Two Became One

Paula and GregThis afternoon my friends Greg and Paula got married. Greg grinned ear to ear as he took his place by the altar in his top hat and tails. The music swelled, doors opened, and Paula—a vision in white—glided down the aisle to meet him. I cried as soon as I saw her. Brides always make me cry, but Paula was especially beautiful today. She glowed from the inside out.

Theirs is a story of redemption, patience, perseverance and faith. I was blessed to witness the transformation as they took their vows, and the two individuals became one couple before our eyes. The ceremony was based on the Australian Anglican Prayer Book, and was both familiar yet different. The unique flowing prose captured the essence of Greg and Paula’s faith and individual styles, and friends and family celebrated with them through the readings and prayers.

A fabulous vegan feast filled the reception hall with the most beautiful spread of mouth watering dips, rolls, salads, fruits and veggie trays I’ve ever seen. The tables were draped in purple with relish trays, artichoke spinach dip, hummus and pita bread artfully arranged amongst the flowers. Big band music played in the background as guests feasted and toasted the newlyweds.

Today was a special day, and a wonderful reminder of the importance of my own marriage vows. After twenty-eight years, it’s easy to slip into taking my husband for granted because I get so caught up in everyday life. I love him, and need to tell him more often how much I appreciate all that he does, for us, for our daughter, and for our friends. The daily grind causes me to lose focus sometimes on the essentials of healthy relationships. It’s the little things I say and do each day that make a difference.

So hats off to you, Greg and Paula! Have a relaxing honeymoon getaway and enjoy this new beginning together.

Thank you for the reminder that when two become one, life doesn’t have to be faced alone.

Advertisements

Redeeming Roberta

HeartsI was part of a women’s group in the 1990’s called Heart to Heart. A couple of friends and I wanted to provide a place for the women in our large church to get to know each other, so we got together and came up with a unique format that focused on relationship more than teaching. We met once a week, and for forty minutes one woman would share her life story. The rest of the evening would include fellowship, and a small amount of teaching or Bible study, but the main focus was to build relationships.

Week after week, I’d listen to women share deeply about the reality of their lives, and was amazed at the amount of pain, trauma, illness, and disappointments that colored each of their stories. A number of them were women I thought I knew, our children played together, and yet when they shared I was astounded. I learned that nobody gets a free ride. There’s no such thing as an easy life. Every one of them had personal struggles they wrestled with on a daily basis. I wasn’t the only one.

As one of the leaders of the group, I wanted everyone that came to feel welcomed. During the fellowship part of the evening when we had coffee, tea and snacks, I milled around and engaged shy women in conversation. Roberta, however, needed no prompting to talk. In fact, it was hard to have any kind of conversation with her at all because she talked nonstop. The women she cornered would be polite and listen for awhile, but once their eyes glazed over, I’d run interference and get Roberta’s attention diverted to me. After a few weeks Roberta just latched onto me directly, chatting away as she followed me around the room each Wednesday night. She had no clue that others found her tirade of information disconcerting.

I complained to my husband about Roberta and how challenging she was in a group setting. Unfortunately, while he sympathized, he also had become good friends with her husband and wanted us to have dinner with them. At that point I realized I needed to at least try to like her. My tendency was to not pay much attention to what she was saying because I was too focused on how annoyed I felt having to listen to her. In order to be friends, I had to change my attitude. So I gave up any expectation that she would change, got curious about what drove her, and decided to just love her for who she was.

Over the next few years we saw quite a bit of each other. My daughter was in between Roberta’s two children’s ages, so the kids enjoyed being together. Our husbands became very good friends, and unbelievably, so did we. Once I truly listened to what Roberta said, I realized she was a fount of practical wisdom. She had a sweet countenance that was often overrun by a hyperactive intelligence. But once she felt acknowledged, she could relax and really listen to others with compassion; and her advice was often warranted and useful. If I had a question about anything, I would call Roberta. It was like having a private secretary in pre-internet days. She would research and get back to me in no time with all kinds of information and solutions. I actually enjoyed listening to her prattle on over the phone while I cleaned house, or cooked dinner.

Roberta was my lesson in not judging others. Now when someone I have to interact with bugs me, instead of being annoyed, I become curious. What makes them act that way, and why does their behavior bother me so much? Sometimes I’m the problem, not them. But the most wonderful lesson I learned with Roberta was the power of acceptance. When people feel accepted for who they are they relax and often annoying behaviors fall away.

When Roberta and her husband eventually moved to Florida, I really missed her. She was a true and loyal friend, and I found my days a little boring without her.

There’s very little unconditional love in this world. If we truly knew the reality of other’s daily struggles for health, for acceptance, for freedom from fear, loneliness, or financial pressures—I believe we would all be better friends. And if not friends, than at least compassionate listeners instead of self-righteous judges.

So next time someone’s behavior bugs you—get curious and be compassionate. A little unconditional love goes a long way. Besides, who knows what they’re thinking about you!

 

 

Morning Pages

“Creativity is like crabgrass—it springs back with the simplest bit of care.” Julia Cameron

cropped-perseverance1.jpgSharing with a fellow writer one evening, I found myself talking about a simple writing technique that boosts creative flow, and brings clarity to one’s life—Morning Pages. Anyone familiar with Julia Cameron or The Artist’s Way will understand the term, but Morning Pages are just that: three pages of longhand writing done first thing in the morning. However, unlike journaling or creative writing that involve thought and recollection, these pages are simply stream of consciousness brain dump. Period. Julia refers to them as “brain drain”. We are not talking about art or technically even writing, but simple meanderings of thought that flow from the mind through the pen and onto the page.

The point is to place the pen on the paper and don’t stop writing until three pages are full. Write whatever comes to mind, even if it’s “This is stupid, I have nothing to write about, my curtains need washing, the dogs need to go outside…I hope today isn’t as bad as yesterday…” You just keep writing regardless of what’s being put down on the paper.

Once you allow yourself the freedom to simply express your thoughts without criticizing or analyzing them, interesting things happen. The Morning Pages become a friend you can confide in, a place to vent anger and frustration without guilt, to philosophize freely about life without censorship. All the whiny, petty stuff you write down in the morning is exactly what stands between you and your ability to be creative throughout the day. So get it down on paper and leave it there.

Morning Pages are meant to be a tool of creative recovery. They silence the internal critic that often drives and defeats us. They are not meant to be read, especially for the first couple months you use them. And you have to write them every morning, no excuses. How you feel doesn’t matter, crawl out of bed and write. The discipline pays off.

The purpose of Morning Pages is to get us to the other side of fear, negativity, and excuses: to teach our logic brain to stand aside and let the artist within play. They provide a pathway to a clear sense of self, and map out our own interior. As Julia says, “It is very difficult to complain about a situation morning after morning, month after month, without being moved to constructive action. The pages lead us out of despair and into undreamed-of solutions.”

I have played with Morning Pages off and on for over ten years. They work. But only when I am using them. Which I haven’t been lately. And I can tell that I need them again, especially now with this blog challenge.

After ten days of illness, I’m finally starting to feel better but still not good enough to re-engage fully with daily life and work. Yesterday, I spent half the day pondering boredom and what it meant—because I’m SO BORED with being sick. One can only read, watch TV and play with puppies so much.

So imagine my surprise, in writing this blog today, to find the answer to my question. On page 18 in The Artist’s Way, Julia writes:

“Boredom is just “What’s the use?” in disguise. And “What’s the use?” is fear, and fear means you are secretly in despair. So put your fears on the page. Put anything on the page. Put three pages of it on the page.”

Translation: Write Morning Pages.

So, if you are bored, if you are stuck, if you want to reach new levels of creative flow—I highly recommend giving Morning Pages a shot. And if you want more ideas about unblocking creative flow, pick up the latest edition of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.

I’m putting my laptop down now and grabbing a pen and three pages of paper….

Sorry, I’m Sick

My husband is mad at me.

I came down with bacterial bronchitis last week, a nasty bout of lung crud that has kept me in bed for the last four days. Because I went to the doctor on Friday and got antibiotics I figured scheduling work the following Tuesday and Wednesday would be no problem.

Big problem.

It’s Sunday night, and I’m still flat on my back. I cough and my lungs rattle like I’ve been a chain smoker all my life. Colds never settle in my lungs, my sinuses excel in that department; so what’s up with this horrible malaise?

I made it past all the holiday colds and flus when people were dropping all around me; but one day in Disneyland and now I’m toast. Ugh.

So tomorrow morning I eat humble pie and call my trusted clients and explain nicely that, oops, I’m still sick, sorry for the short notice but please find someone else.

My husband is happy now that I’ve acquiesced to his request to cancel all work until I’m better, but I’m a little stir crazy being housebound with no end in sight. However, the dogs love being on the couch with me all day, they think I’m one of them now.

There will be a happy ending to this story once my immune systems returns from vacation. Until then I’m dozing, drinking plenty of fluids, and dreaming of returning to work. And if anyone calls to book jobs this week I’ll be a good wife and just say, “Sorry, I’m sick.”

Copywriting, Cows & Country Music

cowsWhen I moved to Ashland, Oregon in my early twenties, I needed a job right away. As I perused the employment section of the local paper, an ad jumped off the page with its bold heading: Copywriter Wanted. A local radio station needed someone to write ad copy. No experience was necessary, but along with a resume they wanted a sample thirty second commercial. I’d worked in newspaper advertising, but had no idea how to write a radio spot. Still, I thought it would be a fun challenge and had nothing to lose by applying.

I was surprised when they called for an interview, but even more shocked to find that the country music station was located in the middle of a cow pasture, about three miles out of town. While I wasn’t too certain about the country music, I thought the setting was a hoot. I don’t remember much about the interview, other than I didn’t do well. Nevertheless, they like me and I was hired the following week.

What started as a fun idea turned into the most fulfilling job of my life. As the copywriter I interfaced between the sales staff that sold air time and the disc jockeys who recorded the commercials I wrote. Often there was very little turn around time between the sale and getting the commercial on the air, so I had to be creative and quick. I wrote, directed and produced thirty and sixty second commercials for a variety of clients: tires, lingerie, ski equipment, shoes, etc. What I enjoyed even more than writing the commercials was producing them. I picked out the music, sound effects and who recorded each spot; and because all the disc jockeys were male, I voiced the female parts. The job didn’t pay much, but it certainly was fun.

Working in the middle of a cow pasture had benefits too. Every spring we watched new calves romp over the field, and aside from the occasional lowing of the cows it was a quiet and peaceful setting.

I didn’t care much for country music when I started, but one of the side effects of listening to it forty hours a week is that I came to have a great appreciation for it. The lyrics, the upbeat tempos, the rich harmonies. One of the speakers that monitored the station was right above my desk, so there was no escape from the music apart from when I was in the recording studio. Some of the lyrics are still lodged in my brain thirty-five years later:

These brown eyes that adored you

They’re already red

I see a black cloud forming

Just above my head

I’m turning green with jealousy

To think of her and you

You’re not even out the door

And I’m already blue.

Circumstances took me back to California a few years later, but that job taught me never to be afraid to try something new. And though familiarity often breeds contempt, listening to country music had the opposite effect. Date night these days means Buck Owens Crystal Palace and kicking up my heels. Yee Haw!

Emancipation

Bella laid broad swaths of forest green and azure onto the canvas, brandishing the paintbrush like a sword. Life was too short to paint within the lines. She’d rather push boundaries than fade into the background.

“Learn the rules before you break them,” the art professor frowned and pointed at Bella. “Or what could be art becomes chaos.” Other girls twittered and continued their boring strokes.

“One month, I’m free,” Bella fumed.

Rules, shoulds and oughts cocooned her final days at finishing school. Unending lessons bored into unreceptive brains. Bella rebelled against familial expectations. Her constricted soul yearned for the color of life outside these walls. Yet bound by a conscience never asked for, she determined to complete their requirements.

Graduation day dawned gray and turbulent as a freak thunderstorm threatened to dampen spirits. But Bella’s joy at matriculation to the real world knew no bounds. The long awaited day signaled an end to her captivity, and she cared not the means.

Dressed in her finest blue green gown, she slid slender arms into cloud like gloves that embraced her elbows in soft silk. Long auburn tresses were woven with fresh flowers into soft hills and valleys that enhanced already stunning beauty.

The bell rang.

Bella moved gracefully to join others making the journey that day. Her heart leapt as the sun outside broke through the gloom and lit marble tiles before them.

The bell rang.

A faint nudge on her shoulder caused Bella’s head to turn and she caught sight of a rainbow just out of reach. It calmed her excited mind and drew her into a reverie…

The bell rang.

Someone was shaking her.

“Time for bed.”

Awareness like a straight jacket bound her thoughts as the rainbow morphed into dull gray walls and exposed her surroundings. Stark halls, strong odors, thoughtless helpers.

“To your room now.” The aide unlocked the wheelchair and pushed Bella past paintings of forest green and azure, back into reality.

“One more month,” Bella sighed, “Perhaps only one month more…”

Lenten Disciplines

The Joy of Less is More

I just returned from my own private Mardi Gras on the coast celebrating twenty-eight years of marriage with my beloved husband.  For three days good food and fine wine warmed our spirits and filled our bellies. Fabulous as the short getaway was, our thoughts and hearts turned toward Lent as we headed home.

As Jack told me about the Lenten series he was working on, I pondered my own preparation for the season. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday—a feast day of overindulgence—precedes Ash Wednesday which begins the forty days of Lent. Having duly honored the feasting, I was ready for a little self discipline in the food and wine department.

Everyone usually asks what I’m giving up for Lent. I’d rather focus on what ILent gain. Lent is a time to draw near to God, to remember that my sojourn here is not forever. Through the discipline of mortal appetites I become more in tune with spiritual realities, and am more available to God.

As I draw near to God, a supernatural peace pervades every area of my life and makes the chaotic journey bearable and more joyful. Where overindulgence deadens my senses and turns me into a couch potato, austerity heightens an awareness of purpose, love for others and a desire to participate more fully in life.

The principle ‘less is more’ is fully realized in Lent. When I choose to spend time reading and writing instead of indulging in my addictions to Downton Abbey, et. al., my life becomes more fruitful and creativity blossoms. When I say no to chocolate, alcohol and caffeine, my body reboots and I get a natural high from exercise. I like the fruit of self-discipline even though the enforcement of it is often unpleasant at the beginning.

Lent is a reminder that my future is not bound to this earth with it’s pleasure and pain—that I have an eternity ahead of me that does not include suffering or evil—and that there is more to life than just pleasing my senses. I am exhorted to persevere and do whatever I can right now to love, serve and encourage others on this journey.

From dust I came, and to dust I will return—what matters now is how I live my life, honor God, and love others. For me the season of Lent is a season of joy—a reminder of the reality of life without distraction—a time to acknowledge the struggle and surrender to God. Lenten disciplines allow me to celebrate life with a clear head, energized body and purified soul. What’s not to like?

Happy Lent everyone.