Where Does Strength Come From?

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“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”  ~Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum LP

“You’re a strong woman,” I’ve heard too many times. I honestly don’t know what strong means. People are people. We are all making our way.

I don’t see strength or weakness. I see humanness.

I don’t see broken people. I see moments of falling apart before the coming together begins again for the zillionth time.

I see life.

Perhaps what I have is a unique perspective? Maybe we have the same one?

Some say that strength comes when you believe…in God, a Higher Power, etc. I possess that knowledge, but that alone doesn’t strengthen me.

I believe my strength comes from a Knowledge of God’s character…at least the beginning of an understanding: I have a desire to know why things are the way they are and what’s LOVE got to do with it anyways? I have found a way that makes sense to me and makes sense of life.

I no longer feel like life happens to me or even for me as if my job is just to show up and make the best of it.

In other words, I’m not a victim.

Believe what you will about your life, but that’s my truth.

I believe we were all given the opportunity to see the intricate patterns of intersecting lives before we were born. I believe we understood what we were coming to and saw how the perfect people and situations would come into our lives to be our teachers. We knew they would  give us opportunities to practice the many faces of love. We saw how so many people’s choices would appear random, but would actually be miniscule and necessary parts of a larger tapestry that was, is, and always will be a beautiful work of art. We agreed that experiencing a life was the only way to understand. I believe that we also understood completely that even though there is one goal – understanding and growing into the love of God – there are as many paths as there are people.

I’ve come to the conclusion (aka  “the truth”) after watching patterns outside of myself trigger patterns inside of me that I’m the author of my life. I’m a co creator of it with God, and it’s creation started long before I was born. My life is the manifestation of sacred agreements designed out of my awareness of my desire to understand how and why God thinks and acts as a god thinks and acts, and to put myself in situations where I could figure that out. My only weakness is my humanness, and my only strength is found in my ability to find love (God) everywhere.

Love is an incredible subject to study. Everyone has issues with many parts of it. But we can all be masters of it when we use our life’s moments of uncertainty, disappointments, cruelty, meanness, as well as moments of joy, happiness, ease, and peace as tools to learn more about this enabling power. I have found that ofttimes that is the only good choice I have – the only one that frees me from despair and cyclical blame and complaining.

My lessons in love have taken me down paths mostly of self-love.

The prerequisite to that course is coming to terms with how your life choices reflect the amount of self-love you’ve mastered. I can love (see the godliness) in anyone. That’s not hard for me. What’s hard is understanding the strength of love for self  that is required to walk away from anything and anyone as a gift (of love) to them as well as myself – when too much collateral damage stares you in the face and refuses to move – when you have to stand in that place that can’t deny any longer that this is one of the faces of love that  God has mastered and patiently waits for all of His children to understand – boundaries.

Sometimes love isn’t all that pretty. But it’s always kind. I’ve learned that I’ve made excellent choices to put myself right in the middle of what I refused to believe was true. I say I had no idea because of my innocence or ignorance, but the truth is I have needed the experiences I’ve been through to know what I now know. So, I’m kinder when I look back now. I say, “Good job! Now move on!”

In all of my experiences I’ve learned a basic truth about love:  I truly feel stronger and like a better version of myself when I know I’m loved for the person I am in the world. I don’t mean the generic love that’s cast like a wide net over humanity. I mean the looking deep into my soul kind of thing that says, “I know you. You’re cool. I wouldn’t change a thing about you because I know you have that handled. Wanna go for a walk?”  kind of love. Lao Tzu put it plainly:

“Being loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Yes, I’m all over the place with this one. I know. But if you take anything away, take this: you are not a victim. You are a student. You chose your curriculum and teachers. Have fun with it and don’t forget lunch and recess. Find someone to love because it make the journey better.

The Strengthening Power of Silence

 

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“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing  and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about.”~Rumi

Alone.

I’ve said I’ve felt “all alone” before, even recently.

Truth be told, I never feel alone.

I may feel alone in my values, alone in my convictions, alone in my stand, but I never feel like I’m unsupported or without comfort.

There is something so powerful being connected to nature. People come and go – each living a life that intersects mine randomly, but nature stands still. It’s energy is intense and vibrant, reflecting and emanating only truth. That’s very comforting. That’s very energizing.

Those who can’t feel things like trees reaching down, grass breathing upward, flowers exhaling , or wind dancing, miss the divine and eternal strength right before their eyes, under their feet, and messing with their hair.

When I pull into the parking lot of the beach I smile. There are so many secrets the ocean holds. Sitting in the sand and opening my mind to contemplate it’s stories, they start to unfold and entertain. But it speaks so softly one would say it doesn’t speak at all – that it’s silent.

There’s a lot to be said for silence. It protects the truth and veils the meaning of wonderful stories for those who are patient and desiring to delve deeper into the heart.

When I was a very little girl, until I was in my early 20’s, I was very quiet. I spoke when I had something to say. Otherwise, I watched, listened, danced and drew pictures of nature. The music and movement expressed my heart perfectly. The art expanded my mind to different worlds.

Then I started a family and had to learn the delicate and fascinating art of verbal communication.

Words. Endless words rearranged countless ways with different emotions sprinkled in to convey a heart that speaks a different language – one that nature understands, but loses a lot in translation. Years and years of words that go in circles around truth. Silent truth.

I’ve concluded that very few if any words are needed to convey truth. If one can’t feel your heart, words get in the way and complicate things.

It may be time for silence and more communion with nature.

That feels right.

I Loved You First

It’s dark when I wake up. I mean that in more ways than one.

I feel his whispers in the darkness and I open to his love that is nudging me to let him in. A familiar energy slips itself inside of me. Joy. I’m what we call alive, whereas moments before I was living elsewhere, dreaming.

Another day full of minutes and hours remembering him awaits. I look for evidence of him everywhere, all day long.

I feel him on the floor beneath my feet and drop to my knees to thank him for the ground I walk on.

I walk into the hallway and hear him in the soft thudding of eight little kitten feet trying to catch up with me, and he reminds me as I switch on the hallway light that he’s always there, following me around, illuminating beauty and truth as it shows up in things like the stairs I am about to descend.

I see evidence of his visit the night before strewn across the living room, and as I put the chaos back in order I hear his giggles and see his joy played out on couch cushions and rugs rearranged to make ramps and forts.

The kitchen smiles back at me, and in a shared sigh shows me all that was done for my family. He was there in every bite and swallow, glad to fill bellies large and small, making sure that crumbs were left for the tiniest creatures to enjoy at their leisure.

In the quiet I make room for him beside me in my comfy chair next to purring babies. I feel him fill me up and strengthen me as I tie broken thoughts to the ends of their beginnings that dangle from heaven. They will anchor me in his love before the waves and the whirlwinds catch me off guard.

And then he sends me the sun – the crowning moment of new beginnings. And as the rays of light meet my gaze through the bay window, there is an exchange – one that I must understand and remember if my day will be meaningful and happy:

“I am the source of all light, God says, whether it be from the sun that warms the ground you walk on and dig in to sustain life, or the light that is in hope and joy. I am in the dark clouds and stormy days. I’m always there. See me first before anything else and you will never be alone in the world. I’ll wrap my arms around you and share the journey with you like nobody else. That is why I gave you the morning – to remind you that I loved you first. Thank you for remembering me. Carry on.”

Happy Valentine’s Day tomorrow!

Searching For Christmas Gifts

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I listened to the conversation – the one that always comes up this time of year, the one spawned by the desire to connect, to share love, to let someone know that they matter in this season of giving.

We want to let each other know that we care and that no one is forgotten.

So we visit with gifts and inspiring messages. We hope to inspire and to lift the spirits of those who we think are lonely or invisible, homeless or forgotten by family members. Our hearts crave that feeling of having done something that makes another smile.

But I had a thought as I listened to the brain-storming of how to “do that” this year. In the conversation, buried just below the surface was an assumption – a belief that people are lacking and we can fill a gap with our giving. I did a quick exercise of putting myself in the seat of the receiver and suddenly knew what was “lacking.”

For a second I went back to the story of the Wise Men that is retold many times during this season. They arrive with gifts for the Christ child. But he had no need of those things. Instead he had a gift to offer them.

He wanted to be known. Their journey brought them face to face with him. The gifts were actually a prop -an excuse to give the more import exchange room to grow.

If we take that story and apply it in our lives this season and year round, we’ll be giving the greatest gifts.

When we walk in to a nursing home bearing treats we’ll learn to sit and listen to life stories, looking for the gifts that a person brought to the world personally. Who are they really? What did they come here to do? What did they do with their gift? What stories do they have to tell? We’ll anxiously probe until we find that gift, drawing it out of them until they feel like it has been seen and received.

We will sit with a child after giving him a gift and wait. We’ll follow his lead and talk about and do what he wants to do during our time together and look for his gifts. Hopefully we’ll tell him what he means to us and how he brings us and the rest of the world joy because of who he is.

And because we go to them and others with the intention of finding their gifts they’ll receive our real gift: true love.

Love that says:

“I see you.”

“I value you.”

“Thank you for being here.”

“I love who you are.”

I hope that we turn Christmas around this year and instead of just giving gifts we actively search for and receive each others’ gifts.

It makes all the difference.

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.

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.

Birth~Days

“We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us,” 

~ Marianne Williamson

The day before my birthday I sat with God.

“Are you ready?” He asked quietly. I was until I saw his eyes start to well up.

“I’ll miss you, you know. You’re beautiful, you know. We’ll all miss you – your joy and playfulness, your love and your faith in everyone and everything. I know you think it would be just fine to stay here forever – comfortable and at peace – but you need to go and get wrapped up in a body that’ll bring you a fullness of joy. I know you can’t imagine it, but it’s true.”

“Betsy, it’s all good there, where you’re going. There is nothing so bad that with me can’t become beautiful.”

My heart pounded with emotions too large to quiet.

“I know that you aren’t concerned with those things, Betsy.”

“No, I know I’ll see beauty. You taught me how.”

Then he spoke my truth, “I know you’ll miss everyone here and it’s hard to leave.”

We talked about the world I’d live in, and my family that was waiting for me – people I’d come to know and love. Friends who’d left just like I would, some returning quickly, others still waiting for my arrival on Earth; all connected to me with love.

I’d watched the creation unfold and had daydreamed forever, looking at trees especially as well as rocks and water. He told me I’d draw those things from memory someday. I’ll say that I’d imagined them, but we’d both know where I’d seen them first.

“Dance when you want to remember, Betsy. You will feel a freedom in it when the lights dim and the music starts. Open your heart to me in those moments. I’ll watch and clap for you. Sit by the water, too. It’ll remind your heart of love, and peace, and joy. Everything is alive with me. Open your eyes to the beauty of the Small and Insignificant. Make them important with your attention. Whatever you choose to do, make it beautiful and I’ll be there. That is the most important thing to remember: connecting Heaven and Earth by uncovering the truth and beauties that tie both worlds together, and sharing that joy by letting it radiate out with a smile as you live your life.

Someday it’ll end and you’ll come home. You won’t want to leave and others won’t want to let you go, just like now. But it’s all a circle, Betsy. Don’t forget that. Love will bind the ends. “

It was then that the crowds started to form around us. There were smiles and tears. The anticipation was electric. I’d been at farewells and homecomings so many times. But this was mine.

And it was time to go.

He stood. I stood and fell into Him sobbing.

He took me by the shoulders and stared into my eyes, penetrating my whole soul, etching a memory in it that would awaken bit by bit over time.

“Remember these feelings. They will be the guiding force in your life there. You are taking a part of me with you. Bring me with you wherever you go. See me in every rain drop, blade of grass, and stormy sea. Hear me in every bird song, every breath of wind, and laughter born of joy. Taste me in sweet strawberries, fresh water, and pure kisses. Feel me in the sand between your toes, in the leaps and arabesques that will witness of  my sustaining power as they free you from gravity, and in the cold nights where I’ll warm your body with sweet memories as you gaze into the flames.”

I tried to absorb what was beyond my experience to completely understand.

“Bye,” He whispered, catching me by surprise, bringing me back suddenly from my daydreams of future and foreign experiences.

I whispered my goodbye as I tumbled away into my birth day…forgetting everything that my heart would have to explain to my mind and body for the next 52 years and however many more days I would be given.

For about a year I’d remember but be unable to share in words.

That was his birthday gift to me as is my slow and steady remembering is every day of my life.

I’m so happy to be here. It’s a beautiful place with extraordinary people who enrich my life. Even in the darkest times where I’ve struggled to find meaning and joy, I’ve felt love and loved. I wake up these days so happy that I cry.

Everything is going well.

I remember Him. Nothing else matters without that.

So, tomorrow, I’ll wake up and tell him thank you for all the glorious years here. I’ve found beauty and felt love everywhere. It’s almost too much to take in some days. What a gift it is to be alive. And what a gift it is to know that never really ends.

It’s all just a circle, connected in love…