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

Going To The Chapel

Chapel

Photo by Norma Thatcher, October 2017

The tiny brownish-red chapel sits as a focal point against a massive rock formation, towering evergreens, and (when in a season of flowing) a waterfall. A photo of the church in a calendar many years ago intrigued me, and I added it to the bucket list of places I wanted to see with my own eyes.

And so it was on my first visit to Yosemite National Park that I visited the Yosemite Valley Chapel.

Built in 1879 with initial funding from the California State Sunday School Association and other contributions, the building costs were around $4000. It seats about 250 people.

The church was originally situated in a busy community referred to then as the Lower Village. As activity fell away from that area, a decision in 1901 had the church dismantled and moved to the upper Yosemite Village. (See map in the link below.)

In 1966 the interior was restored, and the foundation was raised several feet as a means of coping with spring flooding. However, that wasn’t enough to overcome record floodwaters in 1977 that caused damage. But repairs were made, and improvements continue in order to ensure the chapel will remain open.

The Yosemite Valley Chapel was recognized for its simple architecture in 1973 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Noted as “a particularly fine example of the early chapels constructed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains,” that recognition helped put the chapel on the map, so to speak.

The chapel is typically open year-round for non-denominational worship services, but the entire Park is temporarily closed due to the smoke-filled unhealthy air from the wildfires.

The chapel is also a popular wedding destination. Renting for $850 during the peak season, it makes for a lovey minimalist venue. In order to maintain the pristine beauty of the building and surrounding area, there are, understandably, strict rules such as no throwing of rice or birdseed or flower petals or anything else. And your reception will need to be held elsewhere!

Here is a snapshot of a postcard I bought the last time we visited Yosemite in October 2017. The original photo was taken by Dan Warsinger.

chapel

But the calendar photo that originally piqued my interest is glued to the inside back cover of my blog idea notebook. Here it is:

chapel

The quotation accompanying the calendar photo is by Paramabansa Yogananda:

“You should be thankful for everything at all times. Realize that all power to think, and speak, and act comes from God, and that He is with you now, guiding and inspiring you.”

 And standing there at that church, gratitude and awe come quite easily.

~~~~~

Chapel of Love by the Dixie Cups

Map showing the Lower Village location

For more photos and information, here’s the official chapel site

 

Writing About Writing

writing about writing

My friend Betsy Anderson is part of a group that runs grief writing workshops. Her own daughter Caroline died in 1995 at the age of 16 from a sudden illness, so Betsy is an inspiration of healing to workshop participants.

In November 2012 I encouraged a new friend Denise (who had lost her son Zane ten months earlier) to attend the local workshop with me. Hoping that Denise would find pathways of recovery in the experience, I wasn’t expecting much for myself. After all, I was already four years into the grieving process for my son Tim, and I believed that I was doing OK.

Ya, right. As the women began sharing their stories of the deaths of children, sisters, brothers, parents, and friends, I felt my composure slipping. Some losses were months old, several a few years, and one (a young child who had died from leukemia) was just five weeks. I felt the deep grief of all those women as if it were my own all over again. I sobbed nearly throughout the six-hour class. I had thought I would help Denise through the class, but it was she who patted my hand.

There was one poignant statement from a mom that was nearly a tipping point for me. She said, “I have closed doors that I might peek through but never open again.” I was embarrassing myself with the crying, but thankfully, I decided to see it through.

I learned the health benefits of writing on deeply meaningful experiences: a lowering of blood pressure, an increased production of T cells (immune warriors) and help in coping with chronic pain.

There were various methods of grief writing. One was sentence completion. The leaders provided prompts to certain aspects of our lives such as growing up.

  • As a child, for me home was…
  • When I was little, I was expected to…
  • My first experience with death was when…

A second component of the program was writing short lists.

  • Write three fears you presently have.
  • What are four things you miss about your loved one?
  • Name five things for which you are grateful.
  • Because of the death of your loved one, what are three things you have lost?
  • Because of the death of your loved one, what are three things you have found?

A two-part exercise instructed us first to make a list of words or phrases signifying what our lives had been like before the death of our loved one, and then a list of words or phrases that defined what our lives were like after the loss. Some examples from our group that day were:

Before: noisy, music, joyful, laughter, in control, safety, future, confidence, companionship, smiles

After: broken, never again, powerless, dazed, empty, rage, raw, lonely, questioning faith, tears

When the words and phrases of the group’s “after” were read out loud, it was as if a collective sigh echoed through the room. A community had been built because the feelings and emotions were so common. We weren’t the only ones! We weren’t strange or bizarre. We weren’t crazy. We were mourning.

The second part of the exercise was to choose one of the group’s Before and one of the After words/phrases and make an acrostic poem. For my After phrase, I chose Never Again.

Normalcy is difficult to find—thoughts of pre-drugs

Eventually is what I choose to recall.

Vivid images of the larger-than-life Tim

Entering the house, calling out “Hello Mama!”

Rich in spirit and love, Tim was.

And I know he is at peace in

God’s loving arms,

Always loving his family,

Interested still in the whole world,

Never to be forgotten.

After the workshop ended at 2:30, I went home and straight to bed. I was spent. But the experience was so meaningful to me that here I am, eight years later, writing about it. Writing about writing.

You don’t have to be in mourning to take advantage of the benefits of writing or journaling. You can be in any situation that is deeply meaningful to you. And I have good news: You don’t need to write every day, be a perfect speller, or know the proper use of a comma. You’re writing for yourself, for your own mental and physical health benefits.

I’ve included a link below that shows how beneficial writing is. Go buy yourself a beautiful notebook and begin.

~~~~~~~

Powerful Health Benefits of Journaling from Intermountain Healthcare.org