Transforming Christmas

A recent posting on social media described a “healthy” way to inform children about the mystery around Santa. A friend of mine responded to the post by sharing what her daughter felt when she was old enough to learn the “truth” of that mystery, and the new traditions they created for themselves thereafter.

As I thought about how anxious and disconnected I’ve felt about the approaching Christmas holiday with its overwhelming commercialism, and as I have been recently redefining what religious or spiritual beliefs I now cherish, I suddenly realized I truly don’t want to celebrate the season the way I’ve seen it come to be or the way I’ve always done it… just because that’s the way I’ve always done it. At the same time, I write this for our children and grandchildren, not so much to make a big announcement, but to free them from any religious traditions I may have insisted on teaching them that raises the question: Why am I doing this?

To move away from the Christian influence of this particular holiday is a monumental undertaking. Even the word “Christmas” implies religious and biblical overtones; there’s nothing hidden in its meaning. But what if you’re not Christian? What if the meaning of the word and the beliefs behind the symbolisms don’t apply to your beliefs? What do you do then?

BACKSTORY

A Christian school provided my early education. Along with my parents, the school presented religious traditions, songs, lessons, stories, and definitions to live a good and moral life. By my mid-teens I was done with the lectures and discipline. However, in my early 30s, I gave it another chance, wondering if those childhood lessons had evolved into something I could relate to and share with my children. It didn’t work out. For nearly another decade I searched for a spiritual path that fit my concept of God.

Eventually, I found New Thought, in particular, Religious Science. Founded as a philosophy in the early 20th century via a textbook written by Ernest Holmes, and in part, based on biblical teachings of Jesus, it was a fresh, yet familiar, concept of how I thought about God. As I delved into the study of this modern religion, I learned that the teachings were based on Universal Principles found common in many of the world’s major religions and great philosophies. It encourages its students to remain “open at the top” and to explore those other religions and their teachings, as well as to test the Universal Principles introduced (to me) in the pages of Holmes’ books. I’ve been studying and testing this philosophy for 30 years. I am still “open” and still learning. Religious Science (AKA Science of Mind) has been my spiritual foundation AND has given me wings to explore.

As a spiritual teacher and ordained minister, it has been my practice to push students past their comfort zones. To help them define their beliefs. To guide them to grow stronger, spiritually. To require them to test the Principles for themselves. To help them deepen their faith and question what it is they truly believe. Lately I’ve been doing the same about Religious Science as I once did about my Christian upbringing. The result of this questioning and exploration has brought me to an intersection of sorts.

HISTORY

Because Religious Science was founded in part on biblical teachings, many of its holiday traditions and rituals “borrow” from those of Christian influences, especially Christmas. The story of the manger is widely repeated in New Thought December church services. While Religious Science is a very contemporary religion, it borrows many of its customs from Christian sources and a few others from other religions. Not many of its rituals or traditions are original or new… and that got me wondering: If I were going to celebrate a holiday in December that recognized and honored the Divine Spirit within me and this amazing world, what would it look like? Could I think of a new way to celebrate? Are there other religions from which I could borrow this or that and create something new?

Since Christians also borrowed a number of practices from the Roman Pagans (Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, the Roman version of Halloween, carols, mistletoe, trees, etc.), I did some research of mythology that dated prior to and shortly after Christianity began, and discovered some interesting details:

  • “Yule” is the term used for the winter festival observed by the Germanic peoples and eventually incorporated into the Christmas tradition. Yule is considered cultural, while Christmas is (or was) thought of as religious. Yule is a time of celebrating nature and seasonal change.
  • Like Winter Solstice, Yule is about celebrating the “return of the sun,” so candles are a big part of its symbolism. Red, green, and gold are considered Yule colors.
  • Evergreens are said to represent everlasting life. Evergreens made into a wreath represent the Wheel of Life. Evergreens were hung throughout the home and the lighted wreaths eventually came to represent the Christian Advent wreath.
  • Although it apparently took until the Victorian era for German Prince Albert to introduce the Yule tree, it is now simply known as a Christmas tree. Other cultures, such as ancient Rome’s Saturnalia traditions, decorated trees for their Winter Solstice festival to celebrate the light. In Pagan families, they placed a live tree in the home, so the wood spirits kept warm in the cold winter months. It was also commonplace to hang food and treats on the branches for the spirits to eat.
  • Odin, the all-father god in Norse mythology, was widely revered in Germanic paganism. Odin appears as a prominent god throughout the recorded history of Northern Europe, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania (from 2 BCE) through movement of peoples during the Migration Period (4th to 6th centuries CE) and the Viking Age (8th to 11th centuries CE). [Wikipedia.org, 12/4/23]
  • While Odin was quite involved in war-like activities, he was also known for keeping tabs on who was “good” or “bad,” bringing gifts to the poor and to children, riding an eight-legged horse, and collecting information from around the world via ravens and wolves.

Sound familiar?

While more information can be found on Odin and various Christian rituals or traditions, beginning around 300-600 CE, the point I want to make here is that we’re making it all up!

Humankind has evolved in its religious beliefs, holiday traditions, and ceremonial rituals primarily through “borrowing” bits and pieces from other cultures, religions, or conquered peoples. We take something, put our own slant on it, and call it ours.

When I was a full-time Religious Science minister, I did the same for our services and celebrations. If I knew (or could find out) where a particular practice or ritual came from, I would give credit to that person or culture or religion, and share as much of the history as I could with those present. However, because Christmas is so engrained in our American culture, I never thought twice about having to explore or explain its origins… until now.

LOOKING FORWARD

This change in thinking is partly due to my increasing focus on Interfaith studies. I want to learn more thoroughly about the common Universal Principles between the world’s major religions, as Holmes taught. I want to focus on a deeper Spirituality, not just religious rules or holy texts. I want to celebrate the return of the sun, the return of the Divine Light within me, and within each living being. And I want this seasonal acknowledge­ment to be accompanied by physical practices or rituals or traditions that provide heart-felt meaning to me and those who might share it with me.

I’m confident there are bits and pieces I can “borrow” from any of the thousands of religions and practices that more accurately describe my current view of God and how I choose to celebrate each season of life, each month of the year, different from the way I’ve been doing it for the past few decades. I don’t need to stay stuck in a tradition that more often brings me mostly anxiety and pressure, and to which I no longer have connection.

I already know there will be gifts for those I love and cherish, some will be handmade. I want to have candles and incense and evergreens, including a live tree (with solar-powered lights) that I can plant in the spring. Food. Silence. Songs. Laughter. Donations to those struggling. Prayer and meditation, and gratitude for life’s continuing abundance. I think Winter Solstice is a good day to express all this and more.

It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds and evolves over time. I get to choose what serves my soul, my heart, my home… just as you get to choose for you and yours.

Tests & More Tests

Over the past several days, I’ve had a variety of medical tests done, mostly to get a baseline for the newly selected primary physician and to see how certain issues compare to tests performed a couple of years ago. The tests have been mostly standard ones for a mature woman (mammogram, bone density, etc.), but one in particular was new… to determine if my hands require surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. The short answer is “yes.”

The right hand tested severe for carpal tunnel, which would explain the constant electrifying twinges that shoot up to several fingers and the debilitating pain that waves through the base of my thumb when it moves into certain positions. These sensations increased in intensity this year, so I knew it was time for testing. The left hand tested normal, indicating there was no carpal tunnel, although similar bone-depth pain in my left-hand fingers and thumb is likely from arthritis. Two issues with similar symptoms and different treatments.

Based on the type of work I’ve done throughout my life, I knew to expect some type of consequence for my hands. And now the time for treatment is here… although I’ve held it off as long as I could.

I started feeling the above tingling symptoms as I finished up painting walls in our home, three houses ago; then again as we painted and prepped the previous house to move back to Colorado from Oregon; and, finally, to this house, our last-time-we’re-going-to-move “forever” home. I’ve only painted two rooms so far since we bought the place four months ago and am not too anxious to start another. Not quite yet.

Making two interstate moves in less than two years hasn’t been the smartest thing we’ve ever done. It was certainly hard on our bodies. The painting, the packing and unpacking, the lifting and moving items and boxes from house to house and room to room. I could sense my strength was not what it used to be. I learned to compensate for my weak, tingling hands and shaky knees. I still do. However, I can no longer ignore treatments, or more damage will occur. So I start with my hands.

I like my hands. I’m also keenly aware of the value of thumbs. It’s been interesting to discover how much I use my thumbs. Squeezing the toothpaste tube, writing with a pen, holding toilet paper to wipe the butt after using a toilet, putting on clothes, carrying a plate from counter to table (or the dog dishes to the floor), holding a paint brush or embroidery needle, touching the space bar on the keyboard, gripping the steering wheel of a car, and so much more.

I guess the message I want to share, especially for younger folks (my children and grandchildren), is this: Take care of yourself. Enjoy your activities, your work, your creative endeavors, AND be aware of how it impacts your body.

  • Take long hot baths with soothing salts and minerals.
  • Get massages.
  • Develop an exercise program that works for you and do it regularly.
  • Stay strong and flexible.
  • Be sure to sleep, rest, and enjoy your downtime.
  • Schedule medical tests along the way (as you age or when you have questions) so you can monitor your body’s progress or deterioration and make adjustments.
  • Eat healthy foods (the best quality you can afford) so your body can heal itself.
  • Learn moderation in all things.

And if you’re older, like me, it’s never too late to make corrections to bad habits. One thing I’m learning to do is to pace myself in all activities, to moderate what I do. This is especially difficult as I tend to be obsessive about projects I really like; I’ve been known to push myself too hard and too long in order to get something finished. Now, I do shorter sessions and circle around to a variety of activities in any given day. I think it’s called “balance.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been referred to a well-respected hand surgeon and await scheduling options. Once that procedure is behind me, then I’ll see if it’s time to help my knees before they get beyond the point of no return.

While I slowly increase gentle hand and arm stretches, I have decreased my embroidery and beading and sewing projects, although I have several Christmas ideas in mind. I’m getting estimates for someone else to do the front yard landscaping project. I continue to collect paint chip samples for the rooms and cabinets still needing work. I’m creating a list of house repairs to be done by professionals. I’ve acquiesced to having my husband drive the car when we need to go somewhere together. I take breaks from chores more often, too.

My overall pace in life has slowed. Also, I clearly recognize (as does my husband) the value of my physical contributions to our life, both now and what they’ve been in the past. It’s a big transition from full-on human-doing to mostly human-being, but I’m willing to give it a try. I’m sure my body will appreciate it.

Inherited Wisdom

I recently had the privilege of speaking on the telephone with my eleven-year-old grandson (not twelve, eleven). The conversation ended with me being inspired by him.

Initially, our conversation included clarification that he was calling from his own flip phone; I was invited to call him (almost) anytime. He also explained some of the steps involved in playing a video game he enjoyed, which he was also attempting to play while we talked. The game soon ended, however, and he returned his focus to our conversation.

After getting me caught up on end-of-school dates, planned summer activities, and family happenings (more mine than his), he asked me what I’d been doing recently. I told him about the beaded embroidery project I’d just finished, a raven with wings spread wide against a blue beaded sky border.

I explained that, while I was proud of this bead project, my first such endeavor, I was confused about what I should do with it next. On what type of clothing or utility piece could it be applied? I told him that I thought about applying it to a blue denim jacket, a white denim jacket, a backpack, or a purse.  Or should it be stitched to something else? I wanted it to be on something that wouldn’t need to be washed too frequently as that could loosen the beads or dilute the underlying glue that helped to strengthen the internal structure. And I wanted to wear or use the piece so I could show off the raven beadwork.

He suggested a tote bag, which was definitely a possibility. In fact, I explained how, earlier in the day, I had dissected the bottom of an old and unworn men’s leather coat to create a small tote or book bag, including making a trip to the fabric store to purchase leather sewing needles and heavy-gauge thread, neither of which seemed to work when I tried to sew the pieces into the form of a tote bag. I expressed my frustration about the sewing machine not doing what I wanted and the pain in my hands when I took up needle and thread to do it manually. None of my ideas seemed to work.

He paused in the silence, sensing I had run out of words to say about the situation. Then he said, “Well, grandma, I trust you’ll figure it out.” He turned next to sharing what his dogs were doing around the house… and eventually the conversation came to an end so he could fix himself something to eat.

“I trust you’ll figure it out” is a slightly modified statement of one I used to say years ago (and taught) as part of a parenting program toward raising self-reliant children. Now it was gifted back to me by the son of my daughter on whom I had used this very same technique when she was his age. While it might be an example of turnabout is fair play, I was grateful for his input. Also, I truly felt inspired and empowered to resolve my dilemma, to figure out what to do that would best utilize this artistic creation. By the time I went to sleep that night, I had a plan.

I’m now on the hunt for a women’s black leather jacket. I had one years ago and I loved it. I am due for another, but this time, with some beaded embellishment attached. It’ll be interesting to see what shows up.

Learning to Accommodate Myself

It’s interesting to notice the thoughts going through my mind in the middle of the night as I sit on a kitchen chair in front of the toilet, the porcelain god as we used to call it, waiting for the next vomitous mass to purge itself from my stomach.

The primary theme of these particular thoughts focused on my sporadic, even neglectful, willingness to diligently care for my body. This experience of sudden illness and pain brought on by ingesting the wrong foods or combining foods that should never have been mixed made it clear that I am not doing a very good job. There is definitely room for improvement.

For most of my life I’ve never been too concerned about avoiding certain foods. I could eat anything and usually in large quantities, knowing my metabolism would quickly convert the feasts to energy. Then, about thirteen years ago I suddenly developed a gluten allergy. My body’s initial reaction to this discovery was very similar to my recent puking incident. The doctor’s follow-up advice was simple:  “Stop eating gluten.” For the most part, I have, although I’ve been able to tolerate a tortilla or a couple of cookies now and then without any reaction.

Now, I’m not so sure.

The other issue that’s made itself known recently is a weakness in my hands (thumbs and wrists). Likely arthritis with a possibility of carpal tunnel. It’s especially noticeable when I try to pick up dishes from the upper cabinets. Each hand alone doesn’t have the strength to collect more than one dish at a time. I do much better when I use both hands to lift a small stack of plates from the shelf or carry them to the table. Same thing with pots and pans, especially if there’s food in them. I need to use both hands to carry the cookware from the stove to the sink or place it on the breadboard.

This became such a big concern for me, after dropping a dish or two, that I boxed up the decades-old, heavy dishes – my favorite kitchen plates, bowls, and saucers – and replaced them with a lighter (but fashionable) plastic variety. I’ve always considered plastic dishware only for camping and picnics; I never intended to make them my daily set. However, now I can easily lift these new dishes without instant pain.

I’m learning to accommodate myself, to practice diligent self-care. Too bad it’s taken various levels of pain to bring my needs into focus. Yes, it would be better for me if I didn’t wait quite so long to make these changes.

It’s the avoidance of suffering (a Buddhism thing) that keeps me going back to the gym for much-needed walking and biking on a regular basis. The avoidance of suffering is what helps me go to bed on a regular schedule to get the sleep I need. The avoidance of suffering is what prompts me to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals on a mostly consistent schedule each week. The avoidance of suffering is what supports decisions to budget finances and expenditures so there’s money left over at the end of each month. And, the avoidance of suffering is what encourages us to seek medical or health guidance when we’re not feeling our best or vaccines are needed, especially in these advancing years.

I’d like to think I’m getting better at accommodating myself BEFORE I suffer. To respect myself. To practice diligent self-care. To keep myself healthy and strong. To be aware of what I need and then take care of that need before it becomes a bigger issue. I’m truly grateful our bodies have the capacity to correct and heal without waiting for permission or even our awareness that something has to be done.

I really don’t want to spend any more nights sitting in the bathroom, waiting to see what comes up.

# # #

Raven Skies

Two moons ago ‘neath raven skies, I searched for light beyond the clouds. I knew the weeks ahead would change my life. Days filled with chaos, peril, exhaustion, and anticipation followed. Nights offered deep sleep and rejuvenation.

Each box was carefully packed, labeled, and stacked for the return journey home. Sixty-five days later, the final frame of treasured art hangs on a new wall, in our forever home.

I stand in the enveloping darkness of the day’s end and reflect on this journey, this change, this decision. Once made, the only direction was forward. Not away, but toward. Not painless, but strengthened in courage and knowledge gained by prior experiences borne through hardship and error and success. One final push.

The birth of this home, a final destination, provides an opportunity to explore the coming winter of our lives together. In beauty. In comfort. In joy. In love.

The clouds now have parted and raven skies fill with morning light. I lean into gratitude for the recent journey and the gifts it provided. A new path stretches before me. I breathe in the possibilities.

A new day begins.

Warning! Warning!

Today I experienced someone (maybe two someone’s) attempting to defraud me.  All we wanted to do was sell some really nice furniture before we moved. Now, I don’t really care if we sell it or not before we go. Here’s how it went…

I posted the photos on Facebook Marketplace. The first person who responded (Hilda) was slow to reply to my confirmation that the furniture was still available, asking if “she” was still interested. Meanwhile, a second “person” expressed interest, too. Once Hilda confirmed she wanted the pieces, she wanted to pay me via the Zelle app so I could take the posting down.

I only recently attached the Zelle app to one of my bank accounts, knowing it was a money application people used for such transactions. However, I’d never used it to know how it really operated. It seemed Hilda had all the answers to my confusion. But as I slowly made my way through what I thought was the correct process, her messages became more intense and pushy.

RED FLAGS went up everywhere in my body! I finally told her I was slow at this and to be patient. I received an email from Zelle that suggested a hold was placed on the money she paid because I had the wrong account type and it wasn’t compatible with her business account. In order to correct this, Hilda needed to pay an additional $500 to me, which I would then “reimburse” before the other $1,500 could clear my bank account.

She expressed concern about me being trustworthy. She asked if I was really going to pay back the extra $500 that was needed to get my account in compliance with the system. I assured her I was just new to Zelle. She recommended that I call the phone number in the email and even knew where on the email that phone number was located. Also, she wouldn’t call me because she was “at work” and couldn’t talk. Then I looked at the Zelle email address and saw it was a bogus Gmail account. More RED FLAGS!

I decided to call my local bank directly instead. I explained to the customer service person (small town branches allowed me to reach her quite quickly) what was happening. She checked my account. There was NO “pending” transaction behind the scenes.

She then explained how Zelle worked for her when she and her brother sent money back and forth – none of which had occurred during Hilda’s invisible transaction. No text from the bank or Zelle. No Zelle-business-email notifications. No phone number or email that could identify Hilda, either. She strongly suggested that I NOT go through with the transaction or find another way to obtain the money. (I wanted cash anyway; this was just too nerve-wracking.)

I went back to Messenger and sent Hilda a short note that this wasn’t going to work… it appeared to be fraud… and that she had a few minutes to agree to cash or I was moving on to the next buyer. Crickets. No response. The next buyer made similar gestures to want to pay up-front and then pick up the items later. I didn’t give him that option. Cash only, I told him. Again, crickets and no follow-up.

I’m angry for a couple of reasons. One, that people like this are scamming others. I’m sure they’re successful often enough to continue creating personas and honing their techniques to risk such larceny. Second, I’m a bit mad at myself that I went that far down the rabbit hole with Hilda and didn’t see the bogus email details earlier to stop the whole thing. I felt really stupid for a couple of hours. BUT… at least I made the phone call to the bank. It allowed me to stop much sooner with the second apparently bogus buyer, whoever it is. Experience does help. And to make sure I won’t forget, they both tried this on the same day!

I’m also putting additional warnings on my accounts, just to be certain enough blockades are in place.

I AM grateful that I hit the “PAUSE” button once my inner voice and nervous system started screaming and jumping throughout my body. I listened. I stopped. I sought proper advice from the right and trusted source. And I’d much rather have to load up this furniture (one more time) than be suckered into giving someone hundreds of dollars because I wanted to sell it rather than move it. The furniture will go eventually… just not today.

Potbelly Love

About thirty years ago I was gifted with a small, iron, potbelly parlor stove. I learned or heard or came to believe that it was from the 1910 era. It has been a part of my possessions ever since, moving it from house to house… until now.

The stove was discovered in the back yard grasses of an empty house. A house being sold. Abandoned. Destroyed. I don’t remember the details about the house. I wasn’t there. I only know it came into the hands of a friend of mine who passed it along to me when I expressed interest in it.

After taking possession of the parlor stove, I set to work cleaning it up. It was stuffed with debris, burned paper remnants, charred pieces of wood, and a lot of ash. The stove was covered in a reddish-orange rust from top to bottom.

Once the trash was removed, I scrubbed it down to see its true condition. From there I removed the layers of rust with steel wool. Wiped. Sanded again. Cleaned again. Finally, I could apply multiple coats of a fire-proof black paint and restore it to its simple beauty and poised for work.

While I never burned a fire in this little stove, the metal stovepipe protruded from the hole at the back of the stove base. It became only a décor centerpiece. It was a very heavy ornament displayed in a corner of a room, wherever I lived, no matter the house.

A few days ago, during a visit to my home, someone else recognized its beauty. He took a photo of the stove and shared it with his mother. The next day, she and I talked about her interest in it and her desire to fulfill the wishes of her recently deceased husband.

They had been restoring a home of similar age to the stove when her husband had unexpectedly passed away. There was a spot for a potbelly stove in this old house. They had been looking for one for years that would be just the right shape and size. The woman could tell from her son’s texted photo that this was the stove!

After setting an agreeable price with her on the phone, she came by to collect the stove for her hundred-plus-year-old home. The stove would fit right in. It will have a special place in that home for many years as part of a couple’s desire come true.

As my husband and I pack boxes and prepare to return to our beloved Colorado, we’ve “released” many items along the way. It seems the more that’s released, the easier it becomes, no matter the length of time we’ve enjoyed that special something. It was the right time and person to pass along this dear little fire holder.

We are only ever caretakers of the things in this life, whether they be houses, children, jewelry, money, or something else. Our job is to be good stewards of such possessions, knowing some (if not many) will last beyond our lifetime… to be cared for by someone else. We get to enjoy such gifts while we have them. Making a void by releasing items at the right time creates a void that can be filled with something new. I look forward to discovering what’s next. What joyous thing will find its way into my life? Won’t it be interesting to see what shows up!

Embracing Limbo

In that prolonged empty space, between activities or seasons or marriages or moving houses, I’ve usually been tempted to fill it with numerous means and ways to avoid any sense of boredom. The constant busyness numbs my frustrations or irritation of waiting for people’s assistance or for things to happen, while transitioning from one step to the next. However, as my husband and I now make one final house move, I’ve decided to embrace this period of limbo. Enjoy the calm. Rest the body. Review the plans. Breathe.

This time the move seems easier. We’re returning home to Colorado and a place we’ve lived before. Also, because I’ve moved so often in the past, I know the expectations, most time frames, and various steps before us. I easily anticipate what’s needed and work to eliminate possible obstacles before they arise. I’m confident about my abilities to address and overcome any difficulties. I can present numerous options to facilitate the move, thereby reducing the stress (in my mind) and, hopefully, sharing that sense of calm with my husband, too.

For example, while I’m writing this – in my camper van parked in the driveway, with our dogs by my side to keep them quiet – the house is being inspected for the buyer. My husband is inside to answer any questions. Our realtor is there to assist and be the liaison between us and the buyer’s agent. My job for the next three hours is simply to keep the dogs quiet and out of the house so the inspector can do his job efficiently and without distraction. It also allows me to take a much-needed break from the chaos of endless paperwork, packing boxes, and whatever requirement the next email or phone call brings.

I’ve discovered this limbo period to be extremely enticing and am reconsidering its value. I might let the van be my “satellite office.” In addition to being a space for writing or reading or naps, and taking breaks with the dogs, it could be my mini-retreat spot where the stresses of a busy life are simply put on hold or allowed to slip away.

There is a much different mindset to the practice of embracing the limbo period, rather than resisting or ignoring it. A practice worth developing. A practice filled with gratitude. I’m willing to practice welcoming the space between.

Just Chill

After weeks of sharing ideas and evaluating how we want to evolve in this retirement home of ours, we took a step forward with one of the many options and went back to the idea of “simplify.”

First, we acknowledged that it’s been six months since my husband officially retired from his business. We’ve settled into a bit of a routine around the house. We evaluated our pattern of living and what changes we can make for greater comfort. And while we’re keen to keep addressing repairs and improvements, a little at a time, we are in no big hurry to take on too much nor do we want to spend tons of money in the process. We fix that, clean this, improve whatever, and feel like we’re going forward on our home maintenance list. It works for us.

In addition, we’ve increased our levels of physical exercise (walking, Pickleball, Corn Hole) and have purchased passes at the college recreation center up the street. This has resulted in meeting new folks, developing an exercise routine, and feeling more energetic. I joined a virtual walking challenge community and have been racking up miles more than I ever thought I would. I’ve changed what I eat and am noticing the difference in how my body reacts. Room for improvement? Of course, all ways and always!

A big accomplishment over the past several months was learning that we can live on much less income than we once did. While prices in many categories continue to rise and fall (depending on where you live), we’ve learned to adapt within our budget. Also, as mature adults, we just don’t need that much of anything. I won’t bore you with all the ways we’ve done it (in this writing), but the cost and money awareness we now have, coupled with the above changes, means we’re spending much less overall… including what we spend on home improve­ments. HGTV used to be my favorite go-to channel; now it’s YouTube DIY-er’s from around the globe.

So ALL of these areas of life came together this week as we worked out a solution about how to use the attached garage space.

We have really missed our covered patio from our previous home and wanted something like that here… so we can sit “outside” but protected from the winter months of rain. We want to watch the rain – not get rained on. We also wanted to protect our fairly new patio chairs and cushions from the winter weather, as well as the mold that would surely follow if left outside. We finally came up with a solution we could both agree on (the hardest part). We created a “chill” space in the garage… for both of us.

This idea was somewhat fashioned from descriptions provided by friends who converted their garages into summer living rooms… an area to chat with neighbors or hold group BBQ’s. A place to lounge close to the elements yet still have the comfort of home. An extra “room” created without any extra expense.

So yesterday, we took action! A large area rug was unrolled and placed in the center of the garage floor. The motorcycle was repositioned to one side. The patio chairs and footrests, with a small table between, were placed facing the outdoors. A quilt is close by for those chilly, rainy afternoons. There’s even enough space deeper inside to place a twin-sized bed for naps (or guests). The garage is insulated, paneled, electrified, and already feels quite cozy. Now for a good cleaning.

I’m looking forward to more custom touches, using what we have first or repurposing found treasures. We continue to come up with ideas to make it more useful and inviting. Battery-powered lamps. Curtains. Ceiling lampshades for the bare bulbs. There are several more items that will be moved out, sold, or given away so that we have additional room for extra chairs. For the neighbors and new friends and visiting family members… and us.

A place to chat as the deer stroll by. To read and watch the rain. To just chill.

# # #

Brain Fall-Out

A few weeks ago I came to a startling awareness that has since impacted another major decision in my daily life.

I was circling the outdoor walking track at the local college with a new friend and walking partner. The day’s discussion was mostly about our attempts to maintain balance in life – physical, emotional, time commitments, and relationships – as well as being respectful and inclusive of other people’s ideas and beliefs.

The conversation centered around my interest in Interfaith communities. I’ve long been open to the world’s religions and delight in recognizing the commonalities most share with one another. In recent months, I’ve been part of a religious community that welcomes people from all faiths, yet professes no set creed or holy text. According to the history of this religion, its creed was once based on the Bible, but religions evolve and this one has mostly moved away from such teachings.

Instead, the philosophy of this community is based on principles (values, virtues) that guide its messages and how the members interact with one another. Members are free to pursue their religion of choice independently, and then they come together each week for a mostly secular message, one that usually does not mention God or Spirit. Sadly, I have not heard members share openly about what belief systems they follow in their lives. Thus, the Interfaith aspect, an opportunity to learn, is also missing.

When I first started attending this “church,” I thought Sunday services with worldly lessons would be enough to satisfy my desire for a spiritual community. I was wrong. They are a lovely bunch of folks, practicing their common principles as they’ve done for decades… yet I want more than this from a spiritual community.

I had already reached the point where I greatly missed the New Thought music and messages and uplifting meditations I’d been surrounded by for almost 30 years. Listening to them privately at home brought some solace, but after two years of mostly pandemic isolation, I was ready to engage with a religious community in-person. However, without the Interfaith discussions I hoped for as a substitute for New Thought, I felt like I was opening a door, but no one was willing to come in. I couldn’t force what didn’t exist.

My walking partner listened quietly until I stopped talking. Then she shared a wisdom that a friend of hers had provided to her years before. “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out,” she said.

Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.

She went on to explain that we can become so open, so willing to understand and learn other points of view, so eager to be part of something that almost fits, so able to compromise… that we give away too much of ourselves – our beliefs, our time, our energy. We dilute our very beliefs, ideals, and principles for living. And while I had been speaking about religion, this idea applies just as much to our thoughts about politics, parenting, communication in relationships, work ethics, etc. And she was right! Boundaries are important for both sides of the equation.

For the past few years, my focus has been directed toward Interfaith teachings and exploration. My mind has been open to other ways of doing religion. So much so, that I’ve neglected regular study of my own faith’s texts. Nor have I consistently dedicated time to deepen the core beliefs I hold dear, beliefs that include certain principles, also found in other religions. I thought that, if I attended this “open” church community and became involved in supporting its lay-led leadership, perhaps the spiritual support they professed to offer for each one’s journey would be enough. It wasn’t. Not for me. I simply didn’t fit. It was time to make a change.

The first thing I had to do with this newfound wisdom was to decide what my beliefs were. What’s important to me now in the religious realm? What values and principles are key to me? What kind of spiritual community would support that kind of thinking? Is there such a group nearby?

I’m no longer interested in starting a church from scratch, but, if necessary, would consider initiating a study group. Fortunately, there is a New Thought church in the community… a slightly different version than what I’ve been teaching or ministering… yet one with a history of New Thought founders similar to that of my own religion’s… and close enough in its writings and teachings to feel spiritually fed and connected.

I decided to attend a special mid-week prayer service and met the senior minister. These folks were openly talking about Spirit, God, Divine Mind. The music! The meditation! The familiar readings! Even the building – a real church – with an expansive New Thought library! I felt welcomed and comfortable. There was an inner Joy, a knowing Light, in the midst of each gathering. We spoke the same language! This, and a few other “test” visits and conversations with the minister, convinced my husband and me that a significant change had to be made regarding our choice of church.

I provided ample notice to the board president of the “open” church so that my volunteer tasks could be covered by others in the future. I hope she and I remain friends. And as difficult a decision as it was to reach, to leave their small group, my heart is now happy. I’m looking forward to once again being part of a New Thought community. It’s where I belong.

It is an important lesson in setting boundaries, of not giving away so much of myself – time, energy, spiritual desires… too much open-mindedness… too much compromise – that my soul becomes heavy and sad. Once again I realize the value and sense of peace in establishing, in having, in honoring spiritual beliefs that bring me comfort, while also exploring different viewpoints. I can be open-minded and still keep my brain (and heart) where it belongs.

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