Stepping in the River

I’ve been much reminded, in these last days, of the old saying that we can never step in the same river twice.

In many ways, I am surrounded by people I’ve known most of my life, camped out in an intensive care unit, doing things I’ve done nearly forever.

Prayer. Listening. Straightening sheets. Talking with doctors. Feeding people.

It is a river old and deep for me.

In other ways, I have joined the cast of Steel Magnolias!

Women, and a couple of very kind men, many of us grandparents, doing what needs to get done, each in our own way and yet all together.

Another river old and deep, yet also wider, with room for more travelers.

It’s a filter thing, really.

Just as the metaphorical water moves, leaving the river ever new, our perceptions keep changing because we see and hear and feel through our ever-increasing experiences, letting new things in and, sometimes, clearing a few  more out.

My friend is doing better each day, which is the biggest part of what’s getting through my filters at the moment.

I’m glad to mostly filter out the feedback from swollen feet and restless nights and the predictable consequences of a couple of things I probably shouldn’t have eaten.

Today, though, it’s time to listen at least a bit to those messages, too. I’m pretty tired.

It’s feet up for me until the “night shift” starts at the hospital. Well, mostly!

We still need laundry and food and more frozen water!

Not to mention time for healing energy and prayer.

For my friend, certainly.

For the people of Mexico in the face of this latest earthquake.

For the people in the path of more hurricanes.

For the “guy in the red hat” I met at the hospital. His wife did not survive an injury similar to my friend’s. Last night and today, six people scattered across the country received life saving organ donations from a mom in her 30’s.

These stories, and so many others, changing the river we all share. Which is, perhaps, a thought we need to cling to more and more consciously.

That, and hope.

 

Comfort!

This is a close up photo of one of my first quilts. It was a class project when I was a very new quilter, trying hard to follow the directions to something beautiful.

The quilt and I have been many miles since it was born.

Faded and crinkled in the vintage-y way I love, it feels like it was just dried in the sun.

With the repeating patterns and nearly straight seams, it is somehow a vivid reminder of the fact that there is order even in the midst of what feels like chaos.

It is comfort, both visual and kinesthetic.

I set this quilt free, years ago, as a gift for a friend who needed a great deal of comfort in those days.

I found it again yesterday when I arrived in Florida where my same friend needs another dose of comfort.

She’s doing really well. All things considered.

There’s a lot to consider!

For now, we’re focused on better.

And popsicles. And clean hair. And a break from T.E.D. hose!

All of which seem like huge miracles, here among a diverse tribe of women who love her, each in our own way trying to bring comfort.

I’m not sure whether it’s irony or providence that has me reading, for maybe the fourth time, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, just now. (The book really is even better than the movie!)

I don’t think I ever quite realized, in just this way, how much this story is about comfort in the midst of our often messy life journeys.

A place to be. Time to get ready for what happens next. Sweet tea. And folks to walk with us to whatever our own version of the wailing wall might be, whenever we need to go there.

Tomorrow…soup. And gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Resolutions or Resolution???

In the wake of Irma and Harvey and earthquakes and fires and floods around the world, perhaps you are thinking, as I have been, about resolutions (plural) for being more prepared for disasters such as these.

First on my list, a call to the store where we bought my most recent live-in chair. The great (and very new) guy who helped us said that the recliner mechanism has a battery back up in case of power failure. I wish I’d asked how it works!

When you’ve had knee surgery as often as I have, this is a real concern during a hurricane.

Fortunately, we didn’t lose our power like so many of our neighbors did.

I, however, lost a fair amount of mental energy worrying about how to escape from one of the few places I’m truly comfortable, just in case.

Then there are the usual issues like flashlight batteries. With a house full of Newfoundlands, candles are a pretty bad idea!

Having grown up in Florida, I still have old tapes about buying bottled water, which is not so necessary here, along with white bread and donuts, none of which we eat!

I do think, though, that we need some sort of accessible medical alert info (which hasn’t happened yet) and a neighbor with a key.

Then there’s the whole generator issue. And I understand that you can get a good deal on hurricane shutters in Florida this week!

There’s also resolution (singular). As in trauma resolution.

I’ve met a lot of amazing people and learned a lot of important things in all the years I’ve spent studying hypnosis and neuro-linguistic programming, pastoral counseling and transformational coaching.

One of those important things came in a weekend workshop with an amazing person named Belleruth Naparstek.

Belleruth is an internationally known expert in therapeutic guided imagery. On that particular occasion, the topic was trauma resolution.

According to Belleruth, trauma  is whatever the self perceives as trauma.

Not necessarily what your neighbor or your insurance company perceives as trauma.

This seems hugely important to remember in times like these when new perceptions of trauma may well bump up against old perceptions of trauma inside us, with the result that we experience trauma over again.

Here’s a list of examples, drawn from my emails and facebook contacts in the last week:

Fear of storms. Fear of water. Fear of closed spaces. Fear of the dark. Fear of loss. Fear of scarcity. Fear of the unknown.

All of them, things we’ve had strategies for dealing with, until something like a hurricane plunges all those strategies into question.

You may have examples of your own.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially while I’ve been praying with dots.

As part of my pilgrimage with the Black Madonna, I’ve begun to learn about the tradition of illumination in art, with all its layers of meaning.

Light and dark, together with bits of red and gold.

Losing and finding images under glazes of darkness and drippy washes of light. All of them more powerful together than any of them alone.

It’s an interesting metaphorical notion for coping with perceived trauma.

Focusing on the light. We made it through last night. We’re still here. We have more strategies than we had in the past.

Noticing our language and thought patterns… When we hear ourselves saying always and never, that’s a sure sign of limiting beliefs lurking within. Being open to other possibilities, despite our past experience, makes us open to new experience

It’s not easy!

There’s a part of us that firmly believes that we’re still here because of the ways we’ve dealt with traumatic experiences and thoughts in the past so, by default, we should keep it up. That’s one strategy.

There are others.

Mindfulness practices like meditation and breath prayer can help us to stay in the present moment where, just now, we are ok.

Changing our language a bit can help, too. Instead of, “I have to _____” we could try, “In the past, I’ve _____, but now I’m ______.”

And being gentle with ourselves, which is almost always a helpful strategy!

There are lots of conversations going on these days about what we have called, at least since Viet Nam, PTSD. Lots of therapists, as well as military experts, believe we should drop the D in recognition that post traumatic stress is a human condition rather than a disorder. Others disagree.

It’s kind of an interesting discussion if you’re into that sort of thing. For today, though, let’s go with the realization that life very often leads to things we perceive as trauma and, when we are in those places, compassion, support, and gentle new coping strategies are really good ways to set off on the path toward resolution.

Along, perhaps, with making good on some of those other resolutions we talked about. Right after I talk to the guy about my chair, I really am going to get my eyes checked so I can read the fine print of the Weather Channel!

 

Praying With Dots

It isn’t often that I feel speechless.

This week has been pretty close to one of those times.

My tear ducts, however, seem to be working overtime.

My dearest friend has been in a hospital in Florida all week, gravely ill, and I can’t leave yet to be with her, because of Hurricane Irma.

The hospital is now running on generators and they’re taking her back to surgery.

As I imagine so many of you have done, I’ve practically worn the buttons off my cell phone checking on her and all my other friends and family in the path of this storm.

I grew up in Florida.

My heart wants to be there now.

Instead, I am rationing my Weather Channel time to leave time for praying. (And sanity!)

There are lots of ways to pray.

I, who am what is now called a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), have been learning to pray the rosary. My friend is Roman Catholic.

This is not something I learned in Seminary. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, after looking it up on my cell phone, how much this ancient practice includes many of my own traditions!

I am stunned by all the connections I feel.

Fires. Friends still struggling out from under Harvey. Friends not heard from yet in the early days of Irma. Another friend’s family near the center of the earthquake in Mexico. My family. A beach restaurant Bill and I love, complete with treasured memories of Key Lime pie and strong coffee with real whipped cream for breakfast.

Those connections are a huge part of the reason for these words, in this moment, now.

I’ve also been doing a lot of what my Pilgrimage friends would call painting in dots. Tiny random-esque polka dots, applied with the handle end of a paint brush to the image of a Black Madonna I’ve been painting.  Each dot an immediate prayer with, in my case, a name attached to it.

My friend. Her daughter. Her mom. My family. And, the all-encompassing Irma.

It feels a great deal like meditation. Somehow making the dots seems to engage more of me in prayer. It feels like help in setting down some of my anxiety and  doing what I can in the moment.

It seemed somehow out of context when the Facebook elves reminded me, yesterday afternoon, that today is “Grandparents Day” in the U.S.

Honestly, I had a bit of trouble finding space for that particular piece of information just now. And yet, despite the fact that I clearly did not get the Hallmark genes in my family, it tugged at me.

Then I figured out why.

You may have heard these words by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes here before, for they are among my favorites:

Do Not Lose Heart. We Were Made For These Times.

“I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now.

Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is, we were made for these times.

One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair, thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.

The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” And neither are we….

No matter who you are…if you are a grandparent, or hope to be one, or had one who loved you, or cherish in some way the archetypal grandparent energy in our world, please imagine that this is your “card” for today.

Live who you are.

With hope and blessings for all the world, Sue

 

 

 

 

Gifts for the Birthday Girl

Tomorrow, my first granddaughter will be 10 years old! Tenth birthdays were major events in my family. I’ve spent the last few weeks remembering why.

My mom grew up loving the Betsy-Tacy  books by Minnesota author, Maud Hart Lovelace. The series started when Betsy and Tacy were five years old, sitting on a bench eating supper together. Over the next couple of  books, they grew and added a new friend, named Tib.

By the time readers reach Betsy & Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the girls are excited to be turning 10 and having two numbers in their age.

I grew up loving them, too.

No doubt this story became part of our family story.

Then, there was our dear friend, Maggi, who bought my sister and me rings with our birthstones when we turned ten.

Other than a long parade of Timex Mickey Mouse watches that always quit working for me, that birthstone ring was my first piece of jewelry. (Supposedly the thing with the watches is some kind of  magnetic deal I don’t quite understand.)

I loved that ring. In fact, I still have it! The stone is chipped. The setting, which must have been stretched somewhere along the line, is all bent out of shape. And still it sits in my jewelry box, a reminder of a time when it made me feel special and affirmed.

We had lots of adventures, that ring and I.

Like the time I hid it in my luggage, the first summer I went to camp, because Mom said I had to leave it at home and I wanted to take it along, rather like Linus wants to take his blanket.

Then there was the time when I was five or six (or 14!) months pregnant and had just filed for divorce. For reasons I can’t quite recall, I went with my folks to the homecoming game at our High School. Not wanting to answer any questions, I slipped my birthstone friend, turned backwards, on the finger where there had once been a wedding band.

Those were different times.

In this time, though, I wanted a birthday gift for Kenzie that she might enjoy now and perhaps be reminded of how much she’s loved in the future.

I settled on a charm necklace. She likes fancy!

First, a charm with two owls. She and I have a thing about owls.

Then, the birthstone.

This is, apparently, not the season for birthstone buying. I had lots of trouble finding just the right thing.

Finally, I realized that the right thing was hanging around my own neck on a charm holder where I’ve been wearing both girls’ birthstones and initials for a while.

It should be there for her by now, along with her very own copy of Betsy & Tacy Go Over the Big Hill.

She may be a bit older before she learns to appreciate the nostalgia of my dear friends, Betsy and Tacy. I mean, Harry Potter they’re not.

That’s ok. I’m pretty sure the necklace will be a hit.

I’m very sure she knows we love her, which is about as good as it gets!

And, tucked away in my jewelery box with my special ring is another birthstone all ready for the next time we have someone turning ten.

I suspect Mom and Maggi would be pleased.

 

 

 

Flashback to the Rabbit Hole!

Once upon a time, quite a while ago, when I was about two years out of nursing school, I got a new job. In surgery!

This wasn’t an entirely novel concept for me.

I’d worked for our vet when I was in high school. I started, as one would imagine, cleaning runs and scooping disgusting canned stuff into bowls.

By the time I was a senior, I was assisting in surgery. Among other things, I learned simple sutures and how to retrieve our feline patients from the top of the x-ray machine.

People surgery came complete with x-ray techs so the retrieving was less necessary.

Knots, however, were quite necessary. Years of Girl Scouts had not prepared me for tying square knots one-handed with my non-dominant (left) hand. It was one of the first things we learned.

I practiced incessantly. Knitted afghans with fringe were especially helpful.

I’ve been reminded of this learning experience lately, as I try to develop some muscle memory related to painting.

Thus far, I appear to be an almost totally right-handed painter!

I’ve been reminded of other learning experiences with the painting, as well.

One that shows up often is my recent trip down the mythical Rabbit Hole in Portland, Oregon.

The primary purpose for the trip was exploring some familiar perceptions and skills grouped under the new-ish label of Transformational Coaching.

The workshop was great!

The physical comfort factor, not so much.

This was not a huge surprise for me. Between long flights, the knees, and the back, spending hours a day in a rent-a-chair has been hard for me for a while. And it tends to get harder as one day rolls into the next.

I did my usual adapting things. Nesting in a corner with a spare chair to prop my feet on.  A pillow or two. Qigong during coffee breaks. A bit of self-hypnosis.

And then, on the last day of our time together, when I could barely confront the rent-a-chair again, something different happened.

The amazing Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, who writes fabulous, colorful, important books and is known to many of you as SARK, fussed at me. “Get one of those upholstered chairs over there,” she said, “and get somebody to drag it into the circle!”

I demurred. “There are people sitting in them,” I explained.

Before I could take a breath, Susan had a couple of people toting a chair into the corner where I had camped, trying to stay out of the way.

I actually had tears in my eyes when I sat down, feeling conspicuous, but definitely more comfortable. And present.

The next thing I knew, dear Susan was in my face. I’m not exactly sure what she said but I can tell you what I heard:

This is bigger than a chair! Don’t endure what can be fixed, just to blend in!

It’s been a while since June but those wise words came back to me today, complete with a bit of Susan-esque glitter.

You see, I was trying to do a bit of editing on my painting. I needed a fairly smooth, thin line and I was having trouble getting there with my right hand. I tried the left. I leaned. I moved. Several times. I even tried to do it upside down.

And then, wonder of wonders, I moved the easel.

It worked! And, in the midst of my happy dance, I heard Susan applauding.

There are times, especially when I’m tense, that I still tie left-handed square knots in whatever fringe-y things are handy. I’m learning new options, though, and today I’m giving thanks for an amazing teacher.

There’s a lot to be said for not enduring what can be fixed. And moving the easel.

 

The Power to Change Lives

Sunflowers in the garden, bowing their lovely faces in the gentle rain.

My favorite sunflower yellow Fiestaware mug, steaming with lemon tea.

The beginnings of a sense of being soothed after a nap, after a mostly sleepless night.

Nothing major is “wrong,” per se.

Just a litany of jangly, achy, irritating details I’m trying to release.

First, to get it over with, it’s camp nurse flashback time again.

“Freddy is fine!”

Though Freddy (read that me) had another fall. A very minor fall, this time.

Really!

It turns out that if you fall off an overly enthusiastic little rolling stool you don’t have nearly as far to go before you hit the floor which seems to be a good thing.

A couple of bruises and some aches. About equal parts frustration and gratitude.

It has slowed down the painting, though.

A minor riot on the part of the resident rescue dogs resulting in the need to completely rearrange the pantry for security reasons.

Rather more frustration. Until I realize that I have food to put in my pantry and nobody got hurt.

Time challenges. Reflections on the old Amish quote: The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!”

And thanks for having work I love.

A reminder of the time, 30 years or so ago, when I first wrapped my head around the notion that stories have the power to change lives and I get to tell stories.

I hope that some of those stories are helpful to you. To people we know. And don’t know yet.

I know they are helpful to me.

In choosing what to write, I am also, in an odd sort of way, choosing what to believe.

Or, as the story goes, Stephen King has been known to say, “I write to find out what I think…”

For today, I am choosing to believe that life is for learning and sometimes that means we fall down.

And get back up, looking for tea and sleep and maybe a bowl of soup.

(Not to mention the Muscle & Joint essential oils I brough back from Hawaii!)

And now, there’s a break between the rain showers and the big dogs need a stroll out back. Soon it will be time to feed them. And laugh while I watch them loving their food.

Which is a pretty great story right there.

What stories are you choosing to believe?