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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)

 

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I’ve Missed You!

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I miss you. It’s been months since I’ve written here, by far the longest silent stretch since I started Writing with Spirit six-plus years ago. I can’t explain it, it just is what it is. For a few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get back in, but I haven’t found an obvious doorway.

It’s Lent, I always write during Lent. And there have been lots of mass shootings — I always rage and offer prayers after one of those. The person in the White House continues to be an embarrassment, a danger, and an outrage. What’s new? Why waste the ink on him? Why contribute to the negativity? America made a huge mistake and it may take us down; take the planet down. We all know that.

At last count there were approximately 323 Democrats or sort-of Democrats vowing to take on the monster in 2020. In the past, I would have had plenty to say about all of them.

And yesterday the Mueller report came out – now there’s something to write about! But no. No words for any of that.

Am I a Pastor or Am I a Lap?

One reason I think I have not written is that I had news to share but I did not know how to share it. I stepped down from my pastoral role at church in the fall. It was a difficult decision that played out over the summer, during which time I lost both my cats. (I think I told you that part.) I don’t know quite why that was relevant, but it was. Perspective, I guess. Life is short, live in the moment.

I remember at one point thinking, “The most important role I have in life right now is to sit in this chair with this sweet dying cat in my lap.” That’s it. I realized I was just a lap. A loving lap.

Mostly it had to do with space. I was supposed to be the Pastor of Prayer and Healing, leading people into silence and contemplative practices, preaching about making space for God in your life. And there was no space in my life. I wasn’t practicing what I preached. And as long as there was no space, I could not sense God nudging me into different paths, or whispering to me about who I am meant to become. It’s always uncomfortable to step away from one thing before you know exactly (or even vaguely) where you are headed next, but sometimes it’s wise.

Anyway, I’m still leading retreats and groups and occasionally helping with worship and so on, but the burden is less. It was a good choice. Maybe I’ll write more about it in the future, but I just wanted to get it out there, because I felt a big part of my identity had shifted and it seemed disingenuous not to share that. Maybe now I can move on and write more regularly.

Entering the Desert for Lent

Most years, Lent is a busy season for me, while at the same time being reflective. This year I simply skipped town. I went into the desert for Lent, which is appropriate, since the season is meant to reflect the forty days Jesus spent in the desert wilderness before he began his ministry.

But I didn’t spend much time in self-examination and repentance. No ashes on my forehead for Ash Wednesday. Instead, I flew out to Albuquerque with a girlfriend and spent two weeks cruising around the New Mexican desert in a rental car. We collected cool desert rocks, visited museums, parks, and wildlife refuges, wandered through the ruins of Spanish missions and Pueblo Indian villages, drank margueritas, bought turquoise and silver, and soaked in the same hot springs that Geronimo is said to have frequented.

We gazed at distant horizons instead of computer screens. I read only books about New Mexico: no politics, spiritual growth, or fiction. Living in the moment. We drove for what seemed hours without seeing another car. At night the starfields left us speechless, which is perfectly comfortable when you’ve known someone for sixty years, as E and I have.

In short, I’m practicing “living life to the full,” as Jesus recommended.

There — now I’ve slipped back into the blogosphere. More pictures and stories from New Mexico to come.

Yucca at White Sands National Monument

E wandering in the desert

Native American petroglyph of the Easter Bunny (Petroglyphs National Monument)

Bee in Apricot Blossom

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day Three (kind of)

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I tell myself that losing my wallet on a Christian college campus is less problematic than doing so in Costa Rica, which is where I was the last time I became separated from my wallet. At least I speak the language. Nevertheless, I spend the morning in a mild state of panic with attendant upset stomach until a friend texts at 10:30 to say that my wayward belongings have been found in the back seat of his car. Thank God. I’m not sure what happens if you try to board a plane without a driver’s license these days, but I’m thinking Guantanamo.

At any rate, day three of the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College was just as full and fascinating as were the first two days, but today I also wandered in a cloud of grateful bliss after I was reunited with my identity and my cash and credit cards.

I want to do the sessions and the speakers justice and fear that I won’t be able to, given that it’s almost midnight, I’ve been up since 7, and I’ve just had a couple of glasses of wine with some new friends. It’s about time to curl up in bed with one of my new books.

So tonight I’ll just share a favorite quote from the day. That’s about all the bandwidth I’ve got. I promise to do a proper part III soon, but probably not tomorrow because that’ll be my birthday and I’m going to celebrate at Meijer Sculpture Gardens in downtown Grand Rapids, and then I’ll be flying home (now that I have dodged Guantanamo).

The gardens will be glorious — this trip has gifted me with a second spring this year: hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips all over again.

Birthday Blessings

Birthday Blessings

Anyway, without further ado, here is my favorite quote of the day. It came during a session on being a good “literary citizen,” which means participating in literary communities, going to public readings, supporting your libraries, promoting other’s work, etc.

Writer and editor Laura Turner said that for her, “being a literary citizen is about becoming a better person — becoming more Christlike if you’re a Christian.” The she paused thoughtfully and added, “It’s hard to be an asshole and still be a good literary citizen.”

On that note, good night, dear readers.

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/festival-of-faith-writing-day-one/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/festival-of-faith-writing-day-two/

A Picture of Endurance

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“I’m not kidding. People die because of this. We have to go. Now.” Our guide wasn’t smiling.

Chastened, my friend CJ and I stopped giggling. Yes, it was ridiculous to have hiked halfway down the Grand Canyon in  August with just one bottle of water between us, but the time for laughing would come later . . . if we survived.

The night before, our guide JK had said, “We will have plenty of water.” CJ took this to mean we would have plenty of water without her contribution. Wrong.

CJ announced her lack of water when we reached Cedar Ridge , a lovely plateau on the South Kaibob Trail. Here we had been going to sit and rest and enjoy the view (for which no adjectives suffice) before hiking back up the steep, rocky trail. At first JK and I thought CJ was kidding, but quickly realized that was not the case.

That’s when JK turned deadly serious. “Put on your packs, we’ve got to get out NOW, before the heat gets any worse.” This was JK’s worst nightmare, hiking at noon on a summer day with neophytes who didn’t bring water. But there we all were.

I Could Just Fly and Meet You There

Blessedly, the grueling march out has somewhat faded from my memory. I remember being dizzy. I remember my thigh muscles burning. I remember arguing with JK several times — once when I kept trying to take off my hat because I was sweltering, and she scolded me, and once when I was trying to rest, and she wouldn’t let me. “We’ll rest in the shade up ahead, not here. I’m not stopping and I’m not leaving you here.”

The worst was when she tried to make me eat an energy bar. I remember that switchback in the trail vividly, the burning heat on my back, the acrid smell of dry rock mixed with the dank scent of manure from the pack horses we had just passed.

“You must eat this,” she said, when I told her I was so light-headed I felt like I could fly. She probably thought I was going to leap into the abyss.

“I will die if I eat,” I said. “I will throw up, I really will. I can’t.” She spoke calmly and insistently, as you would to a five-year-old, and somehow persuaded me to eat the dang thing. I did not throw up. I kept walking.

One  Step at a Time

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is “Show us what endurance means to you.” For me, endurance means taking one step at a time, whether you are hiking, recovering from an addiction, or journeying through grief or fear or illness. Just one step.

So here you have it. Me, nearing the end of our hike up from Cedar Point:

Endurance

Endurance

 

Wrong Turns: Hold the Map Loosely

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One of the nice things about getting older, at least for me, is that I don’t get lost anymore. I may occasionally feel lost, but I know I’m not truly lost. 

This weekend, I was driving the winding roads of western North Carolina with two friends in my car, returning from four days at the Wild Goose Music Festival in Hot Springs. Nothing looked familiar, and I realized Suzanne was taking us home a different way than we had come. 

There was a lot of map rustling and Siri debating as we approached a crossroads, and I felt tense because I sensed my friends were getting tense. We might get lost! We might BE lost and not even know it!

“Is that going to be a slow and winding road?” 

“That’s not the way we came!” 

“Does that get us to the interstate faster?”

“Make a U-turn; let’s ask at that gas station!”

Thing is, I knew that both roads would get us where we needed to be. I wasn’t sure which was most direct, or whether people might laugh at me for choosing a silly route, but I knew that technically, I wasn’t lost. 

Spiritual Navigation 

My circuitous spiritual journey has taught me a bit about navigation. Mostly, not to panic.

Wandering Path

Wandering Path

Here are some things I’ve learned about getting literally and metaphorically “lost” in life.

  • You can see beautiful things and meet interesting people on the side roads of life, the roads you didn’t plan to take. The unplanned vistas and visits are often the most memorable.
  • Sometimes the slower roads are the better ones. You can absorb your surroundings and appreciate the present moment when you eschew the interstate and tootle along with your foot propped up on the dashboard (yes, I drive like that) and a Starbucks soy chai latte in your hand. You see real people sitting on their porches, not shadowy heads behind a windshield.
  • When you’re off-course, ask for assistance. This allows other people to help you, which makes them feel good and boosts your belief in ultimate goodness. We’re all on this trip together.
  • Choose your traveling companions and the soundtrack of your trip carefully. Choose people who laugh easily and don’t take themselves or the journey too seriously. Choose to listen to the positive and the upbeat in the universe, not to the critical voices in your head or to the negativity and nonsense polluting our culture.
  • Hold the map loosely. There is more than one way to get where you need to be. Someone else’s route might not be best for you. As long as you’re facing the right direction (when all else fails, look for the sun; look to the light), you are going to arrive at your destination.
  • Rest assured that things will work out in the end. You’ll get where you need to be if you pay attention. Even at the ultimate end of the journey — the one we usually deny and try to avoid at all costs — it’s all going to be OK. We are safe. There’s a cosmic navigator driving this space ship. Relax.

 You Can’t Get There From Here

When I read the WordPress Daily Post writing challenge asking us to write about the last time we got lost, the first thing that popped into my head was a riff from Firesign Theatre. Unless you are of a certain age, you won’t remember this hysterical stream-of-consciousness comedy group from the late sixties/early seventies. Some of us had their albums memorized. If you like Monty Python, try to dig up some Firesign.

Firesign Theatre

Firesign Theatre

I share this because I think it enhances my points above, but also because it’s ridiculous and I couldn’t help it:

NICK DANGER: Hey, pop!

POP: All right, hold your horses.

NICK: Where am I?

POP: (pause) You can’t get there from here.

NICK: But I’m looking for the Same Old Place.

POP: Ohhh! You must mean the old Same place! It’s right out back, sonny. Here’s the key.

— From the album, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All?

A Soul Being Filled

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Nine hours of interstate and my car sloshes into the two muddy ruts that pass for a driveway. I step out into the rain expecting the usual scent of pine, but am instead blessed by a breeze saturated with lilac and lily of the valley.

I am early this year — I’ve never seen the lilacs bloom; never seen the lily fronds petaled with fallen apple and quince blossoms.

Lilacs by the Coach House

Lilacs by the Coach House

It must have been raining for days. The bushes and trees hang heavily, and the ground is soggy beneath my bare feet as I traipse back and forth, back and forth through the wet grass, blue jeans rolled to my knees, carrying my cats, my books, my cooler, my clothes.

Unpacked, I return to the car and head to the spring in the glistening dusk. I drive slowly, windows open, and breathe.

And breathe.

Every small hollow is full of water and bursting with song. I’ve never heard the spring peepers here, either, and I swerve drunkenly to miss the scores of sex-crazed frogs leaping wildly across the road.

Across from the spring, bits of mist drift down the dark mountain and promise a heavy morning fog. Below, the Ashuelot River dances giddily along its banks dressed in decorative white foam, as if rushing to a rendezvous downstream.

I fill my bottles with fresh water and nature fills my soul with springtime scents and songs.

I am here.

Apple Blossom Art

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Apple Blossom Art

Apple Blossom Art

How Do You Escape?

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Next week I will head north, like a compass needle seeking home. After six months away, my annual early summer trip to our family home in the foothills of New Hampshire is always a sweet time.

This first trip will be short — mostly dispensing with mice and mildew and catching up with my neighbors. But I’ll be back and forth all summer, sweltering in the D.C. suburbs for a few weeks and then easing back into the serenity of New England.

In reality, there will be biting black flies and voracious mosquitoes up there, but in my mind it’s paradise.

At any rate, the WordPress Gods’ Weekly Challenge asking for photos that say “escape” is kind of a no-brainer for me.

Here is my escape:

Quiet Hills

Quiet Hills

A Sneak Peek into History

Here is a short excerpt from an essay that has yet to find an appropriate publication to snuggle into, so I can’t share much of it lest it be deemed “published” by my future editor – just a sneak peek:

My grandmother Beedie bought the white Cape Cod with its four ramshackle outbuildings in 1940, after her merchant husband died in what Newsweek magazine called “a fiery elaborate hell at sea.” Investigations of the Morro Castle ship fire subjected families and survivors to nightmarish scenarios of suspected arson, murder and panicked crew members absconding with lifeboats while passengers drowned or burned.

The shaken young widow found comfort working in her flower garden by day, and at night she was entranced by luminous showers of fireflies and stars strewn across the heavens. Deep winter snows softened the edges of her pain. She christened her house and the surrounding forty acres “Quiet Hills” and so created a healing refuge for five generations of her family.

My earliest memories of Quiet Hills are captured in a faded black and white photograph of the two of us in the shade of a massive oak tree. My pudgy four-year-old legs dangle from a tiny Adirondack chair and Beedie sits straight-backed, primly sipping English Breakfast tea. I remember the older kids were racing about on a treasure hunt, upending maple sugar buckets, peering into the lichen-covered well house and scaling the barn silo. I couldn’t tell if it was a good or a bad thing when Beedie remarked, “The hills aren’t so quiet when your family is here.” But she was smiling.

If you are the editor of a well-read and well-paying publication, feel free to contact me if you would like to read this essay in its entirety.

Are you planning an escape this summer? Where to?

If you believe that you are too busy to get away, consider reading one of these posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/are-you-too-busy-to-be-happy/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/how-not-to-screw-up-your-holidays/

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