Listening

My prep work is done. I have the fundamentals down. 100’s of books and podcasts have been devoured. I’ve participated in lengthy debates and conversations. I’ve meditated. And I’ve even prayed.

I am anxious to start my mission.

I am ready to co-create. I am a little willing.

“I’m ready. I’m here. I’m a little willing. How can I help? Will you tell me what it is I am to do? What’s my role? My part? Tell me. Tell me! Tell me!! I here. Talk to me! ”

Silence

Ok. Maybe another online lesson. Maybe I need to finish that one book I bought but never finished. Maybe I just need to do this by myself. Trust my gut. Follow my heart. I’m smart I can figure my purpose by myself. Simply use my gifts right? What’s your passion? Do that. Do what I know is right. That’s it! Just do it by myself. That’s what faith looks like.  Make it happen! I can do it!

My mind says “No worries. I got this. I have 100’s of ideas of things we can do!

My gut says “Do what? I don’t know what we are supposed to do. I’m confused”.

My heart says “What happened to ‘Let’s go!’? That’s plural. I thought we were going to CO-create?  I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

So I ask again “Tell me what I need to do. Please.”

Silence

More silence

I catch a glance. A quick movement of His eyes asking me to join Them around our favorite table. We sit in silence. Together.

At long last there is a soft whisper “Compile and publish your writings”.

I jump up and back away from the table. My excuses come fast and furious.

  • My writings are for me; for my self-therapy
  • My writings will hurt other people
  • Publishing a book will cost too much money
  • I’m not sure how to do it
  • No one will buy my book
  • I’m afraid

Silence

Recognizing my childish behavior, I quietly returned to the table and state once more “I am a little willing”.

“Great. Glad to have you on board. We’re going to work well together. Keep in mind I didn’t ask for you to SELL any books, build an audience platform, go on a book tour, or make a movie. Simply compile and publish your writings. For co-creating We’ve found it best if everyone keeps focused on the task at hand. You wouldn’t even believe us if we told you what the final outcome will be.

Oh, by the way, I’ll be revealing the resources you need to get the task done. Be on the lookout for coincidental conversations and pop-up banner ads.

Let’s go.”

 

 

 

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Wave Pool Miracle

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It was the fifth and final day of our vacation. We were in the wave pool AGAIN. It was our daughters’ favorite pool at the resort. Jump! the waves…Jump! the waves….Jump! the waves…for six minute stretches of  time. Then the waters would calm down so the girls could snorkel for six minutes. Repeat.

The waves were big. The hyper-diligent lifeguards would stop the waves as necessary to help little children who appeared to be overwhelmed by the pounding waves. This “wave-stoppage” happened every day we visited the wave pool. On this last day, it was a young towheaded boy who was retrieved from the deep end of the pool and returned to his mother, who was standing in the shallow area. It had become a common scene. I knew to stay where I was, knowing the waves would start again. I wanted to finish out my six minutes of jump-squats.

When the waters calmed, I hauled myself out of the pool and flopped onto the lounge chair. My husband and sister brought me up to speed on the drama I had missed during my exercise routine.

“Do you see that tattoo’d guy over there? Do you see that little boy in the chair?  That dad just was screaming at that little boy after they rescued him from the wave pool! It was awful! No one should yell like that to a child!”

At that moment, when I looked at the man, I entered another dimension. My vision narrowed until I could only see him and the boy. The rest of the gigantic “Indoor Water Dome” was gone.  The cacophony of sounds muted so that I could only hear my own voice speak to the tattoo’d man and towheaded boy. But it was not my voice. This voice said things that I would not say.

“I’m sorry about your childhood. It must have been terrible. But you’re trying! You took your son to a waterpark to have fun! Thank you for trying to be a good father. I forgive you for falling short just now”. “And you buddy, you will have so many good memories from today. Later on you will be laughing and smiling and having fun. Remember those moments, not the memory of being dragged from the pool and belittled in public. Forget the negative. Cherish the positive”. “And you, Susan, this parenting stuff is so hard. There have been several less-than-textbook-perfect moments with your daughters this week. I forgive you too!”

Then, the lense zoomed back out and the volume turned up. I was back. My husband’s and sister’s conversation continued as though I was never gone. “He’s still sitting in timeout! The mom just kept her head down in shame the whole time!” “I was about to walk over to him and give him piece of my mind! He should have comforted the boy, not punished him!”

They both looked at me, wanting me to join in their judgement chorus with my standard pithy “They should issue licenses to become a parent” comment. They wanted me to jump into crashing waves of criticism. But I couldn’t.  Instead I simply stated, “That’s sad” and stayed a moment longer in my calm, peaceful, sleepily blue ocean of forgiveness. 

I have no idea how I chose the mercy seat over the judgement seat. It was not a choice I consciously made. 

It was a wave pool miracle.

 

It was just a text message

Last year, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage I was ecstatic. I sent happy text messages to all my gay and liberal-minded friends! I didn’t want to experience this momentous occasion alone. I even sent texts to folks that I don’t know that well. I was happy and I wanted to celebrate. It was a day to remember.

Fast forward to now – a year later – this weekend – Saturday afternoon. We went to a local pub crawl with some of those same gay and liberal-minded folks we don’t know that well. We went expecting beer and laughs and little else. What I received was astonishing…

Michael is one of those folks I don’t know that well, but when he crawled out of the pub he gave me the biggest grin and warmest embrace. “Susan, I’m so glad you’re here. I talk about you all the time!”  I looked at him quizzically, since we only had a couple face-to-face conversations in the few years we had known each other. Sure, we knew a lot of the same people, but why would he be talking about me?

“You probably don’t know this, but I work for Caterpillar. I work with their inclusion/diversity committee. I give presentations to 1000s of Caterpillar employees for LGBT diversity training. During the introduction of my presentation I always talk about YOU. Do you remember that text  you sent me when the Supreme Court decided in favor of gay marriage? Your text was the first text I got that day. It meant so much to me!  I give your text message as an example of how profound it is to get support from someone outside the community. I share how we barely know each other, yet you took the time to send me a text on that important day. The story always makes an impact. I share what little I know of you from your couple of soapbox sermons. My description of you always makes the audience laugh!  I’m preparing for a global LGBT conference in Orlando this fall. I will be telling this story to thousands more from around the world. Your simple text meant so much to me on that day. It’s the perfect example of how easy it is to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”

It was just a text message – sent to thousands of people around the globe.

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Voices 

I don’t have to want to be friendly, inspirational or engaged to be put to use by the Universe. My funk is not a deterrent to Love. At the Sunday breakfast,  there were a lot of volunteers, so I didn’t work. Instead I just sat along the wall with the others who want to be left alone. Perfect. I sat next to a young, large black man and after a long period of silence we started talking about movies. He loves scary movies (I detest scary movies). He said he’s had enough trauma in his life that scary things don’t scare him. The conversation continued, like they do, and he confessed he can read people’s minds and he hears voices. In typical Susan heretical fashion, I said “You sound like Jesus. He could do that too, you know…the woman at the well…”. Marvin was so tickled to hear me say that. He smiled as the similarities dawned on him. He said most folks tell him to go to the hospital or get meds. I pointed out that the majority of people would have given that advice to Jesus too. The conversation then veered towards his vivid dreams and his life’s purpose of solving cold cases for the police through victims visiting his dreams. I said I was jealous of him since his life’s purpose is so clear. He then told me that I had just fulfilled my life’s purpose by being the only person to ever tell him that he was like Jesus! I guess my job here is done. 

Soapbox

It was Addie Zierman who inspired me to write my stories. You see, after reading her memoir  “When we were on Fire”, I sent a message to A friend complaining about the lack of “real drama” in the book. Sure, Addie had tied one on a couple times, but that’s nothing compared to my life’s debacles. I jokingly bragged to My friend that the chapters in my memoir would be much more scandalous and worthy of page turning. Since I had been…

  • Fundamentalist Sunday School Super Star
  • Bible Camp Staffer
  • Excommunicted Sinner
  • Hindu Bride
  • Infertile Yuppie
  • Divorcee
  • Sex in the City Lifestyle
  • match.com success story
  • Failed Entrepreneur
  • Middle aged, Midwestern Mom
  • Volunteers and goes to book club
  •  – someone I struggle to relate to

When I typed out the list, I realized for the first time, that my life’s chapters were pretty entertaining. So I started to type them out. One chapter at a time. I limited myself to 500 words per chapter, to make it more of a writing challenge. Over the course of 12 months I had written 85 chapters.

Today I will read one of my darker stories. But, I promise I will share my “sparkly, happy epilogue” with you afterwards, so you won’t leave here depressed.


 

Dad blinked his eyes and slowly looked around. He recognized where he was – in his church’s nursing home. For he had spent many hours there, whether, visiting my great aunts and uncles on Sunday afternoons after church, singing hymns on Monday nights, or simply ministering to the widows and widowers, like his King James Bible commanded him to. Dad blinked again and looked over at me, and then noticed he was wearing a bib and had a cup of bland soup on the table in front of him. In that lucid moment he realized he was a resident of the nursing home. In that instant he remembered he was a widower. And in his last lucid moment he asked “She’s gone, isn’t she?”. I choked out “Yes. She’s gone.”  “Well then, I want to lay down. I want to go to bed” he said as the tears silently fell down his cheeks.

Ten days later I was sitting once again in front row of a crowded sanctuary. Once again, I was surrounded by 100s of our friends and family. Once again,  I was listening to acapella hymns, once again, the consoling ministers preached about the plan of salvation. See, only two months prior, we had buried my mother who had also died from cancer.

But my father’s funeral was different. In addition to feeling the familiar grief and sadness, there were subtle twinges of pride. I was inwardly congratulating myself on my victory. With dad’s death, I had won. I had won the decades long battle of wills. It was a fight to the death, and I was still alive! I did not back down. I did not give in. I did not “give my heart to Jesus” despite their repeated overt and covert attempts to convince me to do so. I didn’t cave to make their final days peaceful. I denied them of the one thing they desired the most. That made me the winner. I wanted to jump on the pulpit and hold my hard fought trophy over my head for everyone to see. I was the winner.

What I failed to see was that the trophy I had won was my cold, dead heart. Fade to Black.


Sorry. I know. Cringeworthy. We all have shameful stories that we’d rather forget. Nevertheless write down. Nevertheless speak out loud to a room full of people. It was confronting my dark stories, like this one, that I unexpectedly uncovered life’s greatest truth. Let me tell you how. 

Several years after my parents death s We had started to attend Imago, something I could have never done while my parents were alive. I came in every Sunday with a boulder  on my shoulder and itching for a fight. One Sunday back on Arcadia, Charlie encouraged us to wrestle with God. And for someone who was itching for a fight…Bring it! My wresting took the form of writing “Suggestions for Jesus”  My suggestions were good, bad and downright ugly. After 50 days of writing suggestions for Jesus I was ready to throw in the towel on wrestling, Imago and everything.

I decided to tell my parents about my failed wrestling exercise. I wanted to let them know that I tried, but failed. Subconciously I think I want hear them say once more from beyond the grave “Just give your heart to Jesus, Susie” so that I could blow up and project my anger back onto them. It was a sunny afternoon at the cemetery. I took of my sandals and laid down on the green grass between them, prepared to break their heart yet again.

But before a thought formed in my head…I was miraculously transported to eternity. I was floating in a space and place of undescribable safety and peace. I can’t explain the experience with words. But I can tell you the cryptic voice over narration my parents said while I was in this blissful state. 

Susan, THIS, THIS Love. This is the love we could never express while we were incarnate. But THIS, THIS Love is how we feel for you. We Love you. There is no bad part of you, there is no good part of you, there is just This Love. You are just THIS Love. It is all there is.  Susan, live your life. Susan, wrestle. Susan, find This Love.

As you can imagine, knowing that my parents loved me and forgave me was amazing. To know they were cheering me on was incredible. Our reconciliation, to be a prodigal, even after their death, was miraculous and life changing. 

It was in the writing of my memoirs – something that I approached as simply a whim, not a spiritual exercise- that I realized the more important message my parents had shared. The message of This Love (perhaps you can understand it better by replacing that phrase with the term God, Jesus or Universe).

By reviewing my stories, like the story of my fathers death,  MY destructive thought and behavior patterns became quite obvious when I saw them popping up in chapter after chapter. But what was less obvious was another pattern…at the end of every chapter in the Gospel of Susan, whether the chapter was cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane there was always consistent invisible footnote written from THIS Love that said “I love you. This chapter is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be. Let’s go.”  And then the next cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane story happened. This pattern repeated Over and over. And ‘This Love’ Moved my life forward in the most unbelievable and genius of ways to where I am today. Today I am finally someone who recognizes ‘This Loves’ tenacity, patience and gentleness as it moves in my current life.   Though a series of slow baby steps  I began to see “This Love” in profound and miraculous ways. I felt it in the bear hug of a drug addict at our Summer Picnic, I saw in the piercing gaze of a crippled man in Honduras, I hear it in my daughters’ giggles, I see it with every sunrise, sunset, and most clearly in the beauty of the moon’s ever waxing and waning. “This Love” is everywhere!  I’ve seen it! I see it now.

I’m now to the point where  I know when I don’t see it. I’m now aware of the times when I choose to see the world through my old eyes of fear or judgement or my personal favorite lenses, indifference. And yet in spite of my vision failures, This Love continues to pour in me, around me and through me just as it has always done. Even as it did when I silently cheered at my father’s funeral.

Every day I ask to see the world through the eyes of “This Love”.  Everyday I ask ” Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom?  I want to see This Love”. And everyday I hear a silent reply “Susan, I love you. Today is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be.  Let’s go.”

So as we enter 2016, may you look back at your stories and discover the breadcrumb trail left by “This Love”. I know you’ll find it. Or better yet, in this year, look for This Love in every minute, every now. It’s alway there. In you. Around you. It surrounds you. No matter how cringeworthy, heartbreaking, outrageous, or mundane your moments are, This Love will continue to whisper to us all. “I love you. This situation is perfect. I can work with this. I can get you where you need to be. Let’s go.”

 

 

Postage Stamps

It’s been seven years. I can still feel the numbness that flooded my body as I sat in the front row at the church during my mother’s funeral. As we all bowed our heads in prayer, I can remember looking down at my hand, being held by Rick’s hand, and the voice in my head telling me…

Susan, you are all alone, even in this crowded room, surrounded by family and friends.  You will always be alone.

All alone. That was the story I had been telling myself ever since we moved to Illinois two years prior to my mother’s death. I was alone because my new employer actively discouraged socialization between employees. I was alone because all the friends of my youth had their established friendships that had no space for me. I was alone because I refused to “find a church”, which is the de facto source of friendships in the Midwest. I was alone because every weekend was devoted to spending time with my ill parents, no matter how strained our relationship was. My lonesomeness seemed destined. I was a victim. It was an unchangeable fact.

I completely believed the ‘lie of lonesomeness’ created by my ego. Seven years ago, it didn’t seem to be a lie. It was my story. It was my truth. But now, through the perspective of time, I see it for what it was. A lie.

I am not alone. And I have the Christmas card list to prove it! 

Writing out my Christmas cards the day after my mother’s death anniversary was a cathartic experience. I decided to ditch the default mailing list and instead go through my 2015 calendar on my iPhone to see who to send cards to. Cards were sent to:

  • Friends who hung out on my porch
  • Friends whom I met for coffee
  • Friends who bought me a round (or two)
  • Friends who stayed in our guest bedroom
  • Friend in whose guest bedroom we stayed in
  • Friends we traveled with
  • Friend who invited me into their home
  • Friends who sat around our dining room table
  • Friends who cried with me
  • Friends that were kind
  • Friends who sang and danced and laughed with me
  • Friend who have inspired me
  • Friends who have volunteered alongside me
  • Friends who have pushed me
  • Friends who told me secrets
  • Friends who’s podcast I listen to every week (whom I’ve never really met, yet I still mailed a card)
  • Friends who’s books I’ve read this last year (ditto)

The revelation of the breadth and depth of my friends was so good for my soul. The list kept growing. I smiled as I recalled connections I made in the last 12 months. I choked back tears as the evidence kept mounting…I am not alone.

 

Snowman

In preparation for games that we will play at the Homeless Christmas Banquet, I decided that we should award the prizes to the participants with the WORST drawings – the drawings that look nothing like they are supposed to.  That’s the TRUE spirit of Christmas…


Christmas Day sucked. Nine months earlier Mary said “Bring It” when the angel appeared.  She was amp’d up when she told Elizabeth about the impending birth. She sensed that through this pregnancy things were going to be better.

 He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.

But then the much anticipated Christmas day arrived. I can imagine Mary waiting to see miracles unfold. She was ready. She was fully expecting to be exalted and filled. But there were no miracles that day. No magic carpet to transport her to Bethlehem. No Red Cross worker to meet them as they arrived in town. No fully staffed medical clinic. No midwife coincidently walking by the barn. No “God Moments”.

Christmas didn’t look like it was supposed to. It didn’t look like what she had imagined. It was wrong in EVERY WAY. Christmas Day was a day filled with fear, anxiety, pain, disappointment, isolation, confusion, frustration, and anger.

AND

Those conditions created the perfect environment from which the miracle of Beauty, Goodness and Love could be birthed into our world.


So when we look at a Snowman drawing that resembles a dog turd with a ribbon, or we think of how our lives don’t look like they’re supposed to, we can be confident that we are ripe with the potential for a miracle.