Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

pond frog

Have you ever had one of those days when you suddenly realize the safety-margins of your life are disappearing into a tangle of conflicting commitments or, worse yet, hiding out under piles of dust bunnies?

Well if you have, welcome to my day.  As I write this, I am glancing at my hands and hoping I don’t have poison ivy. (Praying, actually, because I’m REALLY allergic to that stuff.) I have been working on the road most of this year and I have fallen way behind in my real life. (By real life, I mean the one that’s always lurking in the dark corners of the laundry room, tool shed or yard.)

The day started innocuously enough. I decided to have coffee on the deck. The birds were singing from every tree, a cool breeze was blowing, and I was having a perfect morning UNTIL I noticed that the fountain in my goldfish pond wasn’t working. So I took my coffee to the pond to investigate. I fed the fish and tried to decide if I wanted to tackle the pump. But while I was watching the goldfish feed with a spring frenzy I couldn’t help but notice the wild clematis, Virginia creeper, knee-high oak seedlings, AND poison ivy spilling from every corner of the day lily beds that surround the pond. Oh, and the pump still wasn’t working. It apparently doesn’t respond to the “Mommy Evil Eye.” Arrgh!

I tried to do meditative breaths and focus on the delightful little fish forms in front of me but I couldn’t! Because you see, just yesterday I had a similar realization while catching up on six weeks worth of journaling! Again, I have been trapped by that weird womanly need to be everything to everybody. You’ve been there, you know how this works: You do all the stuff you think you need to do for everyone else only to watch your personal life and goals disappear under dust bunnies and vines. Enough!

I stomped into the house and put on my armor: long-sleeved bug shirt (check), long pants (check), sunscreen (double-check), straw hat (check), and “Steel Lady”(It’s a long story.) yard gloves and got my rake, shears, and wheelbarrow from the shed, which I now know is also covered in vines. With a fury not seen since I fixed my vacuum cleaner, I pulled every last vine out from those lily beds, cleaned the filthy filter for the pond, restarted the pump, and made a brush pile five feet high at the curb.

Sweaty, dirty, wet and pretty proud of myself, I came back in the house, pulled the screen door behind me, took a deep breath and then… saw dust bunnies piled against the baseboard as far as the eye can see.  Yes, it’s going to be one of THOSE days around here. So, how are you?

Happy Mother’s Day Super Mom!

Microsoft Word - FB Super Mom  .docxMother’s Day is right around the corner! You’re ready for your kids to bring you breakfast in bed. You’re pumped up! You are ready to be celebrated for a change, have someone else do the heavy lifting for a day. You’re longing for a rose on the breakfast tray, two blueberry pancakes with extra syrup, a slice of thick bacon, a rich cup of French roast coffee and a homemade card that says “I Love You Mom!” atop a flowered cloth napkin.

Haha! Dream on, when you’re SuperMom, this is more what it’s like.

Grateful for Rain

click here to watch a short video about mountain waterfalls.

It’s hard not to get depressed when it rains for 3 days straight and you realize your gutters are full of leaf debris and birds’ nests. It’s hard not to panic over the height of the grass that somehow still manages to grow on days that darken with storm clouds.  It’s hard not to worry about that tree in the neighbor’s yard that is swaying dangerously close to the privacy fence, especially because you kind of neglected to make up with them about that 4th of July firework display thing. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the dogs pacing back and forth in front of the door, clearly needing to pee but afraid of the rainy dark.

So when I saw a brief parting of the clouds, I went for it. Zipped up my rain coat and grabbed the leashes and headed to the woods. The dogs wasted no time on formality. It had been 3 days after all, there was business to be done. Then they ran down the trail as fast as they could, leaping in and out of the bushes, scaring up bunnies and scattering crows. It has rained here so much (It probably has where you live, too, if that’s in the eastern half of the US!) that the ground is saturated and we’re now 2.5 inches above our normal rainfall with another 1.5 inches on the way. The rock outcroppings on the mountains have become small waterfalls and these were today’s treasure!

The gentle trickles of water that meander down the mountainside flow past cascades of wild roses and the air is filled with their scent and the songs of mating birds. It was so lovely I had to share it, even if the video is a bit shaky.

When the dark clouds of life come, it’s wise to look for that glimmer of sunlight and take a walk where you can remember that the wild things are grateful for the water.

Girls Fix Stuff

girls fix stuff -202698It all started when I invited some people over to my house for a meal. I’d been on the road for several weeks, eating food I really shouldn’t eat unless I want to weigh 600+ pounds. I’d been sleeping in hotels and bumping into furniture in the dark every night trying to find the bathroom (Why can’t OHSA step in and mandate that all hotel rooms have the bathroom in the same place? Seriously, how hard is that?). Anyway, I needed to nest, rest and bake something. Now that probably sounds crazy, but baking is very restorative for me, it’s one of my favorite ways to nurture myself. I get to eat a homemade food, plumped up with high-quality fat (like European butter, for instance), and my house smells fabulous!

I baked a quiche and cookies and then about a half-hour before people were to show up, I took in the state of my house and about fainted. My den was covered in dog hair.  When I say covered, I literally mean covered. It was ankle deep in dog hair. Spring had sprung while I was away and the yearly shedding had begun.

So, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming. My part Jack Russell, part Basenji (Mr. Pip – a.k.a. world’s most adorable dog) had busied himself during my absence with chewing up a stick (Which I pray isn’t from a piece of furniture like it was the last time.) and he’d strewn toothpick size pieces of it all over the room. By the time I got to the kitchen, the vacuum was overheating and then it growled at me and just ceased to function. I hadn’t even made it to living room, so I did what our elementary school janitor did, I pushed all the fur and dust bunnies into the corners of the room with a dust mop and left them there

I really didn’t think anyone would notice. My guests arrived and commented on how wonderful the house smelled. I thought no one had noticed until one of my girlfriends (who is also a widow) said, “Why are there dust bunnies in the corner? Did you break your vacuum cleaner?” Busted!

Now, as a Mom, I’m used to everything being my fault, so no worries there. Never mind that the #*@& vacuum cleaner fell apart 2 days after the warranty expired or that most manufacturers make products under a “planned obsolescence” program these days (This is a huge pet peeve of mine but I won’t get into that now). Of course it was my fault. I mean, I know that and in fact, I’d already accepted that. But what I couldn’t accept buying a new vacuum cleaner. I’d had a lot of big expenses that month and I just couldn’t afford a new one, not just yet…it wasn’t in the budget.

So I asked my friend Andy to look at it. Now Andy is a very practical, handy kind of guy and he looked that thing over top to bottom. He used a screwdriver and everything. No duct tape was involved, but tools were. (I learned a long time ago that half of fixing anything the way a man does is to: 1. Cuss it out and 2. Put duct tape on it.) A few minor issues were solved but the cleaner was still overheating within seconds of being turned on. Additionally, it was now emitting a dark aroma that smelled a bit like dead possum, so I decided not to risk a house fire and I took it out to the trash.

Trash day came and I pulled my bins to the street. Then I went back for the vacuum. As I was walking to the curb, a light shone through the clear tube at the bottom that connected the beater brushes to the debris container.  (It would be more accurate to say that it shone through the sticks and hair that were clogging the once clear tube.) and in an “a-ha!” moment I spun on my heels and took it back inside. I put the vacuum on the floor and looked at how it went together. Hmmm. I cussed it out. (This is mandatory, otherwise said tool or equipment KNOWS you are a girl and refuses to cooperate.) When I determined that I needed a Philip’s head (I realize I learned a lot watching Perrin fix things…), I got the little black bag that held the tiny screwdrivers he used on his cameras and lenses out and then I put a roll of duct tape next to the vacuum cleaner, just to scare it. I unscrewed that tube, pulled Mr. Pip’s toothpicks out of there, along with about 2 cups of his hair, screwed that sucker back onto the vacuum and it works like a champ. And I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty dang proud of myself. Andy is, too. (Andy’s a real man who doesn’t mind girls being able to do stuff, thank you God…).

But the moral of this story is that we can all do things we think we can’t do with a little help from our stored memories and a roll of duct tape.

Finding the Story in Your Heart

Palm Sunday-151589 copy

On Living Inside the Scripture
As Lent unfolds, I’m working on several stories from the Gospel of Matthew for Holy Week performances. For Palm Sunday I’m in my home parish and then I fly to New Jersey to tell the story of the first last supper and betrayal. The words are the easy part. I’m blessed with a good working memory and learning lines has never been a problem for me, thank you God. However, the places, the people, and the emotions present in the story are the things I most want to convey to my audiences. Nuances of voice, inflection, movement and emotion only materialize when I spend time in the deepest regions of my most ancient memory. It is critically important to bring sights, sounds, smells, and feelings into the stories I tell. After all, if I can’t see it or feel it, how can I tell you about it?
I spend hours in subterranean visualization process to find the real essence of the stories. All I have to go on are the words, characters and setting. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not. When I write my stories, the characters come first. Once I know who they are, I can talk about almost anything through the lens of their experience. Once I know who they are, I can put them in different places and situations and know how they’ll react. The tricky thing about telling stories from the Bible is that there are multiple points of view present in each story. For instance, in the story I’ll tell Palm Sunday, Jesus sends his disciples off on a wacky journey to a nearby town to find a donkey (oh, and it has to be one with a colt). As they leave, he blithely tells them the owner will loan the beasts as long as he knows it’s Jesus who wants to borrow them. Now, given that the disciples are real people just like you and me (even if they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed), it just makes sense that they are going to have some reactions to these “Mission Impossible” tasks Jesus is always sending them on. But they don’t “say” any words in the text I’m telling Sunday, so if I don’t work to visualize and then communicate their non-verbal responses, I rob you of at least half  of the story!
Human interactions are not one-dimensional so if a story is missing the non-verbal pieces it can feel really flat and boring. If we just focus on the words of scripture, we miss most of it because approximately 70- 80% of human communication is non-verbal. Words are basically a back-up plan for real communication.
Since I can’t share these powerful stories from Matthew with all of you this coming week, I want to give you a way to see, hear and feel a Holy Week scripture for yourself. Here’s how it works:
1. Take any scripture passage you wish (entrance to Jerusalem, the Last   Supper, Jesus praying in the garden, his arrest, the trial(s), the crucifixion). Read the words silently and then read them out loud.
2. Close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and allow yourself to deeply relax.
3. See the setting. Allow the sights, sounds and smells that might be present in the story to float into your awareness (e.g., the foods on the Passover table & their aromas; the quality of the night air in the garden and the night noises; the echoes present in the great hall of the chief priest; the locker-room smells of the guards’ quarters).
4. Keep your eyes closed and begin to watch the story like it’s a movie.
5. See the setting, watch the people, hear the sounds, smell the smells, feel their feelings.
6. NOW you’re inside the story. Breathe, listen, and let the story speak to you.
I won’t be surprised if you find that the words you read from the book at the beginning of this exercise now seem to be the smallest part the story. Because when you see the story, (the moonlit garden, evil glances or armed soldiers), when you hear the story (the cursing, denial or snap of the lash), when you feel the story (the pain of a beating or the denial by a friend), THEN you are inside the story and that’s where you will meet Jesus, the man; Jesus, the Son of Man; Jesus the Son of God and you truly experience his story.

It is my deepest hope that you will try this exercise and find new awareness for your own journey inside the Bible’s stories as Holy Week begins.

Welcome from America's Heartland

Twice Blest did a little tour of Ohio this last week and we just had the best time!

We started our tour with the Emmanuel UCC congregation in Valley City, Ohio where the Storytelling Pastor Bert Ambrose had promoted our concert (and the monthly fish fry) with a pull-along sign. Valley City photoValley City is in the middle of America’s heartland. 300-400 acre farms line the roadways and you can tell that this is serious farm country because the barns are way bigger than the houses. The church was packed for the evening’s concert and we were blown away by the audience’s generosity.

But when we got to the reception in the fellowship hall we stepped back in time. We stepped back to a simpler time when communities got together and celebrated who they were with lots of homemade food and fellowship. No mean, polarized conversations a la Facebook allowed here. The concert lasted an hour and a half and I think the reception went on about as long. People were there to a good time together and catch up on each other’s lives. The lilting friendliness of their voices was a beautiful thing to hear. Twice Blest Ohio

I was unable to partake of the plethora of sugary goodness due to a questionable decision to start a metabolic cleanse on Ash Wednesday. But Andy’s eyes about popped out of his head and, to his credit, he “walked the aisle” to peruse the homemade goodies before carefully selecting the best of the best as his concert after glow. Now since I couldn’t have any of it due to the aforementioned questionable decision, we’ll have to rely on Andy’s eager accounting of the spread, which was laid out on long tables, covered with real tablecloths, set end to end on both sides of the long room:

“Well,  the homemade cookies I saw (and this may not be all of them, I may have missed some) included macaroons, pumpkin spice, 4 or 5 kinds of chocolate chip, an equal number of brownie selections (some iced, some not), oatmeal, and oatmeal with chocolate chips. Then there were lemon, chocolate and peanut butter cookie bars, some little tarts, a cream cheese something and, oh, éclairs and tiny cream puffs but I didn’t have those, I just stayed with the cookies. It really is too bad you couldn’t have any honey, you might want to rethink that for next year.”

(Yes, I might. Thank you for being supportive honey.)

I led a half-day Widows Retreat the next day while Pastor Bert and Andy walked the horse path of the old Ohio canal. As usual, the stories of loss these women shared were deep and filled with sacrificial love. We wept and laughed together and experienced sacred community. We’re all members of a sisterhood no one wants to join and we’re all resigned to the fact that, until it happens to you, people just don’t get it. They don’t get how hard it is to rebuild your life.

We moved on the next day to work with the lovely congregation of First Presbyterian church in Delaware Ohio. Ohio Wesleyan is there and the wonderful historical architecture, historic district, great restaurants, and quaint shops were all within walking distance of our home-away-from-home for 4 days, the Winter Street Inn (a B&B housed in an old Victorian mansion).  I met their chair of worship when I performed at the PAM’s Worship and Music Conference at Montreat. In Delaware, we gave a concert of music and story Saturday night (A hearty thanks to Dr. Delia Herzog – our guest fiddler!). On Sunday, we brought our love of old hymns sung Americana style to worship and both my telling of the Samaritan woman and my story sermon title drew some smiles (“The Angels Rode Harleys”).

After yet another robust and hearty meal (we had so many I’ve almost lost count…), I led a biblical storytelling workshop where we looked at familiar biblical texts through the eyes of story. I love to help people discover that the Bible’s stories aren’t really about “words.” The Bible’s stories are about real people and biblical storytelling brings these people to life. Since 70-80% of human communication is non-verbal, it’s almost impossible to find the rich, multiple meanings present in the stories when we fuss over the words and ignore the people.

When we headed home, Andy had seen all the interstate he wanted to, so he planned a new route home with his Atlas over breakfast. (I just love it that he does that, we’re both pretty old school). Thanks to his research (and ability to read and remember maps) we meandered down state and county highways and drove past yet more stately farms and historic properties on our drive home. Along the way, we talked about how civilized and comfortable this trip had been. And we decided that most of that was due to the people we met in America’s heartland who take hospitality to a lovely level.

Accepting What Is

3-22 It is What it Is

How many starfish try to be stingrays? Seriously, how much time does any given starfish, on any given coral reef, spend trying to be a stingray or a whale? Not much, right? Yet how many times a day do we try to be something we’re not? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to another woman, “Wow, I wish I had your hair!” I’d be a rich woman right now. I’d be a dang millionaire if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve envied another woman’s wardrobe, weight, lifestyle, or home décor. I’m not proud to tell you that, but it’s true.

Animals don’t do that. Animals just accept life for what it is. Wow. That’s a lot easier. So, the two wrens in my feeder today (that I’m pretty sure are about to become Mr. and Mrs.) are engaged in heavy courting. Right now, they’re feeding each other seeds and displaying their feathers. (She’s trying very hard to not be impressed.) But, it wouldn’t enter their minds to ask the crows nearby if one of them would like to make a nest. They’re wrens. They have tiny bodies and sharp beaks. They know what they’re about and they don’t waste any time trying to be a crow or a fox or a cat.

I think nature gives us a pretty good primer in self-ownership. If we try to be something we’re not, it probably isn’t going to work. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. (I can testify to this personally!) It won’t work because it’s not real. I’m a short, dark-haired Welsh woman with enough Cherokee to keep it interesting. I’m not a tall Nordic blond. I can wish that for myself, but I’ll never be that.

When we spend our time wishing things were different than they are, we’re wasting valuable self-time. And the fact of the matter is, God made us the way we are. We are enough, we are what we’re supposed to be. Until we accept what is, we will never grow into what truly can be. It’s only by accepting ourselves, all of ourselves (body type, IQ, innate gifts, life experiences, the whole shooting match!) that we live into who we are. And, who you are is actually pretty cool once you embrace it.

So, don’t waste another minute trying to be someone else. Become who you are and own that.

How To Increase Your Personal Possibility

I have spent this week at a lovely home on the Atlantic ocean on North Carolina’s Emerald Isle at a retreat for women retreat leaders. The setting is absolutely gorgeous (our week here is a gift to us from a patron of the religious arts) and we have an absolute blast! We cross-pollenate one another with inspiring ideas and art projects and mix our retreat sessions with long walks/talks on the beach before dinner each night.

beach photoOur theme this year has been “possibility.” Each of us leads a day of this retreat. One day we created foil-lined “possibility hats” that offered us the chance to repel negative thoughts and influences and attract more of what we want in our lives. Another day we explored what it means to be free and read the Declaration of Independence (wow!) and the original writings about the Statue of Liberty. We then drew our family trees and journaled about our family origins. (I have a bit of Cherokee, which explains my Asian-fold dark eyes, but mostly I’m Welsh by blood, my “people” weren’t born here.) We moved further into the turf of what it means to not only have corporate freedom but also personal freedom. Freedom from fear, anxiety, grief, destructive thoughts and behaviors, disease, and so on. Another retreat day focused on reframing negative self-language (exchanging “I can’t,” “I haven’t,” “We don’t” with “I can,” and “I will.”) THAT was really powerful process.

In these highly polarized political times, I think we can all use a little “reframing” of our possibility.

So, I want to invite you to do a really cool exercise from our retreat. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left hand side, write down at least 5 things you think you can’t do or that you used to do or that you’d like to do but don’t think you can. (Use “I can’t, I won’t, I don’t know how to…” language.)  Then, on the right hand side of the page, reframe your language about each of these things using proactive wording (I can, I will, I want to learn how to…).  The more things you list, the more powerful the exercise becomes.

Just as we can strengthen our physical bodies and develop new muscle with exercise, we can increase our personal possibility by strengthening our minds and spirits. Changing (or reframing) the negative language we often use with ourselves to the positive language of “Yes, I can!” is a great way to do that.


Why Do Good People Suffer?

Lent has begun.  Ashenlent crosses have been smeared on our foreheads. We have entered the time of contemplating suffering and sorrow and its role in our human condition as we remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s not hard to find suffering and sorrow. You can walk to the nearest ICU and find it displayed against the white sheets , bright lights, and beeping monitors that are the company of those in twilight sleep. My best friend of all time is a critical care physician whose daily work takes place amidst the shock and pain. She speaks the language of suffering eloquently and tenderly, often delivering the hard news that no one is ever really prepared to hear

There was an accident in my tiny town on Monday. The troopers were chasing a vehicle and the driver took our exit, blew past the sweet primary school where a few hours earlier kindergarteners with My Little Pony backpacks would have been waiting in line for their parents. The car erratically drove on, into the very heart of town and plowed into 5 vehicles before busting through the plate glass windows of the old-fashioned hardware store like a stunt driver in a B-grade movie.

T-boned in the melee was a young track coach at our local Christian college named Britten Olinger. A runner now turned paraplegic whose life is hanging by a thread. He has three dogs, a wife and a baby girl. “Lord! Where is the justice in life?” we cry out as the family takes crumpled naps on waiting room couches. I’ve slept on those same couches. It’s not any fun. Seconds take hours, hours take days, you eat from vending machines and keep your cell phone on. People call, but they don’t know what to say except, “I’m so sorry” and you don’t know what to say except, “Thank you.” The clocks in there are very loud.

Asking why good people suffer is an argument best left to the absurd. Understanding and giving thanks for each moment when we’re not suffering is where the lesson is.

So as the next 40 days unfold, sit in prayer with that family and all the others like them. Look for a way to do something helpful, think harder and then just do it. . And as you move through these next forty days, sit in utter gratitude that life includes both suffering and joy. The trick is to look for joy when and where you can because you never know what’s coming next, none of us do.


andy in the kitchen

So, Twice Blest just finished a summer performing for Camp Grier every Friday. I told the story below and on the last day of the summer program, Andy & I made giant cookies with M&M smiley faces for the staff. It was our little way of saying “Thanks!” Here’s the story…


The camp I went to in the mountains had a cook named Tiny. Tiny made the best biscuits you’ve ever put in your mouth and her cookies were awesome. But, Tiny was not exactly tiny. She was 4 feet 3 inches tall and as big around as she was tall. Tiny was the happiest woman I’ve ever known, she was always singing. On the last day of camp, she’d hand you a giant cookie with an M&M smiley face and say, “Keep smiling honey! A smile a day sure keeps the blues away.”

Tiny called everybody honey and she was sweet as sugar. But Tiny could not stand a bully. I guess when you’re as big around as you are tall, you’re a walking, talking target for a bully. Tiny saved me from the bully who called me “chubby tubby.” Tiny said, “Honey, just cause they’re mean don’t mean they’re right. You just love yourself and other people will, too.”

One year, they hired a helper for Tiny, his name was Big Jim. Big Jim was the opposite of Tiny. He was tall and skinny as rail and he wore a bad mood like it was a Tshirt,  he banged pots around in the kitchen and yelled at us.

Tiny didn’t like that, so she went to work on Big Jim. While she was teaching Jim how to make her famous biscuits, and they were elbow deep in white flour she said, “Big Jim, honey, What was your Momma like?” And he told Tiny his Momma was mean and drank a lot and she’d switch his legs with a hickory stick until he cried every day, whether he’d done anything bad or not. And Tiny said, “That’s not right, Jim. That’s just not right honey.”  The night they made fried chicken Big Jim told Tiny he’d left home at 16 and started living on his own.  And Tiny said, “Well, bless your heart Jim, it took a lot of courage to do that, didn’t it honey.” And then she told him what a good job he was doing.  And after a week of working with Tiny, Big Jim started to change. He started smiling and he didn’t yell nearly as much.

At the end of the week, Tiny wanted Big Jim to stay after work and help her make those giant cookies with the smiley faces. But he said “no!” because he wouldn’t get paid for it. And Tiny shook her finger at him and said, “Now Jim, honey, if you want to get something out of life, you gotta give something to it. Like the good book says, ‘Give and it shall be given to you’.” So Big Jim gave in and they made cookies. Tiny opened a 3 bags of M&Ms and Jim put the smiley faces on all of em. By the end of night, they’d made over 200 cookies. Tiny slid a big, warm cookie into Jim’s hand. He took a  bite of that cookie and she said, “Now, Big Jim, honey, what do we tell the campers?” And he smiled at Tiny and said “Keep smiling, honey, ‘cause a smile a day keeps the blues away.” And then don’t you know they started singing “This little light of mine!” Remember how that goes?