Long Shadows

A long shadow

Photo courtesy of James Wheeler on Pexels.com

The people who influence our lives are like shadows.

Depending on the slant of the sun’s rays, there are short shadows. These are the people with whom we may interact only once for a matter of hours, yet they leave an imprint on us. They may teach us a lesson we needed to learn or they may help with a temporary problem. Short shadow people may not even be aware of the influence they have had on us.

Medium shadow people are those who are interwoven into our lives for years, maybe neighbors or co-workers or slight friends. These shadows have rather a small but cumulative effect on us.

Ah, but the long shadows change everything! These may be people who are with us most of our lives or just a short time. What marks them as a long shadow is the impact they have on us. Long shadows change the way that we think. They influence us to make better decisions. They redirect our lives to the right path. Simply put, they bring forth our best.

Sometimes we don’t even recognize the long shadows in our lives until they’re no longer with us. I recall a stanza of high school poetry from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem Flammonde.

We cannot know how much we learn from those who never will return until a flash of unforeseen remembrance falls on what has been.

If you watch closely and listen intently, you’ll see people write about or hear people talk about the long shadows in their lives. A woman in a workshop today commented that the advice from her dad has served her well all her life: “Be confident and be competent in all that you do.”

Take a moment and think about the long shadows in your life. Be grateful. If they’re still around, let them know just how grateful you are.

And then cast a long shadow on someone else’s life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Flammonde, the full poem 

 

 

You Can Never Have Too Much Heart

Heart

a shell heart…photo by Norma Thatcher

Hearts…they’re everywhere. A stock photo site I use brings up nearly 5000 possible choices. Facebook attaches a heart to a post you say you love. Over a million heart shapes are used online every day.

We see hearts in cloud configurations and in rock shapes.

heart

Heart in a rock by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Baristas may add a foam heart as a finishing touch to your latte.  And sometimes we even find a heart-shaped donut hole!

heart

Heart in a donut hole, courtesy of Charles (Duck) Unitas

There are 122 million sites for heart emojis. That’s where I learned that there are heart emojis for

❥a bullet point as I’m doing here

❥a breaking heart

❥a revolving heart

❥a sparkling heart

❥a smiling cat face with heart-shaped eyes, etc., etc., etc.

But hearts are serious too.

When I cannot physically be with someone who is hurting—whether they’re feeling down, ill, immersed in grief, lonely, or otherwise distressed, I tell them, “I’m holding you close in heart.”

These aren’t idle words; I really mean them. I have my own physical object that represents holding someone close in heart.

The picture at the top of this post shows one side of a shell that looks like half a heart. Below is the opposite side. To me, it’s a perfect replica of a heart which has gathered someone in an embrace and is holding them close.

a shell heart embrace

photo by Norma Thatcher

Life is no simple deal. It’s not always easy. People we love get sick. They disappoint us with their actions. Sometimes they stop loving us back. And people we love die.

Right now someone you know is hurting. They need to hear you say that you’re holding them close in your heart.

Speak up; don’t wait for tomorrow. Make the call, send the card, go for the visit.

And now you know when you hear me say, “I’m holding you close in my heart,” that I really mean it.

An aside: You have my permission to copy and paste or print any of my personal photos used in today’s post for any kind purpose.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Starbuck’s “how to”

Interesting article on the plural of “emoji”  

Everything you wanted to know about heart emojis but were afraid to ask

 

And It’s Not Even My Birthday

Be loved. Be lifted. Believe. Photo by Norma Thatcher

Aren’t unexpected gifts just the best? On birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas or Hanukkah, and other holidays, we are conditioned to be in the receiving mode. On those special days, we are not surprised to find a brightly wrapped package with a big bow or a festive gift bag, tissue paper popping up as if to beckon us, “Open me!”

So on Saturday when my husband brought in the mail on a non-special day and said, “You have a package,” my face lit up.

The package contained an unexpected gift from my friend Jenn. I knew that she had been having a rough summer. Her family had owned some retail shops including Hallmark stores. Sadly, with online shopping overshadowing sales at brick and mortar retail stores, coupled with the next generation of the family living out of the area, they made the difficult decision to close the stores this summer.

In a note accompanying my gift, Jenn wrote that the last purchase she made from her store was chosen from among the 2018 Hallmark ornaments, and it was for me. As you can see in the photo attached to this post, my gift is a white porcelain feather inscribed with these words:   Be loved. Be lifted. Believe.

Say those words out loud with me. The phrasing is a tad unusual, right? Usually we hear the admonition TO love one another and TO lift up others.

But these words are more of a request. This is grace-filled phrasing.

No matter what we’ve done or not done, or said, or accomplished…we are loved.

One response to “be loved” is, “No, I just can’t accept the gift of love. I don’t deserve to be loved because I’m not _____ enough.” (You can fill in the blank for yourself.)

The other response is to say Thank you and accept the gift; to be willing to be loved even if we feel we fall short of being our best.

The same concept applies to “be lifted.” There is much tragedy, injustice, and sorrow in our world. We may not want to give up our piece of whatever has broken us. In fact, we may have held on to it for so long that we’re comfortable with it. Not happy, but comfortable because it’s what we know.

But allowing ourselves, permitting ourselves, to be lifted from the brokenness can be life-changing.

As the late Mr. Rogers shared his mother’s advice for coping in difficult times, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Yes, others will help us; will lift us up if we will be lifted.

And then finally, “believe.” It’s out there on its own. There is no request to “be” something but simply believe. Believe what?

My gift-giving friend Jenn and I are linked in love by the loss of our sons to drug overdoses. Our daughters are brotherless; our grandchildren are without sweet and funny loving uncles.

But Jenn and I believe in the never-ending power of love. And together we are lifted up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mr. Rogers advice

The old hymn Love Lifted Me

Love is the First Answer

Love is the first answer

Photo courtesy of Gary Bendig on Unsplash

A friend had driven into the city to attend a concert. Traffic had forced the cars to slog along, barely moving down the city streets. Suddenly a young boy, surely no older than ten, jaywalked across her car’s path. He turned and raised his middle finger as he crossed in front of her car.

Put yourself in her place; what is your knee-jerk reaction to this? Anger? Disgust? Disbelief? Fear? Indignation? Contempt? Loathing?

Most of us would likely feel a combination of some of these.

How many of us would have the immediate response of love?

I have to be honest; not me.

Yet I’m in the process of re-reading Minding the Body, Mending the Mind by Dr. Joan Borysenko.  It just so happens something similar happened to the author once.

She too was behind the wheel and was stopped at a traffic light. The car next to her pulled a bit ahead so that the young boy in the backseat was within her line of sight. He too gave Dr. B. the finger.

She ignored her gut reaction and instead reframed the situation to wonder why a child would feel the need to display contempt toward a stranger. Maybe he hadn’t been well-cared for or well-loved. Perhaps his daily life was a steady diet of negativity, coarseness, and insolence.

And so, in the reactive moment, she gathered within herself all the love and forgiveness she could find. She smiled and put forth that positive caring energy toward the boy. The red light turned to green, the cars moved on, and he was gone.

No, the story doesn’t have a miraculous Facebook happy ending. The child didn’t write down her license tag and years later track her down to share how the silent exchange turned around his life, and that he now devoted his life caring for the needy.

But what if?

What if that tiny moment’s silent interaction in his life made a difference to him?

Here’s the truth: Most of the time we will NOT know how our words and actions affect those with whom we have contact, whether that contact is brief or prolonged and intense.

“You are born into the world and will probably never know to whose prayers your life is the answer.”

What powerful words! That’s a whole sermon in one sentence.

We have to ask ourselves, “How will I live if my life is to be the answer to someone’s prayers?”

Love is the first answer.

Because if we first love as we are loved, then everything else falls into place: compassion, empathy, forgiveness, the courage to seek justice, the willingness to help….

You can fill in the blanks for what you consider the rest of the “good stuff.”

But love is the first answer.

An aside….The “you are born into the world…” quote above is my hands-down favorite quote of all time. I wrote it down long ago and attributed it to the Scottish Baptist evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers. However, searching online I cannot find these exact words. I nearly let the anxiety over proper attribution stop me from sharing them.

I did find a quote from him as follows: “I have the unspeakable knowledge that my life is the answer to prayers…God is blessing me and making me a blessing.” So maybe my favorite quote just didn’t make it online to be found.

Chambers died at the young age of 43 from complications of an appendectomy. It’s interesting to note that the books that are published under his name were compiled by his wife from the shorthand notes she took of his many talks. His words would have been lost forever if not for his wife! Millions of people today read the daily devotionals based on his book My Utmost for His Highest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oswald Chambers bio

 

 

 

 

The Big 5 – 0. No, It’s Not What You Think

Hug

Photo by Rudolf Jakkel from Pexels

There are exactly 83 days until my 50th high school reunion. May I just say I don’t feel old enough to have this event on my calendar?

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I attended a regional high school. The towns were spread out so it took several of them and the areas between them to provide enough kids to occupy the school.

There were less than one hundred kids in the 1968 graduating class. So everyone did know everyone else, if not well, at least well enough to engage in conversation.

I enjoyed high school; I had enough friends, was a good student and in the honor society, was happy to be a cheerleader, and participated in lots of events. Why yes, in fact, a good friend and I joined the rod and gun club to increase the possibility of hanging out with boys. Should I ever run for a political office, the media will likely print that club photo with my head encircled in red as evidence of whatever.

Unlike the stereotypical high school life today, our school had no cliques or elite groups of mean girls or bullies or gangs. At least, that’s how I remember it.

After recently talking with my best friend about the upcoming reunion (we were classmates), though, I think that maybe I wore rose-colored glasses throughout my high school years. While my bestie never encountered problems directly, she was empathic enough to notice it going on around us.

She saw the overweight girls with whom no one wanted to partner in gym class.

She heard the snickers about the girl who smelled bad, all the while knowing the back story that the odor stemmed from hormonal issues caused by a prescription drug the girl’s mom had taken to prevent a miscarriage.

She noticed the people who weren’t part of any “in” crowds who seemed to drift along, excluded, for four years by themselves.

Why wasn’t I paying attention?

Social psychologists have long noted that we tend to think others just naturally share our set of values. As in: I believe it’s wrong to steal, so I want to think that everyone considers stealing taboo as well. But of course, stealing occurs every single day all over the world.

This is called the False Consensus Effect. We believe our own standards, ideas, and values are correct and that most people are in sync with our way of thinking.

Can I expand this to include that because I didn’t experience exclusion or meanness in school, I made the assumption that everyone else was having a swell time too?

I want to believe that I’m more attentive and empathic as an adult than I was as a teenager. But for anyone in our class who once needed a friend and I turned a blind eye to…I’m sorry. To any joke against another young person for which I added my laughter, I deeply regret that action.

Life is indeed short. Remember to be kind. And attentive.

Please come give me a hug at the reunion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Link to the False Consensus Effect

 

 

 

 

Internal Bleeding

Words can cause internal bleeding

Photo courtesy of Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Vetigel is a miracle product used on wounds with severe bleeding. It’s an algae-based polymer that’s injected directly into the wound. When it meets tissue, the gel forms a mesh-like material with an adhesive component that holds the wound together.

Currently, it’s a veterinary product only. Joe Landolina was just 17 years old when he invented this product that causes blood to clot in as little as twelve seconds.

A similar product (TraumaGel) for human use is under FDA testing.

Can you just imagine its use on the battlefield or in emergency medicine? How many lives might be saved if “bleeding out” can be stopped almost immediately?

A similar product called XStat is a syringe filled with tiny sponges. They are injected directly into a bleeding wound to compress it from the inside. A femoral artery wound can be sealed in about twenty seconds.

Amazing.

It’s too bad that we can’t create a product to instantly heal the wounds we create by using careless, thoughtless, or even deliberately mean words.

Once spoken or written, we can’t take ugly words back. They are part of our permanent record. An “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean it” will not undo the damage. While the wound may not be visible to others, it causes internal bleeding of our soul.

Even though many of us want to think that we are strong people and that we simply won’t let other people bring us down by what they say, the truth is that words can hurt. My calendar-a-day page for yesterday was a quote from Oprah. “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” That is an inspiring sentiment, but in the moment of raw hurt, it does not feel like any kind of wisdom.

Words from others have an amazing array of power over us. They can make us laugh or make us cry. Lift us up or tear us down. Inspire us to do better or convince us to give up. Fill us with hope or add to our despair.

Yes, they’re only words. But they have deep meaning beyond what we can possibly imagine.

With All Your Heart

Heart

Photo courtesy of Brittney Burnett on Unsplash

“Never give up the power of your gut instincts. Trust me on this one…”

This advice is from Dr. Neil Spector, once a respected oncologist. Over a span of fifteen years, he experienced a series of near-fatal health problems himself and was misdiagnosed for several years on some of them.

The words of wisdom he offered above has to do with taking control of your health and being your own advocate in our current health system that sometimes leaves much to be desired. His book Gone in a Heartbeat details his disappointment in much of the care (or lack of) he was provided.

Spector says he doesn’t care what degrees a doctor may hold or from what prestigious universities they may have come from. If a doctor doesn’t listen to you—really listen, and if he/she looks more at the computer screen than at you, well, it’s likely time to find another doctor. 

Spector’s once robust health started declining with mystery health issues. It wasn’t clear what exactly was wrong with him, but his heart was one main concern. He ended up having both a defibrillator and pacemaker inserted into his body. 

While he knew the equipment was keeping him alive, he became (in his own words) a slave to his heart. He instinctively knew that things weren’t working like they should, but countless trips to the ER couldn’t produce any answers. 

In the summer of 2009 when he was 53, Spector was moved to the top of the heart transplant list, not because of who he was but because of the severity of damage to his heart. In July of that year, he was told he had less than 72 hours to live. 

Making a long story short, a healthy heart came from a donor in time, and he is once again living a healthy life. 

I love the story his surgeon shared about the actual moment of transplantation. 

“Like two hearts passing in the night, he said my old heart was literally on its last beat when they removed it from my chest. It had hung in there, quietly pumping out a final few drops of blood, surrendering to the surgeon’s hands only when it was certain it was no longer needed.” 

You and I take for granted so much of what our bodies do for us. Usually until something goes wrong, we don’t even think about the miraculous, marvelous miracles our bodies are. Let’s fix that.

Take a deep breath and smell the air. Listen to the sounds or the silence around you. Look right around you and find something beautiful. Our senses are nothing short of amazing.

Now touch your fingers gently to your pulse and fully appreciate the beat of that ta-tum, ta-tum, ta-tum. 

Repeat three times daily. Or more as needed.

 

 

This Little Light of Mine

light

Photo courtesy of George Becker / Pexels.com

I enjoy challenges since they keep my neural networks fired up and making new connections.

So when our Priest Associate asked us three Old Testament readers for the Easter Vigil service to forego reading our lesson this year and instead “tell the story in our own words,” I thought well, OK. He reminded us that this would be similar to the oral tradition of storytelling in the early church.

My portion was the story of Creation from Genesis. I’ve been reading this scripture lesson at that service for many years. I’m well acquainted with it.

But telling the story of creation is a very different experience from reading it.

I truly wish I had a way of letting you see the event through my eyes. Words will have to suffice.

The church is dark; the only light is provided by candles high in wall sconces and the individual tapers held by a hundred people. I make my way along the aisle and ascend the two steps to stand centered in the open area between the pulpit and the lectern.

 I’m bathed by the light of the tall Christ candle to my right and by the  candle I’m holding in my hand.

 I look out at the congregation, their faces upturned in hopeful expectation, faces lit only by their own flickering candles.

 As I begin, it feels as though I am sitting around a campfire, telling my friends the familiar story they had come to hear in a new way.

 “It’s dark in the church tonight. (long pause) But it’s only sort of dark. In the beginning, in the very beginning, it was really dark….”

After I finished, the other two speakers told their stories and I was totally mesmerized, even though we had heard each other’s stories at a practice run earlier in the day.

Episcopalians aren’t known for their fondness of change. And that’s putting it mildly. So we weren’t sure just how well received our replacing scripture reading with storytelling would be. But so far, people have told us only that they loved every bit of it.

After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good story by candlelight?

Music To My Ears And In My Ears

Music

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

A magical musical event happened around me recently.

An offering had arrived via email to attend a concert by the Vanderbilt Chorale at a small, local venue. The tickets were $10 per person. How could I pass up that?

The one-night concert, however, was March 3, the day after the devastating wind storms downed trees and left hundreds of thousands without power in Virginia.  We hesitated about going because the venue, the Theater House at Castleton Festival, is located in rural Rappahannock County. We weren’t sure if we’d encounter impassable roads.

While we were debating about venturing out, the nice people at Castleton called to say the local roads had been cleared and even though the Theater was without power, they were running generators and the show would go on.

Well, how could we say we wouldn’t be attending with that kind of “can do” spirit?

We usually sit close to the stage at Castleton, but I had impulsively chosen balcony seats for the event.

It’s not the type of balcony you might be imagining. As noted, this is a small and beautiful, acoustically balanced venue. The balcony is a square U-shape with ONE layer of seating on the three sides.

As we took our seats, I was kicking myself for choosing the balcony, as I noted it would be difficult to see the singers directly below us.

To my surprise, though, as the concert began, the young singers filed up the steps to the balcony level, and took their places standing directly behind the seated patrons, including us. They stayed on the balcony for several songs.

Sopranos and altos were behind me to the right with tenors and basses off to my left. On the side directly across the open space and also on the side to my left was the same set-up. Stereo, it was, because yes, they were singing directly into my ears.

It was all I could do to not shout with joy from pure delight. “This must be what Heaven sounds like,” was my recurring thought. I just closed my eyes and savored every musical moment of the pure, clear voices blending together.

And here’s what else I loved—their breathing. Singers take big breaths in order to produce good sound. It’s not noticeable when you’re sitting in an audience while the singers are on a stage in front of you.

But having the experience of “surround sound” as we did, it was as though those big breaths were part of the music.

The music and the breaths combined to make a memory that still fills me with joy.

~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~

Here are links to topics in this post:

Castleton Festival  

A sample of the non-chorale music   Note:  You can see where we sat….in the balcony next to the life-size statue of Mozart!

 

Accompany Me With Singing, Please

Singing

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

At a recent Jimmy Fortune concert (Fortune was one of the Statler Brothers), my husband was enthralled with the old song The Far Side Banks of Jordan. I wasn’t familiar with it, but then my husband is more of a gospel music fan than I am.

When he talked about the song again the next day, I asked, “Do you want me to add it to your funeral music?”

He replied, “Do you know something I don’t know?”

This is the final installment of “suggestions to follow so that when you die, the people responsible for managing your legacy wishes will know what to do.” While that is a long and unwieldy name, you get what this is about.

If you find it odd that I’ve planned my husband’s and my funerals, step back and consider for a moment: Who else knows exactly what we want? And should our deaths happen before very old age takes us in our sleep, why would I want to add the burden of planning a service in the midst of a tragedy?

When our son Tim died nearly ten years ago at the age of 22, I had to do just that. In shock and grief, barely able to think, I knew I wanted to be the one to plan his service.

While our wonderfully supportive church staff and funeral committee helped greatly, there were details only a mom or dad would know. For example, typically the church service calls for the formal Christian name to be used. But Timothy was always just Tim. To have had the name Timothy used throughout the service would have been jarring to those who knew his preference for just Tim.

There are so many details to consider when planning a funeral or a memorial service. Among the first, naturally, is do you want a funeral or a memorial service? Or do you prefer the newer type called a celebration of life service? Confused already?  At a funeral, a coffin holding the body of the deceased is usually present. If the person wanted to be cremated, that happens after the funeral, according to online sites for planning services.

A site that offers a good starting point for planning your service is EverPlans.com. You can download (for free) a five page checklist that will help guide you in your planning. Use the guide as a starting point, as it doesn’t cover everything. Note: Be careful of funeral planning sites as they are often selling stuff in addition to giving free advice.

A few years back, I read an interesting book called Accompany Them With Singing by Thomas G. Long. It’s about how Christian funerals have evolved from sending off a loved one on the last journey home to “spiritually impoverished” services that seem to be more focused on providing comfort for the mourners. This book has helped guide my planning as well. If you attend my funeral in thirty years or so, be prepared for lots of music.

It’s likely I’ve raised more questions and concerns than provided any answers in this post. But I’ve remained true to one of my reasons for writing: to gently poke you in the ribs and make you think about some life, well…and death, issues differently.

Note: Rather than interrupt your reading, I add all my links at the end of the post. Should you choose to read further, here they are:

Everplans.com checklist

Jimmy Fortune singing The Far Side Banks of Jordan

Johnny and June Cash singing the same song 

As interesting article on Legacy.com