Learned, Burned and Earned

Through a series of serendipitous events a few weeks ago, I was blessed to spend a weekend in Golden, CO with a dear friend.  In addition to the long soul talks, great food and craft beer, spectacular fresh air and exquisite mountain ranges, the apex of the trip was seeing Michael Franti in concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.  My first encounter with this amazing outdoor venue left me speechless and spellbound.  The venue, built into a mountain, provides a cocoon of Mother Earth while the Colorado sun sets and music comes to life. 

Franti, a long time favorite, is a man of such optimism, faith and love that one cannot help but be energized and lifted by his music and spirit.   He strikes me as someone who truly believes that positive thoughts lead to positive actions, and one person can make a difference in the world.

This trip was my first “post” pandemic travel, and it brought my soul back to Life.  Travel has long been what grounds me, keeps me balanced, and helps me stay connected with the deepest parts of myself that don’t get put into action in the sometime redundant passing of days.  To be out in the world in a breath-taking location with music about love and hope pulsing through the rocks was invigorating to say the least.

Franti began his concert with a video montage of the past 16 months.  He shared some of his losses from Covid, including people near and dear.  He graciously thanked his fans who stayed true and connected even as concert after concert was canceled and not rescheduled. 

But the most memorable part of his opening was the way he framed his past 16 months into things he learned, things he burned, and things he earned.

Learned.

Burned.

Earned.

This resonated with me in such a profound way that I couldn’t help but immediately begin reflecting on how my experiences from the past 16 months could also be placed into these compelling categories. 

We lost.  We all lost during Covid. 

People.

Jobs.

Income.

Connections.

Time with others.

Momentum towards our dreams.

But we also learned.  Many of us gained robust and impressive insights into  ourselves.  About how we handle hardship, change, the unknown. 

As I reflect, I see so much in that “Learned” category.  I learned life marches forward, no matter what else is happening.  I learned that for this old suburban girl, now living on acreage and being deeply connected to nature is among the greatest healing forces in the world.  I learned I am far more introverted than I ever knew, and the preciousness of solitude is balancing and calming. And as I continued my work with children experiencing abuse and neglect, through the frightening spans when I couldn’t lay my eyes on them, I learned that connection is the truest heartbeat of all. 

The ”Burned” part feels a bit intense.  Just as we are, hopefully, always learning and gaining insight, those insights lead us to acknowledge, and even embrace, things that no longer serve us. In some ways this is the Marie Kondo part of Life, the time when we examine people, habits, things by asking ourselves, “Does this help me live my best life? What is the cost of maintaining this? Has this reached it’s blessing for me.”

There is a purging that must occur every so often for us to maintain healthy boundaries and stay in authenticity with the Life we strive to live.  During the time of sheltering in place, I burned and purged the need to “stay put” in situations and relationships that were no longer positive for myself or others. Easy does not correlate to better, and sometimes the toughest road is the one for which you are meant.

I burned the idea that, for me, a structured “Sunday School God” is how you “do religion”.  I need a raw, powerful God found in nature and children’s smiles and holding the door for an elderly gentleman.  God got immensely bigger for me in the past 16 months.  I not only got Him out of the box, I broke the box down and recycled it.  I burned the idea that if I didn’t “do religion” just right, I was somehow letting God down.  He and I have come to terms with knowing there are lots of ways to connect with one another.  It transcends any place or time, and is the truest meaning of ethereal.

And, finally, “Earned”. I interpret earning as something I had to work hard through/for and can feel a sense of accomplishment for having reached.   Having lost my lifelong best friend/soul sister a mere 6 weeks before the world shut down, the two are inextricably connected.  I look back now and I know I have earned my way through a grief like no other, the deepest loss of my life.  I think one of the toughest parts of losing someone, at least for me, is watching the world slowly get back to “normal” while mine remains shattered, knowing there is no more “normal”.  It felt as if the whole world stopped at the loss of Terri.  Unlike our Western culture’s rapid expectation for grief processing (funeral on Tuesday, back to work on Wednesday), I was suddenly given the time and space and silence needed to figure out how to build a new world without her daily physical presence.  I was gifted with space and silence, and powerful, beautiful, soul-filling things emerged from that.

Slowly, slowly the world is opening back up.  Gently and mindfully we resume our activities, our social connections, our time out and about exploring Life fully and freely once again.

Yet not one of us is unchanged from the past 16 months, from the sacrifices, loss and uncertainty of it all.  As Life opens back up like a blossoming flower, I pray we all take the time to reflect on how very much we have learned, burned and earned during this time.

Lost and Found

It is a crystal clear sky, deep, cloudless, calm. The sun dominates the scenery, the true star of the show. It’s that beautiful new spring day when the dreariness of winter has been blown aside by spring breezes and the peeking promise of summer.

I climb up into my jeep, lovingly named Daisy Jane, the same color as the radiant sun beaming down. She is stripped of her sides and top, open wide for adventure. I giggle. I pretty much giggle every time I climb into her, my bright yellow Jeep slathered in stickers about kindness and joy. Daisy Jane is my partner in crime. Driving her can make even a trip to the grocery store an adventure.

Today is a bit different. We have no errand to run, no appointment to make. We are just cutting loose on this beautiful day, no goal in mind. Just a spring breeze, a sunny sky, and a girl and her Jeep.

We drive. And drive. And drive. With no destination in mind and no timetable to keep, we soar up mountain roads, clip past newly-planted pastures, and wave to the local church’s yard sale attendees.

I’m not a “car girl”. I’ve never loved a vehicle before. But Daisy Jane is different. With the top down, gliding through the country roads, I feel like she is a kindred spirit. There is a sense of wildness, freedom and it feels like she’s a friend along for the ride. The open air, hair whipping in the wind, the sunshine kissing my skin, I feel more of a kinship with the Americana I cruise through. A little bit freer. A little bit wilder. A little bit younger.

I have no idea where I am. I have purposefully chosen twists and turns I’ve never traversed before. My intention is to become fully and completely lost.

I click on the playlist I’ve made just for today. Springsteen’s gravely, raw energy, matched by The Big Man’s soulful sax, permeates the countryside. Mellencamp is up next, crooning his odes to the American heartlands where I grew up and went to school. I’m transcended back, back back. The years peel away and I’m a 21 year old college kid, watching him pick up a guitar in a local pub. Then James Taylor. Then….then…then….

Song by song, memory by memory, turn by turn on the bucolic roads I slough off the layers of adult life. As the music blasts and the miles pass, more and more of daily life slips away, like dust in the wind.

With each unexplored curve and stretch I shed the sense of responsibility and recover the last wonder of youth. I sing the soundtrack of my youth loudly, off key, and with pure abandon. I am fully tapped into the sense of adventure, possibility and limitless optimism. I am transmuted to my 20 year old self, alive, curious, simultaneously whimsical and laser focused. Audacious and courageous as can be. Never saying “can’t”, laughing at what others consider obstacles. Joyfully accomplishing it all.

Sometimes, in the midst of every day realities, I miss that girl. Some days, in the glaring light of everyday life, she feels so very far away. I can find myself missing her innocence, tenacity, that cocky-sure knowledge she will change the world.

Daisy Jane slows as we pull to a 4 way stop. I turn down the music, and look around. I realize I know right where I am. After three hours of intentionally aimless driving, I have somehow landed right back in the middle of the familiar.

I breathe deeply, and turn on my blinker, heading home. It’s probably time to leave the wanderlust behind for now, to return to my family, my soul-filled work, my home.

But as Daisy Jane and I drive home, there is an extra passenger in the Jeep. That carefree, passionate, ceaselessly optimistic girl is coming home with me. She’s decided to stick around for awhile. She inspires me. She grounds me and reminds me of what is right and good and always possible.

She reminds me that sometimes you need to get lost to become found.

Room to Grow

Although I am in love with everything Spring, there is one day each year that sets my soul on fire. It happens after the last frost has tried to delay the season yet again, when the thick Southern pollen has stopped coating cars and driveways, and when the whole world is a bright Granny Smith apple green with freshness.

It’s the day I head to nursery, spend an hour roaming up and down aisles, and fill the truck bed with the perfect blend of flowers.

Now, I am not a gardener. I don’t till the soil and plant rows of vegetable seeds. I don’t reap a harvest of fresh fruits and tend tediously to a growing bounty.

My garden of choice is potted flowers. Each spring I will fill the ceramic pots to brimming with lively, vibrant and beautiful flowers. The pots are then lovingly spaced around the patio and deck, bringing a splash of sass to our outdoor living spaces.

My pairings tend to be random (as with many things in my life). Aside from being mindful of sun vs. shade, I mix and match at will, captivated by the colors, heights, textures of the plants.

And at the end of this glorious day of digging in the dirt, I have a dozen or so large pots, ready to spend the spring, summer and early fall with us. Every summer I lovingly tend to the pots, watching the flowers grow and grow and grow.

Until they don’t grow any more.

Every summer, my magnificent flowers fade away far too soon, unable to thrive any longer. Year after year they leave me in late July, when really they should be hanging around until September.

It took me a few seasons to realize what what going on. In my over-exuberance to have immediately full and dazzling pots, I overplanted.

I didn’t leave room to grow.

I was always in such a hurry to have the full beauty available immediately, thus cramming multiple flowers together, that I actually ended up killing my flowers. In my need for the allure NOW I didn’t allow space for natural growth.

I commited plantacide.

I gave them light and water and nutrient-dense soil. I moved them around so they’d get different degrees of light. I cared for them daily.

But I didn’t leave room for them to grow.

And so this year, I was more mindful on my magic day of planting. I bought fewer flowers. I dug more deeply into the pots. And I planted fewer flowers together so they’d have the space they need to flourish.

I do this in other areas of my life, as well. In my fervor for Life, in my desire to say a big fat “Hell Yes!” to any opportunity for adventure that comes my way, in my desire to do my work to my absolute fullest and deepest level, I overpack my schedule. Just like the flowerpots, I try to cram one more marigold, one more petunia of an activity into the day-planner. I’ll lean back, look at the chocked-full calendar with a satisfied sigh, and think, “Look at me. I’ve got it going on!”

And then the living of that jam-packed schedule comes into play, and without fail a sense of constrictiveness creeps in. Day after day of “too much” slowly strangles the joy out of the tasks and activities I was so proud to schedule.

I forgot to leave room to grow.

Reading. Writing. Coffee in the gazebo. A walk by the pond with the dogs. An extra yoga practice. These are the things that keep my soul fresh, alive, nourished. They feed my soul in the way the extra space in the pot allows for stretching. growth and the sense of expansiveness that makes it all so worth it.

That space to grow is essential to Life. Not just to a higher quality of life, but to Life itself. If you doubt this, ask my flowerpots of the past. It might be a job, a relationship, or even our own habits that box us in, but when we neglect the time and spaciousness to just be, we cannot avoid the sense of smothering that accompanies it.

Just like the flowers, some of us thrive in close communion with others, growing roots that spread quick and wide. Others of us thrive best when planted with ample capacity to grow deeply, to meander into the dark, rich soil of life.

This I know, about both flowers and people. When we rush to cram our lives with busy beauty right now, we end up short-changing our true joy in Life. We all need time, room and energy to grow. Time for our souls to meander, to go a different direction, to cover new ground with the delight of exploration.

May we each make the space in which we can grow to our absolute beauty.

No Pushover

My husband has a reputation with trees. He wants them cleared. All of them. Gone. It baffles me, and has outright angered me in the past.

In our previous home, our back lot was very wooded. Yes, it could get messy, especially in an endless fall of leaves each autumn, but it also provided beautiful lush privacy from all of our surrounding neighbors.

He cut the trees down. Every. Last. One.

Gone.

I ranted. I cried. And I never really loved my yard again.

When we moved to our new home, with lots of acreage and a very overgrown pasture, he immediately went into landscape mode, swiftly identifying which items needed to be cleared first. While I was inside picking out paint colors and organizing closets, he was outside, laying claim as master of his land.

He grew up working his grandparents’ farms, surveying land, even picking cotton. He loves the land, and his dream was to own his own little patch of Heaven.

Our new pasture was his canvas, and he was the artist. This was his opportunity to create beauty from brush. He loves his time on his tractor. His soul is deepened each weekend as he finds a corner of our property to pour his energies into.

Soon we found ourselves dancing around the age-old debate….which trees would go, and which would stay. In full disclosure, I’m not sure the word “trees” appropriately identified the thick, rambling bramble that he had to try to tame. Most were not much more than overgrown brush, strangling growth around them.

There were, however, some non-negotiables. A beautiful oak that sits at the far end of the pasture. And a few smaller ones, who seemed to be hanging on with hope, with a glimpse of being strong and mighty one day.

We walked the land. We tagged what could go and what should stay, and we came to one last, scraggly tree, in an awkward spot that really didn’t make any sense at all.

I presented the emotional reasons to keep it. He presented the very-practical reasons to pull it. And because the perfect pasture is his dream and he IS the one who cares for it all, he won. The sapling would be pulled.

The following weekend, I sat on the deck overlooking my husband working in the field he loves so deeply. Scrappy tree after rambling brush was cleared to make the land fresh and thriving. Finally all that remained to be cleared was the solitary, highly-debated seedling.

I watched as he maneuvered the tractor to run over it. As the tractor crossed over, the sapling immediately sprang back up. He circled around for another try. The tractor flattened it. The tree sprang back. I sat on the deck laughing, watching him try again and again, and each time this tiny tree righted itself to it’s full and sturdy height of 4 feet. Tiny but mighty.

It reminded me of those inflatable punching bags we had as kids, the kind with the weighted bottoms. No matter how hard you knocked it, it always bounced back upright. Or like Weebles. They wobble but they don’t fall down.

This young sprout of a tree was not to be defeated. It had staked it’s claim.

And so it remained. It’s refusal to be knocked down, pulled or otherwise removed has made it one of the favorite parts of our now healthy and thriving land.

Resilient. Stubborn. Headstrong. Deeply-rooted. Confident. Determined.

Each time I look at the tree, I see all of those things. It grows as a symbol of strength, of what it means to rise again. Of being invincible.

There is a saying that it’s not the times you get knocked down that matter, but it’s about how you rise, again and again.

Life gives us endless opportunities to rise, because it also gives us endless experiences that knock us flat.

I reflect on the times I have felt like the sapling, run over, knocked down, ungrounded.

I marvel at the times of strength when I’ve been able to bounce back up, and stand tall, and grow from each experience.

That silly tree, the little one at the base of the hill, is a living testimony to what we all have within us, a resiliency so great, that no one, NO ONE, can prevent us from rising again.

Stronger.

More stable.

And always, always growing.

PS. My husband likes to say that he decided the tree should stay put, but we really know who made the decision to stay!

Being Like Bess

I look up from my work and smile. She has taken over the yoga mat and sleeps peacefully in the sunbeam, as if the ray of light and warmth was created only for her.

She is never far. She spends her days dutifully following me from space to space. She greats me each morning as if she hadn’t just snuggled with me all night, yipping and wiggling with delight that I’m finally awake and our day together is ready to begin.

I marvel at what I’ve done to deserve her constant, steady adoration. I’m a good fur mama, I keep her warm and fed and clean and loved. But she loves me so far beyond that.

We play, but not as much as we should. We adventure, but not as much as we could. An yet, she loves me anyway.

I get busy with my days, working from home, cleaning, reading, forgetting sometimes that she is even there, quietly near, always just a few steps away.

She is at once the least intrusive and yet most loyal dog I’ve ever had. She is not a big one on cuddles, she is not demanding of attention or invasive in my space. She never forces herself upon me. What brings her peace, it seems, is simply to be close, and for me to know she’s there.

Her only goal in life is to love me and watch over me. To be present. Period.

I am in awe of her silent, steady, unwavering dedication to loving me. Unconditional companionship. Here when I’m ready.

It’s the unconditional presence that is so heart-stretching for me. Even on my busiest, most chaotic, cranky or ignoring days, there she is, just loving me.

I realize I strive to be more Bess-like in my life, and in my relationships with those I love. I think especially about my children, now busy adults, and how they don’t need me yipping at their heels demanding attention, but rather need to know that I am always right here, available when they need me or just want a hug.

I think of my soul friends and the time we spend together. I hope I can be like Bess, steady and attentive without imposing unasked-for opinions on the happenings of their lives.

I endeavor to be Bess-like for my husband, fully mindful of our life together, unconditionally accepting, always, always loving.

I aim to be present without pressure, for those I love to feel they can be exactly who they are, at any given moment. Fully themselves, fully embraced.

I am struck with wonder that Bess is like God, always nearby whether I are tuned-in or not. Ready. Waiting. Loving.

I reach my hand down from the chair, and she scoots over to rest under it. She has is satisfied that she has completed her mission today….that I know I am loved.

I wish to be like Bess.

I

Living Love

As one who is always looking for a good reason to celebrate, it comes as a shock to my friends and family that I hate Valentine’s Day.  Well, ok, hate is a bit strong, but I really don’t like it.  It seems incongruent to them that someone who lives her life to love others has a strong distaste for the “day of love” set aside each year.

And yet that is exactly the reason that I don’t like it.  It’s the “set aside” part that rubs me wrong. 

Why, oh why, would we ever choose to live a life where we need to set aside a reminder to love our people?

I believe love is the ultimate act of self-expression, creativity, and spiritual practice.  That’s far more than can be contained in a single day or through a bouquet of red roses. 

If we’re doing it right, love is in all we do. How we tend our homes, do our jobs, check in with friends, care for a sick child….all of it, all of it is love.

Imagine if we lived our lives as if Love was the central theme of every day. 

Classrooms would stay full of hearts and reminders that friendship and kindness make the world better.

We would have candlelit dinners with our partners, hanging on every word intentionally, feeling connected, even if it’s a regular old Wednesday and we’re eating frozen pizza.

We would leave little love notes for our kids, just because.  Not because they made straight As, not because they cleaned their rooms when asked, but simply because they are the greatest little loves of which we could have ever dreamed.

We would celebrate Galentines with our girlfriends often and fully and raucously, recognizing that our friendships are a true act of artistry and connection.

I, for one, want to do these things every dang day. 

Every. 

Dang. 

Day.

A few years ago my sister-in-law and I were cleaning out my childhood home after the passing of my mom and her husband. We were stopped in our tracks by the number of love notes that were scattered around their home.  Hidden in underwear drawers, in the pages of books, in a jewelry box, even the kitchen cabinet…where ever we looked we found little sticky notes of love from one to the other. 

It was clearly a kind of “hide and seek” game they played, a way of reminding each other in the midst of a normal day that love anchored it all.

It was playful. It was creative. It was captivatingly gorgeous.

As a child of the 70’s I grew up with a series of comics called, “Love is….”.  It featured two cherubic figures in a circle with hearts, declaring that day’s expression of love.  The story goes that this wildly popular cartoon began as a series of love notes from the artist to her future husband.   She would hide the doodles around the home when they were away from one another, a perpetual, playful reminder of their bond. 

My husband is a stealth romantic.  His friends and family, and even our kids, have no idea what a softy he is.  He will text me in the middle of the day from work when one of our favorite songs comes on his iPod.  He brings home a bottle of champagne just because we need to remember life is short and we should love it all the way.   He never lets a day go by without letting me feel his amazement at the life we have created together.

I have been blessed with magnificent friends, who love me spectacularly through laughter, remembrances, heart-to-hearts and ceaseless spirits of adventure. 

I shudder at the thought that we can get so caught up in the humdrum of life that we forget to love our people well.  I wince at the thought that a day set aside each February seems to level out the forgetfulness, carelessness and absentmindedness from the rest of the year. 

As I grow older, my desire to “make my way in the world” ebbs away and what flows into that space is my desire to “love my way in the world”. 

My greatest desire at this stage of the game is to love fully, creatively and deeply on a daily basis, whether it’s through words, actions, or prayers. 

And there’s just no way I can fit that into one day a year. 

I’m not even sure 365 are enough. 

But I’ll give it my best shot.

Futuring and Adventuring

On a warm, misty morning several years ago, following the first recurrence of my best friend’s cancer, we sat in our jammies, opposite sides of the sofa with toes touching under a blanket, holding steaming cups of coffee, and pondering what lay ahead.

“ I don’t know what’s coming this time, “ she said, “but I’m so glad we’ll be futuring together.”  We giggled at a word that so aptly described who we are to one another.  Whatever was to come would come to the both of us.  We were, and will always remain, a spectacular team.

As this memory popped up a few days ago, I googled the word “futuring” to see if it was a real word.  It is, indeed.  It means carefully using forethought to plan and direct actions.

Then I REALLY giggled.  You see, my sister-friend was one of the least “plan-ahead” people on the face of the Earth. Futuring was more my role.  I was the more “grounded”, strategic one of the pair.

Which brought me to the true word that defines Terri…..Adventuring.

She and I, best of friends since the age of 16, spent over 40 years of friendship living adventures on a daily basis.  Terri had an indominable sense of spontaneity, fun, and whimsy.  There was no conversation, including some of the most intense ones of our lives, that we couldn’t end with belly-busting laughter. 

Our sisterhood was formed and grew on the shared belief in the goodness of the world, and that adventures were always waiting to be had.

If one of us said, “We need an adventure,” it meant a trip needed to be planned ASAP and shenanigans were on the way.

We would end phone calls by saying, “And what adventures are you going to have today?” to remind us to have a sense of joy in all we did.

Our adventures could be a trip to TJ Maxx or a trip to see a broadway play.  It didn’t matter what the event was, what mattered was the intention of joy and excitement in all.

In true yin/yang fashion, she would light the spark, and I would make the plans.

There were times when my “futuring” mind would drive her nuts.  “Why are you always THINKING so much?”

And there were times when I wished her adventures could be a bit more thought-out (her tardiness was the stuff of legends). 

And the balance, the magical marriage of our friendship, worked.  For over 4 decades, it worked. 

One night, as she lay in hospice, I began the daunting task of going through her personal belongings.  The futuring part of my soul was frustrated, almost angry. 

After a 4 year journey with cancer, the end was not a surprise.  Despite the constant belief in miracles and magic, the end did not sneak up on us. 

How had she not prepared?  How had she not even begun the task of setting precious items aside for her boys?  Starting with her jewelry, I set things aside into separate piles.  I would see a ring she loved, and imagine it being given to a future daughter-in-law.  I held her grandmother’s engagement ring, and could envision one of the boys giving it to his daughter one day.  I sorted and itemized, and honestly, stewed a bit.  Why was I the one doing this job?  Couldn’t she have “futured” just a little bit more?

The following morning I brought in several items for her to look at and guide me on how to preserve.  She laughed and said, “Oh, you figure it out, you’re good at that planning ahead stuff.”  Well, we knew each other’s strengths, that’s for sure!

Two days later, slowly slipping further away,  we were obviously beginning the phase of her becoming in and out of “consciousness”. 

I greeted her with a hug, and as always, asked, “What adventures should we have today?”  She grinned and giggled as she slipped into sleep.

What followed for the next several hours was perhaps the greatest adventure of our lives together.  I wish I could have been inside her head, her spirit that day, but all I know is that every time she woke up, she existed in some aspect of her past.  Once she woke up enough to ask me if I had bottles made for the baby (her boys are adults).  Another time she asked me if I could get her favorite stuffed animal from childhood. I was reminded to feed her first dog. She drifted in and out of “sleep” all day, and with each awakening she existed in different time frame of her life.  Her previous house.  The dorm at college.  Had I picked up my maid-of-honor shoes yet (and, honestly, were they ugly? In case you’re wondering, they were hideous).  It went on all day.  We relived all of the major moments of her life, one chapter at a time. I drifted in and out of each time and place with her, speaking to her from the reference point of where she was at that moment, grateful I’d been a part of it all, and could be fully present with her.

I can’t imagine a greater adventure, to relive one’s life with them one last time, because you’d had the honor of being in it all along. 

And then she was gone.

As with any good partnership, it is the conglomeration of strengths that builds the whole. We “wore off” on each other through the years, sharing our spirit and perspectives. Between the two of us we had it all covered. The planner and the dreamer.

 That was us.

 The one who remembered to future, and the one who ceaselessly adventured.

 The one who grounded, and the one who flew free. 

The one who remains, and the one who is having the greatest adventure of all.

We are all a little bit of each, futurer and adventurer. The true magic of life is in the balance…the knowing when to plan, and the knowing when to throw the plans out the window. The steady and the saucy, the centered and the whirling romantic.

 May we each find and admire the perfect balances in the ones we love, as well as in ourselves.

Here’s to planning great adventures.

Gotcha

Any parent with more than one child knows the “Gotcha” game. The kids are strapped safely into the back seat, and Child A begins poking Child B, Child B screams about the unfairness of it while poking back at Child A, poking turns into swatting, and swatting turns into hitting and ……yeah, it’s a mess. Each child is equally outraged by the indignity of the poke while also doing the exact same thing.

This week has felt like a massive game of Gotcha in pretty much every area of my life.

It certainly occurred on a national scale, as the horror show at the nation’s Capitol played out. While flipping through news stations with every possible political bent (in a desperate search for unbiased reporting), I kept hearing the same message, “Well….THEY started it! THEY poked first!” You can insert “they” with the name of any opposing political party.

The Gotcha game dominated my Facebook threads this week. People I love and care about were using the cover of seemingly kind and strong stances to also take an underhanded jab at a family member or colleague with differing views. While most would scroll past after a quick click on the little heart or thumbs up icon, those with just a smidge of backstory know it was meant to poke a chosen one (or few). The post was a Trojan Horse of hurt. Gotcha.

A parent and child I work closely with, working on communicating without arguing, quickly escalated a missing homework assignment discussion into cuts and wounds so deep they hopefully will be forgiven, but never forgotten.

“Did you mean to slice your mom wide open with that?” I asked. The teen looked at me, horrified, and said, “NO! I would never want to hurt her like that”. Well, you did. You got her, and you got her good. Gotcha.

The Gotcha game’s greatest power lies in it’s ability to pull people away from real issues. It becomes more about being “right”, being vindicated, getting the last word, the last jab, than it is about any form of true resolution.

Passive-aggressiveness is not a pretty look on any of us. When we write a social media post that is benign to most but will cut to the quick for a certain intended reader, we’re putting on a passive-aggressive cloak and strutting around proudly, thinking we are so clever and subtle, and yet we march around like the Emperor’s New Clothes. Not a good look, indeed.

When the intention of our words are to poke another, we are so caught up in the Gotcha game that our words become weapons. We need to be careful that we don’t think we are part of any possible form of solution when we, too, are wrecklessly weilding weapons.

The Gotcha game’s danger is it delays us from focusing on justice and resolution. If we are poking, we are not healing. If we are poking, we are living in the past and not solution-oriented. If we are Hell-bent on one last jab, getting the last word, we are not moving forward.

We need to use our words. We MUST stand up against injustices whether they occur in a zoom session, the kitchen table, or the seat of world democracy. When we dress them up in thinly-veiled hostility, we dishonor the very principles we are trying to defend or represent.

We should be bold and confident enough in what we believe that we don’t need to play games with it. It dishonors the very things we say we represent.

I want my “weapon” to be peace, compassion, and responsible social impact. I want my words to be used to unite, not to divide. I want my words to be used to resolve conflicts, not keep them flamed. The Gotcha game stops when one person decides to not poke back, and use principled action instead.

Thresholds

Years ago, my husband and I completed a huge jigsaw puzzle entitled “Doors of the World”. It was a collage of doorways of different sizes, shapes and colors. I was drawn in by the colors, as color tend to be what always calls my name first. Yet as we tediously worked piece by piece, I found myself drawn in in another way.

As the puzzle slowly began to take form and the doors were coming into clearer view, I found myself wondering about what was on the other side. All of the photos were a street view….but what would the puzzle look like if all the doors were opened? Would we be able to glimpse into the homes, the offices, the secret world of what lies on the other side? What would we find? How much did the outside appearance of the door match the interior? What did each doorway connect?

Thresholds.

Look up from reading this, look around your room, and find a doorway. So much more than just a frame that supports a door, a threshold is a space between. Not quite here, not quite there, but rather a point of transition. A brink. An edge.

Physical thresholds have long been included in rituals and rites of passage. Imagine a strapping young groom carrying his bride across the threshold of their new home, symbolizing leaving behind single life and crossing over into the life of a new family. Many homes of Jewish inhabitants have a mezuzah placed on the threshold of the front door, believed to be a constant reminder that God lives there, and to leave the troubles of the outside world as you enter a holy space. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Southern home without a welcoming wreath decorating a front door, whether the home be modest or mammoth. Welcome, come on in, make yourself at home! Leave your worries on the porch.

Each example signifies the transitioning of time and space, the leaving of one form of existence and mindset into the entering of another. All of them represent that when we cross that doorway, that threshold, something new awaits. We will be in a new space, both physically and emotionally. A leaving behind, a moving towards.

And so, as I turn my calendar to 2021 and try to train my brain to write the correct year on correspondences, I find myself at yet another, though metaphorical, threshold.

We leave one space. We enter another. And if we are awake, alert, mindful of the brink we find ourselves on, if we take a moment for an intentional pause as we rush into our busy work-weeks and the stress of getting that post-holiday “back to normal”, we realize that as we step into a new year, we have the ability to leave behind and/or bring forward what we choose.

What will you leave on the 2020 side of the doorway? Hurt feelings? A lost love? A goal that went unaccomplished? What purging will you do to make your travels to the other side of the door lighter and more inviting?

And what will you bring with you as you step solidly into 2021? Hope? Optimism? Determination? What intentional soul-packings do you bring with you as you settle into the newness, the freshness of the otherside of the doorway?

May we savor the threshold moments this week, not rushing wildly from one frame of mind to another, from one space to the next. May we recognize the space between, the pause, the brink, and be conscious about what we carry forth with us into each and every moment.

Lessons from 2020

One of my favorite times of the whole year is the week between Christmas and New Year. With most of the bustle of Christmas is behind us, there is an almost mystical lull. It seems to be in these liminal days I become both reflective, sentimental, hopeful and forward-thinking all mixed together.

It’s probably the teacher in me, but I try to live my life in lessons. I try to make sure I can squeeze every possible message, every possible take-away from both the good and the not-so-good. So it seems natural that as I reflect on the year that is closing, I think in terms of what I’ve learned. And it’s been an astronomical amount.

1.) Death is life. My 2020 began on January 2 with an 8 hour drive to Ohio to spend the next month with my life-long best/sister/soul friend in hospice. Her 3.5 year journey with ovarian cancer was coming to a close. That month was most definitely the hardest, and most beautiful, of my life. To be with a loved one as she slips away, slowly, into a different form of existence can’t help but form a life vision that is forever changed.

Death is life. It is natural. It is guarunteed. It can be peaceful and beautiful. And it does not end a love, a friendship, a life together, but rather only changes it’s form.

2) Time is life. Of course, the losing of a loved one way too early in life can’t help but reframe one’s general world view. I now often find myself thinking in terms of “legacy”, of the gifts I want to leave behind. And for me, it all comes down to time. With whom do we spend our time? What are we creating with our time? How are we helping the world, or our family, a stray animal with our time? It’s really all we have. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. There are no do-overs.

We get one block of time to use purposefully and meaningfully. Prioritize it. Use it wisely. Make sure how you use your time is in integrity with what you hold most dear. It is our legacy, both while we live and long after.

3.) God is life. And He’s ginormous. As in HUGE! As in I simply don’t have words to describe how huge. I’ve always believed in a big God, but this year my relationship with this powerful source of all that is has expanded into the universe. It seems funny to me that for a year I’ve spent largely at home I now see God in the whole wide world in ways I never have before. I love this so very much. I will always remember 2020 as the year I untied God from the neat little “Sunday School” image in which I had confined him, and he burst into his full existence in my soul.

4.) Celebration is life. My guess is that 10 years from now when I look back on 2020, it will be a blur. I find that even now, in the midst of it, I can’t nail down if something happened in March or July. My mile markers are gone. I realize now that I anchor the passage of time by celebrations. This happened near a son’s birthday, that happened close to Mother’s Day, and so on. With a year when there were so few celebrations, at least in person and the way we’re used to, my sense of time seemed to collapse. It kind of feels like it imploded into one black hole of a year.

Celebrations are the fuel of life. They anchor us in community, purpose and joy. Celebrations are how we mark major life events, how we welcome new seasons, how we say goodbye. When they are minimized or neglected, even for reasons such as Covid, we lose our bearings, we miss the meaning-making moments that make our lives together so precious. We MUST celebrate. And often. And with love and joy. And hope. Always hope.

5.) Hope is life. There is magical power in hope. It is what keeps us grounded, it is what keeps us uplifted, it is what keeps us balanced. For so many this was a year of despair. Deep, gut-wrenching despair. Loss of jobs, loss of loved ones, social unrest, unknown personal, national and global futures. It brought me to my knees more than once, most certainly.

But it was always hope that made me get back up on my feet. The hope that we can take the lessons we learn, and pay them forward. The hope that love will truly trump all else. The hope that our loved ones, our communities, our world can be healed and healthy one day very soon.

It is hope that makes me rise each day. It is the hope that I can love my people well. It is the hope that I can do a little bit of good in my corner of the world. It is the hope that my words and my work can touch one heart. It is the hope that if we all have hope, we will all be ok.

My hope for you, sweet friend, as we move into a new calendar year, is that you will find the lessons meant for you, the ones that will help shape 2021 into a year of love and grace.