Finding our way

I’ve been trying to make sense of the events of the last few weeks. Well, some of the events of the last few weeks. There have been so many!

If your head is spinning too, it may help to remember that in just two weeks we have gone from the ugliness, hatred and division of the events in Charlottesville to the ugliness (floods are nasty), love and unity of the events in Houston. From August 12 to August 26, two long weeks, we have seen the worst of this country’s underbelly and the best of its heart. We are both.

But it is focusing on those hearts that has me feeling more grounded. It is hearing of and seeing the hearts of the men and women who, to the best of their abilities, are responding with whatever is needed in the rescue of SE Texas. It is the sixty Houston Zoo employees who have stayed at the zoo since the rain began to make sure all of the animals remain fed and safe.  It is neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger; of people opening their homes, their businesses, their hearts to each other. That’s who I believe we are. Or at least who we want to be. It is who I want to be.

In all of those search and rescue stories there are no doubt conservatives helping, even saving, liberals. There are also liberals helping and saving conservatives. There are people helping each other who would disagree on many things, but they agree on one of the most important, which is, “You are worthy of saving.” I doubt any of the things that divide us, such as political affiliation, ever comes up. I hope not. My hope is, at that moment, at these moments, we only see each other as fellow human beings – with hearts that beat in both. There are, and I hope continue to be, beautiful stories of helping each other rise from the disaster in Texas. Although it doesn’t make up for the loss and hardship, it does help remind us that we are all worth saving.

The images of a battalion of volunteers taking to the water to rescue people, the stories of people reaching out to each other, friend and stranger alike, reminds me of the quote by Ram Dass – “We’re all just walking each other home.” And, in this instance, trying to save each other’s ass from rain that only Noah has likely seen before. But, yes, we are here to help walk each other home – as well as through a storm.

And Charlottesville was also a storm through which we must find safe passage and solid footing once again. The horror of those events, and aftermath, unleashed an ugliness and hatred that feels toxic – like thick smog. All of that rage and hate is still a dis-ease in us. We need to address what hate and racism looks like in this country. Then we need to decide what we want to do about it.

For now, as heartbroken as I feel about what is happening to the people in Texas, the way the best of our hearts is responding, indicates although there is still a lot of work to do, there is a lot for which that work is worth doing.

It feels good, doesn’t it, like a breath of fresh air, to be reminded of what is kind and good about us? Unfortunately, it took a horrendous natural disaster resulting in great loss and suffering for us to be reminded of it. Sometimes we are just not good learners. Let’s hope the images of both storms help us finally learn what’s really important and find a way to higher ground.

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Calling all Helpers

As I write this, the images of people in Texas and Louisiana fleeing their homes with little more than they can carry breaks my heart and triggers vivid memories of the floodwaters I escaped in 2005.

I know the depth of gratitude felt when, soaked to the bone and in a state of scared shock; a boat finally arrives to take you to safety. I also know the enormity of sadness and loss you feel when, from that boat, you look back at your home with several feet of water running through it and, with nowhere else to go, wonder how you will ever recover.

I was fortunate to have an army of friends who responded quickly and kept responding for weeks afterwards. I wouldn’t have made it without my Helpers, and I see the Helpers in Texas and Louisiana working diligently in rescue after rescue and that gives me hope, but now is the time we must all become Helpers. The people affected by this flooding can get through this, but they need us and will continue to for a very long time.

The floodwaters that ran through my house receded quickly, which aided in rebuilding. But this water is not leaving quickly and with the humid conditions there the longer it takes to get into those homes to begin the nasty, heart wrenching work of clearing them out the less chance there will be of saving anything, including the structures.

Short and long term needs will far outpace what the government can provide, so it is up to us to help. If you are able to give financially, then please do so. There are a couple of good websites that can link you with legitimate organizations working in the affected areas. Check out the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD.org) and Charity Navigator (charitynavigator.org) websites.

Another option is to contact the Houston Food Bank, Galveston County Food Bank and the SE Texas Food Bank to learn how you might help fill their needs. And donations to the Houston Humane Society, the San Antonio Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas will help displaced animals with food and shelter.If you have more time than money, find an organization or shelter that needs boots on the ground and volunteer to provide comfort to these displaced people who are now facing a new and unknown “normal”.

Our work as Helpers will not be over once the waters recede. That’s when thousands of volunteers providing grunt labor will be needed to help clean out and gut the houses left standing.

Whatever we can do, wherever we can help, we must. We cannot become distracted from or complacent in this battle for survival in which our brothers and sisters are fighting. However we can, we must become soldiers in their army of Helpers.

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The Minister and the Muslim

Here’s a link to the latest installment of a project I do for Manhattan Magazine called The Last Word.

https://issuu.com/sunflower_publishing/docs/mm17sp_singles.

The project involves inviting two people who may or may not know each other to come together for a conversation about a topic chosen usually by me and/or my editor.  I’ve been doing these for almost two years and am always amazed by how the conversation moves and finds commonality, while also offering new insight and inspiration.

This particular installment pairs Rev. Caela Simmons-Wood of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Manhattan with Syed Haroon Bin Farrukh from the Islamic Center of Manhattan.  Although we set this conversation up weeks before, it ended up falling on the evening of the current administration’s first executive order preventing entry into this country from several predominantly Muslim countries.  Talk about perfect timing!!

The actual conversation included much more than could be used in this issue and I want to share one exchange that didn’t make it into print.  I don’t usually insert myself into the conversation, but rather I’m there as witness and scribe.  As this conversation wound down, Haroon and Caela asked me if I had any questions and I used that opportunity to ask Haroon how he and the members of his community were dealing with the fallout from that executive order.  Haroon expressed great hope for America.   He stressed how Americans had some of the biggest hearts of any people on earth and that he trusted “those hearts would do the right thing”.  Here is what else he said, that left not a dry eye in the room:

“We have great hope for America.  Whatever we are seeing here I think it is because of the lack of opportunities for people to interact and understand each other. The moment people have opportunity to interact and understand each other their opinions and views will change. America is not run by just one person. It is run by a group of people who are representatives of the American people. We believe in the potential of the people and we believe in the potential of the Democracy and the Constitution here. We are very hopeful that a single person does not have the power and the ability to outdo the wonders of centuries of Democracy and a very wonderful Constitution.”

After the conversation, we were invited to join the Islamic Center community for their monthly potluck, where we experienced some of their culture, their delicious food and such warm and welcoming hospitality.  Having the privilege to witness this conversation between Rev. Caela and Haroon brought home how we are far more similar than different and if we just take the time to have a real conversation with someone who may appear or believe differently than us, we will likely find common ground for understanding, tolerance and acceptance.

The conversation begins on page 58.  But feel free to browse through the rest of the magazine as well.  I actually have several other articles in it, but am particularly honored to have been part of this one.

 

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Granddaughter of an immigrant

My grandfather loved America with passion and pride. But he wasn’t born here. Grandpa came to the United States from Switzerland as young boy in the 1880’s.  He traveled here by ship with his mother and four siblings with only one trunk of possessions among them.  His father had made the journey earlier and was farming the rocky hills in southern Nemaha County until he could bring the rest of his family to join him.

They were Catholics and at that time the United States was very anti-Catholic. In fact, according to Oxford American History, Protestants in the United States, seeing the large influx of Catholics entering the country, believed that they were a “threat to the very fabric of society.” By the time my grandfather’s family got here, the United States already had a long history of discrimination against Catholics and, according to Kenneth Davis, a prominent historian, “Catholics were lambasted as theological abominations and traitorous. People wanted their religious freedom, but not freedom for others.” This deep hatred for Catholics lasted until John F. Kennedy become our first Catholic President in 1960.

Grandfather and his family left their Catholic religion behind when they came here. It was easy to hide or deny a religion that only consisted of different beliefs and not dress or habits. In fact, most of my family never knew we had come here as Catholics, but my grandfather once let it slip while sharing stories with me about his early days in America. He admitted to me that his mother had told the children to not mention they were Catholic. The family soon began attending the Congregational Church, in which my mother and her sisters were raised.

My grandfather had to drop out school after fifth grade so he could work to help support his family. Farming the rocky land in north central Kansas did not lead to wealth or riches.  But not being able to complete his education only served to make him value it even more and he made sure all three of his daughters received a college education, even though at that time, in the mid-to-late 30’s, it was not common for women to be college educated.

Grandpa became a successful businessman and proudly served several terms as mayor of his town. Decades after he died I continued to hear stories of how he helped others succeed. People, learning that I was his granddaughter, would excitedly share stories with me about how he had paid for their schooling, or had provided a home and work for someone, or how he allowed those down on his or her luck and bank account to carry a loan at the lumberyard he owned, that likely would never be paid. He did all of this despite anyone’s class, creed or color.  He knew what it was like to be poor and marginalized and he never stopped helping those who needed a hand up.  People who knew him describe him as always fair, generous and honest.

Within the family he started here are teachers, journalists, lawyers, artists, musicians, doctors and business people – all contributing members of society and our country, and all descendants from immigrants who came here during a time of hatred and discrimination because of their religious beliefs.

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Hey God. It’s me….

Hey, God, it’s me – Lou Ann. I have some questions for you.

First of all, have you been on leave, or something? Things here feel as though they are fraying. I think all of us who consider you our BFF would like to ask you, “What the….are you thinking?”

I have other questions too. Like: What do we do now? How do we move forward? Especially when to so many of us this feels like backwards. Do we turn the other cheek? Should we just retreat into our belief that everything will be okay; that we can weather this storm too?  Anyone remember Katrina? Or Moses? Or Noah? Shit happens.

And we could be in some deep doo doo, God. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are under attack, and the First Amendment is what makes us America. Our civil rights, women’s productive heath, immigration, health insurance for many of us, LGBT rights, so much is looking as though it will soon be in the “loss” column…. Then there is our environment and our majestic National Parks. As part of the soon to be reigning party’s platform, National Parks may be returned to the states, thereby opening them up for drilling and mining, subdivisions, you name it. It would mean the end of Roosevelt’s vision of maintaining some of our most beautiful and historic lands for generations yet to come to experience. God, the list goes on and on of the things that may be now limited or removed.

In addition, there is so much hatred, cruelty, misunderstanding and groups of people trying to control and deny other groups their rights…. What are we suppose to do?

How do you feel when you see cruelty?

 Like I want to punch the person who is being cruel!

 Okay. But once you work through some of that knee jerk, or just jerk, anger, what do you really want?

 I want kindness. I want people to be kind.

 That’s right! When you experience or see cruelty, you most want kindness. When you experience or see injustice, you most want justice. When you experience or see lack, you most want prosperity. When you experience or see hate, you most want love.  So offer those things. Be those things. Be more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

The majority of you now feel as though your voice was not heard and now you know what the minority of you have been feeling. Not so good, huh? So, work together. All of this can bring you together.

It feels more as though it is splitting us apart.

You are splitting apart, but those cracks are how I’m getting in. That’s where you’ll find me. I am in the divisions as well as the unifications. I am on both sides and when you can see me in Them as well as You, we’ll be getting somewhere. 

We seem a long way from being able to do that. I think you’re asking a lot of us.

Sorry. It’s all I could come up with to get your attention.   It’s difficult to get through to you all when you spend so much time staring at your phones doing all that twittering and chatting. You all are an odd and stubborn lot, you know. It’s not easy being your Supreme Being. You’re a handful!

Well, you made us in your image.

Indeed. I now see I should have thought that one through a little more.

There’s just so much so many of us are afraid of and I don’t know if we can hold on while we keep moving forward a little, or at least find middle ground.

That last one is important. And each one of you isn’t expected to do it all. Pick that which is yours to do. You’ll know. But everyone needs to do something. That’s the coming together part. Work together. You all really want the same things – to be safe, to be happy, to be able to explore and experience your own life. Remind each other of that.

But when we feel we are being called, do we stand up, speak out, put ourselves on the line? There is so much at stake that I’m not sure which direction to move. Which issue, which challenge, which decision do I protest, speak up about, move to do whatever I can to bring attention or positive energy to?

Always speak your truth. Always be true to who you are and be willing to stake your claim…just also be willing to move your stake. Everything is true for someone and everything is false to another. Meet in the middle, but don’t be afraid to stand on the edge when you feel that is your place to be.  I do understand, though. I mean, even I am at a loss sometimes when I see what you have done. What were you people thinking?

That’s what I keep asking myself. I have no answer. Mostly we weren’t paying attention. This has been coming for some time, but we didn’t think it would go this far this fast. We went to bed in one America and woke up in another. It was shocking and is still terrifying. So much so that I can’t really understand how ANYONE doesn’t feel the same. But, apparently, many don’t.

But more of you do. Look at the numbers! Take heart in that. The big hearts won.

No, we lost.

You lost the prize, but you have more resolve than before. You are building more organization. You are becoming more clear, more focused. As are those you see as “other”. Don’t forget to listen to them too. I mean, you got yourself into this mess largely because both sides started “updating” and “tweeting” and forgot to talk and listen. Go to what you have in common – that safe, happy, love, life place.

I don’t want to. I don’t want to sing Kumbaya and fart rainbows. Not yet. I feel the need to be pissed.

Then be pissed. Be the best pissed you can be. Then roll up your sleeves, open your heart and do what’s next.

Hey, while I have you on the line, God. I have another question. Cellulite. What’s that about?

I have to get back to you on that. Seems as though there’s a commotion at the front gate.  Some people are there claiming there is only one way to God, which is their way, and they are also insisting that God is white. You all crack me up!! Why don’t you get that any way to God is the way to God and that I am ALL of you. Everyone figures that out once they get here, but why wait until then? I think I’ll go to the gate as a brown skinned, middle-eastern, WOMAN! Can’t wait to see their faces!

Okay. Thanks. Talk to you soon, God.

I think we’ll be in touch a lot through the next few years! Good luck. Oh, and don’t forget about having fun too! Now, where did I put my hijab?

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Planting our seed

Every spring, here on the Kansas prairie, we burn our grassland. It is the one time of year when seeing smoke rising from the hills and its pungent odor doesn’t cause alarm.

We trust that whomever is burning has everything under control and recognize this as a long-historied ritual of keeping the Tallgrass Prairie viable, healthy and sustainably rejuvenating.  It’s part of the natural ecosystem of the prairie. The fire helps prevent the invasion of woody vegetation and promotes new growth of the native grasses.  It sounds destructive and somewhat counter intuitive to burn the prairie so that it will grow more healthy, but within days of the burning the hills begin to green and big bluestem, little bluestem, Indian and switch grasses send up shoots of new growth.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the grasses green and begin to grow from the charred pastures.  It feels like some kind of miracle, but to me, most of nature is a miracle. For instance, every spring I plant a garden and marvel that the tiny seeds know what to do once I place them in the soil and give them some water.  I plant a tomato seed and I don’t fret about what kind of plant will grow, nor do I expect a potato plant to break through the soil.  I know when I plant that tomato seed, if tended well, a tomato plant will grow.  There is an inner wisdom in that seed that knows its purpose and what it is designed to do and it does it with little more than some water and sunshine.

Oh, if only it were that easy for us to determine our path, our purpose. But, maybe it is. Maybe, like that seed or those native grasses that have come through the fire to become verdant and robust again, we too carry our purpose inside of us — although that’s often the last place we might think to look for it.

We more often look to other people for some outside direction for what our path is here, for what our purpose is and for the gifts we have come to share. We take classes, read books, attend workshops and join groups.  We may even blog about it and ask others if they’ve seen our purpose or know of what it is we are to be doing here.  There is nothing wrong with any of this, but what if the answer to the question is already inside of us?  What if our seed has been within us all the time and every time we asked or wondered, “What am I here for?”, it was doing everything in its power to answer, to show us, to get our attention so we might move in the direction in which it is intending to point us?

So how might we find that direction?  That tomato seed doesn’t dream of being a squash.  It’s a tomato seed.  Its dream is to grow into a healthy plant and to bear tomatoes. What are your dreams? What, especially as a child, did you dream of doing?  Did you want to train horses? Fly a plane?  Build highrises?  Dance? Did you find joy in keeping your room tidy and neat?  Did you lose yourself in thoughts of running a big business or writing books? Did you want to paint, travel, cook, build, design, do – whatever – then maybe that is what you still carry inside of you.  Maybe that’s your inner wisdom, your map.

If it has been awhile since you allowed yourself to dream, maybe like we do with the prairie grasses, it’s time to burn through the idea that you’re too old, too poor, too much invested in doing something else to still dream. Burn those dead dormant ideas that it is too soon or too late for you to follow your dreams.

You owe it to yourself to find the inner wisdom that will tell you what you are here to do, but you also owe it to the rest of us to do that. If you don’t plant, tend and grow your seed, you rob us all of the fruit you might bear.  We have no idea of how our dreams affect, inspire, speak or bump into others. We don’t even realize how many people we may have already touched, moved, or motivated.

What if your seed was to become a sculptor and you took a leap of faith and, despite people telling you artists never make a good living, you sculpted? And what if one day a middle aged man looked at a sculpture you had created, clearly realizing you were fulfilling your dream of being an artist, and decided he too wanted to follow his dream – of becoming a public speaker.  And in the audience at one of his presentations was a young woman who was studying accounting because she came from a long line of accountants, but it was not her passion.  Her dream was to study medicine and after hearing the speaker she was motivated to change her major and become a pediatrician.  She eventually helped a young patient successfully move through a serious illness, which inspired him to follow his dream of going into the field of research, oncology research to be specific, and that young boy grew up to cure cancer.

If you had never followed your inner wisdom to sculpt, despite what others said, or whatever doubts you may have had when you took your first steps in that direction, that young boy may have never been moved to follow his dream either, and we all would suffer as a consequence.

So, figure out what burns inside of you, what brings passion to your life, what seed do you need to nurture to feel happy, fulfilled and a sense of wonder, and then start taking steps in that direction.  Whatever steps present themselves, and they will present themselves, however you can begin to move in the direction of your dreams, move.

We are all once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  No two of us are exactly alike and in all of time there will never be another like any one of us.  That is by design. We are individual masterpieces created to each give what is unique about us to the world.  The world needs every one of us because we each contribute something special; we each possess a seed that is ours alone to grow.

But sometimes, like the prairie grasses, we must walk through fire to learn to grow again. Sometimes we need to be challenged, to fall and learn we can get back up.  There are trials, there are misfortunes in life, but we can use it all like the fires on the prairie as a way to grow, to stretch, to reach and to find that seed and its inner wisdom that is trying to tell us, “This way. Move in this direction. Follow me.  I will show you the way.”  And when we do take those first, wobbly steps toward that dream, I believe the Universe rushes in to support us with connections, time, opportunities, whatever support we need in a quantity that is sufficient for us to grow our seed. Every step you take will lead to the next.  You will be supported. But you must take that first step.

Spend some time being quiet, then ask what is in you to do, what dreams are still waiting for you to explore, follow and share.  Journal, create vision boards, whatever you wish to do that will allow yourself time and space to not only remember your dreams from childhood, but to touch and then identify those dreams that are still within you.

Be the fire.  Then be the prairie and come alive!  Only you can do this, whatever it is that is yours to do. And the only way to not fan the flame of passion within you, the only way to not find and grow your particular seed, is to not take those first steps.  The only failure is in not trying.

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Lessons from the Land, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The lies we tell…

Have you ever caught yourself telling a lie – to yourself? The lies we tell ourselves are recognizable, and insidious, because they are heard in our own voice, but with a mean edge to it that makes us feel badly about ourselves.  This is our Liar Voice and when it is speaking to us it is helpful to be able to identify it as such.

For instance, do you have a blouse or shirt in a drawer or a pair of jeans in your closet that you can’t wear, but you keep because some day you’ll be able to squeeze your body back into them?  Nothing wrong with having a goal and if looking at a pair of too small jeans motivates you to take better care of yourself, then there’s no harm done.  But if every time you look at those jeans or that top and you hear a voice berating you for not being able to wear them, that’s your Liar Voice.   And until you are able to dismiss that loud, rude voice that tries to make you feel bad, you might be better served tossing those clothes out.  Besides, when you do get to wear those jeans I think you deserve a cool, new pair.  Don’t you?

Here’s another lie I often catch myself perpetrating:  I’ll put those files, mail, books away later.  Even though eventually I get around to putting whatever it is in its appropriate place, I know that wherever I set it down is where it will remain, likely until company is coming for a visit.  If I hear my Liar Voice when I profess that I will do it later, then I’m much more likely to put whatever is in my hand wherever it belongs right then.  Task completed and I won’t have to run around like an Olympic speed skater trying to clear the clutter before someone shows up at my door.

Sometimes our Liar Voice tells us things that we should never believe. We should discount anything that voice says that begins with:

“I am too fat, too old, too poor….” or “I am not good enough, smart enough, thin, rich, free enough….”

These are the most dangerous and harmful of all the things our Liar Voice tells us and we must remain vigilant in silencing these lies.  I find a chant from childhood helpful in quieting this kind of destructive chatter.  When I hear that nasty, mean voice saying negative things about me, with great belligerence, I repeat,  “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

Not even my Liar Voice has a good comeback for that!

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