First Word of Chapter “The Year Of 2017”

Dailypost Word Prompt: Year

Happy New Year. Each year has it share of memories – and this year is no different. I have many highlights that I want to remember, and I will do that elsewhere in my journal. This journal entry is to find my word for the next 365-page chapter of my life.

I have nourished my heart since it broke over seven years ago. I have coaxed it to keep beating – I used every trick in the book. I have searched and searched for what it would need to keep going, something beyond the love of my family, although that was a huge part in its survival. It needed more, away to remove the broken shards and make room for something new – someone new.

My word then was love. Love was what those closest to me needed from me, and I was too broken to give it – but I wanted too. When my heart broke, my prayer to God was for him to teach me how to love through the grief. And although I wanted to learn it for my family, what had happened in the process was I learned to love myself. The first step in loving others is to love oneself – the true self.

Love was the seed and deep under the surface of the new ground cleared lies a brand new me – the real me. I can feel the beginning of a shoot ready to burst from the shell of that seed and I long to break through the soil and feel the warmth of the sun.

I am resisting the urge to spur ahead and speed up the process. I have done that one too many times over the last six years. The shift that I have become aware of is not only the seed ready to burst, but there are also tiny roots pushing deeper into the soil, I need to allow time for these roots to take hold. I need to allow the roots to anchor myself in the soil of my self-love – and this takes time.

Every new year begins during the season of winter – cold, damp and raw. It is a time of critical growth – unseen growth. It is the time when I am to allow all that I have learned, all that I have cherished and all that I long to be to nourish the ground where the seed’s roots feed. The new does not start when the sprout peeks it leaves out for the first time in spring; it started long before in the dark cold days of January.

As a gardener, I know this to be true, but as a seed I forget. I am too impatient and want instant gratification – it has taken so long. This New Year I will step down as the gardener, and I will allow the Master Gardener to take over.

He is also the Master Storyteller. At the start of every story, there is an event, but a story is about people. Somewhere within the many chapters of one’s life story, a chapter has to be about that transition of the focus of the event to the person and how the event molded the person into someone new.

The first word of my new chapter is “rebirth.”

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Christmas Retreat

Daily Post Prompt: Retreat

2016 Christmas day was warm and sunny, not Christmas-like at all; it was a perfect day for a walk to the lake. The neighborhood was quiet; the dogs were inside with their families and the boats were docked for the holiday. The lake was as still as the air – unblemished by a breeze. Only an occasional seagull spotted the glasslike surface.

I trekked to the water’s edge, my shoes becoming caked in mud and slippery. I found a rock big enough to sit upon and rested my camera in my lap. The mirror image of the island created a kaleidoscope effect, and I was almost dizzy with the beautiful shapes and colors. I raised my camera even though I knew the lens would not be able to capture the depth of this incredible sight. A camera cannot register the quiet – the peace of the moment.

Christmas has been difficult since the loss of one of my children. This year is different; I felt like celebrating for the first time in a long time. For me dealing with the loss has felt like an uphill climb, and I think I might have reached the summit – I have arrived at that place of acceptance without agonizing pain and the unbearable guilt.

I experienced the guilt war every Christmas. I felt guilty towards the child I lost if I felt any joy and I felt guilt towards the children who were alive if I felt sadness for the child lost. This year I did not experience this conflict, only peace.

I  retreated to the lake for an hour to honor the one I lost, and in the quiet I found peace. And I brought the peace home to share with my family.  This gift made this Christmas special for us all.

The Magic Of Theater

Discover Challenge: Tough Questions

“Why do you do it?” My mother asked me after I spent the last fifteen minutes telling her about my weekend. My family and I volunteered our time to a local community theater and this weekend was the opening of the Mary Poppins musical. My youngest son has a small part in the cast and helps backstage, my oldest son is working spotlight, and my husband works on raising and lowering the backdrops and flying Mary Poppins and Bert around. I help with moving the set pieces during scene changes. It is one of the most complicated plays I have worked and I was explaining all the challenges to my mother. She could not understand why we would volunteer so much time and effort. Her words were “You are not the even on stage, and nobody sees you, so why do you work so hard for little or no recognition?” Why? It was a tough question.

I do it for many reasons, one being I love the creativity of it all.  I do it for the same reason I write, or gardens or complete complicated puzzles. It is creating something from nothing, and slowly it becomes something worth seeing. In theater, everyone has a part – big or small – and like a puzzle it all comes together under the guidance of the director. The magic of a story coming to life on stage is only part of it because behind the scenes it is just as magical, one only has to willing to be part of the puzzle.

Skilled carpenters build a setting and make it possible to change scenes as easy as it is to turn the page of a book. Creative painters brushed on reality – each stroke creating dimension and illusions to fool the eye. Light crews carefully placed lights to highlight the details. Spot lighters are trained to show the audience the importance of the scene. Strong and precise fly rail operators added backdrops to complete the illusion on the stage. The costume designer creates costumes for each cast member, – most wearing more than one. Dressers are ready to undress and redress in record time. Crew members are moving pieces on and off the stage with each scene change–like it’s own kind of dance. When it all comes together, the story telling is the finished product and the audience the witness. It is a craft done as a team.

I love opening night.   I wait in the wings – with butterflies and chills – surrounded by crew and cast, my youngest son among them, their nervous energy contagious. Across the stage, I see my husband with the stage left crew, their hands wrapped around the ropes of the curtain backdrops and others poised behind pieces of furniture ready to be set in place. High above in the catwalk, my oldest son aims his spotlight, waiting for the star to emerge from behind the curtain. I hold my breath – the whole room holds its breath – as we wait for the show to start. I look over my notes for the hundredth time, praying I don’t forget something and then the music starts, the curtain rises, and the story begins.

On their cue the actors spill out onto the stage, their voices clear and their eyes shining in the light. I am soon lost in my backstage world, listening for cues, anticipating the scene changes, moving large, awkward pieces – disguising their noise during the climax of the music. Everything else fades as I and my fellow crew members concentrate on our task until the final bow and the roar of the audience. We have succeeded – this army of theater volunteers – we have accomplished our goal of making the audience forget the outside world for a couple of hours, and they are appreciative.

Everyone is grinning and hugging after the show as they make their way backstage. I collapse on a bench used in one of the scenes. The excitement of everyone’s voices carry up the ramp to where I rest; I hear my sons’ laughter in the mix. My husband joins me, and we sit together listening to the joy of a successful opening night. To us, it was worth every single minute, the weeks of preparation, the brutal technical week and the sacrifice of three weekends – this moment makes it all worthwhile.

I believe we go through life hoping someone notices that we contribute to the unfolding story that surrounds us. When one participates in something as extraordinary as a theater production and is aware of all the intricate components of each task that each person does – then one will learn a lifelong lesson. It is a lesson I want my children to learn – and one I need to remember. One does not have to be in the spotlight to make a show worthwhile; it is the one behind the spotlight, behind the curtain and in the dressing rooms. It is the people, who weeks prior were building, painting, choreographing and planning. And of course, it is the actors, those brave souls who face the crowd and give their heart and soul, as they become the characters of the story.

The most important piece of this puzzle is the audience and what they take home from the experience. Theater gives us an arena to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones, to find what we are made of and to use talents we never thought we had. We hope someone in the audience will want to be a part of that magic. I remember sitting in the audience, and I was in awe of a theater production, but I did not think I had enough talent to contribute until someone told me I did. I found there is a place for everyone, even someone like me.

“And someone like you,” I told my mother, and she laughed “No, not me.”

“Well Mom, as Mary Poppins would say ‘Anything can happen, if you let it.'”

Death

The time change has made me late for my morning appointment with the sun. It waits for me in the garden instead of me waiting for it. I approach a patch of sunlit ground to stand in, and I allow the sunlight to chase away the chill as I watch the dogs run around sniffing out the smells of last night’s visitors

Autumn has finally arrived after a brutal fight with summer, and with it, my garden dies. Flower heads have dried up and droop with the burden of their seeds. The trees are nearly bare, their colorful leaves blanketing the soil like a calico quilt. As I stand in the bleak landscape, hands cupped around a steaming mug of coffee; I contemplate death. I reach out to a nearby Cosmos flower, dried and brittle, it crumbles in my hand. The slight breeze carries away the debris, and I am left holding seeds, a gift from my precious flower, something to hold on to after its death.

I realize everything dies and becomes the very thing needed for new growth.  It is during the winter months the leaves and dead plants break down into humus, becoming the filter for the spring rains to percolate a steady source of nutrients for new growth and the cycle starts again, nothing wasted This realization brings me comfort, for if everything is to die; it still has a purpose after its death.

I have faced many deaths; death of a marriage, of friendships, and of jobs. I have faced deaths of illusions, a philosophy, and a religion. I have endured the death of loved ones, and I face my own mortality every morning I look in the mirror. Death is a part of life. I gained seeds of wisdom from each ending I experienced, and each shaped me into who I am today. Like the garden, the cycle continues until I die. My goal until then is to glean as much as I can from my experiences and share what I gain with those around me. So when I die, like the flower, I will be known for the beauty I gave to the world and leave seeds for those who carry on after I am gone.

The Rising Sun

Daily Post

Another day dawns – another sleepless night. My nerves shot, and my mood is foul. Another day in a fog of exhaustion. Another wasted day.

Curse you sun for raising so soon, I haven’t had enough rest. Now I will have to start the daily run, the pursuit of some imaginary goal that no one knows what it is. What if today I refuse to play the game – what if I crawled back in bed and closed my eyes to this day?

From my kitchen window, I can see the opening of my neighbor’s garage door, and I hear a distance barking of a dog. The world is waking up with the sun as if it pulls everyone into a routine. It starts the rhythm of the day, and we are all to march along with it. I don’t want to today, yet I can feel the pull.

I begin my morning duties of coffee making and letting dogs out. Today I walk out with the dogs into the early morning light. The sun has not reached the rooftops yet. I watch the world come alive; the birds perch in their special spot to serenade the giant ball of fire. The frenzy briefly comes to a stand still as the sun begins its rise. It is a red ball of fury – angry too maybe for having to make the same trek day in and day out.

I turn my face towards it and allow it to warm my face, “give me energy dear sun,” I pray as it blinds me to the world. And for a moment I can feel the pull, the energy that must drive all living things to rise and move forward – to join the sun in the daily dance. With the pull of this source of energy I might, just might be able to make it through another day.

I stand in the golden light, and I praise the creator of the sun, and I feel rejuvenated. I relish the sight before me as the sun sets the landscape aglow. It kisses the treetops and spotlights a singing bird. Yes, it is too powerful to resist, and I fall in step with the rest of creation – marching right in step to the rising sun.

Swing Bridge

Dailypost Word Prompt: Bridge

We spent an amazing day at a state park on the Plateau of Tennessee. It was a beautiful autumn day, with bright trees and cool temperatures. Our explorations led us to a gorge with a swinging bridge.  The drought of the summer dried up most of the waterfall and the jagged rocks  were visible. My husband and sons crossed without hesitation, their movements causing the bridge to sway and vibrate. I wavered as I tried to overcome my fear of heights. On the other side, my family found rocks to perch upon as they waited for me to find my courage to cross; they know me well.

I took a step on the bridge, and it began to sway under my movements. I found the sensation unpleasant and I wanted to retreat but did not want to be a coward. To prove to my family I was brave, I stopped in the center of the bridge, pretending to take in the beauty of the surroundings. The bridge creaked as it swayed and the cable rail did little to offer me security. I forced myself to stay still, although every instinct wanted me to choose a side and move in that direction as quickly as possible. I realize that once again I could make this into a metaphor of my life – and probably everyone’s life, at one time or another – the transition from being one thing for so long and not knowing what to become. The place between the two is a terrifying place to be.

I am a coward, most of the time – I turn around and run back to what I know. Which way will I go this time? Will I be a coward? Maybe if I stay here for a moment, become comfortable on the swaying of the uncertainty, I might find the courage to continue to the unknown.

I am uncomfortable here – but the view is spectacular. Without the restrictions of the banks, I feel like I am floating above it all. Free from what I was and what I need to be. Right now it is a good place to be – until I decide. Will it be the security of what I know or will it be the thrill of becoming someone new? Fear wins most of the time, but my soul longs for something new.

I cross the bridge to join my family to continue our hike. I still stand in the middle of my metaphorical bridge – deciding if I will be coward or if I will be brave.

Be Careful…

A shy and hesitant soul steps out of the hiding of her false self and reveals a secret. I want to telepath to the rest of the group – “Shhhh, she is revealing her soul, be careful of what you say or do.”

During a Bible study long ago,  I shared a secret and the room fell into complete silence. I remember thinking – feeling – “shit, how do I backtrack and conceal what is real”. The vulnerability I felt at that moment was painful. I do not know what the ladies thought when I exposed this secret of mine. I do not know if I shocked them all into silence or they just did not know what to say. I was painfully aware that I was exposing a truth about myself and I was facing the possibility of rejection.

I cried on the way home, and as I was sniffling at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green, a question formed. “What did I expect them to say?” Did I want their validation that I should not be ashamed of this secret? Did I want their pity? No, what I wanted was a safe place, to be honest. When I revealed, I felt the shame, and I wanted the group to take away the shame. They did not – nor should they have. The lesson was mine to learn – if I wanted honesty then I needed to learn to stand proudly in the experiences that made me who I am. Their silence gave me the space to test that ability and to show them and myself that the truth would set one free.

I went back to the group, and no one spoke a word about the secret I shared. I did not apologize nor did I hang my head in shame. If I wanted to be within a group who was honest, I was going to have to learn to be okay with what I shared. I tried to learn a balance of when to share and when not too. I asked questions that I believe some were afraid to ask and I answered questions with sincere and honest answers. Over time a friendship formed out of this group – a friendship I cherish. A friendship my soul longed for. In her friendship, I have learned to be real, and it has changed my life.

Now when I am in a group or one on one with someone, I am as transparent as I can be without coming on too strong – I am still learning the balance of give and take – to give enough to reveal and to listen enough to see if there is a connection. I do not have a deep connection with all of the people I come in contact with; one must learn to be guarded in some relationships. A person only needs one to be real with, I am lucky to a have a few. Yes, those few who are reading this blog, I am speaking of your friendship.

I have found if I listen carefully, I will be able to sense when someone is trying to be transparent. When I see it – I find it beautiful. It is the one who says a word or a sentence to reveal a deeper meaning – a truth of an experience that made her who she is today. I want to say to her “I see you – you brave, brave soul.”

But the soul is like a shy deer stepping into the clearing, barely revealing itself to you. And you know if you speak or move, it will retreat to safety, so you remain quiet and marvel at the wonder.

And if, by chance, I make eye contact – I want her to know I heard her – I saw the marvelously brave thing she just did. I want her to know I caught a glimpse of her true self and I am in awe.

 

Daily Post Writing Prompt: Careful

The Tree

Daily Post Prompt: Graceful

Daily Post Prompt: Tree

The tree loomed – with outreaching branches like a mother’s arms reaching out to a distraught child. She ran to it, hugging the trunk, the bark rough against her cheek. She easily scrambled up to her favorite branch. Hidden in the foliage of the tree, she allowed the tears to flow, her sobs muffled by the rustling of leaves. As she grieved, the dance of the leaves against the brilliant blue sky hypnotized her and her imagination took flight.

A whirling leaf took on the image of her little sister – singing and dancing gracefully with a magic wand. The wand shimmered as she raised it above her head and the treetop turned into a ballroom, with floors of polished mahogany and the walls adorned in brilliant shades of gold. Their parents followed, mother’s hand clutching her heart, her eyes wide with delight and father nodding his head with approval, eyes twinkling with pride. Another image appeared – an elephant bounced in on the scene complete with a pink tutu draping from her oversize hips. Elephant mimicked the dance of Leaf Princess; the room shook under its weight. A path of destruction followed Elephant and the room looked like a war zone. Princess commanded Elephant to stop, but Elephant was oblivious as she danced freely. The eyes of Princess burned with rage, and she leaped towards Elephant and pointed her wand, “Stop” she yelled, and the clumsy beast froze. Elephant finally saw the looks of disgust on her family’s faces. Coldness filled her and made her blood turn to ice, and turning her heart to stone and she lost all desire to dance and sing.

The sound of her mother’s far away voice erased the image from her mind. The sky behind the treetop had deepened, and the air had a chill. She swung down and hung from her branch, her feet inches from the ground. She willed herself to let go, and she landed at the base of the trunk. She reached out to touch the rough bark and spoke to the giant tree in a small voice. “I do not want to be an elephant.” Tears filled her eyes again, and she looked up into the branches of the tree. She allowed her imagination take flight once again and the tree came to life.

It took on the appearance of a wise old man, wrinkled with time. The eyes were dark but gentle and the voice cracked with age. “Listen to me, my favorite tree climber,” it said as a branch reached down and pulled her closer. “I too long to be graceful, but can you imagine me dancing?” She giggled at the image as the old tree continued. “Yes the world admires graceful people.   Do you love me less because I am big and clumsy?” She shook her head and wrapped her arms around its trunk. “Do you believe others love you less because you are not graceful?” She shrugged her shoulders and rested her cheek against its trunk; she could feel the vibration of its voice as it spoke. “Some are born to be graceful, others are not, but we are all given a choice to accept the grace of God. And it does not matter if you are a princess, an elephant or an old oak tree; you can always be kind and forgiving. But if you focus on what you are not, you will become bitter and angry.”

Her mother’s voice rang once more, and the tree became a tree again. With one last look, she ran home, towards the worried sound of her mother’s voice, with the tree’s words echoing in her heart “be full of grace.”

Silence

Daily Post Prompt: Silence

I spent a weekend at Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky for a silent retreat. I was nervous when my friend and I pulled up into the parking lot. The Abbey stood in front of us, beautiful and intimidating – I was not sure I wanted to face the silence.

As I rolled my suitcase along the hallway the sound echoed off the walls and I felt like a loud intruder who had yet to shed the remnants of the world. I left my suitcase in my small room with its narrow cot and went to explore the grounds. The garden was a noisy place, filled with traffic sounds from a nearby road, the roar of the monk’s tractor as it harvest wheat and whirl of the lawn mowers as the landscapers maintained the grounds. I was disappointed, I knew I was there for the silence and I was not finding it.

I eventually made my way to the balcony of the church. As soon as the door closed behind me I knew this was the place I needed to be. The silence felt heavy – like a burden. It rested on me like a blanket – suffocating. I let it rest upon me and pin me down under its weight. I was facing silence for the first time – and I was terrified but relieved, I am tired of running. It was time to come face to face with myself.

I sat in the heavy silence and melted into a pool of tears. Tears of sorrow and of joy – the in-between space. Silence is the space between both. It is Holy space – and although I know it resides in me – I felt the full weight of it in the holy sanctuary.

What I felt in the church was the humming reverence of the spirit. In a small church where even the smallest sound sounded like a thunder-clap – I heard the sound of God. He is the silence.

It is a silence almost impossible to find – maybe it was the original purpose of church, a place to find silence. My church at home is big, beautiful and on the corner of a busy street. It is a place to be seen. I would not weep openly in my church – I am too visible. I feel invisible in this sanctuary and I feel freedom. I feel free to kneel, to bow my head and let my tears drip off my nose. I close my eyes and breath in the silence – and allow it to wrap itself around me – like an embrace. When the monks enter and sing, I am lulled in the arms of God.

Brother Carlos told us during our orientation that the purpose of silence is to create a hermitage in one’s heart, a place where one can be free to explore one’s feelings with curiosity and to contemplate on the day’s events. I believe he was explaining what happen to me in the church.

“To look out from this untouchable silence is what we mean by contemplation.” (Thomas Merton).

I will never forget that day in the church. The day I faced silence and felt love.

Depression

Daily Post Writing Prompt: Recharge
The ground vibrates under my feet and I cannot deny it any longer. Depression is barreling down on me like a locomotive. I can hear the warning call and see the light in the distance. In my younger days I was able to outrun it by denying it but as I have aged I have lost the ability.

I can see the light rounding the bend and I stand transfixed like a deer in the headlights –I cannot advert my gaze as it comes closer… And closer… And closer… I see the conductor – it is a continuous changing of people who have had some kind authority over my life. Beside the conductor is a figure that slowly morphs into a demon, with pointed ears, red complexion and serpent-like tongue. The train is close enough and  I can hear his laughter – he has caught up with me. His hand reaches for the pull-cord of the whistle.

I call out to a friend to save me. I reach out to my husband to pull me from the tracks, but they cannot hear me for the noise of the train. I am alone in this – and I wait for the inescapable impact.

Maybe I can fight it – but it plows right through me. I am a fool to think that I can battle someone driving a locomotive. The impact plunges me into darkness.

Jonah must have felt this kind of darkness when he was in the belly of the whale and like Jonah, I cry out to God. “Why does this train follow me wherever I go? Why do people set its course to destroy me?“ In the darkness I feel the answer, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the dank place I am in.

The problem is not the conductor of the train but the train itself. The train represents a deep wound and certain people are able to push the button to start it moving. The people wake it up and draw it out into the open. When the realization of this sinks in, the foreboding darkness deepens, for it is easier to fight the devil when he takes on a human form than to face a powerful train. It will take strength I don’t have.

It will require strength outside of myself – a power source that will recharge the light from within me and chase away the darkness and it will take time.