An Athlete of God
February 16, 2017 § 1 Comment
In a place and time long forgotten by me, I read we are all ‘athletes of God’ in some area of our lives. An athlete of God! Is this the strand unique to each of us, the marrow our journeys ask us to embrace? And, did God plant it there? At best, these are existential questions. But perhaps, just perhaps, they are not.
I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story and it is mine. It is not a narrative of my life. Not here. Not now. You may ask, why should you care? Because it’s a good story; and it may help someone, somewhere.
In 2016, I decided to write a novel. Research for the novel sent me into the past—twenty years, maybe more—where I discovered this somewhat lofty phrase, an athlete of God. It was a notation made in green ink on worn, yellowed paper in my IMAGINE file: a file consisting of various clippings, scribbled ideas for children’s stories, concepts for photo shoots, and inspirations for paintings. Painting? Yes, I used to paint.
And this is where the story begins.
Four years ago, any material wealth I still possessed finally evaporated. Everything. Income from free-lance consulting, my home and studio—a sanctuary for creating: whether painting, photography, or writing. I sold worthwhile clothes, accessories, art work, cameras, lenses, and all my painting supplies. I auctioned furniture and jewelry—all acquired when money flowed.
I was broke. No 401k, nor Roth IRA. Nothing. I devastated my small savings trying to maintain property two years longer than affordable. I did not know how, or where, I could live on my modest social security. I launched a campaign to find work in upstate New York: advertisements, résumés, letters, and phone calls to people and places I knew, and did not know. Not one response.
As the bank began foreclosure proceedings, I hunted for a room, a small apartment, perhaps a caretaker’s cottage. I finally prayed a fox-hole prayer: Dear God, please, I need somewhere to live. And, it was provided: subsidized housing.
Friends surfaced from known as well as surprising places. They helped me pack and move the remaining fragments from what was once a home and studio to an apartment—and a new chapter in my life.
The apartment is a comfortable one-bedroom: quiet, pretty, and filled with light. It dwells in the charming historic Village of Athens, New York situated along the Hudson River. The views from each of my four windows are of woodlands and wild life. It is a safe harbor.
At one stage in our materialistic world view, I had it all. All meaning lots of money, beautiful clothes, a loft apartment in the West Village of New York City, and a storybook log cabin sitting on forty-three acres at the top of a mountain in upstate New York. What happened? Life happened. Choices and decisions too: geographic moves and extensive restorations of three different homes. The 2001 Recession decimated a healthy retirement portfolio. Even so, I continued to earn decent free-lance income and believed it would always be there—until the 2008 Depression. I never used credit cards; but I saved little. Over a decade-and-a-half, I watched my financial status move from very-comfortable-to-scarcity. I blame no one, and no longer myself: the latter requiring I forgive my weaknesses and move on.
I felt outside of time surrendering to each trial as it occurred: I knew I was protected. For two decades, a still small voice urged me toward right-sizing my life to a simpler existence. The sequence of events compassed me from bondage into freedom—a freedom of soul and of spirit. God smiled upon me; He always had. But, my heart’s eyes and ears were filled with the world’s clamor, clutter, and things. I did not hear Him. I do now.
Do I miss any of it? No. Except for painting. My studio dwindled from five hundred square feet to a six by eight foot space in the corner of my bedroom. It’s simple and it works. Though the painting stopped, creating photo images and writing have not.
I am a woman of faith. Nevertheless, faith was not the centerpiece of my life when I perceived holding the world in my hands. It strengthened during seasons of challenge. I am grateful for spiritual journeys through Buddhist, Episcopalian, and Evangelical teachings. Each enriched my life in ways known and still to be discovered.
Following decades of discernment, I returned to what I thought I never would: Catholicism, the religion of my youth. The entirety of my life experience helped me see my faith and church today through a wide-angle lens: Ours is one seeking inclusion, not exclusion; a greater compassion, not judgment, for the entire human family; and, we are kinder and gentler—with others and ourselves.
Wendell Berry wrote: It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. I was where I was supposed to be four years ago: I didn’t know what the next day would bring, or what I was supposed to do. In these quiet seasons of contemplation, prayer, writing, and creating art, a revelation emerged: I am an athlete of God—as are we all. For me, it means learning to love more and larger, being a better human example on this planet, and serving wherever and however I am able. And this we do, or can do, in our unique ways. Love is medicine for the hearts of others.
I begin formal hospice training in March, almost a year following the death of my friend, Linda, whose story is found in this Journal: Even a Lioness Dies. Last April, visiting her at St. Peter’s Hospice in Albany, I received a calling: Too many people wait alone to die; some are completely immobile, yet alert; others are in hollowed bodies with vacant eyes too large for their gaunt faces. Until the final exhale—a touch, a word, a cool cloth to the forehead are heard and felt. I never knew what a calling was until it happened. I pray to fulfill what is needed; I know the tug in my heart won’t let go until I try.
Writing and creating art are necessary components to my calling. Today I share a few photographs, four of seventy-five, taken this winter. You are also viewing abstract prints of wax and oil paintings. I’ve reinterpreted these paintings into prints. The original concepts, the chaos and order of my painting style, remain in each.
Having it all and losing it helped me discover what’s important. My wealth today is not measurable by worldly standards; my annual income is below poverty level. And yet, I am grateful for the abundance in my life. These statements may appear at variance to a solely rational mind. However, once I surrendered my self-centered need to control my life, my mind and heart set on the things of Spirit. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. ~ Matthew 6:21. I continue to face trials, as we all do. I have come to know the Spirit within; He carries me when I falter, and I trust Him.
I take small, humble baby steps seeking to provide genuine compassion, love, and care for others. And, my camera is in hand as I continue to write. These are daily tasks I am blessed to do.
May God bless you with the vastness of His love, peace and mercy ~ always,