A Great and Terrible Adventure

On the way home from school, my son expresses his struggle dealing with our present reality.  I give a 2-minute inspirational talk which to him must have sounded like so much blah, blah, blahdy blah blah.  The same kind of things dogs and cats hear as we pour out our souls to them.  They are such great listeners.  Given that pets understand words like food, sit, roll-over, fetch, walk, those deep talks we sometimes have with them wash over them like a breeze.  They are great listeners because of their dependence on us not because they understand the words but because they understand our hearts.

I hope my son understood mine.  I gave it my best shot at motivational eloquence.

“How was your day?” I ask my son as we walk to the car.

“Ah,  it was boring,” he says with a voice loaded with dramatic sadness.

“What’s bothering you?”  I say, because I know there is more on his mind.

“Ah, what’s happening at home. . . (pause.) . .with the house.  I’m tired of being poor.” he says with a voice that almost drips tears.

Mentally, I start spraying the sadness repellant and reply.

“I know it’s tough but it doesn’t have to ruin our lives,” I say.

I can tell by his posture he isn’t convinced.  We navigate the parking lot and make our way home.  I feel that I must try again to pull him out of his funk.

“It’s not going to be fun to seriously downsize.  I can’t tell you exactly what will happen and when.  We can chose to be broken by this and become bitter and angry at the world or we can try to see this as an opportunity.  I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s going to be easy.  We need to start thinking of this as a new beginning.  We need to let this carve out compassion in our hearts so that we can really know and feel for others.  We can let this destroy us or we can become stronger and we can use our experience for something good and much bigger than ourselves.  Think of this as a great and terrible adventure. “

I look over at him.  Even his hair is sad.  He wipes a few tears from his eyes.  I need to let him have his sadness.   There are things I can’t fix.  I have to let it be.

My words are so much blah, blah, blah.  For a brief moment, I feel the power in them.  Life is a great and terrible adventure and so are many moments and chapters.  I have to let them be.

Hardship Letter

I held my daughter as she cried.  My husband and I have been discussing short sale with a real estate agent while she’s been listening in the next room.  She doesn’t want to lose the only house she’s known but neither of us can spare her the grief.  It is the only option left.  It will  provide closure.  It is the dignified way.  Going down with the ship is important when all you have left is personal dignity.

I have the task of writing a hardship letter to the bank, the great unfeeling, unethical, dishonest bank.  In the letter, I must describe what our lives were like before we stop paying our mortgage and explain what our lives are like now.  In the actual letter, I must use figures, dates.  This letter will be emotionally draining to write but it must be done.  I’ve done this multiple times in the last few years.

This last few weeks, my prefrontal cortex has been so busy trying to control my frustration, my grief, my anger that it’s starting to fail.  My emotional reserves are being maxed yet life and circumstances pile on more demands.  I struggle.  I fight back tears.  I rage.  I know why.

I am sharing what I’m about to write publicly, because I’m tired of feeling ashamed.  Both my husband and I have been blamed for our situation by people, many of them relatives,  who chose to find fault with us and our choices.  They choose to be angry with us.  They distance themselves from our lives as if what we have is contagious.  They don’t call to see how we’re doing.  They don’t offer emotional support.  We are the enemy.  In their minds it’s evidence of our character flaws.  In good times, they were near.  Why not now?

We never expected that after 18 years, my husband would be fired from his job, accused of falsifying time cards for a sum of approximately $100 dollars over a 2-year period.  We didn’t expect his union to tell him that the company’s got a “hatchet man” eliminating positions.  What idiot steals money so slowly?

“There isn’t anything we can do,” the Union Rep said.

What has happened to us can happen to most people.  The fast majority of people struggling with poverty are there not because of poor financial decisions but through job loss or a medical crisis that creates an insurmountable financial burden.  You can check my facts.  I have.  I’ve read about poverty in America.  It’s a topic that seems to make a lot of people uncomfortable.  Maybe they realize how easily it can happen to them and just don’t want to entertain the thought.

Once upon a time, we were comfortable.  Never well-off, we made do.  We had nice vacations.  We travelled.  We planned going to Europe together.  We could retire and be comfortable.  I was a stay -at-home mom, a good one.  I kept busy.  I was creative.  I networked with other moms.  I enjoyed being domestic.  Suddenly, I had to go back to work.  Those years spent out of the work force were a liability.  My age worked against me in a tight job market.  My skills were questionable.  I was a college-educated English Major who had worked in my field, several times, something not many English majors could say.   Now, I was lucky to get an interview for entry-level positions.  I couldn’t get a call back for jobs cleaning toilets and I had experience. . . work experience besides years at home.

After almost two years in a cubicle with a 90-mile commute each day, I found work closer to home, with the school district because things were starting to unravel at home.  I’d make the same choice today.  I’m still criticized from a distance by people who have never walked in my shoes, who don’t know my heart, who have learned to practice a profound indifference.  The status symbols of the American Dream and the desire to associate themselves with the images of success cut us out of their lives.

My husband has sent our more resumes, followed more leads, visited more companies, than any one should ever have to in the quest for a job so that he has a chance to provide for his family.    Some would have me give up on him now.  As much as I’d love to run from all this and from the problems that lack of work, isolation,criticism and indifference have created in his soul, that would not be the honorable or the right thing to do.  He’s made a valiant effort and if his spirit fails him, it is not without cause.

We’ve gone through harassing collection calls, bankruptcy, state assistance applications and reauthorizations that require oodles of daunting paperwork and proof of how poor we are.  I still hope that no one I know will see my using my Food Stamp card at the grocery store.    It’s how we eat.  We paid into the system those years were were working.  We understand how important such programs are and I have seen grown men cry in DSHS knowing that they can feed their children.  I’ve also seen those who abuse the system.   Life, assistance is more complicated than most people realize.  I never expected to sit in a room for hours waiting for my number to be called while I struggled with a deep sense of shame.

The feeling of failure is toxic.  I know first hand.  I’ve seen what it does to people.  I know how it stirs chaos in my mind and soul as I struggle to remember that I am a hard-working, decent human being who has fallen on hard times and I am doing what I can to get by.

As I prepare to write my hardship letter, I know that shame is counter productive.  As much as I want to believe that “something good will come of this” and “God has not abandoned us” there are many moments when I don’t feel this way.  I’m tired.  Everything feels like a struggle.  There isn’t enough of me to go around and there are never enough hours in day.  I look at my life, my job, my house and feel that I don’t belong in any of them.

We do not have a housing alternative.  I do not make enough to qualify for average rents in the area not to mention the lousy credit that would prevent our acceptance as tenants.  We’re a bad risk, a terrible risk.  As for agencies and churches,  the demands on them are overwhelming.  Phone calls end in dead ends.

Some times I feel sorry for myself.

Some times I feel angry.

Some times I feel sad.

I start to cry as my own daughter struggles with letting go.

I write this to educate, to inform, to put a human face on a problem, knowing that people have a commitment to their own views that is not easily shaken.  If one person sees the human underneath this, if one person is raised up just a little in knowing that bad things happen to good people not because they deserve them but because they just do.  Good can come of this.  I’m staking my life on it.

Don’t give up when things are difficult.  Know your value, your incredible worth even when others fail to see it.  You matter.  The world may feel hostile.  It is neither hostile or kind.  We shape our corner of it.  We can use what we have, who we are, to fight against the poverty of compassion.  We can be the light in the darkness.

Write Me Beautiful

My soul has been weary.  I dream about being someone else, having a new identity,  going into witness protection.  What I’ve been witnessing isn’t pretty.  I need protection.

Decisions should never be made when life is too heavy.  Such decisions arise out of panic, not reason.  A knee jerk reaction to life can end up kicking one’s own behind.  Staying calm in a world full of crazy is more than a challenge.   Last night, in my sleep, both knees and legs start dancing like fleas in a hot skillet.  Poor husband, who is awake staring at the cracks in the ceiling and pondering their significance, witnesses his wife appear to run while laying down.  Sleeping with me is never boring.

The timing of this activity is everything.

Just the other day, I was demonstrating to my husband what HIS jimmy leg is like.  When he is overly tired, he has a leg that jerks in a pattern that eludes my capture.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often.  If I’m not asleep when it starts, I have to move to the couch to get some shut eye.  Now in addition to hitting him in the head, sitting up and giving commands, raising my hand and talking about absolutely anything in my sleep, I can add running…sleep running.  I’m way ahead in this insane contest of who can be the most active bed partner.

My husband has my deep and sincere sympathy.  I’d have a hard time sleeping with me.

Notice how I went from soul weary to challenges with self-acceptance.  I’ve been miserable struggling with both and seeing little if any progress, until today.

Today, I had met 3 strangers who gave me messages of hope and one hug.   In those brief meetings, all excess fell away, all the struggle began to have a meaning, even if I can’t see it yet.  While I’ve felt like I’ve been sleep walking through a nightmare, I have been busy.  I have been making a positive difference in ways that I failed to understand.  And the world, that I often find so inadequate has been busy showing me the things that I need to see, even when I didn’t want to see them.

For days, I refrain from writing because, the words aren’t beautiful or inspiring.  They are heavy and full of whining.  I want to write more.  I want to give some thing beautiful, some thing precious and hopeful in my words and when I can’t I feel frustrated and empty inside.    At the same time, it is important to me to be REAL.  No sugar coated platitudes, or simple-minded denial for this gal.

As my evening begins I find these words on Pinterest:

“So build yourself as beautiful as you want your world to be. Wrap yourself in light and give yourself away with your heart, your brush, your march, your art, your poetry, your play. And for every day your paint the war, take a week and paint the beauty, the color, the shape of the landscape you’re marching towards.  Everyone knows what you’re against.  Show them what you are for.”   — Andrea Gibson, Evolution

God’s timing is perfect.  I’m going to write my world beautiful!    It’s time to remind myself what I’m for.

The Mud and the Stars

The Mud and the Stars

Once a year, at Christmas time, I hear from a dear friend. This year, when I first got her letter, I waited to open it. I knew it would be full of good news and I didn’t want to envy her. I wanted to be happy for her with a heart that was full of pure intention

This morning, I read and responded to her with a happy and open heart. I’m convinced that it required a grace that I don’t posses on my own.

I found myself taking a clearer look at the circumstances of my life as I wrote the letter. I am sharing some parts of the letter here because I feel it is important.

This isn’t about me, although it seem it is.   I know how hard it is to find the good in others or in bad situations and I’m sharing why and how I struggle with this to encourage others.   If I can manage this, I’m pretty sure most people can. I’m not all that strong, or kind.

So often I hear people complain about money and all that they don’t have. All of them have a lot more security than we do. Poor people don’t usually complain a lot. They are too busy getting through the day.   Many people have sat in judgment of me, or us. Andy and I are often blamed for our own bad situation.   While I know that our choices or lack of effort is our responsibility and that it can have a negative impact and that it has a negative impact, we are human and we are struggling with challenges that threaten to crush us and to especially crush our spirits. Given this, I think it very important to appeal to hope, to faith and to our capacity to love. Life isn’t a dry run. It is the run. It’s the test. All this practice is part of the test.   Find joy where it is given. It can be hidden. Find it.

I had to find my joy before I could respond. At first, I felt small and jealous. I was missing the point. In time, I grew beyond my small edges. This is what I share today. It’s raw and honest and I am grossly uncomfortable sharing it. Here goes:

 

Dear ……….,

You’re letters help make the season bright! So happy to hear how well life is going and that you await the joy of more grandchildren.

We soldier on. Most days it feels more like battle than a joy but I’m beginning to believe that God gave me what I could handle and that there are lessons here that I need to learn.

Foreclosure is a long and painful process. As of yet, I have not solved the problem of future shelter. Hoping to be able to get through the winter and the worst of the weather before contemplating a tent in a nearby wood.  

Dear God, please send me some options. I’m taking a beating down here and am starting to lose it. Yesterday, I had several moments when I acted from my broken pieces, I didn’t rise above the fray but contributed to it. I’m sorry. I want to be so much better than I am.

I frequently label the fray, the mongrel hoard. Usually, this is done in the caverns in my head.   It’s those petty moments of retaliatory thinking that make me shed a light on the depth of my resentment. Wow, is that an ugly thing!

How I prefer cooperation over conflict, kindness over cruelty, generosity over selfishness.   How I long for unicorns, pink castles, lottery winnings, pigs that fly, an end to all war and the whole world singing as one. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.”

Real is often dirty, rude, messy, some times heartless and cruel. I can be all of those things.

I sit in the mud puddle of life and I look up at the sky and the stars. Their beauty makes me cry. It also helps me get out of bed in the morning. It boosts my spirits and drives me to paint a smile on my face and create fun morning songs for my children. 

Yet, there are days or moments when I forget about the sky and the stars. All I see is the mud and the other people sitting beside me and I hate all of us. I question the whole Christian premise that “Christ died for our sins.” Really? Honestly? What was God thinking? We’re not worth it. We’re a disaster 

It’s a really good thing I’m not in charge. It’s time to leave philosophical/theological questions to greater and better-paid minds. My energy needs be applied elsewhere.

In this darkness, my children are another very bright spot in my life. ….

And my dear husband, Andy…this last year we’ve watched as numerous couples in our circles have split. It frightens both of us. We know how stressful troubles can be, how easy it is to blame the other, to not work together, to grow apart.   We don’t always like each other. Our communication is less than perfect. Single life can beckon like a beautiful yet deadly siren. Together, we are better than when we are alone. I said, “for better and for worse, for richer for poorer, for sickness and in health.” I have a commitment to honor.   He is also one of my best friends. That is another blessing.

While I can’t judge the relationships that split, I still feel shaken and sad. They may have the best reasons for parting.   It isn’t the path I want to travel. Life in the mud puddle is hard enough without losing my partner and a dear friend. This can be easy to forget.

From my mud puddle, I see the sky and the stars. My life is a mess. That sky and those stars remind me that it is also beautiful and that there are blessings right beside me in the muck and mire. The beauty overhead gives me hope and something to reach for. This is a good life. There is much be to learned and much to do.

At the end, I can say, “I did what I could. I didn’t give up without a fight. I fought to find the good in others and in myself and in situations that looked like hell.”

God must love this broken person very much to give her so much. I am blessed.

It just doesn’t look like much from the outside. 

I love you. Your letter forced me to sit down and write out my heart and soul and I’m so grateful for what you inspired in me. You are a treasure. Your letters are a treasure. Enjoy those wonderful children and grandchildren. I am so happy to hear from you and to know that you are doing so well  

Take care!

Have the Merriest Christmas and a New Year full of miracles!

 

 

 

Fear

The urge to put words to paper often overcomes me.  Then, I remember how uncomfortable I became, how opening oneself up and putting it out there for the world to see put me at risk and contributed to what was to follow.

Not everyone liked what I wrote.  Writing and sharing made my world less friendly, more hostile.  Yet, I opened myself up to it knowing what was likely and was still surprised when the inevitable happened.  Maybe, I was looking for a reason to stop.  I had begun to feel as if I had nothing to say, nothing of value to suggest.  If I made others responsible for not writing, I didn’t have to face what I felt about what I was producing.  Writing had become a way of making myself feel better at a time in my life when so many things were falling apart.

At this extremely challenging time in my life, I have learned a great deal about human nature.  People who I expected to be loving and supportive are not.  I had to process the hurt, the grief and find hope.

I, who can easily sit in judgment of others found myself at the end of others poor opinion.  I was blamed for my own problems, given loads of advice and experienced rejection and anger when I wouldn’t do what others thought I should.  Since, I’m not exactly new to this earth, you would think I’d have been better prepared.

I am the first to admit that yes, humans, me included, often create problems for ourselves and then invest lots of energy into maintaining them.  Problems become a mantel we don’t break through.  We allow problems to define us.  They give us reasons to stop striving, to stop reaching beyond ourselves, to stop growing.

For a long time, I’ve been stuck in trying to figure out why others outside the problem have such an emotional investment in it.  As interesting as the answer may be, it really isn’t important.  Their reactions are their responsibility.  I have enough on my plate.  I allowed my problems to become excuses.  Problems can be reasons but when they become excuses something is wrong.

My limited readership is most engrossed in what I write when I write honestly about the nuts and bolts of my life.  While I prefer distant, philosophical fluff, it isn’t nearly as interesting.  I’m afraid to write about the real and maybe that is the only reason that I should.

My writing is imperfect.  I am often embarrassed by it but I can write moderately well and I feel drawn to do so.  I know what it’s like to be me.  I spend a lot of time thinking.  I spend a lot of time finding ways to cope.   This is something I know a lot about.  This is what I will try to share in the days and weeks ahead.  The world is often a cold and hostile place.  Some times that hostility and indifference comes from those close to you.  As painful as this can be, it provides an opportunity for growth, a chance to rise above.  It can open a pathway to being a more loving presence in a world desperately in need of redemption and love.

Violence begets violence.

Hate fuels hate.

Negative talk creates negative thoughts and feelings.

Love is the only force that can heal.

Love can be tough.  It may not look like love.  Love may create boundaries and say “no.”  People may accuse you of being unloving, of not doing the right thing.  They may tell you that you’re wrong or selfish.   They can be wrong.  Dead wrong.

It’s time to face my fear and begin again.

(Now, to tackle my fear of falling through the sub roofing and get up there with Andy to see if we can get some tarp to cover the roof where the rain is pouring in.  Welcome to my world.  There is rarely a dull moment.)

 

The Poverty of Compassion

Some times, the things that divide us are of our own imagining.

People’s capacity for denial always surprises me.  My own capacity for denial can leave me speechless.  On a recent trip to the Good will Outlet, I experienced a new kind of poverty, a poverty of compassion.

For those who don’t know: the Outlet is where all the Goodwill inventory rejects go to die.  Everything is dumped in large blue bins and things are typically sold by the pound.  The bins often emit odors including the occasional whiff of human waste.  This place is not for the faint of heart but it is the land of the best deal.  I glean those things that can be saved and either resell them or use them to clothe my family.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I frequent this place and even more embarrassed by what I’m about to tell you.

As I’m digging through the bins, I find myself glaring at a fellow digger who just entered my personal space.  A bigoted thought flashes through my mind based on ethnicity.  Some how I think I’m better than this person.  Suddenly, I realize how unfair, how unjust and just how crazy that is.  We’re both bottom feeders, risking putting our hands in poop  in order to survive.  I’m no better or no worse.

I feel a profound sense of shame at my arrogance.  I, who have been judged and found lacking time and time again, has the audacity to judge another in exactly the same way.

Later, in the week, I share my revelation with another who quickly assures me, “Carol, you are better.”

I know what she is trying to say.  I have a college education, I’ve got a few advantages but I am not better in any way, shape, or form.  She is as guilty as I was and often am of judging some one by a different criteria if they also happen to be poor or appear to be poor.

Now, back to my smelly bin.  This gentleman of color, accidentally pulls a garment from my hand.  My face reflects my frustration.  He apologizes and hands the garment back to me with the subdued posture of a dog that has just been scolded.  All this has occurred without a word from either of us but we know exactly what is happening.  I am dominant because I am white and for no other reason.  With horror, when I realize how awful this interaction is, how wrong I am to feel the way I do about this perfect stranger, I speak.  “No, it’s okay.”

He searches my face for a sign of gentleness.  Do I mean what I say?  His faces asks me questions that I don’t want to answer.

If he only knew the shame I felt.  Right now, I fight back tears.  I behaved in the same cold and indifferent way that people have treated me since the slide into poverty has become a trap.    The well-meaning often have given advice but it’s not based on the reality of my experience or the experience of being poor.  I desperately cling to the idea that I’m better than the next poor person.  Maybe if they made better choices, worked harder, tried harder, they wouldn’t be poor.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that has failed to provide for the least among us.  We deride single mothers of color for being drains on the welfare system without ever really knowing a single mother’s challenges.  Most of the poor work much harder than the people who believe they are above them in value or worth or potential.    I might have a college education but I’ve worked minimum wage jobs alongside some remarkable people who where kind and generous.  They often possessed a quiet nobility of character than I often find lacking in myself.

Every poor person, I know and I actually know more than you’d think, wants to work at a job that allows them to support their families without having to rely on government handouts.  I depend on food stamps to feed my family.  Every single time I use that card I am embarrassed.

When I’ve had to ask others for help and am turned away, I am embarrassed and ashamed.  I’ve tried to make sure that my children don’t end up homeless and I might fail.  We will have to move soon.  We do not qualify for any open market apartments.  Even if we did, our credit is terrible. We would love to be able to pay all our bills but despite the hours I do work, the digging through bins and reselling, the struggling to work an independent business because no one responds to the resumes and applications we continue to send off,  we can’t.

I’m often faulted for not working harder, for not making the “right” decisions, for not trying hard enough.  America is the land of  opportunity.  the rag-to-riches story is just an effort away.    Tell that to the over 46 million Americans who live below the poverty level.  A level that doesn’t do justice to the real cost of living.  (That figure is collaborated by two books I’ve recently read: The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West and So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America by Peter Edelman.)

After ten years of collection calls, a bankruptcy, food stamps, public health care, the stress of it all is chipping away at my health.  I have a few months to get my blood sugar down or I’ll need to add another medication to the list of things I already take to try and keep myself going.    Even with insurance co-pay, my months prescriptions cost more than $100.  That is a small fortune when you live so close to the bone.

The line that separates you from me is often a very thin one.  You might only be a paycheck away from walking on my path.  You might be a medical emergency away from poverty.  You might be a lay-off away from joining me.  Just like me, you might judge another based on something arbitrary or a useless criterion but it’s what it takes to keep the fear at bay, the fear that it could happen to you.

Every one of those 46 million Americans has a face.  There is a life behind the number.  There are victims who have given up and there are heroes no one will ever recognize. There are always people who abuse the system whether it’s welfare or corporate bankers who have never been held legally accountable for their role in the mortgage debacle.  They are not the majority.

The poor are worthy of respect.  Respect should never be based on income.  The lives behind the numbers don’t want to be judged or given advice that has little application to the world they must live in.    What they need, what I need is human compassion.  They need the opportunity to earn a living wage and to be able to provide for themselves.  They need a hand up.  They need support.  They. . . we. . . I . . .don’t need your judgment, your callous indifference, your insistence that if only we’d follow your advice our problems wouldn’t exist.  You prove ignorant of a reality you have never known.  I challenge you to trade me places for a day.

It’s easy to feel like a victim.  As we enter the final phase prior to losing our home, the feeling of defeat and the panic over what comes next can feel overwhelming.  Homelessness is a very real possibility.  The disappointment, I feel at many of the people in our lives is profound.  The gratitude I feel toward those few that have proven loyal and loving is equally profound.  It’s shown me the power of love and the nobility of courage and integrity.  There is a God of muck and mire.

I am humbled by this experience. It keeps me on my toes.  It calls upon reserves of resilience and courage that I didn’t think I possessed.  It’s allowed me to experience a side of human nature that I find abhorrent within myself as well as with in others.  It’s given me an opportunity to grow, to be better than I was.

I know I will be criticized for my candor.  So be it.  It is imperative that poverty is given a human face.  Instead of assigning blame or creating divisions that separate us into piles of “us” and “them”, we,  as human must begin to see poverty as an opportunity for compassion and a problem for which each one of us bears a responsibility to work toward solution.  It’s time some one had the guts to address the appalling indifference demonstrated by good people. It’s past time for the poor to have a voice, to be respected, to be embraced.

To paraphrase, Jesus: The poor, we’ll always have with us and we will be held accountable for how we treat the least of these.    Poverty and the response to it: an equal opportunity employer.

An Accounting

So much of my life has been based in want, lack of abundance, need.

This last week in an overwhelming moment of need and anxiety, I knelt along side my bed and prayed the simplest of prayers,

“God help me.  God help us.”

It felt a little dramatic.  My knees ached.  I got up slowly.  My body hasn’t been a temple.  Its been more of a dump.   Immediate feedback from the Almighty was a deafening silence.  I crawled into bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.

A few days forward and I awake before all others.  There are a hundred different tasks that await me but the call to sit and open myself up to listen to the Divine are too great.  I’ll feel guilty if I don’t comply.  This feeling opens into an abyss of obligation and responsibility.  Its weight presses on the top of my head.  My head throbs in reply.  My body isn’t a temple.  I am guilty.  Mea culpa.  Mea maxima culpa.

The memory of my recent knee-position plea to God for help surfaces with an unusual strength.  I felt a little silly then and I feel more silly now.  My noisy mind resists these moments of quiet.  It raises up an annoying static of negative self talk and recriminations.  Some times, my mind is a real drag.

Suddenly, one thought becomes crystal clear.  All this mind noise has been a huge distraction.  It creates a poverty within.  It fills me with unfulfilled desire, inadequacy and pain.  They are illusions.  The shift in my life that I’ve been praying and longing for isn’t something external.  It is a change in being.  The circumstances and events that have felt like burdens, like punishments, are vehicles of growth and change.  My life isn’t flawed.  I am not tragically flawed.   My perceptions have created limits, walls of misery.  My perception has been limited.  My life is filled with opportunity.

Desperately, I want to avoid the reality of this last sentence.  I squirm under the responsibility until I suddenly realize that this too is the product of faulty perception.  The ledger of my life won’t be filled with monetary entries outlining my lack and how I overspent.  No, my ledger will detail the economy of being.  What did I become when life provided me the opportunity for growth and development.  How did I deal with the challenges I encountered?  Did I expand or contract?

The barrier between me and who I want to be is largely illusion.  I keep showing up for this party in a tattered costume with a mask covering who I am.  No wonder I’m not having any fun.

On a sunny Sunday morning, in a sleepy peaceful silence, I receive a pure gift, a splinter of enlightenment.   I am enough.  Life awaits.

Choices

“Humility is recognition of truth. Your worldly accomplishments are a gift bestowed upon you by the Uni-verse, nothing is possible without the support of the invisible realm of the Infinite Mystery. When you know that you actually do nothing and are simply a channel for the Good, Abundance, Joy and Peace that already existed before your birth to be rearranged to your preference you will be in harmony with Life. The minute you buy into being the doer of anything you have taken yourself out of the flow and stepped back into Ego thinking.

 

All things have been created by the Joyful will of the Infinite Mystery, Life is an experience of making choices about how you want to arrange things in your life. You can choose to arrange things in a Fearful, Egoic way, or you can choose to arrange things in a Loving and Joyful way. When you choose Love and Joy you align with the greatest and highest Good and begin to express your unique creative perspective while at the same time feeling a oneness with everyone else. This will leave you with a feeling of wholeness, joy, peace and gratitude.” 

– Jackson Kiddard

Lack of money limits choices.  It’s so easy to focus on what I can’t do or afford that I often forget that I still have a choice as to how I chose to act.

Lately, I’ve been a grump.  I felt sorry for myself, frustrated, limited, lacking.

When reality would come knocking and life was showing me that compassion with myself and others would be the better choice, I tried my best to ignore it.  Wearing misery like an ugly old sweater pulled up against a hostile world got to be a real drag.  So when I found an ugly sweater that I loved, I “decided to rock the ugly!”

Now, I lost track of “rocking the ugly” between then and now about half a dozen times but “rockin’ the ugly” is a choice and it sure beats letting life weigh too heavily.  I’m old enough now to know “that this too shall pass.”  No one can take their money or possessions with them when they die and as much as I’d like to leave a physical legacy for my children, they aren’t going to be taking it with them when they go either.  In the end, all the money and stuff in the world won’t matter.  What matters is how I chose to live my life and how I made the best with what I was given.

I’m going with the flow.  Here’s to “rockin’ the ugly!

 

 

racooncoat

It’s the Fumes!

Some days, I’ve got to write or lose my mind.  Tonight is one of those times.  This is my therapy, the way I process my feelings, the way I find something amusing in things that don’t make me laugh when they happen.  I want to laugh to prevent dissolving into a blathering puddle of tearful nonsense.

Just after we sit down to dinner, we hear our son yelling from the garage.  It is not a good yelling.  The fact that he is asking for his sister, sends me running.  It isn’t good.

We have a rule for our children about coming home when it gets dark.  A certain boy seems to have a very difficult time with this.  We’ve come up with some consequences but they haven’t proven effective.  After tonight I’m bringing out the big guns. . . a howitzer or maybe a nuclear missile.   I need time to process this.  It’s just not funny yet.

The panicked yelling began because of the accidental spilling of some nasty finish stripper (chemicals in a can not a woman from Finland working a shady job)  that used to live a quiet life on the workbench in the garage.  Just thinking about it is starting to make me itch and cough again.  Oh, now, I think my lips are burning.  I really need to go to my happy place.

Tardy boy stands in the garage slightly dripping.  Apparently, the falling deck stripper stuff exploded as it hit the garage floor.  His coat, his only warm coat got the worst of it.  I’m afraid it and the rest of his clothes will have to go to the garbage dump in the sky.  The smell is overwhelming and then, I see the mess.  “Andy,”  I yell.  “I’m going to need your help.”  Poor husband.  He just sat down to dinner.

In case of emergency, my initial job is the calmer.  I pull out all the stops trying to sound calm.  I’m desperately wanting to feel calmer but the fumes are getting to me.  I find myself repeating my words in a silly attempt to convince myself I know what I’m doing.  I don’t have a clue.  I don’t know how to begin to clean this up.

“Take off all your clothes by the washer except your underwear and go and take a shower right now,”  I say with conviction.

I just want him out of the way so I don’t start spiraling into a tirade about carelessness and getting home before it gets dark and following the rules and trying to be more careful.   Once the cork is out of that bottle there may be no stopping me.

“I’ve got no idea what to do to clean this up,” I say, once the boy is gone.  In my mind, I see myself running up and down the street with my hands waving madly over my head while I make wild animal sounds.    I shake my head to get rid of the idea.

By this time, my poor husband has started winding down.  He had a full head of steam going into this.  As he winds down, I start to wind up.  “Ok, I’m calling Home Depot and see if they can give me any advice.”  I’ve got to do something and I am desperate to get away from the now toxic garage.

Five minutes into the call, I finally get to the prompt that gives me the paint department.  The guy who answers talks like Charlie Brown’s teacher except with more of a mumble than a pure “Wha Wha, Wha!

After several sentences of pure mumble, mumble, wha, wha, wha, I interrupt him and say, ” I’m sorry, but I don’t have the faintest idea what you are saying.”

This doesn’t seem to phase him and he tosses in another mumble, wha, wha and I stop him and say, “Honestly, I have no idea what you said.  You talk so fast and you mumble.”

Tactless, yes, but you got to forgive me.  I blame the fumes.

“Ma’am,” He says with a voice that says anything but “Ma’am”  “I’m trying to tell you how to clean up your mess.”

“What kind of thinner was it?” He asks.

I hate questions I don’t know how to answer.  “I don’t know.” I admit.

“That’s a problem.  I need to know what it is so I can tell you what to do.  Can you find out?”

I know that this nasty fume creating nightmare is in the bottom of a garbage bag completely covered with thinner.  The idea of sticking my hands in that bag is not appealing.  I just won’t do it.  He wants to insist.

“Ma’am, I got to know.”

Just then my husband comes in.  He looks a little greener than he did a few minutes ago when I left him.

“What is that stuff called?” I ask.

He knows exactly.  I repeat it to the man on the line.

“Super, Nasty, Smelling, Potentially Deadly Chemical Swill,”  I say with righteous authority.

(No, that’s not really what it’s called, but it should be.)

At this point, I decide not to fight it.  This call was a mistake.  It’s not Mumble Mumble Wha Wha’s fault.  He is an innocent victim of my fumes.  He is a good employee however and suggests three products I need to come over and buy to clean up my mess.  I thank him and say, ” I’ll head on over.”

I don’t know why I said that.  I guess I felt bad that he got my phone call and that the fumes were affecting my humanity.  I’m not going any where except maybe in a corner where I can rock and hum to myself for several hours.  It must be the fumes.

After the initial shock of it all, my dear husband has got it out of his system.  He regroups, tackles, problem solves and becomes my hero when he cleans up the mess as best he can with some sand, hose and soap.  We might not be able to close the garage again but there isn’t a toxic lake waiting to lure unsuspecting ants,small mammals and two rapidly aging parents into a horrible death by chemical exposure.

After our tardy son, came out of the shower, he makes an attempt at atonement.  I caution him saying, “I’m so mad at you right now, I can’t talk about it.  I need time to calm down.”

Truth is some times my calm role is just too hard for me to fill.  Some times, I need to trade places or write it out, or sit in the corner and hum softly.  Some times, the “uncalm” become the calm and save the day with perseverance and right action.  Some times, I don’t have a clue and I need help.  When I think of how this started and how it ended, I am so grateful for my husband who really pulled it together and rose to the occasion when I was so out of my league.  Tears spring to my eyes when I think about what he did for me tonight and I bet he doesn’t really know how much it mattered and how grateful I am.  I’d better try to tell him before the fumes wear off.

And, The Point Is?

If there was ever a question for this day this would be it:  And, the Point Is?

My body was so comfortable in my bed.  Quilt pulled up around my neck, my first conscious thought when I wake up is, “Is there any way, I can just stay in bed today?” That will be the question for another day to answer.  I made the mistake of getting up.

After a shower, I slip quietly out of the bedroom.  The house is dark and I steady myself along the walls of the hallway.  A lovely case of middle-aged shingles several years ago left me with the equilibrium of a drunken astronaut.  Staying upright in the dark can be a challenge.

Flipping on the light in the kitchen, I hear the blurping and swalurping of the coffee pot which sounds a lot like a drunken astronaut.  There is coffee all over the counter, down the sides of the coffee maker.  Coffee grounds have been carried on the tide and add a lovely garnish to my morning breakfast surprise.  I spin around several times, literally, I spun around.  I’m like a rat on a shock floor in one of those crazy mazes.  My routine is a shambles.  I can’t comprehend where to begin.

A moment of vengeful genius hits me.  Husband preps coffee pot each night in his never ending quest to be prepared.  (It’s like living with a extra large Boy Scout.)  I go right to the source and wake my extra large Boy Scout and let him view the carnage in all its messy glory.

Time to face my favorite part of the morning, waking the boy.  Honestly, I’d rather tangle with a hungry badger.  The boy groans loudly.  I swear it’s enough to make the dishes rattle.  I tell myself I love mornings and go to my happy place.

I’m ready to leave for work.  The fan belt in the fan has been squealing with a disturbing frequency.  When I’ve had my husband check it, the belt was silent.  This morning, husband, holding our dog, is a witness to the capricious belt’s shenanigans.  It sounds like I have a banshee under the hood.  I do not love the smell of burning fan belt in the morning but it could be worse. . . the smell that is. . . the morning ?  Jury is in deliberation.

The day rolls on.  School: 1700 plus teen agers.  The bell schedule is changed today for assembly.  It is a unique bell system that has students wandering like confused but noisy lemmings with bags over their heads who argue with teachers who are adamant they’ve got it figured out but are still mostly wrong.  Arguing noises and lemmings add to the weight of the morning.    So do two very grumpy students who really needed some assistance but resent every attempt.  If I enjoyed grumpy people, I’d still be home trying to pry my own grumpy badger out of bed.  Snarl at me with thinly veiled contempt again, please.  I can’t get enough.

I make it through the work day, slightly worse for the wear.  Home.  Off go the uncomfortable togs of the day.  On with the pajamas!

Taking a very happy dog outdoors to relieve herself, we are surprised by the growl of the hound next door, the door who barks a lot.  No, A LOT!!!  Talking to our neighbor results in him having fits of rabid swearing.   Since most of the barking occurs when the neighbor is gone, his absence automatically exonerates him from responsibility.  I wonder if that works for kids????  NO!

So, here we are startled by his loud barking dog when I hear him say not once, not twice but at least three times,  “Dog (must be what he names his dog) go stop that neighbors dog from barking.”

I’d forgotten that some adults can make their words sound like they are coming out of a sassy 13-year-old girl.  I’m more than a little creeped out.  I text absent husband, who calls back.  He’s been working on screwing on a license plate for 20 minutes.   I end up talking with a sheriff who basically says we’re on our own and here are a few options but “jerks like that don’t usually get it.”

As long as that “it” isn’t me, I’m good but after all the swearing I’ve heard coming from his corner of the planet, I’m not feeling very comfortable.

Then my door bell rings.  I open it in pajamas, covered with a robe.  The young guy standing there looks at me and blinks.  I swear I heard a few crickets chirp.  Finally, I say,

“Who are you?”

I don’t really hear his reply.  This day has been building up to a good boil and I’m steamed.

He finally states his name, I think.  I hold up my hand.

“Hold it,” I say.  “If you’re selling anything or looking for donations, you’ve come to the wrong house.  I’ve got zero money.”  I make a zero with my fingers and hold it in front of my face.

I guess he didn’t clue in to the full steam I had generated.  He goes on to say in a surly tone, “I’m not selling anything.  I just wanted to offer you an estimate on fixing your roof.”

Like that isn’t selling a service?

“Do you roof for free?  Cause, if you do, hammer yourself silly up there.  We could sure use a new one that doesn’t have shingles fly off in every wind storm.”  I think to myself.

I’m too angry to be very civil.  If flames could have shot out of my nostrils, he’d be crispy and in an ICU some where.  Some weeks we get a half dozen roofers out in our neighborhood trying to rustle up business or in some cases, criminals posing as roofers who want to case the joint.

I’ve waded through coffee, survived grumpy, cringed to the sound of a squealing fan belt.  I’ve spent my day with surly and uncooperative.  I’ve got a crazy neighbor next door who frightens me.  Now,  I have a guy on my door wasting my time talking about roofing estimates for a house that won’t be mine a year or two from now.

I shut the door on him in mid sentence.  I didn’t have anything nice to say.

I close the blinds and the garage door.  Calling the kids together, I say in a strong firm voice.  “That’s it.  We’ve shut down.  We’re not answering the door.  We’re taking a break.

And, the point of this day was?  Right now, I don’t have a clue.

I am the person behind the words printed here. I write because my heart will not allow me the option of NOT writing. It has taken me half a life time to discover this basic truth, but now that I have, writing is as natural as breathing. This is where my breath takes the form of words.

Connect

I am reading

The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life (Before 8AM)
0 / 170 Pages