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Started Things

When I was four, I started piano lessons, then took them on and off until about junior high. In grade school, I started baseball, and when I was stuck in the outfield along with receiving a minor hit from the ball, I quit. I applied and was accepted to a program for a degree in Russian language, but didn’t start one class. In my study, I probably have around 20 notebooks and journals that are started, but not full. I won’t try to count the number of stories and poems I’ve started but haven’t finished. It’s just depressing.

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Today’s blank journal page. It has a date; does that count?

But for all the starts and stops, I have completed things. I completed a Bachelor’s degree. I completed trips to Russia, Ireland, and Canada. I completed two sessions (thus far) as a Hogwarts professor at my church. (Yeah, I’m proud of that. Professor Regina Owlwit at your service.) I published twice to my college’s literary journal. I have won a contest or two with my writing. Sure as the sun rises, I am going to finish this iced coffee sitting so comfortingly next to my computer.

Too often I become discouraged at the incomplete things lying around in my brain, those limp, soggy scraps that slowly rot under dim, greasy lighting. Those fragments of the Russian language that I rarely practice, those notes on the mandolin, those two chords on the guitar, and that volleyball overhand serve I never learned completely. Other things block the growth toward completion. Mental illness, physical illness, a job we need to take for the money, big life events such as getting married (I raise my hand. While I don’t at all regret getting married, it was a distraction from many things.) Distractions of all varieties surround us, whether positive or negative. Perhaps some things are not meant to reach completion. Perhaps some things are impossible to complete by nature, perhaps some things are continuous. And as a former perfectionist, I can say that completing some things just to complete them is not worth the anxiety and stress.

Why do we allow our worth to be defined by our list of accomplishments or lack of completions? Aren’t these “things” just lessons? We are eternal beings; what does it matter if you don’t complete that big project because you had a melt down trying to perfectly complete all the other projects in your planner? Granted, started things give our lives drive and passion. For those of us with depression, they can be windows to a more enriched life. But started things do not define us. Perhaps that started thing that ended was a lesson in itself; perhaps it was not for you.

Started things cannot heal you. They may draw you out of your cave, but they are not an end. If we rely on started things alone to complete and heal us, they will not be completed, but instead become those limp, soggy scraps in our brains. And we’re likely to crawl back into the cave with that dim, greasy lighting.

Started things are not a waste of time or entirely lost to time. We can start again. We can pick up where we left off, even though we may need to backtrack a little. And it’s okay if you try and try and try and it is never completed. Perhaps that started thing is meant only to be started. Do your best. Your Higher Power will do the rest.

Happy Monday!

 

Of a Wedding, Honeymoon, Married Life and Such

Reader, I married him.

If you understand how excited I am to use that line from one of my favorite novels, thank you. Let’s chat.:)

Anyway, yes, I indeed married him: my true love, who I met in a coffee house. It was not an  occasion without emotional challenges, however. The Thursday before the wedding, my grandmother’s funeral was held. Her passing and her body’s burial all occurred in the week before the wedding, while I grappled with a new way of knowing her. I can no longer see her physical smile, except in photographs of print and of my mind, or hear her chuckle except in memory. I will no longer taste the baked and cooked workings of her hands. But her spirit is with my spirit, and she can guide and help more now than she ever could in this realm.

Several weeks before the wedding, my parents visited her and set her up with FaceTime on my dad’s phone. She asked me to wear her pearls, and held up comfy blue socks she was sending so that I would not “make Ray cold with my cold feet.” In the following weeks, I am told she was delusional and violent. I am grateful that I did not see her that way, but that I will remember her kind, gentle face, offering gifts for a day she would not see with those eyes.

My mind that week and wedding day, racked with preparation after preparation and improvisation after improvisation, and joy after mourning after joy, was aswarm. Following the ceremony, I inwardly despaired at one more picture, one more pose, one more moment on my feet. But I cooperated with our photographer because she was doing such a good job and I knew we would appreciate those photos later. Then a haunting thought cascaded into my exhausted mind: I had made the wrong decision. I forced smiles. I began to become inwardly panicked and despairing. I revealed my thought to one of my close friends in the wedding party. He gave words that would have reassured me had I not been trapped in a net of compressed, panicky exhaustion. Finally, I couldn’t be around anyone a moment longer. However, I included my husband and didn’t allow myself to fight alone.

I took Ray by the hand and led him to the camp office, where it was dark and offset by our wedding garb, and sobbed before him. I confessed my anxiety that I had made the wrong decision, but he comforted and assured me. Repeatedly I stated how exhausted I was and that I missed Gammy. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or entertain our loving guests, but just sleep for two days. But I did step back into the reception and converse and eat and dance. We did. And slowly I began to enjoy it too. And I slowly recognized that I had made the right decision, that this man now my spouse would support me with all the love he has been given, as he has always before. The thought that haunted me during the bustle was false.

The wedding day passed. Ray and I enjoyed a quiet and intimate stay that night and the following morning at a hotel designed like a castle. We imperfectly and partially made love. We enjoyed breakfast on our private balcony with sparkling grape juice in toasting flutes. We departed a few days later for Ireland, where we hiked over bogs, photographed sheep, laid on cliffsides, met many hospitable Irish people who offered us tea, coffee, and sweets, and we struggled to navigate on the left side of the roads, sometimes with little or no GPS signal. We imperfectly made love again, but this time totally, and I shared finally with him what I had shared with no one else. I felt loss, but not for long. It was nothing like my fantasies, but it was ours.

In the loss of the past several weeks, I have gained a loving, compassionate spouse who I am growing more grateful for all the time. With hope, I share more with him and grow closer to him as we grow together like two vines weaving toward the Light.

 

Waking Up

I’ve been working at the camp again, so I’ve been waking up around seven every morning (with some snoozes), and I’ve been feeling great sticking to the schedule of going to bed at 11 p.m. and waking at 7 a.m. (or thereabout). However, today the staff was off, and my sleep schedule was too. I went to bed around midnight, as I willingly waited for Ray to get home and for us to have our phone call. I woke at seven, took my temperature for tracking my fertility, then went to sleep until around ten.

Up and moving at local coffee shop now, I’ve told myself multiple times that it’s okay that I slept in. I was experiencing some sick symptoms this weekend, and although I’m feeling better, the sleep is likely helpful. What if I hadn’t been experiencing those symptoms? Would I have still slept in? Would it still have been okay? It didn’t feel okay. Icky feelings that caused me to think less of myself were present.

This morning of low self-esteem followed my late night of fears. With around 20 days remaining before the wedding, I’ve had fearful dreams and waking fears of Ray loosing interest in me, leaving me, abandoning me. I expressed these to him last night, and he was reassuring with solid facts, such as the fact he had spent all weekend with me, and promises that he is “in this for good.” The residue of fear and self-esteem weakened by fears doesn’t wash away so quickly.

So what can I do? Write it down, like I am here. I can ask that the fear be removed and for my attention to be directed toward what my Higher Power would have me be. This fear prayer directed me to call Ray last night, and I received reassurance and love. If I continue this prayer, hopefully the residue of fear will wash away.

I pray I will continue to wake up to the life that is real. The real life that is mine. This world of shadows and monsters is the dream drawing me from the world of light and love. These two worlds blur next to each other, competing for my attention. Darkness creates the blurry space with blaring sirens of thought. The light is the gentle and still voice shining. I want to wake up to that gentle song of love to my real life. I am about to be married, and light has composed this union about to be orchestrated. The dissonance of fear cannot put the instruments and music inside me back to sleep.

When Being Helped Hurts

On the second day of my period, when I’m cramping and have an unusual headache, I’m being helped by strangers and a few friends at nearly every stop. I sip my light roast, purchased by a barista friend who noticed that I wasn’t feeling the best. In line at Chipotle, I was given a little extra chicken by the server after I asked how much extra was and turned down that option. During my taxes preparation appointment today, I was given a discount of around $70 after I stared, I’m sure, wide-eyed and frightened, at the invoice on the screen.

Why do these acts by generous others hurt me? My first answers are pride, shame, and self-pity. But I don’t think the answer is so clear or negative. Maybe I’m hurting with the weight of compassion and unconditional love. Maybe I’m overwhelmed by the complexity and rarity of these. The news stations swarm with hatred and cold violence. Corporations and corporate medical care are squeezing their fists with what money you could choke out. And there’s always that one person that slams into your shoulder or cuts you off in traffic that shades your thoughts with negativity and judgments about humanity for the remainder of the day.

Days like these, in which I notice multiple acts of kindness, are rare. Is it my perception, frequently controlled by negative thought? Is unconditional love a rarity? Is it something I have yet to understand, though I can rattle off a definition?

I wanted to tip my barista friends, but all I had in hard cash was 35 cents in mostly pennies. With slight embarrassment, I clanged my change into the hard plastic tip cup. But I feel a little better to have given what I could. I usually feel guilty when I can’t give back or that I can’t give more. It’s as if I want to out-give the person that just gave so seemingly freely and calmly to me. That’s part of my misunderstanding, that this is a competition. Sometimes, when I give to others first, and they want to give back, I manipulate until they can’t give back, not giving them time or space to give also. This is another misconception, another competitive attitude. It is as if I have created the Compassion Hunger Games, hoarding and stealing compassion for myself until I emerge the only victor. Thankfully, I don’t see many playing my games. Perhaps that metaphor is hyperbolic, but I can “kill” someone else’s joy of giving if I don’t allow them to give. And I do feel guilt for not giving enough. Yeah, yeah, what is enough?

In any case, I’m hurting with the throes of unconditional love and compassion, and I hardly know what to do with myself. Who is this Higher Power that I’ve heard is the heart of the selfless, perpetual spirit of love? And what am I supposed to do with such a force of love as this?

 

Nearly

Nearly every morning I grumble at myself for sleeping over eight hours, usually around nine to eleven hours. Nearly every morning, no matter what time I set my alarm for, the snooze is pressed repeatedly for at least an hour. Nearly every afternoon, I lay upon the couch for a nap I try to set for no more than an hour. I usually nap for two to three hours. I set a schedule in my planner for tasks to do the next day nearly every night, but by the time I awake the next day, I don’t have enough time to complete all the tasks for that day without scurrying myself into anxiety (which typically prompts more naps).

I am powerless over sleep. I am powerless over my growing apathy. I am powerless over my fears. I have little sense of my Higher Power, and that, along with my various forms of powerlessness, is frightening. If I could control myself in these areas of my life, hell, I wouldn’t be writing this. I wouldn’t be afraid. I would be the image of perfection, seeming perfection, that I created in my mind, and my mind would be my powerful ally with which I could conquer all obstacles. However, the mind is so small and finite, and so narrow and weak, prey to itself. Granted, the brain can do wonderful things for society. Without brains we wouldn’t be sending rockets to Mars, making music with strings, reeds, and wood, or sipping lattes in light-filled buildings with cold or hot air blowing on demand.

But the brain is different from (although perhaps sometimes connected with) “the mind” in my understanding. The brain is the logic center that helps us create, engineer, and maintain structure. But our existence is more than the “the mind” and the brain. It takes spirit. Spirit is what drives us to our highest peak. Spirit gives us life to insert into our creativity, our accomplishments, and our relationships. Spirit is the will to live until death and that Spirit takes us to another level of living. Spirit is the energy.

What is this ethereal, nebulous Spirit that I hear is everywhere and only feel in brief moments? I seek and I sometimes barely find. I grasp and the water expels from my hands. Energy, life, comes to me in spurts, and after it has blown back into the ether, I am left seeking again with wounds still trickling.

Perhaps I should accept that I have a limited amount of energy each day, an amount that seems less than a lot of others’, including my future husband’s. Perhaps I am not a failure, but different. If I were just different, wouldn’t I have the spirit to live those waking hours? Perhaps it is just acceptance that I need, acceptance of what is now, that the Spirit is not fleeting, but here waiting. Perhaps I need to abandon “the mind” and surrender to the Spirit. Oh. But that is beyond my power.

Struggling for New Year Hopes

Today has not been a day of hope for me, and the hopelessness I feel from it clouds my new year. I awoke around 11:45 this morning, much later than I had expected. The past weeks have been filled with similar mornings. When I arose from the bed, I felt unbalanced, staggering from a strange, disturbed equilibrium, as if waking from a severe hangover. I had not a drop of alcohol last night. I carefully decended the stairs to find Ray, and when I did, I slowly began to cry. The depression made me weepy for awhile after.

Although we had an unexpectedly pleasant time with Ray’s former sister-in-law at lunch, and a good supper with my parents, brother, and his girlfriend, anxiety has within the last hour been pressing in. Tomorrow, Ray’s license for his business expires, and he has not yet achieved the education requirements to renew it. So all the jobs I have scheduled for him this January could be cancelled if Ray’s former business partner does not sign off on the job reports generated by Ray. He reminded me that in less than two hours, the invalidation will be in effect. 

I’m scared for us. My job is with his business. If he can’t do jobs, I can’t do my job. Where will our money come from? I’m so disappointed in him, especially since he’s had years to complete his education requirements. I love him, and will stay, but it is difficult to look at the upcoming joys of our marriage, honeymoon, and going back to college, especially since these will cost money. Thousands. 

I have to believe we will get through fine, but with an emphasis on fresh new starts on the day to come, it’s difficult to imagine a good start to this year. 

May you have more hope than I tonight, friends. Peace and joy.

A Christmas Bloodletting

Christmas is considered a time of peace, joy, and giving. I don’t frequently hear of Christmas as a time of purging. Ray and I gave blood to the American Red Cross on Christmas Eve, and what was at once a gesture of giving to those in need, was also a spiritual lesson and release for me.

I had only once successfully given blood before this Christmas Eve. Usually my iron count is too low by a few tenths. This time, it was five tenths over the lowest required. Instead of just under 12.5, it was exactly 13.0. I rejoiced in this small triumph; not only could I give blood, but apparently, my daily iron supplement and healthy(ish) diet had brought my body out of anemia.

Excitedly, I hopped onto the table where I was to give blood. I watched the nurse rub iodine rapidly over my inner elbow for a minute or two, then watched as the wide needle pierced my skin and hot blood rushed in the tube draped over my arm. (I watch the needle, because I dislike the surprising prick and want to know exactly when it’s going in.) The feeling of that warm life-force rushing to help another was satisfying.

However, as I lay propped up, I felt a sense of warning and an urge to lie down. My nurse had left for somewhere else, but another nurse was close by, her side turned. I asked to be laid down, and she saw my face and hurried into action. Later, when she told me the color had returned to my lips, I knew I was visibly ill initially. I was laid down and waves of nausea began to ebb and flow. A black garbage bag, already hooked to the table, was opened and held for me. My hands began to tingle painfully and stiffen my fingers into immovable claws. Cold cloths were laid upon my forehead, neck, and stomach. I was instructed to plug one side of my nostril and breath deeply, to keep my legs moving, and to not close my eyes.

As my body slowly relaxed and my blood continued to flow into the bag, the nurse who rushed to help me continued my care, instructing me to meditate, and to think about who I was helping. I attempted this while continuing to move my legs and rub my hands together. I realized that if I did not breathe, I would not get better, and that I had to let go, not only of my blood, but of my wellbeing to those caring for me: the nurses and my Higher Power.

The procedure was completed after a time immeasurable to me. My blood filled the bag and it was packaged up, and the needle removed from my arm. I gratefully accepted the apple juice and fruit gummies given to me, and rose, movement by slow movement, from the table. Ray, finished giving blood also, came to my side with his snack of cookies, and helped me to stand. We both felt refreshed as we left the hospital. He remarked that this was probably why, in older days, bloodlettings were used to heal people of diseases and impurities. The body seems to heal itself when refreshed in this way, at least temporarily.

Refreshed too, was my spirit. Not only did my body feel lighter. I was grateful I could give the gift of life to someone at Christmastime. Additionally, my spirit had come to a brief place of surrender. It was a purging I had not experienced at Christmas before, a physical and spiritual release, a giving up that brought peace and joy.

A Beloved Question

What better Ohio outdoor excursion than a hike through Old Man’s Cave in Hocking Hills? My recent trip there, on October 24, 2015, was better than any could be.

Ray and I hiked up and down the open cavern that is Old Man’s Cave, pressing our hands against rock carved by erosion and man. We admired tiered ledges where thin streams of water fell into shallow, leaf-littered pools. And while climbing a hill with stone steps placed for countless travelers, we stopped before a wide, antiquarian pine.

I was drawn to her first. I placed my hands on her bark and felt the love of thousands of grandmothers, and it felt like she was loving me like a grandmother I had known and loved all my life. I thought I heard her say to me, “You belong here.”

“Please help me.”

“I will.”

And taking the sacred energy, I began to climb the hill again.

Ray stopped by the tree, and I turned and said with peaceful conviction, “Touch her trunk.” He did, and stayed so, meditatively. He then turned to me and said,

“I want us to be married the next time we’re here.”

I agreed passively, as we had talked of marriage many times before, saying, “Sure.”

“No,” he said, serious. “I want us to be married.”

He drew himself to his knees on the steps, and revealed a white box that illuminated with a bright light from within the ring made for me. I had not seen the final product, but I was only distracted by it for a split second. My eyes swiftly returned to him while a multitude of emotional waves washed all over me and I was giggling in spurts, my hands to my mouth, and my body bending almost uncontrollably (thankfully, there was a stone wall). The moment began to settle into the atmosphere, and at last I could speak. “A thousand yeses,” I said, then bent quickly to kiss him.

Full of love, we have thanked our Creator, the God of our understandings, and Grandmother Pine. I am sure all the loving spirits were encouraging us on. Ray told me later that, while his hand were on the trunk of Grandmother Pine, he asked the Universe if it was behind him. He said he heard, “We always have been.”

Prospects

I’ve received an email reminding me that, like every year, preparation for another mission trip to Russia is beginning. I sip from my coffee mug printed with photos of landmarks from Kursk, with the seal of the district bannered with three flying nightingales, which may not be nightingales depending on who you ask, and I think of taking another trip. I first saw Russia’s birches and pines in 2011, my first mission trip, my first time leaving the country, and one of my first plane rides (definitely the longest to this day). Since that two-week trip, I’ve held on to a hope that I will return to Russia, albeit that hope is small now. I also hold a small hope that I will attend a spiritual semester at the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Richard Rohr. Another hope, perhaps larger: I will attend graduate school in Fall 2016.

All these hopes cost money, and money troubles make hope difficult. I know in my spiritual heart that money is no object in the spiritual world, that it can all be provided to me through some unseen, powerful mist, but my logical mind lacks the experience that proves this power. Yes, I’ve been provided for in the past innumerable times, and yes, I did go to Russia before. But so often I give all my hope to something I believe will happen, and the hope crumbles when the only thing to come to pass is my imagination.

Which brings me to wonder if I hope for the “right” things. Should I be selective? My brother and I sent out several letters a few years ago, asking for support for the both of us to go to Russia, asking also for funds to give to the children the mission benefitted. We received not one response. Apparently, it was “not meant to be.” But if we had been more aggressive, more pro-active, would the result have differed?

It is not enough to only hope. And sometimes, it is not enough to try, even our hardest. So, what do I hope for? What do I try for? I’m seeking guidance from my Higher Power to pursue the prospects fitting for me, those that will help me learn and grow and shine. I have little idea what they are.

Twenty Four Hours

Playing on and off and on in my mind are the lyrics from Switchfoot’s song “Twenty Four”, because in the past twenty four hours, my life has been not what I thought it was, and the Spirit is taking me up in arms, flying my soul to new horizons, albeit tumultuously.

Last night, I was wide awake while Ray slept. I decided to open Sonia Choquette’s book The Power of Your Spirit, which I’ve been working through slowly, as I do with most spiritual books. She asks questions in each section thus far, prompting the reader to write the responses in his/her journal. The set of questions I answered last night triggered an earthquake in me. The earthquake climaxed in a heavy conversation with Ray, after I gently woke him. I never expected, when I lay next to him to wake him, that I would, in an hour or two be toppled into a mound of tears. I didn’t intend to start any heartfelt conversation.

The confessions were real and honest. I told him that I feel I can’t express myself freely all the time, especially when my ideas conflict with his. We both have noticed, we confessed, that we haven’t been as close. He so beautifully acknowledged my inherent need to create. I rocked the boat and told him I couldn’t go out on the jobs with him today, because I needed that time to create, to do what I am designed to do. So, I’m here still, writing.

I woke this morning after that strange night, weepy and uncertain. No decisions have been made about my relationship with Ray, but I have decided that I must follow my Spirit, and Ray encouraged this. I love him to death, and never want to leave him. I also must be me. I await to see the new normal for us. Through a conversation with one of my closest friends, I’ve decided not to help as much with his business; I may be spending a few hours per week in the office and working on reports, but not out in the field with him. I want to get back to our friendship, as it seems like business and other mundane talk have been our primary communications lately. I want to continue discovering me and my Spirit, while rediscovering us.

“Life is not what I thought it was twenty four hours ago. Still, I’m singing, Spirit take me up in arms with You. I’m not who I thought I was twenty four hours ago. Still, I’m singing, Spirit take me up in arms with You.”