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.”

Project UROK

At this upbeat and vibrant site, you’ll find videos of celebrities such as Wil Wheaton and Mara Wilson, as well as non-celebrities, describing their mental illness and offering encouragement. The project is aimed toward teens and young adults, but the material is relatable to all.

http://projecturok.org

Accepting Them as They Come

Before beginning some reports at the library, I decided to have lunch at the Women’s Park close by. It is a small grove of various plants, monogrammed bricks, statues, and a small stream leading to a small lily pond. I noticed a woman next to the lily pond, rocking with folded hands and legs before a bench. I wondered briefly which religion she follows, but began toward the bridge. Just before stepping on the stone bridge with iron rails, she snagged me with, “Do you need a blessing?”

“Sure,” I said, thinking I could always appreciate one, regardless of religion. She began rambling about salvation and God’s love, while handing me a small pamphlet that proclaimed freedom from addiction, depression, etc., and showed a cross, labeled “truth”, breaking a chain. She asked if I needed prayer and what was afflicting me. I shrugged and shook my head twice. So, we just prayed, meaning she did all the talking. Honestly, despite agreeing to a prayer, I tuned out her words.

After the prayer, she finished (and I thought she never would) with words of love, despite not knowing my name. I thanked her for spreading it. She gave God all the credit. I finally reached my lunch spot across the stream, and she called out, “Are you hungry?”

“No, thanks. I have food,” I replied.

It was then that I appreciated her beliefs. She was living the true message of her religion: love. She spoke so many words, many about love, but that one action of offering, ready to feed me if I was hungry and needed food, was real love.

I watched her sporadically while nibbling; she continued her rocking, but while on the bench, and reading what looked like two Bibles. I skimmed the pamphlet for a moment. On one panel, it showed leader of the freedom from addictions group in two pictures. The first showed him will long hair, a scruffy mustache, and a frown. The second showed him with a short, manicured comb-over, in a suit and tie, and smiling. The first caption: “Before Christ”. The second: “In Christ”. So people with long hair can’t be “in Christ”? They have to fit the mold of white, middle-class male?

As I said, it was her single action of offering food, not her numerous words, that brought me a light-ray of love. I realized that I had acted, without thinking, on the Emotions Anonymous “Just for Today” passage, part of which says, “Just for today, I will try to adjust myself to what is and not force everything to adjust to my desires. I will accept my family, my friends, my business, my circumstances as they come.” And so, she came. And so did She, my Higher Power.

Dishonored

I suppose I have yet to learn that best friendships are not always forever. In other words, it was a complete shock that the woman I have considered one of my best friends, a sister, for several years has defrocked me from my maid-of-honor position at her wedding. I am no longer even in the wedding party. However, I am still invited, she says, and claims she wants me there.

Her claimed reasoning is that we have grown apart. She says she can feel tension when we’re spending time together, and in retrospect, I’ve felt a few twinges of awkwardness, but always dismissed it as my own head being insecure and anxious. But until the beginning of this week, I have still considered her one of my closest friends. I had purchased my bridesmaid dress with money I didn’t have, and was prepared to join in to make her bridal shower and wedding as wonderful as possible.

I will take up her offer to pay for the dress, but I am still working through a time of mourning. I have lost what I thought I had. Immediately after ending our phone call, which I ended before I said something regrettable, I called my sponsor. She advised that I write out resentment inventory about my friend and her newer friend (who will likely be my replacement), say the resentment prayer, and then tell Ray. My Higher Power guided me to do just that. As I wrote the inventory, I was physically hot with anger, but after I finished with the prayer, I mellowed, and fell into a peaceful, albeit semi-melancholy, mood. I called Ray upstairs and reviewed the event with him, and he comforted me.

Though peace has come, I still mourn, and that is okay. Thankfully, I had a therapy session the next day already planned, and my therapist help to further iron my thoughts out. Nevertheless, I began to question all my relationships. Who would dishonor me next? How many would drop me? I called another friend, who I wanted to be sure was still one of my closest friends, and he reassured me, adding a suggestion that I take care of myself by staying linked with my Higher Power, first.

Today, I am comforted by and grateful for the relationships I have been given. I cherish them more. I’ve now seen more of this lesson of gratitude. Friends can slip away like sunlight slipping behind the clouds, then the storm comes, but new friends emerge with fresh light. So be present with the ones you presently have, and be grateful even if you have been given one friend. I remember that we must lose, suffer, so that we may gain more from life.

Guilty of Blessings

Who am I to be given grace to the point I am overwhelmed? I share a home with my future husband, who is most compassionate, understanding, and patient with me and my struggle with depression. We have all the food we need, and are able to buy plants that I have been using to create an outdoor sanctuary on our property in the city. I have books and a coffee maker, an iPhone and a MacBook. I now have my own car, which I bought without a co-signer. My college debt is substantial, but not unmanageable.

All this, and I don’t have a steady job. I’ve been doing small, odd jobs such as mowing my dad’s church’s lawn and subbing in for Ray’s note-taker. But all is provided for me, and all works out. Yet, in days like today, I cry from guilt, while feeling upset that I don’t have a job and/or a sense of purpose, and go back to sleep until after noon. I fear I don’t give Ray enough, that I’m taking too much from him. I don’t know what to do with myself or how to give back. I don’t think it’s possible to give back “enough”. But…that’s grace.

Grace torments me. It’s such a beautiful, tremendous thing, but it currently torments me. I know Love has given me gifts to help the world, spread the good juju. After 24 years of searching, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I still don’t know what to do with myself, or how who I am and what I can do can help others.

And even as I’ve been composing this entry in my former caffeine and sugar infused place of employment, my Higher Power brought in my first boss, now mending from cancer and diabetes. Her coffee shop is now closed, having bottomed out after five years of business. Regardless, she just told me how good God is to her. Both of our Higher Powers are providing us with what we need. She looks frail now, with teeth missing, bony, skin-grafted legs, and a cane, but her perspective is brighter than mine. I see it in her face and feel her gratitude.

Perhaps my inhibition is not not knowing how I can help others, but actually the inhibition of doing the how and not making enough money to live on. Well. What a silly human I am. I have what I need to live right now, for today. Where is my trust in the Universe that I will be given all I need? Perhaps I am guilty of not using my gifts because I am guilty of fear. I am guilty of fearing grace.

Earth Day Farewell

Today Ray’s calico cat, Sissy, will rejoin the earth. After years of frequent, on-and-off digestive and anxiety issues, which I have seen only in the past year, she will be laid to rest. Ray dropped me off at Starbucks, despite me wanting to be present for the vet appointment. His ex-wife will be there, since she knew Sissy for years, and my presence would be more anxiety-provoking than comforting, he said, especially since I haven’t met her yet. It was difficult for me to accept this at first, cultivating hateful thoughts toward the ex-wife, including fantasies of our own “cat fight”, and me taking her down like a badass Cat Woman figure. But I am now tranquilly sitting with Sulawesi blend in hand.

I made my amends to Sissy, and that is enough. It has not been easy for me to love her; her anxious darting around and away, her runny bowels squirting on the hardwood floors and carpet, and the scent of her urine when walking into a room made me irritable inside. I would try to let go of cruel thoughts, trying to approach the situation with compassion, and even when I had thought I had moved on from the resentment, it returned frequently.

This morning, she came to us in bed, and we pet her together. She rarely stays to let us pet her; she knew what was coming today. The inspiration to amend came last night, and in light of that, I said to her, “We love you, Sissy.” Quietly, Ray and I cleaned the attic dust from the pet carrier, and I waited while he lovingly retrieved her. She made noises I’d never heard before, even one he had never heard. As I was dropped off, I said to her, “Peaceful travels. Tell God I say ‘Hi’,” and again, “I love you.” The tears receded before I went in to sit here and write.

I will miss her.

But I have a current theory that the “dark energy” in the universe, which is so enigmatic to scientists, is actually the stuff of spirit–animals, plants, humans, other beings. I’m wondering if our spirits, before and after death, are what’s spinning the galaxies and expanding the universe. I hope to join the celestial beings when my body is returned to Earth. May Sissy rejoin them today. We are the “stuff of stars” after all.