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Courageous Middle Age

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I never call myself “middle-aged,” I hate the term. I don’t like getting older, even if I am getting wiser (here’s hoping). But let’s face it, unless I’m going to live to be well past the century mark, I am there. In middle age and a teensy bit more.

Change is Afoot

Recently, though, something has clicked, or is in the process of clicking. I am rather suddenly learning to appreciate middle age! I’ve always loved those transition periods in life when you know you’re  evolving, but you aren’t sure what’s happening or where you’re going to end up. I’ve noted periods of passage in my journals since I was sixteen, and today was jotting about my latest one while soaking up the late summer sun at my place in New Hampshire, sipping tea on my deck and feeling entirely retired and entirely blessed.

In contrast to my past inner transitions, I can see this one has a direct cause, and it’s my recent weight loss. Not the actual shedding of pounds, but more the Noom weight loss program itself. It’s a whole mind, body, spirit thing and I’ve never come across anything like it. It’s put together by psychologists and while it’s relatively “simple” (ha!), it’s having a profound effect on the way I think and consequently behave. It seems my ability to lose weight after years of telling myself I’d never have the power to do so has allowed me to see myself and my life journey in a whole new light. I have been examining my past beliefs and behaviors with a curious but not overly critical eye, challenging the age-old pesky negative voices in my head, and allowing myself to dream a little.

Growing Up is Hard to Do

One of Noom’s “psych lessons” talks about goal orientations and how they can be either performance-based or mastery-based. As we get older, our less-ego-driven selves generally shift from an orientation of performance (What do others think? How do I compare? ) to mastery (What am I learning? Is this helping me grow, making me a better person?). This has been a hard transition for me. For most of my life, I’ve cared way too much what others think of me and have craved recognition and affirmation. That’s a draining and frustrating way to live because it gives others control over your well-being and serenity.

This idea — I’ll call it ego versus spirit — isn’t new for me; it’s not some epiphany. I was in therapy for eight years, have done related twelve-step work around growing up with an alcoholic parent, and have read several books on the topic. (Two good ones, if you’re interested, are Father Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” and “Living an Examined Life: Wisdom for the Second Half of the Journey” by James Hollis.) Well, through Noom I’m finally getting it, and it’s changing everything. You know how sometimes it’s just time?

Fear No More!

I’m banishing ingrained habits of thinking and feeling, like powerlessness and fearfulness. I learned to be risk-averse and overly cautious from my mother, and the river of fear runs deep. New things are dangerous, period. Laying low is always safest.

Noom to the rescue. They urged me to create a morning affirmation, and I’ve done so (don’t laugh, it’s working): “I have the ability to do whatever I choose because I am strong, determined, courageous, and wise.” At first I used “smart,” but smart is for younger people trying to impress others. By affirming my “wisdom” instead, I give myself permission to embrace what comes with middle age. I’ve been through a boatload of painful crap and I’ve learned some stuff! I’m owning it, along with the lines in my face and the sunspots on my arms. (Well, sort of.)

COURAGE
Courage is armor
A blind man wears;
That calloused scar
Of outlived despairs;
Courage is Fear
That has said its prayers.
— KARLE WILSON BAKER

So guess what? I’M GOING TO NEW ZEALAND!! Just like that. By myself. In a camper van. Don’t care what anyone thinks. So there, fear! I bought my (first) NZ travel book this week, read, researched, and emailed camper van companies and travel bloggers late into the night, and I’ve decided! Am I scared? Sure. But I’m also tingly excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. Time to get over the idea that middle-aged women can’t get tingly excited!

Milford Sound, New Zealand (Photo by my cousin, Richard Boyter)

 

“Hallelujah Anyway”

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Greetings, friends & readers! I’m still alive, I’m happy to say. Folks keep asking why I haven’t been blogging lately, and my answers are all over the map. I wish I could say I’ve been working on my memoir instead, but it’s more that I feel I *should* be working on my memoir if I’m going to write at all. How dysfunctional is that? I started a writing group last year specifically so that I would be motivated to work on the memoir, but so far I’ve only shared Chapter One and a bunch of older pieces. Little new writing.

In Search of Hope

Blogging is usually is a spiritual practice for me, one which entails at least reflection, if not prayer or meditation. Sometimes I’m just processing, but usually my writing takes me to a place of greater understanding or even hope. I trust that my erstwhile readers occasionally end up there as well. These days, though, it’s harder to find my way to hope. The practice of reflective writing can take me to some dark places. I mean, the planet . . .

I think that’s one reason my posts have been scarce lately. When you’re working with kids in cages, porn star pay-offs, climate collapse, and our democracy teetering on the edge, well — hope can be a stretch.

“Hallelujah Anyway” **

The good news is, I’m learning to live life despite the outrage, grief, and dread brought on by our national crisis gone global.

My life has been full and rich and fun. I’m working five mini-jobs right now (I know, kind of nuts) and each offers some level of meaning and purpose. I appreciate the yin/yang balance of teaching middle school kids and companioning an older man with Parkinson’s. I recently opened my sweet house in New Hampshire for the summer, attended a spiritual writing conference in New Jersey, and took a two-week road trip in New Mexico. Since stepping away from my pastoral position last fall, I’m able to be more present and attentive to all of this. Sometimes I am literally brought to tears of gratitude for my church, my friends, and my crazy-blessed life.

There’s plenty good and edifying to write about. My annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival of spirituality, art, and justice is only a week away, and of course there’s the Democratic primary circus — you know how I love waxing eloquent about politics! I fear that in the end, though, “progressives” won’t like what happens in the primary and will either vote third party or not at all, thereby returning trump’s rump to the Oval Office chair. But since I’m eschewing dread and aiming for hope, we won’t go there.

Happy Monday, Happy Fourth, and enjoy life! See you back here soon, I hope.

** Borrowed from author Anne Lamott

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Wild Goose 2018 #1: Holding on to Serenity

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After five days at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of North Carolina, unplugged from the internet and living in a community of four thousand smiling, creative, hopeful, “damn-givers,” as John Pavlovitz calls us, it is hard to return to . . . to . . . what shall I call this train wreck of a world?

I will not call it anything. I will not spend my precious time searching for words despairing enough to describe the darkness and brokenness. I will not let it burrow back into my soul.

I will simply allow it to parade by in all its sick ugliness and violence and pettiness, and I will hold on to the hope and courage and truth and generosity of spirit that defines Wild Goose.

This is the ultimate act of resistance. Resistance of the heart. It’s not easy.

The moment my phone reconnected me with so-called “reality” — the one where the President of the United States offers aid and comfort to the KGB-president who is working round-the-clock to undermine our nation — I lost my serenity. I drove eight hours back to Maryland, greeted my cat, unpacked my cooler, and immediately became engaged in a Facebook debate about the meaning of “treason.”

Then I perused Twitter until 1 a.m., first in disbelief, then in outrage, and finally in numb horror.

I chose this. I simply handed over my serenity and exchanged it for madness. There’s an awful lot about which I have no choice. But what I allow to rule in my mind and heart, I can choose.

So here are a few images from the Goose this year. More words and images of hope to come . . .

Blogger & pastor John Pavlovitz speaks to the “damn-givers” (If you don’t read his blog, I highly recommend it!)

A communion table where everyone is welcome

Listening to singer/songwriter Amy Grant

America’s Guardian Genie

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AMERICA’S GUARDIAN GENIE

It’s a lovely spring day here in D.C., and I’m feeling hopeful about our current national upheaval for the first time in a while. As more and more judges overturn or stall the countless egregious policies spewing out of the White House — including trump’s golden boy Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch — I wonder if maybe, just perhaps, our democracy can survive until the current occupant of the Oval Office has departed.

Yes, people are getting sick and dying and being jailed as a result of this administration. But because of the blatant attacks on everyone who isn’t wealthy, white, and/or male, people who have never been involved in politics or activism are stepping up and speaking out.

Look at the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and now all over the nation. Look at the #MeToo movement. Look at the head of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Wait, what?

Yup – in case you missed it, yesterday the head of the Coast Guard said he will completely ignore the White House and continue allowing transgender people to serve until an official policy bans transgender troops.

And Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft did not mince words. “Seems to me this is an invented problem and a waste of time and dollars and military resources by targeting these dedicated service members who’ve proved their fitness and their ability to serve,” he told a House subcommittee.

Yipes. That is stunning when you think about it. Given the rash, vindictive behavior of the president, Zukunft may well be fired for this.

Knowing Love

I wonder if the admiral would have been this courageous if he didn’t have a trans service member in his personal office. It happens so often, even in conservative Christian circles: when you discover that someone you know, love, or respect is LGBTQ, God will surprise you by changing your heart and mind. (Unless you decide that being “right” or “righteous” is more important than loving one another.)

For my friends who still don’t understand, I pray for you a loved one who is brave enough to bear your scorn by telling you they aren’t straight. May hearts be softened and lives changed as people risk their jobs & even their lives by coming out of the closet, and as straight allies speak up for the first time.

For Such a Time as This

In the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures, a woman hesitating about risking her life for her people is asked, “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” It seems that an increasing number of Americans, including Admiral Zukunft, are risking all to step into their place in history.

I firmly believe that God brings good from bad. As much of a menace as trump is, his shocking disregard for other people and for our democracy may be waking up a complacent America. When we see people marching in our streets carrying Nazi flags, it’s kind of hard not to notice.

Perhaps the growing “resistance” has finally caused enough friction to release America’s guardian genie from her bottle. She is floating over our country calling, “Wake up, wake up, speak up! You are made for such a time as this!”

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt is genie, which means a “tutelary spirit” and comes from the Latin for tutor — a wise guide and protector.

 

 

“Good” Friday & Stinkin’ Saturday in America

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“GOOD” FRIDAY AND STINKIN’ SATURDAY IN AMERICA

The first “Good” Friday was not a good day. Not at all. That was the day that the “empire” won — the greedy men in power, the violent oppressors, the ones who ruled by fear and hate. You know the ones. They are still around today and seem to be winning again. They talk a lot about winning.

The oppressors murdered Jesus on a Friday, and it was not a good day.

Saturday was godawful, too. All the marginalized people who hoped that Jesus was the guy who would overcome the empire lost that hope on Saturday. They woke up to find that the Friday horror had not been a dream, it had been real. Jesus was dead. Hope was dead.

For all they knew, that was the end of the story.

Easter Always Comes

Today, those of us who follow the way of Jesus know that the crucifixion was not the last word. We never have to lose hope, even when oppression and ugliness and hate seem to be winning. Even when — as was true in Jesus’s time — religious “leaders” are the worst of the worst. Because we know that love wins. Easter Sunday always comes.

The murder of Jesus exposed the extraordinary evil and hatred of which humans are capable. Even so, he died with words of forgiveness on his lips: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus’s love swallowed up the hatred. Grace and mercy pulled out a victory.

Sometimes a society has to bottom out, to plumb the depths of darkness before it begins to reach again for the light. Maybe that’s where we are as a nation right now. Maybe it’s Stinkin’ Saturday here in America. Ugliness and greed and hatred has won, and hope is hard to come by. 

We worship guns, we worship money, we worship pride. We fear “the other.” Self-proclaimed Christians argue for higher military budgets and no support for refugees. We are spiraling down into the darkness, dismantling all the protections we have put in place for the poor, minorities, our health, our children, and God’s creation. It looks dark.

But I will take a lesson from Holy Week. You never know what God has up her sleeve.

Cherishing Christmas

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This Christmas Day I cherish my friends. I am so grateful to the many who have invited me into their Christmas festivities after I lost my Mom and brother.

I cherish my family: my nephew, his wife, and his four children. There can be no greater joy than to be smothered in hugs of greeting and cries of “Auntie Mel, Auntie Mel!!”

I cherish my sister and my niece and her family, and I cherish my cousins from Connecticut to Canada, from Florida to South Africa — those I rarely see but to whom I am connected by that magical thread of history, memory, and love. Together we hold the memories of those who have gone before.

I cherish my old friends, high school and earlier, who have known me at my worst and love me still. Being with them is like soaking in a bubble bath of love and acceptance.

I cherish the gentle, generous hearts of my church family and the twenty-plus-year journey we have shared in search of the ineffable.

I cherish our beautiful planet and the millions of activists who give their time and heart to protecting her.

I cherish creatures and plants great and small, each of which reflects the glorious divine imagination.

I cherish this country I live in, broken as it is. I cherish the ideals and hopes on which it was founded, and I cherish the dreams of justice and compassion that “keep hope alive” in dark times.

I cherish the little community I’ve been blessed to live in for thirty years, a small cooperative founded by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and based on the ideals of cooperation and volunteerism.

I cherish my life, my one-time-in-all-history chance to add love to the universe. I pray that I would get better at that.

I cherish YOU, blog friends, and I pray that you will experience gratitude more and more each day in the coming year.

Merry Christmas to all who are celebrating today!!

Christmas Eve Candlelight Service at Cedar Ridge Community Church

Thanks to WordPress for the prompt — yep, cherish.

Saint Francis for President

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SAINT FRANCIS FOR PRESIDENT

The odds for the United States don’t look good right now. Distrust, disdain, and mean spiritedness are the order of the day, regularly displayed and encouraged by the new president. Greed and aggressive corporate irresponsibility rule the incoming Cabinet. The stakes could not be higher.

I can’t imagine how compassion, justice, and rational dialogue will ever make a come-back. And I don’t see how one person can make a mite of difference, no matter how much we rally and write and call and donate. I’m down.

Pondering a Saint

This morning, I made an altar on my dining table in preparation for the upcoming Lenten season.

Lenten altar

Lenten altar

While I created, I got to pondering Saint Francis of Assisi. I guess you could call Francis one of my spiritual mentors. On my altar is a plastic statue of the saint that I bought with my allowance when I was ten, an icon of the Saint Francis Prayer that my brother gave me, a tau cross that Francis used as his seal, and a sweet snail shell that I picked up at the Saint Damiano convent in Assisi where Francis felt his call from God.

I got to wondering what Saint Francis might have to teach us today.

Radically Countercultural

I recently preached a sermon about gentleness and described Saint Francis as the embodiment of gentleness and humility.

He’s also a good illustration of how one person following a simple call can make a difference in the world.

Saint Francis lived 800 ago in Italy. He grew up wealthy and privileged and became a powerful soldier and a knight. But because of some crushing circumstances that led him to Christ, he rejected all that and instead adopted a gentler way of being, a life of absolute poverty, service, and simplicity. This lifestyle was radically countercultural amidst the violence and aggression of medieval times.

Today he’s known as the patron saint of animals and the environment because he saw no dividing line between himself and the natural world. He rejected the prevailing Christian idea that things on earth were bad and ugly, and only “heavenly things up above” were holy.

He showed absolute reverence and gentleness for every creature and even inanimate things because he believed that each contained divine mystery that he couldn’t possibly understand. It was all God’s creation, all good, and all due respect.

Francis was way ahead of his time. Imagine if more people over these 800 years had adopted his gentle and respectful stance towards the earth and its inhabitants instead of giving way to our insatiable appetites. We would not be in the environmental crisis that we’re in, that’s for sure. We wouldn’t have mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be blowing the tops off mountains or spewing toxics and radioactivity into the air and water.

Radical Compassion

Francis spent his life serving people who were oppressed and neglected by society. He tenderly cared for outcast lepers, and he sold all his goods and used the money to buy food for poor people (his father briefly imprisoned him in their basement after he started selling the family’s stuff).

Francis saw no dividing lines; he embraced everyone and saw no one as “the other.” His friends said that he was willing to be martyred for the sake of unity and peace, when he traveled to Egypt during the crusades to try to negotiate a peace with the Muslims. He walked right through the bloody battleground and because of his bold but gentle courage, the Muslim Sultan welcomed him instead of killing him. He was later sent back to Italy under Muslim protective guard.

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

The humble feet of a servant: Detail of Saint Francis statue in Assisi

Gentleness as an Act of Resistance

Following in the radical, nonviolent footsteps of Jesus, Francis stood up to the abusive power structures of his time by showing a different path of humility, kindness, and compassion. His Franciscan order thrives to this day, still focused on simplicity and compassionate service.

Such gentleness is a powerful act of resistance these days. It’s subversive in the face of terror and outrage, as was Francis’s vulnerability towards the Muslims and his rejection of the church’s violent crusade. This may be just what America needs to beat the odds and end the cycle of distrust and fear.

Stand up, fight back. But with love.

The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

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