, work hard and save. Work hard is fine. Save is fine. But there's more to it, for the person willing to keep eyes open, risk a little and trust. Once again, stick your head out of the old knowledge box and get poured into a new wineskin! Isn't it worth even trying? And again, I'm the worst here. I just want to be safe. I just want to do what I've always done, hoping things will change. Well, in the AA 12-step program that is the definition of insanity.

Jesus had only harsh words for those who would not risk what they have. He said of people like that, people like what I used to be, even what they have will be taken from them. He called the people of the age smarter than the sons of light because they didn't use every available opportunity to grow wealth, the wealth of humanity and the wealth of the kingdom. Remember the little boy who gave his lunch to feed a crowd of five thousand? If we are so worried about being left without, we'll never see the banquet our lives could have been.

Friday, March 23, 2007

appetite for knowledge

I think for the first time in my life, I have unread books laying around the house. I probably have at least a half dozen I would say...well, maybe not so many, running the gamut of subjects I want to read about. I'm reading Ann Dillard's classic, "A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek". I'm trying to wade through Simone Weil-her name keeps coming up in my reading. I laid aside a book about emotions (A Mood Apart) where I disagreed with the "expert" who wrote it as much as I agreed. I have Kay Jamison's study on biopolar disorder and the artistic temperament laying in my studio next to a book I almost finished but didn't. Usually I fly through reading material like an Olympic swimmer cutting through the water. But not lately. I just got Robert Kiyosaki's book, "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" in the mail yesterday and plan to go to Barnes and Noble to pick up books on classic mythology and ancient philosophy because a friend so highly recommends reading Marcus Aurelius.

I suppose when I would read in the past, I took that subject and book presentation like a meal on a plate, hoping to be specifically nourished in an area of my life, and once I "put my fork down", being sure of the material I read and clear on how to apply it to my life. My problem is, the books I'm reading now provide no cut and dried, clear method on how they fit into my life. They intrude and challenge, dare me not to understand-oh, I'm also trying to get through Kierkegaard-and leave me feeling like my eyes are bigger than my stomach, so to speak. Is everything I'm reading true? I really get confused when the author seems to have a secret pipeline to knowledge and full confidence in it that I do not possess. Even in referencing the material and comparing it to scripture, to everything I know or have experienced, still I come up empty and I may always come up empty to some degree.

I wonder about culture in the past where such reading was required, even done recreationally-am I missing something? I consider myself smarter than the average bear, but boy, I think it's more than that! Is my compass off? Maybe it's enough that the world is full of all different kinds of people, but something I heard recently scares me. Classic books, even books my generation considered indispensable, are being pulled from library shelves because they are not being read. Things are being forgotten. I think one of the truest, and most frightening things about humankind is that unless we are reminded of the past and other people's experience, we suffer from debilitating collective amnesia, and knowledge is lost forever, until someone-a brave thinker in a new world, picks up a book, finds a thought and is reminded again that there is something more out there.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I hate going to leadership meetings only to be confronted with a questionaire about myself. I never know what to say because I don't often think about where I need to change, not in a truly practical sense, a way that says, I'm taking thus and these steps to change this. I figure it this way-I'm here now, what else do you want? Chuckle. You are all blessed with the holy presence of Sue and I resent being asked to examine myself. My thought is, just tell me what to do and let's go home.

Sigh...if it were only so easy. Maybe it is, but oftentimes change requires uncovering what motivates in the first place, good and bad. What are my passions? Ah, that is trickier to discern. I spent all of yesterday drawing something I hated, but I still longed for a good outcome, and so pushed past my anger and frustration to create something new. I did what I had to do because I love to create and I'm not satisfied with something that just fulfills a requirement. And in that time checked the Royal Portrait Society website in which I had just registered to see work that simply blew me away and made me all the more motivated to paint. After I finished the "yuck" piece I downloaded an entry into another competiton and started drawing a mini for a CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) fundraiser. My vanity is so totally turned on when someone sends me a letter telling me I was hand-picked to do this project because my art is of such a high caliber. Oh, yes...I'm a diva. Clearly, this is a passion.

But I also have passions that cause very entrenched behaviors which are destructive. One of the questionaire questions was, how can I do better with my recovery? I could stop when I'm tempted and think why I'm ready to shove something into my mouth or look at something that just isn't helpful. That requires acknowledging that I'm about to do something really negative, and as hurting myself is not healthy, I have to think-why would I hurt myself? And why is it so hard to put on the brakes and face that? What is the driving force here?

That is the key to change. Oftentimes it is as simple, and as difficult, as one moment in time where you reflect and turn around, rather than react as usual.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

awash in middle tone

I'm working on a drawing now that is a commission. It is a subject matter I hate, which has kept me procrastinating, so I finally started yesterday. I'm doing a fantasy art piece, with horses and a beach, and it really could be lovely. But I was unfocused from the start about how to handle it, and the longer I draw, the more that is apparent. I'm awash in middle tone, no clear subject matter, just colors that while of themselves are beautiful, they do not work together in my drawing. It looks boring because I'm bored doing it.

Struggling with the middle tone issue has always been a problem in my art. I have trouble with composition. There should be one thing, one place on the drawing or painting, that first of all captures the viewer's attention. Then lesser items that lead around the piece. The artist is like a conductor, knowing the whole piece of music from start to finish, and because that is true, knows where to punctuate, accent, speed up and slow down for the listener's benefit and pleasure.

But my drawing just sits there, no rhyme or reason, no rhythm or direction. I hate that. The surface becomes like a sponge, absorbing everything that is put down until it is all mashed together and anything distinct gets wiped away. No amount of manipulation can hide how little thought I put into it. Question is, do I continue? Or do I part with all the hours of work I already put into it and start from scratch-would that make it any less burdensome? At this moment I'm not sure.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

the f-word

I continue to deal with the fear factor in my life, and realize truthfully how unfounded most of the things I fear are. In fact, so many of those things are in essence blessings and great opportunities. What is left to me is to see them as such. What is needed is a change of mind. I got a call from my older daughter who is studying fashion design in Philadelphia. I applaud her for going after her dream and living independently in a place that for some could be very overwhelming. She doesn't ask for help unless she really has a need, and still is hesitant to do that. I've seen so much maturation and growth over the past two years, as she left home just before Brandon was arrested. That is another factor that makes me marvel at Dee's success and continued drive to work so hard. Well, she is down to the wire at one school, preparing for her three-garment fashion show, and wants to go to NYC to look for fabric swatches. She asked me to accompany her. She also mentioned an art show going on in Delaware to which she was personally invited by a well-known painter who comes into the corset shop where she works.

Now, who gets opportunities like this? Not one, but two in as many weeks? And I'll admit plainly, the thoughts of driving to Philly and galavanting all over Manhattan pushes every fear button I have. Still, I think to myself, I am so proud, so very proud to have a daughter who thinks nothing of things like this, who grabs life with both hands and runs with every opportunity it throws her way. Shoot, she makes them happen. Would I have done the same at 23 years old? I was already married and working in a dental lab. That's fine, but if I don't say yes to things that may never happen again, what am I really saying to my daughter? What am I saying to God, when I've prayed, and prayed....and prayed for her success and that my kids would grow up to be all I wished I could have? Well, here's my answer, so how do I respond?

I got a call yesterday from a good friend requesting that I pray for a family we both know with a son in college in Philly. He's missing. Talk about something to really feel fear over! I did pray for the family, but I know the odds the longer someone is not found. It seems surreal and horrible, but the God I serve is able to either change the circumstances or bring his children into the nightmare world other people suffer to be an agent of compassion and help, and oftentimes the pricetag is suffering the same pain they do to make something so tragic a triumph. I think back to my daughter and what she is asking me-does fear have any place here? I think not.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

white letter day

While we don't hear from him that often, some letters from Brandon are better than others. This was a good one. He seems to be getting more settled, and it's apparent in this letter. I was laughing from start to finish. I'll include one incident that he related. Here's Bran:

This week has been interesting, with at least one event worth noting. One of our associates, Timmy, got into a slugfest with the block porn peddler, Detroit. As my luck would have it, the whole thing went down in the dayroom while my nose was firmly pasted to a book in the cell. Once I've devoted my full attention to a book, you can't pull me from it. There could've been a live performance of the 1812 Overture by a full-sized orchestra complete with artillery while a riot broke out and a tear gas grenade found its way into my cell and I still wouldn't notice. Anyhow, the whole thing started when Timmy inadvertently took Detroit's seat. Timmy was asked to move, but I guess he was feelin' spunky so he told Detroit he'd have to knock him out of the seat to get it back. Detroit says "okay" and tee's off. Timmy proudly stands to take on the smut salesman, but in his shower shoes he slips on the linoleum and ends up on his knees, where he spends the rest of the fight. We were disappointed, considering we don't like this Detroit fellow. He's a known snitch and he sells crappy magazines at over inflated prices. So, as this is going on, the block cop is screwing around in the bathroom until he's finally summoned by control to stop this re-enactment of the final step in a Gordy Howe hat-trick. Cop comes-a-runnin', Timmy gives himself up and ends up in the bucket for 60 days, and scumbag Detroit walks (not to mention he'll max out in a week. Sorry, Timmy, no round two for you).

Well, suffice it to say prison life is never dull! If he's able to joke about these things, I feel Bran has adjusted well. He did mention two other inmates, Nick and "Ducksauce", helping him stay on an exercise regimen, which he needs. I'm grateful.

Friday, March 16, 2007

winter strikes again

We had another huge snow yesterday, conveniently after the first one finally melted down from an ice-laden obstacle course to run-off in the street. Shucks. It's beautiful, no doubt, but March brings to mind Bo Peep and her little lambs of spring prancing in newly green meadows, not furious winds, blowing snow and freezing temps...again. I'm ready for early morning walks without gloves and a hat. I'm ready for bike rides in the long evenings caused by daylight savings time. I want to garden. I want to be outside.

I know it's coming. Seedtime and harvest shall not fail as long as the world turns, so says the scriptures. Ok. That's fine. Could we just hurry the seeds, please? I miss my morning glories, those beautiful blue-faced babes of the flower world trumpeting out the dawn on my fence out back. I find such pleasure peeking out the window at them on summer mornings. Last year I finally got the big sky-blue and cobalt bells to blossom after several years of trying. I want to see the honeysuckle I planted last year double its size this year and blossom as well. I want to sit outside with coffee and a magazine in the warm evening breezes. I want to hear the neighbor hood sounds of children playing, motorcycles roaring around the block, cook-outs. Man, I'm ready!

But I'm inside now, it's late and cold on the floor. Tomorrow we'll be drinking cocoa and shoveling snow. C'mon sun!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

weighed down

I'm writing at one in the morning because I cannot sleep again. I think I am truly having bonafide hot flashes. It hasn't happened during the day, so it's hard to tell. The other thing is, I'm at the place where, if I want to sleep, I have to lose weight or more correctly, I have to eat right. Now there's a motivator! My problem is, I'm not huge. I'm not thin either. The margin for error is relatively small. Two little pieces of pizza and one cookie kept me awake tonight. I don't eat like the circus fat man. Somehow it seems more a torture to know I can't have even a little or a few good things. I like my vegetables, my daughter says I'm the healthiest eater she knows-but still, I can't have anything, not ANYTHING, extra. I'm like a gremlin-no food after midnight. It's no food after dinner, and dinner has to be modest.

Quite honestly, I don't know if I can do this every single day. I don't think I really have a choice, but I'm not sure that I can. Push is coming to shove. I did really well all day until last night. My daughter, kindly (but not) gave me a chocolate chip mint bakery cookie she didn't eat. I should have told her thanks and tossed it, but I didn't. Then my husband came home with a huge box of pizza, and ice cream to top it off. I didn't have the ice cream, but by then it was too late anyway. What can I do? It has to become a habit that I accept without question. I've thought to myself, this is the challenge-it isn't "going on a diet", it's accepting that this is how I live, and in this over-larded society that worships super-sizing, food is what seems to grow on trees. I can't win.

So I'm sitting here thinking, how do I do something I have never, ever been successful at over the long haul? A person can always change, but if I apply what I'm learning in my 12 steps, I can't do this without finding out why I eat when I'm not hungry and I can't do it alone. In the end the decision is mine alone. Past experiences point to the fact that I usually do this to please other people (my mother or men who think I'm attractive at a lower weight). I will never manage it if I do this for someone else and am not motivated for me. I think, too, that as I get older, there will be plenty of physical issues to slow me down. I don't want my weight to be one of them. Maybe I need to build more activity into my day in terms of walking, biking and skating. I do walk and just bought a bike. Time to move should be what I crave, not cookies and pizza. Here we go...into the "results not typical" category!

I yam what I yam

In business, as in life, I am learning that I must train myself to be dispassionate. For a person who is defined by emotions, deep passion and strong reactions to things that come my way, this is a challenge. Somewhere along the line I began to believe that what I feel is who I am. If I feel good, I am good. If I feel holy, I am. If I feel worthy of blessing, I am. If I feel guilty, I'm to blame.

Now what is wrong with this thinking? First of all, what happens in life does not depend on how I feel. It just simply is. My reaction to things is not necessarily based on fact. Many factors come into play here. As a child I learned that taking responsibility for things, even not of my doing or my fault, made people around me calm and happy. Saying "I'm sorry" and acting very sad or guilty for things, even things I didn't do, somehow in the short run fixed it. I learned to become a "hairshirt" on demand. Being self-sacrificing and feeling bad for even drawing breath seemed to be what I picked up from my home environment to the point that I can't even feel normal emotions as an adult.

This is not holy, healthy, productive, even human. I don't know what it is. The Apostle Paul wrote that buffeting the body or withholding things does nothing to help learn righteous living. We need to learn to make decisions based on what the Word of God says, how the Holy Spirit directs and what our relationship is to God, that is, His beloved child and follower. And, for pete's sake, sometimes He simply delights in blessing us. He longs for us to have good things. Life happens for sure. Bad things come our way. But His desire for us never changes. The scriptures say He rests in His love and joys over us with singing. When I think of that I just feel joy well up in my own being, to imagine Him singing over us. The scriptures also say, His compassion is to a THOUSAND generations for those who fear Him. His love is so out of proportion to anything we could ever give Him in return, He can't use our bad feelings or tiny attempts to somehow feel worthy. We never will be. He took care of it at the cross.

My greatest struggle in our new venture is that I don't feel worthy of being blessed, and to consciously and purposefully do something that would enable financial blessing makes me feel guilty. Once again, what is wrong with this picture? If God is directing this, I need to let Him. And whatever we receive, I need to let Him direct the dispersion of...the thing is, I have to realize, He trusts me that much. He trusted human beings enough to take 12 untrained teenagers and shape them into a force that changed the entire human race. That is the truth, not my feelings about His direction. I recently met an artist who does phenomenal work. I kept seeing Darrell's work in our local community college in recent years and absolutely fell in love with it. The last show that was up had pieces in it that were so confident, so completely lovely, I had to have one. I left my name and number with the gallery director, and heard from Darrell weeks later. Turns out he was working on a piece that made the hair stand up on the back of my neck it is so incredible. He e-mailed me a picture of the unfinished piece and I bought it sight unseen. I'm so excited to have this painting I can hardly wait, and it was not cheap, but something I consider a bargain because if he keeps painting like he is now, this man will be so successful there is no way I can pass it up. That is how God looks at us! He is so sure of our worth, loves us so much, nothing was too much for Him to "purchase" us. It feels so good to be excited again!!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

pushing past fear

It's 2 am and fear is eating me alive. I probably also had my first bonafide hot flash and that didn't help much, either. Suddenly I feel very old and very vulnerable. I wake up with the pains I fall asleep with. The salt shaker is sprinkling my hair faster than I can comb or cut the grey away. I don't mind that, but last night after exercising and doing all I felt I should in the day I was just shuffling around in my slippers. It was the first 60 plus day outside, the sun was shining brilliantly, my two cats were in my open studio windows doing the tennis match head swivel at birds outside, and I just wanted to stay inside. My right shoulder hurts from even lifting pencils. I've been going over our real estate stuff and reading the investor website. This venture is going to take body parts a woman does not possess.

At this particular second I'm tired of being forced out of my comfort zone and stretched like this. Again. I'm afraid. I'm a weenie, I'll admit. I know in the end it's right. Everyone tells me how brave it has all been to use our son's experience to help and serve other people. I guess...but it was survival, too. Still, every week I'm facing a jail library full of women in orange that I don't know. It scares me to face the guards, the uncertainty, the thought that I fall flat on my face, have no answers. It scares me to write to a prisoner who keeps challenging me, seeing so much in my life and feeling I'm just a paper tiger. He has such hopes and dreams for a changed life after he gets out. I know it will happen, but my dear friend, it isn't easy. Life will disappoint. Last week our CR leader admitted wanting to step down, feeling tired and burnt out, too prideful to ask for help. I thought to myself, another person I look up to who seems invincible going down in flames. He's not...but I thought that, and once again fear filled my heart at the thought of him leaving, a person who gave me such courage when I started CR. I'm trying to get through the fourth step and feel the tug to abandon all. I don't want to think about this-why doesn't someone else do it?

I was in the grocery store yesterday and saw an old friend. She was busy and pointed in a different direction than me, so I didn't shout or stop her. This is someone I've known since we moved back to my husband's birthplace, 20 plus years ago, and I realized for a second I scarcely recognized her, black hair almost completely white, stooped over a shopping cart in sweats-she looked so tired. Just like I felt. We were prayer partners and we spent hours together praying for this valley, our home. I have to believe a lifetime doesn't pass in vain. Are all these things that stretch me so part of our answers? Will I die before I know? God help me finish this race.

Monday, March 12, 2007

room for one more

My husband and I just got back from a three-day seminar on real estate investing. It was one of those experiences that just blew everything I thought I knew about a subject or a belief system right out of the water. When it is all said and done you're responsible to decide if you believe what you heard, and if you did, what are you going to do about it? Doing nothing is an option, of course. So is acting on the information, even though it will move you right out of your comfort zone, make you fearful and nervous, require energy and time, require you to prove what you learned is indeed true. Your life will change somehow. A door has now appeared-will you walk through it? Will it be Door Number One or Door Number Two? As each day goes by the window of life's opportunities gets a little smaller.

Because our brains are totally fried, we held off Door Number Two for a few days. What we did do was watch the movie, "Collateral", the story of a cabbie (Jamie Foxx) whose all night fare is a hit man (Tom Cruise). What begins to unfold is the realization of the cabbie that the dreams he has will never be acted upon because up to this point nothing in life has motivated him enough to do anything other than be in that cab. He only talks about what he wants but does nothing to change his life. The hit man taunts him that his life will go by and he'll find himself on a Barcalounger in front of the tv, an old man, never having achieved or even tried to achieve his dreams. What the cabbie had to do to stop the hit man made him realize he could. It was a moment, a question, a challenge due to circumstances offering this man the chance to embrace a more risky, more full existence.

There are plenty of us opting one way or another to be told what to do. We're fine being comfortable, we're fine being led. We're fine not listening to voices that tell us there's more. Sometimes they come from places unfamiliar. Do we trust our own instincts or the voice of a stranger more? We can go on blindly, not changing when everything around us does. One very memorable Twilight Zone told the story of a woman who had a premonition of death. She kept dreaming about a nurse saying "Room for one more, honey" at the door of a morgue. It troubled her, but she didn't think much of it until she was boarding a plane and the stewardess said the infamous line to her. She ran from the plane and watched it take off from the ground. It exploded in the sky shortly after take-off. Well, that doesn't typically happen, but you know what-some things that do may as well be as impacting. Are we all going to die? Yes, at some point. Those things that happen to us, inviting us to live more, to circumvent a slow decay, to choose a bright burst into choose-that is the key.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

it's just a duck

I'm coming to understand that many things in life are amoral. This is important for someone who struggles with guilt and fear continually. I was raised in a fear-based religious system, and my personality is one which exacerbates the consequences of such a system. The worst thing I could face is punishment, because it implies I'm less than perfect. Therefore, the more expectations, the more pressure and fear of punishment and thus, failure. This type of fear is paralyzing because the best way not to screw up is not to try, or to make something more than it is in order to avoid it, or attach morality to a situation where there really is none-it is just what it is.

This is all exhausting. I'm trying hard to find the dragon's tail, which reaches far back into the past and swings around to whack me emotionally in the present. I have to analyze what emotions are normal to a situation and which ones are exaggerated, inappropriate or attached to learned behaviors that have nothing to do with the present one. I tend to avoidance, minimizing and hiding, and this is not normal behavior. Once again the connection seems to be the quest for perfection, and the less I put myself in a position to be seen failing, the better off I convince myself that I am. This is wrong.

The thing is, nothing drains the joy out of life faster than fear. So many good things happen when we try, even if supposed failure or an unexpected outcome is the result. Risk is necessary to have good relationships, to reach out to others in need, to learn new things. It isn't evil to fail. It isn't a sin to make a mistake. It isn't wrong to need or want things and try to achieve them, even if it is just for ourselves. I have come to understand the reason for taking up a cross is to accept an invitation to a shared life between me and God. If He's always there, there's always perfection and love present in any situation. I can live with that alot easier than fear.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

and she's off...

Well, the week begins again. My back still hurts a little, but my mind is good. I went back to the dental lab after a month being laid off, and it seems no matter how I space my day or mentally prepare, I'm wiped after a day in the lab. I was yesterday but I'm ok. What has been so difficult about visitation is that I couldn't let it go emotionally, and somehow God worked in that area of my psyche. That is what made the trips seem to never end-I'd just about get over one and then we'd be going again. But what I prayed for and asked others to pray for seems to have come about, so I can get on with my day and my life and not be dragged to the ground each time we go to the SCI to see Brandon. In other words, no matter how my life works out or what my day holds, the situation with my son is not a cloud that continually hangs over it.

And the week started off with a bang to remind me I do need all my strength. I got a phone call about someone needing help and intervention in their life, and I'm reminded of all the connections I have now to people who are holding out their hands and lives for that very thing. Then I got an e-mail from a former art teacher who is asking where I am and where my current work is (he has a fantastic website of his students' work, many of whom are now professionals and respected in the field). It's like everything is saying to me, wake up and move forward, quickly. My older daughter called the day we were gone, so we called her upon returning home. She has some immediate needs, not the least of which is to stay connected to and be supported by her family because she is so busy now and in a very challenging time in her life personally. My younger daughter has all sorts of opportunity for art competition and needs a good work space....the list goes on as real time comes back into the forefront. I cannot afford to live in the past.

At the end of this week my husband and I go to a real estate seminar to get training for a new business venture. I'm really excited to begin something new. Somehow I know the continual truth of a life reborn into God's purposes, as the scripture says, the old things are passed away, and behold, all things become new. I'm experiencing that now, and it's good. I have hope, and that hope has it's foundation in something that is more real than anything my eyes can see. I want my life to say to the world that a life of trusting God is not a life lived in vain.

Monday, March 05, 2007

the visitation

The trip to see Brandon went well. There were things that, had I let them get to me, could have ruined it all, or at least put me in a mood. There was not supposed to be much snow, and the further West we travelled, the more unpredictable it got. There were squalls, patches of snow-covered road, terrible crosswinds nearing the prison because of elevation, all that. I hate the snow when you're on a mission and you have to maintain a healthy respect for mountainous drop-offs behind a guardrail. But we lost no time whatsoever. The situation with the metal detector is getting more strident. There is no wand guy anymore, which means if you set off the detector, you sit outside during a visit. My underwire bra, once again, set it off, so that meant I took it off or I didn't see Bran. I took it off (thankfully I was wearing a black blazer which they had no problem with, so I was mercifully well covered). This means a trip to Penneys to find a lycra body suit with no wire because bras without it can't tame these girls. Oh, I also got my period and my back was killing me, plus the ladies room where I had to change had a clogged toilet.

On to the was wonderful to see Brandon! He looks well, and seems fine. He seems to have adjusted to life in his cell, and really doesn't mind it. He's on supposedly one of the worst blocks, and yet, as they say, a block of lifers is usually the calmest place in a prison because these guys know their fate (he's not there, but with some people who are a little crazy!). He likes these guys and likes his cellie, which is truly a blessing. We heard about men nicknamed "Duck Sauce" (we actually met this man), "Creeping Death" (so old Bran says coffee and a coughing spell in the morning keep him alive, "Timmy" (even though the man's name isn't, they all yell it going to chow) and the guy who screams "nacho!" in count. These are his mates and looking around during our visit, one could only imagine the situations because they all seemed so happy and normal sans the faded brown jumpsuits, while with family members, friends and girlfriends. The place gradually became packed with people, and I heard the guard say after noon count, there were 62 inmates present. The prison holds 2,300.

The time passed all too quickly and we were chucked out after four hours because there were too many people. I was really getting a massive headache from no food (I still can't take the vending machine products), and the coffee machine broken (man!), plus a backache from sitting so godawfully long....four hours in the car going and four hours visitation and then back home...but I realized I'm adjusting. This is what I need to do to help my son. My father used to drive hours DAILY to work to support his family. Emotionally I'm coping, too. Plus Bran is working on a phone list. I think that will go a long way to easing the separation anxiety. All I can do now is look to the future and try to get there the best way possible! Thanks for prayers.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

prayer appeal

I never know who is reading my little jottings, but I suppose an appeal for prayer would be in order. We are going to visit Brandon tomorrow, which for me is the first visit in several months due to my own choice and poor weather. I would love a good trip out and back, and a good time while we're there. I just got back from our county prison, from doing a ladies Christian 12 step program. The needs are tremendous. I feel my own heart for my son going out to these women as well, but I feel so drained after each meeting. There is a need for Celebrate Recovery in every town, I think. The biggest problem most inmates have is not having a support network on the outside. Most have drug or drinking problems, and their crimes are connected to their addictions. My partner and I are greeted with such surprise from some inmates familiar with AA and NA to know there are groups out there that acknowledge Jesus Christ as their higher power. The church need to get back to being an advocate for "the least of these". So, thanks for prayers today and happy thoughts sent this direction!

Friday, March 02, 2007

what goes around...

I try to put all of life into perspective, and oftentimes other people or situations do it for me. I was sitting at the kitchen table last night eating a rather old and frost-bitten Lean Cuisine dinner, and my 16 year old came bursting through the door. Her day hadn't ended on a good note to say the least, and she was on the verbal warpath, talking about her art teacher. He's a personal friend and gives her private art instruction as well, so I understood exactly what she was talking about as she went on and on. He apparently had not had a good day either teaching high schoolers art concepts, and thus, her class being the last one of the day, the difficulties mounted and compounded with interest. While I don't like cutting my kid (or anyone else's) slack for not doing work or knowing what they ought to know, Beck was right on the money about her teacher. He's talking to his students, who are basically pretty uncultural KIDS, on the same level as personal friends and with the same experience. The problem here is knowing how to address the group you're working with, repeating, re-enforcing, reiterating and tying concepts together with what is being done hands-on. It's just like-Beck said it well-being a mom.

So there stood my teenaged daughter, talking passionately about what her teacher should have done, how he could make things easier for his students, how she works with our neighbor's son who is in elementary school, using fun stuff, music and food if necessary (he's not a lightweight by any stretch!) She kept telling me, "You know, taught Sunday school, AWANAS, us kids..." Ah, now that was nice to hear. It seemed to me that I have a budding teacher on my hands! She told me she was so angry after class that she chased some little brats who were throwing snowballs at a little girl down our street, caught one, grabbed him by the shoulders and read him the riot act. Is this MY kid? Wow. I think she could hold her own in any teaching situation.

I had no idea when this postscript was born that she would find her heart where mine is, but even more so. Moments like these sure restore faith to a body.