Years ago, a very good friend of mine, Linda Dashwood, told me that on my birthday I should watch for a message from the Universe. It could come from anywhere, a song, a text, a page in a book. One year, my message showed up in something I misread. It was on a sign in a gift stop. I realized quickly that I had received my message, and went back to look again, but what I’d read wasn’t what it said at all. Still, the misread words were what I needed. My friend is no longer with us, but she remains very dear to my heart. I pass along her birthday instruction often. Watch for a birthday message from the Universe.
My birthday is in May. Each year I write my new birthday message into the front of my journal, so I can be reminded of it regularly. My current message is “What Matters Most”. I’m realizing today that my birthday message must be a very important one, because I got the message twice. First, in a birthday card: “Think of all the things that mean the most to you.” Then again, more succinctly, in the preface of a book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: “What matters most.”
In the past months, my health has been what matters most. I had major preventative surgery, taking off my breasts, because I have the BRCA2 breast cancer gene mutation. My future health matters much more than having breasts. I am glad I made the decision.
Now thanks to COVID-19, the requirements of social distancing are showing us what is really important, what matters most. Health, our own, and the health of our loved ones and community, matters more than school, or church, or hockey, or music festivals. When you are going stir crazy from cabin fever, remember what matters most. Call a friend, but don’t go out for coffee. Have a cup while chatting from a distance.
What matters most is love, and love, today, means staying home.
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk out our road. Our road is a country road. In late winter, the pavement is full of holes, bumps, and frost heaves. Traffic moved slowly. The day was mild, warmer than it had been, and sunny, without a puff of breeze or a single blackfly. It was a perfect day for a walk.
As I walked, I was praying. I was feeling out of sorts, unsure of where things were going, for myself, or for anyone, really. I walked and prayed for insight, a meditative stroll. I walked until I met up with my sister and her husband. I turned to travel back with them. After I left them at the end of their driveway, I knew I had my insight, the sign I needed.
I have lived on this road most of my life. A good number of my neighbours are my siblings and relatives. Others I have known for a very long time. I walk and think about each of them. I am fortunate. In hard times, I have a ready support group, just a short walk away. I too can support them in trouble, as need be. My sign, that day, was to go slow, and remember my neighbours.
This morning, I cancelled church services and meetings until further notice, because of COVID-19. I hate to do this, but for the safety of those we love, we decided we must. My congregations will miss what Sunday morning offers them, a sense of community, sharing with friends, solidarity, and a few moments of peace in a crazy world.
This pandemic is affecting all of us. It is reminding us that everyone around the whole world is a neighbour. Six degrees of separation is all there is between us, six or fewer. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We just don’t think about it most of the time. And so, today, and for the foreseeable future, maybe, together, we will begin to go slow, and remember our neighbours. May our world right itself, but not as the same world. May our world right itself into a better version, a better version of each of us.
I love Brene Brown. I’ve read several of her books, and always delight in any videos I find. One came to me as part of an ongoing conversation of why we love church. Over and over in our conversations, the word “community” comes up. Brene Brown puts more words onto the importance of church, in part that loneliness will kill you, but she also, from her social work and research perspective, points out that we need to be in places where we can recognize that we are all one humanity, where we can sing together, and greet one another in peace.
Brene Brown is always an engaging speaker. Lots of laughs, but with such depth of sincerity and compassion, and thought-provoking insights. Take a look:
A dream from years ago surfaced in my journal this morning. It was Sept 17, 2001, the last day of the ancient Egyptian calendar. I commented that the world had not ended yet. Despite the tragedies of 9/11, we were still here, and we are still here now.
In the dream, I was in an old house, with friends, including a little one who is now a mama herself, in waking life. We were all going out for a while, and I was the last to leave. I realized the wind had come up, and some of the toys the little one had been playing with were blowing away. I went out to get them, but found very little. Much was gone. An unfamiliar man followed me out of the house, and left the yard. I went back inside with what toys I had rescued. The door was blocked after that, and the man outside looked surprised. He pulled a gun. It seemed that, rather than being a thief, stealing things, he wanted to move things in! He seemed surprised that I was there. Time passed, and I was there with children still, and again. We were expecting trouble, but felt safe.
I wrote in the margin of the page, that Fear was trying to move in. But Fear could not, because I was there. My presence blocked the door. Even when so many had left, I remained. Even when familiar things had disappeared in the wind, I was still there.
Beyond that, I did not write more about what the dream meant to me at the time. Today, reading my thoughts from the days after 9/11, I think how Fear did move in, for many, how Fear has changed how we relate to each other in the larger world and in our neighbourhoods. Fear seems to have flavoured international and political interactions. People have left the old ways, and let Fear in. How I wish we had stayed put, respecting and loving each other like we used to.
Can we somehow get back to that? Can we get back to caring for each other, caring for the children, and feeling safe?
Today is the day that I am as old as Mom was when she died. It’s been on my mind for a while, but especially this week. It is hard to imagine dying, right now, and hard to imagine my mother facing death at this age. I have so many plans for the future, so much I want to do. I wonder at what point Mom stopped planning. I wonder at what point she realized that planning was useless.
She had metastatic breast cancer for six years. Every time it came back, she fought it. But in December 1995, she didn’t want to fight anymore. My youngest brother begged her to try. It wasn’t what she wanted, but for him, she said she would. She would try. But she never got that far; the cancer was too much, too quickly filling her body, too everywhere.
So it is the day that I am as old as she was when she left us. I catch myself thinking, “This is the day Mom died.” It’s not, of course, but at times this week, the grief has been as fresh as it was in 1995. Why did Mom have to die, and I get to live? I’ve often wondered if her love for us was such that she would bargain with God; that she would take all the breast cancer so we would be free of it.
So sad to think of all this. If I wallow in it, I might drown. But I am alive! I AM ALIVE! I do have a genetic mutation in the BRCA2 gene that makes me more susceptible to breast cancer, at a risk of as much as 80%. I got this mutation from Mom. Mom never had the chance to get genetics testing. Now we have that opportunity, and I did get tested. Then came the hard choice to let go of my breasts. They are gone now, as of August 16, 2019. I chose prophylactic (preventive) mastectomies. I am cancer free, and now much less likely to get breast cancer than the general population.
This is good news! Maybe Mom would have lived a long life if she’d had the chance to get tested, and to have surgery in advance of cancer. Maybe this is the answer to my mother’s prayers. I spent the morning sad, but I am grateful now. I am grateful to be alive and cancer free. I am grateful for the chance to continue in health for a long long time. I am grateful for my mother’s prayers.
For the past two weeks I have been out of my familiar space. Instead of my usual farmland vista, I look out at a Toronto skyline. Instead of deer and coyotes, the wildlife consists of black squirrels and squirrelly grandchildren. By city standards, this part of town and this apartment building are remarkably quiet. Still, I am lonesome for home and hubby. I know that in two days, when I leave here, I will be lonesome for the little ones instead, even while relishing silence.
Sometimes I feel like I’m not a very good grandmother. My patience is short. I had two very different grandmother experiences. We lived with my paternal grandmother. Her patience was short too. I think I understand her better now. She was 67 when I was born. I know she loved us, but I remember her as stern. She taught me a lot, but she was definitely stern. I think I am like her in my grandparenting.
My mother’s mother lived an hour away. We would visit on Sunday afternoons, between morning church and evening milking. I also saw her Saturday mornings at the market. When I was five, I was allowed to stay for a week at her house. A week between Sundays.
Her house was full of cousins. I was the youngest. Cousins from two of my mother’s sisters were visiting at the same time. There were boxes of dress up clothes, and a neighbourhood of extended family. We were outside a lot, wandering and playing in a world very different from today’s Toronto. It was a very different world than my grandmother’s neighbourhood, today, for that matter. My cousins and I could safely troop up the middle of the road in 1962. I wouldn’t do that today as an adult. Such is progress.
I had so much fun that I begged to stay a second week, and Grammie said yes! I don’t remember her ever raising her voice. When I think of my Mom’s grandparenting style, I don’t remember her raising her voice either. Mom and Dad allowed us to live with them for a year while we built our house – four extra people for a year. Our house is next door to the farmhouse, so my kids could run over through the orchard any time at all. That’s patience. I need extended periods of solitude, something my mother never had. It amazes me.
So this morning I was thinking about how we have been taught to think of God, whatever God is, as Parent. If I think of God as Parent, I think of the level of patience required, and the sadness of watching Human Children make choices with uncomfortable consequences.
I also think of God inside each of us, of seeing the Biggest Big, that we call God, in each other’s eyes, including the eyes of squirrelly grandchildren. We sometimes think of God as being free to do whatever God wants. Yet God in the form of grandchildren is not free. I, as grandmother, have to curb their freedom to squeal in delight, out of deference to neighbours just through the wall, or their napping mother. I have to ensure that their bodies grow strong with real food, not marshmallows. Et cetera.
Each of us has to learn to self-limit. No one has full freedom, because we live in families and neighbourhoods. My grandgirls resist limitations. All of us do, whether it surfaces as impatience in traffic, or the normal struggles of getting little people into bed. So I was thinking of the Biggest-Big-as-Parent self-limiting to allow Human Children freedom to live and learn, while we push against the rules of biology, for example. None of us can stay awake forever.
But what about God as Grandchild? Perhaps God as Grandchild is about love. No matter how stern I have to be, my girlies still want cuddles and story time. They forgive my impatience and somewhat arbitrary rules again and again. In myself and my granddaughters I see exasperation, and wonder at the infinite exasperation of the Biggest-Big that we call God. Infinite exasperation. Infinite love. Infinite patience. And I am amazed.
It used to be that I hated housework. I did it, well enough, but I never enjoyed it. Then something shifted in December. Keeping things tidy became a holy task.
A couple of years or so ago, I determined that my home would be a holy place, a sanctuary. But it was more of an idea than a practice, something that I must have thought would occur through the power of intention. If my attention lapsed, so did the intention. Now that is different.
I do my household tasks as a meditation, calmly, prayerfully. Now, I have to say, these prayers aren’t word prayers. Instead, the prayerfulness is more a sense of Presence and Companionship. The Holy surrounds me. The Holy fills me with each breath.
Holy Sanctuary is not just inside my home. This morning my tasks included taking out recyclables and compost. I discovered that yesterday’s ice storm made for easy passage to the compost pile. (While I was out, the plow truck scraped 2 inch thick chunks of ice off our road.) The ice held my weight well enough that I took a walk to my Holy Hill, footprints showing in the skiff of snow on the surface.
On my Holy Hill, my prayers had words. May the powers of the Universe come into this Earth under my feet, into the water deep below, and out to the world. May the powers of the Universe cleanse and renew this planet. May the Spirit of Earth and Sky, and the four directions, protect me and my land.
I don’t feel my age. Some people say they feel 90, but I feel like 30 something, younger than my daughter. How does that happen? It’s good to feel younger than my years, but sometimes lately I get stopped up. Like the other day when my daughter took a picture of me with my beautiful granddaughter Anna. (Sorry, I’m not sharing her sweet face, just my own.) I was having fun, as you can probably surmise from the photo on the left, but gracious! I have grey hair! I thought maybe makeup would help, and maybe it does. I’ll let you decide.
I know it is inevitable to get grey hair, and other such changes, and I’ve decided I will be my natural self without colouring. Well, I’ve done purple before, and may again. There are other changes that you can’t see, like the sweet little red polka dots that seem to sprout up all over me. I feel like a banana, with all these spots. Bananas, in my opinion, are most delicious when well spotted. So I am getting more delicious all the time.
This morning I read Philippians 3:20 and 21, and it spoke to me in a different way.
“We are citizens of heaven, exiles on earth waiting eagerly for a Liberator, our Lord Jesus the Anointed, to come andtransform these humble, earthly bodies into the form of His glorious body by the same power that brings all things under His control.”The Voice
What if this is what aging is, the transforming of our humble bodies into a glorious spiritual body? It’s a work in progress. Our younger bodies may be lithe and seemingly physically perfect, but what if our real bodies are what is yet to come? And this delicious banana ripening stage is part of the glorious process? It’s all under control. It’s all good.
Today I am officially retired from my career in private practice psychology. Auspicious to close that door on the last day of a decade. I have been essentially retired so long that I forgot this aspect of the date until someone reminded me. Then I needed to mark the day in some way.
I chose to burn things. I wished I had a bonfire, but a New Year’s Eve snowstorm kept me indoors. I burned things in my woodstove instead. Although my husband disapproved of ash buildup, the burning satisfied the need for ritual.
In my search for appropriate burnables, I discovered printouts of old Dream Bringer’s Studio webpages. THOSE did not go into the fire. Perfect timing for reconnecting to that part of myself that had been tucked away.
I have to disagree with one friend who says I will always be a psychologist. That is a term I can no longer apply to myself, a legislated term only used by appropriately trained and approved people who pay their dues. For me, somehow, psychology was only a job. I think I was always a pastor, my true calling, flavoured by a Dream Bringer soul. Psychology paid the bills until life lined up. Now that door is closed. On this side of the door, I have a heart full of experience, wisdom, and ideas.
Today, the first day of 2020, is lit with clear blue skies and pristine sparkling snow. I am excited. 🤸♂️🎉🤸♂️🎉🤸♂️