Conflict

February 23, 2020

“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict… ― Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) American journalist

“Oh, how I hate conflict,” I once complained to my husband. His reply, “Are you kidding me? You thrive on conflict.” We were both sort of right and both sort of wrong. What I hate is the physical discomfort that usually accompanies conflict. What I love is the possibilities that can surface during times of conflict. The key is to move beyond right and wrong, with resolution as the goal and the desired outcome for the highest good of all. Here’s an example.

Many years ago I was a member of a women’s gym where I worked out and took classes. The monthly dues of $25 were automatically paid through my credit card. I needed an extended leave for travel and physical ailments, so my credit card was not billed for three months.

Three months went by and I forgot about it. For whatever reason, my husband paid my credit card bill for a few months. When my credit card statement was back in my in-box to pay, I noticed I had been charged the monthly fee at the gym, and had been while he was paying my bill. I was out a total of $100. That seemed outrageous to me. So, with a calm and hopeful attitude, I phoned the gym. My hope was that they would apologize and reimburse me since I no longer wished to be at that gym. That’s not what happened.

The staff member at the gym was adamant that I indeed owed that $100, per the agreement that I would let them know after the three-month respite if I wished to continue or not. “I forgot” got me nowhere, as did saying someone else paid my credit part bill for a few months after the hold. I could feel the heat rising in my body. I could hear the irritation in her voice. We were both hell bent on being right.

Before everything blew up, I felt a sudden calmness come over me. I remembered the words from a workshop I had taken years earlier: Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution? Some how I managed to say, “I’m wondering how we might resolve this in a way that we’ll both feel good about it when we hang up.” In that moment I had the gym woman in the palm of my hand, because my hand is connected to my arms and my heart. My mind wanted a fight. My heart wanted peace. My body wanted the discomfort to pass.

“How about this,” she said. “We’ll reimburse you half and call it even.” That sounded to me like a great resolution. “Thank you,” I said. “Now let’s both get on with having a great day.” She agreed.
I think about the conflict in our country and wonder if we can apply the same reasoning. Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution? When I’m confronted by someone with politics different from mine, and if I choose to engage with them, am I doing so to prove me right and make them wrong, or am I committed to resolution. Here’s an example.

During the presidential debates the summer of 2016, I had a conversation with a relative who sees himself as a patriot—in what I would call the extreme. He could not talk about President Obama without fuming. The hate was palpable. In the past I would have argued until we were both blue in the face. But this time was different. I really wanted to hear what he had to say about Obama.

“He was not born in the U.S., he wants Islamic Sharia Law, and he just fired 60 cabinet members and generals and replaced them with Muslims.” He spewed this out in one long breath. After a brief pause, I looked at him with a soft expression on my face, and said, “I don’t believe that.”

The difference? In the past I would have said “I don’t believe YOU.” Those are fighting words for us! This time I took it out of the personal and replied impersonally. He suggested I look it up, which I did when I got home. He was totally wrong. (I won’t even address the birther and sharia law stuff.) What I learned was, that Obama only replaced one cabinet member with a Muslim. It was tempting to phone family member and do what we did as kids when one was right and the other wrong. “Nee ner, nee ner, neeee ner.”

So, I ask you, my anam cara, when in conflict, are you committed to being right, or committed to resolution?

Great Indoors

February 8, 2020

“Sometimes, the most productive thing that you can do is to step outside and do nothing…relax and enjoy nature.”
― Melanie Charlene, author

She loved the great indoors. That’s what a friend’s mother said she wanted in her obituary. We were seated with Leslie and her family, ten years ago or so, at a wedding reception in a local park. Someone shared in great detail why they loved being outdoors in nature. We all cracked up when Leslie piped in with, “When I die, please start my obituary with She Loved the Great Indoors.” As we chuckled, she assured us that she meant it. It was ten years later before I really understood what that might mean, besides the humor of it.

Fast forward a few years to when my friend called to say her mother had died. We shared many tears over the next few days, sprinkled with laughter. You see, Leslie was one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. I suddenly remembered what she had said at that wedding reception a few years prior. To my friend I said, “Remember, your mom said to include in her obit that she loved the great indoors.” Her daughter howled with laughter. Yep, it was in her mom’s obituary and again shared at her memorial gathering. Funny, yes, but in truth it was a stab at all of the people who, in their obits, professed to loving the great outdoors. I can relate.

Don’t get me wrong. I love where we live at Dream Acres because of the beauty of the land and landscapes. As much as I love being on the land, I also love the freedom to observe nature from the vantage point of our many windows. Do I have be to in the great outdoors in order to experience the brilliance, beauty and healing that Nature provides?

When I’m outdoors in Ireland and Scotland, I feel a renewed sense of aliveness. (A sense of “place” is a tenet of Celtic Spirituality.) I tell my tour groups, “Experience this site first, then take your photos later. Follow your inner guidance to a spot in nature that is calling to you. Be in that place as if you were gazing through the eyes of your heart. Go inward in order to experience was is outward.” Is this what Leslie subconsciously meant about loving the great indoors? Did she know that the secret to appreciating the outer world is to first be in touch with your inner world?

That new thought only occurred to me this morning as I sat gazing out of my office window. I’m enthralled by what I see. The landscape at Hidden Hills, in Oregon’s lush Yamhill Valley, begs me to notice, to watch, to reflect. How does the outer landscape mirror my own inner landscape? I am many layers. I am many colors and textures. I am the run-off stream from the recent heavy rains. I am the blue skies, the soft clouds, the whisper of the winds, the chirping birds. I am alive. I am awake. I am in the Great Indoors and, thanks to the Great Outdoors, I am restored to wholeness.

Complaining

January 25, 2020

“Complaining is truly my strongest weakness.”
― Evinda Lepins, American writer

Years ago, I attended a prosperity seminar given by Edwene Gaines, author of The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity. There we sat; a few hundred eager minds ready to hit the jackpot. Money, we want more money in our lives! Ms. Gaines sat rather regally on her chair, perched like she was riding side saddle alongside the Queen of England. With her bouffant hairdo, wearing a ruffled dress and bright pink lipstick, and with a delightful Southern drawl, she declared, “Write this down. The first law of prosperity. I will not complain for 21 days.” Many of us were speechless. How could this notion contribute to prosperity?

“Those who complain much get little, those who complain little get much.”  ― Jeanette Coron, artist, author, blogger

This it not what I came to hear. I wanted insights into how to get rich and stay rich. “Then stop complaining,” she said to us, over and over and over again. So, I committed to no complaining for 21 days. If I caught myself complaining, I had to start over. How’d I do? I never got through 21 days. Once I learned how complaining diminishes my energy body, I got what she was saying. Consider these snippets of research:

“Complaining releases cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone.” - Travis Bradberry, Emotional Intelligence 2.0
“Every time you complain, your brain creates shortcuts to think more pessimistically. Therefore, when you verbalize a gloomy idea, the brain wires you to accept new information negatively.” Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2007 study 
“As it turns out, whining about your problems during the day can affect you at night. Those who practiced gratitude slept longer and had a better quality of sleep than those who expressed annoyance or frustration.” - Berkeley study for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Gaines was used to hearing complaints about complaining, but she never took offense. What she tried to do was help us form what she called a “habit of positivity.” Not in a Pollyanna kind of way, but the real truth that the vast majority of things in my life are going well. Gratitude became my friend.

“The soul that gives thanks can find comfort in everything; the soul that complains can find comfort in nothing.” ― Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) Lay speaker & author

There’s a man—older than me—in my arthritis swim class who always wears a smile. I never hear him complain about his body aches and pains, which is why we’re in this class together. Recently he said to me, “My doctor told me I had to exercise more.” I replied, “So that’s why you’re in this swim class?” “No,” he said, “I took up watching golf.” With that he let out a manly sort of giggle. I asked him what the doctor said at the next visit. “You need an exercise that is more active.” So, what did he do? “I started watching bowling.” Again, the giggle, this time from me as well. Just a few days ago I inquired about his newest from of exercise. With incredible vim and vigor, he said, “I’m watching tennis and I feel G-R-E-A-T!!!” No complaints from this guy.

Wear a smile. Get some exercise. Start a gratitude journal. Embrace your aliveness. And for the sake of your aliveness, stop complaining!

“Any day above ground is a good day. Before you complain about anything, be thankful for your life and the things that are still going well.” ― Germany Kent, print and broadcast journalist

Goodbye Bindi

January 9, 2020

“Animals are such agreeable friends—they ask no questions;
they pass no criticisms.” –George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) 1819-1880

When a new cat purrs its way into my heart, we always have a serious talk. “Someday,” I say, “you are going to have to tell me if it’s your time to go. You must be very, very clear.” That is what unfolded with Bindi, our beloved tuxedo girl cat, only 7 years old. What started on Dec 26 as a bad tooth ended up being advanced kidney cancer. My husband and I are in agreement that we do not do heroics for a pet. The vet agreed.

I slept with Bindi on the couch her last three nights. Actually, there was very little sleep given her discomfort and my hovering. She would sit perched and stare off into space. Pretty soon she would circle around and sit perched in another direction. Always away from me. Finally, I got down on the floor and looked deeply into her eyes. I could see my reflection as the tears started to flow. “It’s time, isn’t it, Bindi?” Given the expression on her little furry face, I swear she saw her reflection in my eyes. That’s when I knew it was time to say goodbye.

Our last night together found Bindi “head butting” me several times. I’ve been told that when cats brush up against us, they are leaving their scent. But when they bump their face and forehead on us, they are saying hello and I love you. I must have said “I love you” back to her dozens of times. At two different points she put her head in my palm and laid there for several minutes. She was literally putting her life in my hands.

The following morning, January 4th, we bundled Bindi in her favorite blanket, slipped her into her carrier and drove the short distance to the vet. I was startled by a Flicker that flew across our drive way in front of the car. I briefly wondered if Flicker had a message. Bindi died very peacefully. We chose to take her home for burial.

Late Sunday afternoon, Doug started digging the hole while I held the box containing Bindi’s body and the blanket. Suddenly, a deer bolted by us and ran into the trees. A Flicker and now a deer, I wondered. Is there a connection?

After a weekend where I had to be somewhat “on,” I devoted Monday to sadness and sorrow. I didn’t even get dressed, but I did brush my teeth. While browsing through numerous photos of Bindi on my computer, I saw a spider walk across the 2020 day timer that sits next to my desk. Flicker, deer, and now spider. That’s when I knew I had to do some research. Here are brief interpretations found on the internet.

Flicker demonstrates a new rhythm and cycle of growth. She shows the importance of healing love and the power of forgiveness. Insights and intuitions are activated and perceptions are changing.

Deer medicine includes gentleness in word, thought and touch. The ability to listen, plus grace and appreciation for the beauty of balance.

Spider is telling you to create, create, create. Look for new alternatives to your present impasse. Think outside of the web of illusion.

I’m giving myself plenty of time to ponder the messages from the three critters and how they might relate to Bindi’s death and my grief. The sobs have subsided, although the tears flow from time to time. The house feels eerily quiet, probably because we interacted so often during the day. When that nagging thought, “Did I do the right thing?” surfaces, I remember seeing my reflection in Bindi’s eyes and likely Bindi seeing her reflection in mine. It was time. We did the right thing. And now, time alone will heal.

Sun or Son?

December 11, 2019

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles;
but today it means getting along with people.” Mahatma Gandhi

One December day, many years ago, I got a phone call from my mom. She was having a theological dilemma. I could hear it in her voice. Very tentatively, and precisely, she asked, “So, if you don’t believe in Jesus, then should I not get you a Christmas present?” She was dead serious. I was flabbergasted and couldn’t wait to dive into another juicy spiritual dialogue with the woman who gave birth to me.

Previously I had explained to her that I don’t believe that Jesus is my savior. I believe he was a master teacher. A profound role model. A way shower.

A few days after this conversation she phoned me with news. “I was telling my bus driver today, a very nice young Christian woman, about your beliefs. She told me I should get down on my knees and pray for you because you are a sinner.” Which led me to tell Mom that I don’t believe I am a sinner. I was born of Original Love. I make mistakes and miss the mark. When I get the learning, I strive to make amends and move on.

“So are you Christian?” she eventually asked. Out of my mouth came these words. “I’m outside the box of Christianity, but inside the circle of God.” That was our moment of connection. “Got it!” she shouted. Religion no longer mattered between us. Spirituality took its place. The Christ Consciousness guided many more dialogues between us during her dying process. I miss the depth of that sharing and exploring, and yet remembering it inspires me to re-visit the meaning of Christmas. Am I Christian or Pagan, or does it matter?

Singer/songwriter Dar Williams says it beautifully in her clever holiday tune, The Christians and the Pagans. Dar Williams – THE CHRISTIANS and THE PAGANS – live in concert from Teaneck, NJ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCVt_j1A68c

If the Christians and the Pagans can sit together at the table, “…finding faith and common ground the best way they are able,” then we too can find common ground—if we look for it. That’s my intention this holiday season. To savor all of the many sights and sounds of the Winter Solstice and Christmas. Pagans celebrate the birth of the SUN, as do I. Christians celebrate the birth of the SON, as do I. They are similar beacons of light showing us the way in times of darkness. We are all one, and, goddess knows, we’re all in this together.

Holiday Grief

December 2, 2019

Guest blogger: Georgena Eggleston
https://www.beyondyourgrief.com/

My dear community,

Recently a client said: “I am dreading the holidays. I don’t know how I will feel from one minute to the next!”

Guess what? I don’t know how I will feel from one minute to the next either!

I’d like to think that living now in Gentle Grief, I am impervious to worry, doubt, despair, grief, anger and fear. Guess what, I am not!!

I once asked a wise woman, “What is the purpose of grief?” She answered, “To feel your emotions.” I would revise that to, “To feel your heavy emotions.”

We are so busy living life, that when loss lays us low and grief floods the tapestry of our lives, we are forced to feel the heavy emotions. Anger, sadness, longing, worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, and despair are constant companions in Raw Grief. You feel the actual pain of those first weeks and months after your loss.

Last week in the support group for those bereaved by suicide, someone said, “The grief never goes away. It’s just different.”

It IS different! The intensity and frequency of emotion subsides. It shifts as pain is released. It shifts as the ocean of tears from our heart is brought up and out. It is different when we can celebrate how our beloved lived and not dwell on how they died and that they are now gone. We can’t rationalize our emotions. They are here to provide information.

So, the next time you feel a heavy emotion – stop and pause.

Ask yourself: “How old am I feeling?”
Next ask: “What state am I in?” This allows you to NAME the emotion.
Then ask the emotion: “What do you want me to know?”
Now listen. You will be surprised. As you listen to YOUR heavy emotions, a pattern will emerge.You will notice the thought that triggered the emotion. You may note the smell, sound, song, color that released this emotion.

Finally ask: “What is the most kind and loving thing I can do for myself right now?”

The answer is within you. Life is meant to be lived from the inside out! Love all around, above, below, to the left and to the right, before you and behind you,

Georgena
Beyond Your Loss
0606 SW Nevada Street, Unit D
Portland, Oregon 97219

Beyond Your Loss, LLC is an educational healthcare company that teaches Mindful Grieving and Intentional Mourning to the grieving and the professionals who support them.

My Body by Desiree LoveAll Rudder

The Church says: the body is a sin.
Science says: the body is a machine.
Advertising says: The body is a business.
The Body says: I am a fiesta.

― Eduardo Galeano, Walking Words (1940-2015)

November 25, 2019

Below is an anam cara’s Facebook post from a few days. I was very moved by it as someone who also deals with body issues, weight, shape, etc. With Desiree’s permission, I share her loving words and most beautiful of photographs! Will you join us in loving your body this holiday season?

STUFF I KNOW – My Body
© Desiree LoveAll Rudder

My body and its state of being has been a focus by either someone who wanted to use it for their own, selfish experience or by my neurotic, critical belief about how I must look in order to be loved.

I, too, have judged others by how their body looks — I love the aesthetics of curvy women and dad bods. I’ve compared myself to women who have curves in all the “right” places…after all, according to media, big booties and flat bellies are acceptable.

What about the rest of us? Those of us who, like me, have a big caboose AND a big belly, and arms, and thighs, and back fat. Are we beautiful, desirous, and sexy, too?

I’ve battled with my weight my entire life. Turns out, I’m tired of the battle. I woke up yesterday morning and, before my eyes even opened, I heard myself say aloud, “I don’t want to be thin.”

That’s a bold statement to make on social media, for the eyes of judgment to see. I feel very vulnerable knowing you’re reading this right now. Yet, I somehow know I am not alone.

I had the opportunity to massage a woman yesterday. She said something that deepened my perspective about myself. She said, “I am 54 years old and I am finally treating my body like she is my lover, my Sacred Consort. I spent my entire life hating my body. Not today. Today, I am in love with her.”

This rocked me and cast me back into a review of my life in this skin suit of mine. I don’t remember EVER truly loving my body. As a matter of fact, when I released 100 pounds a couple of years ago, I hated my body more than ever. The anxiety of being in a smaller body terrified me. It felt unauthentic to my soul.

Believe me, I over-analyzed myself for thinking this way. I obsessed, actually — a gift of being a Gemini. What normal, sane, healthy person is OK with being in a larger body?
I’ve gained and released the same 100 lbs eight times in the past 30 years by trying to control how I look. Mostly because I cared about what you thought of me, because I deeply wanted to connect with you. Who doesn’t want to be loved simply for their sweet soul?

Turns out, in the presence of Judgement – real or perceived – I do.

It also turns out my soul can do magical stuff and serve humanity — even in a larger body. Focused and clearly.

Irish Thanksgiving blessing – An Old Irish Blessing
May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Vulnerable

November 12, 2019

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” Criss Jami, author & musician

Are you among the people I know, like myself, who have struggled lately with uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability? Whether it’s a financial strain, loss of a loved one, be it human or pet, a new diagnosis or the return of a disease, or disc-connects with people who don’t share your beliefs? Consider these definitions from Dictionary.com:

Vulnerable (adjective)…capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; open to moral attack, criticism, temptation; open to assault; difficult to defend.

Word Origin: First recorded in 1610–20; from Late Latin vulnerābilis “injurious, wounding,” equivalent to Latin vulnerā(re) “to wound”

Gee, that sounds like fun. Sign me up!

When we feel vulnerable, sometimes the best medicine is a simple gesture of compassion. I once was good friends with a single mom who had two adorable sons, both pre-school aged. Harry, the eldest, was quite magical, very much a performer. He had a slight speech impediment that endeared me to him even more. “Harry” would come out sounding like “Hay-wee.” He loved playing Super Mario video games. Mario would sound like “Ma-wee-o.”

My name, back in my single days, was Kate McKern, which through Harry’s mouth would come out as “Kate MuCoon.”

When I got news of being laid off from my television job, I immediately called and left their mom a message. “Well, it happened,” I whimpered into the answering machine. “I lost my job. I’m feeling really vulnerable. Call me when you can.” I took myself for a walk, and when I returned the light on my answering machine was blinking, telling me I had a message. I pushed “play” and was treated to the most compassionate message of my life.

“Hello Kate MuCoon. This is Hay-wee. My mama told me that you’re feeling ver-wee sad because you got some ver-wee bad news. When I’m sad, my mama pats me on the shoulder and says, ‘there, there …there, there …” So, Kate MuCoon, THERE, THERE, THERE, THERE. Bye bye!!!”

The “there, there…” message has comforted my soul numerous times since hearing Harry’s message in 1991. I have learned to ask for a “there, there…” pat or hug. My husband has learned to listen to me when I’m ranting about something, feeling vulnerable, and, at the appropriate moment, ask, “Do you need a “there, there…?” My answer is almost always yes.

Are you feeling vulnerable today? Do you need a “there, there…” pat and hug? Or does someone you know? Try it. It’s amazing what a small dose of compassion can do, for yourself and others, and maybe, just maybe, for the greater good of all.

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.