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.

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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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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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A Definition of Butch: by Searching4Self (Permission Granted)

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Thinking about Butch

©2019 Pamela Lewis. Used with permission.

 

What happened to the butches? This is often heard in the lesbian community and it got me thinking about Butch. This is not about Butch Cassidy either. As I age and care less what others think of me, I become more of my butch self. I’m also going to capitalize “Butch” as a gender identity because I have been a butch with a little “b”  and now I want to be more myself. I’ve been butch my entire life, but what people like to call “soft butch”. It was a way I could pass as straight. It made me feel safer.

 

Stained glass windows at Sagrada Familia (Gaudi)

As I finished seminary, I was more comfortable with my Butch self because I was in a field that was important to me. I was confident in theology and the work I would do as a pastor. Though I still had to “hide” in other ways, I gave up eye makeup. I still wore dresses, slips, hose and high heels to church or a business meeting though I hated them. Being a pastor in the Lutheran Church was one of the most rewarding and blessed vocations of my life. Of course, I lost that vocation when I came out to the Bishop of my NC Synod. The ELCA at the time had not caught up with the UCC or Episcopal Church in the ordination of Lesbians as priests or pastors.

 

As soon as I was removed, I got rid of all my dresses and almost all suits with skirts. I wore mostly dress suits because my professional look was more tailored. Kept a skirt and jacket that mom had bought me for my ordination in case it was needed for a family funeral. At the time, I wasn’t out to them. Yet, the more I came out to family, friends, and anyone I needed to, the freer I felt. I gave up all things “femme” and even stopped shaving my underarms and my legs. I’m not a hairy person to begin with.

Throughout my life, I’ve chosen to remain in the South. In particular, I love the state of North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like our state politics and as a whole, the state usually elects bigoted white men as senators. Though, in truth, the senator representing my new county is a bigoted white woman. What does this have to do with how this article started at all you may wonder. How did politics get into a conversation about what it means to be a Butch? It means more than we could ever have imagined.

 

On one hand, I knew this. On the other hand, I don’t care for politics and in my life have avoided discussions about it. Barely knew enough to vote responsibly when I was younger. Then, a dear Coptic priest from India told me why it was important to become more interested in the politics of the U.S. Our foreign policy affects whether his people can eat. Though I can’t say I’m a political junkie, I am becoming an activist. At this point, I may be willing to say that ALL women should be activists. All people of color should become activists or at least all should become MORE INFORMED!

I’ve been reading Jill Soloway’s memoir, “She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy”. In truth, if a trusted politico friend had not sent it to me, I would never have known about it much less read it. There is so much in this book that is helpful. Not only in understanding the challenges of artists, but also of our Trans community. In the book, she admits to making mistakes in different ways, but by the end of the book, you also see how they correct that and also how they are transformed. It is a powerful book.

 

Since my divorce, I’ve asked my own questions about “who am I?” Who am I without my wife? Who am I as a differently-abled person? The only thing I know for sure is that I am claiming my art and my Butchness. When I first moved to my new town in the mountains, I happened across an Instagramer named “butch-is-not-a-dirty-word.” I bought two sets of stickers they had for sale on Instagram. One said the same thing as above. The other says, “Butches Against the Patriarchy.” Man, I love those stickers. Have I gotten brave enough to put them on my car yet? Nope. You see, I live in the South. I do have subtle stickers on my car that the LGBTQ+ community will recognize as rainbow stickers. They are subtle though.

 

After my separation and divorce, the only place I could find that is affordable is set in the midst of not only a large group of Republicans but many of whom are part of the 1% wealthy who buy vacation homes. I keep asking G-d what in the heck is She thinking to do that? They don’t want me here. Yet, the people in my town are wonderful. The more I get to know them, the more I accept that we are all merely human beings trying to do the best we can to get through this life. We are neighbors and friends first.

 

Yet, one of the things that Solloway does in her book is to encourage each of us to become more involved in the changes needed for our country to become a better place for all, not merely some. She and Eileene Myles, another activist, spent time writing what they called “The Thanksgiving Paris Manifesto” and they believed in it so much that Solloway bought the website Topple The Patriarchy.

 

One of the things I’ve been doing in the past two years is accepting and adapting to these truths of mine. Sometimes there are old truths (butch), and sometimes there are new (differently-abled).  I’ve finally decided that if others can’t deal with it, okay. This is who I am. I am embracing my butchness. I like being Butch. Have even been brave enough to wear ties to the church. I didn’t care what they thought. I wanted to look good. Also, I am religious. So be it. I tried changing but I was miserable. Some people would say “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Tried that too and the fact is, I am both.

 

I am becoming more of an activist and my wife didn’t like that at all. She was too fearful. I am not any longer; tired of hiding and always being afraid of who I am. This creative person works as hard as possible, though I am differently-abled. It took me forever to get used to my limitations. Yet, I am finding beauty in them too. In my haste to work, get a lot done, please people, there was so much WONDER that I missed. I am claiming the wonder and the mystery of life.

 

I’m claiming ALL of my life regardless if WHO I am makes others happy. We can’t make others happy anyway. It took forever to get that lesson. Now, I am happy to be me. For all you Butches out there, I want you to claim you too. Because

 

Claim it!

 

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Spring and coming alive from winter.

2019©Photo by Alicia Randolph. Used with permission.

It’s that time of the year that brings joy to our hearts. Though we joke about the schizophrenic weather, we are really happy to see sprigs of green coming up through the muck and mire of winter. After the gray, wet, snowy blandness of winter colors, I especially want color. I want sunshine and flowers. Though patient with the process, I am also eager and excited.

 

Growing things has always been something that excites me. New friendships and old need growth. Gardens are a great place to be in touch with the growing and dying cycles of life inherent in nature. Since moving to Beech Mountain, I no longer have a garden. Though they are hard work, the work is rewarding and I miss it. Luckily for me, my friend Steven is writing about his garden and his greenhouse. This allows me to participate in the excitement of planning the garden as well. If we lived closer I would be over at his house asking to see its process.

The first garden I planted that was my very own (not mom or dad’s or my grandparents’), I was so excited I went out every morning to see if anything sprouted. That didn’t make things grow any faster of course.  I decided the same rule applies to gardens that applies with a watched pot waiting to boil. My excitement about seeing the first sprouts of beans or flowers or squash never lessened. It’s just that I found a way to pace my watching. Then one day I would walk up and it was as though the beans had sprouted up overnight.

 

Our lives are full of cycles. There are times we forget how cyclical everything is in life. Being able to get outside helps. Any growing activity helps. Maybe even mowing grass helps, but I’m not a fan of grass or mowing. Yes, it’s pretty but I won’t get on my soapbox about how our desire to create weed free green grass (that has little helpful purpose) has harmed our beneficial insect population. I am also biased because I’ve always been allergic to grass and with the allergies moving from just being itchy to causing asthma attacks, well, I am not fond of it. Though, as I look at articles, I am reminded of its benefits too when it comes to run-off areas. Maybe if we learn to step away from the chemicals and move towards a healthy permaculture.

 

Somewhere I said that I wouldn’t get on my soapbox about the environment. Believe it or not, I haven’t

Caterpillar from a long-ago garden.

yet. There’s still a part of me that turns to soil and thinking about our birds returning; our beneficial insects that will be returning. How can we prepare a place that’s welcoming so that we can share the bountiful treasure of food which their hard work produces? We cannot do it without them. Our lives depend upon a symbiotic relationship with plant, animal, soil, water, air.

In the Lutheran Church (ELCA), we talked about how this type of living is good stewardship of the land. In our Episcopal congregation the other day, I was pleased to hear of that similar way of looking at the land and our place as caretakers of a big garden rather than being a master of the house who can take anything wanted at any time. That is exploitation.

So maybe I am a little on my soapbox as well as just wishing I could plant something. Planting takes planning and my neighbors have already told me what to avoid unless my sole wish is to feed the deer. We have deer here that are almost tame. It is their land before it was ours, so it doesn’t bother me. There are no predators up here, so nature is off-balance in that way. I can’t say I wish for predators though. Each time I find a deer standing at me and looking through me with her soulful eyes (it’s usually a doe), it feels as those Psalm 42 has come alive into my presence or I have walked into a Psalm.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.

Psalm 42:1 (NRSV

Until I know what to plant, I also cannot plant. The sun is shy on this north facing porch. Even with morning light, there’s not a lot. There’s foxglove that’s beautiful, but I’ve not found seeds yet in the area. Fred’s General Store has hanging boxes that have my attention. I keep asking, learning, planning, and in my own way growing into the spring out of winter in this year. Until I know for sure, I will keep waiting, watching, and learning.

2018 JRobin Whitley, Mother and fawn walking through the neighborhood.
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