When a Warrior is Needed

As a kid, I was never a girly-girl. I was a tom-girl who didn’t have much patience for a lot of fluff. I was indifferent to painted nails but loved adventures.  I was impatient with those silly pictures of guardian angels that looked like some kind of fairy godmother with wings.  I’m sure that they were intended to comfort little ones. But even as a child I thought they were pretty lame.

Do I have fun in life? You bet!  Do I like happily-ever-after stories? Sure I do!   At the same time, I am not naive and recognize that real life often requires hard work, a great deal of courage, and a stick-to-it-ness that requires both backbone and fortitude. I am reminded of this line by Thomas Edison – “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I have noticed that a few of my FaceBook friends follow the on-line site: The Penny Hoarder. One of the articles I read recently spoke about the huge debt under which most Americans are buried. It said that the solution to this eradicating debt is easy, although they immediately posted a disclaimer saying that they did not mean you to follow this advice, the solution was that debt would be dealt with by your estate when you die.  Jolly! Knowing that your debts will be paid off when you die really doesn’t make it any better for you, does it?

I have often joked with one of my brothers about having champagne tastes on a beer budget.  My choices are such that perhaps few people would understand. I have very few clothes and even fewer shoes. I don’t care who I impress or what people think of me. My car, my address, or the stuff that decorates my home are not purchased for some kind of wow factor.  I could care less if I am seen in the right places or impress someone by having the right toys or belonging to the properly upper-crust organization.  But I do have some big plans and the clock is ticking.  Seemingly faster with the passing hours.  Am I trying to make those plans a reality? Yes! Have I had some offers of assistance? Again, Yes! But there are snags and some of the snags are big.  Just one is substantial indebtedness from years of underemployment.  But life often throws scarier obstacles in our path and I have had to weather some of those as well.

I try to banish fear and focus on the positives while assessing the situation accurately.  We have a decent roof over our heads and we haven’t gone hungry.  I have a wonderful husband and we are both healthy and were both blessed with a sense of humor which helps when times get tough.  We have heat and air conditioning.  I don’t have insurance – but I have a dentist who will work with us, and doctors who don’t charge the moon.  We have a fun, quirky and loving family, some amazing friends, a church where we can worship and have made some friends, a neighborhood with places to take walks and a Sonoran Desert view of mountains, cacti, and endless skies.

On those occasions when I feel like my back is to the wall and serious help is required,  I am encouraged when I remember scriptural promises that prayers will be answered.  I am also cheered that in Jewish and Christian scriptures angels are described in ways that give me courage when mine falters.

Posted in Church, Courage, Life in these times, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On Truth Telling, Betrayal, Secrets and Lies

This is the stuff that Philosophers, Theologians, Ethicists, Doctors, and Lawyers have argued about since time immemorial.  The post I am writing now is written after many conversations with family and friends over decades.  I can pretty well guarantee that some of my readers will take issue with what I write.  Some may radically disagree.  If so, I hope that you will e-mail me, or post a comment below.

Let me begin by explaining what I am not talking about.  I am not talking about being sworn under oath in a court of law, to tell the truth, tell the whole truth, and tell nothing but the truth.  I am not talking about doctor-patient privileged information.  I am not speaking about confessions made to your pastor or priest.

I am talking about the stuff you know about because you either did it yourself, or it happened to you; or someone very near to you (whether by proximity or relationship), confessed it, did it, or might have done it; or because the rumor fairy dropped by to chat.

Occasionally bad things are told for the wrong reason or to the wrong person.  For example, you are plagued by some wrong you committed years in the past, and the urge to confess is overwhelming so that you can feel better about it.  You go and confess to the person you hurt, who had not known anything about it at all; thereby causing hurt, grief and a sense of betrayal to rain down on the innocent person.  This is not nice.  Please take several weeks and read lots of books by Miss Manners.

I know of just such a situation.  I talked it over at some length while traveling with my father, who happened to be a lawyer.  It concerned a husband and wife of forty-plus years of married life.  They had always been faithful to one another.  Except once.  One weekend, early in their married life, the husband was sexually unfaithful to his wife.  He never saw the other person again.  Never spoke to her.  Never wrote her.  One weekend in forty plus years.  But it bothered him.  He sought to be free of the guilt that gnawed at him.  Instead of going to his pastor or priest, he went to his wife and confessed.  It ended their marriage.  She was devastated and responded by telling her husband that their whole marriage had been a lie.

In my opinion, my father’s response was wise.   My dad said that what had been the lie was the weekend, not the marriage.  The marriage was the truth; the weekend was the lie.  In my dad’s view, and I concur, the man committed another offense by confessing something that could only do one thing: cause his wife, an innocent party, grief and hurt.  He did it because the guilt was bothering him.  He soothed himself by burdening someone else.  Not nice.  Please take several weeks and read lots of books by Miss Manners.

During that same conversation, my father told me a real story regarding marriage, infidelity, and two brothers.  One of the brothers was married to a woman who had mental health issues.  She went to some kind of psychiatrist, or therapist, to get help.  The person she turned to for help, seduced her.  The husband found out and wanted to divorce her.  The husband’s brother argued with him, telling him that he had no right to divorce his wife.  She was the one who needed help, she was the one afflicted with mental health issues; she had tried to do the right thing by getting help.  The person who offered the help betrayed her by using her for his own pleasure.  The wife was a weak link who tried to do the right thing and was taken advantage of.  The therapist or doctor seduced her.  My father believed that the brother’s argument was correct:  this did not constitute grounds for divorce.  Apparently, the conversation between the brothers regarding divorce was effective.  The divorce was averted, and the couple went on to have many more years together as husband and wife.

Some truths are withheld for a good reason.  Not everyone needs to be told everything.  I believe that withholding information is different from telling a lie, except in the case of the courtroom witness stand, which I specifically said I was not talking about.  For example, by the time my divorce came about, my mother was in her late eighties, and her memory was very confused.  I never told her about my impending divorce.  Why?  Because telling her would only have caused her grief and sadness.  She loved her son-in-law.  Unfortunately, by that time in her life, I would have had to tell her the hurtful news repeatedly for her to keep it straight in her muddled head.  So not only would it have caused her grief, it would have caused her grief over and over again.  I did tell my dear aunt, her younger sister, and I did tell a dear friend of my mom’s.  They both asked me the same question:  “Have you told your mother?”  They were both relieved when I told them that I had not told her and had no intention of doing so.

Issues like withholding information, telling the truth or a lie, need to be carefully weighed.   Part of growing in maturity is remembering that we have brains and we need to use them.

Let me be very clear.  We must not shield someone who is dangerous to others.  Misplaced pity or naive good wishes might allow evil to happen.  The problem of good and evil is a serious issue.  Many basically good people have done bad things in their lives, and even very evil people may have occasionally done something decent or good.  Sorting it out ourselves and teaching our children how to navigate all of that is not a one-time lesson.  When we come into possession of potentially explosive information that could harm others, we need to tell it.  You see a knife or gun in your friend’s backpack at school you need to tell it to prevent harm to others or your friend.

However, if you learn something about your friend that poses no danger to others but could be very embarrassing if told, you may need to carefully keep that to yourself.  I am talking about the intimate details that one learns in close relationships.  Some things are not the business of anyone else.  If you have been trusted with private information, you need to guard it carefully.

Personally, I think that before marriage, it is wise to confess all to one’s future spouse:  youthful indiscretions; past relationships, etc.  Watching old TV murder mysteries when I was a kid, I used to reflect how many of the blackmail schemes and subsequent murders could have easily been avoided if spouses had been up-front with each other from the get-go.  Blackmail fails when there isn’t anything to hide.  Truth telling is important.  Particularly in marriage.

Learning to be people of character can be an uphill job.  It helps to use our brains before we use our mouths.  We need to determine whether what we are telling is important to tell, ours to tell, selfish to tell, helpful to tell.  Trying to think about other people, instead of ourselves, may be a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

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Inheriting Treasure

Would you explain to me why some people want everything to be new? I have never understood that. Why would you want the things you buy to be just like what your neighbor has? I am sometimes asked why I like old things – I guess because nearly all the things have stories to tell. I’m getting to be a bit of an old thing myself – but that doesn’t explain it – I liked old things even when I was in elementary school. It’s a good thing as I have inherited vast treasure from parents, grandparents and extended family. The stories are often quite colorful and sometimes embroidered over the years by skillful and humorous retelling.

Some of my inherited treasure meets new company now and then. Some years ago I had to buy a china cupboard, so I had room for all of the inherited china from my Dad’s sister and my Mom’s mother. I went to several furniture stores and found nothing I wanted. The cabinets were good sized and came in a variety of finishes and styles. But most had lights in them and cardboard backs and looked, well, modern. I took the same amount of money and bought an antique china cupboard with griffins carved on it which was delivered from the northeast. It doesn’t have a story attached to it unless you credit the story of how I bought the thing on eBay sight unseen. I like stories. I like treasure that comes with stories. So I bought griffins. Bless them. I asked my daughter to remind me what she named them and years after the fact she knew instantly. I include their pictures below.

I have inherited treasures that are still unsolved puzzles such as the torn-three-quarters of an elaborately woven blanket with highly stylized flowers, trees, and eagles, which is dated 1854. My mother was given it by her grandmother and seemed to believe that her grandmother had made it. But the dates are wrong. I have ruled some people out, but haven’t solved the genealogical and handiwork question. The great-grandparent we knew to be a weaver who seemed the obvious person to have woven it – wasn’t old enough to have created the elaborate blanket.

I guess most people won’t rate these as treasures in the usual sense. The treasures that I have, and they are everywhere in my house; all have stories that have been passed down to me. I have quite a few of my father’s woodworking tools, and the toolbox he put together for me when I left home at 18. I still have some of my dad’s small tools in wooden cigar boxes with nice sliding lids. I have my mother’s books and some of the beautiful dresses she sewed for me. I have my grandmother’s embroidery box, with some little flowers she had made and some lacework. I have framed photographs galore – and have enjoyed the detective work involved when the full stories weren’t immediately known. I crafted decorative labels on the back for those who come after me. But loving old things isn’t always for the faint of heart – and I confess mine to be made of pretty soft material sometimes.

Yesterday I cried because of lost treasure. I was trying to explain to someone why a particular kind of music was precious to me, and in attempting to explain it, I opened up a floodgate of memories of a cherished time and place and people who were once very dear to me and who are now beyond reach. One of the lessons I have to keep relearning in life is that we can’t make someone else care about or understand the things we love. All we can do is share the stories; they may never understand.

So much in life gets left behind: family homes, friends that move away and with whom we lose touch, memories of times gone by that are sometimes tough on tender-hearted ones. I admit to being one of those.

I comfort myself by remembering the teachings of my father. One day the Author of all of our lives will bring us together again with words, stories, treasure, music, feasting and joy beyond measure. Then the stories will be understood, the old things will shine, the wine will flow, and the music will enrich us. Then we will all share in the light of the treasure bought for us at great price.

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Burned Palms and Crazy People

Life is weird and so are most of the people I know.  I guess I gravitate toward people who are, as my dear brother David used to say, “a little out of round.”  The ones who are perfectly situated in life, who have all their T’s crossed and I’s dotted, who live in houses with perfectly-matched-everything, drive me batty.  I’m a girl whose life has been colorful at both ends of the spectrum, who has failed often and gotten back up, who has friends that run the gamut of backgrounds and life choices.

I am impatient with crap that doesn’t matter, with time killers and hoop jumping, with wasting time, with the “copy and paste and send it to twenty people you know” stupidity.  It makes me want to throw something.  As I’ve gotten older, I’m more impatient with all of that stuff.  I hate it.  There are more important things that actually matter.

In the meantime, life keeps throwing curve balls.  All of our strategic and mature planning gets kicked to the gutter by some idiot who doesn’t live up to their side of the bargain.  Our attempts to better ourselves get sidelined because some emergency stops us in our tracks: illnesses occur, debt overwhelms, vehicles break, pipes burst, and accidents happen.   We get derailed because despite our best intentions we were cruising on autopilot and missed our exit.

Life is weird.  I had planned my next blog post would be entitled Swingsets and Engine Hoists.  That will have to wait.

I woke up and realized today is Ash Wednesday.  Remember the story of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem? (Gospel of Mark, Chapter 11)

On this day, those palm branches from last year’s Palm Sunday are burned,  a little oil is added to them, and they are used in church services today to mark us with a cross to remind us who and whose we are.  If you want to read more about it and the days that follow you can read my earlier post from another year here.

burning-palmsHowever orderly your life is, however well or unwell your life plans have worked out, I would invite you to stop for a little while today.  If you are a Christian church-goer do something crazy and go to church.  If you are an unbeliever, try something crazy and go to a Christian church that is a liturgical church that has an Ash Wednesday service today.  Many Christian churches have an imposition of ashes service on Ash Wednesday.   I am a Lutheran and have family and friends who are Catholic.  These churches will commemorate Ash Wednesday.  Also, other churches including Episcopalian or Anglican, Methodist, and some Presbyterian churches may have such a service.  It is a chance to stop, turn around, and embrace something weird that just possibly could transform not just your day, but your life.  Be crazy.  Take a chance.

 

 

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Small Pleasures in Ordinary Time

There are the certainties that come with life that can be painful: death, taxes, changing planes in Atlanta. There are the seasonal bumps in life that come at an inconvenient time: colds and flu, yard cleanup, leaky plumbing, exam time. There are the nagging sorrows that weigh you down: watching someone you love struggle with hardship, heartache, accident, injury, or illness. Then too there are small pleasures in ordinary time.

Christian liturgical churches mark Ordinary Time on their calendars. It is comprised of non-festival days and comes at two periods of time during the year. The time after the Epiphany of Our Lord until Ash Wednesday which begins the Lenten season, and then again after Pentecost at the conclusion of the Easter season until the beginning of Advent. The liturgical color for these Sundays is green. While Ordinary Time is important, it excludes the great festivals of the church year. Ordinary Time comprises more than half of the year. Green suggests growing things and new life.

I link small pleasures with Ordinary Time as it seems that we have time to notice them better then. We each have things that catch us unawares and bring a smile. Valentine’s day with our lovely picnic, which I wrote about in my last post, was a small pleasure in our life. The little birds and ground squirrels, the white fluffy clouds and yellow flowering creosote bushes were delightful. My nephew recently visited and we had such a good time catching up with each other and then last night I ironed the freshly laundered linen napkins we used. Yes, I know I’m weird but I love ironing napkins and seeing a drawer full of linen napkins all pressed and eager for the next dinner guests.

img_2687I love bringing order to that which is in disarray, and since my exit from my former job, I have laced my days with little organizing tasks which have resulted in accomplishment and pleasure. Our home office has been substantially tamed with file boxes organized and moved to storage in our garage. Small pleasures that help. Places that once were catch-alls for the stuff that piles up when you are too busy to deal with it are now much more accessible and useful. Small pleasures.

Yesterday morning began with a jolly call from my daughter and then a walk home from the park brought us to a seed pod for a red flowering Fairy Duster.  It is now planted in a little pot on our windowsill. The act of planting it brought a smile to my husband and the thought of it growing brings me anticipatory joy for our yard.

red-fairy-dusterSmall pleasures often pass us by without fanfare or accolade – but when life slows sufficiently for us to notice them – it is a lovely thing. Thank you, Lord, for Ordinary Time and all of the small pleasures that lace our days.

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Valentine’s Day for this High Maintenance Woman

A friend of mine asked me on Sunday what we would be doing to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday. She hasn’t known us for all that long, nor does she know us too well. I got to thinking about how I could explain it and decided I should try to write it down.

I want the world for Valentine’s Day. The commercials about Valentine’s gifts that you can order over the phone or on-line, such as a dozen roses with a vase and chocolates, warm, cozy pajamas, large oversized stuffed animals – all of these things leave me cold. Not interested. Don’t want them. I don’t want little things that are easy for someone to send at a reasonable price.

I am a high maintenance woman. I don’t care to have an hour of my lover’s time. I want the whole day. I don’t want to have to put up with mediocre service at a meal out. I want the best. I am very demanding. I want to have the table for as long as we care to linger over our meal – perhaps hours and hours. I refuse to be rushed.

I want a spectacular view – the best view according to our choice of seating, not the choice of the particular wait person on duty. I expect a beautiful tablecloth. I want privacy. I want flowers. I want quiet background music. I have reason to think that I will get all that I desire.

I am a high maintenance woman, and thankfully, I have a husband who is not only my best friend but the most thoughtful of men regarding the way he treats and cares for me. He knows just how to cater to my exacting desires. He is willing to indulge even my fanciful whims.

Before we leave home, we will need to make some preparations, pack a bag with the requisite belongings. We will need to make one stop on our way to our special Valentine’s meal, to pick up something we want to take along, but that detour complete he will drive us to our destination.

We will park the car, and walk up the path to our favorite picnic table. We will put our beautiful tablecloth on the table, secured by colorful bird weights to help it counter the breeze. On that, we will spread out our delectable Valentine’s day feast, whose main course will likely come from Subway.  Although we love our privacy, we will welcome visitors who are not too intrusive — little ground squirrels, quail, perhaps some roadrunners or other little friends.  I have no doubt that we will have the soft music of the gentle breezes and perhaps a bird solo or choir.  The decor and view will be nothing short of magnificent.  The Rincon Mountains, Saguaro cactus, and early spring flowers.

This has been one of our favorite ways to spend our wedding anniversary.  This year, however, it was a wee bit too cold, and we were not able to indulge this luxury.  So this is how we will celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Even the heavens are cooperating.  The temperatures are supposed to be comfortable sweater weather in the mid-sixties.

This man promised to give me the world. He puts up with my extreme demands every day. Once again, he is willing to do whatever it takes to make his wife a very happy woman indeed.  Despite the fact that I am high maintenance.

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When You Can’t Fix It, It Won’t Go Away, and Some Days it is Crushingly Painful

 

rainbow

Despite what other people’s lives look like on the surface, I would say that probably all of us, at some time or another have been overwhelmed by fear, loneliness, pain, sorrow, or loss that is so overwhelming we don’t know how to take another step.  When we look at what we can see of someone else’s life, we may see everything but hardship.  We may see their comfortable home, their loving family, or their outward demeanor and think they’ve never been through what we are going through.

The truth is, though you may not believe it, many people who look pretty well put together on the surface, have been through the wars.  My dear husband has told me the story of an earlier marriage when he came home from work to find that his wife had moved out, lock, stock, and barrel.  All of her clothes were gone.  He hadn’t a clue where she was.  For months he looked for her.   She left him no answers, a crushing hole in his heart,  and financially behind an eight ball, that while entirely manageable for two people, was overwhelming and impossible for one.

Years ago a young man shared with me his haunting childhood memory of coming home from the store, where his mama had sent him, to find that he was locked out of the house.  When he rang the doorbell and knocked nothing happened, so he opened the mailbox slot in the door to call out to his mama and saw that she had killed herself and was lying on the floor just inside the house.  How could she pass her pain onto her very young son?

As I’ve written in the little bio about myself, I haven’t been spared sorrow or loss.  There were various times in my life when I was hurting so badly I didn’t know how to take the next steps.  But I have lived to see a much brighter day.  I was driven to write this because at this very moment I know several people who are overwhelmed with the hand they have been dealt and find it often difficult to believe that a brighter day awaits them — however much they strive to hold onto that belief every day.

I would like to suggest some things that I have found that have helped me when I have been in my lowest places.  None of these things have anything to do with clinical depression, therapy, or medical intervention, which my friend Les talked about in an earlier blog which you can find here.

What I am writing about today are a couple small things that you can do for yourself.  When I was at a very low ebb, I started writing a short letter or brief note to a different person every night.  I started catching up with old friends.  I wrote one before bed every night, at the writing table in the front hall of my old house, with just my cat Radcliffe for company.  I did it because I wanted to remind myself that I had friends.

writing-tableIt turned out to be a much bigger deal than I thought.  First, because my focus started to be about my friends because I was looking outward rather than looking inward.  But also because I started getting friendly letters in return nearly every day.

Apparently, the fact that they’ve been off your radar for years doesn’t stop your old friends from being surprised by opening their mailbox to discover a friendly letter amid the bills and junk mail.   In my own life, it had an entirely different effect than reaching out to others by e-mail, phone, or social media.  Snail mail letter writing became a necessary part of my life and one that still brings welcome surprises.

The other thing I did was to pray every day: that God would see me through this dark time, and for my family, friends, and everyone I knew who was going through a tough time.  I didn’t say general prayers, but prayed for individuals by name, focusing on the various people as I listed them.  Besides my prayers possibly being helpful for the other people, the act of saying them turned my own thoughts away from my troubles to focus on others.  In some unexpected ways, after I began this,  I saw positive changes in my life which were gifts or blessings that came from outside myself.

I have several friends who are not religious at all.  Perhaps the idea of prayer may seem way out in left field.  I’ve read several books by Jerrold Mundis about debt and earning.  Recently I found this quote which I thought was interesting:

I had not prayed for years– decades, actually.  I had been strenuously an atheist all my adult life.  But I could not help but notice, in this new life without chemicals and without debt I had begun to lead, that everyone around me that had anything that I wanted in my own life– serenity, delight, joy, the capacity to wake up in the morning with enthusiam rather than despair–had some kind of connection with some kind of higher power.  However they defined that.

But I could find no authenticity within myself with any prayer I knew or had ever encountered.  So, over two or three days, I wrote one myself, one I could say without recoiling in disgust, incredulity, or anger, one I could say with all my heart and being, from the deepest recess of myself, one that I could mean . . . .

I turned the page, and I have to say that when I read his prayer, I laughed out loud.  It is funny.  This is what he prayed:

“In the unlikely event there is any motivating force in the universe, in the improbability that it is even remotely aware that the species exists, and in the near impossibility that it in any way contributed to anything that is good in my life–I am appreciative.”

Although this amusing little nonsense that he wrote and prayed made me laugh, it proved to be a major turning point in his life.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much when we reach out in prayer.  Our rather pitiful attempts to open the window a crack to see if there is even a God out there to invite into our lives is sometimes answered by a remarkable life altering roar.

When we are hurt, and at a low ebb we need to stop and reach out, away from our pain and our inward muddled, tired self, to God.  We also need to think of other people.  Connecting with old friends or acquaintances is helpful.  Even when we don’t know what will become of it.

Surprisingly, in my own life, I have found that daily reaching out in prayer, and daily reaching out on paper to friends, started to turn my life entirely around in ways that I could not have imagined when I first started.   I can now say with sincerity and truth, that Life is Good.

 

 

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