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From my journal, written today at the park where my kids and I like to play:

It’s a beautiful day, after nearly a week of clouds and rain, which I really loved. It’s nice to have the variety, and I love it when the weather and the seasons are in flux. Today is sunny and about 70 degrees, and I have the kidlets at the park where they are having fun being outdoors after spending most of the week cooped up inside. It’s wonderful to see them run and jump and play.

Fall has definitely arrived – the days are shorter and cooler, and the leaves are changing. It’s my favorite season for all these reasons, but also because the poignancy and beauty of life shines even as the days darken, the leaves die, and the world around me begins to go into that long, cold sleep of winter.

The promise of spring blooms even in the dying embers of fall, bearing hope for renewed life each time around, in an eternal cycle. The leaves may age and die, but the tree remains. And even when the tree dies, the promise of the seeds that have fallen and their new lives remain and flourish. So it is with us. As I sit here under the trees with their still-green leaves, I notice that only a few have begun to show their colors. I also notice how each one, although they look similar, is different from every other leaf. And it occurs to me, that each year the leaves are different as well – the leaves that will arrive in spring are completely, wholly different and yet the same as the leaves that are here, now, in the beginning of autumn.

Perhaps one form of eternal life is that the divine spark of who we are – the lives we lived and the love we made – lives on in and through our children. Maybe not even just our genetic offspring, but also in the lives of the children of our hearts – the lives of all we touch through the simple acts of living and loving.

The leaves may die each year, but the tree remains. Each one of us is as a leaf on the tree of humanity, and the tree is changed and made new by every leaf that has ever appeared. Without the leaves, the tree is barren and dies – the leaves along with the roots provide nourishment that keeps the tree alive. Each one of us – through our hopes, dreams, lives and loves – keeps the tree of humanity alive and growing. It doesn’t matter that the leaves eventually fall and new ones replace them – the tree remains, and has grown and matured by the simple fact that the leaves were there.

Lately, I’ve been taking many leaps of faith. I quit my job as the nursery coordinator at my church, and have started teaching again at the local community college. That alone was a leap of faith because I’m worried about being able to pay my bills (as we all are, I’m sure). Community colleges aren’t known for paying well – and this one is no different. It’s a great place to work though, and I really enjoy being around people who care about learning. So, my leap of faith here is that I’ll somehow be able to make enough to pay my bills.

But wait…there’s more! That’s right, folks – more leaps of faith. I’ve been blogging on and off about starting my own private practice for psychotherapy and groups. I’ve set a date and time for my first group – without anyone in the group yet. I’m taking that leap and trusting that the people who need it will be there. Now, I’m not just sitting on my tush and waiting – I strongly believe also that God helps those who help themselves. So, I”m talking to therapists in town including my training program, and will make and drop off flyers with the local behavioral hospital as well. So hopefully, between word of mouth and active marketing, something will happen. It’s still a leap of faith though, and I’ll fully admit to being nervous about falling flat on my face.

Sometimes, the leap of faith can involve letting go. As an undergraduate student I learned in nearly exclusively lecture-style classes until I went to Whitman College. While there I also had lecture classes, but also had classes and experiences that stretched my mind as well as my conception of what a “class” should be. Today, as a teacher, I have trouble letting go of the lecture style, and it’s a leap of faith to me that i can do this, and it will be all right. I can let go of stuffing information and allow the learning process to happen in its own right and natural way. This leap of faith is a process for me, but my faith is in the process and in the fact that others have done this and that it’s turned out all right.

It’s a leap of faith to leave the secure (whether in the classroom or in my life) to follow my dreams…and will continue to be a leap of faith when I move beyond where I’m at now to another dream or goal. Every step, every breath, every interaction is a leap of faith that the safety net will be there, and that even if I do fall on my face, I can stand up, dust myself off, and begin again.

So what is the “net”? In this case, leaps of faith can be literal as well, though…every day, I say a prayer that is a literal leap of faith – faith that God is there, that God listens, and ultimately, that there is a God. This faith guides my life – based on experiences I’ve had where I’ve known God not just as “ultimate cosmic power” but as a Friend. This sense of God as Friend is my litmus test for all things religious and spiritual – if it feels like something my Friend would say or do, then I trust it. It’s a true leap of faith, and requires my attention to my spiritual development on a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute basis. As a result, though, I continue to feel and have this friendship, something I value as strongly as I value life itself.

My dreams, my goals….my voice and my acts – doing these involves taking the leap as much as listening for the guidance as to when and where to do them. The listening is a much if not more of a leap of faith than the doing – I’m trust that what I “hear” is valid and reliable and trustworthy. So far, it hasn’t let me down.

Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Wilderness Waterfall - copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee

Those of you who have read some of my earlier posts know that trust is not something that comes easy to me; it’s much easier to distrust than it is trust. And yet, I see myself as being a person of faith, which seems contradictory. Many times I find myself asking, “how will I know what’s true? What’s right? What’s real?” In the end, I think the bottom line is I won’t – I have to trust, and trust is the essence of faith. And for me that trust takes the form of “active trust.”

For me, faith is trusting that there is something out there, and that that something is benevolent. Faith is believing in hope, and that bad things, pain, and sorrow can and will eventually get better. Faith is believing that the essence of humanity, if we are made in something’s image, is basically good and that somehow, we can eventually live up to that potential. Faith is believing in the power of each other – that we each count, that we can make a difference, and that we can help each other. Faith is believing in love, of all kinds. It’s believing that the core essence of who we are, although contained in our physical bodies, is beyond and surpasses our physical limits and that somehow we go on. Trust is at the heart of these beliefs, and at the heart of faith.

Faith is believing that the still, small voice we hear is there, adn that if we trust it and listen to it, it will guide us and help us know and live the best lives we can. Trust is at the heart of this. And, in spite of my struggles and past, I do trust this, and realize it might be the only thing I do trust.

And what does my faith tell me? That it’s ok – even good and smart and safer – to use my head and trust my logic in relation to religious and church matters. That it’s ok to be burned out on church politics and cliques, and that these things are NOT spiritual or faith-building; in fact they’re the direct opposite. That I am not my church or my religion and that my spirituality does not have to depend on them – I can be spiritual and disconnected from my church at the same time. That I’m on the right track for me, and that my doubts and questions in these areas are legitimate and real. And that it’s ok to trust myself on these things. And that my Friend is at the heart and core of all these things, adn that having faith and trusting in all of this is actually my Friend. And to be perfectly circular in my illogic, trusting my Friend is trusting what that still, small voice says. I use my head and trust with my heart.
For me, that’s faith.

Trust is the heart of my faith, and faith is believing that even if I question and doubt and have moments of disbelief, I’m still ok. It’s learning to love myself and others as reflections of whatever that something out there is, and it’s working to be the best person I can be. It’s letting go and trusting myself and learning on the way.

It’s been a rainy summer here in Colorado – so much so that our drought has officially been declared over. When I first moved here 10 years ago, we had an afternoon thunder and rain storm nearly every afternoon; that changed the second year we were here and we had sunny day on sunny day on sunny day.

Sounds like paradise, doesn’t it? I found though, that we need the cool, gray rainy days. The grasses got brown and dry, leaves and potted plants became brittle in one afternoon. The temperatures, without any moisture to balance them, skyrocketed – we typically had 2 to 3 weeks of 100-degree plus days, with most of July and August being in low 90’s. The hot air sizzled in my lungs, drying them out as well. Day after day after day of sunshine can be every bit as wearing as days on end of rain – even nature needs balance.

So, we’ve been getting rain here, and I hear people in my area gripe about how rotten it is. I’m thrilled, however – my plants are green, the trees are lush, and the grass grows verdant. I grew up in Ohio, though, so I was used to lots of green forest and grass, and the West felt barren and parched to me. So, I’m very grateful for the rain we’ve gotten.

The rainy days and the relief I’ve been feeling got me thinking about how we need the equivalent of rainy days in our lives. They may not be pleasant – they may be muddy, messy, cold and wet – but they’re needed. Just like I didn’t appreciate the rain until there was nothing but sunny days, I think we don’t appreciate the joy and goodness in life without adversity of some kind. I also think that the days upon days of sunshine and cloudless skies is an apt reminder that too much of a good thing can end up causing as much harm as too little.

As human beings, we need balance. We need love – and we need conflict to grow. We need care and attention, but we need our solitude and independence too. We need light and sunshine, and we need rain and shadow as well. Without any of these we, like the plants that surround us, become withered then brittle and dry. We need our spirituality, and we also need to rebel against it sometimes to find out who we are and what we believe in.

So, I can’t take the kiddos to the park today, or take them swimming…but I can take them out to the porch and teach them that listening to the raindrops fall is very relaxing and peaceful. (And to them, running around and trying to catch the raindrops on their tongues is relaxing, too!) I can teach them that yes, the plants and people need sunshine – and we all need rain, too.

“Sun and Shadow” (copyright 2009, Laura Burlingame-Lee)

You of sun and shadow
Bringer of light, life, and love
or the warmth you bring
the light in which we bask
I am so grateful.

You bring life
for the green, growing things
for our vulnerable bodies
for the day and for the night
and I am grateful.

Yet this light, this life-giving
heat and brightness burns
and fades my spirit,
thinned like a worn shirt
nearly transparent with use.

I need the shadows too –
the cool breezes and
gray cloudy skies…
the heavy drops of rain
that wash away the dust,
cool the heat of day,
and ease the thirst of my heart.

Be also the bringer of the dark –
of clouds, and fog and rain
of moist, cool nights
of shadow, and shade.

Be the bearer of both –
true balance –
that we may be complete.

I consider myself a spiritual person. I belong to a certain faith tradition at the moment, but I consider myself more a person who wants to learn about and find commonalities in as many faith traditions as possible. I wasn’t always this way – for a long time, I was furious with God, and then after that was not even sure that a deity existed. Now, I fully believe that there is deity, and that connection with the divine is not only possible, but is offered freely if we’re open to it.

This journey began with a child’s faith – I was taken to church (sporadically, but taken) and went to Sunday school like most kids in my area. I didn’t even begin questioning differences until I invited a Jewish friend to one of my youth group get-togethers. You have to understand – I didn’t even really know he was Jewish, and had I known I probably still wouldn’t understand the cultural consequences of what I’d done – I invited him to a Yule log hunt and hot dog dinner. (Yeah, I can see the cringing – I still cringe too). He taught me a couple of lessons her – first, that there ARE differences and second, that it’s important to understand them so you can respect them. I still had a ways to go, but I was at least started on my journey.

In the course of my wanderings, I’ve been Episcopalian, Latter-day Saint, Wiccan, agnostic, and Lutheran. In my teenage years, I flirted with Catholicism out of the sense of calling to be a nun. The gist here is that I’ve been all over the board when it comes to organized and not-so-organized religions. In my darkest periods, I wondered if there was anything out there at all. As much as I doubted, though, I still had the sense that there was, even if I didn’t want to believe it. That’s where Active trust came in. During this period (the time after I left the LDS church and while I looking at Wicca), I doubted the very existence of deity. My experience in the LDS church was that God had been made in the image of man – and I use “man” deliberately. Women, especially feminists, were marginalized or even ostracized. I found I didn’t fit the mold, and that there wasn’t much tolerance for that. (One bishop told me that it was too bad I’d been born with the mind of man stuck in the body of a woman.) I was burned out on male domination and religion in general.

Gradually, though, my sense of the divine around us came back. My heart didn’t want to see it – I was still smarting from the earlier experiences. In this case, although it may seem illogical to some, I let my head overrule my heart. I let go of my religious prejudices as best as I could and tried to trust in the Divine. This trust led me to experience the Divine as feminine through Wicca, and later as both male and female (indivisible from each other). It also let me experience faith and even religion to some degree as a supportive environment. However, that’s not to say I fit any real mold of what a “religious person” looks like – I say that I’m more spiritual than I am religious.

These days, I say there are as many religions as there are people.
Now before y’all bomb me with fire and brimstone, let me explain. Our organized religions are about community – shared beliefs and the sense of belonging. However, each one of us interprets our faith traditions through the understanding of our own experiences. My experiences are different from yours, and yours are different from every other person. Ideally, we’re able to share our experiences, find meaning in them, and maybe put them in the framework of our religious beliefs.

I find as I’m getting older, though, that I’m wanting to find the common ground in all the different traditions. The more I read, the more commonalities I find. My active trust these days centers on believing and trusting that understanding and peace can come about, in spite of our differences. My heart tells me that it may not be possible, but I let my head overrule that lack of trust and fear. It may not happen – but by using my active trust I can do my part to work for it happening. I may not always succeed, but I do try to live my ideals and by living my ideals bring others joy and hope as well. I don’t push my beliefs on anyone – I believe that my acts and my life are my offerings and that if I live according to my beliefs I won’t need to push them on anyone. Finding commonalities, building trust between each other, creating community and peace – all of these unify us and help us understand and celebrate each other. To me, that’s the essence of love and of relationship – caring for and about each other, and that’s what I work for and try to live.

Idealistic? Maybe…but without ideals and hope, regardless of whether it’s religious or not, where would we be? Hope, in my opinion, is the embodiment of active trust and hope is where I want my heart to be.

Something really cool happened this week – Aidan lost his first tooth. I know I wrote about that earlier, but what’s amazing to me, and where I learn so much from this child comes from what he did later.

Now you all know that the tooth fairy is a pretty cool gal, right? Leave your old, fallen-out tooth under the pillow and she gives you MONEY for it – sounds like a golden exchange in MY book! And inflation has affected the exchange rate since when I was a kid…I used to get a dime. Kids nowadays get more. I’ve heard of as much as five dollars…but in our world, the tooth fairy is an activist that shares a little with each kid so (ideally anyway) every kid gets something. So, in our bleeding-heart liberal, activist house the tooth fairy gives the kids a dollar.

Now some kids would be saying, “ONLY a dollar? C’mon, Mom…you can’t buy anything with just a DOLLAR!” Aidan with his autism really doesn’t have any real idea about what quantity means with money, just that money means you can buy things. And Aidan didn’t want the tooth fairy to leave paper money – no, he wanted COINS.

Aidan likes coins…they’re shiny, you can line them up, you can count them, stack them, roll them…they’re a lot more fun than a piece of paper you can’t even color on. Aidan also knows that you can buy things with coins and “cards” ( or “plastic fantastic” as one tour guide I ran into called them.) Paper money really doesn’t mean much to him – coins are more substantial and have a lot more meaning.

For days after the Tooth Fairy came, Aidan held onto his coins with a vengeance. NOBODY was going to touch his coins. He either carried them in his little fist, or had them neatly lined up on the kitchen counter. Yesterday (Saturday) he wanted to take them to church.

Now I run our church nursery during all the services on Saturday night and Sunday morning. Aidan is friends with one of the pastor’s little boys, and I assumed he wanted to show Gabe his coins. Gabe wasn’t there that night – in fact, there was no one in the nursery so we went to sit and enjoy the service. Becca doesn’t do too well during these, but Aidan loves to go. He’ll listen and try to say the prayers, sing the hymns and generally do what everyone else is doing. It’s not just imitation, though – Aidan seems to genuinely “get” church and spirituality. I learn a LOT from this little guy.

So when offering came, Aidan pulled out his four quarters from the tooth fairy, and put them in the offering plate. The usher looked at me, and I shrugged. I whispered to Aidan, “Honey, if you put these in, you can’t take them out again. Do you know that? He nodded and the usher went on. After the service I checked in with him again: “Aidan, did you want to get your money back? I’m sure they’d let you get it.” He shook his head, and I said, “Are you sure, sweetie?”

This is the moment where, yet again, Aidan blew me away. “No Mommy. I give it to God.”

Wow. How many of us, thinking about everything else we can do with money, think of God last? And here is this little 5 1/2 year old boy, who knows he can buy things with coins, giving literally every bit to God.

I like to think of myself as a giving person, but that day, in that room, I saw how little I actually do give. This little person, who gave everything he had, has given far more than I ever will. Most importantly, he gave to me – the lesson of giving, and of God.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you who love your children…the single mothers taking on both roles, the new fathers, and the fathers with children who are growing up…the fathers of grown children and the grandfathers…the men who are fathers in every way except for biology, the men who realize that “fathering” is a verb that goes WAY beyond conception, and most of all, our Father and Creator.

I’ve noticed lately that there are a lot of blog posts devoted to why and how people have lost their religion and/or their faith. Reading these has got me thinking about why I still believe. First, if you’re expecting me to quote scripture and expound why my religion (or any other specific religion) is God’s one and only way for us, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. Second, I’m not going to condemn people who don’t believe – it’s their choice, I haven’t walked in their shoes, and I wouldn’t presume to know what they’ve experienced. Their views deserve as much as respect as anyone else’s, and I intend to honor that. Third, I’m not going to spend time trying to convince why I’m right and you’re wrong – I don’t believe that’s true, for one thing, and I also don’t believe talking to people in that manner is respectful or convincing. It just creates defensiveness. Finally, this is MY opinion and only my opinion – I don’t claim that this is God’s word for everyone, or that I”m right and someone else is wrong. This is my personal faith and my personal journey.

Ok, now that the caveats are out of the way, the obvious statement is “I believe.” I don’t believe in a thunder-wielding, lightning-bolt-throwing vengeful deity; the deity I believe in might hold back from controlling us, but is there and is involved in knowing what we’re up to. If you’ve read, “The Shack,” you know the kind of god I’m talking about. I also believe that scripture – no matter which religious group we’re talking about – was developed to meet the needs of the culture in which it appeared and was also penned and filtered through the minds of the men who wrote it. (I say “men” deliberately here, because most of the world’s scripture was penned by men.) In fact, I read, respect, and appreciate many culture’s scriptures and holy writings as being inspired by the same Presence that is with us all.

My faith is that we are all on many many paths. Some of those paths are closer to others and some are further away, but if we’re all oriented toward the goals of creating peace, increasing love and understanding among us all, and helping each other along the way, then we’re all headed toward the same goal. The destination of that journey -whatever you want to call it – is a great goal, but to me, it’s how we travel the journey that counts. Do we help our fellow travelers? Do we try to do the best we can to follow our own? Do we try to become closer to that Presence that guides us – whatever its name may be?

For me, I believe because I simply can’t NOT believe. That’s my experience though, and I respect others. Let me tell you a little about my journey to this place. I was raised an occasional Episcopalian, and then converted to the LDS church. I was looking for security and answers, and the LDS and their theology provided that. For me, though – I don’t stop questioning because it’s in my nature to keep exploring, to keep learning, and to keep growing. The LDS encouraged this, but my experience was that it was encouraged only within certain boundaries. For me, the answers I was hoping to find weren’t there – and yes, I still believe that Book of Mormon was inspired scripture. (and for the record, I believe the same of the Bible, the Koran, the Divine Principle, and all other holy books and wisdom.) After leaving the LDS, I became agnostic with pagan (Wiccan) leanings for a long time. This split and change allowed me to reconnect with the missing female side of deity that I felt existed but had not encountered up to that point. In the end, none of these answered all the questions I had. One point I want to make here is that I may have “lost my religion,” but I very much kept my faith. I’ve had some experiences that have led me to this point, and have helped me keep my faith even while turning a skeptical and sometimes cynical eye toward religion.

The difference to me is that faith is what you believe, religion is what you do. I’m currently a member of the Lutheran church, and their rituals and activities are what I “do.” I’m not at all convinced that I’ll always be here, and am open to what my journey brings me. I do pray, although I don’t always pray in a way that is traditional. Sometimes, after experiencing something good in my life or in the lives of my loved ones, I’ll simply say, “Thank you, Friend.” I also believe that prayer is as much what I do as it is what I say, and I try to make my life as much of a living prayer as I can. In one of my other posts, I talked about “Doing Love” (this was an article in my church’s newsletter, so it takes a specific focus: ). Sometimes, it’s a simple, “Please…I need help getting through this. Please be with me, and those we all love.” (As you can tell, formality and distance are not things that work for me.)

In the end, I believe because I’ve always felt the Presence around me of something benevolent and loving. I wasn’t raised in the most stable of homes, so it’s not that I was insulated from the problems that “other people” have. In fact, it was just the opposite – we WERE the other people. It wasn’t that my parents took me to church religiously, either (pardon the pun) – again, in fact the opposite. We were “occasional at best” Episcopalians, and I often asked to be taken. In spite of all this, I have always felt the presence of “something” that has been with me, even through my darkest moments (and I have had those too, trust me.)

Whatever name you call it, whatever religion you attach it to – that constant presence is the reason I still believe. I call it “my Friend,” and it’s always there. At my lowest, when I begged to be able to die, because I was too chicken to do anything myself, my Friend was there – horribly sad that I’d want to do that, but understanding and wishing I’d make another choice. That presence is WHY I made the choice to want to live, through all it’s painful and joyful moments.

That presence is why I do what I do – I’m called to be where I am. It’s complicated to explain, and it has absolutely nothing to do with any church or any religious doctrine. It comes from within me, and from my Friend, and I trust that. Because of my life experiences, I don’t trust any person fully – but I trust my Friend, even when I’m frustrated by the answer, “Be patient and wait. It will all work out.”

I’m not out to argue theology, and I’m not out to convince anyone that God is real, a church is right, or that anyone else is wrong. I am simply explaining why I believe, and am hoping to offer up a contrasting perspective to the very valid expressions of un-faith. The truth is that horrific abuses, both physical and pyschological, have been perpetrated in the name of God, religion, and churches. Small every day abuses and judgments from “believers” continue to be perpetrated, and I try to separate myself from that.

We spend a lot of time in our society arguing morals and theological discourse – the nuts and bolts of religion. For me, I believe God works in the world through us and through the natural processes of the cosmos (and that’s just “The Gospel according to Laura” – my opinion, in other words). Even so, I can’t presume to know what S/He wants or thinks, because it’s so much greater than our perspectives. I am skeptical of anyone who claims to know “God’s will” or “what God wants.” For me, it’s pretty simple – we’ll be ok as long as we’re doing the best we can, are kind to and nonjudgmental of the people we’re with (not necessarily what they do – I can’t condone child abuse, for example – but I can work to help the abuser) and are mindful of the Divine in and around us (whatever you want to call it).

In the end, I believe because I feel my Friend close. It’s that simple. I try to live my life in a way that exemplifies the love and acceptance I have felt from my Friend toward me – I don’t always live up to this, but I try. I do what I do out of a pious need to “do right” or out of a sense of obligation – I do what I do because it’s the right thing to do and for me, is an example of sharing the love I’ve felt from my Friend. I don’t do this because I want other people to “know God” or “be saved” – my belief is that everybody’s journey – their path – is their own. I may try to help others along theirs – but not in a way that that tries to make them believe as I do. I don’t think I have the right to push other people to believe as I do, but I welcome respectful discourse from anyone. Please note: Respectful to me means NOT trying to convince me of the rightness of YOUR beliefs. I will respect your right to believe what you want, and I only ask the same of you. That said, I think we can learn a tremendous amount from each other, and hope to do so.

Part of my path is being a seeker, and I realize that truth is found in many places and in many ways. My guiding compass is my relationship with my Friend, and I’m willing to see and find truth in other places. I respect the people who do not believe, and wish them luck in their search and their choices – their path is separate from mine, and I’d like to hear more about their journeys. I also respect the people who are sure in their religion and in their fath – I believe I have a lot to learn from them as well.

The bottom line for me, right now, is I believe. My faith guides my actions, helps my heart, and fills my soul. And that’s enough for me, right now. I believe.

Rainbow set in the clouds

Rainbow set in the clouds

Reflections of Reflections…

Other Facets of the Mirror