Help!

Three weeks ago I started yoga classes. I quickly remembered the terminology from years ago, but the moves…not so much. Muscle memory seems to be struggling at the moment. Surrounded by blankets, blocks, and straps, twice a week I find myself working to move as the lithe instructors do. I am not lithe.

Two weeks ago we took a 15 hour drive to Augusta, Georgia. We went to visit dear friends, have Thanksgiving, and attend a wedding. We remembered our old hometown well enough, and our friends were welcoming and gracious. The trip was fine until we were returning home and got north of St. Louis and the blizzard took hold. We slid off the road. A good Samaritan stopped by. He couldn’t tow us out, but his buddy is a cop, so the cop came by. The cop couldn’t help us, but he had a buddy who had a tow shop. Three hours later, we were towed out and in a hotel.

One week ago, I got far behind in my work schedule. I was turning up late and unprepared for meetings. I fell behind on emails and lost track of an entire project. A colleague jumped in to save me during a meeting. Another understanding colleague gave me an out on that project.

Too often we take on things we think we can do. “I can do this!” “I’m a strong independent person.” “I don’t want to bother anybody.” “I’m all alone on this one.” These thoughts and multitudes of others populate our brains – calling us to struggle and suffer alone.

Well, I’m calling bullshit. Let’s end this year and start the new one with the idea that it’s totally fine to use the yoga blocks and do a modified plank. There’s no shame in getting a tow – in fact, it may be the only way out. We probably do have colleagues committed to the work and mutual success; let’s find them and team up.

You do not have to be alone. Whatever it is that you need – there are individuals, groups, and whole societies that stand ready to support you. If you don’t know who or where those are, reach out or call out or scream out. Create a group. We are here. No matter how awful things seem, we are here. The commune is everyone’s to call upon. So, as you enjoy the holiday season and begin the new year, please remember: you are not alone. From auto accidents to yoga and everything in between: call for and use help when you need it.

To paraphrase the movie “Love Actually”: If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that help actually is all around.

 

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Esse Quam Videri: It’s No Joke

“To be rather than to seem”

Here’s the thing: it’s easy to say stuff. It’s harder to follow through. It’s easy to say you believe certain things; it’s harder to live them. These are a couple of uncomfortable facts of being human.

Everyone has the middle of the night moments, and sometimes those in need will call you. She might call you because she fell off a distressed personladder and broke her heel. He might reach out to you because he is stranded and sick in a foreign land and needs to get home. She might email you because her child’s counselor refuses to file for accommodations on the ACT, and you know how to make that happen. He might text you when he needs Wednesday afternoon motivation to get through the essays and readings associated with a tough college schedule. Law enforcement might contact you because she’s in the hospital, and your number was the last one dialed in her cell.

If you are being and not seeming, you will show up. Help. Put out. Support. Hang out. Pray. Talk. Cry. You will be there. A friend recently suggested to me that planning for negative contingencies is a way of living in fear. This same friend has also suggested that being generous with someone who isn’t also generous is stupid. I say: being as ready as one can for any contingencies is being steadfast. I say: being generous is a way of loving others whether or not they return the favor.  Being able to offer to be there and then actually being there is esse quam videri.

Shift Gears:

I had a spirited internet discourse several months ago with a person I consider a friend. She is a well-traveled, well-read, educated Christian woman. She opposed any immigration from the Middle East to our country. Remember the few minutes when almost every governor was saying, “We won’t allow immigrants in MY state”? Yeah. She supported that.

red letter bibleI asked her if Jesus wouldn’t embrace those different from himself (thinking: tax collectors, prostitutes); she said not if they were threatening. I said immigrants are not threatening. She said they were. I asked her about Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” She said it didn’t apply if you needed to protect your children. I wondered if Matthew 25:45 applied, “‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'” No go. She wasn’t having it. None of it. If Jesus’ stranger-angels couldn’t convince her, I wasn’t going to get there either.

Not only did this make me sad; I was confused. If we claim to believe something, we really should follow-through. Fully. In religion. In personal manifestos. In neighborliness. If we say we believe something, are we not supposed to act on those beliefs? You know, the whole walk the walk thing? If we offer to be there for a neighbor, shouldn’t we be there when they call?

Adding it All Up:

I know it’s hard. Even in little things – maybe especially in the little things. Being prepared and being willing to help those in need has been something that I have tried to do with consistency over the past ten or more years. I am imperfect in this: sometimes everything works great, but other times I follow through only begrudgingly, complaining the whole time. Other times, I fall short – way short. The deal is: I have received such kindnesses in big and small ways, and I don’t know what the future holds; so, I am going to keep trying.

 gallbladderI remember the time when I had emergency gallbladder surgery as a result of a horrible gallstone attack (something I didn’t know I even had) while I was chaperoning a school trip. Let me say that again: I was hospitalized four hours from home for surgery while chaperoning a school tripThe number of people who leant cars, drank energy drinks, stayed with me in the hospital, cared for my children, and brought meals to my home after this event was enormous. And that’s just one example. (That’s me in the bed and my friend who kept me and my son laughing despite the pain and misery and fear.)

You see, it really doesn’t matter  if the person in need is your own child, a former student, or a colleague. We all need help, love, and support in this life. From a TGIF text to sitting at the hospital to making a meal to staying for the whole visitation. It is not living in fear or being weak to be prepared to live our values. We should be doing the right things for people. The right thing to do is not the same for everyone, but the right thing to do is: esse quam videri.

Join me.

 

What It’s All About

This past weekend I delivered some breakfast treats to a colleague who had a medical procedure. Our work team had a sign up to take this lovely person a variety of snacks and meals so that she would not have to fend for herself as she recovers. As we chatted, she showed me the pile of care packages she had received from our team and other friends. She said, “Nobody should be doing this; you all have your own families to take care of.”

Nonsense. Bullshit. My dear colleague is totally wrong. What we are trying to do – show care and compassion – is exactly what we care packageshould be doing. We might take her a thing she doesn’t like or need by accident, but to actively give love and care to those around us is precisely what human beings should do.

I can’t count the number of times I have taken a meal or sent flowers or done an errand or sat in the hospital with or watched children for friends and colleagues who had something happening – usually an uncomfortable or unhappy thing.

I have also been on the receiving end of such love. Years ago I was chaperoning a school trip. We were four hours away from home and ready for competition when I came down with what turned out to be an emergent case of gallstones. After surgery and several days hospitalization, I was able to go home. My whole school – students, parents, colleagues, administration – brought my family dinners, snacks, and flowers. That’s what it’s all about. Taking care of each other.

What would the world be if we did not do this? Well, I have an example of that, too. Years ago my middle sister died unexpectedly as the result of a single car crash outside of Atlanta. At the time I was an active member of a church. No one came to visit me after this tragedy. Not one person. Not the pastor. It was early December when my sister died, and by the time Christmas programs rolled around at church, I still wasn’t “feeling it.”

I left in the middle of Christmas Eve service to stand outside and breathe and cry. It was not a year I felt like celebrating much of anything, and hypocrisy weighed me down. After the holiday passed, a woman in the church greeted me on a Sunday and told me that she had thought about stepping outside to comfort me, but she didn’t want to miss the Christmas program.

Pretty bleak, huh?

You see, if it’s not the whole of the reason we are here, it is a part of it: to love and care for each other. That woman didn’t need to tell me she didn’t want to comfort me anymore than those who brought me meals needed to tell me they loved me. Actions do speak loudly.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I was honored to be a part of “A Show of Gratitude” sponsored by a local theater. There was music, storytelling and poetry – all in support of a local family. We are all connected. We need each other.

My hope is that this season – and all year long –  we all can reach out and actively love each other. That’s what it’s all about.

Join me.

You Should Go Home Again

“But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him . . . [the son] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

These are words from one of Jesus’ best known – in the religious and secular worlds – parables. The Parable of the Prodigal Son also called the The Parable of Two Sons. But, did you know it can also be referred to as The Parable of the Running Father or The Parable of the Lovesick Father?

While I am not a particularly religious person now (there was a time, but that’s a story for another day), I have been thinking a lot about this story. You know it: the younger son demands his inheritance, runs off, squanders his money and health on wild living, ends up destitute, goes back to his father thinking to become a servant, but his father welcomes him lavishly and joyfully.

For decades, I thought of that story only in terms of the sons: the dissolute behavior of the younger and righteous indignation of the elder. The elder son stays at home and works faithfully; he is disgusted that his father celebrates the ingrate’s return. I always fancied myself the loyal one.

Now, this story paints itself with broader strokes for me. I feel the father’s pain at being asked for inheritance; I feel the loneliness and confusion that the father felt while his son was out of communication: off partying and doing his thing. I can touch the younger son’s painful moment of truth when he realized he’d messed up. I totally get the older son’s anger. But even servants who kill the fatted calf and whose merry-making is heard from far off have a more interesting role. When family comes back home or friends gather, I feel such togetherness more deeply. To quote a TV show, “The air is sweeter when we are all together.”

During the upcoming holiday weeks, we may be faced with a prodigal son or daughter. Has a family member wounded you? Given you the cold shoulder? Spread malicious gossip? Maybe we are those sons and daughters. Did we snap and say things that we shouldn’t have? Perhaps we meant what we said, but we are sad about how it all went down. Perhaps we responded to a friend in a way that we now regret, and we’d really like to catch a movie or have a drink and a chat with that person. What can be done?

No matter who you are in this parable consider this: ’tis the season. Not the Christmas season – it is the season to turn things for the better, no matter who you identify with in this parable. Are you a prodigal son?  A lovesick father? An enraged older brother? Folks, so many hard dividing lines are being drawn around this country, indeed, in the world that perhaps if we can look at the story from all the points of view, then, we can soften our hearts and open our minds; then, we might find a peace and a love that we did not know were possible.

It’s worth a try.

Join me.

 

 

A Song We Must Sing

My two younger sons and I drove over 3300 miles in the past two weeks. During that time, we listened to all kinds of music, some comedy, and an audio book. In listening to all of this music, we mined both my sons’ musical preferences (modern show tunes for the elder; nails-scratching-a-chalkboard pop for the younger), as well as my old iPod which houses everything from Indian flute music to Kanye West to Gregorian chant to James Taylor to Michael Card.

It is this last musician as well as his contemporary, Rich Mullins, who gave me pause as we were barreling across Nebraska. Here is a sampling of their lyrics:

“Come to the table and savor the sight: the wine and the bread that was broken, and all have been welcomed to come if they might. . .” (Michael Card)

“…with these our hells and our heavens so few inches apart, we must be awfully small and not as strong as we think we are.” (Rich Mullins)

“There is a joy in the journey . . . there is a wonder and wildness in life. . .” (Michael Card)

Wait, what? Christian music that extols happiness and joy? Christian music that invites and welcomes all? Where was the finger pointing and condemnation? Where was the over-politicized message that real Christians must believe certain ways in order to be with God? Absent. Not there. Regardless of one’s personal spiritual beliefs, in this music, one can hear an understated joy in being a seeker of Jesus.

As I drove and rode, I wondered why have we allowed “Christian” leaders and politicians to boil faith down to a set of prescribed political and cultural beliefs? Why are “Christians” focused so much on hollering at people about politics instead of finding the “. . . rhythm and rhyme, the free verse of the poem of life” and living it. (Michael Card) How many would-be seekers of Jesus have turned tail and run when confronted with politicized sermons and prayers at the people instead of for the people?

I used to stun my high school girls by revealing that I was in a sorority. Even more to the point, I nearly caused them to faint when I told them I was president of my house. In talking with adults now, I can usually cause about a 22 second pause in the conversation if I reveal that I was a mission-school trained missionary for a short period. I can extend that pause by revealing that I also taught in Christian school for four years. Want a full minute pause? I can create that by telling the story of when my eldest son was told that if he didn’t tuck in his shirt, he would go to hell or the time that I was told by my Christian school colleague that I would go to hell for having my ears double pierced.

Organized Christianity has both inspired me and disgusted me – more of the latter in recent years. However, hearing the lyrics from Michael Card and Rich Mullins reminded me of the core message of God: I love you.

So, I wonder: regardless of our political stances and spiritual beliefs, how many of us might benefit by revisiting that core message and extending it to people – all people.

I love you.

That’s it.

Join me.

Say Yes to the Party: An Important Addendum

A couple of years ago I was forced to deal with some fairly mundane, routine legal matters. During the course of these dealings, I was asked if I were a homosexual. Indeed, the question was a borderline accusation.

I was offended.

But not for the reason that you might assume.

I was offended that my sexuality would have anything at all to do with the legal matters at hand.

After the conference during which the matters were resolved, I returned to my car, turned on the air to condition the sauronGeorgia heat, and I burst into tears. After a few minutes, I realized that I was upset because I had never truly experienced discrimination. As a woman, I suppose I may have encountered this from time to time, but it was so innocuous as to be laughable. But, in that one question, “Are you a lesbian?” I felt the squinting eye of serious – perhaps even outcome-changing – judgement focus in on me.

In my last post, I encouraged everyone to Say Yes to the party. I noted that being a part of family gatherings and high school reunions is, to generalize, wonderful, joyful, and enriching.

A dear friend of mine responded to that post with strong feelings. He noted that in attending such gatherings he and his beloved husband have been subjected to cruel remarks, rudeness, exclusion, judgement, and religious pomposity. For these and other related reasons, there are some events that they will not attend.

This past weekend at my thirtieth reunion, I did not experience such things. I saw a group of diverse people enjoying each other’s company, being silly together, reminiscing, and sharing their lives. I sincerely doubt that there were instances of cruelty and exclusion. The spirit of the events I attended forbade such barbarity.

Still, it happens. And, it can happen just as easily at a reunion as it can in the courtroom in Georgia.

As we gather together this summer, let’s make sure that the events include and are welcoming for everyone. It seems to me that if you are iffy about what your personal response might be to encountering people who have different beliefs, backgrounds, interests, families than you, then you might just go to the reunion with the idea of learning about people – no judging needed.

Aristotle is credited with the quote “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an thought without accepting it.” I would say that it is the mark of an accepting person to be able to entertain people while getting educated about them.

This past weekend, I talked with a comedian; I did not feel a compunction to be funny around him. A friend from elementary school who has been happily married for years and I chatted; he did not lecture me about the virtues of marriage, nor did he criticize me because I am divorced. Another friend, whom I know to be a fairly religious person, had only kind words and happy stories to share with everyone; she was not judging or trying to covert people.

The world is so easily polarized on so many issues. Perhaps we can leave that at home this summer as we go to reunions, vacations, and picnics. Perhaps we can go with a spirit of loving people and a desire to truly learn about the other beings that inhabit our world. As a result, maybe everyone’s lives can be a bit happier for it.

Think about it.

Join me.

The Difference Is

“If we refuse to respect our differences in thought, form, ideas, and vibrations, we will fail as a species. The end.” (Gray Scott)

This past week saw a flood of posts on the Facebook page for my 30th high school reunion. People are posting reminders, making plans, encouraging stragglers, planning golf, and generally getting ready to see some number of the 440 of us that graduated the year that Wham! held two of the top three spots in Billboard’s Top 100 songs of 1985. Despite the somewhat questionable music that united us, we are a wildly varying group: from professions to marriage choices to places we live to attitudes towards the impending gathering.

diversity.3

Diversity has never been more important to me than it is now. Once upon a time, I imagined that everyone wanted the same thing from life that I wanted. The irony there, of course, is that I had no idea what I wanted from life. Still, I assumed we were all pretty similar. My travels and living around the world showed me that I was, in a word: right. Everyone does want something, but our somethings rarely match.

Even as I started to move this weekend, I was struck by all that is going on in my community. I drove past a huge soccer complex where scores of kids were competing. The farmer’s market was in full swing. A farmer was on his tractor (stopped at the edge of his field and seemingly texting – a great modern image.) Iowa City had an arts festival on every street. My thirteen year old was pondering time travel. Aloud. At great length.

This morning on my social media feed I saw that friends went to a concert in Dallas; middle son arrived in Russia and ate blini; former students are ministering in India; other former students are marrying; even more former students are having babies; another friend texted about stress at work.

All of that is just a series of tiny snapshots of what we were doing on a particular weekend in a tiny corner of the Midwest. Differences are good.  No one would say that we all need to be doing the same thing at the same time. Preposterous!

Yet, recent newscasts and what is shaping up to be an omnipresent, omniannoying presidential election have shown that there are large groups of people who feel we should all be the same. Not only be the same, but believe the same, live the same, and bludgeon those who don’t.

To wit:

Everyone should believe that________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion about sexual identity)

We all can agree that________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion about education funding)

Naturally, everybody can get on board with________________. (fill in this blank with an opinion on military presence)

It really doesn’t work that way. A simplistic but meaningful article notes that even having a variety of viewpoints in the scientific community is important to: facilitate specialization; invigorate problem solving; balance biases. In biodiversity, we understand that everything is interrelated and each species has an important role to play, no matter how small. Perhaps we ought to take that same approach to social issues and life overall.

diversity.2    Someone once told me that my sister had a knack for listening to everyone and understanding his opinion had value; she did not always agree with everyone. But, she made sure they all knew they were valued. This was particularly important in her career (college professor) and given her speciality (Middle Eastern history and politics). Perhaps we might take a look at everyone – yes, even those we think are lunatics – and find some grain of value. Perhaps the value is that you more clearly understand your own ideals. Perhaps the value is that someone opens your eyes to a new way of looking at an issue.

There seems to be plenty of closed-mindedness posting on the internet and seeping into every stream of life. Vitriolic posts and comments explode across the country; indeed, across the globe. It is a logical fallacy to say, “if you are not with us, you are against us.” (False dilemma) There is plenty of room for everyone, and we might just learn something along the way.

In high school I was not popular; I was not well-known (I’m still astonished and a little horrified that people remember the high school me); I was not particularly talented. However, in reconnecting with the community that was the group that helped propel Madonna and Huey Lewis and the News to stardom, I realize that even back then I had an important role to play.

Now more than ever, I realize that we all do.

Join me.