39. Snapshot: Three Women

June 12, 2018

There’s a little photograph I keep on my refrigerator door. In it, three women are sitting in a porch swing on the plain unadorned wooden porch of a farmhouse, somewhere in rural Illinois. The women pose with proper grace, smiling for the Kodak camera, with their hands folded neatly in their laps.

The house is quite small, made of clapboard neatly painted white. It’s summer. Emerald green fields of corn stretch out behind the house and seem to go on forever, all the way to the horizon. This is the front of the house, and the two windows that face the road are plain and functional too, and there are no curtains. The porch shade is more than enough from the midday sun, and there are no neighbors near enough to look in.

It’s Sunday after church, and the women are my mother and my two sisters. They have traveled all the way from Dallas Texas to Bloomington Illinois for Mother’s 50th high school reunion. This house is a place where Mother lived a long time ago as a child, and the current residents have welcomed her to the old homestead and invited all of them to stay for dinner.

In this small snapshot I can see through time, to past generations of strong farm women, practical, hard-working and generous. I love this little picture for its sweetness, its honesty and simplicity. Mother has left us now, gone from her place here on earth to a higher calling. Both of my sisters still live in Texas, both have grown children now. My own path has taken me from Texas to the East Coast, to the Midwest, and finally to the West Coast of Northern California where I call home, a long long way from Illinois. I take the picture down from its magnet on the fridge door and hold it in my hand for a moment. I hold these women in my heart forever.

38. Grace, The Gift Unasked For

May 29, 2018

Sometimes we’re given an unexpected unearned unasked-for gift that is God’s Grace. For me, more than once it has come in the darkest hours, to rescue me when I could not help myself. I’ve been blessed by Grace through unknowing angels. Like the spontaneous smiles from a young couple, strangers passing me on the sidewalk holding hands and obviously in love, that came at a time when my life was the loneliest it had ever been. Their small gift lifted my heart so profoundly. They had no way of knowing this, but that moment transcended a deep sorrow I was carrying, and they had lifted me out of it by the simple openhearted act of simply sharing with me the love they felt for each other.

In the recession of the 1980s, I went through a time when my life was financially, physically, and spiritually at rock-bottom. I was divorced and on my own, out of work or working temporary part-time jobs, struggling just to survive. I lived on oatmeal, boiled cabbage, and brown rice, I was in danger of losing my apartment for overdue rent, and I wore my coat indoors because the cost of heat was a luxury I simply could not afford. I had been desperate for more than a year and I felt helpless, alone, and devastated. I couldn’t see any way out, no matter how hard I tried.

Tears stung my face as I walked home from the bus stop on a bitter-cold November day, after applying for another job that I knew I would not get. It would have been a steady job in a doctor’s office, a new field, a new start – too good to be true, but I didn’t have any experience. I was thinking about my life, and about Life “with a capital L” and I was unable to hide the tears of hopelessness on my face, when a car drove by. I happened to look up and see its bumper sticker that said “Expect Miracles.”

There are lots of those bumper stickers around now, but at the time, I had never seen that phrase before. It struck me like a bolt of lightning, and in an instant I knew that this simple message was intended for me, exactly at this moment in time, when I needed it most. It was not “by chance” and somehow I knew that. I felt a sense of release, and I just let go of it all. I felt a strange moment of peace, and I decided  to trust God for whatever came. A few days later, I did get that job, I began a new career, and my life would never be the same.

Coincidence? The book “A Course in Miracles” says “There are no accidents, and no coincidences.”  I had been given a little glimmer of Grace, through a stranger who never even saw me, and he never knew that he had been used by God to bless me and to promise a beginning that would change my life.

Grace is the gift unasked for, even undared to hope for. Grace is the often undeserved, but deeply needed and longed-for reprieve. Grace is the unexplainable moving of God to bless us in spite of ourselves. Grace is when God cheats a little, to help us pass the test, lifts us out of the quicksand we have blundered into, and sets us on a higher ground where we can have a better place to begin again.

37. Query Letters and Cowboy Boots

May 7, 2018

As I write my book, along the way I’m putting together the necessary “query letter” for potential agents/publishers– the first level of approach/sales-pitch to get published. I scribble bits of ideas that come to me at odd times. Today sitting in my little neighborhood church in Oakland, I was not thinking about the book and certainly not the query letter, when a new segment of “my readership” suggested itself: gay men. And everyone else who has a sensibility that’s strong but gentle and vulnerable, who probably have had to be on guard for most of their lives, even ashamed, lest that gentleness at their center might be found out, rejected, or abused.

Though this will certainly be catalogued as a “women’s” book,  the fact of the matter is, all of us struggle to fit Who We Are  into What The World Expects, and usually demands from us. That’s one of the themes of the book of course, and truth be told, we all spend most of our lives trying to understand who we are, and then find the courage to dare to genuinely be that. The biggest obstacles are the deeply-embedded untruths we were taught about ourselves when we were children, either by people who should have loved us but didn’t, or more often by people who did, and lied because they loved us, and wanted to protect us from life.

The book is about a skinny little girl who loves horses and fire engines. She gets repeatedly told by the big people “You can’t have that, you can’t do that, you can’t be that” (about this and most of the things she wants) because you’re a girl. And what’s worse, there is the powerful unspoken mandate: “You shouldn’t want those things,” (because) girls don’t.

“Who says?!” She demands, to no avail. Again and again she asks, “Why not?” and gets no reasonable answer. “Those things are for boys,” they say. What the child hears clearly is: Who you are is not okay.

It’s a big fat lie, and somewhere in every child’s heart we know this, but what can we do? We’re just a kid. Some of the same lies are passed along for generations when we’re young and vulnerable and trusting, newly-learning about what life’s supposed to be. By words and actions, many of us were informed, “You shouldn’t be who you are, and it’s wrong to want to be.” If you’re a boy, you’ve got to like baseball, not art or music or poetry. If you’re a girl, you must like dolls and dresses and tea-sets, not horses and fire engines.

I remember with crystal clarity, the day my brother got cowboy boots. I was cazy about horses, boots and spurs and cowbow stuff. I got all excited and asked, “Ooooh! Do I get some cowboy boots too?” My parents laughed and said, “Oh no honey, cowboy boots are for boys. You can have some pretty ballet slippers…”

I was four years old. “Ballet slippers? WHO wants THAT?!” I begged for cowboy boots too. It didn’t do any good. Even now I can still feel the ache and sting of being so terribly wronged and cheated. I pleaded, in my own defense, “I couldn’t help it I was born a girl! I didn’t get to choose.!”

I became a closet-tomboy, sneaking out to climb trees and roofs and fire-escapes and run around the city pretending I was a racehorse. Eventually I grew up and turned out straight, which made things easier in Texas in the 1950’s. I learned to “act like a lady” and I obeyed the rules. I married and worked two jobs, the telephone company and a department store, to put my young husband through graduate school. I was a good wife. I spent the 4 1/2 loneliest years of my life like that, until finally I realized that I had no Life, and I had no Self. I was living in his shadow, and whoever I used to be had gotten sacrificed, lost somewhere. Not his fault– we both played the roles we were brought up to play. This works sometimes for some people. Not this time, and not for me.

Leaving was hard. It felt like more than a failure, it felt like a death. But I knew it had to happen. I got a divorce. I took my life back. I bought myself a pair of cowboy boots.

36. Believe Anyway

April 6, 2018

Even though it’s true that every life will have some stumbling places, dark passages and challenges to grow through, the most powerful factor and the most profoundly hard-to-accept truth is that Life responds to our beliefs. That’s the catch-22 that our parents never taught us, because they didn’t know.

Most of my adult life, I never asked for what I really wanted because I believed I didn’t deserve it. If I prayed for it, I did so as a meek unworthy supplicant, not as a fully entitled child of the Most High, my Father God. One reason why our prayers for other people often are more successful than prayers for ourselves, is that we dare to ask earnestly for their sake, in trust and faith, believing that they deserve it.

Jesus the Christ said, “Whatsoever you ask, believe you have received it.” The catch is, you’ve got to somehow dare to believe that God believes you deserve it, even if you don’t. He tells us to believe even before you ask, that the gift is already set up, ready to go, with your name on it. In this physical world, that’s a difficult task. You have to hold your secret wish in your heart with all your strength, and yet release it to Life/ God/ the Universe, then relax and trust that “it’s on the way – no problem.”

But wait a minute – If “The Force” is always with you, why don’t you always get what you want? Because God/ Life/ The Universal Consciousness/ etc. always works to bring about what you are actually believing. When you know this process is real, eternally active, and it’s a gift to you as a life-law that you can use – then you’re set free to choose the life you really want. You can do whatever you have to do to believe in it as being rightly yours, and begin to live it.

Whatever you hold in habitual belief, life will habitually deliver to you. But be careful of what you are believing unaware, in the dark corners of  your mind, for it is not harmless. All lies, when you believe them, are as powerful as the truth, because you are holding them as your truth.

Faith works. What we believe, we will receive. We often fail to have faith in the best things of life is because there’s always so much loud ugly “physical evidence” to the contrary on the 10 o’clock news. These are real people’s lives, yes, but if you find yourself more blessed, don’t feel guilty, feel grateful. Do what you can to help where you are, and make your choices different from the individuals on the news. It’s that simple, and that profound

Search out, shore up, and call forth the hidden strength that’s in you, and have the courage to believe in your own life, and in your self, no matter what the odds are, and no matter what other people’s lives are. You’ve got to be willing to believe that God thinks you’re good enough, even if you’re pretty sure you’re not. You’ve got to make up your mind, and then, as stubbornly determined as a four-year-old, Believe Anyway.

35. Sparrow and Stone

March 22, 2018

Sometimes I feel
like a sparrow in a storm,
hurled like a leaf,
helplessly,
searching for sanctuary,
any shelter I can find,
and finding none, struggle on.
I am small but I am brave,
and no matter what happens,
I always remember,
I can fly.

Sometimes I feel
like a smooth river-stone,
deep in the riverbed
hidden and safe,
and the river flows over me
cold and clean,
and carries the earth’s wild life.
Whether it floods,
or trickles, or torrents,
here at the bottom, there is peace
and grace.
Golden sunlight
glittering on the water,
lovingly kisses the river’s face,
and all of Life
rushes joyously along,
as I rest for a while
in this sacred place.