It's officially October now and fall is certainly making its appearance. It's in the cool, foggy mornings and the way the color moves through the leaves. It's the pumpkins replacing watermelons and apple cider taking over lemonade. I love this time of year, actually any time one season gives way to another. The transition holds a subtle anticipation of the unknown, and if there is one thing I've come to appreciate, it's the unknown. Why is it we work so hard to exert control over life to keep it comfortable and predictable, when in my experience, all of the magical moments come from the unexpected?

Speaking of unexpected, last night my son and I discovered that our pet hamster, Xavior, had died. This is my son's first real experience with death and as I watched his tears flow, I understood something that I wouldn't have a few years ago. It's always hard to watch someone we love grieve a loss, but it is not my place to fix, take away, or minimize his pain. My job as his mom is best done by offering comfort while he fully feels it. This will be the first of many losses he'll experience in life because that is the way of being human, the impermanence of it all. Xavior brought him great joy, and that too will be one of many joys he will experience as well.

If there is one thing we can count on, it is change. It's a natural process the trees seem to understand, but we still often resist. Life seems to develop its own rhythm, and we have the choice to embrace or fight it, knowing loved ones come into our life, and they leave. Circumstances we thought would never change, eventually do. And in order for new seeds of possibility to grow, old ways of being must fall away. If we are willing, change can be its own kind of comfort, the sure predictability of the unpredictable. For as Ecclesiastes reminds us "For everything there is a season....."


As I have brought all of you in on my dream for the Elsinore production, I'd also like to share the process of building it. We'll take this raw journey together, one step at a time, and perhaps something in my experience will encourage or inspire you to start or continue the building of your own. It's one thing to have a dream, and another to manifest it. It's impossible to do the second without also being willing to grow yourself, and that is where the challenge lies and the fun begins!

I'm excited to announce who we have on board so far:
Music Team:                                                  Production Team:
Randy Byrnes - Hammond B3, Keys             Don Crites - Co-Producer
Jeff Icovino - Percussion                                Lynn Baker - Back Stage Manager
Brian Bergstrom - Bass                                  Kalie Ferry - Dance
Joel Futch - Guitar                                                              Choreographer and
Barb Cannard - Harmony                                                    Lead Dancer
Big thank you to Salem Playback Theatre for allowing us the use of their Clubhouse for rehearsals!

Last week was our first rehearsal. I knew this would be big, that I would be scared, and that it would require me to grow. I just hadn't quite realized how much! And I can't seem to shake the thought, "What was I thinking?" It's ok though, doubt is a natural part of the process. It brings into question how much I want this, and how much I am willing to let go and grow in order to achieve it. Self-care and stress management are vital. If ever there's a time to amp up the spiritual practices of meditation, faith, and trusting in Divine flow, it is now! Oh, and did I mention being gentle with oneself?

I imagined showing up to our first rehearsal with a complete script ready to go, every song, every word, every prop notated in specific detail. I should have known better, as that is not how I work. My creative processes don't write themselves in a controlled way, instead, I've learned to trust the gentle unfolding of such matters. I was nervous though, that these people I'd brought on board would have a difficult time accepting that. So I showed up to our gathering feeling incredibly scared and intimidated by the talent of the musicians. I was expected to be the leader of the collaboration. That's who I've become, but that's not who entered the room that day. Instead, a version of myself from about 3-years ago showed up. She was insecure and couldn't seem to stop apologizing for everything, including her music and herself. It was painful. Where had my confidence gone? I had allowed my fear to win, which had opened the door for all my old ways of being to take charge. 

All week I've wondered what I should do about it. Apologizing doesn't seem like the right answer, as too much of that has already happened. I'll just chalk it up to a learning experience, step back into my power, and keep moving forward.

(Barb Cannard was not shown in any of the photos this time as she had the camera!  We'll catch her next time!)

On my walk today, two big German Shepherds came out to greet me on the street. As they approached, my heart began to race and the internal talk quickly started, “Calm down! Think only love!”  Surrounded by both of them now and still trying to relax, I mustered a weak “Excuse me!” to the owner in the garage, blissfully unaware of the happenings. She rushed out with a smile on her face, apologizing profusely, and assuring me that both of her dogs were friendly. That’s exactly what someone said to me several years ago as her “friendly” dog’s teeth were willfully attached to my bum! This time though, the kind lady appeared to be right. They were indeed only there to greet me. Much to my relief, I managed to escape this "ordeal" unscathed and chuckling to myself, pondered the experience as I continued on.

I grew up with dogs and always liked them, but it seems now I’ve developed a very aloof attitude towards the furry four-leggeds. I’m perfectly fine to never encounter one, and the sound of my barking backyard fence annoys me to no end! In fact, if I’m honest, I view the whole species as a threat, no matter the size, no matter the kind.

How often in life do we allow one unpleasant experience to taint our perception of a whole category of things?  My one very unpleasant experience with a man so long ago unknowingly tainted my whole view of males. Now I've done much inner work to release that, but there are remnants of that past experience still with me, and now and then I hear them leak out in little ways. It’s in the stereotypes I say I don’t buy into, and yet hear them coming out of my mouth anyway. It’s in the assumptions I have sometimes made about my sons, and the expectations I’ve often had with my lovers. It's in the way I say I'm wanting a partner, and yet when I'm with someone, quickly go to worst-case scenario of pain and heartache. It takes mindfulness, persistence and courage to completely let the past go. In my experience though, this is the only true way to be open to the present moment, for everything it is, and everything it is not.

The ways of the world continue to intrigue me, how one seemingly unrelated experience on the street can serve as a reminder to reexamine patterns and ways of being. This is the meaning of spirituality: opening to life and removing barriers to love. Sometimes the lessons come through growling teeth, and sometimes through wagging tales, but be assured they will always come.

When January and a new year approaches, many of us typically spend time reflecting on what the past year has held: the joys, challenges and changes. I guess I'm ahead of schedule this year because I was pondering that last week and oh my, what a difference a year can make!

Last year at this time, I had just offered my services as interim minister to my home community of Unity of Salem. Though I had been ordained a year earlier, I was still serving as the music director and really had no intention of ever serving as a minister (long story there...which I'm sure I'll share at some point). It seems that the God of my being definitely had other plans! Our minister had just retired and as a community, we were in the process of interviewing candidates. One of those candidates had arrived from out of town to give a Saturday workshop and Sunday service. As I sat there watching and listening to her, I was surprised to feel an internal stirring that said "I can do that!", though let's be clear here, I did not want to! But as I walked out the door that day, I couldn't shake the feeling and ended up writing a letter to the Board. I was willing to hold space as the interim minister, doing everything a minister does, until the search and hiring process had completed itself. I remember attending a Board meeting (aka "interview"), in which one of the questions they asked was, "How will you do this?" I honestly didn't know, and I shared that answer with them. I could only trust the promptings of Spirit, as I had learned to do so many times before. It seemed to be the constant call of growth from a power bigger than any of my internal doubts or fears. They must have had an interesting conversation that day after I left, but much to my surprise, the answer came back a resounding yes! And knees shaking, I took my new position, having absolutely no idea how I would pull it off.

I remember clearly my first day in office, the very office where I had visited Rev. Georgie for years, counseling and working through my own emotional and personal struggles. And now here I was, sitting in "her" chair, serving in a capacity I never dreamed plausible or possible. What a surreal moment. I quickly discovered how much I loved being a minister, delivering Sunday messages, offering spiritual counseling, and officiating sacred ceremonies. I served in that capacity for four months, and then when the new minister arrived, I went back to being the music director. It's funny how we can feel so fulfilled by something in one moment, and a short time later, feel as if we have outgrown the very thing that felt so right before.

Not much time passed before I felt that familiar stirring, to offer my services as a minister yet again, but this time it would require leaving my stable position with a community that felt like home and venturing into the bigger world. I had no idea how that was going to go or look, but because the nudging was so strong, I took a deep breath and stepped out on faith. Within a short time, I was traveling between five different spiritual communities. My Sunday speaking calendar was full through the summer, and now, is already full into January. I have completely embraced this ministerial calling, the one I didn't even know I had. I love every aspect of it. I enjoy giving talks, doing music, and facilitating workshops, classes and retreats. It's a privilege to witness someone's most intimate moments: a one-on-one session to face fears, a prayer before surgery, the joy of two joining their lives together, and even the sorrow of watching family and friends say goodbye to a loved one. It is an honor to be serving in this way, and I am humbled by the work.

It seems many of us expend a lot of energy on wondering what our purpose is, and whether or not we are actually living it. I know because I used to do that myself. Here's what I think now. Your job is not to find your purpose. Your job is to find yourself. Get to know who you are and what you like, your gifts and your shortcomings, and solidify your connection with the Divine. Once you do that, your purpose will find you. 

Without fail whenever I'm giving a talk, a completely unplanned thought will pop into my head and out of my mouth. I've learned to trust this divinely-inspired process because inevitably, someone will approach me afterward to let me know that that one thought was the thing they most needed to hear. My newsletter is late this week for several reasons, one of them being that I couldn't decide what to write in this space. Any topic I tried felt forced, and so late last night, I deleted yet again the words I had written and prayed for a topic that would touch someone. I awoke at 3:00 am with the words I needed to write. No, not that one! There must be something else! In my resistance, I will default to the faith I've developed in giving Sunday talks, and trust that what I'm about to say here isn't really for me, but for one of you. Perhaps it's just what you've been needing to hear in order to better cope with whatever is happening in your life.

I never planned to be a minister or teacher, but once I found myself on this path, I vowed to walk it with complete transparency and authenticity, experiencing fully what it means to be human, and sharing that with others. As St. Francis of Assisi says, "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." And so I honestly share my experience in the hopes that it will somehow help another.

For 8 months now, I have been experiencing facial pain. Well that may just be the understatement of the decade! It seems I am having some sort of trigeminal nerve dysfunction on the right side of my face. After seeing many doctors, having a series of tests to rule out brain tumors and other serious problems, and trying an assortment of alternative therapies, I am left with no explanation as to what is happening or why, and it seems the only option left is that of pharmaceutical drugs. Because my body is very sensitive and doesn't do well with medications, at this point I'm opting to just be with the pain. If you've never experienced this sort of thing, allow me to attempt to describe it. It's the "uncomfortable" sensation of feeling like something is crawling under my skin and in my nose. It's the confusing sensation that half my face feels swollen like a monster, but a quick glance in a mirror reflects I still actually look like my normal self. It's a tear duct that has completely stopped working, resulting in stabbing pains in the eye, endless administering of eye drops, and only being able to 1/2 cry!  It's the sensation of being completely numb, and at the same time, experiencing intense pain. It's the electrical currents that seem to be running through my face nonstop, as if I am a robot short-circuiting. And finally, it's the fierce, almost constant zaps  that make their way from lip to cheek to nose and back again, sometimes consecutively, sometimes simultaneously, as if someone is holding a tazor gun to my face. I don't talk about what's happening or the extent of my pain much. What's the point, I ask myself, it just is what it is. But in my quiet moments I feel like a failure because I believe strongly in the power of God and metaphysics, and yet I can't seem to heal myself. I want to be strong and feel like I have it all together. And I am and I do, except when I'm not and I don't. 

I experienced a time of chronic headache pain after my brain-swelling incident almost 10 years ago. If you've read my book, you know all about that. At that time I had no coping tools to help me deal with it, and I ended up letting it cloud my judgment and wreak havoc on my sanity. This time around I have coping tools and I'm mindfully using them. I practice letting the pain and emotions around that flow through me. I practice focusing on what I'm grateful for and finding the gift in even this. I practice accepting and embracing exactly where I am, without allowing it to define where I am going. I believe in a mind/body connection so I'm doing my work of releasing any unhealed stuff that may still be affecting me and seeking physical expression through the pain. I'm attracting experiences of joy and moving ahead with creating a purposeful life of serving others through love. For the most part, I am handling it and moving along with my life, except for those times when it manages to get the best of me. This week has been one of them. Usually my reliable reprieve is sleep, but this week I was even being awakened in the middle of the night with the feeling of electrocution. It was too much and the pain won. I quickly found myself descending into that all-too-familiar darkness where victimhood thrives and the whole world feels bleak and unforgiving. It's in these moments that I have to remember "Oh yeah, I have tools!" With a sense of humor, I pick myself up, get out of the hole and keep going.

I believe life's circumstances are always conspiring for our good and that in many ways we are responsible for creating our own life, not always by the situations we choose, but by how we choose to respond to the situations before us. I don't understand why sometimes unpleasant things happen, they just do. Loved ones die. We get sick or experience pain. Relationships change or end. Our finances aren't what we'd hoped. Choosing to walk this spiritual path demands more than defaulting into negativity, bitterness and suffering. It asks that we remember and honor the light, even when we are feeling dark. It asks that we continue to focus on all the good, even when the not-so-good is begging for attention. It asks that we remain kind, even when life feels unkind. And it asks that we stay open and loving, even when we want to close and hate.

Our spiritual freedom comes not from the guarantee of a perfect, unencumbered life. It lies in knowing that more important than what we do or experience, is how and who we choose to be through the process.

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