Lend Me A Hand, Please

Lend me a hand

Have you ever given much thought to how important your hands are?

Last week I taught a class on the effective impact that body language has on a successful presentation. One aspect that novice speakers seem to have the most difficulty in managing is their hands. Those body parts at the ends of our arms can help us relay our message, so why stuff them into your pockets or let them dangle by your sides?

And that got me thinking about all the ways we use our hands.

We wave both hello and goodbye. We make a heart shape to signal “I love you.” We touch our lips and extend our hands outward to throw a kiss. In non-COVID times, we shake hands with our customers. During COVID times, we make the 1970 hippy peace sign during the “passing of the peace” at church.

Unofficial sign language can be read by our hand motions to come forward, to stop, to speed up, or slow down.

Gardeners plant seeds and pull weeds. Costume designers feed material through on a sewing machine. My friend pieces together the clothing of a deceased loved one to produce a memory bear. A waiter or waitress writes down our order and then places our food in front of us.

Players throw a baseball, catch a football, and shoot a hockey puck. Jugglers juggle. Magicians amaze us as they perform sleight of hand tricks.

If we don’t want to see something, we cover our eyes with our hands. And if we don’t want to hear something, we cover our ears.

I can think of some contradictions: We can use our hands to write a message of love on a Mother’s Day card or use them to hold a phone while we spew a text message or Facebook post filled with hate. We can lift a baby into the air or lift a rock and throw it to break a window. We can carry a bouquet of flowers or a weapon. We can strum a guitar, play Beethoven’s 5th on a piano, beat on drums, or beat down another human being. A maestro uses his hands to conduct a symphony, and a rioter directs an insurrection by holding a bullhorn.

Use your hands to apply sunscreen on yourself or to peel someone else’s sunburn. (Or am I the only person who likes to do that?)

Fingerpaint, paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (oh wait, that’s already been accomplished), or spray paint graffiti on an outside wall.

Babies hold a security blanket and drivers hold the steering wheel (preferably at 10 and 2).

We use our hands to care for ourselves from brushing our teeth, lathering up in the shower, toileting tasks, combing our hair, buttoning our shirts, and tying our shoes.

Our hands are instrumental in both writing a children’s book and illustrating one.

We wring our hands when we’re in distress, and we use them to wipe the tears of someone else in distress.

Our hands come together in applause for a speaker we enjoy, and they take notes so we may recall the speaker’s message.

These are just some of the ways our hands have a language of their own. Why then, when we’re giving a speech, would we NOT want to take advantage of enhancing our message with our hands? Let your hands help deliver your message.

And please,  let it be a kind one.

~~~~

Adorable nine-year-old girl named Nandi playing the drums on Ellen. If you don’t like drum music, at least watch the interview!

M.C. Escher, Drawing Hands from 1948

Beethoven’s 5th 

 

On Being Easter People

Easter People

Photo by Norma Thatcher

Dear Readers, today’s post is a Lenten reflection video I recorded for my church, St. James’ Episcopal, Warrenton, VA. If instead of reading this post you prefer to watch the video, you can do so here.

If you would rather read it, the text is below.

Father Ben has reminded us in the past that as Christians, responsible for God’s reputation in our world today, we need to be Easter People, not just during the spring, but throughout the year.

As Easter People, we believe Jesus was crucified, that He conquered death, that the Resurrection was real, and that Jesus ascended to be with God the Father the Creator and will someday return in glory.

Until I became an Episcopalian thirty-five years ago, I hadn’t paid much attention to Holy Week. The denominations of the Christian churches I attended through the first third of my life celebrated Palm Sunday with gusto and then the following Sunday, like magic, taa daa, it was Easter!

But the pathos of Holy Week cannot and must not be ignored. The tragic events of Holy Week, leading up to the joy of Easter, are an integral part of our Easter People story.

Omitting the events of those Holy Week days from our Easter People story would be like me sharing my own life story and telling you ONLY about the joyous highlights, skipping over entirely the tragedies that have had so much to do with shaping me into the person I am today.

When we think about the worst moments of our life, emotions spill over. We don’t want them, we may beg to wish them away, we ask for a re-do. We question how a loving God could inflict such awfulness upon us. And no one has the answers. What is true, though, is that without those terrible events in our lives, we would not be who we are.

Likewise, without our focus on the fear, sadness, suffering, abandonment, outrage, denial, brutality, grief, and despair of Holy Week — without deep consideration on all of those aspects — we are less than fully engaged Easter People.

This suncatcher in the photo above represents to me what being an Easter Person means. In the center are the dark stones above that huge teardrop that captures all of the tragedy that Jesus endured. Yes, we need to remember and talk about the tears.

But encircling the tears are the bright jewels of joy and hope and belief that we are loved beyond measure, freely forgiven, and promised a new life after our earthly one ends.

And the beam of sunlight that runs diagonally through both the tears and the joy? Well, that’s a reminder that the Holy Spirit is within our hearts to sustain us through the difficult times and dance with us in our moments of joy.

~~~~~

“May God grant you always…A sunbeam to warm you, a moonbeam to charm you, a sheltering Angel so nothing can harm you.

Laughter to cheer you. Faithful friends near you. And whenever you pray, Heaven to hear you.”      an old Irish Blessing

Time For The Telling

Time for the telling

This story has waited for three years. God’s time says today is the day to tell it.

During the Christmas season of 2017, my cousin Beth emailed me with thanks.

She began, “Thank you for empowering me to speak.”

Beth had attended a Christmas gathering of an interfaith community group. Some members had known each other for years and were obviously quite comfortable with one another. But among the newcomers Beth noticed a couple that she knew had lost their 20-year-old daughter Emily a few years back to a heroin overdose.

Emily’s dad was sitting next to Beth and around them swirled a buoyant conversation about the birth of children as there was an about-to-deliver-any-day expectant mom sitting at the same table. Happiness rebounded as one after the other moms told the story of their child’s birth.

The dad sat silent, perhaps living through memories of his daughter’s death. Beth thought about how painful this must be for him. Then Beth remembered a conversation that she and I had concerning the death of a child. I had shared that it’s so important for parents to continue to hear their deceased child’s name and have them brought up in conversation. The loss of a child is a wound that is always there, but it’s made worse when others tiptoe around seemingly trying to avoid saying the child’s name.

Knowing that Emily had been adopted, Beth took a deep breath and risked asking the dad how old Emily had been when they adopted her. His face lit up and said, “Just 18 days old.” Then Beth asked to hear the story of Emily’s adoption, and he seem so pleased to relive all of the happy details.

Beth’s email to me closed with this thought: I don’t think I would have risked “opening his wound” by mentioning Emily if my conversation with you had not convinced me that those wounds are always open, but the pain is never being able to talk.

So, to my friends Linda and Jenn, on the 13th and 10th anniversaries of the loss of your beautiful children, let me say their names here:

Kristin and Jacob, you will never be forgotten; you will be loved for always and forever.

Tap Tap Tap

tap tap tap

My friend Ken shared this story of his five-year-old great-niece Eloise:

The occasion was the funeral of Ken’s elderly mother (Eloise’s great-grandmother). As the family made their way to the front of the church, there was a bit of concern as to how Eloise would react to the solemn service.

Once seated, one of Eloise’s other great-uncles turned around and sweetly told her, “Listen, honey. If at some point during the service you feel as though you’ve had enough, just tap me on the shoulder and say you’re ready to go, and I’ll take you out. OK?”

Eloise, precocious for her age, solemnly nodded her understanding of his offer.

A few minutes later, the organist began playing the first hymn. The great-uncle felt a tap-tap-tap on his shoulder, and Eloise announced, “I’m ready.”

“I’m ready.” What a strong and definitive statement. I’m ready so let’s get going! Oh, how many instances in conversations with myself do I waffle about completing something?

Tomorrow. Or maybe next week. What the heck; February is half over already? Well, the first of next month for sure. Just as soon as I get that other project done, I’ll work on this one. Really. I mean it.

Currently, I have a project that has a deadline. I’ve been working on it for, well, a long time. I’m still piddling around, not making much headway. And it’s what I term a “happy” project so it’s not as if I’m dreading the work.

After some soul searching, here’s what is holding me up: I’m at the point where I need to ask other people for some help, for guidance. Why do I dread asking for help? I’m positive that the people will say yes. And if they say no, it will be because they know someone else who is better equipped to help, and I’ll get a referral.

I often help other people, so I know how good it feels just to be asked to share expertise and it feels even better to provide help. So what’s the deal?

Eloise, you’ve inspired me. I’m ready. I’m ready to make those phone calls asking for help.

Yes, I’m ready. Tap-Tap-Tap

~~~~~~

A wonderful story of a man who was ready to take action

 

A Little Bit Of Light

a little light

In times of deep darkness, we not only need light —we need to be light for one another.  – Parker J. Palmer

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself from a past blog, but my favorite public space in my home is the smallest room in the house, the breakfast room, just off the kitchen.

A strong reason for its appeal is the amount of light that pours in through its two large picture windows. For most of the year, the windows are unadorned of any covering. But because they face west, in the heat of an afternoon summer, that light needs to be blocked because it’s just too strong.

I got to thinking about windows on a walk through Old Town Warrenton yesterday. My dog Grace likes to walk up and down steps, so when we reached the John Barton Payne Building (a historic old building that housed Warrenton’s first library), I let loose of her leash so she could bound up the steps.

After she moseyed back down, Grace decided to snuffle the bushes off to the side of the steps. That’s when I saw the teeny-tiny window pictured above.

Now I’ve lived in this town for about thirty-four years, and I’ve been to the John Barton Payne Building many times for meetings, lectures, and with my children and (later) my grandsons when, during the Christmas season, Gum Drop Square was hosted there.

But I had never before noticed this charming window that looks out directly to the ground on which the building sits.

I wondered what may have prompted the architect to add this opening to the world in such an odd spot. When public places are open again, I plan to seek entrance to the space to see where the window fits from inside.

We vary as individuals as to how much light we’re comfortable with in our surroundings. As a natural light enthusiast, I detested the few years my work office was along an inside wall of the building. When building renovations were done and my team and I moved to new digs, I was thrilled to have my desk facing a large window.

As our life moments ebb and flow, we may need more or less light. If, for instance, we’ve just come through a dark period, too much light at once can feel overwhelming. Imagine an ebullient person on the counseling end of a suicide prevention hotline who heartily responds to a despondent caller by saying, “Oh come on, cheer up. It can’t be that bad!”

No, we know that would an inappropriate response. While the person in darkness doesn’t need more darkness, neither does she need a picture window’s worth of light shined upon her like a spotlight.

Instead, maybe what would be most helpful is just a candlelight’s glimmer of hope or a supporting night light’s beam to light the way between spaces of then, now, and tomorrow.

And when she’s ready, the light of a new day casting rays through the panes of a teeny-tiny window may be simply perfect.

~~~~~

https://liftedup.us/beautiful-scars/

Oh My Soul, You Are Not Alone by Casting Crowns

History of the John Barton Payne Building

Will Our Mystery Blogger Sign In Please?

migrating geese

“Guest Blogging” is where someone writes a post in place of another person’s usual blog, but it’s typically done with a purpose: to promote the guest’s products, services, book, or their own corporate or personal brand. For example, if I owned a retail cupcake store in town, I might want to write a guest blog on the Chamber of Commerce’s website. I could tell an inspiring story of how I got my cupcake store up and running with plenty of support from the members of the Chamber. Oh, and by the way, please stop by and purchase some cupcakes.

For the first time ever, I have a guest blogger today. But she’s not trying to sell any products or services. Maybe she’s trying to promote her personal brand, but I doubt it since she’s 97 years old. Yes, my last remaining and dearly loved aunt, Winona Mullis, is sharing my space today. She had originally written this for her senior center’s newsletter. My guess is that you will find her writing style and mine to be quite similar.

Lessons from the geese

Have you ever looked at the sky and seen migrating geese flying in a V formation and wondered why and how they do this? Many times I have seen this beautiful sight but never bothered to research this phenomenal delight.

Recently I looked heavenward and once again was thrilled to see the migrating birds in sets of three flying overhead. From my roof deck, I marveled how they (with wings spread wide) flew so perfectly in line, heading, I suppose to a warmer climate.

Long after they were out of sight, I stood and thought about what I had seen and as I wondered, I compared the birds’ flight to my own. How often do I just disappear or remain silent when I could so easily have offered to help or say a word of comfort or just really listen? How often have I ignored the plight of those who are in need but too proud to ask for help?

During our “incarceration” the past eight months, I have mostly just thought about what I could do but rarely acted upon those thoughts. Yes, I sent cards and notes to grieving relatives and friends and sometimes made phone calls, but there was really nothing else I could do or so I believed. I have to depend on others to help me; how could I ask these friends to do what I should be doing?

Then I recalled the migrating birds; they were doing something even if they were just going “south.” That very day I made a list of all the friends I had neglected and started making calls. Yes, it was difficult as I wept with one of my dearest friend’s daughter who could not accept her mother’s death, and I cried with my nephew as he tried to accept the death of his son. I soon realized I was the “needy” one because I was being comforted with an inner peace.

Since then, my pledge to keep in touch was really a promise to myself. I have talked daily with friends from the senior center, from church, and with relatives in faraway places; but above all, I will continue to keep my promise to remember those in need and not go away like the migrating birds.

Thanks for being my guest blogger, Aunt Winona, and hey, thanks also for the writing genes.

The Power Of A Routine

power of routine

I am off my game. I’ve been wasting time and have been having a tough time getting myself to focus. Never one much for politics, I became absorbed in the election three months ago. I have been consumed by wanting to stay on top of knowing the latest, regardless of how ugly and upsetting it might be.

My plan is to get through the next three days and then take a deep breath and get back to a routine.

My favorite routine story is about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who started swimming when he was seven to burn off his excess energy that drove his mom and teachers crazy.

When local swim coach Bob Bowman became Phelps’ coach at around age 9, he knew Phelps was under a lot of stress. His parents were divorcing, and Michael had trouble calming down before races.

Bowman had a strong belief in the power of a routine.  Coach Bowman helped Michael Phelps develop one. A routine leads to a day of small wins. There is much to be said about the power of small wins. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win, and another.

Go back in time with me to the 2008 Olympics. Michael Phelps followed his routine:

  • He woke up at a designated time and started following the routine he used before any race. He pulled on sweats and then ate the same breakfast he eats before every race.
  • Two hours before his first race, he started his stretching regime: arms, back, ankles.
  • By 8:30 he was in the pool doing an exact warmup routine for 45 minutes.
  • At 9:15 he exited the pool and started squeezing into his racing suit.
  • While he waited for the race to begin, he listened through earbuds to the same mix he likes before a race: hip hop.

His habit of a routine has taken over. He’s been successful at everything he’s done so far.

The first race of the day was the 200-meter butterfly. Back to the routine: When his name is announced, he stepped up on the block, then stepped back down…like always. He swung his arms three times…like always. When they announced the race, he got back up on the block, got into his stance, and when the gun sounded, he leaped into the water.

And he knew that something was wrong as soon as he hit the water. A leak caused moisture to seep into his goggles. By his second turn, everything was blurry. As he approached the third and final lap, his goggle cups were completely filled with water. He couldn’t see ANYTHING.

He couldn’t see the line along the pool’s bottom, not the black T marking the approaching wall. He was swimming blind. But he did not panic.

Everything else that day had gone according to plan. So on the last lap, he estimated how many strokes the final push would require and started counting. On the 21st stroke with his arm outstretched, he touched the wall.

As he burst from the water and ripped off the leaking goggles, he looked at the scoreboard. Not only had he won, but he had set a new world record.

A routine of focus on small wins is a beautiful thing.

~~~~~

I wrote about “small wins” back in October 2016

Video of the race

It’s A Different Life, But Still Wonderful

a wonderful life

It’s my tradition to buy a few truly meaningful Christmas ornaments for my daughter and her husband and present them at Thanksgiving. This year I found a ball that had gold-leaf applied against a brilliant aqua background. It resembles a globe which relates to my son-in-law’s profession. A simple lantern-shaped green glass ornament fits in with my daughter’s no-frills style.

An ornament for the couple that would demonstrate something positive about the past year proved more elusive. So many of the handmade ornaments on Etsy made a connection to the pandemic. Elves wearing masks and the zeroes in “2020” being represented by rolls of toilet paper seemed to be quite popular themes.

But even though this year was filled with a worldwide devastating pandemic, political divisiveness, civil unrest, polarizing views on various issues, economic problems for our families and businesses, ALONG WITH all the personal issues that we individually face, I wanted an ornament that represents HOPE.

I found it in a simple silver bell with an attached tag that reads, “It’s a wonderful life.” It is, of course, a reference to the 1946 movie of the same name. Movie ratings/review site “Rotten Tomatoes” gives this consensus: “The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.”

The movie is the story of George Bailey who, for at least the early part of his life, longed for adventure and to live somewhere other than the small town of Bedford Falls where he grew up. But he ended up marrying the first and only love of his life from the town and having a passel of kids. Along the way, he helped most of the town’s people in small ways that had a much larger impact than he realized.

When George is faced with a financial crisis caused by an incompetent uncle (an arrest warrant for George has been issued), he decides the world would be a much better place if he’d never been born. A Heavenly angel named Clarence intervenes and shows him what the world would be like NOW if George had never existed.

It turns out that it would be a dark and terrible place.

And so it is for all of us. Regardless of what we may think about ourselves, we have each made a tremendous difference in people’s lives. It’s easy to consider our family and respond, “Well sure, I guess I’ve been a good mom or dad to my kids.” Or “I love my parents.” And maybe, “I’m supportive of my brothers/sisters.” Hopefully, we can see the results within our family.

But just like with George, it’s the small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness we perform for other people outside our circle that turn out to impact their lives in ways we may never know.

So as Christmas approaches and the complex year of 2020 winds down, I want each of you to know I truly do believe it’s a wonderful life and that I’m so thankful you are in mine, even if I don’t know you except by your act of kindness by being a reader of this post.

~~~~~

The nine-minute ending of the movie

 

Mindful Availability For All

mindful availability

Writer Sue Monk Kidd authored a lovely article on mindfulness way back in September 1997. It appeared in a Christian quarterly journal called Weavings.

She said that when she began to observe her interactions with others to discover just how available she made herself, she was surprised at the lack of true attention she provided.

Kidd wrote, “I watch my restless heart, the mercurial way my mind sweeps from one thing to another, the way my ego holds forth, keeping me abreast of my own expectations, wants, and preoccupations—criticizing, comparing, competing, imposing views. I realize that I can be with someone, but on a deeper level, I’m not available to them at all. I have attention deficit disorder of the soul.”

Distraught in what she found in herself, she took up mindful availability as a spiritual practice. It was hard! Yes, it IS hard!

When I teach mindfulness as part of public speaking, I come clean with my students and share my own failings. When I worked and led a team of people, I seemed to be always so busy, busy, busy. Why, there was no time to stop typing an email or crunching numbers for a report when a team member would pop her head in and ask, “Do you have a few minutes?” Even if I did remove my hands from the keyboard or lift my eyes from the monitor, I would (surreptitiously, I imagined) sneak looks at work to be accomplished. I offered people who certainly deserved more just a fraction of my attention.

There is a Zen practice called meticulous attention. I’ve seen it also referred to as undivided presence. Simply stated, it is the giving of undivided attention to whatever is before us. If we’re eating, we would be focusing on the flavor, texture, and aroma of the food before us and not mindlessly cramming food into our mouths while watching TV or talking. Or if we’re soaking in a bathtub, ideally, we would be paying attention to the warmth of the water and noticing how it soothes our aching muscles and relaxes us. We shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted in the tub by checking Facebook likes on our phones or watching Adele parodies on YouTube. (Guilty.)

So the mindful availability we give to others is likely a work in process for most of us, me included certainly. But it’s a worthy goal to work toward for the rest of our lives.

Kidd says, “When you practice mindful availability, you are simply there with your heart flung open. Being such a rare quality of presence to another human is, in itself, a healing and transforming gift…One cannot be the recipient of mindful availability without being affected.”

~~~~~

Meticulous Attention article

NOTE: The Weavings Journal mentioned was taken out of print in 2017. There is still a website and you can find it here.

Weavings has been described as “committed to exploring the many ways God’s life and our lives are woven together in the world.” Each issue featured articles by various authors with a combined focus on a singular topic.

It Never Hurts To Ask

ask

It’s been nearly four years since I shared with my readers in “A Permanent Mark” that if asked for a motto that is important to me, it is this:  It never hurts to ask.

Because if you ask and the answer is NO, you’re no worse off than before you asked.

Singer/songwriter Zach Williams has a great story that truly illustrates this point.

Zach went down the wrong path when he hit sixteen. Drifting away from his Christian upbringing, he got involved with drugs and alcohol which cost him a Division 1 college basketball scholarship offer. He dropped out of high school and went to work for his dad’s construction company for a year. Then he moved away to attend a junior college and made the basketball team there. Unfortunately, he drifted back into drugs and alcohol. Then a foot injury took him off the team, but the downtime led him to pick up a friend’s guitar; thus began his music life.

Moving back home to work with his dad again, he was a functioning addict worker by day and musician by night. In a moving interview (link is below) he shares that he used drugs every day just to get through.

Living this life for years (working by day to pay the bills and partying like a rock star at night), he met the woman who would become his wife when he was 30. They married and, as the bad choices continued, his wife finally issued an ultimatum: Get clean or the marriage would end.

Just after that conversation, Zach went on a European tour with his rock band. Not wanting to lose his wife, he says that while on a long bus ride he prayed for God to send him a sign that God cared enough to help him. The bus driver had been scanning radio stations and he stopped on a contemporary Christian station where the song I am Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave was playing.

The song struck Zach as being just what he needed to hear. He continued to listen to the song over and over on his phone. Zach called his wife and told her he was quitting the band and coming home. They spent some time repairing their family’s relationship.

Eventually returning to music, he started writing and performing faith-based songs.  The turning point came as he understood that, “God spoke to me and said these are the songs, these are the people, these are the places, this is the music that I have for you to write.”

Zach reflects on the seasons of his own life to write from the heart. He says when someone tells him, “Your song saved my life,” that is better than any music award he could win.

When he recorded the demo for There Was Jesus, a woman sang the duet with Zach. Listening to the demo with his producer, he remarked that the woman had a sound similar to Dolly Parton’s. “Wouldn’t it be really cool to have Dolly Parton sing with me on this song?” He says they had a good laugh over it because, come on, Dolly Parton?

But his record label reached out to Dolly’s people and she said she would listen to the song. The words and music had such an amazing impact on her, she listened to just a part of it before she removed her headphones and agreed to the duet even though she had never even heard of Zach Williams!

And the rest is history. The song went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Christian Charts. The two performed a portion of the song on the 2019 Country Music Association awards show which impacted an audience the song might never have reached otherwise.

But what if they hadn’t asked?

What if?

~~~~~

The music video There Was Jesus

Big Daddy Weave’s I am Redeemed

Interview of Zack Williams on Jesus Calling podcast

Another version of the song There Was Jesus with Riaan Benadé and Demi Lee Moore (I love the dog who sleeps throughout the recording session! Apparently, the dog is an electric guitar fan.)

Lifted Up Post “A Permanent Mark” from Nov 1, 2016