Honoring the Holy Spaces Among Us

Honoring the Holy Spaces Among Us

I have just come away from a 4-day writing retreat called “Wild With Words.” It was an inspiring, at times frightening, introspective, rollicking, revealing, holy time for me.

There were 12 of us in the room most of the time. At one point I counted 14. We came from all walks of life –a young mother of a nine-year-old and a nineteen-month-old; a director of church music; several female clergypersons; a corrections officer at a women’s prison; a woman whose husband recently suffered a stroke; a businesswoman seeking direction for the next chapter of her life; a retired engineer; a former executive at a Methodist agency who transplanted herself from New York to Nashville; a retired teacher; a 40ish man who confided he’d gained a lot from attending a Twelve-Steps program; and me, a wannabe writer who lets her editor hat take over too often.

What a week. Our able, sensitive leader (Martha Brunell) was full of ideas for writing prompts, clever ways of getting us to think about all sorts of subjects (mostly it was the luck of the draw from cards, slips of paper, sticky-note hearts,  Snapple caps), and encouragement for us to follow wherever our pens took us and to write in this safe space. The cardinal rule was that we would honor each person’s voice and refrain from analyzing or critiquing each other’s work. I have participated in a similar workshop led by my friend Amy Lyles Wilson, whose motto is that it is the sharing of our stories that saves us. Indeed.

I’ve got to tell you that I think this week may have saved my life and rejuvenated me for the writing I do every day in my marketing job. It was also quite therapeutic, as I ventured into some memories and confronted sometimes painful territory that I didn’t realize I was carrying around with me.

In the midst of it all was the holy spaces I felt touching each other. We came out of our solitude and shared parts of who we really are. The result was a sense of community among us, and I’m excited that the workshop/retreat participants who live in Nashville are planning to continue our journey of discovery together. Who knows what adventures that may bring!

I am grateful for some time away from my daily routine, for my employer allowing me this much-needed space, for my supportive spouse who didn’t complain about spending time alone at breakfast and dinner and who welcomed me with open arms when I came dragging home, exhausted, around 8:30-9:00 p.m. Now if I can just get rid of this damned insomnia…but meanwhile I’m surrendering to it and using it as an opportunity to get my thoughts on paper.

I wish for all of you times to get away from the daily grind, whether it is at a retreat or just a walk in nature. We all need time and space to recalibrate ourselves, get in touch with what really matters to us, and live our lives from that holy space. Oh, and along the way, we just might encounter other kindred spirits who are also trying to figure out their purpose in this journey called life.

In closing, I share one of my favorite quotes from Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing 
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.” 
 Rumi, Essential Rumi

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Perfection Is Overrated

For years I have been hesitant to hold any social gatherings at my house, thinking it’s such a wreck and so small that it doesn’t lend itself to an easy flow for traffic. Our former house, a bungalow near Centennial Park, was set up perfectly for parties, and we did quite a few (mostly kids’ birthday parties after we had children, but there was a day when we invited Sunday school classes over to our house for dinner parties, etc.). Our living room and dining room were huge; the rest of the house, not so much.

When we moved to our current house in 2004, I was drawn in by the wood paneling in the kitchen (takes me back to younger days), captivated by the arch between our living room and the dining room, loved the red flocked wallpaper look of the dining room (which we have never used as a dining room but as a multipurpose room…at one point it became our guest bedroom, so we blocked the arch with the china hutch…I never liked it that way, but it provided a little privacy for anyone unlucky enough to stay overnight at our house. We had a full house then with both our children at home and no guest bedroom. The guest bedroom morphed into John’s office for a couple of years, then back into a guest bedroom.)

This weekend we moved our china hutch back into its proper place in the dining room. We have a little bit of work to do in the dining room to make it look more like a dining room rather than just a room with random furniture placed about. I think the arch from the living room to that room will make us pay attention to the looks of the dining room, and eventually we’ll get it where we want it.

We had a game night on Sunday (it being a holiday weekend) and invited 3 couples over. One couple couldn’t come due to wanting to watch 2 football games. That turned out to be just as well, as our kitchen table seats only 6 comfortably.

Here are some signs that I am letting go of much of my perfectionism:

* I decided to take a chance and invite people to our house, knowing that it wouldn’t be quite like I wanted it to be, but realizing that if we didn’t start stepping out in courage and inviting people over, we would miss many opportunities for deeper relationships.
* I didn’t think through the menu very well, considering our dishes. I decided that chicken tortilla soup would be a good entree, and I didn’t have a whole lot of time available on Sunday to cook, considering that our choir sang for a 2:00 memorial service, and it was one of those occasions I felt I needed to be part of.
* As John and I scurried about the house, straightening up, dusting, vacuuming, etc., I realized the kitchen floor needed mopping. This was about an hour before guests were due to arrive. So I did a quick swipe of the kitchen floor (as John went around with a broom and worked on sticky spots).
* Our first guests arrived before I had finished setting the table. As I pulled out the dishes, I realized, to my horror, that we had only 5 matching plates but an overabundance of soup bowls. Also not enough matching silverware (we have a conglomeration of my stainless, my mom & dad’s stainless, and some other stainless collected over the years). Oh well, no big deal. Then there came the matter of glassware. We had two crystal glasses in our cabinet and four crystal glasses that almost matched in our china hutch. Again, I figured no big deal. At least they were the same color: clear.
* The first to arrive helped set the table, sort out the most matching silverware (from our dishwasher and the silverware drawer), and generally prepare the layout for our very formal (ha-ha) dinner.
* I realized later in the evening that I had asked one guest to bring an apricot cake, thinking that was her specialty, since I’d bought one at a cake walk at work. Then after conversation I realized that she had never made an apricot cake, and she probably wondered why in the world I asked her to bring one. (This communication took place by e-mail, so she didn’t ask me if she could bring another dessert.) Oh well, that was okay…I also had never made the soup that we served for dinner. It turned out to be a little bland, but it was passable. Guess I should forget about trying new, untested recipes (and adding my own twist) with dinner parties.
* John and I had just a few “words” before the party. He said, “This is why we don’t invite people to our house more often.” To which I replied, “I’m not bent out of shape; I’m just ‘focused’ on what we need to do.” We had our typical exchange of “do this,” both of us trying to be in charge. It was rather comical, in retrospect. After 32 1/2 years we still struggle over who’s the boss when it comes to certain situations. If I’d learn to bite my tongue and say “Yes, dear” (and I have done that on a few occasions lately), there would be less tension. But John also can say those words, even through gritted teeth. Enough about the intricacies of marital communication!
* Despite all the bobbles, I think everyone who came over had a good time. We played the original edition of Trivial Pursuit. I thought I would be on the winning team, joining two women with PhDs. At first we were ahead, getting the first wedge in our playing piece. But alas, the other team got the EASY questions AND luck was on their side. Next time we will get the box with the easy questions!
* I was amused by one guest who borders on OCD. Before we started playing, she wanted to rearrange all the cards in the boxes because they were turned every which way. (I told her she could come over and help me organize our house anytime.) We did get all the cards turned the same way (I guess the random turning of the cards before was just a sign of our family, of which three members have ADD), and life was good. I thought I would burst into laughter watching this same guest when someone on the other team put a wedge in the playing piece upside down (something that has bugged me greatly in the past). I was waiting to see how long it would be before she mentioned it. I think it drove her crazy for about 10 minutes before she finally said something. That was comical!
Now that we have our house somewhat in order (there’s always progress to be made), maybe we’ll start inviting folks over more often. It’s good for people to see how the other half lives…those who don’t have the trendiest furniture, decorations, and just barely manage to keep their heads above water when it comes to having a neat and tidy house. My motto for 2015 is “Never postpone joy.”

Moments That Make Me Smile

During winter days with endless gray, cloudy skies, I struggle to stay positive. Sometimes I think I suffer from seasonal affective disorder, because I can barely abide January and February in Tennessee. I noticed how my spirits lifted yesterday when I went outside in the sunshine around 3:15 p.m. (after being inside for a daylong meeting).

Anyway, to cope with seasonal depression and otherwise down moments, I keep a file of humor and moments that make me smile. I return to this file (one literal, in my desk at work, the other just a collection of memories in my head) again and again to bolster my spirits.

In no particular order, here are some moments that make me smile:

* Two jokes my mother used to tell over and over. “Did you hear about the old woman who peed in the ocean? She said, ‘Every little bit helps.’ ” and “What did the old gray mare do as the farmer was feeding her, when he asked her, ‘How many oats would you like?’ She lifted up her tail and said, ‘A few.’ ”

* Our son, Daniel, when he was very young (maybe 3), responding to John when John told him, “Watch your head” (meaning “Watch out, son, you’re going to hit your head”): “But Daddy, I can’t watch my own head!”

* My dad bringing ice cream out of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant one hot summer’s day to me, at least two cousins, and my mom and aunts. I don’t know why we were outside and he was the only one to carry the ice cream out (maybe my memory is inaccurate), but I remember how the ice cream was running down his arms, and I remember the smile on his face as he struggled to carry all those ice cream cones.

* John bursting into tears at our wedding during the part of the vows that says, “and all my worldly goods” … and my brother-in-law reaching over to pat him on the shoulder.

* Listening to the recording of our wedding and hearing the two officiating ministers hum very loudly on the hymn sung by the congregation: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” They knew the first stanza, but that was all.

* Julie as a toddler, running toward me with her arms outspread and reaching up

* Watching Julie and Daniel jump the waves at the beach

* The photos that John took of our family at Clearwater Beach, FL … and how many of them showed this one older woman’s huge butt

* Driving Daniel and some of his friends down West End Avenue when they were in middle school … and how they rolled down the window and hollered “SPANDEX!” at no one in particular. (This was one of the times I realized how totally goofy middle schoolers are.)

* A sleepover we had when Daniel was in second grade … how we had pizza that night, the boys were sprawled all over our living room floor and making armpit fart noises, and then later the aroma of real farts and how they giggled helplessly

* My cousin Joe getting pulled over by a cop when we were on our way to trombone and clarinet lessons with Mr. & Mrs. Edgar Allen Poe. He was speeding on Center Street in Kingsport…I remember the flashing lights (were they blue or red at that time?) and how tense he was as the policeman talked to him and told him how fast he’d been going. I also remember Joe being teased later by our aunt Reb, “Weren’t you glad when they freed you?”

* Reb trying to help my papaw up the steps into their house (I was a teenager at the time), and how he was fighting her (he was senile) and she got mad at him and said, “Bitch!” I corrected her and said, “No, Reb, the word is bastard!” (We never spoke like that in my family. My mother wouldn’t even let me say “golly” or “gee” when I was growing up.)

* Riding around Jefferson City, TN with my roommate and suite mates in my little gray Chevette…while I was still learning to drive a stick shift. I kept stalling out whenever we’d have to stop at a red light, and it was kind of scary on the hills around Carson-Newman College (now University)

* My aunt Reb and cousin Sue trying to teach me how to drive said Chevette during Christmas holidays

* My dad’s consternation over my lack of knowledge about driving a stick shift AFTER he’d bought the car. (Shouldn’t he have wondered whether something was going on when we test drove the car and I declined to drive?) He drove the car away from the dealership, and we stopped at the Kings-Giant Plaza in Kingsport so I could take the wheel. When we immediately stalled out, he practically hollered, “Anne, I thought you could drive a straight shift!” To which I replied, “And when did you think I would learn?”

* My dear friend Kent letting me drive his brown Capri at Cherokee Dam. This was the first and only time I’d driven a manual transmission, and as I recall, it was a whole lot easier to drive than my Chevette

* My friend Eddie Calcote asking me one day in high school Spanish class, “Anne, I haven’t heard you talk about your grandfather lately. How is he?” To which I replied drily, “Dead!” We both collapsed into laughter.

* The stories I heard at the (then) Baptist Sunday School Board about errors that nearly made it into print. One was in the 3rd-4th grade Sunday school curriculum and was in a story about King Solomon rebuilding the temple. “And all the people bowed before Solomon’s erection.” Oops!

* How an appraisal reader tactfully pointed out that perhaps we didn’t want to use the word “Snafu” in one of our publications. I didn’t know the origin of that word. I laughed out loud when I looked up the dictionary definition.

* My friend Ginny and I laughing about a woman in her 50s (when we were in our 20s) farting when she passed by Ginny’s desk. (I also laugh when I think about the unwritten rule that many women observe: Never admit that you fart, and if you do fart, just ignore it and hope no one will notice.)

* Just this week, a colleague explaining why she keeps geranium fragrance in her office: to cover up the scent of her farts. She said this in front of me and a guy who usually blushes at such revelations. I said, “Andrew, you didn’t even blush.” He replied, “This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this!”

* The time I had to give an impromptu speech in Callies (Calliopean Literary Society, a fancy name for what was really a sorority) about how I’d gotten poison ivy on my ear and side of my face. (From making out with a guy behind the football stadium)

* How hearing the song “There’s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles brings back memories of a drunken night in college. My roommate and suite mates saved the day by coming to rescue me and another girl from what I thought was going to be a big party. When my friends came to fetch us, I was lying on the couch singing at the top of my lungs, “There’s gonna be a heartache tonight!” How true those words were, only it wasn’t a heartache. Never got sicker in my life.

* Our kitty Snowflake cuddling up with me on the couch whenever I had a migraine or was otherwise sick. I called her my angel kitty.

* Flashback to when I was about four years old: my mom and I stopped at what is now Pratt’s Barn (Restaurant?) in Kingsport. There was a grocery store and gas station with a huge Indian statue out front. My mom was getting gas (in the days when someone pumped your gas for you), and I went to satisfy my curiosity, peeping up under the Indian statue’s loin cloth. I said, “Mommy, Mommy, there’s a wasp’s nest up his bumpy!” My mom tried to ignore me, so I got louder and louder… I still remember how embarrassed she was.

* Also when I was about three or four, my dad brought home a doll for me. It was bigger than me. My mom kind of pooh-poohed him for getting such a big doll. I loved that doll fiercely. Her name was Marcella.

* John and me on our first trip to Europe in 1985. On a train from Munich to Florence, we decided to play dumb Americans. (It wasn’t very hard!) We had tried to reserve a sleeping berth on a train, but it was a holiday weekend and all of the overnight compartments were sold out. A kind German family allowed us to stay with them in their compartment. Whew. We made it by the conductor without incident. I remember consulting my German-English dictionary to try to have conversation with them. (John and I “ich spreike kein deutsche” could only understand a few words. They asked us if we had any bambinos. I got tickled when they used an Italian word to communicate with us.)

Oh, there are so many memories. These are a few of the moments that make me smile. Thank God for laughter, life, and the rich experiences with family and friends!

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Those who remember this song are, well, old. I hate to admit that I think I remember the correct title. I cannot remember the lyrics, though.

Just a brief entry today because I’m in a hurry (marketing mode). The answer is, I don’t know. And I don’t mind admitting that, which just goes to show that I am EMBRACING my old age.

Yeah, right. Every now and then I kick and scream. Mostly I kick. Every now and then I say, “Dammit.” And then I wonder where that came from. I try to whisper it most of the time. Every now and then, though…it just feels good to yell that.

Or, as a woman speaking at a women’s luncheon at my church on Sunday said, ‘Yell, HO! HO! HO! Now, laugh!” (big belly laughs) I took joy in yelling “Ho, ho, ho!”, all the while enjoying the double meaning of that word. There is a reason I’m an editor: I have a dirty mind. Somebody’s got to think about these things, or else Christian publishers get embarrassed by printing something awful. (Still, funny errors slip through. I could probably write a post about those.)

Enjoy the day. And say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” while you’re at it, followed by deep belly laughter. You just might smile.

What Makes Me Happy

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,”  Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying. I agree wholeheartedly. While I certainly understand sadness and depression, having spent some time in that desolate territory, I do not wish to pitch my tent and dwell there.

Some days and seasons are hard to live through.  Sometimes you have to recognize when you’re in a situation that’s over your head and you need help. Sometimes you need a listening ear, even perhaps a professional counselor, to sort through all the mess and confusion.

But research has shown that people who focus on happy thoughts and put a smile on their face, even when they’re feeling down, are just happier folks.

Today I’ve been thinking about some things that make me happy. Here are a few, in no particular order:

A child’s laughter

A good belly laugh

Dancing

The aroma of lilacs

Learning something new

Being able to say something in Spanish or French (the latter, I’m not tres bien at…imagine that accent “eggu” over the “e” in “tres”)

Laughing at myself when I do something silly

Doing something silly just for the heck of it

My kitty stretched out on my lap with her paws extended over her head,  in a posture of complete relaxation

The ditties my husband makes up and sings to me in his slightly out-of-tune voice

Seeing my children do something kind for someone

The smell of molasses cookies baking

Cooking

Making a dish for a neighbor or someone who’s sick

Having a conversation with what would be considered an old person

Reading a good book

Reading a trashy novel every once in a while

Getting a letter from a friend

Hearing someone giggle

A thought-provoking quotation

Cartoons (both printed and animated)

Taking a mental health day from work

Puttering around the house

The smell of laundry fresh from the dryer

The feel of folding clothes

Finding mates for socks (the washer usually eats one or two)

Going on a scavenger hunt

Playing volleyball

Taking a walk and stopping to smell a flower or look at a beautiful tree

Good conversations

Meeting interesting people (I gravitate toward musicians and artists)

Trying to figure out what makes people tick (although this is often frustrating)

A beautiful, sunshiny day

Watching snowflakes outside my window

Hiking, especially in autumn

The crunch of leaves as you walk through them

Radnor Lake

Walking on a trail in the woods by myself

Wine with a good friend

Babies after a bath, with their flyaway hair (and hooded towels are just too funny)

Finishing a project and feeling like I’ve given it my best

Drawing, coloring, painting

Enjoying an art show

Reading the Psalms, pondering the Gospels, trying to fathom what in the world the apostle Paul meant by some of his writing

Speaking or writing words of encouragement to lift someone’s spirits

My family having a good discussion around the dinner table

A humble author

Watching TV with our entire family (seldom happens; we don’t have many shows we all like, nor are we all home at the same time)

Seeing positive developments in my children’s lives

Holding hands with John

Hearing Daniel say “I love you” as he signs off the phone

Having lunch with a friend

Watching Julie take pride in keeping her car clean

Laughing together at a joke

E-mail jokes from Jim and Gail

Knowing I’ve listened to someone else and tried to understand that person’s point of view without telling my own story

Singing

Making music on the piano

Finally enjoying singing in Latin at church (it took a while for me to get there)

Watching people in my congregation…especially during baptism and Communion

Hearing our children’s and youth choirs sing

A little Bach, a little Beethoven, some Three Dog Night, Elton John’s early music, The Eagles, Mozart, Norah Jones, Latin music, classical guitar…oh, there is so much good music and great musicians, this is just a mere sampling

These are just a few things that make me happy or bring me joy. There are many more that I can’t think of at the moment. Oh, one joy is knowing I’ve got food in the crockpot for dinner and I won’t have to think about it later in the day when I’m tired. This happens about once in a blue moon. 😀