I Wish I Had Known Then…

This month’s Living Out Loud theme is “Back to School”.

That was then.

We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves. ~Lynn Hall

Sometimes, I think I have changed drastically since school, and sometimes I don’t think I’ve changed at all. I think most of us are much who we’ve always been deep down but not what our peers perceived us to be. Sure, we’ve grown wiser and our experiences have shaped us into the people we are today. We are changing and evolving daily. Without change, life is stagnant.

We spent most of our time hiding beneath designer labels (or fake designer labels) and the newest trends and never really stepped out there and let people get to know us as the individuals we were. We were trying so hard to fit into the cookie cutter version of whatever was cool that week. I hid my emotions beneath my big eighties hair, and tended to agree with the opinion of the most popular person in my vicinity rather than voicing my own opinion. We were all so busy with our own problems, we never realized that mostly everyone else had the very same problems. What a support group we could have been for one another if we’d allowed authenticity!

I have never liked cliques. I didn’t like other people being excluded, although I did want to fit in. I more or less floated around or hung on the edges. There were certain people that I associated with in each of my classes. It seemed that I had most of my classes with the same people. I had friends from a variety of groups, but never considered myself one of any group. Now, of course, I have no idea what others actually thought of me

I made good grades, so I hung with some other people who were in similar groups such as Honor Society and Quill and Scroll (Honor Society for writers). I was editor of the school literary magazine and a reporter for the school newspaper. I was not an athlete as my mother would not allow me to play sports. I would have loved to run track. My friend was a cheerleader and I convinced my mother to let me try out. It was only on the condition that my football player friend would take me to and from the games so she wouldn’t have to be bothered. After a day or two of practice, I admitted defeat and did not try out. My friend offered to help me, but seriously I don’t think anyone could have turned a cheerleader out of the clutzy, out of sync person I was!

Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them. ~Marcel Proust

I had only remained in contact with a handful of friends from high school. I attended reunions but not everyone goes to those. Facebook has taken up the slack in that department. I have reconnected with many people that I otherwise would not have ever reunited. It has been interesting to discover out how much I have in common with people I didn’t really know back then. I really wish I had known them better when distance (as in miles not superficiality) was not a factor.

I am happy that I am still connected with those from my past who knew the “real me”. Even though we have changed and are no longer connected by those same threads that held us together back then, I’ve found that many of those facets we didn’t talk about bond us now. I am grateful to those that cared about me despite my shortcomings and that continue to accept and support me in my life today.

While I probably did not turn out to be who people expected me to become, I am not who I imagined myself to be either. My life path has changed course a few times. The weirdest truth is that I am very much the person I was always afraid to let others see or get to know. I often pretended to be someone I wasn’t just to fit in. I guess the biggest change in me is that I used to hide my questioning philosophical poetic side with silly antics. Through the years, I’ve learned that I can be all that I am and still be accepted. The difference now is that the acceptance part is not nearly as important as it was back then.

I wish I had known then that no matter how fast I ran, I could never outrun truth. I wish I had known then that it was all right to be myself. I wish I had known then that ten years later the opinions of those I tried to impress wouldn’t matter anymore. I wish I had known then that everyone else was struggling just as I was. I wish I had known then that they were probably trying just as hard to impress me. I wish I had known then that the me I was hiding was much nicer than the me I was pretending to be. I wish I had know then that I really was ok.

Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed. ~Irene Peter

This is now.

Laughter, An Explosion Of Smiles

Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects. ~Arnold Glasow

Laughter really is the best medicine. I can have a really crummy day, and then share a laugh over some silly anecdote and magically all is well with my world.

I not only come from a family of jokers, but I live in a house of them as well. Needless to say, I usually don’t have to go far for laughter. I can be working on my computer and listen to one of my children or my husband cracking up over something on the television or on their own computers. It is music to my ears. It is satisfying to hear happiness from the people I love the most in this world.

I regret to say that I am not nearly as funny as some of my family members. While I can be quite silly at times, I’m not usually as quick with comebacks. However, when my siblings and I get together, we usually toss them right and left. I am usually the one that gets smacked down and comes back with a retort a little too late! I am also the one who sometimes gets the joke a bit later. But hey, at least I get it eventually!

At any rate, the best thing in the world is having someone who gets you, and your quirky sense of humor. My kids might think I’m off the wall at times but they know exactly what I’m talking about. And Dirt Man, let’s say we absolutely share the same sense of humor. Sometimes, things tickle us that don’t tickle the average person.

One of the best things in the world is having a great friend and sister who does get your sense of humor, even if it is because hers is just as warped! Peggy and I usually call each other or send texts of the stupid things we do because we know the other will get a kick out of it. The average person might find us a tad bit odd, but we relate because it’s usually something the other one would or could have been guilty of as well! I was talking to her last night while I was walking the dog, and said, “Excuse me a second here. I just fell in a ditch.” She was dying laughing while I was stepping out and continuing the conversation as if nothing had happened. Then later I realized a foot in mouth moment I’d had earlier in the day, so I absolutely had to call her back to let her get a good laugh at my expense. I mean after all, she’d do it for me.

Peg and I cracking ourselves up trying to pose for a picture.

An example of Peg and my silliness is when she sent me a text with a photo of herself missing her front tooth(crown). We texted back and forth for hours while she was in the dental chair. I teased her that I’d placed her picture on Facebook and opened a contest offering a prize for whoever could guess which of my three sisters it was! Of course, I never did this, but I sure had fun ribbing her. I wish I was as quick witted as she is. She totally cracks me up. I am guaranteed to feel better if I call her.

Sometimes, my laughter is most inappropriate. Have you ever gotten the giggles during a lecture, sermon, or even a funeral? Or worse, have you laughed when a loved one got hurt? I think I’ve done all of those things. There was a time at  a funeral or some sort of service that my friend’s bra fell off. Seriously, it was strapless and snapped in the front. It popped and fell at her feet while standing to sing a hymn. She scooped it up with one foot and slipped it in her purse.


There was an episode in my house that should by all means pin me as the absolute worst mother in the entire world. When my youngest son was about ten, he stepped off the bottom step into the den and stepped onto a Ninja Turtle magazine. It was slow motion, one leg in the air, the other firmly planted on Donatello, both arms outstretched and flying across the den, landing into and halfway underneath the sofa. I swear it was so comical, I could not help myself. I was trying so hard to stifle the image of him sailing across the room AND my giggles to see if he was ok. He had hurt his shin, and was crying. I think he was crying equally from physical pain and emotional distress that his mother could actually humiliate him like that.

Then, there was the time that my husband rode his bike to pick up some videos. (Remember the old VHS tapes?) When he got home, he walked in carrying a blown out flip flop, damaged video cases…not to mention his pride and he was scraped up and bloody. As he was telling me how his flip flop blew out and he went flying over the handlebars and nearly killed himself, I doubled over in laughter envisioning the flip flop flying one way, the tapes the other way and him flying through the air. And then there was the time, he broke his ankle showing off with the kids while playing basketball…yes, I am the idiotic wife who could not stop laughing. What the heck is wrong with me?!

I love laughing. I even love laughing until my side hurts. However, I do not enjoy laughing so hard I pee myself…not that it has ever happened to me. Or that I’ve ever laughed so hard I snorted, farted, or coughed my tea through my nose. No, I’ve NEVER done any of those things, HA! I would end this post with a joke, but I’d probably forget or mess up the punch line and you’d be shaking your head. So anyway, I hope your day is filled with love and laughter. And most of all, I hope that if any of your friends or family members get hurt, that you can control your laughter.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

An Autumn Song

 I am the crisp breeze

that splatters your soul

with myriad hues of scarlet and gold.


I am a cantata of leaves

that serenade and cajole

with words unspoken, secrets untold.


I am the pitter and patter

of soft falling rain

upon the brown decaying ground.


I am the heart of the matter,

the joy and pain

of all this green, life once found.


I am past summer’s end;

not quite winter’s death,

but life’s chosen state of rest.


I am the gentle bend

of that exhilarating breath

reaching nature’s vibrant crest.


I beckon you to wait and see

for all that is to come and be

This is my entry for One Hot Wednesday.

Sandy Bottom Nature Park

The weather was beautiful with a mild temperature of about 75 with a slight breeze. The colors were gorgeous with the yellows, oranges, and snippets of scarlet just beginning to dust over the lush green landscape.

This Sunday hiking took Dirt Man and I to Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton. According to their literature, this park is a “456 acre environmental education and wild life management facility.” The land was reclaimed from an abandoned borrow pit. The park offers many amenities. We were mainly interested in the hiking/biking trails. There is a “Bark Park” located within. Wylie was way excited to make a couple of friends there. There is a wildlife education area, outdoor class rooms, nature center, camping area including really cool dome shaped cabins, picnic shelters and smaller ones with grill pits, boat and paddle boat rentals, several piers, bridges, observation decks, and nature tours. This park probably has more to offer families than any of the places we have hiked.

This park offers eleven trails totaling 8.7 miles. We hiked 8.5 and only doubled back over a small portion. The main complaint I have is that the first part of the Trillium Trail runs adjacent to the interstate which made it noisy. I wish there was a sound barrier. I totally did not get that soul/nature connection that I relish. However, the dog did not seem to mind! I prefer the rustling sounds to be coming from the wind whipping through the trees or the squirrels scurrying through the woods rather than from the cars whizzing by.

Even our guide needed to rest! 

Once we turned the corner, the noise faded and we started to hear some wildlife. There were trails that ran along the creek area, around the two lakes, Sandy Bottom and Crystal (which appears to be two as it is divided by a dike), and through the woods.

This tree almost looks as if it is growing from the inside of another tree trunk. Throughout the trails I noticed that some jerk had written racial slurs on the signs. Tell me, why do people deface property that does not belong to them, and why must they spread hate messages? I also noticed cigarette butts strewn about in places. First of all, that is littering. And second, it’s a fire danger to toss butt in a dry wooded area. I don’t get the mentality  and disrespect of some people. We saw a pair of mens underwear strewn along the path of one wooded trail. Along another one, there was a bright pink plastic child’s boot tossed a few feet off the path. That was really eerie. It made me imagine all sorts of horrible things. This was in the deepest part of the woods that it would have been unlikely for anyone to have tried to maneuver a stroller through the rooted rough trail. And it was too far for a child to have tossed it from the trail. If the child was walking, how would the parent not have noticed the child had lost a boot? Too many unsettling questions. I have been warned that there are lots of weirdos walking these trails. We have seen quite a few throughout our hikes. I think the strangest was the naked cowboy hiker that my son ran across on the Appalachian Trail. He came upon an older man (older to him was probably someone my age!) wearing only hiking boots, a cowboy hat, a backpack, and sporting a walking stick!

This is the view from one of the lakes, but I can’t remember which one.

This particular section had several trees that were hollowed out, possibly eaten away by insects. You can see two of them in this photograph. We noticed that some of the other trees seemed to be infested with some type of insects as they had holes bored all up and down the trunks.

This tree is leaning over like an archway with a trickle of a vine draped around it and inviting us to walk beneath it.

I think this is the most intriguing thing I saw there. I am not sure if this is actually the way the tree is growing or if these are roots that had pulled out and then developed into the trunk. There were several interesting trees with knots or stifled by vines. There were trees that were uprooted and then continued growing and their shapes contorted as they  adapted to their new situations. All those photographs are above.

This photograph of the field was taken from one of the observation decks. I love how the mustard color of the wildflowers meanders in and out.

Another lake shot with a bit of phragmite. The phragmite is rampant in some areas. It is known to be invasive. Some areas also contained quite a bit of goldenrod and other pretty weeds. On one of the trails there was bayberry which is used to scent wax candles.

I have no idea what this “weed” or plant is in the lower right corner. It appears to be a dried wildflower of some sort.

I’m not sure if this is also phragmite or something different. There was a rehabilitation area in one section. We saw a blind deer, appeared to be young. there was also an owl and two turkey buzzards. It was fenced off with a trail inviting you in. We felt like we were intruding, but apparently it was part of the park.

I love the reflection of the trees on the water in this picture and the next one.As we entered the last trail, we started seeing signs that warned of canebrake rattlesnakes. The trail was bordered with sawed up logs which are perfect hiding places (shelter) for them. I was a bit weary walking through there. Fortunately, we did not see any. The weather held up beautifully. It started to sprinke on our way home, and right as we walked into the house the sky broke open! I’d like to bike this park some time.


Spinning Webs

“The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web.” ~ Edwin Way Teale

Since Dirt Man and I have been hiking, I’ve noticed an enormous amount of spider webs. This is probably due to the fact that we are hiking near water, rivers and swamps. The wetness breeds mosquitos which brings in the spiders…food chain, yes apparently the cycle of life.

First off  I am not a fan of spiders. They scare me. In fact, I hate to admit if they are in my house it is usually…Squish…Squash!   I became intrigued by the intricate design work these artsy little guys produce. Apparently different types of spiders spin different types of webs.  By reading about them, I’ve gained a more healthy respect for them…maybe the next time I find one in the house I will carefully have it escorted outside. I did not say that I will pick it up myself!

Spiders start their webs with a single silk strand. I can’t  help but wonder if the Native Americans were inspired by spider webs in producing their dream catchers. I used to make dream catchers several years ago. Dream catchers are also woven with a single strand of sinew. I know the meaning behind them is to block out bad dreams and only allow the good ones to enter through the center hole.  http://www.thewolfsdencreations.com/History%20of%20the%20Dream%20Catchers.htm   This is a site I found that tells the legend. I also found this wonderful quote there. “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” ~ Chief Seattle   I love the way the Native Americans could pull life lessons from nature.

According to Wikipedia, the types of webs are spiral orb webs, tangle webs (cobwebs), funnel webs, tubular webs, sheet webs, and dome or tent webs. I don’t yet like spiders enough to study the webs to classify them to different spider types. I am sure that someone can enlighten me on the subject.

This is a huge spider. I am so glad I did not find him/her in my house. I am sure I would not have admired him or wanted a picture!

This shot is my favorite. Dirt Man took it for me. He was able to capture it at a perfect angle and in a glow of light.

I was a bit disturbed to realize the cobwebs are unused spider webs. I mean I am happy they don’t have occupants, but not happy spiders were living in my house that I didn’t notice.

This web appears that someone must have run into it and snagged it up a bit. I doubt that insect would have caused that kind of damage. This leads me to wonder if spiders do repair work or if they just move on and build completely new webs.

 This is a closer shot of the intricacy of the design. I wish I had a life lesson, analogy, or great words of wisdom of my own to leave you with, but I got nothing. Here are some parting words from Friedrich Max Muller ~”Those who are slaves to passions, run down with the stream (of desires), as a spider runs down the web which he has made himself; when they have cut this, at last, wise people leave the world free from cares, leaving all affection behind.”

Being Alone Is Anything But Lonely

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts. ~K.T. Jong

I am a person who talks a lot. Yet, I crave silence. I enjoy being with other people, but I desire to be alone. I need solitude to ponder and reflect. I guess I like spending time with myself.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to want to be in the midst of people and activity. I think I was afraid to get to know myself. I secluded myself when I was melancholy or wanted self pity. Those hours were not productive, except for some fairly gruesome poetry.

I’ve have always felt at home with nature, whether I was in the woods or by the river. There is something sacred about it. The silence speaks to me and I am connected to a force much greater than myself. My husband is drawn to nature as well. One of the first things I admired about him was his comfort with solitude. Even now, we can be together and be perfectly content in silence, and we can be tranquil in nature together.

We are not total recluses. We are not opposed to seeing people or attending public functions, but our preference is being at home or out in nature. After our work week of dealing with people, we welcome the peace the weekend brings us. I suppose the quiet unwinds us and washes away the stress of the week. Nature helps us get in touch with our inner selves.

I think the ability to function in a crowd or alone is an important concept in living. It helps us define who we are to ourselves and to others. We are often very different people in the public eye than we are inside. Often, people actually have no idea who they are. It is an intimacy not everyone is comfortable exploring. But it is only in solitude that the inner voice speaks. I’ve found that the inner voice that I feared so long actually flows with wisdom I don’t hear when I am in the chaos of the world.

Being alone does not equate loneliness. There have been times in my life that I have felt lonely. I’ve needed to share myself with others, and I’ve wanted someone to understand me. The difference is that being alone can be comforting. I can be by myself and not yearn for someone to be in my presence. One could also be in the center of a large gathering and still feel lonely. I think being alone is a state of being while loneliness is a feeling.

While I do not profess to be a social butterfly, I am not quite a hermit either. I have a network of friends and family, but also a rich inner life. I consider my life to be balanced. I take care of my own needs, and have enough of myself left over to nurture others. I think that if I did not take the time to ponder and reflect, I would become self-absorbed in the daily routines of life.

Solitude shows us what should be; society shows us what we are. ~Robert Cecil


A Bit Of Irony And A Few Potato Chips

Before I start my post, I want to let you all know I won’t be around for a few days as I will be at a writer’s conference. I’ll catch up Sunday or Monday.

I’d also like to point you over to Bella Online which published a poem of mine in it’s literary review, Mused. http://www.bellaonline.com/review/issues/fall2010/p038.html

 Now onto my post.

Long, long ago, almost in a different lifetime, I was thin. And I didn’t appreciate it! Imagine that? I’ve always had a skewed body image. Now, that I’ve gotten over it (well, sorta’) I find out I’m FAT!

Ok, we’ll start in the beginning. I was a gangly child, all arms and legs. As a teenager, I was skinny….actually in today’s standards set by society I’d probably be considered the perfect size. However, I was teased by a certain girl who called me “chicken legs”. I was very self conscious and never wore dresses, only blue jeans.

Recently, we had a family gathering. As all gatherings go with family, things are usually said later about people’s appearances. And always, there’s someone who can’t wait to tell you what so and so said about you. Someone said that many of us didn’t pay any attention to her because we were jealous that she looked so thin and we were all fat. Then it was added, “Susan sure has gained a lot of weight”. Well, it hit a nerve. It is the truth. I have gained a lot of weight. And I gained most of it over this summer. I was probably at the highest weight of my lifetime with the exclusion of full-term pregnancy. (which even then I was only five pounds heavier than that weight!) I kind of let the remark bounce off of me at first because I try to look for more substance in people than their weight. However, I became a bit more aware of what I was actually putting into my body.

The whole point of my biking and hiking was to prepare myself physically for our Utah trip. I can’t deny that I was secretly hoping I’d lose some weight, but was not going to allow myself to focus on it. I weighed before starting this regime which was three and a half weeks ago. I weighed a week ago and I’d only lost three pounds. Really? After close to a hundred miles (at least it seems like it!) of biking and hiking and only three punds? So, I decided to go ahead and make up with my enemy, potato chips. I have had some probably everyday since then. I weighed today and I’ve lost eight pounds. My thighs are no longer considered fire starters, as the two and a half inches I’ve lost on each one prevents them from rubbing now. But better than any of that is that I feel good. I have much more stamina than before. But I now ask you, should I invent the potato chip diet?

The following information is just to provide how even the health industries can’t agree on ideal body weights and fat percentages…or maybe the standards have changed through the years.

At one point in my life, I became obsessed with my weight. I was 134 pounds, and thought I was still fat…go figure! Prior to pregnancy I was 128 pounds and back to that two weeks after each pregnancy. (I only gained twenty-six pound each time.) This 134 pounds was when I was thirty-one. I really saw myself as fat while everyone else was worried because I was too thin. I went to a nutritional service for a body fat analysis. I dug this information out to share just to point out the discrepancies. Ok, at 134 pounds, my body fat was 27.7% with the average being 32%. So while being 4.3& under average, I was still 5.7% over optimum range. My optimum healthy weight range would have been 124 pounds. At any rate, I did not get any thinner than 134.

Three years later, I joined a gym. At age 34, my current weight was 142 pounds, and my body fat was considered 22.5% . Their analysis stated that my ideal range would be 134-141. Their suggestion was to lose one pound.

Fast forward…this is exactly what I weigh today which is seventeen years later. (For the record, I am not short either.) According to this website http://www.bmi-calculator.net/bmr-calculator/ my body fat composition is 32%. According to their charts, I am obese! So, the bottom line is that  the very same weight that would have been one pound too much is considered obesity seventeen years later. By the way, I like the people who created this chart! And double darn it, I was just feeling good because I fit into (and can still breathe!) the size 8 jeans I bought a years ago as an incentive. It obviously didn’t work last year. I happened to remember them this morning. So now, I think I will stop looking at charts. I won’t stop looking at scales because that is how I got to this point in the first place. However, I am going to focus on how I feel. I want to continue to feel good and have lots of energy. However, wearing a smaller size clothes would really big a huge benefit.

I’m not even going to go into the range of basic metabolic rates that were given each time. Let’s just say that several sites give vastly different numbers. This all leaves me wondering whether these are national standards or if health organizations pick their own standards, and if they do change through the years.

Over The River And Through The Woods…

Since we biked eighteen miles on Saturday, we opted for a more low-key hike on Sunday. Besides, we like to hike at least one day so the canine love of our lives can lead us astray. She absolutely loves hiking with us and is a sheer joy to take along. She usually charges ahead, nose to the ground and tail in the air. She goes full speed. After each hike, she sprawls out on the living room floor and snores all night!

The destination of this week’s hike was Northwest River Park. This is a 763 acre park located in Chesapeake, Virginia.  This park overflows with natural beauty and offers quite a bit of recreation from camping and fishing to about seven miles of hiking and equestrian trails. The park is a multiple time winner of “Best of Chesapeake”.

The picnic area is located on the scenic riverfront where people fish and boat.

Wylie could not read the “No Swimming” signs as they were not written in “dog”! After a nice dig to cool off, she was ready to continue.

This particular tree was hollowed out. We’re not sure if it was hit by lightening which seperated a section of the tree or if a big wind shook it a part. The picture only shows one section toward the top where the sun is shining through. From bottom to top, that section pulls apart then grows  together for the entire seam. It was interesting that the tree was still thriving.

This is the hollow section that Wylie (the dog) stuck her head in. Something must have been inside and frightened her because she backed out with tremendous speed! We heard something scamper, but did not see anything. Dirt Man has a knack for nature calling. He can immitate almost any bird or animal. Through one entire trail, he had an ongoing call with an owl. The owl would hoot out his call and Dirt Man would retort. At first the owl would wait a bit, then his answers came more quickly. Not sure if he (or she) was courting Dirt Man or if it was another human thinking he was conversing with an owl! At any rate, I was amused.

There are very few trees that I can identify. Dirt Man can identify almost every one and give Latin names and various facts. This tree with the purple berries stumped him. The pretty purple caught my eye. Does anyone know what this tree is or care to venture a guess?

Most of the trails are wooded areas. I like natural trails filled with leaves, sticks, and roots that trip you if you don’t watch your footing. A few of the trails run along the river. We came upon two bridges that were closed for repairs and had to turn back on those trails.

This is a really awesome bridge. The totems give it character.

Here’s a closer view of one of the totems. We hiked 5.4 miles of the seven miles available. Because we had the dog with us, we didn’t hike any of the equestrian trails. We would have liked Wylie to meet a horse, but we didn’t want to take a chance of her spooking it.


These signs were at the beginning of each trail. They cracked me up…like we would purposely leave ticks on us if we found them! Fortunately for me, I did not get any. Dirt Man found one on his leg, and Wylie got one on her paw. There were spider webs EVERYWHERE. A post with pictures of the webs will be forthcoming. I don’t care for spiders, but they are amazing artists!

I liked how these trails meandered from the woods to riverside and back. The scenery was lovely with the leaves just starting to turn into the orange and golden hues. Many had fallen and softened a bed upon the earthen floor. The atmosphere was tranquil. As always, I am happy to find a natural oasis tucked away in the city.


This is my entry for One Shot Wednesday. This was inspired by Linda’s post Stepping Back From The Edge.



Standing on the edge

I listen to the song of life

whipping through the tree limbs

And I wonder if time is eternal

It is the same distance up as it is down

All seems smaller looking down

The exhilaration is greater at the top

And going down can be easier than the climb

But would the view from the top be nearly as great

had I not endured the climb up

From the bottom, obstacles met me head on

I got smacked in the face by tree limbs

the very ones that sing so sweetly

And I slipped upon the rocks

the very ones upon which this mountain sits

Standing on the edge

I am in awe of the vastness that surrounds me

I am a part of God’s glorious canvas

And he has chosen me to live this day

So I listen to this hymn of life

of all above and below me

And I am humbled

I am

Standing on the edge

Come All Ye Faithful

The topic for this weeks Spin is Religion.

God made so many different kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him? ~Martin Buber

I have never doubted God’s existence in my life. However, I was raised with an unhealthy concept of religion. I was not brought up in the church. My father was always grumbling at his mother for trying to shove her religion down his throat. His family did not belong to a mainstream church. I went with my aunt and grandmother to their meetings sometimes. The congregation preached at us with damnation, but they did not practice all of what they preached. There was much hypocrisy among the members, and they seemed more interested in getting one another in trouble for their sins rather than lifting one another up when they were down. The clergy made fun of the beliefs of other people and churches. Mostly, they lectured with “holier than thou” attitudes about the end of the world which scared me more than anything.  I think the thing that confused me the most was their utmost disdain for the Triune God of other religions. Their leaders depicted Him as a three headed monster. This also frightened me. (It took me many years to undo that and actually understand the Trinity.)

My mother’s father belonged to a Methodist church. He spoke calmly of a kind and loving God. He never condemned us or forced his religion on us. This God was the one that lived in my heart. We were always told to be respectful of anything my Grandfather said, but never allowed to attend his church services.

All religions must be tolerated… for… every man must get to heaven his own way. ~Frederick the Great
I did go with my neighbors to their Baptist church for vacation bible school. My mother warned me not to let them to put me on their church roster. I had been told that churches only wanted my money. Of course, I was too young at the time to understand the concept of tithing. I was told that they idolized the cross and not God. I suppose I had been somewhat brainwashed before I went there. I was scared and had a hard time easing into the fun, games, and singing. By the time the week was about to end, I found that I liked it. On the last night we had to go forward and receive some sort of paper from the preacher. I threw mine away before my mother could see it because I feared I had been added to their church roster. For a long time I carried the guilt (and the secret) that I might have been made a member of the Baptist church. I didn’t know if I had been or not, but I feared that I if I had been and my mother found out I’d be in big trouble.

In high school, I attended services with my friend at a Methodist church. She played piano for the small congregation. It was there that I fell in love with hymns. I felt a sacredness and completeness in lifting my voice with others in unison to something much greater than I understood yet trusted.

A faith of convenience is a hollow faith. ~M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy, “A Holy Mess,” 1982
When I left home, I was happy to leave all the hypocrisy and battle of religion behind. I carried God away with me. I always felt the comfort of His presence wherever I was. It wasn’t something I talked about to anyone. However, I did always pray every night, and I talked with him often during the day. I did not have one of those “If you do this one thing for me God, I promise I will never….” relationship. I did not barter with Him. I confided in Him and sought solace and guidance.  I was embarrassed by the concept of “religion”. I viewed religion as a thing that people hid behind or used to counteract the bad things they did in life.

There did come a time when my children were small that I felt we should be teaching them religious values. I didn’t want them to grow up with a skewed view as I had. The funny thing was that we thought we were doing this for our kids and ended up benefiting greatly ourselves. We became active in our church. We taught Sunday School for ten years. We were active in missions, youth, healing ministry, and many other organizations. We loved our church and our church family. It was a wonderful time in our lives. Our children thrived in our church community as well.

The churches must learn humility as well as teach it. ~George Bernard Shaw, St. Joan

We were invited to attend Emmaus. In case you don’t know what Emmaus is, it is a weekend retreat focused on your relationship with God and knowing that you are loved. It’s purpose is to equip you with skills to go back and serve your home church. It was a wonderful experience. I came back renewed and able and willing to support my church even more. However, later I went back to an Emmaus retreat and served, and that was a horrible experience. Helping others was good, but what was not good was getting involved and in the middle of a big clique. If you know anything about me, you know I don’t do hypocrisy and I don’t do cliques. I never felt more of an outsider as I felt that weekend. I won’t go into details as much of the Emmaus routine is not discussed, but it involves much self pride which takes the focus away from God. I totally dropped all ties with Emmaus after that.

Not all religion is to be found in the church, any more than all knowledge is found in the classroom. ~Author Unknown

A few years ago, there was a lot of controversy in my church. There seemed to be many good people all caught up in their own agendas rather than God’s agenda. I got tired of the politics and stopped attending services. Since this time, I have grown tremendously spiritually. My walk with God is much closer. You’d think I’d feel closer when I am reading and studying His word, but that is not the case. I’ve stopped focusing on what other people tell me about Him, and am finding Him within me. I suppose my biggest problem with institutionalized religion is the self-righteous behavior of many. I think as the body of Christ, we should work together to help one another. Many do this, but many do not. I guess this happens in many areas of life, not just religion.

Though I am not currently attending my church, I do not regret for a moment the years I spent there. I learned things in bible studies that I probably would not have learned on my own. I met many wonderful people and had some fabulous experiences. I grew as a Christian and as a person. I think that we provided our children with a solid belief system that will guide them in life.

Because I do not attend church regularly, I suppose many would not consider me religious. Nor am I hypocritical. What I am is faithful.

I feel good about where I am right now. I don’t feel that I must be involved with institutionalized religion in order to serve God or have a relationship with Him. Nor do I feel that I must explain myself to others, though I often end up doing just that. I am content with my relationship with Him. Sometimes, I feel guilty that I am not involved in the church, but I remind myself that what is important is my relationship with Him. My beliefs and my walk is mine to call my own. And in this realm that was once strife-ridden for me, I have found peace. Someday, I might return to church, but for now I am content.

*****This is not meant as a bash on anyone or any religion in general. I realize honesty can be hurtful, but this is not my intent. This is my experience, and others around me may have viewed the same circumstances differently than I did. This is how religion appeared through my eyes growing up and my views today. I harbor no resentment to anyone from my past. Even if I did not agree with their beliefs, I still learned much from them, and love them all the same. I’m sure the things that I mention happen in all churches and not in only one particular religion. Growing and learning is very much a part of the walk. I am thankful for all experiences I have had, for these have helped me choose my own way. Not to say my way is the right way or anyone else’s way is wrong, that is what is great about America…the freedom to practice the religion of our choice, and the freedom to speak of it.