Sunday, December 10, 2017

Little Feathers: Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts

Little Feathers: Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts: If you haven't listened to The Gift, you must. Suspend your desire to be sophisticated, suspend your worldly cynicism. Listen to a story...

Of Garth Brooks, Poets, and Gifts

If you haven't listened to The Gift, you must. Suspend your desire to be sophisticated, suspend your worldly cynicism. Listen to a story that is, and is not merely, about a poor girl, a bird, and a gift on Christmas Eve. Because there is so much more to this story.

Now that you've listened, I won't worry about spoiling the ending for you. Because I want to talk about the gift. On first glance (or hearing), the gift is the little bird the girl brought to the manger on Christmas Eve. Garth can make you see the trembling fingers of the sweet one who desires to honor the Christ, but who is intimidated by the offerings of the wealthy. Garth can make you cry (if you are a weeper like me and Jude Law in the Holiday) as he reveals the pure, sweet power of willingness.

Willingness is the loud-striking sound in this soft-hearted song. Because none of us can ever experience the fulfillment of our own gifts without the courage to lay them out there. To open the door where they are kept, confined by the cage of our own device; to lay them next to the riches of other offerings.

Willingness comes with a cost. We have to risk rejection, risk failure, risk everything really. Because the kind of willingness I'm talking about leaves no pretense, no walls of pride to hide behind.
What gifts have we been given that can make life easier, if only for one other person we may never meet?  Sometimes artistic gifts are the ones people think of first. But they are only one kind. There are researchers, engineers, honest and dedicated people in every field who put their souls into the offering of their gifts.

There is a secret hidden in this song, The Gift. For me, in my own mind, I hear the promise of reward for willingness. Not rewards as we may think of them. Not everyone who is willing to give their gifts becomes wealthy or renowned. They don't use the phrase "starving artist" for nothing. And we know even The Bard died penniless. But how much richer is the world for his gifts to us?

If we are the collective-if all creation pulls together in one intertwined river that flows to the sea, then every person who uses their strengths, who is willing to put them out there for the world to see, draws us all forward, upward into the rafters of the ancient church to sing as nightingales. Okay, I'm mixing metaphors all over the place. That's okay. I'm risking it. Hoping you'll listen with open hearts.

My mother first read me these verses by Robert Frost when I was a child. I had no idea at the time what a complex, difficult world this is. I only knew that the cadence, the rhymes, the quiet beauty of the poem spoke to me.

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

After I was grown, I learned that Robert Frost was desperate to find Christmas gifts for his family,
and could not afford them. The sorrow of that now informs the verses for me. I wish he had been paid
for the beauty he gave to the world, and to me. 

I wish the world always rewarded good, always recognized sacrifice, always understood true value.
But even if the world does not, we can. 

Half of the value of a gift is in the giving itself. In the willingness to open the door. And half of the
value is all we will know as the giver. But it is enough. More than enough.  

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Little Feathers: The Most Surprising Thing

Little Feathers: The Most Surprising Thing: Everyone I know is looking for freedom. Freedom to be themselves. Freedom to work toward goals formed by hopes and dreams. And freedom from ...

The Most Surprising Thing

Everyone I know is looking for freedom. Freedom to be themselves. Freedom to work toward goals formed by hopes and dreams. And freedom from things, like self-doubt and the mashing thumb of the disapproval of others. I've been talking about how this affects our willingness to "put our selves out there" with my friend Sherry Dill. And this morning I thought about the most surprising thing.

You would think that emptying myself of ego, freeing myself from expectations to be good enough, might leave me without defenses and self protection. And that is actually true. But the surprising part is that the very willingness to be defenseless, to be vulnerable, gives me the power to learn to paint. To learn to write. To learn to sing. To learn to design. To get better at Math!!! Because, by letting go of the need to be talented, I make way for inspiration, I make way for improvement. Letting go of needing others to like my (fill in the blank- stories, blogs, paintings, songs etc) sets me free to fail spectacularly. And what a gift it is to be okay with that. If I don't need to be good enough for others to approve of me, I can be free to try new things. I can start at the beginning and see each stage as a wondrous adventure.

If every opera student quit when they didn't sound like someone from the Met, how many opera singers would there be in this world? You get what I'm driving at without lots of other examples. But I am in love with the notion that being free to be bad at something until I'm good at it is empowering.

The key to all of this is an elementary self love. An elementary willingness to let the world in, to be vulnerable. For years, I felt humility at war with self confidence. I believed I could do things, could learn things, could accomplish goals I set for myself, but I thought I needed to keep up a guard of humbleness to make sure I didn't get a big head. But the most surprising thing is that setting myself free to fail is the most empowering thing I can do. A huge piece of that is shrugging off criticism, beginning with self-criticism.

There's a great book that talks about this, called The War Of Art. Josh Beglau gave me that book when I started writing. A theme in the book is that what we tell ourselves about ourselves becomes our reality. This morning a post on facebook said, "The words you speak become the house you live in." Same idea. What we tell ourselves about ourselves becomes our jail, or our freedom.

Freedom comes from letting go of my defenses. Who would have guessed, all those years while I was honing my excuses, my limitations? Now I don't have any. I will paint bad pictures. I will write bad poems. And I'm good with it. I will have learned something from the effort. I can say that without hating myself for failing. I can see it, nod at it, put it in the pile of paintings with a grin on my face. How can I not smile, when I get this amazing chance to learn something as wonderful as the self expression of painting? I guess maybe it's that particular smile that is the most surprising thing.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Little Feathers: Going To The Sun (Cabin) Road

Little Feathers: Going To The Sun (Cabin) Road: There's a road in Glacier National Park in Montana that has the most beautiful name. Going To The Sun Road. When I hear it, I feel nosta...

Going To The Sun (Cabin) Road

There's a road in Glacier National Park in Montana that has the most beautiful name. Going To The Sun Road. When I hear it, I feel nostalgic, hopeful, longing for something just beyond my conscious thought.

We are very lucky to have a cabin in a beautiful mountain valley in New Mexico. Called Valle Escondido, our hidden/secret valley is full of amazing people, and the secret power of the old Sangre De Cristo mountains. I say they have a power, because they restore my spirit. The air is pure there, the sound of wind in the evergreens is a balm to my soul.

We love to spend the summers there, but have not been able to the past two years. We leave tomorrow for a few weeks, and I am feeling that same nostalgia, hope and longing. We'll drive through hot, flat West Texas, which has its own undeniable beauty. There is not a wider sky anywhere.

When we reach Ft Sumner, NM (where the sheriff loves to hide a bit and give tickets), we stop driving West and take a right turn. Toward the mountains. Toward the cabin. Toward people we love in Valle Escondido. Though we've been traveling WNW the whole time, this turn is dramatic.

It takes a while to see the mountains, but my eyes search for them from the time we make that turn. North. North to the mountains, where the birds will be the only sound in the morning. Where the air will be rich with the smell of trees and rain and earth. Where the air is so dry that the blue of the sky is deep, strikingly beautiful. Where rainbows sit on the tops of the mountains, their ends touching our valley.

Tomorrow we will only it make it as far as Lubbock, because we've gotten used to doing the drive the easy way- two short days. But on Tuesday a little after noon, you can bet our car, Flex Luther, will turn it's face to the north. On the Going To The Cabin Road.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Little Feathers: Heartbeat

Little Feathers: Heartbeat: Sally Nava, our beautiful daughter, middle child, amazing woman- made this card for me. I asked her to choose inspirational sayings for...


Sally Nava, our beautiful daughter, middle child, amazing woman- made this card for me. I asked her to choose inspirational sayings for greeting cards that she watercolors. She chose this one to paint. Because hope is the heartbeat of her soul.

When someone who has been through a life-changing hardship, like Sally's car wreck, still talks about hope, it makes me pay attention to my own heartbeat. 

I don't know anyone anywhere who is immune to dark thoughts, to times when the sad parts seem overwhelming. But the courage to go on, the courage to do the next right thing starts with hope. Hope that we will heal. Hope that we will make it through, and with the added benefit of lessons learned, obstacles overcome, gratitude washing over us like the water of grace to give us new life.

For me, hope is born of a faith that I am part of something greater than myself. Greater than the offerings I lay out there in the world. If I always got what I deserve, if I received only what I earn, I would find it harder to hope. I don't mean to say that I hope in order to get a better life. But I do say that hoping brings me a better life. Starting in my own heart. Giving me faith that, as Julian of Norwich said seven hundred years ago, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well". Imagine the difficult world Julian lived in the 1300s. Even our crazy, out-of-whack, scary world of today can't be worse.  

Hope is the heartbeat of the soul. Thankfully.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Little Feathers: This Box Of Things

Little Feathers: This Box Of Things: An embroidered handkerchief. It's folded into an envelope that also holds a note from my mother, saying her grandmother made it, and may...

This Box Of Things

An embroidered handkerchief. It's folded into an envelope that also holds a note from my mother, saying her grandmother made it, and maybe someday if I have a daughter it could be the something old. I love the handkerchief. And I love the note written by a woman much younger than I am now, who has loved me all my life.

An 18 year old hand written note from a teenage boy studying in Spain for the semester. A kilt bought in Scotland for a 4 year old girl who is now 35. A single earring that lost its mate, but was loved enough to go into the little painted box instead of the trash. A card from a young man I fell in love with, the one I married shortly after the note was written. The one I am blessed to share my life with still.

I can hold these things in my hands and remember the me who held them years before. Taken one day at a time, 63 years is a very long time. I'm not exactly sure when the days that became years, became decades. It was a subtle shift, that bending of time. One minute there was a long stretch ahead of me, plans to be made, stuff to be done, so much to learn. Holding the little treasures in my box of things brings that time into sharp focus. If I looked in the mirror at this exact moment, I know I would be surprised by the gray hair and face of my grandmother. I remember how my children smelled when they were new. I remember their little puffs of breath on my neck as I rocked them. I remember how I felt in my skin.

Sometimes I think about how some of the sweetest memories are not from big events, but from the little moments of perfection that happened through the years. The time when the laughter or the tears, the dancing or the quiet moments walking in the evening light, lined up with my heart and made me feel I was the luckiest person ever to live.

We've just moved to new house. A much smaller house. Which has caused me to go through everything we've amassed through the years. To hold it in my hands, and to let go of a lot of it. But some I'll keep. Some will stay in this little box of things. To remind me of the me who lived back then. To remind me to say thank you.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Little Feathers: Bone Deep Memory

Little Feathers: Bone Deep Memory: I moved from the beautiful Pacific Northwest at the tender age of 19. I vividly remember the time I went home a few years later,when our kid...

Bone Deep Memory

I moved from the beautiful Pacific Northwest at the tender age of 19. I vividly remember the time I went home a few years later,when our kids were really little. I scoured the scenery for the familiar. For the sense of home. Maybe it was because life was so busy, so forward-moving at a breathless pace, or maybe because my actual home town was changing really fast. At any rate, I didn't find it. I said to myself at the time, well we can never go home again.

Last week, several decades later. we went to Oregon with good friends to enjoy the wine country of the Willamette Valley. But first we drove across the coastal range to the incredibly beautiful Oregon coast. On that drive, just outside the window were these trees and plants that were so familiar, I honestly saw them as if I was 19 years old and riding in the car with my parents. That time of life came rushing back. The way I felt, my life stretched out before me. It almost made me cry.

Maybe because it wasn't my specific home town, and I didn't need the buildings and roads to be the same as they were. I only needed those trees. That air. Those blackberry bushes along side the road. But it was a gift of the rarest kind. A bone deep memory of a wonderful childhood. A bone deep memory of a loving family who cherished the beauty of their homeland. It's a new memory I'll file away, to take out again someday and spend some good time being grateful.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Little Feathers: Looking Back, Going Home

Little Feathers: Looking Back, Going Home: There are times when the past seems like a siren song. When going through old photographs, reading old journal entries is a balm, an antidot...

Looking Back, Going Home

There are times when the past seems like a siren song. When going through old photographs, reading old journal entries is a balm, an antidote for the fast paced, lightning-round feel of today. I've been doing it in other ways too, giving in to this instinct for going home. I've been re-reading books I loved years ago. I know it's partly because I already know the ending. There is no risk that an author is going to yank my heart out at the end and stomp around on it. And even though my own past has sad parts that left that same heart battered, it is still safer than the great-unknown of tomorrow.

Thomas Wolfe made the saying, "You can't go home again" famous. He wrote a book by that title. I have heard it over and over again, and I usually thought it was the logical conclusion drawn from the fact that time changes places and people, so you can't recreate an experience by going somewhere you once called home. But this morning it is meaning something else to me.

I do believe we are meant to keep learning, keep growing, keep becoming. And an occasional look in the review mirror to remember with gratitude, to give thanks for the past, is a good thing. Laughing at my naivete, even my fashion choices, is fun because I am not mean to myself about it. But spending too much wishing for the certainty of the past really does rob me of today.

Maybe it's because the world is so volatile today. When trouble is everywhere, no one rests easy. But maybe this isn't a time in history to rest easy. I hope some growth will come of the unrest, and we will come out of this period of civilization with more compassion, more humility, more insight into what is really true than we had before.

So, going home. If I can't live in the security of the past, I have to do that thing I know is right. Darn if I haven't heard it all my life. But, like other things that are hard for me, like honoring my body with the right amount of nutrition and exercise, I struggle with honoring my spirit with the right amount of trust in God and the simple grit to do the next right thing.

I won't get it exactly right today. And though the soft glow of memory would have me believe otherwise, I know I didn't get it exactly right in the past, either. It's almost funny that someday this will be the past. Like thinking of some hip-hop songs being golden oldies. Makes me laugh. Like the first time I realized the music in my elevator was a Beatles song.

Like a turtle who takes his home with him everywhere he goes, I want to take my home with me into this day. Bringing with me all I was given that got me to today. Giving thanks for being here. Looking up, looking out, Breathing deep. Seeing beauty. Giving thanks some more. Just saying that makes today feel more like home.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little Feathers: Let Me Say This About That

Little Feathers: Let Me Say This About That: My mom and I were laughing about how no one wants our advice...even though we clearly have some great advice to give. But we laughed because...

Let Me Say This About That

My mom and I were laughing about how no one wants our advice...even though we clearly have some great advice to give. But we laughed because we know darned well, we don't want to take other people's advice either! At least, not about the big things, the real things. We may take advice on how to accomplish a task, or become proficient at something. But not about the important things.

Here's the thing about advice-giving: we aren't qualified to do it. Because we have not been in the exact situation of any other person ever. We have not felt their emotions the way they feel them, because every human's emotional makeup is as unique as their finger print. Even within a family, the notion each member holds of life and how to live it is different.

"If I were you..." is a goofy way to begin a sentence. Because we have no way of knowing what in the world we would do if we were them. We've never been them. I had a friend, long ago, who said that to me so often, I even rolled my eyes now, years later, as I typed it.

So...let me say this about that: I love learning things from other people. I love hearing their experiences. I love discovering their strengths. I love witnessing their hope. But good boundaries require me to interpret their truth through my own filter. It's work I'm obligated to do to be honest with myself and true to my own identity. That can be hard to do with someone you really admire, or someone you have subconsciously put on a pedestal.

When difficulty strikes, when life gets challenging, or downright hard, it is good to be able to lean on each other. It is a gift to be there to help when someone needs it. And it is very good to remember that we help each other the most when we give freely, with no strings attached, with no expectations.

In many 12 step rooms I've heard the phrase, "Take what works and leave the rest". What an amazingly respectful seven word sentence.  I like it so much, I'll just say this about that: there are many things I can't control. My own behavior is about the only thing, and sometimes it's a quacking duck. But it is empowering to realize that we are not obligated to take advice, or give it!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Little Feathers: Lent and Ultimate FOMO

Little Feathers: Lent and Ultimate FOMO: Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. Even the ancient language can't hide the message, though it is a truth I spend a lot of ti...

Lent and Ultimate FOMO

Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. Even the ancient language can't hide the message, though it is a truth I spend a lot of time and effort pretending doesn't apply to me.

Lent always catches me unprepared. Ash Wednesday comes really early for me each year, even when Easter is later in the year that usual, like this year. I know it is because I would prefer to think that ashes to ashes is just a saying and not a reality. I suppose it is because I do that thing that many people do...pretend that life will go on an on.

For creatures who know from the outset that we will someday be dead and gone, we sure spend a lot of time imagining, pretending that is not the case. We think it's morbid, somehow, to talk about the thing we all will do, eventually. We will die. We will be gone from this earth. But there is such a cultural restriction on talking about it that we have made up a litany of phrases to avoid saying the words. 'He passed away. She went to her maker. They passed over Jordan. When I'm gone.'

Bob and I are in that strange time of life when dying has turned out to be something people our age are doing. We watched it happen to our parents, and noted their surprise. But somehow it is different when it is you.

When I first heard FOMO, someone younger than me had to explain that it was an acronym for Fear Of Missing Out. I applied it in my mind to fear of missing parties, events, fun things that others got to do. But now I see I have FOMO. Ultimate FOMO.  Because I don't want to be gone. I don't want to think of our loved ones going on without me. Of the generations to come that I will never see. Of the Christmases I'll miss or the family birthday dinners where I won't be singing along.

Some might say that a Christian shouldn't feel that way. That our faith should be strong enough that we don't fear anything about death. Maybe that is the case for some people, but I would not be honest if I said I don't mind the idea of being dead and gone.

But here comes pesky Lent. Today. To remind me that I can't put my faith in this life. That I will die. And that I need to do some work on my attitude toward death. Just look up books on dying and you will see how big this task is for human beings, by the number of people who have written about it. And that doesn't count the huge numbers of people who wrote about it and didn't get published. Or who grappled with it and never wrote down a word. It's a subject so deep and wide, so ultimately unfathomable that it is sometimes easier to ignore it. Until Lent. Lent may be a church season, but it's also a time of life. It's a time when we are forced to turn and look at this thing we don't really understand.

Today when I get ashes on my forehead in the shape of a cross, they will be an aid to me. They will be a benediction to my spirit. Because they remind me that death is not the end of my relationship with my creator. It heals me to know that there is solace in that symbol of sacrifice and death. And that burned-up palm branches/cries-of-hosanna turned to grief at the foot of the cross reminds me that there is no death I can endure that will separate me from the love of God. Though that doesn't eliminate my fear, it gives me hope that even in that state of human need, I will not be alone. And I have no doubt that God has the whole FOMO thing covered in some fabulous way that I can't imagine on this side of the great divide. Sigh. Since Lent is here, since it is a time and and a state of mind, I'll take the ashes for the gift they are. And I'll say it's okay, even when it isn't, because I have to believe that ultimately it will be.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Little Feathers: Baby Steps

Little Feathers: Baby Steps: I love the movie, What About Bob. I love how goofy Bill Murray is, how self-righteously too-dignified-to-mock Richard Dreyfuss is. You can s...

Baby Steps

I love the movie, What About Bob. I love how goofy Bill Murray is, how self-righteously too-dignified-to-mock Richard Dreyfuss is. You can see the gag coming a mile away, but it's still just funny. The movie also gave me one of my favorite sayings that I whisper to myself a lot. Because it's a kind way to give myself the message; it comes with a chuckle. Baby steps. And if I really do whisper it and not just say it in my mind, it works even better. I can't say it without smiling.

If you haven't seen the movie, you need to. It's part of our cultural experience. Then you can add this fabulous Baby Steps mantra to your self-help arsenal. Richard Dreyfuss plays a pompous therapist in love with himself. When Bill Murray's neurotic goofball character attaches himself to Dreyfuss, following his family on vacation, the antics are howlingly funny. Running through the dialog is this advice Dreyfuss gives his patients (just out in book form!), how to manage their recovery by taking appropriate actions in small doses- baby steps.

Another way to say it comes from some great 12 Step literature. They call it doing the next right thing. Because recovering addicts know better than anyone that it can be too overwhelming to attempt to quit whatever they've been turning to for solace. But anyone can do one thing. The next right thing. Just one. I haven't heard or read anything in the 12 step rooms that I didn't hear growing up in the church. But somehow, people whose lives and well-being depend on recovery from their addiction have found beautiful ways to couch the wisdom in a plan of action. Not just "thou shalt not" or "you should", but hey! here's some help for your spirit, mind and body that will make a difference. You can do it like this.

I said I am giving up fear for Lent. And since fear is really, really addictive, I'm making a plan of action. Doing the next right thing to keep me turned toward God and away from fear will be an experiment in humility. It isn't even Ash Wednesday yet, and already I've fallen into the fear pit a few times since deciding I'll give it up. Fear just could be the small pox of the world right now. It's contagious. But unlike small pox, I do get to decide whether or not to subject myself to those germs of mass hysteria. And I would be remiss if I choose to think that I can avoid fear because I'm smarter or more whatever than anyone else. That's where the humility comes in. My go-to admission that will help me remember to take these baby steps is that I don't know. I don't know. But God does. Can I sit with that type of humility, and trust that things beyond my control are not beyond God's notice?

I don't believe that God is arranging world events. Because I believe in free will, I believe that things happen that break God's heart. But I do believe that there is nothing and no one beyond God's compassionate grace. What does that mean, exactly? I have an inkling, but I can't really know yet. I'm willing to take the chance that it is true, and let it keep me from fear. By doing the next right thing. By seeing fear for what it is.

To borrow some great church words, with an edit or two, I admit that I am in bondage to fear and cannot free myself. But God, who is faithful and just, can set me free from my own regret, and my own fear. It's a small thing, admitting our character flaws. But it's a powerful one. A really big baby step.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Little Feathers: It's the Little Things

Little Feathers: It's the Little Things: When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time together as a family. Camping, exploring the mountains and beaches and rain forests in the bea...

It's the Little Things

When I was growing up, we spent a lot of time together as a family. Camping, exploring the mountains and beaches and rain forests in the beautiful state of Washington. I have wonderful memories of those days, and I realize how they shaped my life. My mom was resourceful, adventurous, and hard working. She also loved to get away from her normal routines and responsibilities and find fun things to do. Sledding, skiing, hiking, picking huckleberries, digging clams, riding the ferry, fishing, picnic-ing, finding the sun in Eastern Washington when the rain was too much. My dad was the same way, always up for an adventure. Even to the point of putting chains on the car in the winter (I always wondered if there was a worse task). My parents gave my brother and me the huge gift of seeing them work hard, be responsible, and then enjoy life to the fullest. I also saw them getting a lot from their work. Not that there weren't hard parts, because every job has hard parts. But both of them took great reward from doing their jobs well.

It's the little things that I saw as a child that showed me how well they balanced our lives. I remember the things my dad did to pitch in when my mom worked later than he did. He cooked dinner for us a lot. That may seem like a small thing, but it was a building block in my view of how marriages work. Not that all dads should cook, but that both partners pitch in, both do things to make life better for the family. My dad also took me to ballet when his work permitted, or to clarinet lessons.

It's the little things I remember that showed me how to problem solve. My mom was super flexible, because as a fireman, my dad's schedule of 24 hours on, 48 off, meant that we couldn't set traditions in stone. Christmas was a moveable feast, and we celebrated as a family when my dad was home. My mom made it look easy to work around that schedule. She also could make a frying pan from aluminum foil to cook the fish on camping trips, if by chance the frying pan didn't make it into the box of utensils. I don't remember big drama about that. I just remember we did not go hungry!

It's the little things, the moments of pure joy, that fill my memory of my childhood. Jumping in a freezing cold river in the summer, my parents both participating and laughing. Sitting on a log by a cold racing mountain stream, watching my dad fish while the watermelon chilled in water so cold it hurt your bones. Arriving on top of a mountain in our open-top jeep in time to see the sunset over the beauty below us. Walking the waterfront and listening to the seagulls, anticipating those clam strips at Ivar's.

I'm realizing more than ever that life is sweetest in the small moments. Traveling the world is wonderful, educational, and can also be filled with sweet small moments. But we don't have to leave home to make those moments happen. All we need are grateful hearts and a desire to share what makes us happy. My favorite times with my grandparents were in their own homes, times when they gave me their attention and shared who they were with me in little ways.

It's important for me to remember that waiting for something big to happen in order to be happy makes me miss the magic happening around me today. But it's here, it's now- the magic. In the little things.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Little Feathers: Another Million Dollar Idea

Little Feathers: Another Million Dollar Idea: I keep having million dollar ideas. I can't tell you about most of them, because they are so brilliant you will go make them happen befo...

Another Million Dollar Idea

I keep having million dollar ideas. I can't tell you about most of them, because they are so brilliant you will go make them happen before I can. (Slight exaggeration, maybe). But I have one million dollar idea that I want to share because then maybe someone will make it happen before I can.

If you are like me, you might feel called to do something more, something bigger. But you don't know how to get started. Some people skip that step entirely and go about doing something great because it didn't occur to them that they needed permission, or instruction, or approval, or funding. Like the incredible kids making water purifiers from cast-off trash.

If you are like me, you may have spent years of your life trying to make a difference, trying to lift up people who need lifting, giving time and money to good causes. But you feel called to do more. Not in a punitive, your-effort-is-never-enough way, but in a way that makes your heart beat faster just thinking about it.

Are you waiting for my million dollar idea? Well, if you are a tech innovator, the mistakes I make in describing this may make you roll your eyes. BUT if you are a tech innovator, or an innovator in general, I hope that won't be a stumbling block to my Big Idea.

You know how the plugged-in world now knows what size pants we wear, what color dress we like, what magazines we read and who we "like" regularly? What if someone creates the perfect algorithm to connect people who are passionate about a cause to an organization that can put their ideas and efforts and funds to the best use? Or put them in touch with people who can help them create their own organization to accomplish their passions?

Is it out there already and I just don't know? Has someone done this work that could make such a contribution to the good of society that we can't even fathom the impact?

This idea may not make anyone a million dollars. But it is a million dollar idea anyway, because it could be worth even more than that. It could be a billion dollar idea, because it could change the course of human history. And how can you put a price tag on that?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Little Feathers: Not This Time, Facebook

Little Feathers: Not This Time, Facebook: It's hard to resist the temptations we see on facebook to determine our personality type, to see if we are smarter than a 5th grader, to...

Not This Time, Facebook

It's hard to resist the temptations we see on facebook to determine our personality type, to see if we are smarter than a 5th grader, to see how many heroines of literature we can identify. But one that popped up today was a cautionary tale. Reduce your life to one word. All you have to do is login with facebook, which we know gives access to all your photos, comments, info to someone that we can't see or know or evaluate. Sometimes I do it anyway, because curiosity killed the cat.

Reduce your life to one word by letting someone see your facebook posts. It's really absurd, even for a facebook lover like me. But sometimes I have lemming tendencies, so I ignored my thinking brain and listened to my lemming brain. Ha! I got a big old smack on the lemming-head. The one word this entity picked for me from my facebook offerings- Perfect. I laughed out loud.

My life is as far from perfect as anyone else's. I do post pictures I love of places and people (and food, wink wink) I love. I do post positive thoughts and quotes. Not because I'm perfect, or my life is perfect, but because spending time celebrating the positive parts lifts me up. Anyone who knows me will get a chuckle from the word "they" picked to describe my life.

It's more proof of the same notion many of us grapple with. The Great Compar-ithon. We see the good parts of the lives of others, and compare our laundry room with their dining room. We see glimpses of the lives of others, and if we are not thinking, if we are stuck in our lemming brain, it can make us feel less-than.

I love the book our son Josh gave me years ago, The War Of Art, by Steven Pressfield. It is full of wisdom, full of practical advice for facing down the noise of self doubt. A line I read this morning is perfect as a  follow-up to the practical-joke on facebook. "Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into what we imagine we ought to be, but to find our who we already are and become it."

I went on a women's retreat last weekend and spent a day and a half enjoying women I admire, and being challenged by our wonderful presenter, Jane Pettit (look her up if you need inspiration) to ask myself two questions: Who am I? What am I doing here?  We spent time looking deep for answers to those questions, and it is work that will go on as long as I live. Finding the answers isn't the goal. Asking the questions, looking for authenticity within my response, holding myself accountable to rigorous honesty with myself, those are goals.

I know someday I'll be perfect. But not in this lifetime. Not on this earth. Not here where I say hurtful things or judge others unfairly, or insist on my own way too much. When I'm gone, if there is still a facebook, they can feel free to add some wings (although I'm not sure about the limitation of feathers in heaven) and put that word on my life. Because it will be my new life. My life where I will leave behind the "blunders and absurdities" I made yesterday, as Emerson says. They won't follow me like little lost lemmings. At least, that's what I'm counting on.

You get some stuff right, facebook. You help me stay in touch with friends and family. You give me baby goats to laugh at and thought provoking posts of others. It's just this time, you are kinda laughable. Oh, facebook, thanks for the blog-prompt.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Little Feathers: Those Little Feathers

Little Feathers: Those Little Feathers: I may not have learned everything I need to know in kindergarten. I'm sure of it, in fact, since I didn't go to kindergarten. But I ...

Those Little Feathers

I may not have learned everything I need to know in kindergarten. I'm sure of it, in fact, since I didn't go to kindergarten. But I did learn most stuff I know from watching my kids go through school. The big questions, the ones that Shakespeare grappled with. The ones that Kant and Kierkegaard wrote about in such scholarly manner. They can be boiled down to the essence, reduced from lofty wonderings and multi-syllabled query, to the simple experiences of childhood. Here are some of my take-aways from those years, brought to my mind today by the little feathers of memory.

  • First impressions are not only often incomplete, they are often flat out wrong. Because we take our narrow-vision personal world view into our everyday dealings with others, we can't realistically expect to understand someone else in a short period of time. We can make broad-brush judgments about issues and others, but if we want to be fair, we have to take the time to examine them from many angles. They call it a knee jerk reaction because only one thing has occurred- the tapping of a sensitive spot, a place where nerves come together to respond by reflex. Right now, if I scroll down my facebook page, my mental knees will jerk repeatedly from exposure one-dimensional outrage. If you are near me and see my eye twitching, you can laugh and remind me to expand my mind and my patience and look harder to see the whole picture. Two boys who skirmish on the first day of Middle School may, in fact, come to be good friends and teammates once they look past the first impression.
  • We can never explain, in all our wisdom from years of living or from the untainted point of view of a young child, why life is so unfair. Our youngest would ask me repeatedly why some kids were disabled or seriously ill. Why? Why would God let that happen? The only available answer is the same one I am forced to acknowledge still. I don't know. I doesn't seem fair, because it isn't fair. Looking back, that answer given to our child didn't seem good enough to either of us, but she it accepted it as fact before I did. I'm still working on it, in the deep part of my brain that never seems to give up the quest. Judging from the works of the guys mentioned in the first paragraph, I'm not alone on that never ending journey.
  • Love changes everything. Our own children can do most anything. Mess up terribly. Make bad decisions. Cause us worry and fear. But we love them anyway. Maybe that is partly because we see our own mistakes in them, relive our own follies, and understand their hearts. But imagine, just for a minute, that we would give strangers the same grace we give our children. Imagine if we looked at a political opponent like we look at a family member. Imagine if you knew that someone who is desperately trying to be heard with a message you don't agree with, just imagine if they were your child. Or your mother. Or even if they were a life-long friend. Love changes the way we look at people. Maybe that is the reason that wisdom from every major religion teaches that love is the the bottom line. Because we have to have it to survive. Because we have to love others to be okay ourselves.
I'm convinced that if we could just get these three concepts under our belts, we could be that society that future generations will speak of with respect. What will our children's children say of this time in history? That we let our own opinions drown out the voices of everyone else? That we were intolerant, hasty, short-sighted? That we were quick to judge and slow to love? That seems to be the current trend. But it doesn't have to be the story of our time. If more people are interested in their fellow humans, if more people want to know who we are how and how we think and why we feel passionately about something, the picture will change. Listening is quickly disappearing as half of communication. Seems like everyone is yelling. But it's only a trend. And we know, from fashion, that trends can be changed. That is the hopeful part. The part I like to remember, along with the soft-focus vignettes from the time our kids were little. There are no perfect times, no perfect people, no perfect causes. But there is always, always the chance to take a better look at others, to accept that life isn't fair while we work to make it more so, to choose love in a real and meaningful way. Not in a bumper sticker way that actually means love for some but not all. But love to cover the country, the world, one person at a time. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Little Feathers: Another One Tomorrow-Let it Be A Big One

Little Feathers: Another One Tomorrow-Let it Be A Big One: Epiphany. Just the word piques my thought-juices.  Lately the word has become pedestrian, and I'm sorry about that. Like a great piece ...

Another One Tomorrow-Let it Be A Big One

Epiphany. Just the word piques my thought-juices.  Lately the word has become pedestrian, and I'm sorry about that. Like a great piece of music that is played too too too much so that we lose the magic of it and only yawn when we hear it. But Epiphany is a concise way to say that big concept- the dawn breaking, oh-my-gosh-I-never-thought-of-it-that-way, Aha! a proper noun.  And, thankfully, Epiphany isn't a one time thing. And most of the time, the big E reveals the same truth over and over in a slightly different way, hopefully in a way that will stick and stay. 

Tomorrow we mark the arrival of the wise men who came to worship Jesus. After the 12 days of Christmas, the Lutheran church begins the Season of Epiphany, and it lasts until the night before Ash Wednesday. The stories are told of the revelation of Christ to all nations through the magi, of Christ's baptism and transfiguration. It's a short season for so much mind-blowing theology. But it challenges me to examine my faith. And it reveals again to me that my faith is not a solid destination, but fluid seeking. 

Some things I will not know in this lifetime. But some things I believe to be true, and trust that God who is just and merciful covers me with grace I don't deserve, but am forever grateful for, regardless.

I believe God sent Jesus because the world is covered in darkness. Simply because we need a light. Because people have trouble knowing how to love each other and this planet of wonders where we are planted. God sent Jesus to show us that nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from the love of God.

So what sets Jesus apart from the soldiers and firemen who give their lives for others? What sets him apart from the medical people who give their lives to healing the sick? Many have spent their time on earth trying to be like Jesus, which is what he asked us to do.  He asked us to feed his lambs.  But I’m getting to the Epiphany part. What is the revelation, exactly?

Is it the star that guided the wise men? Maybe. Maybe God’s giant effort to make us aware of his love and care and purpose all wrapped in swaddling clothes is the essence of mercy. Maybe we need mercy more than we need the air we breathe. Because we can’t be perfect. And we fail at living up to our potential. Maybe because our hearts are covered in darkness is the very reason Jesus came. To give us hope. Hope that there is more to life, more to God, more to existence than we can fathom. That the sad parts are not the end of the story. And I don’t just mean heaven. But the sad parts of this world are not the final answer. Humans do rise above. Because we are created in the image of the one who sees endless, limitless good  and wants only, ever, good for us.

There is a light that shines in the darkness. And we are the moons of that sun. We have the birthright to reflect the hope, the mercy, and the love that shines in the darkness of human existence. The light itself is an Epiphany.