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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“You and I Are Nothing Alike!”

“You and I Are Nothing Alike!”

She had known him for years –
mutual interests, politics, and friends
had made for conversation filled
with laughter at the absurd,
and a shared concern about
the state of the world.

She had known him for years –
had enjoyed brief, happy encounters
with him on her favorite walk
along the bay, beside the rocks –
– their cameras at the ready –
as they clicked photos and talked.

She had known him for years –
then one day he asked if she’d heard
of the Dominionists. She said no,
she didn’t think so.
He reminded her she was a Christian
and he said she must know.

(She had known him for years.)
“The Dominionists are Christians
just like you are,” he said.
“They think the more children bred
the closer the men are
to God after they’re dead.”

(She had known him for years.)
“You know all Christian religions
are just exactly the same, ”
he said, “Patriarchal and lame.”
She told him her way of life
was actually founded by a dame.

(She had known him for years.)
She said the teachings she followed
believed God was, literally, Love.
An old geezer sitting in the clouds above
was not her idea of God, she said.
(And she wondered to herself
why he didn’t know this about her…

…She had known him for years.)
“We have the same thoughts about fears,
greed, over-population,” she named
the things they had both blamed
for the current state of the world. But
“You and I are nothing alike!” he exclaimed,
his face turning red.

She had known him for years –
this friend from her walks.
Now she laughed out loud because
that is what she does
when something strikes her
as completely ridiculous.

She had known him for years –
and her feelings of friendship towards him
weren’t going to change because this time
he’d chosen to see what made them different.

Love is what is true;
the rest is just nonsense.

– Karen Molenaar Terrell

love is what is true

 

Death Doesn’t Get the Last Word

I learned today that you’d passed away
this last week, and I felt such an odd
mixture of emotions. Shock. Sadness.
Regret when I remembered the last time
I’d seen you was ten years ago. Had it
really been that long since I’d heard
your voice? And I felt anger, too.
Anger towards death. Anger that made
me want to rise up and live bigger,
fuller, freer, more fiercely. For you.
For me. For all of us on this planet.
Death won’t have the last word in your life.
Or in mine. Death doesn’t win. Ever.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Spent Easter on a little island in the Pacific Northwest. On impulse, attracted by the rainbow welcome sign on the front of the building, we attended the Easter service at a small non-denominational church on the island. Here are some of the words to one of the hymns we sang at the service (if you want to hear it performed by a choir on youtube, click here) – the love in it filled me all up with inspiration:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
John MacLeod Campbell (J.M.C.) Crum

death doesnt get the last word

Butterfly in the North Cascades. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
– I Corinthians 15:55

“Life and goodness are immortal.”
Mary Baker Eddy

“Let us sing of Easter gladness
That rejoices every day,
Sing of hope and faith uplifted;
Love has rolled the stone away.
Lo, the promise and fulfillment,
Lo, the man whom God hath made,
Seen in glory of an Easter
Crowned with light that cannot fade.”
Frances Thompson Hill

Guemes church 2

Phone Call to Nona

Nona was one of Moz’s dear friends. I hadn’t talked to her since shortly after Moz passed last February. I don’t remember much of what was said in our conversation anymore – another blur in a month of blurs. But this week, as I was working on Christmas cards, Nona entered my thoughts. I knew I needed to send her a card. She’d moved recently, and I didn’t have her current address, but I knew that Moz had talked to Nona not long before she passed on, and figured I could probably find Nona’s phone number in Moz’s address book. And sure enough – there it was!

I called. I guess I was half-expecting to hear the fragile, quavery voice of an elderly lady on the other end of the line, but when Nona answered the phone it was in the same voice I remembered from 40 years ago – strong and healthy and joyful.

“Hi, Nona – this is Colleen’s daughter, Karen…” I began. And she knew immediately who i was and seemed really happy to hear from me.

We talked about Moz, and Nona asked about my 99 year-old Dad. I told her that he’d been in and out of hospice twice now. He’d recovered from a UTI and been taken off hospice, then gotten a blood clot that I was told would kill him within a matter of months and put back on hospice. The blood clot had dissolved and disappeared on its own, and he was taken off hospice. Then he’d developed cellulitis and pneumonia. And had recovered from those things. I’d told my sons they were probably going to inherit Dad someday. The older son had said that we would just pass him on from generation to generation like an heirloom. Nona got a kick out of that. She said Dad is just like that Energizer Bunny. And I agreed.

Nona told me a little about her new home – and how she was led to find it not long after her husband died, and how beautifully everything had unfolded for her.

It was so good to hear her voice again – so good to hear the strong joyful voice of one of Moz’s contemporaries. There was something kind of fortifying and reassuring about it, you know? It was nice to be of the “younger generation” for just a few minutes.

And when we finally hung up I started sobbing.

No. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to have to go back to being the grown-up.

 

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

Too Big a Day

Ten years ago I started my own religion on the Amazon Discussion Forums. Here is the opening post on the Humoristians thread:
On Aug 20, 2007 2:18:41 PM PDT
Alph Wingoov Karen says:
I’ve decided to create a new religion. People belonging to this religion will call themselves “Humoristians.” Here are the 5 tenets:
1) You must be able to laugh at yourself.
2) You must be able to recognize how ludicrous your beliefs might appear to others.
3) You must want nothing but good for everyone, everywhere in the universe. (Editor’s note: Don’t let this one scare you. None of us is quite there, yet.)
4) You must have a natural aversion to meetings, committees, and scheduled events (as we will be having none of those).
5) You must enjoy the humor of Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Tom Lehrer, and Jerry Seinfeld (if you’re a Jerry Lewis kind of guy, you might want to think about starting your own religion – although we wish you nothing but good).

Not long after my initial post a poster who went by the handle “Golden Oldie EK” joined our fledgling church with this comment:

Hello, nice people. I would like very much to join your church. But I do have a question. Is it okay in your religion to also love the comedy of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Bugs Bunny, Tweetie Bird, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and The Flintstones? Will you please accept my application for membership? (Actually, when I was a little kid, I always thought they should have made Walt Disney god. I mean, after all, here was a man who made the whole world fall in love with a drunken, lying frontiersman from Tennessee, and a little, black rat that wore white gloves and shoes. Church would have been so much fun: The Virgin Snow White and the Seven Apostles; “Our Father who art in Orlando, hallowed be thy name…”)

And if I am accepted for membership, do I have to be immersed in anything?

And so began my friendship with Randy, aka Golden Oldie EK. For several years Randy and my other fellow Humoristians did improv with each other on the Humoristian thread – playing off each other – sharing our beliefs, thoughts, opinions, and lives with each other. In some ways my friends in Humoristianity knew me better than a lot of my friends in my off-line life, even though we’d never actually met each other in the person. And eventually, as the Amazon forums began closing, we all met up again with each other on Facebook, and together authored a book, The Humoristian Chroniclesabout our experiences meeting each other on the forums.

Like me, Randy was a writer, and he shared his writing projects with me – looking for my editorial input – and I shared my writing projects with him. He was a wonderful support for me as a writer, and his encouragement meant a lot to me.

And this morning I learned, through a message from someone I’d never met, that Randy had died.

I needed a walk.

***

I went to nearby LaConner to pay my internet bill, and, after paying my bill, was drawn towards the Swinomish Channel on the west side of town. “I’m going to take you on an adventure with me, Randy,” I told my dear Humoristian friend. He’d always talked about visiting me out here. I decided today I’d bring him along with me – in my thoughts, if not in the person.

I walked along the boardwalk there, past all the touristy restaurants and gift shops. When I got to the end of the boardwalk I kept walking. I skirted an old warehouse, turned right on a side street, walked to the end of the street, and kept walking. I found myself at Pioneer Park. Stopped to check out the fish slide. And kept walking. I found a long driveway with a sign in front of it saying it was open to the public from 8:30 to 4:30, and turned onto the dirt road.

When I’d gone maybe 100 yards I passed a man coming from the other direction. “Am I walking down a private driveway?” I asked him. He told me yes, and no. It was a private driveway, but the general public had access to it. He told me that if I went further I’d come to a boatyard, and soon after that a trail that split – if I went left I’d find myself in the marshes where the hunters were shooting at birds – but if I went right I’d go on a trail that would take me to the top of a bluff and down to a beach. He suggested I go right. 🙂 I thanked him and…. yeah… kept walking.

A little further on I caught up with another walker. Like me, she had a camera with her, and I noticed her stopping along the road every now and then to take pictures. Not far beyond her there was a “boat graveyard” – weathered old boats piled up along the side of the road with blackberry vines growing over them. I began snapping pictures with my camera, and she joined me. We began talking then about photography, and the boats, and I asked her if she knew about the trail that would take me to the bluff. She did, and offered to take me there.

I’m glad I ran into her because I’m pretty sure I never would have found the trail without her – or I might have found myself on the bird marshes with bird shot flying around me – which would have made for an interesting experience, to be sure, but not the kind I needed today. We introduced ourselves to each other on the way – her name, she said, was Annabelle. She is from Paris, and works as a dance instructor and translator. As we talked we found we had friends in common – which is always fun – as well as a shared political perspective – which is, also, fun.

Annabelle led me to the bluff – which offered an amazing view of the Skagit Bay – and then down to the beach. After we snapped some pictures, Annabelle led me back up the trail and back into “downtown” LaConner – the two of us chatting like old friends the entire way.

Eventually we came to her house, where we hugged as old friends do, and I continued on my journey back to my car parked in front of the place where I’d paid my bill earlier. “How was that for an adventure?” I asked my friend, Randy. “We met a new friend today and found a new beach,” I told him.

As I drove home, with Randy still in my thoughts, I tinkered with the idea of just spending the rest of the day processing Randy’s death – trying to come to terms with it. But then I realized there was more good I could do for someone else today – I could take my Dad for a drive in the sunshine – and while I could still do some good for someone else, I might as well do it. So I put off processing Randy’s death for a little longer, and went to pick-up Daddy for a drive.

It wasn’t until maybe 3:00 or 4:00 that I finally found myself back home.

But the day – all of it, from start to finish – was just too much to process. I still can’t wrap my head around it – from the deep sense of loss that started my day, to the excitement of meeting a new friend later on. Today was just too big.

***

Dear friend – I brought you with me on an adventure today. We saw trumpeter swans and boat reflections, we made a new friend, and you talked with me about your latest story, and I talked with you about what I’m working on, and memories of you flashed into my head – your first appearance in the land of Humoristianity, the messages of support you sent me, your comic (and sometimes really profound) interjections on my FB posts, the night we all celebrated Obama’s win together, and the night we all realized that 2017 might not bring us the leader we’d hoped. I cherish all of the writing you sent me – I cherish your book of poems – I cherish everything you shared with me. I feel a deep loss right now. The world is not going to be the same without you in it. My FB posts are not going to be the same without your comments attached to them. I love you, brother.
Karen

 

 

 

 

Wealthy Beyond Belief

This morning when I stopped to get my breve at the Sisters Espresso, Brooke sang the birthday song to me. The lady ahead of me in the line thought Brooke was singing to her, because it was HER birthday today, too – isn’t that cool?!

In the afternoon I realized that a part of me had been expecting a birthday phone call from Moz today, and it hit me – this is my first birthday without Moz. She always gave me flowers on my birthday, and a card, and sang the birthday song to me.

And then… my dear friend, Teresa, asked me where I wanted to go for dessert – and she took me up to Bellingham – and she bought me a bouquet of roses – she said she felt Moz telling her to do that – and she bought me CHOCOLATE at the Chocolate Necessities and Gelato shop. And her gesture was so sweet that… I’m tearing up right now just writing about it.

I am so blessed – my life is so rich with family and friends. I am wealthy beyond belief.

butterfly luminex this one

photo of butterfly by Karen Molenaar Terrell

“…seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
– Matthew 6:33

“Substance is that which is eternal and incapable of discord and decay. Truth Life, and Love are substance…man should wish for, and in reality has, only the substance of good, the substance of spirit, not matter… To ascertain our progress, we must learn where our affections are placed and whom we acknowledge and obey as God. The objects we pursue and the spirit we manifest reveal our standpoint…”
– Mary Baker Eddy