The Rebirth Ring

I wore my “rebirth” ring the other day. A barista ringing me up complimented me on it and asked me about it. I told her it was my “rebirth” ring – that I’d bought it after I’d come through a really challenging time. I pointed to the sapphire on one side – “I was born in September – and that’s the stone for September” – and the pearl in the middle – “pearls are created from struggle – something beautiful from something challenging” – and the sapphire on the other side – “I came through the challenge and was reborn.” She said that was really beautiful, and I thanked her and nodded, and remembered, again, my Year of Insanity…

Ten years ago I went through a massive depression – I’d never experienced anything like that before – I’d always been a kind of naturally happy person – but I went through a year that was, literally, a life and death struggle for me. I couldn’t eat, contemplated ending my life, had a constant dialogue going on in my head, seriously doubted if I would ever feel happy again. It is not an exaggeration to say I wasn’t sure I’d make it through.

It was during this time that I discovered I had a wealth of friendships and love and people who cared about me. It was during this time that I also discovered how strong I am. I gained a confidence that I hadn’t really had before. I came to appreciate what’s really important in life – not material stuff – but love and kindness and integrity and the ability to laugh at ourselves. I have never felt impoverished since going through this. I’ve come to see I’m wealthy beyond anything I’d imagined.

People sometimes talk cavalierly about “choosing joy.” During the Year of Insanity it didn’t feel like joy was a “choice” for me. But now that I have my choice back – yeah, I choose joy. I’ve come to realize that life really is a matter of perspective – of how we look at things.

People have told me that they want my life – or that they love my life. And I guess I should feel flattered by that maybe. But…the thing is… love your own life. Make something of that precious gift you’ve been given. By saying you want my life you discount my struggles, and you discount your own possibilities.

I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. Never. Not even when I was going through my Year of Insanity. I knew, even then, that EVERYone has challenges in their lives. I knew, even then, that most of the challenges in my life were ones I’d created for myself and that it was my job to learn from them.

You – yes, you – have the power to bring love and kindness to someone else – even when you’re going through your own times of insanity. You have a purpose, and a reason for being here. As long as you can love there’s a reason for you to live – I realized that during my challenging time – and it helped me get through it. Let me repeat that: AS LONG AS YOU CAN LOVE THERE’S A REASON FOR YOU TO LIVE. There are people who need you here. Please don’t give up on your life.

You are loved. ❤

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Lincoln City Memories

The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.
– Robert Ingersoll, The Great Agnostic

Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and dreams of Time.
–  H.P. Lovecraft

I think it would be interesting if old people got anti-Alzheimer’s disease where they slowly began to recover other peoples’ memories.
– George Carlin

My husband and I just returned from our most recent trip to Lincoln City, Oregon. We’ve been going there since 1984 – when we discovered the magic of Lincoln City  on our honeymoon.  We were trying to figure out how many times we’ve been there in the last 29 years, and we figured we’ve made a pilgrimage to Lincoln City probably 27 times – every year, with one or two exceptions.

You know how photographers do time lapse photography to show Nature unfolding in quick time? Yeah, I’m thinking if we took the days my family has spent in Lincoln City and sort of condensed them into a time lapse photography kind of deal, we’d see something like this…

There we are in 1984 – young, confident, and hopeful – starting our life together – unaware of the challenges ahead, and unaware of the blessings, either – running on the beach – limbs strong and quick and joints well-oiled. My aunt Junie showed me the art of agate-hunting when I was a youngster, and now I’m teaching my new husband how to pick up the glow of an agate on the beach – how to discern the difference between a bona fide agate and a rough piece of quartz…

1992:  Introducing our firstborn to the ocean for the first time. His baby body rests on my knee, facing out to the sea. His eyes have locked onto the ocean and taken note of it – he’s chewing his lower lip, eyes moving back and forth along the sea’s horizon, taking in the sights and sounds and smells. It’s becoming a part of him.

1994: We have come to Lincoln City as parents of childREN. We are old hands at parenthood now. Today it is our youngest son’s turn to meet the ocean. We take off his booties and lower his toes into the water. It is a sort of ritual baptism of baby feet – a bonding with the Pacific.

1999: The sons are playing with the surf – letting the waves chase them up the beach. The ocean is their comfortable old friend now.

Jump to April, 2008: I am in crisis.   Struggling with severe depression. I am desperate to escape from myself and my constantly-churning thoughts. Oldest son knows I need to get away and asks me if I’d like him to go to Lincoln City with me for Spring Break. How many 16 year-old sons do you know who’d be willing to accompany their moms on a 14-hour (round trip) road trip? I am blest beyond words. On the way to Lincoln City we stop and visit my Aunt Junie, who shares our kinship with the ocean and lives in Depoe Bay, an hour north of Lincoln City.  I confide my struggles to Junie, and the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that seem to be a symptom of my illness. Junie is appalled at my feelings of worthlessness. “All her instincts” tell her that I am a good person, she says.  “There are no unrightable wrongs, no unforgiveable sins, no fatal mistakes, no fatal diseases, only the eternal now.” She is like Yoda.

July, 2008: Still struggling with the  depression. Lincoln City is my respite. I sit on the balcony in the sun and look down on the beach and watch the sons running and cavorting on the sand below.  There have been times lately when I’ve wished myself not born. But, watching my sons, it hits me that if I hadn’t been born, they wouldn’t have been born, either. They give me purpose. And the ocean gives me comfort. We stop in Tilamook on the way home and I am drawn to a garden plaque that quotes The Great Agnostic, Robert Ingersoll: “The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here.” On impulse, I buy it. It will sit in a place of honor on our mantel when we return home.

2009:  The family meets on the Oregon coast to celebrate Aunt Junie’s life, and spread her ashes on the ocean.  We will not get as far as Lincoln City this time, but the ocean that she is now a part of will touch the beaches that have provided such solace to me over the years.  And every time I’m near the ocean, I’ll think of Junie – her humor and wisdom and kindness to me.

2010:  Hoping, but not with high expectations, I ask my youngest son, who’s just turned 16, if he’d like to make the same road trip that I made with his older brother two years ago. To my surprise and delight, he says he would! We spend two days at the ocean – flying a kite, looking for agates, running (well, okay, he’s doing most of the running now) along the beach.  Before we leave on our trip I ask Xander if he’s remembered his swimsuit, long pants, shorts, sweatshirt, sneakers, toothbrush, and sandals. He assures me he has. When we arrive at Lincoln City, I realize that am the one who’s left her clothes, laptop, and toothbrush back home. It is all very humbling. But there’s a certain freedom in the forgetting, too. I’m scraped down to the bare essentials. Having no laptop is a good thing.  I have become big into photography in the last couple years, and I have, at least, remembered my camera. Camera, son, ocean, and the clothes on my back – what else does a person really need? 🙂

2013: The sons are all grown-up now. They have jobs and things to do.  For the first time since we became parents, we will be making our Lincoln City pilgrimage alone.  We eat at our favorite eatery there – The Lighthouse Brew Pub – take long walks together, hunt for agates, and remember together who we were when we first found Lincoln City.  Young, strong, confident, hopeful. Our lives stretched out ahead of us.  And we think about all that’s happened in the 29 years since. And it’s all been good. All of it. Even the bad stuff has been good, really. Just like those blossoms unfolding in time lapse photography – our life together has unfolded most wonderfully.

(originally posted in 2013)

 

 

Following the Crumbs…

(excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Middle Book)

A few months after my fifty-first birthday, I no longer knew who I was. I don’t mean I had amnesia or anything, but the person I’d always thought I was didn’t seem to exist any longer. As my sons had become self-sufficient and independent young men, my role as their mother was different, and, as the only female in my family, I sometimes struggled with trying to figure out how I “fit in”; my profession had changed so much I no longer felt I belonged in it; and two close 20-year friendships, that had once defined who I was as a friend, had ended abruptly, leaving me feeling unworthy of friendship and unlovable. There were all at once a lot of holes in my life, and I felt like a loser.

Who the heck WAS I?

During the Year of Insanity I put a lot of thought into that question. Just when I’d start feeling like I was hopelessly lost in the wilderness, and would never find my way back to my real self, one of my fellow classmates in “Earth’s preparatory school” (as Mary Baker Eddy described our time here) would drop a crumb on the forest floor that would help lead me the right direction. I don’t think many of these classmates had any idea how important those crumbs were to me. So, to those of you who dropped the crumbs, I want to take a moment and tell you that you saved my life, and I whole-heartedly thank you for that.

Henry Drummond writes (in The Greatest Thing in the World): “The people who influence you are people who believe in you… To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them… It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live, because to live is to love… The withholding of love is the negation of the Spirit of Christ.”

I have discovered, as I’ve lived my Middle Book, that I am over-the-top wealthy with friends. There have been times when I’ve felt my friends’ expressions of Love towards me lifting me up and supporting me – giving me the buoyancy I need to stay afloat – and when I write “lifting me up” I mean that in a literal sense – I have felt myself – not my body, but my thoughts – literally rising.

I’d like to share a couple of instances with you of times when this happened for me – and I’d like to ask that as you read through these examples, you insert yourself into them – insert yourself as the person who is being shown love, and then insert yourself as the person who is showing love. Because, dear reader, the love that was expressed towards me is yours, too. You are the loved, and you are the loving.

***
On New Year’s Eve, 2007, I was hit particularly hard by the belief of depression – caught up in weird and intense feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. I don’t know what led me to check out my book on Amazon that night, but when I clicked on Blessings: Adventures of a Madcap Christian Scientist I found that just that day someone had added a new review for my book. The review read, in part: “Karen becomes your friend, someone you know and love and you know if she knew you, she would love you the way you want to be loved.” I read those words and was so touched by them I began to cry. This was exactly the message I needed at that moment. If I could love others, I had worth. If others could love me, there was hope. I’ve always felt that the man who wrote that review had been listening to the voice of Love that day. He’d been guided by Love’s direction to take the time to write a review for my book – and, because he did that for me, he helped to bring me out of a place of deep despair.

We all have access to an incredible power to bring good to other peoples’ lives. That day my book’s reviewer had tapped into that power.

***

I emailed my wise friend, David Allen, to get his thoughts on “identity” – he always has good stuff to share with me. I told him that I’d reached a point where I didn’t know who I was, anymore – it felt like all my anchors were gone – my job wasn’t the same job, my role as a mom wasn’t the same role, I wasn’t really a mountain-climber, anymore – who was I?! His response was one of the most profound pieces of writing I have ever read, and I’d like to share it with you:

“Karen, I know this feeling. A few years back, before I met you, I went through a similar experience. Up until that time I had identified as a completely self-reliant runner and professional designer who could succeed at anything I wanted to. That was me, or at least, that was who I thought was me. Suddenly, all that was gone…I felt like I had lost my entire identity…Then, one day it hit me. I am not any of those things. Those are things I do, not things that I am. Here is what I am: I am creative, curious, and kind. I like children and I like teaching. I enjoy physical activity. I am a storyteller and I like to make people laugh. I like to do things. I like to make things. I love to learn new things. And I love my family. Whether I am working or running, I am still all of those things. No matter what others may say or think, I am still all of those things. These are the things that never change. These are the things that make me, me. Sometimes I make mistakes and screw up, but that doesn’t change any of those things, either. I am not always happy, but I am always grateful for the things that I am. And I don’t worry anymore about the things I am not.”

***

I’d met David on a religion discussion forum – he was a self-avowed atheist – but other than our difference in belief about God, we’d found we had a huge amount in common with each other. There were several other people I’d met on the forum – most of them atheists, like David – who had become valued friends to me. One of these valued friends was a brilliant wit named Jamie Longmire, who lived in Nova Scotia with his talented artist-wife, Kathi Petersen. Not long after I met Jamie, he “brought me home” via email to introduce me to Kathi.

Before too long Kathi and I were email buddies – emailing each other regularly twice a day. Kathi had been through some pretty major challenges in her life, and could relate to a lot of what I was going through. She understood my thoughts about not wanting to use medication to get relief from the depression – understood that I felt there was something I needed to learn from my experience. She understood, too, when I told her that I’d found I could be happy even when I was depressed. Kathi wrote:

“…something… that occurs to me … is that we all have to live our own lives, and grow from our own hardships.
“I was in a Jungian dream group once and one of the women was saying something about how she could be just as conscious and psychologically grown without having had a dark night of the soul, and you could tell people were thinking ‘yeah right’ … I hear peoples’ stories sometimes, maybe some television interview, and they end up talking about their really pivotal growth ‘dark night moment,’ and it is something that seems so insignificant …but you have to have the whole context of peoples’ lives. I think it is hugely important for people to grow from their own experiences…

“I actually think in a way that it is very important not to tell someone, when they are upset about the bad time they are going through, ‘Well look at that guy, he has no arms or legs and he is a professional motivational speaker and has written two bestseller books’ … I’m saying this because I think in a way, the hardships (while all different) have a BIG sameness about them, and that the answers have a HUGE sameness about them. It is… about people who are suffering, and people finding out that the suffering isn’t a necessary part of life. The hardships may be … but the suffering not necessarily. I have thought that having bigger challenges can sometimes allow people to learn this more easily (trial by fire?) – to learn that life can be full of joy regardless …”

***
I remember clearly the moment when I began to wake up from the depression: I was talking with my husband, Scott, about how the people around me were telling me these wonderful things about myself, but I just felt detached from their words – like the words had nothing to do with who I really am. I told him I felt like a fraud. He looked at me and started laughing. “Karen,” he said, “everyone else knows who you are, you’re the only one who can’t see it!”

The way he said it – with such conviction and so kind of matter-of-factly – I felt something lifting from me, some burden that had been weighing me down. I went out for a walk, and everything around me looked lighter and brighter. I felt stirrings of joy. For some reason I’d been feeling like I had to “steal” happiness – as if I didn’t deserve it. But I think that it was at this moment when I began to accept that I had every right to be happy.

***

“Be happy at all times and in all places; for remember it is right and a duty you owe to yourself and to your God to retain the right, no matter how loudly the senses scream.” – Edward A. Kimball

The Power to Transform the World

My dear Humoristian hooligans,

I’ve found that just when I’m feeling the most discouraged, the most battle-weary, the most ready to slip into morosity (I’m pretty sure that’s a word, right?) something or someone will suddenly appear to remind me that the world is still full of magic and beauty. Yesterday it was snow geese, trumpeter swans, a reflection in a flooded field, and a son appearing unexpectedly at the door with a grin on his face and a caring heart. Today it was a drive I hadn’t been planning to take with Dad. And some days it’s YOU. Yes, YOU. I wonder if you realize all the times a kind word or a moment of shared laughter has brought me back from the brink. There is such power in kindness. There is such power in a loving gesture. You have the power to transform the world.

May your kindness reach the desolate and lonely; May your sense of humor light on those in desperate need of a good laugh; May your good-natured love of life transform the stodgy, stingy, and stuffy.

Amen.
Karen

Mount Baker, a Red Barn, and a Reflection

Mount Baker reflected in a flooded field in Bow, Washington. (photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell)

Something Has Changed Inside of Me

Grey, dark, cold – rain pounding
on the streets. Dreariest of dreary
days. I feel myself going under –
filled with worries and fears.
This year has been a rough one –
death has danced around me
and mine, dishonesty seems
in power, grasping greed weaves
its way through our world,
wanting more, wanting ours.

I get in my car for the drive home.
And Mindy Jostyn’s music flowers –
blooms in my auto’s space –
she’s singing of kindness and love
and a new day dawning. And I
stop. I shift. My thoughts rise above
the dark and grey and I smile. I
will stop and see Dad on my way
home and it won’t be a chore –
I’m grateful he’s still here – I’ll
hold his hand and kiss his forehead
and tell him I love him once more.

He asks me if he’s coming home
with me. I tell him his home is here.
He says whenever he tries to get
invited to someone’s home, they
tell him he’s already there.
He grins and tells me he’s lucky
to have me. I tell him I love him
and blow him a kiss.

And back in the car again. The day
is still grey, and the rain still pours,
but I don’t see gloom. I don’t see drear.
Something has shifted in me and I soar
over the road and over the clouds.
Nothing has changed at all outwardly
but something has changed inside of me.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Bow Sunrise

Sunrise on the way to work. October 2, 2017. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

The Pressure to Feel Merry

(Excerpt from The Madcap Christian Scientist’s Christmas Book)

It has been a challenging month for a lot of people. Yesterday when I was running around, doing last minute Christmas shopping, I ran into three friends who teared-up when I asked them how they were doing – one had lost a husband not long ago, the second had lost her mom, the third her dad.  The husband of a fourth friend is going through medical treatment for cancer. And then there is the tragedy of Newtown, Connecticut.

It just might be that some of us are not inclined to feel all jolly-cheery right now.

And I’m here to tell you, if you are one of those folks – it is alright. It’s okay to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.  There’s no need or reason to judge your feelings, or to try to force them to be what they’re not. That’s just silly.

At Christmas there’s a lot of pressure on people to feel “The Christmas Spirit.” No one wants to be the Christmas Scrooge.  I think we all want to share in the spirit of joy and generosity and hope.  But pressuring ourselves to be happy, trying to force ourselves to be jolly, is maybe not the best way to get there.  Then it becomes a battle, rather than a natural unfolding.

Here’s the good news: There’s no law that says we can’t feel the Christmas spirit on December 26th, or December 27th, or March 1st – we‘re not limited to feeling joy, generosity, and hope on this one day a year.  So even if, this year, we just can’t seem to get there on December 25th, we still have the opportunity to feel the spirit whenever or wherever it unfolds for us.

And here’s another bit of good news that I’ve discovered in my own adventures with sadness and grief: I have found that it is possible to be happy even when you’re sad. Which. Yeah, I know that sounds kind of weird, doesn’t it? But it’s true!

May joy settle upon you gently, moment by moment – may you catch it in the playful grin on a child’s face, in the uplift that comes from Beethoven’s Joy, in the smell of something good baking in the oven, in the hug from a friend – may you relax and enjoy those moments for what they are, and what they give you.  And may any pressure you feel to somehow make those moments bigger, or brighter, or louder ease and lift from you.

The_Madcap_Christian_Cover_for_Kindle (6)

That Whole “Choose Joy” Thing

There was a year in my early fifties when joy did not come easily to me. You know that whole “choose joy” thing? Yeah, speaking as someone who went through a year when joy wasn’t something I felt I could choose, let me assure you that to tell someone who’s struggling with depression that she just needs to “choose joy” isn’t going to be very helpful to that person. To tell someone that you love her, that she has purpose, that she’s needed, to ask her to go on walks with you, and to listen to her without judgment and condemnation – but with unconditional love – these are all helpful things. But to tell her to “choose joy”? Not so much.

Karen

“If Christian healing is abused by mere smatterers in Science, it becomes a tedious mischief-maker. Instead of scientifically effecting a cure, it starts a petty crossfire over every cripple and invalid, buffeting them with the superficial and cold assertion, ‘Nothing ails you.'”
– Mary Baker Eddy