Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coming to My Senses With the Eyes of Gratitude

At church today, we sang the lovely, old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth. The second stanza includes the phrase, "For the joy of ear and eye." As we sang those lyrics, I thought of how blessed I am to have the ability to enjoy my life through my senses. 

Last summer, an insect stung my left temple near my eye. While it hurt and a bump quickly formed, it wasn't until the next morning that I really knew the extent of the sting's impact. I awoke to my eye being swollen and discolored and the upper and lower lids precariously close to being completely shut. The swelling had affected my peripheral vision, so I didn't want to risk driving. My husband took me to the various stops that had been on my to-do list that day, including a media interview where, thankfully, I was on the radio and not television.

My eye healed quickly with the help of compresses and antihistamines. The experience, however, left its impact as I contemplated just how precious my eyesight is to me. I take daily walks during the three temperate seasons. Much of the enjoyment of my walk is taking in the sights of nature around me. I enjoy watching the nuances of the changing seasons, from the eruption of early spring wildflowers to the brilliant autumn color. What would I do if I couldn't enjoy that experience because my eyesight had been taken away from me?

Then, a few weeks later, I heard our pastor tell of a woman who lived long ago and who became blind at age eight. Rather than considering her lack of eyesight a detriment, disaster or disability, she found blessing in it and she didn't let it rob her of opportunities to write hymns, give speeches and accomplish much in the 95 years she would eventually live. 

Hearing that story made me come to my senses, so to speak. I was reminded that everything -- even the difficult things -- in our life can be blessings if we choose to see them that way.

Now, as I express among my blessings my gratitude for being able to see, I also am thankful for being able to hear, for my senses of taste and smell, and for my ability to touch, feel and give voice to those blessings.

As we enter into that time of the year when we express our gratitude and love for those around us and bestow them with gifts, I want to remember to be grateful for the everyday things I likely take for granted, such as being able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. And I will strive to find ways to use the miraculous blessings of my five senses to the best of my ability.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sharing the Sacred Gifts of Grace and Wisdom

One recent Sunday, I had the opportunity to sit in the church pew between two women I greatly respect and admire. Both women are elegant, understated, humble, independent, strong and generous. Each is in her 90s.
I knew the moment I sat down in the pew between them that I was about to experience something special. I wanted to remain present for the entire hour and soak up every moment. There were admittedly a few times during the service when I looked over at each of them with awe and appreciation, trying not to stare or look silly. Just being with them made me smile, all the while tears welling up in my eyes.
You see, I have known each of these women for nearly all of my life. They were friends of my late mother's, so the connection to them runs deep. Each of them has survived much during her years. Each has had her share of joys and sorrows, accomplishments and losses. 
Through their life experiences, these amazing women have become resilient and wise. They have become pragmatic and accepting of what comes their way, no matter how challenging or difficult. They radiate serenity and a knowing. Just being with them makes me feel more centered and calm.
I have always enjoyed being with older people, beginning when I was just a little girl of five or six. Whenever we visited my maternal grandparents, I would also spend time with an older couple who were their next-door neighbors. I always walked away from my conversations with Mr. and Mrs. Crawford feeling as if I had been given precious gifts from them--their time, their attention and their wisdom.
In later years, I had the occasion to hear two older gentlemen share their stories. It was a special evening as the two men recounted their adventures. They had me spellbound. Once again, I felt I was in the midst of a sacred moment, one I didn't want to end. It wasn't too long after that evening when both gentlemen became ill and their ability to share their stories diminished.
As I reflect on those special moments with important elders in my life, I realize that I want to enjoy more such moments. I made the decision that day in the church pew to actively schedule more time with those outside of my age group, especially those who are older than I. 
Older people have so much to offer. They should never be dismissed or disregarded. They deserve our respect and attention. The more time we spend with our elders, the more we learn. And the more we learn, the better people we become. 
As I grow older and reflect on the years I hopefully will have in front of me, I will strive to gain the type of grace, wisdom, faith and acceptance that my two lovely friends exemplify. 
As a society, I hope that we will focus not only on youth and its energy and innovative thinking, but also on those who reside at the other end of the age spectrum--those who have knowledge and wisdom to offer us as a result of long lives filled with experience. When I reach across the years to actively engage an older person and hear his or her stories and wise words, I leave the encounter richer. 
Someday, we'll hopefully become those respected elders ourselves and have the opportunity to pass along our own knowledge, wisdom and stories to the next generations. Hopefully, those next generations will feel the richer for the experience, too.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Weeping for the Willow

     The unofficial end of summer is upon us. It's Labor Day weekend and I'm sad. I'm okay with the change of season. I'm sad because my old friend, a large weeping willow tree in a neighboring yard, is gone. 
     Sadly, the tree succumbed to a storm a couple of months ago. Its tall, stately body fell as gracefully as it could, held by the smaller trees around it so as not to crash on a nearby roof. 
     I weep for my old friend, the willow, because it faithfully provided me with signs of the changing seasons. It was particularly hopeful in early spring. The willow, with its lush, curving branches, would be the first to wear that subtle yellow-green shade. I counted on it to show me that spring was coming, even during a late winter snowstorm. 
     We had three large weeping willow trees in our yard when I was growing up. They were messy, with shedding limbs and leaves at inopportune times, but I loved them anyway. There was a grace to those willows. I loved to watch them sway in the breeze, their tender branches moving as if they were dancing. I wanted to call my family's rural property The Willows out of respect to our three lovely trees. I also liked the name because I was just becoming familiar with British cozy murder mysteries and all of the rural estates had names like The Willows.
     Always practical, our willows provided wonderful shade on hot days. Their expansive canopies with long curving branches made for cool, comforting umbrellas under which to sit during our pre-central air conditioning years. 
     They also fed my imagination and became props for my little-girl whims. On one childhood play day, their slender branches were easily snapped off to become long tails when a friend and I decided we wanted to pretend we were horses.
     As I gaze at the landscape today, the trees are still lush, green, and full, but there is a gap that will never be filled in the same way now that the large and lovely weeping willow is gone. I'll have other ways to identify the change of seasons, but the willow will no longer be there in its subtle, stately beauty to reassure me that spring is coming. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Renewing, Refreshing Walking in the Rain

     I love to walk in the rain. A gentle rain offers time for walking in solitude, quiet and reflection. So long as it isn't storming, walking in the rain can be restorative, healing and even enjoyable.
     It's a good thing that my husband Larry and I are drip-dry. On the second of our two walks one summer day, the sky became restless and we encountered a thunderstorm while on a local river walk. We tested our agility and speed, and dashed through the raindrops to the shelter of a building overhang until the storm passed. We stood in the protection of that dry spot for several minutes and watched the sky in all of its magnificence. Neither one of us minded being damp. We knew we'd eventually dry off. There was something lovely about just having to stand still, shoulder to shoulder, and watch for signs from the sky.
     The storm rumbled and moved quickly overhead, with sunny skies rapidly behind it. Once the rain stopped, we set out again to finish our walk. As we headed eastward, the sun touching our shoulders and the birds erupting into song, we breathed in the fresh scents of recent rain and walked toward a rainbow.
     That summer day's experience represented a metaphor for life: We will all encounter storms, some of which will be just gentle rain and others cataclysmic events with hail and lightning. We may choose to move quickly, to seek shelter, to wait it out. At other times, we might get wet. If we look at the storm as a fact of life and choose to live in the moment with gratitude, eventually the storm will pass. When it does, we will once again find the sunshine on our shoulder, the birds singing, the air fresh and new, and a rainbow overhead guiding us on.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ah, July!

     Those of us who live in the northern climes wait for what seems like forever for summer to make its presence known. And now it's here! July has arrived and with it, the long, warm, sunny days we've been dreaming about -- a welcome feeling for those of us who tenaciously hang onto the previous summer's memory and crave July's sunshiny, sultry days, all while we wallow through winter's long, cold, snowy, dark months -- shivering along the way.
     In July, the air is fresh, sweet and warm, bordering on hot. The locally grown produce is delicious and plentiful. There is nothing like a homegrown tomato or watermelon! The sun comes up early in the day and hangs on late into the evening. It's a time for shorts, sandals and sleeveless tops, with the occasional summer-weight sweater just in case the temperatures dip at night.
     July is the month of vacations, whether a week-long road trip or a one-tank getaway just for the day. July is Independence Day picnicking time, county fair cotton candy time, summer splash-in-the-pool time, outdoor concert time, sparkly starry skies time, hang out in the hammock time, garden overflowing time. Who doesn't love the bountiful gifts of July?
     As evidenced by this post, I am one who loves warmth and sunlight. My perfect day would be 75 degrees and sunny, with just a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes away and the skin cool to the touch. Now that July is here, I want to savor every moment of it, breathing it in slowly and spending it judiciously. That means being outdoors as much as possible.
     Each day is a blessing no matter the month of year, but July is a bright month filled with days we'll recall with a longing smile and cherish all winter long. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Listen to the Wind

I was in search of an answer, so I cast my question out into the universe. While taking a walk later that day, the answer came, a mystifying "Listen to the wind." What? Listen to the wind? What did it mean to listen to the wind? Perplexed by this mysterious message, I researched it online and found it was the first phrase in a Native American proverb: "Listen to the wind, it talks. Listen to the silence, it speaks. Listen to your heart, it knows." With each subsequent walk, I started out by saying the proverb and then I intentionally silenced the incessant and often unhelpful chatter in my head. I allowed the wind to talk to me. At about the same time, I started finding heart-shaped stones in my path. I felt as if the Native American proverb's wise words were being directed at me. I was becoming quiet so the silence could speak to me. I was listening to the wind so it could talk to me. I was finding heart stones so I could know what was deep in my own heart. Listening to the wind has become a regular activity ever since that day when I received the message to do so. I haven't talked about it much with others, so it came as a surprise when, recently, our 85-year-old neighbor said she likes to listen to the wind. We were deep in conversation about the magnificent eruption of spring, from the fragrances of the season to the song of the birds to the beauty of the early spring wildflowers blooming in the woods next to her home. As one well attuned to nature's subtleties, my neighbor knows to listen to the wind. It does talk, if we make the time to become calm, silence our internal chatter and put our hearts in a place of attention and intention. Then, and only then, will we hear the wisdom of the wind. Listen. It talks.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's Time to See the Light - In Each Other

     I realize I've been carrying a heavy load of stress over the past months and I'm ready to shed it. You can't live with heavy burdens for too long before they weigh you down miserably. I've been stressing about the increasing divisiveness in our country and our world, with people pitted against each other over race, ideology, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation. I see it played out in news reports. I see it played out in business. I see it played out in families, among friends. I even see it played out in my own church denomination. I am ready to see the light.
     How did we get here to this growing chasm of insecurity, anger, bitterness, judgment, hostility and, with increasing frequency, violence? Where did we get so afraid of our changing world? Surely, change is happening quickly, but with that change is an opportunity for us to change, too. We have the ability to replace our fear with curiosity, our rancor with understanding, our hatred with love, our darkest feelings with the light of kindness.
     We don't live in a sanitized world where we are only with those who are exactly like us. It's impossible. We all have our own experiences and values that form us into the people we are. As much as we might like to live in a 1950's sitcom-kind of world where everything was perfect and squeaky clean, the ending was always happy, Dad came home with his tie and briefcase and Mom was polished wearing her best dress and apron, such is not life. 
     So that means we need to change in order to live in the world that actually exists. I believe we all carry the light of God in us and that we are called to seek out that light in others, never to diminish or suppress it. We are called to look at our differences with new eyes and see instead those things that are common to us. 
     Nothing good comes from a place of profound fear. That is where worry and anger are housed. It is there where the seeds of hatred are sown. It is there where we form a mindset of scarcity. It is there where we see differences instead of commonalities. 
     We are blessed, truly blessed to live in a world that is rich with the complexities of its fabric. The next time I'm heading down a path of judgment toward someone, I intend to stop myself, breathe and then look deeply to find the light in that other person. Only when we allow ourselves to see that light in another and then seek common ground, will that light truly be reflected back to us.