September 28, 2015

Of Clouds and Rainbows


 They sicken of the calm who know the storm. 
 - Dorothy Parker 

Each Sunday I teach 11 seven and eight year old children a Sunday school lesson. If you've never been in a room with that many seven and eight year olds, you're really missing something! The sheer energy and excitement in that space could power a small city for a week - if we could find a way to contain it - which I haven't. Moreover, the things I learn in my attempt to educate them on life, faith, and the undying love of Someone unseen to them, makes me wonder if I wasn't put in there to be taught instead of to teach.

A few weeks ago, one of my usual little firecrackers just wasn't herself. In fact I'm not sure who she was. Her normal effervescence and sparkling eyes had been replaced by a sullenness that was disturbing by contrast. It turned out that the cause for her demeanor had to do with another boy who's usually in the class. She'd seen him earlier in the day but he never made it to our room. She was worry stricken.

I pulled out all my best stuff trying to get her to cheer up but she was having none of it! At one point, she feigned a need to visit the "necessessarium" in order to investigate what had caused her friend to be absent. She returned saying she'd leaned that his family had to leave because he was bleeding.

More information did not make things better. In fact if her mood had been dark before - it was now black. She refused to open her eyes. Any attempt to speak to her was met with a turned head and folded arms. Even my suggestion that she call and check on him when she got home fell on deaf ears.

It was interesting to see that the lesson  earlier in the year about loving each other had taken root - but it was still hard to see her tortured.

After our lesson time, all the children's classes meet together. The children rotate turns addressing the entire group and giving a talk on an assigned topic, offering a prayer, or sharing a scripture. I never cease to be amazed watching these kids do with ease what most adults would rather be shot than do - speak in public! It brings to mind how brave we were before the world taught us to  be afraid of each other. Fear and unease are not our undefiled states. Those things are acquired over time and it's refreshing to see what pure trust and confidence looks like once a week.

During this time, my little brooder became darker still - even angry if someone spoke to her. I thought it best to give her space to work through her emotions without further intrusion so I let her be. She used the time to further steep in her anxiety.

A few minutes before we were to go home, I leaned toward her and whispered:  "If I have to go home today without seeing one of your beautiful smiles, I might not make it till next Sunday. I look forward to those smiles all week long!" To this, she folded her arms and snorted. 

Moments later her countenance changed. The scowl vanished and a peaceful look replaced it. She tilted her head toward me and  flashed the biggest forced grin I'd ever seen! Then - without warning - she exploded into a story of how she had seen a double rainbow. She told me how exciting it was and how it landed in a field. She was excited for me to know that she'd run to get her family and that pictures had been taken as proof it really happened. Then she said, with complete astonishment, "And the whole time, IT WAS RAINING!"

I explained to her that if it hadn't been raining, there couldn't have been a rainbow and how the rainbow gets even brighter when it's against a dark sky. She beamed at me with complete wonder - and in that moment it hit me! SHE had just become a rainbow! 

It was freshly clear to me why the rainbow is such a beautiful metaphor for hope. It's during the darkest hours that it can shine its brightest. The rainbows of our lives are those flickers of light that we see - if we're looking for them - just as we feel we may drown. The darker the circumstances the brighter the potential for the light to be. Life is stormy. Life can seem to be a dark and dangerous place. In that same space there is evidence of something more - something better if we can just hang on a little longer and let it take shape. That's not easy with the rain getting in our eyes and the winds beating against us, but in every storm there is the potential for something beautiful to appear and to transform us into something spectacular.

These aren't just flowery platitudes I'm sharing with you today. I'm speaking from my own experience of life. I've lived in the sunshine and basked in it's warmth. I've lived through the clouds. There have also been times when the skies have been so black that I'd almost given up hope of the light ever returning. After weathering each storm the light has come back and some of those storms have produced the most beautiful rainbows! Some came in the form of insight. Others - new people coming into my life to replace the ones who'd blown away. Once the blackness disperses and I've picked myself up and dried off, I've taken time to pick through the aftermath to see what's left - worth keeping.

I deeply believe that life isn't suppose to be all sunshine - and what a blessing that is! My greatest strength has come as a result of weathering storms, not basking in the sun. (Wear sunscreen by the way! You'll thank yourself in your 50's.) Storms - even the worst of them - carry trans-formative power. Just as the lightening nourishes the plants, so does adversity feed our souls if we drink deeply the lessons and experiences. We can also choose to reject those and dwell in bitterness but that leads to shriveling instead of growth.

I'm not going to tell you that you'll ever reach the point where you see dark clouds gathering and greet them with shrieks of excitement. What I will share though - and what's been true for me - is that the time may come when you can face them with wonder instead of horror and understand that they may just land you in OZ.

How about you? Have you learned to weather the inevitable storms in life? What insights can you share? How have you been made stronger?

September 14, 2015

Fry Big Fish

The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.  
- Lou Holtz

I recently had an experience that caused me to scratch my head in utter disbelief. It was a small thing. A very small thing. A small thing that suddenly became a thing of monumental proportion. Work had been done - hard work and a lot of it. The end result was resplendent and far exceeded initial expectations. Moods were high and celebration was in full swing when someone decided to take offense at the most ludicrous, puny, and highly subjective thing. My jaw dropped in disbelief. This guppy in the ocean suddenly became a great white shark - not because it was a bad thing - but because of the fatal effect on morale that pointing it out caused. This was a very small fish yet someone decided to fry it anyway.

I struggle to understand why people waste their time looking for reasons to be dissatisfied? Do they feel it gives them an air of superiority to create issues where no issues exists? Are some people just inherently unhappy and desperately in need of the tiny morsel of attention they receive by pouring cold water on the good fortune or elated moods of others? Maybe it's the result of a life devoid of real problems or just having too much unoccupied time? 

 When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.  - Earl Nightingale 

Being critical is only one of many optional response to a given situation. Having mercy, giving the benefit of the doubt, and even choosing to overlook some things are examples of other possible responses that leave us (and others) with a much more peaceful experience of the world. I'd like to understand it but honestly, it's a small fish and I'd rather hook a big one.

Just as frying a small fish leaves the fisherman as hungry as he was before, complaining offers no nourishment to body or soul and causes others to starve from withheld appreciation for well earned praise. Is that the point?

Some other examples of frying small fish include: knit picking, fault finding, criticizing, and gossiping. A complete list could fill several blog posts. 

Complaining isn't fishing. It's pointing at people who are fishing and declaring they're doing it all wrong. Sure, our hands don't get as dirty while complaining as when we're fishing, but complainers carry their own kind of stink. When we are busily engaged in working toward a worthy achievement we have a lot less time for small fish frying. 

Complaining and criticizing are attempts at diverting attention away from our own shortcomings using the "look over there" tactic - and often it works. Instead of being seen as a slacker we're seen as a complainer. When's the last time you cleared your calendar to spend time with a complainer? Me neither!

I know someone who believes SO strongly that toilet paper should be put on the roll with the paper coming off the front instead the back that they are offended when they encounter it WRONGLY positioned. Not only that, but they make it a point to FIX IT - even at other people's homes. This is a perfect example of frying a small fish. I look forward to the day that my life is so well ordered that I can fit this in as something to worry about.

If I could give any advice that may change the course of someone's life it would be to only fry BIG fish. Don't waste your time championing petty plights. If you have the passion to fight for something, make it something BIG. If you're going to go through all the trouble of dragging out the oil, and getting flour and grease all over your kitchen, ONLY FRY BIG FISH! Your life (and stomach) will be fuller. 

Photo Credit: Original Artwork by Sarah Kopp

September 2, 2015

To Do or to Be...

That is the question!

I saw an interesting video yesterday that my daughter posted on Facebook. It pictured an older woman and a caption that read: If I had my life to do over, I'd spend less time doing and more time being. Sadly, the benefit of that wisdom becomes clear, often, only after we've almost worn ourselves out trying to figure it out. 

Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat!

As you can see by the erratic nature of my posting schedule, I've figured it out. I want to blog - not be a blogger. There are other things I want to be. I want to be a grandmother who spends time with her grand kids, a gardener who's at peace in her garden - no matter it's state of completion. I want to be a poet - a writer who writes about what's meaningful to me. Things I want to remember. I want to be friend who has time to be there at just the right moment and an eternal student of life who learns something every day then gleans the best pearls and shares them here with you - just in case you miss them in the frenzied pace of doing.

Don't think for a moment I'm preaching - I too have done!  I've done and done until I'm done. It took years to realize that there are some things that we chase that just can not be caught. Laundry is a great example. I remember the day that this realization distilled upon me just as I was folding the last washcloth. I breathed deeply and exclaimed a glorified sigh and marveling at my accomplishment. Every article of clothing in the entire house was finally clean. Then I remembered I was wearing clothes, that as soon as  they were removed, would become laundry. As if that wasn't disheartening enough, I recalled that I shared a home with 7 other people who were doing the same thing! Laundry is never done.

In a recent post, I went into great detail about a complete meltdown I had over weeds that had the nerve to regrow. Gardening is never done. The list of the unfinishable - yes that's a word - (now) could circle the globe so many times that it would block out sunlight and yet we continue to chase them like we can grab them by the tail.

Relationships are also things that are never finished. Even the ones that end echo either sweet melodies or discordant refrains that reverberate around us as we search to find new ones.

There is so much we could do. So much we should do! (Just ask your mom!) But, if we chase haphazardly down all the roads of "doing" we may just miss the "being" completely.

"Being" is what it's all about! Even our greatest accomplishments are wasted time if they haven't made us be something. Happy. Enlightened. Content. Proud. Peaceful. Something! 

I'm an ever evolving spirit who wants to be without perimeters - and so are you. I've reached the age where I've finally broken through the walls that kept me caged in the deep, dark, shoulds. It turns out they was made of fear. I was afraid that without all the doing, there would be no me. How astounding to find that the opposite is true.

In the midst of a busy life, don't forget to live. 
- Marty Rubin

There are so many wonderful things to be! In love for instance. At peace. Tranquil. Satisfied. Complete. Kind. Grateful. Patient. Genuine. Honest. Take your pick! There are plenty of options. There's just one catch! Finding one that fits requires that you stop doing long enough to try on a few.

How about you? Is all of your doing helping you to be something that's meaningful to you? If not - why not?