Monday, December 19, 2011

A Year of Releasing, A New Year of Embracing

Many changes in the past year. In reading through blogs I wrote, the theme, over and over, was about resting in the unknown and trusting God. I let go of/was relieved of so many things. I was uprooted from the life I’d known for 20 years. Although Frank and Nancy have been unfailingly kind and supportive, it was very hard to live with my son in one room in a friend's house. It was a serious test of patience and frugality to have no job and no income other than unemployment. Living with few certainties was usually stressful and often frightening. I had little that I could know, almost nothing to count on. I did have friends, my children and parents and I had complete faith that it would all make sense one day, that God would guide me to where I should be and I would eventually see the meaning.

Everything is changing again.

Mark and I established a casual friendship over the course of several years as Friendly Adult Presences (chaperones) in the Quaker teen program in our region, SAYF, and it was through this that we were able to connect, which led to us exploring a romantic relationship and falling in love. Although it seems sudden, we feel we have been guided by God. As we got to know one another as unmarried individuals, we found we have an amazing number of things in common. Our faith, the way we experience God and our values are the most important but we also share taste in food (we’re both vegetarian and for the same reason), music, writing, word play and games. We both have a desire to make Christ our center, living God’s will for us in all we do.

Mark and I began talking in April, dating in May and we bought a house together this week. He will be moving here immediately after Christmas. We plan to marry in the spring, if it be God’s will for us. We have prayed about each step of our relationship, asking, questioning, wanting it to work but trusting God to know what is best for us and we feel clear that where we are and the vision we share is good.

I look back over the last year and I thank God for everything. I am so grateful that I was without work for those 7 months so I could be with my best girlfriend through a difficult health crisis last June. I am grateful I could travel with Finn this past summer, visiting family and doing interesting things together. But especially I am grateful for the time with Mark. I’m grateful I was able to listen, trust and wait as God was telling me to do. If I had rushed or pushed or forced my life forward (by applying to any and all jobs and then taking the first one offered, by renting an apartment, etc.) I would not have learned to listen nor been available when Mark (re)entered my life.

This is from my friendlymama blogpost last New Year’s Eve:

I desire a life of submission to God’s will. I will actively do what I know will increase my awareness of God in my life, writing, prayer, fellowship, community. I will try to be open to new leadings and new directions. Not my will but Thine.

I would like to live a frugal life, relatively financially independent. I don’t want to think about retirement but about what kind of impact I am making on the world right now. I would like a low-stress job which would allow me the time to write and build community. Or, I would like to create a business that I can do from home such as owning an apartment building or running a hostel. Or, I’d like to find my own “right livelihood”. I trust Spirit to guide me.

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I want to be automobile independent. In Nashville, with children in school and with a job, I don’t think this is possible. I would like to build into my new life as much freedom from auto-dependence as possible. I may still need to own a car but I would like to walk, (learn to) bike and ride buses whenever possible. I trust Spirit to lead me.

I would like an open house, that is, a house which is open and warm and inviting. I want to offer hospitality and to welcome people with food and generosity. (I’d really like a country kitchen, good for baking bread.) I would like my home to be a gathering place for my friends and my communities and my children’s friends. I trust Spirit to use me.

I would like to have greater compassion coupled with a more effective ability to act. I want to be a member of the Body of Christ on Earth, doing God’s work. I trust Spirit to teach me.

When I read that post and I think of all the loss and now all that is being given, I am awed. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine entering into a new relationship and yet God brought this amazing man into my life who supports and facilitates all those things I feel God is calling me to do. Besides the fact that I’m heels-over-head crazy in love with him, Mark seems the mate God created for me. He shares my desire to make our homelife an extension of our spiritual community. The home we now own, which we are calling The Burrow due to its abundance of space, is perfect for offering hospitality and living in community. It is in a neighborhood which will allow us to be much less car-dependent. We are hoping to rent the front third of The Burrow to a single parent to build community and to allow us to have an amount of financial flexibility. I most likely could not have bought this home without Mark and I am grateful beyond my ability to express that God put Mark in my life to be my mate, this man who loves me purely and truly, who accepts my love like a priceless gift and who shares with me the yearning to live in God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On Name Calling, Karma, House Buying (and falling in love)

So what if I call him a jerk (or something slightly more colorful)? He doesn’t know and will never know. We’ve never met; will most likely never meet. The nature of our relationship is based on anonymity, ensured by each of us employing an agent to conduct our transactions for us. Our agent, who is just about the sweetest person one could ever meet, calls him a jerk—not in so many words, but still. His agent has begun implying that he feels his client is acting in a jerkish manner. I have confirmation and validation. Dude is being way uncool. Being in agreement that the price was fair, we offered what Seller was asking without attempting to negotiate a lower price. The contract, as is usual, stated that Seller would pay closing costs. Seller refused. Seller refused to pay for termite treatment. Seller tried to force inspections to be done within one week and then, after we capitulated on all the standard contract stipulations he refused, when he finally agreed to the other terms, he is now demanding that the closing take place within 3 weeks. You can imagine that I’d love nothing more than to be in my new home within 3 weeks after having been homeless since May but the mortgage company has everything to do with it at this point.
Hmmm…background, background and perhaps a little more background is in order. Where to start?

I’m buying a house. With Mark Wutka, who has become my beloved and my betrothed (but about whom there is so much to say it should be, and I’m sure will frequently be, subject for other blogposts). The house we are buying is in Nashville and Mark will be moving here to be with me after Christmas.

I’ve been looking at houses for YEARS. Dreaming, hoping, escaping, wishing, longing-plenty of pocketa-pocketa-pocketa Walter Mitty stuff-but also lots and lots and lots of research about neighborhoods and cost-per-square-foot and schools and energy efficiency and structural integrity and real estate as investment and so much more.

Being unable to afford private school tuition and realizing the need to commit to living in the area with the good public schools so we don’t have to go through the stress and rigmarole of figuring out which school will best meet Finn’s needs each year, I decided to put down roots in Sylvan Park (ironically, we’ve just begun homeschooling again, but that’s grist for yet another post).

This house we are buying, which we are calling The Burrow, has been on the market since 2008. It is big-4,000 square feet big-and ugly: it was originally a nice little house that a contractor added a 3,000 square foot box onto the back of in 2006. It was built as a triplex but is legally zoned for single family occupancy so can’t be used as an investment property and will require a lot of work to remodel into a single family dwelling. It is also a weird property, with a very random and illogical floor plan (hence The Burrow, for we Harry Potter fans). It’d been on the market for almost 3 years and then was sold in April of this year and then almost immediately put back on the market. The price was reduced a couple of times and when I called the listing agent to look at it in August, he said the buyer bought it to flip, turned down an offer shortly after it was listed and hadn’t gotten a nibble since then. The price was again lowered a couple of times when Mark and I began to talk seriously about buying a house together so we got a recommendation for a marvelous realtor, Angela, from our friends J&C and The Burrow was the first of 2 places we looked at. It has 9 or 10 bedrooms, 6 & ½ baths and 3 kitchens. It’s huge and odd and quirky but it seemed to fit us and our needs very well. Mark and I both feel a powerful call to center our lives in God and to make our home a continuation of our spiritual community by living near people who share our faith and also through hospitality. We would like to live independent of cars as much as possible and The Burrow is within walking distance of much of what we need and want to do, including Nashville Friends Meeting (we can’t wait to walk to meeting for worship every week!).

Our soon-to-be home is big enough to rent out the front 2-3 bedroom section to someone, preferably a single parent with a couple of children who wants to live in community or a single Quaker.

Removing the front third of The Burrow from consideration, we will still have 3,000 sf of living space which includes 7 bedrooms, 4&½ baths and 2 kitchens. Mark and I will share an office and bedroom and Zan and Finn will each have their own bedrooms. In addition to that, we will have a room for Mark’s granddaughters, a music room and a library, all of which will also act as guest rooms. The upstairs kitchen/dining area will be rec room/laundry room. We will be able to comfortably and easily welcome friends, visitors, travelers and host lots of parties, gatherings, worship groups and potlucks. We are excited that we will be able to practice hospitality in our home.

Back to the jerk, er…Seller. Mark, kind man that he is, does not call Seller rude names. To do so, he explained, would be to make assumptions that may color our behavior toward him. My argument was that we will never meet Seller and so how we refer to him in our private conversations will have no bearing on him. But now I think of this in terms of hospitality.

Hospitality to me means welcome, generosity, warmth, sharing, acceptance. I don’t know Seller’s story or anything about him. He made a very foolish business investment hoping to make a quick profit and it seems that he is digging his heels in and stubbornly insisting on squeezing every last cent out of it rather than being grateful to be out from under it. One could make assumptions about his character based on that but when I think about my definition of hospitality, my perspective shifts.

Mark and I became acquainted as unmarried people in April and began dating in May. It was pretty clear to both of us that we fell in love shortly thereafter. Since our initial conversation, it has seemed we stepped into The Slipstream and are being carried by God. Way has opened for us every step of our growing relationship. I could go on and on about how perfect we are together but I’ll spare you that (for now). What I will say is that I hadn’t really believed there was anyone in the world I would ever find perfect.

I accept, up to a point, the idea of karma, in that I accept that you get back the kind of energy you put out. I don’t have any connection to the idea of past lives or creating karma that is yours at your next birth, hardwiring conditions of your life. I have felt, however, that I must have accrued some seriously good karma to have been blessed with the gift of Mark. Whatever the circumstances, whether it was karma or, as I feel is more true, that God has brought us together for a purpose because we belong together as partners while we serve God, I know we should have hospitality in mind.

And in thinking about Seller in the context of karma or of hospitality, referring to him as “The Jerk” does not feel right. He may not be the most lovable person but Jesus didn’t tell us to love only the people who make our lives easy. I wouldn’t call Seller my enemy but it is an easy step to go from calling him The Jerk to thinking of him as an adversary and what does that do? When I call Seller a jerk, I’m not affecting his karma nor changing him in any way but I am creating negativity and an inhospitable mindset. Out of bad experiences we learn and grow and carry with us the potential for transformative purpose. Although Seller seems to have given us a hard time for no good reason, who is to say that Seller isn’t giving us an opportunity for good? Maybe, instead of calling him The Jerk, I should be praising him? This is life and we have no way to know what will come. I spend my life trusting that what I’m learning will have meaning and a use one day. Maybe the lesson right now is to not call people names even when they seem to be deliberately unpleasant, a lesson I should have learned at my mother’s knee but which I obviously did not heed. Maybe the lesson is further patience; maybe it is something about which I currently have no inkling. Whatever the case, I am trying to let go of negativity and assume the best. My life has love aplenty to share and I needn’t be so narrow minded as to think it should only be shared with those who will return it. Blessings for Seller with no stipulations like hope for a softening of his heart: simply blessings for him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Modesty, Humility, and Submission

About a month ago, in a on-line Friendly discussion group for people interested in plain dress and simplicity, in reply to a discussion about modesty, plainness and hair, I wrote this:

"As for modesty, hmmm...I'm not very modest at all. I'm 46 and have had 3 babies. My body looks like what it is but I'm really happy with it and wear some clothes that show lots of skin. Oddly, about the time I became involved with my plain dressing Quaker man, I also became comfortable wearing dresses and summer tops which showed my cleavage, something I'd never done before. He's fine with it although I'm sure we occasionally discombobulate people."

Writing that and posting it on a public forum has made me really consider what I said and what I meant.

I've never been particularly modest; ok, I've always actually been pretty immodest both in attitude and in dress. I've always had fun with dress and having fun has been more important than being modest. My clothes are flashy and my demeanor has always been pretty flashy, too. But lately, since falling for my sincere, Friendly and God-led Plainman, I've had cause to further examine the ways in which I interact with the world.


1: freedom from conceit or vanity
2: propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

1: not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive
2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission

Yeah, uh...ahem...not even close.

I've been considering humility and what it means to me. Give over, I think: give over my ego, my self-ishness, my pride, my conceit, the delight I take in my uniqueness but also my gifts, my abilities and my joy; give myself fully over to God. Submit myself to God, allowing myself to be formed by God and used. At the least, it means being aware of how I reflect that of God within me to the world.

I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with wearing a dress and camisole with a little cleavage showing. I don't think of sin as an action so much as a state of being. I've written before how I think sin is whatever we allow to come between us and God. So my wearing clothes that show a lot of skin may have no more meaning than me wearing a coat in winter. On the other hand, given my propensity to have my ego tied up in what I wear and how I choose to present myself in my interactions with others, there's definitely potential for vanity.

I'm slowly beginning to examine my life and my daily choices. I'm not called to plainness but I am feeling that letting go of some of my attachment to how I package myself when I interact with other people is what I should be doing. I don't even think I really need to dress differently than I do, only that I allow dressing to be a prayerful activity rather than a self-ful one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Prayer of Gratitude for Community

This was my FirstDay prayer:

Holy One,

I thank you so deeply for my Beloved Community. Thank you for the individuals who are my spiritual family and the relationships I have with each. Thank you for the people I love and hold in the tenderest places of my heart. Thank you for all the new people who bring such interesting selves into my world; I look forward to getting to know each of them. Thank you for the folks who challenge me. Thank you for those people who are not easy to know, to understand or to love. Especially I thank you for the people who frustrate me and cause my initial reaction to be irritation because they are often the people from whom I learn the most (and please open my heart so my interactions are more loving and kind). Thank you for dear Friends whom I know and who know me intimately, listen for your will for me and help guide me. Thank you for new Friends who bring joyful enthusiasm, sincere questions and fresh perspectives with them. Thank you for our babies and children who give us delight and who allow us to more clearly see the future. Thank you for those with great needs who give us the opportunity to unite as a community, so we can learn to rely on one another and work together to offer comfort. Thank you for joyful occasions for celebration: memberships and weddings and babies and parties and times of just getting together for the pleasure of it (and Scrabble).

God, it is through this Beloved Community that I have learned what it means to be the Body of Christ by experiencing how we each have our gifts, callings and functions. In this community I am learning what it means to be humble, to submit, to give over my will and my ego in your service. Most of all, God, I am learning about your love for us and I learn to love you more through the love I am given, the love I feel and the love I'm surprised by and grow into.

Thank you, Loving Parent, for giving me this safe, nurturing, supportive community in which I am able to experience and test and explore so I may learn to follow your will for me. I am filled with gratitude for the love which flows into me and through me so I may share it with others. What you give is great and I ask that you help me be a true reflection of your love for us.

humbly yours,
Mary Linda

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seek Ye First

I sat on a bench under a magnolia tree Saturday holding my life and my relationships with several people in prayer. This song is the message I was given:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
And its righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you,
Allelu, alleluia

At meeting for worship this message was given me: “When I seek first the kingdom of God, all aspects of my life take their rightful place.” I did not share it for the stupid reason that the two people sitting immediately next to me on both sides shared messages and I thought, I dunno, it would seem like we were sitting in the vocal ministry section, or something. That and I was testing it to see if the message was for me or to share. Worship ended without the message being shared and so I write it out and elaborate on it here.

I don’t know what I think about heaven. Maybe there is heaven and maybe there is not. It is sort of irrelevant to me. Most people think heaven is the kingdom of God, some wondrous place they’ll go to live with God after they die. Jesus said “the kingdom of God is within you” and “the kingdom of God is now”. What this means to me is that this world, this life, this reality (as we know it) is all God’s. Right now is heaven. God is within each of us and each of us is always living in the kingdom of God, if only we awaken to it. The awakening can be called salvation, enlightenment, hearing the still, small voice or being broken open by the Divine Light. However we name it, it is becoming aware of God so we may act in accord with God’s will for us. When we know God, we want to act for God and with God. Jesus said these are the most important commandments: “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” In doing these, we are becoming alive to the kingdom of God and we begin to actively work to help others become aware of it by being manifestations of God’s love for us.

I mostly live a me-centric life. I care for my children and visit with friends and attend meeting for worship and committee meetings. I run errands and read books and take walks. I’m unemployed so I have lots of extra time on my hands to waste, which I do most effectively. Often, I find myself feeling scattered or scared or frazzled or anxious=life out of balance=living for me=not living for God. When I become aware of God and seek first the kingdom of God, the things that cause disharmony in me become small parts of a much bigger picture; those aspects of my life that have been out of balance quietly fall into their rightful places. My life becomes centered on God so I become attentive to God in my every action and aware that I am reflecting God to others.

I have been blessed by God with a deepening of an old friendship. In a short time, this person has gone from being a casual friend to being someone very important to me. We have many things in common but the most important aspect of our relationship is that we both try to be aware to seek God’s will for us first. We can laugh about most anything and engage in frivolous activities but we both try to maintain an awareness of how we reflect God in our lives. I enjoy his company so much that I want to be with him as often as I can. The temptation is to make my time with him the center point in my life. I am conscious of a difference when I seek the kingdom first versus when I put myself, my desires and wants, first. When I act for myself, I become greedy and self-ish. I want. I can’t get enough. NOW. When I seek God’s kingdom, I gain perspective; I become mindful of my wants in context of God’s will for me. I trust and know that God will guide me to do what is best for me so I may best reflect God’s love. When I spend time in prayer and quiet contemplation, I discover I am able to be patient and know that all will unfold as it should.

Over the years I’ve come to almost hate the word “blessed” because it is so over- and mis-used. “Have a blessed day” should be banned from ever being spoken. In spite of my intense dislike of this word, I have to say that blessed is how I feel. God has blessed me with so much good, including-especially-my longing for God. And now, contrary to my plans and ideas for myself, God has brought this amazing friendship into my life which is enriching me in ways too many to number. The main gift of this relationship, though, is that I am learning to make God the center of the relationship. I am not able to articulate what this means to me, how much joy doing so gives me; I can only say I am deeply, overwhelmingly grateful. God is actively working in my life and I don’t think I am special or unique to be so touched. I believe God is available to each of us; we must only be willing to listen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Accountability to God Through Community

I have deepened my friendships with two dear friends lately. They are both people people I trust with my innermost self. Our relationships are centered first in Spirit and then by enjoyment of one another as individuals with similar tastes and ways of understanding the world.

As I've written before, I want to be part of a community that knows me intimately, knows my intentions and gifts and leadings and holds me accountable. This is sometimes known in Quaker circles as eldering.

Having discussed it in Ministry & Council at NFM many times, I've thought about eldering from the perspective of how much trust one has to have in God to be able to take on the responsibility of eldering. As a very green newcomer to Friends, I was eldered by a seasoned Friend whom I trusted and think back to that experience with love and gratitude because I know it to have been done with loving concern.

In conversation today with one of my two increasingly important-to-me friends, we talked a bit about our mutual desire to be accountable to our spiritual communities and held accountable by them when it hit me that I can trust him to hold me accountable. This understanding was a rush of good feeling followed immediately by a good measure of fear. The fear=awe kind of fear. The "be careful what you wish for" fear. The fear that I will be held accountable. When asking for community to hold me accountable, my community responded slowly. We talked about eldering and what it means and how its done and shared examples of it. We discussed gifts and leadings and prayed over and encouraged those which seemed God-given. We supported and nurtured those who were suffering and in need of being held. We moved but slowly, which I bemoaned. But you know, being faced with it now, slow was exactly what I needed. Now, being faced with the reality of two dear trusted Friends who are willing to know the deepest, darkest me and who love me anyway and support me and hold me up to God so they can know God's will for me and who are ready and able to lovingly call me out if I stray too far from the Light absolutely blows me away. Fear, yes, but relief, too. And joy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Way? No way.

I've been thinking a lot about how I say "God will put me where I need to be" and what I mean by that. I don't believe God creates tragedy but rather that God is in our responses to hardship. If God shook the Earth to cause earthquakes and tsunamis the implication would be that God is an arbitrary, wrathful god, which I don't believe. Disconnect. God is directly and intimately involved in my own personal life, leading me, (as Quakers say) opening way for me. All those people in Haiti who are still living in tents with little food or clean water? God is not responsible for the cataclysm that created their suffering but in their response to it? Huh? God loves me. I am given the resources to be free to pursue my higher calling. The people in Haiti spend their time avoiding assault while trying to not starve or die of dysentery. Are they not equal to me? Does God not love them? I think the problem is in my reasoning that God is directly and immediately involved in my life. I think I'm coming to understand that while God can and has "spoken" to me and gives me leadings, I'm not at all sure about the whole "way opening" thing. Does God open anything for us or do we make choices and connections and seek guidance and support in such a way as to create openings? Does it matter? Right now, to me, I think it does. If God is directly involved in our lives, why is he not directly involved opening the way to end suffering and oppression? Jesus said "the poor will always be with you" which suggests there will always be hunger, injustice, want. So how can I believe that God's paving the way for me but not for all those others. Might makes right? Survival of the fittest? I don't think so. Right now, I think I'm leaning toward the idea that I am able to connect with God, with the Christ-consciousness and doing so makes me want to move closer, to act Right, to deny my ego-impulses and to choose wisely: to reflect love. When I'm living in this way ("in the Cross" as old Quakers called it), I'm living in God and am more likely to put myself in situations in which the decisions I make reinforce my desire to reflect God's love.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Describing the Unknowable

God does not equal "acts of nature".

God does not equal "the Church".

God does not equal "the Authority".

I can't tell you what God is but I'm sure that if your concept of God evokes fear not inspired by awe, guilt, a lot of sorrow or anger, I'm certain it's not really God you're thinking about. My guess is that if your understanding of God inspires any of the preceding emotions, you're dealing with familial, cultural and religious indoctrination rather than a direct experience of God. God is God and thus, unknowable and indescribable but my understanding is based on my experience with God and I can say that God may be many other things (or every other thing) but most of all God is Love.

What seems weird to me is how many of us completely reject all the "thou shall not" religious beliefs we were given but continue to accept the idea of God as "judge, jury and executioner" that went along with the religion. We reject the Old Testament harshness of religion as misguided at best but also manipulative and wrong and then, rather than examining those messages and trying to figure out what, if anything, is still meaningful to us, we spurn all of it. I don't think God should be blamed because some people use God's name as a way to control others. If you don't like the message you've been given, reject the message but then figure out for yourself what message would be OK with you. If God seems like an arbitrary, temperamental Zeus-like diety, spend some time thinking about if that really is God or if it's just an idea you've been given.

I find people who claim to be atheists based on their rejection of God as "The Authority of the Church" to be as deluded as people who are religious fundamentalists. Both seem to me to be immature and simplistic belief systems. If the choice was between God as The Authority or no God, I'd claim atheism, too. What this type of atheist doesn't get is that this is a false choice. I suspect there are as many ways of approaching and conceptualizing God as there are people so I think it's OK to deny the narrow and negative ideas as long as you don't get stuck there. Open your mind and your heart and try out some other ideas of what God may be for you.

I try to avoid projecting human emotion or motivations onto God. I don't believe that God punishes some and rewards others; I think things happen and God is to be found in how we respond. Yes, God created the world and set everything in motion in some metaphorical 7 days way. God is recorded as knowing when a sparrow dies but nowhere does it say God made the sparrow die at that moment. I reckon God must have created entropy but I don't think God uses catastrophe as a weapon against us. Things happen. Nature happens. We humans do things that cause harm. There is evil in the world. God allows it but I don't think God wills it. We find God in what we do with what we have. When bad things happen to us we can respond by becoming bitter or we can respond with love. God is in the love.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Varicose Vain (not a misspelling. no really--look it up)

The divorce is moving forward and what I'm learning is that going through divorce has the potential to make one incredibly, amazingly vain. Naturally, when one separates one's life from the intertwinedness of having been married to another person, one must spend a great amount of time imagining, thinking about and planning for single life. One has the opportunity to rediscover one's preferences in everything from brands of soap to mattress firmness. Without compromise necessitated by the taste or desire of another, one can freely say, "I like this neighborhood. I want to paint my kitchen red. I would like a platform bed." and etc--within the bounds of finances and practicality, anyway.

I read every day. There is a whole section on the site dedicated to divorce with articles about everything from whether to stay or to leave to finances to celebrity splits to how to get one's groove back post-marriage. There often are articles about plastic surgery as a way to appear younger or more like the age one actually feels rather than the age one's crows feet and eyelids say one is. Many of the articles I simply ignore--they seem to be written to appeal to our most base urges. A few of the articles are informative and helpful with information about co-parenting, budgeting or practical suggestions for moving into a new home (best advice so far: Don't go to Ikea post-divorce alone. Take a friend to provide moral support and physical help as you wander the isles among all the happy young couples). Some articles start out good but then throw in some piece of information about common modern dating worries that make my head spin. Sure, after a two decade marriage, most people feel somewhat insecure about the idea of navigating the world as a single person but I'm utterly dumbfounded at the amount of energy that seems to go into how women should groom their lady parts.

Dang. Like I didn't have enough to think about without having to add personal deforestation to my to-do list. (I know I just crossed the line into TMI. Sorry.)

Which leads me back to vanity. I'm not quite divorced but circumstances are conspiring to make me have to think about dating. I wasn't planning on thinking about dating at all for a long time. I was married for 20 years. Hammy and I are not splitting up because we were bored with one another or because we perceived the grass to be greener elsewhere. No mid-life crises here. I was imagining that I'd take a good long time to figure out who I am, get my new life in place, hang out with friends, learn about things and just chill for a while before I started thinking about becoming romantically and/or sexually involved with anyone new. I'm 45 years old and I look 45 years old even if I don't necessarily act 45 years old. Before kids I was kinda cute and sorta nicely built. Now, I look like what I am. In a lot of situations, I've become invisible, as women do in middle age, so I haven't much thought of myself as sexually available nor desirable to anyone but my dear soon-to-be ex in a long, long time.

So it is with much surprise that I find myself the confused, flattered and dazed subject of the romantic attention of two treasured friends. The first one is an old friend who was, thankfully, very direct with me and with whom I could be equally direct in my assertion that I value our friendship in its current state and do not want it to change. The other friend's actions were subtle enough, or perhaps it is more the fact that I am naive, that it has taken me a while to figure out that what he seems to want from our time together is more intense than what I want or am ready for. The thing that made me really realize is reflecting on my behavior during the dinner we had together a few nights ago. The most accurate word I can use about my behavior is that I chattered. He would ask me a question about my life and I would go on and on and on (and on and on and on) and he would politely listen. The fact that he never yawned is the thing that, in retrospect, lighted the bulb. How could he not have been bored by my self-absorbed me, me, me! talk? And why did he mention my freckles? Hmmm...

See, this is all so flattering to my ego but by-golly, the last thing I need is for my ego to be flattered when it's pretty darned puffy already. And this is exactly why I'm not ready to begin thinking about dating, yet. I need to discover God as my center in my new life. I need to find balance between who I am as a single person and a mother and friend and how I reflect God in all those roles. Once I feel I know kinda who I am, and feel sorta secure, maybe then I'll be ready to think about becoming romantically involved with others.

This is all complicated by the fact that I'm ovulating right now and so my libido is doing everything it can to convince me that a sexual partner is just what I need. Thankfully at Quaker meeting today, I was given the insight to clearly see just how far from ready I am from becoming involved with anyone.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Integrated Self

My nature is open and trusting. As those of you who read my blog know, I don't filter much. Sure, there are some things that would be inappropriate to display for public viewing, particularly things concerning my family but when it comes to me and my thoughts, ideas, experiences and feelings, I'm pretty much an open book. I've always been this way. I've never been able to keep parts of myself hidden away from others. I had a job a couple of years ago which forced me to compartmentalize my feelings and doing so caused me to fall into a mild depression. This is who I am, warts, talents, goofiness and all and I've never been good at knowing how to disclose different parts of myself to different people.

Being open caused me no end of pain when I was a child and young teen. Land sakes, I can't remember the number of times I was hurt after telling a friend or group of friends something about myself only to have it turned around and used against me in the way schoolchildren often do. All those unspoken rules of girls, I was completely oblivious to. I learned slowly, painful lesson after painful lesson, to keep myself back, to not reveal my true self: sometime to dissemble or even lie. Doing so was not natural to me but like an albino squirrel, I needed camouflage if I was going to survive in the world.

My relationships with girls and women for years were heavily informed by this need to mistrust their intentions and keep myself protected and safe. On the other hand, my relationships with boys/men seemed safer. To begin with, most boys do not learn the same social dynamics girls do as children so do not gather information about others which they can then use as a tool. Also, I felt much more powerful in my relationships with men. I was attractive and flirtatious, feminine in a very not-normal way and was a minor music nerd so could hold my own in conversations in a way few other women could (or wanted to) do. I held sexual power in my relationships with men. I didn't use that power to hurt anyone or to manipulate or deceive but using it at all was certainly not honest nor straight. Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being said, "Flirting is a promise of sexual intercourse without a guarantee". I used to make promises all over the place but rarely ever fulfilled them. I wanted to know that I could have the interest of any man I found interesting and found it fun to stimulate that interest.

That is, until I committed to being with Hammy. All of a sudden, flirting didn't seem ok. When Hammy and I became monogamously tied, flirting felt disloyal and wrong. Shortly thereafter I become a mother which changed my perspective about pretty much everything.

When I became a mother I automatically entered an exclusive club with other women. And the fact of having chosen a homebirth made the club even more exclusive. I found myself having a great deal in common with other women; women who were sincere in their approaches to life and impassioned by their choices. I found myself accepted and approved of by these women.

I'd been a spiritual seeker through much of my young adult life and wended my way to Friends meeting and so to discovering an awareness of Spirit, and to a slow rediscovery of my
Original Face. What I found in myself was my own true self. I re-learned to be my own self in all my relationships and interactions with others. I slowly identified that I sometimes acted in ways which did not seem fully true in my dealings with different people and so learned to let go of the expectations and desired outcomes for those interactions. I allowed God to lead me so my life became integrated and my interactions with others became undergirded by Christ-informed integrity. I try to be aware that my first relationship is with God and so I should reflect that in all my other relationships.

I'm visiting this concept because my life is changing and I-in-relation-to-others am changing. I will no longer be a woman who is part of a committed romantic partnership but will be a woman who is independent and romantically unattached. At this point, I feel quite liberated to be able to put my energies into my friendships and my relationships with my children, family and existing communities, to my physical well-being and of course, to my awareness of God in my life through prayer, writing, music, nature. I will be discovering many new ways of being in the world as I allow my new life to unfold. I think it could be easy to fall back into the comfort of feeling empowered by the attention I used to be able to generate when I flirted with smart, funny nerdy men. Flirting, right now, would not be honest or true though, and certainly not a positive reflection of God.

If I paint the lashes dark
And the eyes more bright
And your lips more scarlet
Ask if it'll all be right
And it's mirror after mirror
No vanities displayed
You're just looking for the face you had
Before the world was made
-Van Morrison "Before the World Was Made"

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How I Know God

How do I know God is real? All I am able to do is share my experience with you. Being aware of God is, for me, like falling inward into Oneness with everything. When I am aware of God, I feel the boundary between me and the world less acutely so the my edges are softened and I sense God as Energy innervating everything. When I am aware of God, I become aware of how I reflect God, of how I embody Christ's love for us. I have had the experience of God as a physical sense, once as a voice, occasionally as a physical sensation but mostly I experience God as the Divine Love that is the foundation of everything.

When I am living in accord with God's will for me there is flow. Van Morrison, in the song Astral Weeks, sings:

If I ventured in the slipstream,
Between the viaducts of your dream,

Where immobile steel rims crack,
And the ditch in the back roads stop.
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again

The slipstream. When I am living God's will for me, I am living in the slipstream. Christ is there and Energy flows and I find harmony in my life.

When I am living in God, the sum is much greater than the individual parts. Connections happen that create joy and sometimes trepidation. I am not talking coincidence. When I have been faithful to God and aware, there is a rightness. God puts me in the places I am meant to be, meeting the people I am supposed to meet so I can do the work I have been prepared to do. It's easy for me to get caught up in the rightness of these encounters and get all ego-puffy which, of course, misses entirely the whole flow which causes me, like Icarus, like Lucifer, to fall (and the Chihuahua to run wild). Humility has never been my gift. But when I stay true to the Call, there is a sureness, a rightness that I am doing God's work, that I am reflecting Christ's love.

There have been a couple of times when I was being prepared to be Called. I've written about the agitation of this, the awareness of being between, unfinished, not fully formed. In a way, this time of liminality is the true test. Can I live in the unknown without finding my own way to fill the void? How do I allow the mystery, the unknown? What do I do to prepare? Do I turn to God? Do I seek guidance from seasoned friends? Do I allow myself to be formed? When I turn to God through prayer, writing, reading and seeking, I am allowing myself to be shaped and directed, even when I am clueless to the actual direction. In the midst of wandering, I may be gently, or not so gently, encouraged toward something--a door opens and I walk through . That something may seem incidental at first but over time takes on increasing importance until I see, sometimes in hindsight, that it was part of the plan for me, maybe even the purpose of the process. Everything else falls into good order and the agitation is replaced with a sense of rightness, sometimes of peace, sometimes of mission.

I am not experiencing the agitation right now or the Call to search and reach out and stretch. God is encouraging me to sink down, to deepen, to follow my roots and connect with the Foundation. I have never been called in this way but I am clear that I am to wait and rest and turn my fear of the unknown over to God. I don't believe that this means I am to be ir-responsible or un-prepared; on the contrary, I think the sinking and deepening and resting are the preparation. To what, I do not know.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Field of Onions?

I'm a big fan of the idea of letting go of ego attachments and whatever comes between one's Original Face and God's will. When friends have had emotional crisis and loss in their lives, I've counseled them to view the experience from the perspective of opportunity to listen for the Still, Small Voice Within to find what is True for them. Especially in times of transition and crisis, it is natural to want to rely on what is comfortable and comforting and so we sometimes will revert to actions and behaviors that once worked to help us maintain equilibrium but sometimes the transition is so great that we are forced to move beyond re-action into new ways of acting and being. I've always thought one should welcome the opportunity to basically start afresh. I've likened it to peeling the ego layers of the onion.

I am the one being stripped of much of what I've taken for granted for the past couple of decades. I don't find myself reverting to past ways of acting but I do have a powerful urge to escape in some way; these are some fleeting impulses I've had: Red, red wine, Hop on the Bus, Gus, or a nice padded room somewhere with or without a dose of lobotomy. Thankfully, I don't care much for alcohol, love my kids too much to abandon them and, well, I will no longer have health insurance and padded rooms don't pay for themselves. I'm death to plants so this metaphor seems a bit of a stretch for me but I know what I need is to think of myself as a field which has been plowed and is sitting fallow, gathering energy by being still. I'd been thinking of layers of onion/ego metaphor but to take it to a logical conclusion begs the question: Do I want to understand my Original Face as being the heart of an onion? Uh, no. I'll go with the idea of a field waiting for the Farmer (you know...God).