Encouragement in troublesome times

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Monday. Have we made it very far in bringing about the Beloved Community?

People rallied in many places on Sunday for the preservation of the Affordable Care Act (also known as ACA and Obamacare), that our representatives and senators not completely gut or drop it before there is a replacement. Too many people rely on the ACA to provide basic health care needs. This week many women, in Washington DC and in many states, will gather after inauguration day to stand in solidarity for the rights of women, children, and families, and the vulnerable to be protected. 

We are so small in this vast universe. Yet we feel our small lives so viscerally. Enya's song--Hope has a Place--expresses it perfectly.

And I finish this blog, after spending the night trying to sleep in a waiting room in an Intensive Care Unit at a hospital. Today there is recovery and hope again for a loved one. One day at a time. 

Re-Framing

Remember that saying:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.

Do you believe it? Neither do I. 

Words are important.

If a child is called stupid too often, they will learn to internalize the message.

If a woman or a man, isolated by their spouse in an abusive marriage, is constantly belittled, he or she may believe this is the normal state of a marriage.

If a person with disabilities is consistently made fun of or ridiculed, with no one to stand up for them, their sense of adding value to their society will fall.  

It's time to re-frame our way of interpreting life, our way of living life. And January is a good month to do so. 

Let's start with something small. 

The following example came from a story that showed up on my facebook feed. When running late, a typical response is to say,

I’m sorry I’m late.

If we would like to re-frame our response, state instead, 

Thank you for waiting.

Can you see the change?

It’s not hugely different but the nuance makes a HUGE difference. It shifts the focus of the conversation:

  • from negative to positive
  • from I to you
  • from an attitude of judgment to an attitude of gratitude

Recently, a re-framing happened for one of my friends. She works at a retail store. Between Christmas and New Year's, she worked as cashier and a line of people waited to purchase or return items.   

A customer wanted to return a $3.00 sale item with a receipt. My friend pointed out the expired date on the receipt and explained store policy. The customer persisted. My friend tried to scan the receipt into the cash register. It refused to accept the receipt. My friend apologized and again explained that the item could not be returned.

The customer argued and became loud. My friend said she could certainly call the store manager up front but he probably wouldn't be able to change the results either because it was store policy (and as a franchise, corporate office not local stores make these decisions). The customer finally left, complaining with a loud voice about how terrible the store was treating her and she was never coming back.

My friend then waited in trepidation for the next customer.

Because sometimes, one customer like that sets the whole line of customers to give that cashier the same type of treatment. And the facial expressions and body language of the people in line did not look encouraging.

But, the next customer exclaimed loudly how much she enjoyed shopping at the store and she apologized for the previous customer's behavior. 

My friend relaxed, and looking at the line of people waiting, they had relaxed, smiled, started chattering with one another. 

That's all it takes. One person.

An Author's Day Schedule

I was fascinated this morning with Janice Hardy's work schedule. She crafts articles at Fiction University and is author of several YA novels as well as non-fiction books on the craft of writing. 

Adapting her schedule, I pulled one together that should work for me, considering I'm not a full-time writer as she is.

I don't know about you, but I'm good at putting butt-in-chair. But staying on task? Not so good.

If my phone chirrups that I've received a text, I'll respond to it. (As happened this morning.) 

If I feel momentarily stuck, I'll check my emails.

I might even check into a digital jigsaw puzzle site to spend 30+ minutes to put one together. I tell myself it's meditative and will stimulate my thinking. Except, it doesn't translate into more work done on the novel.

Today? Success! (Yes. Except for the aforementioned text)

How long will I keep to this schedule? I'll probably fall out of it before January ends. Life will inevitably interfere with any type of overly precise discipline.

I hope that at the beginning of each month that I will look at my writing schedule again and gently recalibrate my time to keep my focus on finishing up this novel and move into doing more serious work on my next book. 

 

Balance and Cycles

 

We are now in the 12 Days of Christmas: December 26-January 6. Traditionally, this is when the Christmas season started. Not the Friday after Thanksgiving (for U.S. people) until Christmas Day. 

Remember that scene from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol when Mr. Fezziwig had all his workers stop on Christmas Eve day so they could party and dance? That's when Christmas began.

And there wasn't quite the rampant consumerism back then as there is now. My parents talked about receiving oranges for Christmas and maybe a small toy or a homemade toy in their stocking when they were children. And that wasn't long ago, back in the 1930's and 1940's. Not long at all compared to the age of the Christmas story itself, which is 2,000+ years old.

How was your Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

Mine was a mix of both sadness and happiness.

On the happy side: both of my children were home, their Dad came over, and we shared a meal, conversations, and took turns opening our gifts, which were few in number. My son worked on his sister's and his dad's laptops while my daughter led the 4 of us in doing online crossword puzzles.

On the sad side: our time at my parents' home with my sister and her family was rushed, due to icy roads and pouring rain (hey, we live in Minnesota, we're suppose to get more snow--not rain on top of snow) and wind.

It felt sad to be rushed because I see how much my Dad's health issues have taken a toll on him. He's quieter, his energy comes in weaker fits and bursts, his health issues affect how he thinks, and his voice is soft.

No parent is ever perfect (Let me be clear here: I am NOT talking about abusive or addictive behavior. Those are totally different subjects that are addressed more in-depth on other blogs.) 

I've been imperfect in how I've parented my own two children who are now adults. My parents have not been perfect.

But in spite of all of our imperfections, there is love and grace and the ability to learn and to change. And we adapt to each new cycle in our lives, with humor, with an attempt at understanding, with forgiveness. Change is inevitable. And grief and joy are partners who are never too far away from each other.

A Season of Blessings

In need of an antidote to the great divisiveness of politics and religion, I've found an inspiring resource from my local library. 

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu have experienced horrific hardships in their lives and now, as octogenarian, they share with us their disciplines that create the side effect of joy.

Disciplines? That sounds like it might involve work. But any good relationship--parent/child, sibling, romantic partners--needs some type of hard work put in to keep it going.  

I think of John Gottman's Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. In good marriages, fulfilling marriages, each partner turns toward the other, literally. Whether it's talking to one another or sharing a meal, if we cannot turn to our loved one and make eye contact, how can there be a valued relationship.

In The Book of Joy, there are 8 pillars of joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, generosity. I am determined that in 2017 I will take turns focusing on each of these key practices. I want to dig deeper. 

Wishing anyone who is reading this a blessed Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Boxing Day. 

Joy amid troubles

I don't know about you but I am troubled by the news surrounding our president-elect--who he is picking for his cabinet and now the fact that Russia may have undermined the integrity of our election process. 

I did not vote for him. His statements about people of color, Muslims, Hispanics, and women do not jive at all with my values. I serve a congregation that is a mix of white people and people of color and there are many wonderful relationships of trust within our church. But I have beloved family members who, I'm assuming, did vote for our incoming president-elect.

Part of the trouble is, who has news that is accurate? Fox slants right, Huffington Post slants left. Facebook has several "news sources" that are shared and are so inflammatory in language, stirring our anger up against the other.  I found one source that listed Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and The Economist as offering balanced, in-depth news. Other sources of news this source listed as minimal partisan bias: ABC news, NBC news, Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, and BBC.  

We have work to do as we seek out reliable news sources online and on television as we educate ourselves and keep ourselves accurately updated on the latest news.

 

But, be that as it may, this is a week of Joy for Christians. During the four Sundays before Christmas, Christians light a candle on a wreath. Each Sunday the candles represent different moods. Usually, week 1 is hope, week 2 is peace, week 3 is joy, and week 4 is love.

 And the Scripture reading focus for Joy is on the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is about her consent to God's call to her and her joy in meeting with her cousin who is also pregnant in her late age. And we read Mary's song from the Gospel of Luke as she praises God:

The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. God embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
— Luke 1: 53-54

Whenever we find the world too troubling, we can always choose our attitude, our behavior. Mary lived in a time when the Jewish people, the Jewish nation were colonized by the Roman government. But people of faith, people with faith persisted in living out their faith, working as best as they were able to bring about goodness on earth for all of God's diversity--of creation and of people. 

Revising a novel

Ta-da! The first paper copy--368 pages--of my story!

 

After 3-4 years of steady work on it, I finally have a fairly decent draft.

I put it away and let it rest for the month of November and am now reading it as a reader. But one month was not enough to make it completely fresh reading. I remember too much of the story.

However, I do notice that it's still pretty rough reading so there's a good amount of revising and rewriting to do yet. But, hopefully, 2017 is the year it'll be good enough to send out to agents or publishers. After it's been through crit partners and beta readers. And probably an editor too.

Or, am I being too optimistic? 

Discovering stories

IMG_20161126_115322.jpg

On Saturday, my sister and her oldest daughter, and I gathered at Mom and Dad's home for our annual Christmas goodie baking. The above pic of frosted sugar cookies is a sample of the detail work my niece enjoyed.

And on Sunday, I remembered a discovery I made when I flew back to Scotland after celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. 

At the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I stood in line to check my luggage. With no direct routes to Glasgow, Scotland, I was flying through the Reykjavik-Keflavik airport. I'd flown Icelandair before.

But this time, not only was there a long line of people waiting in front of me to check in. They all had carts loaded with cardboard boxes. Some of the boxes were huge. I tried to think what might be going on that 15-25 people would each be carting all these boxes.

Was someone moving overseas?

Were the boxes filled with special items to aid victims of a catastrophe?

It wasn't until I boarded the plane and found it filled with Christmas holiday cheer (in spite of delays due to icy rain) that I found out what was happening.

My seatmate explained it to me.

Many of the people on the plane were from Iceland. They had just spent Thanksgiving weekend in the Twin Cities. Their reason? To purchase Christmas gifts, on sale, through the Mall of America. It was cheaper to fly to Minnesota, stay overnight, buy Christmas gifts during the Black Friday sales then it was to simply buy gifts at home.

That evening's flight, in the midst of missing home and family already, I realized how intricately our world is bound together. Change one strand and the whole fabric of community, of the earth is affected.   

Of Values

Caught in the post-election net and now the latest DAPL incident at Standing Rock, I finally cut myself off Facebook yesterday. So much gone awry and my soul was being sucked dry.

How do we live together, when we are so different? And live together we must. There is no choice. This post-modern time is pluralistic, multi-ethnic, digitalistic.

I have ministered in several churches. There is always that contingent of people who maintain fond reminiscences for the church's past. A past when I was a child, when the pews were full, and Sunday school was bursting.

Now we have a contingent of people in society who want to return to the past.

But was there ever--truly--a hallowed decade? Not for women. Not for people of color. Not for the disabled. Not for certain faith traditions. Not for a gay or lesbian person. Certain white men struggled too but with the other end of the power spectrum, men who were able to see their position of privilege.

Nostalgia haloes our backward longing.

Do we really want to return to the days of Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, Brady Bunch? Or perhaps further back to Gunsmoke and the Wild Wild West?  What?!! And leave behind our water flushing toilets and smartphones?! Not to mention--you did notice, didn't you--the shows depicted, from a male perspective, an all-white or mostly-white world. And that was never true. There have always been people of color in North America.

To live together, as we must do, requires respect.

And . . . curiosity. We love checking out different cultural foods and we incorporate these new foods into our meals.

Why not be curious about people who are different from us? There's so much wisdom and compassion, so much about one another that we actually share in common. We all desire community, safety, an earth that can sustain us. 

A new world, a new era is struggling to be born. When you feel your soul being sucked dry, take time away from the furor of the news, to renew yourself and find courage.

But also, know there will be a time to go back out among the people, make phone calls and share your wisdom. For the future will be shaped by our voices.   

 

Diversity and Post Election thoughts

I am struggling to understand. I listen to voices who voted for Donald Trump. I listen to voices who voted for Hillary Clinton. 

We are a divided people.

We live in bubbles, insulated within clans that reflect our own thoughts, feelings, perspectives.

Unless a person is part of a minority group.

Because we are all encompassed within the big bubble(s) of institutions and policies that favor particular white people whose parents had money or they were able to climb the ladder provided by the common good (usable roads, tax subsidies, public education, a degree that did not put students $40,000 in debt and land them in retail at minimum wage).

And now that people who were able to get up that ladder have their pot of money, they want to yank that common good (heaven forbid they need to share their pot) away from anyone, poor white but especially people of color, from using it.

There is a rash of racist behavior, of sexist behavior. There are young children who are bullying and youth who are spraying denigrating graffiti at schools. Just stop! 

Why is it ok to devalue people who look different from you/me?

It's not ok. We are all children of God.

And so we have protesters, who want to make sure that they are included, that they are not forgotten in maintaining, keeping, reinstating the common good.

A shared life is messy. Uncomfortable,  A life together may even feel intolerable for some people. It's so hard. It's so impossible.

But diversity is what God gave us, continues to give us. Along with the great gift of compassion.

Use that compassion.

Find someone unlike you. Befriend that person who doesn't look like you, who doesn't act like you.

Maybe even develop a friendship.