FlightAt the gate I hold my French roast, nervous not to spill. My view is short and flooded with detail. People surround me. I observe the curious facts of each – the eccentric and the banal. Pretty, plain, plump. Loud. Bold stripes, baggage. Phones … everywhere phones. Intriguing accents. Details, details, all crowding me. Concrete and current.

The goal: get on flight #2116 from LAX to Mpls.

My emotions are tangled strings of struggles to arrive at this moment. I breath deeply into calm. I ground myself in the present. I shed the moody sequelae of all that is misshapen and confusing in my life. I am here now. It is okay.

Soon I am in window seat 32-A. Taking off, I feel my heart rising up over all of it. The magnified messy reality of the gate and this life become small and remote.

The wing of the plane stretches out, pointing to the expanding Pacific coastline. All is transformed as I climb higher and higher. Far below an expansive view emerges.  It shifts into a pattern of sublime intricacy and order. It’s vastness and beauty become more striking each moment. The design becomes clear. An endless beach, Catalina Island, the sprawling City of Angels, layers and layers of mountains.

My perspective changes in seat 32-A.

I rise higher and higher. A new elevation. The world becomes one gorgeous canvas, each piece carefully holding its place and purpose. A larger scheme develops. I sense its order and submit to its calling. I rest in a new clarity.

The tangles unravel. I am spirit, soul, being. No distractions, demands, or itsy-bitsy things tug on me. Life is large. Everything fits.

Released from the mire of the gate I reach an elevation that feels like freedom.


“See over there a created splendor, made by one individual of things residual.”    -Patrick Cavenaugh, poet

“When the bird and the book disagree, always believe the bird.”   -J. Audubon, Pedagogy and Poems

Gardening Picture

Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.

Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.

Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.

I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.

Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.

First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.

That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.

I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.

I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.

The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.

I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.

Then came the planting.

The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.

I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.

The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.

Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.

My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.

Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.

Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.

Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.

 

 

Heart2, Hands

The holiday season is over, the last decoration is packed away, and my officially “adult” children have gone off to faraway places. The house is quiet. At the moment, this suits me.

I have some thinking to do – envisioning the year that is well underway, and reflecting on the last one.

My thoughts hover around a noble idea – to become more wholehearted.

Webster defines wholehearted as “completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic” and “marked by complete earnest commitment; free from all reserve or hesitation.”

In this confusing and ephemeral world – so filled with ambiguity and uncertainty – it seems to me that wholeheartedness is something to strive for. To put my best effort into all that I do – in work, marriage, parenting, friendship, faith, wellness, writing, sports, learning … all of my pursuits.

The biggest challenge I faced last year shows me that I have a terrific capacity for wholeheartedness, but I also can be woefully self-limited by its opposite: half-heartedness. The latter functions rather like a skeptical older sibling, always whispering some seemingly prudent words of caution: Watch out! Be careful. Prepare for the worst. Don’t let yourself get hurt. Don’t expect too much.

Here is the situation: I applied for a job. A really big job. One that requires a great deal of experience, talent, and leadership ability. One with an opportunity to have a broad impact on a large community. One that is far more complex and difficult than the program director job I have enjoyed for nearly ten years. One that pays a lot of money! Spoiler alert: I didn’t get it.

But looking back over the process I went through as I prepared for the challenge and waited for the outcome, I recognize that there is a valuable lesson for me. It is about the importance of maximizing my strength of wholeheartedness, and managing my tendency to become half-hearted and self-doubting.

When I was first encouraged to apply, I dismissed the idea as ridiculous. But as I learned more about the position and began to consider what I may have to offer, I changed my mind. I began getting energized and excited about the possibilities. I was determined to give it my absolute best effort, even though I admitted that it was a long shot.

I was filled with love.

As I studied and practiced for the interview I felt entirely focused and bolstered by vision and courage. I even called upon my “Scottish Warrior” (that part of myself that can fight a great battle and prevail). I pictured my past, present, and future and began to detect a red ribbon that was woven through it. Therein I found a spiritual meaning and direction – an essential purpose for so much of what had happened in my life, both joys and sorrows. I saw it all leading up to this imminent challenge. I prayed that God would equip me and trusted that he would.

And he did. I got through the interview with confidence and grace. I quickly recovered from what was a grueling but pretty decent interview. I waited weeks for an answer. A litany of questions soon surrounded my mind.

Then the fear crept in.

No longer full of love, I was full of fear. This was unsettling and unpleasant. It left me feeling uninspired and riddled with self-doubt. I began asking: Who am I to think I can take this on? How grandiose and reckless of me. I allowed the tedium of waiting to generate troubling questions like: What if? What if I get a second interview and it is a flop? What if I get the job and I am not smart enough? What if it is too hard? What if it is too stressful? What if I fail miserably? What if it sends me over the edge? I pictured the jeers of my critics. Of course this left me feeling less capable, less courageous, and more cynical.

I decided I needed to block out that negative energy. I needed to “guard my gates” and not invite in self-limiting messages. But they came so innocently – masquerading as armor and self-protection.

The deception goes like this: I can’t set myself up for a fall. Don’t invest too much. I must regulate my enthusiasm. It makes me too vulnerable. I won’t let myself be disappointed.

Yet this defensive stance becomes incredibly self-limiting. It prevents me from applying my best energy and chokes out what might otherwise be one of my greatest strengths – my wholeheartedness.

I decided to reject the fear-based mentality of self-protection. It causes me to hold back, be too cautious, and ultimately makes me half-hearted.

The logic goes like this: If I give my whole heart and lose, it will be too devastating. I must prepare myself for the big NO or I will be caught off guard when it comes. Don’t invest too much or expect too much and I won’t be disappointed.

But in doing this, I became smaller. Passion was replaced with protectionism. Love was replaced by fear. I trudged through my days barely able to lead myself through my next task much less lead others to inspired work.

ENOUGH! I said to myself. That self-protective instinct is not serving me well. It only resulted in diminished energy, limited joy, and an absence of vision for my life’s possibilities.

I recalled the advice of my dear friend and mentor Yvette. She said, “Lisa, you need to let it go and let it flow. Do not sell yourself short.”

As I remembered her loving words I decided that I would prevail. Regardless of the outcome, I would win the battle. I would be wholehearted.

Guess what? I didn’t get a second interview. But as far as the battle went, I triumphed.

 

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot

Sweet Honey in the Rock

Sweet Honey in the Rock

Have you ever had the splendid surprise of a long-held prayer being abruptly and abundantly answered?

This prayer was on my lips in the daytime, the nighttime, quietly and loudly, indoors and outdoors, humbly and willfully, in whispers and bellows, in faithful expectancy and dull habit. But I have kept on praying – with a stubborn willingness to speak in God’s ear like a relentless dripping faucet.

Viola! God has answered my tired plea with not merely a “yes” but with a “YES, absolutely, no problem, of course, you got it and more” kind of abundance. I am bursting with gratitude.

I reflected on this blessing as Pastor Chineta gave an amazing sermon at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange, California. She spoke on Mathew 5, in which Jesus affirms and warns his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Furthermore, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

Pastor Chineta shared tales from her story-infused childhood, when her elders continually guided her with a dual-sided message of affirmation and warning.  Her deep loving voice and authentic smile resonated through the sanctuary. We sat motionless – riveted by her passion, as she urged us to apply these words of Christ to our lives.

She brought it home as she lifted into song the well loved lyrics of the civil rights movement, anointed with the conviction of one who has lived it …

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,

turn me around,

turn me around.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around

I’m gonna keep on walking,

keep on talking,

 marching to freedom land.”

 (Click below to hear the song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock”)

We congregants were inspired by her powerful message of hope, reconciliation, and “affirming warnings” as she put it. Pouring out of the satin-robed, gospel music infused, ‘preach on sister’ call-and-response banter and community hug-fest that was this service, my husband Steve and I felt challenged and bolstered by this largely African-American community of faith.

We milled about in the narthex, discussing our reaction with friend and church member Antoinette. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology and a demanding career providing services to reach under-privileged, 0 – 5 age children in LA County. What she said struck me as prophetic.

She described how every December, she takes stock of what the last year has meant in her life, and prays for God’s blessing on the year to come. She explained, “For several years now, it seems God gives me a vision of what the coming year will be. And I have been amazed to witness, that it comes about in exactly that way. It becomes the year’s theme for not only my life, but for so many of my loved ones and people I come into contact with. This year, God’s message was, ‘This is the year of the Lord’s favor.’ I just can’t deny that it is coming to pass.”

Antoinette has recently gotten a promotion and is positioned to make a much bigger impact in the work that she loves, to benefit impoverished little people she has never met. I was touched by her humble sincerity, and wondered, “Does this woman have a gift of prophesy? We joked and rubbed against her, hoping her blessing would be contagious. But I knew in my heart, God’s favor had already come.

I claim the divine promise voiced by Antoinette. I thought about my answered prayer, and thanked God for hearing me, and confirming his intention through Antoinette. To many, this may sound superstitious.

Does God do this? Does he give a faithful servant a message, and then deliver on it to those who have ears to hear? Could 2014 be a year of God’s favor? I choose to believe.

You may be wondering about the answered prayer. You see, my husband has been an ordained Lutheran pastor for 25 years. We came to Southern California in 2001 for him to serve a church that after nine years, had to be buried. Even though it became financially unsustainable, he continued to shepherd his flock for a year without pay. This is just before our children were headed off to college. I was scared and frankly, a bit indignant with God. What a disaster! It broke my husband’s heart and shook his confidence.

But I knew, that as sure as God had seen me through the darkest times in healing me from depression, he would sustain and deliver Steve and our family from this hardship. I clung to the promise “weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Steve subsequently went through a total career and identity change to become a leadership consultant, starting a business called TurningWest. He has showed incredible resiliency, determination, creativity, and courage to forge through this transition. The first three years have been lean and a bit scary for a security-minded person like myself. However, Steve has remained fastidious and hopeful, despite the odds in this post-recession economy. And God has slowly and steadily blessed his efforts.

But suddenly, during the last couple of weeks, the contracts have been rolling in at an astounding rate. His home office is lit afire with phone calls and emails from the many people he has reached out to in boldness. Now, and for the foreseeable future, he not only has enough work for himself, but for several other colleagues partnering with him – all with families, losses, needs, and dreams like ours.

This work is a win-win proposition.  Each job is producing phenomenal results for the clients – all who have largely humanitarian, justice-oriented missions. Steve will make the world a better place through the work of Turning West. I am so proud of my husband. And I am indescribably thankful to God, who has heard and answered my prayers.

I believe that for me, 2014 is “the year of the Lord’s favor.” May it also be so for you.

For these promises are ancient, and prophesied in the sacred book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
 to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, 
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
 the oil of joy instead of mourning,
 and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
 They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 

 

Anyway

Mother Theresa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People are often unreasonable, illogical,

And self-centered

Forgive them anyway

If you are kind people may accuse you of

Selfish, ulterior motives

Be kind anyway

If you are successful, you will win some false

friends and some true enemies

Succeed anyway

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you

Be honest and frank anyway

What you spend years building, someone

could destroy overnight

Build anyway

If you find serenity and happiness, they may

be jealous

Be happy anyway

The good you do today, people will often

forget tomorrow

Do good anyway

Give the world the best you have, it may

Never be enough

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway

You see, in the final analysis, it is between

you and God

It was never between you and them anyway

-Frank M. Keith

 

This song had a profound impact on me as I re-invested in life and re-created myself following my year of depression. After a year lost in despair, I discovered a new sense of vitality. In the dawn of my recovery, I had the unbridled enthusiasm of the delivered – determined to live my life with spirit and passion. Having come out of a pit of darkness and into the light, I felt an urgency to live life to its fullest, invest thoroughly in my relationships, and to apply myself wholeheartedly to my work.

I was thrilled to be back in my professional field as a social worker. But it seemed my vibrancy was an affront to a couple burned-out and disillusioned people in my new workplace. It somehow made them want to become my detractors. They distrusted my positive spirit and questioned my intentions. They even did things that directly undermined my work. This is when the song Anyway took on a very personal meaning. It spoke a healing truth to me – helping me stay on track – despite the forces working against me.

I imagine many of you have been in situations in which, despite your best efforts, you were not embraced or accepted. Occasionally, life is like this. During these times we need to discover our strongest selves, and not just resort to what comes most easily – shrinking back.

Anyway is performed as a song by Suzzy and Maggie Roche on their CD Zero Church. There is a fascinating story behind it. Anyway was found posted on the wall next to Mother Teresa’s bed at her Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Calcutta after her death.

Mother Teresa was a humble nun whose vision was to extend dignity to the poorest of the poor in India. As her missions became successful and world famous, she faced many critics who questioned her goals and her motives.

I imagine the Anyway poem resonated with her, given what she faced and what she accomplished. Anyway has not only been an important credo for me since I came upon it years ago, I have played the song many times for others who were similarly touched. I have listened to it when I felt mistreated, misunderstood, or blocked in carrying out what I knew were good purposes. The message of the poem always renews a right spirit within me. At times, we all need regeneration. Even Mother Teresa needed that.

The song speaks about the power of forgiveness, kindness, and pursuing one’s purpose, despite the barriers the world throws in one’s way. It is easier and more natural to get even – to stick it to a person who has hurt you, when you have the chance to do so.

But there is a spiritual depth in rising above it, and not returning evil for evil. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals his head.” (Rom 12:20). I believe Forgiveness is the highest expression of a spiritual life. This song is about forgiveness. It also is clear about whom we answer to: God, not man.

Mother Teresa is known worldwide as an icon of compassion and tireless advocate for the poor, yet she secretly battled for years through a terrible dark night of the soul. She deeply questioned her faith, her value, and her purpose. Her letters to her superiors, which she never wanted published, reveal her interior life and painful spiritual journey, and the torment and disillusionment she endured. It was decided that her writings were too important to go unpublished, due to their capacity to reach people who struggle; and to provide them consolation and encouragement by revealing her internal struggles, even amidst a great and noble mission. They did that for me.

The book Mother Teresa; Come Be My Light, The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta was published on the tenth anniversary of her death. I read it and was deeply moved.

Consider this passage in which she asks of God, “What are you doing, my God, to one so small?” In a letter to her superior, Father Picachy she writes, “Thank God all went well yesterday, Sisters, children, the lepers and sick and our poor families have all been so happy and contented this year. A real Christmas.  Yet within me – nothing but darkness, conflict, loneliness so terrible …”

In another letter she writes to Father, “It has been so very hard. That terrible longing keeps growing – and I feel as if something will break in me one day – and then that darkness, that loneliness, that feeling of terrible aloneness. Heaven from every side is closed … gone is the love for anything and anybody. – and yet – I long for God.”

Another passage reads, “… Aloneness is so great – from within and from without I find no one to turn to. He has taken not only spiritual – but even the human help. I can speak to no one and even if I do – nothing enters my soul.– If there is hell – this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God – no prayer – no faith – no love.  The only thing that still remains – is the conviction that the work is His – that the Sisters and the Brothers are His. And I cling to this as the person having nothing clings to the straw – before drowning …”

Much of what she described in her letters sounds like a form of depression, but rather than impacting her like major depression, it was expressed in the spiritual realm.

I respect Mother Teresa’s humanitarianism even more, knowing the extent to which she suffered for years from utter desolation and self-doubt. She quietly carried a cross of interior darkness, yet never stopped doing her good work. Her goal was to bring light to those living in darkness, but when all seemed to be in place, she was faced with an internal darkness that became the greatest trial of her life. That trial ultimately fueled a fundamental aspect of her mission.

In the end, she understands that without her interior darkness, without knowing such a longing for love and the pain of being unloved, and without this radical identification with the poor, she would not have won over their trust and their hearts to the extent that she did.

Her darkness became her greatest blessing; her “deepest secret” was indeed her greatest gift. The depth and meaning of her mystical experience is portrayed in this book, and I recommend it.

I hope that, like Mother Teresa, despite how you feel at any given time, and despite what surrounds you …  you find the ability to forgive, be kind, succeed, be honest, build, be happy, do good, and give your best. Anyway.

 

A Great Ending

Have you ever been to a really good funeral? This may sound like a strange, even inappropriate question. However, a few days ago I went to the funeral of Dave, a wonderful 75 year-old man who was dearly loved by his family, friends, fellow church members, colleagues … and me.

It was one of the most powerful and spiritually enriching services I have ever experienced. There was a palpable sadness amongst the hundreds in attendance. But the diverse voices coming together to share his life narrative provided an astonishing testimonial to a life well lived. We all went away more in touch with what is most important. Few things deliver a message so piercingly clarifying as the funeral of a man of character.

Dave was a pilot, a surveyor, a father of two and was married to Linda for over 50 years. Although his life was marked by several tragedies, he remained steadfast in his faith in God, his relentless commitment to his loved ones, and his determination to achieve his goals. He said “yes” to God and to life, throughout his journey, regardless of the obstacles in his path. His life story was an illustration of the prophetic truth in John’s gospel, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” *

Pastor Paul officiated. He invited us to freely express what was in our hearts. “It is okay to cry today. It is okay to laugh today. We will lament; we will rejoice.  We will shake our fist at God and ask “why”; we will praise him for the life he gave his faithful servant.”

A rich tapestry was woven, reflecting the many colors of Dave’s life: sorrow, humor, tears, laughter, prayer, and a wealth of gorgeous music. And holding it all together was an intricate pattern of faith. This was the inspiration that I endeavored to take with me. Any complacent people amongst us were probably effectively agitated. For Dave’s was a life of purpose.

I went away pondering an important question: at my funeral, what do I want to be said of my life? Would I be remembered for my values? My actions? My relationships? My accomplishments? My failings? My work? My faith? What parts of my life have eternal significance, and for which of these things will I be remembered?

Dave’s purposeful life and incredible funeral reminded me of a central principle from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind. Covey teaches the power of creating a clear, compelling vision of what one’s life is all about, going so far as to define the destination. Having the destination clearly in mind affects every decision along the way.

Beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle of vision. It is vision that gives one the power and purpose to rise above the baggage and act based on what matters most. He suggests the value of creating a personal mission statement or credo. “It’s drafting the blueprint before constructing the building, writing the script before performing the play, creating the flight plan before taking off in the airplane.”**

As a pilot, Dave understood the value of a flight plan – in aviation and in life.

Creating your personal mission statement can help you be well and stay well. It supports a big picture perspective, preventing you from getting consumed with the small stuff – bogged down in the daily drudgery of life. Short-term setbacks are more easily tolerated and transcended when higher principles and long term goals are embraced.

Influenced by Covey and other management writers, I decided several years ago to write my vocational mission statement. I call it a “credo” which means a formula of belief. It helps me stay on the right track, like a compass pointing me in the right direction. It guides and corrects me in my daily life and work. As I recite, pray, and meditate on it, I am reconnected with the principles and goals that I stand for. My best days are the ones in which I remember it.

When I fall short, as I often do, I know that I am in need of some redirection, perhaps some self-care and renewal. Maybe I just need to play or rest, or take a day off. There are so many distractions and so much noise that can detract from what is most important. Petty conflicts, confining policies, excessive regulations, and obstructive bureaucracy can pose barriers to achieving my vision. The important thing is to not lose sight of it; to hold fast to what is good. I believe deeply in the verse, “without vision, the people perish.”

My credo reads:

Founded in purpose

Serving in joy

Mastery in performance

Here is what this means to me:

Founded in purpose:  There is an inspired purpose to the work I have chosen, and life is a continual process of uncovering and maintaining fidelity to it. It is to offer hope and healing, health and wellness, and improved quality of life to those who have suffered hurts and losses. It is about binding the wounds of the brokenhearted, offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty. Any pain I have overcome can fuel the passion I bring to help others overcome pain. It is focused on supporting the right of all people to have dignity, equal rights, and a chance for happiness. It is about striving to be Christ-like in my conduct.

Serving in joy: This means approaching this work with joy, making it fun and having a sense of humor. Remaining aware and engaged in each day is required. It involves an irreverence: not taking myself or the task at hand so seriously so as to miss out on the chance to laugh, and appreciate the absurdities and ironies that arise. It is keeping my sense of fun and valuing the pleasure that is possible if I pay attention with a playful spirit. There is a positive community spirit that arises when I value joy. When I make it fun, great things happen. Humans, both children and adults, need to play. It helps us enjoy each other and the task at hand. My middle name is literally “Joy”, and I strive to live up to my mother’s aspiration in giving me that name.

Mastery in performance:  This is about excellence. I value total quality improvement – knowing that more progress is always possible. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning, and not being afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. It involves being curious and bold, and willing to work hard at what matters most. As one of my favorite novelists George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

********

So, how will you plan for a great ending? What ways can you begin with the end in mind? With a bit of forethought and personal inquiry, you can steer yourself in the direction that you define as important. Consider writing your own credo. It may help you construct your life with greater quality. Someday, your story will be told. It is up to you to make it a marvelous story, one with a great ending.

 

*The Bible, New International Version, John 17:33

**Covey, Stephen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Golden Books, 1997.

Let Your Heart Be Broken

Nobody wants a broken heart – this is an organ we safeguard protectively. But as I sat in the pew recently at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, listening to a powerful challenge by Marilee Pierce Dunker, daughter of World Vision founder, Bob Pierce … I decided I was hearing the best advice I had heard in a long time. She urged us, “Let your heart be broken – by the things that break the heart of God.

As she spoke, I felt a stirring inside me, and thought, “What breaks both my heart and God’s? And what might this require of me?”

Marilee described growing up in the 1950’s, with a father who was heartbroken by the suffering of children in impoverished countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Somalia. He didn’t simply indulge a mournful compassion for them or feel satisfied after fervently praying for them. No … he put hands and feet on his prayers.

He made it his life work to create and administer a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting poverty and injustice – one that would eventually support the transformation of the lives of millions of children and communities in underdeveloped countries.

In the 60 years since its inception, World Vision’s work has prevented countless deaths from preventable causes such as hunger and treatable illnesses. In 2010, sponsors around the world cared for over 4 million children by providing sponsorships of children. These sponsorships provide basic necessities that help children achieve their potential by offering access to clean water, better nutrition and agricultural assistance, basic health care and immunization, school fees and materials, and economic development opportunities.

Not everyone can take on such an ambitious vision. But everyone has a heart, one that can be broken for the benefit of others. What cause, problem, or purpose is your heart breaking for? And what are you willing to do about it? As the famous African American preacher T. Garrot Benjamin is fond of saying, “Find out what makes you cry, and pursue it. This will be your life’s work.”

What makes you cry? What inspires your passion to get involved and engage in change to improve the lives of others? This is precisely the issue that will compel you to do whatever it takes to succeed and to overcome every barrier in your path. The world will then be a better place because you lived.

When you let your heart be broken … you care so deeply, commit so passionately, sacrifice so freely, and give so generously that anything is possible. Eventually, you improve the world around you, and equally important, you improve yourself.

You might be arguing, “But, I’m not that talented; I have real flaws.” When you allow yourself to be fueled with what I call “pit bull determination,” your inadequacies and weaknesses become irrelevant. You simply transcend them.

Consider Moses. An awkward man with a speech impediment, he asked of God, “Who am I . . . ?” Despite his exile and refugee status, Moses had something important to do, he accepted the challenge, and God equipped him.

It took me only a moment to answer Ms. Dunker’s question: What breaks my heart? My heart is broken by the suffering of people living with mental illness … especially when it results in suicide. Suicide surely breaks the heart of God. Depression is a treatable illness, and suicide can be prevented. Thousands of lives are cut short every year by suicide. More people die by suicide in the world every year (883,715) than by war, murder, and forces of nature combined (669,956). [Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Global Burden of Disease 2010].

I have been trapped in that dark and desolate place, believing there was no way out. Yet, by some miracle, I was blessed with recovery. In a chapter of my memoir on my experience with depression, I write about how in the short period since writing the book, my life has been touched by 3 suicides. Tragically, each time I go back to edit the manuscript, I have had to increase that number. After a mother of a 16-year old who hung himself on Thanksgiving presented at my office and shared her anguish with me, I had to change that number to 6. God’s heart is breaking. What am I willing to do?

Having gone through severe depression myself, I have found that this is an area that my own testimonial can be used to help others. Public speaking does not come easily for me; in fact I have struggled with public speaking anxiety for decades. But, despite that, and because I care about this issue so profoundly, I have found the courage to speak out on this subject.

I have a wonderful quote hanging in my office, “Speak your mind, even when your voice shakes.” I enlist this sound advice when I share my depression story to educate the public about mental illness and to help overcome the stigma associated with it. So what if my voice shakes? I have an important message, and though my struggle to speak eloquently humbles me, it won’t stop me. Is it difficult? Yes. Am I tempted to say, “Let someone else do it, someone who is more polished and poised?” Absolutely. But, when you feel a calling about something, you just do it. And somehow, every speech I have given  has gone surprisingly well.

This week was intense for me, and I am bone tired. But mine is the satisfying kind of tiredness – the result of worthwhile toil. I had two occasions to “speak my mind” and share my story of depression to reach out to people living with mental illness and the professionals who treat them. It was exhilarating to feel such an intimate connection with members of the audiences, and discover how deeply I was able to help them. Our shared stories, our united quest for dignity, and my  own triumph over depression provided hope and encouragement. It made me feel that my devastating illness had some redeeming value for others. In this, my long held prayer was answered, “Lord, let my life be a reflection of your power to restore the broken.”

Paradoxically, when I let my heart be broken, it is healed in the most powerful way.

Beware Your Shadow

The lyrics from a song by Imagine Dragons called out an eerie message from my iPod today, “It’s where my demons hide … don’t get too close.” This modern Indie tune was delving into an ancient mystery. Theologians, philosophers, poets, psychoanalysts, and biblical writers have long wrestled with the subject of humanity’s dark side.

While my blog is dedicated to advancing ideas for staying well and living a life of beauty, it is illuminating to have an honest exploration of the darker corners of human nature – for this may be the central paradox of man.

On this earth, we are not guaranteed a glowing, giddy Guideposts experience. Life is rarely like that. The old Sunday school song, “I’m in-right, out-right, upright, down-right happy all the time” never rang true. The world is filled with inexplicable pain and hardship. But even so, the prospect of transcending it remains. This truth led the biblical writer to proclaim “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”

This is the case not only societally, but in the heart of every person. We all have a shadow. And the more we hide it or deny it, the greater its counter-force on the part of ourselves we want to believe is “the real me.” The energy we spend repressing the shadow causes the pressure to build, threatening to blow the lid off of our idealized self-image and public persona.

An individual’s shadow side can also have a caustic impact on intimate relationships, especially marriage. In the early stage, when a couple is newly in love, they tend to only show their best self; the shadow is hidden, and the thrill of budding love makes the partner blind to the lurking shadow as well. Reflect on your own relationships and I think you will agree.

Doug and Naomi Moseley are therapists (married to each other) who wrote a fascinating book entitled The Shadow Side of Intimate Relationships.  The book suggests that our “shadow side” is made up of sub-personalities or inner characters. These characters often have a voice, feelings, urges, and thoughts that are incongruent with the way we perceive ourselves. The Moseley’s, with a decidedly Jungian bent, provide many illustrations. For example, often a man can be overall, especially on the surface, a “good boy.” He is sensitive, caring and loving. However, he may have a hidden shadow side that is steely and judgmental, with a callous disregard for others – one who would gladly subjugate everyone in sight.

Another classic example of a sub-personality presented by the Moseley’s is the “emotional child” – that part of the self that refuses to grow up emotionally. We all have this to some degree. The attitudes, expectations, fears, and coping strategies of a child still exist, yet we refuse to admit it, even, and especially when, another person points it out to us. When the emotional child takes over we withdraw, withhold, lack boundaries, control, become egocentric, put up walls and defenses, fail to fulfill commitments, and engage in power struggles. These are all childlike behaviors. Marital discord results when both partners operate from their emotional child and refuse to become aware of or change these destructive patterns. Intimacy becomes impossible; the relationship stagnates, and divorce is often the final result. Without deeper work, subsequent relationships are destined to produce the same outcome.

Shadow side aspects, when denied and repressed, get covered over or disguised in favor of masks – designed to present a more acceptable self. But behind the mask, we lack full awareness of who we are or what we feel; it is a false existence. For example, we pretend that we don’t have petty jealousies, self-centered motives, or vengeful fantasies. We buy into the grand self-deception that our weaknesses don’t exist. The control and stamina needed to keep the mask in place, always on guard to hide the parts we don’t want to show, can leave us numb and without genuineness, vitality, or passion.

Facing up to the reality of my shadow was critical for me in becoming the person I am today. In the aftermath of my depression eleven years ago, there were many parts of myself I needed to look at honestly and change. Anger is one example – uncomfortable with expressing it, hating to contend with the conflict it was bound to stir up, and seeing it as incompatible with my nice girl persona, I stuffed it.

Depression is often described as “anger turned inward.” I discovered that I was much healthier when I let my emotions flow (even the agonizing ones) rather than clamping down on them. Now when I am mad as hell, I admit it, express it appropriately, and move on. For me, this has been an ongoing process of growth and self-discovery.

The notion of the shadow is compatible with a biblical view of human nature: namely that we are simultaneously saints and sinners, created good, but with an undeniable capacity for bad. This failure to be what we want to be, and even perceive ourselves to be, is described in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Judeo-Christian theology argues that we are a precious but fallen humanity. Overall, we can be competent, well-developed, fine human beings, but parts of us, often the hidden parts, are highly problematic and in need of attention. Light must shine on these dark places to expose them. Only then can they be repaired.

Regardless of your religious, psychological, or philosophical orientation, I would argue that your life will be enhanced if you beware of your shadow, and look upon it with clear eyes and courage. Only then can you work on these parts and mature into a fully developed person … infinitely more capable of having satisfying intimate relationships. The process can be daunting, but in my experience, as you advance, it becomes exciting and terrifically liberating.

I believe God is our greatest source of help in this challenge. With sustained effort, we become more likely to achieve our potential, and develop the quality relationships that we desire. We are then able to fulfill our purpose, and be the creatures we were intended to be.

 

Create for Life

We were born to create. The creative drive – to make something out of nothing from our own sustained effort and imagination – is woven into the fiber of our being. If we accept the axiom of God as creator, and that we are made in His image, then we too are creators!

This goes beyond our most fundamental instinct: to perpetuate our species through procreation. We create because it nourishes us, sustains us, motivates us, heals us, defines us, and connects us to each other and to God.  Through creative expression we begin to understand both our selves and our world.

How is this done? I prefer a broad definition of creativity: any form of self-expression. While for many people avenues such as music, art, or writing are the most satisfying, there are countless other methods of creating that are readily available and deeply satisfying. And they are all fueled by artistic vision.

Think about what gives you joy, wonder, and a sense of accomplishment. You undoubtedly apply creative energy in these activities.

My father loves anything with an engine, and he has always used his creativity to build motorized contraptions beyond the wide-eyed comprehension of people around him. My mother created through gardening, fashioning the most beautiful rock garden in our neighborhood – the envy of the neighbor ladies and her fellow rock garden club members. My son writes poetry – deep and enigmatic, the kind his parents struggle to understand. His professors applaud and say “he has an old soul.” My daughter can write with humor, whimsy, and originality. Her unique way of seeing is evident in her insightful stories. My husband can craft a sermon with theology, language, illustrations, and oratorical flourish that make craggy old men cry. What an inventive preacher!

Despite my conventional appearance I am a “right brain” person who approaches my work with a distinct “differentness.” My leadership style has been described as “thinking outside the box.” What strengthens this method is my proclivity to embrace my creative flow. I am in love with my work  when I am so engaged that I forget about time. It is exciting and energizing to create something new. This makes every day unique, and fuels me through the unavoidable minutiae of community mental health services.

But matters as simple as playing with a child, telling a joke, cooking a meal, or decorating a room can invite creative expression. How about choosing one’s clothes in the morning? Artistic considerations are made with each decision about color, design, shape, form, and texture. Every mood can inspire a new pairing of clothes and accessories. The possibilities are endless … especially if you have a closet as jam-packed as mine!

I recently spent a year writing my memoir about my experience with major depression. This was the most sustained creative process I have ever engaged in. Now finished, I miss the discovery and delight that come from taking facts and turning them into beauty. The creative challenge of selecting a structure, images, symbols, metaphors, syntax, and meaning behind my story was like formulating my own universe. I can imagine the otherworldly transcendence that fiction writers must feel. Writing this blog provides some of that same satisfaction.

Creativity is a natural way of life and it can be a spiritual practice. I learned about this in the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her work involves a self-discovery and renewal process to recover one’s creative vision. Ms. Cameron works with people interested in practicing the art of creative living. She teaches tools that dissolve blocks to creative capacities. She helps people develop and maintain their creativity regardless of their vocation: artists, painters, filmmakers, homemakers, lawyers, social workers … anyone.

One of her key disciplines is the practice of the “morning pages.” This involves starting the day writing three longhand pages, strictly stream-of-consciousness. It is designed to be a form of “brain drain;” there is no wrong way to do morning pages. They are not meant to be art, or even writing. Morning pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, silly, stupid, or weird to be included. The goal is to evade the censor; there are no mistakes in writing morning pages. The logic brain must stand aside and let the artist brain play. It is the triumph of the right-brain over the left-brain.

Several years ago something powerful happened while I was doing my morning pages. I became aware of an area of my life that needed to change, and I suddenly had the clarity and imagination to envision it. A creative and emotional block was powerfully removed. And then it was inevitable; I just did it. Consequently, my life has been much richer. (The specific tale is one for another blog post). I am so glad that I opened myself up to the creative process of the morning pages.

In support of being well and staying well, I urge you: explore many avenues for creativity. Embrace them vigorously and consistently. You will find your life enriched, and you will arrive in places you would have never imagined. Create for life.

“I want to live like a river flows … carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

 -John O-Donahue, Irish poet and priest

 

 

 

 

The Mind and Body Benefits of Yoga

For years I have heard about the benefits of yoga and have intended to give it a try. But I never seemed to get around to it. About a year ago that changed. I attended a yoga class and was astounded at how great I felt – both during the class and afterward. The results were immediate and powerful. Now I am committed to doing yoga 1-3 times per week. How did I move from contemplating to taking action?

At the time, I was reading a terrific book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. It gave me a better understanding of how habits shape our lives and how we can shape our habits. Specifically, it helped me look at the habit loop of “cues”, “routines”, and “rewards.” Soon I was making a number of changes to enhance my quality of life. I initiated new routines to produce different rewards. Starting yoga was one of them.

My lifelong habit of running daily had produced many good mind and body results. But I suspected yoga would be a great counter-balance to my somewhat stale workout routine. Armed with some new ways of thinking from Duhigg, I was ready to move forward on my goal of trying yoga.

Soon I went to a yoga class. I found it both calming and energizing. It was a fine physical workout, but it also helped me feel centered and attuned to my breathing. The focus on balance and core strength was terrific. Over the course of a few sessions, I felt longer, leaner, and less tense. Over time, I seemed more connected with my body and regulated in my emotions.

In yoga class we do a combination of stretching, relaxation, strength exercises (especially abdominals), and balance work through holding poses. Gentle music plays in the background while the instructor guides us to breath slowly, concentrate intently, progress at our own pace, and challenge ourselves with the poses.

At the end of the class during the final meditation, I was surprised by the emotional release. It was cathartic. Despite the concern of some conservative Christians, there was no Buddhist spiritual agenda. I lifted up my own simple prayers befitting my personal religious beliefs. I must have expelled whatever negative energy my body had been holding. I felt light and limber – simultaneously free and connected.

I was brimming with physical strength, mental clarity, and spiritual vibrancy. It was so gratifying and restorative that I have stuck with it. Now yoga is one of my favorite personal wellness practices. I love what it does for me.

The benefits of Yoga have been well substantiated for a wide range of health issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, chronic pain, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and many others. Consider the following articles:

1)   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/01/12/scientific-basis-for-yoga-benefits/10693.html

2)   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004

3)  Jan 1, 2013 – Evidence Based Medical Benefits of Yoga,. Indian Journal of Science, 2013, 2(3), 1-4,                                        www.discovery.org.in http://www.discovery.org.in/ijs.htm 

I encourage you to try yoga. Take a class at your local gym or look up “Yoga Classes” on YouTube and practice it at home. If you are like me, your mind, body, and spirit will soar. That’s what I call wellness.