Who are you going to trust?

Years ago – actually fifteen now – I had a freakish medical event that caused bleeding in my stomach.  Truly, I was at death’s door over an inexplicable event! Tens of thousands of dollars later (NO kidding!!) and a staph infection from the hospital, medicines that puffed me up like a toad and threw me into a darkness that was hard to shake – modern medical science simply couldn’t explain what happened!  I did not have a disease; I had an “episode!”  Most likely it was some sort of ruptured blood vessel that went nuts; but let me tell you, there was no stone left unturned as my array of doctors tried desperately to label me with everything from vasculitis to Lupus!

But this isn’t about that, per se.  This is about what happened afterwards.  My confidence in traditional medicine was shaken to my core.  Whoa!!  I’m not saying for a minute that modern science and technology aren’t valid and necessary.  Miracles happen everyday for millions of people, lives have been saved or changed by the Spirit-led inspiration and genius humankind has been blessed with!  It’s just that somewhere along the way, many people have turned over their personal power and innate wisdom to doctors, pharmaceuticals – even insurance companies who become nothing more than fear-mongers!

Shortly after the “event” was settled, my personal course changed profoundly.  Treating myself to a wonderful massage one afternoon, a conversation with the technician led me to a “Wise Woman,” steeped in experience with Iridology (reading the body’s roadmap clearly evident in one’s eyes) and a master herbalist.  With a philosophy of a holistic approach to health care – the recognition that the state of our health is a combination of body, mind and spirit, R (as I’ll refer to her) has gently and accurately led me to a place that “with God as my helper,” I’ve learned to trust my instincts – my intuition – listen to the information available to me (and to you) to guide the manner and methods of my health care.  When a problem is identified, the most natural means of healing should be the first choice.  Traditional medical treatments (valid as they are) – should be the last recourse. These can, and should work together to bring to fruition a quality of life we all strive for!

All this being said, I “do” have Medicare – and a supplement insurance policy.  Non-traditional health care can work wonders; but if you break you leg in a car accident, it can’t set the bone!  It would be foolish, at my age, not to take advantage of the coverage at my disposal.  So, when my new supplemental plan required I have a “named physician,” I sought out someone in their HMO system who would take a “new” Medicare patient.

After making an appointment (and waiting in the examination room for over an hour), a young man of Asian descent came briskly into the room with a condescending attitude I didn’t expect .  Apparently he’d read the information I’d given to his nurse about my preferred health care regimen; the fact that I took NO prescription medications, that I had not opted for a flu shot, pneumonia shot, shingle vaccination – never once asking me “why;” just assuming I was ignorant ..or afraid of needles!!  Somehow, when I saw him, I’d hoped that by his “Eastern heritage” alone, he’d have some insight into my choices.  Clearly, he did not!  No amount of respectful dialogue on my part could change his indifference – if not “disdain” for me.  And “this” what my official Health Care Provider is supposed to look like???

Someone incredibly dear to me has been told by the medical establishment that the unbelievable pain she is suffering from is, at this point, incurable.  It will take her life.  Soon …too soon for all of us who love her deeply.  IF she’d subject herself to an onslaught of extreme treatments and medications, she could most likely extend her life – perhaps by as much as a year.  Her choice was to either endure the ravishes of radical medical science – and see her darling children and friends literally suffer through this with her; or, in a brazen act of courage, opt to live out her days with some modicum of control of how she – and God – will choose what her “end” will look like.  Even though she may argue with me, C is one of the bravest, most unselfish, most courageous people I’ve ever had the privilege to know.  In her case, traditional medicine – ultimately – has hit the wall.  Ah …but in her case …she will learn to open up her entire being to the safety God’s presence, ultimately and alone, can provide.

So, who am I going I trust?  I’m going to trust ..myself.  I will trust that with insight, and education, and experience – with heart, mind, and a realistic awareness of my body and spirit – true health is possible.  I will trust that life “spirals” – it doesn’t run on a flat road with every answer found in a text-book.  I will trust that I’ve been given a gift to understand that sometimes life needs all the “letters in the alphabet” to write the story of what it means to be truly healthy.  Sometimes I will need the words of a Wise Woman ..sometimes the words of an arrogant doctor …sometimes the words of a brave heart.  So …who are you going to trust?

Once upon a time (just last night) …

Once upon a time (just last night – Christmas Eve), in a land far, far away (about 35 miles from my home) … I saw God!

It started out like many holiday gatherings; one that has it’s usual assortment of aunts and uncles and cousins and, in our case, a healthy smattering of friends who may not share our “blood line,” but who never the less belong with us – and to us.  Our clan has grown seemingly over night, with several of us now elevated to “greatness,” as in great-grandmother and great-aunt.  The children showed off their children, who in turn showed off their new husbands and boyfriends.  Babies bounced from lap to lap and toddlers were given free reign to run and explore.  Little boys who were just children a minute ago somehow became teenagers when we weren’t looking.  Little girls who once huddled together in their own cliques away from the adults were now adults themselves, sharing stories of their careers and goals, their successes and struggles, seeing each other with the new eyes of maturity.  And of course a “new” crop of little girls are waiting in the wings to take up where the now 20-something cousins left off.

We had other guests this year as well; uninvited guests who profoundly made their presence known.  Illness, absence, traumatic events, our limited mortality sat right down at the table as if they belonged.  You know you can’t avoid these “party crashers,” so you may as well scoot over and make room for them. They are, after all, the harbingers of what the circle brings – life, death, then life again as we make our way through.  They can truly be harsh, but as strange as it may sound, for once I saw that they’d brought an incredibly special gift with them.  Their “present” was the present ..clearly understanding how now – in this present moment we have the chance to hug and kiss and laugh and joke and eat and drink together – knowing full well we won’t look the same next year.  It’s not that we don’t “want” to, but because it just doesn’t work that way.  We can never re-create the special moment of right now.  Nothing stands in freeze-frame except photographs.  Life will undulate; its pitch will increase and decrease without a care of what we want – how much we want things to stay the way they are and never ever change.

Perhaps it’s my age.  Perhaps it’s because I’m further down the road which gives one a unique perspective (if one “chooses” to see) that made me realize that as I embraced my family, both in welcome – then in goodbye, it was actually “God” hugging me.  It was God’s warmth radiating to me and through me, extending to such a depth of love that it had to be a much more numinous exchange than I could ever conjure up on my own.  Yes, that was surely “God-with-us” this Christmas Eve.  That was surely what this holiday is all about – what all the church services, and Christmas carols and nativity scenes and other gestures of affection try to convey – but so often miss the mark.

Recognizing this present in the present is surely the only way we can every end the story with:  “…and they all lived happily ever after.

Emmanuel                                                                                                                    (Breviary, O Antiphons)

“You have come near, God-with-us.                                                                                   Not only made your home among us,                                                                                 You have come to dwell within us,                                                                                     Making of our heart a habitat of divinity.”                                                                              …Joyce Rupp

Advent … I finally get it!

The Season of Advent, by definition, is the four week period that proceeds Christmas.  A time of preparation. A time of expectation of the coming of something extremely important.  Something is about to happen that will be magical and exciting and give us meaning to our lives. In an effort to reenact this mystery, many of us have gone off the deep end and have fallen prey to the illusion that the way to manifest this “spirit” is by planting ourselves firmly in the trenches of materialism that has hypnotized us into believing we can “buy” our way into the circle.

It’s interesting that at this “pre-Christmas” time, most everyone I know insists they do NOT want to be sucked into the consumerism-frenzy that seems to hold us all captive this time of year.  However, those same “most everyone I know” people still fall into the spell!  And I’m no exception!  The announcement has been made to my family:  gifts are to be given to children only! My arbitrary definition of children being that group of individuals currently falling in the ages of infancy through all school agers – and ceasing at graduation (the longer they go to school …the longer they can stay on the list!).

Well, that sounds fine – except when our precious grandchildren …without warning or our consent …have grown up – have taken their places as young adults – found their way into the “working world” and have started a laundry list of their own hopes and dreams that could really use a helping hand now and again from a generous Nana!!  But hey: a rule’s a rule, right?  And it’s just as much to ease the burden to “them” of not having to spend their limited funds on buying “us” presents in return. What to do?  Ah ..I have it!  I’ll send a gift card marked explicitly “THIS IS NOT A CHRISTMAS GIFT!!  YOU’RE GETTING COOKIES FOR CHRISTMAS” and pasting it inside a holiday card sent to his make-shift bachelor pad.  Or painting pictures or buying candles for her new apartment to be given far enough in advance to keep a safe distance from “the day!”

What IS IT about “gift giving” that has such an allure?  Nine times out of ten it has less to do with the item purchased than the hope that what is given will assure some sort of appreciation or affection from the donee toward the donor.  In the case of family, of course we want them to be happy, and know how much we love them – making it a cinch they will continue to love us in return.  In the case of those “obligatory” gifts (the boss, the co-workers, our priest), it’s just as much a case of wanting to be included, like all the rest, in the circle of folks labeled as “thoughtful” and worthy of attention or recognition.  Think about it.  Even if it’s a gift card to our hair-dresser or local bartender or any other “service provider” we encounter on a regular basis, is it any more to show our appreciation than our wanting them to continue thinking we’re their most awesome customers?

Wait a minute here!  That sounds awfully cynical coming from a Pollyanna like myself – so quick…let me get to the point.  Bottom line, gift exchanging is all about expectation – the anticipation of something to come that will make us feel loved and accepted and that some sort of mysterious windfall is just around the corner.  If buying a tin of carmel popcorn for our neighbor across the street will get this party going – so be it!  What in the world is wrong with being inspired by all the twinkling lights, the nostalgic music, the smell of the Christmas tree to be generous and loving and excited that we’re on the verge of something magical?

Of course, now my personal challenge becomes how to relish this season without compromising my adherence to simplicity and aversion to consumerism!  Perhaps giving of “myself” in the form of simple gestures of handwritten notes, my physical presence to someone who may feel lonely or estranged, or actual human conversation on the phone to someone who might really miss me …what better present could that be?  The return may not be as immediate as a wrapped package, but undoubtedly more long-lasting – maybe even “eternal!”  Hmmm ..that sort of smacks of something much larger than my pea-brain could ever think up on its own.  Maybe that’s a gift for me!

The grandest “gift-exchange” in the history of humankind will soon be commemorated, celebrated, and honored by myriads of individuals who believe that on that day thousands of years ago, “Love” became flesh.  Love, that was wrapped in a blanket – not a bow.  Love, that was given so that we would know how to love in return.  Love, that would appreciate and respect us, so that we would know what it feels like to play it forward – not in some convoluted way of trying to rack up brownie points, or going into credit card oblivion; but in the manner in which it was given: in warmth, in simplicity, with its “own” expectation to have the love and respect returned to the Donor.  What a beautiful “circle” to dance in!!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a “blessed life!”

My Favorite Jackass …

See – you’re mind is automatically thinking the worse!  No, I’m not talking about the “human” kind; I’m referring to the most lovable little gray donkey I’ve ever had the privilege to meet.  Okay, so he’s actually the “first” donkey I’ve ever been around, but honestly had no idea an animal like this would ever pull at my heart like he does.  Of course Georgie (sweetest little fat Dachshund you could ever know) will always be my constant companion; yet our circle does seem to be widening to include this “larger” specimen he’s yet to figure out!

We came across him quite by accident actually.  On one of our morning walks around the neighborhood, we passed a tree-lined stretch of fence that was at the back of one of the larger homes in the area.  Who would have expected to see a donkey living in the middle of town??  Guess that’s why the surprise was so genuine!

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Life can do that to you sometimes though; throwing a curve that can snap you to attention. Very often that jolt is unpleasant ..like a “consequence” for something left undone; feeling a loss or guilt for living a life full of distractions.  I’m just so thankful that this time it was one of those child-like moments when you know you’ve found a treasure!  It felt like I came across someone I used to know ..someone whom I’ve missed ..someone who was just as glad to see me as I was to see him!

Now I have to tell you ..I’m not the ONLY one who knows about this donkey.  I found this out when I gleefully posted on Facebook about my discovery and mentioned that I was going to name him Jack.  A couple of my previous co-workers replied that they knew all about him – and that his name was something like Robert or Stephen(?).  Tricksters as they are (and have always been) I smelled a rat and decided to keep calling him Jack.  But then, a good friend (who was actually vacationing in France at the time) saw the post and replied that she, too, knew about this donkey and his owner …and his name!  And his name is Charlie.

Charlie.  That was my father’s name.  My father who died just eleven weeks after my 18th birthday.  The man I never really got to know.  I don’t think any person knows their parents as “people” until they are adults themselves.  OH GOSH!!  I’m not trying to compare Charlie ..with Charlie!!  But what I am trying to say is that there IS a spirit that wafts through this world that has a story to tell us …if we’ll just pay attention.

I never got to hear my daddy’s stories; but let me tell you one of Charlie the “donkey’s” stories.  His story is about having patienceas strangers and small chubby dog run up to his fence; about being calm – not over-reacting …when eager hands reach through the wire to scratch his nose and ears; about taking simple strides and slow breaths …when approaching things that are uncertain (what are these strangers up to?);  about staying in the moment and enjoying the simplicity of lifelike licking the hands of new friends, and nibbling the gift of a carrot or sugar cube.

Might this be daddy’s story too – the one he never got to tell me?  To meet life with a sense of patience and calm.  Don’t over-react when new things come your way; approach each opportunity with slow, steady steps.  Take a deep breath in dealing with the people and circumstances as they show up; appreciate them for what they are right now – messengers and teachers.  Don’t try to rush into the future, because it doesn’t exist yet.  Stay in the moment.  Enjoy each precious encounter as it saunters and brays up to the boundaries of your life.  This simplicity will be your joy.

Yes, I think that’s exactly what daddy would have said.  Wish I’d have heard this when I was young; but perhaps I wasn’t ready to hear it until now.   And to think …I saw all this in the soft charcoal eyes of a little gray donkey named Charlie.

Charlie with his ball.

Charlie with his ball.

I’ve been on an adventure …. (Part 8 of 8)

We’re fast approaching the end of our 3,200 mile road trip.  Last stop: Santa Fe ..

…Day 8 Destination:  Santa Fe, New Mexico:  Our final destination before home.  I’d been looking forward to this place the most since the trip began.  I first visited here some 23 years ago; but like anything you build up in your memory, its reality is often diminished when you try to relive a great experience.

The throngs of tourists (not to be confused with “travelers” ..there’s a difference you know!), cameras around their necks, maps in their hands, money “jumping” out of their wallets to pay exorbitant prices in the row-after-row of shops and stalls selling silver jewelry, pottery, and art.  If you just wanted to “see” the art, each museum also had their hand out requiring high prices for admission. Justified maybe, but still outrageous fees.

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Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of this!  Why, most of my life, I’ve loved to shop ..to fill my house with lovely things, my closet with shoes and cute purses, my jewelry box with beautiful necklaces and fun earrings.  And that was fine, until I realized that, for me, all the accumulation …all the “money” I’d spent in an effort to make myself feel happy and secure and attractive ..was so far off the mark.

Again, Santa Fe is a great tourist city with much to offer; it’s just that at my personal “bend in the road,” it’s a bit lack-luster; a sad reminder of how I used to be before I understood the treasure of living a more simple life.  Living simply certainly doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life; but it “does” mean that you don’t require  them to be content.  Living simply allows your fist to unclench and realize that all the grasping is so unnecessary.  It’s such a relief.  If only I’d understood it years ago.  Ah ..but that’s one of the perks of growing older:  you have the opportunity to learn the lesson – and still have life left to enjoy the transformation!

As I said, this was the final destination of our trip; but with still one more day scheduled for Santa Fe, we decided we’d had enough and were ready to head home.  Unable to sleep, we were up at 3:30 a.m.  We packed our bags (for the umpteenth time) and tiptoed out of our last AirBnB trying not to disturb anyone, and made our way toward the highway that would eventually (12 hours later) lead us home.

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Home:  our house – our bed – our shower.  Home:  plants to be watered – bird-feeders to fill.  Home:  groceries to buy, meals to prepare, laundry to be done.  Home:  family to see and hug, friends to laugh and talk with.  Home:  where I sit in this green chair, sipping my morning coffee, reading my books, conversing with God, pouring out my thoughts in these blogs (with Georgie asleep at my feet) ..absolutely thankful for the abundance of my life.

Thank you for the pleasure of your company along this journey.  As much as I love to travel – and I “really” do – I realize the truth expressed in this final quote from Phil Cousineau …“When the scales of laziness fall over our eyes and we have begun to take life for granted, we must take an arduous journey to relearn the essential truths of life right before our eyes.”

I’ve been on an adventure …. (Part 7 of 8)

Heading in a southerly direction, we’re on the “sunset” side of this trip.

…Day 7 Destination:  Salido, Colorado:  Not too long a drive today (only about 4 hours) ..but we “did” take the interstate.  We both had had enough of the narrow twists and steep drop-offs of the mountain roads.  Anyway, going this way you still have gorgeous views, steep grades, and sharp turns …BUT with guard rails and shoulders for protection!!

Next stop on our journey was Salido, Colorado – a beautiful little town with shops, restaurants, and  MANY bike shops!  Unfortunately, being a Monday, most places were closed.  We wandered the streets until time to meet our next AirBnB hosts, John and Marilyn.  John and W made fast friends (Vietnam era military) so their combined stories occupied much of our initial visit.  John suggested several places for dinner, so off we went again to town.

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Salido is the location of the headwaters of the Arkansas River, which runs through the town.  It provided the perfect “dessert” for our dinner at a local eatery.  Interestingly, this town is full of dogs!  They’re everywhere – on the street, in the shops …but they’re NOT allowed in the park!  Go figure that one!

Arriving back at the house we met Marilyn – a retired nurse who is still working.  She was delightful, and their home was warm and inviting – just like the two of them.  Marilyn is one of those women who seems to be energized by helping people.  There are some people who have a career …and others who have a vocation. Those with a vocation seem to never retire because their work is an extension of who they are, their passion, their purpose.  When those things culminate into an extension of God’s love to others – even if that’s not the initial intent of the person – it is a beautiful thing to see.

As we were loading up the car, W said to John that this AirBnB business should help give them a bit of extra cash.  John said “We don’t do it for the money.  We do it because we love meeting people.”  We’ll leave Colorado, and Marilyn, and John with a peaceful feeling that there are many good, kind people in the world just waiting to make our acquaintance.

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.. Finally, to Santa Fe and our last stop.

I’ve been on an adventure …. (Parts 5 & 6 of 8)

Hope you’ve enjoyed traveling with me so far.  Here’s what happened next! ..

Day 5- Destination: Estes Park & Loveland, Colorado:  The drive up Hwy. 119 was beautiful, but sometimes I think we ask too much of our little 4-cylinder Cube.  Her engine sounded like it was revving up for a lift-off, and only settled down when we finally would come to a semi-flat stretch of road.

When we finally reached Estes Park, there were so many people parked on the side of the road, we couldn’t believe it!  And they were all walking toward something ..which turned out to be the Annual Elk Festival.  What a Saturday to land in this place!  Literally, you couldn’t “stir them with a stick,” and certainly not what we’d envisioned.  It took us 30 minutes to turn around and head on to Loveland, where we’d stay for the next two nights.

We tried to eat at a restaurant at the edge of town, but finally walked out after never even being acknowledged by the wait-staff (who clearly saw us).  In truth, they were so totally overwhelmed with customers they really weren’t interested in our business.  If I were in there shoes, I probably would have felt the same, but hopefully would have been nicer about it.

As we continued, now on Hwy. 34, we drove along a beautiful winding road next to the river (so many of them I can’t remember all their names!).  Making one of the final turns to our next AirBnB, we came across a Biker Bar (FINALLY, W felt right at home!!), that had friendly people, great hamburgers, and ice cold beer.  Leaving there refreshed, we topped the next mountain to set eyes on a spectacular lake (Lake Carter), with sail boats skimming the shimmering water.

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Turning off on a narrow, bumpy road, we wound our way to the house.  Large and roomy – our place in the basement had a private entrance, and looked out on a cozy, well-tended back yard.  The owners, Lynn & Barry, were friendly ..and had obviously done this many times before.  Barry gave us a “list” of so many places to see that the average traveler driving down the road would probably overlook.  Couldn’t have asked for a better “Cruise Director!”

..Day 6 …still in Loveland:  Sunday morning woke us up to continued beautiful weather (very cool in the mornings and warm in the afternoons).  On Barry’s suggestion, we first headed into town to eat breakfast at Doug’s Dinner – and absolute MUST!.

Since it was very crowded, we sat at the bar, and immediately struck up a conversation with one of the local patrons who was very eager to hear about out part of Texas (and tell of his experience of 6th Street in Austin).  It just makes travel so much more interesting when you meet people who simply want to be friendly …not impress you …just a warm encounter.

Next stop was at one of the few (if not “only”) Episcopal churches we’ve passed the whole trip.  We were greeted very warmly, and informed that since this was the feast of St. Francis, there’d be a blessing of the animals.  Well …here the animals (mostly dogs) were invited into the sanctuary ..for the entire Mass!!  The sermon and all the prayers – specifically about nature and creation – were said and “sung” to the sounds of wagging tails hitting the pews, soft whines, and barking from one naughty Dachshund.  It was the holiest service I’ve ever attended!!

Then off to the other sites Barry suggested:  County Market Days in Loveland,; Old Town in Ft. Collins (20 minutes up the interstate); Horsetooth Lake; then back to Barry and Lynn’s for a  glass of wine and a 4-wheeler ride around their 40 acre property (beautiful vistas!!).

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Heading back to their house, we stopped at their son’s place, and were greeted by family and 5 or 6 dogs – all friendly and gregarious.  Horses roamed around too – but a bit more snobbish than I’d like.  Back at Barry & Lynn’s, we ended the night with a dinner of Brats (from the Market Days event where they’d volunteered), more wine, great conversation, and a “joke-off” between Barry and W (W won hands down!).  What a great day!  What a blessing to find friends you never knew existed until you take the time to “step out of your box.”

…Day 7 coming up