Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: To Herald the Coming Holidays–or Not?

I know, I know–it is not even mid-November and I dare to display this wreath! But we are bombarded with seasonal themes and items in stores and ads everywhere; I am made to think on the holidays despite my distaste of the early advancing of the madness. I write in a general protest. I am having second and third thoughts aplenty.

If I was an artist of considerable ability (not just a lazy wanna be who sketches and dabs paint now and again) I would create a spare but lovely watercolor and ink picture of a cozy, snow-laced cabin in the woods. White tapers would burn softly in two front windows, a curl of smoke rising from the chimney; a deer and fox would be peeking out from beneath frosty green boughs. A cardinal would fly by. I’d be standing in the open front door with Marc, arms opened.

Then I’d turn that bit of imagining into a card and send it off to family and friends some weeks ahead, with this message inside:

Skipping the holidays’ material madness at last, but come on by for a good hug–and a mug of something tasty–if desired.

That’s how I’m feeling about Christmas. I have given it my thoughtful attention. This may be the year some variation of that idea comes to be, rather than remain considered.

Thanksgiving is another matter, made for cooking and eating and convivial conversations around the table. Well, Marc cooks these days; I’ll toss a salad and prep veggies, make the drinks and pretty up our old oak table-and am happy to clean up. But even my long-standing love of baking has cooled. It seems to have slipped out the door with our five children, although I baked with and for grandkids here and there; even they have flown the coop. (Must wait for the six month old twins to grow up a bit and we’ll fling flour about and indulge in likely forbidden sugary delights.)

We will likely have Thanksgiving at our place until the adult children indicate they have lost interest or can’t manage it with their hectic lives and own broods. We’d be alright with someone else cooking up a feast, setting the table and cleaning up one of these years, too. Yet we enjoy the family gathering–with an occasional friend–tremendously. And this year my oldest daughter, Naomi (an art prof) is flying in from South Carolina to lecture at Portland State University and will stay on for Thanksgiving. This is a luxury visit; we are quite looking forward to it. (One thing I do love to do is talk with family– and others, the more the merrier.)

Still, then arrives Christmas. What is it that has me with knuckles to teeth as we try to determine the best way to celebrate?

That nostalgic scene I have the urge to create–cabin in snow, deer and fox, a cheery cardinal; candlelight and inviting fireplace and woods about–all enticing one indoors to see what else awaits–is just that: nostalgia. I don’t own a cabin or cottage and never experienced a Christmas in either but it sure sounds good, evokes the peace and pleasures that deeply appeal. (There are people who live out this fantasy. I have a niece whose family convenes in her Colorado mountain lodge. The photos posted are wonderful.) I did grow up in Michigan. There was often a glittering white blanket silencing the outside noise as we crowded about a festive tree. We sang around the baby grand, familiar hymns and carols; our family made a natural chorus and music was a huge part of Christmas. So maybe all that set precedents which are not now met as once before.

In any case, I have not been a child in my parents’ home for 50 years; they are gone. Christmases have long been my own–with the tradition of many gifts, good food and large gatherings. When you have a bunch of children and then they have children, it gets bigger each year. And I do like to “do” for others, to decorate, to find special gifts for the 14 (more including friends) I shop for, and most of all share this time with them, all in one spot. Or mostly. Not the entire five adult children, generally, as two live out of state and one is a chaplain with an overload of duties that time of year.

I used to host big gatherings for extended family. I loved preparations and the spread on the dressed up table and the congenial intersection of lives, the laughter. The love. But my older sister, brother-in-law; a brother and a nephew have died; my niece is not as available; my other sister and partner live in a retirement community and are not that well. All this changes the way family interacts more than I anticipated. It is a little sad, but it is the way of things and I have adapted year by year, loss by loss.

In any case, I’ve been thinking this over for many years: what would it be like to not have a fluffy freshly cut tree in the living room; to not have underneath it the usual heaping pile of presents, to not have everyone over at once for gift opening and brunch on Christmas Day? This has especially weighed on me since our daughter with the new twins confided that she almost dreads the coming holidays as there are now more family wishes to fulfill. (Her husband’s family lives in WA. state so they must travel back and forth. Though it may take only 45-60 minutes to get to WA., it is a challenge, no doubt.) And since we moved in March things are less easy for everyone to get together. Who would have thought moving from a northeastern part of the city to a southwest area would make a big difference? In part it is congested roads that complicate meet ups. Before, everyone was more or less central to one another, a short drive or even walk away.

There is also the fact that our current apartment is smaller, not so much square footage but in its spacial configuration–the old place accommodated a large family well. But one has to make decisions based on what works best for current needs and this place made sense–Christmas, etc. gatherings notwithstanding. So here we are. I can still put in two table leaves to seat 12 if needed; it just gets crowded here.

There is a spiritual component to my musings. I have long seen this holiday not so much as a genuine celebration of Christ’s Birth than a time of gentle merriment, of family, of meal sharing and gift giving more in the spirit of ole St. Nick. We would go to church, yes, but the fact is, it is really a re-imagining of a long enacted pagan holiday, also known as Yule. Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year is on 12/21 this time– which is lovely no doubt but it is not my religion. Many of the same traditions were entwined with Christmas. Yet Jesus was most likely born in the spring. In 350 AD Pope Julius I decreed that 12/25 would also be designated Jesus’ nativity celebration.

The reigning materialistic aspect has nothing to do with Jesus’ coming into the world with his revolutionary message of love, mercy, faith and forgiveness. The bottom line is, engaging in Christmas is more a secular event than a religious one even if I go to services on Christmas Eve. My faith is deeply rooted and less dependent on a ritualistic, institutional structure. So this holiday has been a broad conundrum at times: faith and tradition versus materialism and those ancient beliefs to which I do not subscribe, despite s tendency to incorporate more spiritual experiences than is typical of a traditional Christian.

I do suspect I’m not the only believer who ponders all this and yet each year follows the usual path–buy gifts, fancy up a tree, hang a fragrant wreath on the door. Even among those not of my faith yet enjoy the celebratory nature of it can discover a community bonding, sharing of conviviality, and an inclusive hopefulness. I enjoy this, too; it is heartening that many can find any common threads with which to connect us even for a short time.

And yet.

Each year in the midst of hectic tasks, or as we clean up the detritus from the surrounds, my husband states with wry laugh, “Next year Hawaii!” But we choose to stay, to put Hawaii–or any adventure in December–on the back burner. Because we love our family. We love any caring intentions of this season and even pretty trimmings. The money spent–not so much. That many gifts gets very pricey. Many donation requests get filled. And I often wonder why this needs to be done when we do give gifts on special occasions and share our money all year. Also, by the time kids become preteens these days it gets very hard to shop for them. And the twins are far too young to care one bit about any of it, thankfully. Is it the lifelong habit that keeps us tied to this kind of Christmas?

Since it is getting tougher to corral everyone for a few hours, this can be a frustrating time. There are some who do not have families all in one home so must travel to have their kids part of the holidays; some who have to work up to the last minute or beyond; those who have vacation plans or partners with other ideas; and those who are feeling stressed financially.

So when all is considered, what precisely is the point? Yes, yes: demonstrating more attention and care toward family. Yet that is always available, often in more meaningful ways. Fun celebrations? I get that; it would be missed. But a growing array of gifts? How much stuff do we need? I personally need nothing more. I don’t want to tax my children’s cash limits. Marc and I don’t even care to exchange gifts, anymore.

My brother reportedly gives his grandkids gift cards and skips his children. I see the wisdom in that even if it seems less…jolly and fuzzy. He and his wife sing in a couple of choirs at Christmas church services; otherwise they travel as they do most of the year. It isn’t cash reserves but other priorities that have altered. And that works for them. I find it more refreshing than not.

This year Marc and I will decide, finally, what works even better for us. What seems reasonable yet more fulfilling. The family comes first so much of the time. Christmas is one of these. But we also matter as an older, long-wed couple. It sounds good to have less busy-ness and more relaxation as Marc takes off his holiday time from a pressurized job. I suspect we would rent a huge alpine lodge, then ask family to join us if we could; perhaps another year we will. In the meantime, we want to make sure that Christmas has meaning and magic that stays true to what we both need in our lives, not just the larger family’s. Who knows? Maybe our adult kids will let slip a sigh of relief.

Mostly-grown grandkids would enjoy a good gift card–with a special gift wrapped up pretty under the tree (I still have to have a real tree). But we sure don’t need to deluge them with things. I know for sure those baby twin girls will enjoy the lights and, of course, music. They already are held in thrall to it. Alera, particularly: upon hearing a classical choral piece, she stopped moving, slowly held her hands palms up in the air. She barely stirred the entire time, she was so entranced, her face an expression of wonder, large blue-grey eyes staring into space, head turned toward speakers. I have a photo of her that moment, and would happily share it if not for lack of approval from parents regarding baby photos on social/other media. But I do I study it, mulling over her expression, as if she is hearing angels so struck is she by the music. She loves all classical and much jazz–her sister, Morgan, enjoys it but is currently less entranced.

And music is a true and abiding joy to experience years to come. These are moments that matter, do they not? How can we forget and get caught up in holiday frenzy? Trying to make everyone happy–at least, what we believe makes them happy– we often find that happiness is not even in the places we think it was.

In my home, we will certainly share good meals, share well wishes and blessings, cheery and sacred songs. (My husband has been playing his acoustic guitar for the first time in a long while…) And how else can we demonstrate a steady, active gratitude for life and love for one another, as well as a devotion to a faith? The ways are endless– the coming holidays or any time at all. And American culture and the wide world needs much more of this, far less of the other.

Saturday’s Passing Fancy: This Wintry House


This sturdy house of seven,
how it gathered close snow and people,
the ice-light of winter a magic reveal;
how yellow circled thrumming life, a
collective heat of its dense center:
such music, affection, courage, prayer.

And she lept into the beauty of it,
dove into wide, steep snowbanks,
rode the glistening waves on her
Radio Flyer or creaky toboggan
which transported her to Alaska
or Antarctica, toward the edge of dreams.
On her tongue snow melted sweet-sharp,
water for the thirsty child
who could have been lost but was given
doorways to joy, exploratory powers to
forge freedom in December treks.

Oh, such dancing flakes sparked air, drifted
in tenderness to kiss her face,
wind sang out, trees waving bared arms;
her mittens and boots grew encrusted with snow,
feet were certain of their simple fate as she made her way.

This house with simple Christmas greetings
on door and porch goes blood deep,
felt like our hearts worn on our sleeves.

And I confess each year my spirit strengthens:

how the God of Love reaches to uphold us,
how the winters can rescue a woeful child
how wonders cannot be separated from the living
and those gone weave a music of their own

how Christmas still carries hope of peace,
a great promise of healing that cannot be undone,
a blessing of mercy folded ’round broken hearts,
how good will can reign when all else has fallen away

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Offering

Irvington flowers, park 050
Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2018

This morning a prescient light stirs,
and leads to a day of no retreat
where simple prayer opens shell of self
with masterful love, and all that

praises sky and dances water,
sweeps wind and deepens stone
speaks with reverence to willingness.
It feels like a falling into heaven,

remembering that what is hidden
yearns for careful revelation;
who is lost awaits a swift finding;
and all that is wounded seeks a healing.

Let us become stillness and motion
and breathe upon the spark of God,
fill with energy of uncommon power
to salvage and lift one another without

–for once!–any self-serving, hesitation
or regret. Embody the radiance, give it away.
Yes, Lord, let me be as the flower which
blooms in a burst of joy and leaves a blessing.

Good Friday and Easter: Integrating Love into our Living

Labyrinth at Menucha Retreat Center, similar to a labyrinth at Chartres' Cathedral.
Labyrinth at Menucha Retreat Center, similar to a labyrinth at Chartres’ Cathedral.

Good Friday. It seems a strange name for the day Jesus was killed. It precedes Easter, of course, and I have been meditating more as well as pondering my faith: the who, what, where, how, why. Those events which happened so long ago. History.

As every Good Friday before, I have felt drawn to being alone, walking in silence without my camera, being prayerful, reading Scripture and feeling God with me. Fifty years ago shops closed at noon for at least three hours. Schools were closed for the day. People entered churches to pray. My family didn’t engage in frivolous entertainment or unnecessary work. We were respectful of the occasion, and a feeling of tender melancholy pervaded the house until night fell.

Earlier in the week I had other occasions to contemplate the business of living and dying, human life and God in our world, the often demanding work of loving one another when it can seem much easier to not even bother. About Jesus’ radical message–to love God with our all, to love each other in all we think, say and do. A tall order for me, that’s for certain.

Not a very consistent church-goer since my youth, I nonetheless searched for a church that felt right for years. Decades, really. I kept comparing each with the Midwest Methodist church of my growing up and finding each one wanting. The fellowship at my childhood church was far-reaching, reliable, helpful. The place itself and the music shared there were comforting, as well. I didn’t need a huge, fancy church run more on show and educated words than action. I have prayed for assistance in finding a down-to-earth, caring church, one where I fit and can be of service.

Then last summer I attended a creative percussion concert given at a church in city center. Though it always surprises me that a variety of concerts are in sanctuaries, I enjoyed the music. As I listened, I also admired the nineteenth century architecture, the richly carved woodwork and mammoth pipe organ. I liked being in that sanctuary. It called to me. Several people smiled at me; I thought some might be members of the congregation. I decided to return with my spouse.

It has turned out well. We’ve appreciated thoughtful sermons, the way people introduce themselves, the small but excellent choir. We’ve gamely learned new (Presbyterian) hymns. I found myself beginning to sing more easily. This in itself has been surprising, as I essentially lost my singing voice decades ago. As I hit the notes with more clarity and steadiness, I feel something “click” within.

I was soon invited to a women’s study group that meets weekly. It took a couple of months to finally get there, but when I arrived at the large group, I was greeted at the door and a spot was found for me in the circle. My name was asked; my responses heard. No one swamped me in an overeager manner. I was welcomed with kind acceptance despite not even knowing me yet. I have since participated in prayers, studied the materials and been part of enlightening exchanges of ideas. I appreciate this assemblage of women–their intelligent and critical thinking made mellow by deep yet ever-searching faith.

On Palm Sunday, my husband and I attended a brunch at the church’s retreat center. As we drove up the country road, light filled a beautiful forested setting. The attendees were still welcoming, the food delicious and bountiful. After feasting and chatting, we roamed some of the one hundred acres of meadow and woodland that parallels the Columbia River, amid the famed Columbia Gorge. I was struck by the labyrinth. I had fallen in love with Chartres Cathedral and the labyrinth when researching it for a college paper but I’d never gotten to see it. Yet a similar labyrinth was right before me to walk with my husband.


On the afternoon of Maundy Thursday (when Jesus was betrayed into the hands of soldiers) I again joined the women’s group. A minister shared part of what was to be the evening church service. He spoke of subtle meanings of communion, the breaking and sharing of bread and wine or grape juice when Jesus held the Last Supper for his disciples. The minister suggested when Jesus was telling them to “do this in remembrance of me”, he also was reminding the disciples to practice the new covenant: love one another. To accept and return God’s infinite love for us, to live the wisdom of his teachings, not only carry out a sacred religious ritual.

As the bread was passed around our circle, we tore off took a piece, then passed the loaf to the next woman; the same with the goblet in which each of us dipped our bread. The room grew in stillness beyond quiet words accompanying the Holy Supper. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as we, face-to-face, hand-to-hand, passed loaf and juice. I was deeply moved, my heart opened further, my soul enlivened. This was the experience with God and others I had sought. I felt this was what Jesus intended, that we give to one another and make a bridge with our belief. A conduit of eternal love from God through Christ to us. Then, that we take this with us into street, city, the worlds within which we each move day in, day out.

How can we call ourselves believers if our hands and feet are not powered by courageous caring in our homes, in our neighborhoods and communities? How can we honor God and make palpable our committment to share joy, practice forgiveness and use compassion as a resource if we do not use love as a tool to better this life?

Back in Judaea long ago Pontius Pilate, the governor, presided over a decision-making process before Passover that he suddenly found daunting. He found no fault in Jesus, yet the crowd demanded he be crucified and Barabbas, a notorious insurrectionist against Roman rule and a murderer, be freed as tradition required before Passover. Jesus’ widespread healings, compassionate but challenging teachings and his statement that he was the Son of God made him more dangerous.

And so he was crucified between two criminals, as was prophesied. I try to imagine his mother, Mary, and his devoted disciple, Mary Magdalene, in the stricken group of followers nearby. How did they cope with such loss, accept it as expected–this son who was human but also a teacher made for and of God’s Spirit?

Even as Jesus was dying on the cross, he charged Mary Magdalene with looking after his mother and his mother to do the same for his disciple. To love one another: his central message and commandment throughout his travels which ended on this earth.


(All photographs are this writer’s, protected by copyright.)

Peril and Safety


News headlines are intense enough to infiltrate my dreams, which then can snag me as I push up from sleep like a drowning woman. I breathe the sweetness of early spring air, blink in the daylight and can’t believe such luck, the fate that grants me another moment of life and relative peace. Today I am not running or fighting for my life as someone, somewhere, is every second. I soon rise from rest–even if spotty, most likely I will find it later or the next night–and initiate comfortable routines. Illness may slow me down; my perspective may need altering. But I have choices that countless others on this earth do not have. It gives me considerable pause.

Does it come down to safety? What does that mean in the twenty-first century? The constant reminders of worldwide fighting, a myriad of brutalities, make it clear it is tentative at best. And, of course, we are inundated with advice about how to protect our homes, health, families. We are admonished to safeguard our computers and passwords, our possessions and personal information. Major money is spent on security systems that are to provide a decent deterrent to intruders casing property of all sorts, and, hopefully, an effective barrier. We realize these work a certain percentage of the time only. But we develop an educated hope, indulge in denial–or risk living in fear.

The so-called “age of anxiety” we have been hearing about for several decades was in existence long before being given a catchy name to commercialize, but the past century’s rapid industrial-technological expansion has ratcheted up pressures and problems, as well. For one thing, there are more people so there is bound to be more encroachment on personal freedoms, daily comfort zones and actual territory. Do we even expect to live without a modicum of nervous uncertainty, anymore? Anxiety has become a byword, a pass key that admits us to the club, makes us a part of industrialized cultures. We all get to feel besieged by a greater world anxiety, too–just turn on the computer, t.v. and radio. Glance at the newstand. The mood is unsettled at the least, tinged with nihilism and prone to cast the future as doomed. More often than not, even entertainment feels more like being dragged through a briar patch than a respite of any good sort.

But have we come to expect to feel anxious and to believe it is terrible? Or is all this angst one easy explanation for self-doubts that assail human thought and endeavor? Afterall, the age of psychology has writ large the prescriptions we need–more talk therapy, more medications. We are told we’re naturally in knots and we must fix it fast. Or is there another way to tame the toxic circle of ruminations? Learn to live with the variable weather of life?

I apologize; I digress as is my bad habit. I can’t ignore that the world has been chronically ill at ease, beset by moaning and wracked by power struggles. Marked by mourning. I’m not sure our ancestors made it the number one public enemy. Life was certainly no simpler in the past despite less fancy inventions. Survival was key, a battle against a host of huge odds. In many ways and places, it still is.

I cannot speak to others’ histories or much of current events. But I can share some of my family history. I doubt that my German-Irish-Scotch-English forebears felt much more secure than I, for one reason or another. I know my mother’s family had plenty of troubles. She told tough stories of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, her hard-working father losing his farm in Missouri so that he was forced to become a tenant farmer, his dignity shredded. The poverty that resulted was fierce for his wife and eleven children, one–my mother’s favorite brother–who died for lack of affordable, timely medical care. Her tales informed me that our educated, middle class lives in mid-twentieth century were by far a finer circumstance. They also showed me that folks could be overtaken by events, wrestled to ground. A small child, I didn’t know that might include me.

I was of the conviction that my mother was a hearty woman of body, mind and soul. But one way I knew she had known fear was how she hesitated if someone rapped suddenly at the back door of our house. A stairway led from the kitchen to that door. We could open the door at the top of the steps and see a silhouette through the rectangular flowered curtain. She would hold her breath. In general, there should be no back door knocking. Friends, family, music students of my father’s or customers who brought instruments to him to repair generally used the big front door. But not always; his repair shop was in the basement. I also knew the washer might need fixing or the furnace was on the blink but she could become alert as a creature in the wild.

“Wait there,” she ordered in a firm voice.

She pushed apart the curtain just enough so she could see who was standing there. If she lifted her hand in a wave at me, I knew it was okay. If she came back up and locked the door in the kitchen–an unusual occurrence–I knew to stay put. We often waited at the kitchen table until the person gave up. She tried to think who it could have been. I wanted to run upstairs and peer down at the driveway to see who it was that left.

“People would steal from the farm until we finally lost it,” she explained. “They’d sneak on our property in the night and take a chicken or even a squealing pig. I’d listen to the dogs barking, chasing them as I tried to go back to sleep by my sisters. I worried: one less chicken, one less pig.”

She looked out my bedroom window, grey eyes unfocused.

“Once I was working in the hayloft when a dirty man rushed in, his eyes wild, face so thin, clothes hanging from him. I knew he was very hungry. We all were, sooner or later. He glanced up in a frenzy as he dashed about looking for something. I froze. That moment felt like a million years. I tried to call my brothers but my voice stuck in my throat. He looked at the ladder to the loft, then ran out. I collapsed in a heap but I never told anyone.”

I snuggled under my blankets, hanging on every word. The Farm Stories, as I called them, were some of my favorites at bedtime, a whole other world taking shape, with many moments of wonder and laughter, too. But this was serious and sad.

She sat close to me, her hand on my arm.

“Your grandmother did feed people if they came to our back door. If she could spare anything at all. It might be half an apple or a thin piece of bread. Maybe they’d get lucky and get a piece of pie. Sometimes they seemed crazed, acted angry but sometimes they were so glad to have anything. Some seemed ashamed to ask. But she shooed us away from the door, and said not to tell our father. She kept a shotgun close by. I came to fear the sound of strangers knocking at our door, not knowing what they would want or demand. Those were desperate days, and they got worse.”

I’d ask a few questions and she’d tuck me in, kiss my cheek. “Thank heaven I met your father, and we both got to go to college, poor as we were. And here we are. We have so much. Now say your prayers.”

But some fears were never fully allayed. My father (whose father had been more secure as a public school superintendent) always worried about money and how he would take care of five children, working seven days a week in music education and administration, giving private lessons, keeping a piano tuning and instrument repair business.

I also suspected that worse times alluded to by my mother indicated she and others suffered more than I’d ever understand. And then came World War II and that was another hell that bypassed ones like me, born after it ended. All this left scars on those who survived.

So, safety means different things to different people, perhaps. What feels reasonably safe to a child, for instance, in India may be very unlike that which a child in New Zealand or the Alaskan wilderness feels. Yet we all seek protection of (or fight for) basic human rights and fulfillment of biological needs. We all hope for love and acceptance. Without the essential criteria of human well-being met, we begin to weaken, find ourselves living in a Netherland of worries.

I felt deeply safe for the first several years of my life. I recall what that was: freedom. It was the pleasure of making friends and enjoying many activities without a second thought. It was counting on the day to unfold tidily, though little children don’t foolishly imagine the future as adults do. There was a steadiness in my world, my parents and siblings being at the center. Hopscotch on the sidewalk of a busy street. Swing from the maple tree. Jump rope in the front yard. I’d hop on my bike and ride all over, go around our big town block with nary a concern. I just had to tell my mother where I was going (well, first I asked) and she told me when to be back. No cell phones kept us connected. If I made any small detour at a friend’s, I called her from the landline.

That freedom was curtailed by the time I was eight years old when I was sexually abused by someone we knew well. It continued for some years. I was under the perpetrator’s constant threat of ruin of my family or harm to me including death. It involved being kidnapped for short periods on occasion by car, so that eventually when I noticed the vehicle pull up terror jumped into my heart and lodged in my stomach. In other circumstances, I became hyper-aware, senses working overtime so I could outwit him. I most often failed. At night I had nightmares that this person would break into the house. No one could protect me. He was found out–he was an elementary school teacher–and fired by the time I was eleven. And my life had been altered irrevocably.

So early on I learned what loss of safety was. I wouldn’t have known how to define being no longer secure. It meant, for me, that some crucial life-giving light went out of every day and the night felt like a burden. I lived moment to moment in survival mode that remained a hidden thing while going on with my life as expected, doing well in school and engaging in youthful activities. Strangely, the following few decades brought other dangerous events. It would have been easy to feel as if an invisible target was on my back. For a time I did, and found myself at odds with all I wanted to reach for–God’s plan for me was kinder than this, wasn’t it? I got lost in the journey toward wholeness in more ways than imagined. Post traumatic stress disorder landed me in psychiatric wards as a teen (no one knew what happened–I could not speak of it–and in the sixties this issue wasn’t given press, was a taboo topic); to the spiral of substance abuse; emergency rooms and near-death. Unwise relationships. And to my knees, beseeching God, for God was the tensile thread that kept me alive. In time, I got back to my innermost core, the healthy, sturdy self I was developing before I was held hostage by fear.

Perhaps nonsensically to others, I also had to surrender my definitions of safety and fear. Not everything or person was unsafe, was it? Of course not. I did not want to live looking over my shoulder. I also didn’t want to be inured to danger’s signals and take undue risks so paid close attention to intuition, that other sense. I had to learn to live free again. And I wanted to be wiser. To be a woman of substance who did not give up. It might have been my bent for the dramatic that made me want to be–to act–far braver than I felt; it helped. At seventeen, I designed and created a silver ring with a shield and cross and wore it as a visible reminder of spiritual strength via the grace of God. (Ironically, it was lost at a party right after senior year. It felt like a warning to me and, in fact, there were a few years’ rockier times ahead.)

And what was truly worth being scared or anxious about? Just what was the safety I most desired? How was I going to define what was acceptable in my life script as a woman, as a human being? And could I accept that life is unpredictable even in the best of times?

Answers thus far:

*very little is worth being anxious about as it hinders, doesn’t help, and sometimes I need to accept things as they are or make a change;
*the safety I seek and find most crucial is built upon a spiritual foundation;
*what is acceptable to me is what will do no harm to others or self and does good in the name of Love;
*unpredictability is a standard feature of being alive and it is invigorating as well as confounding.

If I long ago discovered life was riddled with illusions and painful experiences, I also believed God would not abandon me, no matter what. That I would find enough strength to endure. There was a way back to beauty and joy if I looked hard for it. I am not alone in this; the statistics on abuses of all types are sky-high for children and for women. And men, as well. It takes emotional drudgery to regain motivation to go on as well as unwavering mental commitment to reorder life following such events. Much patience and support. It is a bleaker road to travel without care from others and resources to help heal. I am grateful for all that has lit the way. And I have been able to offer a hand to others in serious distress, something I promised God as a teen.

But the genuine security desired and sought required that persistent faith in God–despite my anger and pain. It was the world that was often harsh and tricky, not Divine Love. Life’s unpredictability had to be navigated daily; its challenges had to be understood and well met. God did not fail me but withstood and carried the suffering of Earth and its people long before I was present. I have been one more person out of billions come and gone. God so loves us far beyond our limited understanding. Believe it, despite the realities of world news and our daily lives being tested, too often within harm’s reach. Why do I believe? I was rescued from the poison of bitterness, from a murky abyss of despair time and time again. I have known others to suffer far worse, then get up and start anew. I am filled with thanksgiving for this life, this blip in the celestial timepiece of eternity.

I like to read the Psalms, those fervent prayers that King David offered to God. He did not have it easy in spite of his adoration of life and God. He was a conflicted person in many ways, one who felt anger and lust, tenacious regret and humiliation, despair and self-righteousness and all the other failings humans seem heir to despite our best efforts. His songs/poems or psalms give me comfort. I appreciate how David struggled and how his faith lifted and inspired him. The magnitude of his devotion to God and the strength of his committment to become a better person (and ruler) sheds illumination on my own small life. His words remind me to keep my priorities straight, no matter what. Spiritual protection is real and it makes an enduring difference.

Teach me the way I should go,
for to You I lift up my soul
–from Psalm 143

Where are we looking for safety? This world has always been and will be dangerous, tomorrow unknown. But we can still step into each day empowered with hope and courage nourished by our spiritual nature. We can take good direction from unshakeable Love. We can help one another. Let your life be bountiful even–especially–in the face of uncertainty. May your soul’s refuge be a stronghold.