WIP Wednesday

Welcome to Wednesday!

Today we’re going to do something just a bit different.

You see, somehow it’s 4:19 pm and I just realized it was Wednesday!

Very little sleep, two trips to see about new glasses (which I desperately need), a fast stop for lunch, dog food to order, a painting experience to plan for a friend with a big question, and a bit of wandering with some old friends through the kind of wilderness where it feels like somebody just yelled, “Tilt!”.

And, running beneath it all, a song I heard for the first time about 4:30 this morning.

Here’s the story. My Intentional Creativity teacher, Shiloh Sophia McCloud, is offering an amazing workshop that seems to have grown out of what happened when her long devotion to the Holy Mother crashed into the news about immigrant/refugee families being separated in many parts of the US.

If you’re reading this, the odds are pretty high that you, too, are appalled at what’s happening, especially to the children.

Shiloh’s workshop is called Bella Mama and, if you click right here on the title in the pretty colored letters, you can find out if it’s calling your name the way it did mine.

You see, I believe that the more hopeful energy we send into the world, the more hopeful the world will become.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s going to take a while but that doesn’t have to keep us from starting now! It is, as my paint buddies would say, a WIP, or work in progress. It’s also a Wednesday kind of thing.

And, as soon as I feed the very hungry beasties, I’ll be back to tell you about one other thing I learned today…

If you’d like an opportunity to do something more immediate and tangible to help the border refugees, some friends of mine have come up with a great idea.

Humanitarian aid workers are getting huge numbers of requests from the refugees for rosaries. To find out how to help, click this link for Rosaries for Refugees and read the pinned post at the top of the page. It’s easy and VERY affordable to send a dozen rosaries to folks desperately in need of hope and comfort.

When you think about it, as one of my paint sisters pointed out a week or two ago, we’re all pretty much works in progress. And today is a great day for that!

The art for today is one of the under layers of my Tree of Life painting. 

“Half Fun & Full Serious!”

I have long been a fan of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury cartoons.

In addition to his ironic humor, I’m starting to think he may be a contemporary prophet, or a Dreamer in the way that Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes of them.

One of my favorite characters has always been my colleague in ministry, The Rev. Will B. Dunn.

Here’s my recollection of one of Will’s more memorable moments…

Our friend is on his knees in his front yard, black suit and hat and all. He is asking God to send him a sign about whether he should run for President. 

In the next frame, reminiscent of Moses, a bush in his yard bursts into flames, bringing a message along the lines of, “Don’t do it!” 

What does Will do?

He grabs a fire extinguisher and puts out the sign!

This may be the proof text for the old adage: Be careful what you pray for. You might get it!

And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’re wondering what dragged this particular story out of the dustier reaches of my brain just now.

Well, it’s like this.

My world feels full of signs.

Summer in Atlanta is no place for burning bushes so my signs are appearing in the form of dreams and sudden inspirations.

The sense of puzzle pieces falling into place.

And an unexpected event or two dragging lots of change along.

If we’re being honest, there’s a tiny part of me that’s tempted to reach for a fire extinguisher!

And there’s a lot more of me that’s feeling excited about the future as it’s beginning to come into focus.

I feel inspired. And intentional.

I’m beginning to have language for where I’m heading.

Here’s a hint…

There’s lots more stardust soup to come!

For now, I’m also aware of the old therapists’ notion that change is always stressful, even when it’s change that we have, at some level of awareness, hoped and longed for.

Which brings us to the issue of what my fabulous, talented friend, SARK would refer to as radical self-care.

Only you know what that might mean for you but, just in case you might be dealing with change or stress or even a whole box full of mental puzzle pieces, here are some examples of what it looks like for me.

  • Compassion.
  • Sleep. (Or, at the very least, space for peaceful rest.) Complete with clean sheets, favorite jammies, and, perhaps, a bit of meditation music playing very quietly in the background. Lots of experts would recommend no “screens” for an hour before bedtime. It has something to do with blue light.
  • Gentle movement. Qigong, yoga, walking, even dancing, whatever works for you. If it happens to be an alternate arm and leg kind of movement (like walking and swinging your arms) so much the better.
  • Good food. Fresh. Minimally processed. Minimal caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. You get the drift!
  • Someone to talk to. The very process of putting language to our experience helps us to organize it and discover new things about it. And, if you want to just be heard, witnessed, ask. Strategies may need to wait for later! Journaling works, too.
  • Space for creativity. Color. Quilt. Knit. Paint. Write. Cook something new. Make soup. And listen…

Signposts to the future are all around us if we just let go of the fire extinguishers!

 

 

Situational Angst and Stardust Soup!

Lately I seem to be revisiting old stories. I just finished re-reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees for at least the sixth time. And, as ever, I found amazing things hiding in there I’d never noticed before.

Probably because I’m in a new place and different words and images are working their way through my “filters.”

Today, there’s another story wandering around in my head.

It’s an ancient Sufi teaching story.

At least that’s how I learned it, in a training group for hypnotherapists, 12 or 15 years ago.

The Wise Old Man at the Top of the Mountain

Once upon a time, a very, very long time ago, there was a farmer. The farmer lived in a small village in a far-away land, near a mountain.

One morning the farmer got up and went out to care for his animals. As he went about his chores, the farmer, who was very poor, noticed that his cow was missing. “Oh, no!” cried the farmer. “Whatever will we do?” The farmer was very upset and he had no idea what to do next. As the day went on, the farmer became even more unhappy. Finally he decided that he had to do something. There was only one thing he could think of to do.

He walked sadly down the little road until it started to lead up the mountain. The farmer climbed and climbed up the mountain. His feet hurt and it was beginning to get cold, but still the farmer climbed. When he got to the top of the mountain, he found a cave where there lived a wise old man.

“Farmer!” called the wise old man, for he was used to having visitors like this. “Come in. Sit by the fire. Have a cup of tea. And tell me what brings you here today.”

The farmer bowed to the wise old man and accepted his cup of tea. And then, with a shaking voice and a tiny tear in his eye, the farmer told the wise old man that his cow was gone. Disappeared.

“How will my family live?” the farmer asked. “We need the cow for milk and to plow our fields. Without her, we will starve.”

The wise old man set his tea down and he began to pull on his long skinny beard with one of his hands, as he looked deep into the farmer’s eyes. “We don’t know,” said the wise old man, “whether this is good news or bad news.”

The farmer leaped up, dropping his tea on the floor. This man wasn’t wise! Clearly losing their cow was terrible news. And off the farmer went, stomping down the mountain and muttering to himself about the crazy old man.

Several days went by. The farmer spent a lot of time telling his neighbors about his trip up the mountain and how strange it was that the old man just said, “We don’t know if this is good news or bad news.”

The next morning the very worried farmer got up and went out to begin his work. There, much to his surprise, was his cow. And not only his cow, but a big, strong bull as well. The farmer was so surprised and so happy that he dropped his tools and went, as fast as he could go, back up the mountain to see the wise old man.

“Come in,” the wise old man greeted him. “Sit down. Have a cup of tea.”

The farmer was so excited he was nearly bursting with his news.

“Tell me what brings you here today,” said the wise old man.

“Well!” said the farmer. “I got up this morning and there was my cow. She came home! And not only that, but there was a beautiful, strong bull in the yard as well! Our family is saved! We’ll be rich!”

The wise old man set his tea down and he began to pull on his long skinny beard with one of his hands as he looked into the farmer’s eyes. “We don’t know,” said the wise old man, “whether this is good news or bad news.”

The farmer had never heard anything so silly in his life! Of course this was good news! And off the farmer went, stomping down the mountain and muttering to himself about the crazy old man.

Some more time passed.

One day, the farmer’s son, who was just learning to use the plow to dig up the earth for planting, hitched the big, strong bull to the plow and began to work. It was a nice, sunny day and the farmer’s son was thinking about many things. Suddenly, a very large bee flew up and stung the bull right on his nose.

Well! The bull bellowed really loudly, as bulls are known to do, and began to run. The farmer’s son wasn’t strong enough to hold on to the plow. He fell over right in the field and heard a loud sound coming from his leg. Suddenly his leg began to hurt more than anything had ever hurt before. All he could do was sit in the dirt and watch as the bull dug up the earth and ran, as fast as he could go, right through the fence and away down the road.

The farmer, who loved his son, heard him crying and went running to see what was wrong. There was his dear son on the ground. The field was destroyed where it was all dug up. The bull had clearly crashed through the fence and run away. The farmer did not know what he and his family would do so he did the first right thing. He went and got the village doctor who came and cared for his son.

The boy’s leg was broken. The doctor tied tree branches to each side of it, as they used to do long ago, and wrapped it tight with some old pieces of cloth. The farmer and the doctor carried the boy to a small porch on the front of their tiny home. The doctor said the boy would have to stay there for many weeks and would not be able to walk.

The farmer was more and more upset. In fact, he was more upset than he’d ever been. Finally, because he didn’t know what else to do, he went and climbed slowly up the mountain.

“Come in,” the wise old man greeted him. “Sit down. Have a cup of tea. Tell me what brings you here today.”

The farmer was so upset he could barely talk. Finally he managed to explain what had happened. His field was ruined. The bull was gone, and with him the plow. And his dear son’s leg was broken and would not heal for many weeks.

The wise old man set his tea down and he began to pull on his long skinny beard with one of his hands, as he looked deep into the farmer’s eyes. “We don’t know,” said the wise old man, “whether this is good news or bad news.”

With that, the farmer flung his tea cup to the ground and went stomping down off the mountain, threatening to tell everyone he knew that the wise old man was not wise at all, but mean and just plain crazy.

The farmer was so angry he could barely do his work. A few days passed as he cared for his son without crutches or wheelchairs or any of the things we might use in our time.

Then, one morning, the farmer woke to all kinds of noise in the village. There were soldiers from far away on the road, with wagons, capturing all the young men of the village to go and fight in a war. People were crying and begging that their sons not be taken.

The farmer’s son couldn’t go, because of his broken leg.

When the soldiers had left the village, the farmer went and fixed tea for his son and himself. And he pulled a bit at his long, skinny beard and said, with a light of understanding in his eye, “We really don’t know, do we? (Boardman, Grandmothers Are In Charge Of Hope )

It’s kind of been a day like that around here. And I’m really glad I know this story!

So, lacking a local mountain and a wise old man, I added some stardust to the soup bowl in my painting and then I did what I usually do. Pulled out my very biggest stock pot and started boiling bones.

Which is likely to be a good thing, in the midst of a world full of things we really don’t know about.

 

Oddly Quiet

Lightning bugs flicker in the gathering dusk while the big dogs amble in from the yard.

It’s an oddly quiet moment in the urban jungle.

It’s been an oddly quiet day, as well.

A day for settling in. For changes to take hold.

Bill, just back from a week in Seattle, is doing the time zone thing and trying to catch up on some much-needed rest.

The fur kids are re-adjusting to a two human household with about three times the moving around to keep track of.

We had a bit more furniture to move.

Fine-tuning huge progress over the last few weeks.

I have three paintings rolling around in my head (and dreams!) and much new learning to find space for.

And, somewhere deep inside me, an inner voice is chanting an old Quaker saying I may have mentioned about 42 times lately:

In order to learn, we must be willing to be changed. 

Perhaps it’s the news.

Or my most recent encounters with Quantum physics.

Or even a shift in the dogs’ energy levels.

Heat?

Better Feng shui?

Or just getting used to this world rather than the ones from which they came?

I don’t know. It might be a shift in me.

I’m clearer about what I’m trying to accomplish, which helps a whole lot in trying to explain it to them!

I can feel my perspective getting bigger.

A willingness, as my new friend, Jonathan McCloud, would say, to allow for more possibilities.

New language for my experience and my questions. For my hopes and my dreams.

Soon, there will be some new language around here. Not different so much as bigger. Clearer, I hope. More current.

And some reflections on how it’s all happening.

Kind of like spots for next season’s TV!

I hope you’ll stay tuned and invite your friends along. We’ve got some growing to do.

For tonight, there is more processing to do.

More being willing to be changed.

Not to mention dog food to thaw and dishes to do.

And lightning bugs to watch.

Don’t they just wonder you?

Intentional Action

One of the first things I learned in preaching class, a whole lot of years ago, was that it’s not a wise idea to tell stories about your family from the pulpit without their willing permission.

This is often true for blogging, as well, so — just to be clear — Luther and his 4-footed sisters are totally ok with my telling you about our learning event last night.

In fact, I think Luther’s pretty proud!

We did half an hour of aerobic grooming, he and I.

Now, we’re not talking ready for Westminster but we are talking significant progress for a Newfoundland dog born in Michigan attempting to adapt to summer in Atlanta.

Luther didn’t learn grooming in the abysmal puppy mill from which he was rescued. It’s taken him a while to warm up to the idea.

And, because it’s still kind of scary for him and very close to the floor for me, we probably don’t do it as often as we ought.

I was thinking about that as I brushed four, maybe six, entire Pekingese dogs worth of hair out of Luther.

Here’s what I realized:

After all the knee surgeries and the back episodes and the cranky neck and shoulder, I’ve become quite the expert at stillness.

I think it goes even farther back than that.

I grew up in a time and place in which Children (especially sweet, girl children) should be seen and not heard. 

Where Keeping the Peace meant staying out of whatever it was. Rather like telling the dogs to leave it! when they’re eyeing my quilt or pondering barking at the traffic.

Not good or bad, per se.

Just not the only thing we need to learn.

In fact, there are lots of moments when sitting quietly, barely breathing, in hopes that nothing will happen, may not get us where we want to go!

So, last evening, after a pretty busy day that involved things like customer service people at the domain name market (which I would generally avoid!) and a coaching call which turned out to be great, I put a pot of soup on the stove to warm and dragged my little wooden Uncle Epictetus stool up beside the dog bed in my studio space.

I turned on some inspiring music and laid out tea along with the slicker brush, a comb, scissors, and treats.

Suddenly, I had three big dogs willing to play along!

Luther, however, didn’t make it to our recent spa day adventure, not being ready for strangers and dog brushes, so he was up first.

We started with the easy stuff. Back, shoulders, chest. And worked our way along to ears and tail which did require a couple of quick snips with the scissors.

I was exhausted, but still able to get up, which is a good thing.

Luther was pushing the edge of anxious and the soup was hot so we quit while we were ahead.

We didn’t make it to the belly, today.

But soon there will be another day when I’ll decide that a bit of intentional action might turn out better than keeping the peace.

And, in fact, that they’re not actually mutually exclusive!

Which is a good bit of noticing in the midst of aerobic dog brushing.

Then they all fell asleep and peace took over again.

Which is also worth noticing.

Next up, marathon Swiffering!

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Either/Or

From our earliest days, the world teaches us to think in either/or and like/not like patterns.

Babies wear pink or blue. Well, they used to, when we were learning to think about the world.

We’re from around here or not.

Our earliest school days were spent on questions like which one is not like the others.

I literally remember being beet red embarrassed in first grade when presented with pictures of an orange, a lemon, a lime, and a banana and being herded into choosing which was not like the others.

First, let’s just admit that the whole concept of citrus fruit may be a bit of a fine distinction for a 6 year-old raised the Midwest US.

I just thought they were all fruit.

Race. Gender identification. Age. Social and political persuasions. Religious labels.

Sometimes it seems our whole world is organized around the notion of us or them.

And it’s not just an external thing.

There are also internal categories. Happy or sad. Loving or angry.

In fact, I remember learning somewhere along the way that humans could only experience one emotion at a time.

I almost said, just now, that, in my experience that isn’t true.

Instead, let’s go with the notion that, while it may be a useful idea some of the time, it may also not be a universal experience.

Friday was a day like that for me.

My mom would have turned 83 on Friday. I felt blessed and sad.

Blessed about having had a mom who loved me, who genuinely did the best she could.

Sad that she’s not here to see my girls growing and learning and being amazing people.

Blessed by an unexpected chance for a long chat with Dave.

Sad at the news of Tony Bourdain’s apparent suicide.

Sad for grieving friends and dreams cut short, closer to home.

I felt some other things, too.

Excited by progress with my painting.

And a bit anxious about some of the next steps in the larger journey of becoming an Intentional Creativity leader. Maybe a bit more than a bit!

Reminded that life is a great deal more about ambiguity than it is about certainty.

So… what do I write in the face of all that?

Three things come to mind.

  • Perhaps it would help if we were at least as conscious of the both/and nature of life as we are about the either/or’s that surround us.
  • The ability to claim what is precious, even in the face of what hurts, opens our emotional doors to hope.
  • And, an old favorite… assume less!

Check, as the Facebook sages have been reminding us, on your friends and loved ones. ALL of them.

Be where you are.

Reach out if you need company or perspective or someone to listen.

Sometimes the strongest, most hopeful thing we can do is to ask for help.

And make soup! (Also art!!!)

Some of you may be wondering about the art for today. It’s an image that appeared for me in a guided visualization as part of the painting I’ve been working on. The visualization had a lot to do with doors and keys and key holes. (I didn’t realize that the image was perhaps supposed to be more in my head — where I don’t so much do images — as in the middle of my painting.)

So there it is. A little bare foot, minus the classic t-shirt, and a key with the initials SA.

They stand for the Latin phrase, solvitur ambulando, which means, literally, “It is solved by walking” and, figuratively, that problems are solved by taking concrete action. 

In my world, a polite suggestion by the being in my painting that some intentional walking might be in order. 

In the world where we all live, a reminder that, perhaps, there are lots of things to do if we want things to be different. 

Grandmothers Are In Charge Of Hope

 

 

 

The Loss Box

For as long as I can remember, I’ve thought in terms of metaphorical boxes in my brain.

Kind of like myths of Granny’s attic, filled with dusty boxes and trunks full of old photos and yearbooks and clothes waiting for the day when someone would come and clean them out, dividing things with love amongst the family.

Only one of my grandmothers really had an attic and she was fond of shiny new things so she gave most of the things that would have been in the attic to generations of church rummage sales through the years.

And yet, in my head, the image persists.

As many of you know, I went to Hungary in the winter of 1989 with a group of seminary classmates. You’ve heard the stories… cold feet and homemade hootch for breakfast and Russian tanks “exercising” in the fields beside the roads.

One of the things that happened on that trip, which is a little harder to write about, is that all the boxes in my brain fell apart.

By the time I returned to Atlanta (and thawed out) it was no longer possible for me to live in a world with separate boxes for theology and economics and politics and health care and education, Christian or otherwise.

It all ran together and talking about one became talking about all.

This did not necessarily simplify life at that point in my journey.

I sure doesn’t simplify it these days!

There are a couple of boxes left in my mental attic though.

One of them, that seems to grow when I’m not looking, is labeled Loss in bold magic marker.

It’s an odd sort of box.

Every time I have an experience of loss and try to sneak unnoticed into the attic to slip the new bit tidily inside, all the other losses in there get riled up. They start trying to climb out of the box and run around the attic, demanding to be noticed all over again.

Which kind of means that all those I’ve lost are still with me, helping to make me who I am.

This week has been such a time.

It’s a complicated story, and not entirely mine to tell, so let me just say that an old friend was killed in a tragic accident.

The previous losses in my box are in full on riot mode, like tired toddlers wanting all the attention.

Loss, it seems, is loss. And it’s all hard.

Last night the attic dreams ran me out of bed and I spent some time with tea and my journal. Then I went back to making prayer dots.

Just in case you’re wondering what prayer dots are, they’re a tradition in the Intentional Creativity community with whom I am learning painting and a world full of transformative other things.

A bit like rosary beads, they’re a whole body-mind-spirit way of participating with prayers, which helps lots of us.

They also, as Shiloh Sophia would say, keep us facing the loss, the suffering, the love.

Ten lives lost in a Texas school shooting. A dot for each soul. Seventeen in Florida. And on and on.

If you wander back to the homepage here and click on the drop down menu for Artist, you’ll find a gallery of my quilts and discover that I’ve been hooked on polka dots for years.

Prayer dots are like polka dots, only better.

I make mine with the end of an old paint brush. Dip. Random-ish dots, each with a name or petition or simply attention. About four or five dots of varying sizes before it’s time to dip again.

Dip. Dots. Prayers. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Go back later and repeat some more.

Rage, if you need to. Cry. Give thanks.

Dip. Dots. Prayers.

I started with my very first painting, while a friend was critically ill in the midst of Hurricane Irma and I couldn’t get there.

The rhythm is somehow soothing for me.

My second painting is full of dots, too. Mostly for a friend going through treatment for breast cancer.

Those dots kindly made room for more last night and today. My friend. His family. Dip. Dots. Prayers.

Now, I was educated in what theological folks call the Reformed Tradition. As a flock, we’re not much for prayer rituals. Or at least we believe we’re not. And we’re pretty convinced that no number of polka dots in the world is going to change much. Which, in and of themselves, they’re not.

It’s the attention and intention that change things. Being conscious. Intending good. Reminding God, as the prophet Jeremiah said so long ago, of who God is.

Or, if you prefer, sending positive energy into the Cosmos.

Like getting thousands of people together to meditate for peace.

Dip. Dots. Prayers.

One day, I walk by one of my paintings and notice that what I feel is grateful. Grateful for all those I love, in this world or the next. Grateful for others making dots. Literally changing the world.

And I know that, one day, I’ll need more dots. Kind of like needing a bigger box in the attic.

And love will meet me there.

 

 

Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity® Color of Woman Teacher