Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thy Will and Not Mine…

If you live and breathe and find yourself in relationships, you know all too well that sometimes you get your way and sometimes you yield for the greater good of family, friends, colleagues and significant others.  We have come to understand and expect this in our collective circles, and even in our play.  A sense of respect flows in the symphony of “give and take”.  In spite of this understanding, we don’t like to be on either end too long or the equilibrium is unsettled.  While indeed a balance, it is not necessarily an overly delicate one.  Often it can be lop-sided for a period of time based on need and we all find ourselves called upon to shoulder such responsibility from time to time.  We are a service oriented people and that is just what we do.

The “give and take” of which I have just described is more temporal in nature.  Our humanity thrives on fairness and equity - on reciprocity.  From time to time, we evaluate and even terminate relationships that don’t invest with the same intensity and loyalty that we do.  Such relationships sap our energy and life and even our resources.  Life is short and there is only so much time and energy to go around.  We save that energy for those most important to us.

However, this is not the type of “give and take” that I am writing about.  There is a more eternal "give and take" that sometimes requires far more faith and understanding than we feel possible.  I am talking about the Lord’s will for us when it seems so harshly different from our most righteous desires and goals.  I am talking about outcomes that challenge the notion of righteous living following God’s commandments, followed by promised and expected  blessings.  I am talking about reassurances that things will be okay, yet sometimes they ultimately go very wrong.

Since we are talking about the word “okay”.  There seems to me to be a temporal meaning of “okay” and an eternal definition of “okay” that almost seem like polar opposites.  For the record, I prefer the temporal “okay.”  This is the “okay” that everything will be fine, will work out how we are expecting it will and leave us warm and fuzzy.  This is the “okay” that our painful moments will not require too much of us personally and will be fairly temporary.  The eternal “okay” requires far more stretching than I feel like I want for myself on any given day.  The eternal “okay” is a type of gut-wrenching struggle that calls into question everything you know to be true.  It is my humble opinion that this word should be substituted with something more realistic such as, “acceptable after commiserate blood, sweat and tears over a much longer period than you feel humanly possible.”  That is the meaning of eternal “okay.”  They should just say that so that we don’t get confused.

When asked to drink from the sometimes truly bitter cup of accepting God’s will, how do we do so without becoming bitter ourselves?  Why me? Why us? Why now?  Most recently I have wrestled with those very questions.  My thoughts turned to my beliefs that if we expect a certain outcome based on our behavior and our sacrifices, we are demonstrating a sense of entitlement to our Maker.  Since I abhor entitlement, I had to process things in a different way.  Why not me? Why not us? Why not now?  My ability to see God’s tender mercies and small miracles were poured out abundantly as I shifted my thought process from initial feelings of bitterness with a bit more humility.  I may have missed the blessings the Lord was trying to shower on us during a most difficult situation.  He had not left us alone and I could have missed it all if I had focused my energy on anger.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine hear; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Proverbs 3:5

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that through our obedience to the Savior, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can.  He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace.”

In the Book of Mormon it states, “And I will . . . ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”  Mosiah 24:14

When it comes to submitting our will to God, it is really the only thing we can give to Him that is not His already.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell says it most eloquently, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar.  The many other things we ‘give,’ …are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.  However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him!  It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

I am quoting quite a bit because I have found myself lacking and void of any profound wisdom on how to submit to the really hard stuff.  For as long as I can remember I have been an advocate of fairness.  Lectures of “life is not fair” have not resonated with me because I believe with all my heart that life should be.  My work ethic is strong and I have never expected something for nothing.  This perhaps leaves me a little bewildered when blindsided with unfairness.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”  Isaiah 55:8

Having the desire to redirect my pleas from why us, why now, to please give us the faith and the strength to accept Thy will and not mine, is summed up so completely by Elder David A. Bednar.  “We learn we need to gain the faith that the Lord is in charge whatever the outcome may be, and He will guide us from where we are to where we need to be….Please give me the faith to accept whatever outcome Thou hast planned for me.  Thus even with strong faith, many mountains will not be moved.  And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed.  If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.  

Ten days after our son and his wife lost their first full term baby, I still have no answers for Why them?  Why us?  Why now?  What I do know is that the more fully I accept God’s will, the more aware I am that He is with us and with them.  He has been on our right hand and on our left and His angels have been round about.  I am comforted knowing that these things can stretch us beyond what we could have imagined.  My comfort includes knowing that the Lord will make shoulders strong to carry the load and that He will accompany us in our affliction.  For now, I acknowledge a limited understanding of “why” and yield to He who knows more than I about what is in store for my kids.  For He who has blessed my life in more ways that I could ever count, I will give Him the only gift I can offer and that is trusting His will over my own.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tears of A Clown…

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”  ~ Saint-Exupery

The words “tears of a clown” provoked in me some curiosity and reflection after hearing the phrase mentioned in a news report about the suicide of actor, Robin Williams, one of my favorite comedians. Even though his acting abilities were undeniably diverse, he was forever the comedian and his manic, impromptu style revealed a kind of unrivaled comedic genius.  It seemed inconceivable that someone who made everyone around him laugh, did not have a sense of personal inner peace.

Curiosity prevailed and I discovered the phrase “Tears of a Clown” is actually the title of a song sung by Smokey Robinson.  The lyrics read “keeping hurt and sadness hidden from the public eye - just as Pagliacci did.”  Who or what is Pagliacci?  Pagliacci is the Italian plural word for clowns.  Pagliacci is also a famous opera of a play within a play.  The main character Canio (dressed as a clown) literally stabs his cheating wife and her lover while they are performing onstage and turns to a horrified, yet unsuspecting audience and utters the famous closing line as they lie dying  “The Comedy is finished.”

The irony of this notion of outward hilarity covering an inward and unrelenting sorrow is indicative of a huge number of current contemporary issues we frequently deal with on very personal levels.  While deliberating this paradox, my phone rang with news of a break-in at my daughter’s floral shop.  The thief broke the glass of her front door and entered the shop during the early morning rush hour.  The police suspected the thief was looking for money or something to liquidate quickly to fuel a likely addiction. 

Later that same night, while dining with friends I could not help but notice a 700 lb. man dining at the table next to us.  Emotional pain manifests itself in so many ways: aggression, bullying, suicide, depression, addiction and self medication, eating, cutting and self mutilation, shopping, gambling, infidelity, excessive work, sex or exercise, as well as a variety of other self-destructive behaviors.  

This is not really just about depression and suicide, nor is is about addiction, nor even about food. Isn’t the bottom line of all these behaviors simply the various ways we run from and mask emotional pain?  Instead of having conversations about each one of these destructive behaviors individually, shouldn’t the conversation be about teaching about, identifying and assisting with emotional pain in a straight forward, direct way?  Why is this not our focus, since unresolved emotional pain seems to be the crux of so many of these issues?  

“People need loving the most when they appear to deserve it the least.” ~ John Harridan

While it seems so obvious to me that we are missing the proverbial boat, I examined my own personal resources in dealing with emotional pain as a person, parent and a former board member for the Mental Health Association.  Am I able to give a quick rundown of ways to work through emotional pain in the same way as for a fever, a cold or the flu, a pulled or strained muscle?  No, not even close.  Sure, I have some ideas and suggestions, but a well rehearsed list of options, sadly - no.  How in the world did I ever raise children?  Suddenly, I feel completely inadequate in how I equipped my own family to deal with the unavoidable stress, hurt and disappointment of life.  Are we overwhelmingly getting a failing grade in arming our society with coping strategies in dealing with life’s disappointments? I would have to say, unequivocally, yes! 

The internet is full of information about physical health.  Granted, information quite often is conflicting, but there is plenty of self-help advice to be found.  Try looking up emotional health.  Why is belly fat or high cholesterol so much more important than anxiety and depression?  Unfortunately, I had to look long and hard to find any type of list of how to work through emotional pain.  I am not so naive as to think there is a “one size fits all” list, but certainly we can start with some effective suggestions for everyday disappointments.  Serious depression and suicidal thoughts should be considered a medical emergency and can be as life threatening as a heart attack or stroke.  In less dire situations, there are healthy and effective ways to deal with emotional pain.   Below is a condensed version from WikiHow on “15 Ways to Cope with Emotional Pain.” 

  1. Don’t try to cure what is normal.
  2. If you have emotional pain, there is a reason for it. 
  3. Don’t pretend you don’t feel it.  Allowing yourself to feel rather than denying or masking will help you process the pain.  Pray or meditate to work through it.
  4. Identify all your feelings.  Identifying exactly how you feel will be helpful in processing your emotions in the wake of a traumatic or disappointing life event.
  5. Endure it.  Like any other body part that is broken, giving it a few days - the pain lessens, but healing can take a little time.  
  6. Talk to someone.  Knowing someone is there for you is more important than being understood.
  7. Don’t let anyone tell you your feelings are not real.
  8. Get your mind off yourself and how bad you feel.  Healing takes time but it won’t help you or those around you to wallow in it.  Even grief needs a break.  
  9. Allow time to heal.  This too, shall pass.
  10. Don’t let your pain define you.  You are better and stronger than this episode.  It won’t last forever.
  11. Write a letter.  Putting your feeling on paper can help you sort them out.  Don’t try to justify - just get them out and see what you can learn from them.
  12. Stay away from any statements that blame yourself or others.  Take responsibility for your part in what went wrong but resist the urge to blame.
  13. Develop a learning orientation.  Trying times can help us develop better coping skills, learn wisdom and develop perspective.
  14. Write a thankfulness list.  Being thankful is naturally healing and will help balance the injury.
  15. If you’ve lost hope or you’re thinking of suicide, you’re either suppressing your pain or you have deeper unresolved issues that you need to complete.
For those willing to embrace faith in God, there are ways to enable the power of the Atonement to take from us the pain and suffering which catapult us far beyond our limits to cope and anguish we cannot begin to endure alone.  This is not an either/or list.  As a woman of faith I agree with every suggestion listed above.  I wish I had possessed that list as I taught my children to process hurt and disappointment.  However, using my faith and my belief in God gives me additional coping strategies that enhance the above list.  Elaine S. Marshall, the Dean of Nursing at Brigham Young University gave an exceptional address to a group of students in 2002 on this very topic.  She equates emotional healing to the physical healing from the medical field and gives five very practical lessons that facilitate healing of spirit.  
Healing Hurts - I have learned that healing hurts.  Life hurts.  Healing really begins only when we face the hurt in its full force and then grow through it with all the strength of our soul.  For every reward of learning and growing, some degree of pain is always the price.”
Healing is Active - You have to participate.  No one else can do it for you.  To begin healing, you must acknowledge and feel the hurt.  Only those who don’t feel, those without conscience, cannot heal.”
Healing is Private - Private healing is not healing by abandonment.  Healing is not only private, it is sacred.  There is something so sacred about partaking of the power of the Atonement to overcome suffering, disappointment, or sin that it happens in the privacy of that special relationship between the mortal and the divine.  Healing involves a private, personal communion with the Savior, the Master Healer.”
Healing Teaches Us - We will never be the same.  Pain changes us but not in the same way healing teaches us.  Healing can help us become more sensitive and more awake to life.  Healing inspires repentance and obedience.  Healing invites gifts of humility and faith.  It opens our hears to the profound complexities of truth, beauty, divinity, and grace.”
Healing is a Divine Gift - The last and greatest lesson of healing is that it is a divine gift always available from a loving Heavenly Father.  If you have a pain or sorrow or disappointment or sin or just a grudge that needs healing, the Savior simply says, ‘Come unto me.’”
President Gordon B. Hinckley reminds us as servants of Jesus Christ of our responsibility to ease the pain of those around us who suffer.  “Every day someone in your path is hurting, someone is afraid, someone feels inadequate, or someone needs a friend.  Someone needs you to notice, to reach out, and to help him or her to heal.  You may not know who that is at the time, but you can give encouragement and hope.  You can help heal wounds of misunderstanding and contention.  You can serve in the cause of the Master Healer.”
When it is all said and done, “At the final day the Savior will not ask about the nature of our callings.  He will not inquire about our material possessions or fame.  He will ask if we ministered to the sick, gave food and drink to the hungry, visited those in prison, or gave succor to the weak.  When we reach out to assist the least of Heavenly Father’s children, we do it unto Him.  That is the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” ~ Joseph B. Wirthlin
Certainly we can’t change this problem overnight.  Yet, we can all do a better job in our own circles;  to actively reach out to those who are isolated, who seem withdrawn, those without apparent friends.  Everyone needs to feel important and needed.  There is a power in a smile, in kind words and encouragement.  Helping others feel gladness, belonging and friendship may eliminate the need for a the self destructive masks camouflaging sorrow, pain and buried tears. 

WikiHow suggestions signs types diagnosis treatment.htm,  and  Eight Ways to Actively Fight Depression

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Women and Priesthood - Where does this leave our boys?

A movement has rippled through the waters of the LDS church as a group of women advocates recently petitioned church leaders for The Priesthood of God. This demand came at great personal sacrifice as their determined request cost them membership in a church they claim to believe in and love.  It has taken me a few weeks to wrap my head around what bothers me most about this request and resulting consequences.  Do I have a problem with women as ministers, in general?  No.  Am I partial to the advice and leadership abilities of men and think they are better equipped to lead?  No.  Do I think that men are more highly favored by God?  No.   

Let me be clear.  I am an advocate for women.  My beliefs are strongly rooted in equality and fairness in how women are treated, compensated, respected and honored.  Feminism has a place in our society and over the years has afforded women a voice and rights that were not previously available in a male dominated society.  During the past few decades Feminists took notice that girls were not keeping up with boys in the educational process and diligently and collectively worked to change that trend.  Feminists have fought to level the playing field for jobs, pay, rights and privileges.  As a woman, I appreciate the opportunities that have been afforded me by courageous women who speak up, challenge oppression, and ask for change.  

The Feminists theory is an outgrowth of the general movement to empower women worldwide.  Feminism can be defined as a recognition and critique of male supremacy combined with efforts to change it.  The goals of feminism are: To demonstrate the importance of women.  www.soc.iastate,edu/sapp/Feminist.ppt   

Most likely, there are few women who would disagree with this theory.  From my estimation there are two kinds of feminists; one who desires equality and desires women to be held in equal regard to men.   The other is to have whatever men have to prove equality - at whatever price (personal or societal).  Some of the women of the Ordain Women organization were willing to give up their church membership for this particular cause.  They claim to be faithful followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This consequence, will affect their lives and possibly the lives of several generations because they could not personally reconcile this difference.                                                                                  

Although this group of women was well intentioned, there is a fundamental difference between equality and need for “sameness.”  The definition of sameness is lack of variety; uniformity or monotony.  There are vital things that men and women each, undeniably, bring to the collective table.  In the desire for equality, we do not need to rob either group of their unique and wonderful contribution for the sake of self-aggrandizement.  To hope for or to seek absolute sameness is to deny the beauty of synergy and to deny our divine gifts.

By definition, The Priesthood is the authority and power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of man and womankind.  “Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless, and to strengthen other people…. Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood.  Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.”  The Powers of Heaven by David A. Bednar  

Women certainly demonstrate enough competence, intelligence and ability to qualify them for such an ordination.  However, being ordained to the Priesthood is not a coveted prize to prove equality.  It is a role, in humility, to strive for in obedience and worthiness.  Let me repeat, the Priesthood does not personally benefit the beholder.  It is for the benefit and service and salvation of others.  A priesthood holder cannot bless himself.  He is just as dependent on the blessing from another priesthood holder as anyone else.  

Recently, I ran across a few books that I read several years ago as a young mother raising a son.  The books, Real Boys, by William Pollack, Ph.D and The War Against Boys, by Christina Hoff Sommers crystalized in my mind what has been most troubling to me about this recent series of events in the LDS church.  I have for many years worried about the emasculation of boys and men in our society.  Whatever I was worried about 10-20 years ago, when these books were written, has multiplied ten fold.  Boys are falling behind girls in almost every aspect of education, scholarship, opportunity, etc.  The statistics are and should be troubling to us as mothers.  Men in movies, TV sitcoms and commercials are depicted as buffoons with nothing of real contribution.  There are fewer and fewer strong male role models in our school systems.  More and more boys are raised in single parent homes where fathers or strong male role models are absent.  Men are not stepping up as a whole to fill this gap.

CBS News did a story about why boys are lagging behind girls and the statistics are chilling.  Girls are outpacing boys in almost every area from grade school to professional schools.  Honor societies are made up largely of women, school leadership roles are female dominant and the notion is that boys can only succeed athletically. 

Countless articles exist about the current emasculation of men in our society.  There is a relentless current of frustration due to lack of clarity of expectations for men and boys that is worthy of our consideration as we strive to be equal. “Men no longer have clearly defined roles in marriage.  Our testosterone laden brains function differently than estrogen created brains, and we actually crave clarity of roles to help us flourish.  Women thrive on collaboration.  Men thrive on solving.  Finally, we know women are super competent, and don’t ‘need’ us in the traditional sense but feeling wanted is pretty darn awesome for us too.  Not that we were taught to tell you that.  The men in my caseload over the past six years have consistently echoed the desire to feel needed and important.”

I have only scratched the proverbial surface about this subject with regards to the disparity of support, encouragement and direction for boys.  If we ignore the trend and wait until every board room, every courtroom, every operating room is filled with only women, it will take  generations to reverse.  

There is a story that told about two friends walking home together on a rugged and winding Himalayan path in the dead of winter.  As they pushed forward through blowing and blinding snow, they noticed a man lying on the ground covered lightly with snow.  At first they thought him to be frozen but realized he was still alive, although unconscious.  One of the men leaned down to help the man, but his friend, while sympathetic, suggested they must reach their home before dark or they too, would die.

At this point, they parted ways, one man pushing forward for the warmth and safety of home.  The other man hoisted the nearly frozen man on his back and trudged toward his village at a significantly slower pace.  Through the extreme chill of the afternoon and evening, the man carrying the nearly dead stranger noticed a dark object ahead on the path.  As they approached the object, it became clear that it was the frozen deceased body of his friend who had pushed forward alone.

The man was puzzled as to why his friend who walked at a much faster pace through the blizzard had met such a demise when he himself had been exposed to the elements far longer.  It was then that he realized it was the warmth of the unconscious man and the heat generated from carrying him that had kept them both alive.  By stopping to save a man, he had in turn saved himself.

Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand?   It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge. - Stephen Covey

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “There is no other arrangement that meets the diving purposes of the Almighty.  Man and woman are His creations.  Their duality is His design.  Their complementary relationships and functions are fundamental to His purposes.  One is incomplete without the other.”  Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “The blessing of the priesthood are not confined to men alone.  These blessings are also poured out upon…all the faithful women of the Church…The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons.”

Throughout my life I have been privileged enough to travel to many countries around the world.  My observations have included societies dominated by men where women have absolutely no rights and cannot leave their homes without the permission of men.  In stark contrast, I have also witnessed societies where women do everything while the men spend their days “limin’ away” or gambling.  The most productive and successful societies seem to be  the ones where there is an “interdependency” as men and women honor, support and need one another in harmony.

To borrow a Chinese philosophy that describes perfect unity is one of Yin and Yang.  One cannot exist without the other.  One cannot dominate or be diminished in size.  They must coexist in opposite, yet perfect harmony.  We likewise have roles that are equally important.  When we appreciate and honor one another for our unique contributions, we can employ a synergy that is far greater than us acting in our own self interest.

John Donne said that. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” I, for one, am grateful that the LDS church has a place for women to lead organizations, fill stewardships, and serve others.  I am also grateful there is something important and worthy for all our young men to aspire to.  We need them, they bless our lives in countless ways.  We honor them and support them so that they can support and help us.  It is a beautiful, synergistic system. 

My heart is saddened by women in my church who have felt oppressed by men who, for whatever reason, have felt the need to use their Priesthood unrighteously to dominate and/or oppress.  On the flip side, I think it would be just as unrighteous for women to “want it all” at the expense of dismissing the value of the contribution of men and especially young boys who are already confused about their roles as men.  

If the Priesthood ordination is what women truly seek, there are plenty of churches that offer such to both men and women.  I am grateful that the LDS church has programs for boys that are nurtured under the care and tutelage of men; fathers, scout leaders and instructors.  Men, who can be strong role models as boys navigate the treacherous and uncertain path of boyhood regardless of the composition of their particular family.   My wish is that we could all seek to obtain that delicate and beautiful balance where we honor, respect, and value one another.   

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Nothing but Time…..

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”
- Bill Watterson
This very sentence rolled off my tongue more than once as I described to family and friends how I would fill my time as I accompanied my husband to a CLE conference in Scottsdale, AZ.  How delightful to find an actual quote (I thought I made it up myself) which had drawn such puzzled expressions from those I uttered it to.  
What is “nothing” and how does one go about doing so much of it that they run out of time in its pursuit?  Nothing, something, much, little, a boat load, mountains - all describe the amount of work and/or activities that we perceive to fill our time.  To me, “nothing” does not mean laying on the couch or sleeping all day.  However… it could.  “Nothing” means doing exactly what I want to do without expectation, demand, or schedule and most likely it means doing what I want, when I feel like it…or not.
My husband laughed at me when I said I wasn’t sure if two days was long enough to do all the nothing I had in mind.  He said I probably had a brief case full of projects to do during those two days.  Okay, it is true, I brought a few things to do….but only if I feel like it and only if I decide to do them.  To me, that is “nothing” and the best way that I know how to recharge my battery.  Much of my days are spent doing what others have for me to do.  This too, is my choice and I would not have it any other way.  Yet in spite of that, I relish the time I can steal to do a narrow to wide variety of pure “nothingness.”
Time is an interesting notion if you think about it.  Time is one of the few great equalizers since the world began.  Every man, woman and child that has ever lived on this earth has had exactly the same amount of time each day.  Kings, rulers, aristocrats, philosophers, professionals, students, farmers, etc. have exact equality.  No favoritism or punishment is considered in the dispersal of time.  Yet, we help ourselves to this equally portioned gift in a wide variety of ways.
In Greek philosophy there are two very different definitions of time.  The first one is Chronos time.  It is the structured time that we live in with minutes and seconds.  This is the method of measuring time that we are most familiar with because it is chronological and man-made.  Chronos is the fleeting time that we wrestle with every day in keeping with schedules or the painstakingly slow watching of the clock when we are uncomfortable or suffering.  
Kairos time on the other hand is God’s time.  It is outside of the typical frame of reference that we associate with time because it is metaphysical time.  Kairos signifies time standing still or a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which intuition, understanding and magical “aha” moments happen. 
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”  - Henry Van Dyke
In a talk given to a group of students in a devotional, Joseph B. Wirthlin implies that there are two basic concepts that must be understood if we are to utilize the gift of time properly.  “Concept number one is the haunting thought that time carries no guarantee that it will serve us; it is merely made available to us.  Concept number two is the reality that it remains for each one of us, alone and singly, to learn how to get the most out of the passing hours, days, weeks, months, and even eternity.”
Elder Wirthlin goes on to say that “for every human being, time is a resource - indeed, a unique resource.  It can neither be accumulated like money nor stockpiled like raw material.  We are forced and compelled to spend it at a fixed rate of sixty seconds every minute; it passes at this predetermined rate no matter what we do.  We have no choice, no freedom or free agency in this regard.  Time, unlike water or practically anything else one can name, can neither be turned off nor replaced.  No spigot can be installed to regulate and control its flow, as can be done with water, and no refilling device may be applied to replenish the quantity….It is the most inelastic element in our entire existence.” 

“Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.” - H. Jackson Brown
Due to the fact that I am an over-achiever at heart and a multi-tasker, quotes like this have over the years made me feel like the mere wasting of a second was a violation of this most precious resource.  That, however, was the younger me and although I am not motivated as much by guilt in my old age, I still don’t sit still much.  I have come to see the value of still and quiet moments for contemplation and rest.  These moments that we carve for ourselves are equally as important as the pursuit of something grandiose and lofty.
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” - Marthe Troly-curtin
The spending of time is subjective from one person to the next, from one situation to the next and even from one day to the next.  Only we can determine the best and most useful way to utilize this gift.  The use and/or misuse fluctuates from time to time along our journey while navigating opportunities and challenges as they present themselves.  The beautiful thing about time is that we rarely are a victim of its fruits.  Even those who have been dealt a fateful blow have offered hope and courage in the way they utilize time and work with what they have.  It needs not be the jailer that it sometimes appears on the surface to be.
Time vacillates back and forth being a cruel teacher a generous and nurturing mother.  It can be a ruthless master, a skillful healer, and a patient mentor.  Whatever it is to us, at any given time we have the power to tap into the best of what father time has to offer.  Perhaps this can best be summed up with a quote from the screenplay of  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,  This story is about a boy with Progeria, a disease that causes one to age very rapidly from infancy.  “For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be.  There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want.  You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.  We can make the best or the worst of it.  I hope you make the best of it.  And I hope you see things that startle you.  I hope you feel things you have never felt before.  I hope you meet people with a different point of view.  I hope you live a life you’re proud of.  If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”  ~Eric Roth.

Although we never know how much overall time has been allotted to us, the older we get the more aware of the sand falling through that proverbial hourglass.  We realize it really cannot be stopped so we better fit in as much as we can.  If we could all live our lives as if it were later than we think, we may wish for more days of “something” rather than “nothing”……or not!

Thursday, April 10, 2014


“The beauty of this day doesn't depend on its lasting forever.” 
~ Marty Rubin

One of my dearest friends lost her mother a year ago.  Widowed for fifty years, this lovely woman created a world for herself and raised a family virtually alone.  As my friend reminisces about the challenges observed and lessons learned from her mother, the thing she mentions most often is that her mother lived her life “fully present.”  The situations she was placed in, both good and bad, and the people with whom she was surrounded consistently had her full and undivided attention.

Regardless of the setting, take a minute and observe your surrounding.  Most people have their heads buried in some form of distraction.  Perhaps it is a lunch date that insists on taking every phone call, email or text message that comes, or a family gathering where everyone is sitting in a room together but each is immersed in their own virtual reality while being oblivious to the reality sitting right next to them.  Feeling insignificant can take on many forms but none is so chilling as being in the presence of someone who has checked out and is withdrawn regardless of the reason.  

Now, I realize that my friend’s mother is from another generation where distractions were very different than they are now, but there are lessons that can be learned and applied to our contemporary situations.  We live in a crazy, wonderful world that is changing almost weekly with the offering of technological conveniences that make my head spin.  It is unbelievable what we are able to do with a single click - we can manage our homes, conduct banking, purchase anything in the world to be delivered to our front door, watch t.v. and movies, conduct meetings, manage our health, diets, workouts, find information to do almost anything and even meet a potential spouse in the palm of our hand.  

Let’s be honest, much of what is available is quite remarkable, but a great deal of current applications are nothing more than time wasters.  I am not trying to be sanctimonious about how people spend their time.  We all relax in different ways and far be it from me to make judgments on how to do that.  However, every time we check emails, Facebook, Twitter we pull ourselves from what we are doing to do something else.   Most of my emails are junk that need to be deleted; Facebook has become more about surveys, silly tests, competitions to get the most “likes” and commercial promotions than about events of people I care about.  Yet, we spend so much of our day “checking” it all. 

Facebook sponsored a study looking at the amount of time people spend on their phones.  They report that “four out of five people check their phones within 15 minutes of getting out of bed in the morning.  Of all smartphone users 79% have their phone on or near them for all but two hours of their waking day; 63% keep it with them for all but one hour. A full quarter of respondents couldn’t recall a single time of the day when their phone wasn’t in the same room as them.”  Some of the behavior is considered to be compulsive behavior similar to shopping or eating and has been determined to undermine relationships. 

Ironically, with all that connectedness we find ourselves as a society getting more isolated.  There is nothing personal about a text message, a media post or an email.  As miraculous as this technology is, there is no substitution for a face to face conversation, a real live hug, a verbally delivered compliment or a friendly conversation over lunch or dinner.  “One recent study from the University of Essex even shows that just having a cell phone nearby during personal conversations -- even if neither of you are using it -- can cause friction and trust issues. Do your relationship a favor and pay your partner some exclusive attention for 10 minutes. It can make a big difference.”

As a shameless multi-tasker, I wrestle because we CAN do so many things at the same time.  And trust me, I am tempted to DO a variety of things at once.  In the same Huffington Post article, the assertion is made that people caught up in this type of multi-tasking or distraction while engaging in something else, fail to see obvious things happening right in front of them.   “According to a 2009 study from Western Washington University, 75% of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby.  The researchers call the ‘inattentional blindness,’ saying that even though the cell-phone talkers were technically looking at their surroundings, none of it was actually registering in their brains.”

Being fully present is a choice that we exercise.  Just like everything else, we are the ones with the power and the wisdom to use discretion in all we do.  Choosing how and when to be accessible to our families, our friends, our colleagues and customers, and the world is a definite option.  The way we use technology unfortunately sends the message that those we are with are unimportant.  Are we attentive to those we interact with or do we suffer from “inattentional blindness”?  The world may offer us the ability or even the expectation to be completely accessible at all times, but we do not have to comply.

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just to enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.  - Thorton Wilder

My husband has been a trial lawyer for thirty plus years.  In the beginning of his practice the gathering of information took time.  A professional could only run as fast as the information could be acquired and delivered.  I have observed the change over the years as information became acquired with ever increasing speed.  There almost comes with it the potential for virtually no down time.  Many professionals cannot currently run fast enough to keep up with the firehose of information that gushes continually and the subsequent expectation that goes with it.  For many working people, emails come in the middle of the night, orders are placed on holidays, phone calls come in the evening and on weekends.  Vacations are even difficult because we can always be reached, and we are programmed to “feel the need” to be accessible anywhere.  

We are so used to Multitasking, we are so addicted to overachieving that we fogey that the real happiness lies in simple things that take place in the present. - Sumish Nair

The one constant in this world is change.  Times may change.  The way we do things may change.  However, twenty four hours in a day is STILL all we have.  Our humanity STILL requires that we work and that we have adequate rest to meet our demands.  The way we care and interact on a human level is the SAME way that is has always been.  Feeling significant and important in the lives of those we care about and that care about us is a basic human need.  Dare to unplug and live fully present in the moment especially when we are around those we care about.  That personal interaction most likely will be far more satisfying than learning which celebrity you most likely resemble…..and it will matter next week, next month and next year.

photo credit:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

I recently received an email from a friend asking if we are too old to drive the new 2014 Mercedes Benz SCL 600.  The photographs of this sleek and beautiful Mercedes are consistent with what we have all come to expect from Mercedes Benz.  However, upon closer inspection, the interior of the vehicle is even sleeker than one would expect.  There is no steering wheel and no foot pedals.  The vehicle seems to be operated with a joy stick.  

Call me ridiculous, but I have come to enjoy driving intuitively.  My years of driving experience work in my favor.  I know instinctively when to begin slowing down at a stoplight, how much acceleration is necessary to avoid a problem, and even steering through a snowstorm when my car starts to slide.  A joystick?  Really?  I can only begin to anticipate the miscalculations possible with changing from a system I know to something I have never used, let alone mastered.  My kids grew up on video games.  The only game I played was Atari Pong back in the 1970’s.  If this is an indicator on my future driving success then I am in trouble and you, my fellow driver on the road, are in even bigger trouble.  There are plenty of things that I am prepared to do in my mature age to stay current, but I am not sure I had even considered relearning to drive a car in the parking lot of the local high school.  

“You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”  ~John Nuveen

This is not the first time I have felt pain.  The past five years or so have made me realize that the world is leaving me behind.  There was a time, I chose not to watch T.V. because I could not operate the three remotes required to do so.  Changing from film to digital photography upset my system of scrapbooking and I have yet to fully implement a new system.  Learning a new computer, navigating wireless technology, understanding “the cloud”, swipe texting, making deposits to our banks with our smart phone, online banking;  I have admittedly experienced angst and reluctance to fit into this brave new world.  Albert Brooks has been known to say that “getting older is a lot of fun.  Right up there with chewing glass or putting your hand in a blender.”  Amen.

“Old age is like everything else.  To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”  ~ Theodore Roosevelt

The characteristics of aging well have been a topic of discussion with my group of friends for many years. I agree that if you wait too long, it very well may be too late.  It is the type of decision you make early on to start you on a different trajectory.  Perhaps my friends and I wanted to be different from our grandparents who claim they could not tell time with the new digital clocks.  I still don’t get it, i.e. 10:45,  it doesn’t seem that hard, but I now understand the notion of feeling left behind by the times.  There was an article in Octogenarian Magazine several years ago that asked several seniors in their eighties what was the single most important characteristic to aging well.  The most common response was the ability to handle change.  Over the years, this idea continues to reverberate through my mind when faced with a new situation like a fog horn in a storm.  Handling change “well” seems like a worthy endeavor, the only problem is that this world is changing so fast.  

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.  The greatest thing is life is to keep your mind young.”  ~ Henry Ford

Dogs are a great way to circuitously observe human nature.  I have owned two chocolate labs during the past 15 years.  The adage of teaching an old dog new tricks is familiar to us for a reason - someone didn’t just make this up.  Often we identify characteristics more easily in others because we subconsciously observe that behavior in ourselves as well.  We are reluctant to change, we don’t like it and we fight it every step of the way.  The week before I turned fifty, I received an AARP application in the mail.  Isn’t that just pouring salt into an open wound?  I couldn’t shred that envelope fast enough.  Even though I try to be age appropriate, I will not shop in old lady stores or wear old lady shoes.  I have not embraced the gray in my hair and still try to fight the obvious losing battle of wrinkles.  My husband told some friends a few months ago over dinner that he thinks he will retire in two years.  I almost choked on my last bite.  Has my head been buried in the sand?  I  hadn’t realized that we were almost “there.”  It sounds cliche but age is only a number and I feel a different age on the inside than my driver’s license indicates.  I find it difficult to wrap my head around knocking on the door of old age.

Yet, in spite of Albert Brooks comment on old age is fun like sticking your hand in a blender, there are some things that are great.  Age really does give you wisdom, it gives you a special confidence that is undeniable.  We judge others less due to a heightened empathy earned from a multitude of life experiences and can see the bigger picture where our younger counterparts get caught up in the details.  We enjoy more flexibility with our time, our finances and our futures.  Our relationships are more relaxed because we accept differences and feel less threatened by life journeys and habits that differ from ours.

Did you know that Michelangelo was carving the Rondanini just before he died at 89?  Verdi finished his opera Falstaff at the ripe old age of 80 and the Spanish artist Goya scribbled on a drawing when he was 80 years old that he was still learning.  I have an 82 year old friend in my running group with a GPS running watch, a smart phone, who is a weekly docent at a church history museum and stays connected with her childhood friends from Norway on Facebook.  My parents text me every few days to see how I am doing.  

My point it that we can’t give up!  We can’t roll over.  There are more tricks to be learned and it CAN be done.  There are many around to inspire us that it is possible.  A study led by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto found that older adults an perform just as well as the young on a variety of visual and short term memory tests.  The remarkable part of this study demonstrated that older adults utilized different parts of their brain to do so.

“What you think, you become.”  ~ Buddha

In an article for CNN Health, Amand Enayati, writes that the older brain can be stimulated to be creative, innovative and contribute in remarkable ways.  The decline seems to be from not being challenged rather than not being able.  She quotes Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, “Nudge your neurons, shake things up.  Stay physically active.  Keep doing different things.  Challenge your assumptions.  Become comfortable with ambiguity.  Listen to differing points of view and develop the ability to accept differences.  Travel.  Learn different languages.”  

We think that we lose information as we get older.  However, the information is still in our brains, it just is more difficult to access in the folds of neurons.  The result is a need to jiggle the synapses of our well connected pathways.  Taylor goes on to suggest that we “bump up against people and ideas” to enlarge our established brain connections.   Just as physical exercise builds muscle and increases flexibility, seeking information and knowledge stretches our brain.  However to stretch our brain we need to push outside of what is familiar and get out of our comfort zone.  I now have an understanding of why it is recommended to try new things or drive a different way to work.  It jiggles our synapses so that we can better access information we already have but find difficult to recall.

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.  When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”  ~ Sophia Loren

My new resolve is that I am going to give this fight all that I have…computer classes, learning new programs, researching my family history using technology, an illustrating class, writing.  There is nothing comfortable about any of it.  My synapses are jiggling and I am not sure it feels good.  Yet, I am pressing on.

As for the AARP mailings - I will continue to shred them for the time being.

Arfff!  Arfff! 

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Auld Lang Syne

The sentiment of another holiday season is winding down.  The boughs of the Christmas tree are heavy with ornaments they had the strength to hold a few weeks ago but now struggle to support. The garlands are dry as tinder but whisper a hint of holiday cheer of past parties, gatherings and friendly conversations.  The lights - a reminder of anticipation and excitement as families and friends gathered, still flicker in the frosty snow.  Extinguished candles burned low, the mantle bare, stockings scattered throughout the house suggest hours of festivities as they appeal to be boxed up, packed away and stored for another season.  Sweet confections lie about reminiscent of desire, now suggesting a heaviness of sugary self-indulgence.

The work, the shopping, the baking and cooking, the travel, the wrapping, the lists and the endless tiny details that go into making a holiday season memorable now in the rear view mirror.  The crescendo mounts over the last few months and weeks of any given year and then seemingly evaporates with mere traces of itself to be shuffled, organized and swept away.  There is an end - and in my case a sense of fatigue.  A good kind of tired; a satisfied weariness of knowing that family togetherness was worth the personal cost.

This process of letting go and slowing down is replaced by another sense that percolates to the surface with a notion of a new and fresh beginning.  There are hints from the retail shelves, to television advertisements that I am not alone in this type of awakening.

What is it about this season that initiates and cultivates something deep inside all of us where one journey ends and another begins?  The crossroads of seasons; where one year collides with the next.  I became curious about how and when it all started.  The most obvious place to start was the traditional and sentimental song Auld Lang Syne that no New Year’s celebration goes without.  This song originated in Scotland in the late 1700‘s by Robert Burns as a reminder of people known and relationships remembered.  This is more a tribute and reflection of the past and does not really address the notion of a commitment to new years resolutions and new beginnings.  

Perhaps the answer can be found in another song that often is associated with the New Year.  Ring Out, Wild Bells originating from a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson and published in 1850, points the reader toward the future and a promise of something better.  

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go:
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness if the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

These few verses of a much longer poem seem a bit more on point.  They suggest personal reflection and desire for improvement by replacing vices with virtues.  Upon closer examination, it started far earlier than Lord Tennyson’s poem about letting go of the old and ushering in the new.   Ancient Babylonians began paying their debts to their gods by making promises at the start of each new year.  Romans had a similar tradition as did knights during the Medieval Era.  New Year’s Resolutions and starting anew was not cooked up by a clever Walmart marketing team.  This stuff goes way back.  No wonder it feels so innate.  

There seems to be some reference to reminicising and remembering but much more emphasis on looking forward.  One of my favorite talks is by Jeffrey R. Holland entitled, The Best is Yet to Be.  We can learn the lessons from the past as we should, but looking forward with hope and faith is a successful pattern for all of us.  “As a new year begins and we try to benefit from a proper view of what has gone before, I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives.”

Looking forward is a conscious action that suggests progress and every action comes from a simple idea.  The idea precedes the act itself.  Every action is completely voluntary, purposeful and calculated.  Action is really faith or hope at work.  Mankind seems to have a desire to look or work for something better.  It appears to be in our DNA because this idea has been around for a very long time.

Due to the fact that I am a shameless list maker and a multi-tasker, I am all over this New Year’s resolution and list making business.  It feels as natural as a warm pair of socks on a cold winter’s evening.  I really dig this stuff.  However, making a list and doing a list are two completely different things.  If only I could be as good at accomplishing my lists as I am at making, organizing and even color-coding them.  

Apparently, I am not alone on that front either.  A study was conducted in 2007 by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol where 88% of 3000 participants failed in their New Years resolutions despite feeling a level of confidence at the beginning of the study.  If you question this just go to any gym in the US on January 2 and then again on the 25.  Enough about that!

There is a great deal of advice of how to make resolutions, i. e., make just a few, keep them realistic, write them down, tell others to garnish support and accountability.  Many people have given up on the notion of setting resolutions altogether because of fear of failure.  

Of all the possible ways to work up a New Year’s plan, I think I have come up with a plan that works for me.  It may seem ridiculous to some and counter-intuitive to others.  There is a saying that “life begins where your comfort zone ends.”   “By never setting the bar high, we never aim high.”  “If we always aim for the realistic, we don’t push ourselves any higher.”  Yet, in spite of all that, we have to lighten up a bit and incorporate some small, frivolous wishes and desires along the way to something greater.  

A few years ago, I was inspired by a cute young friend.  She was turning thirty years old and decided to make a list of thirty things she wanted to accomplish before her birthday.  What a great idea.  My list was significantly longer since I am in my fifties but I decided to write down all the things I have been wanting to do.  Some of those included going to the Grand Canyon, taking the train from one end of the valley to the other to see the development and change, meeting a new neighbor, cleaning out my pencil drawer in the kitchen, blah, blah, blah.

“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.”  ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Some goals are more significant, some are indulgent  and just plain fun.  Others are just tasks that need to be done in my home with my work and for my family.  The practice of writing down what I want to make happen gives me a better chance of getting it done. My list of goals can also be fluid, they can change as it becomes obvious that something is impossible to accomplish.  I merely add something else.  I never achieve all my goals and I never stress about what doesn’t happen.  I realize whatever I achieve is far more than if I didn’t have this list at all. Sometimes it is the small stuff that brings you joy.  This list has enabled me to focus more on the small joys and pleasures around me.

Auld Lang Syne and Ring Out Wild Bells have brought new meaning to me and the way I choose to fill my days.   There is much I can improve on, but I refuse to feel heavy and burdened by the notion.  If we don’t add in some fun, who will? 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  ~Theodore Roosevelt

Image by, Joseph Campbell