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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A Wedding and a Divorce – Anniversary

A Wedding and a Divorce

Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran, Sylva, NC

Sounds like some new movie for Hugh Grant to star in, but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, there were funerals during this time too. Death waits for no one and cares not about our special occasions. My ex and I had planned our wedding shortly after North Carolina announced it was allowing gay marriages in the state. Paula Offutt and I were giving presentations about our new books at City Lights Bookstore. A friend who loved us interrupted the reading to let us know that the ruling had passed. None of us could believe it.

 

Now many are trying to take our newly given rights away again. States are creating bills and hoping to make laws that can discriminate against us. Let me tell you this. Now that many of us have had a taste of freedom, those states are not thinking clearly about making us go back in the closet. We have sacrificed too much to get rights that many take for granted. We cherish those rights and we will fight for them. The LGBTQ people are not afraid of hard work, protest, losing family, or physical harm. None of us want that in our lives, but we want to keep our rights.

 

If I did a timeline summary of all that happened between the time of the book reading, it would look like this:

 

New Book Release/Reading – Marriage Equality in NC – Wedding plans – my dad’s death – Disability Hearing – Wedding.

 

In all of that rejoicing, my dad died. There was no rejoicing then mind you. My family had a hard month with my dad on life support machines and with his being 78, we had to make a tough decision. There was tension in the family over a right to die and the meaning of faith. On the day my dad died, my family decided to leave my partner out of the surviving relative list in the obituary. That hurt. It hurt because I knew they loved her, and she loved them. Then, it caused problems because my partner thought I should raise my voice.

One marriage with many promises.

It wasn’t because I was chicken. I had stood up to my family (and lost) before. My concern was the fact that my mom had just lost her lifelong friend and love. Mom and dad fought all the time. So much so that at times I thought they didn’t like each other. Later in life, I realized that both of them liked to argue to a certain degree and that they had learned to make their peace with each other. In addition to concerns about mom, my sister and I were heartbroken over the loss of our dad. My sister worked alongside of dad, so the loss was deeper for her. In my attempt to minister to my family’s grief, I did not do as my partner asked.

 

Besides, my dad’s death caused a cyclone of feelings inside of me that I was having a hard time understanding. There was grief and loss, but there was also relief. Not only relief about my dad no longer being on life support machines, but I later realized his death meant one less person to condemn me in my family. Though we had made a kind of peace about me being present with my partner, it was an uneasy peace. After his death, he came to me in dreams to tell me how much he loves me. I write in the present tense because he still comes in my dreams to bring love to mind. Somehow after his death, I knew he could accept me in a way he couldn’t in his life. He was the only one of my family that later felt present at my wedding.

 

After the funeral, my partner suggested that we postpone our wedding. That really hurt. It hurt because it was the only way I got through the ordeal with the month’s waiting in the hospital. It hurt because I was afraid that my choice to not start a fight in the midst of family grief caused my then-future-wife to have second thoughts about marriage. I believe I even asked her that.

It was true what she said that I was grieving. I couldn’t see how postponing our wedding would make a difference. Though I’ve learned healthy ways to grieve, I am slow at it. Because of my tendency to ponder and analyze my every thought and feeling over events, doing the same with grief makes it seem exponentially longer. At this writing, it’s four years after my dad’s death and I still grieve at odd times. Still miss him when I see his harmonica or run across his guitar slide and the memories of him teaching me guitar make me wish to hear him. Even in 2015, I know that postponing the marriage would have only delayed my grief over the loss of my dad. To postpone would have caused me to stop grieving and wonder what was wrong with my relationship.

Choose to remember love.

Looking back now, perhaps that’s what I should have done anyway. The married and happily ever after was too enticing. Though I knew that life is always full of ups and downs, I was confident in the us that we were and that we had been. At that time, we had been together for nine years and had already gone through a lot. Hell, I thought the fact that two women went through menopause together was enough to cement our marriage. That wasn’t a fun time I tell you, but we made it and we still loved one another.

 

There also was the issue of my declining health. Even before dad’s illness, we had been working to get disability in place for me because of how it was impacting my life and ability to work. Though my partner talked about the stress of it, she promised she still loved me for who I was. The thought of being classified as “disabled” was horrible to me and caused a great identity crisis because I like to work. I didn’t know who I would be if I couldn’t work. I didn’t know where I would fit in the world, in my church, in my family if I didn’t work. This was going on before dad died; even when we planned to wed and, in the weeks, before the wedding. It made it even more difficult that the hearing before the disability judge came up to be scheduled on the day of our wedding rehearsal day. We asked the attorney about postponing it. She informed us that the judge could delay it another two years and we both knew I needed more medical help because I had no insurance.

 

We went to the hearing and the judge made an offer to grant the disability for the future, but it wouldn’t cover all of the bills that had piled up to the date of the final hearing. I can’t remember why the attorney suggested postponing our wedding at a discussion after the judge’s offer. My partner righteously and angrily explained to the attorney that we had waited all our lives for the right to marry. In truth, I think my partner surprised herself at how angry she was that the attorney suggested that. My partner’s standing up and claiming our wedding in such a manner made me even more confident in our wedding. The day before the wedding I was declared by the state as “disabled”.

 

That label did not affect me though because, at the time, I rejoiced in the fact that I was beloved. I felt loved by my partner, community, church, and even my family at the time. Though they did not know about the wedding. Dad died before we could even tell them about it. I knew they wouldn’t come anyway and did not want messages about my salvation mixed in with the grief, the stress of the disability hearing, and the stress (yet joy) of getting married.

Our wedding was simple. We dressed in our best pantsuits. We encouraged everyone to come as they were; casual and fun. The wedding was full of messages of love. From ancient Hebrew scripture to the reading of a Shakespeare ode, love was in the air. Friends played music. All of my partner’s family who lived in town participated. Friends helped. We walked down the aisle to “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” (my favorite Bach piece) and walked out to “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” (a favorite of us both). Our reception was provided by the locale business lesbian. Our photographs by the local and out partner of the business lesbian. We had Christians, atheists, agnostics, and Buddhists at our wedding. The church string band played Celtic music. We danced, ate cupcakes, and rejoiced in the love of family and friendship.

 

Everyone told us then and later that it was the best wedding they had ever attended. They talked of how much fun it was and that they were free to wear whatever they wanted. Everyone talked about how much love there was in the ceremony and the reception. It’s true too. Though I won’t post a photo of my ex here, you can look at her face and see love. Love for me, for her family, church, and for our friends. We both talked about how blessed we were.

 

Fresh flowers at The Balsam Inn, NC.

Our honeymoon wasn’t far away but a few towns over. Just enough to be out of our neighborhood for a mini-break, but also close enough so that if my 96-year-old mother-in-law needed us, we could get there in time. I was proud and honored to be a part of her family. In fact, they were a lot like my family except from Chicago. Okay, so that’s a lot difference. But the love of music and God tied us together.

 

Today, March 28, 2019, would have been our fourth wedding anniversary. Today is the one-year anniversary of our divorce. Yet, what I tell you now is that I’m going to celebrate the love and not the pain. I am sad that my marriage didn’t make it. That much is true. Yet, it is also true that in those years we had together I had more love than some people have in a lifetime.

My friends remain. I have made new friends in my new community who have brought healing and hope for life again at this age. For now, I’m unwilling to talk about romantic love, for I thought my wife was my “one”…she was the only person I was willing to marry. It doesn’t mean that the loss of her means there’s no such thing as romantic love, but that I still have much to learn about love. I still have the love in my heart after all the hurt. After all the loss, the love I have in my heart and life is greater than what I have lost. That is what I will celebrate today. I pray that you know you are loved too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gratitude for You

“The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves.”

~Br. David Steindl-Rast

Families throughout the states celebrate thanks today. Though I do not want to proliferate the story we were told as children, I would be remiss not to mention my

Books by Robin

gratitude for you. You, my friends who have read my books, listened to my music, and most of all, supported my dreams.

There are many ways the support has come. Words of encouragement, prayers, editing stories, taking pictures, and through your financial contributions. There are so many of you who have believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Though confident in music, I am less confident in writing. I never thought I would be a public speaker; though I hoped to be a teacher.

©Rick Messina, Advent Lutheran Church, Charlotte, NC. Used with permission.

This morning, I think of a host of beautiful people I know. Most live on the East Coast of the U.S. from Maine to Florida and over to New Orleans. Then, there are other angels scattered around the world who have loved me through many difficulties and celebrated when I reached the other side.

I added photos below to just a few of the old and new friends who have changed my life. Working in churches means that I know a lot of people and many I am honored to call friends. Friends are a different kind of family. And family are also friends in their own way. Bless you. I can’t put photos of everyone because I don’t have enough time to thank all those who have made a difference in my life. Yet, I hope this post is the beginning of showing my gratitude for your presence in my life. Bless you.

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” ~Thomas Merton

 

 

 

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.”
~Robert Louis Stevenson

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Gratitude, A Way of Life

Gratitude is thankfulness, but without the gluttony, don’t you think? As we enter into the winter holiday season, my mind turns to the aspects of the holidays that we love about the holidays. Some of the holidays are religious, but others, like Thanksgiving were created by a President. These holidays have meaning for us all in different ways. Today I ask myself the ways we can celebrate family or community that aren’t filled with political incorrectness, materialism, or religious antagonism. That may be a monstrous task. Yet, our society has been in disarray to the point where we must look at our lives differently.

 

In my life, I always loved the Native Americans and their love for nature and the land. When, as an adult, I discovered the truth in our country’s Thanksgiving lie, I was torn. Torn because I didn’t want to celebrate what had happened to the Wampanoag, that both saddened and angered me. At the same time, Thanksgiving was the time it seemed my family got together and celebrated. The season was not as stressful as Christmas. Even as a child, I could feel the tension in family at Christmas that wasn’t there at Thanksgiving. At the Thanksgiving meal, everyone was merely peaceful and thankful.

My dear cousin married a Navajo musician and was the first to explain to me why she no longer celebrated the U.S. holiday. She is a kind woman who I know I can talk freely with and explore feelings, thoughts, and even dreams. Also, when talking with my cousin, I didn’t have to explain the tensions or dynamics of a big Southern family to her. She knew and lived a similar experience. Each year afterwards though, I think of the truth of how the Native Americans were treated, used, and then later, not only abused but massacred…some tribes to the point of extinction.

These stories are learned through reading the histories of Black Elk, Tecumseh, and The Trail of Tears. When I lived in Oklahoma, my favourite thing about living there was to see signs saying that the person was entering the Sac-Fox Nation or the Pottowatomie Nation. I was excited to be able to live among such noble people. Yet, they were treated as outcasts. The Native American there was treated like the blacks of the South were treated when I grew up in the 60s.

Years passed and I continued to learn how unmerciful the whites were to the tribes. In the book, 1491 (Charles C. Mann) a history is laid out about how the tribes welcomed the white man or the Spaniard, and then were exploited through the Americas. They were not immune to smallpox brought here by the Europeans. We stole their land and moved them to reservations or Oklahoma. In the comedy show, Latin History for Morons   Netflix says, “John Leguizamo won’t rest until every moron becomes less of a moron.”

Usually, in writing blogs, I like to have plenty of photos to break up the words. As we enter the “holiday season” I exhort you to change the holiday. Let’s take a holiday from bitterness, greed, and strife. Let’s choose to love one another and care for our world and our neighbor so that each day we live a practice of gratitude. Gratitude does take practice too.

Human beings that we are, it is easy for one to focus on the negative aspects of life. We forget the beauty and gratitude of merely waking up. Grief does not rest during these times either and can even be exponentially triggered. Can we take a holiday from the rush-a-holic business of this time of the year to pay attention to feelings: both the feelings of self as well as the other? Can we practice that each time we think something is wrong with a person to try and find what is right?

Even writing that paragraph was a hard practice for me. Why? Because I know that if I ask another to practice something, I must also look in the mirror at my choices and my actions. This practice of gratitude doesn’t have to be vocalized and in fact, vocalization can mask a dark reality. Look deep inside of yourself. What do you see there? Can you give thanks for all that you are? I know I can’t. Yet, I can give thanks that I have friends who love me just as I am.

My dog sits at my right foot watching me as I write the end of this blog. She thinks I sit at the computer for too long. Pets teach us the true meaning of gratitude, so does nature. Turn your Black Friday into a green one by going for a hike in nature with a loved one. There are many ways that we can practice gratitude that include all of humanity and our world. Let’s start this year.

 

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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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