Heave-Ho to Upheaval

heave-ho to upheaval

Photo by Norma Thatcher, April 2021

This has been an unusual year in America in many ways including weather. In the mid-Atlantic states, we saw some winter days hit the low 70s, and then we endured recent spring days in the low 30s. My husband just noted that the weather channel is predicting that Denver will get five inches of snow today. Our poor plants, bushes, and trees have every right to be a bit confused.

We had one upsetting issue over the winter with frost heave. You may know that pressure from alternating freezing and thawing conditions can actually lift the soil and plants right out of the ground to produce the condition termed frost heave.

We had a lovely Viburnum bush at the corner of the house that also had sentimental ties; it was a transplant from my sister-in-law Alice’s yard and replanting it in our own yard was one of the last landscaping projects in which our son Tim assisted.

The power of nature is awesome to behold even when we’re unhappy with the results. That Viburnum bush now sits at a very odd angle, roots and ground heaved up from the earth, as you can see below.

frost heave

The most common English definition of heave is to lift or move something heavy. We can also produce a long breath by “heaving a huge sigh of relief.” It can mean an attempt to vomit as in retching.  In nautical vernacular, it means to pull, raise, or move a boat or ship by hauling on ropes.

Heave-ho is a nautical anachronism and was a command to sailors to pull hard in unison on a rope or cable. Today we might say someone was given the heave-ho if he was dismissed, rejected, fired from a job, or forcibly ejected.

Upheaval is closely aligned to heave. It’s a sudden change or disruption to something; a radical change. The pandemic was surely an upheaval to our way of life. But though we may have endured radical changes to what we perceived as normal, at our core, we are still US. We remain the kind and thoughtful people we were, and perhaps are even more so. Our capacity for compassion has grown.

Just like my Viburnum that endured the violent upheaval from the ground during the winter and yet has just blossomed and has hearty “fuzzy” dark green leaves, we can emerge from our upheaval with more beautiful souls.

~~~~~~

A post-Covid prayer by Nadia Bolz-Weber

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.

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

A Simple Prayer

a simple prayer

I wrote the below prayer around fifteen years ago. I’ve occasionally dusted it off, revised the final paragraph to suit a particular time or need (such as Lent), and shared it with some folks.

It’s actually an embodied prayer in that it has specific body motions to go with the words. But it stands on its own as a simple prayer as well.

I’ve been inspired to share it with you because of Amanda Gorman’s amazing performance of her Inaugural poem, The Hill We Climb.  She reminded me that our words, even simple ones, are too precious not to be shared.

Gracious God, we ask that you help us to push aside thoughts of the outside world, that we may be fully present here and now.

Heavenly Father, we lift up to you…our cares and worries. Take them. And fill us with your peace and assurance that you are in control, that life goes according to your plan, that all is well.

Heavenly Father, we lift up to you…our sinful thoughts, words, and actions. Take them. And fill us with your forgiveness and grace.

Heavenly Father, we lift up to you…our grief and sorrow. Take them. And fill us with joy in knowing that those we miss are with you and are at peace.

Heavenly Father, we lift up to you…our thanks for our many blessings. Take them. And fill us with the capacity to appreciate every gift from you.

Heavenly Father, we lift up to you…ourselves. Take us. And fill us with your Holy Spirit so that others will see your love shining through us.

Bring us together in these troubled times so that we can be messengers of love and hope and healing to those who need us, to the glory of your son Jesus Christ. Amen.

~~~~~

Amanda Gorman’s presentation in full

Time magazine response to Amanda Gorman’s poem

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