I and Thou: The Labor of a Shell

Do you ever wonder about seashells? How they form? How critical they are to our environment? After reading a few articles, seashells are very important. They are mostly calcium with a sprinkle of protein and form from mollusks. Who knew? In fact, they are so vital that it is against the law in some countries to remove them from the ocean. When I think of a seashell, I can imagine the length of refining it took for what it became rather than how it began. And that sure sounds like labor.

A friend recently posted on lifelong labor, retirement, and the meaning of life. It was a great post – so feel free to check it out.

https://www.facebook.com/robertmullinswrites

Photo Credit: Carol Leigh, “South African Turban Shell” fineartamerica.com

I commented “life is about finding meaning and the worth of existence. The word retirement needs to be thrown out the window and replaced with refocusment (I made the word up) or, perhaps even better, refinement?

Which got me thinking about what refinement might look like. Could it possibly be the process of discovering ourselves in the bigger scheme of existence in relationship to others? If we put others first, a basic tenet of Christianity, perhaps labor would feel less like labor.

As I muddled through life, I performed an array of odd “labor.” I cut lawns, lifeguarded, and babysat so I could pay college tuition. I worked at a sporting goods store for three years too. Then, I was lucky enough to earn a college degree and start my first full-time professional job. What they didn’t teach in college was that a degree in psychology and working in education would never afford you to have any real discretionary income. But it was enough to provide food and shelter. Then, I found my knight in shining armor, or so I thought.

I had been blessed as a stay-at-home mom for nearly ten years while I raised my two boys. Most honest parents will tell you that raising kids is no picnic. But not having to dress in a corporate suit and wear heels every day was lovely. Then, I hit a rough patch of another ten years where it seemed that working was all I was doing. It sure sounded like Joseph telling the Pharoah that seven years of famine would follow seven years of abundance. (Genesis 41). I worked at a grocery store and taught pre-school to pay bills and have food on the table. At the same time, I was trying to launch a consulting firm. I did manage (by the grace of God) to pick up a few consulting gigs at fascinating places – and the best part? I didn’t have to wear heels. And then the money started to flow. My college degrees were finally paying off. I can’t imagine people who have to work to survive over the long haul.

During this almost penniless, having three dollars and forty-three cents to my name timeframe, I had to work with little time to refine. Yet perhaps that whole time spent piecing together four part-time gigs was part of the refining process. I certainly would not be the person I am today; had I not had the experience of being thrown down into a deep dark tunnel only to climb myself out of it with the help of others. Not that I wish that experience on anyone, but it was undoubtedly a testimony to my grit.

It took a village to support and encourage me to take a leap of faith—a leap to Arkansas, where I found peace and my tribe. And, if you are being pulled in a specific direction – take the leap of faith! I miss my tribe dearly – but I know they are all within me and part of the refining process. Kind of like the shell, taking years to form from cells, calcium, and proteins floating in the ocean. Yes, it takes a village; sometimes, it is one person, and at other times, it may be many people. What does your village look like?

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I and Thou: Knock, Knock

Knock, Knock

Crying out to the Lord,
Where are you, Sir?

The Lord of the universe,
Hello, anybody out there?

Crying out again to the Lord,
Why must I suffer this profound loss?

Bowing head in reverence,
Asking to change hearts and minds.

The Lord of the universe,
Where are you, Sir?

Are you listening?
Can you hear me screaming?

Anguish, hallow, pit,
Drip, drip, drip.

Insides swirling and twirling,
Lamenting, questioning – a crisis of faith
.

Don’t you care?
Where are you, Sir?

My child, you are most precious to me,
I am right here, beside you.

Go ahead and put your head on my shoulder,
It is okay to cry and be heartbroken.

And, in all of this deep despair,
A gentle voice whispers, “I love you.”

Graphic Credit: The Perseus Galaxy Cluster greatbigcanvas.com

I and Thou: Keep it Short

Short & Pithy
Let it go.
Work at it.
Establish boundaries.
Keep it light.
Have fun.
Talk it out.
Be there.
Provide space.
Stay connected.
Together is better.

Let it go…

can you really let it go? I’m not sure. We can strive to let it go, and maybe asking God for help isn’t such a bad idea.

Work at it…

to me, anything worthwhile must be earned. For two people to have a relationship, work needs to be done. Whether the person is your Team Leader at work or your spouse. All relationships require work by two people.

Establish boundaries…

you hear about boundaries quite a bit. It seems to be a buzzword of the past few decades. For instance, the Boundaries book by Dr. Townsend & Dr. Cloud. The woman takes on so many church responsibilities that she is drowning because she doesn’t know how to say “no.” It is vital to one’s sanity to establish boundaries. I don’t think anyone would argue this point. Yet, setting limits to protect oneself and not thinking of the other person’s perspective doesn’t seem right to me.

Keep it light…

life is short, and I think I am way too serious, but it is my nature, and I have to work at having fun and keeping it light. For those who have the gift of being able to keep it light – what is your secret? I’d love to know.

Have fun…

to me, this is like keeping it light. To have fun, I try to surround myself with fun people. I find that fun people tend to spread the fun. I need to find more fun people!

Talk it out…

ah! This one is good. I love to talk, and I value communication. Communication is one of my strengths, so it is second nature for me to engage in a conversation unless a conflict is mixed in because that causes me to freeze up and shut down. I feel offended and sad when someone doesn’t want to talk to me. So, now that I know this about myself, I am responsible for letting those who love me understand this. Therefore, partners need to find out how important communication is and by what means it is most valued. Since I had spent so much of my work life on the phone, the phone is not my favorite. Text messages and short emails work best for me. What works best for you?

Be there…

just showing up is essential. Either in person, through a gift, or an email. Partners need to be there. Make time. Figure out your love languages and go from there. We all communicate differently. Find out what works for you and your partner. Being there…also reminds me of having someone’s back. This “have your back” is far more critical than I had ever realized. I’m glad I know how this feels.

Provide space…

who doesn’t need space? Provide space to develop separately, as a couple, or as a work team. The tricky part is knowing when to ebb and flow. Once you find people who know how to ebb and flow with and around you, you have a great circle of friends.

Stay connected…

it really doesn’t take much to stay in touch, especially in this day in age of social media. I’m not suggesting being online eight hours a day. Perhaps treating your family, friends, and coworkers as a garden that needs watering every so often might be nice. I promise you will reap rewards that you can’t even imagine. I met a colleague who told me she reaches out to five people on LinkedIn weekly. That is what works for her.

Together is better…

in most cases, I wholeheartedly agree! Together is better when two people wish to get to know each other and want the other person in their lives. Without grievous infractions, miscommunications can be resolved through authentic introspection and the willingness to accept different thoughts from yours. People create walls around themselves and find it challenging to peek through the cracks. But, once they do, I think they will be surprised by how much love they will receive. After all, love is everything – isn’t it?

I and Thou: A Parent’s Prayer




A Parent’s Prayer

Our Creator who art above the firmament,
hallow our inner spirit.
Thy wisdom come.
Thy will be done,
on the path we walk each day.
Give peace to our sons and daughters,
and forgive us for what we did not know,
as we forgive them for what they did not know,
and lead us not into a dark tunnel of gloom,
but deliver us from the stronghold of estrangement.
For you are the Creator of all wisdom, forgiveness, love,
and acceptance forever and ever. Amen

– Ruth E. Walton

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Image Credit: Pray for You: Found on Pinterest – Artist Unknown

I and Thou: A Mother’s Day Tribute

Mother’s Day Tribute

Photo Credit: Bob Walton

Caption: My Mother and I didn’t always see eye to eye, but every once in a while, we did!

Because there are gaps in the ages of my siblings, we each have very different memories of our parents – especially our mother!

The fondest memories of my mom were the daily emails through AOL Prodigy (way before social media), in the middle of the night in my early thirties, after giving birth to my first newborn son. My mother was right on the other side of the computer or the phone. As a new mom, I had loads of questions, and I just needed someone to talk to. Any time.

Night or Day.

Faithful.

Loyal.

Kind.

Loving.

I used to keep those emails in a big black binder. I sure wish I had them now.

My mom taught me the importance of two-way communication.

Growing up, my mother happily went along with whatever “career” I was pursuing at the time. She did not lead me in any one direction – in fact, I felt like a fish out of water several times. I wanted to be a missionary. Then, an accountant, physical therapist, public relations specialist, and then a human resources administrator. My mother accepted me for who I was, except, of course, my hair. She did not like how I did my hair – no matter how I styled it. But that was okay – I learned to ignore it.

My mom taught me to love myself and my hair no matter what people say. (Especially her!)


I also remember not-so-great things. One time, Mom said I could not have a Jewish person for my best friend. That was when I was five years old. Then, a few years later, maybe 10 years old, she said I could not have a Catholic girl for my best friend. At the time, I couldn’t really argue with her, but something inside of me thought it was pretty odd.

My mom taught me that her Christianity was flawed. Love one another, but only those who look like us and believe like us – I didn’t buy it.


I began to realize then that religion and faith were very different. Were we really reading the same Bible? Were we really attending the same Church? It was so strange that my family seemed so different from the other families who attended our non-denominational Church. Anyway, I am grateful that my mother raised me in faith and supported my faith walk even though she always tried to convert me to her way of thinking. Toward the end of her life, she became more accepting and even supported my nieces who had gay friends. That was an enormous change in mindset for my mom, and for that, I am grateful.

My mom taught me that wisdom is truly gained as we age.


My mother and father dragged us to Church, kicking and screaming each Sunday. It was miserable. But, sometimes, I actually liked going to Church. I remember in 7th grade getting up at 6 a.m. in the morning to attend a bible study at 7:00 a.m. in the summer. My parents supported anything “Christian,” except a car ride at 7:00 a.m., so – off I went and rode my bike to Church.

My mom taught me perseverance.


Growing up – our meals were primarily gray. My mother was the type of mother who tried to cook but wasn’t any good at it. She seemed to love using a pressure cooker where the round steel top would blow off every once in a while, causing quite an explosion. Once my dad retired, he because the Chef of the house – and boy, was he ever creative! I laughed. It was funny. (I promise to fill you in next month for Father’s Day.)

My mother’s hatred of cooking taught me to fall in love with it and led me to experiment and be colorful and creative when cooking.


Another virtue that I admired in my mother was her encouragement of my physical activity. It would seem quite normal for most people, but you didn’t know my mom. She hated physical activity. She once told me how she hated the gym when she went to high school. I loved it.

I’m really grateful that my mom supported my running track in high school and my first two years in college.

Ah, high school. My mother did not really push me at all academically. In fact, she didn’t want me to work as hard as my older sister did. In a weird way, I felt as though she favored my sister over me. Again, mothers are not perfect. I could never compete with my sister, who seemed to be the most intelligent person in the whole wide world, and that was okay. God makes us all different and unique.

I learned that I had to work really hard to earn my grades. It did not come naturally to me at all. My mom taught me how to motivate myself.

I remember riding my bike everywhere. Even on Route 46 from Clifton to Totowa. Looking back, I was quite a risk-taker. Danger didn’t compute with me at all – probably because I had a deep faith realizing that when my ticket was up – it was up – no matter what I did or didn’t do. I learned to trust God and PRAY when crossing significant highways on a purple bicycle I bought myself.

Mother’s Day is a day to honor all the moms who have nurtured a child or spent time trying their darndest.

Moms are not perfect.

Not my mom.

Not her mom.

And, certainly not ME!

Today, I honor my mom. The mother of four children – each child seemingly having a different mother. She was by no means perfect. And I know she did the best she could and made the best decisions for her and her family at the time. She was a constant in my life. The good and the bad. She was my confidant. She was the one I called at 2:00 a.m. when I just felt overwhelmed as a new mom myself.

So, go ahead. Call YOUR mother and wish her a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

One day, she might not be on this earth to answer your call.

Call to Action: Share, Like, Follow, Comment. I would love to know what you learned from your mother.

I and Thou: April is Stress Awareness Month

An open note to estranged parents:

Deviating from the norm of this blog, I share this article to bring light and hope to parents who have been alienated or estranged by a child.

I know the depth of my love for my child and the void in my heart. I feel the intensity of pain that never seems to go away. I ask myself why? Why me? Why my child?

Estrangement is not normal, so the rules of normalcy do not apply. I urge you to read each of the 8 stages slowly and carefully. I pray that you will glean a nugget, a treasure you can hold in your heart to help you move forward. I finally feel I am moving forward…less pain, more acceptance, and more healing.

May the God of love, mercy, and healing be with you and your pain today. May tomorrow be less stressful, less painful, and much brighter. 

8 Stages of Estrangement

There are eight stages of estrangement between a parent and child. In this article, a child refers to any child at any age, including adult children. The estrangement in this article is the estrangement of a son and a mother. A son blocked his mother from social media and stopped all communication with her. She tried endlessly to reconnect to no avail. Ten years later, she still does not know what triggered the estrangement. Parent alienation may have been at play. 

Estrangement and grief go hand-in-hand because, at some level, estrangement is loss, and so is death. The difference is that death is final, and estrangement may not necessarily be absolute. There is hope in estrangement. Death is final. One could probably argue that hope is not healthy, and perhaps hoping less will lead to more efficient healing.

On the other hand, others will continue to hope – a glass-half-full, half-empty type of analogy. Emotions play a critical role in the process of healing from loss. Individuals who are more empathetic and have more of an advocate personality may have a slightly more difficult time processing loss. Those who are less empathetic and more optimistic may have an easier time with loss. 

According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, experiencing these five stages of grief, regardless of order or even vacillating between each one, leads to healing. There is plenty of information on the internet regarding grief. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief are:

Denial

Anger

Bargaining

Depression

Acceptance

E. Kubler-Ross

In estrangement, a similar set of components are necessary for healing and moving forward. This process can take years or even decades to complete in both grief and estrangement. The eight stages of estrangement are:

Denial

Acceptance Part 1

Rejection

Shame and Blame

Anger

Acceptance Part 2

Fear

Healing

R. Walton

Denial

Denial is not believing a situation exists. It is pretending that the estrangement is not real and hoping it will disappear. Surely, a child cannot estrange themself from a parent. What type of child would do that? Denial is a normal response, and it is the path of least resistance. It is typically short-term. Eventually, denial replaces accepting the reality of the situation, whether the parent likes it or not. In death, denial does not want to believe a loved one has passed on from this world onto the next. Denial is a defense mechanism wishing the estrangement is not absolute, and normalcy will return. However, that is often not the case. Once parents understand the estrangement is not going away, Acceptance Part 1 begins.

 Acceptance – Part 1

Once the denial phase is over, a parent begins to accept the concept of estrangement. A parent first seeks to understand the growing number of estranged parent-child relationships by scouring the internet for possible resources on the subject. A parent may not even know how commonplace it is and can quickly become an expert on the topic realizing other parents have encountered a similar situation. In this Acceptance Part 1 stage, a parent acknowledges that the parent-child relationship has changed. At this stage, reconnection becomes an obsession. A parent attempts to discover the reasons that led to the estrangement and remains hopeful for reconciliation. During this stage, a parent realizes that the relationship that once was is no longer. Coming to terms with this acceptance leads to rejection. Furthermore, feeling both accepting of the situation and rejection by it simultaneously is quite common.

Rejection

Rejection is an emptiness and a feeling of loss and causes both physical and emotional stress. Rejection of a parent by a child is a traumatic experience. It is very much related to power and control. A child has exerted power and control over the relationship by walking away from it, which is hurtful. Reactions such as anxiety, panic attacks, and other physical pain or stress occur when rejection occurs. If estrangement occurs during a divorce, a rejection by a child can add fuel to the fire of feeling rejected by the spouse. In some cases, an entire set of relatives and friends disappear in what may seem like an instant. During this stage, a parent feels physically and emotionally depleted. Lost. Loss of a child. Loss of a marriage. Loss of a family. Loss of what was. Loss of what was to be.

Shame and Blame

Shame typically begins during the rejection phase after a parent has worked through the acceptance part 1. The reality of the estrangement starts to set in. The questioning begins. A parent may think they lack parenting skills. What on earth did a parent do for a child to shut a parent out completely? Or, what did a parent not do? This stage is when a parent internalizes the pain and questions the validity of the source. Frequently, a parent does not know the reason(s) for the estrangement. A parent begins to feel shame. The mere thought of a child rejecting a parent is vile; therefore, a parent experiences shame. A deep to the core type of shame. The shame of a child’s rejection and the shame of what behavior a parent may have or may not have done or said or not said. Shame and blame often coincide. A parent blames themself. A parent blames a child. A parent blames a spouse (or former spouse). Or, in the case of parent alienation, blames a court system. In the end, the question remains, was the estrangement caused by another human being? Or was the estrangement caused by an action? A miscommunication? A series of misfortunate incidents? Lack of communication? Or no communication at all? There is blame, shame, and anger all around. 

Anger

Anger is the reaction to an unpleasant situation. It is a normal emotion and frequently occurs in the everydayness of life. The anger resulting from estrangement runs deep – much more profound than the everyday kind. This one is the ugly cousin of shame and blame. This anger is volatile, yet, it can also be quietly simmering beneath the surface, waiting to explode. During the estrangement process, anger is necessary. It is anger with oneself, a child, a spouse or former spouse, family, friends, and even God. Anger that questions the estrangement and the role others may or may not have played to either lead to the estrangement or to support and encourage it. Did a parent do all they could do to prevent this? Did a spouse (or former spouse) encourage counseling? Did family members disown the estranged parent or intervene? Was there a feeling of hopelessness? Or did not do enough? Or did too much? This anger phase involves questioning oneself and others, which is necessary for healing. It is vital to vent by deep breathing, talking to a therapist or friend, exercising, or alleviating the stress that builds from the anger during this anger stage. Even though thoughts of murder, suicide, and kidnapping may occur, one cannot act upon them.

Acceptance – Part 2

Once the anger has dissipated, a parent can start the next phase of Acceptance Part 2. This stage is where a parent accepts the estrangement as part of a bigger picture whereby a child may not have estranged willingly. Or thoughtfully. Or knowingly that the estrangement would last for months, years, or decades. The acceptance stage acknowledges that a child may not know how to reconcile. It also comes to terms with a child making “no contact” and respecting the decision. This stage is a promising one. Once a parent has accepted the estrangement as part of life’s circumstances, a parent can start to let go of the past and realize that there may be no future with an estranged child. A parent should no longer attempt to mail letters, send friend requests, and ask others who may know the child for any information. This stage is tough to journey through, especially for hopeful and generally optimistic people. Thinking that one day, reconciliation may happen conjures up visions of unicorns and torture. The goal of Acceptance Part 2 is peace and respect for oneself and others, including an estranged child.  

Fear 

This stage involves non-estranged children. It is the fear of potential estrangement from another child. After estrangement, fear clouds the relationship between a parent and the non-estranged child. This fear negatively influences parenting decisions. A parent will discipline the non-estranged child less. A parent will adjust their communication for fear that something said will trigger the non-estranged child to estrange. Is the fear realistic? For a parent who has lost a valued relationship with one child – the fear is real – it is a perceived danger and potential threat. The risk of losing another relationship often leads to also avoiding intimate conversations. The relationship is fragile, and a parent wants to guard it to ensure it does not break. Living and parenting with the fear of estrangement are not easy. It is a difficult stage to endure and learning to live day by day keeping worry at bay is a good goal to have. As the non-estranged child matures, the fear of estrangement may dissipate based on their behaviors and communication.  

Healing

Healing comes in all sizes and shapes, and moving forward with life and becoming unstuck, is essential. Healing can begin with writing, therapy, exercise, or workshops. Breathing retreats can help. Seminars on Living a Miraculous Life can help. Spiritual vacations can help. Whatever helps heal a parent from estrangement is worth doing, especially if it means being open to a conversation with someone who loves a craft or activity that you do not. No matter how healing takes place, there is nothing more important in this world than for a parent to be their best authentic self.  

 About the Author 

Ruth is a blogger of I and Thou Reflections on WordPress and Facebook. WordPress exhibits her heartfelt reflections on life, love, and relationships. Facebook contains excerpts from her devotional book on human relationships as well as her I and Thou Reflections. She has authored a fiction book on love, travel, marriage, and separation due out at the end of this year. Ruth has also written a 365 devotional on reflections on God, scripture, and human relationships, which will be part of a series tentatively titled, Sacred Traits, hoping to publish in the following year. Ruth is currently working on numerous other writing projects, including a Career Journal. She is a former director of career services at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, AR, and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. Her younger son recently graduated college and lives on the east coast. Ruth’s eldest son lives on the west coast and estranged from her more than ten years ago. Through research, writing, and prayer, she has healed to the point where she can respect his feelings and remains hopeful for a reconciliation.

I and Thou: Traditions

Photo Credit: Sarah Loft fineartamerica.com

Zechariah 8:18-23

18 The word of the Lord Almighty came to me. 19 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.” 20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.” 23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Thought: Zechariah, one of the Old Testament prophets, writes about sad and challenging fasts and how joyful and pleasant feasts replace the sad fasts. He tells people a message of God’s love for His people, reminiscent of holidays when families gather around a table to share a meal.

What holidays do you and your family celebrate?

Families make plans and celebrate all types of holidays such as New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Passover, Labor Day, Holi, or Christmas. Some families come together each year for a family reunion while others celebrate a holiday unique to them. Some host Hawaiian Luaus, Memorial Day picnics, and others watch fireworks and picnic on the 4th of July.

Tradition, according to Wikipedia is, “a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.” * Traditions are true because they are believed to be true. In the case of Passover, angels of death passed over the Israelites, who had brushed the lamb’s blood, over their doorframes. (Exodus 12:7). God saved the Israelites, and the tradition of celebrating Passover acknowledges the event and commemorates it.

Traditions can last thousands of years or last only a few. However long a tradition continues, it creates memories. Holiday gatherings take place year after year and our children expect a house full of relatives. Right? Yet, we often forget how separation and divorce changes tradition. In some cases, it ends. Families no longer gather as years pass.

Maybe this post will change the minds of couples who are no longer couples – to forget about themselves for a day and to think about tradition, not for their sakes, but for the sake of their children. Go ahead and invite your former spouse to your holiday meal – I dare you!

Thankfully, the truth of God’s love is eternal and not measured by years of tradition or mistakes. It is simply the truth. The truth, as the prophet Zechariah wrote, in the last days, people from all nations will want to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. Let’s keep traditions alive so we all can have the opportunity to touch Jesus’ hem. Shall we?

Divine gifts – sharing religious traditions with family opens us up to experience grace and truth.

Action: What makes your family tradition special?

* Tradition. Retrieved November 3, 2016, from the Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tradition

I and Thou: Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Japanese cranes by CheetahArt on DeviantArt

God of heaven and earth, hear our prayer…

Thank you for all the abundant blessings you bestow upon us…

Ability to gaze in the eyes of a newborn.

Majestic feeling of a dolphin jumping within arms reach.

Gracefulness of a crane walking nearby.

Muscles that kayak under tunnels of deep luscious green vines.

Active minds that enjoy playing games with family and friends.

Hands that built caves in Mesa Verde thousands of years ago.

Bountiful food prepared for family dinners.

Creativity expressed through birthday-themed celebrations.

Gentle breezes felt on a boat ride.

Feeling truly loved.

Instead of falling into the hype of the holiday season, what would it look like if you took a step back and pondered what really is essential to you? Is it to mend a relationship? To spend more time with your children? Your parents? Or is it to reach out to someone less fortunate who could really use a helping hand?

Let’s focus on more simple ways of celebrating the holidays in this season of Thanksgiving. Shall we?