Monday, May 28, 2012

Our Memorial Day outing

I know you have been seriously deprived of visual aids on my blog for a long, long, time! This is what life looks like on a 17-acre "farm" nearby. By the way, I downloaded these from my iPhone!* (*with technical assistance from Austin.) 

 Andrew, mowing
 Dwaine and Mr. Gregory, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War
 This is the farmland -- tomatoes, okra, beans and peas, corn, and table grapes
Here's the chicken coop

Andrew mowed the yard, Dwaine used the gas weedeater until his back wouldn't let him anymore (we forgot the shoulder strap), and I used a battery-operated weedeater! (Austin, as usual, was working at Sonic.)

There were about 4 freezers full of frozen vacuum-packed fruits and vegetables. We came home with a haul of garden-grown tomatoes, fresh corn, frozen blackberries (from Pullin's), peach jam, and frozen dry black-eyed peas. Yum!

No promises ... but with the Internet working, my technical skills sharpening (ha ha), and with more time on my hands, I may post more pictures here. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.

The "State of my Life" address

Happy Memorial Day! In honor of today, we're going to go do the lawn of a retired veteran who's no longer able to do it himself. Sometime today, after Dwaine returns from a trip to get an oil leak fixed in our newest vehicle, the 2010 Toyota Corolla.

Thanks so much to my son Austin for fixing my wireless on my laptop! Apparently there is a toggle switch on the keyboard, function-F8, of which I was blissfully unaware until it somehow got toggled off and my Internet was down, down, down, down (as Bruce Springsteen would croon). I guess my boy's still useful for something! Otherwise, he is hopelessly in love and completely sidetracked by a new flame. When he's not obsessively texting her or physically with her, he's working (still the greaseboy at Sonic, where she also works). He's pretty much finished with school, although he has to go check in Tuesday - Friday. I don't know how he's going to make it in college, being as obsessed with her as he is at the moment. But a mother's love never fails, never gives up ...

Perhaps you could intuit that it's been a time of high emotional stress for me, lately. Austin's high school graduation is next Friday. I think I've untangled a few of the feelings flying around:

1. Mourning, for the loss of my child forever
2. A really bittersweet feeling about what it means to graduate from high school -- moving on, of never being able to return again to those carefree days of childhood (this is how I felt about my own graduation)
3. Jealousy, because my son is being taken away by another woman!
4. Worry, that my son is going off a cliff with this girlfriend and is going to ruin his life and his future, etc., etc.

Notice the lack of "happy" or "celebratory" feelings, although those do make appearances, too. They were present at the senior recognition services held at our church and at its Hispanic counterpart, El Mesias, the last two Sundays.

Otherwise, that's a potent stew of feelings, there. That would explain why I've had a couple of tossing and turning nights recently. All these dark feelings are mostly a reflection on me, and my personality. That's the realization that has kept me from going completely berserk! I can hold back from projecting them onto my son, when I am at my best. I must thank the contemplative practice for leading me to that grace. I've always had these very deep emotions at my disposal, for good or bad, throughout my entire life. They're practically my best friends now! "Hello darkness, my old friend ..." (Simon & Garfunkel) Actually, I couldn't bear to give up the depths of emotional feeling that God has gifted me with. So there! You're not really living until you are sobbing your eyes out at the grand tragedy of life!

Back to family matters. Dwaine & I are having some battles with Austin now because he's turning 18 and that makes him, in his eyes, "an adult." Ha! Ha! But laughing to his face doesn't really help matters (yeah, learned that the hard way). This, too, is a necessary rite of passage, though it makes the ride bumpy.

His latest wish-demand? To go off to the beach with the girlfriend for a weekend, which we've previously forbidden. The only real leverage we have now is to kick him out of the house and make him go it on his own, and I'm not ready (quite!) to do that. I want to give him a chance to succeed in college first. In the meantime, there's some serious negotiating that goes on all the time. He wants to hang out with his friends/girlfriend all the time ... I negotiate blocks of free time for him in return for household chores and other obligations, which he does. He's really quite responsible, helped along by frequent reminders. Did I mention he loves his brother, intensely? Their closeness is something I marvel at. And that he and I often text back and forth (either chatting or arguing), pretty much every day? He is still strongly connected to his family, but don't ask him to admit to that.

He's not a bad child, just misdirected at the moment, hormones in solid control of the decision center of his brain. Really, was I there once, too? Yes I was, and somehow -- God only knows how -- I survived to tell the story! And I didn't come out half bad, either!

I'm not sure what his character is going to be, and that's what frightens me to the core. However, it is out of my hands now, and I can honestly say I have done my best. Ouch! I can't mourn prematurely, though, much as I enjoy doing that ... imagining all the disasters looming, working myself up. That's one of my strongest personality traits! Can anyone relate to that? I think that's an actual family trait. Not naming any names here, but I do think that there are several other family members (esp. on my mom's side) with this lovely sort of anxiety disorder.

I must remember what Thomas Jefferson said: "How much pain the evils cost us, that never happened." (It's on my wall at work to remind me, one of Jefferson's top 10 quotes.)

And then there's this: "Put it in the God box!" I do, and then take it out again and fret some more, then put it back in. At night, it just comes out, like all the stuff that came out of Pandora's box, haunting me, and I have to deal with it somehow, alone in the dark ... that's where my life is, at the moment. But I know that others suffer too, and I can commune with them now as I couldn't when I was younger.

Thanks so much to Alice Lackness, my companion in the spiritual formation class at church, for crying too, and for giving me some perspective that this, too, shall pass. It helps me so much, as well, to write it all out. Somehow, it gives me a lot more emotional distance and perspective. Having that list of feelings, above, is a great help. It hadn't been clear until I wrote it all down.

On to the next crisis!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A poem by Thomas Merton

The trouble I have with Father Richard Rohr is that he loves to preach too much! Perhaps I have a little bit of that in my own personality, because I find it irritating to be preached to.

Rohr ended his book, "Falling Up," with a beautiful poem by Thomas Merton. Merton, like me, is an Enneagram type 4, i.e., a hopeless romantic who is never, never ordinary. We'd rather die than ever be ordinary, we type 4's.

Rohr read the poem and then -- he just couldn't resist -- proceeded to ride rather rough-shod over its delicate pathos with long-winded explanations of what it meant! As a lover of poetry, I have to say that poetry must find its meaning with each reader, individually. It's the closest thing that writing has to compare with music, that it speaks directly to the soul, no translations needed.

However, I must also say a most whole-hearted thanks to Father Rohr for his great wisdom, for introducing me to this poem, and for his insights into many other lovely and profound ideas.

Without further ado:

When in the soul of the serene disciple
Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian, Christian poetry, Catholic poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetryby Thomas Merton
(1915 - 1968) Timeline
Original LanguageEnglish

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Suffering, revisited

Today was a day of suffering for me, for reasons I will not go into here.

I forced myself to spend 15 minutes in quiet contemplation this afternoon, only to spend most of it sobbing, alone out on my front porch. I felt as if I were buried under a pile of rubble and could hardly breathe. This is how depressed people feel all the time. How fortunate that I can sit with it for a while and then move on to another place.

I have come to a new understanding of my suffering. It puts me in touch with the suffering of others, that is common to all humanity, and so it has value that I didn't see before. Actually, it is a pearl of great price. I believe that all my compassion started in suffering. I could be a very wicked and cruel person without having been through that painful forging of my soul! Thank goodness there is a purpose for my suffering, because my personality type is such that I will never stop being aware of the great tragedy that is so intertwined with all life.

As I was crying this afternoon, I thought of Berta, who has lost a son, who told me this morning that it had been a rough week for her. Perhaps she also had spent time crying out on her porch.

Then I got on Facebook this evening to check on my 20 or so friends and family, and found that my best friend from high school had had a very difficult week and asked for prayers.

I also read today's installment of the Upper Room, which featured a scripture passage from Lamentations.

But perhaps the way the Holy Spirit best cared for me today was in the words of two of our church elders, who are taking a spiritual formation class that I am in (one of them is leading it). Shelley said that my words in the last class had stayed with her all week, and then her husband piped up and said he even had a dream about it! So I know it was the Holy Spirit's work in leading me to say those things.

In the last class, I had been asked to read this scripture: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength." I then went on to explain my interpretation of this passage: Love comes first! It must precede everything else. It comes before rules and commandments, and it comes before judgment. I said that I could overcome my human nature by looking at other people with the eyes of love, through God's eyes. When I was able to do that, it completely transformed my image of them -- particularly people who gave me difficulty, whom I disliked or was in conflict with.

I was reminded of these statements I made just last week, and it revealed so clearly my sinfulness today, the cause of most of my suffering. I was not using those eyes of love today, let me tell you!

This spiritual formation class is such a breath of fresh air. It's completely what I need in a group study, and so different from the painful experience I had in Disciple Bible class, where my own theology clashed dramatically with that of most of the rest of the class. My problem is I can't be silent when I disagree so passionately. What I disagree with the most vehemently is another's small-mindedness that places limits on God's love and compassion, and narrows the field of God's beloved to "the saved," only those who meet certain criteria. Let's just say, if the discussion turns to religion and politics, most of the time I'm in deep trouble, because my views are quite different from those of most church-goers to my small, rural, church community.

But I do love them all anyway! I may not like them all, but that's another story.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Random thoughts

This could be the title of every one of my posts!

Andrew and I both had dreams about sharks last night. He didn't remember much about his, except that it was a nightmare. In this dream, he was exploring a coral reef, and it was dark and murky and there were sharks around, somewhere, lurking.

I have had a number of dreams where I am above a coastline, looking over an ocean, which is beautiful. I'm either on a hill overlooking the beach, or in a lovely, airy cafe looking out on the ocean. This was the setting of my dream last night. I was watching two large sharks frolic in the water, and I was trying to show Andrew, but I couldn't catch his attention. (I suppose he was too involved in his own nightmare to enjoy my dream with me!) The sharks looked like they could be dangerous, but they were obviously playing. My recent dreams involving sharks have been about how they seem dangerous, but upon reflection, they are actually a lovely part of God's creation. Or, at least, they aren't really threatening after all, the threat is an illusion.

Another popular location for my dreams is at the gate of our house; either keeping me in, or holding some threat out; or on journey, by foot, along the road that runs in front of our house. It seems like these places are ones of transition, or change. The coastline, the shore, is a metaphor used for many things -- the beginning of the necessary journey we take during our lifetimes; a journey away from our selves, to a far place away from the safe and known, perhaps even to the other side of death. Odysseus lived on an island and that was his home, from where he ventured on a great adventure, then returned, then went on another more private, late-in-life journey before returning home for the last time. (I had the chance to review Homer's epic tale, listening to "Falling Up" by Father Richard Rohr.)

Now I can see that the fasting that I did over Lent this year was important. Turns out, it was a needed first step toward changing my entire attitude toward food. I need to give up certain clinging habits and addictions surrounding food. After fasting, I have become so grateful that I can eat whenever I want, from a great variety of foods! So I am learning to focus on the abundance I have, and not on what I might need to give up. This lesson has taken seven years (and counting) for me to learn, and I'm still working on it!

I stopped drinking coffee and most caffeinated tea, once again, after the end of tax season (so a few weeks ago). I always have this convenient mental trick I play to ease the transition -- "It's only temporary." At some point in the (not-so-distant) future, I can start back enjoying coffee again ... maybe. Though, I must say, drinking coffee would usually give me a stomachache, and I'm not sure it was worth that. Not unless it was really good coffee ...

In response to quitting these supposed trigger beverages, my reflux did a surprising thing: it got worse! Actually, I'm not sure that what I have is reflux. That's the symptom, but what is causing it? Mouth sores (most recently a terrible ulcer on my tongue), runny nose, burning around my lips, a persistent sour taste in my mouth, coughing, and often a sore throat. I don't feel the classic burning sensation of heartburn that much, but these other symptoms have been more noticeable lately. I really feel for people who have ulcers in their mouth and throat, because they are very painful. They make it difficult to talk and eat.

I decided to start eliminating entire food groups that I might have developed a sensitivity to. First on the chopping block was wheat and gluten. My mom decided to eliminate these from her diet, which she did for many years later in life, due to problems she was having. So does this mean I can't eat oatmeal that was processed "in a factory where wheat products are processed"? Dunno.  I have been weaning myself from grains, except for breakfast, for a number of years already. I just felt they were superfluous and I usually didn't enjoy them enough to want to eat them except as a convenience item, say the bread to spread peanut butter and jelly on in a sandwich. I don't know, a PB&J with no bread -- a little difficult to concoct. Right now I have rice cakes, though I long for something I can put in the toaster. The gluten-free bread is rather pricey, though.

Next to give up -- possibly dairy, though I may have to make do with just replacing cow's milk. It would be tough to combine a strict no-wheat regimen with no-dairy, though I guess it could be done. Honestly, I found it easier to go without wheat than to totally give up yogurt and cheese, which I enjoy every day.

What I wish is that there were some simple test to determine food allergies and intolerances. But from what I've read and heard from other people, there's not. Often, the conclusive tests are invasive. At this rate, I'll need an endoscopy sometime soon, so maybe they can do some other tests while they are there. I know I tested negative for H. pylori (the ulcer bacteria) around six years ago, the last time I had one. I'm not sure if they tested me for lactose intolerance (which Austin has) or if they could test for celiac disease, which apparently must be done by taking a sample from the small intestine. But I wonder, even if I didn't test positive for that disease, if I could still be intolerant of a certain food group. Wheat/gluten is a challenge because it's included in so many foods, like gravies and broths, and used to bind other foods.

The one group I would really miss would be nuts, which is another food item that gives many people trouble. Nuts!! I have to have my nut fix every day, and often enjoy several types of nuts -- peanuts and peanut butter, almonds, cashews, walnuts. Yum!

Yes, I'm planning to consult with my doctor ... though there's another dilemma. What kind of doctor? ENT? GI? Allergist?? I may go to my primary care doctor, once again Dr. Chavez, and see where he points me. He was the one who sleuthed out reflux in the first place! I was having constriction in my throat (a very alarming symptom) that sent me to the ER a couple of times, where they were looking for a pulmonary embolism. Turns out, my vocal cords were going into spasm because of irritation from acid. TMI, maybe, but if this helps someone else, it's all good. I am officially signing off on the HIPAA release right now.

Let's face it -- all these problems are small potatoes. In general, I am the picture of health! Just to prove that point, I am going to work out today, one of my favorite activities.

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