The mundane greeting “What’s happening?” is often met with a “Not much”. No one really wants to know everything that’s going on in your life. Sometimes, I want to tell them what is happening.

This morning, the guy I helped run a focus group for his upcoming book/course, emailed me and asked me for an update on what is going on with me. He gave me a little free coaching when we worked together. We haven’t talked since early December. For the first time, I wrote out what I’ve got going on and I realized why I’m feeling overwhelmed right now.

The last several years I’ve been frustrated looking for opportunities and wondering when doors would begin opening for me. In Phoenix in May of 2016 I heard a sermon “It’s Hell In The Hallway” that stuck with me. When one door closes behind you, you’re in a hallway looking at many doors wondering when and if any of them will open.

Late last year things started shifting. It seems all kinds of doors are opening up. As I sit here in January 2019, a dizzying array of possibilities swirls around in my head. Looking down that long hallway, doors are opening and cracks of light are shining through. I can’t go through all of the doors though. So, choices will have to be made.

1.) Helping Parents Heal has invited me to join the Board of Directors. So, that happened. I’m on the board of directors for HPH.

2.) HPH asked me to form a new group for parents and mediums to meet on Facebook. HPH is no longer affiliated with that group that I started. So, I’m running a new Facebook group in addition to being a moderator on Afterlife Topics (7,000 people or so) and running the HPH Online Group (4,000 people and counting).

3.) I’m working very part-time for Thomas John- The Seatbelt Psychic. I do his social media and customer service. That’s about eight hours a week.

4.) I’m working on a partnership in a new business venture. The idea is to have courses/materials around the afterlife and healing from grief. We hope to launch in the next couple of weeks. We have created a Facebook page and will eventually have a website.

5.) I’m taking a MasterHeart course with business consultant George Kao. It’s a year-long training/collaboration with 45 other entrepreneurs. The idea is to learn how to launch my own business outside of Treasured Locks. I will use ideas from this in whichever business ventures pan out.

6.) I’m a technical assistant for the San Francisco Theological Seminary- I’ll be working with them on five courses this year- at a minimum.

7.) I moved my blog to a new platform. I’m trying to get more traffic to it and use it as a platform to monetize some of the work I’m doing and my writing. I met a consultant I’m working with on this.

8.) Treasured Locks seems to be picking up a bit. I might have finally found an advertising scheme that works. I am working with my digital advertising agency to see if it makes sense to pump more money into that and get it to a steady revenue stream again.

9.) Ty took a full-time job working from home. The company is based in Tucson. She started Monday. She’s there this week for training. So, this week I’m packing orders, answering the phone, etc. doing all of the Treasured Locks stuff. We’ll have to see what happens with Treasured Locks and how we’ll have time for it.

10.) I started writing a course/book on grief. I’m not sure what form it will eventually take. I’m just putting thoughts on “paper” for now.

11.) I’m still volunteering for HPH, running the online group and the evening meetings several times a month. I play referee for 4,000 grieving parents on the group. I’m also a caring listener and take phone calls from parents.

12.) I’m on the SoulPhone board of directors- I’m the Secretary for the SoulPhone Foundation working with Dr. Gary Schwartz, Dr. Mark Pitstick and others on what could be the invention of the last several centuries.

So yeah. That’s what’s happening. This year will be about choices and time management.

It’s Christmas Day. It’s the fourth Christmas since Shayna passed. I dread Christmas now. Being an adult at Christmas time was only stressful before the girls came along. Then, it had the magic again for several years as we bought for them, watched their eyes light up when they saw their presents, the wonder on their faces as they saw the notes from Santa, and Shayna’s passion for Christmas. But, for the last four years, Christmas is a day I would just as soon skip. Trying to decide what to buy for Tywana is something I’ve given up on. She buys for herself year round. When she goes Christmas shopping for others, it’s one present for them, one present for Tywana. She bought herself a Fitbit over Black Friday weekend, accessories for it since then, new earrings, pajamas when she was shopping for Kayla, etc. So, we’ve agreed I don’t buy for her. Kayla wanted cash for Christmas this year to help fund her trip to Mexico. So, our gifts for her were somewhat limited. I’ll have to buy something for gift exchanges with my family- people who have too much already. It’ll be gift cards for the parents again.

Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, Thomas John once again generously donated his time to our parents. Thomas sat for over an hour doing readings for over 100 parents who were missing their kids. As always, Thomas brought through absolutely astounding evidence. Many tears fell as parents heard from their kids validating that not only do they still live, they are active in our lives and aware of what we are doing. We went to bed at midnight. Last night was a full moon. When the moon is out, I’ll say goodnight to Shayna while looking at the moon. Last night I said Merry Christmas to Shayna as I looked at the moon glowing through the light cloud cover. I shed a few tears missing having my baby here to make Christmas exciting. As much as Shayna loved the thrill of Christmas, I know she’s not missing anything where she is. I know she’s fine. I know she’s having more fun than I am.

I woke up early and thought about “Christmas Day.” I decided to skip my walk today. I got dressed in the dark and went downstairs. I did a meditation that Susanne Wilson recorded, one designed to connect with a loved one on the other side. Shayna came to me in the meditation, and we had a nice visit as the tears rolled down my face. Better to get them all out before Tywana and Kayla got up.

I started to think about how Christmas has changed for so many. The parents on Helping Parents Heal were making posts, missing their kids. Many of the parents who had readings were thanking Thomas and coming through with more validations as they thought about what he had said, and it started to make sense to them.

I have to have an aside here. Last week, we had a meeting in which our featured speaker couldn’t make it. My buddy Jake Samoyedny filled in at the last minute. One of the mothers on the call had just had a reading with Jake. He had told her that she would get a visit from her son in an airport over Christmas. She was upset because her Christman travel plans had been canceled. So, Jake’s prediction could not come true. Then, two days ago, a relative passed suddenly. On the 23rd of December, she found out she would have to travel on Christmas Eve. As she sat in the airport, across the way, about 40′ away, she spotted someone who looked just like her son who is deceased. He was looking in her direction, but too far away to be making eye contact with her specifically. As he stood there drinking from her water bottle, he smiled. She began recording. Then, she whispered, “Smile again.” , at that moment, even though there is no way he could have heard her, he smiled in her direction. I know this is true because she captured it on video.

Yesterday, in the reading, Thomas told a mother that she had gone skiing in New Hampshire. She said, “Yes, I have been skiing.” Most mediums would have taken this. Thomas said, “Was it in New Hampshire?” She had to think about it. She confirmed it was New Hampshire. Amazing. Thomas brought through other pieces of evidence for her and others. People wonder if Thomas looks things up because he is so accurate. Well, there were over 100 people on this call. I saw him do similar things on a Facebook Live earlier in the day with 1,000 people on.  He has no idea who will be on. He brings up things that would never have been recorded anywhere. This morning, however, the mother posted this. “I received another Christmas gift from heaven, this morning. When the alarm woke me up, this morning, the DJ said be caller 10 to win ski tickets. I just kept getting through, until I won! Thank you Robbie for coming through yesterday, and for the ski tickets today!!!”

As I read the parents posting about missing their kids, and I thought about how much I miss Shayna, I started remembering that the Christmases of little kids excitingly opening toys were long gone for me before Shayna passed. As teenagers, the girls had started sleeping in on Christmas mornings. There were fewer and fewer toys for me to play with. I thought about my sister-in-law spending her first Christmas without her boys there. Two are in London; one got married this year. Our neighbor’s 23-year-old daughter is spending her first Christmas away, with her boyfriend. These are natural progressions. Our kids leaving us early to head back Home is an abrupt change. But, Christmas changes over the years, regardless. The magic of being a child is replaced by stress as we become adults. The joy of seeing your kids on Christmas mornings turns into waiting for your teenagers to finally roll out of bed in the afternoon and morphs into waiting for grandchildren to bring the magic back.

It’s time for a change in expectations. I think it was the year before Shayna passed that we started going to a movie on Christmas Day. A couple of years ago, we dropped the tradition of “bird” (Cornish hens) on Christmas. This is Kayla’s last year in her undergraduate program. Maybe next year it’s time to start traveling again on Christmas. We stopped traveling the year Tywana was pregnant with Shayna.

Grief happens when our expectations are not aligned with reality. The bigger the gap, the more profound the grief. Since we can’t change reality (at least not readily or easily), it makes sense to adjust expectations. I’m trying to view Christmas as just a day. Expecting every Christmas to be amazing simply isn’t realistic. As I type this, Kayla and Tywana are working on a crossword puzzle, and my mother-in-law sits at the kitchen table making a visit from the retirement home. She’s repeating her mantra “There’s no place like home.” Since she moved into the retirement home, that’s all we hear from her. She lives in Disappointment City. Kayla and Tywana are trying to talk her out of it. I’m trying to learn from her.

I’m looking for things to be grateful for. The sun is shining (a Christmas miracle in itself). Kayla is home and will be for a couple of more weeks. I have a ribeye roast in the sous vide. My friend sent a nice bottle of bourbon for Christmas. And, every day is one day closer to seeing Shayna again. No two Christmases are ever the same. I will never have the Christmas where I put together the dollhouse for the girls or the Christmas where Shayna got the keyboard and her face lit up the room.  I’m glad to have had the magical Christmases I had with the girls. Tonight, we’ll have a quiet dinner with Tywana’s mother. I’ll have a bourbon or two. And, I have another day with Tywana and Kayla. This one I will accept as it is. 

This has been the week from hell, again. Two steps forward and one step back seems the way it goes or maybe it’s 1-1/2 steps forward and one step back. I’ve just completed Joe Dispenza’s book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” and while I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I was fully expecting for life to throw more challenges at me just as I’m trying to incorporate these new habits into my life- being grateful, expecting the best, knowing the Universe is working with me, etc. All of these are major changes from the way I have been programmed. If things were going well, it’d be challenging enough.

I feel like things are opening up. There’s the metaphor, the light at the end of the tunnel. This is more like a bunch of lights, pinpricks, against a dark background. I can see them out there and they might be getting closer. I have many opportunities in the embryonic stage. Some are public, some soon to be announced. Surely, from all of these one or more will emerge as successful. So, meantime, I try to wait patiently, putting my intention out there and trusting that it will be delivered in ways that are surprising to me. This is what Dr. Dispenza teaches. Every time one of these pops up seemingly out of nowhere, I wonder “Will this be the one?” 

This week one of the organizations I volunteer for has made a couple of decisions that I disagree with, one I strongly disagree with. This decision has already broken one heart. It will break another. I work with the groups I work with because we’re supposed to be spiritual. We’re supposed to be about healing and forgiveness and grace. We are supposed to know that Earth is a school and that we all make mistakes. But, when you get more than a few people in an organization, and when you get lawyers and money involved, all the spiritual stuff goes right out of the window. For an example, see just about any church. Many years ago I became good friends with a pastor on staff at the Vineyard. When I learned his annual objectives and goals were as rigid as any I had working for IBM, I realized that even most churches are just businesses. So, I shouldn’t be surprised by this decision. I’m not. I’m disappointed. 

Finances aren’t getting any better. I’m taking on part-time, entry-level work to close the gap. It’s not what I pictured myself doing at 57 years old. But, I’ll do what it takes. Ego won’t keep me from doing whatever it takes. The work isn’t grueling. I can do it from home. I’m grateful for that. Yet, I’d rather be doing my own thing. And that leads to some of the frustration. People keep telling me I should do my own thing. I should write a book. As a friend said last night “need to put you in the spotlight, not behind the camera.” I love the encouragement. I’m working on making that happen. Right now, those opportunities, those points of light are still distant, they are faint, but they’re out there.

Last night as I closed my eyes, I was exhausted but I could not sleep. I think I got a total of about three hours. Everything that is going wrong kept swirling in my head. I couldn’t make it stop. I went within to meet with my Team. I told them, “Take me now. A stroke would be good. I don’t want to do this anymore”. Their response “This is an opportunity. You wanted to learn. This is your chance to learn. What’s going well for you?” Well, I’ve developed this tool of knowing how to turn within. I’m grateful that I’ve learned how to cope. I was knocked way off center earlier this evening. But, I’m focused now. I’m healthy. I have a warm bed to sleep in. I have enough to make it through tomorrow and many tomorrows. I have friends who care. I have skills. I’ve shown I can easily get work if I really need to. I’m not doing what I want but I’ve landed several jobs in the last couple of months. Baby step. I agreed to stay. They told me to hang in a little longer. It will get better. That reminds me of a dream I had last week. I was with Tywana and Kayla, sitting around a table. Shayna was there in spirit. I could see her. Then, I was lying down. She took her finger, opened an incision in my chest, reached in and touched my heart. She asked me if I was ready to come Home. I looked at Tywana and Kayla and reluctantly said “Not now.” Then, I was awake.

I woke up this morning with not a single circumstance changed. But, as I was thinking about one of my jobs, creating memes, I came up with this image that I created to be the featured image of this post. When there is no way, make a way. I’ll keep inventing and reinventing ways forward until I break through whatever tries to stand in my way.

I didn’t know when I was lucky
Discontented feeling bad
Filled with envy
For possessions other people had
I found my pride had always hurt me
Fought the world to gain control
Not realising
I was sitting on a beach of gold
Oh lord I’m a poor man
With all the riches I can hold
I’m a beggar
And I’m sitting on a beach of gold
The problems I encountered
Gave me strength helped me sustain
To know the pleasure
First I had to cure the pain
When I was searching for solutions
I found the answer lay in me
I’m a drifter
But I’m drifting on a silver sea
I didn’t have courage
My life was as dark as night
When alone in the darkness
I saw the brightest light
Let the light shine down
– Mike and the Mechanics- Beggar On A Beach of Gold
I haven’t written much lately. Today is the first day of December. Twenty days till the solstice. It’s been dark, gray, cold, rainy, snowy- you know, Ohio in the fall. I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper hanger. The part-time gig working for one of the mediums I know, preparing for the holidays at Treasured Locks, volunteering for the SoulPhone, Greater Reality Living and Helping Parents Heal, interviewing for another gig with the seminary, helping an author finish the draft of his manuscript by co-leading a focus group. It’s a lot. And this week I launched another business venture that I’ll be announcing soon.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Hay House podcast by Joe Dispenza. He was talking about his book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”.  The talk resonated with me, and I was strongly considering buying the book and taking a genuine shot at completely changing my personality. That’s when my buddy Nico announced he was in town for a few days and invited me to lunch. I always enjoy my time with Nico. We met after Shayna’s passing when a friend introduced us because of Nico’s unique connection with Spirit. Nico went on a spiritual journey after the passing of his mother, leaving his corporate job and following his passion around the world for the last three plus years. We don’t talk sports or weather. It’s all soul talk. We think maybe we were monks together somewhere in a past life. Nico’s excited about a new program he’s about to launch to help people change their personalities (or as he might put it, ditch their personalities). He’s done it with a few people with great results. I mentioned to him that I was just about to buy Joe Dispenza’s book because it seems to line up precisely with what Nico is doing. I tell Nico how I’m suffering and I’m tired of it. He asks me if I’m ready to give it up. I am.  This conversation prompts me to go ahead and buy the book- I get it on Audible and start to listen.

I’ve been listening to the book for the last couple of weeks. I’m absorbing the principles and recognizing how I’ve been sabotaging my life, feeling unworthy and subconsciously limiting myself. I continue to try and try new things, but always with the backdrop of feeling they won’t take off. I’ll continually struggle in survival mode. The book puts a new spin on the law of attraction which I’ve always wrestled with because it makes no sense to me. But, so many people I know believe in it, I keep coming back to it, trying to understand how it works. And, more importantly, how do I make it work in my life. You see, if you get “bad” stuff from the universe, you come to expect “bad” stuff. So, what does the Universe do? Give you more bad stuff? How do I break the cycle? This is the first book I’ve heard of that teaches how.

Earlier this week, as I’m absorbing the principles of the book and into the last chapters, my new business partner approaches me with a proposal. I’ve had many business partners in the past. Other than Tywana, they’ve all let me down. One has taken me for thousands of dollars. All talk grandiose plans and lose interest. As I was in my account buying the domain name for this new business, I came across the domain name I purchased for the last venture I discussed with someone. We had big plans that went nowhere. My natural inclination, the habit of being me, says this venture will be more of the same. We’ll make big plans. And, nothing will happen. I see the past repeating itself. But, here’s what’s different. I caught it. I recognized this is the habit of being me. And, I decide to think differently. This time it will be different. This partner is one of the few people I know who has more energy and ideas than I do. I’m having trouble keeping up with her in just these few early days. She’s action-oriented. Things will happen. We will make them happen. This will be different. I will go forward believing this is the manifestation of the intention I’ve been putting out since that meeting with Nico and since starting the Habit of Being Me book.

Yesterday, I finished the last chapter of the book. As the book came to a close, I reminded myself that a “self-help” book is no good if you just read it. You have to put it into action. I take some time reinforcing the principles of the book in my head, in silence, as I walk. I envision the future I want to have. I want to be out of Ohio within two years- no more winters for me. I want to get Treasured Locks to the point where it’s more healthy. I want to earn enough money to pay off a car in two years. I want to put my skills to use helping other people- and get paid for it. I put all of this out to the Universe and, as Joe instructs, I don’t tell the Universe how to deliver. It’s up to the Universe to figure out how to deliver.

As I’m affirming all of this, the thought comes that 2019 is going to be my year. I’m looking forward to many positive changes in the new year. I think 2019, that will be Shayna’s 19th birthday. Since I still have some time before my walk is over, I decide to listen to Steely Dan’s Hey Nineteen. As I pull it up on my iPhone, I notice it was released in 1980, the year I was 19. Interesting coincidence. Hey Nineteen came out when I was 19. Shayna’s 19th birthday is 2019. And, I’m declaring 2019 as my year.

I get home and I’m working on my side gig, putting together some memes for my client. I Google images for John Lennon and come across this one.

I have no idea where this exists, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it before. Last night Tywana and I are watching “God Friended Me” which is a television program all about this atheist getting prompts from a social media account called “God” and then finding these amazing synchronicities. The characters talk about Strawberry Fields in Central Park which is where this memorial exists. And, the camera pans down and there it is, the same image I saw earlier in the day. These are two small synchronicities in the day. But, they are big enough for me to take notice. I call these Easter eggs or God winks. Programmers hide Easter eggs in video games as little winks to the players. I believe the more we notice and acknowledge these, the more we get.

This morning in my meditation, I work on continuing to break the habit of being me. I start my meditation with one of my favorite Mike and the Mechanics songs, Beggar On A Beach Of Gold and I resolve to stop living in the shallows and get up on that beach of gold. Joe Dispenza says when you get up from meditation, you should be different from the person who sat down.  And, I am.
Are you out there now on empty
Feel you’ve nothing left to give
Sick of trying
Have you lost the will to live?
Don’t be drowning in the shallows
With the beach so near at hand
Hear the voice say
Stand up get up
And join me on the gilded sand
Come and join me on the beach
With all the riches I can hold
I’ve all the riches I can hold

OK. Let me take a breath here. Whew! It’s been two weeks since I made a post on the blog. I’m pretty sure that’s a record. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, I haven’t had the time to say it. Life keeps getting in the way of my plans. (in fact, I wrote this post almost two weeks before it’s actually being posted)  Treasured Locks is finally starting to show signs of life again (yippee!). It’s not as much as I would like. But, it’s something, like a tiny seedling poking its head through the spring soil. I had to let someone go this week because I can’t afford to keep paying her for work I can do myself. It was nice while it lasted. Having someone to take some of the creative aspects off of my plate was a nice respite. Maybe it’ll happen again one day. Kat Baillie’s prediction of paying work has come to pass as I started my new, very temporary, very part-time, job within the last several days. Volunteer “opportunities” abound so much that I’m having to start turning them down. But, they have led to a little paying work and have opened my eyes to some possibilities. I feel like I’m on the cusp of something. I’m still stuck in the hallway, but some doors may be unlocking.

Last night was the first session of me facilitating a session taught by Rev. Terri Daniel.  I was running a Zoom for Helping Parents Heal a few weeks ago and she asked me if I could do the same thing for her for an upcoming seminar she is teaching, and it pays! Why not? It’s a six-week course, doing the same thing I do for free. The course is called Spirituality and Bereavement. It’s mostly professional clergy and grief counselors learning more on how to deal with helping people deal with their grief from a spiritual perspective. I work for the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The first meeting went great. I suspect and hope that more opportunities may spring forth from this one. Tonight, I start a 12 week series of meetings with a new author who is looking for his feedback on his book about the lessons of Near Death Experiences. That’s not paid, but it’s every Thursday.

I’ve been talking with a life coach who is trying to convince me that what I’m passionate about I can make a living doing. Rather, I should say I’m trying to convince myself. I feel like I’ve had a “ministry” for many years now between all the volunteer work for the church, blogging, activity on social media, facilitating for Helping Parents Heal, SoulPhone, Greater Reality Living, etc. About a month ago a parent from HPH asked me how I make a living doing what I do for HPH. I had to laugh. I don’t.  Maybe I’m storing up treasure in Heaven, but meanwhile, the coffers on Earth aren’t being filled at all. I’ve had a couple of sessions with Bridgett. I reached out to her with the hopes she could help me “fix” my I wasn’t prepared for her suggesting maybe I don’t fix the business but do something else.  I listen to her podcast, which she has just rebooted as Chapter 2. On Friday each week, she talks about building a “quiet empire”, making money doing what you’re passionate about. While we were on the call, she asked me what I would do if money were no object. With no hesitation, I lit up and gave her a five-minute rant on what I’d prefer to be doing, but sadly it doesn’t pay.

I have published my first “book”. I don’t mean to minimize my accomplishment, but it’s more of a booklet than a book. It’s a compilation of articles I’ve written about hair care over the years. We’ve been selling it in PDF form on the website (mostly giving it away).  The reason for publishing it as a Kindle book was to learn the process.  My buddy Jake has been all over me about getting my writing career off of the ground. That kick in the butt is much appreciated. Now that I understand the process a little better, the task of turning these 1,000 blogs into book(s) is a little less daunting.

Tomorrow I have a discovery call with another life coach where I’ll talk about next steps in getting something published.

How to feel about all of this? When I spoke with Bridgett a couple of weeks ago, in preparation for the call, I wrote down all of the balls I am juggling. I have just two hands and about ten balls in the air. Helping Parents Heal, SoulPhone, Greater Reality Living, this blog, a possible book, the technical assistant role, Treasured Locks, ghostwriting, email copywriting. I’ve bought two websites for blogs and one in case I decide to put out my shingle as a copywriter/ghostwriter. All of these are percolating and I’m waiting to see which actually rise to the top. I’ve had to learn to say “no” which I hate doing. I’m pulling back a bit on Greater Reality Living and SoulPhone. If I have to let go of the person who was helping me with Treasured Locks, I can’t afford to volunteer any more time on things that don’t pay.

I’m proud of myself. I was sitting in an IANDS meeting on Sunday and they asked for volunteers to manage the Facebook page, manage the website, and handle their email lists. I just set up two MailChimp accounts for the 12-week course I’m doing with the author and the 6-week course I’m assisting with for the seminary. I thought “It’d be really easy to set up a MailChimp account for the IANDS group. I could do that. It would only take a few minutes a month once it’s set up.”  But, those minutes add up. 15 minutes here, a half hour there and the next thing I know the week is gone. A new guy had shown up at the meeting. Part of his life story was that he has been volunteering for many years working with animals and he’s turning that into a paid career now.  I realized how much volunteer work I do when a few weeks ago a parent in Helping Parents Heal asked how I make a living doing what I do for HPH. She thought I was a full time paid employee. I chuckled as I told her I don’t get paid anything (monetarily) for what I do for HPH. Back to the IANDS situation, I kept my hand down. The woman next to me volunteered to take over the email for the group. I leaned over to and asked if she was familiar with MailChimp. She was not. I told her I’d walk her through how it could work for the group. She asked me a few questions about managing people on multiple lists. I was puzzled because there would only need to be one list. She handed me her card and I promised to contact her. When I contacted her, she bombarded me with questions. I soon realized that she has her own business and was interested in how to use MailChimp to manage her emails as well. I asked her a few questions and realized what she is currently doing is pretty much unmanageable. I’m sure in a couple of hours I could get her migrated over to MailChimp, but I don’t have a couple of hours to spare for non-paying gigs. I let that go.

I still wake up every day disappointed to be back here again. My first thought is “I’m tired. Why am I still here?”  But, I am still here, so my next thought is “What am I going to do about it now?” I get up, get dressed, walk my 7 miles, make the coffee and get to work on the next project.

This week is the Afterlife Research and Education Institute symposium in Scottsdale, AZ. Last year at this time, Ty and I were there having the time of our lives at a conference about “death”. I could not justify the expenditure to go this year. I passed up an opportunity to sit in a seance with one of the very few physical mediums on the planet, and an opportunity to be on a panel at the conference. I’m thinking of my friend there, trying not to be jealous. I’m here, still planting seeds, watering, and waiting to see what comes up.  There’s always next year.  Maybe I’ll be presenting. Could happen.

Someone created an image that depicts what I’ve felt since Shayna passed.  I found this image on Facebook where the poster linked it to how we are all waiting in line to go back Home. We know this intellectually, but we forget it. We get caught up in the day-to-day of life, and we set aside the knowledge we all have an expiration date. More importantly, we think that if we are young and healthy and maybe wealthy, we have more time than someone else. Old, sick people die.  I’m young and healthy. I have a long time. In spite of this delusion, there is no guarantee of a long life for any of us. We’re all in this line. It is invisible to the human eye so we can’t see the order or the length of the queue. Some live for a few hours. Some live for 100 years or more. Young healthy people, like Shayna, go suddenly. Sickly people, like Anita Moorjani, make miraculous recoveries.

It’s cliche, but cliches are cliches for a reason. Live each day as if you don’t know how many more you have left.  I’m not recommending living each day as if it’s your last. We have obligations. We have to plan just in case we’re around tomorrow and the day after that. We can’t all fly off to an island. However, don’t take it for granted that an endless number of days stretch out ahead of you. Tell those around you that you love them- today. Show them appreciation- today. Be kind to yourself- today. Do something that will make you proud in your life review- today.

If life is hard and you’re looking forward to going Home, know that your turn at the front of the line is coming, no matter how far away it might seem now. One day you’ll get there. Every day you move up further in the queue.

p.s.- when I was looking for the creator of this image to give credit, I found it had been used mostly to depict alien abductions. I don’t know what the artist’s intention was. It’s fascinating how we can look at a piece of art and see completely different things. Credit where credit is due; I’m pretty sure the creator is: Logan Zillmer.

There is a line in the song Amazing Grace that goes

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

As I’m thinking about my relationship with church this line presents itself to me. It was church that taught my heart to fear. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with church since the time I can remember. I see four reasons for going to church- obligation/worship, education, service, and community.

Obligation: As the grandson of a preacher and the son of Pentecostal parents, church was never optional for me. From the time I was born until the time I left to go to college, unless I was dying (and often when I felt like I was), church was where I was going to every Sunday morning. Like any good sales presentation, church first convinced me I had a problem.  That’s sales 101, create a need. I was born evil. I was a sinner, rebellious from God by virtue of the fact I had landed on this planet. The good news was all I had to do was to be sorry for being this way, and God would spare me the eternal torment I deserved. When I was the age of 7, my grandfather died suddenly in church I wondered how much church and God really were going to protect me.   And I had a fundamental problem with this god who hated me so much just for being who he made me to be. I went along with the program, as much as I could I got baptized at the age of 13 to appease him. I studied my Bible. I went along to get along. Church was a place I went out of fear, not because of love. I needed church because that was the only place I could be “saved”. Once I was saved, God needed me to worship him. The idea that God needs worship comes from the days of antiquity where earthly monarchs had to have their egos stroked by having their subjects bow and scrape before them. This need was transferred to the image of a god on the throne. Gratitude flows naturally once one begins to comprehend the true nature of the divine and the nature of our relationship with the divine. God doesn’t want our forced praise. And, we don’t have to be in a particular building to express our gratitude. We can quietly sit and reflect in any moment anywhere and anytime and let it come naturally.

As soon as I got out of my parents’ house, I was done with church. The obligation was over. I didn’t go much for years.  When I got married, Tywana had an image of a family that goes to church together. So, I started going to church with her, for her.  This was church out of a sense of obligation- to Tywana.

Education: Another reason to go to church is to learn. For centuries the priestly class has convinced us they have exclusive access to the saving knowledge we need. The only place to learn was at church, through them. Some churches went so far as to tell their congregants, “Don’t read the Bible, leave that to the professionals. You just sit there and we’ll tell you what to think. I’m grateful for the education I got in church. The Bible still has a huge influence on our society and, frankly, in my life as well. A working knowledge of the Bible is helpful. However, in the information age, we live in opportunities to learn abound. We can pick and subject and read analysis from many different voices about what the Bible says. We can learn church history, so we know not only what the church is teaching today but where these beliefs came from and how they’ve evolved over time. Many in the clergy fear an educated congregation because the more you know about the history of the church and the Bible, the less likely you are to believe the fundamentalist teachings they are giving from the pulpit. I probably listen to an average of four spiritual podcasts a week from various traditions, and from no tradition. I can choose to listen to a pastor in Springfield, MO from a small non-denominational church or I can listen to a pastor from Phoenix, AZ in a Unity church, all without leaving my home or, better yet, while I’m out walking in nature. Church is no longer the only place where I can go to learn about spiritual things.

Service: That first church that Tywana and I attended after we got married was way too fundamentalist for me. I went for her. Over time, Our Sunday school teacher chose me to be the substitute teacher when he was out. This is when I realized that maybe I shouldn’t go to church so much for what it did for me, but what I could do there for others. I enjoyed educating (and I could sneak in some of my subversive thoughts when I was up front).  When we moved to Cincinnati, I found a church I could get into because of their heart for service. They called it servant evangelism. We would go out and give away things like a Coke or even a car wash, not for “donations,” but to demonstrate unconditional love.

Community: Church should be a place of community. Back in the day you were born in and probably died in the same church. The other members were extended family. You watched each others’ kids grow up. You got together for dinner with your friends in the church. In the days of the megachurch, much of that has been lost. The last megachurch we attended, and I mean that in both senses of the word it’s the last one I will go to, was so into the production value, they didn’t turn the lights on for the entire service. It was like being in a movie theater. You’d come in in the dark, sing a few songs, watch the recorded video sermon, sing another song, and file out in the dark. If you wanted actually to meet people, you had to do something outside of the Sunday morning service. This was true at our former megachurch as well. There, Tywana and I did a lot of volunteer work, serving on the premarital team together, me working on the video production team, and me teaching their introductory course to their theology in the evenings. As we moved away from that church to the next church and the next church and as I got involved with blogging more, with Facebook, etc. church as a place of community lessened and lessened in importance.

My history with church: For about nine years, that service-oriented church we found when we moved to Cincinnati was OK for me, as long as I turned a blind eye to their conservative teachings that lurked underneath the veneer of their “seeker sensitive” front. A couple of times a year something would come up that would rub me the wrong way. It was after they taught Kayla, at the age of around 8 years old that she was totally depraved (to use a Calvinistic term), I was done. I would not allow her to be brought up with the self-hatred I was taught in church. The joy I had from leading and teaching at that church was gone. I wouldn’t continue to go and I certainly wouldn’t take the risk they would teach the girls self-hatred. A little yeast leavens the whole loaf, as Jesus said. It was time to go.

Right around this time, I heard of the United Church of Christ.  This was the church I had always sought.  No dogma.  No original sin. No penal substitutionary atonement theory. They respected and even studied other spiritual paths and traditions. The church was tiny. It started with no more than twenty people. The founding pastor left because of the financial struggles. The pastor we brought in to replace him did his best. I was on the board of the church. I was deeply involved. I was serving. But, the stress of trying to keep a progressive church alive in conservative Cincinnati proved to be more of a challenge than I was willing to keep going with. After five years, I left there.  The stress was too great. I wasn’t even on paid staff, and I felt responsible for trying to keep the lights on in the place. Tywana guided us to several more churches, none of which fit. We ended up back at another mega church.  A big, glitzy, seeker sensitive place with lots of shiny happy people, but that same fundamentalist mindset lurking underneath.  I tolerated that place until after Shayna passed at which time both Tywana and I realized we needed to stop going through the motions and either find a place that spoke to our souls or give up church altogether.  She wasn’t ready to give up. So, we started going to Unity.

Ahh… here we were at Unity.  If possible, Unity was an even better fit than the United Church of Christ. The church we were attending was well established, a couple of decades old. So, I didn’t have to deal with the financial pressures, and I wasn’t forced into a leadership role.  I could sit back and be a congregant.  I volunteer some, but nothing like I was doing before. After attending the megachurches, I thought that in a smaller church we’d be more plugged in, more of a part of a community. If we didn’t attend for a while, someone would notice. This was the church I had always dreamed of; like-minded people, small enough to get to know everyone, big enough to be financially stable.

Fast forward three years.  We haven’t been attending regularly for several months now. While the church is small enough to get to know people we haven’t connected. My friend who attended the church for years before I did doesn’t come anymore. In three years I’ve made one friend there. One person contacted me about our lack of attendance. Demographics probably play a role. The church is mostly people our age or older (much older). It’s just about all white. It’s got to be 60-70% (or more) female.  To be fair, we haven’t made much of an effort to connect. Tywana has way more than enough social interaction between her work, friends, neighbors, wine club, book club, and more. I have Facebook and Helping Parents Heal. I connect with spiritually similar people regularly through the week. Going to hear an “expert” give their opinion for 25 minutes on a Sunday morning doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not something I need in my life.

Church, for me, isn’t able to check off any of the four boxes anymore. Fear and obligation don’t have any hold on me as I know God doesn’t need my worship and isn’t keeping an attendance record. Educationally, I have podcasts (I’m listening to one as I type this). I have books. I get to hear some of the best speakers in the world through Helping Parents Heal. I interact with literally thousands of people to bounce ideas off of. I can download a book in a few seconds. For community, I have amazing friends and neighbors. During the scotch tasting at my friend’s house a couple of nights ago we got into a deeper spiritual discussion than I typically can have in church. Tywana and I have a group of neighbors we get together with most Friday or Saturday nights, sometimes both.

Tywana and I have been going to Unity of Garden Park for three years. I volunteer at the church. However, for me, for now, church doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. I had coffee with the pastor a couple of weeks ago and laid this out for her. I continue to volunteer for them. My life is so full right now I don’t have time for the Sunday morning routine.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

The fear that church put into me served a purpose at one time. That fear was the driving force that pushed me to find the Truth.  People will run away from pain or towards pleasure or both. I was running from the pain.  The fear stirred me to figure out just who I am and why I’m here. I learned a lot about the Bible which is still a significant book in my life and in our society. It gave me a basis from which to study real spiritual truths. In a sense, the fear it taught me, it also relieved by forcing me to seek the Truth that would set me free.

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

This morning as I’m listening to one of my podcasts for the day a spiritual teacher is talking about seeking absolute truth. Frankly, there was a lot of “deep” talk about how everything we experience as humans is relative. But, the absolute truth lies in the “nothing” (or something like that). It’s confusing to me. I’m trying to stick with the podcast because I’ve heard that if a teaching doesn’t make you squirm, you’re not learning anything and I’ve found many gems even from people with whom I have deep disagreements. But, as he goes along I find myself saying “No, no, no.”

He goes on to talk about how humans seek meaning and when we don’t find meaning, we don’t like it.  No shit, What galls me though is the implication that there is somehow something wrong with seeking meaning. As the podcast mentions, the Buddha taught that life is suffering or life involves suffering. Attachment causes distress. Attachment to a particular circumstance or outcomes causes suffering. If we could give up all attachment, we would not suffer. If we could give up all preference for a specific result, we would not hurt. All of this is true. You cannot argue with any of it. If you want to end suffering, stop caring about what happens. Easy. I’ve heard teachings saying that we need to detach from our life story.  They tell me to tell myself Brian is just a story. I am an eternal being who is beyond any circumstances of this lifetime, any experiences, of this lifetime. If I could only identify with who I indeed am, I could transcend any suffering. Just step outside of my story and be the observer, unattached, unaffected. The solution is to eliminate the need to seek meaning, to have no preference for outcome A or outcome B. Ideally, you’d be just as happy being healthy and wealthy as living on the street in constant pain. There’s only one problem.

Humans are, well, human. We have evolved over millennia to seek meaning. Or we were created to desire it, whichever you prefer. We pursue pleasure, and we avoid pain. This is a biological imperative. Every living being has evolved to seek comfort and to do whatever it takes to prevent pain. This is not a shortcoming; this is the design. I’ve studied Buddhism, and there’s a lot of good stuff in there. And, I think there’s some good stuff in what this guy was saying, but the problem is when we come to the wrong conclusions about seeking meaning or avoiding pain and suffering. If we could divorce ourselves from the need to find meaning, we would suffer less. If we could eliminate the preference for any circumstance or outcome, we would eliminate suffering entirely. So, this is what we must do. This is impossible, as human beings though.

While meditation, getting in touch with our higher, more authentic self can add perspective, and reduce suffering it’s additive to who we are as humans, not subtractive. We cannot deny our humanity, our biology. We can know we are that higher self, the eternal being, in addition to, not instead of. Escaping the frustrations and pains of being human is not the goal. Eliminating the desire for meaning isn’t what we are after. Instead, we should seek more meaning, more profound meaning.  How can I transmute this pain? What is this pain here to teach me? Yes, I am suffering. No, I don’t want this. My higher self might be benefiting, but this still sucks. It’s OK to be human, and it’s OK not to want pain.

I’m leery of any teaching that says I have to be less than or more than human. That’s why I chose my email address (onlyhuman) at least for the years I spend here, I am human, fully human. I cannot be more. I do not want to be less. I have desires. I have needs. I have things I do not wish to have to endure. It’s part of the deal.

As an aside, another thing he said that bugged me was that I should be grateful I woke up to feel pain. That sounds good. We should be thankful for life. And, I am grateful for life. The issue I have is the notion of being thankful for waking up. It’s something I’ve heard many Christians say. “Any day on top of the dirt beats the alternative” or something to that effect; as if the worst thing that could happy to us is to die. Newsflash, we don’t die. We cannot die. We never “don’t wake up.” Be grateful that you were created and that you have the opportunities you have. Being a human being is a marvelous thing. But, don’t think the worst possible thing that could happen to you is for your body to stop functioning. On the day that happens, you will truly wake up. You’ll be more awake than you ever were here. Death is far, far from the end.

In closing, I turn to my favorite role model, Jesus. As I was thinking about the misplaced desire to transcend being human while being in the body; the drive to become this all-knowing, being who simply chooses not to suffer, I pictured Jesus hanging on the cross. While Jesus was one bad-ass Master, He was still very human. He knew who He truly was. He never forgot His Home and His true nature. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed so hard not to have to endure what was before Him that He sweated blood. He had desires. He had preferences. His last recorded words expressed a deep preference for what happened to Him “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Those don’t sound like the words of someone who had “overcome” all of His desires and was cool with just whatever. Be human. Be fully human.

 

Sometimes it’s just all too much. We wonder why me, why now, how much more am I supposed to take? I’m on Facebook and I see my cousin’s daughter posted a picture of her and her son with the simple status update “feeling angry”. I wonder what’s up. Tanika has been doing well. She’s just had a successful surgery and lost over 100 pounds. Her job seems to be going well. Then I see a cryptic post from her daughter. I piece it together. Something dreadful has happened to Tanika’s son, Savonne. I don’t know the young man. I might have met him a family reunion.  He looks vaguely familiar. My heart goes out to Tanika. Her son, just 25 years old, has made his transition, suddenly and unexpectedly. I know that pain. My heart is broken, again.

I wait a couple of hours and then call my mother, my go-to for family news, she tells me what she knows. Savonne has overdosed. Just a few days ago, his mother had posted a picture of him in the ER where he had gone for a broken ankle and foot he sustained in a fall. He was scheduled to go in for surgery tomorrow. There will be no surgery. His body has been found.

I wait a day to call my cousin- his grandmother. She’s such a distant cousin, I couldn’t begin to tell you how we are related by blood. But, she’s just a couple of years older than I am and she and my mother were very close. We grew up together, so she’s as much of a first cousin to me as any of my others. I flashback to last year when I had to make this same call. You see, last year, her granddaughter, Yazzie- just 16 years old, made her transition due to a previously undiagnosed disease. In a matter of days, she was gone. I called Buffy and tried to give her comfort then. I had no idea what to say. Buffy and I don’t talk often. We haven’t spoken since I made that call. But, I have to call, even if there are no words. I pick up the phone and dial nervously, wondering if they’ll come and what words will come. How do I talk to her knowing she is experiencing this again, her girls are experiencing this again?

She tells me the details, as much as she knows, surrounding his passing. As I said, I didn’t know the young man. It sounds like he was somewhat troubled, but he was a sweet mama’s boy. They call him Little Savonne. Due to an ongoing investigation and respecting the family’s privacy, I won’t comment on the circumstances of his passing other than to say my heart was ripped apart as I thought of the things his mother, aunts, grandmother, and sister must be thinking. There are so many questions surrounding the circumstances that they don’t know. “Did he die alone? Was he scared? Did anyone else have a hand in his death? Was he calling out for his family? Was he in pain?” I want to tell my cousin what I know. The answer to all of the above is probably “No”.  I want to tell her the story of the medium who connected with a woman being driven to her murder. She saw it all through the woman’s eyes. While in the back seat being driven to the place where she was to be murdered, she looked up and saw an angel who motioned her to come with her. She left her body and avoided the trauma her body would go through. I want to tell her of all the NDE stories I’ve heard of people who have left their bodies before the moment of death, watching the whole thing from above with mildly interested attachment to what was their body. I want to tell her that, according to Swedenborg, no one dies alone. At the very least, there were two angels to meet him. I want to tell her that the moment we leave our bodies, we don’t care what happens to the body any more than we care what happens to a coat we give to Goodwill.  But, my cousin is a traditional Christian. I don’t know how she will receive any of this, so I sit with her feeling the pain of uncertainty she feels until it overwhelms me. Why are these tears in my eyes? Why is my voice cracking? I talk to parents going through this every day.  Why is this touching me like this? It’s been a rough week I guess. I feel a lot of emotions welling up in me and they have to get out, now.

I quickly get off the telephone. Her granddaughter has come over with her newest great-grandchild. This is my excuse to get off before I lose it. It’s just too much for me to hold in right now. I let it go, the tears are flowing. Tywana comes into the room and thinks someone else has died. She asks if it’s Kayla, is it Grammy, is it Poppy?  She doesn’t see me crying like this every day. I have to compose myself enough to get out the word ” I just talked to Buphenia.” It’s all I can get out right now. I can’t speak. I’m feeling her pain right now. I’m feeling Tanika’s pain, I’m feeling Tonia’s pain as she relieves the loss of her Yazzie along with the loss of her nephew Savonne. And I feel Buffy’s pain watching her two girls go through losing two of their children. All of my knowledge can’t take away their pain. Their pain is coming through me and I have to let it out.

Savonne’s family doesn’t have the money to cover the cost of the funeral. They have started a GoFundMe. As of this morning, they are about halfway to their goal.  If you can donate, even a very small amount, it would be most helpful. Many hands make light work. Pennies, add up to nickels, to dimes, to dollars. The link is here: https://www.gofundme.com/savonne-jr039s-memorial

I would say Rest In Peace, Little Savonne, but I don’t think Little Savonne is resting. You see, what else I know is Yazzie was probably there to meet him. I know the spirit world knew several weeks ago that he’d be coming. I know he’s probably met Buffy’s mother for the first time- his great-grandmother. I know he’s healthy and whole. And, I know he’s watching over his family and will be at his service where they will honor his short time here. And, I know he’s trying to bring comfort to his mother, his aunties, and his grandmother right now.

July 4th, Independence Day.  It’s a day for celebration.  With the day landing on a Wednesday this year everyone’s undecided about whether the weekend before or the weekend after is the holiday weekend.  When you own your own business, often it’s neither.  Our neighbors decide to have a get together on the eve of the day since most will be back at work on July 5th.  So, we head over, grill hamburgers, and do what we do now that we are mostly empty-nesters.

When we return home, I realize I have a text from a friend I haven’t seen in a while. He’s inviting me to go boating on the 4th.  We haven’t been boating with them in years.  I’m going to guess nearly ten years. I reply with a “Yes”. That is assuming it’s not too late to accept because he wants to go at 9:30 AM and it’s nearly midnight by the time I reply. When I wake up on the 4th, he’s texted changing the time to this afternoon.  I’ve slept in.  It’s nearly 8:00 AM. I think better of taking the entire day off. I’ve got a deadline on Friday that will cost roughly $400 if I miss it. I write him back and tell him I can’t make it today.  I need to work. I cannot miss this deadline. There’s no World Cup soccer today.  I don’t have that excuse to take the day off. Work it is.

Yesterday, I got an email inviting me to be on a panel at a symposium that people assume I will be attending. The email triggers a mixture of emotions. Tywana and I, well I, have decided to pass on the symposium this year unless we get a sign before then. I cannot justify the expenditure to go to a fourth symposium in two years when we’re in the financial shape we’re in. Tywana says maybe this is the sign. I clarify we need an economic sign. As soon as I send the email declining a fantastic opportunity, a step in the direction I want to go in, I start to have regrets. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. If I go, I’ll stress about the expenditure. If I don’t, I’ll have regrets about passing on what could be a door opening. Oh well, maybe there will be another opportunity.

I have to focus on where I am now. All through the day, I say my affirmations.I do my meditation. I set my intentions to manifest the life I desire to have. A friend texts to ask me how I’m doing. How to put a positive spin on this? I can’t say negative stuff. It’s not allowed. She’s helping me manifest and corrects me when I say negative things. “The universe is teaching me patience.” I write back. How’s that? This isn’t happening to me. It’s happening for me. One day I’ll be grateful. So, today, I am grateful for the inevitable gratitude of that one fine day.

Today is the fourth fourth of July since Shayna passed. All of the milestones that were the first in 2015 are now the fourth in 2018. I think back to the first one. The milestones still matter. I still count them. I remember that first fourth, just a few days after Shayna’s Service, going to Champp’s (which is no longer there) with Tywana. Kayla had gone out with friends for the first time on Independence Day. I had never gone to dinner on the 4th of July.  Would it be packed? Would it be empty? I felt guilty. Shayna hated it when we would go out without her. I remember saying to her (in my mind), “I’d bring you with me if I could.” It would be a while before I’d adjust to asking for a table for just two or just three. Three years later and I’m still adjusting.

This fourth, since Kayla’s back at Toledo, Tywana and I have a quiet day at home. I try to not overthink about the way things were when we had barbecues with the girls and watched fireworks. We grill brats for dinner and we watch a little TV. The fireworks are nothing but a nuisance now. The dogs hate them. I can’t take them out for the final time until well after 11 PM because all they want to do is get back into the house. Finally, the fireworks slow to the point where they are far enough away and infrequent enough that Stevie manages to do her business and I can rest knowing she won’t wake me in the middle of the night to go out.

Four fourth of Julys without Shayna. Where am I compared to then? Better in some ways. I’m still undecided whether the pain lessens or our capacity to bear it expands. It seemed unbearable at first. It’s not unbearable anymore. I can endure. I will endure, somehow.