Tag Archives: God’s Gifts

The Accidental Spiritual Tourist

Recently, on a trip to Asheville, I was accosted by a woman who wanted me to purchase her books on Yoga. Wait – that’s not entirely accurate. She insisted I take one for a small donation. I truly had no cash, explained I was a tourist and that I was on my way to lunch. “Oh! I’m a tourist, too – a spiritual tourist!” she chirped. A spiritual tourist. Yeah, okay. Moving right along.

Much to my chagrin, over this past weekend, her words rang back to me and I discovered that I, too, am a spiritual tourist. “Let me ‘splain…no, no time to ‘splain: let me sum up.”

I woke this morning feeling sentimental about my old house in Ossining, NY, and  heavy-hearted, missing my mother. I have not seen my mother in over 39 years, so when I miss her, it usually means something big is playing out in my life or is about to play out in my life. The awakening was preceded by detailed dreams about visiting colleges with my daughter, Clarke. These dreams may have been triggered by a recent visit to Oxford England where many families were touring the University during “open days” as I was visiting as a tourist. (That is, an actual tourist, not a spiritual one.) Or it could be that I am dreaming about visiting colleges as it is Clarke’s junior year in high school and some time during the spring, we are going to have to do just that.

No matter what the trigger, when I opened my eyes this morning, I went first to check on Clarke because she had been complaining of an ear ache last night.  I gingerly touched her forehead with my hand, and tried not to wake her. I’m not exactly sure why I thought I would not wake her, because she has always startled if touched when asleep. She did in fact startle and let me know her ear kept her up a good bit during the night.  She weakly requested to visit a doctor, so I got dressed immediately.

We piled silently into the car and started for the Urgent Care.  On the way there, she put on some of her music, which I usually abide because it lets me into her teenage life just a little.  That’s when the Magical Mystery Tour rolled up to the first stop.

I found myself standing as a teenager in Montaldo’s Boutique in Greensboro, NC with my sister, shopping for her wedding dress.   All during the day my ear was increasingly more annoying and I therefore kept bothering it back.  By the time evening fell, I was in some pain.  I downstairs and interrupted the 11:00 evening news to tell my dad I needed to go to the emergency room.  It had become impertive that I get the invisible ice pick that was persistently jabbing my right ear drum removed at once.

If my daughter’s pain was a fraction of what I recalled from that night, she was surely suffering.  Her silence told me all I needed to know and my heart crumbled.  A few empathetic tears snuck down my cheeks, but before I could truly enjoy this sentimental stop, the tour bus careened around a corner screeching to a halt at the doorstep of my Ossining home.

At this stop, I recalled a time when my next oldest sibling had gone off to kindergarten. I was finally going to have my mom all to myself while my three brothers and sisters went to school.  These were supposed to be happy days for me, but they turned into seeds of anxiety.  Most days, once I was fed, Mom let me watch TV while she disappeared somewhere upstairs in our split level home.  I watched myself as a 4 year old girl, wandering around the upstairs looking for my mother. I called and called for her and she did not answer.  When she eventually re-appeared at the top of the stairs, I was dissolved in tears.  That brief time of feeling lost in my own home left me scared and much in need of her presence and comfort.

BANG!  The Spiritual Tour was nearing a close as I arrived at my final destination:  Gratitude.

During those days of needing hugs, kisses, comfort or the actual presence of my mother, I was building the deep desire to be available to my family.  Now, every time I offer them something as simple as an aspirin or quiet company when they are down, it is both a gift to them and a gift to me.  I am grateful to be here and to be a constant source of love for them.

Next on the tour:  Baggage Claim!

Changes big and small

Lent is here, and so far it’s been a season of changes big and small for me.  If you know me or if you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written, there are likely hints here and there that I am Catholic.  Very Catholic.  And Lent is a huge opportunity for all kinds of growth for me – more so than the typical New Year’s resolution because I will be more consistent and persistent in doing something for someone I love rather than for myself.  And God is someone I love.

Most people associate Lent with a time to “give something up.”  In years past, I have given up fried foods, chocolate, and the internet.  While these were excellent exercises in self-discipline, when the 40 days were up, I took back every bad habit with gusto.  So where did it get me?  I don’t honestly know and that’s the problem.

What is often overlooked during Lent is the opportunity to grow closer to God by taking on some new good habits.  There’s nothing wrong with throwing out the old ones, but if no real change is accomplished, I can’t really see the point.   What our faith is trying to teach us is self-discipline as a way toward Discipleship and service to others.

With that in mind, this year, I am still eating sweets, drinking coffee and surfing the web.  However, what I’ve decided to is to fast and pray as my church has asked me; not just for purposes of my own spiritual growth, but especially for the trials suffered in the world such as school shootings, starvation, and natural disasters.  Fasting is not something I normally do (because I really love food and I’m generally self-concerned).  But over the past few years, something changed in me.  I’ve been sincerely touched by the people in my life who have witnessed to me by word and action; who are constantly giving to others, thinking of others, praying for others.  It is clear God has surrounded me with such people to teach me to grow closer to Him.

I’ve also decided to meditate on the book of Sirach.  Sirach is like the book of Proverbs on steroids.  Reading this spiritual guidance has been like getting smacked in the face with the dodgeball every night.  I’m seeing stars — and loving it!  It’s just what I needed and God brought me to it very deliberately.

Although Fat Tuesday is long past, it’s never too late to begin a good habit.  If you haven’t decided what you are going to (or if you are going to) give up for Lent, I invite you to give up the futile practices that don’t make you a stronger and better witness to your own beliefs.  Take up a meaningful new way of life whether it be something as big as organizing a fundraiser for a charity or as small as passing up a meal and being mindful of those who go without because they have no choice.

If these were academy awards I would now be boring you with a list of thank you’s to people you don’t know.  But it’s my blog and I’m going to thrill you with a list of thank you’s to some people you may just know (and there’s no orchestra to cut me off!)

Thank you:  SISTER LAURA, BROTHER(FATHER) WILL, BROTHER GRAHAM, SISTER ELIZABETH, MOTHER CAROL, UNCLE (DEACON) STEVE, EILEEN, MAMA SHIRLEY, CHARI, SUZETTE, TERESA, ROSEMARY, VALERIE (AND MY MANY OTHER CRHP SISTERS), LOREE, ANNE, CHERYL, KRISSY (AKA POSH SPICE) AND MICHAEL (AKA BECKS), FATHER RICHARD BELLOW, FATHER BILL PHARR (RIP), MARJORIE, ANN K., LINDA B., BILL L., “MY JENNAY”,  and of course my very patient and forbearing spouse, FRANK!

I know I’ve left a ton of people off my list and I beg your forgiveness…your 5 minutes of blog fame is sure to make its way to the light of day.  Many blessings and a fruitful and productive lent to you all.

 

Falling in Love

I’m obsessed.

It does not involve yellow punch buggies, either.  I’m obsessed by a song.  If you’ve been into my blog in the last few weeks, you saw some disparate themes from religion to paranoia.  Yesterday, I decided to add obsession to my usual rant.

I was diving along listening to K-Love Christian rock station (94.1 fm), trying to avoid Volkswagen Beetles, when I heard a song that was new to my ears.  (I’m not sure if it’s a new song, but it was new to me.)  It’s by a guy named Jason Gray and it’s called “More Like Falling in Love.”    Johnny Carson had the Tonight Show Theme and Randy Newman has “Short People.”  “MLFiL” has kind of becoming my theme song.  There’s an important message in that song that speaks to me which talks about what our faith should really be like.  It says,

“It oughta be…
More like falling in love
than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance.
Caught up, called out  – come take a look at me now
It’s like I’m falling.  It’s like I’m falling in love.”

There is of course more to the song, but the capper is a line that says, “Falling in love with Jesus brought the Change in Me.”  Oh, I couldn’t have said it better myself.  I guess I don’t have to now that Jason Gray has.

Loving and letting go

My sister is a very wise woman.  She will deny it, but that is only because she’s humble, too.  She taught me something a few years ago that has helped my change-resistant soul accept the most painful of changes.  It’s all about letting friendships go.

It seems there are some friendships that last no matter what and some that despite your best intentions or ardent affection toward a person, just fizzle.  As far as relationships that you just can’t kill despite time or distance,  I have a dear friend (that would be you, Lauren) with whom I still keep in touch  these 20 years since we moved out of Washington.  She lives in Texas now and we still make it a point to try to get together once a year.  That relationship will never fizzle.  But I’ve had several that had fizzzled and they cause me heartache.  Another friend from my days in Washington DC was fun and funny and we had a blast together.  And when she married and moved, I wrote to her.  She responded for a while but then stopped altogether.  I called, but she said she spent all day on the phone and didn’t like to talk on it after work.  So, if she was too busy to write and was also disinterested in my calls, that pretty much left us nowhere.  I left the effort up to her and she made none.  I was crushed.  And quite frankly, a little bit angry.

It may be time for me to admit here that I have some insecurities.  At the same time, while it may seem quite contradictory, I’ve developed a significant amount of pride.  After years of believing I was not good enough and saw myself in a rather low light…well, to put it bluntly, I found Jesus.  (That’s trite.  He’d been there all the time.)  What I mean to say is that I started believing in His love for me and in the fact that I didn’t have to earn it.  Therefore, if I am good enough for the King of Kings, then what some puny human thought of me was of no consequence.  I still want very desperately to be liked by puny humans, however, if someone doesn’t like a person as sweet and fun and all-around awesome as ME, then there is something wrong with THEM.  So needless to say, when this friend just sort of dumped me because I was inconvenient to stay in touch with, I was insulted.  Then I realized the flaw was with her.

Much to my horror, it happened again a few years later.  And again.  And again.  I was beginninig to sense a pattern here!  When I had just about reached my breaking point, the Soothsayer Sister known as Laura told me she totally understood.  Now, I’m not trying to make Laura take the credit for this, because I think someone else shared it with her first, but she was smart enough to share it with me.  She said, “Claire, sometimes friends are meant to be in your life for just a season.  Sometimes that season ends.  You let it go and you move on.”

How liberating!  Seriously?  That’s all there is to it?  No hard feelings?  No big fights or telling people off?  Wow.  It’s still not easy, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when it doesn’t get ugly.

I will also admit here that I am not only the dump-ee and the victim of friendships for which seasons have passed.  I’ve used this wisdom to realize for myself that it’s time to move on because I was doing damage to the other person or to myself by trying to hang on.  I know I’ve hurt people and I regret the hurt I’ve caused them.  By the same token, I don’t intend to linger and be untrue.  At times it’s as easy as letting that person stop calling or writing or emailing because it may be their choice to let me go as well.   Maybe I shouldn’t say easy – I should say effortless.  It still pains me to think of those friends I’ve let slide out of my life when I haven’t wanted them to.

So, thank you to my sister for helping me understand that not everything is meant to last forever – even those things and people we hold dear.  And not everything that you love and let go will come back to you, even if you believe it was meant to be…that’s a lot of nonsense.  Love the time you had, let the person go, hang onto the happy stuff.  And if they’re dumb enough to let YOU go, remember that the flaw is definitely with THEM.

Peace out

Ode to Baba

It was 22 years ago this week that I became a Baba.  I had no ambition to become a Baba, nor did I know I was one until the host of a bed and breakfast in Ambleside, England called me out.  Worse yet:  they called my dear Aunt Mary Rose one, too!

Now, readers, you both know from my previous blog about my Aunt Mary Rose how precious she was to me.  And when I was 22…thems wuz fightin words!  But, I have gotten ahead of myself.

Shortly after graduating college, in early June of 1988, I was blessed enough to be sent abroad by my dad…let me be clear…my aunt is no broad and Dad did not send her to me.  He decided to send me to England with her.  Dad had given my older brother and sister cars for their graduation and I had been a completely lousy driver.  He played it smart with me.  (Or maybe I played it smart with him?)  All the same, he sent me to England, knowing that I worshiped the Beatles and loved all things British.  He asked my aunt to go with me as a chaperon because he was fully aware that had he taken me, we would have driven each other crazy and one of us would have been shipped home in a box.  Thus, my laid-back, fun-loving, hill-climbing, church-choir-storming auntie went with me across The Pond.  Little did he know his responsible older sister to whom he entrusted his wild daughter was easily led astray.  He-he-he. But that’s a blog for another day.

The plan was to land at Heathrow, with a hotel reservation right across from Windsor Castle for a few nights to get acclimated and take in London the tourist way.  After high tea with scones and clotted cream, the tower of London and a tour of Windsor Castle, we headed out in our Citroen and see the countryside.  We also had a hotel booked at the end of our trip so we could be assured secure and convenient lodging prior to taking off from Gatwick.  Everything between Heathrow and Gatwick was fair game.  So drove up the M Roads see Broadway, The Lakes District, Stratford on Avon and Bath as well as parts unknown in between.  As we arrived in an interesting looking village, we’d find a B&B to stay in, take in the town and pubs and play Canasta in our room after dinner.  Each  morning we’d wake around 8 am, get chided by the innkeepers for being late sleepers, and after breakfast, point the car in a somewhat northerly direction.  As the Indigo Girls would sing we’d” Get Out the Map, Get Out the Map and lay our finger anywhere down”.   To further quote The Beatles, “And Oh, that magic feeling…nowhere to go!”

One place we landed was Chester, which boasts lovely gardens.  It was our last stop before heading to the Lakes District which promised to be the star of the vacation.

While Chester did in fact have amazing gardens and a very amusing town Crier, there seemed really nothing else to do once we’d seen those things.  So we went to the little chamber of commerce there to ask how to spend our time until we could get our Ploughman’s lunch and a hard cider.  Everything the obsequious rep suggested to us, we had already scoped out and experienced that morning.  “Well, then!” He said, “I suspect we’ve nothing more to offer you here!  “Where are you ladies off to after our fair burgh?”
“To the Lakes district!” we proclaimed.
“And where have you booked your lodging?  It’ll be crowded after all – tomorrow is a bank holiday you realise?”  (that’s not a misspelling – I used the British spelling.  Cheeky, isn’t it?)
“We were just going to drive up there and find a B&B” we admitted.
Oh No!  No!  You MUST book a room ahead of time or you’ll not have lodging!”
And with that, Mr. Helpful reserved us a space in a stunning B&B on the main road with a view of the lake in Ambleside.

It was completely picturesque.  Apart from the barley fields which were beyond compare, Ambleside was everything I thought the English countryside should be.  Being that it was early June, it was also bleeping freezing–which I did not think it should be.  But we were in luck.  Apparently there are a number of highly cooperative sheep in the area who give of their wool so that dumb bunny Yanks like me can buy a nice wool sweater for a summer holiday by the lake.  Hard to imagine needing a wool sweater for a June holiday by the lake when one resides full time in North Carolina!  However, AMR (that’s Aunt Mary Rose to my new reader) was smart enough to pack a hat and rain coat because she was from Connecticut.  Nevertheless, we purchased some fine sweaters in Ambleside.  Which itched like the dickens. But I digress.

When we arrived at our destination, a perfectly quaint Tudor, we approached the front desk to announce that we were there and had reservations.  I dutifully brought out the reservation number carefully written down by Chester’s best-ever tourist helper-guy, and before I could get the numbers out, the clerk announced, “Ah!  You must be the Babas!”  Thinking I had come across the Basil Fawlty of Ambleside, I was caught speechless for a moment.  “Uh…no.  We’re Gurnee and Fiore,” I informed the poor daft bloke.

“No, no dahling…Baba…Book-A-Bed-Ahead,” he crooned.

It meant they had our reservation.  Duh.  Good thing I didn’t deck anyone.  Baba might have come to mean Blasted Americans Booted About.  Luckily, it did not and we had a marvelous stay.  It was a superlative trip.  And from that day until the last time I spoke with AMR before she died last December, my aunt and I addressed each other as “Baba” in letters and when got together over the holidays.  It allowed us the pleasure of reliving those extraordinary ten days together.  Today I celebrate becoming a Baba.  We weren’t the first and certainly weren’t the last, but it was special to us.  It will stay with me for a lifetime.

Cheers to my Baba and to all the Babas worldwide on this British Banking Holiday.

How lucky am I???

Most everyone that knows me knows that when I was 7 years old, my mother passed away.   She was 41 years old.  I have outlived her by 2 years now and am beginning to see many unfinished circles complete.  My own daughter has a best friend that I am delighted to have in my home, and Amanda, who is a blessing to my daughter, is also a blessing to me.  I have granted her “Honorary Daughter” status.  By the same token, even at my age, I have recently been granted “Honorary Daughter” status once again. This is the most wonderful gift that women give each other.  One of the unfinished circles I have the pleasure to experience has been my opportunity to pass this gift along.

Although I had to survive the excruciating pain and fear of the blind-siding loss of my mom, God has granted me abundant grace in love from other women over the years.  No one can ever replace my own mother, but I have been ever so blessed by the many wonderful women brought into my life.  One such woman was Gullinore Campbell, who became for me “M.O.Y.” during my 7th grade year.  I had decided that she was not just “Mother of the Year” but “Mother of ALL Years” for the simple fact that she listened attentively to me.  She asked me about my problems, offered comfort, advice and support.  She was exactly the kind of nurturing spirit a pre-teen needed.  MOY taught me how to attend to the sniveling drivel of a twelve-year-old.  (Not that my own daughter snivels or drivels, but Clarke definitely benefits these thirty-one years later from the gift of attending I learned from MOY.)

In my young adulthood, I had the pleasure to work with a lady named Loree Charles.  Loree taught me humility and Christianity by the way she lived her life.  When I met her, she had recently returned to work after caring for her mother and step-father, both of whom had Alzheimer’s Disease.  She dealt with moving her step father and mother to nursing homes, renting  her parent’s home, and churning through a very demanding job.  Through dead-beat renters, running back and forth to King’s Mountain as her stepfather’s health declined, and quietly enduring the pain of her mother mistaking her for someone else at every visit, she still managed to smile.  She trusted me enough to share her pain and worries with me and unselfishly helped me through mine.  The people she has worked loyally and diligently for in the last 16 years have (for the most part) not been worthy to stand in her tiny shadow.  Loree’s willingness to share her struggles and talk openly to me about her prayer life showed me that just because life is difficult doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t love you.

Shortly before I met Loree, I was given the gift of a mother-in-law beyond any new wife’s best dreams.  Carol Armstrong is the woman who I am privileged to call Mom these days.  From the very start my relationship with her son, my mother-in-law has given us her uncompromising support.  She helped me plan the wedding, she and her friends threw me wedding and baby showers and she was present for the birth of our daughter.  She even helped me wall-paper the miniscule bathroom in our first house and I could not have enjoyed the task more.  Had it been left to Frank and myself, one of us would not have left that bathroom alive.  Not once in 18 years of marriage has Mom been anything but a great friend and adviser.  She and her husband of over 40 years raised my best friend.   She is a strong and supremely classy individual and I want to be just like her when I grow up!  “Evil mother-in-law?”  I think not!  (Eat your hearts out ladies.)

As if I have not been blessed enough, just last year I was adopted by my friend Cheryl’s mom, Judy Bridges.  Judy was my original mother’s name, so I’ve come full circle.  Judy is a cancer survivor who inspires me with the seeming ease with which she takes each person as they are, and graciously offers them acceptance.  Not only has she not forgotten how to have fun, she has in the past had to remind me to have fun, too.  I have the distinct impression that the two Judies would have been great friends.  I can easily imagine Cheryl and I headed to the theater with our moms and having an absolute blast.

God makes no mistakes.  As a matter of fact, He scored BIG on this one.  It is as if every time I cried out to Him, begging him to tell me “Why” when I was growing up, He nodded indulgently, knowing how much love and joy He had for me in response.  It has been a gift beyond all telling.  Thank you Lord.  Thank you, Ladies!