I have been thinking a lot about recent events, both private and public. Don’t tell anyone, but I am sixty-six years old and, in a week, will become a great-grandmother. I am going to take a moment here to pause because I still have a hard time saying and accepting that. My life has had many twists and turns along what Robert Frost describes as the road less traveled. I have been standing at an intersection recently, but have made a decision to follow a path where I feel led.
So many times in my life, I have chosen to stand and wait, offering only “thoughts and prayers” to my journey. While taking time to think and pray before acting is essential, often I stop short of doing anything. I have been reminded that choosing to do nothing is a choice. This is true not only of my life journey but in my day to day actions as well.
The facebook posts after the school shooting last week followed the same pattern as other such tragedies. Posts offering “thoughts and prayers” follow shock and anger. Heated debate and name calling are next to appear. Soon everyone forgets as we await the next shooting or child abduction or horrific stories of abuse. Please hear me as I say that prayer is powerful and much needed. Yet, I have to ask if it is enough. I was reminded of a story that still haunts me.
A few years ago, I was driving on a busy four-lane highway to my church prayer lunch. The road is one where no one slows down for anything. People pass and bounce from lane to lane without the benefit of blinkers or common sense. As I made my way to church, suddenly the tail lights on the cars ahead of me flashed red as cars in both lanes came to a sudden stop.
I tried to see what caused the delay when I saw what looked like the front of a broken shopping cart coming across the front of the line of cars. I was surprised as I saw a broken walker being pushed by an elderly man. He walked so slowly that I wasn’t sure how he got into the road at all since traffic is usually constant. He had only one good arm; the other seemed to be at an angle as if he had an injury or perhaps the remnants of a stroke. He walked with a bit of a limp, as well. The walker had front wheels, but there were no wheels on the back. He made it past the cars reaching the safety of the grass median. However, the grassy area seemed to make it harder for him to push and maneuver.
My heart ached as a watched his broken body push the feeble walker. There was no expression in his eyes or face. It appeared that his spirit was broken as badly as his body. As the cars began to move, I felt a battle raging in my heart and head. I wanted more than anything to pull my car into the grass and see if I could help him. The logical side of my brain wondered how in the world I could help. What if he was violent? What if he was mentally ill and didn’t understand my gesture or offer of help? What if he was ill and I was exposed? Would I offer him a ride? What would I say?
I pulled into a parking lot for a down the road to think for a moment. I fought tears as I wondered if this man had family or food or a place to stay. I certainly had nothing I could offer him. My finances were already limited without trying to help someone else. Maybe I could go back and just say a kind word to him. The logical side of my mind asked what good that would do. Sure, go and say, “Hi, I saw you struggling to get across the road. I don’t have any way to help you but just wanted to say Howdy!”
In the end, I didn’t turn around even though I felt led to do so. I don’t know why this man touched my heart the way he did. I did say a prayer for him. I believe in the power of prayer. There have been many times in my life where I felt so very broken, and I prayed for someone to reach out to me. I am so grateful for the people who took time to pray for me, talk to me, and help me. How could I not return what had been so freely given to me?
I don’t know the life journey of the man I saw that day. I don’t know if he had friends or family or anyone to help him in his brokenness. All I did for him that day was pray. I know in my heart praying wasn’t enough.
Matthew West’s song “Do Something” encourages us to take the time to do something for others: I Said, “God, why don’t You do something?” He said, “I did, yeah, I created you.”
None of us can solve all of the world’s problems. None can address every issue or the challenges faced by others. Yet, each of us can find a way to take action. Yes, I pray and continue in prayer. I didn’t stop and help a broken man a few years ago, but I choose today to offer my thoughts and prayers – and then I take the next step. I find a way to do the next right thing to try and make a difference.
I admit it – I get a bit nervous about any cosmic event. Read the post in the link above.
I write about church and faith quite often. If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.) I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while. I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church. I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that. It did however create the need opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.
As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence. There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea. Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing. It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment. It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.
On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches. Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel. The preacher was scary. He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.
Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches, but not in the one I was attending after my return to church. Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”. One of thing liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other. Before church and during the time in worship when people greeted one another there was a buzzing of voices, and it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again. As time went, on the voices and noise faded.
As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises. One of the first I visited had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists. I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt. The next few churches I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.
I attend service at a small country church in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friend. I love this church. It has a history stretching back one hundred years. The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment. The choir is small, but powerful. The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.
I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer. Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged. During the time in worship for greeting one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another. Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship. Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place. I think I might just stay a while here. I like the noise.
Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:
“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.
“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”
I have been blessed with 2 best friends who are not only friends, but they are “sister friends” or “soul sisters”. They both been dealing with challenging times recently. I am reposting this blog post from two years ago because this is a difficult day for my friend Carol, and for me as well. In the post, I mention her childhood home where I found support, love, acceptance, and a retreat from the chaos of my house. Today, Carol moved out of that house taking with her so many memories. I have been lazy about writing personally and for my blog. This reminds me that I want to capture all of these memories, and it is time to get back to my writing.
Summer was a great adventure growing up. I grew up along the banks of the Stono River in Charleston, SC. I lived in a small neighborhood at the foot of the old Limehouse bridge. It was a swing bridge that turned sideways to let boats go through. There were about 20 houses in our neighborhood. There was a dirt road leading off the main highway that formed a circle of about 1/2 mile. There were houses on the main river, houses on the inner circle with just a view of the water, and just off the circle was a small extension of the circle where my house stood. We had a dock in the back yard on the main canal that lead to the river. The lots that were not developed were still thickly wooded areas filled with trees and wildlife.
I was almost 8 when we moved to that house. There was only one other family with children at the time. Carol was a feisty, freckle faced redhead just a couple of years younger than I. We immediately became “sister” friends and still are to this day. Even though my grandmother was very controlling and afraid of just about everything, she seemed to feel safe letting me roam the small neighborhood. Carol and I spent everyday together with few exceptions for next ten years.
The tides played a big part in planning our day. At low tide, only pluff mud and fiddler crabs were in the canal. We occasionally braved the mud to chase the fiddler crabs. The tide had to be about half in before there was enough water to swim or get in the old john boat. High tide in mid afternoon was the ideal. We would be in/on the water from lunchtime until dinner. In the evenings, we would shrimp or crab from the dock. A few years later, more families with kids and boats moved into the circle. We would often go out to the main river on their boats, but the canal was always our first love.
Behind Carol’s house were several undeveloped lots. There was a very large oak tree with massive branches that touched the ground. One of the branches that came close to the ground was perfect for bouncing. Our tree had several perfectly etched out places where you could sit. Carol would climb to the one just above the place I chose. We would sit and talk for hours. We solved world problems, dreamed of adventures, and planned our futures.
We loved the woods. They were filled with honeysuckle vines. We would sit and pick the honeysuckle, gently pulling the stem to get the tiny bit of nectar on our tongue. We picked wild blackberries and ate them on the spot. We were yet unaware of all the things in our world that would soon prove to kill laboratory rats. The woods were filled with tics, red bugs, spiders, and more but we rarely encountered any problems. We did come across snakes a few times, but always outran them. We loved catching Daddy Long Legs and fireflies. We would sit and dig in the sandy soil and find shark’s teeth. We had several small jars filled with them. We were always filled with awe as we thought that our homes were once covered with water and sharks.
We had a small store not far from our neighborhood. It was also home to the post office. Close by there was a fresh vegetable stand. We would go with Carol’s mom and spend our meager allowance a couple of times a week. We would often buy a stalk of sugar cane to take home. After dinner we would sit in Carol’s yard looking across at the river, pulling the husk away and chewing on cane to get the sweet sugary juices. Another favorite treat was Pepsi and peanuts. We would buy bottles of Pepsi and a small bag of salted peanuts. After drinking just a little of the Pepsi, we would each pour half of the bag of peanuts into our bottle. The trick was to get all the peanuts out before you finished the Pepsi.
When people ask about childhood memories, I don’t often have many fond ones to share. Alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, fear and sadness were all things that filled my house. Moving to that small neighborhood and finding Carol and her family was the greatest treasure and salvation of my childhood. Those summer days gave me hope for something more. Carol and I are still “sister” friends. She moved back into her childhood home after her father died. I go to the house, and we sit on the front porch looking out at the river or in ever so familiar living room and share stories of those times. We walk around that block we walked so many times before and smile. We even stop to pick the honeysuckle from time to time.
I sat on the wooden pews in a small church waiting for the memorial service for a friend to begin. If the wall of this hundred-year-old sanctuary could talk, they would tell the life stories of so many people, including the story of the man to be memorialized that day. He had been married in that church, as had his parents, as well as his some of his children and grandchildren. In the cemetery next to the church were buried his wife, his parents, grandparents, and other family members.
A granddaughter spoke about him during the service remembering a long life spent in devotion to family, service to community, and dedication to his church and beliefs. No one could describe him without using the words “sweet man.” What an amazing legacy to leave for those who knew and loved him.
I thought about my friend Jan F. who died seven years ago. She left behind a note stating what she hoped would be her legacy. Anyone who knew her would have to say these words are true.
I wish to be remembered for:
– my loyalty as a friend and to family
– my passion – for animals, music
– my commitment to providing caring, sensitive, compassionate therapy to my
patients. I would go the extra mile for them.
– my love of music and singing
– my laughter
– my creative, innovative side
– my integrity – as a person and as a psychologist
and anything else someone can think of.
I couldn’t help but wonder what legacy I would leave for my children, grandchildren, and friends (family of choice). My family tree is broken and missing many branches. I don’t have a long line of ancestors to share. I have made many detours and mistakes in my life journey, yet I hope that the life I have created out of the turmoil and chaos of my childhood will speak for me. I hope those who know me best will remember the person I have become.
I don’t plan on leaving this earthly home anytime soon. I have always said that I plan to live to be at least 100 years old. When that time does come, I hope the legacy I leave behind is one that causes those who knew me to smile and to know that in some small way I changed their lives.
The text below is an assignment for my Religion and Society class.
“Experiment with Ahimsa,” following the model of Gandhi and his autobiography. After re-reading about Gandhi’s understanding of ahimsa and his experiments with Truth, conduct an “experiment with non-violence.” For some set time (3-7 days), attempt to refrain from all forms of violence towards other human beings and animals, including (but no limited to) anger, hate, gossip, personal criticism, evil thoughts, jealousy, and physical violence toward any other being. Try to remove violence from speech, mind, and action; and try not to support others if they engage in violent speech, thought or conduct. You must maintain a record of your experiences and “experiments with Truth”, using Gandhi’s book as your model to emulate.
As we discussed this in class, I asked about food and football. The Professor smiled and explained that we would have to make our own determination about how far we were willing and able to go with food in this process. Since football is a sport and there is no intention of harm, I am going to say that watching football wouldn’t be a hindrance to this process. ” In fact, he (Gandhi) was a path-breaker of sorts, even in football, when in 1896, when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, still a young, relatively unknown lawyer in South Africa, was amongst a group of pre-dominantly Indian men, who helped form the Transvaal Indian Football Association” (Ayush Srivastava – The Goal). There was even a team called the Passive Resisters. Later, Gandhi would say that while his country was in turmoil against the British, people should be more interested in changing the country than sports.
While reading about Gandhi and his idea of ahisma, we learned that Ghandi believed non violence went far beyond “doing no violence or harm”. Gandhi taught that ahisma was non violence in our thoughts, intentions, actions, and our lifestyle. It was about compassion and love.
“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.” ― M. Scott Peck
It is inevitable that at some point, everyone will find himself or herself comfortably seated and suddenly realize that the toilet paper roll is empty with no spare roll in sight. This situation has several solutions, although most of them are embarrassing to some degree. The worst solution, in my opinion, would be asking for help. “Um, can someone bring me a roll of toilet paper, please?”
If we are to believe M. Scott Peck, then this could be one of our finest moments. As my friend, Jan F. used to ask, “What is it I am supposed to learn from this?” One lesson may be to take more time in preparation and look next time. Another may be to have a spare roll hidden away for such an emergency. Perhaps, the “truer” lesson is learning to ask for help. (Oh, and forgive the seriously disturbed person who left the empty roll.)
This year has brought more than usual “empty toilet paper holders” to my life, and I have tried to look at each situation with an eye for a creative solution and what lesson might I learn. I will admit that this question is usually the last thing on my mind when something happens. My first reaction is pure crisis mode. I know this about myself, yet in those first moments of what I consider a crisis in my life, I panic. I decide the worst possible outcome to the problem; this is usually an exaggerated worst possible outcome. I internalize first, ask God why He wants to torture me this way, breakdown and talk to someone I trust, and then, and only then I go into solution mode.
Last Thursday presented one more empty toilet paper roll in my life. I did not create the situation. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a situation. Someone else “left the toilet paper roll empty.” It seems all I can do is move into solution mode. This financial crisis took me totally by surprise, and it will be a challenge in my life for the next three months or so.
My mother was the one who taught me most about working in a solution mode. She overcame so many obstacles in her life, and with each one, she became more determined to overcome whatever may come her way. My mother was a unique character. Her solution sometimes included being a steamroller, yelling, cursing, and being a total b###ch! She would agree with that statement and be proud of it.
I have been thinking about her a lot this weekend. Six years ago, she died suddenly and unexpectedly. While I don’t want to become like her in some ways, I hope I can be as strong as she was in overcoming life challenges. It was only in the end after fighting for so long that she gave up. She never learned to ask for help or to trust people who would help her with those life challenges. It has only been in the last twenty years that I have learned to trust and allow people into my life. I am blessed with family and friends, yet I struggle to ask for or accept help. I am working to step out of that rut and find a different way.
I imagine all of you closing your computer screen, walking by your bathroom and sneaking a look to be sure the toilet roll holder is full. You may even go and find some extra rolls to hide away. Just remember that is all else fails, you can always yell for help.
Last week I embarked on what seemed to be a rather innocuous journey, and I shared a post here about it. The challenge was to post a picture every day for 100 days of something that made you happy. I started well, but floundered around day four. In the eleven days since I accepted the challenge, I have posted only seven pictures, and truth is one of them was an old picture.
I tried to take pictures of things that made me happy, but soon came to the realization that not too many things really make me happy. Well, I meant to say things I could photograph, that is. Don’t misunderstand me; I have many things in life that make me happy, but I just couldn’t find a way to make it work in this challenge.
Of course, things like the beach, a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the color of fall leaves or spring flowers, spotting a deer in the woods, and more all bring happiness into my life. However, it is a bit of a drive to the beach or the woods, and I am often not in a place to photograph those other things on a daily basis.
Yet, what really makes me happy is sharing that experience with people in my life. I don’t have to physically share the experience, but I find such joy in sharing the story with a friend or family member. Even better is when the person with whom I choose to share the experience gets as much joy or excitement from it as I did.
I grew up as an only child in a home where talking, touching, and sharing life experiences were non-existent. I had very few friends and often felt alone. As an adult, I have come to cherish the people in my life. I sometimes share my experiences with the exuberance of a young child, bursting with excitement to tell my story. I imagine that I can be a bit overwhelming to those who know me best. However, they usually smile and say something encouraging.
I have decided that I am not going to continue with #100happydays challenge, but I am going to continue to look for things every day that bring happiness into my life. If something captures my attention, and I can take a picture, I will still share it on Instagram. Keep watching! The next picture you see may just be of a donut!
I have been watching my friend Abby, from the infamous Abby Gabbs blog, posting pictures with the hashtag #100happydays. I wasn’t sure what it was about, but I loved the pictures. Today, Abby posted that she had completed the challenge, and I finally understood what it meant.
It is a very simply challenge- every day submit a picture of what made you happy! Post the picture to your Instagram or facebook and tag it. At first it seemed to be a rather Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver look at your life. Yet, the more I read, the more I realized that some days I only focus on the fear or the negative. Every day has something that brings happiness. Every day I can chose to be grateful for something. I know this is pretty simple, and I know it won’t change the circumstances of daily living, but it might just change my attitude a bit.
The challenge says, “#100happyday challenge is for you – not for anyone else. It is not a happiness competition or a showing off contest. If you try to please / make others jealous via your pictures – you lose without even starting.
I decided to take the challenge. I won’t be posting to facebook every day, but my Instagram will be updated daily. I will post again in a couple of weeks, and let you know if my attitude has changed. I hope I don’t have to buy too many donuts!