Gardens of Love

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ~ Thomas Merton

“Betsy, you plant a garden the way you have children!”

“I know.”

(That was me talking to myself. Or was that God? Sometimes they are the same.)

Both are so similar – gardens and life. At least they are for me.

I never planned to have children. Barely even thought about it. But I have been gifted with nine. People always say the funniest things about that and make a lot of assumptions, too. I used to care. I wanted to be understood. But when you try to explain something that is spiritual, well, you end up with a lot of stories that aren’t really the real truth.

Planting my garden early this morning gave me new insights.

Almost a week ago, or was it two?, my oldest son brought home three flats of beautiful, mature flowers from work. It’s the end of the season and his boss gives the leftovers to whomever can use them.

At six am. this morning, battling a headache (I never get headaches and rarely get sick, so this is very distracting!), I walked outside, determined to get them planted.

There were 12 Impatiens, 24 Geraniums, and countless (I’m lazy right now. I don’t know how many) Sweet Potato vines.

I knew where the empty spaces were, so I got my shovel, spread them out, dug holes, and planted all of them, plucking weeds along the way. I got distracted a few times as I crouched half-way in the garden and on the brick walkway, straining to reach the weeds that had grown between the bricks, pulling them with everything in me. I made a big mess, but finished very quickly. I knew they’d die if they weren’t planted soon, and then I’d die of guilt because I’d been given a gift that I’d neglected to make time for. The thing is, I hadn’t asked for the plant. But there they sat, behind the fence, needing a mom.

The things (thoughts that I seriously battled!) that almost (not really) stopped me from moving forward in order to “do it right”:

  • The soil isn’t really good. They might not survive the shock.
  • Do these plants like sandy soil?
  • Are you doing more harm than good?
  • Will they survive?
  • You ought to have a plan! It’ll look so much better if you design it first!
  • Did you see the look on your neighbor’s face? (He left for an early morning dog-walk and scanned my work without a “Hello.” He probably didn’t hear me, as I was on my knees and out of breath.)
  • Why are you even bothering to plant these when you might not have many days left to enjoy them before the frost comes?

As I finished up, everyone in the family still sleeping soundly, I looked at my hands and wondered why I hadn’t taken the time to find my gloves. I was up to my elbows and ankles ( wore flip flops) in dirt but I’d managed to keep my pants clean! That was a good thing because it’s almost time to leave for work and I don’t want to change.

I’ve been told I’m impatient. I don’t know what that means. I know what it looks like, but when I look at how I feel, the definition doesn’t match.

There was one thought that kept moving me to finish the task:

“They just want to get in the ground!”

And that’s when I got it.

So did my children! They just wanted to get here, to their life. They willingly and joyfully agreed to the imperfect conditions they’d live in.

I may have started a family while relatively young, but I had my last one, James, when I was 47. The nine of them are spread out over 21 years. No big deal to me. But it’s a big deal to those who fear age and all the things that go with it. I’m blissfully ignorant of those fears and things.  I was never given a guarantee that I’d live past the end of any given day, and I live my life fully aware of that.

I was meant to be their mom, just like you were meant to be your child’s parent. We are perfectly matched.

Just like the flowers that my son brought home unexpectedly, I consider my children the most miraculous and unplanned gifts to me. I learn who they are as they grow, with no expectations except that they use every ounce of courage they can find inside of them to be true to who they are.

They were people before they got here. They’ll be people when they leave. This is just a blip in their existence, a time of forgetfulness that makes the remembering a challenge, but is necessary because of how deeply rooted they need to be to reach the source of their joy. If they follow the whispering of the Spirit and their hearts as it speaks, the world might not agree with their course, and their lives might even look messy, but they’ll feel strong and solid.

Yes, I know: gardens need to be tended. They grow weeds. They get thirsty and hungry. They can even get overcrowded, requiring some transplanting. The plants might not seem to go with the rest of the landscaping. This is especially true if yours were gifted to you like mine were.

All true….

But have you noticed how none of that matters…

…if you don’t plant them?

So that’s what I did.

I received them…

…into my garden…

…in love, and faith, and hope that who I am and what I have to offer, will not get in the way of their roots’ journey to the source of their joy.

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Who Are You?! And Why Are You Here?!!

“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.” ~ Jose Manuel Barroso

“Who’s that?” I blurted out.

Seconds before, I’d been trying to convince myself that if he wanted to talk to me  he would. But the photo he was having scanned and loaded to his flash drive was so old and interesting, and I thought that it might be one of his ancestors.

“It’s going in my book!” he said. But suddenly he needed to engage with the Staples Copy Place service lady and turned away from me as he passed her his picture and flash drive and some instructions.

“It’s gonna be big! Huge!” I smiled at his enthusiasm. For the next few minutes, as his work was being copied and scanned, his story unfolded. I listened to his dream as he described it. He had no doubts that it was going to be a hit. “We’re scheduling with Oprah….”

“Nothing’s here, Sir,” she called from her computer. I could sense his confusion – technology has to be used a lot in order to learn it, and today he was on an errand from his publisher, on his own, and a bit confused. Seems he’d made a mistake loading files to the device, and suddenly stood helpless and confused at an unexpected dead end.

“You can sit over there at that computer and open the file you were sent via email and copy the file to your flashdrive again.” I suggested when the woman who worked there was essentially telling him that there was no hope to get done what he came there to do. He’d have to go home and figure it out, she implied with her silence.

“Huh?” was the look he gave me. “Who are you?” “I guess I know why you’re here today, right now.” He let out another head-shaking chuckle.

Actually, work ended early and I remembered a chart I’d just finished for family history research that was rolled up in my front seat waiting patiently to be copied for later that night at the Family History Center. I decided to make the pit-stop before heading home.

“I’m always here. It’s just for you to figure out ‘why?” Did that just come out of my mouth?

He gave me a shocked but knowing look and laughed again.

Since his stuff was delayed until we could figure it out, it was my turn. “I need ten of these. Black and white,” I said and passed her the original chart.

“Come here. Help me. You do it.” He passed me his credit card and I got to pretend that I knew what I was doing. I’d never done what  he believed I could do at a Staples computer. I’d only suggested it! But we went to work and soon had his files open and moved to his flash drive and then printed out a few pictures. Finally he replaced me in the seat in front of the computer and I went to check on my charts which were done and all over the floor in front of the copier.

Seems he just needed me to get him started.

“They’re done!” I called to the woman. My charts were pig-piled all over each other in a heap on the floor, looking miserable. She gathered them off the floor and passed them to me.

As I started to roll them up I hesitated a second time, wondering if I dare ask another question. He was so excited about what he was doing and I didn’t want to bother him. The woman helping me waited patiently for me to pay attention to her again. She needed to be paid, but that would have to wait.

“Do you do family history?” I knew he did because something from Ancestry.com was in his collection of files. I didn’t mean to see it, but their logo is hard for me to miss. I see it every day. If I admitted I’d seen it, I’d feel nosy, like I’d crossed a boundary of trust that was there when he let me into his emails and files.

“What?” he said, standing slowly and tilting his head as if I’d just asked him a math equation that he couldn’t process.

I asked again as I continued to neaten my pile of over-sized pedigree / family group charts, “Do you do family history?”

“Yes! That’s amazing that you ask that. I’m working on a relative who served in the Civil War.”

“Would you like a chart to help you?” I passed him one and he rolled it up after I wrote my phone number on the bottom, explaining that I was the director of the Family Search Center in Cataumet, a few towns over. He passed me a copy of the front and back cover of his new book that we’d accessed from his email moments earlier.

“I’ll be calling you!” he exclaimed, I immediately started to stress, wondering who I knew that specialized in military searches…nobody!

We left Staples together, me redirecting him away from dead ends he kept going down because he was so exited.

“Are you happy?!” I asked.

“Very happy! Every day is wonderful!” I looked at him, so grateful to have met him.

“So, you’re retired, but not from life!”

“Nope!” he almost shouted. Retirement wasn’t a word he connected with at all. I could tell.

“Then you’re blissful!” I promised with an arm flourish. He agreed and laughed again.

“What’s your name?” he asked as we headed for our cars.

“Betsy.”

“Mine’s Jim. I’ll be calling you for help, Betsy.”

But I already knew his name. It was on the picture of the front cover of his book. It’ll be for sale on Amazon next month. Look for it. I will.

[“Metamorphosis In Black”, by James Robert Butler, paperback edition, $20.]

Don’t you love how things work out? Jim got the help he needed and I get to help him with his family history!

Life Is a Playground

“There’s always the chance you could die right in the middle of your life story.” ~Chuck Paluniuh

I pulled into the lot in my little yellow Beetle, hoping like I always do, that I wouldn’t stall as I looked for a space. At least three times a week I come to this market on my lunch break.

I got out of my car after fishing through my empty-of-mints change box for enough money to buy a slice of the best pizza in the entire world. I’m hungry. That’s what makes it the best.

People are getting in and out of their cars and trucks, or sitting in them eating their lunch. I can’t help it. I start to smile. Sometimes I even laugh to myself, which, if caught is not a good thing. I’m so happy that people show up every day in my life. Yes. It’s my life. Mine. You might all be a figment of my imagination for all I know. But I love you for the wonderful job you’re doing. And I am thrilled to have another lunch.

I make a beeline for the pizza case. There’s a man there who is sliding his slice onto a paper plate as I look through the glass window of the other side of the warmer just to see the choices for the day. He’s not up to talking. Neither are any of the other people that I snake my way through and around to get to the checkout counter.

I think about it all the time when I’m out: how uncomfortable is it for some people to make eye contact and “play” in the moment? Very is my guess, because only one in ten persons does. Dogs and I do it very well. They always want my attention. But I’ve made the mistake a few times recently of misinterpreting a lengthy stare as wanting some attention when he really just had to pee and was really begging, “Would you please just let me out before I get into more trouble?!”

Finally, after bequeathing the change for my pizza to the girl behind the counter (she was fun by the way….joking that she would add it to her college fund) I descended the steps to a waiting table, half in the shade, facing the street.

It never fails: every time I’m eating I have gawkers. This time it was a woman sitting at a table facing me. I think I could do a very good commercial for pizza. It’s fun to watch people salivate as they stare. They really do. I catch them all the time. I so wanted to talk to her because she was more awake than my two companions sitting opposite me. I’d interpreted their  lack of desire for engagement with me as tiredness and a genuine boredom with the mundane routine of lunch and life, and decided to go back to work alone where I could sing and daydream.

But as I readied to leave, my heart stood still.

A minivan pulled up to the curb and the side door slid open, revealing a woman climbing over a little boy strapped into his car seat. He reminded me of my little boy, Kenny , #8 of 9, the one who dances when no one is watching. Life, adult life, adult needs, cares and concerns were overshadowing his little body and magnificent soul.

Strapped into a car he wouldn’t be able to drive for 10 more years, his day at the mercy of a life planned by others, I wondered if he would get a chance to play. His face seemed so worried, as if he’d forgotten his joy at home, tucked under his pillow.

I let that thought work on me all day yesterday and into the night.

How hard is it for most of us to really live as if everything, everyone, every situation has seeds of opportunity for connection in it / them? How young are we when we start sleep-walking through lunch with an amazing and fun person like me?

On our walk to the pond the other day, James and Kenny and I passed an old neighbor, one who lived next door to a house we used to live in. The boys struggled to the top of the hill and left me walking at a slower pace when the road leveled out in front of this man’s house.”

“Long time no see! Where have you been?”

I didn’t sense that he wanted any details of my life, or to know that we’ve been walking to the other side of the pond closer to our house, and I needed to catch up with the boys before they reached the treacherous decline to the pond, so I said a quick, “I’ve been around, I don’t get out much, ” which was misleading because I get out every day, just not in that neck of the woods.

“You ought to get out more!” he called as we waved goodbye.

“I know,” I said, because what I think he really meant to say was that it’s nice seeing people when he’s sitting on his front step. He likes some interaction. Maybe he feels more alive?

I don’t know about you, but I get confused sometimes. I shut down when I can’t find someone to play with, and for a while I stop “showing up”. I let other people’s moods and life-concerns decide for me whether I’ll live in the moment as me or as a poor imitation.

That was how I felt after lunch and as I made my way to my car and back to work. Who was going to play with me and take a ho hum day to one filled with laughter and rejuvenating connection?

In the middle of the second half of the day I nearly burst with a new realization – one that I won’t share because it really doesn’t matter. But I really wanted to share it with someone. I had two people, my lunch partners, in the other room, to share my news with. So, I threw caution to the wind, along with the cork that was stopping up my joyful spirit, and bounded into the room.

“Guess what?!!” I semi-yelled to them, waking them from a very profound and deep and peaceful silence.

And then the sun started to rise. I could see it in the corners of their mouth first and then the light crept up to their eyes. And then in their own way they each said, “Oh, Betsy,” as I turned to leave them, walking lighter for having deposited a piece of me with them.

And that was that.

Moral of the story: If you want to play, play. 🙂

 

Heart Rocks

“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

They are very noisy and really don’t like taking turns. Thrilled to be remembered and listened to, they are often my greatest entertainment when I give them a moment of my time, and space in my day. I think they get a kick out of watching me get frustrated, trying to find things they’ve carefully hidden, knowing that they have the power to lead me to those things if my desire is strong enough, if I show enough persistence, and if I ask nicely.

I wonder often about the gaps of time where I don’t pay them any attention. I love the rush towards me when I finally “come home” and the “hugs” at my knees as I ready myself to enter their world and play as only they know how.

They really are very amusing. I love how they laugh and joke with each other about the mess I make of things. But they don’t seem to mind as long as I keep playing.

I think it must be very hard for them to feel invisible, waiting to be noticed, waiting to be loved again after one of my many absences. But they are very forgiving. Whenever I make myself available they are ready and willing to join in any and all fun. Even a walk to the pond or through the woods is enough for them. Spending time with me alone is what they value the most, and being out in nature is where we connect the deepest – in the quiet and beautiful places of the world.

That’s where I played with them, my ancestors, yesterday – on a walk to the pond where I sat in the sand while James and Kenny jumped from a tree and dug holes as the sun set on their backs.

James and Kenny had no clue of the conversations I was having with my dad. They didn’t hear the words of encouragement from my great grandmother or the arguing about whose turn it was to talk.

They just watched me roll over the heart-shaped stone I’d found waiting for me in the sand at my feet.

But I know they felt something different about me as we walked home and up the tiring-for-little-boys-with-bikes hill.

I’d mellowed from the mom who needed sleep so badly she was cranky as she was led on a forced march with little boys who I believe were pawns in a much larger game of “Wake Betsy Up Whether She Likes It Or Not.”

My heart was filled as I let my ancestors back in – as my eyes refocused and my ears tuned in to their love for me. I know that I need them as much as they need me. They have so much wisdom to share, so many lessons to impart, so much comfort to give.

I found another heart rock on our walk home. James even joined in the search when he knew what I was looking for. I set the two rocks on my kitchen window sill.

I’ll be collecting them, naming them, and recording the lessons associated with each one, given by whichever ancestor is speaking at the moment.

The big one, the first one that I found, is my Dad’s. I saw two Mallard ducks at the pond, which reminded me of Ballard, Washington, which reminded me of my Washington / Norwegian / Swedish ancestors.

I need more heart rocks. The others are jealous and squabbling. 🙂

I wish that you and I lived nearby. I would help you get started on your journey into your ancestors’ lessons for you. Maybe if I share the stories I uncover you’ll understand better. I’m thinking of a new series, Heart Rocksat my website Weforgotyounot, an idea that formed on my walk home. We’ll see. I’ll let you know.)

But for now, if you sit and listen with your “other ears”, you’ll start hearing them. I promise.

It just takes a little softening of a rocky heart that’s accustomed to being distracted from what fills it the most.

Just believe.

Your life will all of a sudden look like a masterpiece painted with love over many generations, one person at a time.

The Voices in Our Heads

“If you hear a voice within you saying, You are not a painter, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

“Ha!” she giggled as she reached the edge of our old Victorian’s front porch.

I remember fumbling with the snaps of my raincoat when she said something that changed me forever.

“Betsy, have you ever noticed that whenever you come outside the rain stops and the sun comes out?”

Was that true? I’ve spent my life gathering evidence of that truth. Such is the power of words uttered by others that become the voices in our heads.

I was only five years old. I was in Kindergarten, heading out for the bus stop on a typical weekday morning.

“Bets, every time I bring you fishing with me I catch a lot of fish! You are my good luck charm!”

That one sentence made waking up at 4am, sloshing through a boggy shore to a row boat and finally a motor boat which we’d sit in silently for hours in the middle of a quiet ocean, my favorite memory with my dad.

And I was no older than 7.

Those are a sampling of powerful thoughts that have threaded themselves into my heart and have a lot to do with how I see myself in the world, and how I interact with it.

But I have other, very destructive thoughts, too. They were said to me in anger, jealousy, and sometimes rage. (Never by my parents). They are constant companions, too. I hate them because sometimes I believe them, too. I watch as they tell me all sorts of horrible things that I know aren’t true. I battle with those voices every day as I go about talking to people, asking questions, learning, growing, sharing, and just living my life. I won’t tell you what they say, but they make me confused, vulnerable, and like crying. They make me doubt and second guess everything I say and write. It is a constant struggle to “show up” and to “be”.

And all of this goes on in my head. If I keep a straight face, nobody sees the war between the good and bad thoughts going on behind my eyes.

But, I have a secret to tell you.

The good thoughts are winning.

When I stall on a hill as I’m learning to drive my shift, and a line of cars builds behind me, the voice that starts teasing me saying, “You’re such a bother, Betsy” is quieted by “Sssh.” And I calm down and figure out what gear I’m supposed to be in.

When someone corrects me at work, the voice that says, “You need to be perfect and you will never do it well enough!is momentarily crowded out by “Thank you,” and I keep working, doing my best.

I can do that for my children, like my parents did for me. I can tell them the truth about the beauty I see in them. I can comfort them when the world and it’s negativity and pain tells them dark things that deflate their spirits, and teach them to listen with their hearts – hearts that want so desperately to feel open. loving and free to enjoy life, but are sometime afraid because there is fear that the mounting evidence of the opposite is the “real” truth.

But it’s a lot harder for me to do that for myself.

Nobody can do it for me. It’s a choice – one thought at a time.

What I know for sure is that this is a lot of what life is about; recognizing that we are free to choose our thoughts and to change them. We were born already full of thoughts and memories that are added to every day. It is up to us, nobody else, to quiet our minds and to allow our hearts the freedom they crave; the freedom that comes with the truth.

And the truth is beautiful, joyful, uplifting, and loving. It seeks beauty and growth, friendship and love. It is warm and happy and finds meaning in pain, sorrow and suffering that never deflates one’s spirit but gives hope and energy to move forward in the face of any and all adversity.

The truth is very well expressed by Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne WilliamsonReturn to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Have a beautiful day.

You are, you know.

Living In the Moment…How Well Do You Do It?

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” 

~Henry David Thoreau

Almost a week into driving my Beetle and it’s getting easier.

But my anxiety, if that’s what it is, hasn’t changed. I started noticing that my tension wasn’t easing up on the second day. And that bothered me enough to pay closer attention..

Was it the challenges like traffic, hills, stops and starts, bicyclists? Yes, it was all of those things. Last night, driving home from the Family History Center, it was the glare from oncoming headlights. But I expected to get used to those things as I drove more.

I enjoy facing fears and watching them lose control over me. But this was different. It was repetitive, unpredictable, and exhausting! Knowledge and skills weren’t helping.

What was going on?

*************

“Just sink into the bed,” my mom said.

Twenty six years ago, as the delivery of my first child approached my mother surprised me. She never gives advice. But that was the only positive, helpful, and transformative suggestion I’d received for the upcoming event. When labor pains were in full-swing, and the pain was unbearable, those words came to help me and to save me from myself.

That truth  has helped me for the next eight births and everywhere and anytime that anxiety has come to hijack my body for its own pleasure.

I stopped fighting the pain, and started to see them as a means to an end.

I stopped anticipating the contractions.

I stopped wondering how close I was to being able to “push.”

I stopped listening and talking to the nurses and doctors as they went about doing what their job.

I just sank into the bed and experienced labor.

And every time the babies arrived I said, “I’m NOT doing that again!” But I did. And when labor progressed enough where the memories flooded back in, and I noticed my stress escalate, I had to say, “Just sink into the bed,” over and over again, living many moments with pain doing its job, reminding me that I’d chosen the path, had progressed to this point in the journey, and now it was time to “enjoy” it. There was nothing I could do to change what was going on. I had to go with it.

Driving a shift is like going through labor for me. I thought that eventually it would feel like driving a normal car. True, shifting is becoming second-nature, and I’m managing difficulties well. But pain – anxiety, stress, and discomfort aren’t enjoyable and wreak a lot of damage on my nerves and body!

But I’ve also learned something profound about myself, and my life and where I’m at in “managing” and living it:

Living in the moment is harder than you think….

Before I get in my car I mentally map out my route of lights and hills. I project so much anxiety into future moments as I try to fix any problems before they even arrive! I didn’t know how that habit was causing me anxiety. Just the thoughts alone were messing with my blood pressure!

Yesterday I was so done with the white knuckle, clenched-jaw, tense shoulder driving!

“This is NOT fun, and I can’t do this every day!” What a way to live, I thought. But how to change it? And why was I so anxious? I started to notice that all of my thoughts were about roads and how to navigate them instead of “enjoying the journey” as it unfolded.

I know where I’m going, I have knowledge and skills that I bring to each moment. But every moment brings with it its newness. Do you know what I mean? There will always be new people with their knowledge, skills, and life maps that they’re following. There’s no way of anticipating what will happen when our paths intersect, and we share the road for a while.

All I know is what I bring to the moment.

All I can do with the circumstances is my best.

I can stop projecting thoughts “down the road” and focus on what I’m doing and being right now.

“Why do people opt to buy a car like this when they don’t have to?” she asked. My son had asked a similar question earlier in the week as he watched me struggling as I took him to work.

Well, for me, it’s the stuff like childbirth,  waiting in the wings before a dance performance, and polar plunges that wake me up and remind me how easy it is to float through life, one moment at a time on automatic.

It’s not okay with me to be on automatic, to become complacent, to drive through experiences without being aware of the gifts that are there to be seen because I’m too concerned about my destination and how I need to get there in one piece.

What kind of life is that?

I want to see you when you’re in front of me. I want to remember that this moment will never be repeated. I want to be aware of all of the joy and / or “pain” that is there as a teacher, friend, and gift to me.

That, for me, is going to take more practice than driving my car will take. It’ll take effort to stay “awake.”

I’ll have to choose freedom and separation from pain that shows up as anxiety every day.

Relationships are like that. You bring yourself to it, but you have very limited knowledge about anther person’s history, fears, insecurities, or journey / path they’re on. And you have to relinquish control over that and them and focus on the moment, making decisions as needed, noticing how those choices add or detract from your divine path.

I think dying might feel the same – facing the unknown, having lived a life that is close to being over, listening to thoughts swirling about beliefs of where you’re going, and what it’ll be like, coming to terms with your lack of control of the eventual outcome and enjoying what you have left.

Eventually we’ll all have to “sink into” that phase of our lives.

Thank goodness we are free to choose how we live a life, be in a relationship with others, and to “let go” when it’s time.

Right?