Serenity

photo credit to Christian Hastings

photo credit to Christian Hastings

First off, this post is completely unedited; sometimes, you just gotta roll with it.

If you’ve been following along up to this point, you know we’ve relocated from the ‘burbs to the city. Not a high-rise block of flats overlooking busy streets choked with blaring horns and a mass of human-ants scurrying below as one might envision the view from a walk-up in Manhattan, but a third floor 110 year old historic building with an incredible view of the Confederate Memorial at Hollywood Cemetery out the front and the droning of an expressway to the right, banked by my school to the left. For a small city like Richmond, this is pretty peaceful a place to hang my hats. But I’ve been restless. Unsettled. At times, I feel as if the walls are closing in, attempting to squash me into some mold I’ll never fit. As I spill my thoughts onto the keyboard though, I’m not in there, even though its beautiful walls safely hold in slumber two of the many people in my life I cherish. I’m on the front porch, coffee and smokes (don’t judge) on the rail, bare feet up on the table, taking in the light breeze as I sit tucked in the cool nook of the brick and stone walls and rails that invite me to pull up a rocker, sit, and do nothing but watch life wander down the brick sidewalk in front of me.

So I do just that. I sit. I watch. I listen. I type.

I breathe.

More so that just about any other place I’ve lived in my adulthood, this neighborhood feeds my soul. There is such a diversity of life: college students just stretching their wings for the first time; young couples, perhaps beginning their forever journey together; sometimes, sharing the agony of a relationship whose time has come to an end too soon; laughter of friends gathered for no reason other than it is the end of a Tuesday; older residents who have spent their entire lives on the Hill here, and who will most likely rest eternally in one of the hills or bottoms that grace Hollywood. Then there are the homeless who live here, some choosing this life, others dumped into it rather tragically. There are stories here, all around, if I’m willing to open my eyes and ears to hear them. For a writer, this is potentially the mother-load of material passing by my windows and self, countless times a day and night. So why am I so restless?

This photo. This photo taken by my love’s son of his roommate, just this morning, as they made an early morning trip along the James just below them. The same James River that winds through boulders and fallen trees, crashes over the Fall Line, and lies still in pools along its shore. The same James that is a mere four blocks or so from where I sit now. The same James where Christopher Newport planted his cross on a small island below in 1604 in route to Jamestown to drop his weary passengers. The trees, light streaming through their summer greenery as the sun begins its daily march across the heavens. The birds, tiny sparrows sit on the rail not two feet away, heads twisting to see if I’ve brought them an easy catch for breakfast, or fighting for branch space in the overgrown boxwood blocking my view of the street.

It’s not enough to throw open my windows, sit on the sill with my laptop balanced precariously on my knees, although that has been a sanity saver. I need that ability to flow in and out of my spaces, surely as I need oxygen to breathe. When I’m flustered, or thinking, or bored, I need to step outside if only for a moment, to dig in the dirt, pick up sandpaper and a hunk of wood, or just sit on the steps with my eyes closed and feel sunlight. I can pray anywhere. But it is in the outside spaces that I can truly feel connected with my Father and at peace. The stresses of life dissipate, if only for a few moments, and allow me to recharge my own batteries. Don’t take me for an ungrateful brat, whining about what I don’t have. I don’t need acres of land and a huge home to avoid feeling compressed and squished. A studio apartment would be space enough if it had an outside deck or balcony. A place where I can watch my dog snuggle its bulky self against my leg and snore without feeling persecuted for daring to have a four-legged hairy companion is required. Noisy neighbors are even tolerable if I have “my space” (see prior posts about the home in Bon Air). But it’s that instant, brief moment of stepping outside the man-made into the God-created that gives me my peace.

Anyone have serenity to rent on the Hill in February?

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Halloween or Thanksgiving?

So yesterday was a typical, fall day in the Old Dominion…bit gray, drizzly off and on… No wait, that would be an average day in the countryside of England. But the air was crisp, bit damp, overcast: my kind of relaxing-with-no-agenda weather. “Bruce” and I were just taking it slow; farmers’ market, coffee and breakfast, visit with the sis and her family, more coffee, wandering aimlessly around a really cool (not so little as it turns out), shop in Chester that showcases various artisans’ wares and second-hand goods. Check out The Lazy Daisy if you’re ever in town. Bring your coffee and take time to peer into every nook and side room; there’s no telling what you will find: from the hair bows in school colors for the cheerleaders in your life to a chicken crate repurposed into a coffee table. It’s all there. For us arsty/crafty folks, places like this are heaven sent! The Tattooed Boy Wonder was home from college, and having fun just hanging with his brother, so of course, Buffalo Chicken pizza was on the menu for dinner, preceded by very manly sandwiches….BLT with cheese. Bacon makes everything better, but I digress.

 

It was on the way to the old ‘hood to pick up this heart-attack inducing pizza that I decided to detour past the old house. Bruce had never seen it, so in the interest of sharing my past, I swung by. Big mistake.

 

I had no idea just how many bad memories were attached to that place, until I drove past it. It was so swift, and so unexpected, that it took every ounce of self-control to not floor it Dukes of Hazard style and get out of that cul-de-sac. Don’t get me wrong; we had some laughs there too. But the majority of experiences there were just depressing. Dark. Stressful. Scary. Like a perpetual monster under your bed in the night. Not just the life events, but the house itself. It wasn’t until after we had closed on the house that we learned a teen had died while living there (not in the house, but in a car accident). Even the high school my boys attended seemed cursed with a high accidental death rate among the student body. The frights of October 31st had nothing on the “cloud of doom” that seemed to hang over that place.

 

I flashed back and remembered that while living there, I experienced the darkest days of my life. My marriage disintegrated, and I sunk into a depression that I didn’t think I’d ever dig my way out of again. Granted, I started to pull myself together there too, but the damage was already done. The house just had “bad juju” as a friend likes to say. In those brief moments as I rolled past the yard and the house that now just seemed quite ugly and cloned (planned community you know…you’re not permitted to show any individuality unless approved by a committee in advance), I lost sight of where I was now, only seeing the darkness that hung over that place.

 

The whole drive back home, my mind flipped through the Rolodex of events as if trying to tally every negative moment that occurred there. I finally crawled in the shower, as if I could wash those painful memories off like dust and mud. As I stood under the steaming water, near to tears, I just sent up a simple prayer of thanks for a reminder of where I was now. I didn’t need to forget those memories, but I needed to lose my grip on their place in my past. I believe I was led past that house again in order to fully appreciate what I do have, just how great are the gifts that I have now. I still struggle with deciding about the path my journey will take, but I am truly blessed to know that I am loved; that by turning my life over to God’s will instead of mine, I can find my way through any challenge. It may be a bumpy path at times to traverse, but I will make progress. My vision for my life’s work is becoming a bit more clear day by day, as I embrace that I am meant to serve and love others through my vocation, my service to my new home church and community, and my relationships with those around me. It has also become critical to me that I grow my writing as well as my side business as these celebrate who I am as an artist: a description of me I have taken a curiously long time to fully embrace. I also know that just as I have rediscovered this side of me that lay buried for too long, I am meant to encourage that gift and passion in others who either lost touch with that part of themselves or who are only just coming to understand that it burns within them as well.

 

This morning as I reread a letter I wrote to “Bruce” recently, I was again reminded of all for which I have to be thankful. My life going forward with him is a story of gratitude and faith, just as gratitude and faith brought him to me. We never know how long we will have someone in our lives, so give thanks for every moment you do have. When the first words you hear in the morning are “Have I told you yet today how much I love you?”, there can be no other choice but to smile and give thanks for all that you have, letting go of what you don’t have or wish you had…because there is nothing else to compare to the gift of love.

Rain and Rebirth: Originally drafted June 5, 2014 at 6:51am

Again, found another post I had not published.  This one also dates back to the first week of June, what was so obviously a turning point week in my life.  Strong and deep, without bashing you over the head with what’s on my mind.  If you know me, or have been following along to this point, draw your own conclusions.  Heck, interpret this how you will anyway!
June 5, 2014
Sometimes standing in the rain is required. Or at least, standing under shelter in the rain. Conducive to writing with a depth of emotion I haven’t felt in years. Enjoy ( or skip… Your call)Thunder is rolling in. Best sleeping weather in the world. Yet here I stand on the deck. Fresh smells, cool water in drips on your skin. Refreshing and cleansing for body and soul. Even the night-time creatures are quiet as if they sense a washing away and purging of the day’s heat.Pause again, face upturned, and just breathe. I am alone out here, but not lonely. I am blanketed by darkness, but not in the dark. I feel small, but not helpless. The rumbles grow louder and bright streaks flicker slowly at first, then more urgently, glimpsed through full shadows of leaves.
Normally the storms bring pain to my body. Tonight, I don’t feel it though I know it’s there. I pause. Rain begins to flow over my shoulders and down my back and chest in thin rivers, washing away the day’s troubles and doubts. I feel reborn with each chilling trickle.

I know for certain there is a Power greater than myself leading me if I am wise enough to follow. It is known by many names, but for me tonight, this Power has no name, only a sense of strength and comfort.

The thunder rolls in, more insistent that I listen, yet more gentle in its chiding. “Change is coming,” it whispers, then startling me, it booms an aftershock that startles me back from my mediation.
“This change will be a challenge! Are you afraid to face this? Can you stand there, as strong as you think you are, and take what comes next? Or will you retreat, cowering for someone to rescue you?” The thunder shouts at me to listen.

I draw a deep breath. Wait. Observe my heart pound. Exhale. Rain pours around and on me now. What is my answer?

My response comes slowly, with conviction:

If the rain continues to fall as if to drown me out, I am ready to fight it.

If the rain softens to a caress again, I will accept it with love.

I bid the night and its energy Namaste, then walk to the door, confident I am where I need to be, even if I am unsure where I am.

 

Pain, Fog, and Stillness

Used with permission from flickr.com/photos/2kun.  Photographs on this site are copyrighted and are available for purchase.  Do contact the original owner for details.

Used with permission from flickr.com/photos/2kun. Photographs on this site are copyrighted and are available for purchase. Do contact the original owner for details.

What a dark sounding title for a post, eh? I promise it’s not all gloom and doom, but it comes from joy birthed through pain. At first glance, the photo above struck me as painful…despairing…alone. But the more I stared at it, the more I could see it as a metaphor for life, specifically, my recent life.

 

Let’s start with the bleeding obvious, the barbed wire: sharp, restrictive, and exclusionary. It says “You are not allowed in here, or out of here. Any attempts to gain entrance or escape will be met with sure pain…and lots of cursing and blood.”

 

Now, turn your attention to the fog. Fog clouds, shrouds, and obscures our field of vision. Think about driving down the road when you encounter a smoky blanket of cloud, kissing the pavement and making you nervous about what lies ahead. Where is the road? What if the guy in front of me doesn’t have on his/her lights? I might smack into him! I can’t see! Never mind you’ve traveled that road a gazillion times before and know every pothole and bump. You doubt your own history, prior knowledge, and assume the worst. You know the road is there somewhere, but you’re just not certain where anymore.

 

Finally, the water: gray, still, perhaps stagnant. It’s deserted; there is no sign of activity, devoid of all visible life.

 

If I were to describe my life for about a three-year period, I would use these descriptors as the colors to paint what seemed a grim picture. I felt trapped and the only way out would be painful. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything out there that wasn’t as bleak as what I felt at the time. Just nothing. In my mind, there was absolutely nothing out there to find that didn’t have the potential to be more painful than what I already knew. So for the longest time, I stayed with the pain I knew, rather than risk a pain that was new and unknown.

 

But slowly, I came to understand that reality is what you make it at times. Through an enormous amount of hard work and a dose of prayer, I began to rewrite my reality. I could now look at the picture above in a different light. The barbed wire came to represent the challenges to my life that I could get through; all I had to do was find the right tool to cut it. That tool exists; it’s not mythical. It’s Faith. My faith allows me to break through any obstacle to reach what I need to live.

 

In the concrete sense, I need water…the still quiet of the water. I find that I am calmed by water. A mountain stream, the gently lapping tides in the morning on the beaches at the Outer Banks, but especially the Chesapeake Bay…these all ground me and have the ability to instantly make me appreciate that there is a Creator who made these marvels for me to experience and protect. In the abstract, water is to me a metaphor for love. Love, like the waters of the Earth, can be calm and still, or turbulent and stormy; it’s never the same from moment to moment, sometimes it is present in abundance. Other times it seems scarce or fouled. I look through the pain of my past, break through with the aid of my faith, to find love, still, quiet, and ready for me to wade in as deep as I am willing to go. I will float along in it, and allow it to carry me where it will, unconfined.

 

Which brings me to the fog. No longer does fog represent fear and darkness, but rather a soft unknowing. I think of this as trying to understand or explain God’s purpose for me. I think I have an idea of what lies ahead, but in fact, I don’t know for certain. I can decide what I think lies ahead, but when I open my eyes and my heart, I may find something very different…that God’s purpose for me may be unknown or unclear at the moment, but the uncertainty isn’t permanent. In time, when the conditions are right, the fog will lift and all will be made clear.

At church this weekend, the pastor spoke of unanswered prayers, or more correctly, that God answers all prayers, just that sometimes, the answer is “No”. And like children, sometimes we don’t like to be told “no”, but it’s for our own good. I really struggled with this for the longest time in my past, and I even used this as a rationale to turn from my faith for many, many years. If I prayed, and the prayer was answered the way I wanted, then I could “see” that there was God. But if the prayer went, in my mind, unanswered, then this must be proof that there was no God, as a merciful God would surely grant me what I wanted. But it doesn’t work like that, no more than a child asking for cake for breakfast is going to get told he can have it (well, ok, once in a blue moon we get something extraordinary like that, but you get my point). We are children who need to be told “no” once in a while, for our own good.

 

So when I look again at this picture, and I think of my prayers for the pain to be lifted, for the path to be cleared to love again, and I reflect on who is in my life right now, I can’t help but believe that this is a special time in my life of prayers being answered and people being placed in my life in response to those prayers. The question that now remains to be answered…that will be answered in time, is this: has God placed this person in my life, so seemingly out of the blue, for the remainder of my life, or only as a lesson that His plan is for me to have this love for a moment? I don’t know, but I do know this; I will do everything I know to be a good steward of the love He has laid at my feet and not take a single drop for granted.

Love Is….

1Corinthians13

The bookmark still stands in its place at these verses I poured everything I had into sharing that day.  It will never leave these pages. 

I saw a few quotes about love this morning pop up in my Facebook feed, and I noticed that while many of them hit home about finding love again, or allowing oneself to love, or even what love isn’t, none of them were as simple and elegant as my favorite passage about love in the entire world, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.  However, it was in responding to a post of dear friend from high school, that something clicked for me.

“What is seen was not made up of what is visible!”

I guessed “faith”.  Then this morning, I came back and added hope and love.  He let me know this was from Hebrews 11:3b just now while I was writing this. (Thanks friend!!)

While I may not consider myself a Christian in the most typical sense of the term, I have, ever since I was a little girl, been in love with 1Corinthians 13.  My grandmother gave me one of those Precious Moments copies of it when I was little, and I have not been able to find it since Mom’s passing.  I hope to find it again somewhere among all my boxes and boxes of treasured memories. …it is truly one of most precious possessions.

When my mother passed away on December 19, 2000, I knew in an instant what I would read at her service.  Family members asked me repeatedly if I thought this was wise…not because it is controversial, but because of its power.  Not one of them believed they could make it through it, and even our friend (Mormon Bishop but close family friend to us all) offered to read it for me.

But I was firm. I stood that day in front of all our family and friends, and in a strong voice that might have cracked only a couple of times, read these words that so completely summed up my Mother’s heart, her soul, and her relationship with all around her. I read this straight from my copy of the Living Bible, Family Edition given to my by my grandparents a few days before my wedding in December of 1984.  I stood and read the entire Chapter 13:1-13.  I have given presentations in front of hundreds at conventions of my peers, but never has a reading been more difficult, yet so easy in my entire life. Mom had loved me well. Originally, I had only planned to share verses 1-3 on the blog, but as I typed, I knew I had to go back and include it all.  The internet inspirational posters can’t come close to capturing the power and beauty of these words when lifting only portions of 4-8.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them, and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise.  If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do?  Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love.  If I gave everything I have to poor people, and I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy.  It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong. It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices when truth wins out. If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Al the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever. Someday prophecy, and speaking in unknown languages, and special knowledge–these gifts will disappear. Now we know so little, even with our special gifts, and the preaching of those most gifted is still so poor.  But when we have been made perfect and complete, then the need for these inadequate special gifts will come to an end, and they will disappear.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12

It’s like this: when I was a child I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child does. But when I became a man my thoughts grew far beyond those of my childhood., and now I have put away the childish things.  In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face. Now that all I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God see into my heart right now.

1 Corinthians 13:13

There are three things that remain–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.