Get Out from Under the Covers

When something really bad happens to you (like widowhood, for instance) it’s really tempting to go under the covers and stay there for a while. In fact, I don’t think this is a bad strategy, in the scheme of things. Sure beats sitting around listening to other people tell you what you should do, must do, and so on when whatever it is (like widowhood, for instance) hasn’t happened to them.

Have you ever noticed how much smarter other people get when it’s time for them to solve your problems? Seriously, there they are, muddling through their less-than-stellar lives, bumbling along, confused and stressed out, just like everyone else UNTIL you mention how overwhelming your feelings are (because you’re facing widowhood head on, for instance) and you make the mistake of stopping to take a breath and TA DAH! said persons suddenly leap into your life to try and FIX YOU.

Too bad that doesn’t ever work, right? I mean, why spend all that useless time on personal development and internal skill-sets when you could just let someone who hasn’t done what you are trying so desperately to do fix you? It’s laughable, really, and yet their “help” can keep you from coming out from under the covers and putting on your big-girl pants.

Sometimes these well-meaning people can make you feel like a failure before you’ve even taken one step forward. Just because you say, “I don’t know if I should _____ or ____ ” doesn’t mean you won’t figure it out. It doesn’t mean you won’t find the answer that’s right for you! All that question means is that you are aware of the fact that you have choices.

Choices are good things. Choices are brain-judo you do in the safety of your home gym. The contemplation of choices is essential to the act of crawling out from under the covers after the unthinkable happens. And YOU are the only person who knows which one of those choices is the right one for you, right now. (That’s the cool thing about considering your options, most things are reversible. More on that in another blog.)

So bravo on you for being brave enough to come out from under the covers! Instead of letting someone try to “fix” you, ask yourself cool, contemplative questions, like, “I wonder what it would look like to ___________.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. Because Helen Keller was right, “Life is a grand adventure, or it’s nothing.”

Memorial Day

Sarge was my Daddy’s last best friend. I never knew his “real” name, everyone just called him Sarge, which I guess pretty well tells you that he was a career military man. They were the two widowed roosters in a hen house called the assisted living center. They were handsome and ornery but as Sarge said, “We’re too old to do anything about it.” When they moved my Daddy to the nursing unit, he came twice a day, like clockwork, just to say hello. He was a faithful friend until the very end.

After Daddy died, I gave him the lift chair and he played with the remote for hours on end. He put it through its paces like the drill sergeant he was. “Attention!” he’d holler as he pushed the button to go up and then he’d push the button to go down and say “At ease.” It was really funny. He loved that chair.

Like Daddy, Sarge was a child of the great depression and like Daddy, he lost his mother before he turned 9. But unlike Daddy, his father sent him to live with a distant relative, to work on his farm in exchange for room and board. People did that back then—it was how folks survived.

The first Easter Sarge lived on the farm, he carefully lined his Easter basket with field grass, like his mother had taught him, and left it on the stairs for the Easter bunny to find it. But when he ran downstairs on Sunday morning, the basket had a big horse turd in it instead of candy and Sarge said, “That’s when I knew the Easter bunny wasn’t never coming again, Santa Claus neither.” What a cruel joke. What kind of man does that to a child?

Needless to say, he left that farm as soon as he could in the only way that gave him a safe way out: The US Army. Sarge was a hard worker accustomed to sacrifice. The Army needed men like him, men who understood hardship and death. He stayed at it, married a sweet woman from home, and rose to the rank of Sergeant.

He travelled the world with the military and regaled the assisted living hens with stories of his exploits over supper. The two missionary women would try to one-up him but it never worked. He’d seen things—lots of things. “I’ve seen too many things a man shouldn’t have to see and I wish the good Lord would let me forget.” he told Daddy more than once. I guess, in a way, God answered his prayer. Sarge developed dementia and barely knew who he was for a few years before he died.

As Memorial Day dawns, I salute men like Sarge. I salute all the men and women who have seen things no one should have to see so the rest of us don’t have to. They sacrificed themselves on a daily basis so we wouldn’t have to. Sarge, and his fellow soldiers, who lost their minds and limbs and lives serving our country and protecting our freedoms will always be honored in my home and heart. On this weekend when we acknowledge their service, may they know peace.

 

 

Trusting the Unknown

I have trust issues. Many times in my early life what I trusted was happening was not what was really happening and this gave me “issues” with trust. I used to think that made me a rarity but now everywhere I turn, I see someone sporting a monster-truck-show issue that is so big mine seem small by comparison.

I finally sought professional help to work them out because they kept getting in the way of my life. And it really helped. Some of my issues got worked out and others are still a “work in progress.”

Part of the work was becoming friends with the unknown. My favorite dance partner, a need to control, was in the picture, too. My biggest problem was I KNEW what needed to be happening. I DID. And when it didn’t, boy did I get upset about it.

This left me feeling way too responsible for stuff and just plain worn out. For years, I was in my own daytime soap opera: Will _____ do the right thing and get their life together? Is _____fooling around on ____ and should I tell them? Did ______realize ______?

I am a slow learner sometimes. My husband’s death taught me a lot about trust. Everything was an unknown for a while there. To survive, I had to let go of trying to control things, I didn’t have the energy for that, which was a blessing in disguise. If no one was having a stroke or dying, it was all good. Death gave me quite the switch up in life perspective!

Since I took myself off the “Committee in Charge of Everything” my life is so much better. There’s a sweetness about trusting the unseen that I savor and an excitement about what God might stick in my life next that energizes me.

Is it time for you to go off the committee?

Will Spring Ever Come?

Thanks to the ongoing reality of climate change, most of us are wondering when spring is really coming this year. Friends in the Midwest and northeast have been shoveling late April snows off their walkways while those of us in the South go from 70 degree days to 40 degree days with ice, sleet, freezing nights, and lots of rain thrown in for good measure.

When you’ve had a hard winter, you long for spring and yet it’s often after hard winters that we wonder if spring will ever come.

Weather is often a metaphor for life. The hard winters of the heart leave us begging for spring, begging for light, begging for beauty. They leave us crying, in the words of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

An unrelenting truth of life is that here is always new life but we usually have to let something in us die to find it.

So as you await spring, look around inside your life. Is there something darkening your days that needs to die so you can live? Is it time for your heart to have a little spring cleaning while you await the warmth and sunlight of spring?

Ode to a Songbird

I hit a bird today. A tiny, sparrow-like mama bird with a pale yellow body flying across the road with a morsel in her mouth. Too late I saw her; too late saw the morsel in her mouth; too late saw her hit the glass and fall to her death on the shoulder of the two-lane country road.

It ripped my heart out to hit her. Red-shouldered hawks have circled our skies for days, gathering meat for their nests, but she’d survived them. She understood the hawks and had probably outmaneuvered them more than once this spring. She’d withstood other predators, too: Squirrels, crows, possums, and coons all enjoy a songbird’s egg. But nothing in her DNA had prepared her to meet a windshield. She never saw death coming.

The little mother was on one of those missions that only another mother can understand; racing through each day, exhausting herself to find food for her young. Her flight path was lo and laser-focused on the first maple in the meadow where generations of mountain songbirds reared their young before her. The meadow was theirs long before the road was ours.

My mind leapt to the nest, to the young who were now without a mother. As I well understand, the death of a parent is a family affair, and I lifted a prayer that they will survive without her. In high contrast to our thoughts of immortality (despite our continued 100% morbidity), wild things live day to day and understand that death is never very far away.

For weeks now the songbirds have greeted me in the morning and their full throated singing has filled my heart with joy. They are such a reminder that new life is rising from the dark cold of winter, that what has been birthed in darkness will soon lift blooms above ground.

This sweet bird’s sudden death was another reminder to slow down and live more intentionally; to hold myself accountable for the precarious balance between humanity (the world’s most invasive and dangerous species) and the rest of nature. Her soft life was a reminder that we, too, face new threats to our survival: poisoned food and water, noxious air, global warming, the marriage of big food and big medicine. (Lord have mercy upon us.) We are all connected, you know. What kills the songbirds kills us, too. Let us remember (before it is too late!) that their songs, our songs, are too valuable to lose.

Break here for spring!

The air was so soft and sweet yesterday that the wild daffodils could not help but nod their yellow heads open. “Slow down!” it seemed to say. The pale sky had big fluffy bits of cotton floating by and before I knew it, I’d taken my coffee to the deck.

As the birds serenaded me (Wait! Who am I kidding? They were serenading each other, it’s nesting season!) I sipped my organic, fair-trade dark roast and began watching the clouds go by.

After cloud-watching during breakfast I traded lunch for a walk and felt the icy days of winter were but a memory (I doubt that, I expect they’ll be back!). I ended the day back on the deck sharing some time with the birds again.

Too often I race to my “to do” list. Too often I work all day and into the early evening only to find that I haven’t checked much off that list. The panic that rises when I see all that is left undone slips into my pajamas and follows me to dream land. But not last night. Last night I slept like a child, softly and securely. The day held me fast right up until nightfall in its gentle embrace.

My to-do list is still there. It never goes away. But spring days are short. Their soft embrace is as fleeting as a moonbeam. “Slow Down!” they sing sweetly from nodding yellow heads. “Slow Down” and be one with what is.

Accepting What Is

3-22 It is What it Is

How many starfish try to be stingrays? Seriously, how much time does any given starfish, on any given coral reef, spend trying to be a stingray or a whale? Not much, right? Yet how many times a day do we try to be something we’re not? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to another woman, “Wow, I wish I had your hair!” I’d be a rich woman right now. I’d be a dang millionaire if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve envied another woman’s wardrobe, weight, lifestyle, or home décor. I’m not proud to tell you that, but it’s true.

Animals don’t do that. Animals just accept life for what it is. Wow. That’s a lot easier. So, the two wrens in my feeder today (that I’m pretty sure are about to become Mr. and Mrs.) are engaged in heavy courting. Right now, they’re feeding each other seeds and displaying their feathers. (She’s trying very hard to not be impressed.) But, it wouldn’t enter their minds to ask the crows nearby if one of them would like to make a nest. They’re wrens. They have tiny bodies and sharp beaks. They know what they’re about and they don’t waste any time trying to be a crow or a fox or a cat.

I think nature gives us a pretty good primer in self-ownership. If we try to be something we’re not, it probably isn’t going to work. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. (I can testify to this personally!) It won’t work because it’s not real. I’m a short, dark-haired Welsh woman with enough Cherokee to keep it interesting. I’m not a tall Nordic blond. I can wish that for myself, but I’ll never be that.

When we spend our time wishing things were different than they are, we’re wasting valuable self-time. And the fact of the matter is, God made us the way we are. We are enough, we are what we’re supposed to be. Until we accept what is, we will never grow into what truly can be. It’s only by accepting ourselves, all of ourselves (body type, IQ, innate gifts, life experiences, the whole shooting match!) that we live into who we are. And, who you are is actually pretty cool once you embrace it.

So, don’t waste another minute trying to be someone else. Become who you are and own that.

How To Increase Your Personal Possibility

I have spent this week at a lovely home on the Atlantic ocean on North Carolina’s Emerald Isle at a retreat for women retreat leaders. The setting is absolutely gorgeous (our week here is a gift to us from a patron of the religious arts) and we have an absolute blast! We cross-pollenate one another with inspiring ideas and art projects and mix our retreat sessions with long walks/talks on the beach before dinner each night.

beach photoOur theme this year has been “possibility.” Each of us leads a day of this retreat. One day we created foil-lined “possibility hats” that offered us the chance to repel negative thoughts and influences and attract more of what we want in our lives. Another day we explored what it means to be free and read the Declaration of Independence (wow!) and the original writings about the Statue of Liberty. We then drew our family trees and journaled about our family origins. (I have a bit of Cherokee, which explains my Asian-fold dark eyes, but mostly I’m Welsh by blood, my “people” weren’t born here.) We moved further into the turf of what it means to not only have corporate freedom but also personal freedom. Freedom from fear, anxiety, grief, destructive thoughts and behaviors, disease, and so on. Another retreat day focused on reframing negative self-language (exchanging “I can’t,” “I haven’t,” “We don’t” with “I can,” and “I will.”) THAT was really powerful process.

In these highly polarized political times, I think we can all use a little “reframing” of our possibility.

So, I want to invite you to do a really cool exercise from our retreat. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left hand side, write down at least 5 things you think you can’t do or that you used to do or that you’d like to do but don’t think you can. (Use “I can’t, I won’t, I don’t know how to…” language.)  Then, on the right hand side of the page, reframe your language about each of these things using proactive wording (I can, I will, I want to learn how to…).  The more things you list, the more powerful the exercise becomes.

Just as we can strengthen our physical bodies and develop new muscle with exercise, we can increase our personal possibility by strengthening our minds and spirits. Changing (or reframing) the negative language we often use with ourselves to the positive language of “Yes, I can!” is a great way to do that.

 

Why Do Good People Suffer?

Lent has begun.  Ashenlent crosses have been smeared on our foreheads. We have entered the time of contemplating suffering and sorrow and its role in our human condition as we remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s not hard to find suffering and sorrow. You can walk to the nearest ICU and find it displayed against the white sheets , bright lights, and beeping monitors that are the company of those in twilight sleep. My best friend of all time is a critical care physician whose daily work takes place amidst the shock and pain. She speaks the language of suffering eloquently and tenderly, often delivering the hard news that no one is ever really prepared to hear

There was an accident in my tiny town on Monday. The troopers were chasing a vehicle and the driver took our exit, blew past the sweet primary school where a few hours earlier kindergarteners with My Little Pony backpacks would have been waiting in line for their parents. The car erratically drove on, into the very heart of town and plowed into 5 vehicles before busting through the plate glass windows of the old-fashioned hardware store like a stunt driver in a B-grade movie.

T-boned in the melee was a young track coach at our local Christian college named Britten Olinger. A runner now turned paraplegic whose life is hanging by a thread. He has three dogs, a wife and a baby girl. “Lord! Where is the justice in life?” we cry out as the family takes crumpled naps on waiting room couches. I’ve slept on those same couches. It’s not any fun. Seconds take hours, hours take days, you eat from vending machines and keep your cell phone on. People call, but they don’t know what to say except, “I’m so sorry” and you don’t know what to say except, “Thank you.” The clocks in there are very loud.

Asking why good people suffer is an argument best left to the absurd. Understanding and giving thanks for each moment when we’re not suffering is where the lesson is.

So as the next 40 days unfold, sit in prayer with that family and all the others like them. Look for a way to do something helpful, think harder and then just do it. . And as you move through these next forty days, sit in utter gratitude that life includes both suffering and joy. The trick is to look for joy when and where you can because you never know what’s coming next, none of us do.

FOR THE LOVE OF TINY

andy in the kitchen

So, Twice Blest just finished a summer performing for Camp Grier every Friday. I told the story below and on the last day of the summer program, Andy & I made giant cookies with M&M smiley faces for the staff. It was our little way of saying “Thanks!” Here’s the story…

FOR THE LOVE OF TINY!

The camp I went to in the mountains had a cook named Tiny. Tiny made the best biscuits you’ve ever put in your mouth and her cookies were awesome. But, Tiny was not exactly tiny. She was 4 feet 3 inches tall and as big around as she was tall. Tiny was the happiest woman I’ve ever known, she was always singing. On the last day of camp, she’d hand you a giant cookie with an M&M smiley face and say, “Keep smiling honey! A smile a day sure keeps the blues away.”

Tiny called everybody honey and she was sweet as sugar. But Tiny could not stand a bully. I guess when you’re as big around as you are tall, you’re a walking, talking target for a bully. Tiny saved me from the bully who called me “chubby tubby.” Tiny said, “Honey, just cause they’re mean don’t mean they’re right. You just love yourself and other people will, too.”

One year, they hired a helper for Tiny, his name was Big Jim. Big Jim was the opposite of Tiny. He was tall and skinny as rail and he wore a bad mood like it was a Tshirt,  he banged pots around in the kitchen and yelled at us.

Tiny didn’t like that, so she went to work on Big Jim. While she was teaching Jim how to make her famous biscuits, and they were elbow deep in white flour she said, “Big Jim, honey, What was your Momma like?” And he told Tiny his Momma was mean and drank a lot and she’d switch his legs with a hickory stick until he cried every day, whether he’d done anything bad or not. And Tiny said, “That’s not right, Jim. That’s just not right honey.”  The night they made fried chicken Big Jim told Tiny he’d left home at 16 and started living on his own.  And Tiny said, “Well, bless your heart Jim, it took a lot of courage to do that, didn’t it honey.” And then she told him what a good job he was doing.  And after a week of working with Tiny, Big Jim started to change. He started smiling and he didn’t yell nearly as much.

At the end of the week, Tiny wanted Big Jim to stay after work and help her make those giant cookies with the smiley faces. But he said “no!” because he wouldn’t get paid for it. And Tiny shook her finger at him and said, “Now Jim, honey, if you want to get something out of life, you gotta give something to it. Like the good book says, ‘Give and it shall be given to you’.” So Big Jim gave in and they made cookies. Tiny opened a 3 bags of M&Ms and Jim put the smiley faces on all of em. By the end of night, they’d made over 200 cookies. Tiny slid a big, warm cookie into Jim’s hand. He took a  bite of that cookie and she said, “Now, Big Jim, honey, what do we tell the campers?” And he smiled at Tiny and said “Keep smiling, honey, ‘cause a smile a day keeps the blues away.” And then don’t you know they started singing “This little light of mine!” Remember how that goes?