A Part of the Whole

“As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you. Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” Romans 12:3-5

In this journey of healing and homesteading, it shouldn’t be any surprise to myself that I often measure my worth by what I have accomplished each day. I pressure myself constantly to do more, over-crowding my life until I squeeze all of the, well, life out of it. And I drive myself bananas trying to fit that 30 hour day into a 24 hour time frame. As I blogged about yesterday, growing up with an alcoholic in the home, unreasonable expectations were placed upon me.

In high school, and for several years after, my dream was to be a heavy metal rock star. I wanted to be on that stage, playing my guitar, being viewed as the best of the best. I was driven to find some worth in myself and, despite having a beloved grandfather as a mentor with my writing, that wasn’t an acceptable career in those days; a metal artist was so much cooler (sorry, Poppop…). And, in my more honest moments, I know part of the musical appeal was to get under my stepfather’s skin; my father plays guitar, too.

Gary Richrath of REO Speedwagon (though not a metal band), George Lynch of Dokken and, later, Lynch Mob fame, and Yngwie Malmsteen were my heros, my mentors, if you will. And I wanted to play just like them…especially George. I also sang lead. Queen of Metal, Doro, was the major influence there. I wanted to sound just like her but she’s a powerhouse as a vocalist. My own voice, by comparison, sounded weak to my ears. As mentioned yesterday, my stepfather often taunted me about my musical aspirations. However much I practiced, it was never enough. I should work harder, practice more…if I wanted to succeed…even as he directed from the easy chair. In those earlier days, if I read an article that George Lynch practiced 8 hours a day–and, of course, this jived with my stepfather’s “advice”–then I would suddenly be killing myself trying to squeeze those 8 hours of practice around 6-8 hours of work and another 7-8 hours of sleep…and mentally beating up on myself when I failed. My younger self did not take into account that each of these artists were performing for a living. They didn’t have to go to a “day” job (though I’m sure they all had one before they “made it”).

Sadly, that vicious cycle of comparing myself to others and pushing myself to do more, because I never do “enough”, has stayed with me through the years. I recently read that author, Nora Roberts, writes 8 hours a day, every single day of the week…including holidays and vacations. I don’t know how true this is but I do know I simply don’t have 8 hours a day to give to my craft, no matter how much I may wish it or enjoy it. The best I can do is 4 hours…and that’s only if homework and homestead work don’t take priority. I still try to get to the keyboard–or at least sit with a notebook and pen–every day. Again, that’s the best I can do. I do not have the luxury of staying at home all day, everyday. I haven’t gotten that proverbial foot in the door of the writing industry enough that I can afford to stay home (and maybe some would argue that’s what’s holding me back but I’m also partial to food and shelter…for me, for Mom and for my animals). That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried to “find” 8 hours a day though. And, for anyone who has been following this blog since last August or September, you know I suddenly started setting my alarm for 3:30 a.m. after reading an article that Dolly Parton does her best writing at that hour. That fell by the wayside fast as first Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and then a bit of Chronic Epstein-Barr slapped me in the face. I work away from home evenings; I don’t get home early enough to support such an early rising. And that’s a fact. I’m now back to 5:30-6:00 a.m. And most of my writing time has been shifted to evenings, after all of my college homework and chores on the homestead are done, and the rest of the world is heading off to bed (fewer interruptions that way).

It’s the same with the homestead. In this case, my mentors are the folks at Path to Freedom. My homestead is nowhere near as developed as theirs; it’s certainly not a working farm yet. I have to constantly remind myself that this is a family working 1/5 of an acre. I have almost a full acre and, while Mom may plant a few vegetables, most of the work is mine. The Dervaes also started over 20 years ago; I’ve only just begun.

What all of this means is that the mental and emotional abuse I endured as a child and teen, I still perpetuate on myself today. I’m still not “enough”, not doing enough. And so, I see myself as less than those I might unwittingly put on the proverbial pedestal. Whenever I receive a compliment about my playing, my singing, my writing, or anything else I do, it always comes as a surprise and then a bit of discomfort that I am not deserving of the compliment. Such are the seeds of doubt planted by the alcoholic…and they are as perennial and as invasive as a blade of couch grass.

The truth of the matter is that my perception of self is actually quite skewered. I may not get up at 3:30 anymore, or write a full 8 hours each day, but I continue to maintain a 4.0 GPA in a creative writing degree program. I have been published before; have had a couple of professors encourage me to try publishing some of what I’ve written for class, and I’ve managed to attract a following of over 500 people with this blog in less than a year’s time. Once, while practicing with the folk group at church for our Christmas program, I was admonished by the choir director to sing softer. Our objective was to sing the Baby Jesus to sleep…not wake the dead. So much for that “weak” voice. And, many years back, my second husband’s nephew gave me quite a compliment when his mother pooh-poohed my guitar playing and he exclaimed, “But you haven’t heard Auntie Lisa play!” And, of course, having grown up with alcoholism in the home, my mind immediately rejected the compliment.

“One evening I was taken by surprise when another member complimented me. I was very uncomfortable with this gesture of kindness, feeling inside that I didn’t deserve it. When I tried to talk her out of her kind words, she refused to take them back.” (Courage to Change, 1992, p. 130).

Ironically, it is a young adult fiction story that has helped me to accept and appreciate who I am. It is a novel by author, Karen Cushman, called “Catherine Called Birdy” in which a young woman in medieval times seeks to find her purpose in life by trying to be an artist, running away with a circus (or maybe it was a fair; been awhile) and various other projects. In the story, Catherine trails a Jewish family and the old grandmother finally gets her to open up about why she wants to join their traveling show. I’m going to paraphrase a bit but the old woman admonished her that when she got to the pearly gates of heaven, she wouldn’t be asked why she wasn’t an artist, or a dancer, or someone else. She would be asked why she wasn’t Catherine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t play like George Lynch, sing like Doro, have a fully-working homestead like the Dervaes or write for 8 hours like Nora. I sing, play, write and homestead like me. Like that part of Christ’s body, as He intended.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Al-Anon Family Groups, (1992). “Courage to Change.” Al_Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc, Virginia Beach, VA.

Cushman, K. (1994). “Catherine Called Birdy.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, MA.

Learning Peace of Mind

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid…John 14:27

I’ve neglected my Al-Anon daily reader for awhile now…and it shows. Tonight I picked up “Courage to Change” and read today’s message. As always, it was exactly what I needed.

Today’s reading talks about how we often deny the gifts we have by wishing that things were different. Or by refusing to “accept something over which” we are “powerless” (Courage to Change, p. 129). No matter how many years I have spent in therapy, or whether or not I am currently exposed to active alcoholism, it always amazes me how quickly I can fall back on the learned behavior that I grew up with. There is a constant maintenance that never really goes away. If I ignore it, get lazy, whatever you wish to call it, that learned behavior creeps back in and takes over again. Maybe not as strongly, because there is a healing that came with the past maintenance, but it can certainly wreak some havoc…sort of like the weeds in my garden. If I don’t get out there each day and pull a few of them, they’re liable to take over.

And, really, with Mom now living on the homestead with me, it is more important than ever that I keep up that maintenance.

No, Mom seldom, if ever, drinks alcohol. She was married to an alcoholic for 40+ years. Granted, he went dry the last five years of his life. Quit cold turkey. But never attended an AA meeting or sought any professional help; he didn’t think he needed it. Mom learned a lot of coping behaviors in those 40+ years. And, living together, I find myself confronting some of them in myself, too.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk for some time now. A lot of stress, mostly financial, but there is also some stress in simply learning how to live again with Mom. I’ve gone from being 50 years old to being treated like I’m 15. I know it is a Mom “thing” but it grates against the nerves at times. I also find I’m a bit territorial. When Mom moved in she offered to take over kitchen detail. On the one hand, I appreciate the offer, her willingness to help. On the other hand, I really miss my relaxing Sunday afternoons, cooking and baking for the whole week, freezing portions for later in the month, canning, preserving, and also making herbal tinctures and salves and such. I enjoyed planning out my meals before I did a grocery shopping and saving the money that such planning brought about. The simple solution would be to simply sit down with Mom and talk about it. But here is where the learned behavior comes in.

Mom will sit and listen to whatever I have to say. She will nod and agree with me, tell me to go ahead and start cooking, etc; defensively assure me that she’s not stopping me. A half hour later, she will be in the kitchen again. I’ve even gone so far as to half-jokingly tell her I was kicking her out of the kitchen, or firing her from KP duty (after the umpteenth meal of scrambled eggs, rubbery and tasteless on the inside, super-crispy-can-barely-cut-them-with-a-fork on the outside). It doesn’t matter. She’s learned to ignore such requests. Because my stepfather made requests and then changed his mind again as it suited him, which is typical of an alcoholic. Who could possibly keep up? She learned to agree with whatever he said to his face…even as she went about her own business later. She was very careful to agree while he was talking. Any opposition and, like many alcoholics, he would start yelling and screaming at her. He could also be violent. So she agreed. We all did. Because it was better than dealing with the temper tantrums.

As you can guess, we don’t communicate well. I learned to stuff everything. Actually, Mom did, too. We mutter under our breath instead…and then pretend we said something entirely different if, what we muttered, carries farther than we thought it would. A passive-aggressive approach because, living with an alcoholic, you really can’t voice your opinions, your feelings, express your wants or needs. Again, it’s the temper tantrums.

In Al-Anon, “The Serenity Prayer” is often recited:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonally happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”

I cannot change what our past has been. But, by ignoring the myriad tools that I have been given, through both therapy and Al-Anon, I allow that past to taint the present and the future. I’ve even allowed it to affect my homestead.

Another learned behavior from living with active alcoholism is a skewered perception of what one can and cannot accomplish in an hour, a day, a week, etc. The alcoholic will ask for the impossible and then berate you when you fail. I remember when I was learning to play guitar, my stepfather used to make comments that everyone else he ever knew who played would always have the guitar in their hands. They practiced 6, 7, 8 hours a day…or more. He would then insinuate that maybe I didn’t really want to play, or that I didn’t really have any talent. Though I worked 30+ hours a week, and still managed to practice for 2-3 hours each night after work, in his eyes it wasn’t enough.

Today, no matter how much I do accomplish, it’s still never enough. I am a single woman working this land alone. I know exactly where I want to be but, because I’m not there yet, I often feel ashamed. Because it’s not a fully-working farm yet. Because, like healing from the effects of alcoholism–even someone else’s, homesteading is a journey. And, like healing, there is always room for improvement. I deny myself the gift of that journey.

And, by holding onto these learned behaviors, I also deny myself the gift of my mother, whom I am still blessed to have here on this earth. 40+ years of learned behavior will never likely ever be “unlearned”; this is where I learn to accept the things I cannot change. The only thing I can change is…myself. My own behavior. So I think “Courage to Change” is going to become a daily reader again…along with some regular meetings whenever I can either find a meeting within walking distance…or find the transportation to drive to the nearest one.

“While I am responsible for changing what I can, I have to let go of the rest if I want peace of mind. Just for today I will love myself enough to give up a struggle over something that is out of my hands.” (Courage to Change)

May God bless you & keep you!

Al-Anon Family Groups (1992). “Courage to Change”. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Virginia Beach, VA.

The Birth of an Animal Rights Activist

My parents didn’t spay or neuter. They believed that every animal should have at least one litter. Only we never seemed to stop at just one.

As a little girl, having a constant stream of young kittens and puppies to play with alternated between the thrill and delight that any child experiences when presented with a new kitten or puppy, and the underlying sorrow that I would have to say, “Goodbye” to them in the not-so-distant future. My mother always assured me that we would find homes for them. We seldom did. And, of course, we couldn’t keep any of them; we couldn’t afford to feed that many. And how do you choose just one? Besides, if we kept only one, it wouldn’t be fair to the others, they assured me. And, as I was constantly told, as the kitten or puppy matured, the mother would start to fight with them and I wouldn’t want that.

Every six to eight weeks my stepfather would place the kittens and/or puppies into a box and we would take another trip to the local shelter or pound. I always accompanied him, unwilling to relinquish those last few moments I would have with my new friends. I hid my tears the best I could. And whispered to each of them how much I loved them and how sorry I was; as a child, I was powerless to change their lot in life. And I knew it. I also lied to each of them, telling them they would find homes. Because that’s what I was told. And I wanted to believe.

Of course, once we arrived, those beliefs were shattered–both for me and for my young friends. Walking through rooms full of cages that were full of unwanted and unloved animals was overwhelming. The frantic yipping and meowing as each animal begged to be released, to find that forever home, was a heart-wrenching chorus…especially since we weren’t there to adopt, but to add to their numbers. How on earth do you find homes for so many animals when we couldn’t even find homes for 5 or 6? In every shelter there was also a row of cages labeled Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. I guess you could call it “death row” because, even as a child, I understood enough that the animals in these cages (or pens) had only until that next Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to find a home. Afterwards, they were gassed. This was the 1970’s; no-kill shelters, if any existed then, were unheard of. And so we left them there and drove home again.

Our pets free-ranged the neighborhood. We lost quite a number to the streets and highways as motorists, unable to brake quickly enough, struck them down. Daisy, Ginger, Misty would be in heat again; it didn’t take long for other dogs or cats to find them and impregnate them. And the whole cycle would start all over again. I lied to Ginger and Misty, too. I told them we would find homes for these puppies or kitties…

And, as I type this, I realize that at some point we did start choosing at least one from a litter. Ginger was Daisy’s daughter. While Daisy had only 6 puppies (yes, only!), Ginger had 12, 13, sometimes more. Some of them might have been still-born but the numbers were astronomical for a relatively small dog. We also kept Ginger’s son, Barney. Barney came down with heartworms. He died slowly, painfully, gasping his last on my parents’ bed. We didn’t do vets either. And while Misty wouldn’t venture outside but did have Muzi in the beginning; he gave her a litter of four kittens before he was run over by a motorist. We kept three of the kittens; a friend took the other in a rare instance of finding someone a forever home. However, one of those kittens was a male–Toby. All of Misty’s litters afterwards were by her son, a too-close breeding.

Bubbles, whose only litter-mate had been stillborn, spent her first year with us. She couldn’t “me-ow”; she made a little tsk-ing sound each morning as she jumped onto my dresser and waited for me to awaken. Though they were all grown, mother and child did get along just fine; another myth debunked. Bubbles also never went into a heat or, if she did, Toby had no interest in his sister/daughter. Only a year with me but she carved a place so deep into my heart that I was devastated when, after a year of cuddling this beloved pet, my stepfather gave her to the dog warden along with Misty and Toby’s latest offspring. I cried an ocean of tears but there was no getting her back. My stepfather screamed and hollered at me to stop; I’m still getting choked up now.

When we moved across country a year later, the dog warden came again to pick up Misty and Toby to take them to the shelter. He was a neighbor of ours. When I asked him, with all of my teenage heart hanging on my sleeve, if they would find new homes, he didn’t lie to me. He said they would try. By then, Misty was an older cat. While I hope she did find some caring person to give her a new home, I also can’t help wondering how much time she spent in a cage, feeling alone and abandoned, before she, too, found her way into a cage labeled “Monday”; ditto for Toby. Daisy and Ginger both found their way onto Interstate 70. Daisy in a blind panic from Fourth of July fireworks; Ginger, just because. It was a year before this move. In that year, we had acquired Baby, a little beagle. At least in her, I know she went to a good home. A neighbor of ours, knowing we were moving, offered to take her in. She and her husband were unable to have children. Their home was filled with cages of birds, hamsters, guinea pigs, etc. They also had cats but no dogs yet. It was not a hoarding situation; these animals were the beloved children they never had. While my heart broke to say “goodbye” to Baby, as we pulled away from the curb that one last time, my heart knows she was at least loved throughout the end of her days. I vowed then and there that, when I was finally out of the house and on my own, no matter what, if I ever had to move, I would make that extra effort to find lodgings that would allow me to keep my pets. The heartache was just too great. And the looks of confusion and fear on each pet’s face haunt me still. Over the years, the myriad rescues I have taken in have all been either super anxious to win my affection, fearing being abandoned again, or else, incredibly shy and quite a work to win over; I suspect, if Bubbles, Misty, Toby & Co. did find homes, they were tough to win over, too.

We got Tiger when we finally rented our new house in Rhode Island. Tiger disappeared only a few months after we got him. Then we got Garfield and, later, Samantha. Samantha’s first litter all died before they were weaned. By this time, I was in my early-20’s but still living at home. I had graduated high school before we left St. Louis and was now working a part-time job, while also taking a correspondence class in Journalism and Short Story Writing, taking guitar and voice lessons, and fronting metal bands. Samantha had a bit of a nasty attitude; few could pet her, let alone handle her. I was an exception but that trust didn’t come along until after she’d had her second litter. There were complications. Three of the kittens were still attached to the umbilical chord, which had somehow gotten wrapped around her front paw. My stepfather noticed the problem but assumed she would get them off on her own and left her alone. By the time I came home from work at noontime, Samantha’s paw was three times its normal size due to her circulation being cut off. When I came in the door, she jumped out of the box she’d been laying in and chirped at me. Amazingly, she let me look at her paw but the chord was so deeply embedded into her skin, there was no way for me to cut it. I picked her up, placed her back in the box and closed the flaps (we didn’t have a pet carrier because our pets rarely, if ever, visited the vet), then headed for the door.

My stepfather tried to stop me. He yelled and threatened. He wasn’t paying for any vet. I was working; I had money saved in the bank. I would pay for it. As if it was an even worse threat, he told me if I was going to pay all that money foolishly, then when I finally moved out, I was taking Samantha with me. I told him I planned to anyway and stormed out the door.

We drove to East Greenwich Animal Hospital where the prognosis was not good. She had one kitten in the box who was not attached to the chord and seemed fine, but the other three were so tightly wrapped with her, that the vet could give me only two options: either I take the paw (i.e. amputate) or he euthanizes the kittens because he could not cut them away otherwise. While it broke my heart to lose such young lives, I opted to spare Samantha’s paw; he wasn’t even sure she would regain full use of it but, thankfully, she did. And he managed to save one of the kittens still attached. Like the previous litter, the two that survived this initial catastrophe, died before they were weaned. Not wanting to ever go through such a thing again, I had Samantha spayed. Again, my stepfather threatened that I was to take her with me when I moved out; he thought the money spent to spay/neuter was a waste.

When I moved out in 1990, Samantha came with me. She had belonged to my Aunt Sandy’s father-in-law before we took her in; she was at least a year old then. I had her another 15 years. She died of renal failure just before I bought the property that is now The Herbal Hare Homestead. Prior to her passing, my then-father-in-law was amazed at the lengths I was willing to go to to spare her life. He walked in one night while I was hooking up the IV to administer her daily sub-cutaneous fluids. Though he thought it was silly, he also thought I’d make a good vet.

I beg to differ. I think the constant exposure to neglectful and abusive pet owners, the continued exposure to unwanted and abandoned pets, would turn me into a fanatic. And fanaticism doesn’t help anyone. I also don’t think my poor heart could take the pain of it. Though I know, and have had to make such decisions, to terminate a life that is beyond any human capacity to help, I think I’d be an empty shell from it over time. Instead, I’d rather mitigate as much suffering as I can by caring for the orphans that come my way and making The Herbal Hare Homestead a haven and a rescue for those in need. And, where possible, to lend my time and financial resources to help others who can provide that veterinary care better than I can. Over the years, I have added herbal remedies to my care; rabbits, especially, do not always respond well to more orthodox medicines. Thankfully, my vet’s sister is also an herbalist and he’s well-versed in the myriad herbs and their uses and, rather than condemn, as many would, applauds my use of them. Over the years, we’ve worked together…rather than against each other. (Would that more doctors, nurses and vets open their minds and hearts to such practices; herbs and modern medicine, when understood, often compliment each other…and alleviate more suffering by doing so)

May God bless you & keep you!

Thoughts on This Blogging Thing

It has been seven months of pretty steady blogging. And, wow, what a change in my life this has made. Sure, there have been a few hiccoughs along the way when my postings haven’t been quite as steady: a bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (still recovering from that but it’s getting better); the loss of Internet service at home; and, amazingly, once you break a habit, such as a very early rising to write and blog, it is very difficult to get back on that horse again and ride, as they say. But I won’t give up. And I love horses…and blogging.

Obviously, this post is a reflection of these past seven months. Prior to making this commitment, my blog posts were pretty sporadic, spanning months sometimes in between. Now, when I’m away for even a few days, I’m like that hungry bear coming out of hibernation. It’s become like a drug and I need my fix. These seven months have taught me a few things, too.

First, I underestimate myself. And maybe others, too. When I first started, I think the reason my posts were so few and far between was because I didn’t believe I had anything to say that people would want to read. The long list of followers and “likes” for each post that I have received these last several months–both here on WordPress and on my Facebook timeline from friends and family–have proved me wrong. And a big “Thank You!” to all of you for the boost in confidence; the support; and simply for being curious enough to read a post or two in the first place. Also, to the many friends and family members who have “shared” some of my posts.

“In Al-Anon I realized that I had a distorted self-image. I had never thought to question my beliefs, but when I took a good look, I discovered they were untrue.” (Courage to Change, 1992, 192)

Another thing I’ve learned, and there is a little voice of cynicism rippling through as I type this, is there is definitely some truth to that old adage that those closest to you have the toughest time accepting changes in you. In being brutally and painfully honest about the effects of alcoholism and abuse in my past; in sharing political views; in taking a much stronger stand with my blog about animal rights and environmentalism; in staying true to my faith in God and openly sharing that faith, I have alienated many who have been close to me and yet, ironically, found new friends who share my views–in some cases, in places I never would have expected. This last one is a gift because we can never have too many friends.

A difference of opinion can divide the best of friends. I am learning, through blogging, to be more forgiving of those whose reactions in the face of a different opinion may be hostile. I’m learning not to react in kind. A difference of opinion is simply that. A difference. It need not divide us. But I’m also learning to accept that sometimes it does…and not to take it so personally. In short, I’m growing a thicker skin yet being more willing to offer that olive branch in return. Life is too short.

I think the most amazing thing that has happened with blogging, is I am learning to stand up for myself and what I believe in. I hope I am doing so in a respectful way; I have no desire to purposefully alienate anyone…I do enough of that without trying. (chuckle) But I am no longer as afraid to rock the proverbial boat. My thoughts, feelings, views and opinions may be in the minority in some circles. But I truly have learned to say, “That’s okay”, and really mean it. I now share those feelings, thoughts, opinions and views anyway. And not as a heart-on-my-sleeve victim but simply as a fellow human being with a voice that no longer wishes to be silent. And, really, I think that’s what writing is all about: having something to say. Whether it is a blog, such as this one, a news story, a textbook or even a story made up expressly for the purpose of entertaining, writers are good with words. I hope I am…and this blog is good means of exercising that creative muscle.

As for homesteading? This blog has been good medicine for that, too. I know where I want to go, where I want to be but, for years, I have allowed others to sometimes influence of bit of my direction. If there is anyone more of a non-conformist as me, I’d truly like to meet them. While more and more people turn back to the land because of a distrust of what’s in our food and what sort of damage is being done to the environment, I am in the minority even further being a single female doing this homesteading thing and, while I raise animals, I do NOT raise them for meat. That’s a complete anomaly. They are here for eggs or dairy, or fiber for spinning, depending on the animal; they give me free fertilizer for the garden; companionship, love and laughter. That’s enough. But it has taken me seven months of steady blogging to be able to write this and to say it aloud, and to not care if people don’t “get it”. This is part of who I am and I make no apology for it.

A friend sent me something that I copied on a little Post-It note that has been attributed to author Anais Nin. I don’t know if she really said this or not but it fits: The time came that to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

May God bless you & keep you!

Works Cited

“Courage to Change” Al-Anon Conference Approved Literature. Al-Anon, Virginia: 1992

The Power of Prayer

“Come and hear, all of you who reverence the Lord, and I will tell you what he did for me: For I cried to Him for help, with praises ready on my tongue. He would not have listened if I had not confessed my sins. But He listened! He heard my prayer! He paid attention to it! Blessed be God who did not turn away when I was praying, and did not refuse me his kindness and love.” Psalm 66:16-20

Today, for the first time in weeks, I dialed in to The Prayer Cafe. What is The Prayer Cafe? It is a 20 minute group prayer hosted by The Christian Mompreneur Network. Though I am not a Mom (at least of any human children), I am seeking to build my own home-based business–in plural, actually. And, while, yes, I hope that at least one of these business ventures succeeds well enough to sustain Mom and I and our menagerie of fur and feather babies, I also hope that at least one of these business ventures will succeed well enough that I can also give back to the community.

And therein lies the truth of where I’ve been at fault.

I started this blog post to talk about prayer and how my soul has been thirsting for this 20 minutes each week of prayer and fellowship with these ladies–ladies I have never met face-to-face but whom I have grown to love very much. I have been thirsting, feeling dried up and maybe a little hopeless inside. I posted a prayer request because of all the financial difficulties I’ve been assaulted with of late–November was a rough month all around with 3 major losses of beloved fur and feather babies, and the usual stress of re-applying for emergency mortgage assistance until I can finally get back on my feet financially. The end of that first paragraph was an “Aha!” moment. The host of The Prayer Cafe posted something afterwards to me about the biblical truth of “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of your needs will be met.” He spoke to her heart. And He just spoke to mine.

Did I not just type it the other way around? Did I not just type about giving back to the community AFTER the blurb about my own needs? I’m too focused on my own problems instead of giving them up to God. Instead of letting Him take control of my life. And so, He gave my friend the wisdom to post this reminder of His love, and His command, to seek Him FIRST. It’s not about me. It’s about Him. And always has been.

What does He want for me? (Note: that’s FOR me, not FROM me…) What are His plans for my life? Have I ever stopped to ask…and stayed long enough to listen to my heart, the voice of God speaking within it? Usually I run away from the answer out of fear, out of that lack of trust that I blogged about last week. I’m afraid to “Let go and let God”. Afraid that some part of me is not worthy of such goodness. That’s what comes from growing up with alcoholism and abuse but I can only blame others, perhaps, for the first 18 years of my life; what I’ve done or experienced since is on me. And I am choosing to hand the reins over to the God of my consciousness, a God of love.

Does that mean that hard times are going to miraculously stop happening? No. He doesn’t promise us smooth sailing, just a safe landing at the end of it all. He promises to love us, to see us safely through all of life’s challenges. If only we will place our trust in Him. And praise Him for every minute thing we have–both good and bad, because He can use all things to make our lives richer, better, in the long run.

I needed prayer today. I need prayer everyday. We all do. But, in our modern world, where faith in God is often exploited and derided, we neglect our spiritual life. We don’t have time, we tell ourselves. We don’t have the money to give at church because food is scarce or the bills need paying, etc. We walk around with this scarcity mindset, a mindset that only sets us up to attract more of the same. We start neglecting everyone and everything that matters most to us, pushing aside precious moments–time that we can never get back, pushing aside even our most basic needs, pushing aside God. When He is the answer to all of this. Taking those 20 minutes or so today to indulge in this much-needed rest with Him in fellowship and prayer was just what the doctor ordered. I feel more refreshed and at peace. And, in the end, that’s what we’re all searching for. His peace.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Great Divider

Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so bitter and discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. Please show him now that you still do love him very much.” 2 Corinthians 2:7-8

The Great Divider, the Adversary, has been working his mischief in my life of late. Instead of being loving and forgiving, instead of swallowing my pride and reaching out to others with whom I have a bit of conflict, anger and bitterness have been welling up inside and a part of me is ready to cut all ties, to slam the proverbial door in the faces of those who have recently hurt me. And I know that is definitely NOT God’s plan.

I am speaking of the family conflicts that have arisen these past few months, conflicts that I have blogged about a few times. I’ve tried to keep mum about them as much as possible but my soul is hurting because, people I have trusted above all others, have lied about me, lied to me, and now accuse me of things that they should know better about me…even to questioning my faith in the Lord and my vocation as a minister. I know the Bible says the world will hate me because I am His but I don’t think that’s the motivation behind it.

Or is it?

I am suddenly maligned because I won’t take a side in this family conflict. I cannot. Even if I wasn’t a minister, family is extremely important to me and, the idea of turning my back on any family member, goes against everything I believe in. Yes, I know there are many who come from families where they’ve been abused and seriously mistreated–I can claim some of that myself, coming from an alcoholic home with a stepfather who wanted too much to do with me. So I understand why some would not want to associate with family if such an association only brings more pain. Finding the strength to walk away from that abuse and mistreatment takes courage. I know. I’ve been there. And I respect those feelings in anyone who has or is walking a similar path. For myself, I’ve come around full circle, finding forgiveness for those who have either abused me, or who saw the abuse and did nothing to try and stop it. Forgiveness does not wipe the slate clean, it does not justify the offense, the act, the unkind words, etc. Forgiveness, however, does cleanse the soul–the soul of the person who is finally willing to surrender and offer that forgiveness. Forgiveness takes away the resentment that has built upon our souls, resentment that opens the door for that Great Divider, Lucifer, and gives him free rein to wreak even more havoc in our lives. By choosing to forgive, we open the door to Jesus Christ and allow the healing of our broken and battered souls, minds, spirits and bodies to be complete. I cannot change what has happened in my past. Holding onto that resentment and anger only hurts me more; it doesn’t hurt the people who have hurt me. It doesn’t stab them with guilt so that they want to repent. In fact, holding onto that grudge, that resentment, only gives others a power over us, a power that is not of God’s way, a power that tears us down and makes us less than what we are. In short, by holding onto that resentment and anger, another person can claim a victory over us. As can the Adversary. Forgiveness gives us the Power to heal. It tells that Great Divider to “get thee behind me” in Jesus’ name.

There are countless references in the Bible about forgiveness. And each and every one of them admonishes us to forgive our brethren because, if we do not, our Father in heaven will not forgive us. And, no matter how much I may try to deny it, I am as much a sinner as the next soul. So I am choosing forgiveness.

And yet, there’s still that little voice, the voice of my wounded self, that still wants to snarl and sneer. I am still looking to lash out, to shout at the selfishness of spirit that keeps dividing us. And, as I do so, I am reminded of the entry I read today in my Al-Anon daily reader, Courage to Change: “Other people can be our mirrors, reflecting our better and worse qualities. They can help us to work through conflicts from the past that were never resolved. They can act as catalysts, activating parts of ourselves that need to rise to the surface so that we can attend to them.” What part of this situation is pointing that spotlight back on me?

I want to be liked by everyone. That’s the sin of pride. I have this unrealistic view of that utopian world, a world where everyone gets along and shares only the best of themselves. Would that this world existed, but by trying to force it to be so, I am in danger of doing more harm than good. And I can recognize that abused little girl inside of me that gets violently shaken whenever voices and tensions arise. I hate conflict. I avoid it to my own detriment because I still struggle with how to assert myself. Speaking my mind, speaking up for myself, was not encouraged growing up. And, really, I’m thinking that this is the conflict from my past that has never been resolved. For the first time, I asserted myself in this situation. I refused to allow myself to be bullied into taking a side. Because that’s what was done. I was given an ultimatum and I refused to give into it. For the first time, I refused to be a nodding doll, holding my tongue about things that I didn’t agree with simply to keep the peace. I’m sure for some family members this has been akin to one of our resident mice suddenly developing fangs and claws to pounce on my cats rather than the other way around. No, I didn’t “pounce”. I asserted myself calmly. But the effect was the same. While I have never been guilty of trading secrets or bad-mouthing anyone behind their back, because I kept silent when others said things that didn’t sit right, I can certainly understand why others might believe I would. “Keeping silent” has hurt people I care about, has hurt me, and it is akin to lying, even if an untruth was never uttered. By keeping silent, I have given a false impression. I’m not sure if this last revelation is that “mirror” talked about in Courage to Change but it is certainly that catalyst activating a part of me that needs to be attended to. While I would wish it otherwise, and while I know I will never be comfortable with loud voices and angry confrontations, it is better to risk that anger, that disagreement, than deliver another shock to someone later on down the line. And maybe, just maybe, I can finally learn to value myself enough to communicate without harm.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Grateful Journal

“I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of His glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together, and exalt His name.” Psalms 34:1-3

I’m not sure when I actually started keeping a grateful journal. Or where I learned about it in the first place. I do remember sharing with my therapist years’ ago that I had started one and she was enthused about it. But, while I would like to give credit where it is due, and use this moment to give thanks to that source, the best I can do is give thanks to the Source who led me to it. It has truly been a blessing in my life.

What is a grateful journal? Or thankful journal, as some may refer to it? It is a journal where you make a conscious effort everyday to write down a certain number of things that you are grateful for. Mine is a simple notebook of college-ruled paper; it doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place to record your entries. I typically keep mine on the nightstand by my bed and write down 5 things that I am grateful for from that day before I go to sleep. I remember when I started, I only wrote 3 things each night. Then one Lenten season, I upped it to 10; I’ve since settled on 5. The benefits of this exercise is that you start to look at your life a lot differently. Instead of your cup being half-empty, it is now half-full. I never realized how much I complained or entertained negative thoughts until I started this journal. And, if you battle depression as I often do, making an effort to count 5 blessings each day (or whatever the number), is a great way to lift yourself out of that depressed feeling. And talk about giving yourself a boost of confidence!

Don’t think you have enough for which to be grateful? I started listing family members, then friends, and pets. I even included those who have departed this earth, expressing gratitude for the time I did have with them. Once started, I began to see the times we shared, the lessons taught/learned, and even some of the myriad quirks they each possess, and suddenly, I had a treasure trove to account. And it doesn’t have to be a litany of every epiphany or Wow! moment. The mundane is just as good. I have several entries where I have expressed gratitude for popcorn. Sound silly? But I have popcorn to enjoy. That’s something to be grateful for. I have even expressed gratitude for some of the not-so-happy times in my life–like illnesses, injuries, heartaches. All of these have the potential to become opportunities for growth and understanding. It is all about perspective. And that slowly changes when you search daily for things to be thankful for.

As we approach this Thanksgiving season, I am going to share a few of the things I have in my journal:

2/5/2016 “I am grateful for the extra 4 hours of work this week”
3/2/2016 “I am grateful for strawberry banana almond butter smoothies”
3/6/2016 “I am grateful for the story I wrote today”
3/29/2016 “I am grateful for the trip to Maine to look forward to”
4/30/2016 “I am grateful they had the border collies at the CT Sheep & Wool Festival this year”
5/26/2016 “I am grateful for Farnoosh and Smart Exit Blueprint”
5/31/2016 “I am grateful Mom has this holiday with Shaun, Stefanie and the girls”
6/18/2016 “I am grateful for books”
6/19/2016 “I am grateful for healthy food”
7/2/2016 “I am grateful for the blueberry bush, rhubarb and cucumber plants I purchased yesterday”
7/4/2016 “I am grateful the blackberries are ripening”
8/28/2016 “I am grateful for the relaxing place that painting takes me to”
8/31/2016 “I am grateful for Smart Exit Blueprint”
9/3/2016 “I am grateful for the day spent at Uncle Ernie’s house”
9/3/2016 “I am grateful for the ride on the pontoon boat”
9/4/2016, 9/6/2016, 9/8/2016 “I am grateful for cool breezes” (must’ve been hot the week before…LOL!)
9/14/2016 “I am grateful for help trimming goat hooves”
10/8/2016 “I am grateful for the safe trip to and from Salem”
11/9/2016 “I am grateful for all future blessings”

Yes, you can do that. You can give thanks for the future and what it may bring. You can give thanks for anything. And, as you keep a grateful journal, you will give thanks for everything. And that puts a whole new spin on life.

May God bless you & keep you!