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

From Similar Root Words

words

Some meaningful words harbor negative connotations.

Consider the word “humility.” From the Latin “humilitatem” meaning insignificance, humility isn’t an aspect to which very many people aspire to these days.

Anther similar root word, “humus” (earth), means “on the ground.” Since most of us have been encouraged since birth to aim for the sky, shoot for the moon, and reach for the stars, who wants to be grounded? Grounded is another word with two opposite meanings; the positive spin on the word means steady and stable, and the negative spin means being punished or unable to fly. (Presumably unable to fly to the sky, moon, and stars!)

Even Wikipedia says, “Dictionary definitions accentuate humility as a low self-regard and sense of unworthiness.” That’s certainly not healthy for us.

But the Christian sense of humility provides a different view of it. “A New Introduction to Moral Theology” written by the Church of England clergy says we can’t exist without a sense of selfhood and self-awareness; they’re essential for us to fulfill the gifts of our personality and talents.

Their further definition says this: “Humility is not an attitude which denigrates the self improperly; that is a false humility which can be dangerous. Humility is the virtue which we see in Jesus Christ, a true understanding of his own relationship to God and to others, a sure sense of perspective and proportion.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast includes humility as one of the blessings of life. (See a link to my prior post below.) And he admonishes us to never confuse humility with humiliation. The Latin “humiliare” is the root word of humiliation.

A person who attempts to humiliate another is trying to reduce that other person’s own self-view and/or reduce the person in the eyes of other people. A person who uses humiliation is attempting to shame others, hoping they will lose their self-respect and the respect of others.

In a business blog from six years ago on Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell shares twelve tactics that foolish leaders use to humiliate others. He says that “showing disrespect invites disrespect.”

Of Rockwell’s twelve examples of the destructive heaping of humiliation on another person, (link is below) I believe the four I’ve noted are key for ALL of us to avoid because no matter what our position is in life, we are EACH a leader. (I’ve kept Rockwell’s original numbering.)

#4 “Innocent” sarcasm. Sarcasm is a coward’s way of saying what they really think.

#6  Interrupting while someone is speaking.

#10 Over-generalizing issues by using terms like “always.”

#12 Stealing honor that belongs to another.

The Church of England clergy reminds us that humility “is the light of God shining in the human person.”

Yes, I agree that (in the words of singer Jackie DeShannon) what the world needs now is love, sweet love.

And we also are in dire need of an ample portion of humility.

~~~~~~

Prior post on Brother David

Leadership Freak blog on Humiliation

A portion of MICAH 6:8 says: What does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? Listen for these words in the song “Courageous” by Casting Crowns

What the World Needs Now

Love Stories At The Park

love story

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ll already know from my posts that I spend some part of every day at a local park named Rady. Besides the children’s playground and covered gazebo with picnic benches, there is an oblong paved path around an open grassy area and the baseball field.

In addition, there is a dirt path through a garden section alongside a creek. So, it’s no surprise that Rady is a draw for walkers and runners, children, families, couples, and friends.

Not only do I walk there daily to exercise the dog and myself, but also to replenish my soul. Because love stories happen all around me.

If I visit the park mid-morning, I often see the young father who places his not yet 18-month old son by a stone bench and then moves 20 or so paces away. The dad says in an excited voice, “Are you ready?! Are you ready?! Get set, go!” And the child wobble-runs as fast as he can move those baby-fat legs toward his daddy who scoops him up into the air as soon as the boy is within catching distance.

Is there any sound more joyous than a child’s exuberant laughter?

Then dad sets the boy down with an instruction to go back to the starting point. And another round begins. “Are you ready?” Are you ready?”

They play this game half a dozen times or so. While the child physically tires out, I do not tire of watching them. I told the dad recently, “Watching you two makes my day.”

In the late afternoon, a man around my age gently leads his wife around the paved path. I don’t know if she’s a stroke survivor or has some other illness, but she doesn’t seem able to participate in the exchange of greetings. His tender patience in helping her around to get exercise in the fresh air is as sure a sign of love as I see.

In the early morning (my most typical time to be at Rady) a group of older gentlemen socially distance themselves around the center of the gazebo in chairs they bring from home. Usually, there are four who meet every weekday morning. Grace the beagle and I walk around the outside of their circle so they can give Grace a pat and inquire as to how her squirrel chasing is going.

It’s obvious that these men are good friends who honor the commitment to get up and out to visit for an hour. And if I happen to arrive after they’ve dispersed for the day, why, the next morning they tell me they missed us. I feel like an extension of their group. For this reason, I once took the guys some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Frank, Milton, Joe, and Bill may not profess love for each other, but camaraderie is surely a form of love!

So yes, walking in the park is good exercise, and immersion in nature is good for the mind and body. But noticing the love feeds my soul.

~~~~~~

Health benefits of walking

Yale article on health benefits of immersion in nature

Interesting article on mindful walking