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Friday, November 22, 2019

Spiritual Inspiration

Matthew 13: 31-32 "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.” The fall of 1989 was the beginning of a very difficult time in my life. I moved back to be near my parents with three children, a trailer full of furniture, no job, and $200. School was starting the following Monday. My parents helped me move into an apartment three weeks later and I signed up to sub in five school districts. It was the wrong time to be looking for a teaching job. My children’s father paid $200 child support, but altogether I had only $90 left over after paying rent. My children were grieving the loss of their dad and their farm, my twenty-year-old cat had to be put down because of kidney failure, and my morning prayer was, “God, please don’t make me live through this day.” He ignored it and I went about getting the children off to school. I was able to get the family in for counseling on a sliding-scale fee and the counselors gave me a pass to get a Thanksgiving basket at the food pantry. When I picked it up and opened it, there on top was a Christmas hand towel. It touched me deeply that someone cared about me. Fast forward to retirement. All three kids had made it through college and I had paid off all of my loans. Marseilles, IL had a terrible flood and I decided to collect Christmas decorations for those families. I contacted the Methodist Church there, the minister set up the basement for me, and her children skipped as they helped me unload the car. I have been doing it every year since. After several failures to connect, I have chosen to give the decorations to the Angel Tree families. It brings joy to those who donate and to those who receive. And it all started with one Christmas hand towel. I wrote this passage for an advent activity at my church. I have put my spiritual beliefs at the end of the year, because religion is so controversial. If you are a Christian, are you "the right kind" of Christian? Are you someone who just goes to church, or does your whole life reflect your experiences with spirit? If you are an atheist, you can stop reading here. You probably already did. For those of us that have had spiritual experiences that are beyond denial, the spirit is a powerful force for good. Beauty, truth, love, these all reflect what we experience when we are receptive to spiritual guidance. For me, the desire to create flows from within by some unknowable process. What makes music cycle in my head unexpectedly? Where do the words come from that describe what it is like to nurse a baby? Why do I choose certain fabrics for my quilt? I can't say I have a direct line with God, but I try to be open and willing to create, to give to others, and to serve others. The rewards have been a cornucopia of good will

Inspiration and Our Children

The holidays are a mixed bag for many people. Memories of drunken arguments are interspersed among my happy memories of holidays with relatives. I love my family dearly and have made it a rule that all opinions may be expressed in my home, although I know I would not accept a racist comment without responding strongly. We have had a few arguments in the last two decades, but it does not keep us from getting together and having fun.

 I would do anything for my kids (except racism, sexism, etc.) from the moment they were born. My friend called it the mother hen syndrome. I have told my oldest that I was a pacifist until he was born. At that time, I knew I would kill anyone that tried to kill him.

Why do our children inspire us so much? For me, the reason is that my children have surpassed me in so many ways. My oldest is a prize-winning racer. He runs up tall buildings and has done marathons and triathlons. His running took off in junior high, and he was part of a team that took second place at state in high school. He is a programmer and he is much more proficient in that than I am, as well. My second child has made a beautiful home for his family in the country and manages a school district's technology. His spiritual growth began to eclipse mine in his young adult years, and he and his wife have raised three children with beautiful characters. More about them later. My youngest was the artist, and showed talent in singing and art from a very early age. Unable to find full-time employment in those fields, she transformed her life with an advanced degree and began a beautiful family several years ago. She treats patients for speech and voice problems, although she is presently home with her first child.

Ah, grandchildren. The best part of getting old. My oldest grandchild is the spirit of kindness, even to her siblings. She has begun to develop her musical talent and we play/sing with her sister and other family members when we get together. She is fascinated by succulents at the moment. She (and her siblings) knows more than I do about my favorite subjects, such as space and plants. Once she learns something, she doesn't forget it. The second grandchild, lover to all the world, has performed as a dancer and pianist, and she knows everything her sister does. You wouldn't know there are two years between them. They will be a force for good in the world. The third grandchild tries to keep up with his sisters. He came from a different country, culture, and DNA source. His life has been a long adjustment to different food, climate, culture, and behavior. He shines in his loving kindness to others. And grandchild number four is waiting to meet me. She is waking, eating, sleeping and pooping at the present time, but has been born into a loving, healthy home. What will her future look like in the decades to come? I was hit with the difference in generations when I took a Spanish class at the local community college. The teacher asked about different activities we did when we were young. Toys - I rode my bike, TV shows - Smothers Brothers, Video games - didn't exist, Vacations - camping in the Rockies, books - Lassie and Ladd, the Red series. Most of the young people in the class had no clue what I was talking about except, of course, the Rockies.

I am at the age when I blink and it's time to put the garbage out again. I don't even try to think about time passing anymore, since I have no control over it. It also means I've had a remarkable year, with lots of fun and not much suffering. Last night my oldest granddaughter beat me soundly in a simple game of strategy, twice. Thank goodness for the coming generations. They inspire us to live our best lives and make their world better.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Pack Rats Unite!

When’s the last time you went through your closets? I got carpeting a couple of weeks ago and brought all of the boxes that had been in the closet downstairs. My daughter confirmed that I was looking a lot like a hoarder. However, I am determined to get rid of stuff my children will not want when I die. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Swedish custom of dödstädning, “death cleaning.” My non-fiction book club read The Boomer’s Burden last year, and I was shocked when all three of my children refused the souvenirs Dad brought back from WWII. My oldest at least listened to the story of my dad’s front line experiences, the few he shared with us. But that’s another story

The topic this year is inspiration. While going through a box full of my mementos, I ran across a letter from a friend of thirty years, Jim Gieseler. He told me that I inspired him. Single mothers impressed him, given all that they had to do. When I was going through a messy divorce and poverty with my three beloved children, I could not see what I was supposed to learn from the experience. I have faith that God loves me as much as I love my children (or more), but I’m not sure he has control over what suffering we impose on each other — free will and all. Now I read this letter and I know my suffering was building character and showing others how to strive when odds were against them. My friend has five children. His life could not have been easy. But I am grateful that he saw the best in me and told me so. 

Who is inspiring you? Have you told them lately? What’s keeping you from it? Do it now. Time is never promised.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Haben Girma

I get a daily news blurb from Katie Couric called the Wake-up Call. She recently wrote a small paragraph about a woman named Haben Girma, who was a child of refugees, black and deafblind. She graduated from Harvard Law School and has a web page here. I went to UIUC (top 10% of my class), got a Master’s in Special Education and went on to get a Certificate of Advanced Study in Technology in Education and it never occurred to me that I was capable of getting a law degree, much less from Harvard. This woman is amazing. I have a digital copy of her new memoir, called Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. She has some wonderful suggestions on her web site for making disability stories positive. I wrote last month about my friend Nancy, who was attacked by West Nile Virus in her 60s and has continued to live actively, even if she is in a wheelchair. This would be something Haben would like. I think it's true of those who work with the disabled, too.

Haben wants to see disabled people regarded as other-abled, like many teachers in special ed do. For years, people with learning disabilities were regarded with the term “Minimal Brain Dysfunction.” Now we know that learned disabled people are often very smart and creative.  The same is true for those with autism. Previously regarded as cognitively impaired, we have learned that they can learn to read, use iPads for communication, and are very loving. The scientific community will continue to discover more talents of people with disabilities in the future.

Haben has some hearing in the upper ranges and her voice coach (which is what my daughter is!) helps her prepare speeches for TEDx and other speaking engagements. She helps writers prepare stories that frame the disabled in a positive way.

As a spoiled suburban girl brought up in a lower-middle class home with both parents, I was determined to not “settle” for any job. I wanted enough income to support three children and send them through college. That’s a pretty high bar these days, but I did it by ignoring people who were not interested in my abilities and judged my by my age, gender, and marital status. If my employer didn’t care that I could program a computer or at least choose software for my classroom, I found an employer that not only appreciated my skills, but hired me to teach them to others. My biggest discrimination hurdle came as I aged, but I was able to connect with others in my retirement and am still using those skills. That’s the message I take from Haben Girma. If you want to do something, don’t let culture stand in your way. Keep looking for avenues to express your talent. We are all needed and do our best when we are interdependent.