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.

I’m a Martha

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat on the floor, listening to Jesus as he talked.
“But Martha was the jittery type, and was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing.
“She came to Jesus and said, ‘Sir, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me’.
“But the Lord said to her, ‘Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it–and I won’t take it away from her!”
(Luke 10:38-42)

It has been a crazy week here at the Herbal Hare Homestead with goats needing de-worming and, of course, it was Holy Week last week and I’ve spent the better part of the last few days at church, giving the readings for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

It was a blessing to be able to serve in such a way. The Holy Saturday vigil was done by candlelight and it was a truly beautiful ceremony. As I gave some of the readings, listened to others’, to Father Elson’s homily, and celebrated a young soldier being baptized, receiving First Communion and Confirmation, for the first time in a very long time, I felt my soul filling with His word, His love. For the first time in a very long time, I surrendered my will to Him and placed at least a tentative trust in Him, that He will not lead me astray, but allowed the knowledge that He truly wants the very best for me–for all of us–to fill me.

And yet, I kept glancing at the clock.

Good Friday’s Liturgy was at 3 p.m. Though the service lasted two hours, even walking, I was home by 5:30 p.m. with plenty of time to feed animals and focus on the day-to-day stuff. The walk home was a perfect time to reflect and absorb the beauty of that service. We observed the Stations of the Cross and, while my bad knees screamed some abuse at me after kneeling twice for each station (14 stations in all), all-in-all, peace settled over me and I walked home feeling contented…and looking forward to the following evening’s ceremony.

I have rarely attended a Holy Saturday vigil. Though I am usually home from work early enough to attend, I confess to placing some worldly concerns before it. But, when the request for volunteers to help with the readings came out, I quickly volunteered…and looked forward to it. Again, it was a beautiful service and my heart was moved throughout. But, like the previous evening’s ceremony, it was rather lengthier than a typical Mass and I found myself looking over my shoulder at that clock.

My farm is on a slightly later schedule than most. As I work evenings and do not get home until around 8 o’clock, feeding time is between 8:00 – 8:30 a.m. and p.m. each day. Saturday there is a slight variation on this because my work schedule is earlier; feeding time gets bumped up to around 7:30. As the hands of that clock drew closer and closer to 7:30, I began to get antsy. Goats and rabbits are both prone to bloat and must be kept on a regular schedule. My poor babies must be getting hungry. I wonder if I can slip out as soon as Communion is served without being noticed…(this from the very first pew!). These thoughts, and more, threatened to derail the peace of this Holy Saturday vigil and I found myself thinking about one of the readings given for Palm Sunday last week. It was the story of the two sisters, Martha and Mary, and how Martha complained to Jesus because her sister did not help with the chores but sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. Suddenly, I felt Him knock and I realized that, while I tell myself that, no, I would be more like Mary, listening to His every word and choosing the better part, the truth is, I’m more like Martha. I worry. I stress. I drive myself to distraction over the “little things”…and miss out on the more important things in life. I have my “routines”; heaven help anything that alters those routines. I snap and squabble and mutter under my breath at these alterations.

In short, I have issues.

And it was never more apparent than during that last half hour of the Holy Saturday vigil. My initial reaction to this realization was to pray for His forgiveness for allowing myself to be so distracted by worldly concerns and then asking Him to still my heart that I might let those concerns go, to place them in His much more capable hands. And then I looked at the clock again. It took several attempts to finally draw my attention back to the vigil and truly focus in again on the blessings being given. The enemy of my soul was doing his best to draw my attention away; Jesus kept reminding me, no, look here. I am the Way.

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

Taking A Step Back

I try not to get political with my blog. Try! Big word, even if it is only three letters. I mean, this blog is supposed to be about homesteading, herbs, animals rights and, most importantly, faith in God. In recent months, I’ve found myself also sojourning into some recovery posts, recovery from growing up with active alcoholism and childhood molestation. The healing from that childhood, along with the development of my homestead and my faith in God are all intertwined in one long journey. By keeping this blog, I hope to help others to heal from similar pasts, and/or to inspire them to take those steps towards a more sustainable future.

Again, I try not to be political. However, what happens in the political arena affects us all. And, sadly, I find I am not immune to all the hoopla going around social media these days…and a quite heated hoopla it is. I’m actually ready to eat some humble pie.

No, President Trump didn’t suddenly become all things wonderful for me; quite the opposite. Too many rash acts that hurt too many people, the animals that share our world, and Mother Earth, herself. Too many rash acts that have the potential to bring us closer to the brink of another world war, and even, if the angry comments flying around social media are any indication, possibly, another civil war. This country has been divided nearly in two. And it breaks my heart to see it.

What hurts more is that I recently lashed out with one of those “open mouth, insert foot” retorts to a friend’s equally ignorant remarks. And I’m not proud of it. In my defense it was the blanket statement that all Democrats are evil that caused the backlash. Not all Democrats, not all Republicans. What makes a body evil is how they act, how they treat their fellow human beings, the other creatures that share this world with us, and even, how they treat the planet. Respect for all life…or a lack thereof. What choices are you making? Are you treating others as you would want them to treat you? Are you intentionally cruel, or worse, indifferent to the so-called “lesser” life forms? I have friends who are Republicans who want President Trump out of the oval office yesterday. And Democrat friends who actually like him. It isn’t our political affiliations that make us good or bad. Again, it is the choices we make. Do we love our neighbors as ourselves? Or do we lash out in anger?

I lashed out in anger. And for that I am truly sorry. So I’ve taken a step back from all of the heated debates, slowed down the number of articles (and, in some cases, potentially propaganda) that I’m sharing on social media, and am simply taking a deep breath. I am also turning to that Source of peace that has been the cornerstone of my life. For me, He is Jesus Christ.

May God bless you & keep you!

The Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath Day; keep it holy

The 4th Commandment ripples through my mind repeatedly on Sunday mornings, as I sit and try to listen to the sermon being given this day. Sometimes, I think I should lighten up. I mean, yes, so it’s a bit of a distraction from said sermon but, at least, my fellow parishioners made the effort to get up on a Sunday morning. They dressed in their best–even if it is their best pair of jeans, or a sweat suit, and sneakers–and came to hear His word, to sing His praises. To worship. How many others are still abed, worshiping St. Mattress? Who am I to judge? I mean, really, what anal gland unleashed its fury on me again?

I’m talking about cellphones, of course.

I made the later Mass this morning and managed to get there early enough to join my friends in the choir loft…where I had a bit of a bird’s eye view of the other parishioners below. I didn’t bother to count the number of cellphones in hand, the number of people web-surfing on their smartphones while Father Tom gave his homily. All I kept thinking was, “How rude!” Common courtesy, to my way of thinking, should dictate we give him the courtesy of at least looking attentive while he gives the homily–even if we are not. Instead, heads were bent, thoughts and interest zeroed in on whatever the Twitter or Facebook community was about. Instead of giving at least half an ear to our Lord and Savior, and the message He has for us through Father Tom’s homily.

I know. That’s their business. And I’d like to believe that His word will reach these distracted ears through osmosis or something at least. But I also find myself getting angry because it isn’t only their business. Around each and every smartphone addict at least a couple of other heads were bent or leaning in to share the latest media gossip. The light-up of the screen drew eyes away from the altar. Distracting…

How rude.

And, perhaps, I’m being uncharitable. Again, it is their business but I can’t help but think how disrespectful it is. And how He asks us to keep this day holy, to remember Him…one day out of the 7 each week. Is it so much to ask? While any attendance at church is a positive, if you’re focused in on your cellphone instead of the sermon, how much are you really attending? I mean, why bother? He deserves at least that much. And your fellow parishioners, those of us who truly want to be present and hear His word, to sing His praises…TO WORSHIP…will thank you for leaving these modern wonders off and in your pocket or purse for a single hour each week. So we may enjoy without the distractions they create.

Yup. I probably should lighten up. Take a deep breath. Breathe. Remember the centering of the week on the yoga mat. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Again, at least they came to church. They remembered. Forget the pet peeve.

But, as another light flutters somewhere to my left, what was that Father Tom just said about loving my neighbor as myself? Okay. I’ll start practicing what I preach and get off my Sunday soapbox.

I really wish I’d caught the first half of that homily though…

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!