Archive for May, 2013

“Change your thoughts, and you change your world.”

  — Norman Vincent Peale

“Nice weather — for ducks,” we used to say in my family when rain interrupted our plans for outdoor fun.  Although we spoke those words with some well-meant sarcasm, they actually are filled with wisdom.  When the rain interrupts our plans, it is good to remember that every unexpected change has more than one outcome.  My picnic might be ruined or postponed; but somewhere a duck rejoices.  Nice weather — for ducks.  Yes.  I do think of that when my plans are washed away by an unexpected change in the weather.

If I change my thoughts about the rain, I can change my world on a rainy day.

Several years ago there was a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  The news reports were filled with photos of birds and stories of sea creatures who had been compromised by this ecological disaster.  These reports changed the way I thought about water; and suddenly the fact that the oceans existed no longer was something I took for granted.  I began to see water everywhere; and each time I saw it, I would celebrate — a soft summer shower became blessed sustenance for the dry earth below; the stream that trickles through the park where I take my morning walks seemed to sparkle more brilliantly than ever before; even the dewdrops that glistened in the light of the rising sun became precious gems that caught my eye and made me pause long enough to truly appreciate them.

What is interesting is that something so very sad and overwhelming could teach me a new sort of appreciation and joy for the simple, yet necessary, things that fill my world.

We have the power to change our world, for the good or for the not so good, simply by being conscious of our thoughts.  After all, the greatest part of reality lies in the way we perceive it; and since that is true, we should be careful to hold positive thoughts about our world.

Nice weather for ducks!  And the ducks deserve their nice weather, too.  And my picnic will be just as wonderful when the rain is done.  And I have an umbrella.  And I have some wonderful rubber boots.  And there are puddles to be jumped in.  Nice weather for ducks, and for me.

“Walk on a rainbow trail; walk on a trail of song, and all about you will be beauty. There is a way out of every dark mist, over a rainbow trail.”
    — Robert Motherwell

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After several days of sunshine, we awoke this morning to dense fog.  As the warm air has moved in through the morning hours, the mist has burned away.  The trees no longer seem to melt into the background or appear by magic when I walk toward them.  The morning weather forecast was filled with warnings about low visibility and exercising caution during the morning commute.  Since I had nowhere to drive, I decided to walk into the mist and sharpen my vision of the world.

I love foggy mornings, because they create a perfect backdrop for a paradox; and we all know that I love paradoxes.  Yes, I said it.  I decided to walk into the mist and sharpen my view of the world.

On a sunny morning, when everything is visible at the same time, the panorama of sunrise feeds my soul.  My eyes dart left and right, up and down, as I breathe in all the colors and shapes and sounds of the breaking day.  Foggy mornings are different.  They wrap the panorama in cotton and dim the colors, soften the shapes, and even seem to mute the sounds.

As I headed toward the park for my morning walk, I homed in on one maple tree.   Had this been my first journey toward the mist, I might have thought that a solitary tree was all that existed between me and the cloud beyond it.  I could see each leaf outlined against the nothingness; and rather than muting their color, the fog seemed to make them more green than usual.  Every crevice and bump of the bark that covered the limbs and branches showed me its pattern and I was fascinated by the variations in light and dark and shadow and hue on a trunk that hardly draws my attention on an ordinary morning.  Caught in the wonder of the maple, I was startled to raise my eyes and see that another tree had appeared out of the mist, and another and another as I slowly made my way.

The carpet of grass beneath my feet no longer was a sea of green.  Now it was a collection of individual blades of grass and leaves of clover, each one standing out individually as I checked to see that my path was clear.  A robin trilled; and as if by magic, its song made it appear.  It hopped out of the mist and nearly blinded me with its red-orange breast as it sang the song meant to distract me from its nearby nest.

Water danced somewhere beyond the fog; and when I followed its sound, I suddenly found myself walking by a stream that appeared wherever I stepped and melted into the haze toward both origin and destination.  ‘This is what it means to live only in the moment,’ I thought as my shortened range of vision followed me in a capsule that spread only twenty feet in any direction.  The stream had no worries about where it had been and no particular cares about when it might meet the sea.  It simply flowed; and for a short time this morning, I flowed with it, simply enjoying its song as it danced over stones and made its way into the fog.

There were warnings this morning about low visibility; but instead, I found a wonderful paradox as I walked in the fog.  My view of the world was sharpened as I made my way through the mist; and I will never see a tree or a robin or a sparkling stream in quite the same way again.  Warning.  Dense fog this morning.  Your vision my seem crystal clear.

“By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path toward a spiritual life.”
— Thomas More

I have often extolled the great pleasures of carrying a camera on my walk through life.  Some people take wonderful photos of the people they love, but my delight is in discovering the beauty of nature.  Just as there are many varieties of human beauty, the natural world offers a neverending supply of surprises; and each new one begs me to take one more step toward the mystery and the love that called our world to exist.

Yesterday, during a very ordinary and very real-world visit to my brother’s home, a sudden flash of color caught my eye.  I startled, blinked, and tried to focus on the source of the luminescent green; but it had vanished as quickly as it had appeared.  I scanned the leaves of the plants in my brother’s flower bed, but there was no clue as to what I might have seen.  Just then, a bird flew up from the ground below and rustled the branches of one of the shrubs.  There it was again — that incredible color — and this time there was time to focus.  Right in front of me sat a damselfly.

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He shimmered and shone in shining metallic teal, his jet black wings fluttering now and then and sending him from one leaf to another until he found a suitable perch.  There he rested, in all his splendor; and my eyes never left him as I silently removed my camera from the bag on my shoulder.  Barely breathing, I focused on calming my excitement so that its waves of energy would not send the insect reeling.  Snap!  Out of focus.  Snap!  Off center.  Snap!  At last the whole of his splendor was preserved on my camera card so that I could call up his memory at any time and feel the excitement of our encounter again.

As I stood there, in my brother’s very ordinary back yard, I paused to ponder the mystery of nature.  I thought of the details and tiny touches that adorn each species in our amazing world.  And again I asked myself why.  Why should our Creator take the time to decorate this little creature with such vivid color?  Why should his metallic-green body and smoky black wings be so striking that they make us stop dead in our tracks and take notice?

So many unanswerable questions come our way each day as we walk through our amazing world!  So many seem to have no answers; but I can tell you this:  Each time I have pursued such a question and insisted on being answered, the answer is simple — love.  All of Creation is filled with the loving touches of the Mystery that spoke its name, called it to life, and set it free.

Yesterday I saw a glimpse of the Mystery on an ordinary day in my brother’s back yard in West Virginia.  It was painted with shades of metallic teal and a puff of black smoke, just to add a touch of mystery to our world.  What a lovely way to call us to remembering they Mystery.

 

“Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it.  Bitterness paralyzes life;  love empowers it.  Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it.  Bitterness sickens life, love heals it.  Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.” 

       – Harry Emerson Fosdick

How much bitterness do you carry around?  Do your shoulders ache from carrying grudges and the heavy memories of past hurts?  When Fosdick speaks his words of bitterness and love, it sounds like a call to heal the world; but first, we must heal ourselves.  Let’s take a look at his powerful words again, and this time substitute “you” for “life.”  Think about it.  Bitterness imprisons you.  How often, when we feel wronged or slighted or hurt, do we encapsulate ourselves in a self-imposed prison that isolates us from the rest of the world.   We think we are protecting ourselves from additional hurt, but we forget that we shut out all the good things as well.  If we want to be free, we must break down our walls and let love in.  Bitterness paralyzes you.  When we hold onto the weight of our hurt, we become stuck in the place that keeps us wounded.  With concrete blocks of past wrongs weighing us down, we lose our ability to move freely through our world, and our space becomes very small.  When love touches our wounds and bathes them in a healing balm, we regain our vigor and learn to dance once again.  Bitterness sours you.  Have you ever tried to engage in a happy occasion when you are feeling angry?  Any sweetness that might touch us at such a time turns bitter as we compare our inner state to the joy that exists outside us.  Until we can open to the love that wants to coax us out of our isolation, we cannot hope to taste the sweetness of being with others.  Bitterness sickens us.  How many dollars are spent each year for counseling and medical treatment when our real illness lies in the spirit rather than the physical body?  We must lay down our bitterness so that we can pick up the healing things that come our way.  Only when we are willing to accept love can we be healed.   Bitterness blinds you.  It takes away your ability to see all the good things that come your way each day.  Love opens your eyes to the wonders that life has to offer – to the blessings of being alive and human and filled with light.

Each day we have a chance to choose again what it is that we will carry through life and what it is that we will leave by the side of our path.   Each day we have the chance to release bitterness and embrace love.  Only then are we able to leave a trail of love in our wake.  Choose love.  It is our legacy.

 

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

  —  Maria Edgeworth

A question crosses my mind today.   What could another person — or you — do that would be unforgivable?

The more days I spend in Earth School, the smaller my list has become.  I will not sit piously at my keyboard and pontificate on my perfect forgiveness and the way I have learned to love people without condition.  If I were to do that, you would need to forgive me for lying; and I certainly do not want to add to whatever list may pop into your mind as unforgivable.

What I have learned is that the things I have found unforgivable in other people usually are flaws that I share with them.  I am hard on myself sometimes; and when I am angry, I sometimes hold my fellow travelers to the same high, and usually unattainable, standard.  In learning to forgive, in learning to accept other people as they are and not as I would like them to be, I have learned to be more compassionate with myself as well.

There is an old saying, “forgive and forget,” but I have to question whether something forgettable even requires forgiveness.  It is the wrongs, the slights, the unkind acts that sear themselves into our memory and become a part of our very being that cry out the loudest for forgiveness.  When we are faced with hurt that causes us deep anguish and sorrow, it is then that we must reach deep beneath the surface of our humanity until we touch our very soul.  Only from that pure place can we possibly find the strength, the compassion, and the kindness to forgive another human being for being human, in the worst definition of that word.

The more we dig to soul level and find the unconditional love that speaks forgiveness, the more our scars are healed.  When we learn to forgive the unforgivable, that unconditional love becomes a part of our humanity.  It is then that we vibrate with the divine love that called us to be created.  It is then that our eyes see more clearly that our enemies as well as our friends are members of the family of man.  It is then that our eyes are opened — if only for an instant — to something greater, something that transcends our need to be afraid or angry.

Forgive and forget?  Forgive and remember.  And then forgive some more.  Your heart will grow strong as it fills will the love that transcends your humanity.

“A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark.”

  — Dante Alighieri

Things have been pretty quiet around my blog space the last two weeks.  Sometimes this is a bad thing, and it means that I am out of sorts and not wanting to express myself in writing.  This time, it simply means that my days have been so full of people that I have had to catalog experiences and put the expression on hold in favor of having time to sleep.  There are times when life simply hands us some opportunities for growth; and when that happens, our priorities shift for a while.

A friend of mine likes to refer to her life as attending Earth School; and I have had the opportunity to take some refresher courses this month.  I have had unique opportunities to practice compassion in deeds as well as in words; and I return to blog land today renewed, strengthened, and just a little bit tired.  The details of my learning belong to those involved, and there is no need to recount them here.  What is important is this:  No matter how old or busy or burdened or weary or overwhelmed or inadequate we might feel, there is always something we can do to show love and tenderness to someone who is suffering.

Sometimes we feel reluctant to do something because we do not have the time or energy or capability to do everything, but it only takes a tiny spark to start a raging fire.  When we add the smallest spark of compassion, it can start a flame that warms the hearts of all involved.

I often remind friends that none of us can save the whole world from all its sorrows.  We must not become discouraged by all the pain and sadness and suffering we see around us, and we must not berate ourselves because we cannot make it all go away.  On the other hand, there is always some small thing we can do to lighten the load and bring hope to someone’s day.

I have had the chance these past two weeks to spend some time, to make some small effort, to reach into the pain of some other people and be reminded that every small effort we make combines with every other small act of kindness and really does help to make life tolerable, even under the most difficult circumstances.

My heart has grown since the last time I have posted here; and once again, I have been changed by my intensive visit to the hands-on classroom of Earth School.  May each of you find your way to the sort of transformation that grows your heart.  May each of you have the chance to strike the flint against the stone and send a spark into the world.  May the fire of love it enkindles warm all it touches.

 

“I think laughter may be a form of courage.  As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.”

  — Linda Ellerbee

It has been four days since my last post — four days.  That may be a new record, because I usually have something to say.

Sometimes even the most talkative person can be brought to silence by life.  It has been that sort of week.

If we live our lives heart-first and wide-open, sometimes we are privileged to share time with people who teach us about courage.  My voice has been silent as my mind has been processing the courage on display all around me this week; and now that the processing is done, it is time to write.

There are three — make that five — women who are part of my world and who have been struggling against the odds recently.  One, an old friend, has been socked in the belly with a serious cancer.  She is fighting through chemotherapy and being embraced by her strong and caring family.  Another, one of my dearest sister-friends, is in town to do what she can for her daughter who suffered a stroke and has lost her dominant side and her ability to speak.  Another, a sister-angel who has embraced her disabled sibling is now preparing to care for her after major surgery.  What these women and the people who love them have in common is their courage — the courage to laugh when there seems to be nothing to laugh about at all.

As I tried to find words to communicate this with one of these strong women, my thoughts went to a recent experience I had with my granddaughter, Cheyenne.  Chey just turned six on Saturday, and we attended her roller-skating party at a local rink.  From the moment this little angel entered our lives, she has been teaching us about life and about courage.  You see, Chey was born with some physical issues that have had her in the operating room more than a dozen times in her six years.  She has taught me how my friends feel this week, because my little granddaughter takes my breath away.  That’s how it is when life kind of socks you in the stomach; and I want to tell you what I have learned from this tiny teacher.

Last Friday, Cheyenne’s school held a Race for Education.  The children would walk — more than a mile — from their school to the high school stadium.  Once there, they would run or walk laps around the track to earn pledged money for their PTO.  When I learned that Chey’s parents were considering not letting her walk because of their concern for her ability to keep up, I volunteered to walk with her in case she needed help.  We were less than a block from our destination when Chey told me, “I wish I could take a break right now.”  Glad that I had come along, I picked her up and carried her into the stadium.

As all the children assembled for the start of the race, something amazing happened.  Cheyenne took off running.  I watched her go, arms swinging and running with perfect form, and it took my breath away.   By the end of the hour, she had logged eleven laps around the track.  That’s 2-3/4 miles!  She would stop after each lap and take a few sips of water.  “Would you like to take a break?” I would ask.  “Sure!” she would answer, and then would see a friend go by and take off running again.

This was the child they thought might not stand.  Might not walk.  Certainly would have a different gait, and probably would never run.  She is a daily reminder that miracles do happen sometimes; and it is important to remember that when we need the courage to laugh.  One time, when she was four, Cheyenne asked me,

“Grandma, why does everything have to hurt?”

“I don’t know,” I answered.

“I don’t know EE-ver,” she remarked.  “Let’s do Play Doh.”

And we did.

When the running was over and Chey’s teacher assembled her class on the infield in preparation for their return to school, my little one suddenly flopped to the ground.  “Grandma,” she gasped with drama, “I am EXHAUSTED!”  I hoisted her to my hip and began the walk back to school with her arms around my neck and her head on my shoulder.  My own legs and shoulders are nearly healed from their work that day, and every ache makes me smile.

Here are the lessons Cheyenne has taught us:

When life takes your breath away, remember to keep breathing.  Doctors are wonderful helpers and their treatments can help to produce miracles, but they do not know everything.  Sometimes we surprise them.  Finally, this infectious child has taught us to live every day with joy.  And remember when things get tough to get out he play doh and have some fun.

Whatever challenges you might face, I hope you will remember to look into the sun and smile.  There is great strength in experiencing our own courage.  And I nearly forgot the final lesson Chey taught us last Friday — sometimes after you’ve been running for a while, it’s good to let someone carry you for a bit — especially someone who likes to hug you.

Life is a marathon — not a sprint — and for that we are thankful!  What matters is that we keep on running the race.

“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.”
     — Nora Ephron

Happy Mother’s Day, and it has been a happy one.

There have been some stressful events in my life lately; but today was Mother’s Day, and they all evaporated into thin air — at least for twenty-four hours.  There was no alarm clock to start our day, so I actually got to sleep in an extra hour before waking up to a beautiful, sunny morning.  The semi-annual flea market was on at our local park, and I had the rare treat of going and looking and seeing all the sights on my own — a breath of fresh air after so many years of trying to look while my many children tugged me in one direction or another.  And while I was gone, my sweetheart made the coffee.  Aaahhh!  Sweet!

My cellphone alerted me to a singsong recording from my oldest daughter — a one line, repeated song with the words, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom — I love you!”  Nice.  Then there was the e-card from (in his own words) “your favorite oldest son in the universe,” full of humor and poignant memories of his younger days.  Lunchtime brought youngest son and his family for a cookout and a second trip to the park.  There’s nothing like grandchild hugs and a big “I love you” from your favorite youngest son (in the universe).

After all that fun and relaxation, I was treated to a two-hour nap; and I awoke just in time for dinner — cooked by #2 son and his sister, the favorite child.  They even did the dishes.

Sandwiched in between it all was a call from my sister, who put my dad on the line.  I had a moment of heavy sighing as I realized that I was chatting with my eldest child, since he has relied on me this past year for maternal advice.

At last, my resident granddaughter and her mom returned from their weekend time together and put the icing on my Mother’s Day cake.

As I wrap things up and head toward bed, I realized how abundantly blessed I am to be able to call myself a mother.  I sure do have great kids.  Happy Mother’s Day to me.  :)

“One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.”
     — Ariel Durant

I am sure that when Ariel Durant extolled the virtues of doing nothing, she was thinking of situations where we can’t decide what action to take.  Often it is prudent to allow ourselves to be indecisive until we make a good decision.  I am sure that is what she meant; but on this absolutely beautiful Spring day, I hear her words as an invitation, and I would like to extend that invitation to you as well.

At some time on this beautiful Friday, I invite you to find a comfortable spot outdoors, settle in, and do nothing.  That’s right, nothing.

When was the last time you stopped doing and just let yourself be?

I know my own life is filled with things to do and places to be; and I don’t advocate leaving our responsibilities behind; but surely each of us can find an hour or a half-hour or ten minutes to give ourselves the gift of absolutely nothing.  Give it a try.  I know I will; and I suspect the birds will be willing to do the work for us.

Cloudy

The blue sky disappeared

As shades and shadows gathered.

Ominously, they hung their veil,

As dusk arrived at noon.

The wind began to whisper

As life came swirling all around.

Mournfully, it soon was howling,

Echoing its sad lament,

My heart could feel its sighing.

Lightning flashed and thunder crashed,

The veil no longer held its burden.

Suddenly, the pouring rains

Flew needle-like and stung my face.

My tongue came darting out

And licked the salt that trickled down.

From nose to lip to chin to ground,

Sorrow’s rain fell all around.