Saturday, April 30, 2016

Chocolate or Vegetables?

More then once I've heard that keeping a journal is an emotionally therapeutic activity.  Now that I'm writing an almost-daily blog, I find it provides self nurturing therapy much like journal-ing. Not only does blogging cause me to explore deep feelings and sort out internal conflicts but it satisfies my intense need to write.

Writing novels is very rewarding, but the process--from beginning to end--is grueling and can take many months. In blogging, I intentionally try to keep my blog posts short and to the point. I don't have to concern myself with issues like character development or point-of-view. Blogging doesn't require research or editing. Best of all, I don't have to write and submit a synopsis to the publisher. I guess you could call it a self-indulgent way of writing. It's like choosing chocolate over vegetables.

In my opinion, self-indulgence has gotten a bad reputation. Somewhere during the process of growing up, we were told that taking care of our own needs is selfish.  It has taken nearly a lifetime for me to learn that self-nurturing is healthy. I've finally learned that the best way to help others is to take care of my own needs first. It's like when the flight attendant instructs parents to place the oxygen mask over their mouths before administering oxygen to their children.

I am much more able and willing to love and help others when I love and nurture myself first. Healthy self-care does not make us lazy or narcissistic or self-centered.  As in choosing whether to eat chocolate or vegetables, it's a matter of balance. Yes, I can have chocolate every day, but there's a big difference between eating a whole bag of Hershey's kisses instead of vegetables and eating two Hershey's kisses after a serving of vegetables.   

Friday, April 29, 2016

Rainy Days

I love rainy days, especially when I can stay home, snuggle with my favorite fleece throw and write (or read). I sit in my big, green chair with a steaming cup of coffee listening to the steady "pitter, patter, pitter, patter" of droplets falling against the window.  Rain smells clean, like air from a dryer vent.  I imagine it washing the trees of their pollen dust and hydrating the thirsty birds and flowers.

Rain reminds me of God's infinite mercy.  We walk through sunny days easily, taking for granted the beauty of creation and the bounty of God's provision.  The sun's warming rays fill us with confidence, gratitude, and hope.  But we can't count on every day to bring sunshine.  Eventually the gray clouds of anxiety, pain or grief make their way into our lives.  They cannot be avoided.  That's when we turn to God. Finally, in desperation, we cry, "Help me!"

What if we didn't wait for challenging times to thrust us into awareness of God's presence?  What if we acknowledged our higher power every day, creating time and space for daily dialogue?

When I spend precious time alone with God, not only praying but also listening, I hear Him cautioning me not to become too self-sufficient. Ego tempts me to think I can handle life on my own with my own strength, intelligence, logic and sheer will, but Ego makes me vulnerable to false pride and ultimate failure.

Rainy days remind me to rest in God's infinite mercy every day, to trust in His promise to never leave me or forsake me.  Only a loving Holy Spirit can wash away the stench of fear and uncertainty. When the dark clouds of life's challenges threaten to overpower me, it is God's infinite mercy that restores my parched and weary soul.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Children love me.  How do I know it?  They willingly share all of their nasty germs with me.  Once again I find myself coughing my lungs out.  I have been sick more than I have been well this year, it seems. After forty-five years of teaching children, shouldn't I be immune to every vile contagion ever concocted by their devious little minds by now?

Adding insult to injury is the fact that my husband never gets sick.  I try my best to infect him--I mean to share with him--but somehow he manages to avoid catching the myriad "gifts" I bring into our home. He proudly reminds me that he never missed a day of school from kindergarten through high school (yes, his mother corroborated it).  "I did contract the measles one summer," he adds.  This announcement is usually followed with "and I've never taken an antibiotic."   I'm sure he's just trying to make me feel better. Right?

Well, this time the impervious he-man hasn't been spared.  He, too, is sneezing, wheezing and hacking.  We make quite the comic duo, he in his recliner, overdosing on cherry flavored cough drops and me on the sofa, shivering under my afghan. Since we both have laryngitis, we communicate by texting . . . from across the room.  We try to watch TV but, even with the volume turned up, we can't hear over the incessant coughing.   He looks at me with pure disdain as if to say, "You did this to me." I smile and nod ever so ruefully.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Denial: Friend or Foe?

Another birthday?  So soon?  But didn't I just turn thirty-five like two years ago?  My ninety-two-year-old mother has often commented, "The older I get, the faster time passes."  Now I understand what she means.

How vivid are the memories of my children as babies and toddlers!  Wasn't it just yesterday?  Now they have nearly-grown children of their own.  When did that happen?   I thought I was living in the present, making the most of each moment, cherishing every loved one and embracing all of life's wonders, but suddenly I blinked and the greater part of my life was in the past.

Another of my mother's famous sayings is, "You dwell on things too much."  This frequently repeated comment was specifically directed at me, her second child.  Until a certain age, I believed her.  I took special care not to say anything that might upset her fantasy-world or mine.  Later, as I began the work of recovery from damaged emotions, I resented her for keeping me stuck in denial.  This resentment created a temporary rift between us.

Eventually,  I began to understand that denial serves as a necessary protection.  It is the armor we wear to keep from feeling unpleasant emotions.  It stops the pain of reality.  I realized that denial was my mother's way of protecting herself from facing truths that were too hard for her to acknowledge.  But it had taken a tremendous amount of courage for me to face the truth of why I often felt anger, helplessness and shame.   I thought my mother needed to acknowledge my truth, as well. Erroneously, I thought I needed to "fix" her in order to achieve my own healing. But nobody can be fixed without their permission, and it is not my responsibility to change anyone but myself.  What a tough lesson that has been!

I'm grateful to finally have the time and the courage to reflect--to dwell--on things . . . to live life consciously. The irony about denial is that the very thing we use to protect us is that which harms us most. But, like a band-aid, if we rip it off too suddenly or too soon, the wound can take longer to heal.


Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Open Window

I am always amazed at how perfectly God's plan unfolds.  As recently as two years ago, I proclaimed confidently, "I will never retire!"  My work as a music educator was so rewarding that I felt compelled to dedicate an entire life to it.  How could I leave something that brought so much satisfaction and joy?  If Helen Kemp could work with and for children into her nineties, surely I could, too.  After all, I have loved what I have been doing and I have felt that it mattered.  I am convinced that my life's work has been a fulfillment of God's purpose for me.  But God has had a different plan for my golden years.  

I've learned that when a plan is "of God," it begins with a hunger pang . . . call it motivation, if you will.  Many years ago God planted a hunger in my heart, a yearning to write.  This seed lay dormant while life happened--education, career, marriage, family, etc.  I became so busy with living that I didn't acknowledge the growling in my gut as God's urging.  Now I recognize that much of what I was doing in my other fulfilling career was also preparing me for this new path of discovery.

You've heard the old cliche, "When God closes a door, He opens a window."   I thought I would be sad--despondent, actually--to stop teaching.  However, as the door of my forty-five-year career closes, I eagerly anticipate climbing through that open window.            

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Feel, Deal, Heal

I used to try to deny my past.  For many years I worked hard to pretend I had a good childhood. Whenever disturbing memories threatened to surface I would expend useless energy tamping them down with my well-worn shovel of denial.  It was energy that should have been used for living in the present.  The effort left me exhausted and depressed.  Once I heard someone say that depression is anger turned inward.  It was an eye-opening statement--one that I felt compelled to explore.  I began to read and read and read some more. I decided to begin the necessary work.  I looked to God (my higher power) for answers, for strength, for healing.  It was the start of a long, but worthwhile journey to make peace with my past.

I am not an alcoholic, but I found the AA literature to be enlightening and inspiring.  I engaged a friend who was willing to work the steps with me.  Together, with the guidance of a twelve-step spiritual workbook, we shared our respective journeys of self-discovery.  We uncovered many truths along the way, but probably the most significant discovery was this one:  "even God cannot change the past."  We must forgive ourselves and forgive others in order to let go of the past and move forward.  But here's the hardest part: we must face the past with all of its painful memories and acknowledge the truth of it (feel).  Finally, we must decide to let go of its control over us (deal).  Only then can we live peacefully in the present and look forward to the future (heal).

As any AA participant can tell you, the journey is not one-and-done.  I must continue to work the steps.  It is taking a lifetime of daily effort to let go of the guilt, shame and blame for a past that is not within my power--or even God's power--to change.

Monday, April 18, 2016


I've noticed a direct correlation between my sense of well-being and the amount of clutter surrounding me. Therefore, I hold the United States Post Office personally responsible for my bad moods.  Every time I turn around there's another pile of junk mail staring me in the face.  It says, "Until you deal with me you cannot rest or concentrate."

"But I need to write," I answer.

Then there is the incessant laundry.  As soon as I finish folding and storing the last article, the hamper is full again and the ironing basket is overflowing.  It taunts me until I cannot ignore it.   "Unless you can afford to buy new underwear every week," it says, "you need to wash me."

"But I need to write," I answer.

"You could write greetings to your friends and family," taunts the pile of birthday cards on my desk.  Do I detect a hint of sarcasm?  I recall feeling quite proud of myself last month as I carefully and thoughtfully selected each card with the respective loved one in mind.  Now the dates have passed, but the pile remains.

But I need to write,"  I answer.

"Remember us?" call the two-hundred-dollars-worth of annuals I bought for the flower beds. "You promised to plant us as soon as the temperature warmed up, but now our roots grow dry and our blooms are fading."

"What about me?" chimes the book case bursting with twice-read volumes. "You promised to donate half of my load to make room for the piles of once-new books still waiting on the floor."

"But I need to write,"  I answer.   "Don't you understand?  The clutter in my mind begs attention, too.  There are thoughts to organize, stories to formulate, characters to develop.  Persistent Clutter, you come as a thief to fill my space and steal my well-being.   Can't you just leave me in peace and let me write?"

"Peace does not come free-of-charge," Clutter reminds me.  "Life is about balance.  Clear me from your home and office.  Meet your responsibilities at work.  Take care of the people in your life.  It's all a matter of equilibrium. If your days don't flow--if you can't find the time to fulfill your life's purpose--listen to me.  I'm trying to tell you something."


Friday, April 15, 2016

Music is Not God

Music is not God,
But music is a path to God.
The ancient hymns with their archaic language
Speak what humans of every age long to articulate.
Composers express that which we know 
But for which we have no words.
Like the infant’s cry, filled with raw emotion,
Music spews forth from deep within,
Leading the way to a higher plane 
Upon which the Creator waits.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Best Season

Summer!  Sweet summer!  How I mourn your annual passing and delight in your return!  As a child growing up in the north, I worshiped summer, not only because it signaled the end of a school year, but because the winters were so long and harsh.

The best part of summer was the moment I first released my imprisoned feet from the confines of shoes and socks so they could finally make contact with the warming earth.  To feel soft blades of grass tickling my toes was worth the occasional bee sting or cow-pie bath.

The summers of my childhood in Central New York were characterized by abundant sunshine and ever-present breezes. We farm children ran and played in the pastures and woods from sun-up till dinner time, when Mother would summon us from the back porch with her familiar "Yoo-hoo!"

During summer months, there was no need to watch television. Computers and video games had not been invented yet. Instead, we played games of tree tag, cowboys and Indians, pirate ship, baseball, and myriad games of our own invention. We staged plays in the hayloft and marching parades in the front yard. On rainy or chilly days, we assembled models, played card games and board games, or sang and played the piano for hours at a time.    

In the summer, Mother would hang the clean sheets and towels on the clothesline to dry where they absorbed only the best outdoor smells. I loved to bury my nose in the laundry basket and inhale a fragrance even more intoxicating than that of the lilac bushes blooming nearby.

Because I had to wait so long for summer's arrival, I reveled in its every moment. Bidding farewell to summer was akin to an inmate returning to the bonds of prison after three months of glorious freedom.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Practicing Gratitude

I'm convinced there is power in achieving an attitude of gratitude, but gratitude doesn't seem to come naturally.  Evidently, it is a learned behavior that requires daily practice, like brushing one's teeth or picking up after oneself.

I wondered what would happen if I started each new day by saying "thank you" to the Creator.  What if I made a practice of expressing gratitude even when I didn't feel especially grateful?  I've heard it takes six weeks of repetition for a new practice to become a habit.  I decided to try practicing gratitude for six weeks.

Now I start each morning by saying, "Thank you, God" for at least five of life's blessings.  This morning, my list included, "Thank you for a warm bed in which to sleep.  Thank you that I woke up this morning. Thank you for eyes with which to see the earth's beauty.  Thank you for good health and for the gift of medical science when health fails. Thank you for coffee."  That one bears repeating.  "Thank you for coffee."

Thank you--two simple words that hold the power to change us from the inside out.  As for me, I've discovered that the more I express gratitude--not only the God, but to the people in my life--the more grateful I feel.

Monday, April 4, 2016

The List

Ah, spring break!  You have teased and eluded me since January.  Finally you are here and I can't decide what to do first.  This dilemma calls for a plan.

As I return to bed (because I can) I sip, rather than gulp my coffee and form a to-do list in my head. After breakfast, I'll walk a bit farther than usual and at a more relaxed pace, taking time to bask in the spring sunshine and enjoy the sight of blooming dogwoods and azaleas.  I must remember to prepare the flower beds to welcome their usual array of colorful annuals. With that job completed, I'll tackle the closets that desperately need to be organized, and sift through the stacks of papers that have accumulated in my office. Later, I'll wash a year's-worth of grime from the windows and hose down our pollen-covered cars.

If I push myself to accomplish those tasks today, there'll be plenty of time later in the week to chat with family members whom I have ignored since Christmas, shop for a summer wardrobe--since last year's seems to have shrunk during the winter--and schedule leisurely lunch dates with long-lost friends.

"Honey!" my husband calls up the stairs.  "Shouldn't you be getting up?  It's nearly noon and you have a 1:00 dentist appointment."  Oops, I must have dozed off.                

Sunday, April 3, 2016

My Nemesis

Technology is not my friend.  I have tried to befriend it, but it is a moving target, flitting here and there, changing, improving, evolving, and incessantly updating until its gadgets become unrecognizable, and I am left with constant anxiety and dread.

With technology, the learning curve is endless and time-consuming.  Yet, I must stay abreast of the "latest."  I am woefully dependent upon this arrogant, inanimate creature that seems to be taking over the world.  I long to simplify my life and surroundings.  I seek the return of a time when I knew more than the average six-year-old, when grandchildren weren't constantly connected to a screen or a keyboard, and when I had time to play the piano or read instead of learning how to conquer some new technological monster.

My comfort zone has been invaded and I must submit or be left in the dust.  Fortunately, I'm married to a techno-genius who stands ready and willing to help me navigate this frightening "brave new world". . . whenever he isn't busy conversing with Alexa, that is.    



Saturday, April 2, 2016

A Daily Choice

I awake to a plethora of songbirds echoing in the woods beyond my open window. From my still-prone position, I can see only dark clouds and swaying treetopsAs gray sky opens to release its gentle droplets I expect the cheerful chorus to fade. Surely my feathered friends will seek shelter and cease their joyful chatter.   

Now the earth is pelted with exploding liquid bombs, but still the bird songs cannot be extinguished. Could this phenomenon be a metaphor for life?  God speaks in metaphors, you know.  To hear them we must listen carefully, observantly, and with an open heart.   

How often do I allow life's storms to steal my joy?  When the clouds of life turn gray, do I become agitated and start to worry?  This is the day that the Lord has made, I am reminded. Will I rejoice and be glad in it or will I allow the day's inevitable challenges to steal my joy and silence my song?  The daily choice is mine.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Letting Go

There is an amazing book by Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go, that has changed my life.  I have read her daily meditations for codependents again and again through the years, and they still seem to be written just for me.  I didn't quite understand the term, codependent, until I read her July 2nd entry:

"Others do not know what's best for us.  We do not know what's best for others.  It is our job to determine what's best for ourselves.  Giving advice, making decisions for others, mapping out their strategy, is not our job nor is it their job to direct us."  Powerful words!  Freeing words!   In a nutshell, I hear her saying that I don't need to waste my energy trying to control the people in my life, and I have no obligation to those who try to control (rescue) me.

It takes a lifetime of diligence (and mistakes) to let go of deeply ingrained negative perceptions and habits.  I try and fail and try again.  Beattie's book reminds me to keep trying despite insecurities and set-backs.

As a young woman in my twenties, I thought I'd be a grown-up by now.  But I'm still learning and growing up every day.  The Language of Letting Go has helped me realize that this journey called "life" won't be finished until I draw my last breath.  I wouldn't want it any other way.