Dance To The Muse-ick

The creative process is such a mystery to me.

Many creatives have rituals or props or specific locations they use in order to practice their art.  And I believe all of those things can be very beneficial.  I may or may not use a few myself.

That being said, there is this spiritual component to creating that’s a little more elusive and a lot more necessary.  Call it your Muse, divine inspiration or Being In The Flow, there’s an untouchable, uncontrollable “MYSTERY” that takes the ordinary and turns it into something special when it shows up. And when it’s not there?  Well, anyone who’s ever experienced writer’s block knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Bleck.

Being in that mysterious space seems a lot like what being in Heaven would feel like, as I picture it.  Time stops, the world disappears and everything vibrates with JOY.  And, like Heaven, no one who gets there ever wants to leave!

I’ve been spending a LOT of time in that Heaven in the last couple of weeks.   Even on those mornings when, at 2 a.m., I show up a little blurry eyed and unsure if anything worthwhile will make it’s way to the page, it does.  On some days, the first few sentences of a new chapter are already running through my mind before the coffee is even finished brewing.  Other days, I have to prime the pump a little bit before anything happens.  I might journal awhile, read something inspirational, pray a bit, let the dog in and out a bazillion times, drink more coffee.  And even then I might have just one word to go on when I sit down at the computer…a general “direction” to head.

But something magical begins happen when I sit down and, by faith, start typing just a few words.  Before long, an hour (or two) is gone and another chapter is complete, including whatever extras I’m adding to each chapter.

Being a crafty chick, I’ve made a lot of things over the years, and I’ve written a lot of things for both professional and personal use.  I know what it feels like to be inspired, and to love the finished product. But I have NEVER experienced anything like this before.  It’s as if I’ve been living my entire life preparing for this very moment, and now the appointed time has come for it all to come together.

Time stops.

The world disappears.

Joy fills my soul.

And I am so very very grateful.

“Take care of yourself, have a good time, and make the most of whatever job you have for as long as God gives you life.  And that’s about it!  That’s the human lot.  Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work.  It’s God’s gift!  God deals out joy in the present, the now.”  –  Ecc. 5:18-20, The Message Translation

Uncovering The Gift

I’ve been staring at it for years.

I see it while sitting at the little table in our kitchen where I have my quiet time with God, writing and praying, crying and thinking…you know, doing Life.

Even though hidden by a tan cloth cover, I can see it anyway.  It was something I coveted and longed for, for years: A brand new black and chrome Artisan Kitchen Aid mixer. I bought it one birthday about 5 years ago.  Initially, I stored it on top of our maple hutch while waiting to move somewhere that had more than the postage stamp sized counter space the 800 sq. ft. Craftsman we were living in provided.

4 years ago this month, we moved into just that sort of space. The Kitchen Aid, however, has remained hidden under tan fabric on the top of the hutch where it’s served as a book end for my collection of vintage cookbooks.  A very expensive, guilt producing bookend.

That is, until yesterday.

Thinking back on it now, I am again filled with awe at how God works in my life.  Waking at 1:11 a.m., I made my way to the coffee maker and the table.  From years of experience I know when I’m not going to be able to get back to sleep, and I have no problem doing “whatever” comes to mind in those pre-dawn hours. My mother’s life has taught me many things.  One is, don’t push against the insomnia.  Don’t fight it and bitch about it.  Embrace it.  Make it work FOR you, not against you. There are reasons for getting up while other’s are sleeping, and many (if not most) of them are sacred.

They are Holy Hours.

You would think that after so many years of being the recipient of Just In Time answers to prayer, worry wouldn’t wake me in the middle of the night.  But it does, and it did, and so I knew a a Mind Dump was needed…. the writing out of my concerns into my journal that always brings relief (and often, answers).

I write a bit, sip coffee, stare at the tan lump on top of the hutch, at the vintage dishes stored inside it, at my cook books and cooking accoutrements.  I REALLY should bring The Lump down and uncover it.  I REALLY should use it or sell it. (a familiar refrain for months).

For whatever reason, yesterday was the day and at 2:30 a.m., after rearranging items on the counter top to create space, I climb onto a chair and surprise myself at being able to lift the damn thing from so high up because it’s weighty.  Brushing away cobwebs and snatching the cover off, my breath catches.

KAOh my God, it’s SO beautiful!  So shiny and perfect. How did I not do this before? Why did I wait so long?

Not only does it fit perfectly in it’s new home, the things on top of the hutch are arranged in a more pleasing way as well.  A domino effect of order and attractiveness ensued, and with it, a sense of relief mixed with import in the moment.

The word “Artisan” catches my eye….black lettering on stainless steel….tugging at my soul strings, trying to get my attention.

It’s symbolic, isn’t it,  this lovely, costly tool that’s been covered up, unused and forgotten?  It’s something about me.  My life.

My gift.

I sit back down to pray and write some more. 3 pages in, I find myself writing about writing.  Recalling a time when I was in an inspired and prolific flow, when words literally poured out of me, I relived the sense of satisfaction from being in my purpose felt as I heard from people who were touched after reading me.  They didn’t feel so alone, somehow.  They felt understood.  WE felt understood, my audience and I together.

And then I remembered when that wellspring of creativity stopped, why it stopped, and who stopped it.

Ugh.

In the decade since, I’ve never again been in that sort of inspired flow.   Did I decide I would be punished like before if I “went there”?  That I would be hurt? Scribbling furiously, I continued along this line of self questioning…

Did I subconsciously BLOCK the flow in order to protect myself from feeling pain and frustration?  Is there something in me that wants to be expressed?

IS THERE A BOOK INSIDE ME THAT WANTS TO BE WRITTEN? THAT PEOPLE WANT TO READ?  (all caps now)

…..Yes.

(ok, that wasn’t me….I keep writing….)

What’s it about?

.….Not giving up….

(huh.  yeah, well, I guess I do know something about that)

Is it fiction or non fiction?

….Nonfiction….

(whew.  I’m not so great at making things up.)

Who is my audience?

….Women Who Want More….

More what?

…. Hope, inspiration, understanding, fulfillment, guidance….

….. GRACE

And that’s when I am given the title.

I am stunned.  I think God just showed up.  For reals.

As I ponder all this, and the direction it was going – how this idea connects to that passion that connects with something else creative I started last year – I found myself grabbing a pencil and sketching in my journal.   It’s the Kitchen Aid mixer.  The sketching itself feels like a meditation as I sip coffee, adjust lines, and think about, well, what just happened.

It’s about 4:30 when I get it where I want it and write the title underneath it.

And just like that, I see it.  Literally.  Ideas start filling my head.   Excitement and inspiration course through me.  I run to the back office and pull out my project from last Winter.  I am amazed at how the disjointed pieces of half finished work and a dream left for dead start fitting together – like a puzzle. It was all right here, the whole time, just waiting to be uncovered. The Plan.  HIS plan.

I know what to do.

“I am the Lord Your God who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”  –  Isaiah 48:17

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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Every New Beginning Ends

100_0389When my oncologist looked at me yesterday during our regular 6 week visit and said, “So you’re done!” it took me a minute to understand what he was saying.

Fresh from the treatment room where I had received the IV medication I’ve taken every 3 weeks for the last year, I was still groggy from the Benedryl. “What?”

“That’s it!  You’re all done with your treatments!”  His smile grew bigger.

“But I thought I still had 1 more!”  Much more alert, I also suddenly felt scared, interestingly enough.

“Nope. You haven’t missed any and 17 is what I generally give and today you got 17.  You’re all done.”

Nearly 24 hours later, and I can still hardly believe it.  In February of 2015, when I was told it would take 18 months to complete the course of treatment recommended, I honestly didn’t think I could do it.  18 months was a lifetime!  It wasn’t just the surgery I had to face.  It was 6 rounds of chemotherapy.  It was the 35 rounds of radiation.  It was a year’s worth of Herceptin, and all the poking and prodding and testing in between.  It sounded like a hideous 18 month clusterf*** of pain and danger and potential side effects to deal with.

This wasn’t a sprint.  It was a marathon and I hate running!

I didn’t think I could do it.  I literally did not know if I’d be strong enough or brave enough to do it!   All I felt was fear – Me, who didn’t think she was afraid of anything, was suddenly a coward begging God to PLEASE make it all go away!.  Seriously, I promised to do literally ANYTHING if it all just miraculously disappeared.

But in spite of the prayers, God didn’t make the cancer go away.  At least, not supernaturally (which I know happens.)  Instead, S/he took me by the shoulders, pointed me towards the fiery furnace, and said, “Go.  Just take one step at a time.  And I will be with you all the way.”

That’s exactly what happened.  With every step I took, God was there  walking with me, never leaving my side and – during some particularly dark moments – carrying me through the flames.  One step.  Then another and another.

Suddenly, 18 months was over.  I made it!

I believe in the power of prayer.  I believe that all prayer is answered, just not necessarily in the form that we think or hope it will be.   Experiencing an immediate deliverance or an unfolding grace for the journey – both are answered prayer and both are miraculous.

Day and night.  Light and Dark.  The Lord created them both and while we may not always understand it, the Dark IS holy.  There are certain things we can learn only by experiencing a Dark Night, as fearsome and lonely and painful and confusing as it might be.  That’s why authentic Shamans are those who have experienced a real and traumatic “death and rebirth” of some type.  Not at all like the New Age folks self-identifying as shamans after taking a few courses, beating a drum, and finding a few hawk feathers.

Learning to accept the dark days of our lives as part of the natural order of things helps relieve some of our suffering.  We come to understand that we aren’t being punished when bad things happen to us – when we suddenly find ourselves face to face with the fire.  We are being called to transform.

In 18 months, I learned to prioritize and simplify my life.  To say “No” where before I said “Yes”.  I learned who my real friends were, and how to care for myself when no one showed up.  I learned to trust “in spite of”….in spite of my fears, in spite of what others had experienced, even in spite of doubt.  My personal spiritual beliefs were honed and sharpened. I know now what I believe in, and WHO I believe in, with a deeper understanding and depth than ever before.  The dross floated to the top and has been skimmed away.

The fire purifies, if we let it.

Every tear I wept was gathered in gentle Hands and kept for safe keeping.  Every time I bowed my head….in weakness or humbleness or fear or worship…those same Hands tenderly smoothed over my hairless head and brought me physical comfort, and an soulful awareness that I wasn’t alone.

And every groan of despair that rose from deep within my belly and broke through lips cracked and blistered was turned into a song of deliverance.

The dark is not to be feared, but revered.  For without the darkness of the night sky, we’d never see the stars.

So.  That’s it! And I have such mixed emotions.  As I turn the page to close one chapter of my life, the blank page of the next is staring me full in the face.  So much has changed, but I’ve never been more ME. I’ve lost much….friends, my job, my old identity…but I’ve gained so much more.

I feel like a new being.  I know that the Next Right Thing will reveal itself to me in due season.  The right people.  The right events.  The right stuff.  Trust in the Divine Plan for my life has never been stronger, forged in the furnace of affliction.

I have walked through the fire and, as promised, made it to the other side unscathed.

To God be the glory.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” – Isaiah 43:2

I Can See Clearly Now

New HaircutIt’s funny how life can change in a moment.

One moment you’re minding your own business at work, and suddenly, Mr. Right offers to fix your car and you’re married within the year….

Or you’re all set to start the New Year with a diet and exercise routine, prepping for your son’s wedding, when you get a cancer diagnosis…..

Or you’re talking with your daughter, listening to her dreams about moving out of state, when you realize it’s the same location you and your husband were talking about moving to last year.

In ways both big and small, life is a series of changes.

I’m a planner by nature.  My husband teases me about it, but I don’t care. He benefits from it and he knows it (smiling).  Personal and professional “planning” is in my DNA – everything from what food to buy for meals all week to corporate parties for over 700 people.  Planning stuff is like a having a road map.  Without it, we end up ‘anywhere’.  With it, we tend to get to where we want to go.  In my world, anyway.

Back in February of ’15, I knew I had 18 months of treatments to undergo and “planning” my life pretty much took a hike.  I didn’t know who or how I’d be when I finished with those treatments.  I didn’t know what I would look like, how I would feel, or what I could or could not do, and it sucked.  BIG time.

I also didn’t know that my girl, 28 and a single mom, would be laid off twice in a year – the second time in March, just a week after I was “laid off”. Since the day we found out she was pregnant, I knew one of my biggest “purposes” in life was to partner with her in raising my grandson.  A big piece of that has been additional financial support.

Like many others in the Middle Class, particularly in SoCal where housing takes 50% of income and incomes have been flat, or moving backward, for almost a decade, being a single income family is nearly impossible. So it’s been a draining 18 months where money is concerned, as we’ve helped to support them as well as ourselves through these challenging times.

That being said, the funds we’ve needed have been there, and we haven’t had to tap our credit cards.  We all have a roof over our heads, food on the table, clothes on our backs, and so much more to be grateful for.

Anyway, she landed a fabulous new job within her local school district a month ago, replete with all kinds of amazing benefits and opportunities for a life long career, should she choose.  The only “down side”, it included a significant cut in pay that made the already difficult task of living on her own impossible.  So, a week ago when she asked about moving in with us once her lease is up come September, we agreed.

Not only will having them live here significantly stop the financial bleeding, it will help all of us in different ways.  Having my 7 year old grandson around is like having a partner in crime….we make serious magic together.

It wasn’t an easy decision.  Big, life altering ones usually aren’t.  We’re all adults and all of us would like our own space – especially my girl.   She has her way of doing “house” and I have mine. But, like many MANY other families across America, we’re doing what we need to do to keep life and limb together and, I believe, actually get ahead.

And I’m good with that.  Because now….we got ourselves a plan.

OREGON

20150623_170311_resizedOregon! Last year, when I came back from my road trip up to Seattle, it was all I could talk about.  First, it’s gorgeous up there.  Rolling green hills, spectacular vistas, water filled rivers…..And we would be so much closer to my son and daughter-in-law, who begged me to move up that way so I would be closer to them when they start their own family in a year or so.  A 3 hour drive is MUCH better than an 18 hour one. (I don’t fly….)

And, as it turns out, my husband’s company has offices in Portland!  For years we’ve dreamed of owning our own home again, on a small piece of land in a place where there is space, natural beauty, safety, and a reasonable cost of living. We don’t need posh.  We’re simple people who enjoy simple comforts and could give a rat’s ass about impressing anyone with our “lifestyle”.

So when my daughter told me her own dream to move to Oregon, where she could afford a little house of her own and could put down roots for she and her son,  BOOM!  There it was!

Just like that, for the first time in a long time, I have a vision for the ‘future’.  I have something to point my prayers and intentions towards.  Something to work for.  I have…

A PLAN.

Sure, it’s all in the hands of the Divine.  Things might change as we go along.  And it will definitely take an Act of God to pull this all together.  A handful of Miracles, even.  But in THIS moment, I feel hope.  I feel more determined, more energized – more ALIVE – than I have in a long long LONG time.

OREGON.

Where the state motto is: Alis Volat Propriis, “She Flies With Her Own Wings”.

Sounds like my kinda place.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. – Proverbs 29:18