phases

Everything has a phase. Life, insects, business, illness, the moon, people. When this covid started states were given federal guidance for ‘managing’ conditions to ostensibly promote avoidance of the virus and maintain good health. The authority rested with the governors. I’m not sure this was the best plan but how could they not. Like a parent, they had to be fair. Every state has a governor.

So the country basically went into hibernation. Work from home. Shop for essentials only… if you could find them. Travel stopped. Playgrounds were empty. Churches were empty. I have to wonder if the effects would have been any different had the precautions been selective to age, strength, physical limitation. But nobody knew how it would or wouldn’t impact people. So we all sat at home.

Finally, late spring, after everyone missed celebrating Easter, graduations and other spring events some states moved to the next phase. Other states’ governors went totally rogue and power crazed. They tightened the screws. Then the riots. Chaos ensued. Everywhere. Protesting, maybe, but with violence. Not peaceful. Think what you will, I do not see what they are doing to accomplish anything aside from destroying livelihoods and dreams. We know they are organized, recruited and paid, these rioters. Some states have doused the flames. Others encourage the crazy.

So this phase 3. North Carolina just moved there this weekend having had phase 2 extended in 5-week increments since May. It does not escape me that the election is a month away. Our governor is not popular. He knows this. Ballot harvesting is illegal here yet it has been said there was evidence of it in 2018, when he ran for the office. I am not smart enough to sniff out political intrigue and aberrations. But I do know this state is tired of moving in circles. We are exhausted from frustration and boredom. Two entire seasons saw personal freedom in a straight jacket.

Whatever, we are coming up on a year since this weird virus made an appearance. I don’t normally obsess over a thing, not a nebulous one. But this was treated badly. Cancer patients could not receive treatment. Family members passed away alone. There must have been some way hospitals could take precautions so families could have spent some moments together. I know God was not surprised by any of this. I know He is fully aware of where this all is going. I just wonder if He wishes we had handled it better. All of us.

star

As a child I truly believed a wish on the first star of an evening would come true, so I was very careful with my wishes. I later began to see my wishes were prayers, and God would hear them, not a star, meteor or a comet.

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Is sentimentality inborn or learned? Are some more inclined than others? Some call themselves romantics, some pragmatists. Some are just complicated.

People can be influenced by movies. Disney especially is heavy on making fantasy appear real. Or maybe it’s circumstances. Some so dire, dark or sad a child, by nature optimistic, desperately wishes for the magic.

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When I finally determined that power which I perceived as magic was gifted within each person I wanted it to change the world. I wanted love and light in every heart and, for years could not understand why I couldn’t create this. Which was when I learned where the gifts came from.

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I had to realize I did not create this gift, any more than I created me. I admired people who were so confident, so sure of themselves, so certain of their todays and tomorrows, and who could laugh at the mistakes and pains of their yesterdays.

I wanted that. Yet I realized that this, too, I could not create or change. I had to accept them first, all of it, before it could become manageable. And then I had to give the burdens to Someone else. There are days when I still feel the burdens, then I remember that I am promised  to never be alone with them. No longer impeded by them. No, they will never disappear. They are woven into the fabric of my life. But I have Someone who takes them for me because He truly and deeply loves all humanity and wants that no one will carry life alone. I am so grateful for this love, mercy. For this forgiveness that I do not deserve.

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Because it’s not because of who I am, but Who He is.

So when I become anxious or frustrated facing a daunting task or challenge I remember I am not meant to carry it on my own. Willful, independent, self-sufficient as I believe myself to be there are some times I need His help more than ever.

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No, this does not mean the task is easier. I still have it to carry. But He gives me strength. No matter what: clarity, stillness, peace, grace are gifts He gives.

I am still learning to turn to Him, to trust Him, to accept them.

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identity

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Flowers grow. A seed falls, it sprouts, takes root, blooms. An insect pollinates it, the flower goes to seed, the cycle begins again. This is what flowers do.

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Birds are hatched, fledge, find a mate, nest, lay eggs and the cycle begins. This is what birds do.

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I bought this baby grand piano when my father helped me buy my first house. It was a long-time dream to learn to play and enjoy hours of music. This was 23 years ago. I have moved this piano eight times, three different states. I have never taken one lesson. I have bought reams of sheet music and taught myself to plink out a couple of tunes (“Simple Gifts”, “The Ash Grove”) but never learned chords. My father had been proud of me for pursuing this dream. But he never asked was I taking lessons nor took me to task about it. I was proud of it. Just having it I believed added a dimension to me that made me feel important. A false dimension. I gave it tangible importance to a relevant yet never fully realized relationship with my father. I grew up believing I was the family screw up, joke, the useful clown diversion when things went south. So this piano I believed gave me a credibility it could never give, especially since I could not play it.

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So I have been burdened lately over this piano. Felt guilt, even. I have enjoyed it for these many years as a piece of furniture, covering it with smiling family photos, a favorite crystal bowl that was my mother’s, scattered pictures of rescue dogs. A musical instrument should be played, loved. Yet I had allowed it to be assumed into who I was, even extending the assumption to a connection with my father who passed away over 12 years ago.

Let it go.

I won’t say I hear voices but this was close. I had to disengage from a created aspect of my life that wasn’t real. It was hard. For a time as I mulled this over I regretted never learning to play. Disappointed that I may have even wanted to have it because my talented mother had played but because she had hated the years of lessons would not allow me as a child to have lessons.

Yet still, this was a piece of furniture virtually unused in any function except a superficial one of a very large coffee table.

After this grappling and deliberating, realizing this had to be a choice I made separate from anyone else’s wishes, and looking into the future— if I had already had the piano for so many years and never learned to play, how likely was it that I would ever learn?

Not very.

So I separated myself from the false identity I had created. I let the piano go to a family of musical people who had always wanted one and would play it and love it and enjoy it as it should be enjoyed.

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I suppose I will always keep a wisp of the dream of learning to play and the place where the piano was still surprises me when I walk into the room and it’s not there.

But I am no less without it.

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refocus

In summer rescue dogs Lily and Lulu’s walkies are before sunrise and after sunset with quick outings through the day in the backyard. Has to be this way because the heat gets to them. To me, too

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So this morning, because of some lovely late cold fronts was very cool as we ventured out around six, still in the dark.

Summer walkies are an adventure. More bunnies and toads. Never is husky-mix Lily more focused than when a reptile crosses her path. When a toad stops the required hopping Lily does not lose interest. She will gently tap it with her paw until it starts to hop around again. This morning she actually tapped it with her nose.

She knows better.

Toads have a protective toxin they coat their bodies with. This causes a dog to froth at the mouth. Which Lily did. She is tenacious. She kept at the toad so I stepped in and moved it to a shrub and we walked on, Lily spitting and shaking her head.

As we turned the corner toward home both Lily and Lulu went on high alert— a rabbit jumped in the road. It waited till they were just at attack position before it bounced away.

Still, the excitement made their obligatory morning naps reminiscent of the chase in their dreams.

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So many times this week my emotions got tossed like waves in a storm, listening to armchair commentators critiquing the virus. Who to blame, wrong information, who said what, what should be done, and shouldn’t be done, until I was angry in my own head.

So I refocus. This experience is no surprise to God. Neither are requirements that are levied on our communities. So I look to Him. I ask for peace. I pray for people who need prayer. I find things to be grateful for.

So many things.

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brave new world

My mother must have thought her ears were playing tricks on her one Saturday afternoon. As a high school teenager I enjoyed completely zoning out in a swath of contemporary rock music. But instead of the usual chaotic sounds of Hendrix, J. Geils or James Gang, Dvorák’s symphony no. 9, “From the New World” wafted from the stereo in the den. I was reading the album cover (long before cds and liner notes) and glanced up to see her peering around the doorway, quizzical expression. I gave a slight smile and her face vanished.
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During this pandemic many grocery and other stores here have a “senior shopper hour”, usually 6-7 am. Like lots of others I believe age is just a number and never considered myself a senior but my drivers license indicates that I am. Having to buy for only one (human) means, for me, shopping trips are infrequent. So this week I availed myself of the early opportunity.

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I was unprepared. There weren’t many others, at first, but they all (except for me, most of the store employees and one other lady that I noticed) wore gloves of some kind, and a face mask. Their eyes darted furtively over the scarf or bandana or medical mask gauging the distance between the nearest person and where they wanted to push their cart. I realized we have had to adapt to a completely new sort of analysis in this social distancing requirement and juxtaposition is a whole new factor.

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I gathered the few items and Easter preparations on my list, avoided the paper products aisle and made my way to the cashiers. My personal shopping bags were not permitted, they said. What if I bagged my own stuff, I asked. That is ok. So the very polite young man and I chatted while he scanned and I bagged, how cheery and helpful the store associates are, how nice to have the hour offered. As I toted my purchases to my car the sky was a brightening translucent blue and a dappled pattern of small pink-white clouds. Turning the key in the ignition, the radio station played the New World symphony. Right there, a combination of my own memories, this weird virus and our paralyzed country I felt sorrow well up inside. Before the tears fell I told myself, no. This is not the way the world will always be. We will not always push ourselves apart or wear masks and gloves or have ‘special’ shopping hours or be remanded to our homes.

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We will overcome this. It will not last forever. This is not the new ‘normal’.

Happy Easter. Blessings of Passover. God is sovereign.

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isolation

Years ago, inspired by a book I had read about inner awakenings I sought the solace of a nearby Abbey. This unique place offered retreats to individuals of different lengths of time and, completely unaware of what I would encounter I chose one for five days, the longest offered.

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I am not Catholic. I have attended and joined nearly every denomination that exists in my search for God. This five days helped me see where He is.

He is within us.

I was shown my quarters and invited to attend any or all of the monastic service or prayers. They begin at 3:00 a.m. which required rising at 2:30. I wanted the whole experience.

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The services followed an order of worship, psalms, an illumination on the readings. At 7:00 a.m. they were completed for the day, until vespers and compline in evening, 6 p.m.

Thus the whole day stretched out before me.

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I guess I had never before been completely, utterly alone. At this time I had no cell phone. There was no television, no radio at the Abbey. There was an order of silence on the grounds except for the services or times of community (meals or, for the residents, the workday). There were books and a wonderful library. There were gardens and a historic Civil War-era cemetery. So I began exploring. But I began to feel and know the impact of being in a place where God was the singular focus of life. And it hurt. I was appalled, shamed, humiliated, and, at moments, terrified. There, I was, by self-imposition held against the perfect One. In the light of His focus (inescapable) and His love I squirmed. I cried. I pleaded. I begged Him to not see me. And finally, spent, I stopped fighting. I released my fears, my selfness. I began to listen. In His complete love that exists for each of us I heard His gentle coaxing and came near. I think for the first time I realized I could come near.

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I have been back to the Abbey many times. Each visit is like going home because the reason I go there refocuses my mind, resets my heart. I find clarity. These stressful days where we are asked to voluntarily close ourselves away are not difficult for me. But I hear comments from others of boredom, anxiety. It is hard being alone with yourself, until you know, beyond who you are, Whose you are.

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At least, that’s how it was for me.
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surprise endings

For many years in late summer I have enjoyed a week in the cool, forested North Carolina mountains in the heart of the Blue Ridge. It’s kind of a reset. On the surface my life appears stress-free… I am retired, my son is grown and living a happy, successful life on his own. But stuff does happen. Things build up. So these precious few days alone in the cooler air seem to clear my head and I get maybe not a do-over but a restart.

This is usually in prelude to a visit with my family at a beach south of where I live. We’ve been meeting there for the past ten years, for a week at a little inn where the same families come back each year. For better or worse it is our “family vacation” and I always look forward to it.

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Until Lily.

Two weeks ago today we were outside for the last perimeter check before bed. The people on the other side of the fence behind my house have a super-aggressive dog that loudly charges the privacy fence between us. Rescue dog Lulu, all 20-pounds of terrier responds in kind. Rescue dog Lily, somewhat protective of her little sister wandered over to be sure aggressive neighbor dog failed at her efforts.

Then Lily quickly walked back by me and sat down. Hard. I looked over at her. “Lily?”

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She turned to me. “Can you come over here?” I asked. She rose, painfully and with a pronounced limp came over to me.

No. But yes. The other acl is now torn.

So no plans. Cancelled the little mountain cabin the end of this month (I’d planned to bring Lily and Lulu this year). The only pet sitter I trust Lily with declined staying with her, understandably concerned about the intensive care Lily will require after her surgery.

I have not yet told my family I won’t be joining them though I have cancelled my reservation at the inn.  There is a reason for everything.

I reflected on life, years ago in my chaotic vortex, newly divorced, sudden responsibilities of single parenthood, jobs, schools for my son, sitters, car maintenance, the whole aspect of LIFE that happens for everyone but I had never had it all. And I believed that. I believed it was all on me.

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Bit by bit, mistake by mistake I gradually learned I could depend on God. No matter what it was… a new clutch for my car, an unexpected medical bill, leak in the ceiling. No, God did not come here to fix these things Himself. But He gave me peace. He strengthened me when I wanted to run away. He helped me persevere, gave light and calm in the storms.

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And I remembered my feeble prayers! Sometimes just a faint, “Help, please!” And He did. He heard me. He strengthened me. Every time. For any reason, crisis or not. He truly never left me. He keeps His promises, even when we forget, ignore, disbelieve or panic. He doesn’t give up on us.

My prayers in those times weren’t great. Sometimes I don’t think even I believed them. But He did. Because what or how or why I prayed them was not the point. His faithfulness is all that matters.

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So Lily and I will get through this. And about the time she is finished with her physical therapy and beginning to be strong the weather will have cooled enough for her to enjoy her walkies again.

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seeing

Eyesight is so taken for granted. When asked if you had a choice of losing hearing or eyesight (neither!), many prefer to keep seeing. Things we experience by sight are very hard to describe unless others have experienced it too. If the only star someone can imagine is a pentagram or stars in the night sky how do you describe a flower?

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How would you describe the curl of an ocean wave, or the liquid gold surface of the ocean as  it reflects the morning sun?

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There are caterpillars that cause a lot of damage, destroying an entire tree, and borer beetles that destroy whole pine forests. There are other caterpillars that eat a plant to a nub, only to have the plant grow back because that is one of the things the plant was created for.

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I can’t imagine not hearing the dawn chorus each morning, rain or shine, cold or hot. Or not seeing the bright red plumage of a black-masked male cardinal. Or floating on the scatter-brained song of a bluebird. The sound of wind in the pines, ocean waves crashing on shore, rumbling of distant thunder.

Offerings of creation.

 

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life on the river

I have never built a raft and explored a river. It seemed though wherever I lived (six states), I found myself near large bodies of water. With the exception of three and a half years in Tennessee. I can count the time I lived in New Mexico because the town where I lived, Farmington, is at the confluence of 3 rivers, The Animas, La Plata and San Juan.

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The other 4 states, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey and Florida are all coastal and each is  very different.

Here I have the bonus of a large river, the Cape Fear. Being a tidal river some days when rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I go there for our walk we can’t walk alongside the water but this morning the tide was out. Its mouth is near enough to the ocean that it is mainly salt water, not brackish and Lily forgets.

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Which is why I carry drinking water in the car for her. So normally we’ll see a few beached jellyfish, clam shells. As we walked up the bank there were hundreds of tiny scurrying objects that I figured were these centipede-like insects that hang around washed up driftwood. We got closer and they all darted into little holes in the bank sand which those bug things don’t do. They were tiny fiddler crabs.

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This is one hiding in front of a lump of sand. He does not have the fiddle claw, a claw as big as the crab.

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The larger claws look harmless but they actually have a powerful pinch so I avoided those with them. The others have tiny pincers which will cling on you but are not painful.

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I wonder what the little crab thought. Cornered by an unimaginably overwhelming creature that didn’t look anything like a crab. Anything that looks unfamiliar is perceived to be the enemy. Fight or flight. The little crabs all fled for their holes but those who got cornered  away from safety raised their little claws. Harmless maybe, but it was all they had. To another little crab it is a formidable weapon.

I am not often up against an enemy. I had the great good fortune to be born in the United States where life has been for the most part peaceful. Despite our differences I also had the good fortune to have parents who taught me to be responsible, never a victim. I was taught to put up my claw and fight when I needed to. Usually with words, calmly but with the strength of truth behind me. When I am wrong I was taught to admit my error and apologize if it was necessary and bear no grudge. My mother taught me to move forward without holding grudges. My dad taught me to be the bigger person in the event of an unfair difference and make amends.

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As I have lived more on my own, and raising a son I have better understood Holden Caulfield’s angst. Catcher in the Rye was not on the banned books list when I was in 7th grade and I understood why some books are worth reading if for nothing else than to emulate and be empathic in what pre-teens go through. Some don’t I imagine but most do.

And God. No matter what or who God listens. He sees. He knows and I can tell Him. I learned the value of His friendship in Jesus Christ.

Never alone.

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calm

There seems to be an increase in doomsday predictions. Naysayers. This is terrible! Focusing on something no one knows anything about except that it will happen loses sight of what’s important.

The here and now.

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No one knows the future. When people get all in a twist about something nobody knows will happen they make chaos.

Stop it.

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Being grounded takes a lot of effort for me. I am easily distracted. But doomsday people have never held any interest for me. Staying focused on what’s important matters. But the end of the world? Why stir everybody up over something no one knows?

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Maybe this is why I love flowers so much. And trees. They just are. Day after day, season after season, year after year. They are what they were created to be. Some become diseased and die. So do we. Some grow old. Very, very old. So do we. We have seasons. We change. But nature doesn’t freak out over an ice storm. It endures it. Or a hurricane. Their leaves are blown off, they may get drowned but if they live they put out more leaves.

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We replace siding, or shingles, or whole roofs, or whole houses. But mostly we face whatever disaster or trouble we get. We have to. Jumping the gun, skipping to the end when the end isn’t here yet, when we don’t even know when the end is, doesn’t make any sense.

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So I have to take the end is near people lightly. The end I don’t take lightly, but I have no idea when that will happen. So I need to keep on keeping on and trust God. He knows.

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That is all that matters. It’s His business, mine is to trust Him.

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