Archive for May, 2011

“It’s always too early to quit.”

— Norman Vincent Peale

My mother used to motivate her procrastinating offspring by saying, “it’s never too late to start.”  She was right; and no matter how long we dawdled before beginning to clean our messy bedrooms, we ultimately got the job done — sort of.  Maybe we could have used a dose of Norman Vincent Peale’s advice.  I suppose we need a bit of my mother’s wisdom to get us moving; but an appropriate amount of not quitting might have taken us to the other side a little sooner.

Whatever it is that we have been wanting to do, saying we will do, and putting off doing, we should not be discouraged and think that the opportunity to begin has passed us by.  If something is worth doing, it is far less important when we decide to do it than it is that we decide the time is right.  Indeed, once we have discovered the pleasure of diving into a task or a change and seeing it through, it becomes easier and easier to trust that we are able to surmount the challenges that seem to block our paths.

If you are anything like me, I know that you have many aspirations that you might put on the back burner, just because your goals seem out of reach.  You might also have small projects that linger in the corners of life waiting to be tackled.  The challenge is to love  yourself enough to trust in your dreams.  Beginning small, by finishing a half-done project, can give us confidence in our ability to see things through to the end.  I think today might be a good day to begin refinishing the nice little wood table I found at a flea market — the one that would be just perfect in my yellow room.  I may not finish it today, but that’s okay.  Once my mother’s advice that it isn’t too late to begin gets me moving, I will remember from Norman Vincent Peale that it is always too early to quit.  At the end of it all, I think I will enjoy the gift I give myself — a sweet little table, and a sense of accomplishment.

“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

— Joseph Campbell

I walked through my community park this morning at just the right time.  It is Memorial Day, and the men from the local chapter of the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars had assembled in the parking lot in preparation for their annual flag-raising ceremony.  The color guard hoisted their flags, the men fell in behind, and they began their procession to the monument in the center of the park.

With reverence, five of the men peeled off from the group and moved toward the monument for the raising of the flag.

With the color guard standing by, and the firing squad a the ready,

they raised the red, white, and blue to the top of the pole and then silently lowered it to half-mast.

Words were spoken honoring those whose lives were lost defending our freedom.  Prayers were offered for those who had died and for the families that survived them.  Most importantly, promises were kept today — promises to remember and not let the fallen heroes be forgotten.

As the Star Spangled Banner played, I found myself becoming part of something enduring and proud and huge.  I watched the men, many of them my own father’s age, standing straight and tall as they paid tribute to their fallen comrades.  For a few short minutes, in the middle of my tiny town, they stood before a monument that might as well have been the gravestone of each fellow soldier they remembered from the time of their service, so long ago.  I pictured them at 18 or 19 or 20, younger than my own sons, fighting as men to defend the freedom I enjoy.

They prayed that the younger generation would remember to honor the sacrifice of the fallen heroes.  I looked into the faces of the Boy Scouts who stood at attention among the crowd.  Perhaps this would be the day that these young boys would connect with the sort of heroism that they have not yet experienced in their own lives.  We pray for peace.  We pray that these young men will not have to make the sort of sacrifices we honor today; but we pray that their hearts will be touched by the loss of young lives that we remember today.

With three salutes, the firing squad paid tribute to the fallen heroes.

Alone in the background, a solitary boy scout raised a bugle to his lips and blew out the poignant strains of Taps.  As the final note faded, the veterans rejoined their ranks and marched away from their duties at the flagpole.

As we enjoy our Memorial Day picnics, I hope we will take with us the true reason for this solemn holiday.  As we pray for peace, I hope we will take with us a true appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who had to fight.  We must carry their memory beyond the survivors of their generation.  We must remember.

“The garden is a metaphor for life, and gardening is a symbol of the spiritual path.”

— Larry Dossey

Late yesterday afternoon, I finally did it — my vegetable plants have been set into the soil of my garden patch.  Growing vegetables is something that always brings me joy.  I love the smell of the fresh, pungent earth.  I love the feel of the rich, black loam in my hands.  I love the process of watching the small seedlings grow strong and sturdy.  Then why did I feel so cranky as I began my gardening season yesterday?  There was a border of weeds to pull that had grown in the places the tiller could not reach; and their roots seemed to hang on more stubbornly than usual.  The day was hot and humid; and even at the end of the afternoon, the sweat that beaded up on my forehead kept running down into my eyes, clouding my vision and causing them to sting.

There was something about the winter of 2011 that caused my asparagus plants to die.  Only two of the thriving bed survived; so this year I had the additional task of replanting my favorite Spring veggie and knowing that I will not taste any from my own garden for a year or two.  The weather ruled our Spring, too, and it seemed that every time we thought of the garden, torrential rain would wash away our plans.  There is no point in running the tiller through mud.  It only leaves behind clumps of soil that still need to be broken before tender plants can set their roots.  On the two weekends that might have offered breaks in the weather we were out of town.  I had begun to wonder whether a garden would even be part of my life this year.  But it is planted.  Today I will find a nursery that offers some pepper plants, a plum tomato, and perhaps a squash.  Once they have been set in the ground, I will begin my daily visits and watch the magic happen.

Gardening truly is a symbol of the spiritual path.  For me, it is something that lies directly in my path.  There are times when our walk is filled with joy.  There are times when we delight in the dance through reliable growth and sweetness and the walk hardly seems like work at all.  There are other times when it seems that our dreams will be washed away in torrents of rain.  There are times when there are new intentions to plant and rocks to be cleared, and an awareness that it will take some time to see the fruits of our labor.  There are times when it seems that the overabundant rain only serves the weeds that lurk at the sides of the path and threaten to overtake it and obscure our vision of where we are going.  Still, we persevere.  And even when it seems that the joy is buried somewhere deep beneath the surface, we labor in faith and finish the day knowing that we have uncovered something of substance as we clear the way for the days to come.

When I awoke this morning, the first thing on my mind was to go outside and check on my garden.  There stood the seedlings planted only hours ago.  They were standing upright.  Not one had wilted to the ground.  As I made my circuit of the garden fence, I heard myself greeting each one of them and welcoming them to my garden.  It was then that I felt it — a small spark of joy — and the hard work of yesterday became a distant memory in the light of a new day.

“If thine enemy wrong thee, buy each of his children a drum.”

— Chinese Proverbs

There are those among my family and friends who would nod their heads in agreement with this proverb.  For about 2 1/2 years now, I have been a drummer.  Before you picture me sitting behind a drum kit and pounding out the beat for some ensemble, let me clarify:  I am a hand-drummer; I play the djembe.  I do love playing rhythms with my grandchildren, and I suppose my occasional gifts of shakers and noisy instruments may be seen by their parents as revenge; but I think they sound wonderful.

They play with joyful abandon and so do I, although I usually omit the vocals.

“Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God.”

— Lionel Hampton

Now Lionel and I understand each other.  There is something transcendent and transformational that I experience when I drum.  As I find a groove and lose myself in the rhythm, I drift to a place that rises above the humdrum and the cares of the day.  I think, “Stop smiling, Rain Man, people are going to wonder about you…” and then I go on grinning and let the sound become my heartbeat and flow through my veins to every part of my being.

Today is one of my favorite days of the year.  Mayfair is on in Allentown; and at 2:oo PM, I will make my way to the Lakeside Stage for the Great Djembe Jam.  The stage will be filled with folks who have practiced some rhythms in preparation for the event.  The audience, where I will sit, will be made up of folks who come with drums and shakers and tambourines and join in the fun of weaving rhythm with a crowd of people.  If you’re in the area, you might consider bringing your dancing shoes and joining the fun.  I promise to bring a couple of extra instruments to share.

Lionel Hampton was right about the way that drumming connects us with a power higher than ourselves.  One of the most enjoyable ways that happens is in community.  I can’t wait to join the Jam.  Hope you decide to join us!  Dum Ditty Dum!

“All wrong-doing is done in the sincere belief that it is the best thing to do.”

— Arnold Bennett

Mistakes.  We all make them.  Well, most of us make them anyway, present company excluded.  Each day we are faced with the need to make decisions.  Some are small and routine — what should I have for breakfast, or should I drink that second cup of coffee.  Others can change the course of our lives and even have an impact on other people whose lives are touched by our choices.  We put a lot of thought and a lot of energy into decision-making; and we hope that when we make mistakes, others will see our sincerity and be kind enough to forgive us.

I can be pretty hard on myself when I make a bad decision.  It hurts me to see my choices hurt others, and I take it to heart as I promise myself not to make the same mistake again.  It is important for caring people to do our best to act in love and make a sincere effort to decide in ways that lead to the greater good for all who are touched by our actions.  I pay attention to the way I judge my own mistakes, and it causes me to rethink the way I react to the mistakes of other people.

When someone makes a choice that hurts me, should I assume that it was an intentional act, meant to cause me pain?  Should I judge the mistakes of others more harshly than I judge my own, simply because I do not know the rationale they used when making a decision?  It is said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but I don’t think it is our place to decide where another person’s road is leading.  It is our place to greet our fellow travelers with the same compassion and understanding we would like to enjoy when our decisions go bad.  Just for today, let’s try to accept that each person we meet is doing the best that s/he can.  If that falls short in some way that we find hurtful, let’s forgive them just as we would like to be forgiven.  Let’s do our best, learn from our mistakes, and grow in ways that lead us to decide better the next time.  Let us be sincere in all we do and forgive the times when we are sincerely wrong.

“You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair.”

— Chinese Proverbs

It seems as though everywhere I look this week there is someone crying.  Sadness comes into our lives and it visits for a while; but we must be careful not to let it move in and set up housekeeping.  Learning to accept this can be one of life’s most difficult lessons.  As I sit this morning and think of some people I love, I send out encouragement to all who are hurting, to all who are sad and lonely, to all who are depressed.  I send out the reminder that when you are sad or lonely or depressed there is always someone nearby who waits to extend a hand or hold you close until the sorrow passes.

Whichever of the two you are today, remember that sadness is only a visitor.  You can’t turn him away, but you can show him to the door when it is time for him to leave.  We must all love one another.  We must all encourage one another.  We must all remind each other that life is always changing.  Sadness comes and it will go away again.

“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.”

— Theodore Roethke

It is the flowering season of the year as Spring bursts out of the bondage of Winter and makes way for the lush growth of Summer.  Watching the process each year brings such joy to my life.  When the snow first melts, there is nothing but barren, brown as far as the eye can see.  Then, one day, a touch of green appears as the grass starts to send its shoots toward the surface of the earth.  Each day after that, the world grows greener and greener until suddenly splashes of color explode wherever we turn — flowers, blooming for our delight, appear out of nowhere.

Have you ever considered how miraculous this whole process really is?  Have you ever wondered how it is that out of a frozen season and bare, brown earth, life can suddenly appear again?  Roethke says that each flower keeps the light deep in its roots.  What a lovely way to express the potential that hides beneath the soil and sits poised and waiting to be realized!  Last Fall, my mother-in-law was thinning her iris bed.  We took a spade and dug up two clumps of rhizomes and transported them home in a plastic grocery bag.  They sat all winter in that bag and we never put them in the ground until it thawed this Spring.  After a winter with no soil, the iris still carried the potential — the light — needed to flower.

We say that we are one with everything — with all that is in the universe.  If a simple root carries enough light to produce such splendid beauty, then we must ask ourselves whether we also have potential deep within us that begs to blossom.  Each day holds an opportunity for us to open our hearts and let the Light within us shine into the world.  Each day holds an opportunity for us to exercise the potential that is our birthright.  What color will your flowers be today?  Bloom!

“He who cannot rest, cannot work; he who cannot let go, cannot hold on; he who cannot find footing, cannot go forward.”

— Harry Emerson Fosdick

How often do we careen through life and struggle to move in a straight line, all because we forget the importance of balance?  We are told the value of achievement, of motion, of doing, of acquiring things; but we lose sight of the need to maintain ourselves in the midst of our desire to achieve and progress.  The pace of living in the 21st century is so fast that we sometimes forget to breathe.

Our ancestors lived a lifestyle that involved human beings completing the steps in a logical progression in order to gather and prepare food, to assure there was shelter and warmth, and to see that they were clothed.  There was no electricity, so they rose with the sun and worked hard, knowing that when the sun set that they, too, would begin their night of rest.  There were no television shows to watch, no computers to distract them, no internet to surf until the wee hours of the morning.  There was no stressful commute to and from work, no malls filled with tantalizing objects to buy, no credit card payments to cause worry and keep them awake.

I used to think about how difficult life must have been for my great-grandparents as they homesteaded in the midwest.  There were harsh winters to survive.  There were hot summers when farming was a challenge.  The hard work made their bodies strong, but the lack of medical knowledge meant that they often lived shorter lives than we do now.  We no longer work with our bodies the way our ancestors did.  We lead lives that are far easier in many respects; but now we must schedule exercise and add more hours to our days in order to stay fit.  Electricity and technology have extended daylight to twenty-four hours, and we no longer put ourselves to bed when the sun goes down.

Balancing life is more difficult in the 21st century.  Our ancestors may have needed more physical endurance to complete their day’s work, but we need to pay closer attention to balancing our lives and assuring our well-being.  We must develop the self-discipline to see that we balance our fast-paced workday with enough sleep to renew our bodies.  We must have the wisdom not to accumulate more than we can manage — to lay down some of the things that burden us before we pick up something new, to be sure we are solidly standing before we begin to run.  Balance in all we do will assure that we succeed, both in productivity and in personal well-being.

“Walking uplifts the spirit.  Breathe out the poisons of tension, stress, and worry; breathe in the power of God.  Send forth little silent prayers of goodwill toward those you meet.  Walk with a sense of being a part of a vast universe.  Consider the thousands of miles of earth beneath your feet; think of the limitless expanse of space above your head.  Walk in awe, wonder, and humility.  Walk at all times of day.  In the early morning when the world is just waking up.  Late at night under the stars.  Along a busy city street at noontime.”

— Wilferd A. Peterson

There is a vast difference between slogging through life, putting one foot in front of the other, and taking a walk.  How would you like to move through the world today?  Will you carry the tension of the day with you and focus on getting from Point A to Point B, or will you take a walk through the day?  Either way, you can get where you are going; but your choice might determine who you will be when you arrive.  There are no rules for when and where to walk.  Walking is not about the time or location.  Walking is an attitude that we choose; and how we choose to walk can have a profound effect on us and on the places we visit.

We are taught that it is good to walk through life with our eyes on the prize that lies at the end of our planned route; but when we focus only on the destination, we lose opportunities to see the things that can enrich our lives and lift our spirits and make us something more when we arrive than we were when we set out on our trip.  When we choose to be a part of the world as we walk, our eyes are opened to people and things that we never noticed before.  When we send out love to the world and to our fellow travelers, we can open the eyes of others as well — both the eyes that look in front of us and the eyes that look inward and see our own souls.

It has been years since I decided to walk attentively and keep my eyes and my heart open as I traveled.  When I added a camera to my walks and let the eyes of my heart focus through the lens, I began to see the splendor of the tiny and unnoticed spots of beauty that make up the colors on the world’s canvas.  When I share my photos, on my blog on on my Facebook page, people often ask me where I go to take my pictures.  When I tell them that I seldom walk more than two miles from my house, they find it hard to imagine that so many wonderful things could exist in such a small area.  I laugh when I hear that my world is small.  When you look through the eyes of your heart, you will see that the place where you walk is made up of threads that are woven into a great tapestry.  When you walk, knowing that you are part of a vast universe filled with wonderful things, you will find that you become small enough to see all the incredible beauty that before has been obscured by your own shadow.

Open the eyes of your heart.  Put your feet in motion.  Pay attention.  Walk in awe, in wonder, in humility — and if we should meet, I hope you will feel the love I send out as we pass.

For more wonderful shots of the beautiful things that make up our ordinary world, visit DebG’s page.

“Surely it is much more generous to forgive and remember than to forgive and forget.”

— Maria Edgeworth

Yesterday was a very long day.  It was the first day of an out-of-town basketball tournament for my granddaughter, Ivy, and her team.  Today we will hurry out again for the second and final part of the competition.  I like watching our girls play; and I really like it when they play well.  I especially like it when their efforts produce a win; but for me, that is not the major focus.  Just as in life, they go to learn, to improve, to grow as players.  I really do not whine about sports.  I like to remember that it is only a game and I try not to fall into the trap that a loss is failure.

Yesterday I found myself wanting to whine.  In AAU basketball tournaments, there are levels of players.  Our team, made up of the pool of girls for one high school team, competes at the “B” level.  The teams of “A” players are comprised of girls from many different schools — the cream of the crop — and they practice year-round.  For some reason, our girls found themselves in a game against a team who obviously belonged in the upper bracket.  They played well, but the other girls played better.  This happens.  I have no need to whine about watching some other kids play excellent basketball.  What made me want to whine was the way the referees joked with the coach of the other team, the way they missed seeing our girls fouled by their opponents, and the way they awarded free throws to the other team every time our girls breathed in their direction.  It was frustrating, to say the least, but even that was not the worst part of the experience.

When you sit in a gym with multiple courts, there are no bleachers.  Spectators sit in folding chairs at the sideline of the game, and parents of both teams are intermingled.  As we watched the uneven contest unfold, the thing that most made me want to whine was listening to the rude parents of the superstars laugh and make fun of our girls.  This sort of behavior is contagious; and it wasn’t long before it spilled over to their daughters, who laughed and gave each other high fives over the fact that they were creaming a less-skilled team.  Our girls were both demoralized and angry by the end of the game; and it was one of those times when their parents had a difficult time finding a silver lining inside the clouds.

We could tell them to forget it, but I don’t think they will be able to.  It will be a challenge to return today and not carry the bad taste of yesterday’s game into the new ones that lie ahead.  Sometimes it is hard to forget the hurtful things that happen to us.  Ironically, this is a great opportunity.  It is a chance to forgive and remember, which goes far beyond forgiving and forgetting.  I think that will be the conversation I have with my granddaughter on the way to today’s games.  Forgive.  Even when you cannot forget, forgive.  It doesn’t excuse the person who has wronged you, but it frees you to live unburdened and to leave your anger behind.  Today will be a lesson in forgiving and remembering.  I have a feeling our girls will be able to do it.