Rising Tides and Holy Moments

John F. Kennedy once quoted: “…every American is made better off whenever any one of us is made better off. A rising tide raises all boats.” It is the opposite of the cultural attitude that suggests that if one is lifted up, it must be at the expense of another.

So much of life seems to be about lowering the tide. The 24 hour news machine needs negative and divisive stories to drive clicks. Social media provides platforms for critics, naysayers, and trash talkers. If we’re not simply wasting precious time, we are likely left feeling frustrated or even empty.

We can be left feeling like there isn’t anything we can do about anything. But what if, after catching up on big picture issues, we take inventory of what we can affect. At some point we must turn to the life we have in front of us. What DO we have control over and how can we help someone be better off today? What if we just went about our day raising the tide?

When I went back to work at a home and garden store in our town, I had already done the career thing. At this season, I just wanted to be with people and make a difference in whatever small way I could. 

One day a woman, who I would guess to be around 80, approached the registers and told the two of us standing there to “break it up and get to work.” She said it with a smile and I loved her immediately. As I was finishing up, I told her that I was sure she made people happy just being with her. Tears began trickling down her face.

We have no idea how much we can affect change in our everyday lives. A simple “You OK?” to a coworker, or “I love the colors you put together” to a customer can lift a mood. I am always surprised at how easy it really is and how it always lifts us along with the other. 

And while there is obviously a time and place for arguing issues, mostly it is not the time nor the place. A question maybe we can each ourselves is this: Are my words raising the tide or draining the water? Those words falling out of our mouths matter.

I read the following quote the other day and it impacted me deeply. We have strayed far from the notion of “holy” because organized religion has distorted it and made it offensive. It can also feel, at times, that the ugly has overtaken the holy. No matter, it is still a beautiful truth.

“We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire.
Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, 
these fleeting temples we make together when we say,
‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead–you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’
Danusha Lameris

Before and Afters

I love a good story, and some of the best stories are told by before and after pictures. We love them because they tell the story of transformation. Two snapshots, two remarkable changes. Living rooms, front porches, bodies. The way it used to be (maybe not the way we want) and the way it is now (so much better). You expect the difference to be obvious.

But most of life presents us with situations not easily captured with before and afters. I sometimes want to say, I’ve been remodeling too. See how my heart is a little more whole than it was five years ago? But a picture would simply show that I look five years older.

Struggling with RA, I sometimes want to say, See how much better my joints are than they were a couple years ago? But a picture would simply show the older thing.

This is especially true with grief and loss and change. See how my heart is recovering from the loss of my dad, my church community, even my faith? Others have their own stories about moving forward after the loss of a spouse, a career, a relationship. But again, pictures can’t really capture all that.

I have learned that even though before and after pictures are motivating and can encourage us to pursue goals that may be challenging, life is mostly the picture that isn’t easily captured. There are so many “afters” that go unnoticed, especially as we grow older. 

Very few people post pictures after a kitchen has had one cabinet replaced, or after a small weight loss when there is more to lose. We patiently wait for the progress to be visible. The work was likely harder for the beginning changes because they required a huge overhaul: of habits and routines and structures in place for a long time. But what we really want is the picture that demonstrates transformation.

For all of us who are rebuilding, remodeling, and remaking a life affected by loss and change and challenge: please remember that the story of transformation you are carrying in your heart is beautiful and true. Pictures are one way to tell a story. But when pictures are not possible, words can step in and do the work. Words build stories, and stories build steps that we might see a new perspective. 

In the quiet spaces of our hearts, we craft a narrative of strength, courage, and love that keeps us moving forward. Because it’s really not what others think that matters, anyway. It’s what we believe about ourselves and how we take our small (and not so small) victories with us wherever we go. And hopefully use them to encourage and inspire others to do the same.

The two transformation pictures on here are for a project that didn’t take all that long to accomplish. I snapped a picture before we started. It’s not a good picture, but you can never retake the before picture so it’s gotta work. We changed a plain wall into one that pops a little. 

But what I really wish I could post are the pictures of all the changes in my heart. Life has made my heart softer, kinder, more open to the pain and struggle of others. It has been healing from trauma so deep I didn’t think I would recover, but I am. I want to post the picture. But I’m gonna have to settle for words.

“If it’s not on Instagram, did it even happen?” Even if it can never be posted on that platform, the befores and afters that no one can see may be the most real of all.

Everything Changes

This isn’t a shocking thought anymore, is it? As we grow older, we become increasingly aware of how much change takes place over the years. Some are those we choose; some choose us. But all we know is there’s a boatload of change swirling around us. 

Maybe we’ve accepted that as best we can. But what about the changes that swirl inside us? We can act as if we’re the North Star, the constant in the midst of tectonic shifting. And while it’s true that sometimes we no recognize our lives, what about when we no longer recognize our selves?

I was talking with a friend about this recently. She was sharing about the insecurity she was feeling because of how much life has shifted. When we are no longer actively involved in careers, in parenting, in the relationships that were developed through each of those, who are we?

“Well, I thought I was…” There’s many ways to fill in the blank here. 

“I thought I was a people person.” But now I find my circle of friends to be on the smaller side. And while it’s still fun to gather a number of friends for drinks and discussions, mostly I want to sit with one or two and dive deep into some of the strange thoughts and processes associated with this stage of life. 

“I thought I was a positive person.” But now there are times I find myself dealing with sadness that I can’t shoo away. Sometimes I don’t really know the reason. And I want to know the reasons so I can replace those with reasons to be happy. None of that is wrong, and we have mostly been trained to do that along the way. “Control your thoughts, control your life.”

But what if some of those thoughts need space to stretch out and breathe? What if the sadness needs to rest for a while so it can get processed and moved through? Where do we get our daily dose of sadness training?

In her latest book, Bittersweet,  Susan Cain points out that light and dark, birth and death—bitter and sweet—are forever paired. I think it gets more obvious as we get older because we have experienced more dark, more loss, and more death with the passing of time. It is not an anomaly. It is part of our humanity.

It is important to remember though, when wrestling with sadness, that it is not a perpetual state of being. When we allow ourselves to sit with it and recognize that the pain and sorrow we are experiencing is somewhat sacred, our ability to appreciate the beautiful and the sweet parts of life becomes even greater. 

Personally, I like being happy. It’s not my favorite to sit with sadness.  But it is through the bittersweet moments of life that we learn most about who we are. We become more grateful for the times of joy, more patient with others experiencing challenges, more compassionate for those walking through life transitions. 

Who are we at this stage of life and who are we becoming? This is a question I think many of us are sitting with. We live inside the paradox of living in the moment while also realizing that moments are racing by and this moment isn’t the end of our story. 

There is beauty and light and joy all around us, and we now have the time to notice it and stop for it and even run into it. So as we are confronting the changes both inside and out, let’s make space for who we are becoming. 

Even if we have no idea who that is. 

Censored?

I’m going to venture into waters that could get a person censored these days. And no, it has nothing to do with v*xinations or C*v19. That’s all back burner now. 

The topic that could get me censored is one that goes against every narrative out there. And isn’t that the real reason for censorship these days? The subject I’m talking about is: Logic.

You see, I taught Logic for many years. To eighth graders of all people. Let me tell something about eighth graders: they love to argue. And they are extraordinarily good at catching fallacies.  Especially if they are detailing arguments involving them and their parents. Spoiler: the fallacies were never on their end.

But really, they were really good at this class. For half the year, we dove into deductive arguments in the form of syllogisms. They learned what constituted a valid argument.  They looked at inductive arguments and what constituted a sound argument. The point was to look at how the premises were logically connected to the conclusions.

Wait, what?  Premises are supposed to be supported and lead to conclusions? It’s really stupid to argue a conclusion. A more important strategy is to either 1) show that the form of the argument cannot be valid, as in a deductive argument, or 2) show that the premises lack backing, grounds or support, as in an inductive argument.

Does that sound confusing? These were eighth graders, and they got this quickly.  They loved the section on fallacies and easily picked these out of examples given them from the news at that time. 

Obviously, there is not enough space for in-depth discussion of logic.  But perhaps we can all be aware how we analyze information and reach conclusions. One of the most important steps we can take is not accepting information at face value. Every day there are charts, graphs, and memes which support our opinions and demonize people who oppose our beliefs. 

Maybe we don’t just repost, retweet, or repeat opinions that support our own. Maybe we challenge the sources. At the very least, let’s identify the sources. Is there a vested interest in that opinion? Is the opinion thoughtful and respectfully presented? Are any of the premises supported in significant ways? 

If all we are doing is “supporting” our own opinions, we are not moving towards understanding. The nature and scale of our problems today require that things change. Tech platforms have become entrenched with narratives that just keep adding chapters to existing stories. If we can respectfully say, let’s look at the “argument” in the narrative, perhaps we can get to the heart of the issues. 

I am certain that teaching geometry helps develop reasoning. But with all that we face today, maybe we need a more direct approach. Maybe we should be focusing on logic and rhetoric: how to think critically and present ideas that are well thought out.  We teach the art of the persuasive essay and how to build an argument.

Anyway, I am hoping that every 8th grader that took Logic (and every 12th grader that took Rhetoric) remembers some of what they learned.  And that they are willing to challenge narratives and stories that lack any semblance of logic. It matters what we think and how we reach our conclusions.

We can all learn basic logic. At the very least, we can agree to not post one thing that is not well documented. We actually read the studies, the bills, and the essays from real journalists. They are out there,  just not on CNN, FOX, MSNBC or any of the larger media organizations .  

I fully agree with another brilliant Lewis Carroll quote,  “People who don’t think shouldn’t talk.” 

The Final Bloom: Or Is It?

So I bought my Christmas amaryllis early November. You heard the story. It didn’t bloom by that holiday, but it had a message for me. Bloom whenever the hell you want. No timetables, baby.

I had written that there is usually activity beneath the surface, but the eye just isn’t picking up on it. Suddenly the thing blooms and we are taken by surprise. It eventually dies back and we are grateful for the beautiful flower it brought forth.

But then, when we expect nothing at all, it blooms again. Well, I didn’t think you had another bloom in you, little guy. And there you go, showing us all that blooms happen even when we think there’s nothing left. This is the third time I’ve been surprised by him.

How many life lessons did that little bulb teach me? 

  1. We need to be patient and trust the process. Time is not our enemy.
  2. Just because the eye doesn’t pick up on activity doesn’t mean that none is taking place.
  3. There is a time for every purpose under heavens but usually we don’t get to choose that time;  that time chooses us.
  4. Maybe the one bloom isn’t the end of the story. Maybe it’s a series of blooms that pop over time when they’re ready. Just because we bloomed once doesn’t mean we’re done.

What we need is the hope that everything resting inside of us will pop when the time is right. We were designed in love to hold so much beauty deep within. I thought that little flower was done, but then I noticed  a little green sprout at the base. I kept it in the light to see if it had anything left. Once again, the amaryllis bloomed.  

I feel a connection with this little flower. We talk and laugh and tell each other we are awesome. I got a lot of bloom left in me. Maybe we’ll both be a little beautiful, loud, and out of place. A perfect, if not at all predictable, time for every purpose under heaven.

The Miracle of an Anniversary

It’s a miracle really.  Staying married. Two people come together at one point in time, each who they are at that moment. Times change and people follow suit.

There is no magic lens to see what we will both be like in 5 years, 10, or 50. Nope, we have the present day love and the desire to unite that love through marriage. 

We gladly say richer or poorer, better or worse, sickness or health with no idea how that will play out. It doesn’t take long to settle into everyday life, however. Kids are born, roles morph, careers take sharp turns. In the midst of it all, we are slowly changing. We probably no longer love all the items that were on our registries. 

The life we experience comes at us from all directions, and the relationship that once took front and center slowly ambles to the edges. There is little time to process all that life together. Sometimes it can leave us feeling lonely, mad, sad, even hopeless. But there are also times we experience great joy, peace, unity, and hope. 

At the end of the day, marriage is a decision to stay. I recognize that there are times where that’s not the outcome. And for everyone who has gone through that or is in the process of ending a marriage, my heart can only imagine the pain associated with it all. 

But today, a day which marks 35 years, I am celebrating the miracle of staying together. It has been filled with every emotion known to man.  From “I wouldn’t change a thing” to “Everything’s a disaster.” From sheer happiness to unrelenting tears. From richer and poorer, better and worse, health and sickness. I have a good idea how that plays out now.  It looked better 35 years ago, as a figment of my imagination.

This much I know: Marriage is hard, like the hardest thing ever. A lot of days it wasn’t fun, not all laughs and giggles. Heck, some days there wasn’t even talking. But somehow we chose to stay. We chose to believe that it was better together.

Anniversaries are celebrations of the love that’s still in there, however deep it may get buried over time. There’s a much better understanding of what love means. Because at the end of the day, marriage is the result of commitment, hard work, a ton of amazing grace.

And a little bit miracle.

Better Than Patience?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word patience. It seems such an old word; we’ve heard it all our lives. Parents, teachers, grandparents alike encouraged us with, “You must be patient, honey.” It always felt heavy, like there’s a ton of bricks we needed to carry.

Patience is “a willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.” I can definitely relate to the word annoyance. When things don’t happen as quickly as we  would like, that is often our first response. It always involves waiting, for something or someone. It most always includes our agenda.

When we confront our annoyance, it helps us be more even tempered and non-reactive. It helps us when dealing with other people. It’s only been relatively recently that patience has been directed towards ourselves. We are told to be patient with the things we are waiting on and the people we are waiting for.

But although patience is an admirable quality, I’ve been thinking that maybe acceptance might be even better. It gets at the heart of our agenda. Acceptance is about not allowing annoyance to emerge in the first place. And although I could be  splitting hairs here (truly patient people have likely already conquered this), I think it’s always helpful to reframe things to get a new look. Maybe it’s more a reminder than a revelation. 

Some of my greatest growth has occurred from just accepting situations and people as they are. Most of us want to fix things, mostly to address our own fears and insecurity. Acceptance doesn’t mean never trying to change a situation, but at this stage of life, most of us have recognized we are not really able to control much.

The best part of acceptance is that it helps us enjoy the moment we are in. Patience can  still focus on the thing we are waiting for, so there is often a hook. “I will patiently wait for that thing to happen, that person to change, that healing to come.” But acceptance says that all I have for today is enough. Today, this moment, this situation holds its arms out to us. It doesn’t mean we have to like it; it just means that we accept if for today. We let go of what we want to happen. We breathe deeply and release our expectations and demands. 

This is easy to write, easy to agree with. But dang, it is not easy to live. A benefit of growing older is we can see farther back. We can see that all the things we tantrumed about eventually did what they did. And whether we liked it all or not, we are still living and still get to choose how we tell that story. 

So I am working on not just telling myself to be more patient. I’m asking myself to accept what is. This day, this situation, this precious moment. It helps if I get alone and still my ever-racing mind with the following thoughts:

This day is enough.

This situation is enough.

This moment is enough.

And because of that, I am at peace.

When It Doesn’t Bloom: The Sequel

I recently wrote about how my Christmas amaryllis did not show up for its holiday, prompting me to write about patience and carrying the word “bloom” into the new year.

Watching that thing sit from the beginning of November til well after Christmas caused me to realize that blooming is not so much an event as it is a process. Deep inside, there is so much going on, so much growth that is hidden to the eye. 

At this season of life, I am not about all the things I must accomplish to be successful. Nor am I focused on the expectations of others. Much like the amaryllis, which couldn’t care less about what I expected, there are processes taking place that are unfolding at their own pace and not interested in what I, or anyone else, has to say.

This past week, my little amaryllis decided to pop open. At Christmas time, there would have been lights, ornaments, and sparkle competing for attention. But now, in the midst of a cold, rainy, gray January, this bright red pop of color has it all. It has bloomed when truly needed, and although it feels a little loud and out of place, it stands proud and confident in its timing.

That beautiful flower continues to teach me about life. 

  1. There is a time for every purpose under heaven. But we do not usually get to determine that time or purpose.
  2. Just because the eye doesn’t pick up on activity doesn’t mean there is no activity taking place.
  3. When things don’t happen according to our timetable,  we can be tempted to use the word “failure.” But there is always, always, something taking place that we cannot know.
  4. When we least expect it, new growth will surprise us with beauty. And that beauty needs not only to be recognized, but celebrated.
  5. Joy and celebration need to become a bigger part of everyday life. We need to embrace struggle, pain, joy, and celebration as they wrap their arms around each other. It’s not a simple two step these days. 

All the things I had hoped would bloom sooner in my own life are no longer my focus. I am trusting the process. This amaryllis was prepared and had everything it needed to bloom. It didn’t need me to water it or fertilize it. Our growth is being timed to bloom when it is most needed–not only for us–but for those around us. 

To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Maybe what’s been resting underneath our skin is getting ready to pop. Let’s be ready to celebrate the blooms that pop when least expected. Beautiful, loud, and out of season. There is a little amaryllis inside us all. 

When it Doesn’t Bloom

I have gone back and forth about whether to choose a word of the year. These days, I don’t want to do things just for the sake of doing them. 

But turns out, I didn’t have to pick a word. As it often happens, the word chose me.

I had bought an amaryllis early in November and began waiting for it to flower. If slow and steady wins the race, this thing has been a rock star. I, on the other hand, have just been impatient.

Recently I was in a long line at Target and a young boy was complaining to his grandmother about waiting. In a very calm voice she said to the boy, “It is good for people to wait, honey. It teaches patience.”

Ugh. I did not want patience. I wanted to get out of the store. But her calm voice has stayed with me. The other day, I heard her words as I was looking at the bulb. It’s good for you to wait, honey. There’s a lot still going on under the surface. It will bloom, just not according to your timetable.

So because my amaryllis is taking its sweet old time, the word “bloom” is headed into the new year. And it is a perfect word for me.

Blooming isn’t about an instant pop of color. Nor is it really the “bloom where you are planted” old adage. It’s not all about the event; it’s about the process.

This next year, I want to be mindful of the beauty encased in the growth process, however long it all takes. Some blooms are loud and flaunty. Others are small, maybe even hidden. I know that deep inside me, there is growth taking place in kindness, courage, strength, and love. I want to celebrate both the process and the bloom. Big, small, loud, flaunty, hidden. And to always remember that there is so much going on that’s hidden.

My amaryllis isn’t a failure. It doesn’t care about my expectations. What I thought to be a holiday flower is going to bloom when it feels like and will most likely be a little on the loud side when it does.

Maybe there’s a little amaryllis left in me as I flip the calendar over to the new year. There’s a lot taking place under the surface that I was hoping popped a little sooner. This just might be the year to trust that blooms will pop when they are ready. And because it’s not generally my style, maybe I’ll celebrate the flaunty ones a little more loudly.

Standing at the Starting Line

I recently started a part time job as a sales associate at a local home and garden store. Even though I had a lot of experience in other areas, I would be a “beginner” there. No training on a cash register, no idea where everything is, the one who would have more questions than answers.

Honestly, I feel like I’m starting over in just about every area of my life. That starting line isn’t the same as it was in the past, however. When we are older, we get to bring the confidence that comes from knowing all we have come through.

Sometimes we can look at how different everything looks and feel a little overwhelmed by it all. But it helps to remember that we are reinventing ourselves and these challenging transitions allow for some wonder to slip into our lives. This quiet confidence provides a beauty and a strength which is easily passed on to others. And that is its own reward.

So I’m bringing a smile and a warm hello to all who enter the store. I might have to ask for help at every turn, but I’m not frustrated by that. I am getting to learn new things and meet new people.

I can look backwards and forward from this point because even though I’m starting over, my “success” this time is measured by my confidence. No longer by acceptance or external validation.

True confidence does not come from knowing everyone will like you, or give you the job, or invite you to the event, or give you the award. It is knowing that even if none of those things happen, you will be ok.

For me, this isn’t just about a new job. It’s about new eyes, a new heart, new enthusiasm, and a new hope.

Every morning, the sun says, “It’s time to begin anew.” Every single time, it brings beauty along with it. I see you, my friend. I’m feeling the same way. Let’s go start anew and watch the beauty unfold as we go..