Friday, March 23, 2012

A Gift of Love

The last night of our Lenten women's speakers series at church was so powerful I don't know where to begin. It will take at least two blog posts to relay all that happened. Unfortunately, due to neck and shoulder issues, I need to limit my time at the computer, so will not be able to write either of those posts today.

But I do want to share one thing. The series, as you know, was about sharing your voice, leaving your legacy. And so I'd like to share this story that was told to us last night.

A woman was dying, and had been ill for some time. She told her daughter of some money she had stashed away in purse in a drawer, and said she wanted her daughter to have it. Several times over, she urged her daughter to go and get it. Her daughter refused, insisting the mother would recover and would need the money for herself.

The mother continued to insist, until her daughter finally relented. This past Sunday, the mother passed away. Her daughter took the money and used it to buy dozens of roses--enough to give one to every woman who attended the presentation last night.

This is a picture of mine.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Voices of Our Past -- And Present

Last night’s theme in the Women’s Lenten Speaker Series I'm attending was “The Voices of Our Past.” On the altar was an elegant display of framed photographs of the mothers and grandmothers of the women who are putting on what has become an annual program at our church. The speakers encouraged us to honor the voices of our past, the words and actions of strong and wise women both in our own families and experience, as well as public figures who have shaped our lives, for, as women, we collectively stand on the shoulders of all those who have come before us. Our presenters spoke of the faith of The Samaritan Woman, and Joan of Arc. Our special guest speaker was a woman who, because of traumatic events in her childhood, descended into promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, a series of abusive relationships, and crime. She gave birth to her third child while incarcerated, and while hemorrhaging in her cell, cried out to God…

And He answered. With the help of two special women in her life, she has now been clean for over four years, has reunited with her family, has put her life back together, and now works as a staff member in one of the halfway houses she lived in when she was released from prison. None of which she could have accomplished without her faith that God was (and is to this day) with her every step of the way.

Also during the program, we were invited to proceed down to the altar, where a basket full of cards, much like graduation announcements, waited. On the cover are the words, May your Voice shine bright like the prism of your heart. We were to select a card from the basket that would hold inside a name of significance in our lives.

As we processed, our guest speaker played a soothing, almost haunting melody on the organ, which we later learned she herself had composed. Music, we later discovered, was what had helped her to process all of the pain and trauma and negative emotions in her life, and brought her back to the joy of living. Apparently the two women from our church, both involved in prison ministry, had plopped a keyboard down in front of her and told her to give voice to the music inside her as part of her healing. And what beautiful music it was, reminiscent to me of the peace and joy and majesty of Pachelbel’s Canon, a timeless favorite of some of the happiest women in the world--brides.

So each of us chose a card from the basket, a card which contained a name inside especially meant for the woman who chose it as a message from God.

I watched the women’s faces as they left the altar, without exception opening the card and reading the name inside. Some smiled, some frowned, some looked confused, and others laughed, as the meaning hit home.

As for me, I waited until I had found my seat in the sacred space where we gathered in silence to hear our speakers before opening mine, feeling somewhat curious, somewhat apprehensive, and yes, somewhat skeptical.

But when I opened my card, I shook and nearly cried.

The name I had chosen was Hannah. I couldn’t believe it. My first thought was God was letting me know He knew me and heard my prayers. For Hannah was the name I had chosen over eighteen years ago for my child had he been born a girl. No one knew that but me.

Since we were also asked to reflect on the meaning of the name we selected, I did so, and the words that came to me were “The Hannah Project,” presented as a link in the sidebar of my PMDD site. That meant to me that I have yet to give birth to another creation, this one a feminine creation, of and pertaining to women, since the overall theme of this speaker series is Give Voice to Your Heart so that others may benefit from your wisdom and caring and be heard as well. Over the past two years, my PMDD site has done just that. I have spoken from the heart, have told my story, and in doing so have told the story of countless other women, many of whom, after reading my PMDD blog, for the first time in their lives feel understood. Through my writing, I am giving them a voice.

The significance of this name became even more apparent to me as we dimmed the lights, and one by one each woman read aloud the name on her card. I’d say 95% of the names were either historical figures, women in politics past and present, social justice advocates, and/or celebrities. Queens and slaves and martyrs and saints. Only a handful came from the Bible. Not because they weren’t there, but because they weren’t selected. There were more than enough cards in the basket for every woman there, maybe twice as many as the women there. But only a handful of the names called out were from the Bible.

And mine was one of them. And mine was Hannah.

The only other name I would have interpreted to mean that God “knew” me, that God heard my voice, was Grace, as my beloved cat Grace recently passed away unexpectedly, having developed fluid in her lungs within the space of three days.

This morning I discovered that the name Hannah derives from the Hebrew word Grace.

If you think God doesn’t know you, doesn’t hear you, doesn’t love you…

Think again.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Voice of Your Story

As you begin to pay attention to your own stories and what they say about you, you will enter into the exciting process of becoming, as you should be, the author of your own life, the creator of your own possibilities. ~Mandy Aftel, natural perfumer and author of three books on perfume

A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it. ~Fred Allen, comedian and radio personality

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~Dr. Maya Angelou, Global Renaissance Woman

Most people live and die with their music still unplayed. They never dare to try. ~Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics

The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it. ~J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

This week’s topic at “The Woman Within” Lenten speaker series at my church was The Voice of Your Story, or how important it is to give voice to our stories. To not let them die with us or within us. We heard the story of Anna in the bible and of Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad. We had a lovely 82-year-old speaker who told us stories about growing up with her grandmother, and how the self-reliance and wisdom her grandmother taught her was what sustained her through many a rough time in her life.

In short, she gave voice to her story.

During the program I realized I have already begun giving voice to my story, through my books, this blog, and my PMDD blog. Mostly through the PMDD blog. What the evening did was let me know I am on the right track, and inspire me to get moving again on my PMDD book, so that I can get it out there for others to read and try to understand the baffling phenomenon that is PMDD.

By telling my story, I will help others to understand theirs.

To that end, I’ve spent a good part of the week researching all sorts of aspects of PMDD, so that my information can be as up to date as possible.

Other than that, things are rolling along as well as can be expected for a woman with too many things to do and not enough time to fit them all in :). But our Lenten women’s speaker series is something I do for me, March once again having been declared “Me” month, where I only do things that nourish me mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Because of that, I know that by Easter and the Resurrection I will have a renewed focus on my life and projects and goals for the year, and will be ready to move in whatever direction God moves me to go in.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Give Voice To Your Heart

That is the theme of this year’s “The Woman Within” Lenten speaker series at my church. It’s the fourth year of this program and this year will run for four weeks. Last night we, as women, were encouraged to give voice to what is in our hearts, and so I thought what better time to start blogging again? I know, I know, I’ve had a couple of false starts already, but this is Lent, and therefore a time to make changes for the good. The results of last year’s Lenten changes have been phenomenal, and turned my life upside down.
Last year at this time, I was a total workaholic. Anytime someone asked me what I was doing, “working” was the answer. That and keeping up with my son’s schedule. Making sure he got to where he needed to be when he needed to be there. In short, he was the one with the life, not me. I knew something had to change, or one day he would grow up and be gone, and I’d be left home with the cats, still working all the time.
I’d already unwittingly started in on my plan for change, as a blog post I wrote in June of 2010 entitled “There’s No Excuse for Being Bored” morphed into an article published last January in my diocese’s Faith Magazine (click on January/February 2011 issue, pages 8 and 9). In it, I listed a host of activities offered through the church bulletin, church newspaper, and Faith Magazine, and basically said that life is out there, waiting, for anyone who chooses to participate. Life is Out There...Waiting! was in fact the title of the article.
With that thought in mind, I began to craft a new life for myself, one full of fun, friends, and all sorts of social activities. But it wasn’t enough. I was out and about, having fun, but wanted someone special to share that fun with. So in July of 2010 I took the leap and joined an online dating site. Nine months and maybe a dozen dead end conversations later, I had a file folder full of notes and information on how dating sites do and don’t work (no experience is ever wasted when you’re a writer), but still no partner.
In March, I decided to give up that ghost and concentrate on Me. March, I eventually declared in my blog posts, was “Me” month. For the month of March, I would focus only on what nourished me--mentally, physically, and spiritually. I’d read more books, pray more, exercise more, clear the clutter in my home and life, attend only lectures and events that spoke to me personally, and in general just be good to myself. To that end, I added a third Qigong class to my week, this one held on Sunday mornings.
Qigong is something I’ve been interested in for more than a decade, but somehow never made the time for. Finally, I joined a class taught clear across town. My friends were amazed. You go to class where? For the previous 24 years I’d pretty much limited myself to local activities held on my side of town, or within a very limited driving distance (my occasional trips to out-of-town conferences and such notwithstanding.)
Suddenly I was driving across town three times a week, meeting new people, and making friends outside my comfort zone. Then, lo and behold, one Sunday morning, in walks this man, who, unbeknownst to me, fit the section of my online dating profile headed “What I am Looking For” to a tee. Three months later several students from our class headed to Niagara Falls for a Tai Chi workshop (Tai Chi being a form of Qigong), and the two of us just “clicked.”
We’ve been seeing each other ever since.
Which is one reason why my blogging fell off. Instead of working all the time, I now focus on work during the weekdays, and spend my evenings and weekends tootling around with him. We go to class, go to church, go to concerts, car shows, festivals, dances, dinners, games, and wine tastings. We take trips, and have been to Canada, Michigan, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, and New York. We flew to South Dakota, visited the National Music Museum. We’re headed to Texas, next. In between trips, we trundle around town taking care of errands and visiting friends. We collect recipes, go grocery shopping, and cook. We watch movies and volunteer for community service together. We attend all my son’s special activities.
But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t given voice to my heart. My heart felt a lack, and so I did something about it. Through my article in Faith Magazine I put it out there, into the universe, that there was no excuse for being lonely or bored, and then, though my online dating profile, I put it out there what I was looking for.
I spoke from the heart, and my voice was heard.
So today’s question is: What is your voice telling you? Is there a lack in your life? What is it you need to bring you closer to being the person you want to be? More time in prayer? More exercise? More “Me” time? More family time? More social activities? More active involvement in your church or community?
I seriously doubt it’s “More work.”
Take time out this week to be still and listen to that voice within. They say peace and contentment comes when the person you are and the person you want to be are one and the same.
Who are you? Who do you want to be?
Even if you’re not Catholic, like I am, Lent--or spring, if you prefer--is a good time of year, a time of rebirth and renewal, to take time out to consider these questions and--either by your actions, or through your words, or both--give voice to your heart.