The Stray Cat

In California, I had two cats.

I didn’t intend to have two cats. I actually didn’t intend to have any pets. I lived in an apartment and didn’t want to pay the extra deposit. I didn’t want to lose the freedom to come and go as whim and circumstances dictated.

But someone moved out of our apartment building, leaving a half-grown cat. Past the cute kitten stage. Not fully grown. Of course, I didn’t know the poor thing had been abandoned. Neighbors don’t really talk to one another in California. I have since learned it has something to do with respecting one another’s privacy.

I watched the poor thing get scrawnier and scrawnier. It was pretty skittish, but I talked to it every day, and eventually it allowed me to approach it. I called the number on the cat’s tags, and was told by the woman who answered the call that she did NOT have a cat. The poor thing was nothing but skin and bones, so I headed for the nearest box store and bought food, litter and litter box. The first night I spooned out the food a bit at a time so he wouldn’t gobble it down and throw it back up.

The next morning, I put a sign by the mailboxes, asking the owner to contact me. After a week or so, I figured he was probably mine by default. At first, he was so grateful to have a home, he hid whenever he heard the door. I assumed he was afraid he would be cast out. Eventually, though, he got comfortable — and then neurotic, because with my commute I was gone about 12 hours a day.

I talked with a friend who did animal rescue, and she said she had the perfect cat for my situation — a kitten that needed socialization. I did not know that was code for “feral cat,” and blithely took him home. The cats bonded with one another instantly. The feral cat warmed up to me only slowly. He didn’t want me to hold him or pet him, but he liked to lay on my feet and would take treats from my hand.

Leaving them behind was difficult, but bringing them with me was impossible. I took them to a shelter that claimed animals were not euthanized, and paid enough to buy cat food and litter for at least 10 years. (Well, maybe not quite that long.)

Why am I writing about my cats? Because these days I am acting like a stray cat that someone started feeding.

I started working on a project for someone for whom I would do just about anything (except, perhaps sacrifice my firstborn child). It’s a memoir of sorts which has expanded beyond the original parameters we envisioned — simply because the story which needed to be told was bigger (in my opinion) than I understood at the beginning. To tell the story, I needed to spend some time on her family’s ranch.

I had visited only once before starting the project, and had felt on that occasion like I had come home. That’s an odd reaction to a new place, but it was mine. When I visited the second time, I fell completely in love — with the place, with the people. I left floating on cloud nine. I think the last time I experienced that kind of euphoria was after giving birth — which was sometime in the last century. I’ve gone back a couple times since then, joking the last time that I am like a stray cat that someone fed.

The creativity unleashed by this experience has almost overwhelmed me. I work on the project late into the night. I’ve started a new painting and envision the possibility of a whole series — which would be my first in two decades. I’ve done other paintings, but no body of work that was intended to hang together as a whole. I feel alive in a way I have not experienced since I was young.

So, is this going anywhere? Is there a point?

I doubt very much if my friend sat down one morning and said, “I think my next improvement project will be Mary. Now, what can I do to change her?” I think her genuine open-hearted kindness was just receptive to the possibility of allowing me to develop our project in the way I imagined, and all the rest was just icing on the cake, as the saying goes. That’s the point.

Kindness is life-changing. Faith in others is life-changing. Perhaps not everyone who receives those gifts will say, “thank you,” but I want to use this opportunity to do exactly that.

Thank you, Arla.


A Pilgrimage or Migration?

“Maybe what fills us (our loved ones, our work, our hobbies) migrates much like the geese. Maybe we’re like the Canadian geese and return each year to the same ponds with the same friends. But maybe we’re like the snow geese and continue to extend our limits. Maybe we’re a hybrid of the two. Maybe, like migrators in the spring, we chase the frost lines in our souls and wait for a summer day.” — Arla Poindexter

Sometimes, I write poetry. Writing carries me into my truth. I actually wrote a poem about writing poetry once:

I name thee…

Song of my soul. I name thee bearer
Of truth, my truth, my words
Narrating my life, telling my story,
Guaranteeing my version is heard.

Only here, only now, only in this vessel,
From words will my dreams create

My reality of hope, healing, happiness, will
Yearnings for more begin endings.

Song of my soul, you seek memories
Of tomorrow, multiply yesterdays,
Unexpectedly seduce me with kisses.
Lingering joy.

(December 31, 2007)

Perhaps the elusive memory of that poem — one I’d nearly forgotten — drew me to Arla’s words over and over. Chase the frost lines in our souls … wait for a summer day. Or maybe it was the poetry of the words themselves. Chase the frost lines in our souls … wait for a summer day. But I suspect they resonated because God was using Arla to touch my life with her insight yet again.

I have been feeling old. Very old. Lay down in a coffin and bury me old. For days and weeks, I have been feeling like garbage, worthless, disposable. I have been remembering the resilience of youth, when every obstacle, every adversity, was just temporary. I believed — deep down, under the stormy surface — I would overcome and, eventually, find myself in a less vulnerable, more stable place.

That did not happen. And now, at an age when my contemporaries are enjoying retirement, I am starting yet another job, hoping to get through the six-month probationary period, so I can work at least five years to get vested in the retirement system and maybe beyond that so that my Social Security benefits will be higher — if Social Security still exists in seven or eight years. I am tired by the end of the workday on Wednesday and exhausted by Friday.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve spent my whole life chasing the frost lines in my soul without ever finding summer. I was chitchatting with God about this on my way to work this week. That’s our morning routine. I drive for an hour, talking to God, and he throws in his two cents now and then — usually as a feeling or thought or impression, something clearly not coming from the same place as my monologue.

This week, a Scripture verse popped into my head during one of these chats: “Take nothing with you for the trip, no walking stick, no beggar’s bag, no food, no money, not even an extra shirt” (Luke 9:3, GNT). Since then, I’ve been mulling over my life in terms of being sent. What if my life was never intended to be about the destination, but about the journey?

That’s not original, but it’s also not the prevailing message of our culture. And, I suspect it’s not a part of our genetic code. We want to be connected to others, we want to love and be loved, and create stability and community. We want to belong and be valued. We want roots and security and happiness. Our forefathers believed so strongly in our “unalienable right” to pursue happiness, they wrote it into the Declaration of Independence. For most of us, independence is achieved through financial security, which is the prevailing message of our culture.

But what if God wrote something different in my DNA? What if I have been sent? Not necessarily sent to do great things, but to simply do good things? What if my role in life is simply to journey with others for a short time, lightening their burdens and helping them to get their second wind? If that’s the case, maybe I’m not so much disposable as available. And maybe, just maybe, instead of measuring all the ways my life failed to meet my hope and dreams, I should consider what I have gained from the path trod and what I still have to offer.

Abraham’s wife Sarah and Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth both were fruitful late in life, when they were past the age when anything was expected of them. That could very well be true for me, too, and the journey may well have been a pilgrimage to that holy place. At least, that’s what I am thinking this morning.




Homesick for Yesterday

Blue, blue, my world is blue
Blue is my world now I’m without you.
Gray, gray, my life is gray
Cold is my heart since you went away.

The Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis has been hosting a month-long program called ArtBites. Once a week, folks who sign up for the program go to the museum and traipse as a group to one of the pieces currently on exhibit. We sit, like elementary students, on low stools and the curator guides us with questions through an exercise in seeing.

This week, I felt raw when I walked out of the museum.

The curator had chosen an assemblage, which reminded me — not in content, but in style — of a dear friend from those days when I was striving to be an artist. Not an artist as I am now — one who paints for the pleasure of creating images, but an artist whose work is exhibited, viewed by an audience and sold. I found myself longing for the hours we spent in conversation, longing for his creative imagination which was large enough to engage a second set of hands (mine), longing for the community of fellow artists he created with his amazing goodness.

“Goodness” is probably an odd choice of words to use when speaking about an artist. While the word is often found in spiritual literature, artists are usually praised for the work of their hands, not for their character, not for the way in which they walk in this world. I could just as easily — perhaps more easily — write of the amazing work he has created over the years, but at the Shrem this week, I was missing his friendship.

I was missing the sense of rightness I experienced in my life when we were together — not just the two of us, but the whole coterie of artists his temperament drew together. The path I tread at that point in my life was not well-traveled, but it was comfortable and it was mine — so completely mine that every path since has felt like a search for the treasure of that authentic moment. I’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other. I have experienced joy in other activities, but the longing to belong again as I did then has never left me.

At the Shrem, I pulled my stool back, away from the assemblage, because I was afraid I would cry if I sat too close. I didn’t expect that kind of homesickness to wash over me in this contemporary museum — so new the inaugural exhibit is still up. I didn’t expect it to blindside me while looking at works by California artists; my friend’s work is so solidly rooted in his Midwestern ag background. (What in the world do beads — or were they pool balls? — have to do with the price of grain, hunger and the impact of GMOs on the human body?)

When I pulled my stool back, I created a space in the line of stools which another woman quickly filled. Initially, I thought she stood and moved to stand directly in front of me, blocking my view entirely with her ass — flat as it was, it still blocked my view, in order to see a part of the piece she could not see from her location. However, since she remained there, I was forced to move or to be excluded from the experience offered by the Shrem. I took her seat.

In her seat, I could read the words scrawled across the bottom of the assemblage. One phrase struck me: “Love is Blue.” About the time the work was created, one of the pop hits was a song by that name. I commented on this, and Flat Ass challenged me, saying there was no way of knowing that. I wanted to say, ‘I can read the date on the label, and I happen to remember that time in my life quite well (bitch).’ Instead, I pulled out my phone, googled the song, and provided the information which confirmed my observation.

As I sit here now, I wonder if that little verbal spat didn’t take us in the wrong direction. On the canvas portion of the assemblage were spheres, each with a single dot, which suggests they could have been beads from a broken string. Some were dark blue, some were lighter blue and some were white. We were told the number of spheres was equal to the artist’s age at the time the work was created. What if the color of the sphere indicated a year in his life lived without someone he loved?

I also wonder, though, about the symbolism of the woman filling the space I left vacant. Isn’t that what happens in life — what is supposed to happen in life? When one person moves, another fills that person’s place. Why, then, could I not push away the loneliness I felt participating in that exercise  as I pushed the museum’s over-sized door to leave? Do some people leave a space which cannot be filled?

I texted my friend before returning to work. I don’t do this often, because nearly 20 years have passed since we worked together on a project, and our paths have diverged. But in that moment, I ached for what will never again be.

Learning to Drive

Warning: This blog is not about driving a motor vehicle.

I have a confession to make. I have no idea what I was thinking — or if I was even thinking — when I chose the title for this blog. It popped into my head and from my head to my fingers poised and ready on the keyboard of my laptop. Thought — written word.

For a second or two, I was channeling Donald Trump, trying to walk in his shoes. I’ve heard you shouldn’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes, so I thought I’d try that approach to understanding the reality show star Americans have chosen to be POTUS. A second or two was about as much as I could handle. As soon as I committed myself by typing a few words, the portion of my brain not included in this experiment said, “Hold it! You were planning to write about Scripture. You looked through the list Arla sent you and chose Scripture. What does driving have to do with Scripture?”

Nothing. Driving has absolutely nothing to do with Scripture, except perhaps   metaphorically. Driving is about change, about changing your location, about getting from Point A to Point B. In the broadest sense, Scripture also is about change, about helping us to get from this earthly life to an afterlife that is desirable — heaven.

However, to read the Word of God with only that goal in mind deprives us of a greater change that can occur in our lives right here and right now. Our hard hearts can be softened in the warm light of God’s Word. Our recalcitrant minds can become amenable to new ways of experiencing life if the seeds of God’s Word begin to shape our mental pathways. We can become new creatures. We can be born again, born of the Spirit, which Jesus told Nicodemus was essential to seeing the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-6).

Various Christian denominations and sects have different ways of explaining what it means to be born again. I don’t know that there is only one explanation; I tend to think that God speaks to each of us with a voice we can hear and understand, one which resonates within us as true. That being said, I also think we must remember who creates and recreates.  One of my favorite passages from Isaiah lays it out plainly: “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland rivers” (43:18-19, NAB).

God does the new thing within us. God makes a way in the desert of our hate and our judgmental attitudes and everything that drives us apart from one another. God causes rivers of mercy and justice and love to flow through the wasteland of destruction that arises out of our inability to see others as fellow sons and daughters of an ever-living, ever-loving God.

God does this. He does it one person at a time, one heart, one mind at a time. But he needs a tool, and Scripture is that tool. I think that if we start — preferably with one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark or Luke) — to read just a little each day, and if we allow those words to settle within us like a gentle rain on parched earth, we will find that we move from wherever we are right now to a place of greater compassion, greater kindness, greater wisdom and more peace. We will experience the miracle of being reborn, of feeling God’s living waters flow through us into the world.

And then, if we’re lucky, the words that pop into our heads and come out will be words that drive away evil and build up the Kingdom of God in this world.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

     “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” I was in fifth grade when I first read that line, that poem by Robert Frost. Miss Gross had arranged our desks so that our backs were to the windows — probably to prevent us from becoming distracted when the younger students were outside for recess. She was not the only teacher who chose that option.
     The classroom was a familiar one to me. When my family moved to the small rural community, I was entering first grade, and that room had been the one in which my class met. The year I entered fourth grade, an addition to the school was built, the classrooms were reconfigured and that became the fifth grade classroom. Later, a second addition was constructed to house the music department, gym and lunchroom, which caused the classrooms to be reconfigured yet again, and I attended junior high and high school classes in that room.
      But the later experiences didn’t erase fifth grade from memory. We had an aquarium, and did scratch drawings with crayons and India ink, and I first heard the poem that would shape in some ways my approach to life. I didn’t understand the walk in the woods as a metaphor for life then. I remember wondering why the guy wouldn’t go back  if he enjoyed the walk. I remember Miss Gross explaining that in life we can’t go back and make different decisions. I remember puzzling over this for a long time — not just in class, but walking home, and as I lay in bed that night and other nights.
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”
      Few who know me have not heard me say “way leads to way,” my paraphrase of the closing lines of the third stanza. It’s the way I explain my life with its odd twists and turns. Way leads to way. I went to college because it was expected, not because I had any sense of what I might like to do with my life; went crazy for a while, not because chaos suited my temperament but because I was thrown into an unfamiliar world with no coping mechanisms or decision-making skills; went into therapy because I had an earnest desire to still the chaos and to live more mindfully. I tried on a variety of roles over the years, some because I was attracted to them, others because I wanted people I loved to be proud of me. Each decision took my life in a new direction; way leads to way; each decision shaped me in the way a painter creates an image on canvas, building upon the underlying layers. Bit by bit, I got better at decision-making, and bit by bit, I made peace with the poor decisions I had made, the decisions which turned me aside from my true self, even the painful ones.
      That’s the piece of the life puzzle that I missed for a very long time — the piece that Frost didn’t include in his poem. In choosing, we must not only consider the path, but we must also consider ourselves. We must consider what is in our hearts and what ignites our imagination. We must consider what grounds us, what enables us to feel the earth beneath our feet, but also lifts our spirits so that we soar with joy — not happiness, joy!
      I suspect I needed all of the twists and turns to find my true self. The seeds were in my childhood — I see them: the way I was hurt when my mother wouldn’t put my pictures on the refrigerator (art), my innocent piety which concerned my mother as I entered adolescence (my relationship with God), the attention I gave to everything I wrote from school papers to letters (writing). Perhaps different choices at pivotal junctures may have helped me to find my true self earlier, but perhaps not. Perhaps if I had gone to Mount Marty College or Presentation College instead of a state university, I might have learned to live my life from a spiritual center when I was younger. However, since motherhood helped me to understand God’s love for us, I may never have experienced the intimacy with God that I know now.
     At this point in my life, I’ve come to think of those seeds evident in childhood as being like the pine cones of the lodge pole pine, which need fire to release the seeds for germination. I needed the fire of mistakes and failure to burn away all that is not true in me, all that does not reflect the person God created me to be. I needed heartbreak and loss, disappointments and betrayal, loneliness and poverty. The journey has not been an easy one; I’m not sure it’s one I would have chosen or wished on anyone else, but like Frost’s narrator, I find myself thinking, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
      Yes, way leads to way, and the way of my life has led me here, now, to this place and to this time. As my fingers strike this keyboard, only one thought runs through my mind: “It is good.”

A Little Something about Publishing

I know little about publishing — very little — but I know more today than I did in August when I proposed an audacious project to a friend.

At the time, I was being — gulp, I hate to admit this about myself — selfish. And, perhaps a little insensitive. My friend was dying; she stated the fact simply, as if it were of no greater concern than the weather. If she had wrestled with demons when she received the diagnosis, she hadn’t shared them with me. However, part of my reason for visiting was to give her that opportunity. When we lived in the same community, we shared matters of deep personal concern, and I wanted to make sure she had someone in whom she could confide if she felt the need.

She didn’t, so I made my request. Wanda preached beautiful sermons. In all my many — and I won’t share how many — years of church going, I have encountered few pastors who could inspire me with both their ideas and their presentation. Most of the time, I just listen respectfully  — or try to. I have cultivated the habit of taking notes at worship services in order to focus my attention. Otherwise as soon as a cliche is out of the pastor’s mouth, my mind starts wandering.

I asked Wanda if I could have her sermons after she died. I wanted to edit them into meditations and try to get them published. Wanda didn’t so much deny my request as question it. She didn’t think they would be of much interest to people who didn’t know her. I argued that her wisdom was on par with Kathleen Norris and Sr. Joan Chittister. I proposed a couple ways they could be organized — by gospels, by liturgial seasons, by themes. I said I wouldn’t know until I’d actually started reading them.

She was skeptical, and wanted to think about it. Later in the day, after she had rested, she came back with a counter plan. Rather than give me the sermons, she would select those she would like to share, and I could shape them into a book. She didn’t make the project conditional, but she did ask that I consider finishing it quickly. She felt the window for sales would be very narrow — right around the time that she died. Since her doctor had suggested she begin receiving hospice care, we both knew that created a very short timeline for the project. Still, I agreed.

I had to agree. Even five sermons would be better than what I had — newspaper articles I had written after a community event, such as the Christmas Eve worship service. That was not enough — not when I was losing someone whose friendship I valued so highly. Never again would her ideas sharpen my own, enable me to see the world in a whole new way. I was willing to take what I could get.

And so, three months later, I began to edit 20 sermons into meditations for a book. After consulting a friend who is an editor for a Christian publishing house, I decided the best approach, considering the timeline, would be to self-publish. That meant I not only had to consider the content — the sentence structure, cohesiveness, grammar and punctuation — but also formatting issues.

The project is finished now, and this is what I learned:

  1. It’s entirely possible for someone who knows nothing about getting a book published to self-publish a book, if that is what they want. Research and patience are the key. (For example, who would have guessed you need to export your document to a PDF, not save it to a PDF?)
  2. If you love someone, you will find the time to do what needs to be done in order to help them to achieve their dreams before they die. I’ve been making all kinds of excuses for not writing a book that someone suggested I write — and lack of time heads the list. I have the time to do what is important.
  3. Formatting a book is a bit like weaving a Persian rug — not a huge bit, a tiny bit. Legend has it that a Persian rug is always woven with a flaw because only God is perfect. Well, even after carefully reviewing the book, not once, but four times, when I received the proof, I found a couple minor flaws — and decided to approve the book anyhow. After all, only God is perfect, and I knew that if I corrected those, I would find a couple more in the next proof, and the book would never be finished. (I think I am hardwired to see areas for improvement.)
  4. No project of this scope can be accomplished by one person alone. I’m incredibly grateful to Arla for proofing each meditation, and to Jeff for designing the cover. Without their assistance, this book would not be finished and available for sale. Teamwork can move mountains and make dreams come true.

What project have you tackled which has taught you a major life lesson or two, and what were the lessons?

Alternative Realities: As the Family Pet


I’m not sure what’s so important that you found it necessary to interrupt my nap, but I suppose I can help you. I need to stretch, first, though – front legs and back, hind legs and back. OK, now, what can I do for you?

What kind of question is that? What’s it like to be a family pet? Do I look like a pet? A pet, by definition, is a domesticated animal kept for pleasure. I am neither domesticated nor an animal.

A domesticated animal is trained or bred to need and accept the care of human beings. I neither need the human with which I live nor accept care from the human with which I live. I care for her. She needs me, not vice versa.

It’s a common misperception. At least, common when the perceiver is also human. You think, “food, water, shelter, litter,” and arrive at a one-word conclusion: care. Cats understand that care involves keeping another safe and healthy in a far more significant way.

When she walks in the door, I welcome her so that she knows her very presence makes a difference to me; that affirms her worth. In the morning, I wrap myself around her ankles and greet her so that she knows she makes a difference in this world. Granted, feeding me is a little difference, but it gets her day off to the right start. And at night, I curl up in the crook of her knees so that she’s not alone. My human is happier because I share her life and that’s what it means to care.

And while it may be true that I am a living thing, neither human being nor plant, which is the standard definition of an animal, that I am an animal is far from the truth. Irish essayist Robert Lynd knew the truth and shared it with those who were not too arrogant to have their eyes opened: “A cat is only technically an animal, being divine.”

Divine. Relating to or coming from God.

Where do you think I learned to care for my human? Now, do you need anything else, or can I go back to my nap?


Memory: something that is remembered.

Remember: to have or keep an image or idea in mind; to think of something or someone from the past.

I am tempted to quote Edmund Burke, an 18th Century philosopher and political theorist, who wrote, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” I am tempted to write about memories which American voters should have held in their hearts and minds when they went to the polls this year.

However, like many others, I need to take a break from the toxicity of this election year. I need to sip long and deep from other memories, memories which will bring me a modicum of peace and give me hope.

And so, instead, I will quote Rosamund Pilcher. In her heartbreakingly beautiful novel, The Shell Seekers, first published in 1997, she wrote about a woman in her early 60s who was recovering from a heart attack and coming to terms with her life. At one point, Penelope recalled a letter from a man she loved deeply, a man who had been killed on D-Day. He had written to her, “It was good, and nothing good is truly lost. It stays part of a person, becomes part of their character. So part of you goes everywhere with me. And part of me is yours, forever.”

Who are the people who have become part of my character, who go everywhere with me? Obviously, I won’t be able to list everyone, because God has been good and blessed me with a wonderful array of friends. I’m also, not going to make note of family members, because their place in my heart is a given. But, I will name two wonderful women and share briefly the goodness they have brought into my life.

  • Merry Lou Sunshine Christmas Burgess: She’s married now, and I’m pretty sure she’s dropped the “Sunshine.” (I think I was the only one who referred to her in that way, anyway.) But in my heart she is still “Burgess” and I suspect I’m still “Gales” to her. I met Burgess at a time in my life when I was painfully alone. Mom had died a year earlier; Dad had told me there was nothing for me at home – and he literally meant “nothing,” not a place, not emotional support, NOTHING. My best friend from high school had “outgrown” me, and I didn’t have anyone else to whom I could turn. Suddenly, there was Burgess, with her smile and her welcome invitations, and her patience with all of my dysfunctional interpersonal behaviors, consistently extending the hand of friendship. More than 40 years have passed since the January day when I met her. I can’t say I think of her every day, but I doubt if a week goes by when I don’t think of her and give thanks for what she gave me, a safe harbor in which to begin healing, thoughtful conversation and laughter.
  • Karen Kinder: Karen and I met at a juried art show in June 1990. We were both moms with young children, and both delighted to discover our pieces had been well received. Karen’s painting placed second and mine won an honorable mention. She was returning to art after a hiatus during which she had started her teaching career and a family. I had been painting for years, but it had been a clandestine activity for reasons too numerous to record here. The recognition was good for both of us, but the friendship which grew in subsequent years has been the greater gift for me. Supportive, understanding, nonjudgmental – Karen has been the receptacle of so many of the stories of my life, and in doing so, has given my heart a home. In addition, she has continued to inspire me to be an artist by succeeding in her own art career. So much from one chance encounter!

To these wonderful women, thank you for becoming part of my character. To all the friends I did not name, you are valued, too, and have also helped me to become me. Even though you are not named, you are cherished.

Winning the Lottery

I probably should be embarrassed to admit this, but I cope with stress by fantasizing about winning the lottery. I consider the fantasies to be mental vacations. Some folks pack a suitcase and grab a plane; I give my imagination free reign to wander for a while.

Not only is a mental vacation cheaper, but it also allows me to identify underlying causes of stress, primarily because I’ve learned to understand the way in which my mind works. For example, if I stop at Target to pick up bread on the way home and find myself looking at journals, I know my subconscious is telling me I need to sit down and write. I know that indicates I’m ignoring a deep or hidden truth about my current situation.

Knowing the way my mind works and tapping into my deepest truths is important because I am a master of self-deception. I strongly suspect most of us are; I simply acknowledge this truth because I want to live with greater integrity and authenticity. My suspicions are based on the simple fact that I’ve observed in others discrepancies between words and actions.

For example, last year about this time, I was working for a woman who told me two things about herself on the first day we worked together: (1) I am one of the kindest people for which you will ever work. (Actually, she did not express that sentiment in a grammatically correct manner, but most people wouldn’t.) (2) I am not a micromanager. However, as we worked together, I learned she was a micromanager – the worst sort of micromanager: one who becomes a bottleneck impeding others from accomplishing much, and then expecting others to bear the brunt of blame when deadlines are missed due to her inability to delegate and prioritize.

I don’t work well in that type of work environment, and wasn’t sorry when she decided not to hire me for the permanent position. However, when she told me of her decision, she also terminated me as a temporary employee – without the standard two-week notice. She supervised me as I cleaned out my cubicle and then escorted me out of the building so that I could not speak with anyone. As we exited the building, she said to me, “I don’t want you to feel that you are being terminated because your work was unsatisfactory. I just find it uncomfortable to work with temporary employees after I decide not to hire them.” My definition of “kind” does not include behavior that deprives others of their only source of income in order to alleviate personal discomfort.

From these actions, I conclude that either she is deceiving herself, or she believes that she can craft the impression she gives others with words rather than actions. Neither is acceptable to me.

So, when I fantasize about winning the lottery, if I find myself mentally getting even with others – drafting polite refusals for solicitations and citing the individual’s past conduct as my reason for failing to support their cause –  I know I am feeling vulnerable, disposable, insecure. I know I need to pray for the grace to trust God with the circumstances of my life and his unfolding will.

And, if I find myself fantasizing about doing great works – starting a homeless shelter that successfully transitions individuals into more traditional roles within our society, starting an art center that also grants emerging artists a place to live and a stipend to develop their voice – I know that I am feeling a need to do something meaningful. I will look for a volunteer activity with which I can become involved, or will disciple myself to move forward on a project that has personal meaning but was set aside.

Most revealing, though, are my fantasies about my family, because I could not win the lottery without sharing it with my girls. Sometimes, I just give them a percentage; that means all is well. At other times, my gifts are conditional; those conditions tell me that I’m worried or angry or hurt. As a single parent, with no back-up if I handled a situation badly, I learned to set aside my feelings, to step back and to look at the big picture in order to make the wisest decision of which I was capable. The habit of denying my feelings is so deeply ingrained that even now I do it intuitively, which isn’t always healthy. Fantasies help me to recognize this.

So, what would I do if I won the lottery? Heaven knows, because I don’t. The first thing I would have to do, undoubtedly, would be to find a new way to uncover what lies hidden within me. If I didn’t, I couldn’t trust that any decision I made had personal integrity.