Wednesday, October 24, 2012

And you've got a job...

Cold Mountain (1)
A while ago, I read a book called Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. You might be more familiar with the movie with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, which was a fairly good rendition of the novel. It touches on the lives of a handful of people living through the era of the Civil War, and how it affects their lives. I re-watched the movie a few days ago, and there's a particular quote that struck me, as it has every time I've read or watched it.
"See, I think there's a plan. There's a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird's got a job, shit's got a job, seed's got a job. And you've got a job."     -- Maddy (the goat lady)

In one crude sentence, Maddy manages to sum up LIFE.  Every single thing in life has a purpose, has its part in the plan. We might not like bugs or spiders, but they do a job. I know I don't particularly like maggots, but they also have a job. Some people dislike mice or rats, yet even they have a job. And you've got a job.

Birds flying in Sacramento (2)
Sometimes, our job is to be like the bird. We eat, we fly, we go about our day largely unaware of the world around us except where it affects us directly. We're free, happy, and yet sort of ignorant, too.

Other times, our job is to be like the shit. Our purpose is to fertilize, to keep warm, to provide the means of life to another thing in a very impersonal manner which we're not directly connected to. Our existence seems to reduce down to not much more than being there.

Then there are the moments when we're like the seed and resulting plant. Everything is going our way, and we're full of potential and glowing with life. Others have given us the means to get where we need to be and to put down the roots that will allow us to be big and strong and healthy.

Life and age of women (3)
During our lives, we go through all these stages and more. Often we don't want to be in whatever stage we happen to be in. We complain. We grouse. We rebel and try to be something we're not meant to be, at that moment. When we fight that, when we struggle against the inevitability of life, we hurt ourselves. In the process, we sometimes hurt others in our lives, too. This isn't to say we should lay down and die or accept things blindly, but that we should do our best to work patiently within the confines we're given.

Perhaps now is a time when we need to practice just ... being. Be a bird. Be a pile of shit. Be a seed. It's okay. Be yourself, knowing that "yourself" will change over time!

 

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Women of Faith
The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot

1) Image by Ken Thomas / Wikimedia Commons
2) Image by Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia Commons
3) Image by James Baillie / Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Women of Faith

Rachel Held Evans (1)
I've been reading Rachel Held Evans' blog since a month or so before she finished her actual year of Biblical womanhood. Some of it I sort of skim through (I don't have the books she's doing in her current book study series for instance) but the rest of it I just inhale. Like Rabbi Rachel Barenblat over at The Velveteen Rabbi, Rachel Held Evans is thoughtful, deeply spiritual, and hungry for knowledge. I love that these two women are both so strong and so completely different! They empower me to do what I need to do, as a spiritual person, as an interfaith minister, and as a woman.

In one of her entries today (her FAQ, actually), Rachel  wrote, "Christian women receive a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be a woman of faith." I read this and my mind just exploded. I actually had to walk away from the computer for a bit.

It isn't that her comment was all that strange. I've said it myself dozens of times. I think it's more that it's an epiphany that I've heard this same statement out of most of the strong women that I know. Sometimes it's "Christian women" and sometimes it's "pagan women" and sometimes it's "professional women" but it's always "descriptor women". We ladies get mixed messages from all over the place.


A bone of contention in some of the pagan circles right now is the covering of a woman's head as a life choice in conjunction with her spirituality. I've covered my hair during some rituals for several years now, having come to the conclusion that there are just times it's appropriate. I cover my hair during Easter if I go to a church, too. It just seems... right. You might ask yourself, why would this be such a big deal? Believe me, I ask myself the same question, a lot.

A modern Rachel (2)
There are some women (and men) who feel that it's dangerous in some way for a woman to cover her hair. Others feel that it's a way of telling the world you're not confident enough or that you feel you're ugly, or that you're just someone's doormat. I don't understand any of that. I cover my hair, the few times I do, because it has religious and spiritual significance to me. Why does it make a difference to someone else why I do it, other than that they wish to appease their curiosity (something I don't mind doing, at all)?

There are pagan women who have been spat on for covering their hair. There have been verbal threats, nasty e-mails, rude comments on posts on FaceBook, and even threats of violence that have had to be passed on to police. All this, because a woman (a group of women, in fact) chose to put a scarf on before they went out for the day.

The mixed message I've been struggling the most with is the idea that we (meaning women) are supposed to be free to be ourselves, and yet that has come to mean "free to be whatever you like except if you're doing something that displeases someone else." 

A rather vocal group of online women "talked trash" over a women's group I belonged to. Why? Because the ladies (and I) had decided to cover our hair because our gods had asked it of us.. I've been told that no "real god" would EVER demand something so demeaning of a woman. Speaking only for myself, I would have to say that the gods certainly did make such demands, until quite recently in fact. In the past hundred years or so it's relaxed, probably because we ladies have, but there's long history.

All that aside, why is it an issue? A piece of clothing has been found offensive to a certain group, and they're making waves over it. Why do they find it offensive? It's their opinion that if a woman veils herself, then she may as well just throw out all the freedoms won by the suffragettes and women over the past 75 years. I'm not sure why wearing a scarf (or hat, or anything else, frankly) should cause people to be worried, but they are.

Mixed messages. Do this; don't do that. Don't rock the boat. Don't upset the status quo. Rachel Held Evans talks about why "living Biblically" is so difficult. I don't think she's just talking about evangelical Christianity, though. I think it's bigger than that, and it's something that infects every religion and every belief system. It's too easy to fall into that "holier than thou" headspace, where you get to dismiss anything that doesn't fit your world view.

The worst part is, I'm sure most of the reactions (whether the ones Rachel Held Evans gets for "living a year of Biblical womanhood" or the ones Rabbi Rachel Barenblat gets for being a female Rabbi, or the ones I get for being a liberated feminist woman who does, indeed, sometimes cover her hair) are knee jerk ones. The truly offensive people, the rude, nasty ones, are easy to deal with. You dismiss them. It's not so easy when it's a friend or a local pastor, or worse yet, someone who's interviewing you for a magazine or newspaper. Those latter people probably don't realize the biases they're working under (hence the mixed messages!), and so it's difficult to point out to them that they ARE working under a bias.

I'm loving what little I've read of Evans' book so far. Her take is humorous but intelligent. Her writing is easy to read and imparts a lot of information. I think her book (and her blog, and her FaceBook page) would be great reading for any woman who's ever gotten mixed messages over the years (in other words, all of us, every single one).

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

The Power of We
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest


1) Photo by Dan Evans
2) Photo by Maki Garcia Evans

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We

Friends helping with wood
 Today is Blog Action Day, and the topic for this year is "Power of We." I've been thinking about this post for over a month, mulling what I could write. It comes down to the fact that I'm a homesteader, minister, stay (mostly) at home mom and writer. I could research a million topics and come up with something full of gravity and solemnity. But that isn't me. I write about kids and family, about personal religious and spiritual experiences, and about the things we grow and do on our little suburban homestead. So that's what I need to write about.

Girltwin helps plant seeds
I realized during my thinking time that almost everything we do around here is powered exclusively by the "power of we." Getting the children ready for school in the morning takes two. The chores around the house are a multi-person endeavor because we have a relatively large house and a lot of Stuff. Cooking is also personnel heavy, because we're most often feeding 5 adults, one teen and two first graders at a sitting. Because I don't drive, my ministry often involves someone carting me off to whatever event I'm working at. The garden takes several dedicated people working 3/4 time, all in itself. Our household is the "power of we" in action, daily.

Family working on a coop
 If one person were to attempt to do the household things required on even a modern homestead like ours, they'd drown. There are times when I have tons of help and I still feel like I'm drowning! We've made choices that increase my workload, and that of the rest of the family, such as grinding our own flour from wheat berries with a manual wheat mill and baking much of our own bread instead of purchasing it. We cook food from scratch more often than we use pre-packaged meals, and that takes time and effort, too. It's just not possible for anyone to run a homestead (no matter how small) by themselves. It is by its very nature a "we" project.

Gray watering fruit trees
When we planted our garden this year, the project was officially "my" baby. However, Gray helped with the creation of the raised beds, helped get my garden tires into place, and did much of the sawing of the rubber rims. Sis helped with preparing and planting, and the kids were definitely involved in the moving (and tossing!) of dirt. The girltwin planted her own garden, in fact,  with help from we adults. Gray had to haul all the compost from the dump to our home, then helped with shoveling it into the raised beds. One of our friends, Russet, helped with weeding and planting and watering. The garden would have been nothing but grass without every person lending a hand!

Sis splitting wood
Our home is largely heated with wood. Every one of us has helped with the splitting of the wood, because it's a part of living the life we've chosen and because it simply would not get done otherwise. Gray does the majority of splitting, but he needs someone to help move the wood onto and off of the stump for him, and the kids are responsible for stacking the wood neatly for winter use. They even came up with the idea of using some spare red bricks to make steps so they could pile as high as the adults do! Even though they're only six, they are required to do a good job and be neat and straight in their stacking. They are as much a part of this household as we are!

The power of OUR "we"!
Times are tough. We worry if we'll have enough money for fuel this winter. We worry that there will be enough food. Yet we can look at our larder and see months worth of produce that we've dehydrated, frozen or canned, and know that we'll be alright even if things are lean. That is OUR power of "we" after all. We work together. We learn together. We laugh and play together, too, because that's as important or more important than the working part.

Recently, I had made some laundry detergent for us, and sis came out of nowhere and said, "We can do anything!" She's right. As a team, when we're WE, we sure can do anything. When we fight, things fall apart for a little while, but then we make up and things move on better than before. We're passionate people, from oldest to youngest, and we truly live our lives to the fullest. I'm incredibly proud of our "power of we."

What sort of "power of we" does your family have?

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest

Sunday, October 7, 2012

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer ribbons (1)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it's a time of year that I always pause. My favorite aunt, Agnes Cooper, died of complications from breast cancer when I was 16 years old. Until that point, no one I really knew had ever died. I had all my grandparents, and had never known my great-grandparents. Agnes was not a blood aunt, but she was closer to me than any other adult. She was the person I went to when I had to talk to a grown-up without getting in trouble. Throughout my life, she always treated me like a human being, never like an infant.

I remember spending time during punishments (there were a lot of them, mostly unearned) fantasizing that she was really my mother, and that she had given me up because she knew how much my actual mom needed a child. I was aware it was fantasy, but I clung to it.

When she first got cancer, none of us were truly surprised. She'd been a heavy smoker all her life. But when you're 13 years old, you know that your own family won't die from these things. It's other people who die. And after long and arduous surgeries and chemotherapy and losing all her hair (which she did with good grace), she was told she was in remission.

Life was good. All was as it should be. And then it came back. And she beat it again. And then it really came back. Now, with my own age and with the ministerial training I've had, I can look back and see how it had spread, and how she was sent home to die. She didn't want to die in hospice. She knew the end was very near, and determined not to leave a mess behind. All I saw was that the hospital sent her home, so that meant she was on the mend and would just have to go through more chemo. After all, that's what had happened before.

She didn't get better. She put all her affairs in order, long before the cancer reached her brain. Every piece of jewelry was bagged with a name on it. Every bill was paid, every possession accounted for. We didn't know that until after, of course, when my parents (her executors) went to begin cleaning things out and organizing. They were stunned.

I remember the last time I saw her. We had gone to visit. There was a hospital bed in her bedroom in her apartment. Her black cat, Flower, was refusing to leave her side. She was pretty out of it, and I had thought it was due to medications. I talked with her a bit, then my mother said we had to go.

As I was leaving, she took my hand and she whispered, "I need to say goodbye, hon." I smiled and said not to be so serious, because after all, we were going to be back tomorrow. She kept holding my hand until I kissed her and said okay, and we said a proper goodbye. She died in the early hours of the following morning.

What to look for (2)
Her cancer started in her breasts, and spread to her lymph nodes under her arms, and eventually to her spine and up into her brain. After her death, they did an autopsy to find out what happened, and basically her brain was mush. That's why she was so dopey when we were there. But she was still herself. And she knew she was going.

My aunt was incredibly brave. She was understanding, to a point I can't even imagine. I know that during her own cancer woes, she sat patiently and listened to me gripe about my mother and how awful my life was. She never teased me about anything. She always took what I said seriously, and never made me feel she was bored or thought I was stupid or "just a kid."

I honor my aunt a lot. I say prayers for her. I've written poems about her and for her. As I've become friends to teens, I have kept her lessons in mind. I've always tried to take them seriously, be honest and even blunt, and never lie. I've tried to carry on for them what she did for me. Sometimes I'm better at it than others, but I always keep trying. When I do it well, I feel as if I'm getting a ghostly hug from a woman that taught me more in the few years I knew her than anyone else.

So... it's Breast Cancer Awareness month. If you're high risk or over 40, have your boobs checked. Ask your doctor, or go to the American Cancer Society's website and find a place to get a low cost or free screening done. In Keene, NH, you can get low cost and free screening done at the hospital downtown. Just call for information or email them from their website. Early identification makes all the difference.

While you're waiting for that mammogram, why don't you pause, too. Remember those in your life who've been taken away by breast cancer, or who beat it and are doing well. Say a prayer of thanks. Talk to them on the phone if you can, or go visit.

If you'd like, please share your story in the comments below. Keep those happy and even the painful memories alive.

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:

Books for Halloween
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest

(1) Image from Federal Government / Wikimedia Commons
(2) Image from National Institute of Health / Wikimedia Commons

Friday, October 5, 2012

Books for Halloween

I love books. I've loved books all my life. I started reading at age 3 or 4, and never looked back. By kindergarten, I was reading such things as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. In fourth grade, my class read The Hobbit, and I was bored because at the time I was most of the way through the last of the Ring cycle. I devoured Harry Potter when it came out (yes, I was an adult at the time, and had been for too long), and have passed that hunger on to our children.

For me, reading is a very spiritual activity. I make a point of picking up a spiritual book several times a week, often nightly. I try to make time for my fiction, too, as a time to let my hair down and disappear into some fictional world where everything works out right in the end. I like everything from the Sookie Stackhouse novels to Shakespeare .

For Halloween, I thought I would share some neat FREE e-books available right now via Amazon. Note - these are time-sensitive and may not be free any other day than today; I have no idea how long they'll keep them free. However, they're free today, October 5th, and they look fantastic. I love having books on my smartphone (which has the Kindle ap) for the kids to read if we get stuck waiting somewhere or are in the car for a long period unexpectedly.



The first two are much more Octobery in nature, but all are free and look like a lot of fun. I've downloaded them for our twins, and I'm thinking we'll go read them in a bit!

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
 
You may also be interested in:
Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest