Acceptance 101, Making a God Box

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I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther

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One year when I was enrolled in Self-Pity 101 and deeply involved in my studies, a close friend who belonged to a 12-Step program invited me to a women’s weekend at the Ralston White Retreat in Marin County. I doubted that her program could do a better job than mine of addressing my top concern – myself—but I agreed to attend because the destination intrigued me.

The historic house, now a retreat, was nestled in the redwoods. I arrived on a wet, windy Saturday mooning in December. Long branches of moss-laden redwoods swayed as a storm ripped through Northern California.

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That afternoon, rain pounded against the picture windows while I sat on a sofa in a workshop on God Boxes. I listened to thirty-something Jessie, who held a cigar box covered with a collage of paint, photos, and rice paper. She said, “My God Box holds the problems I turn over to my high power.”

I crossed my legs and amused myself by rolling my ankle and counting the times it circled around. This craft project might be a misplaced belief in magic. A decorated container seemed as helpful as magic underwear. That is, not at all.

Perhaps my problems were far from one-of-a-kind. Yet I pouted privately that even so, they were worse than anyone else’s because my children left to live with their father after our divorce, leaving my nest emptier earlier than other mothers’ empty nests. I held tight to my self-pity.

As if she read my mind, Jessie laughed and pushed back her dark, curly, long hair. “Everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.” That caught my attention. She shared her story about leaving a physically abusive partner and struggling with alcohol, coming across happy and calm. I wanted the peace she had.

Jessie shared a quote from Martin Luther, “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.

She continued, “A God Box holds that which one places in God’s hands: unsolved problems, unanswered questions, sorrows, and unrequited love—the things you wish to let go of and give to God.”

“On a slip of paper, write a sentence, please, or a single word about the relationship or any other concern that seems to have no solution,” she said. “In so doing, a ritual is created that will help you let go and turn it over to God. You can more easily let go after making a symbolic gesture of turning over the concern to God.”

I moved to the long table with magazines, glued a copy of Martin Luther’s quote on the inside lid of a box, and made my own God Box.

The words I wrote on two slips of paper were the names of my daughter and son. When I tucked the papers inside the God Box, I recalled Jessie’s words, “Life has its mysteries and I am not in charge.”

As we finished our boxes, Jessie said, “You may say it’s only a box, but it’s no small thing to make a ritual of letting go. Whatever you place in your god Box, you turn over to the Divine.”

That weekend I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about my son and daughter. They were on their own paths. I still missed then, but I started accepting the fact that their lives no longer revolved around me.

Having two incredible children who are healthy and pursuing their own forms of happiness was truly a blessing whether or not the children, now adults, visited me as often as I would have preferred.

My situation was a slice of the human condition, a drama, yes, but a plain vanilla one because almost all parents wish to see more of their children. I started seeing myself as not so unique, but as a parent among parents, a mother among mothers.

Life wasn’t all about me. After all, the children were ok; they loved me, and I loved them. They were healthy and busy following their dreams. I felt truly blessed.

Driving home, I surveyed the sun-kissed landscape and decided it was time to enroll in acceptance 101.

The Sonoma Coast State Park, Pure Bliss for Max

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Max and I found dog heaven on a recent trip along the California coast. The Sonoma Coast State Park offered a choice of more than half a dozen different beaches, all of them dog-friendly,

The seventeen-mile stretch of sandy beaches, secluded coves, and craggy rocks that form the park is located less than a two hour drive north of San Francisco. oOn our late January trip I searched for a beach with just the right kind of access. The parking lot needed to be close to the shore. Yes, lazy me wanted an easy stroll to the beach, but that wasn’t the only reason. As soon as Max exited the car and sniffed the sea, he would be prone to leaping off tall rocks to get to the water, a feat he tried some years back.

On that initial visit Max was an energetic two-year-old  who had never before seen the ocean. His enthusiasm knew no bounds. We had parked high above the sea and descended a narrow trail to reach the beach a thousand feet below. Scrub brush enclosed the trail most of the way so Max couldn’t see the water.

  • img_1408But then, when the trail widened atop a huge boulder, the ocean came into plain sight. There was also a remaining drop in elevation of twenty feet between us and the beach. The sight of Pacific Ocean triggered Max’s instinctive love of water. He flew into the air straight off the rock.

I stared at Max, frozen in shock. My mind registered the seconds between his leap and his landing as a slow motion movie. My heart pounded with fear that many of poor Max’s bones were about to shatter. To my amazement, he landed, shook himself, and raced to the surf. He happily immersed himself in the sea.

Over and over, Max ran into the waves and back to me, wagging his wet tail with joy. The ocean was his holy grail and he had found it.

img_1404But this year, Max was older and calmer. The trek to the shore was uneventful. I walked along the sun-splashed sandy beach while Max sniffed at the kelp and crab shells.

Intrigued by the magnificence of the surf crashing ashore and curling back to the sea, I failed to notice the black sand beneath my feet was wet for a reason. With little warning, one of the mesmerizing magnificent waves rumbled toward us nonstop. Foaming saltwater swirled wildly over and around my previously dry feet and legs. All the warnings to be aware of the dangers of fast moving waves are true. Fortunately, this was a fairly small wave.

While I scampered away from the ocean, Max pranced away without even getting wet. At the end of our morning at the beach, Max was sandy but perfectly dry. This year I was the wet one.

Many websites offer helpful information. This one is comprehensive:  The Sonoma Coast State Park.

The Tideline is edited by Marianna Shearer.

The Case of the Missing Alligator

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Max carried his lime green stuffed alligator to the Buick for our drive to Guerneville, California. The Russian River town is about 90 miles north of San Francisco and one of our favorite places for a weekend getaway. Our lodging choice on this trip was the Cottages by the River.

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Yes, I was told on the phone, dogs were welcome for a $25 nightly fee, even big ones. “What is your dog’s name?” asked the clerk. When we reached the Cottages, we parked outside the fence surrounding the property. Max pranced alongside Nick and me as we passed through the gate.

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We checked in and signed the pet agreement. The innkeeper handed us a rectangular box with the words, “Welcome Max” on the top. Inside the box we found a water dish, dog biscuits, and a floor towel. The clerk invited us to join other guests for S’mores at the fire pit that evening.

max-cottage-exteriorWe discovered fourteen little houses  that flanked a carefully landscaped lawn. Brightly colored flowers — hibiscus, geraniums, calendula, and an array of emerald plants adorned each one.

Inside our unit, Max slurped the water and rested on his dog towel.  After we had settled in, we strolled to the gated pet area designed for dogs to do their business.

Carrying his alligator, Max sauntered along the path. He did his job and then leisurely sniffed the plants and rocks. Later on when it was time to drive to the ocean, Max simply refused to go.  Stubbornly, he stood on the path by the cottage. Usually, he the leads the way to the car.

max-pet-areaMax’s paws wouldn’t move until I realized what was going on. I retraced the route to the pet area with Max following close behind. He nosed through the gate and quickly found his alligator on the ground right where he left it.

Wagging his tail, Max rushed past me to show Nick and all was well again. Later that evening, we joined other guests at the fire pit and roasted S’mores, with ingredients provided by the Cottages.

max-fire-pitThat night Max stretched out on the floor beside our bed.  He sighed deeply, resting his chin on the stuffed toy and drifted into the land of dreams. Chasing squirrels. Retrieving ducks. Carrying the alligator toy. Sweet dreams, Max.

 

 

Dinner for one

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Max simply won’t eat in the presence of others. If I’m in the kitchen, he stands by his food dish and eyes me carefully. Until I exit the room, he won’t chow down.

If the cat wanders into his space, Max temporarily gives up on dinner. He walks away. Some of his food becomes a feast for the feline. His rule of life is clear. There’s no need to invite trouble.

It’s possible a miserable puppyhood accounts for Max’s solo approach to his dog dish. He was surrendered to the Northern California Rescue Society when he was two-years-old.

Before I adopted him, Max lived with five large dogs. My guess is the other dogs frightened little Max. They didn’t welcome him to share the food any more than Rudolf was invited to play reindeer games.

Max resolved his food issues without  professional assistance. He trained me to place his full dish on the floor and then promptly leave the room.

After each meal, he finds me, leans in, and thumps his tail, as if to say thank you.

 

 

Winter with Max at the Russian River

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Winter is an ideal time for a getaway to the dog-friendly Russian River area north of San Francisco. Max and I have a tradition of visiting friends near the small town of Guerneville each January. We indulge in simple pleasures– walks, naps, reading books, and eating well.

We take daily treks on a path alongside the river. The trees, bushes, and spindly saplings are so thick we can’t see the river along most of the path.

Whenever we reach a clearing and the sandy river’s edge comes into view, Max wades right in without hesitation. He swims toward the mallards that paddle about and feed in the middle of the river. The ducks always fly away and land downriver. But that never seems to stop him from greeting the waterfowl. He returns  to the shore dripping wet and wagging his tail like a flag.

We meander under towering redwoods, California laurel, Pacific madrones, and Douglas fir trees. The flat trail offers an easy hike. Now and then we sight a tall great blue heron standing in the shallows.  I hold Max’s leash and keep him close so he won’t try to visit the heron.

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Max likes taking walks along the Russian River.

One year our hosts pointed out the ospreys nesting in a tree on the river’s edge. Like us, the pair returns annually to nest by the Russian River.

On clear nights the moon splashes light on the river and the stars sparkle in the inky sky. Max and his canine buddies Jack and Bandit sleep while the rest of us talk into the night.

Our friend’s home, Dream Weaver, may be booked through Russian River Getaways at  http://www.russianrivergetaways. It’s one of the many dog-friendly accommodations near the Russian River. You’ll enjoy lower rates and miss the summer crowds when you visit the area in the winter. See you at the river!

 

 

Packing light, the things we carry

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Max prances to the door with a toy in his moth when he senses the slightest chance of an outing. Lately, the object of his affection is a stuffed green alligator. HIs packing list, if he had one, would include one item, a stuffed toy.

I travel with as few items as possible to avoid the hassle of checking luggage. My newest treasure is a travel vest. I love my Scott eVest as much as Max likes his toy reptile.

The vest’s pockets that zip close hold my passport, phone, phone charger, cash, credit and debit cards, and cash. The other pockets carry my prescription medicine, a small brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, an eyeliner pencil, cotton squares, Argon oil, baby oil, a Lush shampoo bar, conditioner, sunscreen, deodorant a plastic razor, Q-tips, and a nail file.

I toss in a nail clipper even though a TSA agent may confiscate it. A medium-sized pocket holds a pen and journal. The large pocket in the back is a space for clothes: a wrinkle-free dress, an extra top, leggings, socks, and lingerie.

A Sholdit brand infinity style scarf provides yet another zippered compartment to secure some cash, an extra credit card, comb, and lipstick. Max also wears a scarf when he travels. His is a sporty bandana in red, blue, or green, depending on the season.My shoulder bag holds a MacBook, an adaptor cable, and an extra set of clothes.

I’m bound for Florida this week, so I’ll tuck in a pair of sandals. While I’m at the Key West Literary Seminar, Max will stay  home with Nick and his stuffed alligator. I’ll be missing both of my guys.

 

Union Church of Pocantico Hills, the Chagall and Matisse stained glass windows

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Along with elusive hopes and dreams, I have a few achievable visions. One of these is to view as many of the stained-glass windows created by Marc Chagall as I can. With that goal in mind, my friend Nick and I rode the train from Manhattan to  Westchester County as part of a trip to New York. Our destination was the Union Church in Pocantico Hills, home of nine windows by Chagall and one by Henri Matisse.

We boarded a northbound train at Grand Central Station, leaving behind Manhattan’s grit and dazzle for the tranquility of the Hudson River Valley. About 30 miles north of the Big Apple, we stepped off the train at the Tarrytown station. A taxi ride in a black sedan took us uphill from the Hudson through the winding, tree-lined streets of Pocantico Hills, a small town with some grand parts.

This hamlet in the town of Mount Pleasant is home to the grand Rockefeller estate, Kykuit, (pronounced kie-cut, like die cut) and an unassuming stone church whose building and stained glass windows were originally funded by the Rockefeller family. Inside Union Church, the largest Chagall window graces the back wall, while each side has four Chagall windows that each portrays a scene from the Bible.

The windows are illuminated versions of Chagall paintings. With the help of skilled artisans, he began the windows in the traditional fashion, setting glass pieces in place. He personally achieved the effect of painting by brushing the glass with an acid wash in a process similar to applying color to canvas.

Nick and I spent time with each image, walking between the pews for close encounters. At the front of the church, we faced the Rose Window, an abstract work by Matisse. Some of its shapes in reminded me of green sea creatures. Union Church’s Rev. Pastor Paul Dehoff noted that the windows and the Rockefeller family’s involvement have played an integral role in the continued prosperity of the church. “But, on the other hand, people are people. We have good music, a charming setting, and the windows.

“Windows, even by Matisse and Chagall, do not a church make. They lift us and help us transport us to other beauty.”

I agree there’s much more to a church than stained-glass windows — but art gets me through the door.

One of Chagall’s nine windows at Union Church is titled “The Crucifixion.” He painted Christ’s image in fluid black lines on a cross amid blue glass that shimmers like water.

Hope is the message I draw from the Easter story, Christ’s death on the cross and the resurrection after three days.

Recently I experienced severe muscle spasms that made me curl up in pain. For a while I forgot about everything else, though I held out hope the misery was temporary. I repeated my mantra that “It’s only three days.” Coincidentally — or not — my back pain ended in three calendar days.

Whenever life gets me down, I am reminded of the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection three days later, a limited period of time. Temporary. No matter how deep the pain, physical or emotional — it too, will pass. Easter morning will come.

That day in Pocantico Hills, I took one last look at the light streaming through stained-glass windows. The dancing light and color filled me with a sense that good things will happen. As we walked out of that rare intimate venue for great art treasures, I squeezed Nick’s hand with satisfaction.

Riding the train back to Manhattan, I felt different. I was changed forever by the seeing the Chagall windows at the Union Church.

The Benicia Herald published this essay in 2014.