Monday, December 28, 2015

What STAR will you follow?

Stars are a big part of my holiday decor....a large one greets visitors outside our front door, a plethora of different sized stars dance across our mantel, and of course one tops our tree ---- an aged wooden star we chose when the kids were little.  Our first family star.  It has a hole in the center ---- right where the fat ends of the points all start their journey outward.  There's a heart in that hole.

For many Christmases I added more ... I put them out and up and about .... their simplicity and beauty appealing to me. Until this year, that's been about the extent of it .... simple, beautiful stars.  And certainly that is enough.  I am grateful for that.

But this season, the stars gave me more than simple beauty.

On Epiphany Sunday last January our minister asked us to think about what STAR we would follow this year.  She challenged us to find a STAR that called us, one that we would give more to than an Oh-that's-pretty glance .... to watch for holy moments to guide us in our journey toward our chosen STAR .... and to be able, in January of 2016, to reflect on our Star-led journey of 2015.

Kind of a sacred way of setting a New Year's resolution.

So ..... what STAR would I follow?

Seeking an answer to that question led me to my generosity .... or specifically, my lack of it.  Not so much in my giving or my actions, but in my thinking!  I wanted to think more generously.
Yes,  that was it .... I would follow the kind-and-generous-thoughts STAR.....

I looked for Wise words to guide me.... words to give me a leg up as I took the first steps towards that star.....

Parker Palmer has always been my go-to.  His touchstone  When things get rough, GO TO WONDER  is on the wall by my desk.  I love those words.  It's always a challenge for me to go to Wonder .... to wonder why another did or said something ..... to wonder why I reacted the way I did ....  to go to wonder instead of to judgement.

But I needed some new words too .....

When I found this quote by Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr...."An alternative orthodoxy is never stingy with grace and inclusion because it has surrendered to a God who is infinitely magnanimous and creative in the ways of love and mercy,"   I thought, YUP .... and YIKES.

YUP !  I no longer wanted to be stingy with grace!  Bingo.  That's it.
But YIKES.... all the time?  Even when someone really bugged the heck out of me?

And this "infinitely magnanimous and creative with my love" part .....whew, tall order.
I remember thinking I was glad I had 12 months for this journey.....
ha .... 12 decades or lifetimes maybe.

So, it's almost January 2016 .... my journey to the kind-and-generous-thoughts STAR has had its successful days and its failed-badly days. But what I have loved is noticing how I feel when I am stingy with grace .....and how I feel when I am magnanimous with love.  Loving creatively comes easily some days and is downright impossible on others.
I plan to keep following this star in 2016.  I have work left to do.

As the simple and beautiful STARS came out of their boxes earlier this month and went up and about and on top, they each held a reminder of this star I am trying to follow.  They were more than simply beautiful.

And when that old wooden star went on top of the tree this year and I saw its red wooden heart in the cutout center where the points begin their journey outward and where it's been for lo, these past thirty  something years, I saw that old STAR and this journey I am on with brand new eyes.

May your 2016 be full of wonder and blessed with magnanimous and creative love!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Grow, Grow!

Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.”

I love this quote from the Talmud.  It is a long-time favorite.  

But last week I was cursing those whispering angels when my lawn needed mowing AGAIN!
I have an old push mower  - my patch of grass is small and I enjoy the exercise – but last week it was cold and I had a long TO-DO list and it was almost Thanksgiving, for crying out loud.  

“Stop, already,” I wanted to yell down to those tall, green blades as I pushed that old mower.

YIKES!  What if someone said that to me?  
What if someone said, Stop already!  Stop growing ……stop  developing, improving, evolving.

I’d want to stand at my highest height and shout in my loudest voice, How dare you
Even at 65 years old, I'd shout that.    Wait!  Especially at 65 years old.

Sure, by now I may be done growing more bone and muscle – isn’t it just our cartilage that keeps growing at this age?   So basically, my nose and ears are getting bigger ….. lovely! 

But I'm certainly NOT done with that critical, crucial kind of growing!  Conscious growth.

Rabbi Alan Lurie talks about this Talmudic quote and conscious growth in an article titled Listening to the Call of Growth….

“….. we can grow in consciousness – in our ability to connect to others, to live meaningfully, and to have a positive impact. This force of conscious growth is what drives us forward to create a personal and communal future that is better than what we had yesterday and what we have today.
We can choose to hear and to act on this call to conscious growth, or we can ignore it, drowning out the angelic whispers with the noisy external distractions of constant entertainment, the internal chatter of our mental judgments, or the drone of our unconscious routine ways of thinking and reacting. We resist the call of conscious growth in order to feel safe and to avoid the discomfort of change, but this strategy inevitably backfires.
Conscious growth begins when we choose to listen to its call, and invite it in.  We invite growth when we are willing to examine our fixed beliefs: who we think that we are, why others behave as they do, and how the world works. “

It seems especially important to do this as we age ... to watch for places where our unconscious routine ways of thinking and reacting might be causing us to stumble,  or closing doors of opportunity, or affecting the growth of new relationships, or keeping us stuck in old broken ways. We all know folks like this.  It's not pretty.

But it seems important to do this at any age, really.... and especially important now when the world so desperately needs all of us to quiet the chatter of our mental judgements.  To stop always picking sides and living in US and THEM thinking. To step away from fear.

  Maybe these angels are whispering us into new ways of thinking and being and loving and living. And accepting.

I feel gratitude for their urgent and persistent whispers to GROW.

I wonder if I am listening with an open heart.

.....And I think I owe my lawn an apology.

Monday, August 3, 2015

But there was this Love Story ....

We will gather to celebrate my brother's life this weekend.  He died in late May...less than a week after turning 74.  And less than three months after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

His wasn't always an easy life ... though you'd never know it from his ever present smile, love of laughter, and great talent as a jokester. Born a twin, he always had a ready side-kick and straight man.  There was almost nothing the two brothers couldn't dream up.  And very little that could stop them .... except cancer.

Contracting polio at nine years old left marks he carried throughout his life.  Isolated in an iron lung in a big hospital an hour from family was a lonely and scary time for a young boy.  Yet it only seemed to make him stronger.

Two failed marriages brought shame he carried about divorce.  For a bit, that shame kept him in a self-imposed exile from family.

When his twin brother and soul mate died of cancer, he stepped in to fill the hole left by that loss in our family as well as in the lives of his twin's children.

Distance, both geographically, and at times emotionally from the sons he was so proud of caused him great heartache.

But ....there was this love story .....

Halfway through his adult life, he met her....and it seemed, started loving himself again because of her love.  She became his straight "woman", his adoring companion, his cheerleader AND the brunt of his effervescent teasing.  She cheered on his hobbies and he, hers.  She loved his family and he, hers. She talked of feelings and he tried to. She gave him the dickens and he listened .... and behaved .... for awhile.

Each of them became more because of the other.  Isn't that what we hope for every couple? Being secure in another's love allows that to happen, it seems.

When illness came and he knew life here on earth was short, he wanted her alone.  Always a private soul who didn't much like showing vulnerability, it was in her care and her arms he felt safest.

On the evening of the day he died, she said to me, "We had quite a love story."

Indeed they did.  And it was a gift to all of us.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Listen to Children

I've been gimping around with bursitis in my knee from a hard spill I took last month.  Last week I went for a physical therapy appointment to get some strengthening exercises.

As the greeter at the PT clinic led me to the exam room, he made quick pleasantries and then said this:
"I'm trying something new this year. When folks come in for their initial visit,  I am asking this question:
If you were to pass on one piece of advice about anything in life, what would you pass on?"

My mind was on my stiff, sore knee...far away from any truisms I'd learned in my 65 years of living.

But as my exam room wasn't even close to the front desk - past three hallways and at the end of a fourth...and as this greeter guy wasn't going to fill the silent space, I had a few minutes to think - especially as my limp kept the pace slow.   Still, I remained stumped.

Once he (who I now know as Seth and who has collected over four pages full of responses so far) had deposited me in the exam room,  I turned and looked at him.  He waited.  His face said, 
"You can't pass."

And suddenly, I heard myself say, LISTEN TO CHILDREN!

He blinked. 
So did I. 
Then he pursed his lips, mumbled Hmmm, paused for what seemed a long few seconds,  and replied,
"No one has ever said that before."

And now I'm the one doing the  Ever since that appointment.  Wondering why I said that.
 It's a fact that I love children and youth --- they feed me.  Why else would I teach for 35 years? But for that to be my answer?  Not something about Love or Family or Giving or God?

The one piece of advice about anything in life that I want to pass on is LISTEN TO CHILDREN?

I do know this .... those words came from deep inside me.

And when that happens, I know they are worth wondering about ....
so here goes....

Why don't more of us do it better and more often or at all?

Do we adults believe that only experience can teach and because children lack a wide breadth of experience, we have little to learn from them?

Is it because sometimes children struggle to be articulate or to find the right words?

Does it take too much time out of our packed-with-important-things day to be fully present and focused so we can really listen to kids?

Do we think they will be uncomfortable?    Or we will be?
Or do we simply think we don't  know what to talk about with young people?

Or is it this?   That on some level we know that young people have a finely tuned and highly sophisticated crap-detector and if we are not fully present or we have an agenda other than theirs on our mind, they sniff us out in a nano-second!
 And that can make us uncomfortable, or cause us to run out of things to say, or thwart those all important exchanges from the get-go.

I am wondering about all of this.

But there are two things I think I know for sure after this bit of reflection and wondering:
    Number One ....Seth gave me his own version of a strengthening exercise last week.
    Number Two .... Listen to Children is about Love and Family and Giving and God, after all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Important Things ....

Thirty family members gathered in Arizona this past weekend to celebrate Mom’s 100th birthday!  Close to one third of those thirty were eight and under. 

Like in any family, there was lots going on (some of it happy, some worrisome).  Lots of opinions, lots of noise, lots of indoor and outdoor fun filled the weekend .... plus chats, games, songs and stories amidst the candle lighting, good wishes, cake and frosting! 

When it came time yesterday to say our goodbyes and head off to our far-flung homes, I felt re-tethered…..and fuller …. from more than just all that birthday cake.

Our family has been deeply blessed by this amazing woman.  Now our matriarch, she decided as an only (and lonely) child, that she would set her sights on having a big family. And after college and teaching school, that is exactly what she did.  Family has always been one of her highest priorities. 

Yet, about fifteen years ago... at age 85-ish, she said to me,

        “What have I accomplished in my life?  What important thing have I done?”

Surprised and a bit saddened at her question, I quickly replied,

       “Mom, you raised five children who love you, who love each other, and who love being together!"

I think she took that in at some level back then, but I think she really got it Saturday night as we sang and told stories and surrounded her with the reality and substance of this Important Thing she decided so many years ago to set her sights on and now has accomplished.

She taught us that Family is a huge blessing in our lives.  Do we always agree? No.  Are there grumblings and jealousies? Sure. Are there differing views about life, the way to do things, right and wrong, politics and God....oh my, yes.  

But somehow there is this ever present tether to one another - a bit like the rope a farmer ties between the barn and his back door before the blizzard…something to hold on to, something solid and ever present to give support despite the grumblings, disappointments or differing opinions….and during the blizzards.

 Something solid and sacred and Important. 

Today I am deeply grateful that she did this Important Thing with her life. 

And I am wondering  how I am doing with the Important Things in my life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Turn to WONDER .....

When the going gets rough, turn to wonder...

WONDER = being open to learning and seeing with "soft eyes".  WONDER = turning from reaction and judgment to curiosity and compassionate inquiry.  

This was one of the seven touchstones we used to guide our work when I was blessed years ago to participate in the work of Parker Palmer through The Courage to Teach program (now the Center of Courage and Renewal ).  And I carry that precept with me every day because I need to.

Turning to wonder is hard for me.   I tend to go to judgement ... or explanation or even fixing.   It takes intentionality and practice for me to wonder compassionately about why someone is speaking or behaving a certain way (especially when I get my dander up).   And it takes even more intention to turn inward and wonder why I am reacting the way I am!!

Writing for children makes me curious about new kids' books on the market.  This past year the buzz around the middle grade fiction book Wonder by R.J. Palacio grabbed my attention.  Besides, I LOVED the title!

It's been sitting in the stack.  I finally got to it last week and met August Pullman.  Ten years old.

My name is August. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse.

August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary - inside.  But he was born with severe facial abnormalities.

Yes, there have been books like this out there for some time. But R. J. Palacio nails the nuances of kids, and cliques and bullying and acceptance and appearance and being mean and being nice... and in the process, teaches all of us about turning to wonder. 

I want you to read it.  And especially if you have kids or grandkids or a classroom or a family,  I want you to read it out loud and talk  about it.  I want  more teachers to put "Mr. Browne's Precepts" or their own precepts on their classroom white boards each month....

 When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind  --- Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Your deeds are your monuments --- inscription on an Egyptian tomb

I want more teachers to ask their students to come up with their own precepts and have them talk about why they chose it and how it impacts their life.

I obviously loved this book .... it is a WONDER of a book!  For me, it shouts out loud that precept I both embrace and struggle to uphold...

When the going gets rough, turn to wonder.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Honoring M.L.King ... Seeking a vision that serves all beings.

I am blessed to have a friend who I think is one of the wisest women I know.  Each of us is a writer. We touch base via email each Monday morning as a way to say, "Good morning, is your butt in your chair?" or "This is what I am watching out my window right now" or "Here is something I love."  It's an easy and straightforward way we use to inspire, nudge or hug one another into a new week of writing.

Several Monday mornings ago, she sent me a poem from a poetry site she enjoys.  The site is called A Year of Being Here - daily mindfulness poetry by wordsmiths of the here and now.  It's a poem-a-day site  that believes that reading selected poetry promotes mindfulness.  The site suggests that one can't really read a poem without getting into the here and now.  
  "That's what mindfulness poetry does: it calls us home to where we are, and helps us abide there. It helps us pay attention.  It helps us inhabit our lives instead of just going through the motions."

 I decided to subscribe. 

The poem that arrived today .... on this Martin Luther King holiday morning.... certainly called me home to my here and now.  

John Daniel in his verse titled A Poem Among Friends  has left me wondering if I am, in my Here and Now, spending generously the time I have been given... enacting my responsibilities as thoroughly as I am enjoying my pleasures....seeking a vision that serves all beings....honoring the mystery I cannot see. 

I believe Dr. Martin Luther King did that in his Here and Now.  Now it's our turn.
A Poem Among Friends
by John Daniel

Among other wonders of our lives, we are alive
with one another, we walk here
in the light of this unlikely world
that isn't ours for long.
May we spend generously
the time we are given.
May we enact our responsibilities
as thoroughly as we enjoy
our pleasures. May we see with clarity,
may we seek a vision
that serves all beings, may we honor
the mystery surpassing our sight,
and may we hold in our hands
the gift of good work
and bear it forth whole, as we
were borne forth by a power we praise
to this one Earth, this homeland of all we love.

In observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day: "A Prayer Among Friends" by John Daniel, from Of Earth: Poems (Lost Horse Press, 2012). Text as presented on The Writer's Almanac (10/19/2012).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When the Tingle goes away with the Tinsel ....

It's the first REAL week of January....when everything goes back to normal.  The meetings, routines, dr appts, schedules and lessons begin again.  All the things we kinda ignored in that delicious month of December.

I look around my decorated house and don't want to start taking things down.  Even the sound of that is depressing ...."taking things down."  

When I plugged the lights of the tree in this morning I crouched low and touched the pine branch shadow designs it made on the hardwood floor .... as if I could soak it into my skin.

Why does the Tingle have to go away with the Tinsel? How do I hang onto it?

The gatherings, the cards, the gifts, the cookies .... all that could go. It's that "other stuff"  I will miss.  The dash of Jolly in the air .... that dose of joyful expectation that sits in my belly and greets me each morning. That tingle of wonder and wonderfulness that I love....all so intangible amidst this tangible stuff.

Perhaps I cross out the other items on my Resolutions list ....
 - do more yoga
 - eat less sugar
 - write every day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

and replace it with ...... KEEP THE TINGLE!!

I wonder what that would look like?