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A Letter to Steven about Vocation

December 16, 2019

Dear Steven,

Walking into the quiet winter morning, the red-pink in the East draws my eye to the rising sun. The sky is blue-gray and purple clouds are painted across the Northern sky. The West is behind Beech Mountain, although my residence is considered on the “backside” of the mountain.

Birdie and I walk in the warmish weather. Fifty degrees feels a bit like a heatwave after the wind, ice, and snow of the weekend. As we walk up Northridge road, the woods and shady places are still covered with snow. Though we did not get more than an inch in accumulation, it was cold enough through the day and night to remain. This morning the trees and porches beginning to melt, or at least the snow on the snow on the trees and the porches. It’s not a Salvador Dali type of morning, but more like a Monet painting.

As I listen to the silence and Birdie tracks some creature’s footprint, I wonder how I could ever leave this heaven? There’s no current plan to leave but there are those who wish I would move to Boone or Stanly County so I won’t have to be alone while also battling health issues. Yet, each time I go to a new place and my health wavers, in returning home to rest, I recover. There is healing in this place.

Rounding the upward curve of the road, a brown head turns on the hill above us to see who makes a sound. The yearling is snacking on what green remains on the hill behind our treehouse. Birdie sees the deer look at us but has learned not to bark and scare them away. Even this quiet morning seems sacred to her. Then I see two more spring-born deer who glance our way, return to grazing, and then flick their white tails as they mosey up the hill to the others.

In moments like this, I think of vocation and what does that mean for me at this place

Fawn in 2018

in my life. Not at the place on the mountain, for it is clear that this is the place to think, reflect, heal, and learn how to be present. But what does vocation mean for me at 58 as I finally learn to manage my disability with rest and quiet?

In the past few months, I have talked with my priests and also an Episcopal nun in a convent in New York. During more religious moments, I wonder if I should seek out the diaconate or return to the vocation of a pastor. When still in times of quiet contemplation, the urge to be part of a praying community like The Community of the Holy Spirit embraces me as an option. Then I remember a sentence spoken in my mind’s ear during one of my silent retreats.

You are an artist.

That simple sentence came to me as an answer to a prayer prayed for three days on vocation while I was still a pastor but seeking further discernment for vocation. At the time, I was certain that the answer would be something like a preacher, teacher, or musician. Though that sentence can certainly embrace all three of those options, it was one of those puzzles that the Holy Spirit gives us to ponder and consider.

It is only now, twenty-two years later, that I begin to see a way to live this path of vocation that is different than anticipated. Though I’ve mentioned that sentence and the need to understand its meaning for my life in these past years, it’s also been like I’ve tried to turn away from it. Why? Music, writing, painting has always brought me great peace. Yet, the reward of preaching, teaching, and being a musician was so much more rewarding. There. I’ve said it and now I see. At least, in this moment I can see the fear.

What fear you may ask? Fear of failure of course. Many artists work in oblivion during a lifetime. Some of their works fade into obscurity and others, like Emily Dickenson, become remembered for the art created in her life and created in silent obscurity. Early on it was clear to me that I did not want to be famous like those actors and musicians seeking the world’s accolades. Yet, somewhere in the past years I also realized that I didn’t want to be forgotten. What does it mean to trust G-d enough to be willing to be forgotten?

Having no human children means my pets, music, writing, and paintings are my children. There are memories I share with those around me and we all know that counts. Love always counts. Even in my divorce of recent years, it’s clear that LOVE ALWAYS COUNTS. Love finally showed that to me as I worked on healing and forgiveness. Though I lost my home and wife, the love we shared during those years changed me for the better and I will always have that beauty in my life even if I no longer have those people or that place.

In conclusion, this letter is not so much of one where I wonder where G-d is leading me because that continues to be clear. I only need to have enough faith to be obedient to G-d’s calling to be an artist no matter what else may call or distract me. My question is how can we see the Holy in each vocation? One of my favorite quotes from the theologian Frederick Buechner addresses the matter of vocation:

 

IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man [or woman] is called to by God.  

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.  

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work

(a) that you need most to do and

(b) that the world most needs to have done.

 

If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a),

but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. 

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. 

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

That last line says it all, doesn’t it? The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. What I must ask myself is does the world hunger for writings on love and peace? Does the world hunger for music that lifts the Spirit and calls forth integrity? Does the world hunger for art that expresses one’s deepest heart and truest self? For me, the answer is yes. That should be enough. I pray to focus on that truth, and that I may have the grace and faith to see that love will be enough.

Anticipated release of 1/6/2020

 

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Begin Again

DSC03649

Each day is a new day to begin again. The morning light grows brighter and energizes me. As I sweep the porch, I think my love of G+d, the Holy of Holies. Thinking on the task before me as another year passes, questions arise. What does it mean to be an artist who is untrained, but called by G+d to be a …an artist? A sound of glass tinkles on the floor and I see a disk of mirror lost from its strand of chimes.

The glass reminds me of the story of a woman creating a stained-glass window. Each time she wrought the thing to perfection, something broke it and the word of G+d told her to begin again. The first fifty times I read that story it made no sense. Then one day, after I had been broken enough myself, I finished the story and said “Ahhh.” I understood and in that understanding, did not want to begin again.

 

When one has been broken so many times, a tiredness and a dread seep in along with the question, “Why am I still here?” The only answer? “Begin again.” So, I have and now I do yet again. One day at a time, one breath at a time, I begin again…and again. One step in front of the other to a place without a name.

 

 

Flower Festival by Diego Rivera

I take leave of the painting in the bathroom. It is a mural I am working on to cover up the previous owner’s scribbling in brown. Though pleased with what has come out so far, I don’t know where the painting is going? Meant to be “whimsical” I find that I crave the realism of botanists or the expressionism of Diego Rivera.  When it veers into the surrealism of Dali, I quickly paint over the nightmare of errors.

 

Gathering up newspapers that protect the floor, I think of how the painting process is similar to the process of life. Trial and error. Learn by doing. There are times one must simply tidy up and wait for inspiration or direction to show the next step. As I put the broom into the closet, I am aware of a painting started on the death of my marriage. The painting is staring at me from the easel. I am damn tired of painting that one. There’s no way to express the pain of being cut out of someone’s life. At least not until more distance occurs between the subject and the object. I need a different perspective and don’t have it now. Maybe I need to put it in the closet with the broom although I swore never to return to a closet again.

 

Several times have thought of destroying the painting. Yet, what good would that do really? An expression of violence doesn’t heal or repair the wound of the heart, mind, and soul. As a result, I’ve continued to struggle with the painting just as I’ve struggled with grief. None are immune to grief, loss, pain. Though not alone in humanity’s struggle with grief, each person’s experience is unique and that sometimes isolates us.

 

It doesn’t have to be that way…or does it? My cousin grieves over the loss of her husband. Sudden death is traumatic to any who are confronted with it. Writing that she doesn’t have to bear it alone it’s also clear that I am unsure how to shoulder any of her pain. The same goes for the grief carried by my own sister who grieves a grandchild who lived for only an hour. How do we help each other bear the weight of grief?

In my own experience, I can only say that the cards, the notes helped. Though the weight of grief could not truly be shouldered by another, words are a comfort to me. Touch was too personal. A promise of presence required too much of my trust. But words, words reminded me of who I was and the strength I have inside. Songs reminded me that the power of singing heals. Worship always reminds me of something greater than myself or humanity.

Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Valle Crucis, NC

 

The sunlight shifts in the forest to brighter light. Yet, the shifting of the light also casts shadows in different places. Sometimes I want to burn with the fire of the holy in my life. Other times, it is good to rest in the shade and listen to the birds. I have no songs today, but the birds sing for me. There is movement sounding from the road below me; a reminder that humanity moves on down the road. I know I can too. Then, I laugh at the universe as it sends me a message via email.

 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~Lao Tzu

 

Morning light in the Southern Appalachians.

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When I Am Not Writing…

When I’m not writing, I am creating something else. Or in the case of this blog, I’m also creating as I type because I’m listening to new musicians (at least new to me). The world is big and our souls even larger. In addition to valuing the creative spirit, I believe in the power and value of learning from others.

There are many ways we can learn. For me, it’s a mixture of listening, reading, and doing. Though my hope was to finish a book about dogs before year’s end, I’ve gotten engaged in painting again. Also, I’m working to bring two CDs to fruition. One is ready for mastering and it’s a CD of English Country Dance music played on guitars. The second is going to be a surprise I will tell you about when it is further fleshed out. This video is a kind of hint…

Painting is not something that comes to me as easily as music or writing. As a result, it takes me a long time to paint. I’m better at sketching, but there’s something rewarding in painting that is similar to writing. Just as I enjoy the feel of pen to paper, the feel of a brush painting color and bringing a thought or expression into being is healing.

We are all a work in progress.

“As we listen more deeply to suffering, we begin to notice non-suffering. The heart realizes its innate courage, strength, and invincibility. This journey through pain and suffering burns away the impurities, and what is revealed is something pristine, clear, and beautiful, like a moonlit pearl: the tender, merciful heart, and its infinite ability to receive the cries of the world.”

—Thanissara, “The Grit That Becomes a Pearl

The past year has been challenging as me and my dog, Birdie adjust to this new place and living without my wife…or ex-wife now. Divorce is hard on everyone. Moving is hard on the one who has to move. Death never gives us a break. Then, there’s always the world of politics. Everywhere we turn as humans, there’s something challenging happening even if others don’t always see what’s happening in our life.

I like the above comment because it speaks of the power of creativity. We can let the pain and suffering of life grind us to pieces, or we can be like a grain of sand and become something beautiful. To write this is not to spout Pollyanna crap. Life is just damn hard sometimes and I’m not going to make it sound like a positive attitude can make things turn out as we want. However, with a positive attitude and determination, we can make the best of a situation.

Not all of us can paint, sing, or play an instrument. That doesn’t mean we are not able to create something good out of the strife around us. Regardless of what life brings or what humanity does, we can all choose to be the best of self. Leo Buscaglia in his book, Love, says this: when we go to meet our creator, we won’t be asked why weren’t we the best artist, musician, mathematician, teacher etc. Instead, we will be asked, “why weren’t you the best you?” Don’t focus on perfection. Just be you.

 

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Calling All Heroes

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.

A cool version of Robin.

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.

 

Clearing
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
Instead, create a clearing
in the dense forest of your life
and wait there
patiently,
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.
~ Martha Postlewait

Moss as a ground cover.

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My Own Kind of Pride Celebration – Juneteenth 2018

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?

Bread & Wine – Watercolor

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.

Passion Flower – Watercolor

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.

 

 

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