Thursday, July 31, 2008

Becky's bug-out

Time for some light-hearted blogs...early last Sunday morning I got up and noticed a light on in Becky's room. Now this is unusual for 6 in the morning, and then I heard the tv on. So I went downstairs and there she was on the couch, wide-eyed, watching Ten Things I Hate About You. This also was unusual, so I asked her why she was up. She plunged right in to this story about a huge creature in her bedroom with eyes and claws and things staring out at her from a coffee cup on her mini tv upstairs. I'm thinking, "Mouse?" EEWWWW....I'd be downstairs, too. She said it was a huge bug and she was terrified and took a ziploc bag upstairs to throw over the coffee cup and it fell, and she was afraid it was crawling in her clothes pile and there might be eggs and millions more and she ran out of the house and stepped on a slug in her bare feet. I'm still thinking, "Ok, large bug...well, we do have centipides sometimes...large bug...". And then I remembered-my husband found a dead beetle like four days ago and stuck it on our kitchen table by my book pile to scare me. Since I'm a veteran of bug collecting from middle school and really like them, it didn't phase me. Being I disappointed his hopes, he took the beetle and put it in Beck's room, posed over the lip of a coffee cup so claws and eyes were visible. Well, we both forgot about it because Beck was gone for like three days visiting friends and doing her summer social scene. I was laughing by then, but she still did not entirely see the humor, and then got a spontaneous nose bleed.

So when my husband came downstairs that morning for breakfast there was a present on the table in front of his chair-a tin with a dead beetle in it and a little note that said, "Thanks, Dad, for giving me 6 million heart attacks and a night of no sleep. Love, Becky". And by two drops of blood on the paper she added, "P.S. And a nose bleed from the stress". Another story to add to the annals of Obaza lore that will be exaggerated and added to until it is unrecognizably ridiculous upon numerous retellings. We're just one big happy family. (No one is safe!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the road home

I was called in on a dime to go to First Hospital to do a community awareness presentation on what 12 step groups are available in the area for the patients currently "serving time". I actually went in as the sidekick to another woman, who also admitted her second banana status to someone else doing this thing. So we two scared second string players went in to speak to people just brought in and most highly prescription medicated at the time we went (after lunch). I never have any expectations doing this. The people are always who is admitted at the time, never the same group twice though there are repeats occasionally. I don't go in often enough to really notice this. At least in the prison there is a core of women I see all the time-but that is an actual meeting. This is basically a format to share our family's experience with a alcoholic member, a child, and someone who endured hospitalization on a 302 and subsequent incarceration. Try saying that three times fast. Our journey of recovery in a nutshell. Sometimes people are asleep, sometimes so doped they can't think or talk, sometimes really emotional.

This day everyone seemed fairly alert and very talkative. It was a large group. Almost all of the men were alcoholic. In fact nearly the entire group was-some cross addicted to drugs. But many repeats to the system. It became a sharing session that started out full throttle and ended up with several crying men. I don't often see this, but there were several guys in the same situation, in danger of losing spouses and children, and this put them over the edge. One man slung a noose over a tree branch and called 911 before using it. There was nothing magical about the presenters, believe me. We only go in to share the hope that we've found. My partner was extremely humble and approachable. She lived in rehab most of her junior high and high school life and didn't put down alcohol and drugs until she became pregnant. She was clean until that child was killed in a senseless and tragic accident, but this time she found the group I attend. I'll never forget the day she came. Her pain was so evident, her words few but straight to the point. She chose to walk away from bitterness, blame, the self-torture of a guilty parent whose child is now gone under her watch, and be whole again. Hearing what she shared that night made me understand how much we need other people to grasp flailing hands.

And her sharing and simple acknowledgment of those in this group opened the floodgates. At the end one man spoke up and told us this group of people hadn't simply shared their stories and the whys to each other. In twenty minutes healing began to happen. There were people from every faith persuasion and it didn't matter-all had the same need. To be loved unconditionally and helped back on the road to life. I see this over and over and over again. It isn't hard to say-once I was lost, and now I'm found. And this is my story.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

sweat equity

I'm learning that there are many life and faith applications to my gym/personal trainer experience. I'm growing as a leader and teacher by becoming more skillful at using personal experience to drive home a point. I was able to do that in the jail this morning. It turned out that we only had about 20 minutes to meet together. For whatever reason the guard I handed off the list to did not call the ladies out. So my partner and I waited, and waited....and waited. For 40 minutes. Very thankfully this is the first time this has happened-at least to where we waited this long. I was agitated by the time the group started, and we simply had to make the most of what we had. It's situations like these that test my resolve to stay on point.

We were working on the 4th Step, hashing out the beginning thought process. Many things that happened this week challenged me to wonder why some people enter into recovery and seem to immediately respond to everything that its about, and other struggle so much. Is a person who struggles not serious? Or are they, and somehow don't have the capacity to understand or internalize and use the information? It's a very individual process, and I respect that. My example to them was going into the gym for the first time. I'm not ready for the clover fields yet by any stretch but neither am I dewy fresh! Looking around at all the people huffing and puffing, pushing and pulling various metal weight stacks made me think I'm the weakest human being on the planet. And then compared to my trainer, who is an Adonis stand-in, a professional body builder, merely having stand next to him in front of a mirror was rather deflating. He told me the most important thing was, I made it through the door. Next most important thing is, keep coming through the door. So he would patiently stand next to a piece of equipment I was trying out, dink the pin into the 10 pound block, and watch me sweat, watch my arms shake and my face put on something akin to sucking lemons or eating raw eggs. And once again, I felt like the weakest person in the world. But only someone who has been there and done that could truly say, good form, great job, it'll be better next week. The only way to build those muscles I want is to meet with resistance.

In the very same way, the recovery process is meeting our resistance, coming face to face with weaknesses and habits inside, and dinking in the 10 pound pin. I would never berate myself for not lifting 90 pounds my first week. That's ridiculous. Then why beat ourselves into the ground for relapses or finding it difficult to pull character weeks out with root systems the size of an oak tree in our minds? You might not get it on the second or third tug, but by the 100 you know just where to plant your feet and how to pull. And how to use truth to stop other weeds from taking root. It is in meeting that very resistance that makes us strong. A rose strewn path will not do that for us. Of course everyone wants no trouble in life. But trouble in life grows character, hope, faith, strength-if we rise to meet it. If for a while that just means coming through the door and pushing one metal block. The ladies liked my imitation of the funny face. If it helps them remember to be strong, my humiliation is worth it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

channeling david

I had to bolster my confidence via writer David Sedaris today. He is a master of the single chapter vignette, the magician who turns painfully ordinary lives and events into literary gold. His subject is human frailty on display-not in a cruel way as though he were an uninvolved critic, though cruel is an adjective used to describe the world and its inhabitants, and he is not above pulling back the curtain. Even the worst, most ignorant characters drawn from life somehow come off in a compassionate or at least understandable context, making me exclaim in my mind as I read, "That reminds me of this....our family was just like them...I knew someone like that...oh, yeah, I remember doing the same thing, wore something as utterly stupid, embarrassed myself in an equivalent fashion." He paints himself gray and colors the world around him.

Well, he helped me today when I feel myself going gray in so many ways. I had to make a phone call to our community college to find out how to enroll my daughter...and myself. I did the same in 1993, though under a much more glamorous pretext. I was going to fulfill a dream, to get a degree in the visual arts. And I did, and in ways it was as glamorous as I'd hoped. I'm not sorry. And some people think me every bit the bohemian as the job description suggests, art all over my brilliantly painted walls, an upstairs studio, a resume of shows and awards, life drawing classes, private jobs, everything on my own terms. Well, not exactly. While the creative love of my life will always be a part of that life, I find I crave some structure, medical insurance, a paycheck, a place of employment-a "real" job. Needing food and shelter can truly cramp one's gypsy lifestyle. As can children. Especially in college. I'm sort of tired of trying to prove my worth with every piece of art I produce. I know I don't need to, but really in a way, I do. It's ok. I guess this all really got to me through an acquaintance and colleague in the art world who is an engineer with a steady job, has a beautiful fiance who just became his "mrs." and is his muse and the subject of all his stunning drawings and who has ellipsed me artistically in every possible fashion. I really had to ask myself, "If he can do it, why can't I?" But that isn't the reason I do.

So I'm trying to reach down into the self that has to be content with a learning curve. Shoot, that has to be content, period, with being an aging person not where I'd hoped at this point in life. I went back to the gym for that reason, to establish some order in my unstructured life and revive some sense of empowerment. I can now go into the establishment by myself and look reasonably confident, even among muscle-bound men who leave the weight stacks at 90 pounds and force me to dink the metal pin on ten...and grimace to boot. Or ask them to help me reach a cable that has flown into the stratosphere above the weights. (Nothing worse than dragging a chair over to reach anything-mortifying in a gym in front of picture window size mirrors). Humility is the order of the day. I'm mortal, completely so, thank you David, for reminding me. And that's not a bad thing. I rather like the intimacy of it all, the ridiculous, the still small voices and the vignettes of my unique life. I'm in search of more.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

in the name of Love

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to com to his home for a meal, so Jesus accepted the invitation and sat down to eat. A certain immoral woman heard he was there and brought a beautiful jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who was the host saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, "This proves that Jesus is no prophet. If God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She's a sinner!"

Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. "Simon," he said to the Pharisee, "I have something to say to you."

"All right, Teacher," Simon replied, "go ahead."

Then Jesus told him this story: "A man loaned money to two people-five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty pieces to the other. But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?"

Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt."

"That's right," Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon,"Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn't offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn't give me a kiss of greeting, but she has kissed by feet again and again from the time I first came in. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume. I tell you, her sins-and they are many-have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love." Then Jesus said to the woman, "Your sins are forgiven."

The men at the table said among themselves, "Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?"

And Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

breaker boys

This picture was taken in 1911. It is of a group of "breaker boys", children who worked alongside their parents in the coal mines picking out rocks and debris from the smaller chunks of coal on conveyers. These boys are grade school age, and this was really before child labors laws came into effect. They worked long hours at a hard, dirty and dangerous job. Some lost fingers or arms in the course of working with moving machinery. I didn't even know such a job existed until I moved to an area where coal was king in the 19th and early twentieth centuries. The remnants of the company owned society and towns are still visible everywhere in Northeastern Pennsylvania long after the mines shut down. Billy Joel's song, "Allentown", talks about the end of the coal era in this region. Very thankfully this system is no longer in existence.

But my post is in praise of the working person...all the people I know who just get by in a day, doing the right thing, the only thing they feel is worth doing. We tend to look on a person who makes it huge materially as being a "success story". When I look at these boys, who contributed to their families' income long before they should have had to work, I wonder to myself-who really is important? There are so many people whose lives will never be on a front page, in a magazine or up in lights so to speak, but they are the everyday heroes. I am so privileged to know many of them-I just wrote about Mike. For all the Mikes, Davids, Shelleighs, Nancys, Carols, Tillys, Toms, Andys....and on and on and on in so many areas of life-thank you. Thank you for being decent when you don't have to, thank you for going on unnoticed and being a hero to children, parents, the lonely, the disaffected in society-you don't hear it enough. The "success" we have today was built on the sacrifice of generations past, and you are the foundation for future generations.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

work out, cont. (for Mike)

I went to the gym this morning again. My triceps are screaming at me, and I pass myself in the mirrors and realize I'm a little chubby middle aged lady in sneaks and ill-fitting shorts. But it's ok...I need to be there. I jumped on the treadmill as I do first thing, and I'm doing better and better. I may even be running at some point, which I'd love and figured I could no longer do. I finished a 40 minute, 2 plus mile stint on an incline. And then I waited for the trainer, Mike. And waited, and waited. I decided I'd better leave and try to call him, and so went out to my car and he zooms up.

So back in we go to kill my poor triceps again-well, being they're attached to my arms and my arms are attached to my shoulders, which we worked on...Lord, I'm a weakling, even if I don't weight 90 pounds (far from it). He explains why he's late, and in the course of that explanation and other conversation we've had thus far, I realize he's a single father who lives with his mother...and then in further conversation about how he struggles to sleep at night...a 93 year old grandmother with dementia who can't care for herself. Plus he runs his own car finishing and detailing business and is in the gym, of course. He says the gym is his only real recreation. He doesn't go out, and focuses most of his attention on his multi-generational family. Oh, he's adopted and so says family means everything to him.

To see this man standing in the gym you'd never know. And I ask myself, am I here for more than a work out? I will be drawing a portrait of his 2-year-old son, which means I will come to the house and meet the mom and grandmother and see how Mike lives, day in and day out. Surface appearances are so deceiving. He apologizes for the 20th time for being late as I leave the gym and reminds me to bring more of my business cards that he can take to put in area businesses that he deals with. I think he taught me more about strong shoulders today than any exercise I could learn.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

work out

I decided to join a gym two weeks ago, and I can honestly tell you I feel like a different person! Yes, well, it's amazing what a little exercise can do for a person. I have had to start out with a trainer, Mike, whom I have given quite the workout as well, adjusting every last piece of equipment to deal with my vertically-challenged stature. But he's beautiful, and it's rather nice to go into the gym and be around a perfect specimen of manhood and know he's mine for an hour or so. Chuckle.

Well, I could definitely weave this little piece of my life into a larger tale of how important it is to work out every area of life with a perfect example to show the way. I try, but I get the cramps, I complain, I huff and puff over the temptations and struggles, the little things that seem so big for me. But in both cases I DO wind up feeling like a new person, if I stay on the road and keep my eyes on the guy who has all the right moves. I think blondes must have more fun!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sara, Smile

Well, I am celebrating! I came home today from picking up Becky at the bus station, and I grabbed the mail on the way in. I saw a large envelope that looked like junk mail, but figured I'd better open it up. The enclosed letter started out, "Dear Susan...Congratulations! Your drawing has been selected..." The drawing above has been chosen to appear in Northlight Books Strokes of Genius 2: Light and Shadow. I'm published!! Yippeee!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

say the words

leap of....

This lovely piece of sculpture is called "Faith", a clay and volcanic stone mixed media work by artist Jeffrey Mongrain. I know my automatic response, without ever even looking at the title, was to think "leap of faith". And how appropriate it was to receive the Image Journal that published the photographs of Mr. Mongrain's works just before this past weekend. That always seems to happen. A theme builds before a decision or a time of change. My husband and I have been working for months to start a Celebrate Recovery in our home town. It's a small place with big needs. We felt the need for a spiritual 12 step program were so obvious (the nickname for the high school is heroine high) that any potential church or organization approached to sponsor our CR would jump at the chance. That didn't happen. We tried and had to wait. Nothing wrong with that.

My husband approached a pastor of one church in town, and we sort of already resigned ourselves to a que sera, sera response by that point. So it was no surprise that we heard nothing back and even some negative vibes through the grapevine. But he tried again, and unbeknownst to us, a congregation member was also working on this man. She was an inmate I knew, a member of another group we attend, and I had no idea a member of this man's church. Without her input we may never have gotten a shot. We were so busy working to even get a chance, I guess I didn't think what a yes would potentially mean!

So Sunday we went to this church. It so happened a guest pastor was speaking, a missionary, someone we knew and a former pastor to a church we used to attend. We went to shake hands with he and his wife, and shake hands with our potential group home leader. The message was taken from the text of Hebrews 11. The pastor who spoke is from Canada, so when he said "papyrus" Pap-I-rus, it came out, papperuss. Oh well, he asked the question, "who wants to be a God-pleaser?" All hands on deck! Then he said, "who wants to be a risk-taker?" Half the hands escaped to the port bow. But that's what I needed to hear. I want to take this risk, in this place, among these people in my home town, many friends and former congregants-invite in the addicted, the struggling, the weak...He went on to say, having faith is not being blind. Faith sees more clearly than anything the rocks at the bottom of the water, the depth of the fall, the blinding speed and collision that will surely end in great pain as a potential outcome, and then jumps anyway having calculated all.

We start our Celebrate Recovery in the fall, barring disgruntled deacons.