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

 

It’s Not Just A Leafy Branch

Palm branch

Photo courtesy of Scott Webb of Pexels.com

For Christians the world over tomorrow is Palm Sunday. It marks the day that Jesus made his way back to Jerusalem for the last time. He had spent the prior three years performing miracles, healing the afflicted, and preaching the tenets of the Kingdom of God.

Tomorrow we’ll wave our palm branches as we process into our churches.

But why? What’s the significance of palms? The gospels tell us that the crowds who had lined up for Jesus’ triumphal entry waved palms while shouting Hosanna as he rode past them on a donkey.

Biblical scholars offer several explanations. I lean strongly toward the answer that the Jewish people were thinking, “THIS IS THE GUY! The one we’ve been waiting for. Here comes Jesus of Nazareth, KING of the Jews. Our King! He’s going to rescue us from this Roman domination system. He’s going to free us from this tyranny and life will be good.”

And so they waved their branches of palm trees—a sign of victory fit for a king. In those times, victors of battle were greeted and honored with waving palms. It was also an old custom to receive persons of great authority in this manner.

Hosanna (from the Hebrew hosianna) was an age-old cry for help or saving. We now use it as a proclamation of joy, but clearly the people were longing to be rescued from domination and were crying out for help as well as acknowledging that this was the chosen one who would make that happen.

It’s believed that people expected Jesus to overthrow the Roman government by force in order to establish his own kingdom. Really? The most loving and compassionate human being (because we must always remember that Jesus was a real person) who ever lived on this earth was going to use force? They heard the words but they didn’t get his message.

And it’s clear that not even his disciples, the twelve who had traveled with him, experienced the teachings and healings and lessons first-hand, truly understood the meaning of Jesus establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.

With Billy Graham’s recent death, there have been many stories and programs about him. One of my favorite stories is his crisis with faith. Yes, you heard me. Billy Graham, surely one of the most secure men of God ever, had a faith crisis.

His grandson Will shares the story in the link at the end of this post. But here’s a quote about his grandfather and the crisis: “….he walked out into the woods and set his Bible on a stump – more an altar than a pulpit – and he cried out: “O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions…others are raising.”

So yes, we do have questions. We don’t understand it all. For instance, science has proved that the world is 4.5 billion years old, yet the age of the world according to the Bible is 6000 years. We can believe the creation story of the world and all that’s in it being created in seven days as we think of days, or we can believe that a “God day” of creation wasn’t just 24 hours. Or we can believe that God created the big bang and later inspired the writer of Genesis to tell the story in a more understandable way.

I love reading the story of creation each year at the Easter vigil. No science gets in my way of understanding that, however it happened, creation was by God’s hand.

I think God intends us to think about our faith deeply and talk about it openly.  And if the disciples and Billy Graham had some trouble understanding it all, I think we’re in good company.

Here’s the link to the story by Will Graham.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Have a Heart-to-Heart Talk

heart

Photo courtesy of Pexels.com

The traditional symbol for heart is, of course, this: 

Even though the real human heart looks nothing like that.

My guess is that this symbol, a stand-in for the word love, is the most easily recognized and most-used shape in America.

We see bumper stickers that read I    (fill in the blank) such as NY, my Border Collie, or mountain climbing. Symbolic onscreen confetti hearts flow when you love something on Facebook. Our kids display their affection by making us heart-shaped construction paper cards in kindergarten.

heart

Photo courtesy of Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash.com

We take photos of ourselves making hearts with our hands, and we see hearts in nature.

heart

Photo courtesy of Omer Salom on Unsplash.com

Some of my friends have seen hearts in the foam of their caffe latte.

There is a whole website devoted to the heart emoji to help us express the exact type of love we’re feeling.

We use compassionate phrases such as, “My heart goes out to you.” In happy times we say, “My heart was bursting with joy.” In grief and loss, we describe ourselves as being broken-hearted. Feeling fear, we offer up, “My heart was in my throat.”

I think we’re in love with hearts. That would be: We ♥  ♥♥♥.               

The word heart is used over a thousand times in the Bible, as in “Create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

Marcus Borg’s book The HEART of Christianity reminds us that in the Bible, the heart is a metaphor for the self at its deepest level—our spiritual center. God’s purpose is for us to live our lives with open hearts; to be compassionate, kind, and loving people.

Borg’s own examples of open-heartedness include those above as well as being alive to wonder, remaining grateful, and maintaining a passion for justice for all people.

The author makes the point that closed-heartedness can be termed (from the Greek) sklerokardia – a hardening of the heart.

We can believe that people who commit truly horrific acts of violence, hatred, and greed are the best examples of hard-heartedness. But Borg is clear that this type simply represents one end of the spectrum; there are other ways of being hard-hearted that are not so extreme.

Consider this: What behaviors, acts, or words do we use when we’re being hard-hearted? We may display impatience or simply want our own way. Maybe we’re unwilling to truly listen to someone with a different viewpoint than our own. Our hard-heartedness could show up in our labeling or name-calling of another person even if that happens only inside our heads. It’s looking away from someone with a physical or mental disability. It’s being too busy, too involved with our own lives, to be mindful of the world around us. When we’re critical or sarcastic, that’s our hard-heartedness on display.

The evidence of hard-heartedness in my life may not be the same as in yours. It’s up to each of us to identify and replace our closed heart with an open heart.

 that idea.

 

 

 

 

Just Where Do You Think You’re Going?

The Path

A path to Grace Church, Goochland, Virginia — Photo by Brian French. Used with permission.

Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous risks, and embracing challenges at every step along the way…You are on the path, exactly where you are meant to be right now… And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, beauty, wisdom, power, dignity, and love.    Used with permission of author Caroline Joy Adams.

I’m part of a faith formation group at church. A dozen of us meet weekly, talking openly about our faith and discussing reactions to and thoughts about faith-focused books.

In a discussion on discernment (how to know when we’re listening to the voice and will of God or…wait, it that just my ego shouting?), I shared that one of the ways I hear God speak to me is when I receive the same focused message in various formats. (And no, it’s not Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)

Here’s a current message I’ve received several times over the last three months: Follow the path.

On the stand next to my desk lies a book I bought in December: The Path…a Journey Through the Bible.

In January I was cleaning out a stash of paperwork from past projects. One page explains the spiritual aspects of a labyrinth. It had been a handout I gave middle school students before we walked a labyrinth. The above opening quote was the first paragraph of the labyrinth page. And the next line on the handout was this: We are all on the path.

Not a path, mind you. But THE path.

By this time I’m answering God. “OK, I’m getting the message of the Path. But what path?” Receiving no immediate reply, I let it slip from my conscious thought.

In February as I spoke with business people in town about opportunities to add my public speaking classes to leadership and management training programs, several responded with, “You should talk to The Path Foundation. They do training for non-profits and hire instructors from various fields.”

The Path Foundation. The Path.

Are you expecting a happy ending to be inserted here? Sorry.

I haven’t contacted them yet. Letting my insecurity of “Am I good enough to do this?” get in the way of action, I’ve hesitated.

Even though late February’s mail brought me The Path Foundation’s Year in Review brochure, I’ve still held back. I’m usually a highly confident person and so I’m struggling to explain why I haven’t acted upon this.

I’m calling them on Monday because I got one more message the other day.

On pet therapy duty, we entered a hospital room where a woman was sitting up in bed, some personal effects arranged on the bed table in front of her. And what item do you suppose was facing my direction? It was a small black nylon bag with the distinctive Path Foundation logo.

I inquired about it. The woman’s grandson had given it to her after volunteering at Path the prior year. As the woman petted the therapy dog, I kept staring at that nylon bag and the colorful logo. I mean, what were the odds?

In sharing this story with my friend Philip, I said, “It’s as if I’m so dense that God had to keep sending me the same clues over and over.”

He replied, “Here’s my take on it. God loves you so much that he hasn’t given up on your following where this leads.”

I like Philip’s version better than my own.

Maybe I’m intended to be an instructor at Path. Or maybe I’m intended to cross paths (no pun intended) with someone there that will lead in another direction. We’ll see how this unfolds.

Oh, and one more thought from the labyrinth handout: “With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not.”

I’m choosing to enter.

Note to my readers: I’m making a change in how I provide opportunities for you to learn more. So that you have the choice to mindfully read each post in full without clicking on links throughout my story, links will be provided at the end. And of course, soon I’ll be writing on what prompted me to make this change. Stay tuned!

Here are the links to learn more about what I’ve written today:

 Labyrinth        http://www.lessons4living.com/labyrinth.htm

 Author of opening quote    http://www.carolinejoyadams.com/

 The Path Foundation      http://www.pathforyou.org/    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pebble in a Pond

pond

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash

A great teacher once challenged me to consider the effect caused by tossing a pebble into a pond.

While it’s calming to watch the ripples in the water gently moving outward from where the pebble entered the pond, most of us watch for a while, and then move on.

But think about those tiny surges we set in motion by that one action. The rings move outward and onward until they touch the shore on the other side with an almost silent splash.

The teacher suggested that we are the pebble and the pond represents our life.

We show up (enter the pond) and the initial ripples we create, the strongest ones, are the people whose lives we touch the most.

Those would be our immediate family, our close friends, the people we strongly interact with every day at home or school or work or the neighborhood.

The next outward-bound ripples are the people we still interact with but not as frequently or closely as the first set. These would include casual friends, our child’s teacher, or extended family we don’t see or talk to regularly.

The third set is still part of our universe but even further removed such as people we know to speak to (a clerk in the grocery story, the mailman) but who do not play an active role in our life.

We have an effect on all of these people by how well we treat them. Regardless of which set they’re in, when we interact with people, we have an influence on them.

But there are many more rings still extending across that pond.

They represent the people who are influenced by the people from our rings.

Think about that: You have an effect on people you don’t even know.

When I taught this lesson to middle school students at the Boys and Girls Club, I used my husband as an example.

Spending twenty years as a volunteer paramedic in our town meant that my husband interacted briefly with many people he didn’t know and never saw again after the emergency.

I told the kids a story of his saving the life of a teenager who had been trapped inside a crashed car. The boy recovered and went on to live his life. Think of the people in the boy’s circles who were influenced by my husband because without him, the boy likely would have died.

Every single person that boy (now grown up) ever impacts the rest of his life goes back to the moment when he appeared in a ripple in a certain pond.

And everyone in the boy’s life goes on to influence their own set of people, and so on and so on.

We each have a tremendous responsibility to be the best person we can be to the world at large. The pond is depending on us. Love is the only answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Way of Seeing

“A circular rainbow”…Photo by Blue Mountains Nature Photography. Used with permission.

The group discussion was on a paradigm-shifting topic. While I enjoy being challenged to think outside the perimeter of my entrenched attitudes and thoughts, this particular idea was causing me some distress.

When the facilitator asked the group for feedback, I said, “I’m disturbed.” After the group enjoyed a friendly laugh (assuming I was kidding), I admitted that I was serious. The analogy I gave was this:

Many years ago someone (I don’t know who) televised what felt like a long public service announcement. It demonstrated how easily we can be swayed to think differently on a long-held attitude or belief. Part of the program dealt with children and the American flag. It went something like this:

The scene opened with elementary school children and their elderly grey-haired teacher reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Suddenly a group of men came in and led away the teacher. The replacement teacher was a young, pretty blond. She acted as if she had no idea what the children were doing and engaged the children in conversation with questions such as: Why do you say this pledge? What is so special about the flag?

Pretending to accept and agree with their explanation, she said, “Well, if the flag is so special, let’s take it down and cut it up so we can each have a small piece of it!” And so they did, quite happily.

Ending the story, I told the group, “That’s how I feel right now—as though my understanding of how I think about this has been cut up into pieces.”

The group took in my story thoughtfully. Then the facilitator said, “Instead of cutting the flag into pieces, let’s take it down and move it to the front so we can all see it better.”

Someone else said, “Or let’s move it into the center of our circle so we can all be closer to it.”

A third person contributed, “Let’s wrap it around you to comfort you.”

The final comment was, “Or even if it had been cut into pieces, we could sew it back together.”

What meaningful responses from a group of casual friends!  One could imagine the answers as coming from life-long friends who know, love, and understand me.

It would have been easier for me to have kept silent. Many of us shy away from admitting what we perceive as a personal failure or from asking for help, even when we really need it. It can be scary.

But it’s so worth the risk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less Can Be More

A single rain drop poised in the bend of a shepherd’s hook. Photo by Norma Thatcher

When I took my husband to his first Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, he thought he would be hearing Russian symphonies. Uh, no. TSO is a rock group.

If you’re not familiar with the TSO name, you still likely have heard their music during the Christmas season. Their signature song is Christmas/Sarajevo but it’s better known as Carol of the Bells, a BIG song. And it’s a HUGE number as their concert finale replete with fireworks and a laser light show.

You can also find various videos on You Tube where homeowners have synchronized their outdoor Christmas lights to the TSO version of the song.

While I’m a huge fan of the group and that particular rendition, it can be auditorily overstimulating. (Especially if you listen to sixteen versions of it trying to find the best one to link in a blog.)

Sometimes I just need to listen to quieter music such as Yo-Yo Ma on cello accompanied by Kathryn Stott on piano.

Even less sound that produces more stillness within me is that of my large wind-chime on the front porch. I hear just a few notes now and then and I find that less is more.  

The same is true with visual stimulation. Many of us truly enjoy the stunning nature photographs posted online – mountains, waterfalls, sunsets, sunrises, forests, the ocean, and flowers. How beautiful the world is!

And yet, there are times when the focus of close-up photography calms my brain and soul in a way that a masterpiece landscape shot of a mountain range cannot.

Both of these “less is more” examples say to me, “Slow down. Breathe in a long breath. Take notice of right now.”

Many of you likely have your own practice that reminds you to slow down and savor a moment. If so, please share. And if not, feel free to borrow mine until you find your own.

Photo by Norma Thatcher