Journaling – A Journey With Soul

Last week I was asked to write a guest post on journal writing by a wonderful woman who is an internationally known author, singer, and creative mentor who uses and teaches journal writing as a healing modality.  My post will be published on December 13th, but because it will be under my real name – and I write Anonymously here – I won’t be linking up.  However,  I can publish it here and now.  Because it had to be 600 words or less, I edited quite a bit out.  Maybe in the future I’ll expand on my own journal practice in future posts.

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20161129_054136_resizedIn 1969, for my 12th birthday, I received my first “Diary”.  A hard-bound book covered in daisies, it contained pages of blank lined paper and,  most importantly, a lock and tiny key.

Diaries! That place where your secrets were kept, secrets needing to be protected from the watchful eyes of parents and snoopy little brothers.  I can still see myself laying on the bed, my bedroom door closed, filling pages with big loopy lettering made in No. 2 pencil. I wrote about other girls, first periods and first bras.  I poured out my heart when I wasn’t invited to a party.  I chronicled my parents fights, and that night I accidentally discovered them naked in the pool.

I wrote about boys.  A LOT!

There was something exciting about each new diary started.  They whispered of POSSIBILITIES. NEW BEGINNINGS.  FRESH STARTS.

I’m not sure when diaries became ‘journals’.  Little hard-bound books were eventually replaced by steno pads and spiral notebooks.  It didn’t matter what they were called, though.   That FRESH START feeling didn’t change.

In the 70’s, I wrote out all the angst and longing of a teenager that didn’t feel like she fit in and so desperately wanted to.  In the 80’s, my journal absorbed the crazy-hot desire of a single 20something trying to make her way in the world, where I often waxed poetic.  Words poured out of me, filling empty hours and a deep-rooted need for self-expression.  I wrote about other girls, who was dating who and the heartbreak of not being invited to a party.  I chronicled the liberation of not living under my parents’ roof.

And I wrote about boys.  A LOT!

It was after my first child was born in 1986 that my “Morning Time” was also born.  Working full-time, I found it easier to stay awake after his 5 am feeding than to go back to bed for an hour.  It didn’t take long before I discovered the treasures to be found in the quiet solitude of Predawn.  I would sit at the dining table with my coffee and journal, gazing out the window while body and mind awoke.  I watched the changing seasons of my life reflected in the big Maple tree in our backyard, and I wrote and prayed.  Intentions were set for the new day, my head and my heart purged, and blessings counted.  During the brief periods when I didn’t practice it, I felt the difference – and not in a good way.

30 years later, I can still be found in the wee hours with my journal and coffee although, thanks to menopause, it’s more like 3 a.m.  (I wrote through THAT, too!).   While the hour and view has changed, my journaling journey hasn’t.  It’s still the best friend ready to listen without judgment, the husband who never zones out, the psychiatrist who doesn’t requirement payment or an appointment. And perhaps, most profoundly, it’s the Ear of God that’s always Present.

After nearly 50 years, I’ve journaled my way through marriages, divorces, births, deaths, and more sorrows and joys than I can count. Most recently I wrote my way through a breast cancer diagnosis and 18 months of treatment.  Frankly, I don’t know how I would’ve survived without it.  Writing is healing.  It’s cathartic.  It’s revelatory.  It’s doesn’t care if I’m happy or scared, strong or weak, or blonde, bald or gray (smiling).

A journal is unconditional in its acceptance of all the Flawesomeness of my life.  All I have to do is show up – authentically and faithfully – to reap it’s magic:

The Alchemy of my Soul.

Enough Is Enough

taco-lasagna

Yesterday I needed to do a little grocery shopping. After thinking through what was needed to supplement what I already had for making meals for the next week, I visited three different stores looking for the best prices. I picked up Halloween candy, grapes and a cantaloupe, a huge package of chicken quarters and breasts, the big jug of the Coffee Mate my daughter uses and a jar of salsa  needed for the Taco Lasagna I was making for dinner.

And  paid for everything in quarters.

Earlier, I had sent ou a big THANK YOU for the change jars my husband and I both keep that produced $30 dollars.  It would be enough.

Mumbling something to the cashiers about garage sales and not wanting to lose money in “fees” at the CoinStar, I managed to stave off most of my embarrassment at piling up the coins for payment (and was particularly relieved when no one was behind me in line.)

There is money in the account for rent and a couple of bills needing to be paid before next payday.  There’s a $100 bill in the change jar that I can use for groceries or gas. And, in case of an emergency, there’s always  credit cards.  So it’s not like we are destitute.  I don’t expect we’ll even be late on anything.  But it felt better to use the coins, to conserve what we have.

See, we are in on of those “In-between” season.  Having gone through our entire savings over the last 18 months while undergoing breast cancer treatment – and all that entailed  – we just happen to be in-between the time when money is so tight is squeaks, and some relief on the not-too-distance horizon. With careful planning, and a lot of God’s grace, we are going to make it through this time just fine.

Come December, and the last of 17 months of COBRA insurance payments will be made.  That’s $650/month.  My husband is expecting his annual bonus check come the first week in December, too.  And it looks like my part-time bookkeeping job is starting to give me more hours.   Fast forward another 7-8 months, and hundreds of dollars will be back in my husband’s paycheck when a 401K loan is paid off. So, all things being equal, by this time next year we “should be” in a much better place.

PLEASE. (smiling)

It’s having that relief in sight, and seeing every day miracles of provision, that keeps me from getting blue.  Actually, I am feeling a deep sense of heart-satisfaction and peace right now in spite of the squeeze.

Several years ago, I had this moment of clarity that broke my heart  AND filled me with the realization at just how short the human life really is.  I realized that an entire season  of my life was over – a major one! – never to be experienced again. I was staring my own mortality in the face.  How FAST it all went (even if, at the time, it didn’t feel that way)!  In a breath, it was gone – that Long-but-Short season of being a young, newly married woman creating her first home, bearing and raising two babies, and facing more years ahead of her than she did behind her.  So much promise and possibility in those years, even while I clipped coupons to stretch the food budget,  made trips to the pediatrician, and sewed costumes for school.

There was a lot of magic going on in those days, as I made “something out of nothing”.  I still have a binder full of recipes cut from magazines for using hamburger 50 different ways, and making casseroles out of  leftovers.

Even back then, being a two-income family was a necessity if one (a) arrangementswanted to stay off government assistance and (b) wanted to provide a decent (lower) middle class existence for a family. While in my heart I longed to be a stay at home mom, my pragmatism was what drove me.  I would rather have my kids safe and sound in the “extended family” environment of a good babysitter while I brought home the bacon, than to subject myself to food stamps and, them, to poverty just so I could “stay home”.  As it turned out, I was a job creator myself, providing the income for another mom to stay home, while bringing home money and health benefits for my entire family.  In retrospect, it was worth the trade-off.  My kids didn’t suffer.  They were loved, and knew they were loved, by not only me and my husband but by a “village”, so to speak.

Can a child EVER experience too much love?

Boy, there were some tough at times, to be sure.  Sure, we made do with nice second-hand furniture, and help from my parents.  When the second baby came 15 months after the first, and expenses doubled, I truly didn’t know where the money would come from for childcare, pediatrician visits, diapers, formula and clothing for two little growing bodies.

There were many many mornings before work spent in prayer and a lot of tears.  There were also sublime moments of gratitude and overwhelm when “things worked out”.  We never went without anything important.  It might come in at the last-minute, but the money was always there to pay the mortgage, or to buy food  or to put gas in the cars.  We even had a little extra for pizza on the weekends, something special for the kids on their birthdays, and goodies under the tree from Santa.

Later, as a single mom of two teenagers, there wasn’t  money for college but both my kids have held jobs since their teen years, and have since grown in their respective careers.  Now – at 29 and 30 – they are wonderful people and productive members of society.

With a lot of hard work, and even more of God’s grace, we made it.

Fast forward to today.  There are three generations under our roof again, having banded together for a season because we can all do better together than we can do apart right now.  Once again there are “children” to care for.  A family to cook for and nurture.  A child’s laughter and wonder to experience on a daily basis.  It’s like I am experiencing a renaissance of my Motherhood years…something I thought was long gone.

Here I am again, cutting coupons and looking for creative ways to make “cheap” cuts of meat taste yummy.  (Which is an oxymoron these days.)  I am being extra careful to use up, reuse, make do, and make sure to shop smart – and, where appropriate – in quantity again.  It’s not easy, with 3 adults and 1 growing boy.  There are some challenges when adult children move back in.  My house isn’t as neat and quiet as it was before a 7-year-old lived here full-time.  But Oh! It’s been satisfying on SO many levels!  Deep and heart wrenchingly so, as this time around, at 60 years old, I am so much more mindful of the fragility and fleeting preciousness of life here on Earth.

Ok, so I kinda swallowed my pride, put on a “face”, and used quarters yesterday.  BFD!  No harm was done to me in the making of those purchases…except for, maybe, my ego.  The Taco Lasagna was delicious, the rent check is in the mail, and my grandson had a wonderful Halloween treak-or-treating and handing out the candy that Grandma bought earlier in the day.  $15 worth of the good stuff.  Peanut Butter cups, Tootsie Pop suckers, and malted milk balls.  YUM.

Just like my kids back in the day, he hasn’t a clue there are medical bills  to be paid.  He has no concept of the exorbitant and ever-increasing cost of living that is crushing the middle class. All he knows is he is safe, warm, well cared for, and well-loved.  The adults in his life are – collectively – providing everything he really needs.  (Even if Mom DOES have to say “No” to buying the 37th wrestling action figure…at least, for now).

And so, I find myself frequently choked up and on the verge of tears as I witness God – again and still – miraculously providing for us.  For example, I wrote my floral design teacher to tell her I couldn’t make  this next session because I didn’t have the material fee, and hoped my course fee could be applied for a future class when things were a little better.  She told me to come anyway.  To come in early, in fact, so we could chat.  I left class Saturday with a beautiful arrangement, a bag of pumpkin seeds to roast, and a heart full of love for her.

Then there was last Friday, when I went “Treasure Hunting” at the Good Will to pass some time, and found the most adorable top for my daughter  ½ off – a whopping $2.99.  It ended up being the “perfect” thing for her to wear to a big family reunion she was going to.  It fit like a glove.

bowl-of-pomsMy husband does a little handyman “side work” for a rancher friend, and ended up coming home Saturday with a HUGE bag of pomegranates (so many I gave some to a friend), a ton of fresh beef (4 lbs. Of ground and a nice looking roast), and a crisp $100 bill!

It’s really mind-blowing, sometimes.  In the very middle of a difficult season, I feel such gratitude.  Such JOY.  It’s like a deep river of satisfaction and peace running through my belly, holding me steady and refreshing my soul.  I feel it when I peel carrots and potatoes for a big pot of stew, knowing the family will smell it as they come in the door, hungry and tired after a long day at work.  I am awash with it as I fold my grandsons clean clothing, or witness his excitement at a freshly carved and lit Jack O’ Lantern or hear him tell how he made Super Student at school – again! – this week.

Seasons come and go. Good times and bad.  Hard times and easy ones.  Abundant times and slim pickings times.   Healthy times, and not.  For everything thing, there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

And, if  you’re lucky, some seasons actually come around again.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear….for your Father knows that you have need of these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.”  Matthew 6:25, 32-33

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Stormy Days

lightningI am an early riser.

This morning, it was 2:30 a.m. (No, that isn’t a typo.)

It’s been this way for some years now, for varying reasons.  Most, I believe, are physical but not all.  Certainly, in the last few weeks, that hasn’t been the case.

It’s the stuff in my head.

For almost two years, the whole “C” thing – and all that entailed – caused many a sleepless nights.  I don’t think that’s unusual.  Recently, it’s something – or, rather, some things – other than that.

Odd dreams where I’ve seen the same “terrorist” looking guy more than once.  Wondering how this whole ‘end of life’ thing with Mom is going to play out. Worrying about my daughters health, our finances, what I’m going to make for dinner.

And then there’s the circus called the U.S. Presidential elections.  Wish I could say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”, but – unfortunately – this circus very much impacts our lives and I have a natural political bent even in the best of times.  With this Freak Show, I’ve been consumed with what’s going on, what’s being revealed, and what is being kept secret.

It’s one thing to have concerns – even fears –  about external foes: ISIS, Russia, Iran, North Korea, China.  The terms “World War III” and “Nuclear Weapons” are being bandied about a lot these days, and it’s scary stuff – especially when you consider who has their finger on the button (be it a suitcase or an Oval Office).

God help us all.

It’s a whole thing altogether, though, when you realize your own government is bad to the bone, and We The People are really just pawns in their Game of Thrones. We now need protection from the very institution that was created to protect us!  The Washington Elite and the Global Cabal have made it clear that they could care less about us.  We are disposable to them.

And just typing that makes me want to smack someone, or scream, or stick my head in the sand (or in a bottle of booze) and pretend it all away.

I’m REALLY going to need a mental cleanse after November 8th (if not before)

Knowing it’s futile to lay there in bed and try to think my thoughts away,  I got up, and played Gin Rummy for a couple of hours. It distracts me.  It breaks the cycle of worry. It can even be fun.  But it doesn’t necessarily make me feel better.

With an hour to go before people started stirring about, I had enough of that and did what I should have done from the start: I poured myself a fresh cuppa, sat at my little kitchen table, lit a candle, and prayed.

Within a few minutes, it started to rain again.  Gently at first, and then in big fat sheets. Blessed, wonderful, Hot Damn! rain! It sprinkled here on and off all day yesterday, with even some thunder and lightening thrown in, and I swear I could hear Earth groan with pleasure.  Even one day of rain in drought racked SoCal is a huge deal.   The air gets fresh, Nature get a quick wash down, and the temp actually drops below 75.

When I heard the thunder start up again, I threw open my kitchen door, stepped outside and looked North where huge bolts of lightning lit up the dark.  Great rolling claps of thunder sounded overhead, and I could just see the shapes of the clouds in the predawn light.  It looked like a massive rib cage, with a giant Heart in the center.  The thought crossed my mind to try to capture it in a photo, but I didn’t want to leave.  I didn’t want to chance missing IT.

I wanted to praise!

Raising my hands and relishing in the beauty of the Storm, I recalled reading that God’s Voice is as thunder, and His appearance as lightning.  It made what I was witnessing even more beautiful, and it seemed the bolts were in sync with my thoughts.  My mind was being cleansed and refreshed with Living Water.

And that’s when I heard, “Grandma!  Grandma  Can you hear it?!?”   Padding into the kitchen, his eyes bright and wide, his hair tousled with sleep, was my Angel.

Pushing back into the kitchen, I stepped inside and said “Yes, Bub!  I sure do!  Isn’t it awesome? Come here and let’s watch!”

And just then the kitchen – and my heart – glowed with Light. Holding his little body in front of mine, we stood and watched and clapped and laughed with pure joy at every clap of thunder and every bolt of lightning.  Oh, what a miracle!

I’m still smiling about it.

You gave abundant showers, O God,
You refreshed your weary inheritance.
Psalm 68:9

Mission To Mom

momSometimes it takes time to understand  “why” something has happened the way it did or to understand how we have actually been in the right place, at the right time – even though it didn’t feel like it at the time.

For example.  The whole “job” thing.  It’s been one big question mark since I knew I was going to take medical leave to Walk Through the Fire.  The day I left work, I knew – deep inside – that I wouldn’t be going back , even though the Powers That Be had treated things so nonchalantly that they didn’t even bother assigning my work to someone else, or getting a temporary to cover for me.  And I actually did quite a lot there, after 10 years.

When I got laid off after being released to go back to work 11 months later, I was good with that as well.  I didn’t want to go back to that Toxic Waste Dump anyway, and felt God definitely had other things in store for me.  Since that time, it’s been an interesting journey.  So many stops and starts.  So many things I thought I would try, and didn’t – or did, to no avail.  Every time I applied for a job like I used to have, I felt sick in the pit of my stomach….a sure sign I am NOT on the right track.

Fast forward to last month.  I wrote about it in a couple of posts ago.  Basically, I had my own health issue to deal with, then my husbands’ surgery, and then my daughter’s medical emergency.  Granted, without a job or benefits, money has been tight.  BUT, we have been keeping our heads above water and – more importantly – if I had taken a job a few months ago, it would have been so much harder on all of us.  It’s been a priceless gift to have the time and freedom of movement to care for myself and my family.

My prayers were answered – just not in the form I thought, or hoped, they would be.

Yesterday I wrote about Closed Doors being an answered to prayer.  And just like that, within hours of posting, I got my next “Go This Way” sign.

I was on my way home from my Floral Design Course when I called my Mom to check in with her.  She’s 84, a widow, and is almost completely housebound (in chronic pain and nearly in a wheelchair). What makes her physical condition extra sad is that her mind is still really sharp for her age, but she is “trapped” in a body that is ceasing to function.

Mom lives about an hour away, and has a very nice lady, Secorro, come and help her several days a week with things she cannot do for herself: laundry, house cleaning, shopping…even some cooking and taking her to get her hair done.  When she picked up the phone yesterday, I could hear the stress in Mom’s voice.  Turns out Secorro – who has been a part of our extended “family” for several decades – just received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

THIS is a game changer.

And just like that, I believe I now have my next Assignment.  Granted, driving two hours plus, round trip, will be a pain in the ass.  In the last 16 years since Dad died, we’ve been unable to convince Mom to move closer, or into some sort of assisted living community.  She wants to stay in her own home as long as she can, though, and in her community – and I get that even though it makes “things” harder for us…for me…to care for her. A more stubborn woman would be hard to find – an attribute that seems to be gaining strength with every passing year.

But, she’s my Mom and I love her.  I know her days remaining on this earth are slowly coming to an end and keeping her as comfortable as possible feels like my “mission” now.  I don’t want her to feel afraid about what is going to happen to her, or that she is alone. It is the least I can do, for all she has done and all she has meant to me.  Count me as a full card-carrying member of the Sandwich Generation – that growing group of  us Baby Boomers who find themselves caring for 2 or 3 generations.  (While trying to care for ourselves as well.)

Perhaps not this week, but soon, I will make the trip out to Mom’s 3 days a week to make sure her life and self are as comfortable and “together” as possible.  I think she is even going to pay me what she’s been paying Secorro, even though I told her she doesn’t have to.  And frankly, the money will come in handy – I was just getting ready to start looking for a part-time office job this week.

So there is my Answer.  I have my direction, and with it, a deep sense of awe and gratitude that I have the freedom of movement and time to do this for my mother.  Deep inside, I know…without a shadow of doubt…that our financial thing will be taken care of.

God never leads us where He doesn’t also provide for us, be it strength, resources, or a sense of purpose.

Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her.  But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.”

1 Timothy 5:3

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Letters From Home

woman-writing-vintageEven after all these years, it never ceases to amaze me when – at just the right moment – I stumble upon the EXACT thing I need to read or hear.

That happened to me earlier today when I opened a little devotional booklet that I like to read in the mornings, and read these words:

“I AM trusting God with the desires of my heart.  He knows what’s best for my life, and I give Him complete control over all I am and all I have.  Any worry, fear or frustration, I turn over to Him.  I’m at peace knowing that He will get me to where He wants me to be, and I will never be disappointed.  This is my declaration of who I am.”  (From Joel Osteen’s work, “I AM”.)

I like to spend some time in contemplation and prayer at our little kitchen table in the mornings, journal and coffee at hand, with a candle burning.  It’s a time for seeking God’s Will and His Presence, and something I started doing 30 years ago as a new mother.  There have been seasons when I neglected this precious practice, or when the nature of that time was something other than it is now. I noticed that life doesn’t flow as smoothly, that my burdens seem heavier, and my attitude crapier when I miss these moments.  It is something I always come back to at some point.  My default position.

One of the blessings from the breast cancer journey I went through is a renewed commitment to my personal spiritual life – a Coming Home, if you will. I’ve winnowed out what works and what doesn’t work for me, what spiritual ideals and practices fit and which don’t.  Certainly, I don’t fit the mold of a typical fundamentalist Christian, and I’m good with that. I am a believer in, and a follower of, Jesus the Christ and look to the Bible for much of my inspiration and direction.  After all of the miracles I have experienced, after all the times when I literally felt the supernatural touch of God on me, I couldn’t be anything else.  And I’ve tried.

In this Season After the Fire, when my “New Normal” is being normalized, I spend even more time than usual thinking about, talking to, God.  For of all things that I desire – it is the desire to live out God’s Will that burns within me the hottest. Whatever that may look like, I am completely surrendered.

I think. (smile)

But deciphering God’s Will and plan for my life isn’t always easy for me.  Sure, there are times when divine direction is so obvious, I just want to slap my forehead and say, “Duh!”

Other times, however, the direction isn’t as clear, or doesn’t feel like it is showing up at all. and I am left contemplating the idea that what DOESN’T happen is the Will.  I am being led by what prayers AREN’T answered (or, perhaps, were answered with “No”.)

Times like when interviews prove fruitless, or the promises made to me by others don’t come to pass.  Other times I end up hitting brick walls, when the path I am on leads “nowhere”.

I’m in one of those times right now and it’s like trying to find my way out of a maze.  My view is obstructed and progress seems as at standstill.  It’s hard not to feel trapped.  Lost, even.

But I know – from experience – I am anything but.

This is a time when my faith is being stretched.  My desires, honed.  Growth often takes resistance, and I’ve learned that struggle isn’t a sign that I’ve blown it.  It could be that the struggle is producing the strength I need for the next part of my journey, much like a butterfly needs the struggle of exiting a cocoon if it is to be healthy and strong.

After months of Maze Walking, it was a real comfort to received a Word from the Lord this morning assuring me that His Hand is guiding me.  That His plans and purposes WILL prevail in my life.  It is important that I keep this in mind I can’t let discouragement weigh me down, or worry to steal my peace.

I just need to be patient and allow myself to be led through this season one step at a time, and trust that He is with me and that His plans for me are good.

The shift IS coming.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go.  I will counsel you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32:8

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