Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beads and String

A couple weeks ago I got a phone call from one of my sisters telling me to hurry over to my grandparents' house ("NOW!") because it looked like he had only hours, perhaps just minutes, left to live. That afternoon and evening we sat around my grandfather's bed, crying, laughing, praying, reading Bible passages, telling stories, whispering our goodbyes into ears we weren't sure could hear, hugging and kissing the unconscious form we had been held so lovingly by for all our lives.

His breathing improved instead of getting worse as the night wore on. Eventually most of us decided we needed to go home and get some rest, since it looked like he could carry on in the state he was in for many more hours, or even days.

When I came back the next morning, he was still breathing, and continued to do so all that day. There were several moments where we thought the end was near, but mostly we sat in the room that had always been "Pop Pop's puzzle room," talking about anything and everything. I ended up spending the night that night and falling asleep for a few hours in my grandparents' bed, in Pop Pop's place next to my grandmother. We were shakened awake by the hospice nurse, who said we needed to go to the puzzle room right away. He had gone quickly and suddenly.

But all during that last day while we sat around talking and holding vigil, I kept my hands busy. I brought some elastic string and some purple beads with me and I threaded the beads onto the string, one by one, as the hours ticked by. I'd brought them thinking it would be something to keep my hands busy, since sitting still in one place can sometimes be hard for me. What I didn't realize is that what started as a way to pass the time became something incredibly sacred.

Though I can't remember what we talked about that day, and the sight of his thin, pale face as he lay there in the middle of the room, all of us in chairs around him, is beginning to fade already, I still have the bracelets I made that day. Each bead was threaded in those last precious minutes with him. Each bracelet represents the almost holiness of the room in which one of the men I loved most breathed, in and out, in and out, in and out, during those last minutes and hours.

"Like a rosary," my friend said, when I told her about it on the phone today. Yes, I guess it's a bit like that. All I know is that those bracelets are more sacred than almost anything I own. The cost of the materials was under $5 but those simple purple bands are now priceless.

Yesterday I was going through some emotional pain, but I also had several friends on my mind, all of whom are also suffering pain of different kinds that I feel helpless to ease. And then I remembered the bracelets I made while keeping vigil beside Pop Pop's bed. I pulled my string and beads out again with an idea.

For hours I sat on my bed stringing bright pink beads on elastic string, one by one, and with each bead that I added, I said something either aloud or in my head. Prayers of a sort, at times. Expressions of love. Each bracelet represented a person, and it took a good five to ten minutes to string each one, so I was able to say many, many things to and for each person that I had in mind.

At first I "prayed" one bracelet for the several friends whose pain I am so aware of. Then I kept going and made more for others in my life. Things I see in them. What I hope for them. How sorry I am for hurting them. Thanking them for being in my life.

The sentiments that came to mind or out of my mouth as I threaded the elastic through each and every bead were things like:

"You are so strong and I want so much for you to feel that strength."
"I am so sorry; I was doing what I thought best but now I see that I hurt you so much."
"I hope you can have the courage to take the next step in your journey, no matter what others think."
"I love your sensitivity and cuddly little girl ways."
"I'm sorry I have made you feel that you are too much."
"I want to mirror you to yourself so you can see how gorgeous you are."
"I want you to walk your journey, even if it's away from me."
"You love so fiercely."
"I don't know where I'd be without your friendship."
"I want for you to have a 'nest' of your own making."
"I wish you could see my 'I'm sorry' in my eyes."
"I love you so much."
"When I imagine you acting and living without fear, I weep, because you have NO IDEA how bright you shine."
Those are just a few of the things I "prayed," for lack of a better term. Tears poured down my cheeks through most of the minutes I spent doing this. And then as I tied the end of each finished bracelet to itself to form the bracelet, I said, "I tie myself to you. I love you. I will always love you. I will never stop loving you."

The exercise of doing this was one of the most moving experiences I've had in a long time. The words that came out were words that said what I have thought and felt about these dear ones, but in many cases, never verbalized. I was also startled to find that some of the feelings I had toward those I was praying to/for had never even come to the surface of my consciousness until then. I was saddened that, though I try so hard to mirror those I love to themselves, that they might see what I see and feel what I feel as I experience them, I have not said MOST of the things to them that I found myself saying to their bracelets.

Today I've worn the bracelets and have felt a funny closeness to each one of those people for whom I made a bracelet. The things I said to them are things that, in many cases, I am going to find an opportunity to tell these dear ones, as soon as I can. Though I stopped praying to "God" years ago, I have for awhile now told friends and family that I "hold them in my thoughts," and I do. Often I imagine pulling them into an embrace. Some say they can "feel" that, even from far away. All I know is that it feels like loving them. Making these bracelets in the way I did felt not just like an embrace of them, but like an intimate conversation with them and their spirits, and it felt so good and so right.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I sit quietly with an empty cup that is waiting to be filled with your pain
I send my excuses to bed early and sit up late to rock your hurt until it can sleep
I stand ready with my needle threaded if you bring me what is torn
I listen for the slightest murmur from your side of the door
I watch for you to turn and look, my hands out to receive whatever is in your eyes
I hold my regret and remorse patiently and persistently, with no eye on the clock
I keep a seat in the garden with a soft pillow to lean against if ever you stop by
I wrap friendship in a package and place it in your path...and leave it there

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Flower Fairy Party

We finally had Rachel's friend party this past weekend! The theme was Flower Fairies and everyone had so much fun.

  The beautiful flower fairy that Rachel is holding was hand-created by my friend, Pat.


James is really good at face-painting.

Some of his handiwork!

The cake was handmade by our friend, Sarah Waters

Rachel and Daddy

First step in the Fairy Garden project was for each child to pick a bowl (James had cut a hole in the bottom of each one) and to fill it with potting soil. Then each child got to pick from several different types of flowers and place them wherever they wanted to. Then they added things like moss, glass half-marbles, seashells, coral, spools, sticks, small circular mirrors to look like little "pools," and even cut fairy clothes out of fabric in case the fairies might need new dresses.

Rachel's grandma helping her tie string to some stick to make a fairy clothesline!

One of the finished fairy gardens!

Another one!

And another...
tiny little details!

Even Andrew got into it. He is sure the boy fairies will prefer his garden.

Another beautiful fairy garden by one of the girls...

We had such a great time. If you would like to create fairy garden like the ones we made, all you need are the following materials:

-Large plastic bowls or pots. Be sure that there is a hole/slit in the bottom for water to drain out.
-A pan or dish for the bowl to sit in. I bought these bowls and matching dishes for $1 each at WalMart.
-Potting soil
-Several diferent types of flowers or other plants. Even cactus would be fun.
-Moss (fake or real), pebbles, sticks, half-marbles, shells and other fun additions can be purchased at the craft store or even found in your yard or park.

Have fun! :)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Christianity Screwed Up My Moral Compass

Christianity screwed up my moral compass.

Not only that, but the further I get away from organized religion and institutional spirituality, the more clear I get about what I REALLY want, and the cleaner and more reliable that moral compass inside of me becomes.

But let's back up.

Fact: when people act based on something besides their inner moral compass, they and others suffer.

Fact: the individual, part of a group who is setting the rules, is conditioned to act based on the morality of that institution.

Fact:  Institutionalized rules and codes of behavior keep those without moral compasses in check, as long as the religious/civically-obedient person is motivated, for one reason or another, to follow those rules.

Fact: throughout history, deplorable acts have been done and deemed "righteous," "what God wants," "holy," "good for the country," etc.

Fact: when people act based on their inner moral compass, even doing the opposite of what the religious or civic institution tells them is "good," some of the most courageous, the most humane and the most world-altering acts in history have been done (i.e. Jesus, Ghandi, the Buddha, the saints in the Christian tradition, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, etc. etc. etc.).

What does this look like in real life?

In my experience, being taught to do/not do certain things because that is what people are supposed to do, because that is what the Bible or another holy book says to do, or because that is what my culture put pressure on me to do (and I am talking about the spiritual/religious cultures, as well as the wider culture I grew up in) caused the moral compass I was born with to be underdeveloped, atrophy, and become rusty and inaccurate. I knew how to obey the rules.

But get this ... I wanted to obey the rules and my under-used, under-developed moral compass was a part of why. Some part of me (the real me) KNEW that I had that moral compass and recognized the "good" in the rules and standards I was taught. But the real me also allowed itself to be deceived into believing that the rules could become my moral compass.

That's right. Being a good Christian, being a good citizen, or being a good whatever REQUIRED me to silence/shut down/not act out of what my moral compass could have and would have told me to do. Of course that's not what I was taught.

I was taught that the real me, unleashed from the rules of my faith, would lead me into everything that was bad, immoral, hurtful to others, hurtful to myself, illegal and ugly. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it," I recited as a child. I believed that my "natural" self was evil, degraded and not-to-be-trusted. If I wanted something, I immediately heard warning bells go off in my head. If I longed for something, I could be pretty sure that it was something I should not do or have. My instincts were human, after all, and being human was the state in which I needed deliverance from. I could do nothing good or right except when the Holy Spirit acted through me, and that would always be actions and behaviors called "good" by Christianity and the Bible.

The thing was: the moral compass in me would never quite DIE.

I cried because that "me" inside would not be silenced. I begged God to remove the desires of my heart that weren't in accordance with what he wanted for me. I hated that I could not do as the Bible taught and fully put my humanity to death. I was ashamed of the way my mind insisted on grappling with what I seemed to be the only Christian I knew who experienced as inconsistencies. Why could I not just have simple faith, I wondered? Why could I not suspend those questions and doubts? Others seemed to have no problem doing so. I felt like something was wrong with me.


Now, at 35, I'm a self-professed former-Christian. I haven't been to church in something like four years. My five-year-old thinks cross necklaces are "lowercase letter 't' necklaces." I am not sure if there's a God. I don't believe in or feel any fear about "going to hell." I admire Jesus' life, but don't think he was any more divine than I am. I am comfortable with the fact that I don't know if there's a God or not, and I am pretty sure I won't ever know while my spirit lives in my body. And (oh, yeah) I know I am more than this body. There is something I experience as being connected to others in a non-physical way. There is something solid and deep underneath my physical existence that I can feel the edges of sometimes. It's fun to talk about, read about, think about and wonder about what that is. I am confident that until I am not in a physical body any longer I will not have any answers. Just more questions. And that makes me happy and excited.

And here's the thing.

As the post-Christian me that I am today, I am not the greedy, never-satisfied, mean, vindictive or ego-centered person I was told I would become without God.  It's just not true that when I do what I "want to do" I want only that which hurts myself and others. I am more compassionate. I feel more empathy. I am more thoughtful. I act with more courage. I take more responsibility for my actions that hurt others. I do less rejecting and more accepting of others' differences. I am a more nurturing mother. I am more honest. I am kinder. I am a better friend. I feel less fear. I connect with people more and better than I ever did before. I am not perfect. But I desire to lessen others' suffering more than I ever did. I am more aware of my foibles. I have a greater desire to, when I hurt someone, make it right. I love more. I accept love more.

How is this possible?

The real me ... is ... well ....


There is a moral compass that I am learning to use and that is beginning to function more and more naturally. And as I learn to use that compass, I find that more and more, what I REALLY WANT, when I drill deep down, is GOOD. It is not always what someone else would call "good." And of course I can look back and see that even when I was trying to do what was right, I hurt someone and/or myself. This helps me do better the next time. But more often than I ever thought possible, when I do what I (the real me/the spirit in me) wants to do, my actions are more consistent with many, even most, of what the Bible says is morally "good."

And this takes more courage and energy than obeying rules. Any robot can do that. But when I give from that real, inside me, or I love from that real, inside me, or I act on someone else's behalf from that real, inside me, it is more sincere, more heartfelt and more brave than any actions or behaviors I did because I was supposed to, should, or must.

This means I'm learning to ask myself some questions that the Christian me would never have DREAMED of asking ...

What do you want?
Are you doing what you want to do?
What are you doing that you do not want to continue doing?
What are you doing/working on/lending energy to that makes you feel good?
What are you doing/working on/lending energy to that makes you feel bad, dishonest, anxious, sad, or frustrated?

Slowly, surely, one day at a time, I am learning to be ME. And that's good.

Bookish Notions

A few months ago my husband and I were preparing for a get-away and I wanted something to read. I asked my facebook friends to recommend some good fiction. My friend, Alison, said, "anything Paulo Coelho." When James and I got to the coast I popped into a used book store and went straight to the "C's." I found Coelho's Witch of Portobello, scooped it up and was immediately hooked.
I have now read all but two or three of his books and am always startled by the simplicity, elegance and wisdom in his writing. I can't get enough. Paulo Coelho's novels are sneaking into my subconscious. He says (through one character or another in nearly every book) that the way to evolve/grow/gain insight/truly live is to basically CHANGE IT UP. Do something counter-intuitive. When something makes your subconscious go, "Whaaat???" you are effectively dusting off cobwebs, cleaning out closets and making room for an "a-ha," a paradigm shift, ...an inner growth spurt, or a spiritual "waking up." It is the safe, the routine, the normal, the average and the mundane that essentially become spiritual sleeping pills, lulling our brains and spirits to sleep and keeping them asleep. Coelho's characters, when awakened (sometimes through something as simple as going on a trip or dancing in a totally unconscious/childish way), not only have their own lives utterly altered, but also become catalysts for change in their marriages, circles, towns and even world.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Farmgirl Skirt

Her chores were done and the shadows were beginning to fall. The fields were calling her and she could no longer ignore their sweet appeals. She kicked off her shoes and pulled the pins out of her hair as she ran...

Just listed on etsy HERE.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Extravagant Love

Yesterday was my grandfather's funeral and memorial service. Here is what I said about my Pop Pop at the memorial service (or rather, what I sobbed):

Pop Pop loved me in a way I can only describe as extravagant.  The dictionary defines extravagant as "excessive, beyond what is reasonable, spending too much." Pop Pop not only gave extravagant gifts, but he loved extravagantly, in a no-holds-barred, joyful and fierce sort of way. And he loved me that way, as he often reminded me, from the moment he laid eyes on me. He didn't just tell me he loved me, although he did a lot of that, as well! He couldn't get enough of me and he let me see and know that. He allowed his love for me to shine out of his eyes. Often when he told me he loved me, his eyes would fill with tears that he didn't even try to hide. He loved me with every bit of himself and he made sure I knew it.
Years ago I was watching Oprah and an author came on the show. I don't remember everything she said but one thing stood out. She said, "it changes a child if, whenever she walks in a room, someone's eyes light up when they see her." I remember thinking when I heard that, "That's Pop Pop." He adored me and I was always sure about that. I think when a child grows up held in a love like that, she is altered. 
Being held securely in Pop Pop's love is what made me sure that love can be unconditional. It taught my heart to love fiercely, totally, and extravagantly. It taught me that you can never love another person too much.

That Pop Pop loves me is something I'm more sure about than almost anything in the world. The last time I visited with him the last thing he said to me as I was about to leave was something he's said a hundred times at least. He said it with the same look on his face that he always has when he says it ... a look of absolute adoration filling his whole face.
"You know I love you ..." he said, his eyes damp.
And then I said what I have said back to him a hundred times.
"Yes, Pop Pop, I know that more than I know almost anything else. I'm more sure of that than just about anything in my whole life."
And though his spirit is no longer in the body whose lap I sat on, whose hand I held, whose eyes I saw love in for my entire life, I am just as sure of his love now as I ever was.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"I do not approve. I am not resigned."

A poem, "Dirge Without Music," that my sister, Whitney, showed me today, that says my heart about my Pop Pop's death:

"I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned

With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—

They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."
-Edna St. Vincent Millay 1892–1950

The same thought, expressed in 5-year-old language by my son, Andrew, this afternoon, in protest against Pop Pop's heart/spirit no longer being present in the body we have known and loved:

They can just fix his body
And put his heart back in."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I love you, Pop Pop

Pop Pop and I at my wedding...
Pop Pop holding my son, Andrew as a newborn...

Pop Pop on the left being a good sport and wearing a lei for my party when I was little girl.

My butt. :) This is a pair of panties my grandparents brought back from Hawaii for me when I was an infant!

My first daughter, Emily, visiting with Pop Pop

James showing Baby Rachel, my second daughter, to Pop Pop

Pop Pop holding my oldest, Emily, in the hospital, shortly after she was born.

Pop Pop visiting with Baby Raychie, my second daughter...

My grandparents and I when I was baby...

My beloved "Pop Pop" died yesterday morning at home. It was such a privilege to spend most of the last two days and nights of his life with him as he slowly but surely passed out of his body and into what comes next. Feeling a lot of mixed emotions but overwhelmingly grateful I could be right there with him, that he is out of pain and that I learned to love and what it feels like to be loved from this incredible man. He isn't in his body. But his spirit hasn't moved or changed a bit. He is is right here. I love you, Pop Pop. Thank you for loving me so perfectly, unconditionally and extravagantly. No one has ever loved me the way you do, and I don't think anyone else ever will. I am so grateful to have you in my life.