Gratitude without a Car

It’s another rainy day in the mountains. The dog and I are enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Who wants to travel outside on such days? Even Birdie isn’t fond of car rides on rainy days. Other than playing Van Morrison’s new album out loud, the day is not much different than any other day. It’s the life of living alone in a quiet place and living without a car.

 

One of my goals in life has been to move from a gasoline engine vehicle to being able to travel by cycle. In truth, it was an environmental goal instead of a financial one. Health challenges began to pile up this year and that meant more and more medical bills since Medicare and Medicaid were cut. In August, the worst time of the year for my asthma, it finally came down to deciding if I wanted to pay a car payment or pay for the medicine that helped prevent and manage my asthma.

 

Before making such a decision (which seemed inevitable since the divorce), there was a lot of time spent on research about how to get to doctors, church, and get groceries. Because of Watauga County’s AppalCart, I am able to get to appointments with planning. Some friends who go to Holy Cross have graciously offered rides to church.

 

I’ve also been blessed with wonderful neighbors who have helped me if I needed to call Fred’s for a missing item in a recipe. You know how it is when you cook, you’re in the midst of stirring ingredients and checking to make sure you added each item. Then, there’s often one important item that is out or not quite enough.

 

One of the other things I considered before letting go of the car was looking at alternative and environmentally conservative means of alternative transportation. Once it became clear that this was doable, I even questioned if I needed any transportation at all. With today’s online shopping options, I can get most of what I need by mail. However, one of the joys of living here is a ride up to Fred’s General Mercantile or a trip down to Buckeye Recreation Center for yoga or a walk on its paths.

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

Growing up, biking was my favorite means of transportation. Even after getting my driver’s license at sixteen, I still loved cycling. Then, it was a dream of mine to cycle cross-country. This was before learning the limitations that my asthma put on me. Even though I was hit by a car when I was in college, cycling was always a goal. There was a freedom and peace is cycling through the countryside. Mountain bikes weren’t popular during this time or I would have had one of those too.

 

When I moved up to the mountains, I had given up my last bike. Not because I wanted to but because it was too heavy for travel on the landscape. By then, my hands had begun to have problems with grasping and lifting heavy hymnals. There was no way I was going to be able to manage such a heavy bike. The bike itself wasn’t much of a loss because it was an inexpensive model bought only to see if I liked how the mountain bike rode.

 

Though I looked for a bike while living in Sylva (they have a great bike shop there), another health problem prevented my return to riding. Like many women my age, vertigo has become the bane of my existence. Though the doctor helped me get it to the point where I could walk without the world swirling (faster than usual), it would not be safe for me to ride a bike. I watched the cyclists in the town with appreciation and a sense of resignation. Still, I missed riding and wanted to find a way to return.

 

One day I mentioned how much I missed cycling on Facebook and my writing teacher from undergrad, Heather Ross Miller, suggested a trike like hers. I started looking at them and then because they wouldn’t fit in the Fiat 500 Pop I was driving, I gave up on them. That is until it became clear I would have to give up my car. It wasn’t that I just couldn’t afford THAT car and pay my medical bills, it was clear I couldn’t afford any car. In December I will finally catch up all my medical bills so that I can start the new year free of old medical bills.

The Joy Trike

Giving up my car has also freed me to consider saving for a trike. I could see that possibility before giving it up. After a lot of research and talking to my cycling friends and Charlotte Cycle’s Brian Doolittle, it became clear that I would be able to find and eventually afford an electric trike. Brian has been great to answer all of my questions and also answer questions my friends bring to me when I told them of my decision. It made it easier to tell my family, friends, and church members of my decision.

 

Though I hadn’t gone into the details of my old environmentalist dreams of cycling, I had at least told those who I wished to visit that it might not be a possibility now. It’s amazing how beautiful people have been. People have talked to me about other options. A woman from church offered to give me an old car that needs work. A friend from Charlotte talked to her pastoral committee and ended up gifting me with some funds to pay off most of my medical bills. No one asked anything of me. They merely loved me and didn’t want me to be isolated from others.

 

To say I am humbled does not fully explain. A few years ago, when trying to encourage people to participate in global and local concern for others, I told a spiritual friend that I hadn’t lost faith in G-d. At the time, however, I was losing faith in people to make compassionate and justice-oriented choices. Selfishness seemed more rampant than ever. Then, about the time it seemed our world was turning to more openness to diversity and the need for conservation of natural resources, the current administration took over. Hatred became the norm instead of talk of justice and acceptance of all. This was all before my divorce.

 

Without going through that all, one would think the divorce made me want to give up on humanity totally. In truth, it did cross my mind except one thing continued to happen – people who loved me kept reaching out and reminding me of who they were and the good they bring to the world. By their lovingkindness, strength to go on came into my soul. Then I found Holy Cross Episcopal and joined their choir and a prayer group called Daughters of the King. These people too shared love, kindness, prayers, and often a listening ear. I could go on about the beautiful people restoring my faith in the goodness of humanity.

In short, because of the love my church, friends, and family, great healing comes to me. It’s been interesting too to find that things I thought were healed or forgiven from the past were healed on another level. My faith was already being restored in the goodness of these humans merely by them being themselves and sharing their own blessings and challenges in life. That made the presence of G-d even more powerful.

 

In addition, living here, close to the woods as I do has been a lifelong need. Though I lived near hiking paths and woods, most of the walking paths near my home were paved. Issues with arthritis and other challenges make it impossible to get out on paved or concrete paths. Here, there’s a dirt road that would take me to the top of the mountain if I could walk that far. The walking on a dirt road can still be challenging but it has helped my mental and physical health tremendously. My condo is like a treehouse and living in solitude the life of a semi-hermit is enlarging my heart.

Birdie, my dog, loves it here too.

As we approach Thanksgiving, gratitude is the word that stands out for me. Gratefulness for what IS (not what could be) has changed my life drastically. The last time I had a conversation with my ex-wife she even said that she missed my gratitude. A practice of gratitude was started for me in a new way when I was a Vicar in Tallahassee, Florida. I had been assigned to a small wonder-filled church called St. Stephen’s Lutheran for my internship.

 

Though naturally a thankful person, practicing gratitude then was part of a stewardship program we were required to do for a project. Because most of us argued that it was a flimsy attempt at fund-raising (we were the first class required to focus only on stewardship), the way I decided to outline my project was to focus on writing about the gifts we already had. What did it mean to use our time, talents, and treasure without coming across as one of the televangelists we love to hate? For me, that meant to focus on gratitude for what we DO have?

 

In other words, though I am a musician I’m not famous and rich. What does it mean to give thanks for how this gift of music has totally enriched my life rather than focus on the lack of remuneration prevalent for musicians? Once I began to be thankful for what I did have, it became clearer how wealthy I was. Forbes wasn’t going to come knocking on my door, but I had enough. Not only did I have enough, but when I recognized that I had enough, there always seemed to be a way to share.

 

Though I lived in a one-bedroom apartment at the time (and not the house I had bought), I had a roof over my head when it rained. There was air-conditioning when it was suffocatingly hot. There was clean water and I always had the food I needed as well as a warm bed to rest. When the person I was dating at the time broke up with me depression tried to get its hooks in me. Yet, because I had been practicing gratitude, each time I feared or hurt, I gave thanks for the things that I did have. The love I DID have from the wonderful people at St. Stephen’s saved me in many ways.

 

Through the years, I’ve tried to tell them in various ways. What vehicle is ever larger enough to contain love though? Especially when it is a love grown, shared, give in a community of faith – is there ever a way besides song and presence? When I lost my pastorate because I came out, St. Stephen’s was there. Throughout the years when I was faced with challenges that had to do with justice, there was always the thought about what Pastor Emory would do. What would the members of St. Stephen do to act in love and forgiving compassion to those who were caught up in the cycle of injustice? These people changed my life and made my life and my life’s path a more sacred experience.

Because the gift the continue to BE in my life, when my friend there asked about setting up a GoFundMe account in order to help raise money for my trike, I told them there was no need. After getting my medical bills caught up, any extra money would go to the purchase of a Joy Trike from Carolina Cycle. I was quite excited about the cycle and that it was now an option. It will even have a basket so that Birdie can ride with me. She has missed the car much more than I do, that’s for sure.

A few weeks later, while checking Facebook, I noticed that one of the members of my vicar committee had posted a GoFundMe request there. Of course, it was a request to go fund our old vicar. They still thought of me as their vicar. Gosh, that alone is priceless to me. Then, I saw that people I don’t even know have donated to the fund. Then, one of my professors from seminary posted it.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Gratitude. What does it mean? It means, of course, to be thankful. Thankfulness is also an act as well as a state of mind or feeling. To be thankful is to be willing in such situations to set aside pride and simply say thank you. The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my later years is how prideful I’ve always been. Once, I let that pride hurt a man in a church I was serving. He kept giving me gifts. Sadly, instead of continuing to thank him for his generosity, I said something to the effect that he didn’t have to buy me gifts for me to love him. Immediately clear that it was hurtful to him though it wasn’t my intention. My pride and lack of gratitude became throwing his gifts back in his lap. I might as well have said, thanks but no thanks.

 

Who knows if this GoFundMe thing will be completed? In truth, I don’t care if it is or not the gratitude in my heart exhorts me to write of this congregation’s great love and generosity. This is not the only way they are generous. They have always given to each other, their vicars, priest, and community. They have from the day I met them been the best example of what it means to be a people of G-d in the modern world. They are willing to stand up for those who are poor, LGBTQIA, of a different race or nationality…and the list goes on and on. Love abounds.

When I am so loved, all that I can do is give thanks and then love in return. No matter the outcome, this great act of love encourages me to love more and to trust more. Their long-time support reminds me of all the things I know about my friends in faith who have supported others quietly. They don’t let their left hand know or others know of their generosity. I do, however. I see the good they do in the world and I want to be just like them.

When I first tried dealing with the loss of my pastorate, I remember asking my priest in Oklahoma about the power of love. I told her that I thought love was supposed to conquer all. She understood where I was coming from as I spoke of love, loss, and the grief of finding a new way. Her answer was that in her experience, love DID conquer all. Wise priest that she was, she offered me no platitudes. Today as Van Morrison sings of love conquering all, all I can think is that it does. Though we may not know how or when, love wins. I am thankful to be loved.

 

 

 

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New Books and Lots of Inspiration

Poetry North Carolina Poet

Cover by Michele Jack

It’s a cold day on Beech Mountain, yet, also warmer than the past days. We had a wonderful snow on Tuesday and the ski resorts are blowing snow to get ready for ski season. The dog and I love snow even though we don’t ski. Who knows why Birdie loves the snow? Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. She has finally decided a coat is nice in such weather though.

The year has flown by quickly. All in all, it’s been a very good year in that it’s been a creative one. The summer was filled with singing, teaching, and preaching. Throughout, whenever there was a moment, I was writing. Meeting some new poets in the area has been inspiring. If you’ve not read Lisa Creech Bledsoe’s poetry yet, I encourage you to check her poetry out. You can get a sense of her poetry on her website Appalachian Ground. She also posts wonderful things about nature and foraging.

The music from Holy Cross Episcopal has been phenomenal this year. Elaine Kallestad has an amazing ministry there and she utilizes local talent from Appalachian State University (ASU)  which takes it a step further. The musicians at ASU feed into many of our local congregations. High Country United Church of Christ has music that is also good for the soul if you prefer the less formal service and music. The other great thing about both of these churches is that in addition to great preachers, they are also both congregations that are welcoming to all people. As a lesbian in this rural setting, I especially love this part.

 

 

Being surrounded by all this talent and all the beauty of the High Country is bound to be an inspiration to any artist. This mix of people and location have also inspired a collection of prayers I’ve wanted to do for many years and couldn’t decide where to begin. It is my hope to be able to offer this book in December of this year, but at the latest, we will have it out by January 6, 2020.

Due out soon.

The book’s title will be, Praying Together, and it is set up as a prayer book but also a journal. Moving from the Lutheran tradition to the Episcopal tradition has been a blessing in many ways. There are things that I love about each group of believers too. There are things that are similar and a few things that are different. It is the hope of me and the contributors to the book that the prayers will touch your heart and also be easy to access.

Its format will be smaller than the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Lutheran church. As we age, many of us who value these prayer books begin to have challenges handling both the weight and the thickness of both books. Therefore, the size of the book will be thin and lightweight so that all who value prayer may be able to handle it with ease. This will also be a great book for travel because it also fits easily in a bag or folded inside of another larger book.

There is more inspiration abounding in these mountains than there are words or songs. Yet, those of us who create are willing to keep trying. Please support local artists, musicians, and small businesses as we enter into the gift-giving season.

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Ginger Snaps and Coffee

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.

“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup

Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.

Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.

Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.

The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.

The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.

As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.

A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.

Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.

We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.

The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.

Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.

There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.

Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?

 

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More Than Knowing 2nd Edition (reprint)

Poetry North Carolina Poet

Reprint due out October 19, 2019

My re-print of poetry comes out tomorrow. It’s a thrill to see in hand. My poetry is the book I’m most proud of and this time I get to share photos of the places that inspired the poetry.

You can order copies here or from City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, NC.

Cover by Michele Jack

 

Inside you will find color photos of some of the beauty that inspired the poetry. Most of the art is photos of the wonders of nature found in the Nantahala Forest.

To order for $14 and postage ($3.50), email robin at robin at jrobinwhitley.net or contact the bookstore.  Will make a sweet coffee table book in smalls size.

 

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Changing the Story and Changing Perception

“Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.”

 ~Jean Houston

 

Change is not one of humanity’s favorite gifts. Yet, most humans don’t see change as a gift, but more as moving into the unfamiliar. The irony is that the only thing we can truly count on in life is that things are going to change. When we ignore things we don’t like, like weeds, those undesired things can take over and ruin a good life, a good marriage, a good school record, etc.

 

When we look at change as inevitable, then, we are given a choice of direction. We have the ability to change the perception in our own mind of the event (whatever it may be). Just because sometimes change is inevitable doesn’t mean it always has to be devasting.

 

St. Ignatius of Loyola had a way of looking at life where he encouraged his students in this way:

 

During times of consolation, prepare for the oncoming desolation.

During times of desolation, prepare for the oncoming consolation.

 

This was explained this way during a retreat on how to lead an Ignatian retreat. At the time, my Spiritual Director/Counselor said that was a depressing way to look at life. Though I could see how one might see fatalism in the comment, what I had experienced was more balanced.

 

The quote is about the inevitability of life. There are good and bad things that happen. Sometimes it really is only a matter of changing our perception of things. Once I thought about the good things that would return to life (in times of desolation), it was merely a matter of waiting (or wading) through the challenge until normality or gift occurred. That can be a long time. However, by being prepared that during times of desolation that there would be a time of consolation on the way, that made the waiting and the wading much easier. Okay, so maybe more tolerable is more truthful. To be in a time of desolation is not easy ever.

 

Not sure why we think that when we hit those times of consolation that they will last forever. It doesn’t take a lot of living or even listening to music on the radio to know that nothing good ever lasts forever. That truth is the theme of all the arts. Nothing lasts forever. How can one change the perspective on the fact that loss is a natural, human, life experience?

 

Of course, there’s no universal answer. You have to decide what works for you, and I have to decide what works for me. My decision has been to look at loss as the natural course of life. Seasons come and go. People come and go from our life in many different instances. Most of the time, those coming and goings from humans are nothing personal.  Just like me, like you, like us, the ones we love who go somewhere else, have to deal with the question of change and perspective.

 

We can accept change and learn to live with the changes that come or seek to change. The reason our world is in chaos is because of how we all fight to avoid change and sometimes change is growth. To grow is to change and ideally, with the right perception or perspective, we can grow when change happens that we haven’t planned for. What is good about change?

 

Change is all about perspective. When we continue to resist change that is inevitable, like aging, we only create misery for ourselves. This is where St. Teresa of Avila’s quote on loving more than thinking can be quite helpful.

 

“The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so, do that which best stirs you to love.”

~St. Teresa of Avila

 

What “best stirs you to love”? That question can move our perspective to a better way at looking at change. That may mean that we have to take action. In the case of injustice being done to another, it’s important to find a way to be proactive in love. Sometimes change catches us off-guard anyway and all we have time for is to react and not plan a loving response. That’s when it’s vital to remember that we are also called to extend love towards our own selves. When we make mistakes, learn from them, make corrections, and then move on to a better place.

 

This morning during prayer, it was a blessing to be reminded of a dear woman from my time in Tallahassee. She was one of the shut-ins we visited at church. Though we would go to check on her and make sure she was okay, everyone agreed that when you left Jo’s home, the visitor felt that JO had done the ministry. That is because of the power of her love and light. Each time I visited Jo, she always said that she wasn’t lonely because she always knew God was with her.

 

This morning, though Jo died long ago, her light shone into my heart. She lived into her nineties and we all were saddened at her passing. Yet, some twenty years later, the love she shared with me in those moments brought light into sadness for me. Things are changing as I age. People die, move away, or just go away. It is okay to grieve. Here’s the thing though, when I get past the grieving, when you get through the sadness, you too will see that though a person is gone, the love remains.

 

“No matter where life takes you, the place that you stand at any moment is holy ground. Love hard and love wide and love long and you will find the goodness in it.”

~Susan Vreeland

 

 

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