Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the first leg of a recent holiday road trip, we had come into the town where I went to college. We stopped for dinner there and he teased me about not seeming to know my way around, but the place had changed so much my bearings were off. I kept looking around expecting to see something I recognized, but in the end I only had a short span of memories sifted through before I grew weary of it. I smiled at the telling of a story of a Thanksgiving past, when I brought a couple of friends from school home with me. One had joked that my mom was fattening us up for slaughter, and my roommate had succumbed to a tryptophan-induced nap in the hallway by the door. All afternoon we had to be careful not to hit her head, and it seems funny to me now.
On the way back from our rip, we had a bit of an adventure, having gotten a little lost on the map and in conversation. There was a late night, and then a workday, and then I was side by side with my companion for several days. It was a time for turkey and transitions. Some moving of large furniture occured. It seemed to cleave like bookends our shared pasts, one year or more removed from each other.
And then there were the family gatherings. Included the ones in my mind, ones that had or might have happened, and visions of ones to come. In one scene in my memories, my exhusband's mother is teaching me how to make her version of banana nut bread, a favorite holiday treat for this first son of hers. She is a little exasperated at the fact that I had never learned to bake from scratch, a skill she feels like every woman should have. She considers it her responsibility to pass this on. Every year after that, when he was apart from his mother, I made banana nut bread for him until it became habit.
This Thanksgiving, there were three family gatherings, two at my parents, one at his. On one of these, I had wandered into my parent's study. My mother had been reorganizing and there were boxes everywhere. Curious, I peeked in one. Thre were some empty photo frames, and some loose photos. I picked up a stack to flip through, see if there were any pictures from my youth. No such luck. They were all pictures from my wedding, eleven years ago this summer. I tried to look into my own eyes from back then, to see if they showed any hint of knowledge of what was to come, but all I saw was the fresh face of youth.
Before this family gathering, I had stopped by my exhusband's house to pick up the children. I handed him a foil wrapped loaf of fresh baked banana nut bread, his mother's recipe. I told him I know he had wanted to be with his mother this Thanksgiving, and this was as close as I could get for him. I don't have any residual emotion for him, but it felt like making peace with this past, a little nod to the past and a little gratitude for him letting me go, to go be happy.
And I am happy. Never been happier. And I am thankful for that. I think about that as I hold the hand of my man on a stroll down a wooded trail, of just how appreciative I am of this, this moment, all of this. I am thankful for the love of the man beside me. I am thankful my ex has given me some time away from the children, the three breaks I have in June, one in August, one in the now. These moments are restoring my sanity. I am thankful for my family, and those little shining moments that make life worth it. I'm so thankful to God for taking care of me, of showing me the way, for giving me hope, peace, joy, love: the gifts of the holiday season.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Originally, I was crafting a post in my head about transformation, about how my internal life has been changing over the past months. I've been distracted from this mission, however, by the demands of daily life, by my little children, by the packing up of my house, the seperation of things, by living in the moment, and mostly by this book I have been reading that has been sucking up the spare time I would have spent writing.
Today I had a flash of insight, though, about something I have been thinking about regarding the story I am reading. The story (Devils Gate, by David Roberts) is a historical account of the Mormon emigration to Salt Lake City, mostly centered on the plight of recent converts who dragged poorly built handcarts 1300 miles to get to their "Zion".
There's a lot I could say about this story. There is a lot I have said about this story, actually. What I want to focus on, though, is what has both impressed me and bothered me about these people I am reading about. Most of the people in this story were from England or various other places nearby there. They were converted to Mormonism by disciples of Brigham Young, who sent his people over there to obtain more souls for his recently settled-on piece of land in Utah. In the short amount of time between their conversion and their persuasion to board vessels that carried them overseas, then trains that took them from New York to Iowa City, then their overland journey through the wilderness of the west, they became so strong in their faith that that it was enough to carry them through a journey of incredible hardship. When they faltered, they relied on this faith to get themselves back up again and keep them moving. When members of their party were dropping to death from starvation and exhaustion, they prayed over it, they asked their God for strength. They honestly believed that reaching Salt Lake City would be akin to reaching their land of milk and honey, that Zion lay just ahead on the horizon.

Part of me wonders, especially after reading some of the gritty details of their grueling journey, how they could have been so sold on this idea that it was enough for them. I marvel at the fastness of their faith. Along the way, their brethren was dying alongside them, and yet on they marched, hearts set towards Zion. I wonder why they just didn't give up on the idea of reaching Zion, and how hard it must have been for them to believe there was something good waiting for them at the end of the journey on the dark winter nights where they trudged on, surviving on such small rations that surely would have made any one of us living in this day and age cry and give up after one days worth.
And there that much of a difference between that faith and ours, in mine? Sometimes I wonder how I got to be such a polly-anna optimist. When things get hard, when things don't seem to be working out, there is this part of me that is just convinced that Zion is right around the corner. I haven't always been this way, though. I think there are times I have been, and that perhaps that was my natural tendency, but that was something I lost in the past dozen years or so. A number of times during those years my heart was heavy and despondent, with the attitude that things would never turn around, that my life was shit and would always be that way. I felt like giving up a lot, even as recently as last year, my optimism grounded to a halt. I didn't have much emotional strength to "rally the troops" and convince myself that "this, too, shall pass".
I have beat depression, or maybe I was never really depressed. Well, I do think I was, during some of those times, but I do remember having an epiphany at one point, after a terrible low, that the one thing that combats depression and sadness is Hope. When you are really, truly down, though, it is hard to have that hope that things will get better. Once I realized Hope was the anti-depressant, I tried to focus on that when things got difficult. It is hard to hang on to that, though, when you can't see yourself out of a hole, when you look around and all you see is the darkened edge.
I am so far past that now, though. Now my heart is soaring and it seems like nothing can really get me down. I can see it in my responses to things, situations that maybe last year would have seemed a calamity, but now are easier to recover from. I can feel the difference in the emotional center of my chest, where there is just calm and light where there was heaviness and darkness before. I feel like I was "saved", not really in terms of my "salvation" necessarily, but in the way that my entire internal landscape has shifted back to this trust and faith that things will work out, that there is something Good in this life. There are times now where I feel bliss and joy, feelings I haven't had in so long that it makes me feel like a kid again, or takes me back to times long ago where I felt this way and then had forgotten what it felt like.
Sometimes in my responses to situations now, I feel some of what these emigrants must have felt, with the blind certainty that somehow I will make it to the land of milk and honey, that soon, just around the corner, Zion will appear, and there will be much rejoicing. I think I understand their heart's compass a little more as I question my own and find it pointed in hope's direction.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Magic is part of what stirs my heart to movement. It seems that in order for me to believe, there has to be some element of the unknown and secret mystery, which seems counterintuitive but it's true. I wasn't drawn to what I saw as the dryness of Christianity until I recognized magic in the acts of Jesus Christ, the unexplained mystery of his acts of healing and transformation, as example. It feels like some kind of connection to a world behind the veil, and the mystery keeps me interested over the long term.
I think element of magic to them helps me feel deeper, and for the past some years I have let the magic of Jesus be enough for me. My heart was not full before, and I questioned that, to some degree, in terms of what it meant about me. Was it possible that I had forgotten that the heart is a muscle, which needs to be worked in order to get stronger? Did its muscles atrophy through lack of use?
From the first outset of my current situation, a conversation with a psychic in the historic old shop opened up the riddle of mystery. The words she chose, even more than her predictions, were meaningful and significant in some personal way that perplexed me in their coincidence. Those little kizmet moments, and jokes falling into place that came thereafter, and unusual physical reactions, emotional leapings, added to the feeling of perhaps what some call chemistry, or spark, but what I call magic.
Sometimes I want to be a skeptic, and then something else happens. A night walk around a chapel, a flash in the grass, a two harmonica cache; a walk in the woods, a shimmer of light, two matching stones lying side by side in the place no stones are, these things make me wonder sometimes about the meaning of the message.
In my wondering, I think about a time before, a woman I went to see whom I was told could see your future in the remains of your tea. She came highly recommended,but when I sat down by her, what she said was deceptively simple. "You lost something," she said, "that was very important to you." In that moment, I felt like I HAD, and that she was the only one that recognized that, but I had no idea what it might be. I felt the sensation of loss, but couldn't envision it in my head. It may just be that I am emotionally gullible, but I thought about that for a long time after, wondering what it was I think I had lost. Eventually, I came to believe that it was belief in love. Somewhere along the way, I stopped thinking of this notion of romantic love as something that was obtainable and real. I started thinking the stunting was the only way we know, reluctantly and half heartedly reaching for The Settle.
Over repeated exposure to the object of magic, though, I felt my heart opening, like a vault. I had wondered if my heart was capable of loving graciously because my actions in the past did not seem to match it. I know now that it was because it was kept inside a cage of resentment, and that situation did not stop me from being a person who was capable of loving to the utmost capacity. It was stunted due to the inability of the object to return the love in the amount and intensity that it could be given. Love needs love back to grow, and the way mine grows now is like the sun rising in the sky, that at midday might be so bright that all the world could see it clearly but might be unable to look at directly.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Hello world. It's been a while. I've been lost for a little while down a rabbit hole, and am just coming back up to take a look around. Spam bots seem to have taken over the comments section, and my blogging fever is running a different direction these days. I'm hoping soon I will be able to share that direction with my friends that have stopped by here.
Meanwhile, back here in the wild yonder of my own mind, I've been meandering down some road for months now, chasing elusive answers to age old questions. I've been questioning the nature of love. When I say nature, I mean exactly that, in some ways - the way Mother Nature designed us to fall in love, and why we choose who we do, and why love sometimes stays and why it sometimes goes. I've been looking to various places, but mainly the realm of biology, and evolution, and its effects on relationships between men and women.
I don't know if I have all the answers yet, or even if I know what the questions are. I do know a bit more than I did before, though, and I am curious to see if I can put it into some form that makes some kind of sense, and teaches us what we need to know to have some kind of hope in the futility of it all.
Let's start by considering the prairie voles. After all, that's where the scientists who study these sorts of things started. Not many animal species have monogamy down pat, but of the ones that do, the prairie voles are the ones that do it best. There are many species of voles, which is a small rodent, but Microtus ochrogaster, commonly referred to as prairie voles, are the only ones who are monogamous. When researchers took a closer look at these animals, they found some interesting hormonal relationships that encourage long lasting pair bonds.
What we have learned from the prairie voles so far strengthens the hypothesis that love is hard wired in our DNA as a response to a combination of hormonal interplays. When two opposite sex prairie voles meet, the interplay in the smelling of each other's pheromones may result in an increase of norepinephrine, which results in the mania and sleeplessness of early attraction. After spending some time together, the voles become habituated to each other, which causes a decrease in cortisol levels in the pair, the hormone of "stress". They are calmed by each's others presence. Following this, they have sex for 24 hours. In these rodents, like as in humans, this brings about a release of oxytocin and vasopressin, the hormones of love and commitment. The two are now mated for life, and help each other raise the young.
The prairie vole model demonstrates the importance of oxytocin in developing long term pair bonding, but what does it mean? The roots of monogamous human relationships have some similiarities to the hormone changes in the voles. The initial surges of a love relationship between two people follow some of the same hormonal pathways. The beginning stages are dictated by surges of norepinephrine, then the latter stages of commitment and long term relationships are fueled by oxytocin and vasopressin levels.
Studies of humans who had fallen in love showed that during the initial phases of pair bonding, the woman's testosterone levels increase and the man's decreases. In the woman, this change drives the woman to initiate sex more, and the man to intitiate more cuddling type behaviors. Those actions, in turn, stimulate the levels of oxytocin in the other to increase, causing more satisfaction or affection; in turn, deepening the bond.
In a similar monkey study, they found that the couples with high oxytocin levels would act in ways to comfort each other after a relationship stressor, such as the introduction of another female's scent. The pairs would seem to have an understanding of what the other one needed to raise the oxytocin levels back up to the optimum level.
So this is how Mother Nature designed this thing, this thing called love, to promote relationships steady enough to raise the offspring until the point at which it can take care of itself. In humans, the hormonal cascade seems to run in four year cycles, which is consistent with what evolutionary biologists belief was initially the time period that it would take for sucessful mating to occur and then the need for parental investment from the father. Early in the formation of a bond with another person, a hormone called DHEA (for short) increases, and stays high for about four years before it starts to wear off. Four years is also the time that most couples report a "satisfaction dip" in their relationships. My current theory is that if people had some understanding on what that feeling is, that dip in hormones, then they might be more likely to stay in the relationship when that dip occurs.
Over the past months, I have been spending an increasing amount of time trying to understand all this information, and more. My interest in it was of two fold, one with trying to understand why divorce happens, why love doesn't work, and the other part trying to understand what was happening to me, as I was falling in love again, and not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the past, or humanity as a whole. I'm trying to understand what draws us to one person rather than another, what is making me feel like I have never felt this way before, and how to keep those feeligns over time, as oposed to wasting energy going from one relationship to the next. I have more in my mind about evolutionary biology, and how we can use this knowledge of hormones to add to and deepen our relationships over time, so expect further entries on this subject.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


It was a weeknight, sometime midweek. I was in the parking lot of a popular chain restaurant, checking out my best friend's new car. Her wings, one might say, to fly away with.
I've been spending quite of bit of time talking to this friend. She's been going through something, and yet she doesn't want to talk about it. She wants distraction. She wants something else to think about. We had been entertaining her mind with camp stories and wilderness adventure website discussion inside. Now it's time for her to go home, and she is not ready yet.
There was a wide expanse of lawn between her car and the nearby bank. We watched the children play in the grass, shooing them a safe distance away so that we could have more private conversation. In our parting words, we reveal the inner workings of our hearts. She tells me her worries and concerns for what lay ahead. Then she shuts down again and throws back into my court the burden of conversation. What else can I pull out of my hat....
So I tell her about this other thing that's been on my mind. I tell her about my latest late night obsession, which has been a little over the top, even for me. I was tired because I kept going down this odd internet road before bed. Some astrology thing that had my brain ticking. I kept getting frustrated because the hits were not working out - I wanted this particular kind of exchange from the experience and it hadn't been yielding it, and then suddenly I had hit jackpot. I found a website that said exactly what I wanted it to say, and yet, I didn't like the answers. It was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that turned out to be fool's gold instead. I wasn't sure of its accuracy, so I turned it on its head and ran the reading another way.
I was comparing certain zodiac alignments involving myself and these people in my life. I would expected comparing these two individuals from this kind of dimension would yield radically different results. However, when I ran the "test run", on the former relationship, the answers came out eerily similiar. The stars were aligned in almost exactly the same way. The ten paragraphs were practically identical, actually, within about 80%. There was only slight differences in wording. I knew how this one on the second reading turned out, so it was somewhat ironic that it cast this one as the longer lasting relationship.
The differences between these two readings I would say were accurate, and it was these differences I was talking to her about now. There were about three. She agreed with me on what I told her it said, but then adding her own perspective.
"That is one good thing I can say about your ex," she said. "He always gave you the freedom to be who it is you want to be. Ultimately that is really important to you."
And to a large extent, that is true. My life was shaped by the forces of desire for freedom. It was part of the sympathy for the mustangs and little Wild Horse Annie trapped in a polio cast and longing to break free, let her spirit run unfettered, and her imagination as well caught up in the rumblings of the hooves of wild horses. I'd been talking of freedom for years and never really living it. Or was I. Did he give me that gift that no one else had been able to give.
And it was possible. I remember thinking that, actually, as a reason to justify remaining with him all those years. With him I was free to be myself, and he always accepted this about me, didn't influence me to change in any way. In his family, I had gotten acceptance I had never felt in mine, and that was important to me, in terms of personal growth. "I still think you guys weren't meant to be together, though," she added, and we agreed.

Later we come back to this same conversation. I was telling her these stories of dinner fiascos. How I had this same paralyzing feeling about cooking with these people in my life, and then when I do, there is some spice incident that throws a damper on the whole thing. Kind of a funny random memory of a garlic incident dinner in college I had forgotten to tell her about all these years. I am asking her about how it started out with her man, something I should know the answer to somehow but don't. We weren't hanging out a whole lot in this period of our lives, both in the budding of new significant relationships. She can't remember when that all happened for them. I never remembered having those kind of feelings with this ex. I tell her about how it was for us back then, how we would help each other make dinner, the stuff that was endearing about him back then but later would drive me nuts, like how he would go behind me and add more to the pan. Back in those early days, we were having fun with it. I don't remember having this kind of anxiety. She added that it all goes back to what she was saying that night after dinner. The anxiety wasn't there because there was nothing but acceptance.

When I think about what she is saying, I think about my reaction to my parents. My childhood friend likes to blame my "running off" with the ex on my negative reaction to my parents heavy handedness. She thinks I rebelled against the tyranny of oppression, and perhaps it was, in some way, but not that directly. It was probably this kind of general acceptance of who I was as an individual, and no attempts to change me, that drew me to him in the first place. Looking at it this way makes it seem like less of a sad thing, a regret thing, but rather an experience I was fated to have to learn to get over some of my issues with esteem, or learn how to deal with them.

In a way, I am glad we had these conversations now. This next week, I'll be dealing with some of the real consequences to the ending of a life together. I think thinking of him through this more favorable lens may make it easier to deal with the splitting up of a family household. We'll see what kind of peace that brings me in the days ahead.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It was late in the evening, early in the week. I was on a certain popular social networking site. The little messenger screen pops up, a friend of mine from the past. I hadn't talked to him in six months, so I was filling him in on recent history. He had noted my name change.
"Good. Now you can get back to being the girl you used to be, the one I knew."
This thought catches me for a little while. I tried to imagine that, this fun game I like to do where I detach myself from my "lens" and try on someone else's. Life begins to seem like a pile of fractals, all layered on top of each other to create this thing called reality. What is the truth, if not some inner core made up of all these things, these many perceptions and reactions out there on this emotional universe from a million different angles.
It's the eternal mystery, this kind of guessing at what it looked like from the outside, from all these different aspects. I wonder what kind of impression this person had of me. In this case, it would have been a rose colored view, as there was some adoration on his end. I wasn't available, because my loyalty kept me with somebody else. But he had probably had me under a microscope longer than anyone else had in my natural life. So I have to wonder. What was it that he thought made me who I was in the first place?
I task him with answering that question.
All week, I've been wondering about this myself. I'm wondering why some people might suggest, as he had, that I needed to go "find myself" first. Did I lose myself? Did I? It's really hard to say, because self is only half our reality and half someone else's perception of who you are. So my half says, no...I've always been whatcha talking about...
Only, their perception might have changed. From what to what?
I try to think about who this girl was that this person had known, maybe fifteen years ago. The context in which you know someone is relevant in terms of relative common reality. In this case, our mutual interest had been literature, the written word, writers with cult followings, old movies in which dialogue mattered. He was always a captive audience for anything I wrote, and offered his critique, which had been well thought out and honest. So certainly some of his perceptions were based around this sort of exchanging of ideas, intellectual discourse in the wee hours of the morning at the all night diner.
Have I lost this person, this part of me? No, not really. I can't stay up so late anymore, but there's still that part of me that digs deeper and deeper into those subjects of interest, that wants to talk talk talk of ideas and come to some clearer understanding of it all. Here lies some of the source of the cosmic cowgirl persona, this riding out of the mental range, rounding up stray thoughts and making fenceposts out of them. The touchstones are still the same; Kerouac, Robbins, Pirsig. The mental fences are still strung with horses, beat poets, Indigo Girls, behavior, humans, evolution, science, psychology, religion, poetry, animals, all the many little bits and pieces of mental floss I pick up over periods to chew on for a while.
Nah...I don't think I ever lost myself. I don't think I need to slow down for a while and look for her, either. I think somewhere in there those things that made me who I was are all still there. Where would I have gone? Would I have become invisible to this marriage? I think I held tight to that concept of identity and self preservation rather well, so I get some kind of emotional bypass, a free skip ahead on the game board. Move your piece one square ahead....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In the defining book of my seventeeth year, namely, The Fountainhead, the central premise posed the question, "Does Altruism Exist?" The author, Ayn Rand, used her characters to prove her premise that, in fact, altruism (in this case, meaning the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others) does not exist. She holds up two architects as examples as either end of the spectrum, and shows us through Howard Roarke that self is the only thing that matters...well, that and principles, which should be inherent as part of the Self at any rate. Truth and Rationalism are the reigning heroes of this novel, while self-sacrificing Peter Keating plays a particularly pathetic role as the perpetual people pleaser.
I think it's funny now that my best friend and I were so consumed with this idea, this novel, that we debated it for a year or more. We bought into the idea completely that Rational Self Interest was the highest ideal, and that it made perfect sense to not sacrifice self to others. We took it apart and put it back together again, and never realized that it ran contradictory to our beliefs as Christians. Now, looking at Rand's philosophy, some parts I buy into, but some I can't seem to wrap my mind around.
The Christian attitude towards altruism is completely different. In fact, the idea of altruism is present in several of the major world religions. Most religions advocate the spirit of selfless giving to others. However, even Rand would argue here, as well as some philosophers, that ultimately, the motivation to serve others, or to give to others, is still primarily motivated by matters of the self. For instance, the giving to less fortunate by members of the church, the philanthropy of the rich and powerful, the caring for children even, is all governed by the impulse to avoid anxiety by giving into what society says is right, what our religion says is right, what our conscience tells us. Giving as a means to ease our conscience or to feel good about ourselves, they say, is still a selfish act.
To really be "altruistic", in its purest form, is to give to someone or something without expectation of reward. Perhaps in its truest form it takes the shape of a man dying for his country, for his values of patriotism. Or, say, a nun who spends her life among the ill and dying, or a freedom fighter. In some cases, it may even be people you know, who give freely to their community without expecting recognition or reward.
As I get deeper into my faith, I learn more about what it is saying, and the examples that are given about what love is. I throw love into this equation, because in a way, the relationships between lovers speaks volumes of the eternal debate between self and others. Every day there are choices to make between acting for ones self, and acting for the benefit of others.
In the New Testament, Paul lays forth examples of what love ought to be. In an oft repeated verse in the First Letter to the Corinthians, verse 13, he says this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

One could assert, and some have, that the self seeking part of that verse indicates that love means selflessness, to put concern for another's well being ahead of your own. Many other biblical examples assert the same doctrine of altruism in relationships (e.i Phillippians 2:3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves), and seemingly Jesus himself not only advocated but lived a life, was in fact a walking example of selfless giving. How much selfishness was inherent in his act of sacrificing his mortal body for the forgiveness of sins of people he hadn't even met yet?
I wonder about what the truth of this debate is, and put it up to both the theoretical test of objectivism and the subjective test of experience. Are the actions we make towards other people, even when they appear to be selfless in nature, even when we appear to be giving up our own wants and desires, subconsciously driven by selfish motivations? Is, say, the giving up of desired time and attention for the more worthy goal of someone's health or habits really based out solely out of concern for the other's well being, or the perception that it may pay off in other opportunities or rewards later?
Do any of us ever love others selflessly, and if so, is that a noble goal? Is the act of love inherently selfish in nature, wanting some part of another for oneself, or is true love the ability to let go of a lover, if the other person would consider themselves better off without? Altruism, or selflessness, in its purest form, is to give without regard to reward or the benefits of recognition or need. To give selflessly would mean to never expect anything back. Would that even be a worthwhile goal, to never get back what you are investing into a relationship, say? In our culture, that kind of giving eventually either defines you as a doormat, or ends a marriage. We may give selflessly at times to love, or sacrifice our immediate selfish wants or needs for the benefit of another in the short term, but the expectation is in what scientists call "reciprocal altruism"; that, in effect, the good you do comes back to you. Even people who would term themselves "pleasers" or "givers" eventually want the same kind of treatment given back to them, otherwise it fuels resentment that interferes with the continuance of the relationship.
So I am not sure, based on some of those questions or theories, if Rand was right and altruism does not exist, or if basically we all do a little bit of selfless sacrifice for others on a regular basis every day. Look at moms, for instance. Or look around you, at your friends, at your lover, at your mate. It may be less black and white and more a million shades of gray, so much going into the motivations that it is impossible to seperate our motivations out between selfishness and selflessness.
Or consider the dolphins. I wonder if Rand ever considered the dolphins (read below story). Is there any evolutionary fitness strategy, any selfish motivation to the actions of dolphins putting themselves in harms way to save humans from certain death? Can their actions be explained by anything other than true altruism?

Monday, July 12, 2010


I've been reading this book, The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane, and every so often there is a paragraph or part that just touches me and I want to share it. Here is today's:
In 2004, a father and son were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico when their yacht was capsized by a gust of wind, sixty miles offshore. They clung to the hull, as it was carried on the powerful currents of the Gulf. After night fell, the water became rich with phosphorescence, and the air was filled with a high discordant music, made of many different notes: the siren song of dolphins. The drifting pair also saw that they were at the centre of two rough circles of phosphorescence, one turning within the other. The inner circle of light, they realised, was a ring of dolphins, swimming round the upturned boat, and the outer circle was a ring of sharks, swimming around the dolphins. The dolphins were protecting the father and his son, keeping the sharks from them.
I read more about this story, as it is an actual true event, on the internet, and learned that the father and son were of great faith. They were out there for two days, and felt strongly that God would take care of them. Here is a quote from the father about their experience:
We made peace with God about it. Ultimately it came down to unless God moved on our behalf, we wouldn't make it in," Ken Heybrock of High Point said. (AP, Charlotte Observer).
My take is that God sent in his dolphin angels. It is pretty amazing that the dolphins would do that. Here are some other stories I found of dolphins saving humans from shark attacks:

Apparently, it is an occurence that has been reported as happening as far back as ancient Greece, where the first dolphin related human rescue was reported. Very fascinating. I wonder what motivates the dolphins to take the actions they do. Any theories?

Monday, July 05, 2010


Driving into the rain, into the city, passing the red cliffs that marked the entrance into this state and the approach to the major city. Heading south, into the comfort of warm beds, to the prospect of town and hot food and showers. The land rose up on sharp angles all around us, while the rain dulled the edges. It made me start thinking, or maybe I already was.
I was thinking about an image of home. Perhaps this thought was tied to the feeling of missing my children. I was imagining them now, and I could see their little faces light up with laughter, their father having fun with them. I was thinking about what "home" was to these children, and I had a fresh memory of what it was at its best, two people standing side by side, playing off each other in terms of jovially directing the children, . That was a man and a wife. But now, severed apart.
And not for less than good reasons. I imagined what it was like from his side, how he must feel about losing his wife to loneliness and lack of trying. How this woman, for twelve years his companion, was out in the wild with another man. About how it feels, this sensation of divorce, how much like pangaea splitting apart, a continent adrift. Once locked land mass, removed. How the distance began to lap at its edges, widening, the gradual drifting away into the great ocean. A life, less lived.
What does that even mean, I wondered. Do all of us ever fully live our life. How? What's the criteria?
I was of thinking about what is is people do with their lives. What do they really do with them? There's the outside perception, and then there is the way the day to day operates, the activities that people do to fill their idle time.
I am thinking this, and trying to imagine my companion in the everyday. This got me curious, wondering about his experience with the continental divide. Was it the same for him, this mutual experience we had?
I ask him questions. The answers lead to more questions, as this usually does with me, and I try to wrap my mind around this image of two, the motions of a marriage, the ways we fill our mutual time. I am thinking about his answers and trying to imagine it, this life he is describing. My imagination carries it, but then I feel that jagged little edge of jealousy and I stop. Still, my mind carries images of union, of what passes for peace among two people, the agreed upon time spenders.
I'm trying to think of how I could put in words what home life was like for me the past decade plus of my life, how we had spent our time. My mind reached into the memory bank and pulled out one rather odd, but perhaps typical, memory. It was a memory of baseball season, maybe one or two years ago. What did we do with our lives?
We took our boys to things they were involved in, mostly the older one. In this memory, we are at a baseball game, watching my older son from opposite ends of the field, and fighting. Often, the fighting, the anger, a drink in his hands half hidden from view, or the frustration of sitting alone in the crowd.

Around this moment, the radio turned to a Fleetwood Mac song, the song I had chosen to dance with my father to at my wedding to this man in my memories. Stevie Nicks singing about climbing a mountain, and turning around, and how I had felt like that before, and how I had given it all up to live in union with this man, the same one so much anger between years later. I wonder what my father thought of the reasons I had divorced this man, and, and how he might have felt about allowing his daughter into such a union.
I think about my parents and their imperfect marriage, about how perhaps they feel torn occasionally, too, between feeling sad about the idea of divorce, of this fractured family, and feeling happy for me for finally climbing that mountain and turning around. I wonder where their sympathies are.
Me, I feel sympathy for everyone. I feel a little sad about each one of these broken continents, not just myself, but the lot of them. Starting with my parents, but spreading not just to myself and my island of loss, but this man of my past, this one beside me, and the wife of his past. How that feels to be seperated from this greater whole, cut adrift, and the whole thing makes me sad. In my case, maybe I am more sad about making the choice in the first place, about these choices we make that make ourselves miserable. And yet there is so much happiness in life, like the way I have been feeling, that makes it so much more worthwhile that we lose to those locked years.

I am sad for a while, wondering how we went up in these situations, how these things happen, how we let go. I wonder how my father let go of his daughter in union to this man, and how he would have been able to release me. As I sat in a tub full of warm water, I contemplated this, and I remembered just exactly how. He had asked me if I was sure, if this man took care of me, if he was good to me, looking me in the eye as I answered, something my father seldom did. He paid attention to me when I told him yes, I was sure, yes I was happy. I was so in love with that man then I couldn't see the obvious faults that would divide this land. Or, perhaps, it was just that then I only saw the good, and there was some of that, too, occasionally.

Or perhaps, things really were wonderful, for a while. And this is the thought that calms me, eventually, perhaps some cognitive dissonance, but peace with that piece of history in me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


During the sermon that morning, the minister brought up this concept of identity and self worth. The point he was making, based on this section of Psalms, is that God's love for his children is based on knowledge of one as a person, as a creation of His, not on what kind of success you have had in your life. My mind wandered off his words a little bit, to wrap my mind around "identity" and "self worth", with the question being, "what makes a person worth loving?", not in God's terms, but in ours.
I didn't feel like I needed to pose at myself the question the minister posed to the congregation, which was "who are you?", the subject of identity. I know who I am. Perhaps more than most people, as my friend Rhonda suggested last week. Identity and self understanding has always been important to me, even mentioned in previous entries. Determining self worth has been a hard one for me, though. It's closely tied to related words, such as "self esteem" and "self image", things I've struggled with in the past...or have I...that's sometimes the question. From a historical sense, I know I have sold myself short on big occasions due to problems in this area, some residual effects of childhood wounds and a failure to sort of understand what to value in myself enough to raise the price on. I struggled with that walking into this failed marriage, which is what made it so hard to leave.
I think about that now, as the minister is talking. I remember something that affected me greatly last year, words that proved the death knell of the marriage, words that couldn't be taken back, things that directly indicated that the failure of my husband to love me was my fault, for not being worth loving. I knew he was wrong, at the time, because...well, everyone is worth loving. Not just because we are God's children, but because we are human. Humans have a need for love, a need for attachments, and truly everyone in them has something worth loving them for.
On the way home from the service, I was talking to my son about both the message of the sermon, and that night he witnessed his father saying these terrible things. I wanted him to understand what the minister was talking about, how God defines our worthiness of love, and how it parallels the way I feel about him. Truly, by the time a child is brought into the world, love has already been developed without the child having to do or be anything for it but themselves. Every little expression of personality, character traits, the positives and negatives and everything in between that makes a person who they are, simply the knowledge of who they are is part of that love. It should have been part of the language between husband and wife, but it wasn't what was spoken in our house, and I wanted my son to understand that, too, so that he could understand the choice I had to make. Surely most children don't want to see their parents split up, but I want him to grow up knowing it was a choice I made to live a life more worth living. I wanted him to know I was walking away to give myself the chance to live a life loved.
The night that time bomb exploded, I went to a friend's house with the children. I talked to her about what he had said, and she told me he was wrong, not just to say that (especially in front of my children), but to think that. "I love you," she said, "because you are a good person who genuinely tries to do the right thing."
Is that what a person has to be to be worth loving? I had spent a lot of time after that night wondering. I asked my close friends why I was worth loving, asked that husband himself to take back those words by giving me reasons. Everyone had different answers, because there are different reasons why each person placed value in me. Jen kept telling me, "it doesn't matter what I say, though, you are going to have to figure out your own reasons why you are worth loving. This is just what I see. You have to see it yourself to believe it." It's not that I questioned it. I always knew he was wrong, but for some reason it just kept hurting. That feeling went away some months ago, though, so I became healed, whether it was through acceptance or through the virtue of real love. I hadn't thought about this in some months, what it was that made me worth loving, but now I rolled it around a little.
I wondered, what is it that people think about themselves that make them think they are worth loving? What are those qualities we see in others that makes us want to emotionally invest in them? Among many other questions, I posed this one to my son, whose ten year old answer astounded me with its maturity, and the way it matched my other friend's idea, and even what the minister was saying, although I doubt my son was actually listening to him when he spoke these words.
"What makes a person worth loving," my son said, "is being good to others. Helping other people, being nice to other people, treating other people well....that's what makes a person worth being loved."
I looked for a little while online, curious as to what other people thought made them worth loving, or made others worth it to them. I looked at personal ads, thinking that this might be a place where you could see what other people, looking for love, used to describe themselves as being someone worth it. "Fun loving" was the most common term used in the women-seeking-men ads. "Trustworthy". I started to wonder if this was truly what women thought were the qualities that made them deserving of love,or if it was based on some idea that this is what men these days are seeking. I wanted to dig deeper into this concept, but got distracted by turning the question on its head, wondering, "is love worth it?" After all, in many experiences of life around me, I see it fade and change and hurt and disappoint. Is it worth all you have to suffer as a result of its potential consequences?
I was still thinking about that when my sons and I headed to the cemetery that afternoon. We were on the way to replace a geocache I had hidden by the graves of two girls who touched my heart. I didn't know these girls, but their headstones made me sad and caused me to reflect on the value of the life I share with my own children, of the love we hold for our children in our hearts.
We paused for while on a shady bench to wait out a family visiting a new grave nearby, the grave of yet another girl who died way too young. I watched as the family each took turns solemnly approaching the fresh headstone, spending time in their mind remembering, speaking to her, telling her how much she meant to them. My heart bled for them, with the imagining of how hard that must be. We waited near another new headstone, that of a young man in his prime. Fresh flowers lay next to his headstone, one with a note whose words had bled in the recent rains, but were still legible, a testament to how much he was missed and how special he had been in the life of the person who left this for him.
Finally, I made my way over to the area I was seeking, noting the flowers and balloons left for the little girl who recently joined the others. I replaced my geocache, then made a nod to the little girls lost. I opened up the picture on the older girl's headstone, again struck mute with her beauty, and thinking about her life,which I had read about on a website tribute to her following her early death, at age 20, by the hands of a drunk driver.
Then I gathered up my children and kissed them. I thought about how life is so short, how time might stop at any minute, how our time on earth is so fleeting, and how precious it is. I thought about the love that family had for the little girl that they now would miss forever, and how it is that, those things, that make love worth living for.
That make love worth leaving for.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Driving home from an outing with the children, I found myself reflecting on a collection of thoughts from the morning. The children and I had been at church in the morning, and at the end of the service, I noticed my oldest child looking at me, wondering what he was seeing in my eyes. As the service ended, I was overwhelming with emotion, this curious kind of emotion that looks like sadness to other people but really is a manifestation of humility when confronted with the power of God's love, and is in actuality an expression of happiness. I tried explaining this as such to a girlfriend on the way out of church when she asked about my wet eyes.
On the way out of church, my son wanted me to explain my tears. At one point, I stopped the car to look directly at him and explain this concept that I was getting in full doses, that I wanted him to understand. At home, we sat down and talked about it some more.
I was trying to explain to him the content of the sermon that had reached me on this emotional level. I also wanted him to get it for himself as well, to understand that this love that God had for us, for me, for his children, paralleled the love I have for my sons, and what it means, what's it worth, and what you have to do to get it. This conversation followed us in intermittent means throughout the day's events, and yet left me questioning some facets to it.
One of the points that was made in the scripture reading today, from Psalms, is that God's love comes from his knowing of us, that He knows us so well and intimately that the words we say, the things we do, come as no surprise to him. Have you ever loved someone like this? I think we all have. Children are full of surprises, for sure, but ultimately that's the feeling of "family" - that these are the people who really know you, who can anticipate the way you would respond to certain things, who know you so well that they sense what appeals to you and who you are.
As my son and I talked about this concept, and about family, and about expressions of love seen, said, and unsaid, his grandparents came up. This was related to a point I wanted him to get about my childhood, and The Void, and why God's unconditional love means so much to me. I asked him if his grandparents ever told him they loved him. He said they didn't say it, but he just knew that they did. I asked him how he knew, and he described certain actions, the way his grandmother took care of him, granted him things, prepared special meals for him. He told me that although his grandfather expressed these things less, he knew that he loved him "just a little bit more than Grandma does". When I asked him how he knew that, he told me that his grandfather just seemed to know what he liked, that it was like they had a special connection or something. When I pressed him for examples (because I could not imagine my father beginning a conversation with him about, say, Bakugan or something), he described situations where my father acted on a perceived interest of my son's, and presented him with something that appealed to him on this basis, "like he knows I am interested in the military, and he brings out a war movie to watch with me", he said. This made me laugh, thinking about my father, but in the end, our talk in this segment ended with my son saying, "It's like Grandpa and God are a lot alike. They both love me in the same ways", and despite my own issues with my parents and upbringing, I accepted this as truth, and I am so glad for my son that he has both experienced this kind of love in his life, and accepted it as such.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It seems like I've been concentrating much of my latest entries on matters of the spirit. It's not all I have been thinking about, and there are reasons I can't get into everything that has been moving me lately, but these ideas on faith have been compelling enough to put into words, especially after church on Sunday, and today was no exception.
In these entries, I find myself describing the initial stages of the church service. The combination of the imagery on the projection screens, the music on the stage, both in terms of the people involved and the songs themselves, the dark atmosphere of this contemporary service, even the design of the altar serve to set the emotional table, so to speak, and prepare the heart for the message at hand. I like that this service engages me emotionally, but it's the sermon that provides the intellectual fodder than I crave. Move my heart, but move my mind the most.
So this morning's scripture reading had me excited from the get-go, because it was words from the Apostle Paul, and I was waiting to take them apart and look at them with discernment. I've been wrangling up my complicated issues on Paul all week. To a degree, some of these issues are part of my quest for truth in all its forms, which means not accepting the idea of being spoon-fed my spirituality, but arriving at truth through questioning and seeking. In my seeking the truth about Paul, I find that about half of the books in the New Testament attributed to him are believed by many Biblical scholars to not have been written by him at all. Also, there is this question for me on whether Paul's message was truly divinely inspired, or simply originated in his own mind. Sometimes, I find myself wondering if what Paul was preaching was truly, in fact, the same as what Jesus was preaching. Sometimes I think that we, as a church body, actually spend more time processing and trying to follow Paul's word than Jesus, and I am not sure then if some of the intent has been diluted along the way.
At any rate, I cannot dispute that today's scripture was Paul speaking in line with Jesus, and it was a reading from Romans, which is one of the seven (out of the 13) books attributed to Paul that are undisputed as being authored by him. I looked up the reading when I got home to examine what I liked about it closer, but found that my NIV Bible was not reading the same as the words used by Bryan this morning, exactly. I liked his wording better, especially for Romans 12:10, which in my Bible reads:
Be devoted to each other in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Bryan's version read something like, "Treat each other with mutual affection. Try to outdo each other with honoring one another." I liked that idea much better, and it seemed much more clear to me than the lines above. I'm not sure which translation he was using though, because I looked it up in 21 different versions and none of them read like that, including The Message, which I was told he preaches out of. (This is another one of my issues with interpreting truth from the Bible, but that's a whole 'nother entry).
At any rate, Bryan was using these lines as a vaulting place to explain how the church community is supposed to be to each other. He got into this idea of the original Greek words in this text, or in other places in the New Testament, that were used to describe God's love. There were actually, according to Bryan, three Greek words for love originally used in today's verse (Romans 12: 9-17), three words meaning different types of love, and he expanded on those and what they mean. I've been thinking about the Greek ideas on love for the past couple of weeks, so this part was very interesting to me, as well as the bigger idea on how we lose some of the meaning of the Bible through time and translation - in the course of translating it from Hebrew to Greek to English and somewhere there and back again at different times during Biblical history. Sometimes the original words used in the Hebrew or Greek translations actually have a much deeper meaning, or say three different levels as opposed to the one in the English language. In truth, the English version of the word "love" is a conundrum, because it is one word that means so many different aspects, whereas in other languages, such as those mentioned above, they divide that word into several different words to reflect these different aspects.
So the point of the sermon was that there are these three types of love that God desires for us to show to each other as part of what it means to be a Christian. He described them as the following: agape, meaning unconditional or selfless love, koinonia, meaning fellowship, and philadelphia, meaning brotherly love. He is describing how these types of love may play out in a church community.
As he described the three forms, the words he was using were bringing memories to mind. When he elaborated on agape, on the giving without expecting back, I thought about Michelle. I thought about all those times Michelle had been there for me without ever asking anything in return. She is the living example of that kind of love. It's bigger than just her, though, it's this whole church. It's Erik and Paul Johnson laying a floor in my kitchen, for the price of nothing more than the materials, a whole day of their lives they gave for me that I could not even repay. Or Rich, helping me move in before I even knew him. His wife Kerri showing up at the hospital when Kaleb was born, and listening to me talk about my sadness about not being able to hold my baby. She offered me a sympathetic ear, and told me a story about her son being in NICU for a month, and how she didn't get to hold him either, so she understood how that felt, but that now he was a strapping little boy and just fine, just the way my son was going to be.
I remember the kindness of the church after the Great Flood incident, how a member of my bible study showed up at my door the night we got home with bags of groceries and a hot dinner, and how the Johnsons showed up the next day with a new car seat to replace the one we lost, and a cash donation raised by their Sunday School class. I was overwhelmed with gratitude when Paul Johnson was standing there with that offering. I remember telling him I couldn't believe a church was this giving to its members, that I had never witnessed a church congregation being like this. He said something to me like, "Well that's what MAKES a church. A church that doesn't do things like this is not a church worth belonging to."
I think I learned what our church is from moments like this. None of it was anything I asked to receive, but yet it was just freely given in a response to a perceived need. I can see Michelle's hand in many of these events, the link between, not only because she was the one who brought me into this church, and provided the example of how to BE in this church and as a person of faith, but how she was the one who asked Rich to help me, who told Kerri where my baby and I were, who drove three hours with two dog kennels in the back of her truck to rescue my family and my dogs from the Great Flood, who told the congregation about it, who saw a need and filled it over and over, if not from her deeds, but from her words. She exemplifies what it means to be a person filled with the genuine spirit of unconditional love. And yet, even though I know in my heart that there is nothing I could do to make Michelle stop loving me, I want to be worth that love. It inspires me to be a better person, for her, and for this God that we share, and for the church she brought me to. I think that kind of unconditional love could make a person complacent, and feel like they didn't have to try then, but somehow it works the other way, and at least for me, makes me want to live up to it. In the way that the giving of the congregation to my family when it was needed makes me want to give back to them, an endless cycle of paying it forward and paying it back.
At the end of the service, I look over to see my oldest son, earnest expression on his face, looking up at the words projected on the screen, and singing along with the hymn. In that moment, I wonder if he knows how much I love him. Understanding the unconditional love that God has for us can be likened to the relationship between a parent and a child. Sometimes I worry that I am not staying within the lines enough to please God, but vice versa, I wonder if my son understands that all the fussing I do at him to stay between the lines is not a reflection on him, or that it means I do not love him, or will only love him if he is perfect. I tell him I love him every night, but I think about the number of times I spend fussing at him and wonder if he knows that is out of love, too. I wonder if he won't grow up in therapy explaining that his mother's attempts to get him in line made him feel unloved as an individual. I wonder if he understands the concepts Bryan was talking about today, and about the agape aspect of both God's love and my love for him.
After church, I took a bike ride with my sons. This older one stayed out in front, leading the way, I took up the rear, and the little one who is just learning how to ride was in the middle. We just started trying to teach the little one about riding longer distances, about how to navigate the obstacles in the neighborhood. Sometimes the older one would have to stop, turn around, and tell the little one the best way to deal with that obstacle. Sometimes he would just lead by example, showing him the way without telling him. There were times where I would have to push the little one from behind to get him over a hill, or a bump, to get him going again when he lost his momentum. Sometimes I was back there rooting for him, "go! pedal faster!" or sometimes I was rejoicing with him when he figured it out. "Good job! Way to go! See, you can do it!". As we made our way around the suburban sidewalks, I was thinking about my church community, and how sometimes we worked like this. Some of us lead in front, teaching us or showing us the way. Sometimes we needed that push from behind when we were lagging. There are times when we want to rejoice in each other's accomplishments or strengths, or when one another finally makes it over an obstacle or figures out the way. It's these kinds of love, the brotherly love for each other, the fellowship, the selfless giving, the living as examples of how Christ wants us to behave that helps us grow as a group together, as we grow as individuals. It's how we keep each other in line, some following, some leading, all the way moving closer to God.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's Sunday morning again, and I'm traipsing into church late again, rapscallions in tow. Kerri and Rich wave at me when I come in, and gesture to their row, a good place for us as our kids are happier next to their kids. As always, the music is interesting on some level, and this time it is Gene ripping it on guitar on stage as another woman and man play backup instruments and vocals. After the music ends, Bryan begins his sermon, and I'm hoping that the bribes hold up as enough incentive for my children to remain quiet so I can concentrate on the words.
This sermon was the first part of a series on "ReThink Church", three parts I suppose to go along with the three times Jesus mentions church in the Bible. The scripture chosen has in regards to a conversation Jesus has with Peter, and I am thinking about this, and how it is somewhat connected to another conversation Jesus has with Peter that Gene was talking about last week in his sermon. In Gene's sermon, he mentions Peter's desire for importance, to be the favored disciple, with Jesus rebuking him with "Get behind me, Satan!" Yet Bryan's sermon focused on Matthew 16: 13-20 in which Jesus tells Peter "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
So on one hand, Jesus tells Peter to stop trying to put himself first, that the desire he has to be more important than anyone else is akin to the devil, and yet in here he is telling him he IS important, so important that he is going to base the whole church upon him and in doing that, the devil won't win. It seems almost like a contradiction on the surface, yet when I turn it over in my mind, I think that what Jesus was doing was something that makes leaders great - using people's natural talents and desires to work towards the collective whole. Peter had a need to feel self-important and valued, and what Jesus was doing here was taking that desire and turning it to serve his purpose - to empower him through it, charge him through this need by directing it into the area that would both satisfy the desires of the Self but give it a more noble purpose.
In a way, I think, this is connected to the whole idea of ministers or church groups as a whole guiding people to search themselves, though prayer, spiritual insight, reflection, or education, to discover what their unique talents are and how then to use them to serve God's purpose on this earth. We are all created in his image, but yet each possessing different levels of expertise, experience, or natural gifts that can be used in different ways to serve the world. I am thinking along those lines, the same lines that parallel some of what Bryan is talking about, in regards to ministry, but I am also thinking about this concept of how Jesus is relating to Peter, about how even those things that seem to work against us sometimes, like Peter's self aggrandization, are all part of the Big Picture of how God wants us to work for his Glory. I am also thinking about
how God sometimes illuminates what it is he wants us to see, or reveals his plan to us in little flashes, how he finds a way to help us see how our strengths or experiences are part of the purpose he has in mind for us.
So it happens that Bryan is talking, much like Gene's sermon last week, how being of the faith is not simply about passive listening or presence, but active seeking and participating. It's not enough to sit there on the pew, or to say you are a Christian, but to live it breath it be it. So on that level, I am thinking about how much of my time has been spent making excuses for not serving my God on a ministry level. I have lots of excuses, so I am going through them one by one here as he mentions the specific types of ministry the church is involved in. Money is always so scarce that I pray for God to understand why there's so little leftover for Him. Evangelism is not my style, and never will be. In a way it's probably a shame, because I know I have strengths as a persuasive salesperson (just ask my old boss) but it's my conviction to personal freedom that will prevent me from trying to change anyone's mind except through example of faith. I have issues with the homeless, which are too great to get into within the scope of this entry. Putting a hammer in my hand a'la Habitat to Humanity would be dangerous not only to myself but to others around me. Or maybe it's just being on my own with these two rapscallions that has made me feel like I can't, I don't have the means or the way to give back in that way. But maybe it's not that way I am supposed to be giving, anyways. I don't have a passion for those types of ministry, and it is only through our passions that we can serve the best.
I am contemplating a subject I should know backwards and forwards by now, the question of what are my strengths and my passion that I could use to fulfill God's intentions for me in terms of service to the world, and maybe it's as simple as what Michelle said last week, "start writing"...but of what? What is the intended message that can serve both my God and my self's passion, the world and the individual need to communicate in this medium? But it's not that simple, because I don't believe that God only possessed me with the desire to write, but also with the passion for animals. I used to joke that I was serving God by serving Dog, but I was only half-kidding. Indeed I used to think that I was serving his Purpose for me through my work, and I am sure in a way he still is, but there's something missing from it, something not complete.
In the recent past by way of explaining my background or vision to someone else, I've been thinking about something long forgotten, but it is something that comes to mind every time they start talking about ministry in church. My mind flashes to the image of the vision that drove me all the way through school, my "ten year plan for saving the world", and when I feel that call to ministry, I think, "Not yet", and imagine this vision. It's a dream decades long, of childish drawings of the same thing over and over that took a more distinct shape over thousands of repetitions from the eighties to the nineties, but something I haven't though about much in the past ten years. That makes me really sad, and at the same time, my mind starts planning it over again : a place of animal refuge, where animals come to be rescued, to be cared for, rehabilitated mentally and physically, then re-homed with certain criteria, to make sure what befell them never happens again. In addition, the animal rescue would support human rehabilitation as well, with specific types of people in emotional need in focused work with the animals, to give them back what they were missing or needed work on - empathy towards others, a connection to the physical world, a way to re-program them for caring for another besides themselves.
But as this dream has laid dormant in me these past ten years, so other things have become dormant as well. Even though my daily dedication to animals hasn't changed on some levels, there are changes over time and with exposure that have deadened my heart in ways I wish it hadn't. Over this past week, there were two incidents with J that showed me this. During the week, he sent me a link to a video about a man losing his dog, a video that should have made me cry but somehow couldn't touch me, which is disturbing in some levels to me. I tried to rationalize it with truth - the video was breaking up for one, which certainly detracted from its emotional message, but also the overexposure I've had to these types of situations. The other was watching him interact with a dog at a party. He was examining the dog, noticing the little ways the inferior care she was getting was affecting her. The next day, he was still thinking about her, thinking about the things he noticed and how he wished he could have changed that for it. Seeing him with that dog, or thinking about what he said about her, reminded me of the way I used to be, and how I've changed over time. In some ways it is ironic that in my single-minded dedication to learning and absorbing everything about providing quality of life to animals, I end up becoming desensitized to the little details that really all make up the Big Picture I was working towards - making the world a better place for animals. I felt inspired by those events to re-open this part of my mind and heart again, in order to serve the animals better, by which I can serve my God. I do believe that at least part of the purpose He has in mind for me is in the role of animal advocate, to be the one who gives the voice to those who don't have one, like Emma Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus', immortalized in a plaque on the second floor of the Statue of Liberty, speaks of:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

During Bryan's sermon, he makes a point about Christian service by turning on a flashlight with low battery. The dulled light flickers on for a minute, then goes out. He says this is what most people's faith is like, without the recharge given to us by commitment to presence. This brief flicker reminds me of my own heart's brief lurches in those two dog related incidents above, but it's the flicker itself that matters, in a matter of renewing the flame. He replaces the battery in the flashlight, showing us now how we are to live, how we are meant to be the Light of the World, and his sermon, and those other influences, serve to fill my heart back up to find ways to be that light, in the ways that drive and move me to lift my lamp up beside that golden door.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Sunday morning rolls around again, and I am contemplating church, a place I feel a need to get back to but with the usual struggle of inertia and dressing of children in time. With a little nudge and a push, I get the motivation to get them up and out in time. This week, I tried a new approach, and decided to take the restless souls of the children to kids choir practice so I could open my whole mind to the sermon. On our way upstairs, I see my beloved friend Michelle, on her way to the service in which I will soon be joining her, and stop to hug my childhood best friend's mother, who is delighted to see the three of us in attendance again, or just in general. I am already feeling so filled with the people in this church, who have come to mean so much to me over not just the course of my spiritual life, but my entire life in general.
After dropping the kids off, I manage to catch up with Michelle and her mother, and we grab coffee and cookies before finding our seats in the Contemporary Service. Vicki mentions she has been running ragged all morning trying to make sure the changes to Sunday School are situated, but she is stopping now for a spiritual break because she really wants to hear Gene's sermon. Gene has recently taken charge of our Bible Study group, and I have come to appreciation of him over the past months I have been getting to know him. My curiosity is piqued about how his sermon is going to be, and he is already leading into the scripture of the day as we walk in to find our seats, reading the story about Jesus overturning tables in the temple, being angry about the way humanity is changing faith into something it should not be.
After he reads the scripture, the focus is on the four teenagers on stage, two boys playing guitar accompanied by two lovely young women singing. I recognize one of the girls, new to the vocals, as Michelle points it out - it is Rich's oldest daughter. I see Rich and his wife to our left, watching her debut and smiling. I am so glad to see them there this day, and see their daughter up on stage, a lovely youthful version of her mother, and a testament to their upbringing.
Gene's sermon was one I could think about for days, in fact probably will, as it hit me on several levels. The title was "Barbarian Christian", and he turned the scripture story of the anger of Jesus at the money changers in the temple into several concepts, one being an idea I have thought about often in the past few years - that as we are called closer to God, the walk becomes more narrow, that Jesus is not a representation of some hippie-peace-love guru but in fact one who stands up for tolerating only that which represents true faith and commitment to God, not complacency and "free Grace" without conditions. Several parts of the sermon made us laugh, Michelle and Vicki and I looking at each other with understanding and appreciation of his humor. He challenged the congregation to stop focusing on the outer layers of the onion, the "little gods" that got in the way of true expression of faith, while saving only the little nub of the middle for God, when God wants the whole onion, all the layers to be about Him. He elaborated on examples of "spiritual warriors", who would not accept status quo but rose up to influence change, specifically Martin Luther and John Wesley (the founder of our particular denomination of Christianity). The entire sermon served as a method of charging people to be fired up inside, to not accept less but expect more, from ourselves as well as others around us, to turn our souls on fire for Christ and what he was standing for, and stand for it ourselves.
After this thought provoking yet amusing sermon, he turned it over to the vocal group again, and invited us to meditate on what was spoken. As the group sang, I was watching Rich and Kerri watch their daughter, and imagining the pride they were feeling, and happy for them that their daughter was growing up to embody the values they worked so hard to teach their children. The entire hour, I had been feeling this general sense that "church=love" in my heart, that these people were the reasons I continued to come here, that every one of them taught me something or served in some role in my life.
As I put my head down and listened to the music, I opened my heart to God and began a conversation with Him of gratitude, of thankfulness, and I found myself thinking of the beginning of my spiritual conversion, something I have had to defend or explain to people from my past who questioned this re-awakening of faith for their own particular reasons. I thought about how I was hit on so many different levels all at the same time, which all served to open my heart, right at the very same time that Rich and Michelle stepped in that open door and offered me a place to go where all those things could find outlet, and how amazing it was that God crafted that opportunity to bring me closer to Him. From there, it all grew outward, to a place in which these people I find here became my "church-family", the people who are always there to support me when I need it, who are my safety net, the people I run to when I need answers, who help me when I need help, who act in all the ways family would. These are the people who became my true family, so that when my real family, my "nuclear" family, split apart like atoms under pressure, I had a place to fall. I had a system of support already in place. I remembered introducing my real family to my church family at one Christmas service, how proud I was to point out all my friends here, and how I had realized how much these people meant to me at that point. I also remembered during the nuclear fission of my real family last year, some anger from my real family that these people here had come to mean more to me than they did. But that's because this was a safe place to fall, a place where the people were always there to lift me back up instead of tear me back down, where when I fell, I was bounced right back up in order to be the person God intended me to be, like a spiritual trampoline.
I was overwhelmed with God's intentions in providing this for me, like he had the foresight to know I was going to have this need for this, not only because of this family split but for other reasons as well, and set things in motion in just the right ways to guide me to the resources I was going to need later on. I turned to Michelle and started to explain to her what I had been thinking. She completely understood, but then took it past my own understanding to the next level.
"Yes, we are here for you, and we do these things for you because God planned it that way. It's because he has intentions for you, and I know this." We look at each other with an awareness of my history, of how I was hiding my light under a bushel in misery, and am just now coming out of it and becoming the person God intended me to be all along. Her belief in me and my purpose has always been clear, though, and has been unwavering.
"You were meant to do something amazing in this lifetime," she says to me intently. Then she turns away and adds the final instructions, with authority.
"So start writing."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm cutting through the dark night on a highway I've traveled down hundreds of times before. It's a way I know by heart, or so I think. A phone call from an old friend, distractions from the back seat, and I'm cruising through the memories of times gone by without even looking at the signs, lost in my thoughts and the music. I start to point something out to my son, a story from the past, and I realize this is not the town I thought it was, and suddenly nothing looks familiar. Suddenly I am seeing the signs, incongruous signs for Lake Somerville and Caldwell. This is not the highway I know, and with a rush of clarity, I remember the right turn I was supposed to make God only knows how many miles ago. I call the friend whose house I am on the way to for her to talk me through which turn to take out of this town. Ironically, two GPS receivers sit idly next to me on the passenger seat (they only work if you turn them on, see....).
So I make a turn, and now I'm on another highway, the unexpected highway, the highway that used to take me to San Marcos, and the horse of my heart, but now I am hoping is taking me back to the highway I was supposed to be on this whole time. I'm not really sure where I am anymore, but somehow I'm okay with it all, because I'm tuned into classical music and the concentration of calm. It's all about the journey, and I am just trying to enjoy it without worrying about where it's going to end up.
Except that my friend is expecting me, and I make the night more of a comedy of errors when I try to make it her house from memory and not off the directions. At any rate, I'm an hour behind anticipated arrival when I finally pull up at her house.

She welcomes me in with a smile anyways, and after some discomfort trying to to get the children off to bed, I join her and her husband at the kitchen table. Everything in their house flows in neat, orderly lines. Abstract art hangs from boldly painted walls, staring down at bantam futon furniture. Classical music flows from unseen speakers, settling us into "serenity now".
I sit across from D., who is stirring a cup of tea, and her husband G., who is sketching with charcoal over an etched drawing, lines moving every which way but somehow connecting to a coherent whole. I begin our catching-up conversation with an explanation, a redirection of parenting skill attempts based on the premise that I have to become more self reliant, learn to be mother and father both, because the father is not coming back, or at least not in the ways that it was before.

Each explanation begs another explanation, and we go back further and further, to explain the demise of this relationship that wasn't meant to be. I pose questions, questions directed to G., questions as if I am questioning myself, but I'm not, really, It's almost like I want him to agree with me on this thing, which is "the thing that is not love", showing them the scars as if I need to prove my pain to them. They get it. I ask G what it would be like if he was across the world from his wife, and he looks at her like it pains him to even think of it. "And if you were, would you want to write to her? To talk to her? Would you miss her?" Of course, of course, but it would never come to that. D has her hand on his leg, and he looks up from his sketches to meet my eyes, and then look at hers as he gives his answers. She listens to him with half a face turned towards him, smiling softly. I draw on my own experiences, asking him if he would make the same choices as this man did, and yet knowing the answer was no, before I even asked.
So then we're done talking about 'what is not", now we move on to talking about "what is". I've had enough of the darkness, and I move on to the light. I tell them about hope, and about yearning, and I ask them if they ever felt like that, do they understand what that is. I ask them questions about how these things start out. It seems like it's been so long for me, or maybe that I've never felt like this before. I explain what I am feeling now, and ask them if they ever felt this way. G looks up at me and meets my eyes, and they both kind of smile and start to tell me the story of their beginning, a story I have never heard the whole of. She starts to talk about a note he left on her car, about six months of letters back and forth, of a picture of him she could look at and hold in her hands.
"This was in the old days," G. teased, "before Facebook profile pics. Back when we had like real pictures, you know. Remember those things?"
So I ask them questions about how these things start out. It seems like it's been so long for me, or maybe that I've never felt like this before. They identify with what I am explaining, nodding and giving each other knowing looks. Then G explains it better, the beginning of knowing.
"At first, you discover each other's intrinsic qualities, those little things you have in common. And those things begin to take on a life of their own. Then there's the inside jokes, which also begin to take on a life of their own. They build on each other, until you've got this whole...thing going on that's bigger than all of that." He gestures, a hand flowing up into the air. I get it, and I also see from them, from the way they are together, what that looks like as it grows.
Then it's late, and we retire. In the morning, D and I talk as she prepares her day's lunch in the kitchen. She tells me about a radio program that morning talking about a book that reminded her of our conversation last night, and about how sometimes the things that happen to us that are sad, or bad, are really there to help us appreciate the good, and the light, that much more. It's something I have heard a few times, a few different ways, over the past couple of months.
In the end, she gives me some direction on how to get to what I need to get this morning, a map of sorts, outlining some stops along the way. She leaves for work, and I begin preparing to leave. As I went to get the children ready, I saw a picture from their wedding. It was the most beautiful scene I had ever seen. They were standing by a window that looked out on a rainforest, somewhere exotic, like perhaps Madagascar, and it was just the two of them and the minister. She was so beautiful, and they looked at each other with adoration. It made me smile, remembering her as the Prom Queen, and G teasing us about our alleged dorkiness.
I drive off to the next stage of my journey, thinking, thinking about pictures and maps and directions, and how sometimes we have to take the wrong way before we see the signs that are pointing us in the right direction, to the road of light and better days ahead.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Every Sunday, it's the same struggle. Two kids who don't want to go to church are scrubbed, dressed, and sent out to the car, always at the last minute. No matter what time I get started, we always seem to be leaving right when we are supposed to get there. Realistically, we are always about ten minutes late - the amount of time it would take me to get the youngest situated in some kind of other activity besides sitting next to me in service, struggling to sit still and be quiet. So there we are, and there we struggle.
Every Sunday, it's the same thing. It's the struggle with him to keep his mouth from running, a million little disturbances, the occasional dirty looks from people around us. Luckily, I think, we have choices between two services, and this one I always choose, because it's not nearly as quiet of a service as the other one, not nearly as serious, so not nearly as high of a penalty. If I had my choice between the two, I would choose the other - the other service going on next door is more mentally engaging, whereas this one, the contemporary service, is more emotionally based. There is always something about it, though, that makes me feel God at a heart level, instead of a head level, and this week, it was no exception.
There is live music, and colors swirling, and darkness inside the heart of the church, and pictures projected on to twin screens on either side of the stage, the words to the songs running over them. This week, it started with a picture of light streaming through the open canopy of a forest, a place where God exists to me. I was feeling it, not thinking it. A woman onstage was talking about her decision on a particular song we were to sing, talking about how her life was so full of all these distractions, and finally, when she came to ask God to reveal to her what music she should chose, and sought his counsel on the other issues, the answer was that He had been waiting for her this whole time, just waiting for her to start leaning on him already. And with this revelation, she chose Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) , a modern twist on an old hymn. I always loved this song, but this day, I was being moved by the words.
Clips from a movie about the Last Supper rolled across the twin screens as this week's Scripture was played from a recording that reverberated throughout the sanctuary. The minister began his sermon, a time that is usually the most challenging with the children, mostly the youngest one. Today, it was the usual struggle again, the constant whispering between us, his requests for toys or potty breaks, my admonishments, attempts to engage him in coloring, the questioning myself on if other well-intended people are right, if he is too young for this and I should just make sure he is in the nursery during this, or in the little church choir upstairs, but always the guilt of pushing him into something away from me when all week I spent away from him at work, the desire to show him how I live my faith, how I want it to be for him, the expectations I have versus the reality of taking a three year old to church services that he can't understand. The difference this time, though, was how I felt about it. My heart was so much lighter than it has been in the past, dealing with this same problem, and I say a silent prayer to God, thanking him for bringing that light back into my life, for chasing the darkness away.
I am only catching snatches of the sermon, which is exasperating me, because I really want to absorb it today, and some of what Brian is saying is speaking to me. In fact, he is kind of talking about some of what I've been thinking about, about the struggle, and how we are to deal with it, questioning if we allowed ourselves to be defined by the struggle, or transcend it. "Some of us here are dealing with pain, dealing with past abusive relationships, dealing with dark times, and what God wants is for us to not be defined by that, but defined by this instead", and he gestures to the breaking of bread and the spilling of wine, of the sacrifice of the Lamb. He is talking about Passover, and the marking of the doors with sheep's blood, and the gift of people's presence in our lives, and my mind is rolling.
Then we break for communion, and all these thoughts spill out when I dip the bread into the wine, and take my place on my knees to pray after. I lift my heart up to God, and I am thanking him for the light he has placed in my life, for leading me out of the desert, for transforming my heart the past months, for all the gifts He has brought to me, for His presence most of all. I am weeping with gratitude for this God, who saved/ a wretch like me.
And wretch I was, so darn miserable and aching inside before. I think about that today, think about how on other Sundays just like this, I would go home from church crying, and spend the day trying to lift myself out of this depression. Some of that darkness was from the struggle of trying to manage these two heathen children on my own, but my attitude is different now. I used to wish someone was there to help me, to reach out for someone to lean on, but I've gotten past that, on to the realization that I have to do it myself. Sometimes I feel like no one's really there for me, but all that begats self reliance. I have to do it on my own, because it's not fair to ask anyone else to help carry this load, and that's part of my transformation. Sometimes getting what you need is to stop needing it, and learn how to do without. That's what we've been doing, with the eventual goal of being more complete without, to be more complete for.
Anyway, this day I walk outside of the service with these thoughts, and also the other thought that today was different, because the main thing that keeps me coming back to this place is the connections I have to it - my friends - but today I saw none of those connections. Right as I was thinking that, though, I saw one, and he is just who I wanted to see, after all.
Of all the people I have met through this church, Rich is the one I value the most. His name seems to suit him, in spiritual terms. In fact, he's the one who got me to start coming here in the first place, and after I got to know him, I saw why. Rich is a "fisher of men", a sheperd drawing in the lost sheep. He fired me up with the same enthusiasm, and we used to feed off each other, watching the flock from the back pew, seeing who was new, then almost pushing each other to go round them up, inroduce ourselves, invite them to our small group, which eventually got so big it splintered into many other small groups. Now, Rich and I aren't in the same small group anymore, and so we pass each other in the halls, and even in his house, since my kids are there every Thursday night, but we rarely have a chance to sit down and talk.
Today, as luck would have it, the person sitting by him had just left, and I claimed the spot. He was all worn out from giving blood, and as we sat, people kept stopping to talk to him, to thank him for giving his blood, as if he was part of Christ himself. I joked with him about the state of his heart, had it been drained dry, but knowing Rich, it never would be. As I joked, he caught my eye, noting the tears. Nothing much passes by Rich, and I knew I didn't have to tell him anything, but I wanted to. I told him some of what has been in my heart lately, about the transformation of spirit, of God's presence working in my life, about my struggles.
"It sounds like you've been beating yourself up pretty good, " he said, when I lamented about God "smoting my eye", about my failure to get myself out of a bad situation, about how it was finally time to see the signs in front of me. "I'm going to tell you something...for later. This might not help you right now, but I want you to think about it." He told me about the ghosts of exgirlfriends past, and how even though some of those experiences were bad and painful, in the end, he didn't regret any of it, because it got him to where he was today. He gestured to my kids, the older one who was practicing Tae Kwon Do poses in the hallway, the younger one who flashed us a brilliant smile. "And you got these two out of it, which is something you will never regret."
We talked some more. I told him I felt like everyone was judging me for these struggles I had with the youngest, how I felt eyes on me all the time. "If anyone IS watching you," he said, "It's with sympathy, not judgement. They probably remember what it is like to have small children, and have sympathy, or perhaps are thanking God they aren't there anymore." He gave me some real practical advice on my struggles with the heathens in church, a solution no one had ever suggested, but made perfect sense. "Man, I have missed you," he said. "You always had something deep to say, some intelligent remark, some profound statement to make. I'm sad that we aren't in the same group anymore."
Today, though, I thought it was him that was the profound one, the one who cut down to the heart of the pressing questions, and gave me the gift of clarity, and made me feel like the woe and strife of my past life did have a purpose, something I kind of knew but I guess needed to hear again. His idea for next Sunday, too, gave me hope.
Sometimes things do turn around. Maybe God was just waiting for me to be ready, for me to come and lean on him a little, and all those things I wanted, he just laid them at my feet, like a reward for the well-intended.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought,
So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.