Sunday, December 30, 2012

Internal Chatter

December 30, 2012

Dear Friends,

Gay continues to steadily improve and will join us again in blog-world next week. In a conversation today, she referred to her time away from writing as a vacation. If a vacation is what she had, sign me up for something else! She, of course, was joking. She has worked harder than ever, in a different way, to ensure her return home. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share a bit of my life, learned primarily through Gay's investment in me, with each of you. 

Last week, I was fully aware of the raw emotion and the vulnerability on my part in posting such bare portions of my inner world. I wanted to illustrate something learned from years of knowing Gay. She has given me a great gift in this phrase, "Lori, you are not alone." It has generally been followed by, something like, "I cannot tell you how many women I've heard speak those same words...." 

When a negative emotion is involved, particularly shame, silence and isolation feed the flames of destruction. Words articulated, whether verbally or in writing, help lessen the power of shame. If empathy is introduced, seedlings of change are watered. 

One precious friend who read the post and took the time to comment on Facebook and in person noted how she cried as she read it. I was so grateful that she told me why she cried. I've learned that one can never assume why a person is crying. Tears are complicated-- sad, angry, confused, often unearthing buried events of old. She said, "Lori, I was crying because of the negative chatter in your head."

I intentionally shared that internal chatter. Unspoken conversations with ourselves can be highly destructive and confusing. When I met Gay 23 years ago, I was largely unaware of the ongoing negative chatter in my head. I was even more ignorant of what power those words had in my daily life. She helped me discover the sources of some of the consistent, destructive forces--my furies. 

Do I still struggle with internal chatter? CLEARLY, yes! That said, over time, I have learned to sift and sort through lies and truth, sources and fuel. Even better, I know how to find sources of life giving, affirming replacements. 

Looking back at my chatter just before the ugly cry breakdown in my kitchen last week, did I sob because I broke the head off of the cutest yoga man cookie I'd ever made? No.

I wouldn't have known that 23 years ago, though. By following the progression of thoughts, I was able to figure out what I was really feeling at that moment. 

I was frustrated by my efforts. My plan DID NOT include adding stress to the list of possible negative feelings. Did I think I was a failure, though? No. I know I am competent and highly creative. 
Did I make a colossal mess in the kitchen? Yes. 
Can I clean well? Yes. Do I want  to clean well? NO! 
Did my 8th grade teacher give great advice about not eating frosting as you work? Yes! Why? She knew, from experience that the result is awful.

Remembering my intention helped me hone in on the core issue: do something I enjoy that connects me with others during a lonely time. My project compounded an issue. Now I was a frustrated lonely person having to fight off furies of the past. Is anyone else exhausted? 

I had a choice for my next decision that night. Leave the kitchen a mess and wallow in self pity. Which, historically involve lots of butter cream frosting and  a combination of romantic comedies and tragic films. Or listen to a loving, kind voice within my Spirit that said, "Lori, it's time for church. Change your focus."

I recognize that voice as the spirit of God in my life. 

In the past I often ran from God or rebelled against Him in response to situations I didn't understand. More importantly, I confused that negative chatter in my mind and heart with His messages to me. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God's voice never belittles or condemns. He loves me and his communication with me and to me is always based in love. Love is who He is, not simply what He does. 

By responding to His message to change my focus, I opened up my heart and mind to the supernatural. At that moment I had no real power to change my feelings of isolation and loneliness. Knowing answers didn't change my circumstances; but, because God loves perfectly and with such tenderness, I was able to enter into a place of security and comfort that only He could provide. 

The story got better as the week progressed. I am sincere when I say that I truly wasn't looking for pity or attention by writing of my frustrations and loneliness. My goal was to draw attention to the powerful combination of doing internal, emotional work and then offering your pain and concerns to God, whom I believe is more than able to meet us in that place of suffering. I knew I was only one of what surely amounts to millions of people who were alone and feeling sad during Christmas.

I'm blessed beyond measure with lots of dear friends. I know that I can invite myself into their homes and I am welcome. My plan was to be content with pretending that Christmas day was simply another Tuesday doing quiet things alone. Instead, I had two lovely, barely optional invitations for Christmas. One for lunch. One for dinner. My lunch was with a new friend and her extended family. My dinner was with friends and their extended family whom I've known for a decade. Both were filled with great stories and laughter that bonded us together in new ways. 

With fluffy white snowflakes falling outside my window that Christmas night, a rare event in Dallas, I kept thinking about this verse in scripture, 

Psalm 68:6 "God sets the lonely in families." 

Annie Beth arrived at noon on Friday and we drove to my parent's ranch just southwest of Fort Worth. The dogs and cousins all ran to greet us. We exchanged gifts, laughter, and enjoyed our feast of food. 

I will always remember my Christmas of 2012--all of it. I will, in the future keep my eyes and ears open to offer invitations to those who might, even with reluctance, need a dose of family togetherness.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you about recognizing the difference between negative internal chatter and God's spirit of loving direction in your life. See you next week."

Blessings to each of you. ~lori

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All is Wight?

December 23, 2012

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to report that Gay is home! Miss Annie is even more delighted to share her home with Gay again. It will be good for both of them to establish their regular routines and make adjustments with what might be new patterns. Your continued prayers are, as always, deeply appreciated. There will be transitions and changes for Gay over the course of the next few weeks.

 regularly read a few blogs written by people who are well known. I often agree wholeheartedly with their words, but wonder, not so privately, "Does that person really practice this idea in his or her life?" That's one of the reasons I enjoy reading Gay's blog so much. I have the great privilege of knowing her well. Although admittedly imperfect, I know that she works on being authentic and genuine with her life and faith. 

I am neither famous nor quote worthy. My last two posts, though, have been about God's presence in our lives. That said, I'd like to share a few experiences of my life with Emmanuel--God with Us--this past week.

I was aware like tinfoil on a filled tooth that once I dropped my daughter at school on Thursday morning, I wouldn't see her again until her dad returned her to my house on December 28th at noon. I accept that my choice to divorce meant both freedom and profound loss for me, for my child, and many others. Even with my full acceptance comes the reality of being without her on Christmas every other year. It's painful. I get to choose, though, what I do with that pain.

As part of my survival strategy, I planned a baking project. Not just any baking project. NO. I'd found yoga posing gingerbread men that I HAD to give to my instructors. There was no way in the world I was gonna pay $9.99 per cutter. No descendant of a depression era generation would pay that! So, I decided to MAKE the cutters as well. I couldn't decide which pose was the cutest, so I made all ten poses. I started collecting the goods about a week ago.

My Saturday afternoon included 7 feet of one inch aluminum hobby siding, six batches of gingerbread, five baking sheets, four batches of white royal frosting (three ruined, one almost right), three bandaids,  two bulging trashbags, and sing along, "One extra trip to Wal-Mart." As I took my favorite and nearly perfect plow pose gingerbread man off the cooling rack, his head remained stuck to the edge of said rack. I'd beheaded my best one! I started bawling. 

It was the full out ugly cry. 

The chatter in my head sounded something like this...
"You can't do anything right!!!
Even in trying to distract yourself by doing something to give as gifts, you just make a HUGE mess!!! 
       and they don't even look good!!! 
You've done what your cake decorating teacher in 8th grade said NOT to do all day!  ---lick the frosting off your fingers. and now you're sick to your stomach to boot! You deserve it!! 
You'll NEVER learn!!  It will take hours to clean up the mess. and you stink at cleaning....Internal pause. 
And MOST of all 

Thus the ugly cry.

I looked at the clock and it was 4:00 PM. There was enough time to put on a shirt, comb frosting out of my hair, slap on makeup, and head to church. Focused worship would be my best option. 

I attend a very large church in the Dallas area. In order to serve as many people as possible without needing a Cowboy stadium sized building, we have Saturday services. I attend regularly at 4:30. The parking lot was jammed packed. I'd forgotten until that moment that it was the Christmas Eve service. I sit by myself almost every week. It never bothers me. Christmas Eve service seems different, though. I quickly texted my dear friend to see if she and her husband and newborn would be there. Nope. 7:30 service. My heart sank and tears started clogging my ducts. I sucked them back and found one of only a few aisle seats that remained. I texted my friend again. "Should have planned better, I could just bawl. So alone.(sad face emoticon)"

The worship center was beautiful. The band included an upright bass, a cello, a viola, and a violin this week. They were playing and the large screens had moving visuals of stars and the night sky. Stunningly exquisite. I had all but stood up to sing the first Christmas carol when I could no longer hold back my tears. When the flood of tears escaped my squeezed shut eyelids, I felt slender fingers and a delicate touch on my shoulder. I turned to see a friend who had been in my small group back when Richard and I led the group together. She with such tenderness said, "Lori, we have an extra seat with our family, if you'd like to sit with us."


I know His voice and I recognize His touch. He just used precious, sensitive Julie to communicate His message.
I am WITH you, Lori. 
I KNOW alone. 
I am here. 

Isaiah 53: 3
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering.

He went to a great deal of trouble to make sure we are never alone, didn't He? He accepted responsibility for our sin, my sin so that He could make a way for us to be with Him forever. In the here and now, He also made provision for healing.

Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgression,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him
and by his wounds we are healed.

Tears of joy flowed easily throughout the remainder of that hour. It's rare that children attend our service because of our wonderful children's ministry. I laughed as the bow headed little girl in her ruffled red and green striped outfit danced in the aisle. During the next song, I saw out of my peripheral, three year old Jonathon, whom I'd just met, raise his little hand to mimic his daddy. That reminded me to stop singing. I love to hear the voices of little people. I can know something of that child by the way he sings. It makes me realize how much God must love hearing each of us. I leaned in a little closer across the aisle to hear a little boy sing Silent Night in the loudest voice he could muster. I noticed  his 'r' sounded like a 'w'. Translation would be, 

"wound young viw-iwgin mothew and child." 

When we repeated the song I realized that little boy was not saying bright. He had omitted the ' b'. He thought the word was either white or right. 

"Silent Night. Holy Night. All is calm. All is wight."

Yes. All was right at that moment on my Christmas Eve because of God's choice to be with me.

As if God hadn't communicated His message enough, He sealed it with a real hug and kiss. My doorbell rang about 7:00 PM. It was Annie Beth on the way to her church. She'd forgotten some vital accessories for her Kit doll. It couldn't have been more than a minute. It was more than enough.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you again about Emmanuel. Hoping that you too, will keep your eyes and heart open for His presence in your life. He is with us and delights in our presence as well. See you next week."

Merry Christmas friends. ~lori

PS. Here are the YogaMen that were gift worthy

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God WITH us

Dear Friends,

I spoke briefly with Gay yesterday and she sounded leagues better than when I left last Sunday. She is expected to go home at the end of this next week. She continues to gain strength in her various forms of therapy. She is very grateful for all of the love and support she has received from so many loved ones.

I'm weary this evening as I write. It's not a physical fatigue. It's that kind of soul-aching for others that makes even the simplest of tasks cumbersome. Words are not flowing because I simply cannot find a place in me that can comprehend the horrific event on Friday in Connecticut. The magnitude of one event.

I am still in shock that my mother has breast cancer--the same kind my sister had 7 years ago. I cannot believe that one of Annie Beth's best eleven year old friends has a rare disease that has caused an aneurysm in her heart. I listen as a friend tells of a funeral of a 19 year old killed in a car accident. I paused at the mall and saw hundreds of left over tags on an angel Christmas tree--representations of children who won't have anything under the tree. Then moments later saw a line zigzagging across and outside The Coach Store. Most people, I noticed were buying multiple purses that cost hundreds of dollars apiece.

Everywhere I look there is suffering. The  "most wonderful time of the year?" Who wrote that song anyway?This is one of those times when, if circumstances were different, I'd have called Gay and said, "Gay, can you help me understand?"

I've read several compassionate and comforting responses from some respected writers. I'd like to quote a prayer that Max Lucado published in The Huffington Post :

Dear Jesus,
It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.
These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.
The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?
Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.
Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.
Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.
This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.
Your Children

I join with Max Lucado and call upon Emmanuel, God with us. And in His with-ing He calls on us to partner with Him. Astonishing.

I cannot be in Denver. But, in His with-ing, God assures me that Gay is not alone. She is beloved by countless people who will, in any way possible, help. 

I do not live in Connecticut. I can ask Emmanuel to be with each person left behind--that His with-ing would be supernatural and tangible.

I cannot diminish the loss and fear that as a family we all feel for my mother. I can, however, thank God that she does not require chemotherapy. I am comforted as well that the Holy Spirit lives within Mom.

I am ineffably grateful that we serve a God that loves us so much that He came into this evil and broken world to be with us.

I also pray, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." Come take us home with you.

As Gay would say, "Thinking with you about how God is with us and how we can be an expression of His with-ing. See you next week."

Blessings to each of you. ~lori

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Comfort of Presence

December 9, 2012

Dear Friends,

This is Lori writing for Gay once again. I have the great privilege of writing at least a portion of this post as I’m comfortably seated in Gay’s room in her temporary residence at a skilled nursing facility. She is here to recuperate, gain strength, and receive physical and occupational therapy. I have been astonished at how well she has done since my arrival on Thursday.

Having worked in facilities of this kind back in another part of my life, I am in agreement with Gay that she is receiving excellent care from the kind and qualified staff.  At this point, we expect that she will remain for around two weeks. I will cover this post for her until she feels able to write once again. (Notice I said, “cover”, NO ONE can fill her shoes!)

I’ve been thinking about the idea of what it means to be fully present with someone since I was here in Denver the last time. I’m not at all clear about what I’m seeing. I’m thinking aloud with y’all. (Yes, I am a Texan.) I watched something so powerful that I was changed. It was so intimate that I felt intrusive, as though even writing of it now mars the moment. Perhaps I’ll get locked in a loony bin; but, I know it in a physical sense as well. My body knows what it’s like to simply be present by watching two sisters and a cat.

If you read Gay’s blog regularly you are familiar with her beloved cat, Miss Annie. You may not know that Miss Annie was Gay’s sister’s cat first. Miss Annie came to live in Denver when Beth moved into a long term health care facility. As an act of love, Gay adopted Miss Annie. Gay had never owned a cat and had some trepidation as to whether she could properly care for her sister’s cat-child. Gay understood cognitively it was important that her sister fully trust that Annie was receiving excellent care. Gay’s effort in the beginning was based in a deep abiding love for her only sister. She, with great wisdom, shared daily Miss Annie stories with Beth. Beth, often disoriented, coupled with knowing she was living in a strange and foreign land, would often gain clarity when Gay talked about Miss Annie. Even without clarity, it always brought joy to Beth hearing about her cat.  What began as devotion and commitment to a sister grew into a new source of love and companionship for Gay as well.

Only God.

I’m not exactly sure when Gay and Beth began Skyping each evening. By the time I arrived that Fall weekend, they had established their routine. Their daily Skyping appointment is a technological marvel that allows the distance between Kansas and Colorado almost negligible. Rather than simply telling stories about the cat, Miss Annie has become a part of the nightly conversations. At the established time, Miss Annie, lured by treats and a brush, sits in front of the computer camera and Beth gets to see her kitty cat.  Correction, their cat.

The evening I was there, Beth’s brain and her words were not synchronizing. Gay knew this early into their time together. Instead of asking Beth some series of frustrating questions, she commented only on what Beth asked or said. Most of the ten-fifteen minute call was spent in silence--Beth watching and loving her cat and her sister. Beth watching the cat eat bribery treats. Beth watching as her cat was brushed. I watched her affect of confusion and concern replaced with peace and contentment. When Miss Annie abruptly decided to end her portion of the Skype call, as all cat royalty are entitled, it was then that I experienced an even more visceral moment of presence.

I expected that the conversation would end. Pleasantries would be exchanged, plans made for tomorrow. Good night. That is not at all what happened. Instead, Beth looked directly as Gay’s image on her screen in Kansas and said, “Sister.” I immediately knew this was Beth’s preferred name for Gay. I watched Gay in two images, her profile in front of me and her image on the computer screen in a tiny corner box. Beth’s image was full screen. Both smiling, the same lovely closed lipped smile, I saw their eyes awash in brimming tears. Neither spoke--the eye contact constant.

It was a sacred moment. They cherished one another without words.

I couldn’t tell you how long it lasted. I know it was longer than I, if it had been me, could have held such an intimate space without words.

This language of the heart spoken was more powerful than words could have expressed. Words were not necessary. It was certainly more than my clumsy words can articulate. Hollywood would cue music to emphasize the beauty. Yet, I knew this moment was the music.

Miss Annie, as do other animals, helps us understand the power of wordless presence. Mary Rose O’Reilly writes in The Barn at the End of the World, “I grew up at the intersection of narrative and silence.” I believe with all my heart that God gave us animals and flowers and mountains and acorns to help us know something of His love. No words to comprehend. Yet volumes of His tender loving care for each of us to know and experience.

She writes also, “With animals, it’s safe, and pertinent, to have no edges.” Call me crazy, once again; but, Miss Annie laid the groundwork that day for boundless love, intimacy, and comfort. The curious part is that she can never, ever comprehend any of these concepts or words. She simply is.

My purpose in coming to Denver was wrapped up in one package, sort of. I came to make sure that Gay was not alone in her temporary home while Laura is out of town. I also came to love and care for Miss Annie. By loving Miss Annie, I love Gay as well.

I saw a cat wandering the care center the first day. I spoke with an administrator and was delighted Gay is in a place that understands the comfort of presence. Vaccinated pets are allowed to visit during the day. Gay wasn’t so sure it was a good idea to bring Miss Annie when I told her about my plans. I trusted my instinct and forged ahead.  In this case, pictures speak more powerfully. 

As Gay would say, “Thinking with you about the power of presence and how we make meaning in that intersection between dialogue and silence. See you next week.”

PS. Your thoughts and comments are appreciated, especially wishes of love and comfort for Gay. She needs our continued love, prayers, and support. She is a gift and a treasure.  ~lori

P.P.S.  Gay is not particularly pleased with her hair in these shots. I am reassuring her that anyone who is concerned about her hair does not read her blog....maybe that person, should, though. ; )

Miss Annie and I ran into Santa and Mrs. Claus on our way out today! She is like many toddlers and chose not to sit in Santa's lap!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Grace and more grace

Dear Friends,

This is Lori Clark writing again for Gay. Even at 81, Gay leads an active, productive life. She still sees clients and ministers to others daily. Beth's journey of slowly dying has been a source of daily concern and exhaustion, not only for those caring for her in Kansas; but, for Gay as well. Gay entered into this cold and flu season spent. What was an annoying cold progressed this past week and landed her in the hospital for a brief stay. She is home recuperating with the loving help of dear friends that had planned an annual trip to help her prepare for Christmas. Special blessings to them. A shout out of daily gratitude to Laura B. for being hands and feet and heart and brain and whatever else she can be to and for Gay. I'd ask you, as another friend of Gay to pray for continued recovery and strength for her. I will post again for Gay if she isn't up to the task next week. Blessings to all of you. ~lori