How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?

How’s Your New Year’s Activism Going?
Witness by Ariel Burger and Night, by Burger’s teacher, Professor Elie Wiesel.

Are you an activist? Is activism something you do – or observe?

Last night I finished Night by Elie Wiesel. It’s a short book I meant to read for years, and I put it off out of selfish knowledge that its contents would rattle me. And they did, because every word is true. I felt physically ill. I don’t remember the last time I read something this painful, powerful, important, or necessary.

In the very unlikely case you’ve never heard of it – Night is a harrowing first-person account of survival in the Nazi death camps. Taken – along with his family and the entire Jewish community of Sighet, Transylvania – to Auschwitz, Elie Wiesel recounts with lucidity, humility, and eloquence the unforgettable anguish of passing through hell and leaving behind every person he had ever loved. Deeply observant, this Jewish teenager faced a prolonged dark night of the soul unimaginable to most. I defy anyone with a heart to read this book and remain unmoved.

You will read Night and feel bereft. But there is a mighty epilogue. Elie Wiesel was much more than a survivor. Before his passing in 2016, he wrote 40 books (both fiction and nonfiction), was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the French Legion of Honor, and most notably, in 1986, the Nobel Peace Prize. He taught Humanities at Boston University for nearly 40 years.

In conjunction with Night, I recently devoured a sort-of primer on moral education – Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger, who was a student of and later an assistant to, Elie Wiesel in Boston. It’s the next best thing to being in Professor Wiesel’s classes, pondering eternally significant questions such as, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place?”

Which brings me back to the whole point of this post – the steps we take after we are consumed with sadness and fury over the injustices in the world.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Professor Wiesel said he had faith. “Faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even in His creation. Without it no action would be possible. And action is the only remedy to indifference, the most insidious danger of all.” (emphasis mine)

To sit on our hands and do nothing when we are outraged is to fuel evil’s fire.

We may feel powerless, but we are not.

“Walt, a retired academic dean who [had] attended Wiesel’s classes for over a decade, [said], ‘My problem is, I do something small, write a check or something, and I feel better. I don’t want to feel better; I want to hold on to the outrage so I can do more. How do I do that?’

[Wiesel replied,] ‘The question is, how real are other people to you? Do you feel their suffering?…We can feel overwhelmed….And you can remain asleep to others’ pain. We need to find a balance between sleep and paralysis. Start with one person. A person is not an abstraction – we must be against abstraction. Six million pairs of shoes taken from children in the camps are a statistic; one is a tragedy.

But don’t just write a check; help them somehow with your own effort, your own energy. Buy them food and bring it to them. Help them find shelter. Speak to them, take the time to really speak and listen. Who will listen to them? We must be the ones who do. This means that your feelings of anxiety or calm, your presence or lack thereof for another person, your smile at a fellow human being or your turning away, your feeling overwhelmed and how you manage that – all of these little, internal things contribute somehow to the destiny of the world.’” (Witness, p. 176)

We cannot live lives of vicarious righteousness. We must step out and take action wherever we see a need. Big steps. Small steps. Forward steps.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, “How I am doing this new year, living an activist’s life? Am I obeying the daily, divine call to love?”

Am I feeding the hungry? Clothing the naked? Giving shelter? Speaking up – loudly – for the defenseless and oppressed?

Am I listening without judgment to the person who suffers from addiction? Am I offering compassion to the one who is sick, the one whose marriage is failing, the one whose child is estranged, and the one who has lost his job? Do I give rapt attention to the one who talks aimlessly because she’s been lonely for ages?

Who will welcome these battered hearts, if not me?

Am I asking God for help in discerning my next steps, and am I willing to accept that I am part of a greater whole, and that because God so loved the entire world, I must as well?

Or am I avoiding pain, because getting involved might cost me something?

These are questions for the would-be activist. Questions for you and me.

“We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them,” wrote Elie Wiesel.

So – how are we doing?

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.

A Book Worthy of Your 2019

A Book Worthy of Your 2019
"True You" by Michelle DeRusha - helping you uncover your most authentic self in 2019.
“True You” by Michelle DeRusha. Available at all fine booksellers, including Amazon.

It’s early January, and as I sit next to our Christmas tree (which I don’t want to take down!), I’m considering goals for the new year and the wisdom I’ve received in reading “True You” by Michelle DeRusha. If ever there was a book about new beginnings, about starting again, this is it.


While sitting on a bench in a quiet space, a question presented itself in Michelle’s mind: “Why do you have trouble with intimacy?” (p. 45) I read the question she’d heard as an invitation, but one I personally wouldn’t want to accept. “I don’t have trouble with intimacy,” I thought, “I have good relationships.”  But then I read this gem of a book, and decided I could use some more spiritual pruning in this area.


By likening the process of spiritual growth and a closer relationship with God to the Japanese gardening technique of “open center pruning,” through which a tree’s most beautiful elements are retained and all that detracts from it are cut away, Michelle takes her readers on a voyage of discovery and reflection. She encourages the routine practice of sitting quietly and listening carefully for God’s voice. Bigger and more powerful than our wildest dreams, God has planned a fullness of life for us, unhindered by our egotistical desires or our inclinations toward idols. These things separate us from the person God created us to be. By allowing ourselves to be “openly pruned” we can find our truest selves. 


Each chapter features thoughtful reflection questions to help us uncover the myths we tell ourselves, and to move our souls toward deeper friendship with God, who wants only the best for us. As we honestly consider our values and motivations (both good and bad), we participate in our own journey of healing. Michelle understands this discovery process is hard, and shares her own anecdotes and observations to confirm our experiences as we go. “[I]n spiritual transformation, as in gardening,” she writes, “there is no fast and easy remedy. There is only patience, perseverance, and faith in the process” (p. 164). Our efforts and willingness to open ourselves to God’s love and mercy is rewarded by God’s revelation of our gifts, and the life-changing realization of our real identity.


“Your identity comes not from what you do, but from who you are in God,” she affirms (p. 194). Figuring out who we are in God is life’s most worthwhile endeavor, and I encourage you to start on this process of discovery for yourself with the help of this enchanting, approachable book as a guide. Michelle DeRusha found a richer, more meaningful life, and I believe you will, too. 


*I received an Advance Reader Copy from Baker Books in return for my honest review. Pick up your copy of “True You” here on Amazon.

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.

The Cardinal Sign

The Cardinal Sign

Today I feel wistful. And thankful.

Thankful for what I took to be a ‘sort’ of sign.

Now please understand – I’m not a person who looks for signs.

I lean on the One who tells me to trust in Him, not in the ways of this earth. And so I’m not searching around for material things, wondering if they hold some cosmic meaning for me.

But every once in awhile, life seems to line up in way that speaks to me of comfort and peace beyond my understanding, and the only correct response can be, “Thank you. Thank you for this moment of grace.”

Today would have been my paternal grandparents’ 76th wedding anniversary.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for some time, you’ll remember that my family celebrated their 75th anniversary with them last year (in 2017). My grandparents were in good health and in great, great spirits. However, they both passed into eternal life within weeks of the magnificent event, and the rest of us are left to contemplate how blessed we were to have this amazing couple with us for as long as we did.

All grieving families go through a mourning process that includes shock and sadness. It’s been an up and down year for each of us, but overall, it has brought us closer together. And joy has been a part of these long months, too, as we welcomed our family’s newest member – my sister’s first child, my beautiful nephew.

My heart held fast to these memories as I clasped Grandma’s gold cross around my neck for the first time this morning. My aunt just gave it to me on Saturday during our first visit together since some sad days last February.

As I held onto the necklace I was thinking about God’s words, “And behold, I am with you always,” (Matthew 28:20).

I stepped over to the mirror to take a look and just then a cardinal appeared to my right in the bush outside my window.

The brightest, fattest, reddest, cardinal.

It has been said these birds are the spirit sign of a loved one you’ve lost.

And so I wondered…

I was transfixed, rooted to the spot, as it sat there swaying on the branch, its wings, head, and breast glinting in the sunlight.

It stayed long enough for me to hear my mind compete: “I will not move until it does.”

And then…finally…it cocked its head and took flight.

I firmly believe there is an unseen reality and One God who is with us always.

He lives to show us He loves us. He lives to show us His love.

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

When ‘Me Too’ Doesn’t Apply, But Your Heart is Full of Empathy

Photo by Jake Hills. Duke of York’s Picturehouse, Brighton, United Kingdom. Unsplash.com

You’ve seen it this week. The steady stream of women coming forward on social media to say, “Me too. I too was a victim of sexual harassment or assault.”

I can’t say that I was.

I was not raped.

I was not assaulted.

But I can’t think of a single woman who hasn’t felt “objectified” at some point – seen as a thing, rather than as the person she is – beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

And so, like you, I sit in the storm and yearn for healing and hope, praying for those who continue to suffer.

I also caught myself thinking back to a time when I felt more vulnerable than I do now.

Twenty-six years ago I was dating a film buff who believed Martin Scorsese’s art should be appreciated at the first available opportunity. So, one Saturday night, we went to see his 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Not far into the film, a young woman named Lori (Illeana Douglas) is brutalized and raped by the ex-con and murderer Max Cady (Robert DeNiro).

By the time we got to the scene, I was already nervous. Scorsese’s cinematic tendency to jerk the camera around gives me headaches, but then, the gratuitous display of violence on a woman completely unraveled me.

I cupped my hands over my ears, bent my head down into my lap, and tried to drown out her screams.

When the scene ended, my body was shaking from head to toe.

With a quavering voice, I said to my boyfriend, “I have to leave. I can’t stay here.”

He said impatiently, “So go out. But I want to see this.”

I want to see this.

FULL STOP.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

There was a disconnect between my reality and the fantasy world he was living in, and he wasn’t going to come to my aid.

He stayed.

I left and waited for him in the PG movie next door.

He chose the virtual, horrific storyline over the real woman who needed him.

And me?

I had identified with the woman on the screen.

‘And why?’ I asked myself.

I had not been raped.

I struggled with this issue for years afterward, trying to talk myself out of my body’s response – trying to ‘think’ my way out of it so that I could steel myself for the barrage of visual assaults that were sure to come in the future.

But I never succeeded.

And now I understand.

My discomfort – the way my stomach clenches, adrenaline surges, muscles tighten, and I prepare to run – this surge of physical empathy whenever the topic of rape emerges is a form of crucial wisdom; it is a God-given sensitivity that has heightened my awareness of the preciousness of the gift of Life itself.

Each person on the planet is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Any violation of another human being is the desecration of something holy. And if you’re paying attention to real beauty in the world – if you haven’t lost your natural in-born ability to marvel at the wonder of creation – your own and others’ – you can see that.

Back in the theater, my shaking body was pleading with another soul to walk away with mine from the glorification of rape. To walk away from the depiction of the sacred being violated.

At the time, I didn’t know that’s what the moment was about.

But whenever we stand up and say – “Let’s not make this person an object. Let’s not pretend she (he) doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. Let’s not give this unnecessary and graphic violence a nod. Let’s not portray her (him) as less than,” we are one step closer to clearly seeing the divine in every person. We are one step closer to creating a safer world for women, men, and children alike.

Can you glimpse God’s reflection in the person sitting next to you?

Let’s ask for the eyes to see.

Let’s speak up for what’s good, stand up for what’s holy, and walk away from what’s not.