I learned that God was able to save the body
as well as the soul, and I believed His promises..."
- Miscellaneous Writings 1883 - 1896
There is a resurrection of innocence and wisdom within us, each time we turn to God for peace of mind, direction, healing and transformation. Below are just a few examples of how Kate has found prayer to be practical in every situation.
The following articles were published in The Christian Science Journal, Sentinel, Monitor as well as Spirituality.com, belief.net, singleparent.com and other print/online publications. In them, Kate shares how an understanding of one's relationship with God, found through the study and practice of Christian Science, has led to greater self-knowledge, humility, love...and healing...in her life.
Click on the title below to read the article. And if you would like to read Kate's most current articles, feel free to visit her blog, "thought gently whispers..."
The child I never held
The child I never held
I was 20 years old the summer I became pregnant. She was my first child. But it was hard to be happy about it. I was unmarried. Although the father and I had recently become engaged, we weren't married yet and this pregnancy was the result of our first sexual encounter.
From the moment I guessed that I was pregnant I wanted to embrace feeling beautiful and blessed, but I knew that my fiancé's response to this news would be abject terror. When his older sister had become pregnant out of wedlock four years earlier, her parents had shipped her off to a home for unwed mothers and forced her to surrender the baby for adoption. I figured his parents' reaction to my situation would be similar.
My fiancé was coming home from college for a weekend visit, and I knew I had to tell him. He had a ride home partway and I was to meet him and pick him up at a small truck stop on the highway. I arrived before they did and went into the café for a snack.
As I walked past the plate-glass window of the restaurant, I caught sight of my reflection. There I was in frayed bellbottoms, an embroidered white gauze peasant blouse and flipflops. In that moment I saw how I was already growing, and I knew that I was a mother.
I will never forget the mix of joy and confusion and terror that washed over me. I loved my fiancé, and I wanted him to be thrilled with our journey toward parenthood. Yet I knew about his fear of his parents. When he arrived, I just couldn't tell him.
For the three days until he went back, I was in a haze. It was a beautiful autumn homecoming weekend. We were surrounded by high-school friends, but I felt lost. During the day I tried to smile and be a part of the festivities, but at night I lay in bed singing lullabies. I was only twelve weeks pregnant, but my love for this child was complete.
By Sunday afternoon I was ready to explode into tears…and did. On the way to meet his ride, I spilled out that I was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby. His answer was as I had expected. His parents' reaction was all he could think about.
He insisted that we couldn't keep the child. Hadn't Roe v Wade given us the right and the permission to abort this ill-timed pregnancy? He argued for this position intensely, saying he wanted us to start our family on the right note, and if I wouldn't do this for him he wasn't sure that I loved him. I caved in to the fear. As much as I loved the baby, I let fear rule-I was afraid of being alone and without the father.
The next morning with tears streaming down my cheeks I called the local clinic and made an appointment for an abortion. Three hours later I left the clinic no longer pregnant. Within four years the baby's father and I were both married and divorced-without children.
But the baby never left my thought. I lived with an ache for this little one, who I always thought of as a girl, every day.
Many years later it still haunted me. One night, I was lying in bed trying to silence the grieving sobs for a child I had never held. My husband of 13 years rolled over and suggested that whatever was making me this sad had to be healable. Though we had three adopted children of our own, he knew that I needed lasting comfort about my loss and believed I could have it.
I was astonished. I didn't think there could be any reparation, redemption or healing for what I had done to this innocent child. How could I ever expect to feel anything but despair over my poor choices? But I knew that this dear loving man, a great partner and support, was urging me to find a spiritual solution for this anguish.
I padded into another room to pray. Without turning on the light, I sat in the rocker in the corner and began to sing softly a hymn I had learned in childhood and that I had sung to that precious baby those many years before. My own mother had sung this hymn to me not only as a small child, but through my teenage years when self-doubt and fear of growing up plagued me.
The words are from a poem written by a woman whose life inspires me-Mary Baker Eddy, the author of Science and Health. A woman of the 19th century, she herself had to give up a child when she was a young widowed mother. Her own family would not help her care for her son, who was given to a family that then moved far away.
Later, Eddy wrote the poem "Mother's Evening Prayer," which meant so much to me as a hymn. As I sang to myself and rocked back and forth, the beginning of a deep peace came to my heart. The words were addressed straight to God. "Thou Love that guards the nestling's faltering flight! / Keep Thou my child on upward wing to-night." and "Beneath the shadow of His mighty wing; / In that sweet secret of the narrow way, / Seeking and finding, with the angels sing: / 'Lo, I am with you alway,'-watch and pray."
Here was an ongoing message of mother-love. I could trust that God was keeping and had kept this child "on upward wing" and that God, divine Love, was always with her and with me, encouraging us both to "watch and pray."
With tears of love now flowing down my cheeks I went to my desk and randomly opened Science and Health as I do often when looking for comfort, guidance and answers. My eyes fell on this passage: "A mother's affection cannot be weaned from her child, because mother-love includes purity and constancy, both of which are immortal. Therefore maternal affection lives on under whatever difficulties."
Total peace descended on me. These words rang true in a new way. I knew not a single day had passed that I hadn't thought about my child with love. Now I could see the spiritual basis for my daily thoughts of love for her. They were not an insidious reminder of a much-regretted and painful choice-they were a mother's prayer, maternal affection, that will always live on.
Many years after this night of insight, I take my appointment as her mother very seriously. As I pray for each of my children's spiritual progress and awareness of their relationship to God, I include in those prayers the daughter that I never held in my arms, but have held each day in my heart.
Fighting candy canes
Fighting candy canes
"Kate!" The bookstore community relations coordinator called to me as she rushed over. "The candy canes are beating each other up!"
Well, the day had started beautifully, I thought to myself as I hurried to the crying at the back of the store.
Actually, the morning had the potential to be a scene straight from Hallmark for this ex-ballerina mother. My daughter had the role of Clara in our community's production of The Nutcracker. The bookstore had invited the cast to perform scenes from this holiday classic for their customers.
Ironically, the other mothers and I had just been comparing notes on how beautifully our young dancers had handled the exhaustive rehearsal schedules, casting comparisons, and keeping up with school work, all without any of the competitiveness and "attitude" that could have undermined their friendships and the success of the show.
On my way to the conflict's epicenter, I saw my daughter and another friend clinging to each other. They rushed over to tell me that their other two best friends had suddenly, out of the blue, started quarreling over who would tie the sash on my daughter's Clara costume. Before either of them knew what was up, one had punched the other, and a fight had ensued.
I told the girls I would see to the fighting candy canes, one of whom was hiding out in the bookstore's restroom -- I could hear her sobbing. I went to comfort her, asking God to give me the right words to bring this conflict to a quick conclusion. The girls were scheduled to dance together in just a few minutes.
The other mother then came in with her battling candy cane in tow. Both mother and daughter were in tears.
As I took each of the girls by the hand I heard myself asking, "Are either of you really a candy cane just because you are wearing these costumes?" Still furious, they shook their heads with looks of mingled hurt and embarrassment. What was I talking about?
I said, "You know, you're not angry, nervous, emotional dancers either. This fight you're having is just as make believe as the illusion of being pieces of peppermint flavored red and white candy.
"You really are friends. You can drop the role of being angry and hurt as quickly as you stop being candy canes when your dance is finished and your costumes are hung up on the hangers in the dressing room."
Both girls thought about this for a second, then started giggling. Getting over it as quickly as only young kids can, they threw their arms around each other and hugged.
My friend and I watched them skip out of the restroom and pass out flyers to bookstore patrons. We appreciated again the fact that the dancers were refusing the expectations of petty competitiveness and explosive emotions that were constantly being handed to them like a bad script. They had turned down that role and chosen to be friends . . . for real.
No time for arthritis
No time for arthritis
At almost fifty, I was the mother of a pre-teen girl and year-old twin daughters. We lived in a large old house with stairs at every turn. I was finding it harder and harder to climb those stairs.
My husband Dwight remembers that I "couldn't go forward without resting." My mother, who often stayed over to help with the twins, recalls how Dwight sometimes had to help me up and down the stairs. And it was often a struggle for me to pick up the twins.
I wanted to find a spiritual solution. I'm a longtime reader of the Bible and Science and Health. These books have formed the foundation for my spiritual understanding. I had often turned to prayer for answers throughout my life, and I hoped that prayer could help in this situation too.
So I began to pray about what I felt was my divine right to be free from this crippling condition, based on my understanding of God and my spiritual identity.
I have come to know God as the very law of harmony, action and movement. This was a solid foundation for my stand against this debilitating condition. I thought about how my spiritual identity wasn't defined merely by feet and ankles, knees and shoulders, but by the spiritual resources of joy, gratitude, gentleness, strength, endurance, flexibility-the great goodness that God freely gives to me and everyone.
Sticking to my prayers took a concerted effort, and it wasn't always easy. There were still times when the pain in my joints had me scooting down the stairs on my bottom, crawling up them on my hands and knees, or just avoiding them altogether.
One day I asked my mom, who has also found prayer to be a practical solution to problems throughout her life, whether she'd ever suffered from the challenges I was facing. An active hiker and climber, she was free from any arthritic symptoms. She was also a widow who had raised eight children.
Her response to my query was thoughtful but firm. "Honey," she said, "I just didn't have time for that."
That was it. And as simple as that sounds, her answer propelled my prayers forward. I realized I didn't have to make time for this either. I had three active girls to chase after, a business to attend to and countless volunteer commitments to fulfill.
Meanwhile, I appreciated Dwight's and my mom's prayer and support of my spiritual growth.
A persistent voice in my heart kept reminding me I didn't have to give in to this disease. So instead of worrying, I spent my time thinking about my spiritual nature, my spiritual wholeness and natural right functioning.
The change came, and it wasn't a big dramatic, waking-up-one-morning change. But little by little I was able to do more and more than I previously could do. And within a short time, the pain faded until it left completely.
As Dwight said to a friend, "I couldn't tell you exactly when the change took place. But she had a lot of pain, and then she didn't. I remember how Kate rejoiced when she was able to pick up the twins again."
Today my oldest daughter is 15 and the twins are seven. I wear strappy little sandals, bound up bleachers for volleyball games and run the mile in 27 minutes (okay, so I have some work to do on speed).
Now, on to the gray hair-actually, that I like!
Lesson from September 11th: Love is Life
Lesson from September 11th: Love is Life
Everywhere I've turned there is talk of revenge and retaliation.
On September 11, I was spending time at a local high school where I had been asked to hang out in case students needed counseling or someone to talk to in light of the tragic news coming out of New York and Washington, D.C.
I hadn't been there for more than ten minutes when I ran into a girl in the hall whose weeping couldn't be ignored. I asked her if I could help in some way…if she would like to talk. She said that her heart was breaking because her classmates were expressing the kind of revenge-driven violence, verbally, that she thought was too reminiscent of the horrendous events of that morning.
Her tears were tears of frustration that a revenge mentality was beginning to harden her friends' hearts, and that soon they would be just as angry and violent as the hijacking perpetrators of the crime itself.
We talked about what was really bothering them. Concern for the families of missing New Yorkers and Pentagon workers, a feeling of helplessness, and the desire to make a difference at a time when it seemed as if there was nothing anyone could do. Not the rage and hatred that seemed to mask their real desires for hope and assurance that good was operating, even in New York.
We talked for a long time. Finally she headed off to class, tears gone. She was more confident that God is governing the hearts of her classmates, comforting them and healing any anger.
I left our conversation feeling that there was still more I needed to be doing. The kind of counseling I do is spiritual in nature. While I felt I had strengthened the student's resolve I was still certain there was more counseling to do.
Throughout the day radio talk shows and television commentators discussed how we should react to this act of aggression. Talk of war and retribution filled the airwaves as I continued to turn my heart to God for comfort and guidance in my own prayers for peace of mind.
The next morning I walked into my favorite bagel shop where the young woman behind the counter was almost in tears. I asked her if I could do anything for her and she said that she had had enough hatred since 6AM to last a lifetime.
She went on to explain that customer after customer had vented their anger at "those people" as they ordered their bagels and stood in line talking with other customers. A sob escaped as she begged for some end to the hatred. We talked for a long time about God's power to turn hearts away from hatred and toward His aim…peace on earth, good will to men.
As I sat at the table by the window eating my bagel before heading off to another high school lobby, I remembered something my soon-to-be husband said on our wedding day, "If you're not being loving, you're not really alive."
That statement is now engraved in my wedding ring and reminds me that I cannot let anyone, in the way they talk, think or act, cause me to throw away my right to love…to truly live. To live love and be love. To think love and act love.
This has been a keynote to every moment of the last 48 hours. I pray each hour, "Dear God make me the image and likeness of divine Love."
On the way to a church service last night I heard a guest commentator on yet one more radio program say, "There is a price to pay for these acts of violence."
I thought about this.
I prayed to God, yearning for direction in my prayer for healing and reconciliation. When in my seat in the quietness of the church auditorium I remembered a verse in a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, titled, "The New Century," a poem I had once used to keep my own thought free from hatred at a time of betrayal and broken promises. That verse reads:
'Tis writ on earth, on leaf and flower:
This brought such peace to my heart. This was something I could hold on to. These were words that I could cling to in the midst of the crashing waves of sadness and heartache.
Right reigns, but without the price of blood. This is all the assurance I need.
Images of God's presence
Images of God's presence
No more tears
No more tears
Our daughters were cute, but they were difficult! From the moment they woke up until they were fast asleep (which was rare), unless they were being held, they were crying.
Our sweet, lovely identical twin angels were persistent . . . and somehow we'd managed to teach them early on that if you scream loud enough and long enough you will be picked up and held. Momma meanwhile will try to hold you while doing necessary things like -- breathing.
Now you may be saying to yourself, "So just hold them!" Well, that's what I tried to do. But five pound infants grow, and holding 10 or 15 pounds of squirming babies isn't just difficult -- it's impossible.
By the time they were three months old, I was tired, frustrated and unkept. Dad and older sister looked relieved as they headed out the door each morning for work and school.
When the girls were about five months old I had hit the wall. I was home alone with them every day trying to do it all. As I lay on the couch following a long morning of feeding and bathing and hours of crying, tears once again poured down my face and pooled in my ears. Between sobs I literally begged God, tell me what I needed to do to comfort these beautiful children that I loved so much but who I was failing somehow.
God came through. His love spoke to my heart -- "I'm not going to tell you how to comfort them -- I will comfort them and you! You are My child too. Let Me love you all."
That day, the uncontrollable crying stopped, for the first time. This didn't mean that the girls never cried again, but from then on I had the spiritual reminder that we were all the children of a Father who loved us with all His heart and wanted us to be at peace, aware of His care and imbued with His tender love.
I have stopped thinking of our daughters as . . . well, as our daughters. Instead I'm learning that all of us are God's children, aware of our Father/Mother God's care and able to hear His gentle voice of encouragement and comfort even in the midst of our tears. Today the girls are three and a half. And dad called them to breakfast, and they hopped out of bed and sprinted downstairs to the kitchen. Then it was time to get dressed for preschool, and I called them, and they came!!! As dad and big sister headed out for school this time, happy twins were skipping along with them as I waved from the doorway.
No more tears -- for them or me.
When the girl wants more
When the girl wants more
"But what do you do when the girl is the one who wants it?"
This was a question posed by one of the young men in the Sunday school class I was teaching.
I smiled inside as they proceeded to volley a few responses back and forth. I was smiling because 30+ years earlier, I was the girl who wanted it.
It was a late fall afternoon my senior year of high school. My church youth group (of which I was a member) had met earlier that afternoon at my house. Our meeting had started and ended with prayer, and we were committed to the mission of our church.
Most of the members had already left, but Eric was still there. Eric was tall, dark, handsome, funny, gentle and most importantly confident about his spiritual beliefs and comfortable with sharing them.
I had liked him for a long time but we had only been together in a group. I was thrilled when his parents called to say that something had come up and it would be another hour or so before they picked him up.
I invited Eric to take a walk with me in the woods. As we headed down the long lane, it was like a scene out of a movie. The branches of the trees on either side of road were touching overhead and the brilliantly colored leaves were floating through the air like tiny sailboats in the dappled sunlight.
Without really thinking about it, I realized that Eric and I were holding hands. Within moments we were kissing. I felt like I was being sucked into quicksand-and I went along with the feeling happily. My heart was beating hard and my head was swimming. If Eric had wanted to that afternoon, I think I might have gone along. This, despite the fact that if you had asked me earlier that day I would have stated with great certainty that I intended to remain a virgin until I was married.
What happened next was a total surprise. Just as I felt myself giving in to the waves of feelings, Eric suddenly put his hands on my shoulders and gently pushed me away. He said, "This isn't what we are about."
My first reaction was to feel humiliated and rejected. But then he lifted my chin and while looking in my eyes said again, "This isn't what we're about." This time I understood. The love that was there in his eyes and his voice stopped me from feeling undesirable. I felt instead that what he saw was a girl who was worth more than a quick encounter could ever mean.
And he was so right that just diving into sex wasn't what we were about. We both believed that God's goodness is spiritual and comes to us spiritually, not physically. We weren't going to be able to feel the kind of love that we really valued-the kind from God-if we got in the way of it with physicality.
So we chose differently. Within moments we were continuing on our walk laughing and holding hands. This was my first glimpse of what true love is. Not being sucked into dizzying, unbridled passion, but being seen for who I really am. I felt like a precious and treasured friend whose goodness was worth spending time with just on its own.
Although Eric and I dated a bit that year, we never got serious. I went on to make many mistakes in relationships over the next 15 years. But I would remember that afternoon with Eric. I knew that what I really wanted in a relationship was what I had glimpsed that day in September. I knew that this was what true love felt like. When I met my husband and saw the same look in his eyes as Eric's, I knew he was the one.
I told this story to my Sunday school students. They listened intently and quietly nodded their heads.
Sometimes we just need permission to say "no." Saying "no" to something you're not comfortable doing can be saying "yes" to self-worth and can give a glimpse of true love. And that's the best way to show you care.
The upper bunk law
The upper bunk law
My daughter had one thing in mind as we drove down the highway -- get to camp as quickly as possible so that she could claim one of the few upper bunks in her cabin. Upper bunks were a rare and valuable commodity, and Hannah was sure that if we weren't there early they would all be taken.
I'm thinking, "Here we go again."
To know Hannah was to know that she always had to plan the perfect scenario and then climb any mountain and forge any sea to get what she wanted. The trouble was she never enjoyed the process, and was beside herself until the final result was in.
By the time we were on the road, it was already well past lunch time. Hannah imagined upper bunks slipping away faster than the heat of the city as we drove up into the cool mountain air toward camp.
Her obsession was getting to me. I could certainly understand having a preference for upper bunks. But talking about any of her obsessive plans rationally -- i.e., "Oh don't worry, if there aren't any more, maybe someone will switch with you" -- never helped even a little.
This time I felt Hannah was certainly mature enough to understand how prayer might help. She had seen prayer help with many problems, and now I thought she could see how it might apply to this problem.
Hannah's reaction to my effort to introduce the subject was to doze off. At that point I fell into a silent dialogue with her as she slept, trying to find the right ideas that would inspire my own trust in God's care.
Reiterating internally my points about generosity, unselfishness and trust while assuring her that God would provide for her exactly the right result, I prayed that spiritually there couldn't be any inequity between what was right for each child of creation and the supply to meet their needs. "We" discussed the difference between a want and a need while she napped with the Colorado sun streaming through her window.
As the last town for miles fell behind us, I noticed a red light on the dash. It was a low fuel indicator, and I was not at all sure how long it had been on. I knew that there were no options for getting gas for miles.
I was beginning to panic when I remembered some of the conversation I had been having with my sleeping daughter. No lack, equity of resources. Hmmm. What would God have me think? What should I do?
As I drove across the vast high meadows I decided to trust that I too could experience God's constant unwavering care. That God was the only source or resource that I needed -- infinite good, that would never end. If it was true for Hannah's bunk, it was true that our journey was secure too. I finally felt confident of God's presence and care.
I drove that afternoon for over 50 miles on what looked like a very empty tank of gas, but I made it to a gas station. Even though I can't say for sure how accurate the gas gauge in the tank was, I still felt comforted that I hadn't stalled out in the middle of nowhere. For me this was no fluke -- it felt like it was related to my prayer. It inspired me to depend more on the fact that God was with me as an infinite resource.
When Hannah woke up from her nap I told her what had happened with the gas. We then applied the same ideas to the situation with upper bunks. We figured that there could only be the right number of campers desiring the right number of bunks.
The lesson was certainly a big one for me. I truly felt confident of God's care right there, and I was able to help Hannah see the truth of it too. Her final comment said a lot -- "Awesome!" And I could tell that she was thinking about it as she looked out at the incredible landscape stretched out for miles in front of us.
When we arrived at camp Hannah didn't rush down to her cabin, but greeted old friends and helped others get settled before having me drive down to her cabin. There was only one bunk left to put her pillow on. It was an upper bunk.
Maybe coincidence? Didn't matter. Because after that, Hannah's need to control her agenda faded away. Recently when she went off to a summer of dancing with a major ballet company, she was not concerned about a single detail, noting, "I'm sure I'll have what I need when I get there."
It's fine to make plans. No question. But it is a real comfort for me to know that any plans I will ever make include God's plan of goodness for me.
How I was healed of alcoholism
How I was healed of alcoholism
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel
I was not the stereotypical teenage alcoholic. I went to Sunday School every Sunday. I was a shy child and a shy teenager, kind of a bookworm, and had great difficulty in social settings.
One afternoon when I was preparing to go to a party at a friend's house, her parents noticed how nervous I was about being around other teenagers, and they offered me a glass of wine to relax. Well, that glass of wine turned into a very long habit of alcoholism that lasted almost 15 years.
By the time I was an adult, alcoholism was taking control of my life. I was addicted not only to wine but also to prescription medication to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with alcohol abuse.
About 16 years ago, when my drinking had gotten out of control, I was consuming a bottle to a bottle and a half of wine every evening. My addiction to medications was causing severe side effects, and my kidneys were no longer functioning properly. I had been told that the damage to my kidneys was going to result in the need for surgery or some other kind of medical intervention.
On a train trip to my mother's home for a long weekend, I fell asleep. When I awoke, it was the middle of the night, and the bar car on the train was closed. I was frantic -- for the first time I realized that my addiction to alcohol was so severe that there would be side effects if I tried to quit drinking.
I went into pretty serious withdrawal. I was shaking and in severe pain -- all the symptoms of anyone trying to quit using an addictive substance. As soon as the bar car opened, I bought five bottles of wine just in case I needed them, and started drinking right away. The withdrawal symptoms disappeared, and I was feeling much better. "Gee, maybe it was all in my head; maybe I don't have a problem," I thought.
When I arrived at my mother's, I was pretty drunk. Because of the kidney disease, my skin was very sallow, I had lost a lot of weight, and I just looked awful. When Mom saw me, she said, "It's over. You have to stop lying to yourself. Something has to be done."
Because of our family background and faith tradition, I knew she was talking about prayer -- that through prayer, something had to change in my view of myself and in the way I was treating myself. She and my grandmother were already praying about this. My grandmother would send me letters in which she would talk to me about God. But if I saw the word God, I would tear them up. I just really didn't want to hear it. I felt like they didn't get it.
I had no desire to change. I really liked the way I was. I was successful with my work and felt respected in my field, and liked the way I lived. I thought wine was a beautiful substance. I liked the glasses that it was poured into and liked being part of the wine culture. I fancied myself as being somewhat of an expert on wines and visited wineries. I felt that that culture was part of who I was.
Through talking to my mother during that night, I started to glimpse that there was something that needed to change in me. But I never assumed that it had anything to do with my abuse of alcohol.
The next morning, I woke up excited about the day. It was the Fourth of July, and we were going to be going to a park, and swimming and having a lot of fun. My four sisters and two of my three brothers were there, and it was going to be a great day. I had sent my younger brother out to the liquor store to buy a couple of bottles of wine and was prepared to be happy and relaxed. As we were leaving for the park, Dwight, a friend of my mother's whom she knew from church, arrived at our home. He didn't have anything to do that day. His plans had fallen through. I had never met him before. He folded himself into our day and joined in.
During the events of the day, swimming and walking and playing volleyball, I became aware of him and the way he treated people. I was inspired by his kindness -- he was so completely kind, and that impressed me. But he was just one of the many people whom my mother knew from church, so I dismissed him as someone I would never get to know.
As we were walking around, however, I started to think about myself differently. I started to realize that I wanted to be a good person, that I wanted to live the kind of life that I was seeing in Dwight. I started wondering what made him tick. And I started to enjoy speaking with him because when he talked to me, for the first time in my life I felt like someone was speaking to who I really was -- that he wasn't seeing my perfect haircut or my makeup or the clothes that I was wearing or the fact that I had a particular type of perfume on. I felt like he looked at who I was, saw that I was a good person -- and he spoke to that.
As the day progressed, we ended up going back to my mother's home, and as we arrived back at the house, I realized that I hadn't had a glass of wine all day. I went into the kitchen, found a glass, and poured myself some wine. I brought it outside to the picnic table on the deck. I sat down with this glass of wine to put what I'd always felt was the punctuation on my day -- the real peace and calm and joy to the day.
I hadn't taken a drink yet, when Dwight walked up to the table, looked down at me, and said, "Can I have something to drink?" (By now, I knew he didn't drink alcohol.) I remember looking up at him and down at the glass of wine, and feeling as if it were completely foreign to me, as if I, too, could no more drink that wine than I could dye my hair purple.
I remember getting up, going into the kitchen, pouring out the wine and pouring two glasses of lemonade. We sat and began talking.
My mother told me later that when she came to the table to join us, she saw a whole new me. I was not the same girl that she had picked up at the train station the day before. My skin had taken on a normal hue. My eyes were clear and bright. I was me again, the child she remembered. And from that day on, I was never even tempted to drink alcohol again. I never took medication again, either. And from that day on, I was free of pain and free of bleeding. I realized that I was healed of the kidney malfunction, and I never had any problems with that again.
Dwight later explained to me something about his day. He said when his plans had been interrupted, he remembered that he had read a statement from Mary Baker Eddy's book, Science and Health: "Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God's own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick" Dwight said that this statement had fascinated him, and he realized that it was key to spiritual healing. Because he couldn't do what he had wanted to do that day, he decided he was going to try to practice this kind of "seeing" or "beholding" as Jesus did.
So, at our gathering, instead of seeing women and men, and old and young, and wealthy and poor, he was going to try to see the perfect individual that God created -- the child of God that Jesus saw. He was going to practice this one idea all day.
That seeing, or beholding, is what I felt. I started to see myself through his eyes, through those spiritual eyes. And all of a sudden it was clear to me who I was, and I was healed of uncontrolled drinking. But more important, I was healed of a false view of myself.
Now to go back to the original problem, I always thought that the problem was drinking or drug addiction. But I came to realize that those were just symptoms of the problem. The problem was that I'd felt separated from God.
I was really drinking to get away from the fear that I was separated from God, from good, from love -- that I didn't have enough confidence, enough love, and wasn't loved enough to feel comfortable in social settings. And that without drinking, I couldn't be myself, couldn't be relaxed and peaceful and calm. As long as I was focusing on the problem -- the drinking -- I was completely missing the point.
And I started to see, as I thought about these ideas after my healing, that really what the alcohol did was mask the real problem. I needed to feel uncomfortable with a false sense of who I was so that I would seek out a right sense of who I was and find my relationship to God. Realizing that I was the expression of God, I saw I included the qualities of wholeness and completeness.
I had the right to be the very loved of God, the very expression of Love. So instead of worrying about how other people were seeing and thinking about me, I had the right to care for others, to be kind, to be loving, to be helpful, to be supportive in social settings, rather than looking at how I was going to be supported, loved, or treated.
That's just completely transformed my life.
Today, over 14 years later, I now help others who are struggling with that problem. I devote my full time to that very kind of seeing, that beholding that Dwight (now my husband) taught me so much about years ago. I am very grateful to give back a little of what he taught me.
First-born child of God
First-born child of God
Those who hold that birth order matters claim it affects how we negotiate our relationships with siblings, parents, spouses, neighbors and even professional colleagues.
But doomed and damned seems to be the prognosis for everyone-from first-born control addicts to only-child overachievers.
Now you know, don't you, that you don't have to consciously subscribe to these theories to have them crash down on you at the most inopportune moment. Even if you decide they are all silliness and superstition, you may find yourself at the Thanksgiving table with your brother's new girlfriend thinking you are the reason he leaves the dishes in the sink "to soak" and never returns to finish the job.
I am the oldest sister in a family of eight children.
Now stop right there! I want you to stop conjuring up your own older sister or cousin who is always handing out unwanted advice and commenting on your choices for career or significant other. There is a different way, a spiritual way, to approach that conversation with your oldest sister or youngest cousin that may just change the tone of the next reunion so much that you actually find yourself having fun.
As the oldest sister, everything fell on me. I had to be sure my widowed mother was taken care of. I was supposed to have the first grandchild or something was seriously out of sync with the universe. I was the one all of the others should be learning from, based on my innumerable mistakes and modest successes.
I was wise. Experienced. Despised!
This lasted even into adulthood. It all came to a head one year when my husband and I joined forces with my youngest sister and my mother to open a coffeehouse in Greeley, Colorado, our charming university town east of the Rockies. Things were moving right along as my husband and sister worked daily to transform an older commercial building across the street from the university into a warm, inviting café.
But when the doors opened, I started acting out the role that I thought had always been expected of me. The role was the bossy older sister, the role I was really good at, the one where I knew more than anyone else, and who would protect poor mom from younger siblings who were just silly, irresponsible and demanding. I guess you could say I either needed a spanking or a good spiritual shaking. The former wouldn't happen, but the need for latter was beginning to sneak onto my radar.
Before long, things were out of hand. I was cranky, because I had to get up earlier than anyone else to open the restaurant and make the soup. I was sticking my nose into management issues that were, in reality, my sister's province. I just thought I was doing what was needed to keep this family from blowing it, a point of view that left any spiritual perspective, or prayer, totally out of the picture.
One day my sister and I were avoiding each other at every turn, behind the cash register or at the espresso machine. We were even sniping behind each other's back. I realized that this was way too familiar a scene.
This was exactly how I had felt growing up, when I baby-sat those seven little monsters. They would be running around the house and teasing one another, and I would follow behind them, cleaning up and soothing hurt feelings. I realized I had already acted out this role, and it felt crummy the first time around. Why did I think that it would be any better when everyone was the same, just bigger?
I walked over to my sisters, who were mixing a batch of raspberry scones. I took off my apron and said, "I am no longer the older sister. It's someone else's turn. You two decide whose turn it's going to be today, because I'm done." They looked at me like I was crazy. But I felt saner and more peaceful than I had in weeks. That's when the radar kicked in, and the spiritual perspective began to appear. I knew from my mistakes that the only times I have felt at peace in the midst of a problem, no matter how big or how small, was when I turned it over to God through prayer.
I was encouraged by something a spiritual healing pioneer-and youngest child of six-Mary Baker Eddy, wrote that could be applied to relationships: "The human history needs to be revised, and the material record expunged." It's something she accomplished and I felt that if she could do it, so could I.
I was ready to revise the history and expunge the record of who had more experience or wisdom. I was ready for a different point of view.
What defines who is "oldest"? There were so many different ways that we kids had grown in God-given grace and wisdom. And none of them had to do with human birth order. Eddy also wrote, "Because man is the reflection of his Maker, he is not subject to birth, growth, maturity, decay. These mortal dreams are of human origin, not divine." Why would any one of us want to perpetuate anything that didn't have a divine or God-based origin?
My family sat down and talked about how we could decide not to take on birth order roles and responsibilities that we thought were handed to us by fate. Each of us could begin to act out from the qualities of spiritual maturity that we individually expressed so beautifully. My youngest sister is extremely poised and well organized. She would be the "oldest" sister in personnel matters. One of my middle sisters was a remarkable pastry chef and baker. She could decide, without my opinions, what people were interested in purchasing and when to change the menu. My younger brother was much more welcoming and friendly. He should be the one to set the tone of the restaurant's "ownership."
This was the beginning of a newfound respect for my siblings and a softening of my heart. Our business was now based on each employee's nature as a unique manifestation of God, not on the flukes of birth order.
I like being the "youngest sister," sometimes. Maybe today I'll be the "middle brother" for a while. There are so many options. But regardless, the one behind all of them is the birthright cited in the Bible: "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature."
It works for me. And everyone else, too.
My husband and I were in the process of adopting our long-awaited first child. As part of the process, we were required to take a medical examination.
The doctor found a growth on my body and swelling under my arms and in my neck, which he felt were abnormal and suspicious. He knew that my husband and I were Christian Scientists because we had had a long talk during the exam about why I hadn't listed the usual medical history. We'd explained how we relied on prayer-based spiritual treatment for our healthcare. He said, however, that the growth was very alarming, and that he suspected it was a very invasive form of skin cancer. He was a dear man, and he told me that I could certainly come to him and get help if the symptoms became too aggressive, or if the pain became unmanageable.
Since a biopsy wasn't done, the doctor didn't feel he could say for certain that the growth was cancerous, and he wrote "suspicious growth" on my medical examination form. This didn't alarm our adoption agency, and within two days of his birth, our son was home with us. My husband and I were in heaven. He was a lovely baby, so full of gentle goodness. And because I was so excited, I didn't pray as I normally would have about the doctor's comments regarding the examination.
Then, some weeks later, the social worker called to tell us the birth mother was beginning to have doubts about her adoption plans. It felt as though my life were imploding. The adoption costs had wiped us out financially. I was feeling tired and achy. Then came the news that the birth mother had decided to take the baby back.
My husband and I were absolutely shattered. The emotional pain was so raw and so great that when I started feeling physical pain, I really couldn't distinguish between the two. For a few months, I just felt as if I were in a dark hole. And I knew that my only way out of that hole was prayer.
When I first learned that our little baby boy might be leaving us, I had called a Christian Science practitioner to help me. When I told him what was going on, he said that this was an opportunity for spiritual growth and healing. As I recall, he gave me two Christian Science treatments over the next couple of days. But I would often call him in the middle of the night for support and encouragement, or visit him in his office. At times, I wasn't really even sure I wanted to live, if I couldn't be a mother.
I prayed constantly and asked God to show me what the lessons of this experience were. Eventually, I began to see that everything I was dealing with was interconnected-the doctor's diagnosis, the grief over not being able to be a mother, our finances-because they all had to do with lack. Lack of health, lack of children, and lack of money. The fear that I could be deprived of something I needed or cherished was the fundamental issue I had to deal with in my prayers.
Eventually, I called a colleague at my former workplace and asked her if I could do some work there, just so I could get out of the house, since I'd quit my full-time job before the adoption in order to be at home with the baby. She needed a receptionist, and I was so happy to have something else to focus on. But my physical health was deteriorating quite rapidly. I was losing a lot of weight, I was in great pain, and there were other alarming signs that confirmed what the doctor had suspected.
I would sit at that receptionist desk, and when the pain or discomfort became overwhelming, I would read Science and Health, a book that I turned to often to reveal that my very being was spiritual. I was looking for the understanding that I had the God-given right to be free not only of the grief and the sorrow but of the pain. I would read it until the pain lessened and I could continue with my work.
The Christian Science practitioner suggested that when I felt discomfort, I should ask myself if the pain really had information for me . . . about myself, my purpose, and my relationship to God. In other words, could it show me anything about who I was in God's sight and how I expressed Him moment by moment. I realized it couldn't. I saw that pain could never be an indication of the truth, because pain had no existence in God's creation. Only what God was telling me about my identity, about my life, had any meaning.
I think I read Science and Health three times during the spare moments I had at work and at home. More and more, the power and the substance of the ideas in the book became louder than the pain, and proved to be effective painkillers.
One day, as I sat there, it occurred to me that there wasn't a hole in my life because I didn't have my own children. I saw my motherhood as a verb, not a noun-and I could mother someone every day, by helping kids in the community, mothering friends and relatives, or anyone who came across my path. The children I was mothering might change, but my job as mother would never change. No one could take that role from me. Similarly, I saw my being as whole and complete. Disease could not take from me the perfection that God had permanently given me. The same was true for our finances. No hole there, either. These insights were the inspiring result of prayer.
I gained final victory over my fear of disease. It began one day when I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few items. At the register I found myself flipping through the pages of a women's magazine that had a description of skin cancer accompanied by some very graphic photographs, and they really frightened me. Arriving home, I walked past the front door and grabbed the mail. Along with letters and bills, there was a copy of the Sentinel. Desperate for something that would alleviate that paralyzing fear, I opened the magazine to where a mother told of her family's quick recovery from hypothermia through prayer. And I read the words, "The only thing you can be exposed to is love, and from that there is no need for recovery."
Something about that statement empowered me. I suddenly realized that I wasn't a victim. I was the very expression of Truth and Love. I hadn't been exposed to the negative images and depressing information in the magazine, which said I was vulnerable to disease, sorrow, pain, death. It was just the opposite. Those lies about my life had been exposed to the Christ-consciousness in me. This Christ, this truth, was a light, and nothing dark and frightening could survive in the atmosphere of this light. And anything harmful that was exposed to that light had to shrivel up and disappear.
I felt this surge of spiritual authority, and I saw that this dark cloud of fear could not exist in the environment of God's love for me, and my love for Him and for humanity. From that moment on, I had no fear.
The symptoms continued for probably another couple of months. But each time, whether it was pain, or the appearance of an enlarging growth, I heard almost a chuckle in my heart that said, "Oh, you foolish liar." And within a couple of months, all those symptoms had disappeared. I regained my normal weight, the growth dissolved, and the swelling disappeared under my arms and in my neck. And I was completely pain-free.
With that healing also came the healing of the grief. Although our son's birth-mother had taken him back to live with her in another state, we were eventually able to visit her and renew our relationship. We remain friends to this day.
Almost a year after our son left our home, we adopted a baby girl at birth from South Africa. And years later we adopted twin daughters. Once again, we were required to have a medical examination. The doctors found no trace of disease.
This healing occurred 17 years ago, and there has never been a recurrence. In my prayers, I grew to understand that we are never victims, because we have the Christ-the light of Truth-with us at every moment. This light leads our way. Through it, we can triumph over anything.
It's really hard to type while lying on your back, but I'm trying. I don't want to move because this position is so intrinsic to the insights I'm gaining from this experience. But it may take me another three decades to get this article finished like this-so I'll turn on my side.
I remember being 15 years old lying on the wooden floor in my bedroom (way back when wall to wall carpeting ñ which we didn't have ñ was what "real" families had) with all the lights out, incense burning in the teak holder on the bookshelf above my head next to the record player where Joni Mitchell sang to me about looking at life from both sides.
I wanted so much back then. I wanted to be an artist living in a loft in Greenwich Village where after a guest performance with the Joffrey Ballet I would come home to more Joni and long nights of conversation with my anti-war activist/college professor boyfriend. I would have babies without needing the strictures of marriage and I would write poetry that Joni herself would turn into songs about love and freedom and men who longed to be known for what was in their hearts not their wallets.
I would stare at the glowing red indicator light on the record player above my head and use it as a focal point for yoga positions with names like half lotus and pigeon and upward dog. I would imagine my life at twenty and thirty and that was where I would stop because any age beyond thirty seemed too close to death to even bother with. I was so sure that I would not be anything like my mother with her laundry basket, home grown tomatoes "put up" in mason jars and lined up neatly in the pantry. I would never marry someone who worked "for the man" and I would never, ever wear a bra.
So; why this article and why now? Starbucks (first indication of what my life now looks like) just released a digitally re-mastered retrospective (ouch!) CD collection of Joni Mitchell favorites chosen by her friends and fans and I'm sure I wasn't the first fifty year old former hippie to be waiting in line on the release date to slap down my Visa card for the 12.95 required to own a copy.
So here I lay on the hardwood floor of our (yes, I did marry the musician but he now teaches at a private high school and I WISH he only worked from nice to five) 3,000 square foot suburban home with a wrap around deck and a gas grill that is almost bigger than the first car I owned (a VW bug that to this day I refer to as Sweetie). Our oldest daughter is headed out on a date with a boy who is polite and respectful and our eight year old twins are on a sleepover where they will eat popcorn and watch Disney movies about princesses and heroes only the hero may look like an ogre and the princess will belch without shame.
So what is different and what is the same now that I can look at love and life from both sides. Everything and nothing. Everything good and enduring is the same. I still long to be loved and to know that my love, my life makes a difference. I still want to be the kind of friend that you can tell your secrets to and trust that they will be kept and that would be there for you in the middle of the night. I still want to be with a man that loves what he does and believes in the power of beauty and goodness and sees me for what is in my heart rather than the size of my bra or my jeans.
I still yearn to know that there is a power beyond human government that orders the universe and that my vote and voice can make a difference. I still long to see an end to war, "imagine all the people living life in peace", and believe that Earth Day should be a National holiday.
And what is different from this side; much! My daughter is certain that her voice deserves to be heard and that her contribution to society should be valued equally with those of her boyfriend. That her dream of being a professional athlete is as possible as his is. I no longer think that my mother's job as a homemaker was something she did because she settled. I no longer think that anyone collecting a salary from "the man" is a sell out and has given up his or her right to think for themselves. I no longer think homegrown canned tomatoes are only for poor people and that God is unknowable. I no longer think that the Bible is just another book and that its stories are anectdotal. Once you've prayed the 23rd Psalm with a frightened child in the middle of the night it becomes more real and reliable than a flashlight or a visit to a crowded emergency room.
And what do I know about love from this side. I know without a doubt that there is nothing that cannot be forgiven and that promises really are "meant to keep us safe from harm". I know that a mother is the fiercest animal in the jungle and that a man is never more beautiful than when he is found in the nursery at 3 in the morning covered in spit up singing hymns to a feverish child.
I know that God is "an ever present help in times of trouble" and that genuine goodness is more attractive than a bad boy who thinks you're hot when you've lost your job and you don't have the money to cover the rent at the end of the month and you just want someone to believe in your worth in the world. I know that the high you feel from hearing God's guidance when facing a choice between what seem like two good and right options is far more satisfying than a glass of wine or a toke on a joint. And I am certain that life is more than cloud's illusions; life, for me today is just one endless string of opportunities to prove how limitless the depth of love is, how strong the ties that bind us to one another are and how enduring and reliable man's desire for love and goodness and purpose are. I've looked at life from "both sides now" and I like what I see. Thanks Joni.
Catching a Thermal
Catching a Thermal
It was a beautiful day in late April and yet that drive from our small town in northern Colorado to a suburb of Denver that day, which I made quite often, was anything but ordinary. I strained my heart to find the presence of God. I searched the still beige and gold prairie for instances of order, beauty, peace. I knew that if I could focus on the presence of these qualities in nature I would be acknowledging the presence of their source, and one thing I was sure about God was that He was either All or nothing. So if He was at all present...He was all-present.
I needed to know His presence in very real and tangible ways that afternoon. My heart was heavy and I knew I couldn't let it stay that way. I had work to do and this work would require anything but a heavy heart. It would require the absolute certainty of God's presence and power that I was searching the endless Colorado landscape for evidence of.
My old jeep and I were on our own form of autopilot. I prayed and it just held to the road like the bottom-heavy friend it had been on our many trips into canyons and backroads visiting homebound patients and/or traversing ice and snow to reach someone in need. But today we were on a dry highway traveling briskly toward a place not yet trail-blazed in my experience.
It was April 20, 1999, and although the radio in the jeep was silent, the voices of newscasters and commentators seemed to be filling my mental airwaves. Words like gunmen, columbine (which before that afternoon had only been the name of a delicate mountain flower my daughter and I admired each summer in high meadows) fallen, and victims punctuated that silence like gunshots. I knew I had to find a peace so solid and secure before I arrived at the catholic church in Littleton where I would join religious leaders, spiritual counselors and social workers who were gathering to minister to the broken hearts and shattered families whose lives had been directly and indirectly touched by the days events.
Those mental voices were so loud and the tears on my cheeks were so hot with horror and grief that I couldn't seem to find the focus and deep-centered peace that was usually mine within milliseconds of any report of sickness, disease, fear or anger. Today that peace seemed illusive and ungraspable. I was ready to turn the Jeep around and head home knowing that I would do no one any good if I couldn't find my spiritual grounding.
Just then something in the sky caught my eye. It was a hawk riding an invisible updraft over the prairie. I pulled off the highway and got out of the car. Other cars and tractor trailers whizzed past but as I watched that hawk soaring on an unseen thermal I found my peace. Right there on the side of the road I too could feel the same soft, but powerful, current of air moving through my hair, I could see the way that hawk used what was unseen to lift him higher and higher without beating his wings. I could see the way that same breeze was giving movement to millions of individual blades of tall grass and golden grains across farmlands and straight up into the foothills of the mountains where I knew pine trees and aspens moved like choreographed dancers directed by a great and all powerful director. I was ready.
I got back in my trusty Jeep and together we moved with the same syncronicity of mission towards, not a suburb full of broken hearts and shattered peace, but towards an enormous human meadow full of hearts ready to be moved by the breath of God's love towards a greater sense of peace, a more certain sense of life, a better view of themselves. I knew that God would show us all, in the context of each others need, our better selves. We would see one another not as an endless sea of hurting humanity, but as individual blades of grass moving and being moved by God's love to bend and reach and touch each other's hearts. Our weeping would be the music of our compassion and of our tenderness. To it's chorus we would help each other soar on the unseen thermals of God's love....as that very love expressed to and with and for each other.
By the time I reached the Light of God Catholic church near Columbine High School I was ready and eager to hear the symphony of spiritual care I knew would be echoing through the halls of that church, the streets of that community and in the homes and hearts of everyone who needed it's "peace be still" to move and ground them in God's presence. I didn't see counselors, pastors and victims, but blades of long golden grass moving in a harmonious dance of care and compassion. I loved joining that dance.
Those were long, full days. The sadness, grief and horror still whizzed around and past me like those cars and tractor trailers on the highway that day. Some days I felt so tired that I wondered that I wasn't blown away...but I wasn't. From where I soared with the updraft under my wings I could not be moved or swayed by their force. I was riding on the thermals of God's love higher and higher where I could only see a sea of human grass dancing to a song of spiritual grace. I was watching love in action, love moving unseen through those around me to cause us all to reach out and touch someone with a word of kindness, to listen with a open heart. I watched as the sky I was in soaring in became filled with others who had spread their wings and caught the thermal and could better see God's unseen hand in each moment.
Today, some six years later the color of the sky that day in April is still the color of peace to me. When I close my eyes in prayer I see an endless blue sky, a horizon-less sea of golden prairie grasses swaying and moving to a silent song as I let the thermals of God's presence lift me higher and higher for a better view of whatever I am being asked to pray about. That day lives in me, not as a day of infamy, but as a day of beauty and grace and seeing the very best that humanity can be when we let a silent song of love move us to help each other.
Those of us who were honored to be caregivers were given the best seats in the house for God's ballet of love.
Whenever the world tries to drown out peace with it's cacophony of horror....get off the highway and catch a thermal....the view is amazing from here.
Maintaining the Manger Attitude
Maintaining the Manger Attitude
It only seems fitting that I would think about that Christmas today. Twenty years have gone by and in some ways it feels like yesterday and yet, when I looked at our three daughters at the kitchen table this morning discussing whose Christmas shopping plans should have priority, I couldn't help but lean back into the lessons I learned that December and realize how often I turn to those truths as I move through the pace of raising three daughters and maintaining a very demanding professional life.
It was one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced, then or since. I had come from sunny California to the winter wonderland of Colorado for a family reunion that summer and never left. Meeting my husband that day and experiencing the healing and life transforming changes of a renewed relationship with Christ set me on a new course, one that included marriage, home and community.
Because my mother and youngest siblings were going to be out of state for that year, save a trip home for the holidays, my younger sister and I decided that we would plan both our weddings for the week of Christmas. This might have seemed quite doable had it not been September when we made those decisions. We were marrying best friends, so these wouldn't be two very separate weddings, but two separate weddings sharing the same cast of characters in many instances. We didn't want a double ceremony so we decided to put Christmas in the middle and my wedding would be just before and hers would be just after. Sound simple-not!
Our wedding was going to be held in the main lodge of a summer camp about 4 hours from where we lived and 3 hours from the nearest airport. Hers was going to be held in a mountain chapel also three hours from airport, but in the other direction. Although we were putting our guests up for the two days of our wedding, coordinating Christmas and their accommodations until my sister's wedding, along with the costuming of two wedding parties, food, music and ministers, as well as Christmas in between was starting to really get to this big sister who thought she had to do everything as if Martha Stewart herself was on the guest list and would be holding Olympic scoring cards up throughout the week. 5.9 for antique slip dress, 3.2 for cream-colored western boots. This was the picture that I was trying valiantly to push to the side while I raced from antique store to flea market searching for just the right distressed leather and wood snowshoes to set off the candles and pine boughs around the hearth at the lodge.
As November turned into December I was becoming frantic. Each morning I would start my day with pray and the study of Scripture. This together with related selections from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy's book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures were essential to beginning the day with a sense of order and peace based on God's infallible control over all the affairs of my life. But often, by mid afternoon I was a mess. I could be found on any given day surrounded by fabric, reply cards, one ear to the phone and both hands sewing or baking or flipping through the phone book.
One afternoon as I passed through an intersection a small child darted off the sidewalk and into my lane of traffic. There was no way that I could have seen him or been prepared for his sudden movement, but within a nanosecond my car was stopped, without screeching tires or swerving, inches from his smiling face. He was unaware of the pounding of my heart or the "miracle" we had just experienced, he just lifted his hand in a sweet mittened wave and was back in the snow on the University lawn with his friends. Something in that child's uninterrupted joy showed me what I wanted to be feeling. I parked my car and sat in the quiet for a few moments. I had picked up the mail before heading out for the many errands I had on my long list and there on the seat beside me was the most recent copy of The Christian Science Sentinel, a magazine full of articles and accounts of spiritual healing and transformation. I opened it randomly to an article entitled "Maintaining the Manger Attitude" by spiritual healer and teacher, Marion English. The article was full of useful and practical ideas for grounding oneself in the spirit of a quiet manger and not the bustle of a busy inn. It helped me see that the Christ presence could only be born in this atmosphere of humility, grace, and peace.
Throughout the rest of the month that quiet consciousness became my "home". I lived in the manger. I established my manger every morning through prayer and study and made sure throughout the day that I was surrounded by the gentleness of lambs, the peacefulness of doves, the willingness of donkeys, the resoluteness of cattle, the obedience of shepherds, etc. These co-inhabitants kept my thought open to God's messages of light that illuminated what steps to take next and how to avoid the Herod traps that would have tried to arrest the innocence and joy of what our celebration of marriage and family and friendship were really founded on-.love. The love that is more concerned with others that oneself.
In this manger I was absolutely free from stress. Absolutely free from self. I look back on the pictures from our wedding and sometimes I am amazed that I didn't really look much like a bride. My dress wasn't fancy and the cream-colored dye on my boots were scuffed a bit by the first dance (thank goodness Martha wasn't scoring), but our guests look radiant and happy and cherished. Did everything go like clockwork? No. My soon to be husband arrived three hours late to our rehearsal (which was only two hours before the wedding) but the real story is that I wasn't at all worried. I enjoyed the extra time with guests who had begun to arrive early and the kitchen staff at the lodge pulled together an impromptu lunch from leftovers that left everyone feeling relaxed and a part of the wedding party. My sister's wedding was beautiful and even though we all arrived at the altar (including the bride) ready for the vows, the minister wasn't there. He had lost his way and we had to join the guests in the pews while we waited. But it gave friends the opportunity to give an impromptu "concert" during that time. I was so sure in each case that if I maintained a manger attitude towards whatever was happening, only the Christ could be born in that moment.
And those wonderful antique snowshoes that I never did find, they were waiting for me at the lodge when I arrived. The camp director came in while we were hanging holly and pine boughs and placing candles with a pair of wonderful old snowshoes and asked if I thought they might fit in with the decorations. They had been in a storage room with old skis and skates (which we also used). He had no idea that I had been searching for them that day when I had been stopped in my tracks by the smile of a little child.
So, twenty years later this phrase "Maintaining the Manger Attitude" is my mantra throughout the year. I eagerly await the birth of the Christ in my heart and in my life each moment and love abiding with shepherds, doves, lambs, and kings. I kneel in the straw and keep my eyes on the star, I let it lead me to where I belong-waiting for innocence, purity, peace, joy to fill every moment with His presence. Thanks Marion for the reminder.
I was 19 that autumn. My dad had just been killed in an accident, and I'd just given up on the dream I cherished for longer than I could remember—and had worked so hard to make come true. Walking away from a full-ride scholarship to the Ivy League university of my choice so that I could work three jobs, go to school at a local college…one class at a time, and help raise my 7 younger brothers and sisters was not in any long-term plan I'd had for my life.
Dad's passing that summer was heartbreaking for our family. We got through the memorial service and the early weeks of grief, surrounded by extended family and church friends. But by the time late fall rolled around, we were really on our own.
The aunts, uncles, and cousins had returned to their homes in other states, and the church my family attended was almost an hour away in another city. We were living on a leased farm in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, eating the last of that summer's home-canned harvest and watching the pantry empty out faster than a grain silo with an open door.
We were barely able to pay the rent
My sister, Nancy, was working at a local fast food restaurant after school, I worked three jobs, and the boys did odd jobs when they could. But we were barely able to pay the rent on the old stone farmhouse, and keep the utilities on. Mom still had toddler twins to care for and the station wagon that had been my dad's pride and joy a few years earlier, was a gas-guzzling behemoth with more than 100,000 miles under her sequoia green exterior.
I could barely breathe some days as Thanksgiving drew closer. We had a large bag of rice, and the remaining mason jars filled with green beans and red beets to look forward to rather than the turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pie with ice cream we'd enjoyed just the year before.
And it wasn't the food itself I worried that we would miss. It was the joy of preparing it together as a family. The steamy kitchen, the scent of sage and nutmeg, the boisterous rebuke dad would get from our mom, when he tasted the stuffing “can you believe it, right out of the back of the bird” as soon as she heard the oven door creak and she knew it wasn't because he was basting her masterpiece.
I felt sick as the days tumbled towards that most loved holiday. Some days, the fear of disappointment, seemed greater than the fear of starvation and homelessness that loomed over me each night as I tried to fall asleep under the heavy quilts next to my mom.
I could hear the squeals of joy
The weather the week before Thanksgiving was glorious. Bright blue Pennsylvania skies haloed the pristinely painted, and cared for, red Amish barns that dotted our road. As my school-age siblings ran from the school bus stop, I could hear the squeals of joy and the crunch of leave precede their burst through the kitchen door.
Mom greeted them, as she'd been greeting each of us since I'd started Kindergarten 14 years earlier, with the eager curiosity of a child. “What was it like?” “What did you learn?” “Did you bring me a picture drawn (or a story written, a note from the teacher)?”
Their answer this day made my heart sink like a lead stone to the pit of my stomach. There was going to be a food drive, Lila, Ricky and Wayde explained, and every child that brought in something would be able to sign the big card that would be given, with the food, to a needy family.
“Great,” I thought, as my mom did what I knew she’d do from the minute the children started telling her about the project. She went to the pantry and took the last three mason jars full of beans and beets off the shelf and brought them to the kitchen table for wrapping in brown paper she already had the children decorating with colored pencil and crayon drawings of turkeys and pilgrims.
We had no money left to purchase food
I pulled her aside and in my most grown up hiss of disapproval I reminded her that we had no money left to purchase food for our own Thanksgiving dinner and that if she gave the children the vegetables our own meal would consist of rice and more rice. I'd had it.
I was angry at Mom for being so clueless about the direness of our situation. I was angry at Dad for leaving us without insurance, pension, or a house of our own, and for leaving me to clean up this mess. I was angry that I'd given up my dreams to waitress at night, and type all day. I was angry at God for not sending anyone to help me navigate a sea of debt and fear. I was way over my 19 year old head and beginning to drown.
But it was as if Mom didn't even hear the tone of my voice. She smiled gently as if she were brushing off a teenager's “whatever.”
Later that evening, she proceeded to remind us all of how Jesus fed the multitudes on the hillside. She pointed out that Jesus hadn't produced loaves and fishes from mid-air, but that he had asked the disciples what they had to give, had taken it, blessed, and then had given it back to them to give to the multitudes. She then, in her most mother tiger-like voice—the one you didn't mess with—said that nothing, and no one, would deprive her children of their right to be generous. To be givers.
And that was that. The children wrapped their precious canned goods in the homemade wrapping paper and the next day took them in to add to the food drive and sign the big card for the needy family.
When Thanksgiving Eve arrived I felt cynical, bitter, and yes, so terribly disappointed I could barely stand the bile in my throat and the ache in my chest. I missed it all. The smell of pumpkin cooking on the stove for pies, the sound of pans clattering, the small yellow box of Bell's stuffing seasoning on the counter as mom pinched it into the bowl of stale bread we'd have been tearing into little bits for weeks.
I was tense with fear and sick with anguish
I was beyond crying. I was tense with fear, and sick with anguish, for myself and for my siblings. I couldn't imagine we'd ever know another happy Thanksgiving again.
When Mom happily suggested that we all gather around the big table in the kitchen to prepare for Thanksgiving in a fresh, new way that year, I was so resigned to just getting through the next day without collapsing that I actually joined them, with arms tightly folded at my chest and a look of disgust on my face.
Mom explained that she wanted us to go around the table and tell each other what we were grateful for. I am sure, even now almost 40 year later, that I rolled my eyes in derision. Ricky was grateful for his bicycle. At that Mom stopped us and clarified the goal a bit more. We were to think of things we were grateful for that you couldn't see with your eyes or touch with your hands. Hmmm…it was quiet for a bit.
And then Lila said that she was grateful she had finally memorized “The Lord's Prayer” from start to finish (see Matthew 6:9-13). It had been a Sunday School assignment and she'd worked hard to accomplish it.
Mom thought that this was a great thing for us all to be grateful for, and suggested that Lila lead us in saying The Lord’s Prayer aloud. With another eye-roll of exasperation at my mom's spiritual idealism and unwillingness to acknowledge how desperate our situation was, I complied.
“Our Father, which art in heaven,
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
In earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread….”
Just as we got to the part about the daily bread, the doorbell rang. Faster than Mom could get up, the younger children were up from the table and out of the kitchen, running down the long hallway to the front door. Nancy got there first, and when she opened the door there were at least twenty parents, children, and teachers from the grade school.
We were all so surprised, me especially. Surprised and humbled. Our visitors had boxes and boxes of food. And there, in the hands of a tiny kindergartener, was the card that Lila, Ricky, and Wayde had signed earlier after they'd placed their carefully wrapped mason jars next to the other donations.
She wanted some assurance that they could trust in the power of giving
Mom was smiling, and there were tears in her eyes. Today I know that her tears were those of gratitude. What she wanted most for her children that Thanksgiving was some assurance…a real reason to believe…that they could trust in the power of giving, and the right to be generous, no matter what your human circumstances are. And of course she invited everyone to come in and celebrate.
Later, as she was putting on the milk to make hot cocoa (milk and cocoa that came from the donated food in the boxes), Mom called me to help her with getting out the cups, pouring, and serving. While she stood at the stove stirring cocoa and sugar into the pan of hot milk, she asked me to get her copy of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy down from the kitchen shelf where she kept it, and read the passage marked by blue chalk and a slip of paper.
I read aloud, “Giving does not impoverish us in the service of our Maker, neither does withholding enrich us” (p. 79). Then Mom gently explained that she believed with her whole being, that the best way she could serve God, was to trust Him to trust His tender, unconditional care and infinite supply, not only for her family, but for all families. I hugged her, and then I helped my little sister find the marshmallows for the hot chocolate. That night something softened in me. My anger started to dissolve and my trust started to grow.
We were givers, generous givers
Mom—and God—taught us all one of the most important lessons of our lives that year. She taught us that nothing could deprive us from being generous givers. Not numbers in a check register, the barometer of an ever-shifting economic climate, a depleted job market, or an empty pantry. We were givers, generous givers. It was our divine right.
And the food our family received that Thanksgiving eve, lasted until my dad's social security benefits started to arrive 6 weeks later. Over the course of the ensuing 25 years…through my youngest sister's graduation from college…Mom got up each morning, prayed, made breakfast, then set about the task of raising, feeding, clothing, educating, and modeling generosity for her eight children. She taught us to rely on God's love for our support in every situation.
Eventually we all went to college, and one day, many years later, I found myself at that Ivy League dream school sitting in a classroom, having already learned the most important lessons of my life…not from college professors…but from a woman who trusted God. A woman who defended her children's right to be generous with others, no matter what the circumstances. She is my hero.