Monday, April 25, 2016

my annual love affair

When we first started looking at houses together in Massachusetts, my now-husband would give me an address to look up; he'd say something like, "It's 1,600 square feet on a 12,000 square foot lot." I understand square footage in houses, but for land, "I speak in acres," I told him. After all, I'm the girl who grew up on the coast of Maine. I understand fractions — half an acre, a quarter acre, a third — but acre is my reference point.
 
After we were married, we put my house in Maine on the market and I moved into Paul's house in Lowell. It was a sweet little ranch on about 9,000 square feet (about a fifth of an acre for those of you who speak my language). At the end of our road, there was a golf club. A few streets over were businesses. We were two houses in from a busy road and within half a mile of two ambulance dispatch centers. It was far from peaceful for me, having spent most of my life roaming anywhere from 1 to 3 acres on the water.

Our second married Christmas, Paul bought me a DSLR — a digital single lens reflex camera. I had a decent digital point-and-shoot camera, but I really wanted the control over focus (and blur) that comes with different lenses. Almost immediately, I bought a macro lens. Focusing in on details, I saw a surprising amount of nature on our little plot of city land.

A gorgeous old maple grew in our backyard, spreading branches low enough that for the first time in my life, I noticed that maple leaves begin as flowers.

I got up close to a forsythia blossom and admired how the light shone through the petals.

Our neighbor to the back had a tree that exploded in delicate pink blossoms.

A dogwood tree grew in the front yard, and its branches were low enough that I could be on eye level with the blossoms.

One day I noticed water drops on a daffodil, and a new love was born: photographing water droplets.

And then I discovered weeping cherry trees.

A few years later, after both my house in Maine and the Lowell house sold, my husband and I bought a house together. We're blessed with both a magnolia tree and a weeping cherry. Heaven!

Each spring, I take my camera and stand beneath the cascading branches and blossoms.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/8681284311
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/14111264043
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/14096634902
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/17186581809
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/16780111314

This spring, however, there is not a single blossom. The tree has buds — but they're going straight to leaf. I blame our wacky winter and spring with heat followed by snowstorms. Our magnolia is almost as bad off; it has about 5 sad-looking blossoms.

In previous years, it was filled with blossoms.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/8682409006
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/14087972931
And like the weeping cherry, the magnolia's branches are low enough that I can be on eye level with the blossoms.
Sometimes looking up is a gift, too.

My heart truly aches at the loss of my flowering trees this spring. To be surrounded by life and joy and beauty after the cold, dark days of winter replenishes my spirit. But I don't like staying down, so I found solace where I could. We have some spring bulbs blooming, and I cut a little bouquet to admire.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/26548656381
https://www.flickr.com/photos/packofhuskies/26521429172

This spring is odd — odd weather, odd blooming patterns. Odd, too, because my husband is on strike and I'm contemplating a calling. Our comfort zone has been blown out of the water — so today I'm taking comfort in memories of my love affair with my flowering trees. I hope that if this spring is odd for you, that you too may find comfort here.


Monday, March 7, 2016

my two no-no's: religion and politics


I’m reluctant to talk about two things, religion and politics, unless I know I’m in agreement with the other person. Today, though, I’m talking about both, to whoever reads this. 

It doesn’t matter to me whether you do or do not believe in God. I respect your choice, and I ask that you respect mine. 

I was raised Roman Catholic, but there were years when I didn’t believe in God; there were many other years when I believed in God but distrusted organized religion. 

And then I discovered the Episcopal church: theologically the same as Roman Catholic and therefore familiar — but (equally important to me) in line with my social beliefs. Women can be priests. Everyone is welcome. A marriage is between two loving people. 

So now I find myself in this funny place. I believe in God. (But I didn’t always, and I still remember cringing when I would hear someone say “God.”) I consider myself an Episcopalian. I’m deeply drawn to my church and my faith. I consider myself Christian. 

Did you feel that? Did you see me cringe? The label “Christian” has such negative connotations. Narrow- or closed-minded. Judgmental. Intolerant. 

Nevertheless, I believe in Jesus Christ, and I am a Christian. Moreover, my God is a loving God. My God teaches love above all else. I will no longer be silent and allow a vocal group that is not founded on love to speak for me and my faith.


One of the interesting things in my faith journey has been figuring out how my faith intersects with my everyday life. My parents taught me many important lessons, but the one that I think I most took to heart was, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” 

It turns out this ties in beautifully with my faith. I always thought the “What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)” movement was hokey — but you know, I think I get it now. How would Jesus respond to people who lie, or react out of fear rather than love? What would he say about corporate greed and the privileged gaining more privileges while less fortunate workers lose ground? If we could talk to Jesus, how would we explain politicians that place more value on beating the other party than on caring for the citizens who elected them?

I believe we best serve God by being the best person we can be. (If you don't believe in God, you can say I believe we best serve our higher selves by being our best.) When I look around my country, I see too many people reacting to fear with hatred. Regardless of your faith, will you choose love or hate? 

I choose love.

Monday, January 18, 2016

a message finally decoded

I confess: I get attached to things. I love pretty things like colored glass. I love inherited objects that remind me of my parents: pewter vases and candleholders from Scandinavia from my dad, and old glass bottles and vases from my mom. Sometimes I hold onto sentimental things, like postcards and cards from when people regularly communicated that way: some for the picture on front, some for the writing. I hold onto silly things: paintings of flowers from a calendar I had 10 years ago because I love the colors and the way they make me feel.

At the same time, I long to shed what I no longer need. That's true emotionally, energetically, mentally and physically.

Every few years, I purge some small corner of my physical life. About a year ago, a dear friend helped me clear my office at home; what began as a space for writing and doing distance healing evolved into my Etsy shop headquarters (photography, inventory, mailing supplies) and then into general household storage. For several months, it's remained in limbo, an hour's worth of work away from being usable space.

I dove into some piles of papers in there this week, looking for things to use in making collages. I found those flower painting calendar images, postcards I had bought in Norway and Italy as souvenirs, cards and postcards sent to me years ago. I found pieces of sea glass, postcards from the farm where I buy flower essences, Christmas cards from previous years.

As I expanded my search for collage items, in the gazebo I found seashells from my trip to Cape Cod last spring. In my office at the church, I found cards from parishioners, 4x6 prints of some of my favorite photos, and 12x12 photos from the past few calendars I've made.

Why this focus on collages? Last year, my friend Tricia and I did a creative Lenten project. Each week, we created two diptychs: one with her haiku and my photo, and one with my haiku and her photo. This year when we talked about a Lenten project, Trish suggested collages. I was all in, and since it's been years since I've made a collage, I decided to do a practice one.



I used one of the calendar flower paintings as the background and pieces of Christmas cards in three corners. I added bits of postcards and notes, and anchoring the bottom right, a mounted phrase in three languages: "never action-fruit motive should arise."

It was given to me by a beloved teacher in high school. I instinctively loved it — but didn't understand it consciously. This week, though, when I came across it, I realized I finally can explain what it means to me: don't take action with motive, or intended outcome. For me, this means living from my true self — making decisions from my soul, not from my ego or out of some effort to create a certain outcome.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

beginning to weed

The day after learning it was time to weed, I began thinking about what tools I needed. Love, I immediately knew, was first. 

Love? I'd been thinking about a serious, heavy-duty tool like a dandelion prong — big and strong. Still, I prepared to settle in and begin to work with love. I was expecting to get my hands dirty in a messy weeding session. 

Instead, I was guided to sit with my heart open and release the weeds. 

Love, and release. What an amazing process. 


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

gardening in my heart

I'm working on being my soul — being who I'm meant to be. 

If you read my healing blog, you've heard this many times: I believe we're born with a divine core, and as we go through life, we accumulate junk around that core. When we're living through those layers of junk, we're not living from our authentic selves. 

For many years, I've been working on shedding my junk. Years of talk therapy and intense energy work have helped immensely. At one point, my inner voice was practically silenced, drowned out by the louder junk voices; now my inner voice is strong and almost always the first one I hear. 

As I reduce constant criticism and limiting thoughts and expectations, I become more free and able to live my truth. 

But what is that truth? 

I know I'm here to help people. I've always known that. I help people in my healing practice by balancing their energy and helping them feel better. I help people in my job at an Episcopal church by helping to create opportunities for people to connect with God. I help people in my non-work life by trying to be kind and respectful. 

All of that is good, but it's not complete. There's something missing; I don't know what it is or how to get there, but nevertheless I've been approaching it one step at a time. 

I'm a high-structure, control-happy person; I figure out where I want to go and how to get there, and I do it. How can I move forward if I don't know where I'm going? That's where the one step comes in, and I find that step by listening to my heart, my strongest connection to my divine core. 

Is this all too vague? Here's an example of an early step. A few years ago, I realized that the most fulfilling part of my job at the church (talking with people one-on-one in a pastoral care role) wasn't officially part of my job as Communications Director. My step, enormously scary at the time, was telling that to my boss, Kate. If there was any potential for more of what fulfilled me, I said, that would be wonderful. Kate, rector (priest in charge of the parish), said she didn't know what it would look like, but if we remained open, she was sure it would come. 

One day about six months later, I worked on opening my heart fully to my higher purpose. "Okay, God," I said (substitute "Universe" or another word if "God" doesn't work for you), "here I am. What am I meant to do? I'm ready."

And immediately my heart closed a little — not quite ready, after all. 

That was about a year ago; this deep processing takes time for me. Years ago in therapy, my psychiatrist suggested I learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That's some of the best advice I've ever received, and it definitely applies to this one-step-at-a-time business, where my destination is still a mystery. 

I've been off since Christmas Day — a real gift (I go back to work today, as soon as I finish this post). Other than a doctor appointment, I scheduled nothing, leaving myself time to recover and relax. A handful of days ago, I meditated/prayed and tried again to fully open my heart to my higher purpose. This time my heart stayed open. And then a seed was planted in my heart. "What do I do next?" I asked. 

"Wait," I was told. 

Yesterday I thought about the seed. "Time to weed," I was told. So one more step was revealed: I set about identifying the weeds. How I define success and worth/worthiness are obvious — they're big buttons for me. Thinking more deeply about it, I decided they have something in common: the external voices disagree with and overpower my inner voices, covering and choking them. 

My next step is figuring out how to pull those weeds. I'm imagining it will be a messy process, just as real-life weeding is. I've never been a fan of gardening gloves, so I'm prepared to get my hands dirty. I'll need tools, I suspect; identifying and gathering them is next.




Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pulling a phone out of the wall

I can't quite remember which came first: my mother's eye or the dog.

In the fall of 1995, shortly after I graduated from college, my beloved Nikki, a Siberian Husky who was my 9th birthday present, was 13 and failing; on Halloween, we said goodbye.

I think my mother's eye happened before that, late summer or early fall. One day, her eye was totally red; the doctor said a blood vessel had burst, which happens, and not to worry.

Around the same time (or was it the same day?), my mom was giving a presentation at work when she suddenly had blood in her mouth.

Soon after, she had an appointment with her endocrinologist to check on her thyroid. Her blood pressure was so high that he didn't want her to leave the office. He sent her straight to her regular doctor. The testing began.

~

My first job out of college was doing layout and page production in a commercial printing department; I worked second shift, and every other week, I interacted with a client who would call with changes to their many-paged booklet that we printed.

The client was a character. He would chew gum the whole time he was talking to me on the phone. "Eh, Kristina," he said one day (chomp chomp chomp). "Long time, no talk, eh? That's a pisser."

One late afternoon, after my parents got home from medical appointments, my mom called me at work. Her kidneys had only about 30% function and were failing, she'd been told. I had an electric feeling throughout my body — raw fear and disbelief. I interpreted my mother's diagnosis to mean she was dying, sooner rather than later.

Soon after (a minute? an hour?), the client called, and my coworkers shoved a big bowl of popcorn in my face — so I could chew in the client's ear for a change. I waved them off and switched phones to one that was closer to the counter where the proofs were. The cord was tangled, I was frazzled, and I tugged at the cord — until the phone ripped out of the wall. I dissolved in tears, handed the phone to a coworker and fled.

Twenty minutes later, I walked in the door of our house, not sure what I would find.

What I found was normal. My dad sitting on the loveseat. My mom sitting in her chair. The woodstove burning. Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy on the television. I sat on the floor in front of the fire and read the newspaper.

I was outwardly normal but falling apart inside. That became my normal.

~

This morning after my shower, I looked in the mirror. I saw 22-year-old eyes, pained and scared, and the discolored patch of skin on my 42-year-old left cheek — like my mother's cheeks as she aged.

If I could give my 22-year-old self anything, it would be someone to have her back. Someone to help carry the load, physically and emotionally. Someone to lean on when her foundations were shaken.

I would give my 22-year-old self the unconditional love and partnership that Paul gives me.

Paul and I knew each other then; for those of you who don't know, Paul is the oldest brother of my best friend from college. I think we met when I was 19. Paul was interested, but my best friend didn't want me to date her brothers, so I didn't — for 16 years.

I couldn't have managed a lasting relationship with anyone in my early 20s, so I'm glad Paul and I didn't get together then. But I think it would be comforting for my 22-year-old self to know that she wouldn't always feel alone, that she'd someday have someone to lean on, that someday she could face this unspeakable fear and that she wouldn't be alone.




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Revisiting the past

I graduated from college in the summer of 1995, moved home and found a job. Five months later, my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. The next month, my mother's mother (who moved in with us when I was 8) fell and broke her shoulder. A few months after that, my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

I was 22 and scared out of my mind. My parents were older when I was born (my mom 37, my dad 60), and growing up, I was always afraid they would die. Now my worst fears seemed to be coming true, and there was nothing I could do except watch it happen.

I don't remember much about that time. I know that I was highly functional; I drove my parents and grandmother to doctor appointments and cancer treatments or kept up our huge house and yard during the day, and I worked second shift. I had friends, but I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone about fear of my parents dying. Or about how it feels to watch someone you love suffer from cancer. Or about the realities of being a caretaker. 

With the clarity of twenty intervening years, I'm sure there were people who would have listened. There might have been people who tried. The real issue was that I couldn't talk about it without crying, and at that point, I tried my damnedest to not cry in front of anyone. (Funny how important that seemed.) I believed I needed to be able to take care of myself, by myself, and that isolated me more.

Scared. Overwhelmed. Isolated. (Depressed? I can't remember if these were the few years I was off anti-depressants.) Going through the motions but not processing my thoughts or feelings.

Now I think it's time to do that processing. Twenty years is a long time to have buried this. I don't know if I'm ready (I don't feel ready, but I don't think I ever feel ready to tackle something big) — but I do know that I have strength and knowledge gained from years of therapy and intense energy work. If that's not enough to get me through, my husband will share his strength.

So in this darkest time of the year, I'm going within to face my fears and my darkest pain. I'm going to spend time with my 22-year-old self. I can be the listener she didn't have, the person to whom she can say anything. I can be the one she doesn't have to be strong for. I can be the person who's not afraid to cry with her. (Okay, that last one is a lie. Crying with people makes me really uncomfortable. But fear and discomfort won't stop me.) Let's begin.