There are some things I’ve had noodling around in my brain lately. Mostly when I’m doing random things; driving to the bank, or cleaning the bathroom sink, or walking down the driveway from the mailbox.
I think about growing up, and how excited I felt−even in my earliest memories−to be here. I mean, here, on this earth, experiencing life. Every morning I woke up, it was like Christmas, just to see the sun shining. Or the rain, or snow. I was ready, I was eager, and loved everything and everyone so big, I often wonder … is it possible that I’ve always been too much?
I was in one of the counseling sessions after divorcing my husband, when my counselor stopped and looked at me.
“Cece, I believe you’ve spent your entire life, and certainly your marriage, thinking you’re not enough. Am I right?” His statement made me think a minute, and I came to the realization that yes.
“Yes. I guess so. I think that’s correct.” I could think of thousands of times when it felt like in some way I hadn’t measured up.
“Well, let me make something clear to you right now: it’s never been that you’re not enough. It’s that you’re too much.” Oh. Okay, I’d gotten it wrong, but not in the way I thought.
He saw the look on my face, and said, “What I mean is, the people you’re trying to please, you’ll never satisfy. Not because you’re not up to par. It’s because you’re so far above what they’re capable of, that they are jealous of you. Why do you think they’ve always taken the opportunities to tear you down? Trust me, if you were of marginal stuff, there would be no need to do that. But you’re not.”
He sat back in his chair, and said, “Cece, you are more connected to the Creator than most; you are far more Spiritual than you realize.” I dropped my head. I had worked for so long to find and glue all the pieces of myself back together; I was tired. And this sounded like a whole other kind of work.
“Okay. What does that mean? What do I need to do?” He laughed and shook his head.
“No! No work; it’s who you are! It means that, when you enter a room, you bring the Light with you. That makes people in darkness very uncomfortable. Now, think about things that don’t like the light.” He stopped.
“Let me ask you a question. Throughout your life, do you remember dealing with people who were jealous of you?” I felt my face flush as memories flooded my brain and fought for attention. Yes. Yes, I had.
“When we moved to Nashville, I made myself a promise. I decided I would let people know of one thing I could do, but not all the things I do.”
“What does that mean? And why did you do that?”
“I mean, I’m a writer, and a singer. I design and make clothes. I design spaces. I paint portraits. I’ve won awards for pretty much all of that, at different points in my life.”
“Okay. So, you decided to keep all that a secret?”
“Yes. Most of it. All but one. Or two.”
“Which ones did you choose to take public?”
The writing. And singing.”
“And why did you decide to hide the other things?” I paused a moment.
“Because. I wanted friends.”
When I said that, it was like a tidal wave washed over me. It was then I realized what I’d been doing for the past twenty years. I had put the girl I was born to be in a locked room. I let her out in private, but she was my little secret. I had made myself “small enough” so that I would fit into the lives of those who claimed to love me. That day, that session, changed my perspective. And my life.
But now, back to what’s been noodling in my brain lately. I get up every day fully present, almost as eager as when I was that little girl. I thank God for the days, and the nights, and all the things in them. My Light is turned on fully, and I’m not shy about showing the world who I am, in every way.
But one of my thoughts is, I wonder how many others are playing “small enough.” How many others are waiting for that magic moment when they can finally shine like a klieg light? Are they like I was, thinking that one special moment will arrive, and be more magical than this moment they’re in? I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any more magical than right now.
I’m still figuring all this out, but I want everyone to know this: all it takes is for us to say “YES” to our own magic; the yearning in our hearts to be our very own hysterical, outrageous, tender, heartbroken, furious, authentic, vulnerable, brilliant, frustrating selves. And, you know, the list goes on. The awesome thing is, we get to wake up every day and say “YES” to it all over again.
And I don’t have the friends I used to think I wanted, but I’m good with that. The people who show up in my life now are the ones who are happy with the Light. In fact, they bring their own.
So, if I had one word of advice to offer anyone, it would be: “SHINE!”
Y’know, I have my phases or *periods*, sort of like Picasso. Maybe we all do, I can’t really say. But mine usually include the following:
*Reflective (can get preachy, but means well);
*Outrageous (some would call this one “obnoxious with fits of long, deep laughter” … );
*Tenderhearted (the part who wants to scoop up every hurting baby/child/person);
*Pragmatic (the “let’s just get this crap done and behind us” part);
*Maria Von Trapp (the part that wants to organize all of civilization into groups, make their clothing out of drapes, and have everybody sing in three part harmony, and in rounds)… I’m sure there are others, these are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
And so … *FAIR WARNING* … I’m in *reflective* mode today, and have been thinkin about this for awhile now:
When all’s said and done, I truly believe that all people, everywhere, want fundamentally the same thing. We all want to be loved, to be heard, to feel like our presence on earth matters. We all want to be safe, to live a happy and a peaceful life; we long to use our gifts to express our celebration of life.
When asked what they want, many celebrities state that they want an end to war, to have peace in the land. They speak for us all, really. We all want that. But I believe that we are blinded to the path that will lead us there. We have come to believe, many of us, that governments, or ideologies, will “give us” that. That if we vote for the right political candidates, they will bring this peace about. They, quite simply, cannot. But here’s the interesting truth:
They don’t have to “give” this to us. We already have it.
See, here’s the deal: Inside each of us, buried deeply at our core, beneath the belief of our absolute unworthiness, in there snuggled up next to our burgeoning self-contempt … there lives our truth: a thriving, pulsating, everlasting *light* … the very light we crave shines and waits inside of us; it was restored to perfection by our Redeemer’s purchase. But we live our lives in shadowy darkness, as if the gift was never given; like it never arrived.
And let me tell ya, the ego has worked one heck of an insidious job, convincing us that it is noble when we beat our breasts and declare our own revolting state. This is a self-manifesting prophecy … and it is the one that breeds envy, resentment, covetousness, greed, anger, jealousy … all the “deadlies” (and they are fatal) … ultimately the sense that we must “fight for what is rightfully mine.” This all comes from that seed of “lack.” These elements are at the center of every war, every murder, every scam, every betrayal … every corrupt company, government; every violation of real peace comes from fundamental self contempt.
And notice this: the beliefs we hold about ourselves are reflected perfectly in how we treat others. It can be no other way. When you see someone behaving negatively to others, or when you see someone relating with gentle kindness, think about that one. *Profound* truth.
It is the brave Spirit who awakens to their own authenticity and is willing, in the midst of naysayers, to reveal that to the world.
And it will continue to be a brave thing, until it is not. Until enough people start digging internally, determined to live a “self-examined life.” Then it will become the *norm*, and we will have returned to the Garden. But we go there by conscious choice, and one by one.
May each individual find the courage to *live* from their Spirit.
This is how we will change the world. ~ ♥ ~
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Not sure why that saying came to mind this morning, but it wouldn’t leave me alone so I wrote it down.
I’m finding myself in an interesting place. The last quarter of last year was probably the most difficult, the most challenging, in my life. I say that, then I find my gaze drifting back through the past−pregnant at twenty, hysterectomy at twenty seven, trying so hard to be all I could be to everybody−and completely missing the mark on self awareness, self care, self sustenance.
Did it have anything to do with those Holy Cards? We were big on collecting them in second grade. They were like baseball cards for Catholic girls. The gilt edged ones with Saint Theresa, Saint Cecilia, Our Lady of Fatima, all were coveted.
Which brings up a whole different thing since coveting broke the tenth commandment. We were eight years old, and all guilty.
And then there’s the pride thing. Mary Margaret Snyder had more gilt edged cards in her Missal than anyone else in the class. She held it up during Mass, ceremoniously turning to each card as the priest said his Dominus Vobiscums, his Kyrie Eleisons, his Oremuses. We sat, stood, or knelt as was prescribed, but we were watching her out of “side eyes,” elbowing each other, and hating her. Rack another one up on our confessional hit parade. Hate. It’ll take at least three Hail Mary’s plus an Act of Contrition to scrub that off.
But where I was going about those cards is, they were Da Vinci-esque renditions of martyrs who died for their faith. They were bludgeoned, or decapitated, burned at the stake, nailed upside down to a cross, tortured in a wide variety of ways. And now were featured on Holy Cards, bathed in heavenly light, eyes cast upward, heads tilted ever-so-slightly, hands outstretched or coming together in prayer.
Every so often Sister Diana introduced a new Holy Card; she’d say in soothing tones,
“Children, which martyr is this who became a saint because he/she died for Christ?”
She held the small rectangle up like Vanna White, and cut her eyes toward it with her Mona Lisa smile. We were transfixed, and determined to add it to our collections. Two guilt-edged Michael Archangels in different poses were worth a fortune. Mary Margaret Snyder held three, and wasn’t trading. So you can understand the hatred.
But the point is that I recently started thinking about the focus on “dying for Christ.” A kid takes stuff like that literally. I remember trying to figure out which way to do it−I wanted it to be quick. Decapitation, maybe? I didn’t want any Daniel in the lion’s den stuff. That would take forever.
But eventually−third grade, I think, during Lent, when they took the boys for Latin lessons−we girls were told we should “die for Christ every day;” Some of the pie eyed looks traded amongst us are legendary. Karen Flanagan wet her pants and started crying. Jesus H. Christ, people, don’t EVER speak in metaphor to anyone under eleven!
But, you know, we got over it, and life goes on. We all grew up, went our separate ways; some of us probably separated from the saints, and the church, and the rituals of holiness.
Some of us learned, eventually, that the stories told about goodness are true, and that our lives are the very celebrations, the Novenas, the prayers of righteousness for which those icons sacrificed. So some of us found our way back.
Now, listen: I’ll admit straight up that I’m a holy mess. I’m a desperate contradiction between a hunger to express my own goodness and the need to barge right in, stop the proceedings, and tell the idiots running this world a thing or two. The older I get the more I care about telling the truth, and the less it matters to me how I’m excoriated for it. That, it seems, has become my Novena.
So there’s that. Stuff. DNA; corpuscles−all laced with it. Not the only ingredient, but it’s kinda like cayenne pepper: a little goes a long way. Remember to mind the burn. It will warm you, if you let it. And it can last a lifetime.
I’ve had several conversations lately about “Hope” and “Faith.” People ask me: are they different, or are they the same? I’ve given it a lot of thought; reflection from my seminary days. I’m going to write down some perspective I’ve had about it … mostly to clarify it in my own mind:
Faith is the element of knowing without seeing. It is the bedrock of my heart’s center, the knowing beyond understanding. We are born broken, and all long for redemption, for goodness, to finally believe we are lovable. Most of us are afraid to believe that, but it’s a critical piece on the journey to wholeness as the Father created us.
I know that my Creator’s Almighty fingerprints are all over me. I know that, in spite of my failure to always exercise “right use of will,” His plan is at work. When I feel alone, when I feel without hope, “hopeless,” it is I who have moved off center. The Creator – being truth and love – never yields, never moves. The truth is that my Father will be standing, arms outstretched, a beacon of Light, long after the noise of falsehood has collapsed under its own weight.
How can I declare this? How can I be so certain that these things are true? I have no explanation except … faith.
My parents did the best they could, but their profound brokenness saturated every thread of my childhood. Even so, it did not define it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my childhood was defined by, and my heart was protected by, my faith.
I was born with it. In my earliest days I thought everybody was. I can remember even as a tiny girl, age two or three, looking up to the clouds, talking to the angels. No one told me they were there. I knew it. I could see them. And they saw me.
Growing up, Spirit surrounded me at some of the darkest points, when most would ask how a kid could make it through that. It was not remarkable to me. It was my “normal.” There were my parents. There was my faith. Faith was my trump card. It trumped everything. I always trusted it would be there.
And the best way I know to describe trust is, imagine a baby learning to walk. The Mama or the Daddy is right there, giving the toddler its freedom, but keeping watch in case the child starts to fall. She learns to trust that a parent will be there for her. Trust. Faith and trust. The baby is not “hoping” that someone will catch her. She moves forward on faith, “trusting” that protection is present.
Hope … hope springs eternal, but faithful hope in action is “trust.”
There are those who question the atrocities in this world, and ask how a loving God could allow such things. My answer is, we are human beings with free will, and we are each given a moral compass. Free will has a perfectly calculable algorithm called “cause and effect.” Do many people suffer from the actions of others? Without question. I believe that all the inhumanity in this world is the expression of people who are driven by their own brokenness. Happy, loving people do not have on their agenda the harming or destruction of others.
Men are not evil. Women are not suffered. We are all brokenhearted. Casting aspersions based on ANYthing – gender, race, religion, nationality … only causes us to further break our own hearts. Division helps nothing, heals nothing, takes us closer to nothing good. It carries us further into the darkness.
Satan is about separation. People often attempt to … “hope out a plan.” And I don’t think I’ve ever seen it work … in large part, because they had no faith that it would. This is a process of isolation and futility. Separation tells us to make a plan, and cross our fingers, but don’t count on it, ’cause people suck and shit happens. And with this approach, it probably will.
God is about connection. Hope-as-Trust is the fierce tangent of faith that gives us the fire to move forward smiling, in spite and in Light. When we are in sync with that Divine energy, we make plans, but remain open to the fact that it could all shift, and may even appear to fall apart so that other things can fall together. We are flexible, and willing, and openhearted. We believe that all things will work together for good.
In either case, everybody believes in something. And whatever we believe, we’re right.
The best, most radical thing we can do for ourselves and the world … is to strive to be exactly who God breathed life into at the moment of our birth. If we all, every person on the planet, would be our authentic selves for one hour, the transformation would be miraculous. Instantaneous. The world could never again return to its former state of being.
My advice, if I have any to give, is this: be brutally honest, and ultimately gentle with yourself. Let yourself have, and hold, the truths of who you are. Look deeply into your own eyes. Be tender with your own shattered places. Hold closely those parts you have a hard time embracing. Make that list of loving things you’d do for someone else, and do them for you. We love others in direct proportion to our love of the Self God created in us.
My prayer is that every person, everywhere, will ultimately bear witness to their own loveliness, their own lovability. We will discover that the peace we long for abides in us. And it’s been right there all the time.
My altar is secret. I don’t really even have one yet, but I’m getting ready.The things I have for it are tucked away in a box. It’s a shoebox. From Renberg’s. Christmas, 1959. My father’s slippers came in it. If I lower my nose to the box, I can still smell the leather from those slippers.
The box is in the bottom drawer with some other stuff—so that no one can tell it’s something special.
A picture of Susan Van Wyck is in there. Susan Van Wyck’s been on the cover of Seventeen magazine about twenty times. Some people tell me I look like Susan Van Wyck. But she’s so beautiful, it makes me shy to think about it; I can’t believe it. But I keep that picture to remind me.
Then there’s my scapular. I got it in first grade when I made my First Holy Communion. It’s faded and the silk straps are twisted, but it reminds me of the Holy Sacrament. I like to remember when I was seven, and believed everything they told me, without question. Sometimes I sleep with it on, because I need those feelings I had back then. Innocent. Faithful.
There’s a little rock from the time we went to Roman Nose State Park. It was the summer before first grade, and the only vacation we ever took. This stone makes me think of highways, and swimming pools, and places far away.
The four leaf clover is from my boyfriend. Rick gave it to me –or should I say he walked down the aisle at school and dropped it on my desk. That’s how I knew he was my boyfriend. We haven’t talked to each other or anything, but sometimes you just know.
The scrap of brown eyelet material is from Nanny. She taught me how to sew, starting when I was five. When I was ten, She taught me to use the treadle machine on her patio. We made doll clothes all summer that year. Nanny always said, “You can do anything you want to do. Just come up with an idea, then think backwards and you’ll know how to get there.” This piece of fabric reminds me that I can do anything.
The last thing in here is a crystal heart. Daddy gave it to me before the 8th grade dance. It’s the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen, and it makes my own heart squeeze when I look at it. When Daddy’s having a bad night and I can hear him through my door, I take the crystal heart out and put it under my pillow. It helps me remember who he really is.
Lately I’ve been wondering how much of me is left. I mean, when I think back, it seems like there have been at least a couple of incarnations in this one lifetime. I was someone’s kid in the first lifetime, and a sister. In the second lifetime I was someone’s wife, and mother. How much of me did that use up? By the time I became a wife, did I remember who that girl was? Was I still that person? Today I’m someone’s mother, someone’s mother in law, and someone’s grandmother. What about that kid? Is she still here? Does she know how old we are? Is she observing the relationship challenges, the unreached horizons that float in the mist, just ahead of wherever it is I am? Or is she the one driving me forward?
It’s funny. These days there’s a familiar authenticity inside my skin; is this what she felt then? Or is that dementia? Is that old age? I don’t know. But I can tell you this: I feel more on purpose than I’ve felt since I was five. Since I was the kid on that swing in the back yard at 1563 North Marion, crying because I couldn’t write a song like the ones on the radio. I don’t cry about that now. Today I’m grown up, and I write songs for a living. Does she know?
When I work on the various projects that keep my passions fired, I feel her here. She sits across the table, smiling at me, her chin resting on one dimpled hand.
I also feel her tears. When my Daddy — OUR Daddy — died earlier this year, she is the one who cried into my pillow. She’s also the one who took my sister’s face in her hands at the funeral home and told her everything was okay. In many ways I felt like I was watching her do that. I was the observer. Looking back at that weekend, I realize the girl of me led us through it with her broken heart wide open, loving everybody as big as she could.
Since then, she and I have hit a rough patch. One where healing and grief keep getting locked in hand to hand combat. It leaves me bone weary, and she’s trying to make sense of it all.
When I lie down and rest my head in the dark, I feel her there. She keeps watch through the night. Sometimes in that space between awake and asleep, I hear her whisper, “Daddy always believed in us.” The adult of we never thought so. The girl of we always knew.
There are those who would call me daft for seeing us as two separate people. Shrinks might tell me to “integrate.” I reject that clinical diagnosis. The adult mind lives on the surface where life appears steady, things are kept in tidy lines, and all rules apply. But the child mind is boundless; it explores below the surface. There are times I need to get hopelessly lost in her world of unseen wonder, secret caverns, mighty whirlwinds, and fragments of dreams unlived. This is where the thrill of excitement rides in on a sunbeam, where fragile hearts dive deep, shatter and heal, only to dive deep again.
Not breaking through the surface with her would pose a far greater risk to my Spirit. I cannot bear the thought of skimming the top, and never living the we of me at all.
If Daddy can see us, we know he’s proud.
There are countless books available that promote ways in which we can heal our Selves. Some books are dedicated to traditional medicine, some prescribe alternative or holistic treatment, some are based on a myriad of psychological approaches, and some reveal processes and rituals of ethnic or religious origin. Each of these practices holds at least an element of validity, and all share in a common goal: to bring us to holiness.
The word holiness takes many by surprise. It causes some to pull back in reaction to a word that has traditionally been tied to religion. But holiness actually means wholeness; being truly whole. Knowing the truth about who we are, feeling loving and gentle toward our authentic Selves. We can call it many things, but when we reach this place of wholeness we are, indeed, holy.
There is nothing sweeter than a new baby; in its presence our entire demeanor changes. We speak in hushed tones; we walk softly, we move slowly, touch gently. We feel a reverence for the newness, the sweetness, the innocence of this tiny being. We are in awe of its perfection. We are beholding a holy one. And we are remembering our own holiness.
We learn, very quickly, to “become” whatever the rules say we must. We are good little soldiers, good children …we follow directions, or not; but the world continues to shape us, and teaches us to lead with our acceptable “‘personas” − caricatures of who God created − that carry us far from the holy selves who arrived here in the beginning.
And now, during this season of holiday, “giving” is in full swing. We watch the children in our lives, and the child in each of us awakens. We are, once again, those newborns; we are those “holy ones.” We embrace the chance to participate in a tidal wave of open hearts, of tender thoughts, and of uplifted ideals. We are individuals, certainly; in addition, however, we are a collective of all the things we ever imagined, of our deepest held dreams. Our wildest sacred hopes take wing in the December air. Is it possible? Could it be? If only … just maybe .… this is the stuff we’re made of; it’s the stuff of miracles.
The world has taught us to forget this, but it is true. This season of remembering takes us home to that truth. How sweet, how holy a world it will be when we choose to stay awake; to stay connected with our “original truth.” For that is, after all, where our holiness resides.
Have you ever considered the pristine beauty, the mystical significance of an empty bowl? Or even the hands that created the bowl itself? I hadn’t, until this past weekend.
An empty bowl is an important symbol in Buddhism. The bowl points to the monk’s way of life; they go from the monastery into the village each morning, bowl in hand, and ask for alms from the lay people. Whatever they receive, food or alms, is prayed over with thanksgiving, and counted as “enough;” “plenty” for that day.
As a prompt during a writing class recently, we were asked what we would need to fill our bowl.
I sat with my hand holding a pen, suspended over the page. My mind was blank. Just when I thought, “This is not working,” I heard my father’s voice.
My dad used to say, “Your mother could feed a family of eight on a potato and an onion.” And looking back, I realize that’s exactly what she did. She’d dice them, and boil them in a large pot of water; season them, and leave them to simmer on the stove. She’d put small pieces of Velveeta on the collection of bread heels, and run them under the broiler just long enough for the cheese product to melt across the surfaces of the bread, and start charring around the edges.
We loved potato soup night. It came after meatloaf night, and was followed by fish stick night, which was always on Friday. There was also tomato soup and grilled cheese night. There was bean and cornbread night, which was followed by chili night, because the leftover beans went into the chili.
When I recite the menu − this litany of how my mother fed six children on my dad’s hard earned but meager income − I am struck by a couple of things:
Regardless of where she kept her heart, regardless of how disconnected she seemed from the rest of us, she got up every day and did what needed doing to keep the children fed.
The process of creating a meal is a spiritual act. It is a prayer. Just saying grace over two such ordinary things as a potato and an onion − trusting that these will become the loaves and fishes on your children’s plates − that is a mother’s hope. An act of faith.
And I will say that doing it once makes it an event − marks its significance above the commonplace. But through my years of growing up, sitting as I did at that table every night, I can tell you this: the miracle of plenty was ever present there.
So when I consider what will fill my empty bowl, I humbly request one potato, one onion, and the power of my mother’s prayer.