Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Five: The Fork in the Road

Singing Owl says: "I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?"

This feels pretty relevant for me right now as I have had a year that has contained more life changing things than I would have believed one life could contain. But everything that is going on right now, as amazing and exciting as it is began earlier with another momentous decision. So let's start there....

  • The first big fork moment in recent history was my decision to leave my secure known life behind and move across the state to this small place. It was undertaken (after a kick in the posterior from another friend) to work with National Health Service in order to pay off my huge student loan debt acquired while I was getting my doc. The plan for this particular fork was, go out to the prairie, "do my five to seven years" and hie myself back to the big city where I belonged. Ha! God seemed to have another dream for me which began unfolding almost immediately after my arrival in this place when....
  • I began attending the Episcopal church and was approached about joining the ministry team, first just being commissioned for lay pastoral care. But the discernment process widened out after my meeting with the commission on ministry and the Bishop and the focus of my call shifted to full ordination for the priesthood as part of the local team. Another fork, as it appeared that "five to seven" was suddenly becoming a commitment to God's people in this place.
  • With all the joys and happiness of finding a new life here, there was an undercurrent of sadness. My relationship with my "Dear One" (DO) was not going well. I had been working very hard to dive deep into my heart to find my own truth and it was becoming painfully clear that my truth and DO's truth were simply not going in the same direction. As I looked down the path of life I could see that there was not a fork but a major life highway interchange. The kind that no matter how many maps you read and how much research you do, you really can never feel quite ready. So I did what I had never done before. I did something totally spontaneous and impulsive and totally for me. I jumped ship! On the ship that is....I went to the BE!
  • What a fabulous time spent at a fork that was. Life-change at it's finest. It was, for me a time to say things that I felt were unspeakable and have them heard. To see a me I was not yet but could possibly be reflected in the eyes of accepting others. And it was just plain fun! Something I let myself have far too little of in my life. The RevGals on the BE were the best support group anyone could have. In informal groups, in passing conversations, in the intentional moments to tell me something that might be who were there may never know the difference you made.
  • The next fork would of course have to be meeting R. I have to laugh at myself now. I was so certain that I was not "dateable" coming to the party late as I was with all my baggage. C and my other friends just laughed at me and urged patience. "It will come when you are ready." And of course they were right. On the first date we closed the coffee shop we talked so much. We laughed at ourselves for being nervous and the silly things we did...about the first date. On the second date I knew I was already having some feelings for him. Then there was a time lag when we did not see each other, during which I almost gave up on him. Old tapes kicked in and of course I knew again I was right about no one ever being interested in me. But one fateful night I decided to be brave....a fork now it turns out...and do something totally out of character and take a chance! I sent an e-mail. I got response almost instantly. And know the rest of the story! (If not it's just a couple posts back and a picture of the ring is on Facebook!)
  • This whole series of forks is really about love. When I left the big city to come to this little place I left what I thought was a fine little life. I had a decent job, a career, the trappings of life. I had a couple of friends that I kept at a safe distance. I spent time doing things and taking care of people. I was alone a lot and I was lonely, even though at the time I am not sure I knew that. I was faced with a choice that I thought was about money. Give up the so-called security of what I had to come to this place full of strangers in order to take care of the burdensome debt. It was terrifying but exciting to start over. I had no idea what I would find here. I have been gifted with not only the love of a good man, but some of the most wonderful friendships. In C, in my Soul Sisters and other close friends in town. And I feel surrounded by a larger net of love from my RevGal friends, from others in the community here. By taking that chance....such amazing things have happened, and I really do thank God every day!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lent...the First Post

The Best Prayer Julian of Norwich
The best prayer is to rest in the goodness of God, knowing that that goodness can reach down to our lowest depths of need.
Source: Revelations of Divine Love

I'm not sure that I will manage to post every day during Lent. I gave that a go for a January Nablo and it didn't go so well, but let's just say, it's my hope to be more reflective and intentional about posting over the next forty days. Ash Wednesday service was a good beginning for the season. I preached the sermon posted below, and M and I celebrated the Eucharist together. Our choir sang and we had a good attendance of 23, which in our tiny place is a major crowd. I had the strange and wonderful experience of placing ashes on the forehead of my beloved and saying those powerful words that for me hold such depth and meaning. In one millisecond holding the solemn truth that this man I love so much is dust....ephemeral and mortal, easily lost to me by death, and at the same time knowing he, like all of the other beautiful faces at the rail last night, is held in God, part of God and linked to me in a far bigger way than my human mind can ever grasp.

Lent has begun. I have already bumped up against challenges to my plan to give up suffering. I had coffee with XDO on Shrove Tuesday. There is fertile ground for a guilt wallow there should I chose to dive in. I did not personally share the news of my engagement before it got around by way of the grapevine. That was an oops on my part, I think. I did procrastinate some. I wasn't entirely sure of the reception, although to be fair, overall, the response to my developing relationship with R has been pretty positive as XDO and I have tried to negotiate these strange waters of post-relationship friendship. But there is anger about the fact that the news did not come from me. And more, too, I think. About the news itself. That I have moved on this soon...and so many other things. XDO is experiencing health issues at some level of seriousness. How serious I cannot be sure as that is not being shared. I get it. I am no longer the bearer of that privilege. But it frustrates me as well. And from my own pile of issues it is very hard to resist going to guilt. I have joy and blessings, love and abundance. XDO has illness and apparent suffering, loneliness and perhaps an uncertain future. My head heart mourns....and wants to take it on and must be pulled back from an edge that bodes no good for anyone. Lenten discipline....fasting from the wallow in XDO guilt.

I saw L yesterday. He has been keeping a very low profile. That has been very concerning to me, but for a whole host of reasons I have had to let him do that. We ran into each other and he told me that he has been "kicked out" of his roommate situation here in town. He has moved to his mom's house in the little town down the road, which is far from an optimal thing, for many reasons. He's not working...again, not good. Lot's of free time. I encouraged him to call some congregants who live in his town for a ride to church and to call me to talk. I wish I could do more for him. I worry about him and pray for him constantly. His life makes me so sad. I want to save him from is out of my power to do so. *sigh* ....fasting from worry? Now there is a tall order!

And so Lent begins....

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Once again we gather as a community of God’s beloved people to begin the journey of Lent. To make the shift from one season of our church lives to the next. I think sometimes about what a blessing it is to be in a liturgical church, to have this rhythm to help us remember the great breadth and depth of all of who God is in our lives and who we are to God. Tonight our service has a focus on penitence and the receiving of Ashes. It gives us the opportunity to remember by word and symbol the fragile and brief nature of this earthly life. To reflect on how precious it and we are before God. And to remember how God holds us in that life...and that we can indeed trust God to do that.

Last Sunday I talked about thin places and mountain top moments. How sometimes we have those experiences in which we know that we have come face to face with the living God and have, for a moment caught God’s vision. Last Ash Wednesday God graced me with one of those moments during this service. What came from that moment on the mountain has stayed with me through Lent and Easter and beyond and I’d like to pass it on to you tonight.

Last year, I had the privilege of being the one to "impose" the ashes upon those coming forward as the prayer book says. When I got home that night, I had to go look up the word impose to see if there was something I was missing, but all the definitions had the same sense of the word that I am familiar with, that of bringing something on someone with force or at the very least authority, pushing it at them. Because that certainly was not what I had I felt. I had felt instead that I was giving each of them a splendid gift. The Sunday before, our mentor, Father T had led us in a comptempletive prayer workshop, and one of the things we had reflected on was that essentially the "dust" that we are is the stuff of the universe, the same matter as supernovas and stars, glaciers and canyons, that the very ground we stand on and the air that we breathe... is the stuff, could it be....of God? This came back to me that night, and as I marked that small cross of ash on each forehead, I felt as if what I was truly saying to each person was, "Remember that you are of God, and to God you will return."

We are dust. We are God’s. How ever we look at it, our lives are not our own, nor are they endless. We are all part of a connected and intertwining community with God at the center. Everything we are, everything we have, belongs to the One who created us and loves us beyond measure. The One who has desired to be in relationship with us through all time and has kept faithful covenant with us forever. The One who became flesh in order to be among us, to be us in order to both show us God and how to be human.

It is when we forget and lose sight of this essential truth and fall out of right relationship that we sin. It is then that we are in need of forgiveness. It is then that we must repent and turn to a new way of being with God, with others and with ourselves. It is then that we must remember again who we really are – stuff of earth, yes, but chosen and beloved by God, covenanted through all time, graced beyond measure, redeemed and saved by a love so vast that we cannot conceive it.

Lent provides us with a time to step away, to quiet and to center ourselves, to remember who and whose we are. And a time, too, to eliminate some of the distractions that keep us from remembering the essential truth that, at points along the way we have sinned, we have missed the mark and have failed, in our relationships with God, with others and with ourselves, and do need to repent, be forgiven and be redeemed by God’s unfathomable redeeming love. The spiritual disciplines of alms and prayer and fasting that the Gospel speaks of offer us a way to focus on the One who created us and loves us and calls us back into that right relationship. By taking time in prayer for stillness to listen and really hear and respond to the quiet voice of Spirit within us and by drawing away from the “stuff” of life in all its forms that surrounds and smothers our senses, perhaps we can get a better sense again of who we are as we stand before our God. Perhaps if we can fast from the overload of all that surrounds us we can once again remember our vulnerability as human beings, the brevity of our lives, and how truly intertwined we are with one another, as well as with this fragile planet that God has given us stewardship of. The giving of alms might call us to gratitude for God’s gifts in our own lives, as well as providing us with a time to repent in a meaningful way of how we often fail to notice the true needs of those around us.

As we leave this place tonight, each of us will have a cross of ash to carry with us into the night as a reminder of our vulnerable humanity, but also our connection to the one who created, loves and calls us, to life, and when we fall, to new life again. “Remember, my beloved ones, you are God’s and to God you will return.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And So It Begins....

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is a unique time for revisiting the work of the soul and taking stock of what God has done and is doing in us. Canon Renee Miller

Ash Wednesday. I woke this morning with a sense of "something's up" before I was completely conscious. That sense of a day that is just not like the others, one that has extra things to do or remember, a day that has import. "What?" my foggy brain asked. "Ah,'s here." That Lent I am not quite prepared for, sure about. But ready or not, here it is. That is the way of liturgical seasons. They come upon you if you are ready or not, and somehow it's been my experience that they have turned out to often be just the thing I needed, even when I didn't know it it.

As usual, "coincidentally" (ha!) things have been just appearing that have given me great food for thought as to "what to do about Lent." Comments from Imingrace and Beach Walkin' on my last post and a remark made by Kathryn on the Tuesday Lectionary Leanings as I thought about my sermon for tonight. Something I read on Barbara Crafton's Daily e-mo. Something C said to me last night on the phone. It's all in the mix and it's all brewing in the Lenten stew. I know this must be important because it makes my stomach kind of queasy to think about it. Always a clear sign that a) this is likely to be Big Stuff and b) I probably don't want to deal with it. So what better for Lent! So what is this momentous thing? Well, I am thinking about giving up guilt and suffering for Lent! OK, that's kind of flip, but seriously, I am thinking about working on repenting of feeling guilty about joy and trying to do as some of you have suggested and relax into God's blessings and the joy in my life.

It has been pointed out to me by a few people that I struggle with receiving, with accepting others' care for me. This is true in many contexts. I know it, I accept and I get the reasons for it. It's just plain better, easier and safer to give! I get to be in control, I get to feel good and I get strokes and brownie points besides. I mean, does it GET better than this?!? In essence, maybe I get to play God a little, really. Oh. Well, now....perhaps there is something that could use a little repenting.

I also tend to feel guilty about the blessings and goodness in my life. I've written about this before....I know it's not a good thing. I know I'm projecting here a bit, but I imagine God sometimes giving me all this wonderful stuff and then sort of going "mmmpfh!" as I respond not with simple joy and gratitude, but by going into paroxysms of guilt about not being deserving and feeling upset about those around me who are not getting good things, etc. etc. I imagine how I would feel if I went to the trouble of finding splendid gifts for someone I loved and instead of simply enjoying them, they got all strange and said "Oh, but look, you didn't give her one, or him one. " I mean really! So perhaps I could repent on that front as well.

I mentioned in the Monday post about being more accustomed and comfortable with a spiritual life based in suffering. Now it's not that I have had this horrible life. In fact, overall, my life has been pretty blessed. But like anyone who has made it past the midpoint, there has been some pain and struggle. And the last year has certainly had its share of hard times. I have pretty much always been able to flee to God in such find my "wing," my safety and comfort. When I am sad, God is there, when I am anxious in the night, I know that steady Presence is with me, in times past when I felt that I was alone and abandoned by everyone, God did not desert me. But happiness? Joy? Strangely those are less comfortable for me to settle into in general, and also less easy to "ease into" with God. I truly do believe in my heart that I am God's beloved child and that God truly does delight in me. This would seem to suggest that my joys would be God's joys, too. That, God's dreams for me are those which would bring me the greatest happiness and fulfillment, and that as these dreams come to pass God would be rejoicing greatly. This suggests yet another Lenten discipline....though that seems a funny word in this context....doing as Beach Walkin' suggested, "using this season to rejoice... for all of the quiet ways God has... is... and will continue to work in you... and through you...." by "learning to sit and allow God to love me " as Kathyrn suggests in TLL, because as Imingrace said, "God has been good to you and resting in the joy of this gift is a good thing."
Amen, my sisters, that, I think, will Lent!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Countdown to Lent

I can't believe it's only two days until Ash Wednesday. This didn't really hit me until I was doing the T-fig sermon prep last week, and suddenly it was like "Omigosh, how did we get here!" Given that I am preaching the AW service, this was an additionally sobering realization, never mind the fact that it heralds in this whole season that I have given absolutely no thought to as far as observances, Lenten disciplines and such. Last year at this time I pretty much had my Lent mapped out. Had a theme, knew what I was reading...had at least an idea of where I was headed with a plan.

OK, I have to admit, I have been a little distracted lately. And yes, I am feeling a little guilty. I used to be such a serious overfunctioner when it came to my church-life, every minute that was not consumed with my day job(s) was focused on church or something related to it. In retrospect, I know that this, like a lot of the manic busy-ness that consumed me in those days, was a very handy way to avoid looking at some unpleasant truths that I was not, at that time, ready to deal with. But I worry some times that my pendulum might swing too far the other direction. Or maybe I worry that people might think it has. I'm picking up a little disapproval from some quarters, or at least I think that's what I'm sensing at least from one person. I've said no to a couple of things lately on the church front. Nothing big.....opting out of a meeting for a "family event." Talking about the possibility that out of five Easter week events, I may miss one. Again, to gather with some of my in-laws-to-be (and no it's not on Easter Sunday).

Overall, I'm feeling less internally focused, less contemplative. I'm sharing more of what's going on inside of me with another person instead of simply reflecting on it or writing about it. And yes that does feel a little weird and maybe a little unbalanced. I suspect I will find my way back to center over time. I do feel the need of finding some sort of Lenten practice to ground and focus me. And I'm thinking maybe that will help me feel like I'm moving back towards center again. I remember how much I liked some of what happened last Lent in terms of spiritual growth. But I also have to remember that I was in a very different place personally then as well. Life was in no small amount of turmoil and I was in transition in a big way. It's hard to believe how much change a year can bring. How much joy a year can bring, too. It occurs to me that I am pretty good at doing a solid spiritual life in the midst of pain and suffering and even in the midst of change. But I'm not sure I quite know how to do this in joy and serenity. Perhaps that is my challenge. To give up suffering for Lent!?!? Somehow that doesn't seem quite right to this ever-still RC matter how for recovered I like to think I have become.....But clearly there is food here for thought. It's a good thing I still have those two days.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Five: Taking A Break

Songbird says: "Where we live, it's February School Vacation Week!Yes, that's an odd thing, a vacation extending President's Day. But it's part of our lives here. Some people go South or go skiing, but we always stay home and find more humble amusements.In that spirit, I offer this Taking a Break Friday Five. "

Tell us how you would spend:
1. A 15 minute break -- Catching up on my blog reading which has been neglected of late.
2. An afternoon off -- When I got my new countertops, a small amount of wall was left that needs a paint touch-up. An afternoon would do it. But I haven't had one!
3. An unexpected free day -- I am longing for a day to go to the big city to have a shopping day. Yes I know it's way early to start looking at "those dresses" but....a girl can dream!
4. A week's vacation -- I'd grab R and we'd go South together....maybe to look at one of the places we dream about relocating to someday.
5. A sabbatical --Oh no contest on this one. I'd find some group that sponsors counselors in NOLA and head down and do some work there for at least part of the time, the other part, I'd take some kind of class in Scripture or preaching and I'd write like a fool the whole time!

Monday, February 16, 2009

And All is Well in Kate's World Today

Once upon a weekend, on the windswept prairies, the K clan gathered, as is their annual custom on President's Day weekend. To eat, and laugh and play a few hands of cards, to catch up on one another's lives and just enjoy being together. This year, however, there was a newcomer among them. The youngest brother of the clan had a new lady in his life. Oh, they had been hearing about her. Way more than she knew, fortunately for her, and were waiting to meet her. They were very warm and welcoming and a good time was had by all....

I took the advice in your comments and concentrated on learning names and having individual conversations. By the end of the weekend I had the names of all six of the siblings present, their five spouses, the five young adult children who were divided between the siblings and the three grandchildren they in turn produced pretty well nailed, and most of the time could match who went with whom. I teased and was teased in turn by Dad, and had a serious conversation about a family concern with some of the sisters. Not bad for the first time out of the chute, I'd say.

As expected, I liked them. They are fun to be around, they enjoy each other and it shows. It was a delight to watch R with them, to see him with his sisters and his brother and his Dad, who is 95 and deals with some memory issues. R is sweet and patient with his dad and it made me fall in love with him all over again to watch him. He and his sisters and brother pick on each other in that affectionate way of people who have known and loved each for a long time. Clearly he is closer to some than others. There is a large age span. As one of sisters noted, she could have easily been his mother, several of them were off and and gone when he was tiny. Unlike in my family, though, adult relationships have been built and there is caring and affection. There is, as he says, a safety net here. If you need, you call and the Clan rallies for you.

And it is a good thing that we all took to each other. I to them and they to me. As it is official that I shall be an "outlaw" member of said clan come May 2010. Yes, asked and answered on Valentine's Day. I'm guessing this comes as no surprise to you who read this post. It has been evolving for us and even though the ask and answer was a formalizing of something we both already knew to be true, I still find myself amazed. It's that time thing I wrote about a couple weeks ago. In some ways we are still so new, and yet we are so right with each other, that it seemed a foolish thing not to publicly state and confirm what we both are fairly certain to be true--we are each others' future. But we both agree that a year is a good time frame for an engagement. Time for us to be sure that what we think we know is really true and lasting. We picked May because it is Spring and lovely and, well, it just felt right. And it gives ample time to dream and plan for the one wedding I am going to have in my life. With good liturgy (of course!) and a wonderful party after with food and dancing to which all our friends, as well as the extended Clan will be invited.

So that was my big weekend. Far less stress and far more wonderful than ever imagined. God continues to shower my life with blessings. And I continue to remind myself that the correct response to blessing is gratitude and not guilt, that my more is not someone else's less, that there is great abundance in God's world and that it really is ok for me to fall into the net of love that surrounds me and just enjoy it. Grace does abound.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Friday Five: Pets"

Sophia says: "My son's tiny beloved lizard, Elf, is looking and acting strange this week. His skin/scales are quite dark, and he is lethargic. We are adding vitamin drops to his lettuce and spinach and hoping and praying that he is just getting ready to shed his skin--but it's too soon to tell. Others in the ring have also been worried about beloved pets this week. And, in the saddest news of all, Songbird has had to bid farewell to her precious Molly, the amazing dog who is well known to readers of her blog as a constant sacrament of God's unconditional love. So in memory of Molly, and in honor of all the beloved animal companions who bless our lives: tell us about the five most memorable pets you have known."

  • Well of course no discussion of animal companions would be complete without Maggie the Peke. Her picture appears on my blog, and she frequently has appeared in posts. She is a good companion, somewhat of an introvert and contemplative as dogs go. Someone once said of her that the batteries were not included. But she is an ideal dog for me, very low maintenance for the most part. She has very few bad habits of the doggy variety. She does not chew or dig or bark excessively. She cohabits well with the kitties. Her only flaw of late has been to express her displeasure with my spending more time with a new human friend than with her in the best way doggies know how. She has been leaving me little gifts....always in the same place, about the same time. Yes it is a message. Yes, Maggie I hear you, but R is not going away.

  • There was another Maggie in my life before this one. The earlier Maggie was a cat, Persian persuasion. And, sad to say, the ugliest of that particular breed I had ever seen. She was a non-descript gray, she was always a matted mess and she loved to sit on the gas stove because it had a pilot light where her old arthritic self could stay warm and comfy. One day of course the inevitable happened. Maggie caught fire. Her tail somehow got where the tail should not be and there was a terrible stench and she took off running and howling and we took off chasing before she could set the whole place ablaze. What, after all do cats know of tuck, drop and roll? We did manage to grab her and get a towel around her and put her out before too much damage was done. Mostly it was tail hair that was lost and a few superficial burns. Before long she was happily back...on the stove.

  • Then there was Khodi the WonderDog. One day I went with a friend to get a puppy. It was a sad sad tale. The mama dog had been homeless and this nice lady took her in. But the lady could not keep her as she had another dog, so hapless Kate took the homeless mama dog. And oh did she have issues! She was not housebroken, had never been on a leash and apparently had some kind of serious anxiety issues about being left alone that made her eat anything consumable left in her path. She ate a comforter, a pillow, and part of a couch. Why did you not kennel her, you ask? She ate that too! Then of course it was a steel cage, and even in those she could not have blankets or rugs, even rubber mats were no match for her. It was clear that living with someone who went to work every day was not going to be a good thing for Khodi, so we found her a great home on a farm where she was much happier.

  • Cats. I have lived with more cats than I can number or name. Most of them have passed through my life as foster cats in the care of XDO. This was a passion that got a little out of hand. At one point I felt a little like the crazy cat lady. People would say, "So how many cats do you have?" and I would develop a sudden cough or hear my cell phone buzzing in my pocket and have to flee the room. We had special needs cats, cats in diapers and cats that needed nebulizer treatments. We had cats that sneezed green stuff and cats that failed to thrive. We had feral cats that were seen only as they passed through the house and were holy terrors if you had to catch them to medicate them. With the departure of XDO I was left with "some" cats. I am now down to my own three and one semiferal inside leftover and one feral outside leftover who lives in the garage that XDO pretty much comes and cares for.

  • Bridget is one of my own three cats. I've had her for thirteen years when she came to me from a friend who found her as a stray. She is a gorgeous dilute calico girl with beautiful green eyes. When I got her the vet said she was probably about four or five. This makes her a senior cat citizen these days and she is acting the part. She has always been a strange kitty. She came with me when I moved across the state "for company." Ha! She lived under the bed and the only time she ever came out was if I had company or there was a repair person in the house (preferably male). Bridget has always had an unabashed and clear preference for men and she expresses it clearly. She made friends with R right away and makes for his poor allergic to cats lap every chance she gets. She also has some mental health issues. For periods of time she will pull out her tail hair and the hair on her back till she is bald. Then she will stop. And she's fine for a long time till she starts again. The vet can find no organic's psychosomatic! She is very arthritic and at seventeen or eighteen, I don't know how much longer she will be with us. Right now she is back in full coat and looking good. I'm grateful and loving her in all her quirks.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Family Ties

This will be an important weekend. I am meeting the family! This of course is always an important milestone in relationship development, but it has a little extra kick when I consider the fact that R comes from a clan of nine (he's the youngest) and I come from, at this point pretty much a family of me.

I came into my family late as the third child and only girl to a sibling set of two teenaged brothers who were off in high school and not terribly excited to have me join the group. By the time I was four, Brother #1 was married and Brother #2 was overseas in the military. I was left to be raised pretty much as an only child, with them coming to visit and bringing their children as they arrived, I thought only to torment my solitary bliss. They, if they thought of me at all, saw me as the spoiled princess who wore out my already tired and aging parents. I had no real sibling relationships with them growing up, and my attempts to form them as an adult were only moderately successful. Brother #2 and I did grow closer in his later years as he recovered from alcoholism. This fledgling relationship was cut short by his early death in 1992 after heart surgery. Brother #1 was very hurtful to my mother in some ways that I have so far been unable to resolve in a way that has allowed me to continue to have a relationship with him. I have had no direct contact with him since the day of my brother J's funeral. Sometimes this bothers me. Sadly, when it does so, it is more in the whole global realm of human forgiveness and reconciliation than it is in terms of the personal connection to him. I often think, too if he had done something to hurt me, I could so much more easily have let it go. But it was my mother, and for some reason I struggle so much more with that, as if I were somehow charged with being her avenging angel, even though she has been dead now almost a dozen years. I have a feeling that she has long forgiven him, and sometimes in the dark of night when I lie awake and think of such things, I think I hear her urging me to let it go, too. But if I did desire to make a connection, I think I would not know where to begin. I'm not even sure at this point if he is still alive. Or if he has any desire to hear from me, for, as is often the way of these family battles, the anger and bad feeling was not mine alone.

So I am somewhat of an orphan. After J's death I did not remain in close contact with his widow or children. My father has been gone since I was in my twenties. When my mother died, with things being being as they were between Brother #1 and I, that was pretty much the end of the family ties. And it did not feel strange to me. Because even when everyone was alive, we were not all that close as a family. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I arrived so late...all my cousins were my brothers' peers...or that I always felt that I just never felt I quite fit with this bunch, or that we just weren't very connected in general. Family gatherings when they did happen tended not to be terribly pleasant affairs and often included drinking and arguing and somebody going away mad. So they were sort of avoided unless necessary, in the case of someone getting married, baptized, confirmed, graduated or buried. Then they tended to be short, stiff formal and perfunctory, unless they were as above, drunken and rowdy. Either way...not something I engaged in willingly and was only too happy to finally be old enough to avoid attending.

This is not the case for R's clan. They are big, they are connected and they willingly get together for all sorts of reasons. I'm getting the sense that they might actually be a group of people who enjoy each other's company. This weekend they are having the Annual President's Day Gathering, one of the selected times when as many as possible of the gang gathers. This one is at a hotel to just hang out for a weekend together. Eat, drink, visit, play cards...and this year, meet the new woman in R's life. The questions have been asked, the curiosity is rising, the time has come.

I am more than a little anxious. There are, for one thing, such a lot of them! Just keeping the names straight alone will be a challenge. And there is of course all the usual "will they like me?" stuff. R has been shushing me on that. Not to worry, as he likes me and that is all that matters. My friends tell me to relax, I am making him happy and his family knows this and that is really all that matters to the people who love him. Ok, yeah, my head gets that. And I'll be fine, I know I will. I do, after all know how to meet people. I do it for a living! But I have to say, I'll be glad when the first hour or so is behind me and they start feeling more like friends and less like this amorphous large clan of relatives waiting to interview me. I do want them to like me....after all, I have a sneaking hunch I may be having some long relationships with these people.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Strictly Ballroom

R and I went to our first ballroom dance class last night. I had seen the announcement in the community ed flyer way back before the New Year's dance, and after I creamed his toes a few times that night, it seemed like it might not be a bad a idea to take a class. Besides, I really do love to dance and I have never in my life had a partner who was willing or able to go dancing with when there was a chance to spend five Sunday nights in the cold mid-winter doing something related to dancing...well how could I pass that up! And R, being the sweet, agreeable guy that he is was willing to go along for the ride.

So last night found us and about twenty-five other couples of all ages and description nervously milling around the decrepit grade school gym making small talk while we waited for Harry the instructor to finish getting everyone checked in. Harry, it is clear, has been teaching ballroom for a long time! His first step was to put us in two long lines, guys on one side, women on the other across from our partners. All in all, the women looked much happier to be there than the guys, some of whom looked like they would have been happier having root canals. He told the guys, "Your job is to lead" and us, "Your job is to follow" and had us all repeat that. We all laughed of course. Then he taught the basic box step of the waltz and we went to work practicing. I immediately failed "follow." We all knew I would. I had warned R of that before the New Year's dance...and proved it. And last night I proved it again. OK, so I have control issues....even on the dance floor! But after a while I relaxed and started to trust his lead. He really can count to three! Who knew!?! And we began to if not exactly glide around in our little circle, at least to do something that remotely resembled a waltz.

Some of our neighbors were not so fortunate. The couple to my right were struggling mightily. They were both having a hard time with the whole business, but at least they were having fun. We laughed and talked with them about the advisability of bringing something a little stronger in our sports bottles next week to loosen our feet. The couple to my left were not doing too well, either. Unfortunately they were not having fun. She in particular was taking it all very seriously, and she was ragging on that poor man to beat the band. Sadly, she reminded me of a not so long ago version of myself. Uptight and perfectionistic and controlling.

So dance class was instructional for more than my feet. It was a good reminder that I need to remain conscious about who I choose to be, who I really am. Oh, I could be that lady on my left. Not for long of course, because someone I love very much would probably raise an eyebrow at me in that way of his, and I would remember just who it is I am, he is and we are, and I would slip back into the real safety of now and not need the illusion of security that trying to control it all gives me. So dance frame ready, the music begins....and off we go.

Monday, February 02, 2009

My Relational World

Madonna may have been the Material Girl living in her material world, but I am definitely living in the relational world....and I am taking those comments seriously that nobody is sick of hearing about love from me just yet. Sometimes in the middle of the night for one horrifying second between sleep and wakefulness there is a space where I think this whole thing is a dream. And then I come to full consciousness and memory and sense returns and I know it is not. And I begin to wonder where I have been all my life. And what I have been doing. Because surely I have never been loved like this by anyone before. And it is not like I have not been in long attached relationships....sixteen and twelve years respectively. With people I loved at that time with deep attachment and care. They were people who needed my love, I knew that. My love mattered to them, it helped them in some way to feel better, to heal some wound, to come to some better place than they had been. I knew that they cared for me, and, yes, I guess, loved me in return....I "knew" this in a kind of intellectual way like you know the times tables or the formula for calculating percentages. But it wasn't something I ever thought about much, their love of me. For one thing, I know now that the perp rap of the nun who spiritually abused me was still acting as a barrier at that point to my really letting anyone love me, because I could not believe at a soul level that anyone really could. But once I had worked through that and finally at long last eradicated her voice from my head, I think I was free to allow myself, perhaps for the first time in my life to let it matter that I be loved in a relationship.

So this time it does matter that it is mutual. And I have to say, I am finding it quite wonderful. To not have that sense that I am working without a human net (although R pointed out to me that I really wasn't....I had friends who were loving me all along, I just wasn't quite up to acknowledging how much they were there for me) is so soothing. I feel a sense of safe solid ground in my life that I have never before experienced. I am not where the buck stops. For the first time in my life in my primary relationship I know if I fell, I would have somebody to catch me in arms strong enough to make a difference, and that if preventing the fall by fixing the step were possible, he'd have it done before I asked.

I am also learning that there was a payoff for being the one who did the loving of the needy ones, the wounded birds, the strays. It kept me safe in a strange sort of way. It kept me in my little bubble of control, in charge and secure. I did not have to give my heart away as long as I was the caretaker and not the taken. This new place requires a radical trust, a letting go....a backward plunge into the pool. It's a good thing I had the chance to practice this in my faith life. I learned that I can let go and live through it in my relationship with God. Now I get to practice it in my human life. Letting go, allowing, receiving, letting into my heart and mind and life the sure and certain knowledge that I am loved and....truly, all is well.