Mom’s re-birthday

October 27, 2019

October 26th was my mom’s re-birthday. Gone 22 years from sight, but very much alive in our hearts. Life, death, rebirth. May we all flow in harmony with the rhythms of the Universe.

© Kathleen McKern Verigin

Written by Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin
Eulogy delivered at Mary McKern’s Funeral
Wednesday, October 29, 1997
First Christian Church
Ames, Iowa

There is a first breath, and there is a last breath. In between there is a life. We are gathered here today to celebrate, honor, and remember a life, the life of a woman four of us call Mom, and others call grandma, great-grandma, sister, sister-in-law, mother-in-law, aunt, neighbor, friend, and up until 9 years ago, beloved wife.

Mary Kathleen Connolly drew her first breath on April 24, 1918 on a small homestead in Henry, Nebraska. She was an active, inquisitive and verbal child, traits that would often win her praise and occasionally a swat on the behind. She was proud that she could read before starting school, and often talked about the first book that was truly her own–Swiss Family Robinson.

The Connollys moved to Ames, Iowa in 1921. Mary attended Beardshear Elementary School, along with her younger siblings: Lawrence (whom she called “brother”), Zelda, Kathryn, Ralph (nicknamed “sonny”), and Janet. Throughout her school years she was active in Camp Fire Girls and a variety of sports. She was so proud of her “letter,” a large orange ‘A’ received in honor of her participation in girls’ athletics at Ames Senior High School. Although she was overweight most of her life, Mom was proud of her strong, healthy body. “That Mary Connolly,” people used to say, “What a strong, healthy girl she is!” You see, that was a compliment because those were lean, hard years for many Iowans. The Depression years coincided with her adolescence. As a budding young woman, Mom learned early how to scrimp and save, and how to do without. Graduating from high school was a big event in those days, and Mary Connolly successfully did that in 1936.

Around age twenty Mary Connolly’s world changed when she met a handsome farm boy from Southern Iowa–Bud McKern, the lean and muscle-toned guy with dreamy eyes. They enjoyed a four-year courtship, which seemed like forever for Mom because she knew early that Bud was her prince, the only man for her. They married on November 8, 1941.

And so, began a journey that would last 47 years, until Dad’s death in 1988. Even during his sick years and even on his death bed he remained her prince, the handsome farm boy with dreamy eyes. In those 47 years they shared many memories and created memories for us kids.

Mom gave birth to their first child, Michael Arthur McKern, on November 22, 1947. How Mom loved her little bundle of joy, the child she had dreamed of for seven long years. Of all the kids, Mike was probably most like Mom–blue-eyed, possessing the gift of gab, and a passion for sports. We have a long running joke in our family that Mike was her favorite. I’m sure he was her favorite in many ways, because only Mike could mirror back those beautiful blue eyes. Only Mike could understand Mom’s conversations with people we’d call strangers, and they’d call friends. And only Mike could share in the excitement of a ten-yard pass or NBA overtime. Even in her last hours of life, Mike kept Mom abreast of the World Series games. Mike, I’m not sure she cares who won the Series, but I’m sure she enjoyed sharing a last game with you by her bedside.

2

On the day after Dad started his career with the Ames Fire Department, Susan Kay McKern was born. That was February 10, 1949. Susie was probably Mom’s greatest challenge, every bit as active, inquisitive, and verbal as Mom was as a child. “I hope you get a daughter just like you someday,” Mom used to shout at Susie. Well, Susie did–right Tammy?–and perhaps only now understands the love Mom was trying to express. Because of all of us kids, I believe Susie inherited Mom’s great capacity to love. It’s evident in how easily Susie’s kids have always said “I love you,” especially to Grandma Mary. And just as Mom was an artist on the sewing machine, Susie is an artist in the flower shop. Her creative genius, inherited from Mom, is expressed here today in the lovely flowers. Susie, Mom would be proud.

Grandma Connolly’s name was Kathryn Mae. Mom was Mary Kathleen. That tradition continued when I was born Kathleen Marie McKern on December 8, 1950. With a three-year old, a very active two-year old, and now a brand-new baby at home, I can only imagine how stressful life was at our small house. Mom could cook a meal, do the laundry, chase us kids around, and talk on the phone all at the same time. A great juggler myself, perhaps that’s where I learned my organizational skills. Even at the hospital I was making detailed lists of things to do. I was also reading a book on the parallels of birthing and dying. I was on a journey to understand and comprehend what was happening, sharing Mom’s love of the written word and insatiable curiosity. Mom, I thank you for those personality traits because that’s what gives me the courage to stand here today and honor you with these words.

Mom gave birth to her last child, David Clyde McKern, on December 3, 1952. It is appropriate that Dave inherited Mom’s sense of humor, because with his birth she was now the mother of a five-year old, four-year old, two-year old and newborn. Only humor could have gotten her through it. As kids both Mom and Dave often made us laugh–whether it was a gesture, a word or a look, there was much laughter in our home, especially at the dinner table. Even during Mom’s two-day hospital ordeal and even yesterday at the funeral home, Dave was able to pull us through with a smile, a chuckle and sometimes a funny joke. However, like Mom, Dave is also a bit of a worrier. He carried the greatest burden of tending to Dad’s and then Mom’s needs during their waning years. And how he worried about Mom these past few days! Dave, there’s one worry you can safely let go of and that’s the fact that Mom loved you, and cherished you, and appreciated all that you did for her throughout her later years.

Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern was a proud Irishwoman, full of vim and vigor, and a bit of the blarney. Knowing that her days were numbered, she recently told me that she only had one regret in this lifetime. And that was that we never took that trip to Ireland together. I tearfully told Mom that I would go there for her one day. Just last week I told her that my husband Doug and I were indeed going to Ireland next year, and that I would take something of her with me. I have in my hand a lock of her hair and I will give it to the Gaelic winds on a hillside in her heart’s homeland.

3

We are all at peace knowing that Mom is experiencing another home now, resting comfortably in the arms of God. The rapid decline of her health stunned us all, but also gave us enough time to unite for a miraculous, fifty-hour bedside vigil. All four of her children were at her bedside Sunday morning. It felt like Christmas—we were all groggy from lack of sleep, there was a raging blizzard outside, and the air was heavy with a sense of anticipation. As her breaths grew quieter and shallower, we gathered around her hospital bed, all holding hands. There were words of love spoken, tears of sorrow shed, and finally our last good-byes. One by one, we said farewell to the woman who birthed us. Mom took her last sweet breath at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 26, 1997.

We knew that we were looking at just a body now, an empty shell, and that Mom’s soul was ascending to Heaven. We imagined her standing at the Pearly Gates and announcing herself to St. Peter: “Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern reporting to Heaven.” Then she’d probably ask St. Peter is he was a turtle, all the while checking out how big his feet were. With the blink of an Irish eye, she’d be admitted to Paradise. Chatting away with long-lost friends, Mom would probably sew up something to beautify the surroundings. She’s telling Princess Diana how much we all loved and missed her. She’d probably have a word or two with Richard Nixon. And we’re sure she’s finding out once and for all if O.J. really did it.

But most importantly, she’d be reunited with the love of her life, with Bud, her sweet prince that she said good-bye to just eight years ago. I found a letter yesterday that Dad wrote to Mom when they were separated for one full year by World War II. In it he said:

“Well, my love, there’s not much to write about, 
just how much I love you and miss you and waiting 
for that wonderful day that we can be together 
and make up for some of the time we have been apart. 
So bye bye darling, for this time, with all my 
love and kisses, all for the most loved and missed 
gal I know, my sweet loving wife. 

Your loving hubby, Bud.”

And so, Mom, we’re glad you’re together again. Just as we mourned Dad, we will grieve your loss from this human plain. But we gain comfort in knowing that you are finally at rest. You are truly the love of God, the light of God, and now may you know the peace of God.

There was a first breath in 1918, and a last breath just three days ago. And in between was a wonderful life. Mom, we wish you an equally wonderful afterlife. So until we’re all united in the Kingdom of God, we thank you and bless you, forever and ever, Amen.

Why Volunteer?

October 12, 2019

“Whatever community organization, whether it’s a women’s organization, or fighting for racial justice … you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My husband had been volunteering for a year at our church’s Friday morning breakfast version of a “soup kitchen.” He encouraged me to join him. “See what it’s like,” he said. My reply, “As a minister, I volunteer 24/7. No thank you.” Finally, after some more nudging, I decided to give it a try.

It was winter and the place was overly crowed with dozens of house-less and hungry people. The visuals, sounds and smells were a bit of a turn off. I admit it. I was judgmental. What sealed the deal for me ever returning was when I was asked to walk a disheveled woman down a long hallway to the bathrooms. Alone. I attempted small talk but she wasn’t having it. I suspected a meth addiction and thought it best to not engage, so we walked in silence.

I stood outside the bathroom for several minutes. During that time my monkey mind started creating all sorts of stories. Was she using drugs? Did she hide a gun? Is going to kill herself or me? It took a lot of effort to stay centered, grounded and focused. She emerged after about 10 minutes. We walked in silence as we both returned to the kitchen area. Later, a volunteer told me that 10 minutes in the bathroom is sometimes the only alone time a homeless person gets. I was humbled by that reality but still feel like I was not a fit for this type of volunteerism. “They don’t need my fear or judgements,” I professed.

Fast forward to last summer. I had been in a funk for several months due to many deaths, a threatened lawsuit over a story I wrote, even a stalker making allegations against my ministry and one of our ministers. My husband watched me wallow in self-pity. One sunny Friday morning, he again invited me to join him as a volunteer for the breakfast kitchen. “It’ll get you outside of yourself. Please give it another try.” My thought—Oh why not?

My life took a sudden turn on the upward spiral that day. The love in the room, from the volunteers and most of the “guests,” was palpable. I had a grand time serving English muffins with cheese, refilling cereal boxes, doing dishes, and cleaning up. But most of all it was the connections. Anam Caras connecting, soul friends meeting for 90 minutes of service. We, the volunteers, serving the guests. The guests serving us with their presence, many expressing gratitude. Even the non-verbal guests, some mentally ill and some drug affected, made occasional eye contact. There’s no paycheck or reward in the world when those moments happen. That, to me, is the Christ Consciousness.

Last Friday, as I drove to my weekly volunteer appointment, I had the following thoughts.

I woke up to an alarm on my already charged iPhone.
I had shelter, bedding and clothes.
I took a hot shower in my bathroom with the furnace going.
I wore (almost) clean clothes.
I had breakfast with gourmet coffee.
I drove in a car filled with gas, the heat on, including seat warmers.
I parked and pondered.

In a heart beat I could be any one of our kitchen guests. I am so blessed!

If I profess Oneness, which I do, then I know I am one with everyone in that overly crowded room at my church. I get why my beloved spiritual home, First Baptist Church (American Baptist) states that we are a Matthew 25 church: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Over these past few months, I’ve become acquainted with one of the guests who has the same name as my friend who died in July. There’s a sweet family with 4 little kids. I now get hugs from them. When I’m in downtown McMinnville doing errands or meeting a friend for lunch, I get waves from some of the guests that are perceived by others as annoying homeless trash.

We are living in trying times. It’s very easy to wallow. Complain. Make excuses. Shut down and isolate. Poor meeeeeee! I challenge you. If you are in those murky waters, like I was last summer, then get out of yourself and do something nice for someone else. Connect! And daily, give thanks for all that you have. You are alive. You are awake. You are the holy one.

Three Deaths

September 28, 2019

“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific.” ~Lilly Tomlin

Last spring, during my Scotland tour, I had a spontaneous dialogue about death with a local woman. You know, those light and frothy kind of conversations. She had lost a sister in a car accident. I was grieving a dear friend back home who was actively dying. We both knew this about each other in advance, likely through her mother and/or being Facebook friends. But this day we happened to be strolling about the sacred isle of Iona off Scotland’s southwest shores. I was captivated by the massive and ornate Iona Abbey, and even more so by the “Street of the Dead” that led from the abbey to the nearby burial ground. For over 1,400 years, I wondered how many living people had carried the dead on this road towards their final resting place. Aloud, I said to my friend, “If these stones could talk, I wonder what they’d tell us about death.” Her reply rocked my world. She thought it originated in South America somewhere. (I’ve since read that it’s a Mexican saying.)

“There are three deaths.

  • The first is when you realize that you are immortal, that you will die one day.
  • The second is when the physical body stops functioning. The literal death we will all experience.
  • The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”

I literally stopped in my tracks. Knowing me, I likely gasped, “Say, what?” The notion of a point in time when my name is spoken for the last time!!!. Unless you are famous, or infamous, there will be a time when someone says your name again. What feeling does that trigger in you?

At first, I felt kind of sad. Like my life would be meaningless unless I had an active legacy that would require people to say my name. But the more I thought about it, the less personal it became.

I wonder if this is why, when I’m in old cemeteries, I like to say aloud the names of the deceased. Maybe this is why in many women’s circles we say our names, followed by the names of our mothers and grandmothers. I think of Aho Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota statement that means “all my relations,” honoring all of the praying one’s ancestors, living and dead.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the “three deaths.” What does it mean to you if your name is never spoken again? Or the name of a loved one you’ve already lost? If I get enough responses (brief and succinct, please) I will compile them and circulate. Let the dialogue continue.

Armor by Shelly Walker

August 14, 2019

“Some of us walk around with a necklace of hope, an armor of sanity, but at the end of the day, they always come off. We reveal our naked, vulnerable, real selves.”  ― Karen Quan, author

It’s been three years since we received the heartbreaking diagnosis for our precious wee boy: muscular dystrophy. No treatment. No cure. He would live to see 20 “if we were lucky.” I don’t remember much about the next year. I was swimming in a fog of grief and fear. Oh, I survived, but I did it by putting the needs of everyone before my own. Because what I needed was to fall apart and I didn’t have the luxury of falling apart.

I had grief and fear and four children to take care of. That’s when I started numbing, building an ambitious armor around my tender, hurting heart so I wouldn’t be pulled under by the pain. My armor guaranteed my survival.

Then the presidential election happened, November 2016, and the division that ripped our country also tore my family apart. As my naivete was stripped away, I learned that people I loved, adored, and respected shared very different values from me. This was the first election that I took personally. And it hurt. My armor became heavier as I learned to navigate this new world.

I call this time in my life, these two very difficult years, my miniature disaster. At some point in life, most people experience their own miniature disasters, these pivots in time where life gets REAL. Everything we think we know is put to the test. We learn who our friends are. They are the ones who don’t take our stuff personally, neither our outbursts nor our withdrawals, and just keep loving us. Loving us hard.

We learn where to look for God. We find God in the smallest moments of wonder and laughter and raw pain. We find God in the quiet moments of prayer and in the small celebrations, in the mountains and in the mundane.

And, eventually we learn that as seductive as it can be, putting on that emotional armor to try to protect our tender hearts just isn’t worth it. You see, the problem with armor is that the weight becomes unbearable and it keeps us from feeling the good stuff, too.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the good things in life in order to avoid the hard things so I keep putting the armor down and feeling ALL the feelings, knowing that the grief and pain I carry is, in Truth, also a gift.

As I lay my armor down, I find that I am, in fact, not drowning in my pain. I get sad. I get scared. But much more, I get grateful. Grateful for my family. Grateful for our human family. Grateful that the light is being called to banish the shadows.
What I know is that when I choose Love, when I choose connection, when I choose gratitude, the ways of Light open before my feet. As a friend of mine said the other day, “Strong back. Soft belly. Wild heart.”

A strong back, born of knowing Who You Are. A soft belly, making the choice to stay open and vulnerable. A wild heart, creative and daring and free to make this world a better place. As Dr, King said, “Love will have the final word.” Put down the armor. Be the Love.

Shelly Walker is a licensed Spiritual Practitioner, serving at New Thought Center for Spiritual Living in Lake Oswego, Oregon. You can join her Facebook community at https://www.facebook.com/ShellWalk1.

A Tribute

July 30, 2019

“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” 
― Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Story Girl

We first met while standing in line in downtown Portland to see the 1983 film, “The Big Chill.” Perfect first encounter for two youthful baby boomers, both of us in our early 30s. Big hair, shoulder pads, traveling the upward spiral in our chosen careers. It was an instant connection. So much of life ahead. Our 30s, 40s, 50s, and now 60s.

Our second meeting was in Eugene, Oregon. My boyfriend at the time was in law school there. One of Judie’s best friends was my boyfriend’s good friend. So, my boyfriend says to me, “We’re going white water rafting with Judie, Bryan (Judie’s husband) and Jeff.” OMG. I was frantic thinking Judie was this macho Pacific Northwest outdoors chick. A tough, risk taking adventurer. The opposite of me. That perception would soon change.

We arrived at Jeff’s house, me wearing a denim sun dress with a bright red sweater. Judie entered the room in a summer ensemble, green and brown top and shorts complimenting her lithe figure, and matching earrings. Judie says to me, “I love your red sweater.” My reply, “Thanks. I’m a winter.” Judie perked up and said, “I’m an autumn.” Thus, began a beautiful and colorful friendship of nearly 40 years.

Who remembers colors from the 1980s?

Given that Judie and I both refused to go white water rafting—way too dangerous for us city slickers–it was suggested that instead we rent roller blades and tool around Eugene. Judie and I looked at each other, shook our heads and at the same time say, “Nope.” What did transpire was a picnic on the bank of the McKenzie River. The men folk swam in the river while Judie and I stayed on shore and shared our visions for working with women and children. Empowering them to live their best lives, long before Oprah made that a meme.

Since Judie’s terminal diagnosis in February, due to pancreatic cancer that had already metastasized, I have had a jumble of memories surface. All good. I can’t say that about all of my friends, but I can about Judie. This reminds me of my wedding in 1995.

A videographer was roaming the reception, inviting people to share memories of Doug and myself. The photog asked Judie, “What does Kate mean to you?” Judie looked confused while starting to twirl a lock of hair, a life-long habit that meant she was thinking. Finally, she replied, very slowly, “I don’t think Kate has ever been mean to me.” We’ve had a lot of good laughs about that, even in these past few weeks as her life force was waning.

This same videographer mistook Judie’s 3-year old son for Tyler, my 5-year old stepson. The photog asked Blake, “How do you like Kate being your new stepmom?” Blake started to twirl a lock of his hair while looking mighty confused.

When it came time for the toast, we asked Bryan, Judie’s husband and Blake’s dad, to share a personal message about us. Which he did, and quite beautifully so. When it came time for the toast, Bryan lifted his glass and declared boldly, “Here’s to Kate and Dave.” Remember my boyfriend in Eugene? That was Dave.

Memories are what keep us connected, especially during times of loss. Memories are what allow us to move forward with life, even during times of sadness and sorrow. Memories are to be treasured.

Judie, I will forever remember you. Thank you for co-creating so many beautiful memories with me and my family, and so many mutual friends. “Family by choice” we used to say, and it’s indeed true. I’ve lost a beloved family member. A true sister of my soul. Now my forever anam cara. Judie, when we meet again, I wonder what movie will be showing in heaven? I’ll get the popcorn. You get the milk duds. And yet another memory surfaces. “Guilty pleasures,” she used to say.

Treading Water

June 17, 2019

“I had been simply treading water, settling on surviving and avoiding pain rather than being actively involved in seeking out life.” Kay Redfield Jamison, clinical psychologist & writer

Treading water is a favorite way to accelerate my heartrate in the arthritis swim class I attend. I chuckle when I remember how, in training as a water safety instructor, we had to tread water for ten minutes with both arms up and out of the water. That was nearly fifty years ago. Today I can easily tread water non-stop for two minutes, using both my legs and arms. I consider that a monumental achievement. But something occurred to me in this morning’s class during our first aerobic session.

Treading water in the shallow end is vastly different than treading water in the deep end. I’m safe in the shallow end. I can see the bottom. I can walk to the side wall. But in the deep end my life depends on keeping my head above water. I can’t see the bottom. I have to swim to the side wall. Using this thought as a metaphor, I wonder where I’m playing it safe in my life? Have I become too familiar with the status quo of the shallow end? Or, am I willing to risk going into the deeper waters of the unknown for a more meaningful experience of life? That’s where change happens!

Consider this passage from The Infinite Way by Joel Goldsmith: “When your spiritual study is sincere, the breaking-up of your material world—the desertion of friends, students, or family, a change in health or other outer activity—often ushers in the spiritual transition, or rebirth. This is the attainment of that which you have sought.”

My spiritual growth will not expand if I stay in the shallow end. The illusion is that I can control what happens there. Things will stay the same because it’s predictable and safe. But my spirit continually longs to go deeper. To dive into the primordial depths of this thing called Life. What is my life about, especially now that I’m swimming towards my twilight years? What are my relationships about, especially when there are dis-connects and dis-comforts? What are the stressors in my country that trigger feelings of despair?

As Goldsmith predicted, I have suffered a great deal with loss since my spiritual studies became sincere nearly thirty years ago. I could make a list. It would be a long one. Yet I can truthfully say that I am grateful for every change, even if it meant flailing my arms around in the deep end of the pool while shouting “help” to a lifeguard. It’s here where I remember that I am the guardian of my own life. This is my swimming pool. I have choice between the shallow and deep ends. Where does my spirit want to tread water today?

And more shall be revealed….

Stop!

June 2, 2019

STUFF I KNOW
© Rev. Angelica Martinez

TRIGGER WARNING Proceed knowing you were given the disclaimer.

If you feel the need to comment, please do not tell me “change your mind, change your life” and “what you get is what you think about” jargon. Trust me, I have read, written and heard the lot of it. But know this, I am allowing myself to bathe in the loamy richness of the Dark Night. Ebb and Flow Life goes. Trust me, I know what I am doing. I have been here before. I walked in the Sun again. This is The Alchemy of Life.

I am tired of Life.

Please note, that does not say “I am tired of living.” Two very distinctly different things.

Sometimes, it is okay to say “STOP!” Regroup and start over. Stop, look and Breathe. What is the information in front of you? How do you move forward? Forward is the only direction you can go, because Time is Linear – moving toward a Desired result. So, the question becomes, “What is it you Desire?” Now I know why Lucifer says that so much on the TV Series; in that one question you can find out so much information about what the driving force is for that person. Fascinating stuff. But I digress.

When I said “I am tired of Life” I meant, “Whoa, there’s a shit-ton coming at me right now. I need to Hard Stop and Reset.”

Hard Stop. Cessation of motion. Cessation of chaos. Cessation of external stimuli.
Breath One. Pause.
Breath Two. Gather information.
Breath Three. Release.
Reset.

There is such a deep richness in the Cave of the Dark Night. The watery, earthy goodness. The fertilizer of Growth. (In Alchemy Water = Emotions Earth = Grounding/Strength/Matter). A Dark Night is Alchemy. When you Allow yourself the moments in the Dark, you fertilize that Growth spurt that is about to happen.

If I think back over my life, it was those deepest, darkest moments that led to the most profound Growth and Change. (and yes, I have been seeing 555 lately). It still feels shitty sometimes though. I still get tired of Life and it’s ebbing and flowing.

Thing is, I know that once the rapids are over, there is a nice bend of river where it is calm, lazy yet still flowing. I just gotta get over the damn rapids.

Again, see the reference to water (emotions)?

Life is full of emotions, Energy (E =mc2) set in motion. E-motion.And like water they rage and they rest. Ebb and Flow. Oh FFS, is Life nothing but Ebb and Flow? Ebb and Flow. I am tired of ebbing and flowing. I want to get out of the river and rest. I want the world to stop fighting. I want Trump to be the best he can be, whatever that means, just be a decent human being FFS. I want to not have to worry about the welfare of my community. I want to stop being a mother. I want to stop being a manager. I want to stop!! I want to simply HARD STOP Life.

Life does not Hard Stop . . . only I can.

Hard Stop. Breath. Reset. (Originally, I accidently typed Rest. And that works too)
Dear Angels, Universe, God Almighty and Yeshua his Son,
Please Hear my Prayer.

I am tired of Life at the Moment. Can you take over and Guide me to the Right thing to do? Help me be the best I can be in this Moment, because it feels like I am muddying up the waters. Help me to Stop, Breathe and Reset. Help me remember you are always with me. I am Supported in your Love. Amen.

Thank you,
Rev. Angelica
Feel free to connect via Facebook: Angel Raven-Hawke or via email angel.martinez444@outlook.com

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Untold Stories

May 17, 2019

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

One of the things I enjoy most while leading tours to Ireland is the gift of witnessing someone having an “ah ha” moment connected to their ancestry. Because my role is as leader and guide, I don’t always get those moments for myself. But I did this time. It happened in a flash when I heard the words “took the soup.” Suddenly, an untold story emerged.

Last April, with my group, I finally got to visit the ancient Hill of Uisneach. (Roughly pronounced ISH-nok.) That’s where I had my “ah ha” moment. Uisneach is considered Ireland’s 5th Province as well as the burial place of the Irish goddess, Eriu, from whom Ireland got its name. It’s considered a sacred and spiritual ritual site with monuments and relics dating back over 5,000 years. Our private guide, a seasoned ceremonialist, squired us around the many hills while leading rituals and ceremonies connected with the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. During a walk between sites, I encountered a most interesting man.

Although he was clearly clean and put together, he had that look about him that said he might be a Druid who just popped out the woods. He did, indeed, pop up from time to time. We couldn’t figure out how he got ahead of us and would suddenly appear, one time sitting on the gate of a fence. That’s where we struck up a conversation.

As typical of Irish people, he inquired about my ancestry. I told him about my mother’s Connolly line, likely hailing from somewhere in the northwest of Ireland. These were areas particularly hit hard during the Great Potato Famine. I mentioned that we were Protestants way back to the late 1700s. “Oh, so your people took the soup,” he declared. Took the soup? I’d never heard that expression before. He explained.

During Ireland’s tragic potato famine, people professed to be the religion of the church that was serving soup to the poor. So, a Catholic would say they were Protestant, while a Protestant would say they were Catholic. Many were forced to convert. They betrayed their beliefs in exchange for food. My leprechaun friend fully believes that my Connolly ancestors were originally Catholic. Regardless, it was the thought process that ensued that got my attention.

Because my Connolly ancestor(s) immigrated before the Great Famine of the mid 1800s, I thought they were free from the trauma and despair of their homeland. Surely, they left behind many family and friends who literally starved to death. The Irish Potato Famine began in 1845 and went on for four years. It is estimated that between 500,000 and more than one million people died in Ireland during that time. Keep in mind that the potato, the staple of every poor Irish family’s diet, was the only crop that failed. Ireland’s beef, dairy, and lumber, as well as jobs, went to the wealthy British that ruled over them. Approximately two million Irish people left and immigrated to other countries, mostly the U.S. and Canada. That’s where my focus has been throughout my entire life. Thank God my ancestors were not impacted by the Famine! But that’s not true. My people who stayed in Ireland were innocent victims of a tyrannical ruling class and subjected to torture in the form of starvation. Like all people, I carry the stories—told or untold–of my ancestors. Is this why Ireland keeps calling me back, in search of the untold story? Is this why many in my family, including myself, are overweight? Is this why it’s been hard for me to declare one particular religion? Is this why any form of betrayal hurts so deeply? To my ancestors I say:

I’m sorry you had to suffer.
Please forgive me for forgetting.
Thank you for my new level of awareness.
I love you.

Some Irish men were imprisoned for stealing food to feed their young. This haunting ballad shares a story that needs to be told. When someone sings it in an Irish pub, locals stop what they are doing and sing along. I finally get why.

Ann Breen ~ The Fields Of Athenry

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=mary+black+fields+of+athenry#id=6&vid=501a470e7ec72eaa97f5e37c43d174ff&action=view

What if…

February 18, 2019

“You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars.” 
― Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

What if you just walked out of your life? Literally, right now, just got up and started walking, with no destination in mind? That’s what’s unfolding in a delightful book I am re-reading: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish. It’s about a group of women who gather for a weekly book club, which translates into deep sharing and lots of wine. On one particular evening, the women end up in a cuddle puddle on the floor of the kitchen, comforting a distraught sister of the soul.

The woman in despair says, between sniffles, “Sometimes I just want to walk out of my life.” Another woman sighs, “Me, too.” Several “Me, too’s” echo the sentiment. Together they say, “Let’s do it.”

So, this group of eight women, of various ages, body types and lifestyles, start walking. And walking, and walking, and walking. As they walk, they talk, disclosing dark secrets that have, until the walking, been simmering on the back burners of their soul.

Soon their walking is all over the local news. Strangers meet them on the road with cheers of gratitude and delicious food—and wine. Plenty of wine. This brings national attention. Some people offer overnight accommodations, free of charge. The conversations between the walkers deepen. The tears flow yet the smile never leaves a face. Suddenly their walking becomes international news. These eight women inspire women all over the world to do the same. Unhappy with your life? Then just walk out of it.

What a bold endeavor! I’m not sure I would have that level of courage. Yet the story has reminded me of the times when I have walked out of my life. When I answered the voice that said, “What if I stepped away from unhappiness and discontent, knowing that there was something greater Out There for me. And, each time, the outcome was better than I could have expected?”

A college friend said to me, “What if you moved to Portland with me?” I left Iowa in 1975 for greener and wetter pastures in Oregon. I had $300 in my pocket, no apartment, no job, just a desire to be somewhere else where the thermometer read -24. Pieces fell into place very quickly. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had stayed in Iowa?

I left a job in 1993 without a safety net. Single, alone, with a house payment. Yet my psyche and soul could no longer tolerate the destructive environment of that work place.

What if I had stayed with that job?

My husband and I left Portland two years ago for rural living outside McMinnville, Oregon. I remember thinking, how do I make friends at this stage of life? That didn’t take long. And still I wonder, what if I had stayed in Portland?

I can “what if” myself into a corner. What’s relevant to me is to reflect on the bold actions I’ve taken through my life, each time rewarded. To give myself a pat on the back for such boldness. “I did that!” It also occurs to me that every great endeavor in the history of the world started with a What If. 

Today, I ask myself, and you: What has become intolerable in my life? What if I just stay and tolerated? Or, what if I made a bold change? Is there something calling to me that needs to move to the front burner? What if listened to the What If voice? Took a leap of faith? Trusted my intuition?

As expected, each walking woman in the book has some level of introspection and revelation. Some joyfully return to husbands. Some don’t. Some quit jobs to pursue a new career. Some awaken to stirrings they didn’t know they had, but now had to be pursued. One particular story is about a woman following the walkers on the news. Unbeknownst to them, she too walks out of her life in pursuit of a sunset that has called to her for 70 years. I can visualize her tears and her smile.

No more “what ifs.” The time is now, and we are the ones.

Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking
https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=youtube%2C+these+boots#id=25&vid=b5bab7061340cfb3b037c0e4a4c19ba4&action=view

Doorways

February 3, 2019

“If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.” Anonymous

Have you ever tried and tried and tried to do something, be a part of something, to align with something, only to have the door slammed in our face, over and over and over again? As quoted above, “If it doesn’t open, it’s not your door.” I thought I was long past that in my life, until some uncomfortable experiences this past year and one even this past week. The stories are irrelevant. My reaction to it is relevant as a reminder that not all doorways are meant for me. Walking away is sometimes the best option. Here’s a time when I did just that.

Years ago, I was invited to serve on an advisory board for a group of ministers serving large congregations. Their goal was to take their spiritual teachings out into the greater world. The first meeting was held at a fancy retreat center perched high in the hills above Malibu, California. My assigned roommate was the minister of a small church, similar to the community where I was serving as staff minister. We caught ourselves giggling like school children, wondering why we were there.

Right from the “get go” I felt invisible. Yes, the high-powered ministers were all nice and cordial, but I didn’t feel like I connected, like I belonged there. I kept asking myself why. Low self-esteem? Because I’m from hippy dippy Oregon and not sassy flashy California? It was mind boggling, and yet I hung in there, wanting to grasp what was unfolding before my literal and spiritual eyes.

I muddled my way through the first retreat, coming home confused and befuddled. A friend advised me that it was low self-esteem making me invisible in the eyes of what I called “high-powered ministers.” She encouraged me to look in the mirror and get that I too was a high-powered minister. I tried, but couldn’t quite get there. But that wasn’t going to stop me. This open door was too enticing to ignore.

Given that this was an incredible opportunity to serve and connect, a way for me to become more visible in the global arena of ministry, I decided to return to the next year’s retreat. The same woman was my roommate. We enjoyed a dinner out upon arrival, each wondering why we were on the advisory board, and why I personally felt so invisible.

The next morning, after prayer and positive self-talk, my roommate and I walked into the conference room with dignity and grace. Ministers were hugging and laughing, filling the air with enthusiasm and joy. It felt good. Soon a minister from Southern California—looking very surfer dude like—started walking towards me. We made eye contact and both smiled at each other as a way of recognition. As I extended my hand to him, he walked right by me and hugged another minister standing right behind me. He didn’t even see me. I was flabbergasted, even more so when similar patterns emerged throughout the day. I was totally invisible, even after gearing up my energy body. By now this was amusing, as I knew something deeper was going on.

It wasn’t until the closing circle that day that I finally got the message. I saw this door and was beckoned in, but I never really entered. My participation was half-hearted, for a reason. This organization was not my Tribe. I do not resonate with their desire to take their agreed upon teachings out into the world. In my thinking, the world has enough religions. No one was wrong or bad. It just wasn’t my tribe. It was time to stop knocking on a door that was not mine.

What happened next? I don’t know. Either they stopped meeting or they decided to leave me off the invitation list. I am grateful for the two advisory retreats I attended, and even more grateful to the many doorways since that have revealed my true Tribes.

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Iva.
Iva who?
I’ve a sore hand from knocking!