Thursday, March 31, 2011

On Love and Criticism

I haven't been writing for the last week or so.  This wasn't due to lack of anything to say (ha-ha) but the fact that I attempted to cement in some fence posts and took most of the skin off my hands.  This is pretty normal for me and construction projects, (remind me to tell you sometime the story of how I ended up in the ER after attempting to remodel the bathroom), but as it is rather hard to type with no skin on ones fingers I took a break from the keyboard.  Now that I am back I want to share what happened to my younger son and I at the mall a few months ago.

My family is a very touchy feely family.  I grew up that way and it seems natural to me to pat my children as they are walking by, to kiss and hug them for no reason other than they are there, to hold hands when walking, etc, etc.  It has worked out well as all my kids are what I refer to as "drapers".  They seem unable to stand under their own body weight when near someone they know.  I don't mind because after they grew too big to fit in my lap comfortably they could still come and sit or stand next to me and cuddle and hug without making me unable to breathe!  It was this tendency to sprawl that got me in "trouble" at the mall.

Tucker and I were sitting at the edge of the food court waiting for Dad to wander back from looking at something for my birthday.  As usual Tucker first stood next to me talking a mile a minute, then leaned on my shoulder, then as he began telling me something more personal he put his arms around my neck so he could play with my hair (something he does when stressed or tired) and went in to full body lean.  Since he was about to hit the floor I put my arm around him so he was almost sitting in my lap, and with my other hand I was rubbing his back.  He was pretty upset about something that had happened at school, and since this was our first alone time that day he wanted to share and get some comfort from Mom.  As we are sitting there in our own world and he is pouring his little heart out a woman walked up to us.

I will pause here and say that I am not a terribly social person.  I rarely talk to strangers unless they are other Moms in the park or something similar, and meeting new people is something I enjoy about as much as having my boob caught in a door (that's another weird construction story).  So to have some stranger approach me and start talking is uncomfortable at best, however I have been working to change this part of myself (I think I'm rude) so I gave the woman a smile.  She smiled back, leaned down towards us and said "Don't you think he's a bit old to be doing that?"  and then walked off without another word.

I was stunned.  I just froze in my seat.  I had never seen this person before, and she just came and accused me of inappropriate contact with my 9 year old son.  Then I got angry, really, really angry.  How DARE this person tell me how to act with MY child.  Who did she think she was?  Then I started questioning my behavior, was I doing something wrong?  Was I offending other people without realizing it?

Over the next few days I kept coming back and worrying about this.  As I admitted earlier I am a major worrier, and have very little self confidence.  Finally after talking it over with my spouse again he asked me why I was letting some stranger have the power to upset me 3 days later with one random, cruel comment.  At that point I went to my meditation/thinking/prayer spot and calmed down and really thought about how I felt and why.

No one likes to have someone else randomly question their life choices.  We have a tendency to get defensive and try and justify why we do things the way we do and in many cases attempt to persuade the questioner to change position and agree with us. I think this approach tends to make us get stuck in how we want to approach life and forget that there is more than one path to being happy.  Let's face it, two people rarely do things the exact same way yet there are millions of loving fulfilled folks out there.

 I have no idea why a random stranger would tell me not to cuddle my son in the middle of the food court at Gateway Mall.  Maybe she was abused, or in a bad mood, or maybe she is from a family where you only touch when someone is born or dies, (I know families like that) and in the end it just doesn't matter.  What matters is being secure in myself and my choices, being able to shrug off the negative comments of others and live my life in a way that makes my family and I happy.

My children grow up every day, and every day they are bigger and more mature and need less from Mom and Dad.  I will cuddle them (wherever we happen to be) for just as long as they will let me.  I will hold their hands and kiss their cheeks until the day I die and not feel one ounce of shame about it.  I am proud I have a family where we hug for no reason and cling together when life gets rough.  And at the end of the day I'm pretty sure that all that matters.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Confessions of a worrier

 I was born a worrier.  As a matter of fact I'm pretty sure I slide out of my mothers womb worrying about if I was hurting her, if I had chosen the right family, and if someone was going to catch me when I came out.

As I grew older, the worrying grew right along with me.  As a child I worried about my brothers health, if I remembered to feed the cat, and what was for dinner (I HATE mushrooms, and my mom loves them).  As a pre-teen I worried about my father's heart, our pets, and what boys liked which girls.  In high school I worried about grades, family finances, and colleges.  As a young women...well by this time my worrying was about pretty much everything all the time.

I see worry as a disease, or at least my worrying is one.  The more I allowed myself to wonder and ponder the future, the more worried and fretful I became.  It got so bad that I began to worry that I was worrying too much.

There were several folks over the years who tried to help me with this issue.  My parents constantly said place your trust in God, worrying is an affront to Him.  My friends said worry is silly, and bad for you, you have an ulcer and you're only 19!  My first husband said what is going to happen will happen so why worry about it when you can't do anything about it?

None of those approaches worked for me.  For someone who worries telling them God will be mad at them only increases the worry load.  For someone who has an ulcer from worry telling them worry is bad for their health and they could die increases the worry.  And lastly telling a worrier they have no control over guessed it, more worry!

Meanwhile my worrying had become a major problem.  I now had children, and the weight of the worry I had about them was absolutely crushing.  I was so worried about the future I was paralyzed to make any major (or sometimes even minor) decisions about my life.  I continued to suffer from ulcers, upset stomach, and other less socially acceptable physical ailments.  I had started to worry about things out loud to my new husband, causing him untold stress and aggravation at a time when he had enough on his plate.  And to make matters even more fun I started to predict bad things would happen to me and worry about what I would do when they did. 

Then, like a miracle I found author Jeffery Pierce  and Old Ways.  At that time he was teaching classes and posting them online.  One of the first classes I remember seeing he said this:  Worry is fear, fear is the opposite of love, I want to live in love.

It was like a bolt out of the blue!  All my worries, all my concerns, all my imaginings were just fear!  This might seem like a fairly simple concept, but to someone who had spent her entire life not understanding why I worried, or how to stop, this was a voice of hope in the wilderness.  I think with stubborn people (that would be me) Deity sometimes has to hit us in the face with the equivalent of a dead fish to get our attention.  

Understanding why I was worried helped me get a handle on my fears, but it didn't entirely solve the problem.  Breaking a lifelong habit is not easy.  It felt like every time I turned around those little worry monkeys were climbing up my back again.  So I started doing a few things to help me remember that worry was stifling my life.  I posted notes around my computer as reminders.  I got a tattoo to remind me every time I glanced at my arm.  I asked my hubby to gently bring to my notice when I started the worrying.

It's been over a year now that I've been working on this.  Like most things worth doing it's been a slow process, but the rewards have been great.  Every morning when I wake up I repeat to myself worry is fear, fear is the opposite of love, and I want to live in love.  I'm still scared about the future sometimes, but I no longer allow it to rule my life and make me miss out on all the good things Deity wants to bring me.  Love is a good place to be, it has brought me people and experiences I never would have had if I was back in the black hole of worry, fear, and ultimately despair.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Journey (so far!)

I wrote this for a contest called "Why I am a pagan"

I was born some years ago to a conservative, Christian family.  My father was head of the family and my mother stayed home and did things like sew, can, garden, cook and clean.  Our house centered around my father and I adored him.

Our church at that time was Methodist.  In case you aren't familiar with that denomination it involves typical Protestant beliefs with the addition of no drinking or dancing.  When I was older we moved to the Church of Christ, which in my opinion is similar but adds in a healthy dose of everyone else is going to hell so convert and proselytize!!

My parents were firm believers in their religion, they had converted when I was about 5.  I remember once as a small child going with my father to sell his enormous record collection.  The church told him secular music was sinful so he got rid of it, and mourned the loss the rest of his life.  My brother and I were kept isolated from...well, pretty much everything.  We had no TV, were not allowed to listen to the radio, and had little contact with families outside our church.  If a school friend invited me to come to their home my parents had to carefully check them out before I was allowed over. If someone had a birthday party on Saturday night I had to be picked up before church Sunday morning.  Nothing was allowed to enter our life that didn't fit in with church teachings.  We were taught that our way was the one right way and it was our duty to not only spread the word, but also to shun those who didn't follow our rules.  I was happy, content, and felt very loved.

I grew up, got married to a man my father approved of (I liked him too) and had my son.  We went to my parents church, worked for my Dad's company, spent every holiday and most weekends with my parents.  To be perfectly honest, however, I never felt forced or oppressed.  I truly loved my parents and liked spending time with them.

Then my father died and my life imploded.

I had an affair (my fault and shameful), got a divorce, all of my church friends (and there were a lot of them) stopped speaking to me.  I was now a sinner and they couldn't be around me.  One of the most painful experiences of my life was being told I couldn't have a friends daughter stay overnight with me anymore.  Her husband felt I would be a bad influence.

The next few years were chaos.  Many people, including myself, say they would rather die than go back to middle school.  I would rather go back to middle school than relive those painful years.  I was completely lost.  Everything I thought I knew or believed made no sense to me anymore.  I was taught to hate homosexuals, yet had homosexual friends.  I was taught that my religion was the only way, yet I saw many unhappy, mean Christian people, and met many happy, kind non Christians.  I was taught evolution was wrong, yet loved dinosaurs and paleontology.  I finally just said screw it and refused to think about spiritual matters at all and focused on mere survival.

I grew self destructive and developed bad habits.  I became deeply cynical and sour.  I hated myself and everyone around me (except my children, I sometimes think they are the only reason I survived at all).  I developed a personal philosophy that went something like this: Everyone is hiding something and is a liar most of the time, religious people are hypocrites, prepare for the worst as it always happens, trust no one,  life sucks and then you die.  My glass wasn't half full, it was cracked and leaking. I couldn't go on like that.  I was killing myself by inches, destroying my marriage, and not being the Mom I knew I could be.  To add insult to injury my illness, which had nearly prevented me from having children, became much more severe.

So my search for myself and my place in the world began.  I started reading, looking and trying new things.  I got a tattoo, bought a motorcycle, went to nudist places, changed political parties, dyed my hair odd colors, refused to wear make-up, and bought books on female rights, sexuality, politics, and religions.  This might not sound that radical to some of you, but to someone who had never even highlighted her hair to dye it pink was a huge rebellion and exploration (my mother was horrified).  I spent several years in this mode.  Also during this time I started reconnecting with a few of my old friends, and my family.  One friend in particular hadn't shunned me as others had, and with admirable restraint had NOT commented on my life choices and welcomed me back as a friend when I was ready.  (Blessings and kisses Jen)

Even with all this positive change I still had a huge hole in my life.  I was a person who had been used to going to church weekly, plus a bible study, now I had no spirituality in my life at all. I first tried to go back to a Christian church as it was all I knew, but I didn't fit there anymore.  I was too angry about my past in churches, too bitter to listen or learn anything, and I just didn't agree with many of those beliefs anymore.  So I turned to psychology and self help.  I got some counseling and read some great books.  I slowly stopped hurting myself and began trying to be positive and open for the first time in years.  I began to like myself again, but I still felt empty. 

In the middle of this lonely time I ran across Jeffery's online classes.  I knew absolutely nothing about being a pagan except for what I had learned in church, and I had serious doubts about the veracity of that information.  It seemed unlikely that pagans called demons, ate raw sacrificed animals or murdered babies.   And as for being naked under the moon with other people...well, I had done that and it didn't feel evil to me.  So my husband and I started watching, and listening, and learning.

Without preaching or pushing or being negative about anyone or anything Jeffery led me down a new path.  A path about acceptance, personal responsibility and love for all creation. A path that wasn't about everyone walking the straight and narrow, but about a journey of discovery side by side, twisting together, sometimes diverging, but all headed the same general way.  Suddenly all the thoughts that had been swirling around in my brain crystallized into a totally new way of thinking.  I began to see connections, similarities, parallels, whereas before all I had seen were differences and separations.  I began to let go of a lifetime of judgment and filters and substitute empathy and acceptance. 

Once of the themes Jeffery touched on often was how powerful we as people are.  This was a huge revelation for me.  Previously in my life anything having to do with magic or mysticism was ruthlessly stamped out.  My father had prophetic dreams and could sense and communicate with beings other people couldn't see.  When he became a Christian he turned his back on all of that, and trained me to not notice or at least not act on what I could see or feel.  After hearing Jeffery I began to open up again. Suddenly my dreams changed.  I began to meet dream friends long forgotten, our ghost started shyly appearing once more, and nature began to call to me again. 

As I changed I still felt held back by my feelings about my past.  After a few more classes I learned that instead of focusing on churches and false friends and proper behavior ruling my past I should remember other things. Suddenly my dream-time began showing me old memories.  I remembered being very small with my father in the deep forest, he is holding me in his arms, his beard tickling my cheek and the trees are swaying and murmuring over our heads, he is whispering "Do you hear the trees talking?".  I remember my mother showing us how to tickle salamanders out from under their rocks, how to hold perfectly still until the hummingbirds would fly near us, and how to talk to and care for our pets. I remember being taught to look, marvel, and admire the creation around me and the Creator who could encompass all this beauty and wonder. I remembered finding a file in my father's things after he died with a list of elderly women whose homes he kept repaired.  His payments were cookies and pies and gratitude.  I learned to remember love and let go of everything else.  I accepted my past and the good things about it and forgave those things that shouldn't have been there.  This gave my soul a freedom it lacked and desperately needed. 

I still felt I needed a church though, and after much looking I came across the Unitarian Universalist Church of Eugene.  The first time I read their web site I cried, here was the place I had been looking for!  In this church it doesn't matter what religion you identify with, all that matters is your fruit.  Are you kind, patient, loving, generous, honest and loyal (or at least do you try to be)?  Then you are welcome.  We celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah and Winter Solstice with equal exuberance.  Easter and First Fruits, Halloween and the annual youth vision quest all are accepted.  We have Christians, Buddhists, a few atheists, a pagan coven, and too many others to list coexisting in our group.  We are active in our community in politics, charity, and environmental causes.  The Sunday morning teachings draw from the Bible to the Koran to popular music and everything in between.

And that leads me to today. Am I a pagan now?  I don't know, and I'm not sure I need a label to be content.  I do a variety of things to keep my mind open and my spirit fed.  I get and read daily emails from a Buddhist group I like. I'm working through a read the bible in a year book.  I read Jeffery's pagan lesson every day and try and connect on the Old Ways page when I have something to share.  I go to church when I can and do my best to learn about other religious paths and the truths they have to show me (one of my current favorite books is about ancient Egyptian wisdom and teachings).  I try and take time throughout my day to appreciate the beauty around me.  As often as my health permits I got outside, especially with my children, and show them how much I appreciate Deity and nature.  I got another tattoo, this one reminds me to stay positive and live in love.  When I find myself getting down about life I make a conscious effort to count my blessings.   When things get overwhelming I pop online and listen to one of Jeffery's classes, or some of the music he posts and remind myself of what I have learned and how far I have come.

I admit to feeling a little dislocated occasionally.  While I am no longer a Christian I am still politically conservative.  In groups of people I feel either too liberal for the conservatives or too conservative for the liberals, this has made it hard to form connections and make friends.  Old Ways, though, seems to envelope all paths and I'm beginning to see that some of my discomfort is me being unsure of myself, so I'll be working on that.

I know I have a long road stretched out in front of me and I can occasionally glimpse the many lessons waiting along it, but I am content to take one step at a time and let Deity choose when I'm ready to move on.  Instead of rushing through life, pushing and fretting and trying to "get things right" I am learning to appreciate where I am and the lesson I am learning now.  I don't always get it right.  I get tired, busy, cranky, or slide back into my old patterns of cynicism and anger, but it's getting easier to stay on this track.   I think now my personal philosophy is something like this: Worry is fear, fear is the opposite of love, live in love; people are human and so am I, don't judge; there is no one true way; everyone has something to teach, everyone has something to learn; and take one day at a time and let Deity worry about the rest.  I will be forever grateful to Jeffery for starting Old Ways and sharing his path with us.  I believe it provided the catalyst for huge, positive, life changing lessons for me, and I hope it has led to me being a much better, happier, kinder person than I was in the past. Be Blessed friends -=)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


My oldest daughter and I have been recently discussing the concept of beauty.  She is 13, a dangerous age for girls in our society. In a time when age is dismissed and everyone visibly "famous" is cutting, shaving, dieting, dying, painting, and otherwise distorting themselves (and if they can't do it in real life they can photo shop their images later) trying to convey the concept of true beauty can be a daunting task.

As my daughter and I have been discussing, debating, and generally hashing over this topic I began to remember a story I had read once "The most beautiful woman in the world".  I couldn't find the version I read years ago, the closest I came was a version from Russia, but that wasn't what I remembered.  So I decided to write what I could remember.  And here it is.

Once upon a time, in ancient China, there lived a woman and her little son.  One morning after breakfast she and her child set out to go work in the fields.  As the woman had no husband she was forced to do the heavy work herself.  As she began working she cautioned her son to stay close where she could see him.  The son, being an adventurous, curious child, soon found himself hopelessly lost and began to cry.

A wealthy eunuch came hurrying by on his way to the palace.  "My dear little boy!" he said "why are you crying on such a beautiful day?"

 "I have lost my mother," the little boy wailed "can you help me find her?"

"Of course I will help you," the old man replied "what is her name and what does she look like?"

"Her name is Mother, and she is the most beautiful woman in the world" was the answer.

The eunuch only had to think a short moment before he exclaimed "The most beautiful woman in the world is our beloved Empress Wu, you must come with me right away."  He grabbed the little boys hand and led him swiftly into a large city.

After several hours of meeting one fancily dressed man after another the little boy was becoming tired, hungry, and cranky.  He missed his nap, he missed his afternoon bowl of rice, and most of all he missed his mother.  Finally, after being dragged into yet another bewilderingly ornate room with yet another important looking man he sat down on the floor and began to sob.  As the men wrangled in the corner (it was not easy to get an audience with the empress), his sobs grew louder and louder.  So loud, in fact that the Empress Wu herself heard him and came to investigate.

"Empress!" the men in the room gasped, and immediately threw themselves face down on the floor.

"Little boy why are you crying here in my palace?" the empress asked.

"Great lady I'm looking for my mother," the boy hiccuped,  "can you help me find her?"

The great Empress Wu smiled gently "what is her name and what does she look like?"

"Her name is Mother, and she is the most beautiful woman in the world" again was the answer.

The overly dressed eunuch in the corner began to babble "You see? You see why I brought him here?  Of course you, our Empress, is the most beautiful woman in the world!"

The Empress sighed, dried the little boys tears, and gently set him on his feet.  Turning to her adviser she demanded "Where did you find him?"

So the little parade set off from the palace.  First the Empress with the little, lost boy hanging on to her hand,  next her ladies and attendants, and finally a tense cluster of male advisers.  On the outskirts of the city they came upon a wild eyed, tear streaked woman who was running up the road, calling in a desperate voice for her lost, precious child.  Instantly the boy let go of the Empress hand.  "Mother, Mother!!" he shrieked and ran straight into her arms.  After a moment of kisses and crying the little boy grabbed his mother by the hand and led her proudly to the Empress Wu.  "This is my mother," he exclaimed "isn't she the most beautiful woman in the world?"

The enraged Eunuch pushed to the front of the pack.  He stared, incredulous, at the filthy, exhausted peasant woman.  She was wearing rags, her hair was uncombed and wild from her frantic search, her bare legs and HUGE! feet were streaked with mud, and her face was wrinkled and brown.  He turned to his Empress, her face pale and shaded by a dainty parasol, lightly powdered with precious pearls, her dainty hands and TINY! feet, her silk kimono and delicately embroidered slippers.  Furious he turned back to the child nestled against his mother bosom.  "You lied to me!  You made me look like a fool!" he shouted.  The Empress Wu laid a firm hand on his arm. She turned her gaze to the mother kneeling in the street.

The empress did not see the rags and dirt, the wrinkles or the large feet.  She saw the dust of honest labor, the lines of the sun, laughter, sorrow, and well earned wisdom engraved on the weary face.  She saw a sturdy body well suited to bear children and labor in the fields, and the rags were the proper attire for wading in the muddy rice patties.  "Child," she said "you are very wise for one so young, and you see beyond the surface of things.  I need advisers with your special eyes.  And you, woman, are also special to have raised such a child.  I could use a lady with such wisdom."

The empress led the boy and his mother back to her palace to live in comfort and safety for the rest of their days.

I am not beautiful in the classic sense.  I am overweight, have frizzy hair, glasses, rarely wear make-up, and have the appalling tendency to throw on sweats most days.  I think my appearance has a lot less to do with my family loving me than my actions, and I like who I am so I am content with what I look like (most days!).  I hope as time goes on I can make my daughters (and sons) understand that who and what they are matters far more than what they look like.  And I hope that my baby daughter, who is fond of stripping and running around the house shrieking "I'm naked!  I'm pretty!!" can hang on to just a tiny portion of that free spirit I love so much.

                                                    naked and pretty