Friday, October 19, 2018

How does your courage look?

Courage and bravery take many forms. I just watched a video of my oldest granddaughter jumping from a plane high above the gorgeous countryside of Switzerland. I don't think I could skydive like that. I know Gretchen absolutely loved it, though. She is the type of person who will try new things, so it didn't surprise me that she did this during her college semester abroad in Prague.

My courage through the years led me to live five years in Papua New Guinea with my husband and family. And it took me to Liberia, West Africa, during its violent civil war. It also helped me survive divorce and create a new life for myself.

What does your courage look like? It need not take you to a war-torn country or high above a beautiful countryside.

Courage can mean showing up even when you are afraid of doing so. It can mean tackling a difficult task. Sometimes it means speaking up even though you might be shunned or ridiculed. It can mean defending the rights of others—or speaking truth to power. It may mean risking something important to you for a greater good.

Bravery and courage mean going through cancer treatments and facing each new day with hope, joy and gratitude. They can mean aging gracefully, despite the many losses and signs of decline you see in yourself. There are a million different ways to show courage.

Think of all the ways you have shown courage through the years—and celebrate yourself for doing so!

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?