Thursday, 1 November 2012

Monday, 29 October 2012

Where is the white space?

We’ve all heard the “busy excuse” – and we know that North Americans constantly use busy-ness as a badge of honour.

I don't know why time is so slippery. Today I had intended to carefully read a friend’s paper while waiting for an appointment. An old friend came over and animatedly talked at me for 30 minutes. He needed to get that stuff out I guess, and it was terrific to see him, but the conversation played havoc with my planning.

Maybe I need to plan to do a little less. 

White space – the idea of being rather than doing. More and more science is showing how necessary white space is for learning and in particular, for creativity.

In theory, I’m all for it. In practice, the worst thing I can think of is a day with only the input of my own brain (no books or podcasts or music or…).

TRUTH moment today: if I DO less I may feel like I AM less.

So how do I (does anyone) move from doing to being when our culture constantly reinforces and applauds action over reflection?

I’ve been challenged to take 5 minutes twice a day for a meditation exercise. Challenged – heck, I was DARED. And I am daring.

But I only promised to aim for once a day. I will “be” for 5 minutes. 

It’s a start.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Disclaimer: I don't put stickers proclaiming my faith on my car because I don't always drive in a manner befitting my ideals. Writing this post feels like a bumper sticker.

This is a post I’ve been struggling to write – not sure I've articulated it completely, but hang in there – I have a number of puzzle pieces to identify before I get to the point…

Some time after I told Aslan (yes, of Narnia) that if he were real, I would love him, I understood that I was a “Christian”, a follower of Jesus. He came to proclaim the end of religion, rules, and rituals that masquerade as faith. This is hard for me because I am a first born, and generally find myself to be a rule-follower. I like it when I know the rules because life seems less chaotic and easier to navigate (as when everyone drives on the same side of the road!)

Christians (love ‘em or hate ‘em) are no different than any other group. ‘We’ (yes, we) are sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but always like to think ‘we’ are right. I don’t think that makes us much different than most. As with other groups, ‘we’ have terrible blind spots, a hard, hard truth. ‘We’ don’t much like people who are different from us. Back in the middle ages, ‘our’ blind spots led to the Crusades. More recently, blindness permitted the Holocaust. Sometimes, ‘we’ find ourselves on both sides of conflict as during the Irish Troubles and other wars. ‘We’ love to believe ‘we’ are on God’s side. We forget that Jesus willingly gave his life up for ours.

I’m no judge and I hope to avoid jury duty forever. What I DO know is that when I see a stranger, I could be more in favour of judgement. This changes when the individual is up close and personal. I am more likely to allow my friends and those I already know room to breathe and to be. If I have glimpsed their heart, it's easier to love.

Here, finally, is my point: Jesus sees us all as his friend and loves us already. My heart swells to almost bursting when I think that he loves me fully, wildly, crazily, and amazingly completely. Despite my lack of faith, action, understanding, or hope, he continues to open his heart to me. I am graced with love.

This love extends to us all. Every one of us. My insides are full of ugly moments and thoughts, yet Jesus loves me completely. Does he want me to get better at love? Certainly (so do I). Does he want you to get better at love? You bet he does. And he continues to love us through these struggles completely, gracefully, and wholeheartedly.

So I choose to [try] not to judge. There seem to be more than enough volunteers to judge others for [fill in the blank]. Daily I struggle to work on love and being a bridge to the best love ever. I’ve already failed THAT test. I’m not saying I like everyone, because most frightening to me, we are called to love the contemporary crusaders too. In fact, I fail miserably on all counts and will continue to fail. While 'we' have a history of being lousy (if enthusiastic) judges and juries, with repeated effort perhaps we all just might get pretty good at offering kindness, sharing hope, and cherishing every one who crosses our path as if they were our friend. 


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Gosh I love it when that happens

And then, someone says something nice and the whole day changes.

Gosh I love it when that happens. 

My funk of a day has included my still numb forefinger and thumb, a hurryandslice that sandwich flap on the other forefinger that is still oozing 16 hours post-cut, frantic emails, PowerPoints,  documents, difficult interactions and planning. 

And oh, did I mention that youngster and her fiancé have decided on a little over 4 months to the wedding? (I LOVE! that they are in love and getting married, but I’m a planner and the timing seems a tad challenging).

We cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. Worse, in my mind, is the fact that we can only love others as MUCH as we love ourselves first. I didn’t believe it until Brene Brown detailed the following in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”. There is a quote about women with addictions who love their children more than themselves, but still damage their bodies and destroy their lives. They believe their children are loveable but they are not. Yet how is loving their children expressed in hurting themselves – it hurts the children too…

Yep, this is a little all over the place. Believing in my own worthiness is a daily battle. When life “isn’t going my way”, I think it’s me and all I need to do is plan better, work harder and (gulp) get up earlier. I MUST do my daily 3 gratitudes, journal  a thankful memory,  affirm someone else, and (gulp) exercise. Wait. I forgot one... aargh! Add improve aging memory to that list!!

Then a joke and a smile and life is easier again. Gosh I love it when that happens.

Here's thankfulness from my morning:

Monday, 1 October 2012

You make your own luck? Really?

You make your own luck.

When I heard that saying as a teen, I was totally ticked off. It was so obviously bull****. In my experience, every time I went to a new school (only 13 of them), I wondered how those un-bullied kids “made” their own luck. It seemed obvious that as my parents made capricious (to me) decisions about where to move next, I was at the mercy of the system… the location, the school administration, the local bully. I was tiny, young among my grade peers, and… new. Fresh meat. Many bruises, one concussion, and all those wounded feelings (now currently protected by ballistic resistant armour) were the result. Little wonder that at 17 I was out and on my own, with a certain and tough exterior.

If you read the current literature on happiness or resilience or even on gratitude (which leads to happiness and resilience), it becomes clear even to this foggy brain that happiness has little (or nothing) to do with circumstances, and everything to do with attitude. We are often powerless to change the events; the only power we have is how we will respond. This is a sneaky power, and a little like trying to start a fire at a wet campsite: for the power to spring into full action it needs attention, careful feeding of fuel, a wisp of breath (but not too much) before it can spring into flame.

I choose to find happiness from here on in. I can’t change my circumstances, but oh heck, I can choose my response, and my choice is to find happiness in all situations. I know I’m gonna fail some days, that’s okay. While failure is an option, it’s not a sentence handed down by a judge. From here on in, I’m going to make my own luck. Hallelujah!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

To be really happy...

“To be really happy and really safe,
one ought to have at least two or three hobbies,
and they must all be real.” - - Winston Churchill

Yep – from the Gratitude calendar. This hit home hard – I brought this paper home too, and it’s on my computer monitor so I can’t forget. I don’t really indulge in any hobbies, although I dabble in many. I’m in trouble…

One evening last spring we went to see a friend’s band play at a local blues club. It was an interesting evening with energetic music and an audience that obviously enjoyed themselves listening and moving to the music.

This friend’s musicianship is obvious to anyone who sees him play – a terrific mixture of skill and talent that communicates to those of us listening. It was so much fun to hear him play again after a fairly long hiatus. At a break he was telling us how much he enjoyed this part-time avocation. Daytime finds him occupied in an office tower, but evenings and weekends he is back to playing music. His eyes positively shone as he said this return to playing meant it felt like the sun shone brighter, colours were more intense, and food tasted better. “I know that’s not true”, he said, “but that’s what it feels like”.

In the documentary on stress, a scientist discusses how stressed monkeys brains are low on dopamine… while monkeys with less stress have brains that “light up” with dopamine. For those with less dopamine receptors, the sun does not shine as brightly, the grass is not as green, food doesn’t taste as good. (I was a little freaked out to hear almost exactly the same language from the scientist as from my musician friend).

Damn it friend, it IS TRUE. When we doing what we are created to do or being who we are created to be, the sun SHINES brighter, the grass is GREENER, and food TASTES better.

While on vacation touring wineries in Oregon in August, I came upon a book in an antique store that I HAD to purchase … by Winston Churchill. The quote from above is on page 2. I bought it and I am working on walking that path towards the brighter sun.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Stress can kill, gratitude can heal

I’m dying. Before leaping to conclusions, understand that so are you: you are dying. We all are. But some of us are dying faster.

A National Geographic documentary was shown at work today, sponsored by our film committee. The film covers the advancing understanding of how experiences affect us at our deepest levels – not only deep in our personal understanding but deeper still… to our cells, and genes, and telomeres! 

Full disclosure: We only saw the first ¾ of the film today, and tomorrow we see the part about how to combat stress. After all we ALL experience stress. It’s just that our society generates an atmosphere where stress thrives, and the “deep end of the gene pool” is full of those who will discover the antidotes to the negative effects of stress.

I was fortunate to be born into a family with fewer than normal health issues. But alcoholism casts a long shadow over my family – and it has had profound effects on me, and subsequently on our kids, even though the effects are muted through the generations.

I am truly grateful that both my parents had the strength to stop the worst of the behaviours of alcoholism: my brother and I were never exposed to drunken rages or abuse. But my parents had suffered, and that suffering, being children of alcoholics (CoAs), led to maladaptive responses. This is well documented in the literature on CoAs. I admire my parent's ability to start the change, and recognize my responsibility to continue that walk away from the harshness of alcoholic behaviour.

That all being said, as a CoA myself, my personal history is largely coloured by fear and stress. Anxiety attacks are common. Damn. Stress. Kills.

There are ways to deal with stress. Which brings me straight back to Gratitude. My next posts will be on three resources that have been enormously influential for me in the past year:
The book "One Thousand Gifts" Ann Voskamp challenges us to find and recognize moments of blessing.
Shawn Achor's TED Talk on happiness (his book is even better than the TED talk, but it gives you a great taste)
Brene Brown's amazing work on shame and resilience in the book "The Gifts of Imperfection". Brene’s book on wholehearted living is the only non-fiction book I have read more than twice. (I might be on my 4th or 5th read, all the more to understand and embed the principles into my life).

I add them here for your interest and elucidation. Click on one at least!

Sunday, 16 September 2012


“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” (Wesley, in the Princess Bride).

Like everyone else I know, I hate pain. Last night as I lay down, my right shoulder stiffness developed into outright discomfort (that’s what nurses call “pain”). It lances from the neck all the way to my forearm. After decades with varieties of back pain resulting from the intentional release of the seat belt that had saved my life, this is new. (Side note: when the car flipped into the snowy Saskatchewan ditch I shut off the ignition intending to exit the car. I’ve always used seatbelts, and I automatically hit the disconnect latch - and promptly fell on my head; we were still upside-down.)

But this is new. I’m not really sure how to cope with it since some movements which logic tells me should be awful, are fine, and others (leaning forward, for instance) are excruciating. Weird. (Second side note for all those who endure nurse nagging from me: yes I’m calling the physiotherapy office as soon as they open tomorrow – at seven A.M.).

In church this morning the question was asked – why does God allow pain? Fortunately the question wasn’t answered. If they’d been able to provide an answer in 30 minutes, I don’t think it would have been valid. No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room: we all endure pain to some level at some time, and it's often "not fair".

I forget as easily as anyone else that pain is a gift. Without pain, I would continue to injure my stressed neck/shoulder.  Pain reminds me that there ARE limitations, and choices to be made.  Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey wrote on this in “The Gift of Pain”. If small pains are ignored (think the rub of a shoe on a heel), they can lead to injury (blister). Pain can be that gentle or severe reminder that something must change. So while I wait for my physio to (hopefully) make the alignment change to fix this current issue, I can think about other places where pain whispers into my life. I’m not quite prepared to be fully thankful for pain, but I am grateful for the opportunity to be reminded… 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Thoreau speaks

Last Christmas I received a daily page calendar... called "Gratitude". 

That was only a little ironic, as the concept of gratitude was clearly (to me) the theme for the year. (I find my God is a god of irony). I took the calendar to work and was pretty sure there would be many platitudes that would be recycled quickly and literally. And there have been.

But there have been a few deep and surprising moments. The most recent was a quote from Henry David Thoreau: 

"Live in each season as it passes;
breathe the air, drink the drink,
taste the fruit, and resign yourself
to the influences of each."

I couldn't find it in myself to toss the page into my recycling, so I brought it home. 

After a few days (still unable to recycle the paper), I posted it on Facebook in my status. The next day, a blogger that I follow 'religiously' (she'd love that pun) posted the SAME quote and spoke eloquently about her own reaction to Thoreau's words. Okay, I thought... I'm listening, God. 

On the face of it, there is something to learn. But in the middle and under it, there is much more to learn. I'm listening.

I've been looking out at the mid-September trees and worrying that some where turning brown leaved rather than golden (this happened a couple years ago and was entirely depressing). Meditating on the quote, I started just being thankful for green leaves.

I'm not the sort that sees meaning in every corner. Sometimes a sign is just a pizza. But sometimes, a sign is a signal, a breadcrumb, an encouragement to continue down the path. So I'm listening. And the leaves are... turning to gold.