Building Roads

7 Jan

dsc_0238A couple weeks ago our family was playing the board game Catan. In it the players build roads, towns, and cities to get enough points to win.

I had drawn a card to build some road, and I said “I’ve got road to build but I don’t know where I want to go.”

In the context of the game, I was needing to figure out what my next strategic move was to best my opponents. But that phrase stuck with me.

All this road and I don’t know where I want to go. Kinda sounds like a country song.

But there is some hardcore truth in there too. Often I hear in spiritual circles to follow God, spirit, guidance etc. Yes, do that. But what happens when that becomes an excuse to not make any choices? When that becomes the reason we don’t set down our piece of road and commit, at least for the length of that piece of road?

Just at the beginning of the year we have a whole bunch of year in front of us. Maybe we know where we want to go, but maybe we only kinda sorta know. Maybe we are drifting in the sea of unknowing.

But just like me deciding where to put my road, a decision has to be made (or the folks you’re playing with start to get annoyed).

I think too often folks get caught up in the potential permanence of getting stuck in a decision, and that it will be the final answer for ever and ever so they stay put and stagnant, which is just another way to be stuck. But just like me deciding where to put my roads, there is more than one way to figure out what to do.

I can’t count how many times I have talked to someone getting out of a relationship and their bafflement of tolerating a certain behavior. I always say, well even if you don’t know exactly what you do want, at least you know what you don’t want! The clarity of knowing what you don’t want is an excellent step in the right direction. Because when you know what you don’t want, you have narrowed the left over choices. Yay!

I firmly believe there is a time for rest and a time for action, taking time to get centered, clear, and confident is essential. But what if the grand revelation you’re waiting for to take a bold step isn’t a blinding light on the road to Tarsus, or an apple falling on your head. What if it’s your barista saying something off-hand that sparks an idea? What if it’s noticing there isn’t a solution on the market for a need you have? What if it’s remembering ‘I’ve always wanted to do _______’ from your list of dreams when you were 8 years old.

Put down that road! Take the first step. That’s not saying that every idea will be THE idea, but it may get you to the crossroads you need to be at to see your real destination. Or it may take several more twists and turns to get on a road that make sense. And even when you do, it can still change. When I look at the various experiences, friendships, jobs, etc that have been a part of my life, in the moment they may not all seem to fit. But, when taken from the perspective of where I am now, I see how they all made me who I am now and gave me the skills I needed. By learning what was a ‘no’ I moved closer to what was a yes. Leaps of faith proved the power of following my calling. Relationship/friendship mistakes taught me how to be a better friend and partner. All those roads got me here. My dear friend Rev. Jennifer Holder said in a sermon many years ago, “I could have come no other way .”

That has stuck with me because it reminds me to have patience with thedsc_0243 silly choices I made in the past because they made me who I am. I don’t wait for the perfect moment, because the journey of the rest of my life starts now.

So I boldly lay down my road, sometimes I’ll be more pleased with the results than others, but I won’t sit here with a free roads card in my hand not deciding where to put them.

I got places to go.

Are You Ready?

23 Dec

It is 3 days before Christmas, preparations are well underway. Houses are decorated, kids are out of school, and traffic around anywhere that shopping happens has become a test of patience. I hear a familiar refrain wherever I go “Are you ready?” There is, as the song goes, “parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow.”

I’ve always (at least in my mind) responded, well, ready or not, Christmas will come and I don’t HAVE to do anything except be present. Growing up Christmas was usually just our family. It was this way in part by design and in part because my extended family lived states away. This was normal for me and it worked. My favorite parts of Christmas was the candlelight service and our Advent ritual. The one year we had Christmas a couple days early because of weather taught me that good results can come from being flexible (after I was quite resistant to the idea.) My mom, being a super mom, did of course manage to get the message to Santa and we got an early delivery.

In my twenties I moved far away from my family and got to make new traditions. All of this to say, when someone asks me if I’m ‘ready’ for Christmas I kinda shrug.

Because to me being ready for Christmas doesn’t have much to do with buying presents, preparing food, traveling places, or the exact right kind of chocolate (I’m looking at you Christmas with the Kranks).

To me Christmas is about preparing my heart to be filled with the Joy of the remembrance of the divinity within myself. Christmas is about witnessing humanity remembering each other and reaching hands across imaginary lines used the rest of the year to divide. Christmas is about lifting my voice and my hands in song to celebrate the rebirth of the light in the darkest time of the year, and remembering that it is within each being. Christmas is about sharing love and memories with our dear ones, and making new memories.

I am not saying that Christmas can’t also be the things that make it special and fun for others. I got my picture with Santa this year and there are presents under my tree. But those things are not required for me to be ‘ready’.

A heart filled with Faith, Peace, Love, and Joy. That is all I will ever really need.

Yes, I am ready.

PS As a minister of a church being ‘ready’ does take on a few more tasks than it has in the past, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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2015 Christmas Tree

Where’s the window control?

30 Sep

This spring we traveled to Oregon to visit my mom. Our rental car was configured differently than our Corolla, which is always a fun adventure when you first drive an unfamiliar vehicle. I kept rolling down the back windows because when my hand reached for where was the right place to hit the button for the front window in our car, I was in the position of the back windows. Yes, when we got back home 11 days later, I overshot the window controls at first.

Measuring how many parking spots we could take up in South Dakota

Measuring how many parking spots we could take up in South Dakota

This month we drove a Uhaul across the continent (Kansas City to Anchorage). The Uhaul didn’t have power windows, and the way you sit in it feels totally different, so I didn’t have the same issue when I started driving it. But when we got to Washington we took the car off the tow dolly and drove it around for a day. What do you think I did? I reached down low for the hand crank to roll down my window. I did this more than once, and then again when we got to Anchorage and were back in the car for good.

It is amazing the things our brains fill in for us. “hey I know where the window control is, you don’t have to look” and the things the brain is slow to pick up “oops, different car”

Which leads to the next question, what other things is habit or ease filling in for us? I have seen people who just ate a filling meal go open and stare into the refrigerator because it’s the unconscious habit they have when they are bored. What about screens? Scrolling any number of websites that might be in part news or social connection, but a lot of time wasting. But it’s not just the internet, the same zone out happens with the TV, and other distractions.

I’m not saying some time to unwind and relax is a bad thing. I’m saying that it’s a choice. We don’t have to follow the pattern of the day before or, for that matter, the pattern of our upbringing. We don’t have to believe anyone else’s standards of what makes someone successful, attractive, or worthy.

An old story tells of a young woman cooking a ham. Her kid is watching and asks “hey mom, why did you cut the end off before you put it in the oven?” She replied, “that’s the way my mom always did it, and so that’s how I learned to make it.” Later she calls up her mom and asks about the ham. Her mom’s reply was similar to her own. Now curious, she calls up her grandma who replies, “whole thing wouldn’t fit in my pan.”

Sometimes the things we’re thinking and doing really are working, other times there are things that could be so much better with some conscious decisions. I’m guessing most of us are somewhere in the middle, and unless you are a Bodhisattva there are still progress to make. The good news is we are amazingly adaptable and intelligent beings, after all my habituized location of the window control did change over a foot in 3 days. It’s up to us to use that intelligence to realize when the controls have moved or the pan has gotten bigger or the goals have shifted.

Once your realize this, it may take a while to get the ducks (in your brain) marching in the direction you want, but keep at it, you are on an amazing journey!

I believe in you!

PS Karen Taylor-Good has a great little song about just this. 

Handle with Care

15 Aug

20150812_133737I’ve been shipping orders at the warehouse and slap one of these on every poster I send out. While it may seem obvious that a shipping tube or box containing glass is fragile and needs to be handled with care, looking at these stickers every day got me thinking.

Some days I wish I could just slap one of these stickers on myself, or give one to a friend who is in need of some tender care. I suppose many years ago, more people lived in smaller communities where people did know when a person was going through a rough time and they could respond with that knowledge and compassion in their heart.

But the fact is that most of us don’t go through our day interacting with folks who know the history of our lives. So how do we balance out this need to be gentle with people with our simply not knowing? The easiest way would be to treat each person you come across with a loving heart and kind smile. But let’s not pretend that all of us have reached that level of presence at all times.

Any kind of change can be difficult to traverse, and I can tell you from my own experience and the shared experience of those near to me that the most well meaning people can say the most insensitive things.

Recently I shared on Facebook that I was traveling to Anchorage to interview at the church there. This was a big deal for me, I had not shared publicly any of there other interviews I had done. In part this was because I didn’t know if I could deal with the onslaught of questions about it if I didn’t get the offer. Since before I graduated 2 years ago I’ve had well meaning people ask me how the search is going. I know in my head that each time this was an expression of caring, however I was fielding these kinds of questions a lot. It could be really disappointing and discouraging to say the same thing over and over. But I decided with Anchorage to go ahead and share it, and also ask people to give their encouragement but please refrain from asking about it until I share whatever I had to share. This was my Handle with Care sticker.

Unfortunately, it only half worked. Some folks were amazing and didn’t mention it or said I’m thinking about you, or holding you in my prayers, etc. Others seemed to not notice my request. Because when your brain is having a debate between trusting the process and oh shoot I messed up in these ways (followed by bullet points), you don’t really need anyone asking about it and adding to the times you get to hash it out. It’s my very human response to my being in the ‘in between’ place on the journey of my calling that I’ve been on since I was a child.

And what about grief? I have heard way too many stories of people being ‘should-ed’ about their grief process. Just as every person and every relationship is different, our process of grieving each relationship will be different. Who am I (or anyone else) to judge how fast or slow or intense someone experiences their grief?

What does all come down to? Awareness. I can be aware of the times I need to be handled with care and ask for that from those around me. I can notice when those around me seem tender and ask how I can support them. I can apologize if I realize I did not handle someone with care. As a community we can continue to shift our culture to one where having feelings and supporting another is the accepted norm instead of putting up walls to protect and look good.

Let’s not be afraid to say hey I’m feeling fragile right now. It doesn’t make us weak, it is a show of strength and wisdom. Let’s give others the space to work their process in the time it takes. Let’s listen more.

With love,

Ra

Seeing the Beauty

3 Aug

Two weeks ago I was in beautiful Anchorage Alaska. It is stunningly beautiful there, before you’ve even landed there is this out the window:

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Drive down the road and you might see this:20150718_105713

Take a tram up to a ski area and you can see this:20150718_123034

Or hike another ski area for this:20150720_182914_Pano

I loved it there.

This weekend I drove up to Woodstock Illinois. Farming country. I drove through Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois and it mostly looked like this:

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Two weeks apart, very different worlds. I got to thinking how beautiful this is also. Rolling fields, corn and other crops in rows, farms where people work hard, little towns where folks know each others families.

The beauty and preciousness of this experience of life is everywhere if we’re looking for it. And nowhere if we’re not.

Same with abundance, love, joy, wisdom, etc. It’s not simply what you see is what you get, choice matters, what you choose to see is what you get. If you are looking for proof that you’re broke, well I’m sure that proof exists. Even for someone much much more financially wealthy than I. If you are looking for evidence that you live in abundance, that exists as well.

This is not magical thinking or a surface level feel-good hippy delusion. It’s real. Or, it is as real as you are willing to commit to. It’s true that somewhere with big mountains will likely always be my preference, but I am also committed to seeing the blessing where I am at. I can hold both of those things simultaneously. I can’t imagine how miserable the last 10+ years of my life would have been if I hadn’t reconciled with the no mountains midwest and found something to appreciate!

That’s that. Find that good where you’re at. Appreciate the wisdom, joy, love, abundance, beauty that is present right now. It is the fastest way to happiness and to get more.

Speaking of more, this is from Sunday evening on the way home:

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Oh yes, the world is a amazing place.

Travel on!

PS After a 4 hour Alaska mountain hike, my feet enjoyed this COLD mountain stream.

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Family

25 Jun

This week has been the longest, hardest, and deepest week of my life. At this time last Thursday my friend Ogun summoned me to come see his wife and my dear friend Jennifer. I was blessed to be able to talk with her and speak words of love and share a hug. She was entering hospice then and today was her first celebration on life service.

I was one of the lucky ones, since Jennifer received many of her treatments here, I got to spend lots of time with her over the last several months. When I moved to Lee’s Summit 9 years ago Jen, Ogun, and their daughter Joy adopted me into their lives. Even though they moved away to follow their calling, we were never that far away in our hearts.

I understand that some people are close with their blood relatives. Since I grew up half a country or more away from my parents siblings, I never have had a consistent ‘I really know you’ kind of relationship with most of the extended family. Of course we loved them and had fun on trips, but a year or two is a long time between visits especially for a kid. We did however have some great family friends who were my ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ and of course the church grandma brigade.

I moved far away from the place I grew up and began the process of finding my ‘people’ all over again. It is a beautiful thing to be willing to love and be loved by the friends who do become your family. Family can sometimes have something to do with shared DNA, but it can also be about shared experience, understanding one another, acceptance, and positive regard.

This last week I’ve spent a good portion of my time with the family and close friends of Jennifer. Together we laughed and cried, shared stories, had golf cart adventures, and held vigil. Jen’s sister and Ogun’s sister tended to Jen’s needs in a beautiful dance of service, love, and tenderness in the weeks leading up to her return to Unity Village which they continued along with others when they were here. My role was in service to them and the family: airport runs, where can we find a such and such, a shoulder to laugh or cry on, and supplying cinnamon rolls. There are not really words to pull together the fullness of our experience, but I will never forget it.

Today when I made some remarks at the service, I thanked Ogun and Joy for allowing me to be a part of their family. I included all of the family, Jen’s parents, Ogun’s mom, and the sisters, in that sentiment. I feel like as a last gift (that I know of at this moment) Jennifer gave us each other. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Positive (all the time?)

19 Jun

The other day I was chatting with someone I hadn’t seen in a while who I know casually. We were catching up and I was telling her about the interesting possibilities I’m nurturing. She looked at me quizzically:

“Are you always this positive?”

Hmmm. Good question. My first response, “I have practiced” my second response, “I have a good friend who is very sick and other things like that on my mind, but it cannot be the story I’m always telling.”

I have heard criticism of Unity for being a happy feel-good religion. Which I think is a laugh, as I feel it’s far far from it, though I have heard the feel-good sermons cover-it-over affirmations. Unity to me is about personal responsibility. About acknowledging the shadowy parts, taking them out and making friends with the hidden depths. Honestly seeing your part in your world and life and taking action to heal, improve, reconcile, and make amends.

This kind of authenticity is not the norm for our society. Numbing out feelings so fear, unworthiness, sadness etc so they don’t have to be experienced also numbs joy, love, and connection. This according to the research of social researcher Brene Brown and my own observation. She also says that “in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.” And to do this we must allow ourselves to be venerable.

I was so happy when I came upon her TED talks (see below) because it made so much sense to me and her she had real data!

You see, I live in this world of fullness that she describes. So when someone asks me if I’m always this positive, the answer is usually yes. I can live in the place of sadness about the imminent demise someone I care deeply about and still be very excited about the interesting opportunities unfolding before me. I strive to be present to the people and feelings that are here now. I don’t have a positive spin to place on this loved ones death, except that there is no more pain or suffering.

While it can mean these things, being positive or optimistic doesn’t mean you are faking it, inauthentic, or clueless. Being optimistic means that with the cards I have, I am doing the best I know and also knowing through faith that the cards I need will show up.

It means loving deeply knowing that people and relationships are not permanent. Boldly following dreams when the path is not clear. It means saying yes when your heart says yes even if your head says no. Garth Brooks sings in The Dance:

“Our life, is better left to chance, I could have missed the pain, but I’d a had to miss, the Dance.”

So I will dive in, knowing I’ll get hurt sometimes. I will be stubbornly optimistic, I will love, I will dance, I will follow dreams and cheer you in following yours.

And yes, I will cry. My tears will keep my heart soft, ready to love again.