Sunday, October 31, 2010


I was doing very well with my emptied nest this fall, until I broke my arm! The combination of pain and physical limits has overwhelmed my innate hopefulness, and I am just plain sad. On Facebook I wrote today's status in this way... "the empty nest doth sucketh."

So what is to be done with loneliness? Where is the blessing - or at least the lesson - in this heart-sickness which does not go away? For 15 years it has been sneaking around the corners of my heart, and there have been moments, even a few days, of heartache. But those moments did not last long. I was able to chase the lonely back around the corner, out of sight and out of mind. Because I had my children close at hand - I had the joy and the challenge, the focus and the energy of raising, loving, and thoroughly enjoying my kids.

Now, they are off on their own young adult adventures. And it seems the loneliness will no longer be satisfied with the corners of my heart. Try as I might (with shopping or television, with puppy or phone calls, with work or artwork) I cannot seem to push it back around the corner or send it out of sight and out of mind.

Maybe that is the point of these days, the lesson of this particular ache: sometimes I have to just let the pain be present. Perhaps if I can find the courage to simply rest in it, and with it, it will not last forever. Perhaps an exploration of all the pain involves - giving it a voice, honoring its wisdom, accepting its truth - is the only way to let it go...not just back around the corner, but away beyond my heart.

Friday, October 29, 2010


“Tools” have become very important to me recently.  The dictionary defines a “tool” in this way … “a device for doing work; a means to an end; something used for a job…”  All of those definitions have taken on new importance in my life since I fell and broke my arm.

There are thousands of moments each day when I find myself frustrated or at least temporarily inconvenienced because I only have the full use of one arm and hand.  (Thank God it is my dominant hand that lives outside the sling!)  But the gift, in these days of recovery, is the chance to re-discover creative problem-solving.  Even simple tasks like brushing my teeth, washing dishes, walking the dog, typing this article require me to slow down, think a little, and improvise.  Sometimes I find there is a tool that can extend my dexterity or control.  It may be a stepstool placed beneath a cupboard to hold the stereo in place while I detach it and remove the screws (okay, that was probably my most ambitious one-handed project to date).  Sometimes the best “tool” for the job might just be another part of my body (legs are handy tools for holding jars while opening them … and teeth!’s amazing what teeth can do!)

Don’t get me wrong.  I would be thrilled to turn back time and recapture the moment just before the dog tripped me and avoid all this experiential learning.  But since that is not the way of this world, I might as well learn a little bit in this moment.  I might as well find the blessing in creativity born out of necessity.

I think the same might be true for most of us in one way or another.   While we may not have been tripped up, we certainly have experienced frustration, or at least inconvenience as the world around us has economies struggle and communities turn inward, as globalization brings the world closer while fear pushes us further apart.   For some the challenges have felt almost overwhelming, while others have managed to find some new tools to empower dynamic, vital expressions of life.  What is the difference?  Why is it that some individuals and communities flourish while others give in to decline and despair?

I think it goes back to finding the blessing in creativity born out of necessity.  This is a time for every one of us to re-discover creative problem-solving.  It is a time to slow down, to think a little and pray a lot, and to improvise.  That may mean finding new ways or times or places to work.  It may mean finding new means to the end of building real relationships of care for those beyond our closest circle of family or friends.  It may mean developing new structures and empowering new leaders to get the most important jobs accomplished.

And the good news is, we can do this.  The apostle Paul encourages us to risk learning in this very moment, when he writes:  “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints. I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which God has called you…”  (Ephesians 1:15-18a)

That we may know the HOPE to which God has called us… that may be the best reason yet to learn to use a few new tools!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Rock, Paper, Scissors"

Just a few days ago I was surprised to find a friend who had never played "Rock, Paper, Scissors". Seriously - she asked to learn something I thought everyone already knew. I thought everyone had played this silly childhood game at some point in their lives. Discovering this "newbie" in our group naturally caused us all to question "Just where did Rock, Paper, Scissors come from?"

So this morning, waiting for inspiration to strike here in the blog-o-sphere, I turned to my old friend Google. There I found this posting from a newspaper column that goes by the name of "The Straight Dope"...

"You might think that "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is just a kid's game, but the fact is that some people take it very seriously. Too seriously, I'm starting to think. As is the case with most games that are primarily played by children, the exact time and place when the game was invented are unknown. There are theories, however. Geez, are there theories.

First, for the three people in the country who may be unfamiliar with the game, a short description:

"Rock, Paper, Scissors," also known as roshambo (I'll get to the reason for this presently), has been around for a long time, and most civilized people have at least a passing knowledge of the game. It is most often used to decide small matters between two people--who'll drive to the burger joint, who has to take out the garbage, etc.--but it can also be played to decide larger matters, as part of a tournament, or simply as a diversion.

The basics of the game consist of each player shaking a fist a number of times ("priming") and then extending the same hand in a fist ("rock"), out flat ("paper"), or with the index and middle fingers extended ("scissors"). Each of these is referred to as a throw, and which one wins is dependent upon the opponent's throw--paper wins against rock ("paper covers rock"), rock wins against scissors ("rock crushes, or dulls, scissors"), and scissors wins against paper ("scissors cut paper"). If each player makes the same throw, the round is a stalemate, and must be replayed.

Back in January of this year, someone in the Edmonton area had the same question as you've posed, Scott. The woman apparently was unfamiliar with our illustrious Unca Cecil, so instead of coming to the Straight Dope, she called local radio station CBC 740 AM, where morning host Ron Wilson runs a segment called "The Good Question" each morning. Mr. Wilson went to the same source that I went to for information, namely the World Rock Paper Scissors Society (hard to believe, ain't it?). The telephone interview that he conducted with a Society member by the name of Doug Walker, which I'll summarize here, can be found in its entirety at

Mr. Walker claims that the earliest known written record of the game is from around 200 BC in Japan, where the game was (and is) referred to as "Jan-Ken." I found the existence of the Japanese version of the game corroborated elsewhere, although I have yet to find any corroboration for the 200 BC claim. Mr. Walker goes on to suggest that the game migrated to Europe in or by the mid-1700s, where it for some reason came to be associated with one Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau. If this name brings back unsettling memories of high school history, it is because Jean Baptiste was none other than the French general who was sent to command an army in support of George Washington during the American Revolution. Why this game came to be associated with the "Count of Rochambeau" is a mystery, but it certainly calls into question the means by which Washington secured Cornwallis's surrender in Yorktown. In any case, it does explain the name often used for the game, namely "rochambeau," or, more commonly, "roshambo."

This isn't the only theory about the origins of the game. A guy who goes by the handle "Master Roshambollah" on the bulletin board of the World RPS Society website ( lists two common theories about the origins of the game besides "the Asian theory": "the African theory," which relies on the creation of tools by early man in much the same way as the Asian theory, and "the European theory," in which RPS was either an early Scandinavian pastime which spread to Europe, or a traditional Celtic game that spread to Portugal and then to Europe. The European theory is advanced by another poster on the board who calls himself "Joao V de Portugal": "Current research undertaken at the University of Lisbon by Baltasar Rui Delfim, soon to be published in Nature and Time, has shown that the origins of the game of Paper, Scissors and Rock (Pihedra, Papelsh e Tijhera) can be attributed to Celtic settlers in the northern regions of Portugal, near the Portuguese/Spanish border, around the 6th century BC. . . . It is believed that the game spread to the rest of Portugal in the 3rd century BC and to the rest of the Spanish peninsula over the next 50 years. Roman invasion of Hispania in the 1st century AD made the game popular in Gallia and Italia. However, the Romans did not introduce the game to the UK because they believed that the game could make the UK colonies rebel against the Senate and it was not until the Portuguese armada of 350 AD came to England that the game was properly introduced in Britannia."

"What", you may ask, "does this have to do with anything?!" Believe it or not, I do find a connection between this fascinating trivia and the process of Re-birthing. Or at least, there is some wisdom to be gleaned from the trivial pursuit itself! It occurs to me that if there are people who do not know about "Rock, Paper, Scissors" - something I thought everyone had grown up playing - that there may be a whole universe of wisdom I can learn from others. My world view comes from my experience of the world. And that may be vastly different from yours. The only way I will find that out is if I stick around long enough, trust enough, listen enough, and CARE enough to learn. In this way perhaps you can act as a midwife to my birthing, and I can return the favor for you. Thank God for different experiences, different perspectives, and the richness they bring... whether I choose rock, or paper, or scissors!

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Bumps in the Road"

One of the most irritating realities of human life for me is the way in which we are formed - and transformed - by  our wounds.  I can accept the fact that it is the bumps in the road which give the journey its variety, even its beauty.  I can appreciate the growth of spiritual and emotional muscle which occurs as we exercise the spirit.  What I really don't get is why the bumps and bruises persist!  How long, O Lord!  

How long do any of us have to work on healing?  How long - how many times - must the same bump trip me up in my road?  It seems such an inefficient way to grow!  And, such a human experience.  

So here I am, putting down more muscle, building up more strength as I revisit the bumps in my road.  My hope is it will be a brief visit this time around.  And that one day I won't have to trip over this particular bump.  One day, I'd like to just notice it and go on.  I am reminded of a little bit of wisdom I found several years ago:


by Portia Nelson


I walk down the street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk 
I fall in. 
I am lost ... I am helpless. 
It isn't my fault. 
It takes me forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I pretend I don't see it. 
I fall in again. 
I can't believe I am in the same place 
but, it isn't my fault. 
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I see it is there. 
I still fall in ... it's a habit. 
my eyes are open 
I know where I am. 
It is my fault. 
I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street. 
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. 
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

"The Wings of Grace"

While on our Hawaiian adventure we decided to go to church the second Sunday.  The service was rather disappointing and the congregation a little depressed.  And yet, as always, there was a kernel of blessing for me.  I found it in one of the (very old) hymns we sang, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty".

The song felt chosen for me and my daughter, especially when we got to the last verse:
"Praise to the Lord, who doth nourish thy life and restore thee,
fitting thee well for the tasks that are ever before thee.
Then to thy need, God as a mother doth speed,
spreading the wings of grace o'er thee."

What a great image as we begin a significant transition in life - she to college and me to myself.  We both have great lessons to learn.  We both have new environments to inhabit, new teachers to trust, new friends to find.  It is good to be reminded of the life-giving and life-restoring nature of God's love.  And it is great to recognize those "wings of grace" spreading over me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Wailea Wonder"

Please bear with me for one more reflection from Maui. This one comes from Wailea Beach (considered by some to be the best beach in the US!). We had gotten there early in the day, had laid down our mats and had even taken the first swim before the beach started to fill. As I let the sun dry the saltwater off my body I began to people-watch in earnest.

Soon my attention was centered on the neighbors to our right, who appeared to be enjoying a family reunion. There were about 6 or 7 adults and an equal number of children between the ages of 5 and 12, all boys. While the adults chatted, sharing morning coffee and family memories, the boys ran into the water. They splashed and wrestled, laughed and swam with abandon. And all the while, they were watched.

One by one the adults in that family took turns providing safety and security for the children. They took about 20 minute shifts, and everyone - aunts, uncles, moms, dads, grandparents even - took their turn. If the wrestling got a little too wild or the teasing too intense, the guardian would shift the play. If someone ventured a little too far from shore or became a little too oblivious to their surroundings, again the guardian would caution and correct.

As I watched I got to thinking: "Every child should be so loved and protected." It is true - every child deserves the kind of safety and security - the kind of love - which those boys undoubtedly took for granted. It was a wonder to watch.

Later that same day the surf grew and the current intensified. The boys were still in the water, and it was time for a guardian shift change, when the youngest child fell off his boogie board and was hit by a wave. First he was smashed into the sand and then the current picked him up and dragged him out to the line of the next cresting wave. You could see the panic in his eyes as he struggled against the surf. I was just about on my feet when another neighbor - a stranger to the family - reached the boy, scooped him up and brought him back to safety on the sand.

Of course everyone was a little shaken, and grateful for the quickness of the neighbor. And I thought to myself: "Maybe it is possible for every child to be loved and protected. It is possible if we remember we all are neigbors." What a wonder that would be - in Wailea, in the whole wide world.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"A Woman of Substance"

Vacation was FABULOUS this year - 10 glorious days on the island of Maui, just me and my youngest daughter. It was not only a great time to rest and relax, but also a time for each of us to prepare for our next steps in re-birthing... she to college for the first time, and me to new freedom with both daughters out in the world and just puppy left at home with me.

Most days were the same for us on Maui - wake up around 6 am, have breakfast on the lanai by 7, then hit the beach by 8:30 or 9:00, to swim in the ocean and bake in the sun until we grew hungry for lunch. After lunch it was either go to a new beach or swim in the condo's pool, maybe do a little light reading or some very light shopping until supper time, after which we would try our best to read, watch tv or a movie... and end up falling asleep by 9:00. It was a great routine!

One day, we drove out to Kaanapali beach, some distance from our Kihei condo, and in a much pricier neighborhood, judging by the Hyatt, the Marriott, the Westin and the like. After a few hours on the beach, we strolled through the resort grounds and even snuck into one of the ritzy pools (don't tell anyone!) On the way back to our much more modest digs my daughter surprised me with this comment: "Mom", she said, "I'm glad we're not rich."

Clearly that is a subjective statement, for "rich" depends upon one's context. I know there are many for whom a trip to Hawaii would seem like the height of wealth, and there are countless for whom my home, my car, my lifestyle, my children's college educations can only be pipe dreams. And yet, walking through the opulent resorts, past the meticulously groomed gardens and the amazing water features, we felt significantly out-classed.

When I asked my daughter what she meant - who wouldn't want to be rich? - she replied, "I'd much rather have a mother who is a woman of substance than a woman of means." She went on to thank me for values imparted which focus on what she identifies as "substance" rather than on money.

I am grateful for that perspective. Grateful, and a little bit humbled by my daughter's wisdom. It is easy to mistake possessions for power, to confuse money for value. And while I rejoice in blessings both personal and material, I hope to live in the perspective that says "substance is more important than means" least until the next time I sneak a swim at the Kaanapali Hyatt.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"A Very Happy Un-Birthday"

Well, I missed it. I missed my own "half-birthday", August 6th! I had been thinking it would be good to celebrate in some way the mid-point to this year of Re-Birthing for me. I thought about it in June. It crossed my mind in July. And then I totally spaced it out until today!

This forgetfulness is not a total tragedy. Clearly it is possible to celebrate Re-Birth in every day, and August 9th is as good as the 6th for a Happy Un-Birthday to me! So where have I been, (and more importantly), what have I learned in this six months of Re-Birthing?
  1. I have learned that moving on (even a little) in the direction of God's desires for me is like Jesus walking on the water! It is good to recognize progress made and to rejoice in every success we achieve.
  2. I have (finally) realized that an "All or Nothing" approach to life is counter-productive. Perfection is highly over-rated and focusing on it robs us of so much of life's wonder.
  3. I have come to reject the lock-step, one-size-fits-all approach to transformation. If change is to be lasting it must be personal.
  4. I have learned that observation is not the same as judgment, and that nobody can observe themselves objectively. That is why we need community!
  5. I have begun to recognize the intertwining threads of my life - especially when it comes to emotions and fears. You cannot pull one without affecting the others.
  6. I have seen how limiting my own judgments can become. I can be an artist (or anything else) if I decide to see the beauty of my creativity, and if I believe that anything is possible.
  7. I have learned to practice prioritizing. It is a waste of time to major in the minors.
  8. I have improved my ability to stay fully present to the presence of God in the present. This requires hanging in with myself and then letting God be God.
  9. I have realized the folly of trying to run from change. The best response is to rejoice in the opportunities change presents.
  10. I have found that every beginning begins with an ending. Life is all about saying "goodbye" in order to say "hello".
  11. I have recognized the crazy-making patterns of thought. No more "what ifs", "if onlys", or "comparisons" for me!
  12. I have affirmed the importance of Sabbath and the practice of agility. We all need to take time to remember what time is for.
  13. I have discovered that to follow my desire for re-birth is to keep that star in my sight. It requires me to follow to places I cannot even yet imagine.
  14. And... I have learned to celebrate every step along the way. Every dream, vision, and goal deserves a life of joy at the moment of its conception and throughout its path to completion.
Not bad for six months! Let me return again to the prayer which sustains me and propels me onward, this prayer for Re-Birth:

You, God, have placed your Truth in my inner being;
Therefore, teach me the wisdom of my heart.
Forgive all that binds me in fear, that I might radiate love.
Cleanse me, that your light might shine in me.
Fill me with gladness; help me to transform weakness into strength.
Look not on my past mistakes, but on the aspirations of my heart. Amen.
(From "Psalms for Praying", by Nan C. Merrill, Psalm 51)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Never Put Off Until Tomorrow..."

Years ago I received a card from my sister, who was trying her best to help me to lighten up a little. The card showed Lucy from the Peanuts gang, dispensing her famous psychiatric advice, and it offered up this little bit of wisdom: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day AFTER tomorrow!"

I kept that card for many years because it made me laugh. But also because there really is some wisdom in Lucy's advice. It is not just about "putting off", or avoiding the unpleasant tasks we face. It is not just about procrastination. It is also about prioritization. How many times have I let the insignificant crowd the really important out of my day? How many times have any of us "majored in the minors"?

In the movie "City Slickers", Jack Parlance plays a crusty old cowboy who lives by his own code of ethics, what might be called "Curly's Law", summed up in this little bit:

Jack Palance in City SlickersCurly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the "one thing?"

Curly: [smiles] That's what you have to find out.

Curly's Law, Do One Thing... It's a variation on Lucy's prescription and my own intuition. In order for me to find out what my "one thing" is, I have to go through a continual process of prioritization. I have to find out what is major and what is minor, each and every day. And then I have to surround myself with people who will support my majoring in the majors and letting go of the minors. Because I don't want to put off until tomorrow what I can easily put off until the day after (or the week after, the month after, the year after, the decade after...) tomorrow.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Good Grief!"

We seem to be engaged in grieving at my house these days. It is not that anyone has died, nor that anyone is about to kick the bucket as far as we know. But still, grief seems to be hanging thick in the air. And it is about to drive me crazy!

Because this grief is ambiguous. It has not yet revealed itself because that which we grieve has not yet come to pass. We are engaged, you see, in anticipatory grief. For my daughter, it is the grief of moving out into the world (even in a limited and still protected way as she begins her first year of college). For me, it is the grief of watching (and not being able to help) her becoming a young adult.

It has taken a lot of my energy, this anticipatory grieving. It is no wonder I've been tired and cranky on these hot summer nights. It takes a lot of energy - it is almost a full time job - to keep repressing, denying and ignoring my own grieving. Especially since my denial has run smack dab into my daughter's clinginess. It makes for an unflattering and totally tuneless duet.

Good Grief. This weekend we decided to do something about it. We decided to go away together - for just one night - and give in to the grief, to find out what there might be in it that could be construed as "good". So off we went to Bandon, where we were promised a "beachfront" room just steps away from the ocean, where puppy could run to his heart's content as we cried or prayed or watched the waves. After a couple of stops to walk the beach or swim the dog, we finally arrived at the hotel. Only to find that it was (a) NOT on the beach, (b) not even a room with a view of the beach, and (c) not even a very nice room! Don't you just love it, when the universe sends some minor irritation to distract your focus and let you vent! I really did not want to spend the money on that falsely advertised disappointment... so after another run at the ocean, we called it a day and headed for home. And of course, we discovered once again what a really great confessional the car makes when driving through the dark on a lonely road.

Good Grief. We did not need to spend a night in a motel room. We did not need to "go away" together. What we needed, in turns out, was to "stay around" together. To stay with ourselves first of all - in all our ambiguity and crankiness and fear. And then to stay with each other - in our laughter, our tears, our hopes, our dreams, our anxiety - even in our grief. Because it turns out, that is what makes for "Good Grief". It is our ability to recognize it, to accept it, to share it, and to trust that it will not overwhelm us as long as we are able to stay around, together.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dear Santa... oops ... Jesus!

My oldest daughter is 23 years old, a 2009 summa cum laude graduate of an Ivy League school, running a food bank in Brooklyn, New York, and about to be among the great unemployed. Her position is funded through Americorps, and her year of service will be completed in 4 short weeks. While she knows she can always come home... who wants to do that at age 23?!

While her circumstance is certainly not unique in this economy, what is unique is that this is my daughter. Which of course has occasioned more than a few prayers on my part. Recently, I chose to let my meditations center upon this daughter, and I began my usual laundry list of requests:
  1. Please God... help her to find a job
  2. A good job
  3. A meaningful job
  4. A living wage job
  5. And, how great, if it could be located on the west (I like to say, the "correct") coast!
  6. Oh, and of course... help her to find great co-workers
  7. And good friends
  8. And a supportive, healthy community
  9. And... and... and...
Until, pretty soon, I realized it sounded more like I was sitting on Santa's knee than kneeling in the presence of God! The nature of my meditations - however good hearted and well intentioned they were - were just plain wrong.

It is not that there was anything "wrong" with any of these desires of my heart for my child. What was wrong was found in their limitations. I came to recognize (thanks be to God!) that my laundry list could never be complete. In fact, I do not even know the depth, length, height, breadth, width of my own needs... much less anyone else's! Who am I to say which of these desires is most important, which is critical for health and happiness? Who am I to know for my daughter what I may not even know for myself?

So before the meditation bell sounded, I managed to climb down off Santa's lap. And my laundry list transformed into one simple supplication:
Please God... fill her, form her, and let her light shine in all its fullest glory.

As this became my mantra, my anxiety for my daughter was replaced with a vision of her fulfillment - beyond my wildest dreams. I saw the Spirit's light flowing into and freeing up her own light. I saw her beauty and grace being released into the world without hesitation or fear. I experienced re-birth in that moment of meditation.

Apparently, letting go of my agenda is the first step in this journey of birth... whether I am trying to do it for myself, or longing it to be so for someone else. How simple it is, really - but how hard to remember - to get out of the way and let God be God. "Fill her (fill me); Form her (form me); and let her (my) light shine in all its fullest glory."... So long, Santa. Amen.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Empty Nest"

I'm having a trial run this week, getting ready for fall's big changes. Both daughters are away, the younger one visiting her sister in the Big Apple. So I find myself thinking about September, when the nest will be emptying for real. And I'm not sure I am going to like it.

For quite some time now folks have been asking me if I was 'ready' for this life change. What I am realizing today is that there is really no way to prepare for it. Certainly I can make some plans (like asking a friend to go with me to move her into the dorm room so that I don't have to make the trek home all alone!). I can imagine what it will be like to walk by an empty bedroom and wait for the school vacations.

But, until that freshman year begins, the empty nest will only be an abstraction, something anticipated with excitement or with dread. Perhaps the thing to do is breathe. Today, in this moment, to focus on what is present, rather than those who are absent. Present with me right now are the options I have for this day. Present with me is the freedom to schedule my time. Present is my health, my strength, my wonder.

And while this nest may feel a little roomier right now, it is not because it is "empty"... because I am still here. I will be here when school starts. I'll be here when it ends. And perhaps it is time (high time) to pay attention to me. If I can manage to do that (even for today), it might not matter what happens in this nest after all.

"Agility, Part 2"

Some months ago I wrote about wanting to start Agility training with my dog. It seemed like a good way to be active, to channel a little of Reggie's natural exuberance in a positive way, and to help us bond.

Well, we started a "fundamentals of Agility" class in June, and of course Reggie does love it. He loves the jumps and the tunnels and the running the course. He loves the attention, and he especially loves the training treats. What he doesn't seem to love is the practice.

It turns out that Agility is like every other skill in life: it takes practice. It takes patience and determination. It takes persistence and attention to detail, going over one jump at a time, learning one command at a time. For Reggie - and I admit, for me - this is the real challenge of Agility. It seems so much more fun when you go and watch a competition. It seems so effortless and is such pure joy to watch dogs and trainers run through a course together as if they are one. Or as if they had not spent hours, days, months (even years) practicing.

Of course there are thousands of pithy little sayings I could post here...
"practice makes perfect"
"nothing that is worth doing is easy"
"an hour of practice is worth five hours of foot dragging"

But my favorite "practical" saying is this one, from Martha Graham - dancer, choreographer, and wise woman:
"Practice means to perform, over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. We learn by practice. Whether that means we learn to dance by practicing dancing, or we learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. One becomes in some arena, an athlete of God."

So the sun is shining, the breeze is gently blowing, and the puppy is whining at my feet. It must be time to practice.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Tonight is the 4th of July, and while our neighborhood celebrates, our puppy is hiding between a table and the couch.  I'm sure Reggie is confused by our apathetic attitude while our house is (in Reggie's mind at least) under siege!  Fireworks are not much fun if you are a dog.

Driving home from a friend's barbeque, I got to thinking about the 4th of July, which we in the US celebrate as "Independence Day".  And yet, historically the 4th was not the day that independence was achieved.  Rather, it is simply the day independence was proclaimed.  The signing of the Declaration of Independence (and its adoption by the Continental Congress) was only the beginning - in some ways, that was the easy part.  Still to come were the bloody battles, the social and economic chaos, the disintegration of whole communities.  

Perhaps it would be more realistic, more historically accurate, for us to call this 4th of July our "Revolution Day".  Because when you think about it, that is really what we are choosing to mark and remember.  Revolution Day -- I like the sound of that, especially in this year of Re-Birth.  Because it helps me remember to mark and to celebrate every vision, every dream, every goal I can proclaim.  I do not have to wait until it is all achieved - until every dream is fulfilled, every goal is complete, every vision is fully grown.  Indeed, it just may be the celebrations themselves which help to create the reality.  

Where would this nation have ended up (as colonists, perhaps?) without the Declaration of Independence?  Where would any of us be without our own proclamations of faith, or our own declarations of hope?  They may be only the beginning.  There may be battles yet to fight, tough times to weather, chaos or fear to overcome.  Yet we have begun - independence is possible - when we mark, remember, and celebrate our own "Revolution Days".  So I say, pass the sparklers!  It's a good day for revolution! 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Following a Thread

The loose thread appeared to be something I could easily pull off my jacket.  It seemed to be an isolated flaw, and one which could be removed without disturbing the rest of the garment.  So, I grasped it between two fingers and gave a little tug... and then watched as the hem neatly unravelled in my hands!

Obviously there was nothing "isolated" about that thread.  Like so many of the issues of our lives, that loose thread was entwined around other, more stable threads and caught up in the overall weave of the jacket in ways I could not see at first glance.  Pulling the one thread actually impacted several others in a way that brought about the unravelling I had so wanted to avoid.

For me, it was a good lesson and an excellent metaphor.  There are times when I have felt myself unravelling.  There are times when I am caught in the grip of emotions which are entwined around one another.  And I cannot always recognize those threads - much less follow them - on a conscious level.  Just last night I was frustrated about three months of child support not yet paid, and college tuition due in less than a month.  I was fearful and more than a little angry about emails gone unanswered and promises not kept.  And I found myself unravelling.

This morning light dawned ... and I realized that I had been pulling a thread of grief which was entwined around the threads of anger, fear, and righteous indignation.  I have been a single mother for 15 years.  Those 15 years have lulled me into thinking the wounds of rejection, the pain of loss are healed and gone.  But the truth is that those threads are still a part of the tapestry of my life.  No wonder the level of my unrest kept rising; no wonder my anger rose to rage, when I inadvertently began to pull at the threads of pain.  

I do not like to unravel, even a bit.  And I do not do it very often.  Yet I am learning to welcome the fraying when it comes.  Because it always gives me a chance to follow the threads and to see where they lead.  It gives me an opportunity for healing and a chance for hope.  When a garment - or a life - unravels, you have a chance to re-weave it (maybe even to re-birth it!) into something stronger, more beautiful, and new.  

So I wonder where the next thread will finally lead?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Golf Balls??

I do not believe in least not until they have been thoroughly examined and investigated. I try to live each day fully present to the presence of God in the present moment. Which means, I try to pay attention when I am surprised by anything seemingly coincidental.

Recently, my attention has been drawn to golf balls. I know, it seems odd, but I am trying to figure out what in the world Spirit is trying to tell me through golf balls! About a week ago I was on the beautiful beach at Florence, Oregon, playing with the puppy. While Reggie fixated on chasing the tennis ball (over and over and over), I walked along the water's edge, enjoying the sand and the sun. When I came upon a golf ball gently rolling in the surf, I picked it up so it would not end up in some poor seagull's throat.

After about an hour we left the beach and headed inland to Reggie's first "agility" training class. Before we got to the instructor's home, we stopped for another romp - this time in a middle school's baseball field. Once again Reggie raced around "herding" the ball I threw for him, leaping to catch it in his mouth or pouncing on it in the grass. Once again, I walked the field and was surprised to find (you guessed it) a golf ball lying in the grass. I pocketed it along with the one from the beach, and didn't think anything more about it.

Until the next day when I again took Reggie and the "chuck-it" out to run off some of his innate over-the-top energy. And again, I discovered a golf ball lying smack dab in my path!

So what could this mean? What is the message for me? I think it is probably too late for me to join the pro circuit, even if I had ever mastered the game. My mom might tell me the message is an encouragement to take it up again, maybe even to receive the gift of her old clubs. My friend suggested maybe it was a clue to my next husband (you know, find the golfer, and go after him!) But really...

I think the message is much more subtle than any of these suggestions. When I think about golfing, I think of the frustration I used to feel because I was not able to do it right all the time. Those one or two good shots were hopelessly lost in the multitude of poor ones. I remember the dismay that came with knowing my head should stay down and my swing should be relaxed and my knees should be bent... and the reality that time and again my head would bob up, my swing would be stiff and my knees as straight as sticks.

Going down this memory lane, I'm thinking to take those found golf balls and give them away - quickly. And yet maybe it is possible to play the game (of golf, or even of life) without the frustration. Because maybe I could let go of my expectations that I should "do it right" all the time. Maybe I could learn to pay closer attention to the one or two good shots - the successes I enjoy, no matter how minor - and cease to give the limelight to my mis-steps or mistakes. Maybe I could learn that just "knowing" is not the same as "doing", and I could become more patient with myself in the process of growing into wisdom, head/heart/body/and spirit.

Well, what do you know! Golf balls, it turns out, can be a pretty effective communications tool after all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Possibility Painting"

If you have followed this blog for any time at all, you will notice a different look to it today.  It was time for a change - in part, to remind myself that the year of re-birth continues to bring surprises.  And, I found this great background, which reminds me of the colors of creativity and my own artistic endeavors.  In recent years I have come to identify myself in many different ways... certainly I am pleased to be a mother, privileged to be a pastor, honored to be a sister to one of the greatest siblings ever, daughter to an incredibly strong mother, friend to many amazingly wise and wonderful women and men.  Yet one of the identities which pleases (and amazes) me the most is that of the artist.

I remember being 8 or 9 years old when my teacher lifted up a finger painting I had created with extravagant praise.  I remember carefully bringing this treasured masterpiece home.  I remember learning for the first time the truth that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and the disappointment of eyes that beheld something different than mine when gazing upon my painting.  That was when I decided the teacher had been mistaken and I moved away from any thoughts of artistic grandeur.

Until about 9 years ago, when I went to a workshop where I was guided in a meditation to discover an image of my own soul.  When the meditation ended, I was given a blank canvas and access to acrylic paints in every imaginable color, with the instruction to paint the image I had seen in that contemplative state.  There were only two rules for the game:  First, I had to paint as closely as possible exactly what I had seen in the meditation; and secondly, I had to honor the painting by taking it home and hanging it in a place of honor.

Now my painting was quite abstract, reflective of my lingering doubts about myself as an artist. Yet it was a fairly decent description of the beauty I had encountered in those moments of meditation.  On the last day of the workshop I dutifully carried my painting into the restaurant where the last luncheon was held, prepared as I was to bring it home and hang it in a place of honor.  The waiter serving my table changed my life and gave me a new identity when he remarked, "Where did you get that beautiful painting?  I'd like to buy one just like it!"

Maybe that second-grade teacher was onto something after all!  Or maybe, beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder.  It is also in the heart of the artist.  I came home with my painting and began to paint some more.  I started with several more abstract, colorful, undisciplined works as I let Spirit lead me into creativity.  Eventually I branched out into landscapes, and still lifes.  But it wasn't until several years later that I finally embraced this new part of my life.

I happened to be at a holiday art show when I chanced upon a booth full of lovely, whimsical acrylic paintings in bright colors and geometric shapes (horses with triangle bodies and circular heads, mountains of pyramids, rectangular buildings and trapezoidal trees).  As I took in the light and the color and the humor, I remarked to myself "I could paint this!"  Whereupon the artist replied, "yes, you could... why don't you?"  In an instant I recognized the only thing stopping me was myself.  

How many times have I decided NOT to be ... an artist ... a poet .... a guru ... or even just a friend?  And how many times has that decision been the only thing that stood in my way?  When I go into my garage to paint this summer, I will try my very best to bring my second grade teacher along in my heart.  And I will try to let my eye behold the beauty she first saw.  That would be a great way to practice re-birth, for sure!


I cannot believe it has been 6 weeks since my last posting! (How embarassing!) I could claim to have been super busy with my daughter's high school graduation celebrations, with family visits from out of town, with preparations for and participation in the annual conference for United Methodists in Oregon and Idaho. All of this is true. I have been busy. But that still does not explain, nor excuse my long absence from the blog!

Because what is even truer than all this talk of busy-ness and external distractions is the internal work I've been doing when it comes to CHANGES. This year of Re-Birth continues to be exciting, challenging, life-giving, and most of the time, fun for me. As my body has undergone radical changes (I'm now down 70 pounds), my spirit has also been opening up in some new ways. I have begun to let go of the need to plan, predict and protect my future. I have begun to trust a little more in the ongoing work of God's Spirit to be present not only in this moment, but in the next and the next and the one after that. This has brought a lightness to my soul which matches the growing lightness of my body.

And, it is not always easy. I believe one of the ways we know we are in the process of making real change is by the discomfort and the disquiet it brings. Recently my youngest daughter experienced this in a profound way.

We were on our way to a party for friends who are moving from one job into another. Of course we were running late (nothing particularly "changed" about that!), so while I drove I asked my daughter to choose a card for each of our friends, and a hearthstone to go with it. Now "hearthstones" are small, handmade clay hearts imprinted with a word for inspiration or blessing. I had a bag of about 20 stones to sort through to choose just the right gift for each of my friends. One by one the stones were lifted from the bag and their blessings were read, until one of the stones was accidentally dropped onto the floor of the car, landing upside down. Retrieving it, my daughter began to laugh and said, "wouldn't you know it ... it says change!"

You see, this daughter is feeling almost engulfed by change these days. The graduation celebrations are a happy memory and now her days are filled with a summer job, and preparations to move on herself - from the safety and security of home to the uncertainty and wonder of college. And seasons of change always provide a fertile ground for us to delve a little deeper into the wounds, the insecurities, the fears we carry, unnoticed in our ordinary days. So of course, the stone she dropped said change.

Off we went to the party, off we went to offer our love and support, our cards and our gifts. And then it was time to go home. Climbing into the car, my daughter surprised me by saying "Very funny, Mom!", accusing me of planting that problemmatic blessing on her seat. For there it was, in all its ironic glory, that one hearthstone - this time, face up where nobody could miss its message - change.

Perhaps the trick is to stop running from it and just accept it. We all know that change is a part of life, that nothing which is alive is not changing in every moment. So why should we be surprised when it chases after us while we are doing our best ostrich impersonation - you know the one, the head-in-the-sand hoping it will go away pose?! I think that is the blessing of the hearthstone, and of this summer for my daughter's development, and of this year in my life...for change is not only a constant, it is also an opportunity. Which is why I am going to stop running and start rejoicing once again.

Monday, May 17, 2010


I met an interesting woman recently, a relatively new neighbor who spent 36 years working as a Clinical Psychologist.  She told me that in all those years of providing therapy to a wide range of clients, and even of training other therapists, she felt like she kept seeing the same things over and over again.  Whether the problem was depression, or anxiety, narcissism or neurosis of one kind or another, she felt like all the suffering could be laid at the feet of three simple thoughts:

(1)  "What if?" ... You know how it goes, that nagging doubt which circles around in your head, taunting you to try and reconstruct the past.  "What if I had taken another job?  What if my husband had not left?  What if I had gone in on that land deal 20 years ago?  What if....?" (you can fill in the blank)

(2)  "If only" ... Another useless obsession, the "if only" refrain goes something like:  "If only I had better hair.  If only I could get a raise.  If only I had more friends.  If only...."

(3)  "Comparison thinking" ... This is the "stinkin' thinkin'" which leads us into measuring ourselves against others, and typically judging ourselves, our possessions, our resources, our value as not measuring up in comparison to family members, friends, even total strangers.  "After all, if she could be a bishop at age 52, what is the matter with me?!"

I think my new friend is right.  While all of us may from time to time slip briefly into one of these patterns of thought, any one of them can become crazy-making if we make ourselves at home in them, allowing these thoughts to become the narration of our days!  So how about trying on some new thought patterns instead?  For instance, instead of "what if" I could say to myself "thank goodness", and thereby find the blessings rather than the regrets of my life. Instead of bemoaning "if only", I could narrate my days with "maybe" and make room for possibilities yet to come.  Instead of the comparison dance of death I could choose to do a little affirmation jig.  

It is a good exercise to engage in.  Because life itself has plenty of ways to drive us crazy, without help from my own stinkin' thinkin!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Glasses?

It has now been 7 weeks since my gastric bypass surgery, and I'm down 50 pounds and 3 or 4 sizes (depending upon the style and how stretchy the fabric is!).  That is a little less than halfway to my goal and is feeling great.

This weekend I saw a few folks I have not seen since before surgery.  They were all very enthusiastic and supportive of my weight loss, oohing and ahhing over how great I look.  And an interesting thing happened.  All three of these folks were convinced that I was wearing new glasses.  I had to keep assuring them that I have not purchased any new eyewear for well over a year and a half.  Finally, it dawned on me ... what is "new" is not my glasses.  What is "new" is my face!

Looking into the mirror daily I do not necessarily notice the changes taking place.  And it is helpful to connect with folks more objective than myself.  

I realize this is a good metaphor for much of life.  We drift along, consumed by routine and the occasional dramas of the day.  Even when we think we are living "in the moment" all sort of changes slip by unnoticed.  And it is helpful to connect with others who bring an objectivity we ourselves can only rarely muster.

Author Anne Lamott writes about a time when she worried about the safety of her son and his desire to go hang gliding one birthday.  She says that after she stewed and fretted about whether or not to allow this risky endeavor, she consulted a few friends.  In her words, "You can't heal your sick mind with your own sick mind".  It turns out that is what friends - relatives - colleagues - neighbors - even competitors are for!  

So maybe I do have some new "glasses"... if I can occasionally spend a few minutes looking through someone else's eyes.  For that may be the best way to get a good look in these days of re-birth.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Last night I went to plug my cell phone into the charger and discovered I had spent the entire day missing phone calls!  It seems I had inadvertently left the ringer "off" all day, so every time friends or family or (twice, my boss) called, all they heard from me was my outgoing voicemail message.

At first I was mortified - especially to miss the important work-related calls.  But then as I reflected on what a great day I'd had, full of sunshine and relaxation, time with my daughter and time with myself, the cell phone faded into insignificance.  It turned out to be a day of Sabbath - a (not so intentional) day of rest and renewal.  It was a whole day without email or telephone calls, without reading anything for work or doing anything related to house-keeping.  It was a day when the Holy Spirit had a better than average chance of getting through the clutter of my normal days.  My daughter and I shared a special breakfast and lingered over her prayer of gratitude.  My puppy and I soaked up the sunshine while he ran off a little bit of his constant energy.  My creativity came alive as I began making invitations for my mom's upcoming birthday bash.  My body responded in kind as I swam my fastest half mile (38 laps) since surgery in March.  And in the evening I laughed aloud at the movie which transported us to another time and place altogether.

Sabbath.  We all need it, whether we recognize it or not.  We all need those days without busy-ness, those times for rest for our spirits as well as our bodies.  Because Sabbath can turn what feels like "never enough time" into time enough.  Sabbath can take the limits of our lives and expand them, making space for all of who we are and all we hope to become.  Author Danna Schaper writes, "Sabbath is time spent remembering what time is for."

I like that ... because I suspect when you get right down to it, time is for much more than cell phone calls, and even more than email!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Impossible Possibilities

I recently came across this quotation which got me to thinking... "Some of the world's greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible."  It reminds me of a Biblical passage in which (purportedly) the apostle Paul writes:
"For consider your call, brothers (and sisters); not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are..."

It's a great image of the possibilities of the impossible.  And it offers encouragement to those who would attempt transformation in any form.  But I'm not sure I totally agree with the first quote.  I'm not sure it is a sign of intelligence to recognize what is impossible.  In fact, just the opposite may be true!

Perhaps it is a sign of true intelligence to recognize that all things are possible.  Certainly there are worlds beyond our own and worlds within each of us which are rarely explored, and even less frequently tapped.  So while it may seem "impossible" for me to start a new life as if from birth, it may yet be "possible" for me to do exactly that!  Just for today, I am going to try to see everything as a possibility, whether it be wise or foolish, weak or strong, exalted or despised.  Just for today I celebrate impossible possibilities.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Right now peace reigns in my house.  My daughter has gone off to play in the orchestra for tonight's performance of the spring musical, and puppy is sound asleep under the dining room table.  This is the time of day I like him the best....upon returning from a trip to the country field where he runs, leaps, fetches and runs some more.  It was a particularly good "chuck-it" day today with the warm sunshine and the dry field, so we stayed out longer than usual.

It is nice to have a tired puppy in the house.  But it is even greater to watch Reggie run with such obvious joy and complete abandon!  He is a living metaphor for enthusiasm, for energy, and for life.  So I've been thinking lately about Agility training for Reggie.  You've probably seen dogs competing in Agility trials - running through obstacles, jumping over barriers, completing a set course as quickly as possible.  I think Reggie would enjoy this kind of work, and have no doubt he would be very good at it.  So I've been thinking lately about Agility training for Reggie.

But I've also been thinking about Agility for me!  And not just in the obvious sense of partnering with my dog in this new sport.  In another sense, Agility training may be just what I need.  There's something about taking my newfound energy, and enthusiasm - my new life, if you will - and using it in practiced, disciplined, and agile ways.  I want to make the most of my rearranged insides and my remodeled priorities to bring joy into the world.  And that will undoubtedly require a little "training", or certainly a fair amount of practice.  

I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases a portion of the New Testament (Hebrews 12:1-3), which speaks to me about this whole notion of Agility:

"Do you see what this means - all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?  It means we'd better get on with it.  Strip down, start running - and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in.  Study how he did it.  Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. ... "

Christ never lost sight of where he was headed.  Because of that single-minded vision, because of his practice of agility, he was able not only to "put up with" anything along the way, but even to overcome it.  And who knows?  Maybe he's lying underneath God's table even now, resting while we get going at last.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Endings... and Beginnings

This has been a week of daughter-drama at my house. First I received a phone call from Brooklyn where my first born received word that she did not get the job she thought she wanted. After processing that, and all the attendant 20-something angst, the second daughter came home from school and collapsed into tears over a too-hard Calculus class (which I can do nothing to help clarify). As I reflected on the drama, I began to see similarities. Both of my children are struggling with endings...and beginnings.

College has ended for one, and it is about to begin for the other. Jobs are ending, friendships are changing, homes are moving, dreams are shifting. Endings are tricky things when one is 18, or 23, or 55! And endings are essential for beginnings. I am hard pressed to come up with any "beginning" in this life which does not at first demand an "ending" of one kind or another. Certainly this is true for the process of birth, and re-birth.

In this season of "beginnings", let me embrace "endings" ... and let me be wise enough to recognize the difference between them!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Light tomorrow with today"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote that we must "light tomorrow with today". Profound advice for anyone engaged in re-birth, or even in simple change. What we do today will make a difference for our tomorrows... whether we are hiding in the dark or lighting even one small candle.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. echoed that sentiment with his words: "I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it - but we must SAIL, and not drift, nor lie at anchor."

Too often it seems I have not noticed which direction I am sailing, nor have I given the "wind" - those people, experiences, circumstances, culture which make up my life - much attention at all. Re-birthing requires me to sail against the prevailing winds that have pushed me into this particular patch of sea. Sometimes that is frightening work. Sometimes it feels almost impossible. Until I am reminded of another truth about sailing: When going against the wind, you cannot expect to travel one seamless, straight line. Rather, the wise sailor knows how to tack to and fro, skirting the edges of the wind until eventually progress becomes clear and the direction is changed.

This seems to be what is called for at this stage of recovery from surgery... that nimble ability to tack to and fro and the patience to wait for progress to be revealed. While my body is still changing I find food has become a tricky thing. It is hard to know definitively which foods will end up stuck and which ones will easily slip through that pouch. Yesterday it may have been the shredded chicken? Or perhaps the 2 teaspoons of rice? It's hard to know exactly why the pain persists and the pouch pouts. So I will back off the wind, tack a little to the side, and stick to liquids again.

And I will remind myself that progress may only be seen in the long view of life. Samuel Butler described the human condition in this way: "Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on." Maybe the same can be said of re-birthing.

Well, here's to life! Today, tomorrow... and all along the sail.

Monday, April 12, 2010


I am considering taking an advanced course in Improvisation this summer. It is being taught by folks I experienced at a previous training on "making transformational change". I think the power of Improv is in what it requires. In order to succeed as an improvisational actor, you must:
1. Listen deeply (you have to be able to hear what is going on in order to respond)
2. Listen with respect, without judgment
3. Be willing to let go of your own agenda (it is not possible to control the action when it is unscripted and spontaneous)

All good things to remember when you are acting - but also when you are living in the midst of transformation, even in the process of re-birth!

I have been absent from the blog for two weeks, in part because I was struggling with the improvisation of my days. After about a week of pain and setback (those doggone cooked green peas got stuck in the pouch!), things have finally returned to a steady progression of healing. It was fun to stop by Goodwill recently and discover I am now 2 sizes smaller than I was a month ago. And I know I will need to make a daily commitment to the improvisation of re-birth...listening deeply, with respect and no judgment, while letting go of my agenda for healing, for change, for life.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Poster Child?

Three weeks and 20 pounds ago I had gastric bypass surgery, and up until Easter Sunday (about 1 am) I could have been the poster child for the procedure. Everything seemed to go so well, my body tolerated this major change admirably, the weight loss was dramatic, the blood pressure dropped... Perhaps it was too good to be true. Or at least I got carried away, jumping back into 12 hour days too quickly.

Years ago when my youngest daughter was only 6 or 7, she developed some sort of food intolerance. We were never quite sure if it was lactose, or roughage, or something entirely different. There didn't seem to be much of a pattern, but for 2 or 3 years poor Kate would suffer stomach aches after eating. While I tried to be sympathetic, and certainly did what I could to help her feel better, I have to admit a part of me thought she was just a bit of a wimp. After all, how bad is a stomach ache?

BAD. It is really bad. If only I could have become more empathetic without the first hand experience! This newborn pouch of mine is angry, and not shy about letting me know it. Even heavy-duty, post-operative painkillers only begin to touch the edge of the pain. So, instead of being at my office first thing this morning, I am waiting to call the surgeon's office, hoping they will tell me I'm just a bit of a wimp. Because I liked being the poster child.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I heard a new word coined today ... "Administrivia". It was presented as a way of describing the many minute detail-oriented tasks which managers and other bureaucrats often spend whole days doing. And it was discussed in the context of a team focusing on the most effective ways to manage transition, or "How to make friends with CHANGE", if you will.

Administrivia. All of us have found ourselves lost in it, maybe even overwhelmed by it from time to time. In our work lives, in our homes, our families... even in the realm of personal care it is not hard to give in to the demands of the little details, the trivia of our days. Administrivia has its rewards, as we check off another item from that "to do" list, as we are applauded for our organizational skill, as we hide in the safety of the everyday mundane. It feels good.

But it is also a particular kind of trap. When we lose ourselves in administrivia, our vision narrows down to a tunnel of trivia, while whole, expansive vistas go by us unnoticed. Abundant life gets squeezed into the leftover time, the space between the lines on the list. Poetry, art, contemplation, conversations which enrich and nourish the soul have no home within us. And what looked like competence is revealed for busyness, what seemed to be impressive importance turns out to be mere puffery. David Whyte put it this way, "Moses' revelation [at the burning bush] was not the immediate shock of hearing God's voice from the bush, but the moment he looked down and realized not only that he stood in God's presence, but that he had been standing in that presence all of his life."

So it is with all of us. We are standing on holy ground - in the very presence of the Divine - all of our lives. And the only way we will have eyes to see it, hearts to embrace it and courage to live it, is if we somehow give up the attachment to our administrivia, once and for all.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Post-Op Pep Talk

Today is a big day. Today I visit with the surgeon who performed my gastric bypass, to get the definitive word on healing and directions for the way forward. But yesterday was the day I received my "post-operative pep talk", from a rather unexpected source.

Yesterday I visited with the cardiologist to make sure that no adjustments were needed to keep me in sinus rhythm and out of Atrial Fibrillation. It was fun to hear this doctor marvel at my initial weight loss and my low blood pressure. I appreciated his comment "The only way I could lose 35 pounds would be to rip out a lung or something". As the doctor headed out the door, he delivered the pep talk that went beyond post-op and into new life.

"Remember", he said, "This is not just about the weight. It is not just about lowered blood pressure, ease of movement, looking good, because it is not just about the weight. You have to pay attention to the rest of life, to all of life, for all your life."

A wise man, that doctor. Recently I've found myself falling into the blues as the most rapid weight loss slows down a bit, and as I contemplate all there is to do at work which certainly has not stopped while I've been off for two weeks. The pep talk reminds me that health is a many-faceted thing. It involves more than my body. It requires more than my work. It needs more. It needs desire.

Poet David Whyte writes about our needed desire in this way:
"I thought of the old Latin root of the word desire, meaning de sider, of the stars. To have a desire in life
literally means to keep your star in sight, to follow a glimmer, a beacon, a disappearing will-o'-the-wisp over the
horizon into someplace you cannot yet fully imagine."

For today, I will keep my star in sight. And i will trust that place beyond the horizon where God's imagination is calling mine into re-birth.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Observations and Judgments

I just returned from Sunday morning worship and the first opportunity to let others see my changing body. Standing in the narthex, greeting fellow believers, I found myself doing a lot of self-talk. As their eyes travelled down my body and back up again, I had to work hard to recognize that "observing" change is not the same as "judging" it.

I wonder how many times the jump from observation to judgment stops the process of change? It is certainly a human response to put up defenses when we fear attack - even the subtleties of the quick once-over. Yet I am reminded of Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." And I suspect no one can make you feel judged... or stupid... or ugly.... or anything else, without your consent!

So in this Holy Week, as I return to work and encounter more and more of my brothers and sisters, I will not give consent. Because I will recognize the difference between observations and judgments.

PS... Puppy is SO happy and so tired right now, after accompanying me on a long (45 minute) uphill and down hill walk!

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Synergy is a law of nature. The word means “combined effort being greater than the parts”, and it has often been used to describe the functions of an effective team. In leadership parlance “synergy” is one of those golden conditions which propel a group forward in whatever task is at hand.

The flight of Canadian geese has often served as an example of synergy. A flock of geese can cover great distances precisely because they work together “synergistically”, forming themselves into a “V” formation. In that formation the flock adds 71% greater flying range. And that is not just because of the aerodynamics of goose bodies! The genius of the flock in flight is that leadership is rotated – when the goose at the head of the flock gets tired, another one takes over, as leadership is shared. Meanwhile, those behind the leaders honk encouragement to keep the pace moving. And, if one goose is wounded or becomes ill, two will stay behind to help it.

Synergy… 1 + 1 = more than 2. It is true for geese, and equally true for us. At some level, we all know this. So why is it that we sometimes resist working together? Why is it that we even resist the formations we know will be most healing for us?

I suspect it is because we have not paid close enough attention to those geese. Yesterday morning I was taking a very wet walk around the high school track, which was literally surrounded by more than 200 geese. About a mile into my walk something spooked the flock and they took to the air amidst much honking and flapping. My first thought was “Oh dear, Mr. Hitchcock!” (remember “The Birds”?). But then I began to watch the geese as they all headed off in roughly the same direction, but not in one single V! Indeed, those geese formed at least 25 separate “V” formations, all honking encouragement, all making for whatever pond or saturated field was next, all sharing the power of synergy.

In this year of Re-Birth, it will be good for me to remind myself that transformation is not about falling lock-step in line with any particular fitness guru. It does not require me to fly in any one formation every moment of every day. As long as I am still traveling in the direction of health, with clarity about God's vision for my life right now, my 1 + 1 will definitely equal more than 2!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Heel While Healing"

Well, it turns out that changing the size and shape of my stomach and rearranging my intestinal tract has done nothing to alter my "All or Nothing" personality. Now that I am into day 3 of feeling great (thank you, Jesus!), I am in danger of running away with myself. I am probably more like my puppy, Reggie, than I want to admit.

I got up at 6:30 this morning, did a load of laundry, took all my vitamins (no small task, that), and then decided "why not" take the dog for a walk? Remember, this is not an old, mature, lazy dog. Rather, Reggie is a high energy, super enthusiastic adolescent Border Collie. Kate and I think Reggie has two speeds: full out, break-neck run... and collapsed in a heap exhausted.

So, trudging up the first hill from my house I began to question my judgment, and began wondering how many times we would need to stop, put Reggie in a sit/stay position, and repeat, "Heel!" ( Just so you know, that number was close to 15 times.) After about 3/4 of a mile I was ready to collapse in a heap exhausted, and I realized that I could use somebody telling me to "heel!"

I used to think "All or Nothing" was an okay way to spend my days, and that being the classic over-achiever was meritorious. I now realize "All or Nothing" over-achieving is annoying at best, and downright self-destructive at its worst. I need to remember to "heel while healing", to pay attention to the wisdom of my body when it says slow down, and to remember my friend Janet's advice, "Bariatric Surgery requires PATIENCE more than anything else!"

Reggie and I are about to head downstairs for bed, he undoubtedly to dream about wild chases and great athleticism, and me to solidify my resolve to "Heel!". I'll go back to the track without my furry friend tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

For a second day (in a row!!) .... no nausea, no pain! Hallelujah! The morning began with a visit to my general practice doc, just checking in after surgery, which was a surprise to him. It was really quite touching, when he got tears in his eyes and told me, "You just made my whole day... because now I know you're going to be all right". Of course, that was punctuated by the news that I'm down 30 pounds from the last time I visited him (in December). Cool.

"I intend to live forever. So far, so good."... so said Stephen Wright.
"I intend to live forever. Or die trying." ... thank you, Groucho Marx

I like both of these statements, both of these affirmations of life. They may not make much sense until that phrase "living forever" is viewed not as a verb, but as an adjective... a description of the way any of us most wants to pass through the days. LIVING forever is far superior to simply existing. And to die trying to LIVE means more than simply staving off the grim reaper. So here's to life abundant and joy overflowing!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Paying attention to each moment gives one plenty of reasons to celebrate. Like this morning, when I awoke and even got out of bed without any pain or nausea! Hooray! Perhaps one corner has been turned.

Puppy doesn't quite understand why this celebration did not immediately translate into walks, runs, or rambunctious fetch at the very least. However, Kate appreciated the celebration breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and ricotta peach muffins fresh from the oven. Reggie did get his run in at the field (I even threw the ball three times) while I walked, so now all seem satisfied in the house.

After a run to the office to deliver a few of those muffins, I'm thinking a hair cut will nicely round out the day for me. So many moments... so many celebrations.

Monday, March 22, 2010


It is interesting to me how many people have praised me lately for my courage. It is true that the experience of gastric bypass surgery is a big deal (hence, no blog post yesterday since I never got over the desire to hurl all day)... but I'm not sure it is a mark of any sort of courage. In fact, before I went into the hospital, I would have said it was more a sign of weakness than of strength. You know, if I was "normal", I would have been able to keep the weight off each time I've lost it, and wouldn't have needed this major step. But, since I've been affirmed for courage, perhaps there is a way for me to embrace it.

I've been listening this week to David Whyte's "Clear Mind, Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry". In it, he quotes Antonio Machado, speaking about the calling to courage in this way, "Anyone who moves on, even a little, walks like Jesus on the water." That seems to be a good reminder for me in this year of Re-birthing and in these days of physical transformation. Moving on, (even a little) toward God's desire for my life is a small miracle, not so very much different than walking on water.

Another poem Whyte offers speaks to me as well in this journey of newness and hope. The poem "Lost" is written by David Wagner, yet it takes its heart from a wisdom story told by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. It is wisdom shared by the elders when a young boy or girl asks a very practical, yet also very metaphorical question: "What do I do when I'm lost in the forest?" As if to ask, what does any of us do when we are confronted with territory or situations or fears we have not yet encountered. So the poem begins with the question, in order to reveal the answer:

" What do I do when I'm lost in the forest? Stand still. Stand still.
The trees ahead and the bushes beside you are not lost.
Wherever you are, is called "here".
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, must ask permission to know and be known.
Stand still. Stand still.
The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you."

Sometimes it takes enormous courage to stand still, and to let the forest find us. It takes courage and hope and I believe a certain amount of faith to see and hear, to feel every moment of our existence - whether we are safe at home in the midst of familiar circumstances or lost in the forest of new challenges. And I wonder what would happen if I could be completely incarnate in this moment...and the next...and the next...and...

So for tonight I will try to keep moving on, if even a little. And in so doing, I will have earned that badge, "courage".

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Day of Spring (Break)

Living with new life of any kind is not necessarily restful. Our puppy (just barely a year old now) is proof enough of that, barking from his kennel at 7:00 am on the first day of spring vacation. (Doesn't he know the one thing a teenager really wants to do on break is sleep?!) I took the morning watch so Kate could luxuriate in the freedom of no school, and found myself after a couple of hours searching the cookbooks for a special "First Day of Spring Break-fast".

It may seem strange, but now that I am not able to eat a regular diet, I want to cook. I crave the creative process, the sights and smells of cooking, the feel of food in my hands, if not in my mouth. While Kate is appreciative, she is also a bit incredulous, and keeps asking "Doesn't it bother you to cook and not eat, to see me eating in front of you?"

Perhaps what I am discovering is something which real chefs understand in their bones: the visceral connection we all have to food. It carries so many emotions, memories, and meanings for us culturally and individually. But when you get beyond all that, we are touched by that which nourishes and sustains us. And we need somehow to touch back.

So the menu for the morning included granola pancakes, crispy bacon and one poached egg, fresh orange juice and hot vanilla tea. Tonight I'm thinking it will be mediterranean marinated salmon, artichoke pasta with feta and kalamata olives, and steamed asparagus. Anyone free for supper?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Transforming the Body

The primary "re-birthing" experience I am engaged in today actually began over a year ago, when I went to the first informational meeting to learn about Bariatric Surgery at the Riverbend Hospital.  My daughter Kate went along with me (it's always helpful to have more than one pair of ears when it comes to medical mumbo-jumbo).  We left that meeting with piqued interest, and I began a year-long process to qualify for weight loss surgery.  Early on I contacted everyone I know who had already been through surgery, and my friend Janet gave the best advice when she said, "I've discovered the most critical thing you need for this surgery is patience."

She was not kidding!  Between satisfying health insurance requirements and completing all the classes, testing, lab work and weight loss on my own (20 pounds before I even entered the hospital), I learned how to jump through hoops with patience and grace.  So much so that it came as a great surprise to me when the nutritionist told me the last week of January that they could schedule me as early as February or March!

March 15 turned out to be a much better day for me than for Julius Caesar.  After 2 hours on the operating table and a couple in recovery, my friends and family found me at home in my room - still breathing (thank God!), and beginning the process of recovery.  Because I am blessed with many friends and family members who truly care about me, I keep getting questioned about what exactly happened, and what life is like for me now... (yes, Dr. Kate, I am happy to report, I am NOT circling the drain!)  So, read on if you have one of those inquiring minds that just wants to know (skip this part if you really don't need the details)...

The surgery I had is called a Laproscopic Roux-en-y gastric bypass, the "gold standard" treatment for severe obesity (this sounds better than the medical term, "morbid obesity" - yikes!), because of its low complication rate and long term success in not only losing weight but keeping it off.  In this procedure, a small pouch is separated from the top of the stomach and is then sealed with staples (and, I'm told, a little bit of crazy glue).  The small intestine is then divided and attached to the new stomach pouch.  The section of small intestine that descends from  the bypassed stomach is reconnected to the small intestine descending from the new pouch, creating a "y" shape.  After dividing the upper stomach, the surgeon divides the small intestine in the upper jejunum and connects it to the small stomach pouch with an opening approximately the size of a dime.  The other end of the jejunum is reconnected, creating another "y" shape.  Food does not begin to be absorbed into the body until the point where the two pieces of jejunum come together. -- See?  I told you there was a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo involved!

But here's the good part.  In the first year, the average person loses as much as 100 pounds, or about 2/3s of their excess weight.  Because the pouch is limited in size, hunger is not the issue it used to be, and keeping the weight from coming back is much more possible.  If you still want more information (maybe a few pictures), check out bypass.

I spent two nights in the hospital and was released home on Wednesday (St. Paddy's Day).  Now I am learning about how to best care for my newborn pouch - see, there's that re-birthing theme again!  Before surgery I scoffed at the suggestion that I take two full weeks off work.  Now I'm wondering how I'll make it back after two weeks - not because of pain (which is noticeable), but because it just takes so L-O-N-G to eat or drink!  To give you a little better idea, here's what I did today:

7:45 am Got out of bed when daughter Kate left for school.  Our puppy hates to be the only one up when he knows I'm here.  But that is proving to be good incentive to get up and moving.

7:45-8:30 am Took a shower, dried, changed the dressing on my surgical wound, etc.

8:30-10:00 am Ate breakfast:  1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce, 3/4 cup protein shake,
vitamin D, multi-vitamin, calcium, plus two prescription medications

10:00-11:30 am Watched a movie ("Have you heard about the Morgans?" - an entertaining flick)

11:30-Noon Cleaned the kitchen, started the dishwasher

Noon-12:30 pm Checked email

12:30-2:00 pm Ate lunch:  1/4 cup unsweetened lowfat ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup pureed strawberries.  Also visited with a friend during this time
2:00-3:00 pm Cleaned the kitchen, unloaded the dishwasher, set up my blog

3:00-3:45 pm Rested, talked with Kate when she returned home from school

3:45-6:00 pm Went to the bank, then to the Coumadin Clinic to check blood levels

6:00-6:45 pm Rested, made dinner for Kate (it looked really good)

6:45-7:30 pm Ate dinner:  1/4 cup strained cream of chicken soup, 1/4 cup applesauce, vitamins, calcium, etc.

7:30-8:15 pm Played games with Kate... now it's off to rest again soon.

So this gives you an idea of the excitement around this house.  No wonder the puppy is bummed.  I promise I won't go into this kind of detail in future posts (how boring!), but perhaps this gives you a better idea of why I have "nothing new to report" when you call.  Oh, but there was one other highlight of the day... the weigh-in and the 4 pounds lost since Monday.  Off to a good start!
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