When The Going Gets Tough, Cheeky Street Heads For Comfort

October was ROCKY on Cheeky Street, friends!  My husband and I have been experiencing unexpected stress and pressure in every area of our lives.  Lots of “fight or flight” hormones are flying around between us, and that is never good on a sustained level.  How do I cope?

Some may find solace in the comfort of one good friend.  For me, when my life starts getting out of whack, especially since I had to learn healthy self-care, I always go back to my “solids”:  Family, Friends, Faith and Food.  

At age 50, I  have had to learn the difference between positive self-care (the kind that nourishes your spirit to move forward ) and numbing (exacerbating fear and anxiety by temporarily dulling natural impulses to react).  I have spent long hours reading about addiction and the brain and the impact that repetitive behaviors and thoughts have on the actual wiring of our brains.  And our ability to re-wire the brain by forging new ways of thinking – reinforced by repeating the new, changed, healthy behavior.

I believe, as neuroscience is starting to discover through research, that humans have the innate ability to literally change the pathways of our brain to become healthier, happier beings.

This means that some old behaviors have to be modified.  Overindulging, which has always been my go-to coping mechanism during stressful times, usually leads to regrets, unhappiness and failures.  In Recovery, my challenge has been to fine-tune my self-care regimen by scaling back on positive behaviors and eliminating negative behaviors.

I’ll start with Family.  As the youngest of 7, my role has pretty much been to entertain the family with my foibles.  If I could make everybody laugh, that would relieve family tension and boost my self-confidence.  And prevent me from ever being responsible – for anything!  I have had to learn new ways of relating to my family – especially when I need their comfort and reassurance – by being honest about my feelings and willing to accept natural consequences of what I receive in return (not just going for the easy laugh).  The result?  While families are almost always complicated, I am learning it is so much richer to connect authentically with siblings and other relatives – instead of going for laughter, I am trying to just be real and say things like, “I really don’t know how to do this – what do you think?” instead of glossing things over with humor.  I have spent 50 years avoiding emotional pain, for whatever reason.  One of the great gifts in Recovery is freedom from the weight of any expectations:  when you commit to just be yourself, be real, get hurt, feel anger or rejection – you find that the Universe manages to nourish you just enough to cope with real life and your relationships move out of the darkness. Family may not always be the first place I look for comfort – because honesty sometimes hurts – but I have learned that my family will never lie to me, and it is up to me to accept the truth or not.

Now about Friends:  this is a complicated part of my life because I have spent so many years trying to please others.  The friends I have are the friends that accept me and have no expectations whatsoever.  I have stopped pursuing “friends en masse” – especially when my heart stings after seeing another “happy girls trip” featured on someone’s Facebook post!  I am a one-on-one kind of girl, and my friends are diverse.  My friends don’t get alot of “tending to” from me because I always put my children first.  So the friends I have are self-confident, tough and resilient.  Not needy.  I don’t have a lot of time or interest to “fuss about” with shallow relationships, so I prefer a few deep friendships.  Some of my friendships have lasted decades!  In any event, in times of deep need, like this past month, the friends I have are thoroughly “on board” with me, even though I am not my light-hearted self.  That is so comforting.

Faith.  That anchor, that sense of believing things are happening for the best, even though you are in the midst of the dark unknown:  it is STILL with me.  Spirit has never abandoned me, not once, never will.  Yes, I get terribly frightened and confused.  Yes, I do and say regrettable things.  Yet I am confident that Spirit will guide me and my family to the right circumstances at the right time.  I try not to let FEAR drown out the voice of CALM.

My faith is a distance runner built for marathons and fear is just a puny little sprinter.  Fear may be fast and furious but Faith is ready for the long-haul.  That’s the kind of faith I am experiencing these days.

Finally, my favorite old friend in times of distress:  FOOD!

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In particular, COOKIES!  How I wish I could be strong like so many of the gorgeous women I see on Facebook, and go for that extra workout during times of stress.  But Madam Cheeky heads for her staples:  Butter and Sugar.  Food is still my weakest link and I am really striving to move toward a healthier body in Recovery.  For now, though, oh my GOD, the cookies are delicious!  This week I baked a batch of – are you ready – Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies – and friends, they did not disappoint.  Here is the recipe for you, courtesy of The New York Times:

[/recipe]

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups four
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon alt
  • Pinch of clove
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt and clove.
  2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.  Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed just until incorporated.  Add the pecans and mix just until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap.  Cover with another sheet of plastic and shape into a square (I was too lazy for this step).  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll the dough between the plastic to 1/4-inch thick, and into a 9 1/2 x 11-inch rectangle.  Refrigerate for a t least 1 1/2 hours, or up to 2 days.
  4. Position two oven racks so they divide the oven into thirds.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Discard the plastic sheets from the dough.  Trim the edges to form a 9 x 10.5/2-inch rectangle, then cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares.  Place the squares on the baking sheets, then, with a fork, pierce each cookie twice all the way through.  Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 9 minutes.  If desired, dust the cookies with confectioners’ sugar while still hot.  Transfer to a rack to cool.

Adapted from “Baking:  From My Home to Yours,” by Dorie Greenspan

Notes from the Mom Whose Kids Always “Had Her Number”

Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up.  This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up!  My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house.  This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting.  I love being a Mom.  In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be.  I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.”  What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!

Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind.  Anticipating each last.  Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum.  One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream:  if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness.  This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment.  Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end.  There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers).  I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.

Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question:  if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children?  I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford).  Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:

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  1.  I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten.  After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school.  I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day.  But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten.  Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more.  But what’s done is done.
  2. I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument.  We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible.  Our kids love music.  But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language.  It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals.  I do regret this.
  3. Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life.  My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse.  It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others.  My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
  4. More family meals.  We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week.  Better than nothing!  I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do!  (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that).  Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality.  I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
  5. MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions!  I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly).  To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah!  What a beautiful, content baby!  She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”.  We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents.  For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another.  Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children.  As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.

So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful.  Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments.  Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.11218179_10206971262472700_5085219549381530292_n

THIS

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February 11, 2016 – Pudgey, Mario, Vanilla and me

My husband snapped this photo last night and emailed me with the title, “Evening Huddle.”  It is a helluva happy huddle!  A year ago, I was way off course and quickly sinking to the bottom of my addiction to alcohol.  My cousin sent me a great article recently that describes addiction as “the opposite of connection.”  Bingo!  Total disconnect – by selfish choice – then by habit – finally without any sort of logic or consent at all.  Just dead.

God and my family have brought me back to life.  In just 8 months, I have been fortunate to have regained my sobriety and focus.  And look at my reward!  A puppy, handsome teenaged son (and daughter, who just celebrated her 17th birthday and is overjoyed with her new ukulele), purring cat, large cup o’ Joe, Netflix and hubby all in one room filled with happiness, a roaring fire and quilts made with love by my Mom.

I don’t know why I steered so far off course in the first place.  It is so scary.  I am one of the lucky ones to have been brought back to a conscious, intentional life.  Yes, I feel pain instead of numbness at times.  AND JOY!!!!  Today, I am just grateful for my happy chaos – I am working with kindergarteners in an underprivileged community.  I have a beautiful family, a Mom I can still call on the telephone as often as I want, an amazing AA Sponsor, a life partner of almost 20 years, and many supportive friends.  Whether our family can afford to take a vacation this year or not:  WE ARE RICH.

I read a lot about addiction and recovery now.  If you are looking for inspiration, motivation, or just curious about people’s stories, I encourage you to check out 2 of my favorites:

RecoveryHeroes.com 

SheRecovers.com

You can be as public or private about your struggles as you like.  I have deliberately talked about mine because it helps my healing and accountability.  More poignantly, talking about it helps me live in the present and experience the joy to the fullest.

Go hug your mess!

 

 

5 Gifts of Living Sober

This past Sunday, I logged into AA Grapevine and entered my Sobriety Date to check the number of days I have been sober.  It’s just way of measuring success, I guess, like weighing oneself on a scale to stay motivated during a diet.  I am an alcoholic, so my “diet” will never end.  I have been sober for 7.7 Months.  If I did not have the “Sobriety Calculator” or any other means of measuring the number of days I have been sober, I, the Stubborn Doubter, have lots of empirical evidence that each hour sober is 100 times better than any vino fino tinto.  Here is my list of 5 Gifts of Living Sober:

  1. Stop Wanting And Start Living For years, I have had a restless spirit, longing to be and have things that were within sight but mysteriously unattainable.  Then, about 5 years before I got sober, I decided to approach life with more of an open heart.  “Perhaps if I pray to God to have an open heart, He can lead me in the right direction,” was my thinking.  I wasn’t ready to admit that I was avoiding doing things (e.g., the hard work of living sober) by preoccupying myself with having things.  I never believed I would have what it took to make that leap.  I do now! Each morning that I wake up sober, I thank God for leading me to pursue worthwhile things and also giving me the strength and courage to keep at it.
  2. Stop Gambling With My Health And Start Cherishing The Body God Gave Me  Of course, drinking is not a gamble to the non-alcoholic because they can stop.  Since I couldn’t, yet continued daily drinking for several years, I was literally treating my body like a garbage dump.  In my newly-negotiated relationship with Spirit (e.g., “Higher Power”), I truly believe harmful, self-destructive behavior that could potentially lead to death (like addiction to alcohol) is a beautiful opportunity to love oneself in disguise.  Does a person who really understands the importance of being healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, gamble with those gifts by sinking further into addiction?  I hear people in AA meetings say all the time, “I thank God for my alcoholism, it has given me the gift of (fill in the blank with anything valuable)”.  Again, if you’re not an addict or alcoholic, this “gift” may not make sense.
  3. Cherish The Company Of Other Alcoholics  I know I avoided going to my first AA meeting because I was sure it would be full of “depressing people” that I would not be able to “relate to.”  It’s the opposite!  It is home.  Alcoholics are the most compassionate, funny, friendly, dependable, humble and noble people I have ever met.  The “Hi, Joanie!” greeting you hear (often joked about, even) in meetings is warm, sincere, safe and accepting.  SAFETY is a major trigger word for alcoholics, the lack of which (whether it be emotional, financial or physical), because our disease plays with our minds and tells us that we must remain fearful and on guard at all times because no person or situation is safe.  I had a Counselor in my twenties (who was unaware of my binge drinking but completely pegged one of my alcoholic behaviors) described my emotional state like this:  “Joan, you seem to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode 24/7 – always prepared for the danger that lurks around the corner, feeling hunted.”  Precisely.  I was deeply unsettled but had no idea why.  My Alcoholic pals understand and I am so glad for each and every one of them.
  4. Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between3562ced271566a90f3770d5caa4487b8  Like “The Little Prince,” my favorite time of day has always been the sunset – and during my drinking days, especially so.  Watching the sun drifting into the horizon meant I had survived the challenges of the day (e.g., sick kids, frustrating work problem, hangover, overdrawn checking account, whatever) and that it would soon be time to open my bottle of serenity.  I avoided admitting I was an alcoholic for years because I knew it was a permanent commitment.  However, nowadays, my very grateful sober self sees something quite different in the concept of “forever.”  In her new book, “Bottled,” Dana Bowman describes the paradox:

“The toughest part was realizing that recovery would never be “over” – not if I was going to take it seriously.  When you’re a part of my club, taking out a lease on recovery is not an option.  When I really thought about the lack of alcohol forevermore, it felt like I’d been told to clean the Grand Canyon with a toothbrush, while blindfolded.  But every once in awhile, tiny moments of peace and joy descended upon me and were so defined and real, they lifted me out of my canyon.  I would focus on the higher horizon then, and just kept walking.

5.  “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room” (William Shakespeare, “King John.”)

I saved the best gift for last:  Living a Sober Life means spending your time the way you want to, free from the chains of an addiction that leads to darkness.  There is so much LIGHT in my life because of the new freedom I have discovered that it is okay to feel and express emotions and spend a day doing as I please instead of constantly weighing and measuring myself against impossible standards.  Reading poetry has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but I gave it up to lead a more “serious” life of career and family.  Now it is back in my life and I feel rejuvenated.  Here is a new favorite poet and her artful examination of leading one’s own life:

Poetry
By
Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.

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Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!

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In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

Mom smiling

But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.

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Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”

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For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.

 

Learning to “Hold Place” for Myself in My Recovery Journey

I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.
I can reach for the support and encouragement I need at any time.

I have 38 days of sobriety.  This is very encouraging and exciting!  I am not frightened or fidgety, in need of a drink.  But I am tired – bone tired.  I have discovered a wonderful author, Heather Plett, and her writing about self-care gives me encouragement as my steps toward whomever I am meant to be at the end of this journey feel more like impossible efforts against a rushing tide of water.

Captivating and Dangerous
Captivating and Dangerous

But Heather’s work reminds me of something very important:  it is my job to take care of myself first.  She recounts a recent lesson she learned from a jewelry maker about this:

http://heatherplett.com/2015/07/a-steady-mind-before-a-steady-heart-what-i-learned-from-a-jewelry-maker/

She chose a beautiful wooden image of a tree that has taken root in an unstable place as her reminder that she is capable of caring for herself, as long as she does that first.

Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.
Youngest of 7, my sister closest in age to me, Susanna, helps me out in a muddy situation.

But what if, like me, you have lived 49 years of “making messes” and surrounding yourself with people who clean them up?  My only choice is to forgive and love myself or I won’t be able to maintain my sobriety or fully love the children my husband and I brought into this world.

Isa, my older child, is extremely strong - inside and out!
Isa, my older child, is extremely strong – inside and out!
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).
Mario, the younger child, shares his conquest with pride then sets it free (like a good boy!).

You’ll notice a lot of water in my post today.  Throughout my life, during times of intense change and uncertainty, I have always dreamed of rushing water.  It carries me to the place I am meant to be – my destination.  Although I am terrified daily of losing myself, losing my family, losing my way – I know these fears are irrational.  Learning to quickly access my “quiet place” deep inside – my source of strength – helps reassure me (sometimes hundreds of times a day) that all is as it should be.

I am not alone on my journey, thank God!  My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.
I am not alone on my journey, thank God! My partner and husband, Michael, is with me every step.

So, for one more day, I believe I can continue this journey – as exhausting as it can be.  My family and friends that know me and love me understand I may not be the “Queen of Perky” for awhile…..but she will be back and when I find her LOOK OUT!!!!!

Godspell And My Word Of The Year

godspellThese days, most of my “Zen” friends are choosing one simple word to depict the state of being they want to exude all year instead of going to the trouble of creating long Resolution Lists.  Simple and clean, easier to attain and measure, I am in favor of it!  My “word” came to me about 2 hours ago while I was waiting in the checkout line at the Hy-Vee grocery store.  AWAKEN.

Remember when Jesus gets all pissed off at the lawyers and pharisees in Godspell and belts out “Alas! Alas! Blind Fools!” to awaken them to the fact that they were merely repeating their predecessors’ mistakes?  My mind immediately went to this song in the sweet moment at the Hy-Vee checkout line when I encountered “Becky,” the former Little Sister I once knew a long time ago when I worked for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  She had an endearing speech impediment and looked like Strawberry Shortcake 8 years ago.  But now she’s all grown up, living on her own (about 250 miles away from home!), has a job and an apartment – and the same joyful and giving heart she had as a little girl.  My heart jumped as I caught her eye – I knew she might not remember me but she lit up the minute I mentioned her Big Sister’s name, “Sally,” the retired teacher who was determined to be a companion and role model to Becky – and awaken her to new ways of living to help her avoid making the same mistakes as her family.   In one explosively happy moment, I KNEW FOR SURE that Becky had been awakened – and that she still had that little girl’s joyful heart.  Becky was cheerfully sacking the groceries of the man in line ahead of me and she told him, “I like your hat, sir!”.  It was a Chiefs hat.  The man lit up.  Sweet little Becky awakened him from whatever preoccupation he may have been consumed with in that moment (rent, job, illness) and reminded him that there can be joy in life even in the grocery line!

0105151246When it was my turn to go through the line, the clerk checked the price of a beautiful pink begonia that had caught my eye and asked, “It’s $25.00 – still want it?”.  Still glowing from the beautiful moment I had just seen pass between the little girl with practically nothing I once knew and the grown man with grown concerns – the begonia immediately represented my Word for 2015 – AWAKEN Of course I want it!  This thing has magical powers (I wanted to shout but restrained myself!).

I told Becky that I knew her a long time ago and she was thrilled to be remembered.  Repeat after me:  SHE WAS THRILLED TO BE REMEMBERED.

Yes, Becky, believe it or not, you are remembered and treasured in my heart.  And you are the reason AWAKEN is my Word of the Year – you see, it’s when someone as innocent and humble as you can change the heart of someone as old and pessimistic as me – that’s when I am positive that GOD lives and works in our hearts all day everyday – if only we would AWAKEN……..

Rummage Sale Treasures

veThN3II am a chronically late, flighty, completely disorganized, unprofessional but very caring and easy to get along with person.  I love meeting new people.  I enjoy the “glamour” of shopping.  And I love the men and women I have gotten to know over the years at my church, which hosts an annual rummage sale that serves mostly homeless and working poor people.  When someone tapped me on the shoulder at church and asked if I’d consider heading up this year’s “Main Street Marketplace,” it sounded fun to me and not terribly difficult.  I’d figure it out the week before – like everything else – I told myself.  Pulling-Cart celebrate-father-s-day-with-these-20-awesome-tv-dads7 Little did I know the “Main Street Marketplace” would become a lively 3-ring circus that really just required some steady, loving guidance – which really suited me perfectly.  I am so grateful to the many kind and wise people at my church for choosing me to be involved with this ministry – because, like many ministries, I discovered that I was being changed and “ministered to” by the steady roll of “street people” who shopped our sale those busy 4 days.  Here is what I learned:

  • There is DIGNITY in selling used and gently worn items to a very appreciative public.  Much more than a simple exchange of goods for dollars, I discovered that overseeing the transactions occurring at my church’s rummage sale were celebrations of humanity and the roads we must sometimes take to nurture our bodies and care for loved ones.  I don’t know where I ever got the idea that to buy something from a rummage sale should feel “shameful” because, if anything, my experience at Main Street Marketplace was the complete opposite:  resounding JOY and ABUNDANCE were the equalizing themes at our sale.  Everyone who walked through the door was greeted warmly and treated with dignity – you did not need a “VIP” pass to experience our exclusive shopping experience.
  • There is VALUE in everything.  We humans are so very clever and industrious.  There were people digging around our tables looking for specific articles of clothing or kitchen utensils – to be put to use again in the service of their households.  If anything could be considered “repurposed spirituality,” I would argue that the transactions taking place between purchasers and sellers at the church rummage sale are such.  From the hands of Christians unto the households of other Christians, Jews, Protestants, Muslims, agnostics – what have you – our sale put otherwise discarded items to good use for the greater good of other souls.  What higher purpose is there?

Never before have I witnessed such courtesy and exquisite manners as I did those 4 days from the patrons of our community rummage sale.  I expected Walmart nation – rude, careless, thoughtless behavior – and I was astonished to experience the opposite.  One family with 5 children under the age of 10 came to the sale and stayed for more than 2 hours.  The children were clean, quiet, sweet and very attentive to the needs of their youngest sister, the baby in the carseat.  An elderly woman from the neighborhood insisted on carrying her own items – no matter how many trips it took – back to her apartment, and thanked us profusely for holding her treasures for safekeeping until she could manage to return for the remaining items.  Each time she greeted me with hugs and “thank you’s” – enough to last a lifetime.  Finally, there was the homeless man with the cart who requested we roll his winter clothes he purchased in such a way that they would fit snugly into the saddle bags he had attached to the sides of his cart.  After all, he had a 10-mile walk back to Wyandotte County that night, and securing his $11.00 worth of purchases was extremely important.  He smiled graciously with bright and happy eyes – and told me he loved me when I gave him the “grand total” for his purchases!  How can this experience not forever change one’s idea of what is valuable and meaningful in life? My takeaway thought:  If I am not asked to head of the Main Street Marketplace again next year I shall INSIST that I do so!  The time spent in service to our community with fellow church members was invaluable to me.  I think it is one of the MOST IMPORTANT ministries of our church.