Choose Always the Hardest

Choose always the hardest.

The words still ruffle me, even though it’s been several weeks since I first read them as the final sentence in a list of “Antidotes to Pride” that were part of a daily devotional written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

The rest of her list, though by no means easy to accomplish, at least made sense.  For instance:  speak as little as possible of oneself, pass over the mistakes of others, and never stand on one’s dignity, all need no further explanation as to how those actions could fend off the temptations of succumbing to our own pride. This final antidote though, choose always the hardest,  was a real head-scratcher for me.

I happened to read this particular devotional only days after Baxter died, so it seemed natural to think that in her words might be a clue for me as to the timing of getting another dog.  I wondered if in her words were the answer to whether we should get another dog right away, wait awhile, or never get another dog again.  The problem with that scenario was that all three of those situations, at that particular time, felt like they very well could be “the hardest.”  After all, another dog, only a year after putting all my time and energy and effort in my first-ever dog, seemed like a LOT of work!  And could very easily wear me down, making it “the hardest” thing for me to do.  At the same time, with the gaping hole of his loss and the constant deep sense of sadness I felt, waiting to fill that hole seemed equally difficult.  Sitting with reminders of his absence day in and day out at times nearly drove me mad!  Then, of course, to think that perhaps he was my first and last dog ever, felt both like a tribute to him, and the worst possible thing I could do with so many other dogs in the world who are in need of a good home.   Do you see my dilemma?  All difficult choices for their own reasons…but which was the “hardest”?  I felt it important that I let God show me the way, even in this “smallest” of decisions, rather than counting on my own pride.

Then, I can’t recall the exact incident that made me realize this, but at some point…maybe it was something someone said to me, or a thought that just simply “came” to me, I realized that perhaps I’d already done the “hardest” thing:  I’d made some choices.   And I’d done that even before the saddest day came.  I’d chosen gratitude, and to continue to take care of myself and my family (even though the dog was high maintenance by then), and I’d already decided that regardless of any outcome, I would not blame.

That’s when I came to believe that Mother Teresa was not asking us to make our most difficult earthly choices by always choosing the hardest, but to choose always the most difficult choices of the heart:  forgiveness, compassion, faith, joy…and love.  These are the gifts only God can provide us, but only if we choose.  And in nearly any situation, any circumstance, they are always “the hardest” choices thanks to that other God-given gift called free will.

So, now I see more clearly how choosing always the hardest is an antidote to pride.  It was just another way of saying words I’ve prayed so many times they’d fallen numb of meaning:  Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.

Or, perhaps even more to the point, as Richard Rohr puts it:  Thy kingdom come.  My kingdom go!

21 Days

IMG_4724

By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?

A Technology Fast… I’ll Call Him John

For a little over a week now, I’ve been taking what I believe is a Lenten fast from technology.

To be fair, I can still browse using technology  without much difficulty.  But, this has a bit of a one-way mirror effect for me.  I can browse out in Bloggyville and throughout cyberspace, but I’m almost forced to abstain from corresponding with it, or sharing my thoughts.   In effect, I’ve been the equivalent of “struck mute” in the technological arena. In other words…I can really only “listen” to you, and can’t really “say” much in reply.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, this fast has NOT been voluntary.

Regrettably, a family member (who shall remain nameless) spilled apple juice on our laptop over a week ago.  This resulted in keys that very inconveniently now type two letters at a time (and sometimes even perform random functions!) with the touch of only one key.  Were it not for our family Christmas gift of an iPad (or some serious patience with editing, I’d not be able to write you at all).

Ju6st so you6 know what I+’m talki=ng abou6t, I+’ll leave thi=s sentence u6nedi=ted.

See what I mean?

And for added fun, when I try to delete something, I get this:  33333

Currently, we are working on trying to figure out the best way to replace the keyboard.    Until we can figure out the most cost-effective cure for us (yes, we are even running the old keyboard through the dishwasher),  I am mostly silent in cyberspace.  I trust there is a reason for this, though I find it incredibly frustrating to have been rendered “mute” in the season of Lent.  I think of Zechariah and his being struck mute until his wife, Elizabeth, gave birth to and named their son John (the Baptist), as God directed.

Right now, I’m not sure what this forced “silence” is trying to tell me, but when I figure it out, I promise I’ll share it with you.

In the meantime, until my technological “voice” is returned to me, I ask that you head on over and visit  my good friend, Anne at Making Room for God.  She has been kind enough to share her insights and observations with all of us daily as a Lenten Reflection.  So, please go on over and visit her, and I’ll be sure to let you know when all my technical difficulties finally cease.

Until then, I promise you all that if I give birth to anything new in the days to come, I’ll share the news.

And, of course, I’ll name the newborn John.

2013: Simplify

Happy New Year!

It’s obviously been awhile since I’ve posted.   And the problem with not writing for a while is the same problem as anything else you like to do that is good for you, but is also lots of work:  the longer you stay away from it, the more difficult it is to start up again.

But, I’ll tell you this much.  I had a great time while I wasn’t writing.

I had a very relaxing Christmas with my family.  We took a road trip to Florida and hung out and did all kinds of  fun stuff while we were there.  All our worries, and troubles were left behind.

All too soon, of course, I found myself back wading through waist-high piles of laundry, and sorting through endless emails and junk mail.  Hard as I tried to stay in the frame of mind from that vacation, it didn’t take long to feel overwhelmed by life’s chores and duties.   There was a scene from Finding Nemo  that kept playing through my mind.  (Probably because we played it in the car about four different times in both of our 17 hour drives).  You know the scene where Marlin and Dory are all caught up in the peaceful feeling of staring at the phosphorescence emitted from the angler fish that’s luring them closer, until finally Marlin notices (almost too late) that the light that’s making them feel so good is coming from a fish that is about to devour them and he says, “Good feeling gone!”?

finding_nemo_dory_marlin_angler_fish

Yep.  That’s about how I felt:   good feeling gone.

I was back to making list after list of chores that needed to be finished.  Volunteer work that needed to be completed.  Kids appointments and activity arrangements.  Errands that needed to be done.  Odds and ends that needed to be completed around the house, and of course, the then looming task of coming up with some resolutions for the New Year.

Buried under all these lists and plans, I thought back to the last day of our trip.  On that day, we were going to spend the day at Busch Gardens in Tampa and I was determined to plan and plot out the day, so we could get all the things we (mostly me) wanted to see and do crossed off the TO DO list before we had to return home.  So I was marking maps and taking surveys from the family wanting to know everybody’s TOP 3 THINGS THEY WANT TO SEE AND DO AT BUSCH GARDENS.  And I tried to plan them out.  Then, I panicked with the realization that there were eight of us on this trip and that would result in 24 things to see and do in one day with a wide area of interests since we ranged in age from 7 – 66.  So, I went back to the drawing board, and re-surveyed everybody asking them OF THEIR TOP THREE THINGS THEY WANTED TO SEE AND DO AT BUSCH GARDENS WHAT IS THEIR NUMBER 1?

That was better.  It narrowed our list to only 8 things to HAVE to do, which felt much more doable.  Then, I only needed to plan out lunch times, and locations, times of some of the things that were scheduled events people wanted to see/do, etc.

Even in that moment I could feel myself beginning to go a little crazy with the need to control and plan and plot our move down to every last detail, but it will all be worth it, I told myself.

That’s when my brother, who is every bit as prone to nervousness and worry about controlling time as a Zen monk in deep meditation,  piped up and said, “How about we not plan anything and just go to the park and see what happens?”

I looked at him confused.

What was he suggesting, exactly?  That we just show up haphazard and leave a day at an amusement park to chance?

I thought about it a bit.  If we did that, it would certainly mean I could just “stand down” the rest of that evening.  I wouldn’t have to do anything else but go to bed, wake up the next morning and head out the door to the park.  (Well, I am a mother of three, so it’s not quite THAT easy, but you know what I mean).  It was certainly a different approach than anything I was used to.

So (with some reluctance) I agreed and that’s what we did.  Left our day to chance.

And you know what?  We ended up getting into a really short line for a big roller coaster, and we saw an animal theater show that hadn’t made it onto ANY of our LISTS OF THINGS TO DO AND SEE, but we all agreed afterwards it was a highlight of the whole day.  We also ended up walking past a BBQ chicken stand right as it opened, so we were at the front of the line that quickly grew longer behind us.

Whaddya know?  I had to ask myself at the end of that day, maybe NOT planning isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

But still, I thought as I starting organizing and listing all the things that I was resolving I would do and get right this year, that was vacation.  REAL LIFE doesn’t work that way.  If you want to change, you need to plan.

Clearly, I hadn’t yet learned the breadth of the genius lifestyle my brother has always known.

Suddenly as I began listing improvements in the sixth area of my life (yes, six areas, one per page with 12 points to work on in each area, one for each month…makes sense, right? :))  that I was resolving to improve in the coming year, I realized I  was growing so tired from the list, I was pretty sure I’d not even have the energy to ring in a New Year let alone make changes in one.  Overwhelmed yet again, my brother’s words came back to me.  “How about we just show up and see what happens?”

But this isn’t a vacation, I thought.  This is LIFEThere’s a difference.

Then I thought of my brother, who, in the best possible way has made his entire LIFE a vacation.

That’s when I realized that maybe vacation isn’t really a trip you take to get away from everything, but rather, a state of mind.

I know I’m still a long way from being able to approach life with the same kind of open-ended questions as my brother, but I can make an effort to try it out more often.  And around the same time I was thinking that, is when this little  word popped into my head:

SIMPLIFY

And I began to think, what if I only made ONE resolution for this year…and it was this word ?   Could it work?   Would I get results?

I have no idea.  But, I’m sure if I asked my brother he’d say, “Let’s find out.”

So, I am.

And with that,  I give you my entire list of resolutions for 2013:  Simplify.

I hope you’ll join me!

I May Be the Only One

I’m probably the only one who experiences Advent this way, so don’t feel like you need to read on today.

Because it’s probably just me.

I feel like I am the only one, at least.

The only one who, despite all my God-and-Jesus loving talk the rest of the year, finds myself year after year during Advent in a very dark place.   All the JOY of the season that I want to feel, all the LOVE and PEACE and CALM that I pray for everyone else?  I can’t find it myself.  I barely even know how.  I can’t seem to string two words together to complete a thought, let alone find LOVE and PEACE and JOY and CALM this time of year.

And every year I wish it were different.

Until the darkness envelopes me so much that I’m blind to everything.  Left straining to see.

And eventually I do, if I squint real hard, I begin to see.

Those little bits of light that shine in even the deepest darkness.

The first glimmer of light was in the sound of my son’s trumpet at his jazz band concert this week.  And in the voices of the choir at his school as they joined together in song for the season.   JOYful music is contagious.  My heart was dancing inside me as I returned home that night, content–even if only momentarily– for the first time in weeks.

There were bits of light in the very dog hair that I’d been cursing the past few months (because it’s EVERYWHERE), when I happened to look at the calendar and see that we brought our dog home for the first time–“rescued” him from eight months of not belonging anywhere –this same week last year, and how he didn’t have any hair to lose then, because the stress of having “no room at an inn” must have really gotten to him.  Now, a year later, he is every bit the beautiful and hairy Golden Retriever he was meant to be.  Suddenly I found myself weeping with LOVE for this hairy dog that somehow misunderstood the whole “rescue” thing… because in the end the one who feels rescued is me.

There were bits of light in the hustle and bustle of this whole season as I went to the post office today, dropping a bunch of packages right before the lunch hour of our tiny little post office, only to find the post office worker in no hurry to break for his lunch, but instead taking his time to care for my packages and make sure I had everything I needed.  Did I want insurance?  Did I want  priority service?  Which Christmas stamps did I want?  Suddenly I felt his CALM and I wondered why in the world I’m running around like a lunatic when this time of year his job must be pretty stressful.  If he could take it in stride, then I might be able to, also.

And then, a hint that maybe I was finally beginning to understand.  It may have been a “sign” if that’s how you like to say it…there were even bits of light in the black sky last night as I walked with my dog.  Even though it was still early evening,  it felt like bedtime the sky was so black.  Until I noticed the shimmering stars in the crisp night air.  And suddenly, I thought of the Wise Men, and how they trusted those little bits of light to lead them to their King.

And I realized that maybe the way I have been experiencing Advent once again this year isn’t really all that “wrong.”

Would I like to be more organized?  More giving?  More cheerful?  More loving?

You bet I would.

But it’s quite possible that if I were so busy being all those things, I’d miss the Truth of where the Light comes from.

Suddenly, I realized the only thing really “required” of me this season is to trust in the darkness, and cherish the bits of light I see.

And it’s only in realizing this, that I am just now–finally– able to usher in a sense of PEACE.

A JOYful “To Do” List

It’s been a looong time coming, but I finally did it.

I took the day off.

As a housewife, some people may think that that’s all I ever do– have “days off.”  And that’s fine for them to think, but I know it’s not my reality.  Before I became a housewife, I may have even thought that myself.  Instead, what’s been my reality in my 12 1/2 years as a housewife, is that since my “work” is my life and my life is my “work,” when I’m doing nothing, I feel guilty (even all weekend long), and when I’m doing something, I can only think about all the other things I still need to do.   Sure, I’ve spent many days getting nothing done.  And I’ve had many “off” days where things just didn’t go right.  What I’ve never done, ever before, is picked a day that would otherwise be a “work day” and just taken the day off.  You know what that requires?  It requires permission from yourself.  And that can be a challenge.  Especially when the laundry is mounting, the Christmas shopping has only a dent in it, and (in my case this year) there is a trip to plan.

Today, I decided it didn’t matter.  In fact, I kind of had to decide it, or very quickly I think LIFE would have decided it for me, by making me sick.  You see,  I was already feeling run-down, stressed out, ragged, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

All last week, I didn’t post here on my blog one time (you may have noticed), because I had the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had.  And THAT was stressing me out, too.

So last night, I went to bed with the intention that after a good night’s sleep, I would wake up revitalized today and start knocking things of my very long and very demanding “To Do” list.

But guess what?  I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  I had a terrible night’s sleep.

I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and NEVER got back to sleep.  I could have slept in, but I had so much “To Do”, that I didn’t think sleeping in was possible.  So, at 6:30 AM, I did what I always do and spent some time reading Scripture and meditating.  At 7:30 AM, once I got the first child off to school, I decided to do what I normally do, and I did a quick workout.  I knew if I was going to have any energy today, it would only come from taking care of myself.  Then I got myself showered and ready, got the other kids off to school and walked the dog.  After that, I normally start the “To Do” list of the day and I don’t stop again until the kids get back home, which usually involves more stuff “To Do,” just with others involved.

Not today.  Today, I decided when I got home from walking the dog, that everything I’d done up until then was really all I could “Do” on so little sleep.  So I gave myself permission to sit, watch TV (very life-affirming TV, I might add, as I had DVR’d “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, yesterday) and I sat down and watched hours…literally hours…of uplifting stories of faith, spirituality and healing.

Then I wrote in my journal for a bit, did a little more meditation, and took a nap.

I woke up just in time for my kids to get home from school.  And you know what?  Aside from their homework, I’m going to give them a day off, too.  No chores for anybody tonight.  No need to race and rush and struggle to “get it all done” for tomorrow.  No harping and nagging to put this away, do this, do that.

I spent all last week desperately hoping and praying to channel some brilliant message from God (as if I can control that), to share with you this week, and it just didn’t happen.

So I knew something had to change.

What changed was that, after a “day off,”  I realized I needed to actively put into practice  the message and lesson I’ve been learning (and re-learning) all year:  love yourself.

And you know what?  About the time the kids got home from school, I realized that in taking a day off, I’d succeeded in completing the very form of “loving myself” that was needed.  It felt good!

So good, in fact, that I feel I am better equipped now to handle all that this season demands of us…both the” inner” work required of the religious season of Advent, and the “outer” work of the secular world and all it’s hustle and bustle.  I feel more clear of mind and more loving of heart than I have since the first signs of Christmas appeared in the stores before Halloween.  For the first time in awhile, in fact, I feel like I’m in the rightful spot of giving from love and  receiving love as it comes my way.

And that’s when I realized that God’s message doesn’t change for this season.  We change.  We look inward.  We wait and watch.  But the message is as old as time:  love Jesus, Others, Yourself.  Do this and you will know JOY for this– and every– season.

It’s a simple message, but I sure do try to make it complicated.

Not today, though.

Today, after giving myself permission to do nothing else,  it was the only thing left that was still acceptable “To Do.”

Doing the Impossible

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that it is too low and we reach it.   Michelangelo

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may be settling for less than my full potential.    When I’m feeling this way, I spend some time writing down some things that I would love to be able to say I’ve done, but that I really don’t think are within my grasp of doing before I die.

I’ve been doing this since I was in high school.  At that time, I was invited to a youth leadership conference at one of my home state’s three major universities.  I was 17 years old, and one of the motivational speakers at the conference challenged us to write 100 things that we would like to do before we died.  Today such lists have grown in popularity and have been dubbed “bucket lists,”  because they are things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.”  But back in 1990, this was the first time I’d heard of such a thing.  I was hooked!

I went home and made my list.

Now, crazy as it may sound, one of the things that I really wanted to do at the age of 17 was fly an airplane.  No doubt this was in large part due to  having just seen  The Navy’s astonishing and very impressive Blue Angels that summer at our local air show.  The thundering of the engines, the deafening roar of the jets, the formations and aerobatics were spectacular and made an impression on me.  So, it was a no- brainer, of course.   And we’d been told to put anything on there, no matter how crazy and ridiculous it sounded.  I had no desire, mind you to get a pilot’s license, but I also had no intention of just flying as a passenger either.  How will I ever be able to fly an airplane, with nothing more than an expectation?  I wondered.  I had a pretty good idea that  this would be one of those dreams I would probably eventually outgrow before I’d had a chance to do it, but I was willing to see what the world might offer me.

Fast forward a few months when I started dating a long-time friend (who is now my husband, I might add).  I was fascinated to learn one day that one of his 4 brothers  was a flight instructor at the time, at a nearby university.  I can’t even recall anymore how the rest of the story came to be…did my husband tell his brother I wanted to fly a plane?  Were we just bored one afternoon and decided to go flying?  The details of how we made a decision to fly around for the afternoon escape me now.   What I do remember is that we pulled into the small airfield where his brother worked and I thought my (future) husband and sister-in-law and I were all going to be passengers in the little four passenger Cessna, but as we climbed in, his brother said to me, “Did you want to be the pilot today?”

“WHAT??!?!?!  How is that even possible?” I asked, dumbfounded (and slightly giddy).

“This is an instructor plane,” he informed me. “We both have all the same instrument controls, so I can override any mistakes you might make,” he said.  “Except the brakes.  I don’t have brakes, ” he said.

Aren’t those kind of important? I thought, but I didn’t dare ask out loud.  Instead, before I could change my mind, blink, or most worrisome of all–wet myself –I was sitting in the pilot’s seat ready for takeoff.

“Clear prop!”  I bellowed out the window.  To which all three passengers on board with me laughed as there was no one around but maybe a stray cow or two.   Still…it was part of protocol on the checklist my brother-in-law had shown me .  (There was just no need to say it so LOUD, he informed me later.)  Next thing  I knew we were taxing down the runway, reading the gauges, pulling back the wheel and in the air!

Whew! We made it! Now what?  I wondered.  We circled around in the air for a half hour or so, taking in the views of the Mississippi River as it bent its way around the river town of Dubuque, Iowa.  As our air time was nearing its end, my brother-in-law radioed the tower for something called a  “touch-and-go.”  This meant, he informed me, that we would be touching down on the landing strip, accelerating, and taking off again.  As we touched down, I pulled back on the wheel, accelerated and before I knew it, we had left the ground again, all under the control my own two hands!  In case there was any doubt later in the minds of our two other passengers, my brother-in-law grinned at me and turned back to look at them with his hands in the air to indicate I had just landed and taken off in the airplane– all on my own!

Though we’d landed safely shortly after our “touch-and-go,” I didn’t come down off the proverbial “Cloud 9” for probably another week or two.  I could hardly believe that one of the FIRST things I’d been able to cross of my “bucket list” was one of the seemingly most impossible things!  This left me both thrilled and somewhat disappointed.  On the one hand, if I was able to cross this item off my list–an item that had seemed laughingly impossible–then what other seemingly impossible things might I be able to accomplish in my lifetime?  On the other hand, to have something so seemingly impossible come to fruition so easily made me wonder for a moment, did this mean I was going to die soon?  And, if so, it was disappointingly obvious that this single event, though thrilling, was hardly enough to leave me satisfied leaving this earth for an early grave.

Then I remembered something the presenter had told us when he challenged us to write the lists.  He said to never stop updating them.   So after a few days’ time, I wrote a new dream in it’s place:  Fly with the Blue Angels.

Of course, when I first wrote down these desires at the age of 17, God and His plans for me was not near as much a part of my daily life as it is now. Still, I can’t help but think now that God was sending me a very powerful message at that time, and His Spirit is reminding me of that message in the memory of it all: anything is possible. Don’t settle.

Now that I’m older, I still have the list.  I’ve realized an added benefit to it, too, as the years tick by: the more things I write down, the more I force myself to realize what I really want out of my life instead of what others may want me to do. Plus, I have the added benefit of an ongoing relationship with God now, which of course means that I now know with even greater faith and understanding that “all things are possible.” Mt 19:26

It’s been years since I wrote down that desire to fly with the Blue Angels, and it still sits untouched on my list. Now, as an almost 40-year-old mother of three with no connections to the military it seems all but impossible I’ll ever get that chance.  In fact, a few years ago, my husband worked with someone who had been a mechanic on an aircraft carrier for the F/A-18’s, (the same model as the Blue Angels)  and told him I had dreams of flying with the Blue Angels one day.  My husband then asked him what the “odds” were of me ever being able to fly with the Blue Angels.  His co-worker told him my chances were “pretty much impossible.”  My husband came home and shared this little insight with me.  “You may just want to cross that one off your list,” he said.

While I realize that he’s right–my chances really are almost impossible–the thought of taking that dream off the list makes me feel as though I’d be letting myself down.  What it stands for means so much more to me than actually getting the chance to do it.  That’s when I realized that  I hope to never stop coming up with things for my list because the more I see some of the seemingly impossible goals get reached, the more I stretch myself to go further.   I shook my head at my husband and flashed him a grin. “Nope.” I told him, “Not a chance. I’ve done impossible things before.   It’s staying on the list.”

And I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the kind of “impossible” thinking God was hoping to spark within me all those years ago.

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 5

I sincerely apologize for my long overdue reveal of the Number 1 book on my list to date.  Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I get sidetracked from this “job” in Blogville, that I enjoy so much.  For me, the past two weeks have been full of other volunteer duties, as well as the traditional duties that fall under that grandest of job descriptions commonly referred to as “mom.”  While I regret none of the time spent on my other projects and activities, I do regret that the trade-off ended up being time spent away from this blog and YOU.

With that, please know that it is with great pleasure that I  pick up today where I last left off–with the one book that I’ve most recently read that has shaped my mystic mind!  This particular book is one that I stumbled upon in my parish library last spring.  In it, I was introduced to the desert fathers of the early church.  This introduction into the desert fathers is largely responsible for the progression of this blog.  With the simplest of lifestyles, these desert fathers (and, as I discovered in other books… desert mothers!) seem to have developed a deep, deep wisdom from spending time alone (with God) in the desert.  It is amazing to me how, like the wisdom of so many holy men and women, the truths of what they learned still have relevance in the 21st Century.

While I’ve read several books on the desert fathers and mothers since last spring, the first book that introduced me to them is the one that I will never forget, as it is the book responsible for opening the door for me into their way of life:

1.  Heaven Begins Within You by Anselm Gruen

Without question, for me, it was the title that first intrigued me.  The idea that heaven–that often thought of far-off place where we hope to reside upon our earthly death–begins within me, was so intriguing a thought, I simply had to read on.

Like all the great mysteries of life, I often find it difficult–even forget completely sometimes–what I’ve learned about “heaven” from reading this book.  That being said, I do have a much better awareness of “heaven” in my life, when I experience it.  It comes as a surprise to me, both in the ways in which God brings tastes of heaven to me here and now, and in my own willingness to see it.  And perhaps that is what this book has opened me to the most, the idea that our relationship with God is really about two distinct relationships that depend on each other:  1.  our relationship with “God” –that vast and endless being we can neither see, nor properly define– and 2.  our relationship with “self,” which is really no less vast nor easily defined.

This book draws that picture quite clearly from the get-go when it brings up the words of Evagrius, a desert father and early church monastic, who boldly states from the first pages, “If you want to know God, learn to know yourself first!”  Since first reading these words last Spring, I’ve continued to scratch away at these two relationships.  The two relationships that the mystic Frances of Assisi stated simply as two prayerful questions, “Who are you, God?  And who am I?”

I find it simultaneously embarrassing and comforting to tell you that most of what I’m left with by asking these questions about God and self is really…more questions!  But, the comforting part is that each of those questions call me deeper and deeper into their respective relationships with self and God.  And that leads me to the only “answer” I can seem to find:   that in both of these relationships we are required to accept an unfathomable expanse of uncertainty.  By this, I don’t mean the hand-wringing, gut-wrenching uncertainty that accompanies us when we are in a state of doubt.  I mean the uncertainty that we knew as children, when we were free to wonder, and ponder, and hold in awe the possibility of what is yet to come.

And that is where I am now:  comforted by the realization that as I approach the BIG 4-0, I have  been released from the bonds of needing to know everything.  Worries, while still present, are more quickly eased.  Doubt, which still tempts me, is more readily extinguished.  And fear, which still grips me from time to time, is eased with the balm of that which I know for sure:  I always have a choice.

I can choose to become consumed with worry about the things I desperately want to control, but can’t, or I can choose to accept worry as a natural reaction of my all-consuming self and then–just as freely–choose to let it go.

I can choose to be swallowed up by doubts, or I can choose to accept doubt as a natural stepping stone in the process of faith, by remembering that doubt’s opposite–certainty– has no part of faith either.   Because that which we already know, has no need for us to “believe.”

I can choose to become gripped with fear about everything from getting my Christmas cards out on time to my own untimely death, or I can choose to accept that fear is a side effect of my fallen human state and that while understandable, is hardly effective in helping me deal with the Divine Reality that IS.

And there it is.

Those last three paragraphs that I just typed right there.

Did you see it?  Did you feel it?

As best I can describe, it is in those moments of awareness in my own ability to choose (free will)  that I see how God is both in control, and has given me control.  It is how God is both present in all that I do, but not micro-managing me.  It is how I  grow in both self-knowledge and in Divine Wisdom.

For that reason, I urge you to continue  your own journey.  The journey within you, and the journey into the Divine. The journey into your Truest Self, and the journey into the Ultimate Being.

And while I confess that I forget it much of the time, through those journeys I’ve experienced the surprising realization every once in a while– like the shock of static received from innocently dragging my stockinged feet across a carpet–that in probing  these two relationships, I am really not on two journeys at all, but One Great Journey.

Along the way, there have been moments when I’ve experienced the Absolute Truth where my Deepest Self and the Divine Being that I call God intersect.   When that happens, it is like an ancient gong has sounded the eternal cry:  “the truth [has] set you free.” (John 8:32)

And I don’t know about you, but I can think of no better word to describe that experience than “heaven.”

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 4

I know.  I’m a big fat liar.

“Read about my top five books in the next five days,”  I bragged.  (As if it really is a habit of mine to post EVERY day.)

*sigh*

Well,  you can take the procrastination out of the girl, but you can’t take the girl out of the….

Eh. Never mind.  I’ll tell you another time.

For now– RIGHT now– I’d like to go ahead and reveal that book that’s been waiting at my #2 spot since last Thursday or so.  Because this one took the Word of God (a.k.a. Scripture, a.k.a the Bible) and just broke it WIDE OPEN for me.  And I do mean WIDE.  And OPEN.

Because after reading this book I FINALLY got what so many of you had long since understood:  that the words in the Bible are about God.  And me.  And God in me.  And you.  And God in you.  And God in you and me.  And you and me in God.

And not 2000+ years ago when he walked the earth as Jesus, but right now.  Here.  Today.  Everything still applies.  Especially when you do what the title of this book commands and enter the story

2.  Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for Our Lives by Fran Ferder

This book and what it holds within its pages is more difficult for me to write about than the rest.  Mostly, because it is the book that I feel is responsible for helping me to “see” Biblical moments when I live them.  Ferder brings so much of these stories to the here and now of our lives that all I feel I can do is encourage you to read it, too.

And let it change you.

Let your eyes open because of it.

For me, personally, what happened after reading this book is that I now have an awareness of these Biblical “moments of grace” as they are happening.  And it nearly takes my breath away.  And I’ll show why.

In this book I walked  each step with Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem for the birth of her child.  A child she had no part in creating (She was a virgin, after all).  A child she only felt the first flutterings of in her heart, opened herself to the possibility of giving birth to, and raising.  Simultaneously relishing and fearing the love, sweat and tears it would entail to raise it.  How daunting that God would ask her– HER– of all people, to do this.  Why her?  Why there?  Why then?  The answers to those questions were not hers to know.  It would require a great amount of trust on her part.  And a great amount of courage.  So much could go wrong.  But when “the angel of the Lord” appeared and made it undeniable that she was being asked to give birth to the child that would be the Word of God made flesh.  All she could do was say, “Yes.”

In my own life I walked these steps with Mary, but it looked like this:  I found myself near to bursting (you might even say “pregnant”) with a desire to write.  Write about God, about life, and about God in my life.  I was full of worry and doubt and fear, and I had no real hand in creating this desire or the ability to carry it out.  But I  knew what I had to do.  Or wanted to do.  Or both.  And then despite all my fears and doubts and worries, I was suddenly hit with a moment of peace.  A moment of calm.  Though I saw no angel, I was so calm that if one had appeared at that moment I swear it wouldn’t have unnerved me.  I would have just been like, “Hey, Gabriel, how’s it going?”  Because I knew.  I knew what Mary knew.  I knew that there was no room for fear because when it comes to matters of the heart like these,  you find that despite all “common sense,”  all “reason,” all the so-called facts, you still must say yes.   Even if the thing you love is certain to fall short of everyone’s expectations (including your own), or even die a slow, painful death, saying yes is still (and always) worth it.

So I looked to the heavens and I said YES right then and there.

It was the first day of Lent.

I put down Ferder’s book…and I gave birth to this blog.

The Five Books That Most Shaped My Mystic Mind, Day 3

*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God.  I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1.   If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.

So here it is (a day late, with my apologies).  It’s a bit daunting finding the words to introduce the one book that more than any of the others on this list “washed the mud from my eyes.” (John 9:13-15)  So, for once in my life, I won’t even try.

Drumroll, please…

3.  The Naked Now:  Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr

To date, this book  is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.

Did you hear me?  I said

THE.

MOST.

LIFE-CHANGING.

This book brought to light much of what I’d learned in the previously two mentioned books, but more importantly it finally gave me answers to the nagging thoughts and questions I still had after reading them.  In this book, once and for all, I became aware of the polarizing way in which our minds are shaped from a young age about right/wrong, left/right, either/or thinking.   And here, Fr. Rohr shared what he calls “nondualistic” or, more simply “both/and” thinking.  It is this type of mindset– this type of heartfelt contemplation– that is the mystical way of greeting the world.  It is also what I think Dr. Phil means when he asks his famous question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

It truly was life-changing to suddenly realize how sticking to what we believe is “right” is a great way to stay sedentary in our thoughts and in life itself.   Happiness doesn’t come from being right all the time.   That kind of happiness– when we have to fight and grind and bully our way into changing someone else’s  thought processes so that we can celebrate our personal victories –is self-serving and short-lived.  Happiness comes from choosing happiness.  In everything.  Finding joy in pain.  Noticing our own shadows in the light.  Being present in each moment we are given.  Rohr states in his introduction to the book,

“The early, but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can only get us so far; so all religions at the more mature levels [my emphasis] have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions, like death, love, infinity, suffering, and God.  Many of us call this access “contemplation.”  It is a nondualistic way of seeing the moment.  Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”

It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

When you can be present you will know The Real Presence.  I promise you this is true.

And it is almost that simple.”

And to think this is only the introduction!

What happened for me in this book, was that almost from the beginning  (but most definitely by the end), a peace came to my heart about so many things I’d struggled with (specifically in regards to religion, but it’s applicable to everything) over the years.  Suddenly, I didn’t have to change my religion to be “right.”  And I didn’t have to insist that someone else change theirs to be “right” either.  Because no single one of us (or group of us) is “right.”   ALL OF US are “right” when we allow ourselves to be lifted to those more mature levels of religion where we are (again and again) transformed by God.   That’s when we’re free to move about within–and paradoxically beyond–the boundaries and paramenters of our various religions into the realm of  simply knowing God.   “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent,” says Rohr.

It’s no wonder we, in our various religious traditions for countless centuries now, insist on these so-called “holy” wars.  We are so busy insisting to “the others” that they need to know and love God the same way we do, we seldom stop to hear what it is they know and think and feel about God.

This thinking about religion and transformation and mysticism brought to my mind an image.  I pictured people we all know who are surely examples of people living (or who lived) at the “more mature levels” of their respective religious traditions sitting around the same table:  Mother Teresa.  Gandhi.  The Dalai Lama.  Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Hold that image for a moment.

What do you see?

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them getting into fights or stomping off mad and insistent that one of their experiences of God/Love/Truth/Divinity was better than the others.  And they certainly didn’t rally their followers into starting a war.

And suddenly with that image, I knew WHO I was meant to be in this world, and HOW I was meant to be in this world.

I realized that like them, we’re all meant to share the same space together in a peaceful, relaxed, respectful and truly loving way–and I don’t mean loving in the sentimental way that we say in cards and poems with little hearts and rainbows.  I mean loving in its truest sense.   That purest of loves that exists in the quiet energy of our being.   That place where we are so content and secure with God-in-us, that the only thing we could actively will on another is a desire to see God-in-them and to allow it to look differently than we may expect.

After that, it seems, the rest is just details.