Great Big Rug

Most of us have a great big rug in our life. Often our rug is quite beautiful, but its main purpose is to hide things. We frequently vacuum our rug and make sure that what people see in us, (and what we admit to), is prepared for public inspection. But the things we hide underneath – those are better kept hidden.

Richard Rogers wrote a wonderful song for the musical The King and I that says a lot about the rugs we take such good care of:

Whenever I feel afraid
I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune
So no one will suspect I’m afraid

While shivering in my shoes
I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune
And no one ever knows I’m afraid

The result of this deception
Is very strange to tell
For when I fool the people
I fear I fool myself as well

All the fear, insecurity, the need to appear strong and brave, the need to impress – those are all swept under the rug, and no one ever suspects a thing.

And pretty soon, we begin to believe the lie. We forget that there are real fears and insecurities deep inside us that need to be dealt with if we are to become who we really are, rather than the façade that masks the person we don’t want the world to see.

You see, admitting to our real self means that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. In the world’s eyes, vulnerability equals weakness. No one wants to appear to be weak. And yet, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, and to appear as vulnerable to the world, is absolutely necessary in order to become a real, whole human being.

We humans were created for each other, for community. We need each other. But we can only be in real community when we can participate in each other’s joys, sorrows, needs, and fears. That means allowing ourselves to be publicly vulnerable and allowing other people to be vulnerable without fear we will take advantage of their vulnerability. Community means to accept and live with our differences, our strengths, and what we perceive as our weaknesses – publicly. In her book A Wrinkle In Time, Madeline L’Engle gave Meg her faults as her saving grace. L’Engle knew that so often it is what we consider our faults, those things we sweep under our great big rug, that carry us through the rougher times in life.

I encourage you to clean house. Sweep out all your hidden self from underneath your rug. Learn to love those parts of yourself you’d rather forget. Let other people love the unlovely about you. And love the dirt from underneath their rugs, too. It is only in learning to admit to, embrace, and love the whole person that we become real people.

Lovers, Seekers & Makers

Peace lovers smile a lot. They often financially support peaceful causes, participate in consciousness-raising events, and can generally be found in the public forefront when peace is an issue.

Peace keepers need everyone to be happy. It’s not so much that they love peace, but unrest is personally stressful to them, both emotionally and physically, so they do whatever it takes to keep people happy, even if they are miserable doing it.

Peace makers generally work behind the scenes. They are the ones who take the time to get to know the people from as many sides of the issue as possible. Their gifts are listening, communicating, and finding common ground. Makers are not satisfied with truces; they want solutions, and tend to be more patient than the lovers and keepers because of this. The makers see their work more as a process than an action, and are willing to keep redefining that process as situations change.

Each of us probably has a bit of each trait, but one usually stands out more than the other two. All three are necessary – makers could not do what they do without the lovers and the keepers, and vice versa. The trick is to get the three personalities to work together, because too often we just throw up our hands in resignation and walk away. The lovers are the social ones, the keepers are emotional, and the makers are detail-oriented analytic types. When lovers, keepers, and makers can agree to work together, solutions become possible.

We need the lovers to make sure the issues are clearly understood. We need the keepers to stave off the mud-slinging and fighting as the process evolves, and we need the makers to sort out the details as they seek common ground on which to build a solution. Peacemaking is not a hierarchy, it is a circle. Peacemaking does not exclude people, instead it includes everyone. Real peacemaking is a partnership of different personalities working toward being able to live together in working relationships. Families, schools, businesses, communities, governments, nations, and our world are all in desperate need of peace. But it has to begin with individuals like you and me. We have to be willing to invite others to join us in creating peace, and we have to be willing to allow ourselves and each other to grow into our true selves as we seek peace – together.

Lean On Me – I Believe In YOU

Remember the Bill Withers song Lean On Me? The chorus goes, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong /And I’ll be your friend/I’ll help you carry on.” That’s part of what I do as an ally for people in the Circles USA program. These people are seeking a way out of the cycle of generational poverty. As an ally, I don’t provide money, I don’t do things for them, I am a partner, a friend.

In ancient Jewish societies, when someone died it was the custom of friends, relatives and neighbors to come and sit with the bereaved. But they just sat, they did not speak. It was up to the bereaved to speak first, and that might take a week or more. In the meantime, the friends, relatives and neighbors embodied the spirit of compassion in its truest sense. They sat and suffered with the bereaved.

As an ally to Circles participants, I am called to be compassionate, to suffer with these people. The participants take the lead, always, and that is why we refer to them as Circle Leaders. The Circle Leaders initiate response to problems; as an ally I may direct them toward resources, but I never do the work for them. I am a friend, an encourager, a cheer-leader, a fellow human being supporting another human’s journey through life. I may help my Leader sort out why she makes the decisions she makes, but I never, ever tell her what to do, or even how to do whatever she has decided. I am someone to lean on; I am a source of compassion, but never pity.

I also sit on the steering committee for our county’s Circles organization. In this role, I help make sure there will be meals provided for each weekly Circles meeting, that there will be child care so the adults can concentrate on learning the skills they need to pull themselves out of financial poverty. I help with fund raising efforts, and I assist in planning for group meetings. I am a background coordinator, but I am never in the forefront of the action. That is the responsibility of the people who are trying to change their life circumstances.

I wonder – what would it be like if we all approached more of what we do in this spirit? What if we quit telling people what to do, and how to do it? What if we guided them toward the resources they need and let them discover how to solve their own problems? The feeling that you are capable of making good, workable decisions is very powerful. (I know, because that’s how I live!) But the feeling that someone else believes that you are not only capable, but also powerful enough to enact those decisions, is a hundred times more powerful! Human beings can do amazing things when they know that someone believes in them. When we believe in a person, we give them strength, we give them hope. People give up and die when they have run out of hope. But give a person the ability to find hope for themselves, and you have opened up a universe of possibilities.

Becoming Memories

Part of our personal identity comes from people we invest in, people we love. When the course of life separates us from them, we often feel as if part of us has died, too. A friend wrote this tribute to her relationship with her mother:

            As I try to take deep breaths to prepare for my mom’s memorial service, they become slower and longer and full of peace. I am flooded with so many thoughts and so many memories, each one making a mark on my life in some way.

I know that I will miss my mom….her smiles, her laughter, her stories, her hugs; but I also know that she is still with me and will be forever.

Our memories, our mannerisms, our likes and dislikes, our priorities, our fears, our prejudices, our dreams – all these are shaped by people we love. What a tribute when we can say out loud, without tears, “Oh, mom would have loved this.” “Mom taught me this.” “Mom would never have let me do this!” “I look just like my mom,” (and some of us love this and some of us grimace).

Becoming at peace with our memories is often difficult. But when we can accept those memories, both the good and the bad, as part of who we are, we are able to get back on the road toward our own becoming, the becoming that takes us an entire lifetime, the becoming that ultimately influences so many others on their own journeys.

Never Waste an Experience

Pain. Joy. Boredom. Friendship. Anger. Peace. Hope. Betrayal. Envy. Anticipation. The list goes on and on. Experiences and the emotions we attach to them. Most of us go through life just getting by, hoping we survive each day in good enough shape to be able to cope with the next.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to use some of my past experiences to help my sister and her family cope with their present reality. My sister had open-heart surgery to repair a congenital defect. Surgery went well, as did recovery. She asked me to be on hand to help with life after the hospital staff were no longer a source of support. I was amazed to find that my experiences from 20 and 30 years ago, when I was caring for our daughter after her many surgeries, came flooding back and proved so useful. I knew when to take charge, when to be firm, when to step back, how to pace myself so I didn’t get too tired to function, and how to relax in the moment and just ‘be’ with my sister and her family. (And, of course, how to cook. In my family, that just goes without saying. Where there is family, there is good food!)

Now that I’m back in my own environment, I have resolved to be very present in each experience that life provides me, no matter how painful, no matter how trivial it may seem at the time. I need to make sure I don’t waste any opportunity to feel and grow and become – because those experiences may be just what I need to instruct and guide me (or someone else) in the future.

Being present is hard to do, especially when I’m just trying to survive a situation, but I’m becoming convinced that this is what I need to do, for two reasons. One – so I use all my senses to experience an event and thereby imprint a more lasting record; and two – so that I can disentangle my emotions and step back from the event so that I don’t just react to the situation without any thought for the consequences, both immediate and future.

Waste not, want not. LIVE in the moment with all my senses. Be with the intent of becoming. It’s not easy, but once I get started, I feel so much more alive. I encourage you to try it. I think your life will change for the better, and you’ll be able to bless other lives in ways you never imagined.

The WHOLE Truth?

Lately I’ve gotten acquainted with lots of new people. The more I learn about them, though, the more I understand that people give information only from their own points of view. This can sometimes get “interesting,” especially if several different people share observations and feelings about the same event. Stories always have at least two sides, and most people choose to share only their side, and in a positive light.

As I was contemplating this, I was reminded of Agatha Christie’s novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. (Yes, I’m a murder mystery fan.) Because each character in this story has something to hide, detective Poirot tells his confidant to “always bear in mind that the person who speaks may be lying” (p. 149).

I thought about my growing relationship with these people I’ve met, and I wondered: How do they see me? As I am allowing them to get to know me, am I protecting myself in what I share with them, or am I letting them see the real me, the whole me, flaws and all? And I wondered if this is important?

I am a person who values honesty in myself and others, yet there are many times when I have given only partial details, and other times when I have outright lied. I am no better than anyone else. I cannot be anyone’s judge because the judgment will only come back to rest on me.

So, how do I cope with one-sided information as I learn to know and serve this new group of people? I think the answer might be termed ‘loving understanding.’ Fear of the unknown is very real for many people, and coping with what is familiar, even in negative situations, is often preferable to putting oneself at emotional risk. I think I need to love these people, understanding that probably none of us tells the whole truth all the time, and I need to let them love me. Just as no story is one-sided, neither is any relationship. Relationships that revolve around only serving, or only receiving fall apart. As I learn to love and serve, I must allow these people to love and serve me, too. It must be a give-give relationship in which we all understand that we all are flawed, and we choose to love each other in spite of the flaws and also because of the flaws. I think it is only when we choose to love their flaws, too, that we can truly know the whole person.

Not In My Wildest Dreams

Even though I love them, I have never worn hats; my head is so small that they just slip down over my ears. But it seems I have a new one. It started like this:

Late one April evening I was sitting on my kitchen floor waiting on something to finish baking in the oven. Probably I was reading. My phone rang. I had trouble understanding the speaker because the line was full of static, so I didn’t get the caller’s name. I did understand that he was asking me to become the pastor of two rural area churches, though, and I told him no. I was stunned by the request, and texted my pastor after a few minutes, asking if there was something going on that I should know about. This was his reply:

God is calling. You better say your prayers tonight.

Then I really was shaking! I marched in to where my husband was watching TV and told him what had just happened. I was not prepared to hear him say, “Well…if this is God’s will for you, I’ll support you in it.”

Speechless, confused, lost, empty, scared, I felt all of those and more. But because my husband’s response was so opposite of what I had expected from him, I gave myself two days before calling the number back. (I still did not know to whom I had been speaking.) Long story short, life intervened, and it was two weeks before I finally met a man I actually knew to talk about this pastor thing. I ended up saying yes to his plea, but more because I knew how desperate the situation was/is and because I knew this is something I can do. But did I want to?

No, not really. I grew up in a parsonage. I’ve seen what church members are like in their less glorious moments. I know that every church has at least one person who is sure their way is the only way to run a church, never mind about what God thinks! I also knew that I’m looking forward to not working and just being retired, and also what a LOT of work being a pastor entails, even a part-time pastor. No, this wasn’t what I wanted at all.

However, in the long winter days after Christmas, I had told God that I wanted to learn to love Him with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and I had felt as if I had been waiting for something ever since. So…maybe this was what I had been waiting for – except it wasn’t. I wasn’t waiting for this. True, I had been taking classes to become a lay speaker in the church, someone who can preach on Sunday morning when a pastor has to be away from the pulpit for one reason or another. But I definitely was not working toward a lay minister position. And also true, I had been praying the covenant prayer of John Wesley that begins, “I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt…” but I had not meant to become a pastor.

Whether I meant it or not, I am a pastor now, as well as a driver for a foster care agency, as well as a grandma, and wife, and mom, and sister, and daughter. And all of these take time! It seems my new hat is a thinking cap, because I find myself thinking about sermons and how to make them meaningful for people who have been stuck in one place for a very long time. I wake up each morning with a different hymn or praise chorus running through my head, and that song sets the tone for my day. I don’t do this on purpose, it just happens. I’m new enough to the pastorate that it isn’t comfortable yet, but I do enjoy the thinking and writing that goes with sermon preparation.

And the reason I’m telling you all of this? THIS is why I’ve missed writing so many weekly blogs lately. There is a tremendous! amount of paperwork, etc., etc., etc. that has to be taken care of before one “gets” to be a pastor (and I didn’t ask for any of this), and that has taken precedence. Sorry. Now that things have settled down a bit (I hope!), I will try to renew my usual Wednesday schedule for posting. Thanks for hanging with me.

Sleeping With Royalty

When you’re six years old and going to stay at Grandma’s, you pack the important things like toys, swimming suit, hairbands, and dresses. You might forget your toothbrush, underwear, socks, and pajamas, but those are what mommies are supposed to remember.

When you are nine, however, and going to stay at Grandma’s, you pack the most important things like glasses and books, because you know you’ll be bored at Grandma’s, at least some of the time, and you’ll need your favorite books just to get through until you’re home again. Because you’re nine, you also remember to pack your pajamas, underwear, socks, and lots of shoes, and also your toothbrush and hairbrush. Moms are to make sure you don’t get sidetracked and get in the car on time.

But when you are nine years old, stuck at Grandma’s for a few days, and you have to go to bed so Grandma can get some sleep, it’s just the worst thing in the world when you have forgotten to pack your bear. Your bear isn’t just any bear. Your bear has been with you every single night since you were born, well almost that long, but definitely for as long as you can remember. How can you possibly sleep without your bear? Nine-year-olds aren’t supposed to cry about missing bears, but…

It is a very good thing that Grandma’s daddy made her a special chest for her toys when she was about seven years old. It is also a good thing that Grandma still has that chest, and buried way down in the bottom are three Royal Animals. You see, animals become Royal when they’ve been hugged and kissed and loved for ever so many years and then been tucked away in the safest place to wait for emergencies – like when a nine-year-old has forgotten her bear.

Royal Animal #1 is a chocolate brown dog with a red heart embroidered on him. He was made especially for one of your favorite aunts. Royal Animal #2 is a very faded butterscotch bear that wears hospital bracelets on his legs. This bear comforted another aunt through countless surgeries when she was a little girl. Royal Animal #3 is very fragile. It’s shoe-button eyes are gone, and there’s a big scar on its back where a wind-up metal music box used to play inside his skin. Grandma slept with this bear when she was little. The Royal Animals don’t smell like your bear, but they do know how to cuddle and comfort, so you are able to close your eyes and dream about introducing your bear to these Royal Animals when you visit next time.

And Grandma? Well, lately she has been thinking about getting rid of a lot of stuff and clutter in her house. But perhaps the toy chest should remain untouched, at least for now, because the six-year-old will become nine in a few years, and who knows? Perhaps she will need the comfort of Royal Animals when her bear accidentally gets left behind.

That’s What Friends Do

I have a friend who has remarked on more than one occasion that she could not believe what had just come out of her mouth. She is not alone in this dilemma. My friend and I were among friends at a dinner recently and I said, “Well isn’t that part of the reason…” Oh, my! I had just opened up a can of worms without meaning to. Several people at the table had strong emotional ties to what I’d said, and it wasn’t pretty.

As I tried to cover for myself, my friend simply, and quietly, said, “Let’s not go there.” She rescued me – and everyone else sitting with us! She didn’t give me a dirty look, or kick my under the table, she didn’t take me to task after dinner, and she will have forgotten all about it if I were ever to bring it up again. Because that’s what friends do.

People who are not friends would have openly sympathized with at least one offended person at the table. Non-friends would have posted a comment on Facebook or Twitter. Non-friends would have shunned me, or wiggled in their seats, or glared at me, or talked about me behind my back. But no, none of this happened, because friends don’t do that.

It’s not so much that friends forgive and forget as it is that friends understand that they, too, have faults that show their ugly faces at the most embarrassing times. Friends feel sad for the guilty, but are also compassionate, stepping in to rescue without giving it a second thought. Instead of throwing someone under the bus, a true friend will continue to stand with that person, who just happens to have let something most unfortunate fall from her lips, and be a beacon toward safer waters. Because that’s what friends do.

To the friend who saved me, and all of us at that dinner, my grateful thanks. May I be such a friend in your time of need!

One A Day

My life seems to be a mess lately. There are so many things that claim my time – accompanying for music programs and festivals, gardening, church doings, my job driving foster children all over the state, my dirty house, laundry and ironing, (yes, I still iron!), writing, keeping food on the table (I can’t claim this as cooking all the time). And there are forces at work that will change my life very soon, but I can’t talk about them yet, so sometimes I feel as if I’m on a merry-go-round that accelerates with each rotation.

Sanity solution: Find One Blessing A Day

Yesterday was a long day of rehearsals for a music concert followed by an evening concert. I was really tired by the end of it. But it was a short night, and I was really feeling my sleep deprivation as I hit the road at 4 AM today to pick up a foster child.  When I got home at 10 AM, it was hot enough that I knew my tender garden plants would suffer if I didn’t water before I logged in a few more hours of sleep. So I drug the garden hose around our yard. The last place I water each day is the sweet potato bed that sits in front of the clematis by my front steps. I was barely going through the motions when I noticed that the clematis had bloomed for the first time this year. I love these deep purple flowers, and take great joy in seeing them open each spring. This was my special blessing today. (There were others, too, but this was extra special.)

In the beginning, it was sometimes hard to spot these blessings. But the more I worked at it, the easier it got, and soon I found there are usually more than just one each day. What will tomorrow’s blessing be? I have no idea. But I’ll carry its energy, its beauty, and its love with me all day, and that blessing will help balance my crazy, upside down life.

What is your blessing today? OR are you the blessing for someone else’s day today?