Category Archives: Grace

Joy Jam + Little Bliss List = Gratitude Friday

Typically, I do the Joy Jam on Friday, but lately, my friend and fellow blogger Lindsay seems to be the only one jamming with me, so I am going to add my list to Liv Lane’s “Little Bliss List,” and do like Lindsay has and just call the whole thing “Gratitude Friday.”

Liv describes her list this way: “Every Friday, the Little Bliss List provides a chance for us to celebrate the little things that brought us hope and happiness this week. I do believe when we focus on the sweet stuff of life, the sweet stuff multiplies. And by sharing those small gifts in our lives, we help others notice the gifts in theirs.

What I was grateful for this week:

1. Downton Abbey. If you haven’t heard of this show, you are living under a rock. People in my neck of the woods haven’t been able to stop talking about it, so this week I finally started watching it, and oh how the nerd girl in me loves it, the one who devours period novels and loves the theater. I can’t help thinking as I watch it, however, that if I had been alive during that time, I would have been of the class that worked in a factory or on a farm, and my life would have been so much harder.

2. The weather. Blah, blah, Jill, you’ve said it before, BUT: what was special about this week is that I had my first, official “sit in the backyard in a lawn chair with the dogs and read a book” session! This is one of my most favorite things to do, and for the first time, because the weather was warm but not too hot, I could lazily and easily sit, read and dream and stare at my toes, and watch my dogs relax and roll in the grass.

3. Clean bill of health for the dogs. We went to the vet yesterday and Sam let himself be handled and prodded and shot, without a single growl or any rude behavior, and the vet, rather than remarking on how old Dexter was getting, described him as being in shape “like an athlete.” Healthy and happy all around.

4. “I trust the power of my true self.” This guided meditation, read by the open-hearted, wise and generous Julia at Painted Path, was such a gift, she is such a gift.

5. Blogging from the Heart. We are only two weeks in to the class, and it has exceeded every expectation I had. I have the biggest girl crush ever on Susannah Conway right now. Registration for her “Unravelling: Ways of Seeing Myself” class opens on Saturday, March 17th.

Bonus Joy: Music. I have been listening a lot to dreamy boy singers like Bon Iver, Alexi Murdoch, and Ben Howard. Two heartbreakingly beautiful songs I’ve listened to over and over this week are these:

May the Grace of God be with you always, in your heart
May you know the truth inside you from the start
May you find the strength to know that you are a
Part of something beautiful…

And this next one isn’t a dreamy boy, but a girl, and it’s sad, heartbreaking, but if you’ve ever felt loss or grief, you will recognize that it’s true, true, true.

Nothing comes easily
Fill this empty space
Nothing is like it was
Turn my grief to grace

Oh, dear reader: Life is messy. Hard. And beautiful.

Small Stone: Day Thirteen

Small Stone: Kitchen Faucet

Smooth, sleek, silver. With little effort on my part, a soft pull on the handle, clear, fresh, clean, drinkable water, any temperature I want, as much as I want. I am reminded (as I am so often) that I am lucky, that so many others have so much less. I feel gratitude (also guilt) for my situation, send out a prayer for those who are suffering, and recommit to not wasting a single drop, a single moment of my precious luck, of my opportunity, my chance, my life.

What I’ve Learned While on Vacation

I didn’t take the whole week off, but most of it. I gave myself permission to be myself, to do the things that seemed right and that made me happy. Here’s what I’ve learned this week:

I am a joyful and happy person.

Yes, I get sad, and I can also be worried, anxious, angry, confused, and depressed, but mostly I am grateful. In fact, on a walk we took the other day, I told Eric that I was happier than I’d been in at least the last seven years, maybe ten. The more I think about it, other than those innocent moments of bliss in childhood or the moment when I realized that Eric loved and wanted me as much as I loved and wanted him, I might be happier now than I have ever been in my whole life, (and slightly superstitious about saying that out loud).

Thinking about this earlier, I started to cry–this small and grand shift, moving towards giving and opening and creating instead of hoarding or stealing or numbing out, is simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. This is who I could have been all the time, if only I’d made the choice to stop generating my own suffering. Knowing this was there all along but that I denied it is devastating.  I chose not to be loved, to be actively unlovable, when love was there waiting all along.

I kept the door locked, the porch light off and the curtains closed, and pretended not to be home. That time I spent hiding, avoiding, denying was not wasted, however. I know I had to understand what that felt like from the inside to gain the wisdom and compassion I have now.

I have everything I need.

I am reading “Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything” by Geneen Roth. In it, she says “You already have everything you need to be content. Your real work…is to do whatever it takes to realize that.” Amen.

I am capable of keeping up.

I can keep my house clean, get the laundry done, keep clean sheets on the bed, pay the bills, do various other chores as necessary, take care of my dogs, etc. I am not lazy or disorganized when I don’t–I am overwhelmed and have too much going on and am tired. I can keep up, but I first need to slow down.

I can have a normal relationship with food.

Okay, confession time, (can’t believe I am going to finally do this). If you haven’t already figured it out, I have food “issues.” I am a compulsive eater, a highly functioning food addict, (highly functioning because I am able to keep my weight relatively workable through lots of exercise, and my addiction doesn’t end up leading to big consequences, like making me unable to keep a job or maintain relationships). According to the WebMB page on food addiction, the characteristics of food addicts can include:

  • Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food.
  • Having a lack of self-control when it comes to food.
  • Having a compulsion about food in which eating results in a cycle of binging despite negative consequences.
  • Remembering a sense of pleasure and/or comfort with food and being unable to stop using food to create a sense of pleasure and comfort.
  • Having a need to eat which results in a physical craving.

The following are questions that potential food addicts may ask themselves:

  • Have I tried but failed to control my eating? [Me: “I can make it work for a while, but yes.  It goes like this: control and deprivation, which leads to a feeling of scarcity and panic and frustration and irritation that leads to a binge, which brings up feelings of shame, which leads back to the enforcement of punishment and control–round and round it goes.”]
  • Do I find myself hiding food or secretly binging? [Me: “yes”]
  • Do I have feelings of guilt or remorse after eating? [Me: “ugh…yes”]
  • Do I eat because of emotions? [Me: “Yes!”]
  • Is my weight affecting my way of life? [Me: “I can manage it for the most part through exercise, but yes”]

So, while that is all slightly depressing, maybe a bit discouraging, this is what I know: I can have a normal relationship with food. Inviting Rachel W. Cole out to facilitate a “The Well-Fed Woman Mini-Retreatshop,” reading “Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything” by Geneen Roth, and confessing to you, kind and gentle reader, are all things that make me trust this can be true.

I can get enough exercise and rest.

To me, these are two sides of the same coin. I need to move, and then I need to rest, and I need to have a balance of the two. This is possible, even easy.

I enjoy being alone some of the time.

Okay, maybe I enjoy being alone a lot of the time. But, I love, love, love my little house–my back yard, my reading chair by the front window, my meditation cushion and shrine, my art studio, the walls covered in quilts made by my aunt and painted various colors of jade (greens, blues, purples, honey browns, and creamy whites), my shelves of books, the insane number of dog beds and toys, the two couches we need so there is plenty of room for everyone to cuddle at night–my home. Eric is my best friend, and I adore my two (three) dogs.

I have work and practices that I truly love.

The work I get paid for is not what I love. Instead, it is the research, service, reading and writing I do on my own time. Practice–doing yoga, walking dogs, writing, and meditation/prayer every day–is easy and joyful, filled with purpose and meaning.

I know who I am.

And right now, I am so in love with her. I have made new promises, and I am showing up. Sometimes I fall into those same old patterns, the denial, the refusal, the fight, the flight, the freeze, but I am trying. I want more than almost anything to be dependable, loving and kind.

Pine Ridge Holiday Gift Project

Last year, I took part in this project, buying and sending gifts to two kids who live on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  A little bit of magic happened this year, and even though the names were selected randomly, I got the SAME two kids as last year!  The joy I feel buying and giving these gifts is beyond measure, and if your heart insists, as mine does, that you take part in this project, here’s everything you need to know, (in a letter written by the two amazing founders). The project is housed at Colorado State University, but anyone, anywhere can take part. Please pass this information along to anyone else you might know that would want to take part.

Happy Holidays Everyone,

The Pine Ridge Holiday Gift Project is underway! This year the project holds a very special place in our hearts due to the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Dell Big Crow. Dell was a teacher at the Pine Ridge Elementary School and has worked with us for the past several years on the annual coat drive and the gift project. In her honor we have adopted a new name, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – Dell Big Crow Holiday Gift Project.

As you may know, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of the most impoverished and marginalized regions in the United States.  While we seek to address the underlying causes of poverty on Pine Ridge, we also recognize the importance of building connections between people on and off the reservation.  We continue to work on the reservation throughout the year with Service Learning Projects, a winter coat drive, providing families with firewood, and coordinating the Holiday Gift Project.

Recently ABC News and Diane Sawyer did a Special 20/20 Edition on Pine Ridge called, “Hidden America: Children of the Plains.” To view the episode click on this link:
http://abc.go.com/watch/2020/SH559026/VD55148316/2020-1014-children-of-the-plains

We have been coordinating the Pine Ridge Holiday Gift Project for eight years now. The first year we placed boxes all over town, collected gifts and then drove to Pine Ridge to deliver them…it was quite complicated! Then David Bartecchi suggested that we ask people to buy gifts and mail them directly to elders and children on the reservation…simple, direct way of giving…so that’s where we started!  The project is very “grassroots,” since it’s just the two of us Elf volunteers coordinating the project. This year we are working with reservation grammar school teachers and counselors, community organizers, the Lakota Head Start program, Homeless Youth Center, and the Homeless Veterans’ Center in order to identify children and elders with the greatest needs.

Last year, thanks to the generosity of friends, family, and hundreds of new donors the Holiday Gift Project provided gifts to more than 600 children and elders on the reservation!  Donors forwarded the original project letter on to their friends, families, and colleagues and we received responses from all over the U.S. as well as Germany, Australia, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, France, Japan, and Canada!  We’d like to invite you to contribute a holiday gift for a child or elder this year.

Each child or elder on our list provides a few gift options…you may chose items off the list or send anything you think is appropriate.  As always please feel free to add small items such as socks, hats, gloves and mittens in your package if you wish. We would like to gently stress the importance of our recipients receiving gifts of approximately the same value. Most wishes are between and $20 – $35. In these difficult economic times our list is growing every year, so if you wish to contribute more, please consider “adopting” another child or elder so we can provide items for more individuals.

We do have a few individuals and families who have particularly difficult circumstances and need more costly items such as electric blankets, space heaters, coats, etc. and if you wish to provide a more generous gift let us know and we’ll set you up to help them specifically.  If you need a tax receipt, please send us an email with the gift and amount and we will send you a receipt at the end of the project.

Here is how it works:

1. Email Julie Sullivan OR Chris Bartholomew if you wish to provide a gift for one or more children or elders…please don’t cc both of us as we may accidentally overlap!

2. We will email you a child or elder’s name, age, gender and one or two gift options and you chose one gift you’d like to provide.

3. Purchase the gift, then giftwrap and mail the package directly to the child, elder, or in some cases to our contact on the rez who will distribute the gifts at school and community gatherings.

4. IMPORTANT – WRITE THE RECIPIENT’S NAME IN LARGE MAGIC MARKER LETTERS DIRECTLY ON THE GIFT WRAPPING before packaging for mailing.

5. A note about shipping…if you are an internet shopper, some companies offer free shipping with a minimum purchase.  Last year these companies participated in free shipping: Amazon, Penney’s, Home Depot, Target, Macys, and other large chain stores. You may wish to check out their current offers.

6. Mail the package to the address we have provided.  Please be sure to ship the package according to our directions as some communities only have UPS while others only have U.S. mail, etc.  Please allow enough time for the gift to arrive by Dec. 18th.

7. Please, if you wish, include a personal greeting or message…the families enjoy this personal connection!

8. After you ship the item, please send a return email with the Recipient’s location, name and number in the subject line…basically this is the same info in we put in the subject line of the email sent to you.

Thanks so much for taking the time to learn about the project!  We look forward to sharing the holidays with you and our friends on Pine Ridge!

Julie Ann Sullivan, julie.sullivan@colostate.edu

Christine Bartholomew, christine.bartholomew@colostate.edu

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – Dell Big Crow Holiday Gift Project Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pine-Ridge-Holiday-Project/139579879425346

Thanksgiving

Rather than share a list of what I am thankful for, I’m going to tell you a story.  Yesterday, I was in a big rush to get some errands done before I was supposed to meet with a friend. I went to the feed store to get dog food, the library to return a DVD and check out a book, and then to get groceries.

On the way out of the grocery store, I was irritated. I forgot to get hamburger for the dogs and bananas for the monkeys (that would be Sam and me), but I did not want to go directly back into that same store. I decided to make a quick stop at the grocery store that is right on the way home and get the rest of what I needed, but that meant hurrying even faster. Because I was really rushing now, I didn’t even acknowledge the Salvation Army bell ringer, even though he told me “Happy Thanksgiving.” And my internal dialogue was ugly and nasty on the way to my car, snarling at every person who got in my way and slowed me down.

Finally, I was in my car and headed to the next store. When I arrived, I reached for my purse…and it wasn’t there! I checked in the trunk, not there either. I had left my purse in the shopping cart in the basket return at the last store.

I told myself not to panic on the drive back, that it was the day before Thanksgiving and people were kind and honest, most of the time. And yet, the hurrying I did on the drive back was borderline road rage, following too close (to the point that people turned around and glared at me), going too fast, swerving, and changing lanes.

When I got back to the store, there were six customers in line at the service desk and I had to wait. I kept telling myself to stay calm, not to panic, not to get worked up over something that might not end up being true.  But, both of my pairs of prescription glasses where in there, credit cards, my driver’s license, calling cards, work keys, a usb drive with my writing and pictures on it. If it was really gone, I’d spend the rest of the day dealing with the process of canceling and replacing. When it was my turn at the counter, I asked if there was a lost & found, explained that I’d left my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot about 15 minutes ago.  She asked me what my bag looked like, and leaned under the counter.

The feeling that flooded me when I saw my purse in her hands, heard her say “they brought it in right after you left,” wasn’t relief, it was sadness and shame. If I had been being mindful, like I always say is so important to me, I never would have left my purse in the cart in the first place. My rushing, lack of attention, and rudeness deserved worse luck than this.

On the way back out of the store, I stopped at the Salvation Army red bucket.  I told the bell ringer, “I am putting this $20 in the bucket, but before I do, I want to say why. When I was here just fifteen minutes ago, I was in a hurry and rushed past you, not even acknowledging you. I was in such a rush, I left my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot, but someone was kind enough to turn it in. I am putting this $20 in for that person, and to apologize for being a jerk before.” He was quiet while I gave my confession, my speech rushed and my voice cracking from time to time. I’m sure he thought I was unstable, (which wasn’t exactly wrong at that moment), and he said “Well, thank you, and have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Photo by Jan Tik

For food in a world where many walk in hunger. For friends in a world where many walk alone. For faith in a world where many walk in fear. For kindness in a world where we aren’t always kind. I give thanks.

heART Exchange Art Swap

My swap partner received her art, so now I can really talk about it. I said a little the other day, but here’s the whole story. To recap, I started off thinking I would do a painting, but didn’t end up having enough time. This led to trying to figure out something to do with fabric left over from making a square for Kelly’s quilt.

What could I make?  To be honest, I’m not that crafty or artistic. I am a writer. I like to color and make collages, silly drawings, and hand-made cards, and I have a good eye, a sense of what works and is pleasing, but I’m not really that good at producing. However, I can sew. I don’t have a sewing machine right now, so it would have to be hand-stitched. I remembered seeing craft projects based on Tibetan Prayer Flags, so looked around on the internet to see what I could find. I found a really fun website, Future Craft Collective, that had a project they called “hope wish prayer flags.” Yes, this was it.

Traditionally, prayer flags are intended to generate peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom, and come in sets of five. The flags do not carry prayers to gods (as is commonly believed), but rather the prayers or mantras printed on the flags are blown by the wind and in this way they spread good will and compassion into all of space, providing benefit to all beings.

I didn’t have pinking sheers, so couldn’t make the fun edge, would have to stitch it.  The fabric is so beautiful, I wanted my swap partner to be able to see it on both sides, so I decided for each flag that I would stitch two pieces of fabric together. I sewed up three of the edges, flipped them right-side out, and ironed them. It was then that I noticed the way I had sewn the first two pieces of fabric together turned each flag into a pocket. This made me imagine all the things you could put inside: prayers, promises, wishes, worries, dreams, treasures, secrets.

And when I thought about what to write on the front of each flag-pocket, I decided to use the Metta Prayer as my inspiration, “metta” meaning lovingkindness. This is a Buddhist prayer that can be said for yourself, others, or even the planet. This has been a powerful practice for me in my own life. There are many versions, but in general, it goes something like this:

May I be peaceful.
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
May I awaken to the light of my true nature.
May I be free.

In the last two steps of the Metta Prayer, one would first imagine a specific person or a group, wishing these things for them, starting with “May you be peaceful.” And then in the final step of the practice, one wishes the same list of things for all beings.

May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.

The final step of my heART project was to sew ribbon on each flag-pocket. In this way, you can tie a single ribbon and hang a single flag-pocket on the wall or on the knob of a drawer or dresser.

Or, you can tie the five of them together and hang them like more traditional prayer flags.

I imagined that my art swap partner could write or whisper her worries, wishes, prayers, promises, secrets, and dreams into these flag-pockets, put them under her pillow when she sleeps, or slip it into the pages of a sacred book, or hang one or all of them where she can see them and remember, or put precious treasures inside, like a shell from the beach or a rock found on a walk or the key to her heart, and some sort of magic will happen.

Her worries will disappear and she will be safe.

Her wishes will come true and she will be happy.

Her prayers will be answered and she will be well.

Her promises will be kept and she will be peaceful.

Her secrets will be kept and she will be free.

Her dreams will come true and she will awaken to the light of her true nature.

As I mentioned the other day, it was really nice to be working on a sweet, handmade art project for someone else in the days leading up to my birthday, and oddly, it felt like I was doing it for me too: pouring all this care and lovingkindness into a creation that I blessed and let go, sent into the universe to love someone else. I think this is at the heart (the heART) of why I am an artist: to learn to love and be myself, and then send that love into the world, hoping it lands with whoever needs it most.

Three Truths and One Wish

Truth: Thanksgiving isn’t just about the food. I am guilty of shoveling it in so fast I barely taste it, eating so much that I don’t feel anything but numb–but that’s not what it’s about. It is about being grateful for what you’ve been given, for what you have, saying thank you. Instead of being greedy or grasping or hoarding, honor your good luck and then let it go, share it, give it away. As for what you keep, love it and use it. Say thank you.

Try something like this before you eat your big meal on Thanksgiving Day, “Blessings on our food and all that made it possible: the rain, the sun, the people who grew it, brought it here and prepared it,” (from Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth).  Here’s another nice one, a modification of something from the Anglican Church of Canada, “For food in a world where many walk in hunger. For friends in a world where many walk alone. For faith in a world where many walk in fear. We give thanks.” Or, here’s one I’ve heard at Buddhist meditation retreats, “We receive this food in gratitude to all beings who have helped to bring it to our table, and vow to respond in turn to those in need with wisdom and compassion.” Say Grace. Or, if that doesn’t feel right for you, at least say “thank you.”

Truth: Christmas isn’t just about the presents. This is difficult to see right now, what with all the advertising about Black Friday. And yet, most of us don’t really need anymore stuff, as kindly and lovingly as it might be offered. As for the gifts we give, we need to question our motives, more insistently and often than we do. Is the gift a substitute for our time, our kindness, our presence, our open-heart? Am I trying to earn love and appreciation? And why now, exactly? Because I think I am supposed to?

Instead of Black Friday and shopping and the list of everything we think we are supposed to do, think about this: “Here’s to a refrigerator full of food. Here’s to the electricity that runs that refrigerator. Here’s to clean water being a flick of the faucet away. Here’s to going to bed tonight with a roof over my head (and without the fear of a bomb crashing through it). Here’s to the knowledge that when I dial 911 an ambulance will come get me, not a man with a wheelbarrow…And here’s to remembering those of us who aren’t so lucky. And to do our part to share our good fortune in whatever ways we can,” (from “The Thanksgiving Project – Giving Thanks for the Big Things” by Josh Martin).

You know what my favorite thing about Christmas was as a kid? It wasn’t the presents, even though it felt like they were really important. It was turning the tree lights on when it was dark outside and turning off all the other lights, and putting on Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” album, and cuddling with my mom on the couch. Not the presents. Not even close.

Truth: This is the season of rest, gratitude, generosity, love, and joy. It is supposed to be simple, although we have complicated it with all of our expectations and demands. This year, instead: Do less, love more. Buy less, give more. Bark less, wag more. Stop doing so much and just be. Read Courtney Putnam’s latest blog post, “Doing and Being.” It will help.

I wish for all beings a season of abundance and appreciation–not the kind you can buy at the store or order online, but rather real, honest, and open-hearted.

  • What are you wishing for this season?