Calling all heroes, it’s time to step up. At 57, I ask myself again, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I’ve always asked myself and as a result, well, became rather results oriented. The first decision I made was in sixth grade. I was going to be a foreign missionary to India and teach music. I wanted to share the gift of church music in a foreign culture. From an early age, I was fascinated with India. Through Girls in Action (or G.A.s), I learned of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two main religions in India.
Though Hinduism was confusing to me with its copious list of gods, Buddhism sounded a lot like what Jesus taught to me. I was in elementary school at the time. Because I was supposed to see the “bad” in a religion that was not Christian, I did not tell anyone that I thought it very similar to Jesus’ teachings. I wasn’t sure how I would address it when the time came but was confident that God would guide me.
I went to college to study church music and music education. A pamphlet from the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist church (where I was a member for that part of my life) pointed out the value of mission everywhere a person lived. As a result, I decided that I wanted to stay in church music in the US. I really didn’t want to be that far from my family.
Looking back, I can see that the idealist in me thought that somehow, I could play a part in saving the world. I’m using the word, “saving” in the manner more of saving a life from death than one of salvation. I was never a very good evangelist, even though I will quickly speak of all that God has done for me in this life. Free will. I want you to have it just as much as I want to have free will. Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do. You can see the challenges as you read that last sentence. The world is full of people who want to tell us the “right” way to live without any thought to the person in front of them. It always seems like we know better what is best for the other. In fact, nothing is farther from the truth.
Happiness happens when you fit with your life, when you fit so harmoniously that whatsoever you are doing is your joy. ~ Osho
We set goals that are formulated by our jobs, our faith community, or those around us never contemplating the implication our actions and choices may have on society at large. We are only a small part in the community, right? How can what I do affect the larger world? Many laughed at me when I chose idealistic paths and some may laugh at me still; calling me naive in the ways of the world.
What if those of us who are idealists are not naive, but prophetic instead? What if those who seek a common good for the world see the larger picture? What are you doing with your life? Are you living to be the best YOU that is possible? I can’t be you. I don’t have your talents, gifts, stature, power. You don’t have mine. And as small as I feel sometimes, there is always something happening in the world to remind me of the privilege I DO have. Here it must be admitted that there are times I am prone to pity parties. No one comes but me, so it’s never any fun. Then, always, God steps in and reminds me all that I do have and the blessings that have abounded in my life and I end up thankful and humble. Perhaps this is not unique to me and you too suffer in such a manner.
What we need to be reminding each other is that we are not alone? No matter what is happening in the world, we are here as presences. Presences that can change lives. When heroes are asked of their inspiration, it is almost always some humble person living a life of integrity that inspires the hero to become heroic.
Did I want to be a hero? You bet I did. At the time I wanted to be Batman. The “Robin” we grew up on was a dork. I never wanted to be a damsel in distress. Hell, I never wanted to be a damsel or a girl, though it felt better to be a woman than a girlchild; as though I had some kind of power. To be a woman is to hold power, but what kind of power? Our society is full of imagery that denigrates women and shows them as the weaker of the two genders. As many are beginning to address, gender is more fluid than a marking of genitals. Power is something that a human being fosters deep in the soul. There is power that is given because of birthright or wealth or politics, but true power is more than that.
True power comes from the center of one’s soul and is unique to each individual. When the lowly shepherd, David, was born, he was endowed with a power that God needed. This wasn’t something the parent or society gave the child or the growing boy. Yet, it was something God identified within the youngest child of Jesse. Once anointed, this small shepherd boy brought down a giant with his power. It wasn’t the power of an army or birthright, but the power of belief in his God-given abilities.
It was David’s belief in his shepherd’s ability to aim true that brought Goliath down. Saul’s entire army had been fighting against this giant with all their might. David brought the giant down with a stone because of his talent as a shepherd, not his talent as a warrior.
In our world, we have many giants we face. The giant may be a lifelong goal yet unachieved, or it may be merely a hurdle or mountain to cross in life. The political landscape of our world is in upheaval and it is unclear at times who or what to believe. Now is the time to claim your power. Now is the time that God calls upon all lowly sheepherders to embrace the goodness that you are and aim true.
Don’t try to be like someone else. David tried on Saul’s armor and it was bulky and made it hard for the young boy to maneuver. Saul could not have been David and as a result, Saul later tries to kill David out of jealousy. Perhaps we are like Saul and are older. It is time to step aside and allow the young warriors and young musicians to lead life to a better place. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have value, only that our power is shifting.
There is beauty in every moment of life. Embrace your current moment. What are you feeling now? What are your sure of NOW? Can you be kind to the person next to you? Then be kind. Can you lift up another’s spirit? Then be a light. Are you called to be a warrior when no one else is? Then choose to be a warrior with integrity.
The muses have been busy in my life. In addition to music, I’ve been busy writing. There are sketches too, but nothing I’m willing to share. For a while, it was overwhelming how fast things were coming to me. Trying to keep up with the creative flow while also trying to promote my new novel made it hard to decide where to focus for 2019.
After some time considering the next step in my writing journey, I’ve decided that I will be working on a book about dogs. The title is nothing fancy right now and so I’m not going to type it out. It may sound disappointing if you know its title is so um….not catchy.
Here is something really exciting I want you to know, however. The new book cover is going to be created by one of my favorite photographers, Pat Thomas. I met Pat while living in Sylva. Her wife bought City Lights Cafe and together they are making Sylva a fun place to be. While Bern keeps busy feeding people, Pat keeps busy encouraging dog owners and helping people find lost pets. She also helps everyone celebrate pets by sharing her artwork of pet photography. The only thing she asks is for the owners to make donations to her non-profit, Advocates for Animals in Jackson County.
Pat has started a new non-profit organization in Sylva that works to help keep pets and owners together. You can read more about her and her work in her bio. I just wanted to share the good news about her being willing to work with me. I can’t wait to show you the new book. You’re gonna love it!
Pat Thomas is passionate about all types of photography, but her love for animals motivated her to focus on pet photography. She began photographing pets through her involvement in animal rescue in Atlanta, GA, 10+ years ago and continues to contribute her photography talents here in Western North Carolina.
Pat has been supportive of many rescue organizations and has established an email communication network for pet placement, lost and found animals, upcoming pet events, etc. Extremely passionate about animals and animal welfare Pat enjoys donating her time and photography to the local rescue community. She was formerly on the board for PAWS Bryson City and has volunteered for ARF, (Jackson County Humane Society). She has also donated her time to photograph the dogs and cats at our Jackson County Animal Shelter. In addition, Pat donates her time to photograph local pet events, such as the Bark in the Park event in Sylva every year. Several times a year, Pat schedules photo shoots at different community businesses, where she takes special holiday and-or themed photos, including Valentines, Easter, summer beach photos, Halloween photos, and of course, the ever-popular holiday photos. From these proceeds, she always donates a generous percentage of her proceeds to a local rescue organization, another way she supports the rescue community.
In 2017, Pat recognized the increase in owner surrenders and abandoned animals, and decided to establish a non-profit group that would focus on pet retention, and Advocates for Animals in Jackson County was founded. Keeping pets IN the home has been the objective of this organization, by helping with pet food, unexpected vet bills, training, and fencing. AAJC has also helped with temporary boarding for domestic violence victims, and people that are temporarily homeless.
Pat enjoys doing private photo shoots on location, often at the client’s home, where the pets are most comfortable. If requested, she is happy to arrange the shoot at a local park or another location. Many people request posed shots, however, she has found some of her best photos have been the candid ones, where pets are just being themselves, and showing the personality their owners have come to love.
Telling a new friend about Beech Mountain, she mentioned it seems lonely. It’s not a lonely place here for me, but it is a quiet place. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that nature is my friend. I’ve always known that of course. The following pictures are photos of my friends and neighbors here on Beech Mountain. Why yes, I do think that trees and rocks can be friends and give us powerful messages. Hope you enjoy the walk with me and Birdie.
“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it’s beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein
Close to home
Yesterday we visited our tree friends near the condo. The rain only stopped for about thirty minutes, so the walk had to be fast.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” ~John Muir
The Longer Way
Yesterday, we walked the bottom half of our neighborhood. It’s an area close to the condo where we can walk and look for plants and animals, but I don’t have to worry about having a phone with me. Just a camera for the beauty we want to share with you.
When I awakened this morning, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. It was the clearest day we’ve had in a while. It cheered me so, I awakened Birdie and said we needed to go on a walk. Once I put my boots on, she was ready to go!
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
― George Gordon Byron
I am blessed with good friends who live around the world. The one thing that makes me thankful for social media is it empowers to me stay in contact with you and see your faces. Seeing your pictures of your lives and your families reminds me of the love you give me now and have given me in the past. My life is better because I know you and if I don’t know you, haven’t met you, may our paths cross one day. Until then:
“…I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
― Vincent van Gogh
“A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor — such is my idea of happiness.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Family Happiness
“What the world needs now, is love sweet love, that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of….”
“What the world needs now is love…” This song comes back to me as I think about a conversation with a new friend. The song puts me in the back seat of my mom’s green Monte Carlo. Dad had surprised mom one night at the church by picking us up in a new car Chevrolet had come out with. He was grinning from ear to ear as he showed it to her. Mom was mad at first because she wondered where he was. My sister and I watched as she too fell in love with the new car. Now that I
look back, I think of the love on my dad’s face as he showed mom the car in the church parking lot. At the time, I didn’t understand fully my dad’s love of cars. It was clear however that he loved my mom. From that moment on, it was my mom’s car and she loved it. We all loved that car.
The song came on the radio a couple of years later with Dionne Warwick singing it. At the time, I had been thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian or a nurse. But it was clear somehow that I didn’t want to deal with blood. Even as a kid I was religious and so I was praying about who to be when I grew up. We were driving home from church on the particular day I was asking God this question.
The sun was bright as we crossed Bear Creek. The song came on before we finished crossing the bridge. I was so struck by the message of the song that I don’t remember the turn at Bear Creek Primitive Baptist church that took us home. It is like that moment in time, in the words and phrasing of this song is forever attached to that bit of road and sunshine. “What the world needs now is love sweet love, that’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of…”
That was in 1970. Vietnam was on everyone’s mind in the worldview. As a child, I was just trying to decide who I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I didn’t want to deal with blood (or pet snakes), I knew that I could choose love. Something in my being knew that I would be able to be a loving and kind person. Of course, as a child, love always begets love. Loving actions ideally spread more love. That was my hope as a child. That’s what I thought then.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child;
when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.*
Life is a teacher. We can say that life is a harsh teacher and that would be true to a certain extent. Perhaps it is truer still to state that life is an honest teacher. Any illusions we might have of the way we humans think life should be are destroyed and we are faced with the reality of the life that is here and now.
At the time that I heard that song, I was sad about war. As a child, it had gone on for my entire life and it felt like it would never end. Even as I write this, I remember how it felt to think of a world forever at war and choosing war over love. When Vietnam ended, then began the suspicion of Russia. As a kid, we were some of the children who practiced hiding under our desks in case of a bomb being dropped on the aluminum plant in a nearby town. What is the power of a fifth grader’s love when compared to an atomic bomb?
That didn’t stop me from believing in the power of love, however. Ever the idealist, my goal in life then became to write or sing music that would change people’s hearts to hearts of love. With each life challenge, I only became more determined to live a life of love. There are some advantages to being born into a family of stubborn people. I was unwilling to give up on the power of love to change human hearts. I still am.
What the World Needs Now
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone. Lord, we don’t need another mountain,
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last until the end of timeWhat the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyoneLord, we don’t need another meadow,
There are corn fields and wheat fields enough to grow,
There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine,
Oh listen, Lord, if you want to know What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some, oh but just for every…every everyone.
Writer(s): BACHARACH BURT F, DAVID HAL
Fifty years later, I am more realistic about the understanding of humanity’s workings. Wars have come and gone. Our world is in an upheaval again though. Yet, love remains. I could add to that that love has come and gone. It would be more accurate to say romances have come and gone. For, wherever there was love, I still carry that with me in my heart and soul. Real love forever changes the beloved one.
Recently, I’ve gotten into a conversation with different friends about romance. After my recent divorce, I made the decision to give up on romance. My friends discourage this of course by saying I am a loving person who deserves love. I agree that I deserve love, it’s just that I tire of broken relationships with a beloved. Perhaps I’m not good at romance and I just need to accept that.
As I talked with my counselor about the loss of relationship with my wife, I would talk about how she is the love of my life. He always added, “…up until now.” It was quite annoying. It was annoying because I was trying to explain why I didn’t want my marriage to end. His point was that by her asking for the divorce, the relationship was already over. The hard thing about counseling is to be faced with the truth and being willing to work to accept that truth. I finally told him, okay so my marriage is over. I was adamant that I would never choose romance again.
One of the other things life teaches us is that “never” is a long time. When one has a heart that is born to love, can any of us give up on romance? When a person is an artist, musician, or creative of any sort, can one give up on romance? My friend who has been married for over twenty years states that these type of relationships aren’t about romance, but about doing dirty laundry.
I get her point. One of the best things I loved about my marriage is that my wife and I could argue and work things out…or so I thought. We dealt with a lot of hard things with our families and jobs. My dad died. We lost beloved pets. Got through the wildfires of Western NC. We were staying the course, but somewhere we lost our romance. Or somewhere we lost each other…
In the past year, as I have sought to live a good life as a single person again, it has been a year of dread sometimes. Dread because I thought I was settled in Sylva. Dread because while I am fine living alone, I never really wanted the life of a true solitary. I have to admit to myself that I wanted the life of a hermit who lived with another hermit. That is contradictory of course. Life clarifies and showed me that this religious introvert that I have merely wanted a life with another introvert. I’m questioning everything here.
In any human relationship, whether it has a romantic interest or not, there will be challenges. We, humans, have the ability to muck up a lot of good things. It’s the reason so many religions tell us we need God. I keep arguing with God that love needs to be easier or that if we do choose to love, that there is some way that it lasts.
I know that a lot of my pondering has to do with trying to understand why my marriage failed. Only time will reveal the answer or maybe I just have to learn to live into the question again. The challenge is that I want to love better and learn from my mistakes. Does this mean I want romance in my life again? The dread returns. Dread because I’ve been there and done that. Part of me says forget it.
Another part of me is intrigued by romance. I will admit to liking romance, but in a very different way than romance novels present. The truth is I am a bit intense. My wife and I were good together for that reason. I dread because I don’t want to lose her forever. I dread having to go through the “getting to know you” process all over again with a new person. I dread because I don’t want to face rejection over and over again. Now, added to being a religious lesbian, I am also disabled and fifty-seven. That line right there seems enough to give up on romance.
Yet, my heart excites over the romance of two cops in a show called The Republic of Doyle. The chemistry between the two characters feeds something that my heart longs for. Is it romance? If so, what do I consider romance? Also, how in the heck does one find it and keep it?
In talking with my married friend, I talked about how I felt it important to keep the romance of a relationship alive. I’m not the only one who thinks this. It’s why we often hear of couples having “date night” even though they have been married. Is it okay to become so accustomed to each other that an official “date night” isn’t needed? In looking at my parents’ long marriage, I thought it possible. But then, how do we keep from taking the other for granted? Again, I ask God why make love so challenging?
A new friend shared this with me yesterday:
Romantic relationships are based on expectations and responsibilities. Professional relationships are based on gains and losses. But friendship is based on smiles and laughter. ~Brenda
I found this very thought-provoking. True in many ways too, but it made me ask further “what is romance” to me? As usual for me, I turn to the dictionary to look up the word’s multiple meanings. The Merriam-Webster dictionary seemed vague, so I turned to my old unabridged dictionary.
“Romance: 1 a narrative depicting heroic or marvelous achievements, colorful events or scenes, chivalrous devotion unusual or even supernatural experiences, or other matters of a kind to appeal to the imagination….”
Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Gramercy Books, 1989.
Woah. Wait. Is that what my heart is wanting? That sounds like an awful lot of drama. I like Brenda’s definition better. Though I try not to bring expectations other than the enjoyment of a person, we all bring expectations. I’ve never had a problem shouldering responsibility. A problem has been my tendency to take on too much responsibility. That can deflate a romance.
In that first definition of romance, the only part that appeals to me is “chivalrous devotion”. I think that is the part of romance that I always want to exude. Do I need it for myself though? Is that what my heart longs for or is it chemistry? In the Netflix show I’m watching, the two cops have a chemistry. Even though we are not watching a reality show, the drama shows and conveys a chemistry between the two characters, Leslie and Jake.
But does chemistry equal love? No. I learned that the hard way. Everything I’ve learned the hard way it seems. There are six more definitions of romance in the unabridged dictionary. All of them can be summarized as a tale. None of them convey what it is that my heart longs for in a personal relationship; what I had hoped to keep alive in my marriage.
I can come back around in my thought process to dread. Give up on ever having a personal relationship with another again. Maybe that is the life for me. Only time will tell. I am blessed with many good friends. Friends who have smiled and laughed with me, but who have also been my friends through the good and the bad. That is an everlasting love. Even the romances and chemistry that I’ve experienced in my life live on.
“The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love.”
Fredrick Buechner on Love
My body has the memory of tender touches and warm embraces. My body has not forgotten the love given to me by friend or lover or wife. Those memories cannot be erased as long as I live. For you see, love has been written into my life. Once I love someone, I never stop loving that person, I merely have to live without them. My heart, mind, body, and soul have this one experience that thrives in this life. That experience is love. That life is love. As long as I live, love lives on…in me and through me.
There are words to explain the basics of course, but the love I have experienced in my life is larger than the written word. One of my favorite verses of scripture is not about love, but about the limitations of words to express love:
24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:24-25 (NRSV)
As I type that quote, I wonder how many books have been written on love since that scripture was written. How many books on love have been lost before Gutenberg invented the press? How many books on love were written that are lost to fires? Love is the flame that fuels poetry, books, art, theater, and music. Is all of it just one big tall tale? Or is there some larger truth keeping love alive? This place on top of the mountain is a place “to be patient towards all that is unresolved” in my heart… at the same time, I want answers.
I have no answer in this writing. Only more questions. Though, I can’t help but think that the answer to all the questions is “love.” Love as as noun, and love as the verb. Go and be love.
The Gift of Love*
1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
*1 Corinthians 13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Though this year has been challenging in many ways, it has also been good. I’m having my own kind of pride celebration now. I’ve been blessed to have accomplished a lot of my life goals. After finishing my third book, I have been thinking about the next creative project. Do I start on book two of the series? Do I do the audiobooks I wanted to do? Or music? Music keeps playing into my heart and mind, perhaps it’s time for music to be created. But what about painting? Am I giving up on painting?
The truth I realized is that I paint when I am happy and content. Maybe that’s why people liked my paintings, they came from feeling loved and happy. It’s not that I am unhappy here on Beech Mountain, but I am still unsettled. Having lived here for almost a year, it is beginning to feel like home. I can’t say I am content, though I love the solitude.
One of the challenges I face as my art grows is how to balance the sacred and what some would call the profane of my life. I am a lesbian who is also Christian. For me, the lesbian part is as sacred as the church connected part. I have always been a religious person and I knew at an early age I was different. I didn’t know the word “lesbian” until I was older.
Once I learned the word, I can’t say I was proud of being one. Every time it was spoken during that time, it was in a condemning way or a way that sounded dirty. I wasn’t dirty or mean, just afraid. It’s only after decades of practicing saying that, “I am a lesbian” that I can say it without feeling my heart in my throat.
In today’s climate of hatred, I am cautious again. After being in a town where I was free to be who I am, I’ve felt I had to be more careful here. I didn’t know anyone on the mountain and for the longest time thought I had to be the only lesbian on the mountain. I’ve learned that I’m not, but like me, those who live here tend to keep to themselves. I’m okay with that. There is still comfort in knowing that there is someone who gets me on the mountain even if we aren’t close.
Today I decided that I wanted to write about being proud of being a lesbian. It’s taken years of prayer and good counseling to get to the place where I can be proud of who I am instead of afraid of who I am. My goal in life has always been to serve G_d and one day to find the right person for me. After my recent divorce, I may have to accept that there is not a person for me. I am okay with that for the most part. We all have our moments. But back to my topic of being proud.
Growing up, we were discouraged from being proud in a braggart way. I’m glad of that. There was, however, a pride that was a family way of being. We were hard workers. We were smart and quick learners. None of us were (or are) perfect, but all of us are good, decent people. Just because I am a lesbian doesn’t make me any less of a good, decent, person.
People have accused me of things I’ve never even thought about doing. I will state again that I am of a religious mindset. Most of my thoughts are theological or musical when I’m not worried about hurting someone’s feelings. As I age, and my activities are limited due to health challenges, my thoughts turn to quality. I want to be better at writing, playing music, drawing or painting, living. I want to be good at living. This is something I can be proud of and exclaim to the world.
I am celebrating Pride Month in my own quiet way. I can’t get to the parades. My heart and mind are focused on what is happening in our political landscape for the immigrants right now. I want to find ways that I can encourage those who are still able to physically get involved and encourage the rest of us to keep heart.
A little bit of light will go a long way. Be proud of your light whoever you are, whatever color your light casts. You matter. I matter too. The more we embrace the goodness of each being, the better our world becomes. I hope you take time to listen to the Victor Wooten song below. His song is full of the good news of life and I believe it speaks my truth. I see God in you. I see God in me.