Gracefully(?) Weathering an Al-Anon Moment – Day 354 cont. (Thu – Nov 22)

My preferred spot

I don’t know how many times I find myself grateful for the many tools of the Al Anon program. Today I’m especially grateful for the reminder to HALT. Whenever something catches me off guard, something to which my first response is to resist, I try to notice whether I’m feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If I am, I try to stop or at least pause before putting my foot in my mouth and biting down.

Today is Thanksgiving Day and my landlady – let’s call her Lulu (for the alliteration in landlady) – is expecting a number of family members (and possibly a friend or two) for the meal. I have no idea how many are coming or what time they’re eating. Lulu feels no need to inform her tenants of her plans (even when we’re affected by them). Indeed, I only had a heads up about today’s influx of people because my other housemate overheard her on the phone (which is easy to do – she has a loud voice).

When I emerged from my room to get something for lunch, Lulu told me she was expecting more company and they drive SUVs. This is a neighborhood where parking is limited to one side of the street and the spaces fill up quickly with so many driveways sprinkled along the way. Plus it’s hilly and narrow. Lulu has her own small garage that opens into the alley for her car and she has a 2-car open “garage” that opens onto the street. She asked me to move my car into the open garage because the SUVs will not fit in there.

Last night, all the spaces that were reasonably close to the house were full, so I backed into the garage. It’s a painted cinderblock affair that has two very narrow carports. The thing is you have to make a choice. Either you drive head first into the right space or you back into the left space. Neither space is wide enough to be able to open both driver and passenger car doors. In fact, if one car is already in one of the spots, you have to be careful not to hit their car door while opening your own car door.

It’s a one-sided affair!

When Lulu asked me if I could move my car into the garage, all the while justifying her reasons for needing the space I was (happily) occupying on the street, I felt myself simmering. In fact, I was getting ticked off at her – not because it was such an unreasonable request, but because she has often been unconcerned, even dismissive, when I have expressed a desire for something or even simply expressed my feelings. Once I mentioned that the “garage” was kind of creepy in the dark because it has no lights. She said she couldn’t do anything about it and essentially told me, “Too bad!”

Thus, her request for me to move into a space I had intentionally moved out of earlier in the day (there were no close spaces yesterday when I got home) was not well received. I grumbled a little, barely resisting the urge to say, “Why the heck should I?!”

Fortunately, I recognized that I was not only hungry, I was starting to get to the shaky, need-food-now!!! stage. So I told her I just needed to get my lunch and that I’d think about it.

Yep, they’re all taken…

I tried to relax and enjoy a few minutes of my movie while I ate, but I found myself wrestling with my anger. I considered the facts. One: it literally took me almost ten minutes to back into the garage yesterday as I tried to angle my car in from what must have been a very awkward angle. (Cinderblock posts and walls are not kind to paint jobs.) Two: I didn’t want to give up my favorite parking spot. Three: It will be dark when I leave in the morning and it’s very dark in that parking garage – the street lamp doesn’t quite get in there. (Creepy!) Four: I didn’t want to have my day interrupted later to move my car back onto the street – I would have been “waiting” for that interruption and been unable to relax and enjoy my day.

Then I thought about the flipside of the coin and went out to see just what the parking situation was. The truth is, there was no parking anywhere near the house. Then I thought about backing in again so I could at least drive out nose first in the morning. And if I didn’t pull back too far – just far enough to be able to open my door – then maybe it wouldn’t be too awfully dark. And maybe, just maybe, it would be a kind thing to do.

Yep, full that way too. (But notice the smart guy parked facing downhill. That’s my preference on this silly hill!)

So I moved my car and, in doing so, discovered that if you drive almost into the driveway across the street, it is much easier to back in.

It’s still not a place I care to park. I tend to schlep a lot of stuff with me, so I truly prefer to be able to put things in the passenger seat from the passenger side of the car. (My back seat’s otherwise occupied.) And the street curves, so you can’t really tell if anyone’s coming till you’re out there. Yet once I’d decided to move my car and leave it there, it was actually pretty easy to do it with (mental) ease – and physical ease, as it turned out!

It occurred to me later that choosing to say “I’ll think about it” was actually the best possible response I could have given Lulu. It was a way to “halt” when I felt very hungry and increasingly angry. Plus it gave me some space to do just that – think about it. It gave me time to recognize and have my feelings (which were mostly angry) without directing them toward her. And it gave me time to consider my options.

Judging by the sudden increase in volume and number of voices I’m hearing in the kitchen, it sounds like the additional guests found parking. I’m glad I was able to help. 🙂

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Graceful Moments – Day 354 (Thu – Nov 22)

In a moment of grace this morning, I felt the nudge to get up and wash my dishes. I had thought to wait a bit, to make sure everyone was up and awake. In fact, I had just started a movie that hadn’t yet finished the credits when the urge to get up and do them came.

I scooped up my dish-washing paraphernalia and dishes and went quietly to the kitchen. It was after nine, but I hadn’t heard signs of wakefulness from my upstairs housemates. I washed my dishes, laying them on a green terrycloth towel to drain. I was in the process of drying them when my landlady/housemate’s daughter and her son arrived, loaded down with the fixings for their Thanksgiving dinner. I finished drying and scooped away all my stuff just in time for her to start using the sink to bathe the turkey.

A graceful moment.

A little while later, I noticed my landlady outside my window. I first presumed she had taken the dog out for a potty break, then noticed she was looking at something. She turned around and walked back to go inside. I was vaguely aware of a brief glance in my direction. It dawned on me a couple of minutes later that she had gone out to see if the clothesline was available. I had put some towels in the dryer, because I, too, discovered the clothesline was already in use. She has a thing about using the clothesline instead of the dryer. I felt grateful that I truly did intend to hang my towels outside and that I wouldn’t have to hear her tell me again that she wishes I’d use the clothesline. And, I confess, a small part of me wanted to say, “So there!” – which is a not-so-graceful response.

Yet, it still felt like a graceful moment. (Or at least a “Whew!” moment. ;-))

This week has been sprinkled with moments of grace, serendipitous occurrences that suggest things may have started coming together for me. Sunday evening, I opened an envelope from Guideposts to give a friend of mine a subscription to their magazine. In the envelope was a postcard with an angel. She’s holding a young boy who is clinging to her, eyes closed in trust and comfort. It was just the image I needed to remind me of the prayer request I had sent in. There were several things I asked prayer for, but this image reminded me especially of my desire to see my son. (We live just far enough apart to make visiting difficult and we’ve both had some financial limitations to further inhibit the desire to see each other. It’s been over three years.)

I’m keeping the angel postcard where I can see it often to remind me of this particular prayer. Another graceful moment.

Tuesday, I finally bought a book I’ve been wanting to get for a couple of years now. It’s written by Phil Porter, one of the co-founders of InterPlay. It’s called The Slightly Mad Rantings of a Body Intellectual Part One. I’d only read one short excerpt from it before, which is posted on the InterPlay store’s website and seems so classic-Phil.

Later that evening, as I was noticing how uncomfortable I felt from having eaten too much and how squishy the jelly-roll around my middle has become, an unexpected and startling proclamation popped out of my mouth: “I love my body!” In that moment, I did love and appreciate my body, yet as recently as the day before I had been unhappy with the mushier parts and wondering if I would ever again feel good about my appearance.

The very next day at lunch, yesterday in fact, I opened the book to one of the first pieces. The title caught my eye and made me laugh: “lumpy thighs.” Perfect, I thought! As I read, I was surprised at how much it spoke to me. The short piece talks about learning to spend more of our time celebrating our bodies and ourselves just as we are, instead of spending our time trying to “fix” ourselves. I realized that in that unexpected statement of the night before, I had begun to celebrate my body just the way it is. (I highlighted almost two thirds of this piece.)

I “just happened” to buy that book hours before I began to redefine how I see my body. And I “just happened” to turn to a reading in it the next day that helped me to recognize – and claim – this shift in perspective.

Another moment of grace.

There’s so much more going on that I haven’t even attempted to capture here. Indeed, I barely capture it all anywhere. Could it be, as I close in on the one-year anniversary of my first post, that more has been happening than it seems? That I am being transformed in ways I didn’t even realize?

Patience has its rewards

26 Days Until…the Beginning? – Day 340 (Thu – Nov 8)

In what was a radical reversal of yesterday morning’s driving experience, today there were so few cars on the freeway when I drove onto it that I wondered how I could have missed the traffic during what should have been an expanding rush hour. Then I noticed a “herd” of cars a little ways ahead of me and a “herd” of cars further behind me. A moment of grace, “merging” onto a freeway when there are no cars nearby with which to merge.

As I drove by the location of yesterday’s accident, there were several large mounds huddled together, covered in black plastic. The battered cars? Other wreckage? It made the contrast between yesterday’s virtually non-moving clog and today’s spacious openness all the more apparent.

I arrived at work peacefully, which was a pleasant way to begin a day that became wildly busy for me. It occurs to me now that I was too busy to experience the vague depression I felt earlier this week – even just yesterday. The contrast between the weekend with my trans friends and its many conversations about things that are deeply meaningful to me leaves my work at my contract job feeling inadequate, disappointingly focused on a sort of bottom line of wanting to “better serve” their customers in order to boost the net profit. It’s quite a different mindset than my other job with a wonderful and small non-profit organization whose purpose is to nourish people. Although my hourly income is better at my temp job, it doesn’t feel purposeful the way my other job does.

Tuesday night, shortly before bed, I was searching for something to read. I wasn’t in the mood for a fiction book and I didn’t feel drawn to any of my Al Anon literature. Then one book caught my attention. I found it this summer in one of the boxes of discards outside the library: The Courage to Be Rich, by Suze Orman. I felt drawn to this book, in part because finances are an ongoing concern of mine. I never suspected how timely this book would be for me right now. I’ve often heard, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I must be ready.

The second paragraph in the book talks about courage being the most important quality one needs in order to change one’s life. Orman talks about her own experience and the point at which she asked herself if she could find the courage to change. I had an O-M-G experience when I encountered that particular phrase – especially because she’s talking about changing how we think and how we see ourselves in many ways, not just around our financial affairs.

One of the many places I have highlighted already reads, “It takes courage to ask for what you want. And it takes courage to live honestly, wisely; true to yourself—and true to your desire for more” (from the “Introduction: The Soul of Courage,” p 4). She goes on to say that there isn’t anything wrong with wanting more and that we shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting more.

In the first chapter she dives head first into those areas with which I’m already familiar in many areas of my life: fear, shame, and anger. I don’t think I’ve noticed before just how much fear and shame, and even anger I suspect, I have around money and my financial situation. But the questions she poses started helping me to see that I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s helpful that she classifies how we feel about money as a reflection of our “current truths” about it. If these are only “current truths,” that means I can begin to change them as I delve into this work.

I’m still taking all this in – there’s so much to digest. And I’m only on page 14! It dawns on me just now that this also speaks to one of my identified character weaknesses from my Step 6 inventory: deprivation thinking. My whole life I have never felt I deserved more than what I had at any particular moment. I never felt worthy. This book is challenging me to examine those beliefs and to get to the heart of how I see myself. I can tell this will not be a quick read and that it will get me digging deeper than I expected into this area of my life.

The grace I experienced this morning going to work seems like a reflection of the way God works in our lives. It leaves me wondering what God has in store for me around finances and housing, around work and ministry, around having someone with whom to share my life. Changing my beliefs about myself seems like a good way to open my side of the ‘door.’

I wonder how far I’ll be able to get in 26 days…

A pointless delay or Divine intervention? Day 339 – 27 days left (Wed – Nov 7)

Sometimes I wonder if those little things that delay my getting out the door in the morning are actually my Higher Power lending a helping hand to keep me from harm’s way.

This morning, I had hoped to get out the door about ten minutes sooner than I actually did. Come to think of it, I intended to remember to leave even earlier than that, since there was to be road construction with up to twenty-minute delays on the route I normally take. But I had forgotten all about that this morning until I was walking out to my car. Since there was nothing I could do about leaving any earlier, I let it go.

As I approached the turn onto the back road I normally take, a very ‘still small voice’ said, Go right. Without missing a beat, I simply turned right instead of left, as I usually do. To my surprise and delight, there were virtually no cars going the way I was going and I encountered lots of green lights. Then, as I drove over the freeway on my way to the on-ramp, I noticed the traffic was backed up and seemingly at a stand still.

By this time, there wasn’t much I could do about the route I’d chosen, nor were there any alternate routes from that point. So I slowly – very slowly – inched my way along until I finally merged. It wasn’t even stop-and-go traffic. It was stop, inch, pause, inch, wait…

It took about half an hour to cover the distance that normally takes perhaps five minutes. I knew there must have been an accident in the stretch where we still only had two lanes before we could spread into four. I began praying for the people involved, the emergency response teams that were either there or on their way, and even for the emergency vehicles trying to make their way through the clog of cars.

When I finally drove past the accident site, which was much farther ahead than I had guessed, I saw at least four cars that looked badly mangled from the collisions that had obviously happened.

My efforts to let go and simply pray for those involved, including releasing concern about being late for work (I knew no one would be upset – which is something I might not have recognized a few short months ago), enabled me to experience a lot of serenity during what could have been a stressful driving experience. Most people I know aren’t too happy when their 15-minute commute turns into a 45-minute commute. Yet I was truly at peace with that part and more concerned about whomever may have been in those badly damaged cars.

Shortly before I left the office at the end of the day, I heard that two people had been killed in that accident. In checking online just now, that, as so often happens, may be an exaggeration. According to the report I read, two people did suffer major injuries and six cars were involved. Apparently a trailer had come off of a big rig and caused the multi-vehicle accident, closing that section of the highway until shortly after I got there. Leaving considerably earlier wouldn’t have gained me more than a few short minutes.

As I was driving home, it dawned on me that if I had left as early as I would have liked, I might have either been a participant in the accident or perhaps a witness to it. As I learned a few minutes ago, it happened far earlier than that. Still, it helps me to appreciate the value in “being still” and letting things unfold. Even the time it takes me to get ready for work and out the door in the morning. Perhaps even the time it takes for my life to change in the bigger ways over which I seem to have so little control.

The door to grace? Day 337 – 29 days left (Mon – Nov 5)

Last night I experienced a moment of unexpected grace.

I am the “speaker seeker” for the Saturday Al Anon meeting I regularly attend and next weekend is our speaker weekend. There was, as yet, no one scheduled to speak. I had talked to a few people about a month ago to see if any were willing to be the speaker for this month or for December, but hadn’t gotten any firm commitments.

I had started leaving myself reminders to make some calls, but just couldn’t seem to get there. Interestingly, I wasn’t particularly anxious about it. I was almost more curious than anything else, wondering what was up.

During the meeting I attended last night, I felt serene – or perhaps just sleepy (or both). I wondered if there was someone there I might ask to be our speaker. I had already let go and accepted the possibility that I might not find anyone. I wasn’t particularly concerned, though it would be nice to have a speaker.

During announcements, I didn’t mention the upcoming speaker meeting (which I would normally have done). Then, after the meeting, the woman who had given me a tentative ‘yes’ for December came to tell me that December wasn’t going to work for her. She then asked me if I had found anyone for this month (which she had thought wouldn’t work for her when we spoke a few weeks ago). When I said ‘no,’ she told me she would be glad to be our speaker!

I was struck by the fact that I had followed the leading I had been given – which had actually been to do nothing. I kept thinking I should make calls, but I would forget or simply be too tired. Yet, through it all, I didn’t feel particularly anxious. I just kept wondering how things would work out and kept listening for those nudges to lead me in a particular direction.

So many times it’s tempting to get busy and “make” something happen when, in fact, what I need to do is to “be still.” I know now that the reason I never felt an urge to make a call was because God already knew that I wouldn’t need to find someone to speak. She was already on her way to me, even though neither of us knew it till last night.

As I drove home from work today, I was thinking about this experience. It occurred to me that this was no different than a lot of other things I’d like to have happen in my life – like finding a new place to live or a more sustaining work situation. Those kinds of changes usually require patience and more waiting than I’d like. Rushing about in a frantic search usually leaves me exhausted and no further ahead than before I started.

The next time I’m tempted to push myself to try to “make” something happen, I hope I can remember this tangible experience of waiting and leaving space for God’s grace. Perhaps it’s the waiting that allows the door to open…

The Countdown: 30 days till the journey is “done” – Day 336 (Sunday – Nov 4)

I began this journey December 4th, almost a year ago, expecting to regularly and frequently be going through the paper piles and doing lots of other things that took more courage than I felt I had. With only 30 days remaining in this year of breaking through my fears, it could be deflating to look around my room and notice the many places those paper piles have not only not shrunk, but even grown. Then again, if I take a look inside, I am in awe of the ways I have changed and been changed.

My hope for these 30 days until December 4th is that I might use this time to consider what has happened – hopefully with frequent, perhaps shorter posts (it could happen!), and I’ll try not to worry about adding pictures when I don’t have the time.

I spent the past three days with a group of amazing and wonderful people, mostly transgendered or genderqueer in some way. Most of them active and involved, even being the leaders in their various faith communities. Being around them never fails to inspire me to continue the inner work I am doing. I’d like to share some of what I wrote in my journal this morning, beginning with a verse from Psalm 90: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (NKJV)

In the past day or so, I’ve been thinking about new beginnings and how this day that begins the 30-day countdown of my ‘blog journey’ feels like a new beginning to me. Interesting, how it doesn’t feel like a journey to a new beginning, for the new journey has already begun.

This verse reminds me that God has been with me throughout this year of challenges and changes. The conference felt like a time of introspection and renewal. My trans friends and colleagues rekindle my desire to do ministry even as a I also appreciate that the “be still” process needs to continue. The author of a devotion I read talks about lying in a tree house as a kid, looking up at the sky, and not needing words to talk to God. She speaks of her experience as one of being in a “sacred space.”

I thought of the “sacred spaces” created through the differing faith expressions shared at the conference. There were people from Pagan, Jewish and Christian traditions, among others. Diverse experiences of the Divine were made available to all.

I don’t know that I have ever had the experience of being truly unwelcome in a particular faith group or 12-Step meeting, although my ACA/Al-Anon mentality can sometimes leave me thinking I might be unwelcome. Most, if not all of my trans friends have been rejected from these places that usually claim to “welcome” all who feel drawn to be there. Being around them enables me to show my support for their journey and deepens my own as I consider the courage they have needed just to be who they are.

This day does feel like a “new beginning” for me. The ten(!) hours of sleep I got helped, I’m sure. Yet it’s more than that. It’s even more than being thirty days away from the end of this 366-day journey.

It’s about having learned that I can “be still” and let my insides transform so that my “outsides” can begin manifesting those changes. It’s about learning that letting go in countless small ways is teaching me how to let go in bigger ways and how to let go with even greater ease.

It’s about discovering that even trusting God happens incrementally; that it’s not a simple decision I make, after which I can heave a sigh of relief, check it off my to-do list, and call it “done.”

It’s about learning to dream again and discovering that it’s the dreaming itself that’s important. I don’t have to know if or how any of these dreams may manifest, let alone when; it’s simply important that I do the dreaming and, through giving myself that permission, experience the growing belief that I am loved by God and I am just as worthy of experiencing these dreams as anyone else – as are you.

It’s about learning to trust, one day at a time, in God’s provision for me, in God’s love for me. And as I trust, I find I do have the courage to take those next steps of my journey through life.

Note: Your comments, experiences and reflections are welcome and appreciated. This is a place where “cross talk” can be a good thing! 😉

And for anyone who might notice: Admittedly, the math of my day numbers in previous posts doesn’t quite add up from the day I began this blog journey, but I needed to keep it simple. I adjusted the day count around the first of the year, adding 20 rather than 27 to whatever day of the year my calendar said, in order to make it easier to track. Yet this is, in fact, day 336, not day 345. 🙂

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