Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Humble pie. An old-fashioned phrase. Makes me think of a picnic in springtime, a checkerboard tablecloth, and someone joyriding through a forest in a horse-drawn wagon. That person thinks he’s king of the world. He’s showing off but all-too-soon he hits a rock, is catapulted from his dinky wooden seat, and with arms and legs flailing catches air and unceremoniously lands in a huge puddle. Mud covers him from head to toe.

Don’t ask me where I got this visual. I have no idea. But when people say, “He’s too big for his britches,” something along these lines comes to mind.

What is humility, exactly?

In modern parlance, we’ve wrongly accepted it as having low self-esteem. It’s not that.

Merriam-Webster’s defines it as the quality or state of not being proud or haughty. To be humble is also to rank low in a hierarchy or scale. To be unpretentious.

Note that these definitions do not indicate intrinsic value. You can be a cog in the wheel of a large organization, but if doing your job enables others to get theirs done too, you’re not exactly worthless, are you?

My grandfather used to say he was a “peanut” when he described his career as an engineer at Boeing in Seattle, WA. A former WWII pilot and instructor, he was extremely bright and capable, and held a variety of positions which relocated his family a handful of times over the years. But no matter how much I admired his work, his perspective was different. He’d grown up in the Great Depression, and lived apart from his mom for seven years on a small farm outside of Vancouver, WA with his father and sister, while his mother provided income as washer woman in Seattle. She sent money down to her family every time she got a paycheck. He never forgot arriving at that farm house for the very first time and realizing that the only running water came through a rough, open pipe over the kitchen sink, fed by a trickling local stream. Though the amenities did improve, prolonged family separation – not by choice but by necessity – and hard times, left marks. He never took blessings for granted. Instead, he took the opportunities he was given and used them to serve others. He always gave others credit and downplayed his own contributions. He was holding all things in proper perspective, the way a truly humble person navigates life.

So it made sense to me, sitting at his memorial service, that here was a man who had spent his life making kind overtures. Yes, he helped feed and clothe the homeless through his church, and volunteered countless hours to manage the books for community groups. But another thing he did really struck me.

In his later years, he joined a yacht club and rose ‘through the chairs’ to become Commodore. At the end of the monthly members’ meeting, he had a personal tradition of “Naming the House.” Starting on one side of the room and making his way around, he would say the name of every person present, and if there was enough time, also the name of his/her spouse and their boat. At any meeting, there might be as many as 200 people present.

This is notable for a few reasons:

First, what a memory! Keeping his mind sharp was always important to him, but he must have spent days studying the roster. It shows a level of dedication to his organization that I believe most leaders don’t have.

Second, he was looking at each person as he said their name and relayed information pertinent to that person’s life. How often do we tell others that they are seen? That we know them? That we care who they are?

And finally, he was not doing this to show off or to elevate himself above his fellow members. He did it because he fully understood that once his term was up, he would reassume his place in the crew. Despite the fancy uniform and podium he was speaking from – he was – essentially – just like them, and he valued each of them for who they were individually. His heart was in serving them. He knew that each person was important – a valued member – and he wanted them to know that he would never forget a single one.  

This how God sees us.

He looks upon us with tremendous love – boundless affection – and says, “I know you. Every part of you. And in my leadership, I will never forget you.”

To show us that he understands, He sent us Himself in Jesus. Fully man, and fully divine, a person who was similarly tested in all ways, but remained without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) God “gets” us.

True humility on our part is recognizing our rightful place in the world, which is neither less than nor greater than any other human being, but bowing only toward the One Who is.

How does this thought strike you? Is it strange? Foreign? Liberating?

Our intrinsic value is not defined by our position. It is not related to our income, connections, careers, or even our bad habits.

We were created in love by the One Who cradles us in the palm of His hand and calls us Beloved. This is where we find our true worth. 

This kind of humble pie is Truth. And it’s deliciously filling.

Study Birds and Turtles – Or How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments

Study Birds and Turtles – Or  How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments
Me and my first-born at the National Zoo many years ago.

How do you love those closest to you in life’s mundane moments? Those times when all you see are the remains of everyday life and the residue bugs you…Toothpaste stuck to the sides of the sink. Towels in crumpled heaps on the floor. Crumbs all over the countertop.

When our first child – a boy – was still an ‘only’, my husband and I took him on regular visits to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. We had high hopes that our son would embrace our love of animals – all the same majestic beasts of power I admired (like the great cats), and the intelligence and antics of the creatures my husband favored (such as the primates and the otters). Instead, we often found ourselves wandering around the Bird House or lingering beside a pond of lily pads as eternal minutes dragged on. But these locales were positively scintillating for our son. He was mesmerized by the tiniest of brown birds, the plainest of turtles sitting motionless on its mini-island rock in the center of a lagoon.

I couldn’t understand it until my husband made the wise observation, “These animals are small. Closer to his size. They’re easier for him to study and appreciate.”

It was true. While we may be attracted by the bright, colorful, and bold, it’s more often the case that passionate love for a creature, person, place, or anything else develops in a slower, more nuanced way. We connect with what seems within reach – with what we understand – starting from the outside and exploring within. Once there, we bridge the gap, allowing our hearts to grow stronger in affection for that which we have come to esteem.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” but even she knew her sonnet would inadequately describe love of a person – the greatest experience known to man this side of heaven.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace….
and, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

-Sonnet 43

It takes a lifetime and beyond to fully value an individual, doesn’t it?

When we truly stretch ourselves to love the entirety of another person, accepting him or her as a unique and irreplaceable gift, we experience a taste of the vastness of God.

But most days, we are blind to the divine glory of our loved ones.

We get tired. We fuss and fidget over our to-dos. We become automatons in the stress and hustle of our world. And in the modern age, we stare blankly and numbly at our screens, scrolling past the myriad faces of people who don’t play significant roles in our lives.

Why? Why are we wasting this precious time?

God’s grace – as evidenced by the immense creativity across the depth of the people we love – is there for the knowing, if only we would look up and SEE.

Post-Valentine’s Day, I would encourage us all to recommit ourselves to the study and appreciation of the people closest to us. The ones who really matter.

Memorize the feel of your child’s hair under your palm. Fix your beloved’s smile in your mind’s eye. Etch the echoes of voices you treasure on your heart.

Listen. Not to just the words, but to the yearning to be understood that lies behind the words.

Love never ends, but opportunities to see it shimmering like dewfall in life’s most mundane moments – do.

Let’s not rely on a holiday to savor the beauty of our valentines. Today is as perfect a day as any.

Our First Valentine’s Day We Did A Few Things Right …And You Can Do Them Too

Our First Valentine’s Day We Did A Few Things Right …And You Can Do Them Too
Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Late in February 2016, Grandma and I were talking alone in her living room when I spotted a vase of flowers on a side table and said they were pretty.

“Grandpa gave them to me for Valentine’s Day,” she said. “They were a week late.”

My mouth started to form into a surprised ‘O’ as she looked me square in the eye and added with a giggle, “Don’t tell him.”

When you love someone – as she had him for more than 74 years – you forgive them their faults and oversights. You become increasingly willing to bear all things. Endure all things. Seek your own interests less.

We know this. Writ large or very, very small, in one way or another we have all experienced love, and our souls yearn endlessly to find the consummate, unending experience of it, where we are fully caught up – cherished and known – by the One who has loved us perfectly from the very beginning of our creation.

As St. Paul so eloquently explains at the end of his definition of love, “At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

Love is without question – the greatest.

And it can be passionate, expansive, life-giving, and life-transforming.

But…

When Valentine’s Day rolls around and pictures of cherubs and candy hearts are everywhere…Well, I don’t know about you, but most years, I’m not really feeling it. I want to celebrate the holiday about as much as I want to hang wallpaper from a ceiling.

That is, until I re-frame the picture and consider HOW it is I’m called to love my beloved.

My husband and I have been married for 20 years, but I probably did the best job selecting a Valentine’s Day gift for him on our very first Feb. 14th together.

We’d only been dating for about 3 weeks, riding around in his battered Geo Prizm, which he’d bought just after college graduation. I chatted with my very new boyfriend about our entry-level jobs and trying to live cheaply in D.C., and came to understand that we were alike, working hard to prove our worth. There was little time or attention paid to things like a car’s interior.

And while sitting in the passenger seat, I noticed two knobs were missing from his car’s climate controls – one for air and the other for temperature. This didn’t seem to bother him; he just used his fingers to turn what was left of the plastic tube inside each space to make necessary changes. But I wondered…

So, shortly before Valentine’s Day I walked into the local Geo dealership’s parts and service department and explained the situation.

“I don’t suppose you would have these knobs, would you?” I asked sheepishly of a guy in a royal blue baseball cap. He looked in the stockroom and returned with two black pieces wrapped in clear cellophane bags.

“That will be $6.00,” he said, grinning. I dug a five and a one out of my purse, dazzled by the serendipity of the moment.

That Valentine’s Day, my brand-new boyfriend sent me a dozen long-stem roses at my office and took me to dinner in Georgetown. He went the BIG and impressive route, and I went absolutely gaga. I felt like royalty.

And for him?

I told him to close his eyes and hold out his hands, and when I pressed a small plastic knob into each one, he whooped with joy and hugged me tight. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever again responded with such enthusiasm to a gift.

As I look back now, I see that first February as foundational in our relationship, because we had mysteriously figured out HOW to love one another well.

My husband gave openly and generously. Consequently – I felt cherished.

I noticed a need in his life and filled it. Consequently – he felt known.

Without planning it, both of us focused our efforts on meeting one of two core human desires: 1) to be cherished and 2) to be known.

Now yes, I admit, we were dating. The endorphins were on full blast. Everyday life isn’t quite the same.

But what we did then by happenstance, anyone can do today with intention.

We can all ask for divine guidance to love as God intends – unselfishly, with hope and endurance.

We can all learn to open our hearts to what’s new – what’s there for us to appreciate right in the moment.

My husband still gives me flowers, and I still feel honored and adored every time he does. And I continue to notice things about him. To me, he smells of sunshine in warm, spring woods. He always asks if the dogs and kids have been fed before dishing up his own plate.

Over two decades, we have learned the fundamentals of love and continue to practice them as best we can. The sustained efforts add up, little by little, day by day.

As I said, with the help of Providence, anyone can love like this, because we are wired for love. Created for it by Love Himself.

Love means caring more about the other person than you do about yourself. It means taking note. It means embracing. It means acceptance.

How does all this translate into a Valentine’s Day gift for my husband?

That’s for me to know, and him to find out, but I doubt I’ll ever find a better one than two plastic knobs.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in January

Wholesome. I love this word. It means anything suggestive of good health and well-being. It has a connotation of warmth and nourishment, virtue and pure intentions.

I’ve decided that for 2019, I’m going to end each month sharing with you 5 things that I found to be wholesome, because to paraphrase Philippians 4:8 – we are to dwell on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. In short – those things that contribute to the fullness of life that God intends for us.

I know – that sounds pretty lofty. I’m not aiming for grandiose ideas, just everyday things I encountered that were notable, enriching, and/or helpful in some way.

So, here we go. FIVE wholesome things I learned in January.

  1. If a woman can’t have her family with her 24-7, the next best thing is a beautifully framed photo of the people she loves. I’m rather picky about photo printing. Now that film has gone the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hard to find a shop that delivers prints with true-to-life color. For years I have been looking for an online company producing premium-quality prints, and recently a friend suggested Mpix.com. This month, I chose from a nice selection of mats and frames to create a birthday present for my mom – a gorgeous, ready-to-hang 8 x 10 framed photograph of her two girls and 4 grandchildren that was taken last spring at my youngest son’s First Communion celebration. She cried when she got it. First-time customers get 25% off for sharing an email address. Check it out.
  2. The most important sentence we can say just might be: “Tell me more about that.” Jonathan Fields says this a lot when encouraging his guests to continue in the podcast that’s got me completely hooked – Good Life Project. The premise of the show is that every story matters, and Fields’s guests are purpose-driven, community-oriented individuals who have meaningfully processed both personal and professional issues. I’ve only been listening for about two months, but in January, I was gripped by conversations Fields had with Brene Brown, Bronnie Ware (author of The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying), and Mark Nepo (author of More Together Than Alone: Discovering the Power and Spirit of Community in Our Lives and the World). I also loved that my youngest son happened to hear the story of Maggie Doyne – a young woman who took a gap year after high school, only to find her passion in caring for orphans in Nepal and collaborated on the formation of a Nepali school, health clinic, and foundation for 350 children. Good Life Project. It’s good food for thought.
  3. The memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, is going to become a modern classic. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m surprised, but before long you will, because it’s an unforgettable story of a girl from a survivalist family in Idaho who is barely home-schooled, yet manages to teach herself enough to enter Brigham Young University and then Cambridge and Harvard, all while trying to negotiate unspeakably complex ties between herself and the people who love her in profound and profoundly unhealthy ways. Like all great writers, Tara Westover has a gift for drawing connections between the visible world and its invisible undercurrents, crafting electrifying sentences like these: “I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (p. 304)
  4. Fermented goat’s milk from Answers Pet Food is healing my dog. I have two canines – Luna and Seamus. Luna is a Beagle with a host of allergy issues and she’s been suffering from a cough for months that comes and goes in intensity. We’ve been working with our vet to uncover the root cause, but three weeks ago a nutritionist friend suggested I try adding a natural probiotic – raw fermented goat’s milk – to her diet to help support healthy immune function. The fermentation process increases digestive enzymes, b-vitamins, antioxidants and lactic acid, and it’s been working. Luna is still congested in the mornings, but the cough is basically gone. Cheers to improvement in the lives of our fur-babies!
  5. Handwritten thank-you notes warm the soul. Okay – so maybe I didn’t really learn this one this month, but I received three very nice notes in January that are worth mentioning here, if only to say that when you take the time to tell someone that what they did for you touched your heart, you WILL touch theirs too. We are so glib with our thank-yous these days. Putting pen to paper and expressing gratitude in a few thoughtful phrases means so very much. Consider how it feels to read, “You are a treasured friend,” “You are truly amazing and appreciated,” “I treasure the bond that we have and thank God for you regularly,” “Thank you SO much for thinking of me.” For February – let’s go and put more encouraging words out there in the world.

That’s it for January’s wholesome list! I appreciate your reading time more than you will ever know, and I’d love to hear what you’re learning too. Email me via the “Contact” link on my home page. Peace and blessings in February!

4 Simple Ideas for the Happiest of New Years

4 Simple Ideas for the Happiest of New Years
Ringing in 2019 lasts all of January. It's where we set our intentions. What are yours? How will you spend this year?
Photo by Melanie Hughes on Unsplash

So, we’ve turned the corner into 2019 and none of us know what lies ahead. But I’ve been thinking there are a few things we can take from December 2018 that just might be of assistance to us in the months to come.

Here are four simple steps to creating a meaningful, rich year:

1) Do less. We’re back to work and school and other activities. But let’s not forget that some (if not all) of these “other activities” are ones we choose.

Yes, there’s grocery shopping to be done and birthdays to celebrate, but before we add another ‘to-do’ to our calendars, it wouldn’t hurt to ask: “Do I really want to _______? Am I doing it to please someone else? Out of a false obligation? Is it good and true and helpful (to me or someone in my circle), or am I doing it in a vain attempt to create a favorable impression?”

Over the holidays, I cut a few things out.

I dropped the idea of a family outing to see Christmas lights.

Didn’t force us all to attend an Advent evensong service.

Nixed my plan to make quiche on Christmas morning, since pancakes and scrambled eggs were good enough.

And the result? Less stress.

In each case, I considered my motivations and the potential benefits and chose a quieter, simpler path of peace for myself and my family.

A long time ago, a friend of my husband’s said, “I’ve been a lot happier since I stopped doing things I don’t want to do.”

Yes. Couldn’t have said it better.

2) Rest more. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s my family has done a fair amount of sleeping. I believe we all needed it. Your life and mine are probably very similar, and sleep often goes by the wayside.

But again – we can choose to make rest a priority.

It doesn’t have to mean 8 hours a night (though my experience tells me – and science backs it up – that reaching this goal consistently makes a world of difference). It DOES mean taking time out to put our feet up, read good books, snuggle with our spouses, play board games with kids, and laugh.

You probably did all of this over the holidays and felt some rejuvenation. Keep it up.

3) Spend time with loved ones. This may seem related to point number 2, but it is actually a category unto itself. In December, many of us traveled great distances to see loved ones, carved out time to spend just with them. But I wonder: How will we maintain those connections in 2019?

What if – instead of scrolling through Facebook or Instagram – we spent 20+ minutes talking to one of those special people on the phone?

What if – instead of sitting on our couches watching the Today Show or a sitcom – we had a weekly date to meet a friend for coffee or a walk in a local park?

I know where I waste time daily, and I bet you do too. Let’s choose people over technology. However much those screens add to our lives, the people we know add infinitely more, don’t they?

4) Pray and/or meditate. Did you go to a house of worship over the holidays? Why? Perhaps it was an obligation. You went because that’s what the family does. But how did you feel when you went? Even if you hated it, you went, and I would submit that’s because there’s a deep desire within each of us to connect with Something Greater.

And – I think arguing against this is a strenuous exercise in pushing back against what is.

So acknowledge your curiosity. Explore the possibility. Ask the big questions.

Give your soul the benefit of prayer or meditation. Let it reach out to see What and Who is there.

You WILL be met.

Thank you for reading this. Together, we can embrace the new year with hope and love. I pray for countless blessings for you and yours in 2019.

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

5 Ways to Show Love from a Grateful Heart (The Promised “Stories” Post)

November is a time to contemplate our blessings. So many of us are deeply thankful. And full hearts should spill over into good deeds in the world.

Over the last few weeks – via Instagram, Facebook, and emails to my subscribers – I’ve requested stories about the many ways I KNOW you guys show love in the world. And I waited to hear your responses.

Very few came.

I think you’re shy.

Or busy.

But I’m gonna go with shy.

You don’t want to tell me how you show love because you fear it will make you appear prideful. Boastful. Arrogant. As if you’re bragging that you do a lot.…And I get that. I really do.

But the good that we do can inspire others and – if done unselfishly – gives glory to God. Because He gives us all the means to do it in the first place.

So I’m going to proceed as I’d promised and share with you the little I have (and the little I did) and pray that you’ll find something to chew on here. Ok?

There are a few ways we can give out the love and gratitude we feel in our hearts, and here are a couple stories to illustrate them.

1) Begin where you are this very moment and seek to understand others who are right there with you. On the first day I requested stories, I heard from The Boundless Professionals, a young couple who maintains a travel blog and beautiful Instagram page of journeys to far-off destinations like South Africa and Zambia, as well as closer ones like San Diego and the Chesapeake Bay. They embrace a philosophy of no-debt living and had this to say about spreading goodness as they go:

“We feel there are so many ways to bring kindness to the world, and one of our favorite ways is to focus on having conversations with people who do not get to talk with others. Elderly, homeless, people struggling in small businesses. We love conversation, and whether it’s in a small town or in a large city, everyone needs someone to talk to!”

One of our greatest needs is simply to be heard, and you can give the gift of presence, listening, and conversation anywhere. It’s fun. Free. And maybe even freeing for your soul.

2) Share the things you love. My high school friend Howard – now an oncologist – has a sweet tooth. But he doesn’t hoard the treats. He maintains a drawer of candy in his office to share with his coworkers. They can help themselves to Snicker’s bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups any time they’d like. It’s the little things that make a day pleasant, right?

Given the nature of his work, you’d think he’d be a serious guy. And he’s a devoted doctor for sure. But his daily Facebook posts are laugh-out-loud funny, and he’s shown this sense of humor since way back when. He gives of himself, and there’s no greater gift. I’m sure his eyes sparkle when he has good news for his patients.

3) Remember your history. Your experiences are a road map to future contributions. A few years ago, a friend of mine had been through some difficult experiences with men. One in particular was not a gentleman. So for her birthday this month, she asked for donations to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. I was happy to oblige. In my senior year at Dickinson College, I received several weeks of preliminary training as a domestic violence counselor for the state of Pennsylvania, and spent time with fellow volunteers helping prepare a safe house for abused women and children. I heard stories that shattered all my preconceptions and learned that domestic violence cuts across all races, classes, education levels, and socioeconomic groups. My heart was forever changed.

If God placed an experience in your life, there’s probably something you can do with it.

4) Step out of your comfort zone to give. Spreading kindness may require you to do something a bit uncomfortable, but one of my favorite sayings is “Never ignore a generous impulse,” so I try to follow where the Spirit leads me.

In this case, I wrote a note to Michelle Ostrelich, a woman who ran for the New York State Senate this year and was defeated. It takes great courage to run for office, especially without any background in politics, and that’s what she did. She stepped up to speak on behalf of groups she was concerned about and truly listened to the people in her community, and friends – that is honorable work. I wanted to encourage her and let her know that she inspired me and I hope she continues in her pursuits.

Even with a small personal connection – her husband is the aforementioned Howard (whom I have not seen in person in 25 years) – writing the letter felt very, very strange. We have never met. To her it would have come completely out of the blue. But the gesture was well received, and that’s how it often is when we obey the “nudge” to do good. To extend our hearts. It’s weird until it’s not. Try it and see.

5) If an idea keeps hitting you, there’s a reason. Some call it “holy discontent.” Others call it “fire in the belly.” They are the subjects or issues that make us angry. Move us to action. Push us to make a difference.

What riles you up? The one thing that just rips your heart to shreds? You cannot help but rise out of your chair saying, “That is NOT right!!”

Could it be that this one thing (or more) is the way that God is asking you to move in the world?

I admit, I haven’t yet fully figured out how to deal with my holy discontent. It’s violence against women. Specifically rape. I CANNOT stand portrayals of it in movies – so much so that I’ve become a fearful film watcher and this limits my range of choices. But so be it.

Years ago, I heard about the Fistula Foundation, which provides restorative surgery to repair obstetric fistulas to women in developing countries. A fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and one or more of her internal organs. It can be caused by many days of obstructed labor or by sexual violence, and the result is that without surgical repair a woman becomes permanently incontinent of urine and/or feces. The majority of women who suffer with fistulas are rejected by their husbands and shunned or cast out of their communities because they smell. They end up living as outcasts.

In 2018, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a partner of the Fistula Foundation, won the Nobel Peace Price for his work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rape is a tool of war. He works at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu and has cared for 50,000 victims of sexual violence since 1999, and there is no end in sight. Read more here.

So, as you might have guessed, on “Giving Tuesday” this week, I gave to Dr. Denis Mukwege’s efforts in conjunction with the Fistula Foundation.

This is not enough. My hands, my ears, my words, my time, and my money are of course still needed. I must make myself available to know how, when, and where to go next.

In prayer, I am being called every day to act according to God’s will, and it’s my responsibility to listen and respond.

Only in this way – through each of us – can the world be changed for good.

I am reading an amazing book right now and will cover it in another blog post, but among its main points is this:

To truly show love in the world, we must first recognize the humanity of every person.

The late Elie Wiesel – Holocaust survivor, teacher, activist, author, Nobel laureate, and adviser to world leaders, explains:

“To be human is to share a common origin. And if we share a common origin, our destinies are entwined. What happens to me will eventually happen to you; what happened to my people is a foreshadowing of what will threaten the world. Auschwitz led to Hiroshima and who knows what else? Therefore the most important biblical commandment is Lo taamod al dam réakha, ‘Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow human being.’ The word réakha, ‘fellow human being’ – it is universal. Anyone who is suffering, anyone who is threatened becomes your responsibility. If you can feel this and act with even a bit more humanity, more sensitivity, as a result, that is the beginning.” (from Witness, by Ariel Burger, p. 147-148)

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

It’s World Kindness Day! How Are You Celebrating?

Today is World Kindness Day. I wrote another blog post about it yesterday, but the real question is this: How will we mark this day?

We all know from experience that…

A good seed planted in darkness can burst forth to produce a tree large enough to host entire communities in its colorful branches.

Things that start small can become big.

So what seeds of kindness will you plant today? Tomorrow? For the rest of this month? I want to know.

Are you making soup for a neighbor?

Giving more than usual to a charity of your choice? Which one? Why?

Mending a relationship because you know you’re not guaranteed tomorrow?

In November, we focus on gratitude. And gratitude is good. Very good.

But it isn’t enough to be thankful – to sit around enjoying the fullness, ruminating on all that’s pleasing or teaching us. We are called to share what we have and know.

If we have love – we share love.

If we have hope – we share hope.

If we have means – we share our treasure.

If we have time – we give hours or moments – with intentionality.

If we have hands, or feet, or ears, or eyes…..If we’re alive, friends! (so that’s all of us) we offer ourselves. Whole and present when nudged to do so.

When you hear the whisper in your heart….Help her. Go to him. Say this in peace….Do it. And make a mental note.

This is God’s work in the world.

And then, please share your stories with me. I’m saving them for an end-of-the-month blog post, where I’ll offer a few tips about the ways we’ve all found to share love throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

Your kind acts will inspire others. And wouldn’t more love and kindness be a nice gift for the world?

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

“They” – It’s a Bad Word: My Thoughts After the Shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The tiniest phrase in a recent article about the latest massacre – the one at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – infuriated me.

It said the shooter “raged against Jews.”

Who are these “Jews”?

I’ll tell you who “they” are. Over the course of my life, people – who happen to have Jewish heritage and espouse a time-treasured faith – have been to me one or more of the following: family members, neighbors, classmates, teachers, doctors….friends.

They are people I love, respect, and deeply admire – just as I would anyone of integrity and goodness who seeks to do unto others as he or she would do unto himself or herself.

And over this week, as I cried for the beautiful people who lost their lives while worshiping God, I considered the state of things…a nation where “raged against Jews” still seems an apt phrase.

Our world repeats many lies to its constantly thrumming drum, but the biggest one is this…

There is a “they” – separate from us – that we can treat as “other.”

The list of self-identifying groups and sub-groups is endless….Christian (i.e., Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical and hundreds of denominations in-between), Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Democrat, Republican, Men, Women, Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Straight, LGBTQIA+, Graduate of Such-and-Such College, Having X Degree, No-Degree, Hard Worker, Slacker, Pro-this, Anti-that – you follow?

Add on your own tags – the ones you apply to yourself – as many as you can think of – and stand in your circle to see how many fellow humans are left there with you. One? Two? None?

When we push outward we discover we are all alone.

There is NO “they.”

They are us.

And we are them.

Mother Teresa said it best when she declared, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”

I don’t know much about the shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue, but I do know this: his hatred was homegrown and it started as a seed in his heart.

The call to action for us as citizens of the world is to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

There are no caveats in that.

No exclusions if we think the person has strange ideas, smells, does her hair in a funny way, or is infringing on our space.

And whether you happen to agree with me when I say that God created each person – and in His own image – formed to be imperishable for all eternity, unique and sacred as an individual – I would venture this…

Deep down you know that freedom from self-absorption and egotism – those inclinations that isolate us and proliferate fear by pushing others away – means reaching out and extending the thing we all want most. Love.

We all play a role in making this world the place we want it to be.

Call out the darkness and bring it to light.

The darkness within each of us is where the battle is waged.

There is no THEY.

There is only US.

And LOVE that surpasses us all.

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Shame On This Dog!

Shame On This Dog!

It’s public knowledge that dogs – as much as we love them – sometimes do disgusting things. Try as we might to keep them out of trouble, even the most adorable and lovable ones will occasionally drag their butts across a carpet, sniff the crotch of an unsuspecting guest, or worst of all, eat poop. Dealing with this nastiness is the dark side of pet ownership. You must be aware of the potential for your pet to act like the totally irrational and – heaven forbid I say it – bestial creature that he is, and be armed to the teeth at all times to fight the demons where they lurk.

And yet – doodoo still occurs.

Last week I was on the phone with the vet’s office giving them an update on our Beagle Luna (who currently has bronchitis), when I noticed that our other dog – a 22 lb. 13-year old mutt named Seamus – was voraciously chowing down on something in the far corner of our yard.

He’d had his breakfast of premium “keep your old-dog young and lean” kibbles just 2 hours before. Whatever this was, it was not OK.

I hung up with the vet, grabbed a Target bag and trekked out to deal with the “prize.”

I got closer and could see a fuzzy grayish cylinder protruding from Seamus’ mouth.

“Seamus!” I said in my best Mom-Boss voice. “Drop it!”

He ran.

Across the yard.

Wolfing down his treasure with a glee that brings new meaning to the verb I just used.

“Seamus!!” I screamed, “I saaaiiid, ‘Drop it!’” as if reprimanding a toddler.

By that point I could make out that the victim was a squirrel. Only its’ tail hung out of our dog’s mouth.

Seamus stopped and hunkered down. Mouth covering his prey. Frozen. Waiting for me to make my next move.

I stood over him, hands on my hips, my pathetic plastic bag flying in the wind from between clenched fingers.

“Seamus!!!! We DO NOT EAT SQUIRRELS!!”

Did I really say that?!

Yes. Yes, I did.

I was losing my mind.

Here we go, I thought.

I reached down, grabbed him by the collar, wrapped the flimsy bag around the mangled squirrel tail, and pulled.

I’m fairly sure Seamus used the opportunity to savor the last juicy bits, because it felt as if he scraped off the insides as I pulled out what was left of the outsides: tail, two hind feet, and about two inches of furry skin that would have covered a non-existent spine.

Five minutes later we were back in the house. Seamus was strutting around like Henry VIII with a visibly swollen gut after a palatial feast, and I was back on the phone trying to mask my fear and trepidation.

“Um, yes.…This is Gretchen Matthews. We spoke just a few minutes ago? Well, now I’m uh…Now I’m calling about my other dog. Seamus. He… Well, hmmm. He was in our backyard while you and I were talking and…and…and he ate a squirrel.”

Shocked silence.

“I mean, he actually ATE a squirrel. I know this can’t be good for him. Microbes and diseases and who knows what!? What do I do?”

I heard shock give way to mild amusement in the tech’s voice. Then she reassured me that since Seamus is up-to-date with his shots he’d likely be fine, and that Dr. Roy* would want to speak to me after finishing with another patient. Meanwhile, I could try giving Seamus two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide (one T per 10 pounds of dog) to see if that would make him vomit.

Oh – if it were only so easy.

I put the ‘magical elixir’ in one of the kids’ old medicine dispensers, leashed up Seamus, and dragged him outside again. There was NO WAY squirrel was coming up onto my carpets.

Five minutes of attempted administration looked like a clown act gone off the rails. I pried open his mouth and got one drop in. That was enough to convince him he would have no more of it. So, I squatted on him like he was a log; and he backed out from under me. I cradled him next to my rib cage and he pushed off my thighs. In the end he was running around me endlessly, wrapping me in the leash loops as if I were a Maypole.

My neighbor walked by and took pity on me. She lovey-dovingly cooed over Seamus until he calmed and together we managed to get about one TEASPOON in.

I thanked her, and the pot-bellied mutt and I trudged inside, where I locked him in his crate and sat beside him, listening to his stomach gurgle for the next 15 minutes.

Dr. Roy called and told me there was a solution. They would put drops in his eye that would make him nauseous and in about 5 minutes he’d bring up the carcass.

I got our beloved mongrel to the vet immediately, where he was greeted at the door: “Here comes THE SQUIRREL EATER!!” and “Some dogs try their whole lives to catch a squirrel. Not bad for 13!!” Seamus soaked in his moment of fame, never flagging in his wags.

He weighed in at 23.5 lbs. Yep – that’s 22 pounds of dog and 1.5 pounds of squirrel.

The remedy worked as hoped, and when I talked to Dr. Roy later he asked me, “What did you get from him?” After I explained, he said, “Well, that makes sense. Because I got the rest of it.”

He told me it was all there – head, spine, innards. All of it. And when Seamus had finally given up the goods, he turned around and lifted his front paws up onto Dr. Roy’s chest, the way he always does when he’s perfectly content.

The dog was proud of himself.

“I heard you say to the staff that there was an eyeball lookin’ at you!”

“Yes, I was just having fun with them because they didn’t see the whole mess. And Seamus didn’t kill it; it’s pretty clear he found it dead. But he sure enjoyed it! I’m definitely going to tell my wife about this tonight. Once in awhile I see something a little unusual in here.”

Now, those of you who read my blog regularly know that I usually try to say something about life, love, and faith to encourage you. Today, I’m not so sure I have many words along those lines, except maybe these.

Dogs can’t change who they are. Seamus is – apparently – a squirrel eater. Given the right circumstances, your dog might be one too.

We, on the other hand, are blessed with a Creator who will help us to grow into improved versions of ourselves. The men and women He intended us to be. All we have to do is ask Him for the grace we need to transform us from those who favor the ways of the flesh, to those who walk in the Spirit.

“I say then: live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh. For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want….Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.”

– Galatians 5: 16-17, 24-25

*Name has been changed.