Saturday, June 30, 2007

stumbling blocks

The longer I stay in community, the more I learn... about why people come here and why they leave. It's a process. as they say, and having experienced much of it, and watched others do the same, I can attest to the simple truth that everyone's journey hits the same kind of stumbling block, no matter who they were before they arrived, or who they think they are when they leave (or stay.)

I'm also pretty sure I (myself) have not hit the huge ones yet. But I have definitely had my fair share of stumbling over the medium-to-large ones. I weathered the "sister-so-and-so-is-always-riding-my-case" scenario, but I have seen others crack under that burden. And... having weathered it once, does not necessarily mean I can do it again. That's the problem. As soon as I think I've got an issue nailed, it springs back to bite me.

There are other rocks along the path. There's the internal: "I'm-a big-fraud-and-if-you-only-knew-you-would-hate-my-guts" rendition, a slight twist on the standard human condition of I'm not worthy. Of course we aren't worthy, we aren't God, get over it. Yet we are worthy, because God said so, and all other scriptural references to the contrary, I choose to believe that over all the other whiny Psalm verses: the ones that cry out for vindication and retaliation for assumed injustices and iniquities.

There's the flip side of I'm not worthy. It's the "why-can't-she-act-like-I-do?" or "why-does-she-insist-on doing-things-her-way?" which implies that not only am I worthy, but even more worthy, so you should follow my example... because of course it's the right way to do it. Whatever it is.

That last one can be a catch 22. In a community there are established ways of doing things, whether because it makes it easier for everyone else or because we've always done it that way... (the ever-constant rock-in-your-shoe.) If stacking the baking pans in order of size is an established way of doing it, then refusing to do it because she happens to think it's a stupid rule, says something very telling about a sister's willingness to "learn our ways", something a candidate promises when she is received.

I have learned one quite unusual lesson in this community: sweating the small stuff seems to be a necessary evil that allows the grace for the large stuff to flow through us like... well, grace. Who knew?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Big ONE

My youngest grandson Noah is one today! Happy Birthday punkin doodle. Wish I were there to see your giggly cake-smeared face.
love, Grandma

Friday, June 22, 2007


There was a fad awhile back when "motivational" posters and mugs were everywhere... you would see them in offices and school classrooms, even police stations. You still find them here and there, but they are no longer the rage. As with all clich├ęs, they wore out quickly. I'm not knocking motivation by a long shot, but our culture's quick-fix mentality has evolved like a fast-growing cancer, even in our motivational thinking. We expect fast food for eating, fast cars for driving, fast computers for googling, fast relief from ailment, and a fast-track to success. Anything short of fast must be bad, or old, or wrong.

I found a site called Demotivators® here that takes a different tack... most of them are tongue-in-cheek, sardonic and skeptical, but they carry an underlying truth that life is not always going to be lemonade out of lemons. Sometimes there's just no water or sugar to be found.

This one on irresponsibility is a good example. Yesterday my friend and I were discussing some of the logistical problems with feeding the homeless. Volunteers staff the feeding program at his church, and the most prominent excuse for not volunteering is "What can I do? I'm only one person." The unspoken flip side of that is: "since I'm only one person, it's not my fault that you don't have enough volunteers."

Jesus was absolutely clear on who's responsibility it is to love your neighbor, to care for the vineyard, to feed his sheep, to do justice. We may try to wiggle out of any (or all) of those commandments because in this country we've been inoculated at birth against hard labor, dutiful response to others' needs, serving the common good.

But... as the flood of our irresponsibility rises, at some point we're going to run out of higher ground.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In the garden

I've always been intrigued with the story of Eden. I've brooded over it and written about it many times, trying to tease out some other interpretation besides crime and punishment.

Adam, God's first human creation, was pretty much coddled by God—fed, protected, cherished, given special benefits. He received a mate because he was lonely, and, he didn't have much to do to earn his keep. He was spoiled. rotten.

It's not rocket science to predict that the only stated rule would be disobeyed. One of the hardest jobs for a parent is to enforce the standards and inflict consequences. Without that structure the child grows up undisciplined, unruly, and unprepared for life outside the home. The consequence in Adam's case was life outside the home. Only there, without all the props and privileges of the garden, would he learn how life really works.

I think we've taken that story and twisted it inside out. We've assumed that obedience and perfection are the points here, when it may be that listening to the advice of one with more knowledge and experience is the point.

Eating fruit that gave useless knowledge (of good and evil) did not kill Adam, but it certainly messed with his mind. He noticed he was naked and felt shame. He noticed he had disobeyed and felt shame and fear. He reacted to both in ways that were easily detected, and when challenged, he blamed his wife. She in turn blamed the snake. Neither had ever experienced guilt before, yet both knew instinctively the worst way to assuage it... blame someone else.

A new life outside... totally new experiences, opportunities to learn for themselves, to work and earn their own living, to trust each other, rely on each other, support each other, rather than blame each other... those were the consequences.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

habits and facts meme

MikeF, at The Mercy Blog, has tagged me for a meme. (I know, my New Year's resolution was no more memes, but I've also fallen off the water wagon, so what the heck...) If tagged, and you accept, these are the rules:

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Pretty straightforward, ha! Well, after the last couple of posts I should be able to confess just about anything, so here goes:

1. My favorite number is five. I find great comfort in doing things in fives: I'll wash five dishes, then put five things away in the kitchen, then dry five dishes, etc. I count as I go. I've tried other combinations of numbers but nothing beats five. Even though this meme calls for eight facts, I may only do five...

2. I've had as many jobs/careers as some celebrities have marriages... elf at Santa's Village, Navy photographer, proofreader, bookkeeper, audio visual producer, 3-D animation artist, college instructor, massage therapist, motorcycle safety instructor, print designer, art director for a national publication, and now... nun. Some jobs were full time, some part time, but all were exciting, even the proofreading. (Oh, I did not mention wife, mother, grandmother, singer/songwriter and poet, none of which I got paid for, nor wished to be)

3. I play stupid video games when I'm stressed: Big Kahuna Reef, Pyramids, Mah Jong solitaire. I usually get bored and quit before the end of the game. Even though these games are mindless, I feel soooo smart if I win, which is almost never.

4. I'd like to publish something... someday... just once... a novel, poetry, cartoons... anything. And I want my picture on the back flap, one that looks like me now, not ten years ago.

5. I say what I think and then re-think what I said. It often involves removing my feet from my mouth and apologies and groveling.

6. My favorite place on earth is a beach. I love the sound of surf, the smell of salt air and Coppertone, picking up shells, getting a suntan, walking the callouses off my feet. I've had my best conversations with God at the beach.

7. Look! I'm at seven already... I did not quit at five. (That must mean I don't yet qualify for the obsessive-compulsive diagnosis?) Okay... fact 7: I used to have the most amazing memory. Aging has removed that attribute from my asset category. Oddly enough I am not too upset, because I still remember to talk (ad nauseam) about what a great memory I used to have. I can still recite all the counties in Maine in alphabetical order and the unabridged opening to the Superman (TV) cartoon... "in the endless reaches of the universe, there once existed a planet known as Krypton..."

8. All the foods on my Absolutely NOT list, (either due to high cholesterol, high blood pressure or medication for same) are the foods I like best: bacon, anchovies, shellfish, grapefruit, pasta, butter, cheese... is that not a crime?

okay... eight people to tag to do the same thing:
1. my daughter-in-law (because I love her and she'll probably do it)
2. Zanne (because I love her and she may do it)
3. cat (because I love her and she likes memes)
4. Kim (because I love her and she'll probably do it.)
5. Natty (because she'll think of something outrageous, if she does it. Oh, and because I love her.)

I'm quitting at five. It's my favorite number.

Monday, June 11, 2007

burning bridges... continued

You may wonder why, if I couldn't bear a phone conversation with my ex-husband, how I thought I could handle a face-to-face? Another part of my baggage I think... I don't like the telephone. I was not allowed to use the phone much as a kid, so I don't enjoy using it as an adult. Unless I'm conducting business, I get antsy after two minutes. I have to go to the bathroom or I will say I have to go to the bathroom. Either way, I need to hang up.

To say that my ex-husband has been a huge piece of the puzzle in my discernment to the religious life is an understatement. He was the wild card in nearly every hand I've been dealt over the past four years... coming to a final decision without taking him into account was impossible, is impossible. For awhile I tested the idea that this life was some kind of training ground... a place God had called me to learn whatever it was I needed to know to successfully live with him again.

I'd be in the kitchen, cooking something, and I'd find myself imagining cooking the same thing in his kitchen for him. It didn't occur to me that in this fantasy of being married to him again, he was never around. When that aha finally hit, I realized I couldn't go there. The idea of doing things for him was very strong, the idea of being with him was unimaginable. Face it, I'm denser than Iridium when it comes to relationships

The dream I posted several weeks ago (if you wish, you can read it here) was thoughtfully interpreted by a number of friends, but the one that rang most true was offered by a girlfriend of nearly two decades. She knew me when I was married, has known and supported me through divorce, boyfriends, the move to New York, job changes, more boyfriends... and this choice to become a sister. I was her boss once and she was mine. She knows me inside out like no other friend.

Her take on the dream went something like this: you're seeking a place where your generosity, talent and gifts will be accepted and appreciated. In the dream, you'd already done all the cleaning and cooking and organizing for the party but the soup was still frozen. (It was lentil soup, not important enough to be noticed.) The bowl was too small—because you have so much to offer, you need more than one person to receive; you need God Himself. Even though he tried, your ex-husband could not find a way to accept these gifts, and when you opened the big container, it was full of the baggage (charred dreams and dirt) from your marriage.

Hello. That was insightful as well as prophetic. I haven't had that much profundity smashing the sides of my brain since I quit talking to angels. (Another story... another post.)

to be continued...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

burning bridges...

I didn't see my ex-husband on this last trip to Florida. You'd think: So? doesn't ex-husband imply past tense? Who cares? And yes, ex does imply past tense. But relationships are often more complicated than they appear. Ours has been fraught with a number of complicated inconsistencies, and the sum total of our own past tenses did not add up to the thirteen-year-marriage we barely survived, nor the friendship we have since tried to maintain.

When we met, we both expressed the thought that we had known each other before... in another lifetime. I believed it... lock, stock and barrel, and actually, nothing there has changed. It's just one of many reasons I stayed married for so long after common sense said: BIG mistake. There were other reasons: my inability to set boundaries contributed heavily to the mess we were making. I avoided conflict in a number of ways: giving into or avoiding confrontation on his views of politics, art, religion, clutter, spending money... his jealousy of my kids and the time I spent with them was countered by spending more time with him and less with them. It wasn't enough. Eventually I just spent more time at work, where I (the real, the free, the unique I) was appreciated. I was a coward.

I was also afraid of burning bridges. Somewhere in my past it had been stamped into my consciousness "Do NOT burn your bridges."

We had planned to get together at some point, but not much was working out. To be honest, I didn't much care. He had arrived in Hendersonville (unexpectedly) my first night at Kanuga and that had creeped me out. It felt like stalking, and I had no internal resources for handling stalking. The more I thought about it, the more I freaked, so I didn't think about it... until he pressed for a time to see me again.

I emailed him. Email is a cowardly way to carry on a relationship, even one that doesn't exactly exist. It's not pleasant to know that about myself again but there it is.

In the email I told him his surprise appearance at Kanuga had felt like stalking, and that subsequent remarks about my son had ticked me off. I was angry with him, that part was clear, but the rest was a mess. He emailed back, angry now, himself. Wished me a happy life (I could read the gritted teeth between the lines) and... of course I caved. I agreed to see him, but he insisted on a phone conversation. I couldn't bear a phone conversation, so we never did get together.

(to be continued...)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

home again, home again... jiggety jig

My wake-up hour for the flight home yesterday was four am, an ungodly hour when bedtime was way past midnight. Our last movie together was Night at the Museum, which the kids insisted I had to see, because it was filmed in New York. Five of us were snuggled on the couch, the four children and me, sharing a huge bowl of popcorn, when the littlest, who was in his big sister's arms, decided he needed popcorn too, and began his eager crawl over arms and laps toward his goal. Nobody stopped him until he was in the bowl, and then only reluctantly. We were all convulsed with laughter as he proceeded to toss popcorn into the air, as well as stuff it into his own little mouth. He is a giggly baby, and his joy is infectious. I realized it was the first time I had relaxed enough to have fun with my grandchildren, rather than watching them have fun with each other. We made a mess, and their mom will be cleaning popcorn out of couch crevasses for months. She didn't seem to mind.

The trip home was relatively easy. Fatigue can either intensify or blur the inconveniences of life, and for me everything was blurred, a blessing. I lay down for a short nap after lunch and woke up at midnight. I looked at the clock (stupidly) and rolled over and went back to sleep. I was tired.

My house-full of sisters was tired as well... not enough hands to make the work light, they had declared today a rest day even before I arrived home. I accepted this blessing too, and am taking the day at a quiet pace.

I am catching up: on my email, on my backyard garden project, on reacquainting myself with the sisters I have missed, but have been out of mind for two weeks. This is my home now, these are my people, and I am glad to be here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

family time... continued

"We call it family time instead of rest and retreat because everyone knows that family time is not necessarily restful."

I understand that comment now, although I didn't when I first heard it. Now I am a few years older, and like my aging mother before me, any disruption in my routine must be handled thoughtfully, with consideration. It used to annoy me when she couldn't get her act together to be spontaneous, when every little exuberant outburst from my two noisy boys would cause her to frown or to shudder, or worse... to correct them and me. She had forgotten what little children are like, just as I have.

She disapproved of the way I allowed them to "run wild", of their lack of table manners, of their grabbing each other's toys. She wanted to take them to a nice restaurant, but not until they could put their napkins in their laps without being told.

I remember all these things as I observe my grandchildren interacting with each other, as I watch my son and daughter-in-law patiently explain (once again) to the three-year-old that no... he may not change his shirt for the fourth time this morning. He wails at the top of his lungs in frustration. I shudder.... and frown. I have forgotten what little children are like.

Monday, June 04, 2007

family time

We have two kinds of vacation at our convent: "rest and retreat" and "family time". I rise early at my son's house. It is the only quiet time here.

When I visit I am never prepared for the decibel levels: loud, louder and loud with explosions. They rise and fall like dictatorships. I am also never prepared for the passionate affection of this beautiful family. I am in awe of my daughter-in-law's equanimity, my son's generosity... but I am already exhausted. How do I explain that to either myself or to them?

We watch TV a lot here. I never (get to) watch TV in the convent, so it is always a novelty for a day or two. Mostly movies, because there is really nothing much on TV... although I did watch several episodes of Top Chef yesterday.

My son and I bond over movies. He has already seen them all and I have seen none, so he chooses. Yesterday we watched The Guardian, and parts of Oceans Eleven, Ultraviolet, Sahara... something else... it's a blur. The kids built a tent out of blankets in the office area (where I am now) and it's still there. I've carefully removed one of the walls to sit at the computer. They also filled the baby pool and splashed around for awhile. Their energy is limitless. (Well not quite... they are still asleep.)

The baby is beautiful. He's still at the age where he's happy with anyone holding him so I am enjoying the unconditional love that only a one-year-old can bestow. Each child is delightful, each in his/her own particular way.

I am inadequate at expressing my enjoyment of their spontaneous antics and outbursts, mostly because of the accompanying shrill screams and loud crashes... I cannot decipher them, everything moves too quickly for me. Are they hurt? Angry? Just screaming for the sheer joy of making noise? I can hear them upstairs now... the Kracken has awoken...

Friday, June 01, 2007

Back to Earth...

It's always strange for me to post from someone else's computer. Like using someone else's bathroom, nothing is exactly where it is in my own space. But flexibility and innovation and making do with what you have are all admirable qualities I (sometimes possess and) always long for. So here I am once again, at someone else's keyboard.

The three of us who were at Kanuga left early yesterday to get "home", back to the waiting obligations of job, family and the funeral. Because of Adelaide's incoming grandchildren I've been relocated to another house, until I shift gears once again to meet my son and his family for the rest of the week. That will be later today, when we can hook up after the reception.

I did not travel in habit this trip. I had not expected to need it for a vacation in the mountains and later (maybe) at the beach. I packed capri pants and tee shirts, one linen dress for dinner out, (when we will celebrate Mother's Day and everyone else's birthdays,) but no habit. I had not planned for a funeral.

My sisters back home had to gather all the pieces and ship them to me FedEx. I opened the box last night to sort everything out, iron the wrinkles, and discovered one piece was missing... the one thing I had not mentioned in my email to explain where everything was in my cell. Oops.

It's not a noticeable article of attire like the cross or the scapular... it's a piece of plastic that slides into the little white cap to which the veil attaches, and it holds the top of the cap in a stiff arc at the top of my head. Without it the whole thing flops and looks stupid. This morning we got out some cardboard and I went to work. I've inserted that stiff plastic thing enough times that I knew by memory the approximate shape and size I should cut out, but the plastic bends and snaps back easily and cardboard folds and creases. Oops. After a couple of failed attempts I got it to slide in without too much crumpling. It ain't perfect, but if nobody pats me on the head, it will do.

"Make do with what you have or do without" my grandmother used to say. So in an hour we will celebrate the life of a particular grandmother, not mine, but one who was herself the epitome of frugality and making do. I hope she likes my hat.