Category Archives: Creativity
I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.
My seven-year-old grandson sleeps just down the hall from me, and he wakes up a lot of mornings and he says, “You know, this could be the best day ever.” And other times, in the middle of the night, he calls out in a tremulous voice, “Nana, will you ever get sick and die?”
I think this pretty much says it for me and for most of the people I know, that we’re a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. So I sat down a few days before my 61st birthday,and I decided to compile a list of everything I know for sure. There’s so little truth in the popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.
For instance, I am no longer 47, although this is the age I feel, and the age I like to think of myself as being. My friend Paul used to say in his late 70s that he felt like a young man with something really wrong with him.
Our true person is outside of time and space, but looking at the paperwork, I can, in fact, see that I was born in 1954. My inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. I’m every age I’ve ever been, and so are you, although I can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been helpful if I hadn’t followed the skin care rules of the ’60s, which involved getting as much sun as possible while slathered in baby oil and basking in the glow of a tinfoil reflector shield.
It was so liberating, though, to face the truth that I was no longer in the last throes of middle age, that I decided to write down every single true thing I know. People feel really doomed and overwhelmed these days, and they keep asking me what’s true. So I hope that my list of things I’m almost positive about might offer some basic operating instructions to anyone who is feeling really overwhelmed or beleaguered.
Number one: the first and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift, and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive.It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
Number two: almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes — including you.
Three: there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way,unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world.They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them.It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway.
Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.
This brings us to number four: everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.
Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.
So God might mean, in this case, “me running out of any more good ideas.”
While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile, radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa and make both of you a nice cup of tea. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self is home. It’s where world peace begins.
Number five: chocolate with 75 percent cacao is not actually a food.
Its best use is as a bait in snake traps or to balance the legs of wobbly chairs. It was never meant to be considered an edible.
Number six —
writing. Every writer you know writes really terrible first drafts, but they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They do it by prearrangement with themselves. They do it as a debt of honor. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little.When my older brother was in fourth grade, he had a term paper on birds due the next day, and he hadn’t started. So my dad sat down with him with an Audubon book, paper, pencils and brads — for those of you who have gotten a little less young and remember brads — and he said to my brother, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy. Just read about pelicans and then write about pelicans in your own voice. And then find out about chickadees, and tell us about them in your own voice. And then geese.”
So the two most important things about writing are: bird by bird and really god-awful first drafts. If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours, and you get to tell it. If people wanted you to write more warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs — your truth, your version of things — in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us,and that’s also why you were born.
Seven: publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and evil people I’ve ever known are male writers who’ve had huge best sellers. And yet, returning to number one, that all truth is paradox, it’s also a miracle to get your work published, to get your stories read and heard. Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, that it will fill the Swiss-cheesy holes inside of you. It can’t. It won’t. But writing can. So can singing in a choir or a bluegrass band. So can painting community murals or birding or fostering old dogs that no one else will.
Number eight: families. Families are hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. Again, see number one.
At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal –remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants.
When William Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But I promise you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderella, you can do it,and you will be amazed.
Nine: food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
Number 10 –grace. Grace is spiritual WD-40, or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vladimir Putin and me exactly as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure.
The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and heals our world. To summon grace, say, “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are, but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. And grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost, regrettably. But the phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and each other. And remember — grace always bats last.
Eleven: God just means goodness. It’s really not all that scary. It means the divine or a loving, animating intelligence, or, as we learned from the great “Deteriorata,” “the cosmic muffin.” A good name for God is: “Not me.” Emerson said that the happiest person on Earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot and look up. My pastor said you can trap bees on the bottom of mason jars without lidsbecause they don’t look up, so they just walk around bitterly bumping into the glass walls. Go outside. Look up. Secret of life.
And finally: death. Number 12. Wow and yikes. It’s so hard to bear when the few people you cannot live without die. You’ll never get over these losses, and no matter what the culture says, you’re not supposed to. We Christians like to think of death as a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live again fully in your heart if you don’t seal it off. Like Leonard Cohen said, “There are cracks in everything, and that’s how the light gets in.” And that’s how we feel our people again fully alive.
Also, the people will make you laugh out loud at the most inconvenient times, and that’s the great good news. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. Grief and friends, time and tears will heal you to some extent. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize you and the ground on which you walk.
Do you know the first thing that God says to Moses? He says, “Take off your shoes.”Because this is holy ground, all evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truest thing I know. When you’re a little bit older, like my tiny personal self, you realize that death is as sacred as birth. And don’t worry — get on with your life. Almost every single death is easy and gentle with the very best people surrounding you for as long as you need. You won’t be alone. They’ll help you cross over to whatever awaits us. As Ram Dass said, “When all is said and done, we’re really just all walking each other home.”
I think that’s it, but if I think of anything else, I’ll let you know.
There are four ways of being: thinking, feeling, doing, and creating.
Thinking usually involves questioning and problem solving.
Feeling, whether positive or negative, is usually in relationship to someone.
Doing often involves care taking of things or care giving of people.
Creating is about new possibilities and may involve any or all of the other three.
Life involves all of these and though none of us does all of them equally well, I’ve noticed that through the stages of our lives we seem to eventually be challenged by life to develop in the areas where we don’t have natural gifts. This applies to our spiritual lives also.
At different times in my life I have found grace through very different sources. In my twenties I began to question my religious upbringing and for a few years I made the world and its pleasures my focus, but my questions finally took me on a journey of studying various religions in a search for meaning. Then in my thirties, a friend helped me begin to relate to Jesus, not only as a Savior and Lord, but as a best friend, and prayer became a conversation with him. Starting to read the scriptures to get to know him better brought them alive for me and I began to see their connections to even small things in my daily life. Gradually, they opened my eyes to the struggles of people around me and I began to recognize things I could do to help them. Then to my consternation, the Scriptures ceased to speak to me and health issues put me in a wheel chair, dependent on the kindness of others. Then accepting love from the kindness of others became a source of grace instead of frustration. And worship and rote prayer became my way to inner peace and a sense of the presence of God. Taking up art as a hobby began to bring me the freedom to live in the present moment creatively and even opened my eyes to blessings of God in the beauty all around me. Somehow, all of these ways of being came together and I felt a hunger to share my sense of the love of God expressed in Jesus, the presence of God in all things, and our oneness with God and each other. That led me to worship where I could give what I call my sermons from the molehill at Sunday worship services. We are all on a Spiritual journey whether we know it of not. But it does not go in the same order or timing or tidy little stages for all of us. We are all different, so our journeys will be different. And the places best for us to grow and learn spiritually will be different. But I’ve become convinced that over our lives we will have challenges with opportunities to experience growth in all of these ways of being. When we recognize these, we can accept them, instead of being threatened by change and resisting. Then eventually we become able to recognize God in everything and each other. This is very oversimplified, but is the essence of what I’ve experienced in my spiritual journey. The key to our personal spiritual journey is recognizing that the only thing in life that is not only inescapable, but when accepted, is a source of grace, is change.
I so hope everyone’s Holy Days bring the blessing of God’s love to them.
For me Christmas is humanity’s birthday celebration. So, I am always ready for the Christmas season.
It’s a wonderful time of year. I’d like at least a six month holy day season and actually wouldn’t complain if it was all year long.
I love the frosty air outside here in Tennessee because it makes the warmth inside feel so comforting and the hot Chocolate so delicious. But when visiting my brother in Texas around Christmas, we all might be wearing shorts outside, but the air conditioning is turned on enough to light a fire in the fireplace.
My spirits lift with all the music whether it’s Rudolf or O Holy Night. Children’s laughter and excitement are contagious for me.
And all the colorful decorations bring special beauty everywhere. I like seeing different Christmas sweaters and get a chuckle at people wearing Santa hats. I even enjoy a lot of the cheerful advertisements. The beauty in nature, in people, and even in things people make gives me great pleasure. I don’t need to own them to enjoy their beauty.
I love beautiful Christmas cards with scenes of birds in snowy woods, funny Christmas cards with Charlie Brown and Snoopy or even Maxine, and of course, the tender ones about the love of God coming among us.
I can imagine the savory smells in anticipation of turkey and dressing and pies. And look forward to being amazed at the unusual creativity of our grandchildren making Christmas cookies. Well, why not have Christmas alligators and dinosaurs?
And I absolutely delight in our family laughing together and remembering funny things like a grandson’s expression when opening a box of rocks from me. 🙂 (He was supposed to open the paints first. )
I even love our annual messy marshmallow fight!
And I refuse to give up my satisfaction from sending elaborate meal planning emails to all the family, even knowing it’s an exercise in futility!
I enjoy lunch with my LOL (Little Old Lady) groups where we bring presents for children who may not have many and share our own hand painted Christmas cards and lovingly made pot holders with each other.
I love decorating, particularly watching my architect husband doing elaborate city planning of our ever growing Dicken’s Christmas village. The moment when we first turn on its lights at night is always magical. I still laugh at the tiny crime scene tape around a stout male figure lying down and a British Bobbie standing over him. (Our youngest son created that one year when no one was looking!)
I stop each day to step outside to check for snow flakes. And even smile at the fake snow in store windows and Christmas scenes, because it reminds me of the night I walked alone in thick new snow in our field on a hilltop. The silence was so profound, it created a feeling of total isolation and the night so clear that the stars blanketed the skyscape. At first I felt small and lost in the face of so much grandeur and such infinite space. Then once again, I experienced that sense of complete oneness with everything. And being even a tiny part of all of that made time seem liquid enough that death would be simply melting into eternity’s flow.
I revel also in the small kindnesses and good wishes from strangers. Sometimes, it’s experiencing a moment of kinship that’s real and meaningful.
I look forward to grandchildren’s Christmas concerts and pageants. And chuckle when I watch Sunday school enactments of Jesus’ birth, remembering the one my first child was in, where one of the shepherds kept hooking Joseph around the neck until a hand came out from behind the curtain and pulled him out of sight. 🙂
I treasure my special Christmas coffee cup that says, “Jesus is the reason for the season” because each morning when I have my first cup of coffee, it reminds me to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then come the joy of times when I recognize small and large blessings and the peace of the moments of sensing His gentle loving presence.
Recognizing and embracing the visible Love of God for all His Creation, including each of us in our imperfect unfinished humanity, is what makes Christmas also our Birthday Season. So, I wish you all a very Happy Birthday also in your Holy Days. May the Love of God erase our fears and free us to love one another.
Finding what we love and have the talents for takes longer for some of us than others. We may have a lot of small talents and interests, so we tend to move from one project or job to another.
Often those who naturally have good study or work habits will out-perform those that appear to have more talent or higher IQ’s.
And lack of confidence can cause us to be over sensitive to suggestions for improvement, making us unteachable and leading to discouragement and giving up.
But, when we combine our natural abilities and focus those on what we value most, it makes a huge difference in how well we do.
Then motivation becomes the key to perseverance. And even those of us who hate detail and repetition can manage to do the necessary nitty-gritty to accomplish what we consider important.
PRIORITIZE: What interests and energizes you most that you are reasonably competent to do?
FOCUS: Identify resources of time, money, space, training, materials, and support people needed to accomplish this.
PERSEVERE: Don’t give up if you fail. Learn from your mistakes. Get help when you need it. Constructive criticism is instruction. Be realistic in your goal.
I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”
My memories collide with one another,
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind.
Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of
cobwebs cling to my bold
Creativity thickens and congeals,
dwindling into small,
fallow pools clotted with
Idols of old truths and securities
crack from the weight of
my twin to Thomas doubt and
Now, a voice within gently warns me,
“Narrow gate ahead!
You must not be afraid
to let go.”
So, in this present moment I must trust
my inner Spirit
to transform even this
with her woman’s powerful compassion
that can turn empty deserts
into hearts fertile
from her tears.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.