I’m Through Apologizing

I’m all about relationships, right? Well, I have often felt guilty for not enjoying people more than I do, for not being all-the-time in love with parenting, and for wishing for somewhere to hide when I am in large groups. But I’m through with all that; I’m just fine the way I am. You see, I went to school this past weekend and learned something: Being around people energizes extroverts; other people drain the energy from introverts.

I’ve known for many years that I am a true introvert. I love ideas, things, projects, and goals. I am much, much happier when I’m working on my own; show me how to do something and let me do it – alone. My best creativity shows up when I’m by myself. But I’ve always felt I should be ashamed of this, that I wasn’t really a good person because I don’t like being around other people much. Yes, I’ve been a teacher for about 40 years, and most of the time I was a good teacher. My classes were almost always large, because that’s the way music classes tend to be, and I enjoyed teaching. But I got to send those kids out the door after class was over, and at the end of the day I had an empty room all to myself. It was such a wonderful feeling!

This week I played Grandma to my two very active, highly creative granddaughters. In the past, this has been highly stressful for me!! But this time, because of what I’d learned in school, I found ways to retreat into some personal quiet space, even in the midst of all our activities, and was delighted to find that I enjoyed grandparenting so much more.

I think it is important for my grandchildren to get to know their great-   grandparents, so I each time I have had our granddaughters, I have arranged to take afternoon tea to their great-grandparents. This involves a lot of driving with the granddaughters, since most of the greats live about 2 hours in different directions from my home. This time, though, I tried to relax and let them figure out how to solve minor differences on their own while I just enjoyed the drive. I sat back, savoring my tea, and let the girls enjoy sharing with their great-grandmothers the gingerbread cookie angels they had made and iced. It was fun to watch them remind each other to crook their little fingers as they sipped cinnamon tea from the china cups we packed for each visit.

There are times I wish I lived way out in the mountains of Wyoming, at least an hour from any town. But I don’t and probably never will. However, now that I am learning how, I can mentally retreat a few paces and recharge my batteries in peace before I have to re-enter the throng of life. I sure wish I’d known this 50 years ago!

Keeping Promises

Thanks for bearing with me these last few silent weeks. I’ve been keeping promises.

I am a woman of many talents, and too often I agree to do things that end up being way more work than I anticipated. Such has been my story lately as I lead a six-week Bible study at church; accept a position on the steering committee for our local Circles, USA chapter which helps people work their way out of poverty, and then begin an 18-month relationship commitment to one of the participants; agree to accompany all the solos, ensembles, and choirs for a local high school who has no competent pianist; make parson’s chair slip covers for my sister; and get ready to care for my granddaughters who will be on spring break next week but whose parents still have to work. On top of that, my second book is having a hard time finding an agent who believes in it, so it’s back to the drawing board…again.

Promises. Commitments. Duties. They pile up to the point where I want to yell, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”* But I have made promises, and I intend to keep them. That’s the kind of person I am.

Staying sane through all this is another matter – but I’ve discovered a secret. I have learned to take joy in whatever I am doing, to be very present in the moment as I do whatever it is the very best I possibly can. That means that I practice (and practice and practice and practice!) those very difficult accompaniments as musically as I can. I try to play them as I would a solo piece for a concert. That gives me real joy. As I prepare for Bible study, I look for new ways to understand scripture. I get excited as I share my insights with others who have also studied for each lesson. As I sew slip covers, I am thankful for the sewing and designing experiences I have had over the years and work to make every seam as perfect as possible, knowing my sister will enjoy hosting dinner guests as they sit on my handiwork. I love learning about almost anything. Through my work with Circles, USA, I am learning how my middle class attitudes actually hurt people who have grown up in poverty, often through no fault of their own, and I am working hard to correct those attitudes.

In short, I guess how I react to all the promises I made – promises that have overloaded me almost to the breaking point in some cases – makes all the difference. Attitude is everything. My survival skills include finding joy in all things, doing everything to the very best of my ability, being constantly grateful for the experiences that have given me my skills, and appreciating the fact that I am useful and needed. Yes, I keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, checking my calendar to see when this will all be over, and (in the back of my mind) thinking about what I can change in my book to make an agent fall in love with my characters. But in the words of the American poet Robert Frost, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”** When that rest finally comes, I will sleep peacefully, knowing that I have enjoyed doing my very best and that other people have been blessed by my efforts.

*Stop the World I Want to Get Off, musical by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly, 1961  **Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening, Robert Frost, 1922

Love From the Backside

Happy Valentine’s Day! Many of us have spent time and money on ‘things’ to express our love for someone today. And while token gifts are nice, they don’t usually last (especially roses and chocolate), and life quickly returns to normal. For some, though, Valentine’s Day is a hard day. Love is lost, shattered, dead, or just absent. I remember some of my daughters getting together with girlfriends to celebrate being single on Valentine’s Day, really just an effort to take the sting out of being left out of the mushy stuff going on at their high school.

That’s the Valentine’s Day side of love. But there’s another side, not nearly so nice and pretty – the people we do not love and don’t want to, the people who bother us because they are not like us. We wish they would just go away and then life would be better. But they don’t. And we forget that to other people, we are sometimes the unlovables whom they wish would just go away. But we just ignore the unlovely parts of our personalities and expect everyone else to do the same, even though we don’t ignore other people’s faults. In fact, we make a point to make sure other people notice the defects in people we don’t like. It can become a vicious game where all participants lose.

OK, I write about relationships, and, as you probably already guessed, I know so much about all this bad stuff because I’ve been right there, slinging mud along with everyone else. So how do I suggest we rectify this global problem? Love from the backside.

There is a lot of truth to the idea that you can learn to love someone by acting as if you really do love them. But we don’t often think about not doing things because if we did them we would dishonor or hurt someone. Consider, though, the possibility of showing love by what you don’t do. Things like always saying what is on your mind, letting your face show your attitude even though your words might be harmless, ignoring people who bother you, complaining about people behind their backs, keeping silent when no one else is standing up for what is right – these are all things we do on a regular basis. But what if we didn’t, and intentionally didn’t do them, in an effort to learn to love people we don’t want to love? What if we made sure we said only kind and positive things, or if we absolutely had to say something negative, made sure we said it kindly? What if we tried to find the good in people, even though we don’t like them, remembering that we, too, have some rather unlovable traits? What if we stopped complaining about other people? (I personally know this is a very hard habit to break.) What if things that are right are more important to us than things that are popular?

I think that when we learn to preface our thoughts and actions with “how will this help, honor, or heal this person,” we will be less likely to do harm. I think we will begin to see ourselves more as other people see us – flawed and judgmental, not much different from everyone else. I think that probably the root cause of much of our unkind assessments of others is our inability to accept ourselves as we are. We try to build ourselves up by tearing others down. In the end, it is all a pack of lies.

It is my hope that in choosing to act with love toward those we don’t love, we can learn to accept and love ourselves, and thereby heal not only ourselves, but our families, our communities, our nation, and our world.

Here is a poem by Kwame Alexander, written expressly for the interview he did for National Public Radio that aired on Morning Edition on February 12, 2018:


Border: http://all-free-download.com/free-vector/download/abstract-colorful-vector-art_148807.html

NPR interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/12/583961910/poem-for-your-thoughts-your-memories-of-love-captured-in-poetry (you have to listen to the interview to hear the poem – it isn’t in the printed interview)



Expression of Love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Merchants have been touting specific ways to express love since the day after Christmas. My family, though, has never been big on sentimental expressions, at least not in the usual ways.

My siblings and I are enjoying the last few years with our parents, especially intentionally since our mom’s memory is mixing things up more and more frequently. On my mom’s birthday, which was a recent Sunday, I left right after our church service in order to drive 2 hours to be with my parents for lunch. I had made carrot cake for Mom’s birthday dessert at their assisted living facility. I shared cake with my folks, and the kitchen and nursing staffs, but did not leave any leftovers with my folks. (The last time I did that, it was 3 weeks before they finished the leftovers!) My brother and his wife are in the habit of visiting our folks on Sunday evenings; we are a close family. Below is our family’s version of expressed love, relayed to you through a series of texts.

Brother: We are visiting Mom & Dad…and they are looking for leftover birthday cake. 🙂 I don’t know whether or not I should tattle on you. (The tattling would be that my brother already knew I didn’t leave them any cake.)

Diana: I didn’t leave them any because they also got two chocolate cupcakes from the dining room. They have a lot of stuff in the fridge. BUT, [a friend] gave Mom some Rollo candies & they are in a box in the fridge.

Brother: Mom is convinced that she didn’t get a piece. I, personally, think that is unlikely.

Diana: It is, because I watched her eat it. Remind her that it was carrot cake with coconut chips and walnits in it. (my spelling error in the text)

Brother: Not *all* of the Rollo candies are still in the fridge (yum!). (Mom is shaking her head. Must have been a Chinese recipe…she’s hungry for it again! 🙂

Diana: Wow! And we had such a good visit…

Brother: Dad said that the carrot cake was very good. Mom did remember you sharing it with the kitchen staff, etc. … We left them all in good spirits, Dad, Mom, and Mom’s forebears who were all sitting together on the couch.

NOTE: When I read the last part about the forebears I thought two things. 1) My brother misspelled fore-bearers. 2) My mom’s memory was declining to the point that she now saw people from her past with her, in other words she was hallucinating. I did text my brother asking who my mom thought was sitting by her, but he just suggested I ask her.  I waited a whole day, but then texted my fears to my sisters. A week went by. The next Sunday evening I got another text from my brother.

Brother: Dear Sister…I have a bit of a confession…It’s about 1000 words long…here it is:

Brother: Mom, the dog…and the forebears.

Please forgive…

This is our family’s way of expressing love – we play with words. (Yes, we are huggers, we frequently say ‘I love you’, and we love pie!) The best part about this is that my mom was in on the joke the whole time, and so was my dad. I had to write another email to my sisters explaining the subterfuge. We were all relieved, but so, so glad that the punnery still exists among us, even when some of us are 89!


Becoming an Ally

I have begun a new chapter in my life. Our county participates in a national program called Circles USA, an endeavor to help people work their way out of generational financial poverty. I have agreed to become an ally, a friend for at least 18 months, for a person or family who has already made a six-month commitment toward the goal of financial independence.

Much of the material covered in the training for potential allies was well-known to me; I have been a teacher who worked closely with families in poverty, and I now work for a foster care agency whose clients often come from situations of poverty. But there was one concept that caught my attention: Support is built on trust, and trust is best built because you share something in common with the people struggling with poverty.

I wondered what is it that I, from a solidly middle class background, have in common with someone who has known only poverty their entire life. I couldn’t imagine what that could be.

I was privileged to attend the graduation ceremony of our county’s first Circles class. Of the 25 who began the journey toward financial independence, only 10 remained totally committed after the first six months.  It was definitely something to celebrate. Three of the graduates spoke briefly at the ceremony, but one sentence really said it all. A man stood at the lectern and said, “I found out we don’t suck.”

Everyone, including the speaker, laughed, but his message got through. The poor know that everyone else thinks they suck. What he had discovered in the six months of weekly classes is that he may be poor right now, but he is a real person with a real life and real gifts to share.

So what is it that I have in common with these people? Deep down inside, there are places where I know I suck, too. I’m sure of it, even though I keep them well hidden from everybody, including myself. So my job as an ally, a friend, not a mentor, is to allow my vulnerability to surface and become who I really am, the me I tend to keep buried. That me needs to reach out and ask for forgiveness for my haughty attitudes. That me needs to accept the support of my Circles participant so I can learn the unconditional love, loyalty, perseverance, and real sense of community that the poor know so much better than we middle class.

Circles USA has had profound positive results in many communities across the country. It is a win-win effort. As the poor are given hands up (not hand-outs) that allow them to become financially independent, bridges are built into the middle class that allow us all to see each other as people who struggle with the same life issues, people who need to love and be loved, people who are there for each other. It’s all about relationships, the most powerful tool in all of life.

The Courage to Be Honest

Anybody can lie; we all have the knowledge and capacity to do just that. Most people can tell the truth; they have the knowledge and capacity to do that, too. But to be honest – that’s another matter entirely.

Lies and truth can be partly or totally true or false. Honesty, on the other hand, takes into account the motivations behind those lies or truths and their consequences. Truths and lies can be very self-serving; honesty serves others first.

Say you are spending more than you make, and all of your bills are necessary and above board. Truthfulness will say that you just can’t manage on what you make. Honesty will admit that your priorities, while well-intended, have gotten you into trouble and you need help getting out of the mess. Truthfulness will say that you are doing all you can to rectify the situation; honesty will say that you need someone else to work alongside you.

Honesty is built on relationships; we are not wired to live in total isolation. (I say this even though I am an introvert.) Like it or not, none of us has all the answers or solutions to life’s problems. We need other people to complement our skills and knowledge, other people to help us get through our struggles. Our global society encourages us to be self-sufficient and self-serving in our decision making. It takes real courage to make choices that take into account what is best for everyone, even when it is embarrassing or painful for us. It is hard to pick apart our motivations, and harder still to change our course of action in light of probable negative consequences for others.

Truths and lies can blow up bridges between people; honesty picks up the pieces and reorganizes them into a stronger bridge. But no one can reach across a chasm and build a bridge on her own – someone else has to build from the other side. Trusting that other person or persons to build or rebuild that bridge with you takes real courage. There are no guarantees, and no assurances help will always be available if your honesty is betrayed, but there is a difference between living and existing. The question is: Can you really live with yourself if you do not live honestly?

Foreign Words Worth Knowing

I learned a new word this week: chabadza. Chabadza comes from the Shona language, spoken in Zimbabwe. What it means depends in part upon whom you ask, and the difficulty of accurately translating a cultural concept into American English. In one context it means collaboration, like working with someone to accomplish a task instead of doing it for that person. In another setting, it might mean that everybody pitches in until the work is finished. Or, it might mean that you are (socially or morally) obligated to help, even if only for a short time. Chabadza might also mean that you cannot not help.

Perhaps it is similar to the barn raising events in American Amish communities. Everybody pitches in and nobody is left out, all working together until the new barn is completed. In these days of extreme natural disasters in the United States, news reporters will sometimes capture the spirit of chabadza on camera, recording how people help each other cope in the aftermath by ignoring race, income, religious beliefs, gender, education, and culture, just working together until the job is finished.

But these instances are rare. We tend to separate ourselves into little groups of “like” and ignore those who are “unlike.” We like to work with our “likes” but usually forget that the “unlikes” even exist. So what if…even a few of us found a project and approached it with chabadza? Every spring the public schools in my area do community projects, like cleaning up the trash in a neighborhood or clearing out brush on a vacant lot. The students all work together in assigned teams, and this is good. But what if they approached it as chabadza?

We know that people tend to take ownership in things they participate in. In other words, if someone does something for you, you may be grateful, but if you work alongside someone to accomplish a goal, you have a vested interest in the outcome and tend to care more about the finished product. Graffiti artists who are invited to decorate building walls in former ghettos take pride in and ownership of their work, making sure their artwork remained untouched, a very different story from previous competition among gangs to mark out their territory with graffiti.

So, what if the students worked alongside the community members when they cleaned up neighborhoods? My guess is that the experience would not end with the dismissal bell at the end of the day. The students would have been in conversation with the community folk with whom they worked, and conversation breeds relationships, and relationships foster community, and a community of which you are a part means that you matter. You cease to be an “unlike” and become a “like.” You are no longer an outsider, you belong. Isolation is replaced by integration within a community of shared experiences. Is this a good thing? YES!

There are other pressing problems within our communities, such as a lack of good and affordable childcare; transportation for the elderly, poor, and disabled; help with household chores for the elderly, poor, disabled, and chronically ill; access to healthy, fresh, locally-grown food; work opportunities that can support families; and the list goes on. What if, instead of creating programs to provide these services for people, we created relationships among people in need so that we worked along side them to solve problems of supply and access? What if we treated them as neighbors, understanding that what is good for them is also good for us because we live in the community together? What if we made chabadza a way of life? (I think we might very well begin to understand the concept of shalom, and that would be a very good thing, indeed!)

Be a Friend – With No Strings Attached

Let’s face it, most of our friends are friends because we have something in common. Jobs, kids the same age, sports connections, hobbies, social or religious groups, things like that. We may not know our next-door neighbors, though, because there’s no reason for us to know them. The fact that they live next to us is no longer a reason to become acquainted.

There is another kind of friend, though, the friend who pals around with you but who will trash you and your reputation all over social media if you make her mad. These “friends” come with lots of baggage and lots of attached strings. People like this are quick to give advice, eager to assign blame and declare their innocence.

Out here in Kansas, there are still pockets of humanity where we choose to interact just because we happen to meet someone. We don’t need to have anything in common. We choose to be friendly and helpful if the need arises, and we don’t ask questions. We aren’t necessarily “friends,” but we are friendly.

Deep down, many of us secretly feel lonely. We want a friend – someone who won’t judge us, someone who will be there for us but won’t give advice unless we ask for it, someone who will believe in us when we can’t do it ourselves. But do these people even exist anymore? I sure don’t see many of them!

So I’ve decided to do something about it. You know the old adage: If you want a friend, be one? I have decided that if I can’t find a friend like I’d like to have – that person who always has my back – I’m going to be that person for someone else. That way, at least that person will have a friend with no strings attached. Hopefully, this attitude will be contagious. It is a risky proposition, I know. But I do think it is what the world needs now, so I’m going to do my best to make it happen. I hope some of you will take the challenge, too!


It is hard to have real courage. Courage is like making sacrifices – if it costs you nothing, it isn’t real. But courage is hard to come by if you don’t believe in yourself, or have faith, or know that someone has your back. I know a lot of people who want courage but can’t find it, and sometimes I’m even one of them.

When we can’t find courage, what do we do? My answer, at least right now, is to find someone who believes in you. Not someone who thinks you are the greatest person in the world, or who admires you, or who is sure you can do whatever it is you need to do, but someone who believes in the you behind your need. Someone who is willing to stand with you and be a friend, who will be there to encourage you, to cry with you and, hopefully in the end, celebrate with you. Like I said, I know a lot of people who need courage right now, courage to do hard things, to take great leaps of faith, courage to change their lives.

 It is not my place to do the hard things for them; that would diminish their power and leave them with less hope than before. My job for these people is to be that friend, that cheerleader, that believer, the one who hopes against all hope and stays the course. I’m sure each of you knows at least one person who needs courage. I encourage you, (pun intended), to be that rock solid lifeline, standing with him through thick and thin. I ask you to commit yourself, and in so doing save humanity, one person at a time.

How Serious Is My Commitment?

If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that I wanted my Christmas dinner to be a bit out of the ordinary. Well, it was. We hosted two family members and four others we sort of knew, but not really. The non-family left shortly after dinner, but my husband did offer to one couple the use of our spare room if the place they call home became too cold, (the temperatures were forecast to fall into the single digits with wind). The following morning we got a call from them, and half an hour later they were our guests for the remainder of the day and overnight. Problems of an almost empty larder, a bottomed-out bank account, and both of us having to leave for work very early in the morning made me question my commitment to these (and all) people who struggle. We called a friend who agreed to come pick up our guests 15 minutes before we had to leave for work the next morning. He agreed to take them to a safe place where they could at least stay warm until they could go back to their home. I packed a breakfast they could take with them. For the remainder of the day, though, we shared the food we had, our television, heat, shower and time with this couple.

But I wondered, how committed do I want to be? People without a lot of personal commitment can become leeches, always needing things, always wanting your attention, always around. This couple definitely doesn’t have a lot of commitment to changing their life situation. They hope it will change for the better, but they aren’t doing much to make that happen. And they could – if they chose to. So, again, I asked myself, am I willing to commit myself to being a friend in need? Am I willing to open my home again when the need arises? It is a whole lot easier to write blogs, or give money, or sign petitions than it is to actually provide services, and free of charge at that.

I don’t know the answer, at least not at this moment. But I do know that this kind of situation is why so many people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear, why so many just give money in the hope that they won’t have to do anything, and why there is such a gap between the haves and the have nots.

I hope this makes you just a little uncomfortable, at least enough to think deeply about this. All our decisions have consequences, and we have to live with them, like it or not. Perhaps we all need to pause and consider just how committed we really are to the causes we say we support. Maybe it is time to consider the consequences of our commitment, and whether or not we are comfortable living with those end results.