Category Archives: Connection

White Space

A salesman once told me that an established maxim in advertising is White Space Sells. He explained that “less is more” in print ads. Keeping titles, information, and slogans short and punchy have a lot more impact than a flyer or ad crammed full of detailed text.

And aren’t we also like that? I tend to shut down when I feel overwhelmed with detail, endless to-do’s, and swirling emotions, just as I throw away flyers with too much to take in at a glance.

For a long time, I’ve used December to reflect on the year past and the one coming up. I form goals, clarify values, and edit out unnecessary involvements. Once my kids were grown, Christmas decorating, baking, and gift-giving (except to charity) lost its charm and freed up even more white space in my schedule and in my head as I streamlined my celebration of Christ’s birth.

This year, I come out of three years of focus on moving, settling into my new home, plus establishing a large garden, and I see an expanding horizon in front of me. It’s both enticing and a little daunting. Increased opportunities also present an increased challenge to carefully discern what should and shouldn’t be tackled, as well as how and when. So I’m not as far along in this process as I normally am after New Year’s. Plus I’m feeling the limits of my own abilities, energy, and drive, both personally and professionally.

Coincidentally, a broadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded a year ago for Human Rights/Martin Luther King Day showed up in my queue on Direct TV last Sunday. The Spoken Word message really spoke to me. Fittingly, Dr. King was quoted as follows:

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair,
and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights,
let us remember that…[God] is able to make a way out of no way,
and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
(Source listed in link above)

There was the light I needed. I was absolutely right to see that by my own powers alone, there really was NO WAY to achieve all my goals and dreams. But as I’ve seen repeatedly, God can open a way where there was no way before. He has provided employment, housing, creative opportunities, and friends. He has led me to insights and wisdom far beyond my own. I don’t quite know where this year is headed yet, although I see glimmers through the trees:
* Continuing to work with home buyers and sellers on a selective basis,
* Defending the faith in writing and orally,
* Looking for a publisher for my phonics readers,
* Expanding my social life.
All are twinkling at me. Stay tuned for updates….

If you’re looking for a good movie that brilliantly illuminates how God opens a way when there is no way, go see Darkest Hour, a film about a couple of weeks in Winston Churchill’s early tenure as Prime Minister in 1940. The entire British Army of 300,000 soldiers was trapped on the French beaches of Dunkirk, with the far more powerful German army and air force poised to annihilate them. Churchill had to weigh the loud voices of powerful British leaders pushing for a “negotiated peace” with Hitler versus his own belief that Hitler is a Bengal Tiger and you don’t negotiate when your head is in his mouth! (paraphrased). Go see it to find out what happened.

I am reaffirming my belief in God’s miracles today and reminding myself to call for them, expect them, and then be grateful for them when they show up. I invite you to do the same, and then let’s share those stories with each other and whoever needs a message of hope.

The Light of Miracles

Happy Mother’s Day

My youngest brother texted me a nice message this morning as I was waking up, and I’ve received generous gifts from both my children. But the gift “that keeps on giving” is watching their lives unfold in good and sometimes unexpected ways – a true fountain of continual joy!

They turned out well thanks mostly to good genes and their own efforts, only minimally from my halting but committed efforts to raise them with good values and healthy self esteem. Here’s one of my favorite photos when Peter was 3 and Amanda 5:

Precious Blessings!
Author’s Photo

Amanda used to make up poems and songs and loved to draw. She’s an accomplished writer and gifted artist today. Peter was very creative and always building complicated structures from blocks, Legos, sticks, even paper grocery bags. Now he works in construction sales. His room showed military order, while Amanda focused on creating beauty in hers. Both have happy marriages to wonderful people. I can take absolutely no credit for any of this. I believe their own choices in our pre-mortal existence set their path early. Mostly I tried to get out of their way and only wish I could have provided more creative opportunities for them.

My two grandchildren continue the magic. Alex is a deep soul, loves stories, good conversation, playing the guitar and singing in a college group. Taylor has her Dad’s easy going personality, with the work ethic of both her parents. She loves nature, is a good student, and is discovering a real talent for art. She gave me this wonderful pen-and-ink drawing for my birthday last month:

Butterflies Set Free
Author’s Photo

Families are a “slow tango” to borrow a phrase from movie critics – a long period of cultivation but bringing a rich harvest, one I expect to keep reaping throughout this life and the one to come.

Here are my “kids” all grown up:

Amanda and Peter
Author’s Photo

Whether or not you have children, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. After all, we all had a mother and can nurture the children around us, as well as the child within ourselves. Take a walk through your album of blessings, and I think you’ll agree we all have much to celebrate!


Eternal Life – Part 3 – Tribes and Families United Forever

I just watched a Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast, all of which was dedicated to the music and genius of Oscar Hammerstein II. Not only was it a musical feast, but my love for the Jewish people reawakened. It’s a little known fact that most Broadway musicals were a product of two great legacies: the American struggle to create itself and the Jewish struggle to recreate themselves. Jewish songwriters, lyricists, producers and directors wrote stories of outsiders who were lost, then found – a mirror of their own struggles over the centuries. But they didn’t directly tell their own story but instead told the story of the “Gentiles” (non Jews) who founded this nation and gave birth to a vibrant new culture.

So why are Jewish people telling the Gentiles’ story? To answer that, I needed to reflect back on Biblical history:

A close reading of the Old Testament tells the story of the 12 Tribes of Israel, descendants of Abraham, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob (spiritual name Israel) who had 12 children with multiple wives – hence the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Throughout ancient history, their fate rose and fell on the tides of righteousness versus idolatry, false values, and downright wickedness. The Tribe of Judah are the ancestors of today’s Jewish people, especially the sect known as Pharisees. They were the administrators of the Kingdom, a “chosen people” unto God, really self-chosen by their righteous living and dedication to that God. But the tribes of Israel struggled and fought with each other, ultimately dividing into the Northern Kingdom of 10 tribes and the Southern Kingdom based in Jerusalem, consisting of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. When the Northern Kingdom had “ripened in iniquity,” they were scattered by the Assyrians in the year 721 B.C. and absorbed into other cultures, and are now called The Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.

The Southern Kingdom lost the way of good living, embraced sin to the degree of sacrificing their children to idols and embracing every known sin, resulting in their vulnerability to outside enemies. They were conquered by the Babylonians and carried away captive in 586 BC, as a group, for 70 years; they were then allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem and, unlike the Northern 10 tribes, were able to maintain their culture and religious identity. But since a segment of Judah (mostly Pharisees), ancestors of today’s Jewish people, crucified Christ, they and their descendants have been fated to be “scourged,” afflicted, and scattered throughout history as a way to ultimately bring them back to God. They found a refuge in Spain for centuries until the Inquisition sent them fleeing, yet again. Pogroms in Russia, the Holocaust during WWII, and persecution elsewhere finally drove many to America where they again found a safe harbor. Their business experience, intelligence, and creative talents opened doors of opportunity, especially centered on both coasts. Of course, not all Jewish people followed good paths, just as people from all religious and cultural groups spawn evil doers. But those who reached upward created much of our wonderful American culture.

This morning I’ve listened to classics from Sound of Music, Carousel, Oklahoma, and State Fair, with the spoken word given by Oscar Hammerstein III describing how his grandfather gave us such wonderful stories and lyrics through his own continual struggle and much failure. He told his sons, when playing tennis, to “always look to the next ball, not the last ball” – good advice for us all!

This wonderful legacy is detailed in the PBS Special, Broadway Musicals, A Jewish Legacy. I saw it years ago, never forgot it, and ordered my own copy recently. Who doesn’t love the music of Barbara Streisand, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Rogers (Oscar Hammerstein’s creative partner) to name just the most famous?

Christian prophecy tells of the great restoration of the Twelve Tribes of Israel with Judah’s spiritual leadership centered in Jerusalem and “Zion” or the Tribe of Ephraim as temporal leaders centered in the “New Jerusalem.” Even though many of our struggles only result in partial victories now, we have the hope of absolute victory in Christ at His Second Coming.

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out:
and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,
which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God:
and I will write upon him my new name. 
(Revelation 3:12)

Last week, I spent some wonderful time in our local LDS Temple, “sealing” ancestors together as families. I could feel the spirits of those who especially wanted this work performed for them, all of which is conditional upon its acceptance by them. It’s my testimony that everyone who wants this blessing, who lives so as to qualify for it, and embraces the path to it, can bring that restoration and ultimate unity to their own family.

Gladly, we also have the promise that the family of God will be made whole. All human life on this planet has the same promise: to be restored to their original place in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or be adopted into it; then to be taken home to the God who made us to live eternally with Him, the great patriarchs, our ancestors and families. Those who arrive there are not chosen capriciously by God, but they choose themselves through their intentions, efforts and journey towards truth.

Salvation is so much bigger than human ideas and even experience. It’s my “hope in Christ” that all those who have wandered, struggled, and felt lost will find the eternal home they’re seeking. The Jews, by telling America’s story, really tell the story of all humanity, for which we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Sealed Together for Eternity
Family Photo

The Feast of Trumpets

Today, September 13, 2015, is highly significant in the Hebrew calendar.

At sundown today, the Feast of Trumpets begins. I knew very little about this until last night. I did know about Passover in the spring and how it commemorates the Israelites’ miraculous exodus from ancient Egypt, led by Moses. It’s also the day Christ was crucified, to be resurrected on the third day, he being the first fruits of the Atonement.

According to an article I read last night, The Golden Plates and the Feasts of Trumpetsthe Passover signifies the Early Harvest or the first harvest of souls at the time of Christ. The fall holy days symbolize the Later Harvest, or the harvest of souls in the Last Days – the times in which we live!

This day is part of three High Holy Days or Days of Awe:

  • The Feast of Trumpets or Rosh Hashanah – This is a day to remember how the ancient Israelites escaped from both Egypt and Babylon. In both cases, many spirituals truths and practices had been lost. So, even today, Israel remembers and begins the repentance process to become more spiritually righteous. It is also the Jewish New Year, a time for new beginnings. It is signaled by a single long note, offering God’s hope to the truly penitent.
  • The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur – This is a day of fasting, reflection and repentance, about 10 days after The Feast of Trumpets. It is signaled by a series of short trumpet notes, symbolizing man’s weeping for his sins and failings, and asking for the Lord’s forgiveness. This year it begins at sundown, September 22, and ends at nightfall on the 23rd.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot means receiving the Lord’s forgiveness and a return to grace – a completed harvest. It is signaled by another single long sound from the trumpet. This year, it begins on Monday, September 28, and ends seven days later on Sunday, October 4.

Even though Latter-day Saints don’t officially observe Jewish holy days, I plan to use this three-week period to look within, see what I can and need to improve, and recommit myself to the Christian path. I especially want to repent of hardheartedness, my tendency to hold onto resentment, and my failure many times to love others as I should.

I also have a great love for the Jewish people as well as empathy for their long sufferings and worldwide wanderings over many centuries. It mirrors my own wanderings through a wilderness of unfulfilled hopes and some negative generational patterns that have dogged my footsteps. Plus Mormons believe that we are part of the House of Israel just as the Jews are. Some scholars believe it’s significant that the Angel Moroni delivered the Book of Mormon plates to Joseph Smith on Rosh Hashanah, September 22, 1827. It then became God’s voice of warning to all the world in our day – a trumpet in its own right.

I saw a PBS special this last year on how Broadway musicals have been mostly created by Jewish writers, composers, producers, and directors. They wrote about alienation and a desire to belong. They set their stories in the most American of settings with non Jewish characters: Oklahoma, South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Carousel,  Showboat, and many more. My heart went out to them in their desire to find a home in America and a cultural identity integrated with the story of our nation. In many respects, they’ve succeeded and prospered, while adding to the greatness of our nation.

Today, I join with them in celebrating our common history, in affirming our common allegiance to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and finally in looking forward to the ultimate harvest of souls through the return of our Messiah – the ultimate new beginning.

Today is also the 29th day of Elul, the last day of the Shemitah or Sabbath year, but that will be the subject of another post.

May you all burn with a “perfect brightness of hope” that only a hope in Christ can kindle and not put out. And may we each sound a trumpet of invitation and hope to those around us.

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple Courtesy

The Angel Moroni, Raleigh NC Temple

Mothers Are Forever

Each year I reflect on how my mother contributed to my life and also on what being a mother has brought to it.

My mother was a gifted portrait artist with a long and illustrious career. She was also a dedicated mother of seven, raising six to maturity. She had strong, traditional values, high standards, and boundless energy. She also provided an example of self-discipline, a beautifully run home of peace and order, a great caring heart, and a love of the highest things in life.

At her funeral in 2005, friends and family remembered all these qualities and her many achievements. But I remembered one thing above the others: She empowered me to be fully an individual, a sovereign being in the universe – a subtle but important gift. Both my parents sent the message that I could do anything I wanted in life and they meant it. As a divorced mother of two small children, that helped get me through long years of employment and finally discover my soul’s work – a teacher of eternal truths.

Jim and Cloy, self portrait

Jim and Cloy, self portrait

And also through my parents’ example, I found many ways to make my children a strong priority. I didn’t work jobs that required overtime or odd hours. I limited my social life to one night out a week. I spent time on their level, fully focused on the moment. We rode the city bus around its whole route, sitting in the back and talking to strangers. We walked to the local gas station after 10 o’clock on summer nights to buy ice cream treats, watching our shadows lengthen out before us. We had reading time, talking time, singing time, and prayer time. Many precious memories.

My son Peter is a very clear thinker with a natural sense of order. While my brain often wanders all over the map, he goes straight to the heart of any matter with the precision of a surgeon. He’s a faithful steward and provider over his family, steady as a rock – much like my own Dad. But he also has a killer sense of humor and delights in making me squirm. I’m not nearly as quick on my feet so I’ll need eternity to get revenge.

My daughter Amanda is a combination of my mother and my ex-husband: abundant artistic talent coupled with her Dad’s craftsmanship and love of an orderly, functional home. She carefully paces her activities, once remarking to me as I rushed about, “When we hurry, we lose the joy.” She cares for her husband, her dog Dudley, and her home with precision and affection. She also spends hours each week in her studio and with fellow artists systematically developing her talent.

I don’t know what my kids will say about me at my funeral but I know what they’ve given me: a glimpse into the eternities – how traits, talent and even energy are transmitted through the generations, combining in new and fascinating ways. As I watched my siblings, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren at my mother’s funeral, for a moment I could actually see her vibrant energy coursing through all of us. I believe in the Christian promises of eternal life, but I also testify that those who’ve gone before live in us now and in all their descendents.

So put on those spiritual glasses and look back at your moms and dads. Then look downstream to your children and grandchildren – it’s a beautiful, energized stream of life that never ends.

Amanda and Peter, Author's Photo

Amanda and Peter, Author’s Photo

Speak Friend and Enter

Do you remember the neighbor who knocked on my door two weeks ago, right after I gave my financial concerns back to God? It’s in my post, The Prayer of Relinquishment. Well, here’s the update: She listed her town home with me that week, I sent out a blanket email to my whole brokerage, we launched on the MLS, and we received two strong offers within 24 hours! A nice gift to my very deserving seller, and a nice message to me of providential care from above.

But there were still those two offers to juggle properly. My seller and I stayed in close touch and I knew we were considering all options, but I still didn’t feel completely at peace. Then I remembered prayer. After 40 years of being a Christian, you’d think adjourning to my knees would occur to me sooner!  As soon as I said a mental prayer, the uncertain feeling went away and my mind cleared up. I added a mental prayer each time we navigated the next step – the options before us soon resolved into a clear, single way forward. The end result left my seller dazed and very happy, and it left me wiser and very grateful.

And what about the other desire I relinquished, for a husband? First, I just lost myself in discerning and then following God’s will. Happiness and contentment showed up, and showed up abundantly, with many high moments. A scripture came to mind more than once: The laborer is worthy of his hire. I found several versions on Here’s my favorite:

And devote his whole time to this high and holy calling, which I now give unto him,
seeking diligently the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness,
and all things necessary shall be added thereunto; for the 
laborer is worthy of his hire.
(LDS Doctrine & Covenants 106:3, see also 1 Timothy 5:18 and Luke 10:7)

Additionally men just showed up! A clerk at Home Depot joked with me while making extra keys, a man at the Post Office started a conversation, three men came up to me to discuss my Healthy Food class a week later. I had actually put men out of my mind because the Lord had kept me quite busy, so all this not only took me by surprise but was a real departure from past experience.

Who knows where all this will go? Oddly, I don’t care as much as before. I trust that God knows best and that He isn’t capriciously toying with me. And most importantly, I found I really did want God more than a human male companion – something that will anchor my life forevermore and help put me on that proverbial pedestal women seemed design to inhabit. (That’s a whole other discussion….)

What did I learn from all this?

* Remember to pray, sooner rather than later, and trust the answers. They may be subtle or require us to change a preconceived expectation, but answers will be there, and they always bring peace and clarity.
* Let God be God and do His job. Don’t try to do it for Him by second guessing circumstances and what we think should happen or even worse, watching anxiously for it to arrive.

There’s an analogy embedded in The Lord of the Rings that I recall frequently. Remember when Frodo and friends tried to find the entrance to the Mines of Moria? They faced only sheer granite walls with no sign of a door. Then as the moon came out from behind the clouds, they saw iridescent lines defining the doorway, with these words above it: Speak Friend and Enter. Gandalf, thinking the word Friend was a form of greeting, tried every magic incantation he knew and none worked. Then Frodo had a paradigm shift and asked, What’s the elvish word for Friend? Of course, that worked, once they decided that the word “Friend” was the password.

I think prayer is like that too. We have to remember to pray in the first place, then we have to ask the right prayer, and finally we have to be willing to follow the answer. I hope when you face your own blank walls that you can remember a way will always appear if you ask the right question, truly wanting to follow the answer.

The Door to the Mines of Moria Used Under Fair Use Copyright Provision, from Pinterest Post

The Door to the Mines of Moria
Used Under Fair Use Copyright Provision, from Pinterest Post


A Dubious Achievement

I have a guilty secret to confess. I play Free Cell on my laptop during my down time: watching the local news, mulling over a thorny problem, etc. For those of you who’ve never played this game, I apologize. In a nutshell, it’s a form of solitaire where you try to get all 52 cards in order on their respective aces, with four free spaces to park cards while you rearrange cards in seven lines. You can back up the game to the beginning or any intermediate point if you get stuck, so you can have a high percentage of winning games.

Originally I took pride in having over 90% wins, then above 95%, finally striving to stay at 97+%. I would reset the stats the computer was tracking after each 1,000 games, which took 2-3 months. I honed my skill and speed and soon was reaching my goal, staying at 97-98% wins.

But this week I hit 1,000 games won out of 1,000 games played! Here’s the proof:

Free Cell Stats, Author's Photo

Free Cell Stats, Author’s Photo

What was my secret? Much as I’d like to think it was skill, I really just refused to quit. I backed up the game as often and as far as I needed to in order to eventually win. The longest game was almost 20 minutes. Considering that the average win takes less than 1 1/2 minutes, that’s an eternity and a lot of do-overs. Previously, I would have just accepted a Loss when the going got hard and moved on to an easier game.

There are a handful of games that can’t be won, per the internet, so the other variable is just plain dumb luck. I was stubborn and lucky. That’s a far cry from skilled, superior, talented, or what-have-you. It only took me 12 years to learn this!

And isn’t life in general like that also? Most of the time, I struggle with holes in my self-esteem like most people. But occasionally I pat myself on the back for the good things I sometimes manage to do, thinking things like: “Aren’t I something now?” or “Score one for me. . . .”

Yesterday, I had my annual long, meandering chat with a friend from my New England hippie days. We caught up with the year’s news, renewed our deep soul connection, and walked down memory lane, sharing a time that was magical in both our lives. Epiphany: those values were an earlier foundation for my current Christian values: non-materialism, living close to the Spirit behind nature, contributing to the  larger community.

As I looked back on my zig zag path from Midwestern school girl to New England Hippie to Utah Mormon, I suddenly realized that the path God had charted for my life had everything to do with any small successes I might have had – my own talents took a distant second place. What appeared to be “dumb luck” was really divine providence, and what looked like skill was often just following my own desire for change and adventure, with a little blind reaching for greater light and knowledge.

All I really bring to the party is my willingness and diligence to pursue the good things that beckon on the horizon. It’s a choice, not a skill. And if I had to grade my lifetime level of diligence, it would not get an A. But I can change that in the future. A coworker, while discussing dieting, once described the “bell that rings in her head” when she’s full and it’s time to quit eating. I find that there’s also a bell that rings in my head each day (usually around 5 pm) that signals the end of productive work – if I’ve been diligent about tackling the hard things as efficiently as possible. I can then, with full assurance that I’m not missing real opportunities, set down my burden and turn my attention to study, rest, relaxation – and a little Free Cell!

Where does all this end? With gratitude for a wonderful Heavenly Father who subtly creates opportunities and sets a beacon for me to follow, as I choose to or not. But since doing so only leads to greater happiness and success, I can take no credit at all and can only regret the times I don’t make full use of these chances.

We’re all really just “bozos on the bus” bumping along together – let’s enjoy the journey and make the most of it!

Hippie Van, Courtesy

Hippie Van, Courtesy




What I Know For Sure

Oprah used this phrase a lot during the time I watched her shows in the late 90’s, and it’s stuck with me. Usually I make one or two New Year’s resolutions but today I’m reflecting on all the upheaval in our world and “what I know for sure.”

More and more, I live modern life like running the bases in baseball. Each one is a safe touch point and helps restore my inner peace when the going gets tough:

  • Home Plate: I know there is a God, loving and powerful, and we will live forever through Christ’s Atonement.
  • First Base: I know most people are good and that goodness will triumph in the end.
  • Second Base: I know I must reach out for new challenges and new connections to be happy.
  • Third Base: I know I must develop the divine within to progress eternally.

What do you know for sure? What bases do you touch when anxiety or adversity strikes? This is a good time to put those things front and center and give them new life.

I’m knee-deep in a major purge of my files, and I’m finding gems I forgot I had. Here’s a quote I just found (from Gail Godwin’s novel, The Finishing School) that may speak to you as it does to me:

There are two kinds of people . . . One kind, you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these people, you can never say, “X stops here,” or “Now I know all there is to know about Y.” That doesn’t mean they’re unstable. Ah, no, far from it. They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive.

We all let fear and habit slow us down, but that keeps us from those “new trysts with life” that not only surprise our friends but they also surprise ourselves. C. H. Lewis wrote a book called Surprised By Joy. Let’s all be surprised by joy this year and spread it around.

City Park, Author's Photo

City Park, Author’s Photo


Coming Into Port

A further insight on my last post:  By letting my emotions flow freely, even through intense pain, they kept on flowing completely out of me, as long as I avoided the shoals of self-pity. The pain was gone more surely than any amount of stuffing it back into my subconscious could achieve. It felt like gliding into port and stepping on solid ground again.

Then I was prompted to reread Elizabeth Gilbert‘s famous book, Eat, Pray, Love. I just finished it this morning (actually in the middle of the night when I do a lot of my reading) and I was struck by several thoughts. First, I’m not nearly the emotional basket case she is, or at least I don’t live “as large” as she does.

Second, I was reminded of the vast array of spiritual practices in the world and how they bring multitudes to the throne of grace. I had explored many of them, back in my hippie days searching for God: Practicing stillness, auto suggestion, chanting. I remember hearing of an ancient Native American practice of sending depressed people to walk along the banks of a moving river until their own emotions came unstuck and could flow into healing pathways. I had walked along the banks of the Iowa River one summer wrestling with the growing conviction that I couldn’t stay in Iowa to raise my two children under the protective wing of my family; I would have to go to Utah and face those challenges alone where my higher spiritual path beckoned. The process worked, I tuned into the quiet flow of the natural world and God spoke to me through it.

Sometime later, I came across a religious cartoon, showing two movie theater marquees across the street from each other. The billing on one read ABOUT GOD with a long line of people stretching around the block, while the other read GOD with only a few patrons straggling in! I think many of us are afraid of actually experiencing God so we substitute listening to other mortals’ ideas of God, a lesser experience. But all true religion begins and ends with an actual connection with the divine. I propose that comes in many ways, not all of them filled with spiritual sunbeams and lollipops.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is an account of her journey out of a once vital marriage, through an ugly complicated divorce, devastating to her self-esteem and life path. She goes on a year-long quest to find answers and peace – first pleasure (eating in Italy), then purity (meditation and yoga in India), and finally a balance of the two in Indonesia where she actually finds it, along with real love.

At the end of the book she returns with her new-found mate to an island where she had retreated two years before just as she hit her lowest point. The first time, she spent 10 days in solitude and silence flushing out all “her sorrows and her shames,” letting them flow through and out of her. So this island acted like bookends punctuating the beginning and end of her odyssey. An inspiring read, even if it’s a little edgier than my comfort level. She ended up making a patchwork life now married to the lovely Brazilian man she found in Bali, where their lives take them all over the world, separately and together. Most importantly, it’s a much higher level of creative achievement and personal happiness for them both.

A third similarity: She was wrenched away from the comfort of her first marriage by her own insistent creative growth. A life force much bigger than her tossed her about until she came out the other side, all rearranged and new. And I’ve been a vagabond in my own life, never completely fitting into any one “port” – Midwestern schoolgirl, New England hippie, nor Utah Mormon – but with a bone-deep connection to all of them. Trying to synthesize these into something coherent has been more than tough. Under my own power, it’s been impossible. But the Lord has led me on an amazing creative and spiritual journey into a higher level of me-ness, not in a selfish way but in a growth way. Just as I described in one of my earliest posts, The Gems Within (ironically sparked by a television interview with Elizabeth Gilbert), the life force has pushed to live even more intensely through me, as it will in all of us, if we let it.

This morning a memory flashed through my mind: of me at age 17 or 18 standing on the footbridge by the University of Iowa Student Union at night watching a couple of otters cavorting on the bank of the Iowa River, silently and powerfully gliding beneath them. Their fur glistened in the darkness as they darted in and out of the water, their long, sleek bodies moving like quicksilver. I realized that if I would deepen my trust in the life force that wants to live through me, I could eventually be like them, moving in total harmony with the universe, in utter joy and abandon – but also doing good and being good.

That’s a homecoming I’ll gladly welcome, even after a terrifying storm. I hope you can also trust your “sorrows and shames” to the Master of us all to guide you into port.

Boat Safe on Shore Courtesy

Boat Safe on Shore

An Unfair Life?

Do you feel lucky, especially compared to other people? I mean in the sense of being fortunate.

Overall, the deficiencies of my life have cast a long shadow over very real and substantial blessings, in spite of my best efforts to be positive. I often have to work to rise above self-pity and then I don’t always succeed.

Recently, I visited in depth with a friend who acknowledges not having big problems: professionally successful, a happy family, good health, a satisfying church affiliation, and many friends. As we discussed issues of inner faith, I realized I had a blessing this friend, by his own admission, didn’t have: a living, one-on-one connection with God. And it has utterly transformed my life and view of the future.

Suddenly, I felt really lucky, and I realized I wouldn’t trade that precious relationship for a larger bank account nor even an intact, functional marriage. Can’t most of us see those gaping holes in our own lives? There certainly are people living what I call a “white-picket-fence lifestyle” and who would agree they’ve had very little adversity. But I think many more people could report very daunting challenges (dysfunctional family, divorce, health problems, struggling kids or no kids, financial reversals, etc.) which cast a big shadow over their happiness too.

So how do we regard these apparent inequities? Isn’t this blatantly unfair? Christianity gives us some answers:

  1. God doesn’t play favorites: Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34-5) So I have to believe that all will be tested, one way or another, and all will be blessed.
  2. There has to be a good reason behind all our circumstances, even if we can’t see what it is: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) About this point, I have to remind myself that my desires too often lean toward comfort and happiness, not growth nor service!
  3. When our focus is spiritual, the circumstances of life will eventually catch up, in this life or the next: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)
  4. Some adversity is a test, but all our losses will be made up in this life or the next. See the story of Job in the Old Testament – God allowed Satan to test his righteousness with terrible adversity, but afterwards God blessed Job: . . . the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. . . . So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning. (Job 42:10, 12)
  5. God will heal our sorrows: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
  6. I’ll paraphrase one of my church leaders who explained differences this way: We are living in Act Two of a three-act play. We’ve lost our memory of premortal life (Act One) preparing to come here, nor can we see what will come after (Act Three) when all will be made up to us. We can’t truly understand our life’s path until we see the whole picture.

All these things comfort me, but nothing was quite so dramatic as this sudden paradigm shift. I really wouldn’t trade my education, my family heritage, and especially not my knowledge of God for the things I’m missing. And I know that if I stay on the path like Job, my latter end will be more than my beginning and that God will wipe away all tears.  May you find peace and thanksgiving in your life as well.

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano Courtesy

God the Father, by Cima da Conegliano, 1515 AD