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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.

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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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Giving up Facebook for Lent (mostly)

12 Apr

February 18th, Ash Wednesday I posted this on facebook:

Dear everybody.
I have been here, scrolling facebook though I haven’t been posting much. But here’s the thing, it can so easily be a vortex for my time and energy. So, for my Lenten practice, I’m spending 10 minutes or less on facebook a day. If you have a birthday between now and Easter, I might miss it, if something exciting happens, I might miss it too. If I take a cool picture I might post it. But I still love you and hope that if there is anything you really want to share with me that you’ll reach out in a non-facebook way.
I intend to spend my time more intentionally and to have the space to discover what the things to spend my time on truly are. I’m open to where the path takes me.
Happy journey and much love,
Ra

Now it’s a week after Easter and though I have plenty of other things to put my attention on, I felt the need to share something on my experience. Let me start by saying that I like Facebook. I like that I can keep up with and cheer on my friends and their kids from afar. I appreciate that I know when important things are going on in the lives of people I care about and I have to opportunity to offer congratulations or support.

There are some things I don’t like about it too. That just as it’s all too easy to share information, it’s just as easy to share mis-information and say things our filters might catch if we were in person. It’s easy to pick up the phone/tablet/computer and endlessly scroll to tune out of whatever is going on around us. I tire of the cartoon pics with sarcastic sayings on it them, post this to prove you really care about ___, and to a lesser extent the inspirational quotes.

So I decided to just get on facebook to check my notifications and some top stories each day. Finally I found the top stories algorithm doing something useful! And you know what? I liked it. I took back my time, and not only that, I feel like I took back part of my mind too. That’s not to say that I spent all my time doing something heroic. I did a bunch of math refreshing on Khan Academy. I read some books, I got ready for and did some preaching, I traveled to Oregon and California with my sister and husband. But there was no urgency to post the great pics I just took to facebook, or see what others were up to. I just was. I was present in the moment. I didn’t post my vacation pics til Easter, which was 5 days after we got back. Something in me wanted to keep it precious and sacred, a shared experience of the people who were there. When I did share the pics, that was great too. But I did it on my schedule, not some socially expected norm that I have in the past accepted as required.

Now when I mentioned how great it was to free myself from the facebook habit to several folks of an older generation than mine, they kind of poo pooed it, saying oh yes, you young people and your technology, like we are the only ones throwing our time and energy down a black hole. Later my mind flashed to the living rooms of countless parent and grandparent (to me) aged folks that I had visited in my lifetime. A large percentage had a television on, a large percentage of the time. Maybe no one was watching it, maybe they were glued to it. Just saying we’re not the only ones.

Robert Brumet, beloved Unity Institute and Seminary professor and unofficial pastoral/spiritual guru for Unity, gave a keynote at the annual Lyceum this weekend. He said that we are in a culture of distraction. That we often don’t take the time to see or notice what is happening around us. I completely agree. It is so easy now to use screens to keep us from being present where and when we are. I’m not saying some level of escape to relax is a bad thing, if scrolling facebook helps you decompress the day, scroll on. But where is the balance point, where facebook or videos or whatever become the thing we’re putting more time on than the things we say actually matter to us. Our relationships, our health, our community.

It is not new that I am particular about what shows and movies I watch and what music I listen to. I know that my ability to be present, loving, and compassionate is related to my environmental inputs. My personal belief is that this is true for everyone, but some have much higher tolerance to crappy input because of a lifetime of exposure (and probably have crappy output, but that’s another blog).

Many of my friends would say that they are part of the movement to raise the consciousness of the planet. So I challenge you, dear reader, to consider what that means to you. Consider the inputs in your world. Consider where you place your time and energy. Consider if what you are doing is raising up yourself, someone else, and/or the world or doing the opposite. If we truly believe that we can change the world through how we show up and who we are, let’s think about what thoughts and beliefs are spending time in our noggins.

That’s not to say you can’t sing the blues, listen to an angsty country song, or watch a chick flick/action movie now and then, I certainly do, but for me, I just can’t hang out there anymore. I am honored to stand with you in the realness of your pain and sorrow, but I am taking back my emotional state from the media. I do not turn a blind eye to the real issues and trials facing our society, but I’m interested in productive solutions.

I’m not quitting facebook, I think that it still serves a purpose in my world. However I’m drawing a line in the sand. It’s what works for me, I write because maybe what I am getting clear on will be helpful to you. The answers are within you, therefore I encourage you to give your mind spaciousness to hear them.

Hugs,

Ra

PS, Here’s a sunset that I enjoyed with my husband with no posting in real time while in Oregon

Simpson Reef Sunset

Simpson Reef Sunset

It’s not Funny

9 May
The rock outside our house

The rock outside our house

I wish to live in a world where having gay friends is normal and multi-culturism means more interesting potlucks not conflict. Boys and girls can grow up to be whatever they want to be and folks with different abilities are included and accommodated. Not that it’s always perfect, but when it’s not we work to remedy it.

In general, I spend my time in the company of folks who have similar goals/feelings on such things.

Which brings me to the focus of this post and my own struggle: what to do when the world isn’t nice to folks?

We’re raised, or at least I was raised, to be kind, don’t make waves, maybe even grin and bear it. But what if someone is speaking unkindly to another person? What if that person can’t or won’t stand up for themselves? What if the comments are general but the words would be hurtful if they were heard by the parties being discussed?

A couple weeks ago, someone who I was working near was joking with another co-worker. He was acting dumb and said he spoke with his hands. I asked myself what was the course of action I wanted to take. I moved to where this conversation was happening and I said “no one makes fun of special needs people in my presence or of people who speak with their hands.” I then went back to my tasks. The young man soon after sincerely apologized and added that he’s an adult and should know better and he’s going to do better.

I thought, in all, that was a good outcome. I don’t think that he was trying to be mean or put down someone, he just had never thought of it from another perspective.

And I think that is the basis of a lot of the hurtful or unkind things that people say. People just don’t realize what they are saying. Maybe they have never known someone in the ‘category’ they are marginalizing, maybe they just hear the word in the world so much it’s slipped in unconsciously.

The other day some co-workers were joking around like people do, “Hey, I think you missed the bus on that one” (haven’t we all) “Yeah, the short bus” (oh oh) that went from hey you made a mistake to hey you’re stupid like the special ed kids in a moment. Hopefully I don’t need to tell you dear reader that many kids on the special ed bus are there for reasons other than IQ.

Sure, being the sibling of a special needs person does make me more sensitive to this, but this is not the only topic that makes my hackles rise. There seems to be no limit on the ways that folks can find to marginalize other folks. I have already written a blog about my feelings on blonde jokes, then there are LGBTQ topics, and a host of areas relating to race and countries of origin. Heard anyone say ‘Indian giver’ lately? I have. Heard someone assume the worst about someone because of their skin tone (and are teaching their kid that)? I have.

There have been big pushes the last couple years to ban ‘gay’ as a derogatory word, ie: “that’s so gay” and the ‘R’ word, the formally clinical term to mean mentally delayed that was being used for anything the speaker didn’t like.

I would like to think that when I hear these kinds of things, that the person speaking them, and the people who are complying with their silence don’t understand what it’s like to be on the other side.

Maybe they have never watched their parents, doctors, and teachers try to figure out how to help their sibling be able to learn and thrive when their different abilities are always throwing curve balls.

Maybe they have never overheard classroom conversation about beating up the gay guy at the dance when you know the person in question is your best friend.

Maybe they have never supported a loved one struggling with mental illness.

Maybe they have never been told they can’t because of which body parts they have, or the color of their skin, or the region associated with their name, or their level of education, or the God they chose (or are perceived to chose) to worship, or the level of their parent’s bank account.

I don’t think it’s possible to gotten to high school or older and not experienced some of these things or have had them effect someone they care about. And it has to stop. Instead of people reacting from their pain and causing more pain, we have to learn to respond out of compassion. We have to look at the hurt we feel and use that to fuel us making it better for the next person instead of taking our pain out on them. It is time to make it stop.

We don’t have to be mean, and we don’t want to become the new oppressor, but it’s time to stand up and say, “hey I don’t feel comfortable with that reference, could you find another way to express that please?” No, it’s not always comfortable, and some people will not understand what you are saying, but some people will. And it will make a difference. Each time someone chooses a kinder word, it makes a difference. Staying silent means you are saying it’s ok.

I’m not saying it’s always easy, I’m not saying I expect each person reading this to get it perfect, (hey I’m not perfect either) but tell me that I goofed up and I’ll be happy to do it better and more mindfully next time. That’s all I’m asking.

I’m here to co-create a world that works for all, some may say that I’m being too sensitive, lighten up, take a joke. But I ask you, how is making another person bad, wrong, or stupid funny? I love to laugh, my laughter isn’t quiet, but I just don’t see the funny in oppression.

We can do this, we can create a world where people are safe and free. One baby step and one honest conversation at a time. It takes a village, a community, a world. Are you in?

Love you

Ra