“Destiny” mixed media

This painting/collage expresses for me the power of Love that is freely given and in unlimited supply from the Hand of God.  It is more often than not that this benevolent offering of grace has appeared on the scene to turn a sour mood sweet, help lend a hand to another hurting soul, or lighten a load weighed down by darkness.  When I was a younger mother with small children I sometimes questioned my purpose and place in the world when I couldn’t see past my nose or my front door and felt a little lost in the alternate reality of babydom.  But even on the most frustrating days this unseen Hand full of Love would bring me back to what really matters.  This excerpt from an essay I titled “Is This My Destiny?” brings back vivid memories of those days:

“Often when I am elbow-deep in dishwater or baby bathwater, when I’ve prepared more ‘peanybutter n yelly ’andwiches’ than I care to count, when I’ve spooned infinite heaping teaspoons of Gerber bananas in the mouth of a baby whose eyes and mind are everywhere else BUT on eating, I lose sight of the meaning of life.  In some way I think ‘I could be doing great things in my life, really make a contribution to this troubled world…’ It just somehow seems that the ‘real’ world is in a time warp, that I’m watching it pass by from my vantage point, not doing much to help things along.  I am surrounded by crayons, soiled socks, baby rattles, trails of Zwieback crumbs, squeak toys, matchbox cars, and Sesame Street dramas stuck in my head.  In the midst of this corner of the world are two healthy, active boys who I miraculously keep up with most days…Needless to say, there are days when I go four to five directions simultaneously for most of the day.  It’s only when the boys are BOTH asleep for a nap that I collapse on the couch to get myself together and worry that I’m losing my mind.  I start imagining the ‘could-have-beens’ and I think about the meaning of life, trying very hard to figure out what it might be.  ‘Is this my destiny?’ I wonder.  ‘Surely the talents God gave me are going to waste…I could do so much if I only had the chance!’ my ego screams.

Suddenly, without thought, I am compelled to get up from the couch and walk down the hall.  I peek in at my sons and gently tuck their blankets around them.  I pause to gaze at these sleeping angels and I am overwhelmed with love for them…In the presence of their sweet innocence I am in awe.  I try to memorize every curve of their heads, each detail of their changing faces.

I return to the couch filled with peace, warmed by love, enlightened by the essence of life.  I no longer think of what could have been or yearn for the meaning of my existence.  In those quiet moments God reminded me of what truly matters through his sleeping angels.  I feel reassured that the talents He gave me are being used for the greatest purpose of all.  My doubts are washed away and replaced with confidence that who I yearn to be, I am already becoming.  These precious children rely on two sincere yet flawed adults to respect their humanness, to teach them the way of Love so that they may one day walk a path of Light.

I thank God for reassuring me.  My husband reassures me too.  When I am sinking in a sea of clutter and confusion, I need only remember the verse he wrote in my Mother’s Day card: ‘You may not be moving mountains, building cities, or feeling like you’ve done enough.  In our kingdom you’re the greatest, moving diapers and building minds.  We love you!’ “

It wasn’t long after this that I became pregnant with our daughter and life grew even more interesting with three children than it was with two!  Now that they are grown I can look back and gratefully know with certainty that the unseen Hand was graciously extended infinite times throughout the years with that glowing heart of Love at the center.

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Plate-Spinning Octopus Moms

Last night two dear friends treated me to dinner for my birthday.  We had a wonderful time catching up and sharing the latest news in our lives.  I find our monthly times together very nourishing to my soul (and, last night, to my stomach too!) because we are three women in different seasons of our lives and yet we share much in common.  Aside from being past colleagues for a state-run mental health agency, which gives us immediate common ground for advocating and relating on mental health and wellness issues, we also connect as women, wives, and mothers.  In fact, our childrens’ combined life stages span every stage of child development except birth and the teens.  My one friend has a 5 year old and 2 year old while the other has a 6 year old and 9 year old.  I am humbly admitting I am the oldest and my three children are all young adults.  I have a sister-in-law who has us all beat with 9 children at every stage of life except birth and she could tell us a thing or two I’m sure but she lives far away.  When my friends and I worked together over five years ago as therapists in a clinic, my own children were teens and still in school, my one friend had no kids then and the other one’s were babies!  We helped each other then and also now just by sharing the joys and challenges of each stage of life.  Equally important is the support we give one another to pursue our dreams as women, often the part we lose sight of in our roles as wives and mothers.

The image of motherhood that came to mind last night as we talked and that has often come to mind in the past (and this was LONG before Octo-Mom made headlines) is of a plate-spinning octopus mom.  Picture it, the eight-legged sea creature keeps numerous plates circling rapidly in the air without dropping one.  While the octopus mom always has an arm or two free to reset the wobbly plates that are slowing down and in danger of falling, we real-life human moms do not! 

Last spring, I got to see an amazing and unbelievable performance by the Chinese Acrobats from Beijing and one of their incredible feats was plate-spinning.  They made it look so easy!  Even then I had this image in my mind of a plate-spinning octopus mom and watching them made me realize how nearly impossible this life-long challenge of superhuman multi-tasking called motherhood REALLY is!  Oh, I remember the feeling of going in so many directions at once with my kids but, thankfully, those are the memories that fade as time goes by and I wonder “How did I (WE…I’m NOT devaluing fathers here because without them mothers might truly go insane!) do it?” 

The plate-spinning acrobats, I must realize, begin their training as children and spend unimaginable numbers of hours of practice requiring determination, patience, commitment, love of craft, and discipline.  I admired them so much for their talents and skills that they now share with the world.  Other than the childhood years of playing mommy to our dolls and pets, most moms are rather unprepared for the task of motherhood.  We imitate our role models, mothers and grandmothers, if we are lucky to have had good ones in our lives, but most of it we figure out as we go through each stage of life with our own guinea pig babies.  We plate-spinning moms must accept that unlike octopi, we DO NOT have eight hands and arms available to us 24/7.  Sometimes we will do better (out of necessity) to focus our attention on the most wobbly plates (our kids) and the tasks required for them, but try not to forget the steadily spinning ones who somehow seem to self-propel on a daily basis without much intervention from the parentals.  The overlapping elements between plate-spinning acrobats and real-life moms are definitely: unimaginable hours of practice, determination, patience, commitment, discipline, and LOVE.

Are you going to drop a few plates now and then?  Well, hopefully, not literally, but figuratively, you can count on it!  I made mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes but if LOVE is our modus operandi, our compass, our prayer, and our heart’s plea, then we will humbly admit the error, correct it if possible, make amends if needed and move on.  But, please, don’t fool yourselves into believing that you are truly equipped or expected to be a plate-spinning octopus mom!

The Child Within (mixed media detail)

No matter how old I get, I’m just a child within…

running in a race called Life.

No matter how many mistakes I make, I’m just a child within…

trying to grow up, not meaning to hurt anyone.

No matter how many things I do well, I’m just a child within…

trying my best to find my belonging place in the world.

No matter how much happiness I am blessed to know, I’m just a child within…

who loves and wants to be loved.

No matter what heartaches I’ve known, I’m just a child within…

who is sad when love leaves and wants to love again.

No matter how lost I am in the foggy wilderness, I’m just a child within…

who knows Jesus will find me and bring me home.

No matter how many times I fall down, I’m just a child within…

who knows Jesus will pick me up, dust me off, and tell me to

 ”Get back in the race!”

“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:30,31

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Draw Me Near, a song inspired by John 12:46: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”

I have come, I have come, as Light into the world.

Believe in Me, believe in Me,

That you may not dwell in darkness.

Draw me near. Hold me here. Draw me near. Calm my fear.

In this quiet place, may I see Your Holy Face.

Ever in Your Light, turn my wrong to right.

Draw me near. Love me dear. Draw me near. Hold me here.

Let Your Light shine through, help me ever dwell in You.

May I learn to give, that I learn to live.

I have come, I have come, as Light into the world.

Believe in Me, believe in Me,

That you may not dwell in darkness.

I found strength and glimpses of light in a devotion that speaks of David, the great but humble psalmist, whose cries out for God came from the depths of his soul struggles, sins, and helplessness.  “David found himself in a lonely, dark cave at En Gedi.  He was hiding from King Saul, in fear for his life and pursued by thousands of his own countrymen.  How did David climb out from his soul’s dark hiding place?…In his grotto hiding place, David cried out to God for help, ‘Have mercy on me, O God’ (Psalm 57:1).  What a great place to start when we’re in a dark place.  Then, he wrote what he knew to be true about his God, saying, ‘God sends His love and faithfulness (verse 3)…Next, David verbalized his fears, saying, ‘I am in the midst of lions’ (verse 4).  Naming our fears can make our enemies seem smaller in the context of the Creator of the universe.  Finally, he relinquished his circumstances to God’s glory, saying ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens’ (verse 5)…This progression toward trusting God lit David’s way from a place of worry to one of worship; he chose to hide in the shadow of God’s wings, whether he lived in a cave or in a palace.  When King Saul came to En Gedi and entered the cave, David had the courage to do the right thing: He spared the life of the king God had anointed, and he sought reconciliation with Saul, even though it might mean death for him.

If you’re in the dark, follow David’s steps and walk toward the light: 1) Cry out for mercy. 2) Remember God’s love and faithfulness. 3) Verbalize your fears. 4) Pray that Gods’ will be accomplished in your life for His glory.  Then choose to worship God wherever you may be.” NIV Bible 

Draw me near, Lord.  Let me see and be Your Light.  This song was something I wrote many years ago when I was in a dark place and it is as true for me now as it was then.  I’d sing it for you but it sounds better in my head or in the shower!  Well, if my husband sings it, now that’s a different story! 

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Fallen Trees, Flashlights & Dark Nights

Is there a fallen tree in your life?  I’m speaking metaphorically for a problem or ongoing issue, significant life event (like the death of a loved one) that has had such a strong impact on your life that it could be compared to a large tree brought down to the ground by hurricane-force winds in the darkness of night.  This could represent a past or present storm, or one we are afraid will come in the future.  When this change arrives, in whatever form the storm winds come, it can level us to the ground.  We are left facing this obstacle like a fallen tree in our life, and we may not know how to move it, deal with it, or overcome it.  When the morning light dawns we can see just how big of a fallen tree we are facing.

I attended a great lecture last weekend on the dark night of the soul and the commonality we shared as humans who have encountered a dark night in our lives was prevalent in the audience and, in fact, unanimous.  I took many pages of notes as this occurence has happened to me on many levels: personally (the well-known mid-life crisis, my father’s death, children leaving home, to name a few), professionally (in my former job as a therapist I dealt with other peoples’ fallen trees and dark nights on a daily basis until I forgot to take care of me and burned out), spiritually (I have been in Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones more than once!), and even physically (often the body is the last frontier to show the effects of stress).  Sometimes the stress of encountering a fallen tree in the dark night is simply too much and we can become depressed!  Rest assured, if you forgot your flashlight you will likely fall over it, conk your head on it, or, at the very least, stub your toe on it!  Or, maybe, you remembered the flashlight but didn’t check the batteries and the light is weak or without power.

I remember my husband standing before a full church during a celebration on the last day of a spiritual renewal weekend called Cursillo a dozen years ago, sharing this very metaphor that I am borrowing from him.  He compared his life prior to the weekend experience as walking through life with the flashlight (faith) in one hand and the batteries (God’s Power through the Holy Spirit) in his pocket.  He shared how God used the weekend, Jesus, and the love of people to spiritually help him get the batteries into the flashlight where true Light could shine.  That metaphor really hit home for a lot of people that day and I remember it still.

So, about those fallen trees…on one of my walks at Springbank I encountered the one in the photos above and found some answers in nature.  Fallen trees may vary in size and number but if they fall across your path you pretty much have to deal with them one way or another.  Look at the root system of this fallen tree that has not been completely severed from the trunk and see the miracle that has taken place over time:  the shoots of new trees have sprouted and young trees are growing out of the fallen trunk!  Life has sprouted from something left for dead.  This phenomenon can be contemplated from many angles and for me the conclusion is the same: HOPE!  So, the sprouts are nature’s way of dealing with fallen trees in the forest, even if the healing takes a long time to happen.

Let’s consider man’s response to fallen trees.  The one at Springbank was given a surprise ending not only in the sprouts but in the bridge someone built over it.  I suppose there was no particular need to chop up this tree and remove it from the woods and once the sprouts appeared I’m guessing that the nuns who live there wanted to honor the new life appearing from the dead, fallen tree and so they built a bridge over it.  What a great place to sit and think about life!  Sometimes, however, there is no choice but to remove the fallen trees and use the wood for other things, like drums or firewood.

Recently, I watched my husband methodically remove a twisted, diseased, half-dead oak tree from our front yard that was in danger of falling on our house.  I prayed every day that he would not get hurt as one by one he removed top branches and worked his way down.  He stood on the roof of our house and used a saw blade on a very long pole every day after teaching!  I told him to “Be careful!” so many times I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time those two words came out of my mouth! 

One evening last week I was taking a nap after work and I heard a huge thud outside that shook the bed like an earthquake.  I just knew it was the rest of that darned tree coming down!  I jumped up worried it might have landed on my husband!  As I got up I saw him run past the doors and through the backyard AFTER the thud.  I don’t know what that was about but I was glad he was okay!

The quick clean-up of this fallen tree was due in large part to our neighbor’s desire for free firewood to last the winter.  He hauled off most of the large sections.  Obviously, in suburbia, we could hardly leave the fallen tree in the front yard to wait for the lessons of nature or even for us to build a bridge over it.  Still, it will be interesting to see if anything sprouts from the leveled-to-the-ground stump that looks as smooth as a giant pancake lying in the grass.

I don’t think it is a good idea to ignore fallen trees and/or dark nights but this is often man’s response.  We can easily engage in all sorts of compulsive behaviors to numb the pain and remain in denial.  Our culture supports this attitude of keeping a stiff upper lip and being strong but the prolonged effects of practicing denial often result in all sorts of symptoms and dis-eases of the soul.  Facing our fallen trees often brings up emotions we may not be prepared to deal with but in the long run it is better than the alternative and with some support to help us we WILL get through it!  Denial seems to help us cope on the surface of things but over time it eats away our soul until there is just a dim spark flickering like a flame in the wind.

So, if your flashlight is empty, get some new batteries!  Pray!  Ask for help, lean on your family, go to church, get some fresh air, and reach out a little. Take a friend with you on your journey and find a good therapist – there’s no shame in this, it works!  After all, you may have to build a bridge to get to the other side of the path but you MAY find one already placed there by a kind, UNSEEN Hand.

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In Search of the Muse, detail of a collage

Imagine this!  …a world where Christ’s Love permeates cold hearts and heals broken ones…a world where even the tiniest flicker of light in the darkness illumines the way and inspires hope…a world where the imagination of God finds expression through His children, all artists in His eyes…a world where everyone is included, none excluded because God has no favorites.

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Springbank Retreat, Prayer Labyrinth

I can’t imagine a more beautiful, serene place on earth to explore one’s dreams than this oasis in a black cypress swamp.  I have been to this special place before and on this last visit for the dream workshop I learned something new.  One of my very favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, used to come here for writing retreats and worked on her now famous book, The Secret Life of Bees , in the solitary woods of Springbank!  When I walked the prayer labyrinth and contemplated the footstones set in the path at important junctures, I couldn’t help but think of this amazing writer walking here and bringing to life the characters in her novel.  Her dreams came true here and I pray mine will too someday!  The words on the footstones were: patience, gentleness, faith, love, peace, kindness, and imagine.  At the very center of the labyrinth was the word imagine surrounded by a circle of velvety green moss that I almost wanted to lie down upon.  Instead I stood there and gave thanks for the healing my soul embraced in my dream the night before and for the growth gained from exploring new depths in a short time.  How I wished to be on sabbatical until December like the group of nuns in the workshop!  I came across this quote and I hope it will inspire me to stay on this new path: “Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.”  Karen Raun

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