Archive for November, 2012

Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot.  In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

— Oscar Wilde

Yesterday I talked about how Cheyenne has been teaching us to sail.  She sailed home last night on the resilience of childhood healing and got to sleep in her own bed.  Kids heal quickly — probably because they are carefree and wise enough to focus only on mending instead of worrying about other things or being distracted.  There are many lessons we can learn from the little ones, and one is to travel light.

Tomorrow will be the first day of December.  The Advent calendars are poised and ready for opening and the final countdown to Christmas has begun.  My desktop is littered with lists and my hallway holds shipping boxes with gifts that have been delivered in preparation for our holiday celebrations.  There are very real tasks to be performed at this time of year, and it seems that each time I cross one off my list another arises to take its place.  We like our family Christmas to be festive, and festive requires a lot of work.

Before Cheyenne found out that her repair would require surgery, she was busy being five years old.  She had school and her family and lots of playing to do.  She had her best friend waiting for her at school each day and dance lessons and appointments to keep.  We all have lives that are full of living the things we choose to do.  Sometimes it takes an event that causes us to pause to remind us that there are very few things that really are vital to our existence.

When Chey went to the hospital, school took a back seat.  She mentioned that her best friend probably was missing her, but she knew that even friendship would have to wait until she had completed her healing tasks.  The rest of us put aside the importance we assigned to the lists and we all focused on the only thing that mattered — seeing out little one healthy and strong again.  First Cheyenne taught us how to sail, and now she has reminded us that sailing is much easier when we travel light.

Whatever you have going on as the countdown begins, remember to keep it in perspective.  There is little that can do more harm to the heart of a family gathering than a need for perfection.  Are you overwhelmed?  Cross a couple of items off your list — before you let them become more important than the things that really matter.  It seems that at this time of year we pick up burden after burden to carry along toward the holidays.  Really, we should be cleaning house.  We should be relinquishing some of the trappings and uncovering what really matters.  Let’s focus on the heart of Christmas.  Let’s hold our loved ones close and delight in the fact that we are together, that we are alive, that we have inside us everything we need for the trip.  Travel light.  And if you hit a snag, take the time you need to mend.  Kids know these things.  They are wise and they heal quickly, because they refuse to be distracted from the things that really matter.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

— Louisa May Alcott

The waiting ended around 4:00 yesterday.  Cheyenne was out of surgery and resting comfortably in recovery.  It had been a long and stormy day for everyone who loves her, and now we could heave a sigh of relief and know that the most difficult part was over.  It strikes me as strange that when someone we love has a crisis, we often stop dead in our tracks along with them, even when there really is nothing for us to do.  It is an important skill to learn — how to pilot your own ship when someone else is caught up in a storm.

What would you do if you were sailing the ocean and discovered another vessel that had been tossed by the waves?  Would you leave your own stable ship and continue your journey on the one that is without a rudder and taking on water?  Would you board a sinking ship and continue to ride out the storm with no intention of taking over the helm, because the ship belonged to someone else?

Now I don’t want to hear a word about how we shouldn’t abandon a friend in need.  I completely agree with that!  What we need to learn, as we pilot our own ship, is how useful we can be simply by continuing to sail our own vessels as we help them find their way to port.

Yesterday was an emotional day for all of us.  There were prayers spoken aloud and in our hearts.  There were messages back and forth to report progress.  Our son’s ship was tossed by the storm; and we could talk to him about staying calm as he navigated dark waters, but we could not sail it for him.  Instead, we did our work and held them all in our hearts.  And when I would think of my courageous little girl who knows she is a Jones, which means “I can do anyfing,” I would pull my focus back to piloting my own vessel.  It is important to keep the fleet in motion and to have everything shipshape, just in case the one who falters needs to abandon ship for a while.

Yesterday I lived my life fully, knowing that Cheyenne would have liked that.  Today her ship is in better shape.  A phone call just brought me the sound of her voice, filled with excitement at the start of a new day.  Already she is teaching us about sailing.  Already she is a skilled pilot.

There is no quotation that expresses today.  Some days we think and reason and debate and discuss.  Some days we stop and wait and listen and are still.  Some days we pray.  Today our brave little Cheyenne will return to the operating room for a procedure that will correct a problem she has been having.  Today we pause and lift her up, and her parents, and her doctors.  Today we reflect on all she has taught us about love and sweetness and bravery and perfection.  Today we pray.

Today We Pray

When you were born,

We prayed.

We prayed that you

Would see the light,

We prayed that you

Would live and breathe,

We prayed that you

Would find the strength

To live in your

Perfection.

As you have grown,

We’ve prayed.

That you would walk

And talk and run,

And dance and sing

And laugh and learn

How brave a girl can be.

Some days we pretend.

Some days we laugh

And run and play,

And hug and kiss

And share the wonder

That your being

Brings our way.

Today we stop

And hold our breath

And hold you close

Deep in our hearts

And pray.

Today we pray.

That the One who made you,

Perfect,

Will allow our eyes to see again

The beauty of your soul.

That the doctors’ hands

Are steady,

That their minds can see

What needs to change.

That your parents’ love,

And faith and hope,

Will flow your way

And keep you strong.

Today we pray

That courage

Will follow you

And keep your heart

Strong and sturdy

As you sleep,

And brave when you

Awaken.  Fresh.

And perfect.

Amen

“When it is dare enough, you can see the stars.”

— Charles Austin Beard

We all love to dance in the light of carefree days.  Whether we know it or not, there is something natural to human beings that draws us toward light.  We use the nighttime as a time for rest and sleep and for storing up our energy for the coming day.  We find confidence in a lighted path and energy in the sunlit times.

For those of us who have known darkness, there is a special blessing we attach to the smallest of lights.  We know the truth about needing a dark night in order to see the stars, and we know that there is a blessing in the darkness that calls us to focus more sharply on the light.  For this reason, I often find myself drawn outside on moonless nights just to look at the stars.  I know they are always there, but my soul loves the affirmation that there are many points of light around me all the time; and all I need to do is open my eyes — open my heart — to their presence.  Then, even in the midst of the darkest nights and even in the middle of the darkest days, I know I will be able to dance in the light.

When darkness comes, we need to remember not to hate it.  When we have lived in darkness and then discovered how beautifully it displays the light, we can come to love them both.  Do  not shut your eyes and curse the dark times.  Instead, open your eyes wide and find the places where the light shines through.  Once you discover even the smallest star, you will remember that no dark night is without light.  Focus on the light, feel it grow within you, and then step out into the darkness and dance in the light.

“Childhood is the world of miracle and wonder; as if creation rose, bathed in the light, out of the darkness, utterly new and fresh and astonishing.  The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us.”

— Eugene Ionesco

Yesterday brought our home a visit from childhood as we gathered our local kids and some little grandkids for our family Thanksgiving dinner.  Our little girlies, Cheyenne and Harper, arrived straight from church in their frilliest dresses and sparkly shoes.  Little brother Noah, all of 3 1/2 months old, held court from his car seat and various laps as he explained to us the meaning of life in expressive little baby coos.  It is always fun to see our world through the eyes of the little ones; and for several days after such a visit, I always find the things in my house just a bit more interesting.  The rainbow art paint set that has been idle since their father was a child caught the girls’ eyes, and we now have pages and pages of rainbows to decorate our fridge.  “That was fun!” remarked Cheyenne as we took off her paint smock and she moved on to convincing Grandpa to take her outside for a swing ride.

I usually keep my blogs universal rather than focusing on personal things or on individuals; but I am going to depart from the norm today and tell you a bit about one of my biggest little heroes — my granddaughter, Cheyenne.  Chey is five years old (“five and a HALF,” she would tell you), and she is a kindergarten student this year.  She is a tiny little girl, and it always amazes me that such a big heart could fit inside such a little body.  Chey’s heart is the size of Texas, and it touches mine with its sweetness every time we’re together.  Cheyenne’s heart is filled with courage, and that is a good thing, because on Wednesday she will be going to the hospital for another surgery.  I have lost count of all the procedures Chey has had since her very special birth five years ago, but I know this one is in the double digits.  I also know that it is the first time she has been aware of what lies ahead in a way that makes her dread her trip to the operating room.

Back to the story.  Chey convinced Grandpa to take her out for a ride on the swing that hangs from our giant evergreen tree in the back yard.  Grandpa would have been great friends with Rube Goldberg, and the swing for our little grandchildren would have made Rube proud.  In order to give the little ones the whole thrill of a wide arc, Grandpa took a commercial toddler swing (with a seatbelt), attached copper pipes to the places where the ropes would go, put a bolt through the bottom that could be fastened to the adult swing, and lashed the pipes to the swing ropes with wire ties.  Quite a picture, but try to imagine it.  Now part of Grandpa’s thrill ride is a maneuver called the “underdog twist.”  The person pushing the swing twists the rider an agreed-upon number of times and then runs forward underneath the swing and gives a mighty push.  This is where the “underdog” part comes in.  This is not for the faint-of-heart, and some of our more motion-sick grands pass on Grandpa’s offer.  Not Cheyenne.  She likes the tickle in her tummy and the thrill of the dare.

“How many twists?” Grandpa asked her yesterday.

“Ten.”

“Are you sure?  Ten is a lot, and you’re only five.  How about five?”

“No…TEN!”

“Okay.”

And the counting began.  As she sat poised in the swing and ready for the underdog, Grandpa checked one more time.  All systems were go, so he sent her flying.  As the twisting and flying began to take place, there suddenly were some second thoughts, and Chey called for Grandpa to stop her.

“Was ten too many?”

“I was scared.”

“I know.”

“Let’s do it again.  This time I won’t be afraid.  This time I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I promise.  I won’t be scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, you know.”

She did it.  Our courageous little girl did the ten-twist underdog — that’s twice her age — and she was proud.  As Grandpa lifted her out of the swing, he said, “so I hear you’re going for surgery this week.”  “Yeah,” she answered.  I don’t like the IV.”  And off she ran to brag to her grandmother about her accomplishment on the swing.  When it was time to go home, Cheyenne suddenly burst into tears.  It can be hard to leave such a fun time behind, especially when you have a lot on your mind.  Earlier in the day, Chey had asked to borrow my “blowy thing,” a real harmonica that she loves to play.  “Would you like to borrow the harmonica for a while?” I asked her.  “You can bring it back the next time you come.”  And there was something reassuring in those words for both of us.  As I got the best hug of the day, I told my little one, “Don’t cry because you have to leave, be happy because you can come back again.”  I think we understand each other.

** Please, if you are the sort of person who prays or sends healing thoughts or love to others, pray for my little one on Wednesday — that the doctors will be wise and that she will be as brave as she was for that 10-twist underdog.


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

— Leo Tolstoy

If you could change the world, what would you change?  What would look different about the way you live your life in that transformed place?  Can you imagine it? Now, stop and think for a moment.  If we are one with the universe and all that is — if we carry in each of our cells all the beauty and power of Creation — then maybe the question becomes a bit more personal.

My word for 2012 has been “legacy.”  Secondary to “legacy,” has been “transformation,” because it is the small changes that we make to ourselves and our habits and our behaviors that determine what it is that we leave behind — for our descendants, for our world, and within ourselves.  Perhaps I just stated that in reverse.  Perhaps the wisdom in Tolstoy’s words has to do with the fact that each time we change ourselves we do change the world; but we become so busy worrying about how to change the things external to us that we forget our integral role in transforming the universe.

I am only one person — one cell in the macrocosm of existence; but if I tend to the well-being of that one cell, I can bring subtle change to the energy and health of the whole.  We must not become discouraged that we are unable to bring radical change to all of existence.  We must trust that if enough individuals decide to transform themselves it will soon begin to bring increased health, love, and light to the entire world.  Often I have wondered, when I watch butterflies sip their way from flower to flower, if they had any clue in their caterpillar days that such amazing changes would take place in their way of being.  Then I think of the beauty they carry with them as they flit from plant to plant and my eye is compelled to follow their flight.  We must not become so absorbed in trying to make a world that is suitable for caterpillars.  We must trust our ability to look within and spend some time in our cocoons.  Only then can we emerge with magnificent beauty and begin to let it touch the whole of existence.  Perhaps what the world needs is not to be suitable for caterpillars.  Perhaps it is waiting for the butterflies.  Perhaps it has been waiting for a very long time.

We cannot change the whole world, but we can stop crawling, transform ourselves, and take flight.  That is our legacy.

“Look at you, you madman!  Screaming you are thirsty and dying in a desert, when all around you there is nothing but water!”

— Kabir

It is Black Friday, and I am staying home.  There is something in me that finds it impossible to spend a whole day giving thanks for the abundance that is my life and then do a 180 and feel so desperate to find a bargain that I let a whole day be consumed competing with other shoppers for the best deals.  Deals.  On what?

We traveled yesterday to visit family out of state.  As we pulled off the highway into their small, economically challenged little community, the first thing that caught my eye was a newly-expanded complex of storage units.  I wondered how this larger version of my hall closet could be staying in business during such lean times. The rentals are not cheap, the community is struggling with loss of jobs and business closings; but there was a steady stream of traffic in and out of the storage units.  What do you suppose is stored there?

I love the simple pleasure of occasionally leaving town and staying in a hotel overnight; but when I return home, my first impulse is always to simplify.  After a night or two in a sterile and uncluttered environment, the number of things that inhabit the shelves and cabinets and corners of our home always astonishes me.  I have no desire to live an ascetic lifestyle, but it strikes me as odd that I would even consider purchasing another item to add to the overflowing amount that speaks to the abundance we enjoy.

Black Friday is a day for madmen who live surrounded by water and think they are starving to death.  My own surroundings are a testimonial to the need to tread water, not to continue filling the pool.  Black Friday is a good day to reflect on all the abundance we considered during our celebration of Thanksgiving.  It is a good day to consider simplifying and re-homing items that no longer serve our needs and might be exactly what another person could use.  We are not dying of thirst.  We are surrounded by water.  Let’s not drown ourselves in too much of a good thing.

“What we do for ourselves dies with us.  What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

— Albert Pine

Happy Thanksgiving!

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson
How do we give thanks?  Do we look around us and see all that we have amassed, hold it close and take inventory?  Do we tuck away every good thing that has come our way and save it for an unknown future, just in case…?  Do we spend our lives renting storage lockers and trying to figure out where to find some additional space to tuck away the things we really don’t need and can’t bear to part with?  Where is the gratitude in that?
When my eldest son had moved from our area and was spending his first Thanksgiving away from family, I was worried — worried that he would be lonely so far away from home, worried that the empty seat at our Thanksgiving table would be cause for sadness on a day when we should celebrate, worried at some deeper level that one day my table would be sparse and I would miss the warmth of family love at special times of the year.
I am an early riser.  When urgent thoughts come into my mind, it takes a great deal of self-discipline not to pick up the phone at 5:30 and check on the people I love.  I remember listening to the clock tick that Thanksgiving morning and busying myself with dinner preparations so that the time would pass more quickly.  As luck would have it, I became so engrossed in getting ready for the gathering of the clan that I never did get to dial the phone until the turkey was out of the oven, the side dishes were ready to plate for the table, and the dinner rolls were baking.  At that critical-mass time in dinner preparation, I grabbed the phone, dialed Max’s number and waited for him to pick up.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” answered his voice at the other end.  He didn’t sound sad or lonely at all.  In fact, he sounded…what is the right word…thankful, yes that’s it…thankful to hear my voice at the other end of the line.  Happy Thanksgiving, Momma!  I miss the fam!  Warmth flowed through the telephone lines.  I knew he would miss us.  I wished he could be home.  I imagined him putting on a good act so that I wouldn’t worry about him.
“What are you doing today?” I asked my first-born.

“I cooked a turkey!” he answered, “and I just got back from taking a plate of turkey dinner to my neighbor.  She’s elderly and alone, and I thought she might like some home-cooked Thanksgiving food.”
It was at that moment that I understood that there was no reason to hoard my Thanksgiving and lock it away at my own table in my own familiar home.  It was at that moment that I really began to understand the meaning of the word, “legacy.”  All the years of opening our doors, all the years of making room for another plate, all the years of encouraging our children to look out for our older neighbors and share our abundance with them had planted seeds that our son now had transplanted in another place.  Thanksgiving was alive and well, and it resided in our hearts.
As I said goodbye and returned to the final minutes of cooking our dinner, the back door opened.  It was a friend of one of our kids.  “Oh,” he said, “I didn’t know you were eating now.  I’ll come back.”  I gave him a hug, welcomed him with a “Happy Thanksgiving,” and told him to take off his coat and stay.  “We have plenty,” I assured him; and I knew that Max would approve of his spot at the table being filled.  After all, when you truly are thankful, you want to share it.  It’s your legacy to the world.

“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.”

— Voltaire

The Thanksgiving clock is ticking.  Travel plans are made so that we can spend the day with family.  Traditions will be shared, good food will be consumed, we will note how much the children have grown since the last time we gathered around those tables.  We will laugh and love and comment on how good life can be, and we will live it well.

There is something about the Thanksgiving season that causes us to take stock of our lives.  Maybe this grows out of our desire to list all the things that make us thankful.  Maybe it grows out of the realization that the last year has challenged us to survive some sadness, some loss, or some grief, and yet we are still standing.  Milestones easily become touchstones when we look at how blessed we are, marvel at the difficulties we have survived, and measure how much we have grown — not like the little children who have gained an inch or two, but in heart and soul and spirit.

Thanksgiving finds us grateful for the creature comforts we enjoy.  It finds us grateful for the family and friends who love  us and who call on us to love them.  Most of all, when the tally is done, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down and pay attention to the life we have been given.  Whatever events may occur in that life, whether joyful or sad, uplifting or challenging, at the end of another year we discover that the gift of life continues to insist that we open it and marvel at all the many opportunities that lie right in front of us.  Look around you this Thanksgiving and celebrate the gift that has been given to every person who sits at your table.  Remind one another how precious it is to receive the gift of life.  And then live it — by all means, do not leave your gift unopened.  What kind of fun would that be?

“Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.”

— Leo Tolstoy

I love November.  When one is a citizen of the United States, November is the month when we celebrate our holiday of gratitude, Thanksgiving.  We like to think that we are routinely thankful for the good things that come into our lives, but Thanksgiving amplifies our awareness and calls upon us not only to acknowledge our gratitude, but to respond with some sort of service that shares our abundance with others.

Personal happiness is no small thing.  I know few people who would willingly choose to sacrifice their personal happiness in order than another person might enjoy that good feeling.  Certainly there are people in our lives whose very existence and well-being would make it a small thing to sacrifice our own happiness.  There are some for whom we would lay down our lives, but such actions are called for only in the most extreme situations; and it would bring little joy to our loved ones if their own happiness meant the loss of the love or life of someone dear.

It takes little to ensure our personal happiness.  We need food, shelter, and clothing in order to sustain life.  We need a bit of love, but not necessarily from others.  What truly guarantees personal happiness is an opportunity to serve others.  Ask any elderly person who is limited by age or disease what it is that they miss most, and often you will hear that they miss being able to feel useful to other people.

It is easy to fall into a trap where we hoard our personal happiness and feel as though we need to guard against being robbed of our joy.  The truth is that happiness does not diminish when it is shared.  Rather, it multiplies and grows and overflows when we plant its seeds all around us.  Service is the key to abundant happiness — not only for ourselves, but for our world as well.  Let us be reminded at this season of thanks to extend the hand of service to those who need our gifts.  And remember to embrace the gifts of others as they come your way.  It is in serving that our happiness is fulfilled, and it is in serving one another that we all find joy.

Let us give thanks.