Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reclaiming hope

Just a couple nights ago I watched a Netflix film entitled City of Joy (not to be confused with a 1992 movie by the same name). This film is a documentary chronicling stories of hope and restoration from The Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been devastated by 20 years of war and violence.

The film explains how rape is used as a tool of war (no big surprise to those of us who follow women's issues around the globe!)—but even more, how the women affected by this can find their voices and reclaim their life's purpose and strength and in the process, find joy. The film shows the first class of women to graduate from a leadership center in eastern Congo. It's called the City of Joy—a safe place founded by Dr. Denis Mukwege, 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee; women's rights activist Christine Schuler-Deschryver and radical feminist Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues". These three people did amazing work with women who suffered unimaginable violence to the point where these women went on to work for change in their country.

It is absolutely beautiful to watch the women grow and become stronger—and joyful again—as the film (and their training) progresses! Above all, this is a story about resilience. It's a story about joy. It's about finding our voices, even in the face of incredible pain and sadness.

For those of us who have not experienced the ravages of war or of sexual violence, there still are lessons to learn: the importance of not remaining a victim, no matter what our experience; the value in speaking up and telling our stories and our truths; the power of reclaiming hope and joy—and so much more.

Have you found your voice? Are you using it? Are you telling your story, whatever it is? I encourage us all to do so! It's so powerful. It's also powerful to stand together with our sisters around the globe—and those brothers who support us!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Joy & contentment

Sometimes I only need to let another voice speak, and there's nothing more to be said. So once again, I give you the words of Episcopal bishop and member of the Choctaw Nation Steven Charleston in his book Cloud Walking:

"Give me the simple joys and I will be content. The peaceful evenings with those I love, watching the sun slip away to its rest. The laughter around the table, when all our cares seem to have lost their way and failed to appear. The long talks with old friends who know what I am saying before I say it. The magic of children's play, delighting only in delight. The devotion passed between me and a beloved pet when we cross that line of difference, bonded for life. The quiet hour of prayer when I not only know God is listening, but sitting right beside me."

Ah, doesn't that just slow your heart rate and bring images that calm you? Joy and contentment are near at hand. We need not work so hard to find them.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Bring the light of love

Unless you live in a cave and never listen to any news, you likely are painfully aware that this world is filled with darkness. So much murder and mayhem abounds. Some days, it can drag us way down, nearly drowning out our hope. Sometimes, I simply have to take a breather from news coverage. It's simply too depressing. I don't want to just focus on all the bad things that happen in the world.

The world has always been that way. However, there are always the helpers, too! We always have good people doing kind things. Those stories don't often make the news, however.

We need to remember, too, that darkness can be good. Nighttime and darkness means our bodies can enjoy much-needed rest. Dark, nutrient-rich soil enables a seed to sprout and grow. The darkness of a nourishing womb provides an environment for the embryo to grow into a viable baby.

But when darkness shows up in ways that harm others, it needs light to transform it to goodness. Each of us has the capability to be light-bearers. How can you bring light into the dark places of the world? What are the gifts you've been given that enable you to shine light into the darkness?

Let's think of ways we can bring the light of love into the dark places. Let's bring the light that allows hope to replace despair. Let's let the light shine through us so fears and anxieties don't overwhelm us and others. Let's bring light that will enable visions of peace for all humankind—light that will dispel misogyny and bigotry, replacing them with respect for all creatures. Let's bring the light of love that reminds us to live a life of gratitude and service to others.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Focusing on hope

Hope. It's such an essential part of life. And think of what happens when we lose it. Hopelessness. What a grim prospect!

I really like what Episcopal bishop and citizen of the Choctaw Nation Steven Charleston wrote in his book Cloud Walking:

"Hope is the match, prayer is the fire. If you know someone who needs a little help in getting a prayer life going, ask them if they ever hope for something. It's a safe bet that they do. And all the time. Humans are hopeful creatures. We are in an almost daily state of hope. We hope it won't rain. We hope we get better. We hope we win. Hope is a constant for us in our emotional matrix. Prayer is simply hope captured. Rather than a fleeting wish, through prayer hope becomes a focused intention. Prayer matures hope by allowing God to light a fire."

What an image: "Hope is the match, prayer is the fire." I don't know what shape your spirituality or religion takes, but prayer comes alive in many forms. Whatever works for you, I hope these thoughts and images help you find a way for the fire to be lit!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Say 'yes' to authenticity

I cannot say enough in praise of authenticity. It is so important to be who we were created to be, to be truly ourselves. It's important to not sell out just because we want to be accepted or loved. We want to find our own voice, speak our own truth and act in ways that reflect the values we hold dear. To do any less chips away at our core. If caving to the pressure of selling out is how we have gained the friends we have, eventually it will catch up with us and we'll feel that loss of integrity. Once lost, how will it be reclaimed?

And as poet and cancer survivor Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be, "...anyone, no matter how dear, that wants us to be other than who we are does not truly love us or doesn't know how to love."

Strong words. But so true. If your loved ones and friends encourage and support you in being who you truly are, be grateful. Very grateful. If not, perhaps it's time to begin saying "No" to anyone who asks you to be other than who you are. Perhaps it's time to say "Yes" to yourself—and to who you were designed to be.

Friday, October 5, 2018

All in the family

As my beloved sister and I help our brother deal with dementia, I am reminded once again of the importance of family. Family: The people who love you, who are there for you in the good times and the bad, the people who knew you when, the ones who know your flaws and failings and love you anyway, the ones who are your best supporters.

Except—this is not always the case. I have many friends whose families don't do that. They cannot go to family members and expect love, affirmation and support. Some have no families to which they can go at all. Others have families who simply are unable to provide love and support. Still others have experienced a rupture somewhere along the way.

But here's the good news. What I call "chosen families" also fill the bill! Often, dear friends are as close or closer to you than any family member might be. They will be there for you in good times and bad. And when your friendship goes back a long ways, you do know a lot about each other's stories and lives. This definitely can fill the bill!

Sadly, not all families of origin are what we would wish them to be. If that's the case for you, don't despair. Remember that families don't have to be connected by blood. They can be connected by love!

Do you have any "chosen family" members? (Even when you have a loving family, you might still have some "chosen family" too.) Be grateful if you do! Thank them for being in your life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How does your garden grow?

During a conversation with a dear friend the other day, she mentioned that pulling weeds was on her to-do list. Somehow her comment made me think of the weeds in our lives. And that thought led me back to our pastor's sermon last Sunday when he urged us to start each day in thankfulness and gratitude for all our blessings.

Just a few years ago, I kept a Gratitude Journal in which I recorded at least four to six items each morning for which I was grateful. Sometimes I filled most of the journal page. Other times, I might have had only four items. But the net effect always was positive. When my day began by focusing on the gifts I have in my life—and feeling grateful for them—I was far more focused on seeing the blessings than the negatives or the weeds. I was happier and more content. It wasn't so easy to look at the negatives and get dragged down by all that's wrong with the world! It was easier to be forgiving and loving. I could overlook the foibles of others more easily.

For some reason, I got away from using that journal, though. But thanks to our pastor's encouragement, I'm reviving the practice.

And that brings me back to the weeds. Whatever in our lives crowds out the blessings and the good things, might those not be considered weeds? In a flower garden, it matters not if a weed also has flowers—if it crowds out and kills the flowers you planted there, you consider it a weed and pull it out, right? So what about the weeds in your life? What things are crowding out the good in your life? What thoughts or events are pulling you away from the positive and kind things you want to be doing? It's far too easy to latch on to the "shiny thing on the path," often the worst news of the day, and see the glass half empty or the world going to hell in a hand basket. However, if we keep the weeds under control and notice all the beautiful flowers in life's garden, how much happier we will be. How much easier it will be to be kind, loving and forgiving to those whose paths cross ours in any given day.

Be attentive to removing the weeds in your beautiful garden of life. Start—and end—your days in gratitude and notice all the beautiful bouquets of blessings that are there instead.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The center of the storm

In these days of so much conflict and anxiety, I keep looking for ways to stay with positivity and keep hope alive. So once again, I turn to one of my favorite inspirational poets and authors, Mark Nepo. He came extremely close to death with his cancer, so he speaks out of some deep experience.

In his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he reminds us that "...the only true place of calm in a storm is the very center." 

He goes on to say, "Somehow, in the face of adversity and suffering, we are asked to appreciate life and endear ourselves to it. Not by replacing adversity with joy and not by turning from the difficulties and injustices of living, but by facing them with truth and gratitude for being here anyway. Even after cancer, and in the midst of this journey now, I don't know how to do this but know I must. We must."

As I struggle to find out how to do this myself, I'm encouraged to know that he isn't sure either but that he knows we all must find our way to this place of calm and equanimity. I don't know why but that spurs me forward to find ways myself.

He quotes former president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel on the subject of hope: "Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." Ah, yes, there is a difference. And now I still have to think of what that means in our context in this country.

How do you see this?

Friday, September 28, 2018

Here's to solitude

On Wednesday I referenced an inspiration book on which I occasionally draw, entitled Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal. The book contains her original art along with selected poems and prayers by other writers.

Today I want to leave you with a short one by the Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke:

"What is necessary, after all,
is only this: solitude,
vast inner solitude.
To walk inside yourself
and meet no one for hours—
that is what you must be able to attain."

What I've noticed, particularly in our society, is something approaching fear of solitude. Many people seem uncomfortable being alone or being in silence—alone with their thoughts. And yet, how else can we know ourselves? And knowing ourselves, don't we also begin to know and understand others?

I like the way he phrases it: "to walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours."

If you aren't used to solitude, try it just a little at a time until you develop a comfort level with yourself and your own thoughts. It's amazing what you can learn that way. For Rilke, solitude was a necessary prelude to creativity. See if you don't find it so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So many life lessons

Some years ago a friend gave me a lovely inspirational book that combines original art with the selected prayers of several writers and poets. The book, Painted Prayers by Jody Uttal, inspires me and always makes me think.

Here's a selection I read yesterday that was written by Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, theologian and Sufi mystic. It speaks to our being open to whatever enters our lives hour by hour or day by day—because everything can be a teacher. This is called "The Guest House":

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning, a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond."

There really is nothing more I need to say. Re-read it if you wish and simply reflect on Rumi's rich words. Then stay open to each emotion and experience to see what life lessons emerge.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Who has provided light to you?

Albert Schweitzer once said, "At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

No doubt each one of us can think of several people who have rekindled the flame in our life at one time or another. As I look back through the years, I can think of several people. Can you? Whether our light actually goes out or whether it simply flickers and becomes dim, we need the help of others to light our way and rekindle our light.  We don't do this all on our own. It really does take a village!

As you think of people who have lit your path, why not tell them so and thank them? I remember thinking about this several weeks ago and telling a friend how much of a shining light she was in my life. I could tell my words really meant a lot to her. It made me think I should do more of this—tell people the effect they have on me! I need to tell them how I appreciate them!

It's wonderful to be aware of what others do for us. It's another to feel deep gratitude for this. And it's yet another to tell them so!

What are you waiting for?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Pity vs. care

It's no secret that I am a fan of poet Mark Nepo's writings. His bouts with cancer and other life situations have given him a depth of character that make his words really speak to me.

Last week I read this in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness as he spoke about lessons learned from coming so close to death:

"It's taught me that if we share pain, which is a lot to ask, there is no room for pity. For sharing the struggle requires an investment, a real life-changing investment by those who care, an involvement that will instigate their own tandem suffering. Pity is a bleacher activity. It is the substitute for front-line caring."

Wow, there is a difference, isn't there? "Pity is a bleacher activity." Yes, just so. It is far different from true sharing of pain. Most people don't want pity when they suffer. They want someone to care—whatever shape that may take.

Who might need your care today?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Speaking up feels authentic

I believe in authenticity. The older I become, the more important it is to me to be authentic and true to who I am and what I value. Sometimes that deep calling comes into conflict with my desire to maintain serenity and equanimity. That's been happening for me this week.

Ever since a woman came forward with accusations against the current Supreme Court nominee, her life has been scrutinized. She's been ridiculed and accused of vengeful behavior and worse; several lies have been circulated about her. She has even received death threats! She's being what we now call slut-shamed because she dared come forward and accuse a man who has risen to a high level.

I remember vividly in 1991 when Anita Hill went through this same thing, and I wonder why women are still being re-victimized simply for coming forward with their stories of abuse or rape. As a woman, I have strong feelings about this; and I have been so pleased to see the "Me, Too" movement take hold. It's been long overdue. But the behavior persists.

Here's the thing. I don't want to be upset about everything that I hear on the news (although there's plenty about which to be upset these days). I don't want to always see the glass half empty. I want to live in hope. I want to remain positive. However, I also want to be true to my beliefs and my values. And to tell the truth, I am way beyond sick and tired of the way women have been treated for centuries—the way we're devalued even yet in this country. So I simply have to speak out about it. I cannot sit by and watch the slut-shaming circus without saying something. That may make me a trouble-maker. But history shows that much change has come because of "trouble-makers."

So I'm going on record here (and on social media and my friendship circles) to call people out when they do this to women. Enough already. This needs to stop! Women are human and deserve respect just as do men. Let's not keep silent when our sisters name abuse.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Are you a worry-wart?

Author and entrepreneur E. Joseph Cossman, creator of the ant farm, had a subtle reminder for those of us who are prone to worry. He said, "If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today."

Chances are pretty good that you cannot recall what you worried about on this day a year ago—unless, of course, something traumatic and dramatic was occurring on that day that makes it stand out for you.

Typically, those of us who are worriers spend far too much time worrying about things that never come to pass, preparing outcomes for problems that don't even develop and therefore, wasting perfectly good time that could be better spent!

I tell myself that worry is a monumental waste of time. But it doesn't really stop me. I would like to at least cut back on the time I spend worrying. How about you? I would far prefer to spend my time living in gratitude and letting life unfold rather than worrying about things and thus, trying to control them (a useless pursuit anyway).  Starting the day thinking of 3-5 things for which I'm grateful does help. And calling myself back to gratitude helps, too, whenever I find myself stressing over some possible future event. Can I refocus? Or even reframe?

Do you have some tried-and-true ways to decrease worry?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Control as illusion

Have you ever tried making a list of the things in your life that you actually control? If you haven't ever tried this, do so now, just for fun.

How long is the list? In retrospect, are there even some things you want to cross off that list as you give it more thought? Did it just get far shorter yet?

It is true that we like to think we're in control of a good deal in our lives. But think about it honestly—are you really able to control much of what happens?

When we get really honest with ourselves, we realize that about the only thing really in our control is how we respond to what happens to us. Try as we might to keep things under control, "stuff" still happens and we have to resort to Plan B, C, D or even X and Z! And for that matter, even how we respond isn't always something we control. Some of that is knee-jerk and may have been programmed into us at a very young age.

It's humbling and necessary to get past the idea that we're in control. It can also prevent a good deal of frustration, anger and resentment. Again, it's a matter of letting go of some illusions. We can learn to be more flexible and to acknowledge that we're really not in charge. We can go with the flow more often; and through it all, we can learn to be more grace-filled and accepting of others as we recognize that we're all just trying to do our best to get by.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

'I am loved'

I recently saw a journal exercise that would be fun to try. First, you are asked to list the ways you think someone you love would describe you. Second, you then go to them and ask them to list their favorite elements of who you are. Then compare their list to yours. In the exercise instructions, you are invited to not be shy, because "it will make them so happy to tell you why they love you!"

Are you willing to try this? Often, we think others would let us down if we tried such an exercise. We think others see us as we see ourselves—and who is harder on us than our very self?! In truth, such an exercise might make the other person happy. But it surely would make us happy, too—that is, if we can suspend our disbelief and self-doubt long enough to really believe the other person is sincere.

Sometimes we do a real number on ourselves and think of someone who compliments us, "Oh, they have to say that" or "They're just saying that; they really don't mean it." We don't think we're worthy of love.

Make it a point today to let go of that kind of thinking. Shed those old tapes that tell you that you aren't worth loving. Believe people when they say they love you. Believe in your own lovability!! Remind yourself every day that you are lovable. Repeat to yourself, "I am loved, and I am worthy of love." For letting go of the old negative messages is only half the equation; the other half is to fill your head space with new, positive tapes!

Monday, September 10, 2018

More grace

I just read the most fascinating quote by American author and playwright Robert Anton Wilson: "Under the present brutal and primitive conditions on this planet, every person you meet should be regarded as one of the walking wounded. We have never seen a man or woman not slightly deranged by either anxiety or grief."

Wow! It really made me stop and think. Such a quote has a way of grabbing our attention, right? I admit that I don't know the context of that quote, although I did do a quick search that didn't yield anything.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how everyone I meet is dealing with something or other—many facing painful, frightening and heavy issues. And I have absolutely no idea when I see someone in a store, at church, in a meeting or on the street what's going on in that person's life. The term "walking wounded" really seems apt. Yes, we are all wounded in some way, aren't we? And we are all dealing with anxiety or grief.

For me, that means that I need to pay special attention to how I treat everyone. I need to remember to approach people with kindness and a full measure of grace, acceptance and forgiveness. More grace. Less attitude.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Anger's good side

It's clear to me that there's a large amount of anger in our country right now. And no wonder, really. We are experiencing many changes—in our economy, in what we consider "civil discourse," in norms that we'd come to expect (for example, that it was safe to go to the mall or a theater), in some of our institutions and so much more. And many people still struggle to replace lost jobs and income, to get by on less and to hang onto what they consider "the American dream." Add to that all our personal struggles with illness, career, relationships and more—and it's no surprise we experience anger.

Anger in and of itself is not bad. Anger is a necessary emotion, in fact. It can remind us that we've just witnessed or experienced injustice, and so it can serve as a call to action. It can protect us, reminding us of danger and the need to create safety and boundaries. Anger often has messages for us. It may flag to us that we have some unresolved grief and loss issues, things we've not acknowledged or grieved yet. For example, I just read about a woman who had completely buried her grief and pain about being raped 50 years ago (at a time when she knew she'd likely be re-victimized if she talked about it to anyone).

What we do with anger is what's important. Notice it. Acknowledge it. See what lessons might be learned from the anger. Do you have grief you've not faced yet, for example? Is it telling you that you need better boundaries with someone in your life? Once you have gleaned the lessons, let go, let go, let go of the anger. You definitely do not need it anymore. It'll be a ball-and-chain if you hang onto it.

It's essential that we learn to deal openly and healthily with our anger—not that we suppress it but also not that we use it to lash out at others. It needs to be processed. And then, shed.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The real you

Who is the real you? We all wear masks. It's something we learned to do when we were quite young. We develop masks to protect ourselves. We fear that if people saw who we really were, we wouldn't be loved. Or perhaps we would be harmed if someone saw how weak or afraid we were—in which case, we may develop a stance of toughness that tells the world, "I dare you." So many reasons, so many masks.

By the time we reach middle age and beyond, we may have several masks, depending on whom we are around at any given time and what the situation is in which we find ourselves. Typically, however, by that stage of life, we're also beginning to realize that the masks meant to protect us are suffocating us, too. They are keeping us from being who we truly are. They keep us from being authentic. And authenticity becomes more important to us as we age.

What Muhammad Ali once said is true: "If you're the same person at fifty that you were at twenty, you've wasted thirty years."

Yes! The idea is to grow, to evolve, to let ourselves be transformed by life and its experiences. When we reach a more mature stage of life, we want to be as true to ourselves as we can be. Having said that, we will always hide behind some masks for safety. The hope is that those become fewer and lighter as we become stronger and more sure of ourselves.

What masks are you still wearing? Do you need them? Have you shed some of your masks? Do you feel that you're as authentic as you can be?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Look for the light

As I observe my own behavior and that of others, I often wonder why it is that we're so drawn toward the negative—toward the chaos and drama—rather than toward the positive and inspirational. It's as though the worst behaviors are the shiny objects in the middle of the road. On any given day, we collect as many of those as we can and cluck-cluck about it all. "The world's going to heck." "Whatever happened to civility?" "There are too many nuts out there."

I keep remembering what the late Mr. Rogers said his mother told him about "looking for the helpers" when any tragedy occurs. Rather than focus solely on the tragedy itself, he was taught to look for those who rush in to help. And there are lots of them out there, once we refocus!

I like what poet and inspirational writer Mark Nepo says in The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be:

"So, in a world where tragedy is broadcast every half hour; where situation comedies are rerun nightly; where confusions and betrayals replay themselves; where dark histories repeat themselves, help me put my stinger down and I'll help you take the deep chance to come to your senses. We can take the time to move toward whatever we sense is precious."

Yes, that's it. We can help each other in this regard. It's so easy to focus on the bad behavior, the tragedy, the negative—but we can help one another refocus. Go toward the light. Find what is precious. Look for the helpers.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Gifts & gratitude

Do you have someone who's a real light in your life? Someone whose life and words shine brightly and inspire you? Have you told this person how their light brightens your path?

It's so easy to take for granted friends and family—or even a coffee barrista or service professional—who provide positive examples for us and who inspire us. But we shouldn't.

With so much negative energy and incivility rampant all around us, it's really important to express our gratitude daily for the gifts we receive. It's good for us, and our hearts, to do so. And it's so important to tell others the ways in which they matter to us—to say "Thank you" for the light they shine on our path. You can make someone's day or week just by doing so!

I love sending cards via snail mail. It always surprises people to get mail that isn't a bill or a donation request. But there are many ways to express your gratitude these days: a phone call, a text, email, snail mail, flowers or even a box of fruit accompanied by a note.

Who would you like to say "Thank you" to today? How will you do so?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Less talking, more listening

We've talked before in these blogs about all the shouting across an ever-widening chasm that's occurring in our country and our world. Who's listening? Where will it all end? Is it possible to reintroduce civility and respect to our culture again?

So it was with interest that I read the following in Karen Armstrong's wonderful book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life:

"There is much talk of the need for dialogue as a way of improving international relations. But will it be Socratic [where listening rather than winning a debate is important] or an aggressive dialogue that seeks to humiliate, manipulate, or defeat? Are we prepared to 'make place for the other,' or are we determined simply to impose our own will? An essential part of this dialogue must be the effort to listen. We have to make a more serious effort to hear one another's narratives."

Can we hear one another's stories? And do so without judgment, knowing that the emotional component of someone's story can hold deep pain and meaning that impacts behavior in ways we can't always understand. As Armstrong said, "We need to listen to the undercurrent of pain in our enemy's story. And we should be aware as well that our version of the same event is also likely to be a reflection upon our own situation and suffering rather than a dispassionate and wholly factual account." Cut others some slack. Be gentle with one another since we don't know all that's going on for the other. And listen. Really listen—whether you see this person as enemy or friend.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Wake up to wonder

Sometimes I wonder whether we have to face crisis or illness before we wake up to the wonder of all that life offers. Can we not live fully without the threat of losing our life, our health or loved ones?

Mark Nepo, in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness, speaks about his cancer and says:

"Each significant death to this point has made me reassess who I am and what I'm doing. The shock of life's fragility has made me change so as not to waste the thread of time I have. But after my own illness, I am living fully, not wasting a moment, not squandering a chance, not racing toward tomorrow or burrowing in the past."

In this same book he says:

"There is no question that the experience of great breaking brings with it a terrible knowledge that is life altering. And whether that breaking comes about by accident, injustice, abuse, or disease, suddenly and irrevocably we become forever aware that out of nowhere a force can come at any time without warning to remove or damage whatever it is that we hold dear."

Yes, for sure these things are true. And despite that—or perhaps because of it—we can and must open to the wonder and beauty of life. Live each moment. Gratefully.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What have you learned about life and yourself?

I'm intrigued with a question that I just saw raised earlier this week: What is the most important thing you've learned about life and about yourself in the last 10 years?

Do you need time to think about that one? Or do you know right off the top of your head what your response would be?

My response might seem like a "duh" response to you—but I would have to say that my answer would be that I really have no control over much of anything! I can control how I respond to life events. But try as I might, I cannot control my environment and the things that happen. I don't wish to control others, but I realize how much I try to manage things in my life so that I know what will happen and when. And it really doesn't work. So what I need to learn is to be comfortable with letting life and events unfold as they will. I can't know what's coming. It just doesn't work that way. I want to learn how to ride the waves more easily, trusting that somehow things will all work out.

It sounds utterly ridiculous when I write this down. But it's true, so I may as well admit it and work on being more flexible and open to process and unfolding!

Have you thought about your answer(s) yet?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

'Argue to learn'

Recently I heard some interesting thoughts on the concept of arguments. The speaker urged us to not avoid arguing. Rather, he said that we need to model for children and others that there are, in fact, many valid viewpoints. Arguing or debating them is healthy and normal. Having said that, there is a difference between healthy debate and angry, argumentative discussions!

The speaker gave some good advice that touched on this point, though. He said: Don't argue to win. Argue to learn!

Think about that. What a difference that makes to a discussion or a debate, doesn't it? If we approach such arguments with an open mind to learn a) how the other person views the subject, and b) what new information we may learn about the topic, how much better our relationships would be and how much more we would gain from debates. This is a whole new perspective on arguing.

It's definitely advice I'm going to remember ... and try to employ more often than not.

What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life lessons & laughter

Recently a friend sent me a list of witticisms that make so much sense. Today all we need are a handful of these to ponder—and send us on our way into a new week! I hope they make you laugh, too—or at least smile.

—Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
—Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time because then you won't have a leg to stand on.
—Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance!
—Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live!
—A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.
—Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue!
—Never buy a car you can't push.
—Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker!

And, for a chocoholic like me, this one is really important:
—Save the earth. It's the only planet with chocolate!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Grief in all its forms

Two of my close friends died during the month of July, one older than me and one younger. So I have entered the world of grief again. I know that if I don't tend to the grieving process now, the grief will simply stay buried inside me until some new grief comes into my life—and then I'll have to deal with the whole lot of it at once. And that can really pack a punch.

There are so many causes for grief and so many types. I've long said that each loss contains multiple losses embedded within it. For example, if you have lost your job, you also have loss of income, loss of identity, loss of colleagues and perhaps even friendships, loss of meaning, loss of focus—and so much more.

Recently, in a retreat center's catalog of offerings, I saw a seminar listed that would take a look at how to find one's way through loss. It had a name for all these smaller losses within the big loss: It called them "secondary losses" or even "loss of the assumptive world." I'd never heard those terms before but they really fit.

Years ago I wrote a resource on grief for the women's organization of my church body, and I talked about these other losses. I didn't have a name for them then. If you are interested in this resource, click on this link.

And if you face any type of loss right now, I encourage you to face it and grieve. Remember, death isn't the only loss in life. We lose friends, jobs, homes, physical and mental abilities and so much more. All of it requires a grief process.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How do you want to live? And die?

I'm reading a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and it's definitely resonating with me. Why am I reading it? Over the past couple years, it's been recommended to me two or three times by people whose judgment I trust. When that happens, I generally take notice. I'm really glad I did. Last week, when it was recommended to me again, I went straight to my local library.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, opens up the world of end-of-life issues and in the process, talks about how to improve life itself. He looks at the type of decisions that need to be made when one faces cancer, for example. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, he argues that people want quality of life and that will differ for each individual. So he says we should consider questions such as: What are my fears? My hopes? What do I want my last days, weeks, months and years to look like? What are my goals as I age? What's most important? What am I willing to give up to have what I want?

If we can answer questions such as those, we can work together with medical staff to come up with treatments that are right for us. And, if we can answer those, we can improve quality of life right now!

I have a dear friend facing breast cancer, and I also have several other friends in various stages of cancer treatment. Some choose experimental drugs. Some go the traditional route. Yet others want to try alternative therapies. If I were facing some form of cancer today, I honestly don't know what I would decide to do. But I think these questions are excellent ones to consider. In fact, I would argue that we shouldn't wait until we have some medical issue or emergency to ask (and answer) such questions. We should give it some thought now, record it and keep it in an accessible place—and we should let our loved ones know. It's never too early for such conversations with family and/or friends. And it's never too early to change our lifestyle and make choices that improve our quality of life right here, right now.

Monday, August 13, 2018

'A life well loved'

I may have mentioned before that I like the Magnolia Manifesto that's printed in The Magnolia Journal: Inspiration for Life and Home magazine I receive. This is done by Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame. Forgive me if I've already quoted from it before. I don't recall. Even if I have, some things bear repeating!

The Manifesto says, in part:

"We believe:
—that failure needn't be a negative thing; rather, we learn from our mistakes and fail smarter next time.
—in courage, in cartwheeling past our comfort zones and trying something a little bit scary every day.
—in subtle beauty, the kind that doesn't deteriorate with age or wear.
...and of all heroic pursuits large or small, we believe there may be none greater than a life well loved."

What more can I even add? Learning from mistakes? Definitely! Beauty that goes much further than skin deep? Oh, yes! And a life well loved? Indeed. Love wins!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Making our time count

I just read a beautiful poem by Brazilian poet, novelist, essayist and musicologist Mario de Andrade, and I want to share a couple of lines. They are worth hearing and pondering, in my humble opinion.

Andrade says, "I counted my years and realized that I have less time to live by than I have lived so far. ...I have no time for endless meetings where the statutes, rules, procedures and internal regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing will be done. ... I want to surround myself with people who know how to touch the hearts of those whom hard strokes of life have learned to grow with sweet touches of the soul."

There are many good lines in between those two. If you want the entire poem, do a Google search for "My Soul Has a Hat." It definitely is worth a read.

This is about making whatever days remain to us quality days, not just filling them up with fluff. What a great reminder!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Control & fears

As I watch a beloved family member struggle with dementia, I am getting in touch with my own fears about just how I will age. Will I, too, have to face what he and millions in our country deal with in the last quarter of life?

Try as we might to keep our minds sharp, eat well, exercise our bodies, get sufficient sleep and do all the other things we're encouraged to do to stay healthy for as long as possible, we know that there are no guarantees. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do those things. It does mean, however, that even as we do, we should be realistic about the fact that we aren't really in control. Sadly, we don't get to check boxes of what we'd prefer to have or not have as we age!

I'm an Enneagram Type 8, and the basic fear of this type is of being controlled or harmed by others. So control is a key issue for my personality type. The basic desire for an 8 is "to determine their own course in life," and the superego message is, "You are good or okay if you are strong and in control of your situation," according to Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson in their (wonderful) book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

But, of course, that's unrealistic, isn't it? I'll never be completely "in control of [my] situation." And that's where letting go comes in. Control is an illusion and I need to let go. At the same time, I need to directly face my fear about whether I will face dementia at some point in my life. There's really nothing I can do about it—at least not beyond the usual efforts to stay sharp and healthy.

Do you have something you fear? Are you able to confront it head-on? And does it conflict with any desires or fears that are basic to your personality? These are all questions worth pondering. If you wish to discuss them further, I invite you to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary coaching session.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Begin with a thankful heart

How do you begin your day? Do you wake up and think (or say), "Oh, darn, I have so much to do today! How will I ever get it all done? I wish I could just skip to the end of this day."

Or do you awaken, grateful that you made it through the night and now have a brand new day ahead of you? Are you thankful for the ability to do the things you need to do?

Do you face the day with grumbling—or with gratitude?

You may think it doesn't make a difference. Why should it matter? But just experiment a little. Try it both ways and just see how your day goes.

Personally, I find my days much better when I start them with an attitude of gratitude. It doesn't necessarily change what happens in a day. I still have the same to-do list. I still have the same list of events on the calendar. But what it changes is me. A spirit of thankfulness changes how I see the events of the day. It changes how I view my tasks.

Rather than grumble because I have to clean the house today (a job I really don't enjoy), I try to switch my attitude to one of gratitude that I have a house in which to live and that I'm physically able to clean it. I'm human; so, of course, I still grumble more than I should. But I really am trying to live more in an attitude of thankfulness.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Values & time

Last month two of my dear friends died unexpectedly. It's a poignant reminder to me that each day is gift—and that those who grace my life are also gifts. It reminds me that I should say "I love you" whenever I have the opportunity and that I should savor my moments and days.

I already miss Carol and Sandra and know that as time passes, I will miss them even more. The grief is fresh now so it doesn't yet seem quite real that I'll never see them again. Yet at the same time, I'm extremely grateful for the legacy each of these women leaves behind. I'm so thankful they were part of my life. I have learned much from both of them, and I have wonderful memories of times spent in their company.

Whose legacy makes a difference in your life today? For whom are you grateful in your life right now? Have you told them that?

It's easy to get caught up in to-do lists and the "shoulds" of life and neglect time with the people in our lives, whether that be family or friends. In the end, it really won't matter that all our tasks got checked off some to-do list and our house was kept spotlessly clean. What will matter is how we tended the relationships with which we were blessed. I've always said that I seriously doubt on my deathbed that I'll regret that I didn't do more work. I'm pretty sure any regrets I do have at that point (and I hope to limit those as much as possible!) will be more about not giving enough time and attention to those people I love and treasure.

I want to be present to those who grace my life and to those whose path crosses mine. I want to savor my days and make the most of whatever time yet remains to me. I don't want to spend my time on those things that really don't reflect my true values—and what I value so deeply are my connections with others.

What about you? Are you living your values? Are you savoring your moments?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thank you's are so important

It's a beautiful thing to live with gratitude in your heart. It makes each day more pleasurable—for you and for all those around you.

Here's a question, though: Do you ever feel gratitude about something someone has done for you and
think it would be a good idea to write a thank-you note expressing that? And then you don't follow through?

Yes, I've done that, too. I'm trying to be far better about that lately. I am aware that when we're extremely unhappy about something, we'll tell others—and most likely, even that person who caused the unhappiness. So how much more should we follow through when we're grateful for what someone else did?

People love to get mail—so a thank-you card or letter is even better than a thank-you email. Still, a thank-you phone call or email can go a long way to making someone's day even better, too!

Who do you need to thank today? Don't put it off. Sit down right now and take care of it. If that's impossible, be sure to add it to your to-do list. And don't forget!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Authenticity & happiness

As we age, it seems that authenticity becomes more important than ever. We want to shed masks, roles, ideas and beliefs that no longer fit for us. We don't care as much about what other people think. We simply want to enjoy life and be who we really were meant to be. ...and perhaps not conform quite so much!

This can mean doing things we were too reserved to do before. Perhaps we felt restricted by needing to provide guidelines for our children. Or it may have been because of a job or our position in the community. It's not that we completely throw caution to the wind—but it simply isn't quite so important anymore if our neighbors (or even complete strangers) think we're odd for doing what we do!

Because of this, I really loved what I read about comedian, actress, writer, producer and fashion designer Melissa McCarthy (remember her from "Saturday Night Live" and her Sean Spicer parodies?) in a spring issue of AARP The Magazine.

In the article, McCarthy is quoted as saying, "I've never minded getting older. ... The older you are, the more interesting you are as a character. ... You become more you." She goes on to answer the question of what kind of woman she'd like to be when she's her mom's age: "I hope a crazy one. I always say, 'Once I hit 70, it's going to be all caftans and turbans and big wacky glasses.' I'm more than halfway there. I see these years ahead as a time to say, 'What does it matter? You want to wear daisy prints? Who cares!' Getting older means knowing yourself, and if you know yourself, express it. That ripples out. It makes the world a happier place. When you're in line for coffee and the older lady in front of you has a daisy-print blouse and a smile on her face and something to say about the world, you feel the magic of it."

Yes! I love it. You don't have to wear a daisy print, a caftan or a turban. Just be yourself—and don't be afraid to be different from the crowd. Be happy. It'll be catchy ... and make the world a happier place. At the least, you'll be happy!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Be an example!

A dear friend I've known for 50 years died recently. She and I often referred to each other as "soul sisters." We've seen each other through many ups and downs in those 50 years, so I will miss her terribly.

However, Carol's joyful, positive and beautiful spirit lives on in me and in her beloved family members and the other friends who loved her and benefited from her sunny personality. She faced many difficulties in her life, including health issues, the loss of her beloved husband and partner nine years before her own death, trials and tribulations with other family members, and much more. But she always kept her strong faith and her positive attitude. She considered herself blessed and lived a life of gratitude and of service to others. She retained a great sense of humor and a creative spirit that just didn't quit.

She and her husband, Jim, were role models to me in so many ways—not the least of which was in the role of grandparent. I learned so much from watching them, taking their examples and adding several of my own touches. I will ever be grateful for that.

Do you have people who were or are your role models or mentors? Are you aware of being a role model for anyone in your life?

It's important to be aware of those people and be grateful for their presence in your life. It's equally important to remember that someone may be watching your behavior and seeing you as a role model, too. As my sister often says, "Be an example, not a warning!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Be intentional. Live awake and aware.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins has written a book titled Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. She opens the book with a challenge that's worth thinking about:

If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you do differently today?

Would you eat differently? Exercise more?

Would you repair some broken relationships? Spend more time with those you love and who are supremely important to you? Reach out to make new friends?

Retire earlier? Or find a gratifying way to spend retirement, whether volunteering or in a third-stage-of-life career or simply playing more?

Would you write your life story for your children and grandchildren as a way to pass on your legacy?

Or would you travel to those places you'd always wanted to visit?

Do the things on your bucket list? Or create a bucket list, if you've not already done so?

It's worth reflecting on this if we want to be intentional about how we spend the moments, days and years that are given to us. Let us not sleepwalk through life and reach our final days with regret for the things we haven't done. Today is the day to start making any changes you desire.

Monday, July 23, 2018

'Live the questions'

I have a dear friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Someone told her that this is an opportunity to live as though all bets are off. It is really causing her to reflect on questions such as what to change, if anything, in her life. She's asked some of us, her friends, to reflect with her on that and other questions, such as: What are the most delicious parts of your life? What would you like more of? Less of?

Another thought she's had is what if the manifestation of her tumor were all the tears never cried and laughter never laughed? How can one add more laughter and tears into life? It's important to be honest and real about our emotions. Many of us have learned to hide them and carry on as though everything's just fine, thank you very much.

The journey my friend didn't sign up to take but has been drawn into also pulls those of us who are her friends onto a new path. It is a privilege and an opportunity for those of us who love her to also delve more deeply into our lives, to look more closely at why we're here and to live life more awake and aware.

It's time for me to dig out my journal and pose some of these questions as discussion starters for myself. At the same time, I'm aware of what poet Ranier Maria Rilke so wisely said:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

Friday, July 20, 2018

Celebrate—early and often!

American operatic tenor Robert Brault has gifted us with many memorable quotes, one of which is: "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

We can be so busy chasing the Big Dream that we don't even stop to notice the dozens of small miracles and moments that might take our breath away along the way. Let's remind one another to wake up and stay attentive and aware. For it's just as Brault said, we may realize that what we thought were simply little things really were the big things. They just might be the whole point!

Brault has also said, "There are exactly as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate." I love that one, too. Again, those small things we sometimes so easily overlook can be cause for celebration. Don't wait to light the candles, cut the flowers for the vase and pull out the best dishes for only birthdays or anniversaries. Celebrate the sunshine! Celebrate a friend's visit. Pull out all the stops and find lots of reasons to celebrate. Those little things ARE the big things and should be celebrated!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

We can do more than we think

Have you ever thought or said, "I'm just one person. I can't really do anything about that problem." Yup, me too.

So here's a good quote to remember when you feel that way:

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I can't do interfere with what I can do."

Isn't that a lovely positive spin to the idea of just being one? Those words were penned by U.S. author and Unitarian clergy Edward Everett Hale. They are as apt today as they were when he wrote them in 1902.

In fact, I think these words would make a great wall hanging as a reminder to do what I can. If like me, you are trying to stay as positive as you can in the face of what seems to be an oppressive atmosphere of negativity these days, at the very least, these words might merit a Post-it note on our mirrors!

Monday, July 16, 2018

What's inside fear & loss?

I've often mentioned in my blogs that one of my favorite inspirational authors is Mark Nepo. I have read several of his books—and only recently, bought a couple more. One of those is Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living.

One of the things Nepo wrote in that book is:

"I don't know why, but for all I've been through—almost dying, almost living, seeking love till I've become love, seeking truth till I've become a question—for all of it, I'm certain that inside every nut is a seed. Inside every fear, a pin of light. Inside every desperation, a drop of being. Inside every loss, an inch of what can never be lost. And inside every burden, a pearl of worth. I don't know why, but I'm certain that the pearl of worth is waiting for us to dive to the bottom of all trouble, to pry the shell of burden open, and to bring the gem we were born to carry to the surface."

One of the images that come to mind when I read this is that of the Russian nesting dolls. When you remove the top of the largest doll, another doll is nesting inside. Take off the top of that doll and yet another smaller doll nests inside. This continues until you reach the tiniest doll of all, hidden inside all the others. And she doesn't come apart.

For certain—"inside every nut is a seed." I ask myself, do I take the time to look inside my fear? My desperation? My loss? My burden? If I do, that's where the riches can be found.

And what is the gem I was born to bring to the surface?

What about you?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Grandparenting as a role

My time with my 11-year-old granddaughter is nearing an end. She will fly back home to Oregon tomorrow. This two weeks with her has been such a joy.

It has been a reminder to me of the importance of various roles in our lives. The role of grandparent is one I take seriously. It's far different from being a parent—for in that role, we're responsible for the care and feeding of our children. A grandparent generally doesn't have that day-to-day responsibility but can enjoy the younger generation in a way we were too busy to do when we raised our children. Grandparents are role models and mentors, historians (telling the family stories and offering a window into their parent's childhood) and more; and we can spend more time having fun than one is able to do when one is busy parenting. We can love unconditionally, giving while expecting nothing specific in return. We worry less about discipline and, yes, we have the privilege of spoiling grandchildren. We can be the champions of our grandchildren.

If we have reached retirement, we have more time to play and do the activities we may not have had time for when we raised our grandchildren's parents! We may even have gotten our priorities straight after having lived several years! For example, I wish I had spent less time housecleaning when my sons were growing up. I like a clean house, but it didn't really have to be as clean as I felt it needed to be!

If you don't have grandchildren but have young nieces and nephews or have children of dear friends who could use some extra attention and love, I encourage you to get involved. There's so much to be gained by you and the child. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The eyes of another

I've been thinking a good deal these days about how to counteract the increasing sense of tribalism in our country and culture. It is all too easy to fall into it ourselves since we're so surrounded by such attitudes daily. It's too easy to hang out with those who think and feel as we do and to not listen to those who differ. It's easy to disregard viewpoints and people who don't agree with us. But that doesn't make us stronger and healthier. It doesn't make us better people, and it most definitely doesn't move this country forward.

I just read something that Henry David Thoreau said, and it really resonated: "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each others' eyes for an instant?"

A miracle, he calls it! Yes, that really is a miracle. If I stop and look through the eyes of the other and see the world from that perspective, I will have a deeper understanding, not only of that person but undoubtedly also of myself—and perhaps of the entire universe. It's all in my attitude—and can make such a difference. I need to listen to those who differ from me.

I'm often struck by the term "Namaste" we say at the end of every yoga class I take. It's a beautiful and meaningful word. It means something like "the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you."

What if we approached everyone we met with such an attitude? What if we acknowledged the good in each person rather than approaching others with suspicion or even hatred? What if we took time to see the world through their eyes—even for just an instant, as Thoreau suggested?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Spend time with young people

My youngest granddaughter, who will be 12 in September, flew from Portland to Chicago as an unaccompanied minor more than a week ago to visit me for two weeks. We have been having so much fun together, and we still have the rest of this week to enjoy each other's company.

This time with Payton allows me to access the young girl in me again. It's a reminder that we still have inside us every age and stage we've ever been. The young girl is never totally gone, even when we're grandmas! Unfortunately, sometimes the stresses and strains of life cause us to forget the playfulness and wonder that we so easily accessed when we were far younger. Hanging out with young adults and young children helps us get back in touch with those qualities, however. It reminds us of the hope and optimism we felt before becoming so jaded.

If you have young children in your life, try to spend time with them whenever you can. It's good for us to embrace our playful side. It's healthy to see the world with awe, wonder and amazement. It's just plain fun to feel the joy and exuberance of even the most ordinary things in our daily life.

You're never too old to embrace your Inner Child!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fears & confidence

I have long admired Eleanor Roosevelt. As a child, she had received strong messages about her flaws—to the point where I often wonder how she was able to eventually develop the sense of confidence that allowed her to take a public role. She definitely overcame many odds and was a woman before her time. Whether you agree with her politics or not, I am sure you can admire her for overcoming those old negative tapes and speaking out for things in which she believed.

One of the things that allowed her to do this was facing her fears. This is difficult for us all. Fears hold us back from so much in our life. The only way to move past fear is to look at it straight-on.

Here's what Roosevelt said about that: "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror; I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Yes, it's true. When you can look back at how you faced your fears and did something anyway, you tell yourself, "I can do this again."

What's holding you back today? What fears do you need to look in the face? Go ahead! You can do it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Back to compassion again

A couple weeks ago, I heard a sermon about shame—urging us to let go of it so we can walk freely and fully as the people we were created to be. It was a good reminder to not get bound up in any old (or new) tapes that make us feel badly about who we are.

Then just a couple days ago, someone pointed out that Monica Lewinsky (remember her as the White House intern who was involved with President Bill Clinton?) had done a TED talk about that very topic. It is about shaming and bullying, both of which she experienced in a big way. Clearly, she has done a lot of inner work since that 1998 experience.

Among other things, Lewinsky said, "Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop. ...We need to return to our long-held value of compassion." Amen to that. Today there is so much name-calling, so many put-downs, so much bullying that's done 24/7 because of all the digital access we have to one another now. Incivility is rampant.

But here's the deal: Each one of us can do something about it. We can stop reacting with our own form of bullying and shaming. We can call it out when we see or hear it. We can restore compassion to our lives so that it ripples out to all those around us. We can have compassion for ourselves when we mess up, and we can show compassion to all others we meet (and those we don't meet but with whom we have access via digital means).

If you would like to hear the full TED talk, which is worth watching, click on the link I've provided here.

So here's to more compassion and less shaming and bullying!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Regaining balance

 My sister and I have been battling since last fall with a financial institution over a long-term care insurance claim for a family member who has dementia. The first two attempts at a claim were denied on the basis of this not being a "chronic illness"!! Seriously. We were not about to give up, however, since the contract clearly stated that assisted living costs were covered for "cognitive impairment," which dementia certainly is. Sorry, folks, but it is chronic.

We provided all manner of proof—doctor's statements, neurologist reports, results from a battery of neuropsych tests, a care plan by the assisted living facility stating all the staff needed to do to assist with daily living, etc. By the third time we made the claim, we even involved a lawyer. Even so, we had to wait for nearly 3 months to finally receive notice that the claim was accepted. Not only did the company finally agree to pay but, per our request (though we dared not hope for this), made it retroactive to the time of our first claim.

So let's hear it for tenacity and persistence. That said, however, I was reminded a few days ago by a care practitioner that when we have fought so long for something, it's difficult to let go and get out of the "fight or flight" mode. I am definitely learning that. I celebrate this win and at the same time, I am still feeling that sense of high alert. This practitioner said it can take a while to reach homeostasis after such a long struggle. That was a good reminder.

If you have some ongoing stressful situation that's required you to struggle for something or against something, just remember this. Don't think something is wrong with you if you can't immediately let go of the situation. Take some deep breaths ... and slowly, let your body and mind relax again. You will regain your balance. It just takes time. And it does help to talk about it with others. Please contact me if you need to discuss this type of thing with someone.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Optimum health requires attention

A women's organization, the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has long promoted a health initiative for women and girls. In it, they follow an ESP approach.

What's the ESP approach, you ask? The E stands for emotional health, the S for spiritual health, and the P for physical health.

What this initiative encourages is that each of us thinks about what unique things in each of those areas are necessary for us to work on. For example, what do you need for your best emotional health? Some people need to learn to chill out and relax more. Others need to let go of feeling responsible for everything and everyone. Still other folks can work on limiting their critical and judgmental nature. What do you need?

The same is true for your spiritual health: What do you need to work on to stay balanced and well-grounded?

How about your physical health? Do you exercise to the degree you're able? Are there some foods you need to avoid for optimum health? Do you need more laughter in your life? What lifestyle changes would make you healthier?

I like this approach and think it has a lot of merit. And I firmly believe in the importance of doing regular check-ups on ourselves to see what will move us to better health. We do regular maintenance on our cars, furnaces and air conditioners. Why not on ourselves?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Glad to be here!

Have you ever had an experience that scared the living daylights out of you but that didn't fully affect you until much later? Perhaps it's quite normal.

Nearly a week ago while driving along a busy freeway at commute time, with semis and cars going 60 mph or more, I came way too close for comfort to being in a terrible accident. An SUV in the far left lane of three lanes of traffic suddenly veered 90 degrees across all lanes headed, full speed, toward me in the far right lane. I could see my trajectory, if I continued full speed, would bring him right about to my driver's side door. As soon as I saw him head toward me, I slammed on my brakes so hard that I could smell rubber on the road. I still thought he'd hit me but more on the front end of the car. Amazingly, he flew right by the front of my car, missing it by what must have been three or four inches as he flew, full speed, right off the road and into a field of trees beyond.

I was shaking like a leaf and slowly resumed my drive, exiting off the highway and to city streets just a few feet ahead, where I could calm down. I saw other cars and semis behind me stopping, so I knew someone would call police and ambulance. It took me a long time to settle down. But it wasn't until that night when I awoke after a couple hours of sleep that I began thinking of all the "What ifs" of that event. I'm amazed no one rear-ended me when I stopped so suddenly, especially with all the semis and cars behind me. I'm amazed the car didn't hit someone in the middle lane, causing a multi-car pile-up. And I still can't believe the SUV didn't even touch my car at all. I could have been killed, I know that. I could have been hospitalized with severe injuries. I could have been shoved off the road as the SUV flew off—and rolled over several times. So many different scenarios and very real possibilities have run through my mind ever since.

It's tough to forget this scene, and it comes to mind, uninvited, daily, with possibilities playing out again and again. One night I even awoke screaming, scaring the daylights out of my fiancé. I'm trying to let it all go but that doesn't seem easy.

One thing I don't want to lose, however, is that deep sense of gratitude I feel for being alive. At the same time, my heart hurts for whoever was in the SUV; and I can't seem to learn anything about what happened, but I know it could not have been good. Life: It's always good and bad all mixed together—gratitude for some things and sorrow for others.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The power of the moment

Some years ago, a friend gave me a printout titled "This powerful moment." The words went deep for me at the time I first read it, and I just came across it again the other day. The words still resonate!

The printout contained these words:

"There is enormous power in this moment. The more fully you experience what is here right now, the more that power is available to you.

"Are you angry or bitter, disappointed or resentful about what has happened in the past? Then much of the power of this moment will be out of your reach.

"Are you anxious and worried about something that may or may not happen in the future? The  you will miss out on the opportunity to create real and lasting value from this powerful moment you are in.

"Imagine that everything you are, everything you know, everything you care about, is focused into this very moment. And feel the enormous power of what you can, right here and now, do with it all.

"Rise above the murky fog of what could have been and what someday might or might not come to pass. Focus the whole of your being on what is, and on the overflowing abundant opportunities this moment presents to you.

"There is great and wonderful power in this very moment, in who you are, in where you are right now. See it, be it, and let yourself live it fully."

When I Googled some of the words of this inspiring message, I learned that it comes from an online blog written by Ralph S. Marston. Happily, I see he still is blogging; so I encourage you to check out his recent blogs, too. We all need all the inspiration we can get, especially these days!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Does discomfort lead to truth?

Recently I read a quote that really has me thinking. I haven't decided whether I fully agree with it or not. Let's see what you think.

This comes from M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author of The Road Less Traveled: "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."

I agree that ruts can be deadly and can, in fact, turn into dead-ends. I'm still unsure whether my finest moments are to be found in my discomfort or unhappiness. Perhaps I need to journal with this thought and see what comes up.

It's an intriguing thought and definitely caught my eye.

What do you think? Does this reflect your experience?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

You are worthy & lovable

Have you ever had the thought: If people really knew who I am inside, they wouldn't love me? Or if my boss or work colleagues really knew how little I know, they wouldn't want me here on this job. Many people have these or similar thoughts. So much so, in fact, that there's a name for this. It's the Impostor Syndrome. It's a worry that someone will see through your masks to what's really inside and know that you're incompetent or unlovable. Or both. And they will reject you.

Even people with successful careers can deal with Impostor Syndrome. We know many entertainers and movie stars deal with it because we've all heard stories about how needy and insecure some of them are. However, you may not have realized that ordinary people such as you and me also deal with IS.

If you face this even just sometimes, find someone with whom you can talk it over—a trusted friend, a counselor or life coach. If it helps to identify any old voices or old "tapes" from which you drew these ideas of yourself, do so. And then, do whatever you can to turn off those voices and old tapes. Replace them with affirmations of yourself. One such affirmation might be: I choose not to place my self-esteem in the hands of another person. Or: I am connected to God and my own sense of wholeness. Others are: I am good, and I am loved—or I am competent and worthy.

I invite you to not let IS drag you down and steal your confidence and joy. Please contact me if you would like to discuss this.

Monday, June 18, 2018

What's your grounding level?

Are you feeling well grounded these days? On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being extremely off balance and 10 being well grounded), where would you place yourself?

Is something going on in your life that has you feeling "off" lately? A person in your life whose behavior is getting to you? A situation that has temporarily robbed you of your serenity and equanimity?

If so, what will it take for you to feel centered and grounded again? You are the only one who knows what you need at such times. Do you need to connect with friends or loved ones? Or do you need solitude? Do you need some inspiration—as from a favorite poet or author? Do you need time in nature? Or do you need a new dream?

I encourage you to find whatever it is that will make you feel whole and grounded again. Further, I invite you to check in on yourself from time to time to see how you're doing in that department. It's easier to make a course correction if you haven't become completely undone.

Let's hear it for serenity and even sanguinity. It can be a challenge in this crazy world of ours, but it's always worth your time to tend to your grounding and balance.

Friday, June 15, 2018

'Pain as propane'

On Wednesday, we talked about how we respond to difficulty, using a quote from Winston Churchill. After I wrote that blog, I read about a man who'd had a tough childhood and also as an adult, experienced several losses before finally getting his life together.

He didn't let his childhood or the losses stop him in his tracks, however. He didn't give up or get derailed. What he has done instead, he says, is to use "his pain as propane." That struck me as a great way to use adversity in our lives. That definitely doesn't mean we ignore the pain, difficulties and losses. No, we deal with them in appropriate ways—and then move on. We do not allow the painful situations of our lives to define us nor to be the last (or only) word.

Rather, we let the pain fuel and empower us. We let it spur us on to fulfilling our dreams and to becoming the people we want to be. That in turn often pushes us to empower others and help them transform pain, too.

Pain as propane—yes, pain and suffering can be transformative. In fact, I have heard many people say that it was through their cancer (or other serious illness) that they really came to learn many of their life lessons, create new dreams and appreciate life and loved ones.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Gratitude & optimism

Winston Churchill once said, "The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Which are you? An optimist? Or a pessimist? Or do you vacillate?

These days with such incivility and partisanship reigning in our country, it can be a challenge to remain optimistic. Still, it is definitely worth trying to hang onto a positive outlook. It makes such a difference in how we comport ourselves, the decisions we make, the way we treat others, and the way we walk through each day.

If you are facing a difficult, life-changing event, this can be a stretch; but it's worth the effort: When you awaken in the morning, try letting your first thoughts be about at least two things for which you're grateful—even if it's simply that you're still alive and made it through the night. These days I awake to the sound of birds singing; and right there, I have something for which to be grateful. Then I think about my family and friends—people I love and who love me. Wow, how am I so blessed? And there's always more....

Gratitude is a good start down the road to optimism, to seeing the opportunity in difficulties. I know that some days, that's a stretch for me, too. But Churchill was right, and I do want to keep trying.

How about you?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Messy community means staying!

I am part of a group of women who just read and discussed the book A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John Pavlovitz. We had deep and interesting discussions on the topic, sharing experiences from our lives and thinking about a different way of being in the world.

Being open to engage people who may look different from us or who may see the world from a different viewpoint than we do takes courage. Pavlovitz gave examples from his own life of situations where people discussed, debated and, yes, argued as they tried to make the table larger. He talked about the messiness of such a venture.

Here's what he said about that, "The bigger table isn't one you run from at the first sign of discord. It is based on the lost sacred art of staying." And further, he added, "Expanding the table isn't for the faint of heart or the impatient, which is why so few people actually attempt it, but there is something transformative on the other side of it. ... We need to stop talking and we need to walk shoulder to shoulder with people in real, messy, authentic community—until we all can see it for ourselves."

Yes! I believe he's right about the art of staying—staying in the relationship that would be easier to drop because you see the world so differently, talking about why you see it the way you do and listening to why the other person sees it the way they do, perhaps even learning a lot in the process! And we do need to stop talking and actually practice "real, messy, authentic community."

What might it take for you to do that? I'm pondering that myself these days—since I see the divide becoming greater and greater in our society. One thing is will take is courage, I'm certain of that.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Testing, testing, testing

I have a snarly road construction mess on the highway that goes right by my townhouse development. It is supposed to be done by November of this year; however, I'm pretty much thinking we'll have to live with this for the rest of the year.

Normally, this highway has two lanes going each direction. Now there's only one lane going each direction, and traffic is lined up way up and down the road. And the traffic pattern changes week to week, depending on what's being done. So getting in and out of our development is definitely a challenge. It's not a time to be timid, I'll tell you that. One has to get the car right up to the roadway rather than staying at the stop sign set back from the road—and hope someone will do the right thing and not block our ability to get out onto the road. Most people are kind and willing to share the roadway! Some, however.... well, you get the point.

I'm not proud to admit this, but I'm not the most patient person in the world, especially when it comes to driving. I think I got my father's genes there; I always said he had two speeds—fast or stopped. And I seem to have the same. Once I'm headed somewhere, I want to get there, and as quickly as possible. So this construction business is going to truly test me. It might be a good time for me to practice patience a bit more seriously than I've done before! Another life lesson for me to learn.

Do you have something that's being tested right now? What practice might help you?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Endings and beginnings

We said farewell to our senior pastor last Sunday as we sent him off into retirement. In his last sermon he talked about endings and beginnings, and he reminded us that every "Hello" has a "Goodbye" in its back pocket. How true that is.

I've heard it said this way, too: Endings carry within them the seeds of new beginnings. No matter how you phrase the idea, it's good for us to remember this. Does it mean we don't mark and grieve endings? Not at all. It just means we keep in mind that beginnings will follow those endings. If you face a career change, a job loss, the death of someone you love, a move to another city or state, or any kind of transition or ending, you know that it will mean a switch to what will become a "new normal."

Such transitions aren't always easy. Sometimes they are extremely painful. And for some, these transitions can nearly bring life to a stop—they are that debilitating and painful!

It is at such times when we need to call on all our resources—our family and friends, our past experiences, our faith and yes, even our sense of humor—to get us through. Think about all the resources you have.

Are you facing any endings today? Or do you have loved ones who are? What do you need? Or what does that friend or family member need from you?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Step out of your comfort zone

In the last issue of The Magnolia Journal published by Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame, the topic was "curiosity."

Joanna admitted that Chip is the one who's most curious and playful in their relationship. She admits, "I think what's happened to me is that as I've gotten older I've felt less desire to do things that I'm not great at or don't fully understand. Instead, I've stayed in my lane and considered qualities like curiosity and playfulness to be ones that I simply didn't inherit.

"Even more, I believed they belonged only to certain personality types—people who are naturally extroverted and willing to take on new or uncertain experiences. And I do truly admire those people."

Further on in her writings about being playful, she urges us to "choose discovery" rather than sitting on the sidelines of life. Although I don't think I necessarily sit on the sidelines, I know there are more times than I like to admit when I prefer to stay in my comfort zone. So it was good for me to hear that she also does that—and that she urges us all toward discovery. It can be both/and. We can feel discomfort and we can still choose to jump into a new experience anyway. I can use that kind of encouragement.

At this stage of life, I know what my strengths are and where I'm comfortable. I also know my weaknesses and am not eager to display them! However, sometimes curiosity will lead us to look like fools for a while. It can also lead to some plain old fun—and to some learnings we'd not have otherwise.

What do you think? Are you ready to step outside of your lane for a while and try something new?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Inspirational tidbits for today

I subscribe to The Magnolia Journal, the magazine of "Inspiration for life and home" put together by Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame. Truthfully, I often find inspiration in its pages. So their motto holds true for me.

In the latest issue on "curiosity," the editors included what they call the "Magnolia Manifesto" on what they believe. The manifesto contained several items that I want to pass along because I think they're worth some reflection:

"We believe:
—that friends who feel like family are the best kind of friends and that nothing matters more than family.
—that today is a gift and that every day miracles are scattered about if only we have eyes to see them.
—that failure needn't be a negative thing; rather, we learn from our mistakes and fail smarter next time.
—in doing work that we love and, in choosing that, nudging others toward doing what they love.
...and of all heroic pursuits large or small, we believe there may be none greater than a life well loved."

So what do you think? Do those resonate with you, too? There were more, but these were some of my favorites. One could journal several pages on each of those items. Give them some thought and see whether they inspire you today. May your day be bright and filled with beauty!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Understanding, not winning

I've mentioned before that often if I find myself in a contentious disagreement with someone close to me, I ask myself the question, "Would I rather be right or would I rather be in relationship?" It's always a good reminder.

Because of that question, I was interested recently when I read further in a Karen Armstrong book I have, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life. In one of the chapters, she discusses Socrates and his style of dialogue. Armstrong talks about the competitiveness and aggression found in ancient Greek dialogues and debates. However, she says that Socrates didn't like that model.

"In true dialogue, participants 'must answer in a manner more gentle and more proper to discussion.' The Socratic dialogue was a spiritual exercise designed to produce a profound psychological change in the participants, and because its purpose was that each person should understand the depth of his ignorance, there was no way that anybody could win," Armstrong writes, quoting from Socrates.

In other words, it's more about understanding than it is about winning! What a difference that could make to our discussions and disagreements, right? If we were truly interested in understanding what the other person thinks, why and what investment that person has in that perspective, we would enhance the relationship—and learn things in the process.

I think it's worth a try, don't you?

Monday, May 28, 2018

It takes age and youth working together

It's important no matter what age you are—whether at the young end of the spectrum or the mature end—to feel confident about your gifts and your usefulness to society. Sadly, we often hear negative comments about either end of the spectrum. Young people are too lazy and unwilling to put in the hard work and long hours required, we're told. And older people are told they're unproductive and over-the-hill in addition to being too expensive to keep in the work force. Just a side thought here: Some people are referring to us older members of the population as "perennials" because we blossom again and again. We're not finished just because the number "65" figures into our lives!

So one study done in an auto plant discovered something that really just sounds like common sense to me. Researchers studied teams comprising all young workers, teams of older workers and still other teams that were mixed. Can you guess which ones were more productive? I'm sure you can. Yup, the mixed groups. They had the knowledge and experience of older workers and the skill and speed of the younger ones.

That really doesn't seem surprising, does it? So it is important that we adjust our attitudes and realize it takes age and youth working together to make a healthy society. Let's appreciate each other and work together! It's called balance.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Bringing justice

I don't know about you, but I'm all about addressing injustices where I see them—particularly those aimed at women and children. Sometimes we hear about them from a variety of sources, including the news media. But there are so many instances of which we know little to nothing. They simply do not get discussed much.

The other day I read about something that definitely affects women, particularly women in poverty. I hadn't even realized that menstrual supplies had been in the news lately. How did I miss that? Activists have been trying to repeal what's called a "tampon tax"—a sales tax levied on menstrual supplies in 36 states. The rationale for this tax is that these products are luxuries, not necessities. What?! Who knew? Are we to return to the days of rags?

In addition, I learned that menstrual products aren't covered by food stamps or WIC coupons. Neither are soap, toilet paper and other basics of hygiene. Isn't that odd? So women in poverty can't use their stamps or coupons for such necessities. What are they to do?

This may seem like an odd subject about which to blog, but it points out to me the importance of staying informed and aware so that we can bring justice to those who are without money, status and voice. Oh, yes, and justice to half the world's population! Raising awareness is one way we can bring justice, and it's not to be discounted. It's part of being human and showing compassion.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Laughter is healing

I just got off the phone with my dear sister. Many times, we are quite serious and talk about a wide range of topics from our childhood to our kids and grandkids to national and global events and so much more. But we also are both pretty zany and have a well-developed sense of humor. So we started doing plays on words (one of our favorite things to do since we're both wordsmiths!) and ended up laughing hilariously.

By the time we said "Goodbye," we were both laughing so hard that we barely squeezed out our goodbyes.

I love when that happens. Of all the things I suspect I may lose as I age, I really hope my sense of humor isn't one of them! I really want to hang onto it as long as I can—preferably until I take my last breath.

There are plenty of things to disturb and depress us, a plethora of things to bring sadness into our lives. So it's really crucial that we not lose the ability to laugh—to find the humor in everyday situations and even to laugh at ourselves. If there's nothing in your life about which to laugh, YouTube videos abound with comedy sketches. Even dog and cat videos online will get you laughing, guaranteed.

Are you still exercising your funny bone? Don't forget to add laughter to each day if you can. You'll feel so much better! It truly has healing properties.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Both joy and sorrow are temporary

We know all too well that both joy and sorrow are part of life. What we don't always think about is the temporary nature of both those emotions and the experiences that spur them.

Author Joey Green puts it this way, "When you experience joy, remembering that 'This too shall pass' helps you savor the here and now. When you experience pain and sorrow, remembering that 'This too shall pass' reminds you that grief, like joy, is only temporary."

This quote puts a little different twist on things, doesn't it? We often think that times of sorrow will pass. But so will those times of joy—so best we savor them and make the most of them while we can.

All our emotions are temporary ... and will pass. Keep in mind the transitory nature of all things, and it will help you keep a healthy perspective on life.

Reading Green's quote certainly grabbed my attention and is a good reminder to me. How about you?