Lighting the Path… .

Ever since Christmas the words keep coming to me, “Arise, and shine for your light has come.” I have been thinking of that phrase, even as I see and hear things on the news, where there seems to be so much darkness… except for maybe one short story at the end of the broadcast, which I guess is meant to somehow raise us out of the dismal “darkness” in the world, so much of what is reported is without light, hope, and joy.
“Has it ALWAYS been that way?”, I wonder, or has the world gotten exceedingly darker the older I get. I have been through, what mystics call “the dark night of the soul”, when there seemed to be no light around. Darkness surrounded my mind and heart, and even though my faith had taught me otherwise, I could not FEEL the light… I even began to question whether all that stuff I had been taught and believed, meant anything at all. “Would I ever see a glimmer of light again, and feel the warmth of light? Would I ever find my way back to the lighted path again?”
By the grace of a Power much greater than I, and because of some persons who brought their own light to share with me, I somehow finally found my way back. While some persons questioned my FAITH, or lack thereof, others were willing to sit with me in the darkness until I could see a flicker up ahead.
So many years later, I can still vividly remember that darkness, and the void that I felt then… but, I can also see how that flicker began to grow into a small flame, and eventually one that was big enough for me to share with another who sat in the darkness.
There is so much of life that is mystery, and so often we find ourselves on a path that seems to be going nowhere… the darkness seems to surround us and envelope us, until we see no way out… it is a scary and Frightening place to be… the only way that I can make any sense of my experience is that it gave me an awareness AND a way of sensing when another is in that place.
When I was charged with having an ANNUAL Memorial Service for all those who had died in the past year at the retirement community where I was Chaplain, I was told that it was always conducted on “Good Friday”… I never really understood, as a child, why they called it “Good Friday”, and I had a hard time at first thinking how this could be a comforting service for the families and friends who had lost a loved one… it was then that I came face to face, and recognized that the darkness of death was really only a pathway to the Light.
I was able to preach that these persons that we were remembering had passed through THEIR “Good Friday”, and were now rejoicing in the Eternal Light.
Every morning, just before dawn, when I see the sky begin the slow journey to light, I try to remember that I have the opportunity to be a light in some small way to another…I may not be able to overcome what sometimes feels like the immense darkness in the world, but hopefully I can shine a flicker of light that will join with other lights, slowly spreading and growing brighter.
Today, the Hispanic people have a special pastry called, “Rosa de Reyes”, which is a source of reverence and delight that is translated as “Ring of Kings”. The celebration surrounds the arrival of the 3 Wise Men who followed the Star to honor the newborn King. A miniature baby Jesus is placed inside each Rosa and signifies the flight of the Holy Family from the massacre at the hands of King Herod.
Today, I will share in this new tradition, and remember that I too must follow the Light… and maybe, just maybe, I will light the way for another…

A Different, but the Same Christmas…

Spending Christmas in South Texas is a very different experience for us… 80 degree sunshine, palm trees, and meeting new people has all been a bit overwhelming at times. Not being with our sons and their families has been another difference as we have ALWAYS been with them, but this year it was just back to the two of us!

There were also great similarities here, and one important one was the fact that we found a wonderful Church community that seems to be very much like St. Michael’s… it is small, but very welcoming, with a young priest who went to seminary with Mary Vano of St. Margaret’s in Little Rock. They are very much geared towards outreach within the community, and on Sunday Fr. Rod announced that the pile of gifts that were under the tree would be delivered to the “COLONIA” about 15 miles from Mission.

My first question was, “What is a COLONIA”, and it was described at a small community or “neighborhood” of mostly Hispanic families, some citizens but also some undocumented, who bought small pieces of land together, and began building their “Casas–Homes”. Because of so little money after purchasing the land, most started out as simple shacks, which are added too, as they get more money. Because these COLONIAS are outside any city limits, even though they pay taxes, etc., most have NO infrastructure like water, sewer, paved roads, that are generally provided. Over 500,000 people are living in these COLONIAS close to the border, and they people work 2 and 3 jobs just to survive. The median income in these COLONIAS is $7000 to $10,000 a year for a family…

This church sponsors 6 families every year from this COLONIA, and they provide help in food, necessities, etc. throughout the year… this includes holidays and celebrations and they participate in these together as a way of helping these people. There is great need there, and 2 Sisters run a Service Center called “Proyecto Desarrollo Humano” in Penitas, TX.

I was able to go along with a group that Sunday afternoon, to deliver the gifts and food, as well as being accompanied by a Motorcycle Santa Claus and his 6 Reindeers on Motorcycles in the caravan. It was an amazing experience of sharing with these people who are SO GRATEFUL for whatever comes, and in talking with one of the Sisters, “their devout faith that God will provide always amazes us!”

Watching these 5 families with about 20 children was a very holy and humbling experience…these are not criminals or “bad people”, but only people who are trying to make a better life here for themselves and their children. THIS is the story that should be told on the news, instead of the fear-based accounts of the “illegals”. The children were so excited and happy, and went around thanking everyone and giving hugs all around.

So while there is so much talk and threats about building a wall, this is the “human side” of what is happening to these people who are trying to make a new life for themselves and their children. There is much need for help here, and hopefully I can find a way to contribute… I am thankful for seeing this DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS!

Tradition…

One of my favorite places to go when I was growing up was ” Melody Fair” which was a tent-like theater. In the summer months, they would bring plays, concerts, etc., and one of my favorites was when my mother took me to see the stage play, “Fiddler on the Roof”. My favorite song was “TRADITION”!

I grew up thinking that TRADITION was everything… this was VERY important to carry on the old traditions that I grew up with… these were Polish traditions which had Ben passed down from the old county of Poland. I believed that it was imperative that these traditional acts be carried out explicitly….

Once we moved away from Buffalo, and moved to Ohio (our first Air Force assignment) , it then became “my job” to carry on these traditions as I had grown up with. This meant the Christmas Eve dinner of cream of mushroom soup, fish, no meat, etc. There was always the wafer bread called “Holy bread—oplatki”, and each person took the piece from their plate and went around the table wished no everyone there a Merry Christmas, EVEN IF THEY WERE NOT SPEAKING AT THE TIME,

There was always Midnight Mass, but before that we got to open a few gifts. Then, on Christmas morning, we would open the rest of our presents, including those from Santa Claus! We would then make the rounds to our grandparents, although, because of difficult circumstances, we never got to stay and be with our aunts, uncles, and cousins, so we went home to play with our new toys, etc.

There were also traditions at Eastertime, when we made a basket containing all the food that we would eat for breakfast on Easter morning after church, there were also Polish religious traditions that we tried to pass on to our sons., but as they have grown up and have their own families, it has become harder to carry all of these traditions onward!

A “TRADITION ” really means 2 things: First of all, it is something that is delivered or handed down; but it ALSO means ‘to surrender or give up’… the usefulness of a tradition is to promote love, unity, and compassionate connection, and if it doesn’t do that, it is just another burden that can, and should, be released as not necessary. I have to admit that I have not understood that second part, and have spent many years getting very stressed trying to carry on all of these traditions, almost forcing them upon my family, whether they REALLY found them meaningful or not.

One of the big problems, especially when. Children have a spouse or significant other, there comes TWO sets of traditions, and neither one of them can be done completely… then what happens is that EVERYONE becomes stressed in trying to include all of the traditions… it becomes very hard if the couple cannot compromise to include some of each. It puts unreasonable pressure on families and also keeps them from making THEIR OWN traditions!

This year will be VERY DIFFERENT,, as we will not be wit( either of our sons for Christmas… making the choice to go south for the winter, was a hard decision for me because it brought up feelings of guilt and shame that I would not be doing all the traditions as usual…giving myself, AND everyone else to. Have their own traditions is really OK…

A good question I have had to answer for myself is, “Is this tradition life giving and promoting love, initiatives, and compassionate connection”. What traditions do I want to continue and which ones can I let go of without feeling guilty? Perhaps this is a good question for ALL of US….

Letting go….

It seems to me that the biggest message or theme for me, for the year 2018, has been LET GO…perhaps it is just where I am in this life, or maybe this is a lesson that I have failed to learn, and so it has been presenting itself in all kinds of ways… with things that have held a place of importance, in places that have had memories attached to them, and probably the hardest of all, letting go of people.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in a few months, Kenneth and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary… it was amazing at how many things we still had from our wedding shower… a broken first ornament, a pot that only had half of the handles, our first blender that was missing many important parts. There were old scissors, clips, and rollers from my first career as a hairdresser, which ended in 1997; there was the yellowed lingerie that I wore on my honeymoon, and a potholder that was half-burned that my grandmother had crocheted for me years ago.

These are really NOT the kind of momentous that one keeps as heirlooms to pass down, and it struck me as rather odd that I would have held onto these things that should have been replaced (or maybe they had ALREADY been replaced). There was really no sentimental reason for this, other than that it had just moved with in the MANY moves through the years, and NOW, at THIS particular time, I was finally ready to ReALLY declutter and get rid of things that were long overdue to find their way to the trash.

It is much easier to get rid of those things that have little significance other than they are just old… the harder things came next. The. ones that have a memory attached to them… the little baggy of rice from our wedding, the dried up corsage from my prom; it was as if I had to spend some time with the memory until I was ready to let go of these. The silly bear that Kenneth gave me one Christmas after I had said that I never remembered having my own teddy bear; the Christening outfit that my mother had made from her wedding gown, which I didn’t use when I had my boys because “they should be dressed as boys”. How silly was I, not to say that it was ok for them to wear my Christening outfit!

I have listened to many older persons through the years explain how they have had to let go of, and get rid of, things that were special to them… some put names on the backs of articles or pieces of furniture that they wanted a particular person to have. I remember one woman who said that she loved to go to her daughter’s home for holidays because she would get to see her beautiful dining room set, with her precious china and silverware. I have realized that it is much better for ME to decide where things would go, than for all of it ending up in an estate sale, with Strangers pouring over all this, and wondering ‘why would somebody keep all this stuff.

It seems to me that perhaps life is all a continual process of letting go… sometimes relief accompanies that letting go, as though we are released from a tethering to the past. But, for other things it can be painful because the person, object, or place feels as if they are being ripped from us. This perhaps is the realization that, as we age from day to day, we are inching our way to that FINAL letting go of LIFE. Itself.

It is always hard to loosen our grips… whether it is a loved one or of a valued momento, … I heard a long time ago that “if you love something, set it free… if it returns, you are blessed and if it does not, it wasn’t meant for you”…

Sometimes it is necessary to open our hands and let go to make room for something new. Sometimes, I think it just comes to me that it is TIME TO LET GO…

Surrounded by a cloud of witnesses…

One of the main reason we included the long ride to Buffalo, NY (where Ken and I both were born and raised) was so that I could see my Dad,s gravestone, which had been placed about 3 months ago. He had dies over 2 years ago, but because of circumstances, it had not been ordered and placed beforehand. For ME, this was very important as I guess I am old-school about visiting cemeteries, so it gave me a sense of peace and completion to actually SEE it.

Many cultures have different beliefs and rituals regarding honoring the dead… the Native Americans have a deeply held connection with their “spirit ancestors”… the Hispanic people have a “Day of the Dead”, where families gather at the graves of loved ones, and they build beautiful “altars” with candles, pictures, and flowers… it is a time of family celebration.

Others have what they call “Decoration Day”, where everyone comes to place flowers, and gather together. Often they have potlucks together and reminisce… then there is “All Souls Day” which is the day after Halloween. It is a day when we look back and remember those persons who have gone before us, and our Christian belief is that we, AND THEM, are part of the Communion of Saints.

Sometime. I forget that we are all together in this thing called a Communion of Saints, even though I have often heard that “the veil between is very thin”. I often forget to seek guidance from those who have gone before me, or recognize that I am being guided by these persons who lived, and dealt with struggles in life, but it is there all the same.

This is the time when leaves are losing their beauty as their colorful leaves fall to the earth, and it may seem that “LIFE” is ending, and yet, underground, there is a miracle happening which will bring forth new life… we may miss the brightness and color, just as we miss those persons who brought so much to our lives, and yet, I believe that the hope that comes with new life also gives me hope that I can, and will, find the answers and guidance I need to live my life forward, walking in the footsteps that were made by my teachers.

On this dreary, rainy, cold and damp day, I realize that there is something more than this… others have lived through tough times before, and with faith and hope, and most of all love, I will also get through, and MAYBE, hopefully, I will be a witness to those who come after me…

Who are YOUR witnesses that can show YOU the way forward?

Looking back…

We just crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas…after almost 4 months of traveling, and writing, I realized this morning that my one regret is that I didn’t take pictures of all the interesting people we have met along the way. We have met some very interesting people, from many different places, different ages, different backgrounds, different places in life. From the Native American farmer, to the Hispanic woman selling jewelry, to the African American waitress in Nebraska who had her son with her at work… the Asian man who proudly spoke of his mother’s recipes that he uses in his restaurant, and the couple who have been traveling for 13 months on the road because he was given a cancer diagnosis of only 3 months to live. There is “Sunshine”, a hippie-looking woman who is traveling alone with her little dog, and the woman in Questa, NM who has a shop called “Spirit led” because she wants to curb the drug epidemic in her community…

Each of these persons, though different in many ways, all have a common bond in that they are living their lives in the best way they can, finding purpose and joy despite all of the “BAD NEWS” that is seen and heard in the news. Each, in their own way, is making the most of life, and many of them believing in hope for the future. Each with their individual stories, but with a history that moves them forward along this thing called LIFE… Most of these people voiced a belief that gratitude for each day, even though life, for them, may be a struggle.

So, what is the lesson for me?

For one thing, I have learned to SLOW DOWN, and also to be AWARE… without a particular schedule or deadline, I have become more accustomed to taking things as they come… to be FLEXIBLE. As we head to Little Rock, I wonder if I will fall back into the “calendar-watching” and time constraints. This experience has further opened my eyes to the beauty that is around me IF I take the time to notice.

I will continue to write, to reflect, and hopefully learn…

Time is a Circle…the end is the beginning

Yesterday, we passed a place on Hwy 81 where we had cut off on our way to Buffalo and the Thousand Islands… it reminded me of when we used to play board games with our sons and now our grandchildren. We would place our Piece on the Start line, with the plan to get around the board, as quickly as possible, and reach the end before any of the other players. I also remember that there would be many stops and obstacles along the way… there would be choices we had to make, in which direction we should go, what to acquire at each stopping place, and how the aim was to keep movng forward, although there would be places along the way when we had to go backward.

Where one person starts on the point in the circle is really not critical, it is what you find along the way that either helps or hinders you. Our trip to Buffalo was out of the way, butmy distinct wish to see my father’s gravestoone, which had finally been put in place after almost 2 years, was MY destination. My husband’s wish was to see relatives still there, and reconnect with the place we both grew up. As we accomplished those visits, some surprises occured, some good and some dissapointing, but we left with a sense of having done what we wanted to do.

And so, here we are, on the final leg of THIS TRIP, and I am reflecting on all that has happened during this 4 months…we have seen MANY wonderful places… we have seen MANY people that we wanted to see, we have met MANY interesting people along the way. We have adjusted to this new way of life, and have learned some things that work well, but also things that need to be changed. I am reminded that, as we travel and learn, we eventually return to the place we began, and hopefully we are a little bit different than when we began.

In the “Lion King”, there is a song that tells about the “Circle of Life”… how everything comes to be, how everything grows, and how everything eventually moves toward the end of life, only to be reborn and start the process all over again. We are each traveling on the CIRCLE, perhaps not in a physical way like we have been doing, but it can be an emotional or spiritual CIRCLE… what lies before us is unknown, what we have experienced is food for thought, and where we are RIGHT NOW is to be lived, appreciated, and acknowleged.

What is YOUR CIRCLE???

Being Happy…

Happiness is something that we all search for and long for in our daily lives… it is that feeling that all is right with the world AND US. In a world that seems to be more polarized and divided every day by viewpoints, by class, by intentions, etc., sometimes it is very difficult to actually BE HAPPY. I am reminded of a song years ago that was pretty simple… “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”… it sounded a bit corny, and yet as I look back today, I see the wisdom in that little song.

Over the past few months of traveling, I have had to work on and develop a new idea of being happy. For a long time, I thought that “being happy” meant accomplishing a goal… making something happen, it was much more about DOING than BEING. These past few months, I have had virtually little expectations of things to do, and it has taken me awhile to realize that getting off the roller coaster of DOING requires patience, acceptance, and being comfortable with the fact that, at the end of the day, I did not have to have a list of things “accomplished”, as much as recognizing the gifts along the way.

I have come to understand that it is within our power to be happy every single day, but that it takes practice and understanding. It is how I SEE the world, and the people around me, and I have the power within me to change my perception. The old adage of “the glass half empty vs. the glass half full” has always been a good analogy. It is not up to me to make anyone else happy… that is THEIR JOB, but if I have done the work on myself TO Be HAPPY, than I may have something to share with another.

Now, there ARE times when it is more difficult to “act as if” I am happy, but I have also come to understand that CONTENTMENT is another way of being happy. Being content with what is, and not always looking for the next best thing can go a long way. During our travels, we have met some very interesting people along the way. There are people who are traveling for work, and some even take their families with them… one family we met was a husband and wife traveling with their 3 kids and 2 LArGe dogs, all in a travel trailer . As we talked one night, thy told about how the husband must travel with his job, and after being separated most of the time, they decided that it would be better for everyone to travel and be together, wherever his job took him. The wife homeschooled the 2 older children, with her one year old in tow, and their “lessons” very often were experiences along the way.

Another gentleman and his wife have beent traveling for about 10 years… he is forgetful, and has some dementia, but his wife told me that he is much better when they move around together… it may not be easier, but he enjoys the changing scenery, and talking with other people. He fell in love with our dog, and graciously offered to walk Lovey for us every morning… this gave him a sense of being productive, and gave us a break, so all were happy.

Last night, our last night in the Thoiusand Islands, we built a BIG fire in the 45 degree weather, and sat there just being content and watching (and being warmed) by the fire. Some of our best conversations take place by the fire, and it also is an inviatation for the other people to come over and chat. It is almost like we used to do “in the olden days” when we sat outside , on the front porch, and visited with neighbors. It is a way of connection with persons that otherwise we would miss along the way.

There are MANY WAYS to practice being HAPPY and CONTENTED, but there are times when it may not be easy… when things go wrong, like the water pump failing, or gpong down the WRONG ROAD, but it has been our experience that there is always someone who appears and offeres the help we need to overcome the problem. Though there have been limited times where we have attended CHURCH, we have experienced CHURCH in many other ways, and though I miss my Church Community, my circle has widened, as I have expanded my circle of people whom I may never see again, but for that brief time, we created COMMUNITY.

So, being open to the “coincidences”, the little things, and the persons aroubd us can be a chace for us not only to BE HAPPY but also to SEE HAPPINESS, IF we are willing to look…

Compassion and Hearing Another’s Pain…

I grew up feeling RESPONSIBLE… it started out with little things, but as I got older, things and experiences got bigger and more complicated, but I continued to feel RESPONSIBLE and told myself that I should be able to make things better… if I couldn’t somehow make it better, then it became MY FAILURE.

Bearing that kind of philosophy was a tremendous burden, one that was unrealistic at best, and always left me feeling angry at myself… it was MY JOB to make things right, which was only a set up for me to feel badly about myself, and I never gave myself a break.

It has taken me MANY years and much practice to come to the understanding that it is not MY JOB to make everyone happy, and it still takes daily practice of reminding myself that this is an impossible thing to achieve… sometimes, no matter how much one tries, it is NEVER ENOUGH…

In my vocation as Chaplain, I had to come to the realization that the main thing I could offer was a PRESENCE… I could sit with, listen to, and offer support and compassion to another, but the rest was in Gods hands. I managed to master that pretty well in my work and ministry, but when it came to family, I was still trying to “make things right”.

Everyday I must recite that “I am powerless over MANY persons, things, etc.,.. I must believe that there is a Power, greater than myself, and then I must trust and surrender to the will of God, who is much more knowledgeable and capable of working things out.

So, do I ALWAYS do this? I do say those words, but I still fall back into the pattern of thinking I can do this… this is a gross disservice to me, because then I am taking over something that is NOT mine to handle…

I am slowly learning that I can hear the pain of others and have compassion, but I also need to give compassion and presence to myself…

Sympathetic Understanding….

As I look back on my life, I think that one of the biggest things that has gotten me in trouble has been my reaction response, I guess we all, to a certain degree, have a defensive side that rises up when we feel that we are being misjudged or misunderstood. Perhaps it is part of the “fight or flight response” that we all are born with, but I have to the insight that there may be another, middle-ground, response that I KNOW I have overlooked in the past.

According to a sociologist named Weber, “sympathetic understanding is when an person takes on the role or view of others, not to say it is right or wrong or justify it, but to understand it. This involves looking at the person’s motives, attempting to discern what these are, that is, how the individual perceives objects, others, or even situations, and considers these,and then acts in response. In other words, it is sympathetic, not necessarily agreeing with what is said or done, but putting oneself in the place of the other.

This seems to be something that is seriously lacking in our society, but also in our individual lives as well. There seems to be very little attempt to LISTEN today because everyone wants to give THEIR interpretation, instead of really trying to understand another person’s viewpoint. We all want to BE RIGHT, so our primary action is to argue to get OUR opinion across.

The Native American saying of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” really brings this home… is there merit in really listening to another person tell their truth, whether we necessarily agree with them or not? Is it worthwhile for me to HEAR the feelings that go along with the words, so that I allow the person to express that, without immediately preparing my defense. That will prove them wrong?

We all have a desire to be heard… it may not change the other person’s mind, but at least we will have the satisfaction that we were HEARD, and sometimes that is all that is needed. When I am willing to sit in silence with another and LISTEN, then I can show that I am at least trying to understand, and that can be powerful in itself.