While You Were Sleeping

The branches of the crab apple tree away gently in the breeze as I sit with my sleeping grandmother. She rests silently and I think back to my children and the peace after the storm of sitting with them while they sleep. All the battles, joys and disappointments left behind in a moment of peaceful slumber. 

Life is too hectic, too busy and the opportunities to sit and listen to the sounds of nature come less and less. But in a day away from the routine I think back to all the days my grandmother held me in silence while I slept. Saw the smiles or grimaces of passing dreams and was there with me in that moment. The time melting away as wax down a candle. 

Did she hold me a little longer because in her dreams she saw what life could have been for her son Roddy? Did she retreat to her memories after her mother passed when she was 7. When she lost a son and her husband to cancer, did she find comfort in her dreams? Life’s trials are almost over and she rests quietly I the chair beside me.

These days are drawing to a close, the flame from her candle flickers as the wick is running short. Soon she will move to the land eternal. 

In this moment I see the beauty in old age and take a time to pay a long forgotten debt.

Posted in The Journey | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The State of our Union.

Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer. If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.

Abraham Lincoln

Our nation struggles to find itself from time to time. During the 1800s we decided that we would no longer legitimize holding others in bondage. In the 1900s we decided that women and people of all races should have the same rights as men. In this generation, we are deciding that the state has no right to know the inner workings of your bedroom.

The real issue through all of these freedoms has been a strong economy to drive the changes forward and provide a strong foundation to build upon. Today, the fundamentals of our economy are no longer sound. We spend more than we bring in and as anyone with basic budgeting skills can tell you that can’t last forever. In 2009,for the first time in American history, more than half of American households paid zero income tax. While the reasons are debatable, that 51% of American households paid no income tax in 2009 is a fact (Marr & Che-Ching, 2012). The question becomes are we all willing to give up services or pay more taxes to make the budget balance. This includes those who paid no taxes and those who received an earned income credit even though they paid no taxes as well as those multi-billionaires who pay some of the lowest overall rates. One more thing, there are 235 companies that use overseas tax havens to avoid paying their share of doing  business in the US. According to the Huffington Post, “…there are 235 other companies that told the SEC that they’re holding profits overseas but didn’t disclose their hypothetical U.S. tax rate, according to the CTJ report. In total, these non-disclosing companies hold almost $1.3 trillion in non-repatriated profits abroad, CTJ found. Are we willing to stop buying these products?

Additionally, we must make drastic spending cuts in all areas of government. No ones pet projects aside, we must cut ALL AREAS OF GOVERNMENT.

In the end, I feel like Lincoln’s quote is completely accurate, but it must be coupled with a quote from Lewis Mumford:

The liberal’s lack of a sense of history carries a special disability: it makes him identify all his values with the present. Should the present be a shabby one, he quickly comes to the conclusion that the country which exhibits the practical vices and mischiefs he deplores is unworthy of his allegiance.  But a country is more than the people and institutions tht exist in a single generation. The America we must save today, for example, is not just the America of shifty politicians and go-getting advertisers and slimy industrialists who would like to “make a deal” with  the fascists. nor is it the America of Hearst, Ford and Father Coughlin. No self-respecting person would lift a finger to save that.

But our America is the America of Adams and Jefferson, the America of Joseph Henry and Audubon and William James, the America of Whitman and Melville and Olmsted and Richardson, the America that may therefore still be realized in time to come by reason of all the ideas and forces and impulses that have come down to us from the past and are pushing into the future. Our country cannot be identified with “capitalism,” because many of the most precious parts of our heritage long antedated capitalism and will long survive it.

Lewis Mumford, 1940

America is worth saving. Are we all willing to do what it takes to make America work again?

Berman, J. (n.d.). 18 Of America’s Biggest Companies Using Tax Havens To Skirt $92 Billion In U.S. Taxes: CTJ. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/apple-tax-havens_n_3378935.html

Marr, C., & Chye-Ching, H. (2012, September 17). Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3505

Posted in Independent Thinking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Learning the Chicken Dance at 88.

I remember learning the chicken dance as an adult at the first German wedding I attended. As I thought, “How ridiculous!, You want me to do WHAT!?!” Then you begin the dance with the hand beaks comes a smirk, the chicken wings bring on a smile and by the time you are shaking your bottom, you are beginning a laugh. By the third rendition, it is raucous frivolity. EVERYONE has fun…even if you don’t want to.

My grandmother is on her way to 90 years old and when you get a call that ‘the Sarge’ has slept until 2:00 PM, you pay attention. This is the Baptist Sunday School teacher who doesn’t dance, drink, curse or any of the other vices. In the strange way the Universe delivers what you need when you need it. We went to visit and my son had a ipod touch. He happened upon a copy of the Chicken Dance song and I taught my four year old son and my 88 year old grandmother the chicken dance on the same day. To be fair, my son has the body of a four year old, but sometimes struggles with what moves comes next and Grandmother could get the moves if only she could stand without her walker.

What started out as a trip to see my Grandmother and make sure my mom was okay, didn’t end as I expected. It ended with the Chicken Dance and laughter all around. RIDICULOUS! Some things cross ages and races and points to the ridiculousness of taking life too seriously.

I’m glad I lived in the Midwest and attended some great weddings with chicken dancing extraordinaires. But the greatest gift I could give to an old lady on a beautiful Sunday afternoon was a couple of nuts doing the chicken dance. It makes me remember Whitman’s words on  life, that each of us should heed while we can.

By Walt Whitman 1819–1892

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)
Today, my verse was the Chicken Dance in all its glory…
Posted in The Journey | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Voice from Heaven and a Doubting Thomas.

It amazes me that we can’t live and let live. The recent story of a baby stranded in a car for 14 hours within inches of a freezing river is an incredible story of either luck and survival (if you are an atheist) or of faith and miracles (if you believe in a higher power). One group can’t imagine why you would need the story to be more than it is by implying that the baby’s mom or another voice from heaven helped rescuers find the baby…the other side can’t imagine how you could not believe the five rescuers who clearly heard a voice of  an adult asking for help, even replied to it though there was no adult alive in the car.

Read about the incredible rescue here. Instead of live and let live, some are vocally opposed to the opinion that there is something more to the story and that it is possible that another dimension exists. To me, it seems simple minded to believe that all we can see in the world at this point is reality. To say I can see and understand all that exists in the world puts me in the place of the religious leaders who believed that the world was flat and the earth revolved around the sun. Just suggest anything else and they would gladly burn you at the stake. My, my how times have changed! The religious are willing to acknowledge there are many things we can’t understand at this point in our species development and in this phase of our existence and the atheists believe that we can understand everything and that this is the ultimate phase of our existence.

To add to the hilarity a bit, a devoutly atheist Communist Party in China is afraid that the Dalai Lama may not choose to re-incarnate immediately. Thus, these atheists have demanded that he reincarnate on their terms once he dies. Read the story here. WOW! Atheists who want those of us who share a belief in something more want to control that too. Amazing!!

Lets all help each other on our faith (or lack thereof) walks. Those who don’t believe have nothing to lose in this life by letting the spiritual believe and the spiritual have nothing to gain by trying to prove something that by its very essence must be taken on faith.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20: 24-29

No, my faith is not blind. Sometimes I am a Doubting Thomas, but that is my right…it is my faith walk. So, whether you believe it was a voice from a realm we can’t fathom that five guys heard and it guided them to save a baby,or you believe that it was a bird copying the mom’s last words…or mass hysteria that five veteran rescuers shared. Its your path and your destiny.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, ““So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist 

For me, there is more to the world that what I know and what I can see. The entire universe conspired to help save her. To whatever forces helped the fishermen find the car and drew the rescuers her, thank you!

Posted in Independent Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worried about worry.

The saying, “be careful what you wish for” blares out in my mind this morning. For the season of lent I have been seeking help with worry. Now, this seems to be a recurring theme with me and every third lent or so I come up with a new path that will lead me from the wilderness of worry to a new future…that I can’t envision. So far it has made some positive impacts each time I go through the exercise, but I worry that my worry will be worse in the future as I worry about the past, worry about my worry in the future and worry that I will forget to live in the moment.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:25-34New International Version (NIV): Do Not Worry

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Each day has enough trouble of its own indeed. As I move through lent reading this passage daily it seems that I am shown daily how little control I have over anything and everything. There is something in the world that seems to work for my good, the good of my family and the good of others…but that most of all is out of my control. In the end what is real is what comes out during tribulations each of us endures as part of the human experience.

Lucretius wrote, “So it is more useful to watch a man in times of peril, and in adversity to discern what kind of man he is; for then at last words of truth are drawn from the depths of his heart, and the mask is torn off, reality remains (Book III, line 55-8).

We worry about times of peril and yet they are a necessity to test our own strength. Do we have it within us to persevere? Are we focused on what is important? Do we learn from the lesson at hand?

At the end of life if a life is well lived, we will have passed through enough trying times to tear away the facade we wish to portray. Daily people make their judgments on each of us. They think this or that and in reality we don’t know what they truly believe. How do their comments impact our action even though they likely don’t say what they mean and thus we can’t understand what they say. Old people are often blunt, sometimes mean and sometimes a joy to be around. Each of these individuals has chosen their reaction to life experiences. They have fallen and gotten up. They have messed up and moved on. They have continued a slow march forward when they felt they had no strength left to take another step. Slowly, methodically we pick up our foot and move it forward. What is left behind after these trials is the real human, the soul uncovered to see what lies beneath.

So far in this study, I have found that trials will come…and if you ask to be helped to overcome worry then you have to be prepared for the way that happens. So, I feel more overwhelmed than ever. More likely to fail at something important than I ever have, but I see the objective clearly. I know the path I should take…which boils down to the path I am on, but with my priorities set straight and a firm knowledge that for whatever I have the illusion of controlling, something far more powerful than I has some fashion of actual control. This power works for my good, the good of my family, the good of us all, so “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough trouble of its own” becomes an Epicurean motto translated to a Christian faith. To live in the moment, not worrying about the past or the future because one is written and the other is never as we imagine it will be. What I know and have any measure of control over is right here and right now. In this very moment I find grace, love, joy, peace and forgiveness if I choose to accept it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Martyrs to the Faith-An Ash Wednesday Reflection

As I sat in church I couldn’t help but think that 20 families in Egypt enter Lent with a needless absence of a family member. Yet, lent is about renewal and forgiveness.
As a nation we must stand against such evil.
As a Christian,  I fight to keep the love that is the basis of our faith in the face of such hate. Matthew 7:12 “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Martyrs for their faith have lived in all ages and in all places. As Father Parker notes in his piece, An Orthodox Christian Response to Beheading by Muslims there was no retribution for the beheading of John the Baptist. We do remember the story.

We have to offer forgiveness for these vile acts, but at the same time we can’t forget what religious extremism brings. This lent I hope to forgive the people who are committing these atrocious acts. I will also pray for the soldiers from around the globe, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Atheist alike that they might bring justice to an unjust world and allow those who are persecuted and those who live in fear to find a new breath of freedom.

Posted in Independent Thinking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…procrastination.

I saved down a moment ago and decided I should stop procrastinating and write this final post in the series. It has been almost a week and I’ve thought about posting, but I always seem to have something more important to do. By the time I get through my day help with dinner, homework and family time I’m exhausted. I try and try to keep going, but at some point there is a need for a moment to myself.  I drift off to sleep hoping to post tomorrow, but the coming days pass in increasingly rapid fashion while I procrastinate.
My grandma used to say, “If you don’t have money today, what makes you think that you will tomorrow?” I think that’s also true with time.
Seize the day…stop procrastinating and get that tough task done!
Th hank you for joining me on this holiday journey. Here’s to a better holoday in 2015 with proper prep amd planning!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…grace.

Holidays often bring out the worst in all of us. We have so much we want to say to people that we only see once or twice a year. We have so few opportunities to share our feelings that we open up to them during all to short visits. They ask us if everything is okay and since they are asking, we feel like we can dump our issues, feelings and emotions in their lap and walk away unscathed. They have to still love us, they are family. I know I have been guilty of over sharing at family events. The reality is that a family event can be a moment to share things that are necessary, to tell news or to talk about serious issues. However, as I was recently reminded a discussion requires me to listen. That can be tough when you have so much to say! It is equally challenging when you are the one trying to escape from the discussion! As the one listening, in years past I have found myself getting more and more irritated with the emotional dump. I want to have a good rant to explain that I can’t take any more. I have my own issues that I deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes I consider spending quality time out in the cold or snow…maybe some wood needs to be chopped or I really need to walk to the grocery store for something…ANYTHING! Sean Covey uses the metaphorical ‘Personal Bank Account’ in his book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens. The basic premise is that each of us holds such an account and we choose to make deposits by doing positive things in our relationships and we make withdraws when we do negative things. Its a great book to read and if you’re really into it, you should read the original, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Sean’s father. If you need to have a major discussion about your emotions, emotional state or other issues, there are lots of great Psychologists available and many insurance plans will cover the sessions. They can help you work through some deep emotional issues. Your family is most likely not trained to cope with your emotional needs appropriately. Even if they are a psychologist or counselor and you see them at the holidays, remember that they are also there for an escape from work and respect their right to some time away from their vocation. Even a few sessions may make a big difference on your outlook and improve your ability to deal with day to day issues in a more effective manner. Share your news, tell great stories, talk about your life. Recognize your family and friends limitations on their ability to listen and to help. Remember that we each have a personal bank account and when you’re the one over sharing you’re making a withdraw from that account. Make sure you are the one listening and helping sometimes so you have some deposits to offset the withdraws. Let the good and fun family stories go on. Take the negative stories and learn from those mistakes. Ultimately have the grace to listen and speak in kindness and love.

This is the eleventh post in this series, let me recommend you first read ‘Twelve Debts of Christmas‘, ‘Family Holiday Ground Rules’, ‘1 Million Dollars’‘A Mental Breakdown’‘Equity’, ‘Freedom’‘Entertainment’, ‘Time’, ‘Tech Free Space’ and ‘Escape Route’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…an escape route.

Before the holidays come to an end, it is likely that some of you will feel your inner Holden Caulfield and will need an escape route. Wouldn’t it be nice if in life we had pre-planned escape routes? We need someone to make an announcement, “In case of an emotional, personal or stress related emergency, you can find exits here, here and here.”

Why not set some up in advance? The need to get away from things isn’t limited to needing to escape the holidays, family, in-laws or out-laws. There is a need for each of us to escape our normal day-to-day. No matter where you live, where you work or where you went for Christmas vacation…we all need a day of R & R our way! Choose the path you want, but get out into nature. Find a river, a beach, a stream or a trail…and follow it. You’ll be amazed at the secrets you can unlock in yourself when you spend time in the wild!

This is the tenth post in this series, let me recommend you first read ‘Twelve Debts of Christmas‘, ‘Family Holiday Ground Rules’, ‘1 Million Dollars’‘A Mental Breakdown’‘Equity’, ‘Freedom’‘Entertainment’, ‘Time’ and ‘Tech Free Space’.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a tech free space.

I looked around the room to see five people all facing the middle of the room, the television showing a movie we were watching ‘together’. It should have been a great shared experience, but for the five people in the room there were five devices. There was information exchange going on, but not with the people in the room. After an hour we could tell you just what our Facebook friends were thinking, but we hadn’t spoken a word. Yes, I too am guilty as I looked up from checking football scores on my smart phone to see the other four people on five devices. Being a Gen Xer, I immediately stopped using mine and began to judge everyone else.

We travel to make the holidays with family. We save through the year, we try to make a good plan and stick to it…then when we arrive we ask for the wi-fi password within an hour of arriving and continue our obsession with technology. Checking Facebook to see who posted the cutest Christmas picture. Tweeting to our friends that we have arrived.  Surfing the internet…or writing another Blog post in your current series. This is a cultural phenomenon that has no end in sight, so its important to accept and adapt to the new construct.

One adaptation that we have in our house all the time is one living area dedicated as a technology free zone. We do have a phone there, but  it is a vintage 1980s Mickey Mouse phone, cord and all! The fire burns bright, warming the room with a natural heat  that warms the soul as much as the skin. The chairs are set for a conversation and the room as a whole beckons you to sit down and read a book, catch up with an old friend or take a nap on a winter’s afternoon. This room is a sacred place in our house. It is a room out of time where all of the ‘conveniences’ of our modern age are forbidden.

We also ban technology use at the dinner table. If you are the host, it is important to set some ground rules for where device use is allowed. This also provides a polite way of helping those who feel that everyone at the dinner table needs to hear their entire phone conversation. In fact, I don’t care about how important you are that your work has to call you on a holiday. I do care that if you are talking/texting/Facebooking, etc. while you are at the dinner table you cause a distraction that becomes part of the conversation. It is better to politely excuse yourself and move into a more appropriate area.

Technology is awesome! Using it appropriately and with time constraints is even better. Don’t let your entire holiday be wasted in a techno vortex…find the joy in a tech free space!

This is the ninth post in this series, let me recommend you first read ‘Twelve Debts of Christmas‘, ‘Family Holiday Ground Rules’, ‘1 Million Dollars’‘A Mental Breakdown’‘Equity’, ‘Freedom’‘Entertainment’ and ‘Time’.

Posted in This is living! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments