Where Love Has Led

When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would usually say, “A comedian!” And, although I never made it to the big stage, I am definitely a full-fledged, freelance (read, “unpaid”) comedian. If you need proof, just ask my friends. Everyone I know (with a respectable sense of humor) thinks that I am funny. Or….maybe they just laugh at me because they don’t know what else to do with me. Either way, I’m happy – as long as I can get folks laughing, or at least cracking a smile.

IMG_3067.JPG

As the years went on, though, the what do you wanna be question was answered rather randomly, just because: a) I really had no idea what all of my options were, or b) I was basing my answer on my current preoccupation. So my response would jump around, from comedian to veterinarian, from bakery chef to writer, from actress to librarian, and finally to photographer, because that was where my interest was when the time came to choose a school. The truth is, though, that I had only one true longing for my life, and it was this….getting married and having/raising children. I can hear the collective GASP! Who would have guessed that a child of the 60’s and 70’s could harbor such a traditional longing? This was the age of women’s liberation, the dawning of Aquarius, the far-out, groovy era of turning your back on the established order of home-life, job, and family. A sacramental, life-long commitment to one person?! Bah! Being open to children, when “free-love,” contraception, and abortion-on-demand was all the rage?! Humbug! I know….what was I thinking?! But, you see, despite the flagrant distractions of the modern culture, my ongoing confusion, and a lack of parental guidance, I still had a great advantage. Because of my baptism, I had the Holy Spirit and my Guardian Angel watching out for me, and leading me gently on, a million missteps notwithstanding.

IMG_3073.JPG

All that time, when I was wandering around as a young woman, mixed-up by what the culture was telling me and by what I thought I should be, God (who is Love) was guiding me gently along, there to pick me up when my poor choices had me meandering off of the trail, dangling off of cliffs, or stranded in deep crevasses.

IMG_3068.JPG

While in photography school, Love led me to my husband. Almost right away, the Holy Spirit whispered into my ear, “This is the one I have chosen for you.” I listened to those words from Love, and flirted and joked my way right into that crazy man’s heart. (He had a wacky sense of humor, too, one of the first things that attracted me to him. That, and….he was quite handsome!) Even though we were both still caught up in the “misleadings” of our time, we traveled on together, while Love walked closely beside, his hand ever upon us, his wise counsel silently piloting our steps.

We were married in 1982, with a dispensation from the Catholic Church (of which my husband-to-be was a member) to be married in a Baptist Church, in which I had spent almost my entire childhood. Less than two years later, when I realized we weren’t really making it to church every week (my plan had been to switch back and forth, one week at a Baptist Church, next week at Catholic Mass, and so on), I convinced myself (through Love’s inspiration) that I would be willing to attend a Catholic church every week, if it meant we would actually get to church every Sunday. It worked, and, after eight months or so of full immersion, I was hooked. I wanted to learn about the Catholic faith, and be able to receive Holy Communion every Sunday, with my husband (who had now embraced his faith as an adult, and was living it fully). In the summer of 1984, I received the sacraments of Confirmation and First Communion. From there, it was parish retreats (and Love, of course!) that led us deeper into our faith and gifted us with new, Catholic friends. Three years later, we were excitedly awaiting the birth of our first daughter. Even with serious medical complications, we went on to have two more daughters, trusting in Love for protection and aid.

IMG_2472.JPG

Because motherhood had been my deepest longing, I was one of those “all-hands-on-deck” kind of moms – staying home most days with them, while working a couple of days a week with my husband in his (by then) own photo studio. The two older girls went off to school before our third one had joined us, and I did everything – room mom, cupcake baker, party planner, you-name-it. I was at the school almost every day, willing to stay and help if needed…until the end of the fifth year, because Love began calling me to an ever deeper level. We pulled the girls out of school to follow the counter-cultural call to home schooling. (It’s hard to pick the absolute best thing about this choice, there were so many – no more rushed mornings, or piles of paperwork and fundraising efforts from the school; we could work at each child’s own pace, using my creativity and problem-solving skills at full-throttle; we met other Catholic homeschoolers and became more deeply immersed in the study of our faith….the list goes on and on!) We loved every minute of it (well, okay…you got me – almost every minute!). When people would ask me (and they did, often), “How can you stand spending all that time with your kids?!” I was left uncharacteristically speechless. It had never occurred to me that moms would not want to be with their children as much as possible! But, Love had called me to this life choice, and through it all, he was there, closer than ever before, still nudging us ever forward.

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

And, now, thanks to Love never giving up on me, my husband and I have celebrated 35 years of marriage. We have raised three incredibly awesome daughters, and are blessed with 5 grandchildren (two of whom are already in heaven, due to miscarriage in early pregnancy). Our sixth grandchild is due in late October (from our “northern contingent), and we just returned from four glorious days of visiting with them. Such sweet joy our family gives to us!

FullSizeRender-1.jpg

Some days, when I am not distracted by worldly concerns (like continued breast cancer survival and related health issues, paying the bills, worrying about my children, arguing with my husband about something stupid, etc), I can spend the entire day just basking in the glow of “my” success. But, right about the time I’m busy patting myself on the back, I’ll find myself falling off another of those pesky cliffs, making a hard and painful landing, right into the arms of Love. And with that harsh reminder, I will once again swallow my pride, and allow Love to lead, because his plan has always proved to be better than mine, and will always be best in the future. Lead on, Love – I’m right behind you! (Ummmm…on second thought, knowing me, maybe you’d better just push from behind, where you can keep your eye on me!)

FullSizeRender-3.jpg

Advertisements

Fried Zucchini Summer

FullSizeRender.jpg

The summer I graduated from high school, and my horse and pony had been sold in anticipation of me going off to photography school, my dad used part of our former pasture area for his first vegetable garden. He tilled and planted a whopper of a plot, considering our family size. By mid-August, we were drowning in egg plant, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and zucchini. My dad lugged piles of produce off to work each morning, to share with his co-workers at Goodyear, and there was still plenty left over for us. My absolute favorite was the zucchini…breaded and fried zucchini, to be exact. My dad and I could polish off two large zucs between the two of us, because they were so incredibly yummy. It was a special thing we shared between us, that hankerin’ for fried zucchini. Now that I’m much older, and my dad is long gone, I can transport myself back to that bittersweet, transitional summer, with overgrown zucchini from my own garden. I slice them up, just like I did for my dad and I, then I dip them in egg and flour (actually, gluten-free flour, or sometimes almond meal), fry those babies up, close my eyes and take a big bite…and suddenly, I’m back in our old kitchen, with my father, living that zucchini summer all over again.

IMG_2925.JPG

It’s an inexpensive and safe method of time-travel, these sensory memory triggers. I travel the taste bud route quite often, with certain foods that take me back to times shared with my dad (because when little tag-along me joined the family, my mom went to work full-time, my Grandma Casey moved in with us, and my dad pitched in by taking over most of the meal preparation for our family). There were other food favorites that we had in common, like soup beans and ham with cornbread, and pot roast with potatoes and carrots. One bite of any of those, and the gustation process can carry me back in a second, if I close my eyes, sit quietly, and savor the flavor, along with the memories.

IMG_2921.JPG

The olfactory passage to the past is closely related to the taste route, so it often takes me to the same places, but is has the power to transport me to a myriad of other memories. All I have to do is walk into a horse barn, catch one wonderful whiff, and I am at the county fair, hanging out with my 4-H buddies, cleaning the stall, showing Paco (my quarter horse) in the ring, rubbing my hand down his soft, sweaty neck, or sometimes lunching on corndogs and lemon shake-ups, or inhaling the helium from a balloon to talk like Donald Duck. I am young and carefree, my parents are there with me at our campsite, and we are sitting around the fire with friends. Or, how about the passage power of holding a baby, and smelling his/her sweet head (what is it with the smell of baby’s heads?!). These days, when a baby is in my arms, I fly back to the early days of parenting, holding my own little ones, nursing them, rocking them in my arms while singing lullabies – it’s all there, in full color and complete, sensual detail. The quality of transport and the clear view of those days-gone-by is really quite amazing.

IMG_2923.JPG

Other times, I travel back by way of an old song that slides from my ears right down to my heart, and I find myself with an old friend, hanging out in their basement, or at one of our favorite haunts. Or I might end up at a high school prom, dancing in the arms of a high school heart throb. Sometimes it’s the sound of laughter that reminds me of my mom, and takes me back “home” again. She was the kind who would occasionally get unexplainably tickled by some silly episode, then laugh for 15 minutes, until she was crying and could hardly breathe, while the rest of us were all laughing at her (even though we were often clueless regarding the original trigger for her laughter, and she would be laughing way to hard to fill us in!). There are other times when a sound can transport me to completely unexpected places: I hear a train whistle, and suddenly, I am sitting at the tracks, in the car with my mom, counting the railway cars to make the time pass more pleasantly, and trying to be the first one to spot the caboose. A rumble of thunder, of the boom of fireworks can also occasionally work their magic on me. The hearing path to yesterday is probably the most surprising and mysterious for me, because I just never know when or where it will strike, and where I might end up.

IMG_2924.JPG

Of course, we can’t leave out the sight triggers for time travel – there are so many opportunities. We live in the age of photography, so all we have to do is pull out an old photo album, and BAM…we’re there again, with ease. Or how about digging through those storage boxes of sentimental items? Those have serious transference power, too. But there are also more subtle ways that sneak up on us, like coming upon a field of sunflowers, or finding a beautiful shell on the beach, or witnessing a breath-taking sunset. Our mind can latch onto anything our eyes take in, and, in a millisecond, carry us back to some almost forgotten place.

And then there’s that last sense….touch. In my opinion, touch kind of tags along with the other senses, and enhances the time-travel journey. When I’m eating fried zucchini, just the feel of it in my mouth adds to the full effect. And those 4-H fair memories….if I get a chance to run my hands down a horse’s neck or side, or touch his soft nose…that just makes all the above-mentioned images come more clearly into focus. Same concept with the touch of my lips on a baby’s head, or feeling the warmth of a wee one against my body, or their soft breath upon my neck as I rock them – the memories they trigger are like a 3D movie, with all senses fully functioning.

IMG_1409.JPG

If you have days of old that you would like to revisit, step away from the rush of life this week, and enjoy a cruise down memory lane. Your very own time travel voyage is just a taste (or a smell, or a vision, or a sound, or a touch) away, but you have to be open to the excursion and willing to put some effort into quiet reflection. I hope you have pleasant travel, and don’t forget to send me a postcard!

IMG_2926.JPG

Vintage Comedy, The Best Medicine

IMG_2911.JPG

Back in the day, when I was a youngster, comedy was a lot cleaner. In that practically paleolithic setting, before the “f-word” came flowing freely out of everyone’s mouth like cow pies from a bovine’s back end, jokes were cornier…and much, much funnier. Comedians could actually make people laugh without relying upon vulgar vocabulary or bawdy subject material. That was true comedic artistry. It came from a sense of humor that focused inward, rather than outward, and that made it sincerely entertaining and uplifting. By the time the 60’s rolled around, mainstream comedy was, indeed, pushing the envelope towards the outskirts of civilized culture. Nonetheless, those oldies but goodies, that were safe for young, innocent eyes and ears, were (and still are) the very best.
IMG_2909.JPG

When my family needed a good laugh, we had the Smothers Brothers, Red Skelton, Carol Burnet, and Tim Conway to entertain us on evening television broadcasts. These entertainers were the cream of the crop! Red Skelton often didn’t say a word, but he would have me rolling in laughter. The Smothers Brothers, with their engaging recipe of musical talent, dry delivery, and Tommy’s feigned nit-wittedness, were both geekishly adorable and outlandishly funny. Carol Burnett, along with Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Vicki Lawrence, won the hearts of America through their skits and lively humor on The Carol Burnett Show. I used to love all of those funny sketches they came up with, often laughing so hard that tears streamed from my eyes, and my cheeks hurt from being stuck in the laugh position for a prolonged period! Some of my favorites were “Went with the Wind,” “The Family,” and “Mrs. Wiggins.” Tim Conway would often ad-lib and pull some funny gags on the rest of the cast during the final taping, which often put Harvey Korman in stitches…and it would air like that! Those unrehearsed additions became fondly referred to as “Conway’s Capers!” Tim Conway is still my all-time favorite, with his simple (yet, genius), improvised humor. My two favorite characters of his on The Carol Burnett Show were “The Old Man,” an old guy who did everything excruciatingly slowly, and Mr. Tudball, a businessman with an awesome accent who was always calling on his inept secretary, Mrs. (Huh)Wiggins (which was how he pronounced her name) in hopes that she would actually get something done. In school with my buddies, I did my own comical impersonations of both of those characters, ad nauseam. The Carol Burnett Show ran from 1967 until 1978, which pretty much spanned my entire TV-viewing childhood (I was 7 when it began, and I graduated from high school the year it went off the air!). Between that show and Erma Bombeck’s books, my future comedy style was nailed down tight! (My “grown-up” friends, who didn’t know me as a child but who know me well now, are saying, at this exact moment, “Ahhhh……, this explains a lot!!)

IMG_2908.JPG

Add to that my family influences, it’s easy to see how a disposition towards a comical style was an inescapable shoo-in for me. Both my mom and my mother-in-law were admirers of the classic, clean humor one-liners (and I just posted about my zany, Irish grandma a week or so ago). There were wall plaques and old postcards stuck all around in my mom’s house just to encourage a smile or chortle. One that I can recall said something about only really boring people having clean houses (my mom was definitely not boring, if ya’ catch my drift…). The best, though, were her t-shirts. She had one that said, “Of All the Things I’ve Lost, I Miss My Mind the Most,” and another with the ever popular, “I’m starting my diet tomorrow.” Once, after I was grown and living far afield, she came to visit me just in time for Taste of Cincinnati. We headed downtown for the fun, not even realizing she was wearing the “diet” t-shirt, until someone mentioned it to her. She got several appreciative laughs and comments out of that lucky mistake!FullSizeRender.jpgMy mother-in-law was also a lover of the common man’s humor. She volunteered for years at a thrift store which benefitted a local charity, and she managed to collect quite a few wall hangings etched with plebian playfulness. My two favorites were as follows – a plaque with a drawstring that you would pull if you were waiting in line for the bathroom; it played the song, “How dry I am, How wet I’ll be, If I don’t find, The bathroom key,” and a little sign she hung out in the outhouse which said, “No job is finished until the paperwork is done.” (And, yes….I did say “outhouse,” and we still have that outhouse on our property in Indiana, and the sign is still in there!)

FullSizeRender-1.jpg

So, I guess what I’m getting at here, with all this talk of clean humor and innocent bathroom jokes is this…does anyone besides me think it’s time that we raise our standards on what we think is funny? Can we all start boycotting comedians who use foul language and sex jokes? Because, really, it’s not funny, it’s not creative, it’s not pleasant to sit through, and it’s definitely not condusive of a good, belly laugh. What we need in our lives right now are more Carol Burnetts and Tim Conways, who can see humor in the bothersome things of life and make us laugh about them, and, more important, make us laugh at ourselves! I think this is one of our biggest societal problems right now. We all take ourselves and our piddly little problems so darn seriously. I’m not talking about people carrying a heavy load of serious medical concerns, or facing financial disaster, I am talking about the person who goes ballistic when Arby’s is out of their favorite fruit pie (or some such weeny-head nonsense)! Take a step back people, and think of those two well-known tips on enjoying life – #1 Don’t sweat the small stuff; #2 Most of it is small stuff! We’re so wrapped up in ourselves we’ve forgotten the beauty of simple, uplifting fun and laughter. We’ve allowed ourselves to be pulled into the cesspool of modern comedy, which is only going to make us more cranky and despondent. I prescribe the following for all of you this week – find the Carol Burnett Show’s official channel on YouTube and sign up to watch a few episodes. (Or find a DVD version at your local library.) Pick out a few that sound interesting to you, take two of them and….no need to call me in the morning. I already know you’ll be feeling much better!

IMG_2915.JPG

My Days as a Super Hero

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

Everyone owns an interior cache of heroism, which rises to the surface in time of need. We can choose to act upon the gallant impulse, or talk ourselves out of it. That’s the dilemma with use-of-valor evaluation – the call to action does not ride alone. It comes accompanied by fear, suspicion, and the instinct of self-preservation. Not that those are bad traveling companions. In most cases, it really is quite prudent and essential to think twice before diving in, but sometimes, you just gotta trust your gut. Some of us are called to a continuous, high level of heroism. These are the kinds of people you will find most often in jobs of civil service, such as police officers and fire fighters. Take that one step further, and you’ll find members of our armed forces. They’re the folks who personify courage and self-sacrifice, living examples of bravery each and every day on the job. They also practice safety and prudence, but, because of their desire to serve others, they knowingly face unseen dangers at every turn. This is what is known as “laying one’s life down for a friend.” For the truly heroic, everyone in need of protection is a friend.

FullSizeRender-5.jpg

However, that’s not to say that smaller deeds of valor have no significance – quite the opposite, actually. Tiny deeds, done with love, are magnified by God’s grace into life-changing acts of intervention. I have, in my lifetime, executed several acts of pint-sized prowess, and have often been repaid with unexpected blessing beyond measure. I believe that God sees into the heart, and is filled with joy by any act of courageous self-sacrifice, be it big or small, and just as any loving father, he rewards such actions with a big hug and “words” of encouragement. As a means of inspiring you in your day-to-day heroic efforts, I will share with you a few stories of my meager, super-hero exploits.

FullSizeRender.jpg

I grew up in a rough neighborhood. At first glance, it might appear to be the quintessential, small town neighborhood – old houses with big yards and plentiful gardens, mixed in amongst farms with cows and/or horses in the pasture. I was raised on local produce, freshly harvested honey, and…..street fights. Yeah, you heard that right. And it wasn’t gang warfare, it was rugrat girls. We just could not get along. We’d pair up in groups of two, and wage battles against the other pairs. This way of interacting wasn’t limited to my local turf. This happened all around our little village. At the pool, down by the village Lawson’s store, at school, on a local playground, anywhere there was likely to be a group of young lassies, you could almost count on a girl-fight. Most of the time, it was a rather tempered tiff, with hair-pulling, scratching, kicking, pushing, throwing whatever was handy (and sometimes, even biting!) being the weapons of choice. At any rate, I often tried to step in and save the day, especially if things seemed to be getting a little out of hand, or if other people joined in and starting ganging up on someone. The intervention I remember most vividly actually did involve my small neighborhood group of girls. One winter, while going in search of my friend, I discovered her being attacked by the other girls. She was holed up in a small barn, which housed a pony that she was caring for. The enemy had taken up position outside the fence and would not allow my friend to walk out of the barn without being pelted by hard, icy snowballs. I swung into immediate action. I ran through the gate into the barn and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket. Using it as a shield, I ran out to the small watering pond and managed to break enough ice to fill the bucket half-way with water. Then, I worked my way over to the enemy camp, dodging ice-balls as I stumbled along under the weight of the bucket. I will never figure out why those girls just stood there while I walked right up to them, in plain view, with an arsenal of (literally!) freezing cold water in my possession, but that’s what they did. I strategized and aimed, and tossed the water so that it saturated both of them, and no one has heard anything about those girls since that day. Just kidding about that last part. They were around for many years after that, and I ended up being friends with both of them, after we outgrew that warring stage of adolescence, but, I did gain a reputation after that day of someone who should not be messed with, so our neighborhood really was a lot more peaceful after that brush with death!

Some other escapades (from later in my life) that I can recall are:

1) Chasing a young guy through the streets and alleys of downtown, after I witnessed him stealing an old lady’s purse. I followed him relentlessly and kept him in sight until he decided to drop the purse, which I was able to retrieve. I found some ID in the purse and returned it to its rightful owner.

2) I saw an older man struggling to get the door open to his downtown living quarters. I held his meager bag of groceries (which he was probably afraid to put down, in fear of them being grabbed by someone) while he got the door open. I looked in the door and saw a long flight of stairs heading up…no lobby, no elevator, just a poorly lit, steep stairwell for this elderly fellow. So, I offered to carry his groceries. Up we went, two flights, until we came to his tiny apartment, which was packed to the gills with all of his earthly possessions. He felt so blessed by my kind assistance that he gave me 25¢, and I graciously accepted it, along with the memory of helping out this sweet, old guy. I was filled with the hope that I somehow made a difference in his lonely, impoverished life.

3) Planning and executing many service/mission trips over the years, for teenagers and young adults in our homeschool community. We have had amazing, life-changing adventures, and made a difference in Appalachia & Tijuana, Mexico, and also right here in our own city, and God has allowed me to help fill many young hearts with a love for service and humble self-sacrifice.

FullSizeRender-1.jpg

As you can see, being a hero doesn’t require a cape and/or local news coverage of the event. It only calls for you to step out of your comfort zone, practice compassion (and, maybe a little war-like strategy on occasion), and affect positive change on someone’s life. Be courageous this week. You might even earn a quarter!

I’m post-menopausal and…ummm….I just forgot what I was gonna say

IMG_2817.JPG

Entering into menopause is kind of like falling into a dark cave without a flashlight. There’s no way out, except blindly crawling along, towards a very faint light at the other end, and all along, encountering bothersome beasts. Oh, sure, lots of people have gone in before you and have lived to tell about it. Hundreds of these survivors have written myriads of articles and books about the process. But, still, it is a scary place, because you just never know which of the perils will confront you on your own journey through the cave, and which ones will linger on after you come back into the light. Think of menopause as climbing a very tall mountain. (Yeah, I know, I said a dark cave before, but just shut-up and play along. I’m post-menopausal, and I’m moody.) So anyway, you climb this menopausal mountain, slowly and painstakingly. It’s a difficult and challenging journey, but you’re strong and determined, and you make it to the peak. You’ve gone slowly enough that you’re now able to breathe in the higher altitude, so things aren’t really all that bad at the top. You sit down to catch your breath, put bandaids on all of your blisters and orthopedic braces on all of your aching joints, and then you enjoy the view. Once you’re recovered, you begin the slow (but easier) trek back down. (Puts that whole “over-the-hill” phrase in proper perspective, doesn’t it…?) In my case, because of some bad side effects from my chemotherapy nine years ago, I had to have a medical procedure done to block the blood flow to my uterus. The symptoms of menopause rushed upon me in a flood-level time warp. For me, the entrance into this stage of life was more like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute (but no training), and crash-landing on the above-mentioned mountain, all while being out of shape and not at all accustomed to the higher altitude. I think I just sat there stunned for a couple of years, before I started to regain my senses. How does anyone prepare for that?!

I wish there was a checklist, so we could at least choose the afflictions we want to deal with. Perhaps we could be required to select just eight symptoms from the list – it would look something like this:

IMG_2809.JPG

Please select your preferred tortures for the duration of your travels through menopause (keeping in mind that these terrors might stick with you for the rest of your life). And don’t forget to read the small print!

 

____ hot flashes (imagine St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake, and you might get a vague understanding for this particular torment. St. Joan might even be the patron saint of menopause sufferers…if she’s not, she should be. She was an amazing woman, so absolutely no disrespect intended!) This particular beast is bearable with an endless supply of sleeveless shirts, dressing in layers, setting up small, electric fans in every room, and carrying collapsible hand fans packed in all your bags.

IMG_2813.JPG

_____ over-sensitivity to heat and/or sweating more than usual (a slightly lighter sentence than hot flashes)

____ early morning awakening (say, anywhere between 4:00 and 6:00, with the most likely time being about an hour before your alarm is set to go off, so you’re guaranteed no chance of falling back asleep before that time)

____ insomnia (not being able to fall asleep in the first place, even though you are completely exhausted)

IMG_2808.PNG

____ night sweats (just to make the insomnia and early morning waking more fun)

____ fatigue (do you really need an explanation for this, after the previous three options?)

____ hair loss or dryness and increased facial wrinkles (because, why do you need to look nice enough to attract the opposite sex at your age?!)

____ weight gain (even if you eat like a bird, and go to bed each night with your stomach rumbling, you’ll soon be buying the next size up in clothing, and the next, and the next, unless you happen to be one of those annoying people with an incredibly healthy metabolism, in which case….PBTHPBH

IMG_2818.JPG

____ loss of sex drive (and other related problems…’nough said)

____ anxiety (from what my friends tell me, this one is not optional. You’ll have it, even if you don’t check it)

IMG_2807.JPG

____ moodiness & irritability (ditto, from above)

____ dry skin (not so bad, unless you find yourself constantly scratching. Buy lots of expensive, therapeutic lotions, which will do little to help, but at least you can say you tried)

____ absence of menstruation (PICK THIS ONE!!!!!! It’s the tiny hint of silver lining in this storm cloud passage of life)

____ And, finally…………..(Shoot, what was it? I know there was one more thing….it’ll come to me, tonight when I wake up at 2:00 am. I’ll get back to you on this one.)

FullSizeRender.jpg

So, that’s my big idea. Us middle-aged women will go to see our doctors with our long list of complaints (take legal counsel along for good measure), we’ll be told we’re entering into the inescapable transition of menopause, we’ll ask for the list, and we’ll check off the ones we reckon we’ll be able to live with. And, from there on, we just hope for the best, because that fine print I mentioned earlier….., it leaves us all on very shaky ground. But at least we have each other, and our collective sense of humor, for continued support and survival. Because, if we lose the power of laughter (and/or the power of prayer!), this potentially beautiful season of maturity, wisdom, self-acceptance, and grandchildren ain’t gonna be near as fun! So come on, ladies. Saddle up your horses, and stock-pile the chocolates, wine, and hand fans, we got a trail to blaze, and things to accomplish, in this beautiful, promising autumn of our lives!

IMG_2815.JPG

Utensils vs U-turns

FullSizeRender-3.jpg

My recent explorations of life have led me to yet another fork in the road, and it got me to thinking…..why, in our excursion of earthly existence, do we never come to U-turns? It would be so nice just to have the option to hang a 180 louie, and go back to where we had that first little inkling that we were lost, but no, that never happens. Instead, we amble on aimlessly, with the GPS disabled, until THE FORK is suddenly upon us, and strenuous selection is required. I also find myself wondering why we never come to a spoon in the road, or a knife? Personally, if I happened across a spoon in the road, I would interpret it as a message to stop for tea, or perhaps a bowl of ice cream. In other words, a spoon would be an obvious sign to stop for refreshment, so….., now that I think of it, I’ve had lotsa spoons in my life’s trek. I can’t say the same for knives, though. If I came to a knife in the road, I might consider it a sign of danger, time to turn back or keep a watchful eye as I journey on. Unless it happened to be merely a butter knife, in which case I would begin to get a craving for some toast. But if, by chance, it was a machete, I would definitely pick it up, because… I know myself well, and after I wander down the wrong road for quite a while, and the truth finally dawns on me (plus, considering the lack of u-turns), I could, possibly, use the machete to hack my way through the heavy forest underbrush to the proper path.

IMG_2741.JPG

Unfortunately though, the only utensil in my present passage is a fork, and, in my experience, forks always seem to make an appearance in the woods, where a murky dimness permeates the locale, and clear vision is compromised. Wherever it happens to show up, a fork definitely calls for some discernment and prayer, because it’s decision-making time. Should I take the left tine, or the right tine, or can I just plop down where I am and refuse to budge? Sometimes it’s very challenging, because we don’t always have an indication of where the branching tines might lead. There are times when we think that we are able to make a fairly reliable guess regarding where each path might convey us, at least for the first few miles, but paths seem to have a mind of their own, and like to head south just when we least expect it. If I were a poet (which I just might be), and two diverging tracks stood before me, I’d take “the one less traveled by.” Robert Frost recommends this route, and since he happens to be one of my favorite poets, I am apt to think of him at a time like this. Actually, I think (in my more mature years), I HAVE taken the road less traveled….or perhaps, with my obsession for alliteration, I’d call it the fork frequented by the fewest. Oh there were times, of course, when my goal was to be one of the lemmings, to travel in the rush hour horde of the “in-crowd,” but I left those days behind a long, long time ago. For many years now, I have preferred my own, singular brand of “coolness,” and believe me, in my desire to embrace my uniqueness, and follow the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I feel more trendsetting now than I ever did before (sans hipster clothes, flashy car, daily lattes, or perfectly plucked, big eyebrows).

FullSizeRender-4.jpg

I digress, however, from my current crisis of utensil impediment. The choices are clear, in the sense that, it’s one way, or the other. But, a life of faith means that I am never alone in the matter of arduous appraisal. God has blessed me with many gifts to ease my burdensome backpack, as I navigate this earthly passage. I have a lamp for my feet, and a light unto my path (which seems rather redundant to me, but that’s a Psalm writer for ya’). And just in case that’s not enough, I have a heavenly appointed Guardian Angel, just waiting to be called upon for assistance. Should these ministrations not be quite sufficient, I have a Blessed Mother in heaven who loves me dearly, and is always willing to do what a mother does best, if I would simply run into her arms. Top that off with a multitudinous cloud of witnesses on my side (Hebrews 12:1, referring to all those saints who have gone before us and live now in heaven), how can I possibly go wrong….IF…, I can still my heart, toss aside my egoism, and just listen! Which is exactly what I did at Mass this past Sunday. I finally remembered to turn my spiritual GPS unit back on, and Christ touched my heart so clearly and profoundly that I was moved to tears. My choice was then confirmed by those in my life whom I love and trust the most, and with this group of like-minded sojourners, whose prayers continually lift me up, I have taken the first step down the trail upon which I surely must trod. I will not flinch, will not look back, because my heart is at peace, and my merry band of travelers walks with me, down my very own mystically lighted lane, which has become my only TRUE & HOLY choice. I travel now in tranquility, surrounded on all sides by comfort, protection, and assurance, as indicated by the beautiful words of this Irish lady’s favorite Emerald Isle saint. How can we possibly go wrong in such company?! Vaya con Dios!

IMG_2745.JPG

Flying on a Wounded Wing and Perfunctory Prayer

FullSizeRender-3.jpg

Sometimes you come to places in your journey where the path suddenly, without warning, becomes dark and dreary, and the damp air slows your progress to a snail’s pace. You feel like you’re barely getting by, like everything you do takes way too much effort and tires you out considerably, like all you want to do is find a dark cave and hibernate until the gloomy mist passes you by. I find myself in such a place right now. This clouded perspective made last week’s visit from my daughter and her family very challenging (see previous post, Donning the Mimi Millinery). I was so excited when I found out they were coming to visit. I wanted to be happy and carefree, and busy myself with feeding and caring for my family, in addition to cheerfully and energetically entertaining my grandchildren. I did manage to get myself through with a semblance of normality, but I was often tired and stressed and suffering from dizziness so severe that walking became a game of chance. For the entire week, the song, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” played continuously in my mind, as I stumbled and lost my balance. From what I understand, if I could have located a long boat to lounge around in for a while, I might have experienced some recovery, but, alas, such specialized long boat craftsmen are few and far between these days.

FullSizeRender-4.jpg

It does sound lovely, though, drifting on the sea, with plenty of food stores, emergency radio contact, but no work, or bills, or anyone else to take care of (except myself). I think it would help me considerably. As always, though, duty calls, and monthly bills scream for attention. And so I find myself stuck in a troublesome trough. I want to be the best, most conscientious caregiver/personal care assistant ever. I want to provide tasty, healthy meals for my family every day. I want to keep my garden well-weeded and gather the fruitful harvest in a timely fashion. I want to hang out with my friends for fun and camaraderie. I want to be available to my grown children, when help is needed with babies, or shopping, or a shoulder to cry on. And, I want my faith to shine forth for others, as a beacon of hope and witness and encouragement. Instead, I am struggling through my work day, running out of steam midway through. Meals are haphazard and not my usual well-planned, delectable fare. The zucchini are getting out-of-hand, the holly hocks are badly in need of dead-heading, and the weeds are taking over the gardens. I have to force myself to make the hour drive to visit my sweet foster grandson (and visiting the MN crew is prohibitively complicated). If I make plans with a friend, I often regret it almost immediately, and then worry about how I am going to manage spending a day kayaking on the river and then drag my tired butt to work the next day. My faith has become a going-through-the-motions kind of unproductive routine. However, I will admit that I am praying a lot, but it is a selfish, woe-is-me kind of lament, and my outward appearance is sack cloth and ashes.

IMG_2734.PNG

This is what is commonly referred to as “a rut.” I am in a substantial rut, and it has a lot to do with my health, our chronic financial struggle, and the neighbors from hell who haunt me daily. What I need most, I think, is a lot of rest and TLC, but that is just not realistic. I keep asking myself, “What am I going to do to get past this?” And I’m not really coming up with much of an answer. I have tried “guilting” myself into feeling better. Because, honestly, my life is no doubt a lot easier and better than probably half of the world’s population. That plan of attack has never worked well for me, as a means of finding my way back to the light, even if it is the painful truth. I could win the lottery, except that I hardly ever buy tickets, and we all know, that’s a rather hopeless waste of precious funds. Maybe I’ll just do what I’ve always done when I’ve found myself in this position. I’ll start a new “blessing list,” and every day I will make note of at least one thing for which I am grateful. There’s always cats. I would be lost without my sweet, snuggling cats. And my boss/client. She is so wonderfully supportive and understanding. I would be lost without her right now, too (and, BONUS – she also has cats!). And the encouragement and prayers of my friends (many of whom are carrying their own unwieldy crosses right now). And we can’t forget my wacky sense of humor, which bubbles to the surface in the most surprising way, just when I need it the most.

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

With that daily focus of thanksgiving, offered up as appreciative prayer, I will be able to see the path ahead in “One-Day-At-A-Time” baby steps, and the grace of God will bless me and carry me through, just as it has so many times before. With that bestowing of grace, I will be able to focus on a plan of action that will move me in the right direction….in the direction God would like to lead me. In six months, or a year from now, I will look back on this time as a gift of growth and development. And I will smile sheepishly, and ask everyone around me how they ever managed to put up with me.

IMG_2731.JPG

Searching for Rainbows

IMG_2602.JPG

The air is laden with gloom, and I’m finding it hard to breath. I know that a storm is approaching, because I feel the weight of it deep in my soul. The misty tentacles of listlessness advance from the west, spreading over me like the menacing shadow of an evil sorcerer. I grow weary, and wander recklessly off the well-marked trail. Then suddenly, before I’ve had a chance to take cover or call for help, I am enveloped in the blinding rain, deafened by the attending wind, lost to civilization….lost to myself.

The storms of life come and go for all of us. Sometimes, they’re little more than a few strong wind gusts, or a quick, soaking shower. We cope with them competently, recover quickly, and move on. Other times, we might find ourselves stuck in the tempest for months, or possibly even years, as the rest of the world continues on their merry way, passing us by with a wink and a nod, as though our storm does not exist, as though the routine of life continues quite smoothly for the world around us. Left to ourselves, we might not live to see the sun come out again, but fortunately, we do not have to navigate these raging seas alone. Help is at the ready, like an umbrella waiting to be opened and employed, or perhaps more akin to a life preserver thrown to us as we struggle to stay afloat in a cold and choppy sea. But here’s the hard part….we must reach out and take the umbrella (or the life preserver) into our hands, to begin the journey back to dry land.

I have had my fair share of worrisome weather. Most of these could be referred to as “a serious case of the blues.” Those I navigated with, first and foremost, a strong faith in God, along with the encouragement of a supportive family and faithful friends. Standing always by my side, and providing obvious and tangible help in time of sorrow, our merciful and loving God can bring great good out of all things, if I only allow him to take charge, and lead me where I need to be. (I learned these things the hard way, from recurring & painful personal experience, and also through extensive Bible study and spiritual reading!) These blustery blues were short-lived episodes, which led me deeper into my faith, and taught me to accept the fact that life is hard….always has been, always will be. Once I began to wrap my brain around that concept, the tiny squalls of life started to pass by more quickly, some still taking the opportunity to give me a quick drenching, while others blow through with a challenging wind and a dusting of rain. My attitude has become a bit of a party-pooper for the impending precipitation.

IMG_2601.JPG

However, on the other end of the rain gauge scale, there have been times in my life when I could not drag myself out of bed in the morning, could not bear the thought of facing another hopeless day. Twice in my life I have been brought this low. Twice in my life the storms have raged so fiercely that I found myself physically and emotionally paralyzed. The first time was shortly after I lost my best friend to suicide. And, when I say “best friend,” I mean that this woman was my most beloved kindred spirit. We would talk often about the crazy, obnoxious things we would do together after our kids were grown and we were wrinkled old ladies. I so looked forward to growing old with my best friend. Then the day came when we got the phone call (seemingly out of the blue, since I had gone out with her the night before, and we had had so much fun together) that she had been found dead in her garage, lying on the floor near the exhaust pipe of her van, just to make sure that she didn’t “mess up” her suicide attempt. In a split second, my world came crashing down around me. The pain and sorrow and guilt and constant questioning that accompany such a loss were relentless, and I succumbed to a deep and prolonged depression, that could only be overcome by medication. As I slowly emerged from the dark pit, I looked back and realized that I would never have made it out with a “put on a happy face” therapy. I had needed medical intervention, an intervention that probably would have saved my friend’s life, but she did not believe in taking these kinds of drugs, and so…her life was lost to a deep, clinical depression.

The second time I needed to rely on anti-depressants was while going through chemotherapy for my breast cancer. And, although I am grateful that the cancer was conquered, and has not dared to rear its ugly head nine years hence, I still hate chemotherapy with a vengeance. It is an evil toxin that does so many terrible things to a person’s body. My hormone levels were sent into a dizzying spiral, and the result was not pretty. As the doctors carried on endless discussions about how to stop the continuous blood-flow, I melted away to practically nothing, and began to think the end was near. Luckily, they figured out a way (without removing portions of my insides!) to fix me up and set me back on my feet again. However, I still had to tell my doctor, that I “just wanted Charlene back,” before I got help with the depression part of the equation. Knowing that I still needed help, and being brave enough to say it, saved my life.

IMG_2603.JPG

I hope that the lessons I’ve learned from my storms can aid someone else in navigating similar struggles, and seeing the promise of the rainbow that appears as the sun comes back out. Remember these three things: 1- You are never alone. Somewhere amongst your collected friends and family, someone is willing to listen and care, and God is always there, just waiting for you to cry out to him. 2- Know yourself and ask for help to get back to the “real you,” and don’t quit asking until you get what you need. 3- Don’t be afraid to use prescription medications. Sometimes, they’re the only way out. You and/or your faith are not weak if you need medical intervention! My use of anti-depressants was only temporary, as is often the case, and I am grateful for the boost they gave me to get back to normal (which is, by the way, quite strange and silly and outspoken and abnormal, but hey, it’s who I am!). I wish you mostly sunny skies, with maybe one or two short-lived and life-giving cloudbursts for the week ahead!