Thursday, August 31, 2006

...and sometimes things don't go so well.

I think I am losing a friend. This started on Monday on the way to work and hasn't cleared up yet. All Monday we weren't speaking to each other. On Tuesday we only said, "Hi." Yesterday we were formal with one another. It may get better but, right now I don't know. The reason for the disagreement was rather idiotic. He was giving me a hard time which was probably meant to be teasing. I didn't catch that it was funny and responded seriously. He got offended and put a limit on our friendship, "I won't be asking for any more rides. I don't need this." It hurt and I apologized but he didn't accept it. It really put a damper on the whole day.

I put a limit on this friendship myself a few weeks ago. When we had gone out to dinner one evening I found my faith being dissed. It was so offensive that I told him we would no longer be discussing faith of any sort. A while back that would have been a hard thing for me to do. Having always been the unacceptable one in my family, I work extra hard at accepting others. Maybe it is time to stop that. There are things that aren't or shouldn't be acceptable. Somehow that makes this whole situation even more frustrating because this is the one friend who said I should toughen up and be more daring, stronger, more impulsive. His philosophy, given to support that initiative, was that once you realize that you are NEVER safe you then realize the futility of all planning for the future and are strong in the present. I probably missed his point in all of that. Even if I did, I don't know that it really fits in with my life. Yes I need to be stronger. There are a lot of ways I can love me better. But what is this about always being unsafe? If I believed there was no God then I might actually believe that nothing could keep me safe. But I do believe in God. I also know that, even though I believe and hope that God will keep me safe, I am still supposed to do the things necessary to be prepared for what ever comes along. Or as much as I can.

It really stinks that this is happening between me and this person. He has been a good friend up until this point. He encouraged me. He was honest in his opinion when I needed to hear the truth. That takes guts...or maybe callousness, I'm not sure. I do know that I have given him too much credit. He doesn't have any better social skills than I have nor is his insight into people any better. So maybe this is going to be a parting of the ways. It isn't something that I want. I would prefer to keep him as a friend because I have enjoyed his company and don't have that many friends I can just do stuff with. But, if living a life where I am respected among my friends is important to me (It is!) then, I guess it is time to stop putting up with others being disrespectful or cruel simply because I prefer not to fight. So, since we spoke nothing to one another again today, I am going to figure that the friendship is over. And let me be clear...this has only been a friendship, nothing more. It still hurts.

The thing that gives me hope in this, instead of despair, is that I see it as a part of recovery. When I lost my marriage, friends, job and family support all at once I was really devastated. It has taken me 7 years to recover from that. Now, post Cursillo, I am being shown a view of me that is strong and beautiful. I love that view. I really want to preserve it. And I know I can't if I tolerate or listen to others telling me I am awful or worthless. Part of the strength of this new view is that it is a me that I don't want to give up. Like so many women of my generation I gave up way too much of myself trying to be a "good" wife. It was really stupid since it was my strengths that attracted my ex to me in the first place. So now that I am deciding to not give way and am standing strong among friends who value me and tell me that, it speaks of a different view of myself as a person. That gives me hope for a better future. I would love to find someone who values me as much as I am coming to value myself. Maybe, if it happens, I will be able to hold onto that love and watch it grow into a really strong bond that will last the rest of my life. Even if it doesn't I know that by holding onto me I am holding onto my future instead of giving it away. If I should find love again and lose it I won't be as devastated as I was the last time. And I thank God for that.

Peace, Hope, and Joy guys!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Successes, stress relief and Pollyannas

This post probably won't have any real organized form. It is more of an "I haven't posted in a few and have some bright spots to share" kind of thing. So please forgive the collection of odds and ends. Sometimes life is just like that...a jumble of different things. (g)

College classes started for me yesterday. While I love to learn, yesterday somewhat stressful. The stress comes from my working full time and the classes require me to take some time off from my job to meet those needs. I hope my principal will support me in this as she did last year but things have changed at my school and so it still needs her approval. Knowing she has a school to run which will of course be her first priority, I also know that she won't be ignorant of the effect her decision will have on my furthering my career in education. Hopefully we will be able to work things out to where this won't cause any hardships for either of us or those it might also affect.

My weeks now are busy. My "duckling" is doing well in her classes. This is the student I follow from class to class providing any needed support. She was in a much more restrictive classroom last year and is really proud of being in regular education classes this year. It shows in her efforts and decisions. Earlier this week she asked to skip her much loved choir class to get help on her homework. She is showing maturity in other ways too. I am really proud of her and have hopes of her being successful this year in spite of the challenges. I also expect she will be successful in high school when she moves on.

My friend, Susan, has started a blogcarnival this week entitled carnival of hope. I like the idea. It is important when dealing with a stress filled world to keep our eyes on a bright spot lest we lose hope. When I was a child the Disney movie, Pollyanna came out and I liked the idea so much that my mother chose that as the name for being optomistic and hopeful. So I became a Pollyanna in my efforts to see joy in the world.

Speaking of stress, one of the activities in my Saturday classes was to list ways we dealt with stress. Lots of people did shopping. Some admitted to eating. Others claimed cleaning, having a couple of glasses of wine, or reading a book. The teacher admitted to gardening and holding conversations with the air while she did. I too am a fan of air conversations. It is a really good way to vent without hurting anyone's feelings. Some people call it empty chair therapy. Whatever you call it, it works. Other ways of dealing with stress that were mentioned were playing computer games, hanging out with friends, reading a good book, or going on a small trip. Vacations aren't always practical for me. Lots of time I just don't have the resources to go on one or the time. So I use fiction to escape. I've done this since I was a teenager. One really awful summer I read 120 books just to escape the anguish of growing up. My sister meditates or runs. If you have a way of handling stress I hope you will post it here.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Birthday parties and being in the right place

When I was a child, being taken to a birthday party was scary. That sounds ridiculous! Birthday parties are fun! Yet there I would be, present in hand, getting dropped off and encouraged by my mom to go knock on the door of an unfamiliar house (this was probably 1st or 2nd grade). My knees always trembled when going to that door alone. "What if it's the wrong door? What if Mom's made a mistake and it's the wrong house or the wrong day?" If that happened I would have been so embarrassed. I would've been "wrong!" It was very stressful.

Eventually, I got over it and learned to knock on doors without fear, until my marriage broke up and the fear came back. Getting left does not make for great self-confidence. You feel "wrong" all over again. I've always wondered why I have that particular fear. For many years I couldn't think of a reason. Then on Sunday I felt that feeling again and suddenly remembered a childhood experience from when I was even younger.

One night back when I was 2, my parents went out with friends and left me, and their friends' kids, with a sitter. When our parents came back I ran to my father, threw my arms about his knees, and called him Daddy. It wasn't Daddy! It was someone else's father. My memory tells me that I was very angry about this. What I suspect is, I was horribly embarrassed and everyone laughed at my discomfort while trying to reassure me that all was okay. It must have been really harmful to my child's self-esteem to go to the wrong parent. When you are that young your entire world revolves around those two people. And there I was, running to the wrong person.

Now that I've remembered this I think I can start to winnow that fear out of my system. I have some kind of reason for it. How long can a bad experience last? Quite a while it seems.

When I sat in church Sunday morning and tried to focus my thoughts, I found myself feeling like I was wrong all over again. It was really unsettling. I love God and I love going to church. Yet there I was wondering if I was "wrong" and didn't belong there. My best guess for the trigger for this time was a dream of rejection I had the night before. My reaction was to concentrate harder on the lesson and pray. The lesson was the one where Jesus says we must eat his flesh and drink his blood or we don't have life in us. So there I was pondering on the existence of flesh and blood in the Eucharist. When we got to the part where you take communion I was glad to receive it. It felt very important today. I also prayed, asking God for help with this fear. I asked for eyes that saw him clearly and didn't mistake someone else for him. It helped some, but I don't want to walk my faith always wondering if I am on the right path. And I never want to listen to someone who is not God directing my life in ways that seem good but may not be.

If this sounds like more talk about discernment, it is. I think I am coming to realize just how important discernment is, even about ourselves. And how difficult it can be. If I know one thing about myself it is that no one can mess me up as thoroughly as I can. My Spiritual Director says that is true of most of us. When our childhood experiences, or our adult ones, affect us so that we don't see clearly, we can find ourselves lost and wandering around trying to not go to the wrong place. Have I mentioned that I get lost easily? I have a poor sense of direction and prefer very clear, detailed maps for trips and life in general. That isn't always possible. So, now that I am concerned about staying on the course God sets for me, I will have to get better at recognizing his voice (as opposed to others including childhood fears) and reading the signs he sets on my path. Since Cursillo, God seems to be telling me things several times until I get the message, exhibit the needed change of heart, and move in the right direction. Trusting my gut wasn't something I learned to do as a child (poor self-esteem) so this lesson may take awhile. It takes 27 times to build a new habit, and even though I never learned to listen to that still small voice in the midst of activity...I am trying to!


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Walking Stick

The walking stick arrived yesterday. The picture of it is the last one I got from the artist before he mailed it to me. I think the artist did a good job with the woodburning images. You can clearly tell it is a "greenman" and the celtic letters look nice. The stick is just over 5 feet in height and will fit in my car for travel. Along with it came a set of papers describing the efforts that went into making the stick and also how to care for it. I am pleased with just about everything. If I had one thing that I would like different it would be a slightly thicker walking stick. This one is just fine though. It will work for walking and lots of other stuff.

Because he was so professional, I am going to put a link to his web page here. He goes to a lot of effort and provides a lot of services. If you like the idea of a custom walking stick please don't hesitate to check him out. He does good work.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Work environment or "The Education System"

Public schools have been open for about a week now. It was fun getting back and seeing everyone I hadn't seen all summer. I liked this more than I did as a kid. Everyone was shouting joyous hellos and giving hugs. (g)

The school I work at scored very high in the annual TAKS testing this past year. We went from missing acceptable by a fraction of a point to becoming a Recognized school. This was a first for our district so they held a reception for all the faculty and staff at my school. That too was a first. It made the news and the entire School Board was there to thank and congratulate us.

Now my days are spent following a "duckling" around. I am a special ed teaching assistant and my particular duckling has all regular ed classes this year. It is a wake-up call for my student. Learning to take notes and listen at the same time is hard. Part of the time in class I take notes too so that she doesn't miss out on anything. She will probably change classes soon because some of the classes she was put in are too far beyond what she studied last year. I am really worried about how that will affect her self-esteem. There is no way she won't see it as being treated differently and I really want her to be treated like a normal kid and allowed to grow. No matter how supportive special ed is it clips your wings.

I guess I am waking up. When I decided to become a teacher I thought I would be able to help students not feel different or less than good enough. Somehow the school system, our very structure, tends to cripple the efforts of our best teachers. Mostly I blame the accountability system. They put high stakes tests as the ruling criteria for determining a school's success. That is wrong. It puts all the pressure on the students at one point in time. What they should be doing is measuring the students progress and you can't document that with a once a year test. If school systems measured the overall progress of each student instead of their performance then education would become individualized and children wouldn't be held to unrealistic standards that don't apply to them at the point they are in their education. I think we should take away the grade level system and institute a progress system so that long term goals are worked towards and a student gets there when they are ready and have done all they are supposed to do without being labeled or limited. Here is a thought, let's have every member of the State Board of Education be required to volunteer for one week each semester in public school classrooms, making sure they work for the poor schools as much as for the rich ones, and let them learn about the environment their laws are affecting. Maybe then it would be easier to implement the laws in the classroom because they might actually be classroom oriented.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Voices in our heads and from our hearts

Disclaimer - I'm not a prayer warrior. Effective prayers and long hours on my knees aren't my forte. And I am not going to be sharing any great secrets or insight here. But if you've ever had God answer back you know the joy of hearing his voice. That joy makes me want to share, but I realize that not everyone is comfortable hearing about prayer and voices from God. So if that will upset you please don't read any further. I promise not to be offended if you help me to not offend you by going elsewhere. Ok...disclaimer finished.

Sometimes, hearing voices in our heads isn't a good thing. That being said, God speaks to those who listen. And he listens when we answer back.

When Martin spoke of that still small voice I knew just what he was talking about. Many faithful people do. It means we are listening. We listen with our hearts, not our ears. We are hoping to hear from God. Sometimes we do. And when we answer back, we speak with our hearts, minds, voices and sometimes our bodies. God listens to them all.

We are also supposed to listen with our minds. When God speaks to me I am supposed to use discernment to know that it really is God who is speaking and not my own emotions. Sometimes this isn't hard to do. His voice has a distinct feel and flavor. The message I hear is usually in-line with the things I know of God from scripture. Seldom has he spoken in a way that didn't have multiple consequences. His words and meaning spread out from the primary message like the rings one gets from a pebble dropped in a pool of still water. Sometimes, however, I want to hear his voice so much and want something so bad that I can create my own voice and that is when it is hard. When I want a good result based on what I want, and not on what God has in mind, then I can find myself hearing a voice and not knowing for sure if it is God. I know enough about scripture to make the message logical. When that happens, even my efforts at discernment fail. Hopefully yours are better.

Does God's voice sound the same every time you hear it? It doesn't to me. His voice takes many forms. So I guess it seems normal to me to speak back in more than one way.

When we talk to God we use many different voices. These voices come from our heads, our hearts, our guts (especially when they ache), our needs, our wants, and hopefully our joys. Scripture talks about tongues and also about a special language that only the indwelling spirit and God understand. But tongues mean voices as well as language and it is as natural to sing our prayers as to weep them or rant at the heavens. I've even had a friend tell me of visualizing your prayer and just sending the picture heavenward.

A few years back I sang my prayers. This was during the 80's when Praise songs were so popular. I think they still are but they have moved into a different genre. Those songs can be sung repetitiously and that is very conducive to meditating on the message they are giving which is usually very simple. It would be me in the car, on a trip, and singing songs of praise while I drove. After a while, I'd get so in touch with the spirit that the need for formal song would stop and I'd start singing whatever my heart felt like saying to God, and using what ever melody popped into my head. It was a kind of free form song and never had any real verses, although once God did give me a praise song. That was a form of exultation in the joy of life in the spirit.

Last Lenten season my church held a "come pray with us" series of classes which taught different forms of prayer. We had contemplative prayer, lectia divino (please forgive any misspellings), prayer of the senses, and guided imagery. All of it was wonderful and I learned a lot in each class. During that period they opened the labyrinth (maze for those who call it that) and we even did some Christian yoga one evening.

For me motion is akin to prayer and, because I love music, dance is often the form it takes. When the rhythm and flow of the melody invades my being, my body becomes a conduit for the expression of life. The beat is my heart beat and my breath. The flow of the melody is my motion; arms, feet, and body taking flight as I express what I feel in a very focused and yet totally free form.

So do I think I can dance? LOL Not really. I never got a lot of training so my form and style are definitely amateur. But when I start to move to music which excites me it doesn't matter. It is sheer exultation and self expression. It is thanking God for life. And I'm okay with that.

If you have a favorite form of prayer or an answer story I hope you will share it.

Peace, Hope, and Joy!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Social transitions or back-to-work

Tomorrow I go back to work for the school year. My life is going to suddenly be very busy. I love my job. Working with kids is great. Not easy but always fun, challenging, and often rewarding. Two weeks after work resumes I will also start taking 6 hours at college. This is towards teacher certification. When that happens I will have to prioritize between social opportunities and my responsibilities for the classes. Socializing is stress release for me. It is also part of my present self-stroking system. To culminate the changes that are happening for me socially, my "life group" is ending and will morph into a different group or a different night. So changes are happening right and left.

For many people, certainly for me, having others desire our company and sharing activities of mutual interest says we are OK. Someone commented to me yesterday that mankind is a social animal. He was so right! When I find myself without social activities I get depressed and lonely beyond belief. I also find myself doing a lot of self blame for things that mostly say, "if I don't have friends to go see it is because I am not worthy of them." This isn't true. I AM worthy of having as a friend. I share many of the traits that I value in my friends. I am intelligent, well educated, interesting, caring and have a good sense of humor. Socially I try to put my friends needs before my own when I can. I let my friends know when I appreciate them and why.

Still, it is with some trepidation that I am watching my world shift to meet the needs of job and schooling. I will still have church on Sundays, reunion group twice a month, and the life group can be different. I also have a few social connections that have nothing to do with church or faith and will probably start using them more. This is going to work out better than I am fearing. God has been so good at putting what I need in my life lately that surely he will continue to do so. Then again He may be letting me learn how to function well in solitude.

Solitude can be good or bad depending on your circumstances. When my marriage broke up it was horrible. When I am dealing with stuff, or have had too many people around (yes it happens sometimes) then it is vital. Making solitude a choice when we would rather be doing something else can be hard. If you are ok within your own skin then you can do that without a second thought. Doing it when you aren't is hard and sometimes impossible as you fight with your own self esteem. Phone companies know this. Why do you think they used the phrase "reach out and touch someone" in advertising to such good advantage? Well, I like reaching out but I don't want to feel that I just have to. So this year I am going to be working on something for myself. I am going to be seeking to improve my comfort within my own skin. I am going to seek to love solitude for the things it can give me.

Maybe this ties into that independance dance I did on Saturday. Maybe it is a chance to grow to appreciate myself more. Maybe that is the independance that someone commented about on my last post. Whatever happens with this I know that it will lead to self discovery. And since that is part of what I am doing with this blog I hope the results will provide food for thought and hopefully discussion.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Mountains where you least expect them...

My friend, Susan, posted a wonderful homily entitled "Coming Down the Mountain". In it she talks about how we must come down from the mountain, a high spiritual plateau, to deal with day to day life in all its struggle and needs. I love how she can bring the spiritual to our realities. Yesterday I had my own mountain of sorts. It wasn't quite what I had envisioned, but then reality seldom is.

My mountain was the desire to be strong and self reliant. God can help with a lot of life's challenges but you need to take care of your responsibilities too. In my efforts to see myself as strong I went beyond what was reasonable. Heck, I went beyond what was safe.

Living near the Hill Country there are lots of beautiful places you can go explore. You can enjoy the beauty of God in the untamed wilderness or on somewhat prepared and marked nature walks. There is such a walk on church property in the town of Wimberley. I had been up there before and wanted to go again. It felt so good up there in that beautiful place that I thought I would enjoy doing the 2 mile nature walk that is maintained by members of the church. So, on Saturday morning I got a bottle of water, put on my hat and walking shoes, and headed off to Wimberley. I thought I had planned carefully.

When I got to the church the time was no longer early morning and the temperature was headed into the 90's. There were breezes blowing though, I had my water, and there were lots of trees for shade so I thought I would be ok. I considered taking my cell phone but then didn't because if I had wanted to call for help I had no one in Wimberley that I knew to call and the town is far enough from my own that 911 wouldn't have gotten me anywhere. So I left it in the car.

The trail starts with a map that shows a couple of short cuts which will bring you quickly back to the beginning. So I thought I would just do the first small loop. It was less than half a mile. What I hadn't known was that along the trail there were Stations of the Cross markers. Those quickly hooked me in and I decided to do the stations. That meant walking the entire 2 mile trail. There were benches frequently along the way so I would be able to rest if needed. One of the neat things about this particular trail is that it is lit at night. You can walk it 24/7. Wow, doing Stations of the Cross by starlight!

I love Stations of the Cross. It is a truly moving and emotion filled ritual that always brings me closer to God. While walking these I found myself considering the need for self reliance and the possibility of being a single Christian. This isn't the type of life I imagine having. I would much prefer to find a lifemate and spend our lives together growing in faith and service to God. But it is a possibility. Enough of one to make me sad. I spent some time on that walk both communing with God about it and trying to come to terms with that possible fate. The stress of that had me in a rather emotional place when I got to the last of the stations. Realizing that you need to depend on God for something, instead of yourself, isn't conducive to feeling strong and self reliant. I didn't think that had anything to do with my nature walk. Maybe I was wrong.

Everything had been going fine until I got to the end of the stations. The beginning of them and the end tend to overlap at that point on the trail. The arrows on the occasional sign didn't really help me decide which way to go and the numbers somehow got confusing at that point. I ended up walking in a couple of circles and also some back and forth along the trail as I would start in one direction and then decide that was the wrong way to go and head back the way I had just come. After doing this a little while I realized I was lost. That was scary.

It is amazing how easily I can get lost. I don't do north, south, east and west. I do right and left. I have gotten lost driving around in a two block area. That is so ridiculous. What on earth can you do in a two block area but figure eights? It makes me really mad at myself when I don't navigate correctly. So here is my self-reliance going down the drain. Sheesh.

I started praying on that trail. Visions of sitting on a bench till anyone came along wasn't making me feel at all safe. Who knew when someone would next decide to walk that trail? By now it was noon and the temperature, my distress, plus a bit of exhaustion had my heart pounding. I started trying to be smart. I looked for those shortcuts. I found them but they didn't seem to help. I would find myself on the same path again but at a different point.

Eventually I found a fence line which showed me a road. That wasn't quite right but it got me closer to the church. I could see the buildings off in the distance. I started looking for a certain sign that had shown me the way had a different type of arrow. I never did find that one but I did find one of the lights that the church had set in. Suddenly I remembered that the lights at the beginning had been really huge and on poles. So I started looking for those. It was the lights that took me to the end of the trail. I was not immune to the thought that God was "being a light unto my path."

When I reached my car it was after noon and I was exhausted, sweating, my heart was pounding, and my foot was trying to cramp. I sat down in the door of my car and just breathed. There was a truck with a couple of church members parked in front of the buildings nearby. That turned out to be the church Sexton and a friend of his. They spotted me and came over. They noticed how tired I was looking and I guess my face was rather flushed. The man took charge (so much for self reliance). After getting the story from me, he had me sit in my car and turn on the a/c. He asked if I needed anything. I asked for ice water so he got in his truck and headed off to find me some. He returned soon with two large glasses full of it. That was so good. I drank one and poured the other one over my head splashing it on my face and arms. I realize now that I had been near heat exhaustion. When I had cooled down, wasn't feeling weak anymore, and had reassured this kind man that I was ok, I got in my car and headed home.

I did make it home safe and mostly sound. After getting some food in me I went straight to bed and slept. Later I emailed the only person I knew that attended that church to ask if he would let my Good Samaritan know that I was ok.

The process of coming to terms with that experience isn't quite over. Part of me wants to deny how real the danger was. Another part of me wants to thank God for helping me through it and keeping me safe. I still have some self reflection to do on the need to take care of the things I can affect and still leave room for God's guidance and intervention whether needed or if it just happens. Most importantly to my self esteem I need to not see myself as helpless or incapable of handling life's challenges. More importantly to my faith I need to find that focus where I listen to that still small voice which tells me when something isn't the best choice.

So there is my mountain, my own self-esteem and God's will. It is amazing how much God's good care will allow us to recover from disastrous situations and still feel like intelligent, capable human beings. The few friends I have told showed concern but not condemnation. That would have been something I might have expected from my father. So in this I am doubly blessed by God's love and the love of caring and clear sighted friends. And Thank God for the occasional Good Samaritan. May I always run into one of those when I need them and hopefully someday I will have the chance to pass that favor forward.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Comics and Ritual

When I was married I was blessed with a husband who had a really good sense of humor. Among the things we liked to do was share the daily comics. We each had our favorites and managed to work out a way where we could swap pages and not hog them. Occasionally I would cut one out and post it on the fridge as a weekly reminder of humor or the commentary it so jokingly gave on life.

Recently my church showed a series of tapes called "Discovering Everyday Spirituality". These tapes were narrated by Thomas Moore and were very good at reminding me of the things I loved as a child, which spoke of how good my world was back then. The tapes each had a topic. These were story, place, activity, and ritual. In each of these everyday things we can find peace, character, and value for our lives today. How I start my mornings has ritual. It has meaning to me. Until I considered it in light of these videos I had forgotten where I got some of those rituals.

When I was a child my grandmother and I used to sit and read the funny papers (50's lingo for comics) together. It was one of our rituals. Time spent in an activity that we both loved and felt richer for doing together. This was the basis for my sharing comics with my husband. It is the basis for my starting my day with 3 of my favorites online. It has meaning for me beyond the simple act of reading something amusing.

Today I was reading one of my favorites, Rose is Rose, and suddenly thought of that spirituality series. The funny showed Rose going out to find the bag of garbage her husband had been dutifully taking to the trashcan sitting on the ground. As she picked it up and completed the job you saw Jimbo headed off into one of what was no doubt a favorite activity. It was one of mine as a child. He was chasing fireflies. You almost never see these lovely reminders of nature's wonder anymore. The text read, "Fireflies account for almost three percent of 'garbage moment' interruptions." (chuckle) Suddenly I was catapulted back to the time when as a child my parents and grandparents would be sitting in lawn chairs watching my sister and I chase fireflies around the neighbor's yard. There was my place, activity, ritual and story. What a lovely reminder of the spirituality you can find in everyday things.

I took the liberty of printing off that comic to post on a wall I am building of things I want to do and be mindful of. If you have favorite comic strips I hope you get as much joy and history out of them as I do mine.

Peace, Joy and Hope!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Symbols and self-definition

A few days ago I went on a trip with a friend to the Cibolo Nature Center. This is a beautiful place with a nice walking trail and lots of trees. My friend, who is a nature photographer by trade, brought along two very good cameras and let me have one to play with. It was a Canon. It had a lens on it which could go near macro, telephoto and wide angle. I was impressed. I wasn't so impressed with the results of my artistic efforts. Even with less than great photographic results I had a lot of fun.

Near the end of the trail we came across some sotol cactus which is native to the southwest. The stem of the blossoms makes a long thick staff which, when cut and dried, is incredibly light and very strong. Experienced hikers value it highly as a walking stick. I've wanted one for a long time. My naturalist friend gave me an old one he had. I grabbed hold of it and promptly got a hand full of splinters. Ouch! Restoration efforts on my part didn't improve it much.

Going online I found a place that made walking sticks from sotol and customized them with wood burnings and other decorations. What was promised was a walking stick that was a work of art which would be personally meaningful to the recipient. After discussing possible repair of the stick we decided that it was too far gone to be worth the effort. So I started the process of purchasing one.

This artist really gets into making the stick meaningful for you. Tell him your favorite symbols and he will put them on the stick. Picking out personal symbols was a great experience. In doing so I learned about myself and what I value.

We started with my name in Celtic letters. Those were beautiful and I have a little Scottish and English in my ancestral history. Another reason for the Celtic is, my church seems focused on those symbols of faith, renewal, and spirituality. Often they represent the connection between God and nature. Untamed, natural places have always drawn me.

Keeping with the God in nature theme I wanted something that embodied that in a very strong way. We settled on a greenman image. You can find that on lots of pagan pages but the Christian church uses it as an ancient symbol of renewal. To me it looks wild and powerful. My father and I used to sit on our porch and watch storms blow in. This was a special time for me. Feeling the electricity in the air and seeing the wind whip the trees I'd get excited. I still like to do storm watches. When it starts to rain I open the windows of my home to let in the cool, damp air that's being created as God washes the world. It makes everything around me feel new and good.

The artist had some Native American symbols on his page. From his "soul-catcher" sticks I chose a strand of beads. These will be seven in number and mostly green which symbolizes healing. I am asking for a few lavendar ones for spirituality.

Now I am waiting for my stick. Creation will take 6 days. He promises to send photographs along the way to show the progress. I am excited. If this turns out well I will post a link to his web page here and elsewhere.

So what did I get from that? Well, the reminder that nature inspires me and makes me feel alive was good. It is an area where I can enrich my life by trying to spend more time in it. Defining my values with symbols was part self-reflection part creation. When you define something you give it form and direction. Having done so for my stick I feel I have also done that for my life. Knowing what you value and think of as good gives you an image of yourself to love. Knowing that God loves me is good but; if I don't love myself, if I can't hold onto what he sees in me, I can't hold onto the belief in God's love for very long. The first hard knock would cause me to slide away from that knowledge. So I think that defining myself in good images will help me hold onto a loving image of myself. One I think fits in with what God sees in me. And if I can love myself as God does, unreservedly, then I will be able to stop focusing on myself and start focusing on others.