Our new dog Leia was given her name in honor of the famous Star Wars character, Princess Leia, because, like her namesake, she was separated from her brother and later reunited. Henry and Leia, both sibling hounds, were separated from each other when first taken into shelter life from their abusive home four months ago. We adopted Henry after one month, not knowing he had a sister. Upon learning of her, we followed her story, and in December, we adopted her.
Leia came to us with another big four-letter word attached to her identity: Fear. Leia did not adapt well to shelter life, and the more time she spent there without her brother, the more withdrawn and afraid she became. When we first brought her home, she would shake, hide and cower at the sound of a cat sneezing or the wind blowing too strongly against the windows. In fact, on her first day with us, after only three hours, her brand new leash broke and she ran far away into the woods and up a mountain at the end of our road. I pursued her for twenty-nine hours before she finally stepped foot inside our home again.
When Leia first took her fear-flight up the mountain, I felt hopeless. What could I do to convince a dog to come to a home she didn’t even know? Would I ever find her? Would she ever trust me enough? Her brother Henry, a true hero with great patience, grazed in the general area where we tracked Leia. She finally came to him, but she would not approach him if I was near. After sitting on the mountain in the cold for eight hours, Henry and I both gave up for the evening and went to our home, defeated. I left my coat and a bowl of food for Leia on the mountain, hoping she would not run too far from it.
The next morning I drove to the mountain where I had last seen Leia. She was sitting by the food bowl on my coat. I tried to get her to come to me for more food but she kept a cool distance. Frustrated, but calm, I said, “Leia, this isn’t working. We don’t live on this mountain. I have to take your bowl and bring it to our home. I hope you will reconsider joining us there.” As I drove away, Leia started to follow my car. She followed me all the way into my driveway.
That day, in the yard, Leia played with her brother Henry, who enticed her to stay near our home, and although she remained suspicious of me, she slowly allowed me to approach her and give her cold cuts. After several more hours, I convinced her to come into the kitchen for more tasty treats where he brother awaited, softly whining and pleading for her to take the big step inside.
Leia overrode her fear response. Henry remained a hero. My hopelessness became hope and I was overcome with love. Fear could not win that day. Leia realized her own Jedi potential and trusted love to lead her through the doorway. No bully or abusive past could win the argument that Leia should stay in captive fear. Big steps by a little pup made me realize I had a tail to wag, too, and I could move forward with my own plans without being stifled by broken leashes or dreams.
My spiritual director suggested I create a vision board—a collage of images that resonates from pure instinct and connection to inner divinity. I found myself drawn to colors of royal blue, bright yellows and oranges. I decided to use materials already found in my house. I looked through books, old journals and magazines. Within these sources I found all the images I needed. After meditating on my future world dream, an abstract state of simmering positivity, I began milling, cutting, taping and gluing my vision into place.
I began with a picture of a high priestess—a goddess representing the ability to create life out of herself and bring beauty into the world. From there, the words in an advertisement for outerwear, “Trust Your Forecast” found their way to the top of a brown, orange and yellow rainbow with the word “Memoir” at the end. A bicycle, wet grass, cotton and tree bark also took their places on the blue paper canvas, capturing the motion, the moving forward, on my open path of fresh growing moments. In the center, an old, lush antique chair with a purple, cut-out heart resting in the seat completed the placement of objects. God soaring from above gesturing the word “Trust”, and the heart-filled chair resting at the center beckoning the comfort of rooted Freedom, became the core of my vision board.
The board is pasted against the wall of my desk as I type. I sit with my feet planted on a complementary piece of yellow poster board on which the outline of my feet is sketched. I literally step into my life and live my dream as I type. I muse upon the board, and I realize that I continue to conceive its reality in every moment I grant it space.
This new year comes with a new moon—a rare occurrence. Beginnings, often dreaded around the new year, revolve around resolutions made from feelings of guilt. If we sit in silence with wonder, love and gratitude at our center, will we be prompted to pull images from books and magazines that convey self-loathing or defeat? I doubt it. Our divine energy (that which connects us to Love) will only show us our best. Living in our own dreams of “best” only requires a resolution of acknowledging where we are right now and daring to follow the vision in front of us. There is no guilt in that space.
Three months ago, my husband and I adopted our dog, Henry, a foxhound-pointer mix. Just after his adoption, we learned that Henry had a sister named Leia. Upon being removed from their former home, they were separated, and due to limited space at the rescue facility, Leia was sent to a boarding kennel because there was no Room in the Inn, or the shelter in this case.
We continued to follow her story, hoping she would quickly be adopted. The rescue organization was reluctant to allow the siblings to stay together, worried that there might be behavior issues between the two dogs. Leia was constantly in trauma. She was moved from the boarding kennel to a foster home where she became ill and soon had to be transferred to the rescue facility where we first met Henry.
As the months went by, I continued to feel a connection to Leia even though I had never met her. Last week, I was out doing some Christmas shopping on my lunch break, and as I left the mall, I turned in the opposite direction I usually drive because the traffic was terrible. I thought I’d take a different street that would reconnect me to my work office. As I turned on the street, the traffic became backed up even more and I found myself sitting at a stoplight at a small cross street. While stopped, I realized I was looking at the side street that leads to the rescue facility.
Leia came to my mind and I decided to turn down the side street and stroll quickly through the facility. She was there, sitting alone and sad in the shelter, full of busy people and barking dogs. Leia had been in shelter life for four months, and due to the stress of that environment, the abusive environment from which she was removed, and the separation from her brother, she had developed a fear disorder. The shelter employees told me she would have a hard time getting adopted because she wouldn’t interact with anyone. No one, in all of that time, had shown any interest in her.
My heart was broken seeing Leia alone and distressed. I thought about the amazing new, love-filled life her brother enjoys each day. My husband and I discussed the possibility of adopting her. With four cats and a dog in our home, our busy schedules, and the financial commitment, we couldn’t find one logical reason to bring her home. In the end, we made our decision based on intuitive judgment—a gut decision that felt right regardless of any analysis brought to it that countered its validity.
Leia has been with us for three days on a trial term, and if all continues to go well, we will adopt her next week. Henry and Leia are exhilarated to be together again. Henry is teaching Leia to trust people, and she becomes more confident each day. I believe that, with a little time, she will outgrow her fearful reactions and become the strong woman she was meant to be. We didn’t have any Room in the Inn either, but we opened our doors anyway. The birth of Hope now dwells in our little home, and for that, Christmas has already come.
During a recent session with my spiritual mentor, I was guided through a meditation. The meditation focused on breathing with the rhythms of the earth and allowing those rhythms to guide me to new places. I found myself relaxed rather quickly, as I listened to my mentor’s voice and focused my breath. My mind cleared after several minutes and much of the meditation evolved into a genuine journey for me.
At the moment I was most released into the earth’s cradling breath, I saw my Grandaddy. He died almost twenty years ago, but he has continued to be a guiding presence in my life. He was a farmer—a quiet, funny and graceful man—always known for his kindness and easy acceptance of others.
I found myself on a dam by the lake in my Grandaddy’s pasture. We used to sit on it and fish when I was a child. On the side of the dam opposite the lake, there is nothing but grass. No trees or cows. Just a little area of seemingly unused land. I realized I had journeyed to the same spot in a meditation several years earlier. In the original meditation, I saw Grandaddy on the grassy side of the dam and he was surrounded by beautiful golden lights. I couldn’t quite make out the place I was seeing. I could almost see it. The blurry image was beautiful, full of hope, celebration and possibility.
During the meditation a few days ago, Grandaddy was there, in the same grassy area. He smiled at me and fervently shook his head up and down as if he had won the lottery. He was saying, emphatically, “Yes!”. I ran to him. We embraced. It was a wonderful homecoming, and I could see his face, perfectly and clearly, just as it was twenty years ago.
In my recently written book, God Is Not a Bully: A Not-So-Churchy Memoir, I describe my Grandaddy as an anti-bully during my teenage years. At the end of the chapter that focuses on my relationship with him, I include a poem that is based on the original meditation described above. The poem is a description of how I commune with him today.
Last night, at a local art event, I read excerpts from my memoir, including stories and my poem about Grandaddy. I only knew seven people in the room of friendly strangers, but as I read the words, I felt Grandaddy’s easy presence. In that moment, the group of listeners present communed with him, too. We journeyed together and added to the communal dance that binds us in grace and unlimited transcendence.
What is your binding cloth? Who connects you to the earth yet lifts you to the sky so that you may journey deep into your heart’s greatest desires? Where will you travel in this season of darkness and hibernation? I wish you openness and richness in quiet moments where the miracle of breathing provides the ultimate stamp on the soul’s passport.
in the lower trunk of a brown and gray tree
vertical corrugated bark
taller than the water tower
I used to pass
on dark trips home from summer stock
light outlines the frame
an upside down U no taller
than a hobbit’s hut
but without straw and melodious morning glories
forest holds me at the bumpy base
where roots are frozen in earth
like the snakes of Pompeii
I raise a chalice glazed with a potter’s scraps
the sky before
like yeast suds on beer wort ventilates
reveals pure liquid blueness
brighter than astringent mouthwash
every bird and flying thing emerges
grander than any firework display
rivals even the most elaborate drag show
the noisy little door leaks
a thread of its tune throbbing in the trunk
homecoming for the class of ever-presents
victorious win for all the mascots
summoning to raise the rafters
whether we sit at the root in earthly body
or raise a glass in the inner wall
where the jig is danced
Last night, my husband and I took our new dog, Henry, to the end of the road on his normal walk. We noticed a figure in the road, and upon looking closer, we realized it was a doe. She was dead. At first, we thought she had been hit by a car, but that seemed unlikely, since there is nothing but a field at the end of the road. Looking closer, we noticed that she had been partially eaten—attacked by some wild animal in the woods nearby. Maybe a coyote. Her back legs and part of her abdomen had been chewed to the bone, and one of her legs was broken in half. Somehow, with that much damage, and in that much pain, she wandered through a large field and released her body to the road near my home. Even in her torn state, she was beautiful and graceful. Surprised, I could not take my eyes off of her.
The deer, or hind, is a spiritual animal for me. The deer symbolizes a journey or great calling. Deer is able to guide us into a deep spiritual world beyond our own reason. For that, the deer reminds me of rebirth and the importance of the great road to self. I know this doe is on her own soul journey into the wilderness of her own deeper knowing where she remembers her origin and sees her beauty reflected back at her. While I often meditate on the presence of living animals who cross my path, I realize that I limit myself by only acknowledging the physical representation I see with my eyes. I am challenged to see the life presence also in the death of this graceful doe who now haunts me.
On this week when we give thanks, specifically in holiday form, I am grateful for my life and for the life of the majestic doe now resting at the end of my road. Having recently lost my dog of fourteen years to spleen cancer, and having helped her go to rest peacefully in her final days, I am often swallowed by grief at the most unexpected moments. The doe reminds me of the day I said good-bye to my sweet Lily dog (pictured above), who was my greatest friend, teacher and daughter for so much of my life. She will always be a soul mate for me. The presence of the resting doe helps me muse on Lily’s recent journey into deep wilderness. When I release myself to my own sorrow and allow the presence of Lily’s love to fill me, I make pilgrimage with her. In those moments, grief is beautiful, too.
Five years ago, I took a trip to Ireland with my best friend. We had been planning the trip for years, and as preparation, we made homemade piggy banks out of pickle jars with Guinness stickers all over them to keep on our kitchen counters. We planned to stuff them full of change, hoping that after a year’s time they would surprise us with enough money to get us started on our big trip. Unfortunately, for most of that time, I was in graduate school and often resorted to using that change to buy groceries or emergency therapeutic Mexican food.
We romanticized about the perfect time of year, spring or late summer, to be in Ireland, and all the amazing things we would do in the perfect weather. We even had a really good fantasy going about meeting a handsome Irishman in a pub who would buy us unlimited Guinness. We would talk the entire afternoon away, bathing in his awesome accent.
Once the Hollywood rose-colored glasses faded from reality, we realized that the only time we could both go to Ireland was in late November. It would be cold. It would mean not spending the Thanksgiving holiday with our families. We were both strapped for money and had nothing put aside. So, with all the odds against us, we decided, “This is the perfect time to go to Ireland!”
We arrived in Ireland, via the airport in Shannon, in darkness, at the wee hour of 5:55am on Thanksgiving morning. Having been awake for twenty-one hours, we exercised our good judgment and rented a car, drove on the “wrong” side of the road and started our journey as the sun began to rise. After staring at the mystical fog coming from the water over the Cliffs of Moher and listening to its powerful drumming rhythms as water merged with greater water, we found ourselves aware of the beauty becoming present we had dreamed about. In my journal from the trip, I wrote that the experience was energizing to our souls because we could feel “all the creative compassion of God’s work” present in that place.
With our hearts full of gratitude, we drove through a little town called Doolin, while making our way to Galway, our destination for the night. We stopped at McGann’s pub in Doolin. Entering with the feeling of God’s great creativity and a hungry stomach, I immediately felt like I was entering the home of a relative I’d been waiting to visit my whole life. A sign behind the bar advertised Thanksgiving Dinner. (The picture in this blog is from that very scene).
In honor of the warm-fuzzy-heartfelt-real-life-cheesy-bliss we felt, we had Fish and Chips and Guinness, and in that moment, our friendship was perfect. Our lives were resting in a simple moment where everything was as it was meant to be, and I felt closer to my own family at home than I had ever felt before. The promise of the return to them at Christmas was all the more meaningful.
When have you experienced a great sense of home when you were far away from it? Where were you? What parts of the senses did it evoke in you? I have spent time meditating on that moment each Thanksgiving since, and oftentimes, it has become the moment in my day when I feel the most grateful for those who are with me, who have gone before me, and who will come into my path on another journey to home.
I’ve been journaling my dreams lately. I haven’t attempted this in a routine sort of way since high school. In high school, my creative writing teacher gave my class an assignment centered around recalling dreams and using them for inspiration to write poetry. I remember the anxiety that came with the assignment. I felt limited. For a week, I tried to recall my dreams each morning. Nothing came. I was so worried about remembering my dreams that I was blocking myself from recognizing my own night journeys.
There are dreams that, from time to time, have slapped me in the face with their poignancy or have even woken me from my sleep in screaming horror. My dreams over the past few months have centered around a recurring theme—escaping from a place where I am being held captive. All the dreams have cinematic potential with their prison camps, secret societies, places of torture and so on. I always find my way out of the place where I am captive with Indiana Jones-like gusto.
A newer subject in my dreams is decapitation. Maybe it is my fascination with Tudor England that inspires my brain to create these gruesome night experiences. I have spent some time meditating on the circumstances surrounding two particular beheading dreams. In one dream, I am vacationing with close family at a resort-style spa that is really a secret place of torture and captivity. The owners cut off your head and display it on a shelf beside your body. You live. You spend the rest of your life with your head on a shelf and your body on a massage-table-style couch just beside it. You are detached from yourself and you are there to witness it for eternity. I realize the operation of the “spa”, and I devise a great plan for us all to escape before it is too late.
In another dream, I am beheaded on a scaffold, just like in the time of Henry VIII. My head is cut off, and I can feel the blood draining from my body. I don’t die, but I cannot speak. I hear the executioner telling a guard that “this sometimes happens” but I cannot communicate about what is happening to me. Later, I have the opportunity to compete in a serious of obstacle courses against other people who are fully alive. If I win, my head will be returned and ultimately, my life will be spared.
My spiritual mentor and I have spent some time discussing the matter, and ultimately, from our talks, I have come to the conclusion that the beheadings have to do with a fear of losing my own voice. An inability to be heard. I realize that these dreams center around my passion to tell the story in my memoir and to let my voice be heard. It can be daunting to spill your life to the public, but I know it is important to share my story in the hope that it may resonate with others. It takes courage.
I welcome the dreams of beheadings now. I always fight for the return of my head in them, never giving up, and never with a moment of doubt that I will solve the puzzle for the survival of the voice of truth. And I remember that, when my head comes off, it is easier see to see what lies deeper inside of me.
I have been writing, creatively, since I was in middle school. I have always found an easy outlet for my life experience in writing poetry. Writing a poem allows me to capture emotion and thought with imagery without having to decipher between the two in any analytical way. Poetry doesn’t require me to write concise thoughts in sentences like a great playwright. I can write one general “hunch” into a poem. Each time I read the poem, it discloses much to me about my mind and the emotions that feed my thoughts and motivate my actions.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church as a preacher’s kid. My early childhood upbringing left me entertained through the many worlds and characters that grew within my imagination. The land, the food, the songs, stories, homework and silent moments of reality were all a part of that world. They were in no way disconnected from me. Growing up in an environment that was theatrical, thanks to my mother’s influence as a drama teacher and stage director, where I was allowed to experience God through the expressive community of Church made sense.
As I grew older in Church, I encountered bullies in the forms of people, institution, and dusty, unchecked theology. These bullies beckoned me to doubt myself and question my understanding of God. The dogmatic structure, from the most rigid traditional denominations to the most symbolic and mystic affairs of liturgical churches, always left me kicked out to the curb looking for a ride—I sought a new bus to take me home where I could let my weeping heart cry, scream and remake itself over again.
I began writing a memoir a few years ago, and began to see the theme of bullies that have crept into my life as I have grown from age ten to a thirty-something adult. My refuge from the bullies I encountered in my religious life was often found in the theatre. When bullies dared enter that domain, I could identify them (unlike my experiences in the Church) and refused to let them steal the spiritual fulfillment from the sanctuary of the stage. After completing a discernment process for ministry in the Christian Church, and meeting a closed door once again, I sought a deeper, larger spirituality to make my peace with God and those who had invaded my sacred personal space on that journey.
God Is Not a Bully: A Not-So-Churchy Memoir tells my story of regaining a lost childhood freedom in my adult life, after the bullies invaded the playground, and ultimately, how I chose to take it all back. The journey, even though tough at times, made the arrival all the more rich. In honor of the great vehicle of poetry that has allowed me to express the most complicated of thought-emotions, I have included a theme encompassing poem at the end of each chapter.
A colleague and friend of mine has dared to enter this journey with me as editor. We have worked for sixth months now, editing content. As we continue to solidify final language edits and make the manuscript as clean as possible, I write this first blog. I will continue to share my story of life and journey towards publication of God Is Not a Bully along the way.
I hope you will consider joining me on this quest. I promise it will be inspiring, truthful, raw, and always served with a wedge of quirky humor. I can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, this blog and website, and my newsletter. Once caught in the monkey bars of my own life, I have now taken back the playground and the real excitement has just begun.