A Heart That Dreams

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”

― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

The night brings dreams of loss and heartbreak. Tossing and turning, it is good to get up from the sad dreams. I awaken to another rainy morning. The dog sleeps in as usual. It seems that rainy days are the loneliest days.

 

My heart has grown exponentially in the past fifteen years. From the love I had for friends and family in Sylva, great healing occurred from injuries of the past. Today, I missed them all. I missed my life, my wife, my friends, stores, roads. Grief distorts our vision, doesn’t it? As I sat to drink my coffee and begin morning devotion, I just wanted the hurt to stop. We are encouraged to

Chimes

be present to hurt and loss, but it is darn hard isn’t it? Especially in a world where we can easily anesthetize or avoid pain by becoming busy.

 

The one thing I have learned in my life is that if we avoid the pain and grief, it doesn’t go away, it just gets bigger…or more annoying. Really don’t want that to happen either. In other words, it’s better to bite the bullet and endure. Better to slog through the grief than sit down in it and drown. Even though we might be tired, we must find a way to move through grief because there is a new place waiting.

 

When I saw the quote from The Alchemist (one of my favorite books), I knew that my heart is trying to tell me something today. I’ve spent all morning listening and trying to discern what it is besides “I hurt”. Of course, part of it could be being brave enough to admit that hurt to another. We want to put on a stoic face and act like we are tough and nothing bothers us. Yet, in my life, I have been one to be more oversensitive than most. That causes a host of other challenges.

Morning Sky by JRobin Whitley ©2015

As I wrote to a friend this morning, I wondered if that is part of the dilemma of being an artist. In order to be an artist, we must be sensitized to the world around us. In order to write, sing, or paint something that moves another, we must feel the depths of life; whether it be joy or sorrow.

 

I’m watching a wonderful Netflix series about a singer from Cuba, Celia. It is a Spanish series, so one must use the subtitles unless very fluent in Spanish. I am learning Spanish, so I wanted to practice listening to native speakers in order to train my ear. This series speaks to the musician and artist in me in a language known as creative passion.

 

Tomorrow I turn 57. How I got this old this fast is hard to believe. I know that 57 is not technically “old” (unless a person is under 20). However, it means I’m further down the path of the second half of my life. The part where we walk to the end of life on this earth. I’m okay with that believe it or not. There are many joys I have at this age that I could never have imagined. I’m learning to be at peace with myself.

 

The Shepherd’s String Band from Sylva.

One of the things that hasn’t changed however is my heart and my passion to create. I mention the series, Celia, because when I watch it, my heart is young again. My heart remembers the dreams of music and singing my own heart out. The actress who plays the young Celia perfectly captures the desire and passion of a young singer wanting to merely sing.

Though my body is 57, my heart still wants to sing. Part of me wants to be brave enough to enter some competition…but I know that is only my youthful heart identifying with the actress in the movie. I’m done with competing with others. I only want to be better at being creative.

 

As I move a year closer to 60, what does my heart have to say? Truthfully, I’m not lonely here. I like the solitude. Solitude is giving me the space to write stories, poetry, letters, songs. There is space to experiment with paint. I am dancing in Zumba class as much as I can. Here in this place on top of a mountain, I am free to create. That freedom to create is healing the loss of my marriage, my hometown, and my Sylvan family. Does it mean they are forgotten or replaced? Never. Only that my life is better for having lived there. My heart is bigger because I was loved by those people in that time and place.

 

Now, I am here. My heart wants to grow as big here in Beech Mountain as it can. I may be turning 57 tomorrow, but I still want to sing, dance, pray, teach, and draw my passion for life. All of my years I’ve heard the question, “What is your passion? Music?” People assumed that because I was a musician that music was my passion. Yet, I knew that was not really my passion. Neither could I say that writing or painting was my passion. Finally, I realized (only while living in Sylva) that creativity is my passion. In the edge of the woods here, my heart speaks of another passion – life and nature.

 

Nature is life of course; life in all its wild and unpredictable manifestations. Live. I want to be good at living and loving all of creation. In order to do that and be that, it means that life will hurt. Loss happens. Whether it is a loss because it is merely time for an aged body to die or because of tragedy, the loss hurts. It is okay to hurt because it means we are alive. That doesn’t mean we have to stay in the midst of a hurtful place or situation. Only that hurt tells us something important about ourselves. Hurt shows us the places that matter to us.

As I listen to my heart this morning, here’s what I hear. People matter to me. Whether they are close friends or immigrants, I believe in the blessing that each person brings to the world. I may be aging, but dreams still matter to me too. Yes, for me, dreams of the night are symbolic and give messages. But I am not too old to dream of being creative for the rest of my life. Just because I am in a different place doesn’t mean that I have lost friendships, only the place and time. My ways of communicating and visiting with friends change, but the true friendships only grow deeper. My heart loves them more and dreams of new ways to live this glorious life. And even with all the pain and gore, life is still glorious ain’t it? I rejoice for a heart that dreams!

 

 

 

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.

Acts 2:17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

 

 

 

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Beech Mountain and a May Rain

The morning is rainy, but it is a pleasant May rain. The smells are the earthy smells of a summer rain. The birds still sing as though the sun still shone. A kettle for tea boils on the stove. The dog sleeps on the couch. Swishing sounds come through the open window as a car passes far below. The month of May moves quicker than usual it seems. Though, if I am honest with myself, so has this entire year. Not that I’ve lived on Beech Mountain an entire year yet, but if time continues to click by so fast, the anniversary of my move will be here in a flash and not a tick or a tock.

At this writing, I am pleased to have made it through my first winter in the East Coast’s highest town. The below zero temps and copious snows made it the best winter in many ways, and the worst in others. It wasn’t the worst winter I’ve lived through though. Tecumseh, OK still holds that record in my life. This winter, as I made a fire to keep pipes from freezing, I gave thanks for that winter in Tecumseh because I had learned how to keep a fire going.

The trees are finally greening out here. It seemed to take longer than when I lived in Sylva, but that is hours South of here and which means it’s much warmer. Even the Southern Appalachians got snow this year. Beech Mountain had a snow in May in 2017, so there’s still that. I’m not worried though. My Fiat made it through the winter without ever having to use the tire chains.

 

When I first traded my 4WD Rogue for the Fiat 500, my friends made fun of my choice and warned me it would always be in the shop. The joke wasn’t going to be about my car, because it is a new Fiat. They had to be thinking of the old ones. My way of debunking their joke was to change the meaning of FIAT to this, Fine In Any Terrain. I have had to replace my windshield wipers, but they did a ton of work in the short time I’ve lived here.

A view from my Fiat this winter.

Beech Mountain is a dusty place. Partly it is the fact that there are a lot of dirt roads up here. The dirt roads are well maintained, but they are still dirt. Add the wind to the mixture of elements and even if one didn’t live on a dirt road like me, dust is bound to swirl. The dirt road in Tecumseh, well, that prepared me for the worst case of anything. This dirt road near my condo seems like a dream road.

 

How can a dirt road be a dream road? First you have to know that I was raised in the country. I learned to love dirt roads growing up. The first best dirt road led to my

Parking for the Orchard Falls Hike.

Grandma and Grandpa Whitley’s farm. During the summer when things got dry, even rolling up the windows (before air conditioned cars) to keep from dust getting into the car became an adventure. Dad wouldn’t drive to fast, but he also didn’t want dirt in his cars.

 

My second favorite dirt road led down behind the house where I grew up. As kids, our parents and the Thompson family would often walk that dirt road to my Aunt Imogene’s house in the summer. There were times we rode bikes and when dad could hitch the pony to the cart, some would ride in the cart. Down that dirt road lived the Hatleys. They always had a dog that scared the daylights out of me, but they were always so nice and it was the only place I was brave enough to go sell items for school fund raisers.

My sister and I loved to ride bikes on that dirt road. Once we learned how to get past the Hatley’s dog safely, we kept that road busy. My sister and I both loved nature and bike riding. We would ride to the Bull Hill area or to Aunt Imogene’s and back. We often raced down the last part of the hill as though we were motorcyclists in some race. After my sister had a bad crash (this was before bicycle helmets), we were more cautious in the downhill races. We still loved this dirt road and took it anytime we could.

Barn – Watercolor by JRobin Whitley 2014

 

The thing I love about the dirt roads here is that in addition to being well kept, they are good for walking. As a person who is in constant pain, one of the most recommended activities for such disabilities is walking. Yet, walking on concrete or asphalt worsens the pain. In Sylva, I tried to keep physical by walking up and down our road near the house. The asphalt only aggravated the pain and there wasn’t enough of a shoulder to walk on the shoulder of a road.

 

Here on Beech Mountain, in add

Deck of the SkyBar at 5506′ Beech Mountain.

ition to copious dirt roads, there are copious trails. There are places I could still bike if I had the balance to do so. There are mountain bikers and touring bikers who travel regularly on the mountain. The Beech Mountain Resort changes the ski lift to a bike lift in the summer. This week I found a way to get up to the SkyBar so I can attend one of the Mile-High Yoga classes.

 

There are many ways I can stay active and healthy here, while also being in tune with the ways my disabilities limit me. Just because I’m disabled doesn’t mean I am dead. I keep saying that to remind myself that there is still a lot I CAN do. I’m so excited to live here as the year begins because I want to hike more trails as I can. The beauty of living here full-time means that I can hike on my good days, but on days when I must stay inside, it’s like staying in a tree-house. There are always many ways I can just BE here on the mountain in peace.

 

Falls Trail

 

Rain is falling down my chimney and hitting on something that sounds like a bell chiming. It is raining hard now, but not a downpour. The birds have tucked into their nests and houses, only chirping randomly. The clock ticks peacefully on the wall. I pick up a book and a cup of coffee. Then, as I walk past my guitar, I change my mind and decide to sing a song of the blessing of warm rain.

 

יַעֲרֹ֤ף כַּמָּטָר֙ לִקְחִ֔י תִּזַּ֥ל כַּטַּ֖ל אִמְרָתִ֑י כִּשְׂעִירִ֣ם עֲלֵי־דֶ֔שֶׁא וְכִרְבִיבִ֖ים עֲלֵי־עֵֽשֶׂב׃

May my discourse come down as rain, my speech distill as the dew, like showers on young growth, like droplets on the grass (Deut. 32:2).

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Thoughts on Being

Living alone on Beech Mountain is certainly a process of living in the now. One of the important practices in meditation is learning to just be present to the moment. Thoughts on being are prevalent in all religious traditions. NPR even has a great radio show called On Being with Krista Tippett. She interviews great speakers from around the world to talk about being.

In my experience, being can be challenging if it means I must sit still. Sitting still is a type of challenge for me since I am a wiggly person. Since getting older, I also move to try and deal with the pain that is constantly

Grayson – He was a very good cat!

present in my body. For the best example of what I mean by merely being, think of a cat.  I no longer have a cat, but our cat, Grayson was great at being. I often called him my Buddha cat. It always seemed that when I was having problems paying attention to “being” instead of “doing”, Grayson was sitting at the window merely observing the world as it passed by.

My wife was better at being still than I was. But, learning to be present to the moment, as meant here, is more than being still. Just as Grayson was able to be all cat in his “being”, our being means to be all you and for me, all me without trying to be someone else. It means being present to all that makes up the person you are (not who you want to be). The only person who can know if one is good at that type of being is the individual.

A new part of my “being” has been very hard for me to accept. It is accepting my physical limitations as I accept my physical illness and challenge. Yet, as I continued to push and try to be who I was in the past, those actions only caused more harm to my body, peace of mind, and relationships with others.

Being a spiritual person has meant that in my life, I paid more attention to the interior process than the body. Constantly working to train the mind, heart, and soul to be godly was my vocation. That vocation played out in music and church work. I also enjoyed softball, biking, and hiking. Though competitive, there was no interest in harming myself to win.

Because of being attuned to my body, I thought that meant I took care of my body. Though I did in many ways, one of the most acceptable ways to destroy one’s health is also one of the most rewarded ways of destroying health. Many call it work and for me, it turned into workaholism.

Growing up, I knew at an early age I was a lesbian, though I didn’t know the word for it yet. I only knew that my crushes were on girls and I dreamed of growing up to marry a woman. I did have crushes on a few boys and those were the ones I spoke of aloud. But in my childhood dreams, I was the boy and I always had a girlfriend. That wasn’t happening as a child, but it was a dream. I learned quickly that I had to find ways to divert attention from myself. Luckily for me, work did the trick. It was also a good thing that I had a good singing voice. As I began to sing at school and at church, it seemed to be a good cover.

Many will ask what this has to do with “being” and I’m getting there. During this same time, I had always been a religious kid too. I was merely interested in God and the Bible without understanding the religious condemnation at the time. All these years later, it’s become clear that some of my natural gifts combined with my physical and intellectual capacity for work empowered me to become my own wizard of oz. The only thing is it caused me harm.

Busy all the time means that someone is ignored. Always on the go means several things: not eating right, missing quality time with friends and family, waste of natural resources. Sometimes a body has to stop. Rest. Rest is the part that we Americans want to leave out of the equation for happiness. I don’t mean vacations that require more money, time, or travel. I mean sleeping. Unwinding. Reading. Being quiet. What many call unplugging. Yet, many of us are afraid of unplugging because in that place of solitude and stillness we come face to face with who we really ARE.

There are some things that can be changed about who I am. I can cut my hair, wear different clothes or makeup, ink my skin. Yet those are all exterior changes to the body. The body is a temple for the source of our being. The changes we can make to our body are merely adornments. Not taking time to rest or listen to our heart and mind can cause physiological changes. Those are not the ones we want or need. What does it mean to be you? What makes you afraid to be you? How are you creating smokescreens to divert YOUR attention away from who you really are?

 

One of the things this place on Beech Mountain is not a thing, but a place. I have a place where I can be quiet and simply BE. Even the little town below us has a sticker with the word on it.  This sacred place allows me to let the dust of the world settle and see what remains. Every time I can be patient with myself and have courage, these things remain: G_d, spirit, music. Another way of saying that for me is faith, hope, and love. I must also admit to myself in those moments that there is an essence of life that is uniquely Robin. G_d does not want that essence to change for Robin was created for a divine purpose whether others recognize it or not.

 

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Robin will be giving a talk about her book and the power of community on May 5th in Albemarle, NC. Please join the conversation at Second Street Sundries at 1:00 p.m.

PayPal.Me/RobinsRadio

 

 

 

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Here Comes the Sun – Hope for Light in the Shadows

Here comes the sun. Today is full of sunlight. That doesn’t necessarily mean there is warmth. Yet, we all know that the coming sun promises of coming warmth. That’s always our hope especially after a winter as tough as the one that is still passing. My dear friend Alicia posted this wonderful picture saying, “Here Comes the Sun” and the photo is a perfect example of what we wait for during Holy Week. I think this picture is a perfect representation because there is the sun, but there are also shadows.

Here Comes the Sun, by Alicia Randolph Rapking

 

We all know that in the shadows, things can be cold. We live in a world of shadow. There are times when we read the news or argue with a loved one and it seems like the shadows are overcoming the world. As we enter into Holy Week, we enter a time where we are still in the shadows, but the promise of light is there shining brighter than the darkness.

Yesterday, we were without power here on Beech Mountain. Because of the snow on Friday and Saturday, then rain, well the mountain is basically a large ice cube. In order to keep the pipes from freezing, me and the dog tended a fire for twelve hours instead of attending church. It was Palm Sunday yesterday, but for me it was a day of keeping the fire going.

 

Yet, as I think about the meaning behind Palm Sunday and Holy Week, isn’t that what we are doing too? We are keeping the fire of hope and light alive in a cold and cruel world. By reenacting what happened in that dark time, we are remembering that life can be dark, but there is also promise of light.

 

As the days go by, the ground will warm. People have already begun to plant seeds for sprouting. Why now, when winter is still at our door? Because we know the sun comes around. Preparing the seeds, putting chicks in brooders, checking out dormant garden beds are ways that we all look to brighter days ahead. We all need such reminders in our lives.

 

Planting seeds can be discouraging too. Sometimes the things we sprout, dry up because we forget to water them or perhaps it was not fully germinated. There are sometimes things we just cannot know. I remember buying a goat one year and was so excited for only the goat to die suddenly. When I talked to people about what I might have done to better protect the goat, the sad answer given was that sometimes goats got sick with no warning. Sometimes bad things happen in our lives and there’s no way we could anticipate the tragedy or hurt. Sometimes we know a storm is coming and yet, it still throws us for a loop. If there were only shadows, only the cold cruel realities of life, it would be hard for us to go on.

Here comes the sun. Where? Look in the mirror. You are the sun. You are the one bringing light and hope to the world. Whether you do it by marching or by acts of kindness, our world needs you to shine. Shine a smile on the walk at your lunch break. Stop to pet a dog. Call a congress member or state representative. Here’s the important thing to remember: You are not alone. You are just a ray. You don’t have to be responsible for lighting up the entire world, just your corner of the world. Just your spot.

 

Here’s another important thing to remember. You are the seed. There are times that you cannot shine because so much humus has been composted on your head. That means you have to wait for others to shine a light so that you can grow into something new. Have you ever seen how a seed starts to sprout? It is so fascinating to watch. The seed is planted and is hard as stone. Then the moisture of the earth and the warmth of the sun causes the seed to soften. Soon, a tendril of new life comes out of the seed’s cover; the shell that kept everything hard. As the tendril grows, the seed begins to change shape and sheds the testa, and in shedding that hard seed coating becomes something totally different – a plant. Seeds? What does a seed have to do with the sun?

The gardeners reading this know the answer and perhaps you do too. New life. When the sun comes out we are hoping for new life. After a long winter, we all need to get out of our cabins, apartments, condos and be present in a different way. We may want to dig in the dirt, hike, or go to the beech. New life. What brings you new life? What brings light into your shadows? For me, worship, poetry, music, family, pets, and friends bring light into my life. The last time I talked with my mom, she reminisced about singing a song called, “I wanna be a Sunbeam.” She sang it to me, but I can’t sing it back. Yet, even that memory of mom singing to me over the phone brings light into my heart.

Today I have the opportunity to talk about my coming out process as a religious person. I see this as an opportunity to spread light and hope. My faith always gives me hope, even in the darkest of times. It is through my faith that I felt led to come out and accept myself. As a result, my life began changing in ways that many did not expect. Coming out is a process like a seed sprouting. One feels vulnerable every time, as tender as a young plant’s shoot. But by coming out, we can plant seeds of kindness and hope for others. We can be sunbeams and rays of hope in a hurting world. Here comes the sun and it wants to shine in your shadow places. Let there be light. Let the plant grow. Learn to be yourself in rays of hope. Here comes the sun.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

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Friendship and Marching Forward

I like puns. Marching forward in March. Seems appropriate for the month of March and to celebrate a new start. I am using the word celebrate, while also hoping that a positive new start will actually come true. Yesterday was the one year mark of my separation from my beloved wife. It’s been a hard year. And yet, during this year I’ve also been blessed to reconnect with friends across North Carolina and given the opportunity to make friends from other states and other countries even. It’s amazing how many different people come to Beech Mountain.  I always celebrate friendships!

 

It is through friendships that we can get through life. I know that I have been blessed with many friends who have helped me learn to accept myself and live my truth. As a lesbian, this has been pure gift to me in a world that did not accept me when I was younger and even still struggles with acceptance at times. When I was younger I didn’t understand the problem, can’t say I really understand now. I am at the point however, where I get it when people say, “It is what it is. Deal with it.”

 

When I was younger, I wanted to change the world. My hope was to change the world to be a more loving place. Yes, I was idealistic and I still have that tendency. I think it’s what gets me through life so I don’t want to give that up. At the same time, one does have to have a grasp on what is real and present in our time. Our times continue to bring forth good things even amidst the craziness of the world at large. But by being truthful and good people, we can empower others to be good and truthful people. We must never give up hope. That is when friends come in. Friends give us courage, wisdom, love, and often a shoulder to cry on.

 

Throughout life, I have been blessed with precious friends. Some of my deepest friendships have come from my undergraduate alma mater, Pfeiffer College. Pfeiffer is now a university. In my time, it was a growing college. Next week I have been asked to be a part of a forum to talk about the challenges of coming out. This will be a huge honor for me.

 

Pfeiffer was a great place to go to college. I still think it’s a great college even though it’s grown. I attended the small campus in Misenheimer, North Carolina. Misenheimer is on the edge of Stanly County. Halfway between Salisbury and Albemarle, it was a liberal arts college that  had an excellent choral program. It is also located in the county where I grew up. That’s not what attracted me however. It was the small classrooms and the excellence in music.

When I attended, it was during the days that it was both a Methodist campus and also an alcohol free campus. It was more conservative than UNCG which was the other choral program I considered. My first choice of all was App State, but they focused on band music. As much as I loved band, I knew that I wanted to focus on choral music. Singing was my first love, and Pfeiffer also had a Church Music program. As a missionary wannabe, Pfeiffer fit where I thought God was leading me at the time.

Looking back, I see Pfeiffer as an even more perfect fit, because I needed a liberal arts education. The liberal arts education helped me to broaden my horizon and broaden my knowledge. I liked the anonymity that the vast campus of UNCG offered because I knew that I was different. Knew that someday I would need to face the fact that I was a homosexual. Stanly County was a little too close to home to do that. I tried to date guys. Wasn’t ready to come out to others and very afraid to come out to my family. Like me, my family was religious.

What ended up happening is that at Pfeiffer I was able to begin to explore who I was as a human being. And in being human, God was there through the friends I made at Pfeiffer. No-one pressured me to give up on my faith. God provided an angel of a roommate who  put up with me for four years. We had a blast! She was more like my sister than anything. When I did begin to explore accepting myself as a lesbian, my roommate was the first person I could trust with the information. Slowly, I began to come out to a few other classmates.  Because Pfeiffer was a Methodist campus and I was focusing on Christian education as a minor, being able to come out in this atmosphere helped me better reconcile faith and who I was as a human being.

That doesn’t mean that I came out of Pfeiffer with my degree and a totally integrated sense of self.  If that were the case, life would be much easier. But even all these years later, I still turn to my friends from Pfeiffer when I need someone to talk to about music, God, or life. The friends I made in college have  been there as I came out, and became more fully who God created me to be.

 

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have dear friends outside of college. Yet, because of the friends I had in college, I became brave enough to talk to the friends outside of college and realized those people love me too. During college, everyone is struggling to become. We don’t know what we’re trying to become, but some of the struggles are the same even though in different fields. If you’re in the area of Pfeiffer University next Monday night please join us at the Coming Out Forum at 7 o’clock. We will talk from different aspects of life about the challenges of coming out and especially coming out in a small rural community.

http://www.pfeiffer.edu/events/coming-out-forum-coming-out-all-over

Monday, 3/26/18 – 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Misenheimer
Stokes Community Room (Stokes 207)

 

I am thankful beyond measure for friends and family who still love me and who see the good in me. It is because of good people who are  kind and loving that our world has hope.

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Robin Whitley has an undergraduate in music (A.B.) from Pfeiffer University. Her Masters Degree (M.Div.) comes from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina

 

 

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