Category Archives: Decision-making

5 Friday Faves – Beyond the Guitar’s “Take On Me”, the Woman Slowly Fading, Mama’s Table, Relationship Hacks, and Voices of Influence

Happy weekend! Here are my five faves of this week – rapid-fire.

1) Beyond the Guitar’s “Take On Me”Nathan Mills does it again.  He takes Norwegian band A-Ha‘s 1985 hit “Take On Me” to a whole new level on classical guitar. So beautiful that lyrics aren’t needed; the nostalgia is already there. This song is featured in the video game The Last of Us Part II. Whether you loved it or hated it in the soundtrack of that game (or not a gamer)…its melody is “all the feels” under the deft fingers of Beyond the Guitar. Enjoy!

2) To The Woman Slowly Fading – I didn’t know the work of Scottish poet Donna Ashworth until my great-niece posted the poem below on her social media. She (my great-niece) is mum to three little ones; in fact, three under the age of three at the time.

She is tired and pulled. Yet in the tired, she is full of joy.

I’m grateful she shared this poem because it told me something about her and it also illuminated something I had been feeling from a very different place. My niece is nearer the beginning of her life’s journey, and I am closer to the ending. Nothing sad here; just what is.

At our latest family dinner, I had that strange thought of fading. A moment of poignancy taking in the lovely scene of adult children and wee ones around the table. Ashworth describes this sense of fading so well. Read for yourself the lines below.

To the woman who has lost her spark.
To the woman whose get up and go, has well and truly gone.
This is for you.
This is to remind you whose daughter you are.
This is to remind you, that you don’t have to be everything to everyone, every day.
You didn’t sign up for that.
Remember when you used to laugh? Sing? Throw caution to the wind?
Remember when you used to forgive yourself more quickly for not always being perfect.
You can get that back again.
You really can.
And that doesn’t have to mean letting people down or walking away.
It just means being kinder to you, feeling brave enough to say no sometimes.
Being brave enough to stop sometimes.
And rest.
It starts the moment you realise that you’re not quite who you used to be. Some of that is good, some of that is not.

There are parts of you that need to be brought back.

And if anyone in your life is not okay with that… they are not your people. Your people will be glad to see that spark starting to light up again.

So, if you have been slowly fading away my friend, this is the time to start saying yes to things that bring you joy and no to things that don’t.

It’s really pretty simple. – Donna Ashworth, To the Women

I do take exception to the one line: “Saying yes to things that bring you joy and no to things that don’t.” Fortunately for my young niece’s children, she is not going to ignore their cries in the middle of the night, or their tears after a fall, or their fears of the unknown. These things do not bring her joy, but they are part of the journey.

Difficult family members, friends in crisis, health issues, mounting drama in the world’s press…we can’t always say no, but we can measure ourselves out in wise and thoughtful ways. There is sacrifice in life, and, with it, joy.

So if we are fading…may it be for good reasons. Squeezing all we can out of life and relationships…even the hard ones. Not leaving anything left on the field when the clock runs out (was that phrase from Vince Lombardi?). No slow fade. Intentional. Deliberate. Owning it.

For believers of Jesus, there is a call reflective of this: On the return of the Messiah one day, we are reminded of the joy of that great day when “He must increase, and I must decrease”. (John 3:30) As on a wedding day, we take in that glorious arrival of the bridegroom for his bride.

Fading may be how we feel, but the reality is we all have various seasons in our life’s journey. Each with its own glory, joy, and exhaustion.

Life…taking it all in.

“You may begin to notice that you’re invisible. Especially if you’re short and gray-haired. But I say to whom? And so what?”Grace Paley on the Art of Growing Older

Donna Ashworth – poetry website

“History Will Remember” – a Pandemic Poem – Donna Ashworth

3) Mama’s Table – Our youngest child, Dan, has been affectionately referred to as a food snob. He loves all kinds of food but can be hyper-critical of what he considers bland food or just the wrong mix of flavors or textures. Fortunately he is a good cook and he has been since middle school. On bake sale days back then, he would take his cupcakes into school and brought empty platters back home. His yeast rolls, from a favorite teacher’s recipe, were amazing. He and a small cadre of high school friends who loved to cook (well, to eat, for sure) even started a cooking club.

They had a great time together, and we enjoyed their feasts with them. Nothing like a kitchen full of friends and all good things – loud laughter, strong opinions, and the yummiest blend of fragrances.

Food has its own culture and anthropology. In fact, Dan has moved on from just cookbooks focused on recipes to thick volumes covering not just the food of Persia, Malaysia, or Russia but the culture that goes along with the food.

The article below reads like some of those texts.

The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles – Megan McArdle

McArdle tells the story of how decisions were made in homes across America from the 1890s right through present-day. The quote below resonates deeply with the food experience I knew growing up.

“The great blessing of my life is that my mother did not let me become a food snob. She was from a small town in middle America, and she did not view this as any great handicap. Nor did she look down on the culinary tradition she inherited from her mother, a “good plain cook” of the miracle-whip-and-white-bread Midwestern persuasion whose pie crust was infallible. We did not mess around with limp chicken breasts and cans of Campbell’s Soup, but I have eaten plenty of Jell-O salad, and liked it. (On summer days, I still occasionally crave shredded carrots and crushed pineapple embedded in orange jello made with ginger ale. Don’t sneer; it is delightful and refreshing.) Apples, bananas and raisins, dripping with Miracle Whip, were served as a salad in my house, and one of my favorite dishes from my grandmother was ground meat and pasta shells in Ragu. I still bake out of the Betty Crocker 1950 cookbook, and have never found a better guide to the classic American layer cake.”

We got a Betty Crocker cookbook as a wedding present and I still use it. I remember growing up with Campbell soup and Jello salads. Money was always tight so Mom would use pork brains (??) from a can to add to eggs to make them stretch far enough for us four kids. My first pizza was from a Chef Boyardee box. We never ate out at a restaurant, but I remember when a McDonald’s opened up near us (the first one in our area), and Mom took us for burgers and fries as a reward for behaving ourselves at the grocery store. That was a big deal. Church suppers were a big deal as we sampled what our friends enjoyed at their homes. Food was (and is) much more than just nourishment.

How about you? What is your food culture? Or rather the culture you knew as a child. For many of us these days, our food cultures are diverse and delicious…but we still remember the culture of Mama’s table.

4) Relationship Hacks – Just a few finds on how we treat each other, and sometimes ourselves.

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, AZ Quotes

“Every day, we have the opportunity to be more thoughtful, respectful, supportive toward people living with ‘invisible’ challenges.”Ian Kremer

Someone Needs Your Encouragement – Marshall Segal

5 Phrases that Make People Discount What You’re Saying – Gwen Moran

Use the Magic 5:1 Ratio to Improve All Your Relationships – Jessica Stillman

5 Indicators of an Evil Heart – Signs of a Narcissistic Partner – Lesli White

Jacqueline Woodson’s Lovely Letter to Children About Kindness, Presence, and How Books Transform Us – Maria Popova

5) Voices of Influence – Amidst all the voices gracing our lives and in the news media, we have some truly stellar influencers. Below are just a few:

73-17 In the Making – Sho Baraka, Jackie Hill Perry, Propaganda

Rapper’s Twitter Thread About Human Behavior During Pandemic Goes Viral: People Will ‘Demand’ Authoritarianism ‘When Sufficiently Frightened’ – Zuby – Charlotte Pence Bond

YouTube Video – Black Self-Making – Glenn Loury & John McWhorter

YouTube Video – Breaking the Silence – 2021 Documentary on psychosis and psychotic disorders. Written, directed, and produced by Dara Sanandaji.

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Have a safe weekend filled with sweet times with people you love.
Bonuses:
Photo Credit: Twitter, Ian Kremer
Photo taken at the Jefferson Memorial, Three Panel

Monday Morning Moment – 5 R’s of Handling and Healing Our Past

Photo Credit: Rick Warren, Heartlight

The past. We are never rid of it, nor would we wish to be. Our roots are there. The foundation of our lives. Our first and formative relationships are there.  Both life and death, pain and promise.

Memories are born in the past. Experiences and emotions attached to them that feel exquisitely personal…yet are shared. Others close to us may have our exact same experiences, but have very different feelings and memories attached to them.

Family is complicated and always has been (remember Cain and Abel?). Throughout the history of humankind, family was meant to be a nurturing and stabilizing influence in our lives. It doesn’t always work out that way, but wisdom is to lean in whenever possible and learn both from the brokenness and the beauty available to us.

So how do we deal with the past? Do we ruminate on the wrongs of our past? Do they loom larger than the good? Do we see ourselves in the right in each point of conflict? Or the victim? Is our memory of family colored in ways that make us pull away?

There is a way forward, and I believe it is revisiting the past with the aim of healing…not just for ourselves but for the family as a whole.

[I love alliteration – words with the same beginning letters used in phrases or headings. So it was a personal thrill for me that this came together with alliteration.]

5 R’s of Handling and Healing Our Past

1) Remember – We trust our memories, don’t we? Well, until age shakes that up a bit. Still, our memories can be altered by the power of our emotions and by further experiences that call the past to mind. Then our emotions, deepened by memory, can “resolve” to see things more our way, whatever is happening in the moment. Memories can be reinforced, and not always in helpful ways. We need to take into account that we, family members or friends, can remember something very differently, based on what was going on emotionally for each person at the time. That’s why we must handle memories gently with each other. Love the person her/himself more than what they might remember. Determine not to be put off by memories where we don’t come off in a positive light. Remembering is done best in community. It’s richer and more reliable that way. Of course, this requires tons of trust, transparency, and humility. It may not feel safe in some situations to remember in community. It’s also never helpful to insist our memories are the only ones that are true. Right? Again, it is experience plus emotion. Love covers. Love helps heal when we remember, with care for the other.

2) Reminisce – As we remember, we reminisce. This calls to mind the sweet memories of the past. Even as painful memories rush in, what happy times come to mind? How might these memories weave together? Was it all bad? All good? Reminiscing taps into the positives, and even opens the mind to what the memories of the other might be in the same experience. Are we projecting motive or intent into our experience? As we reminisce, might we look at how an experience was different for the other. Reminiscing done in community is, again, eye-opening. It can be threatening if our side of the memory is on the line, but when we enlarge on what was going on in our past, we gain deeper understanding. A softening of our attitudes can come.

3) Reflect – When we reflect on a particular situation or relationship in the past, we treat it with as much grace as we can muster. We take the past and turn it over and examine it from different angles, considering what we can learn from it. How is it affecting our present – both life experience and relationships? What can we do to glean something positive from a painful past? What is to be gained by holding onto the past? If we choose healing, what is then possible for us and the others involved? What kind of faith would be required? What kind of work? Are we willing?

“Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” – Mary T. Lathrap, 1895

4) Repent and Reconcile when possible (instead of forever Regret ) – Here’s the big leap! Owning our part and doing something about it. This is huge!

Let’s say, our past includes painful memories from our early childhood. What can a child own from situations out of their control? We can own our attitudes today as adults. For instance, it took me a long time to tender my memories of a neglectful biological father. I only have a few memories of him, none great. One memory stands out. Mom had left him, and we were living in a tiny house, supported by her income alone. One night we were awakened by shouting. I don’t remember a lot, but my estranged father, Mom, and an uncle of ours were in some sort of argument. We four children were huddled together on a bottom bunk. I remember blood and our father’s hand wrapped in a handkerchief. Was there a knife? I don’t remember. We were terrified. After that…he was pretty much absent from our lives. I don’t remember asking Mom what all happened. It just took me a long time to feel anything for that dad. Yet, I know he had to have known pain, isolation, and maybe even some regret at the dregs of his relationship with Mom and us. As an adult, I have chosen some compassion for him. Not much but some.

Why did I share that story? It is how as children, when we have trauma (or what we perceive as trauma when maybe it had little to do with us), we process it differently than we might as adults. Revisiting, with humble hearts, can make a difference in how we think about the past as adults.

When our past pushes into our present, and conflicts are revisited, we are tempted to try the offending party in the court of our emotions (re-try them, actually). We resurrect the past and all its emotions, and bring all that trauma to bear on whatever the present misunderstanding is. We are then not able to just deal with the present. All that past comes down on us, that past that may have been once forgiven, and unloads. Making it virtually impossible to deal with whatever is happening at the moment.

This is where we repent. We refuse to nurse old wounds. We deal with the current conflict as it is, without all the past. The current conflict is enough. We deal with it as adults. We repent of our part. I can tell you, if we don’t, there is collateral damage to those who love us. “Friendly fire” is not friendly, and these struggles, heightened by our past, become the past of those around us. Our children. Our grandchildren.

Repentance may take more the form of forgiveness. We refuse to remember (one place where we refuse to remember) the offense of another. We choose to forgive in the most expansive way we can.

I know we sometimes say we forgive that one who offends us, who offended in the past, and continues to do so. We forgive but commit and feel justified to have nothing to do with them ever again. I get that. I get the pain behind such a decision. It’s heart-breaking. Just to reflect: Who does that punish? As wide a circle as our relationship together makes. We are all punished…that is most probably not meant to be the intent.

Repent and reconcile whenever possible. There will be cheering by everyone who loves us both. I know; I’ve experienced it from both sides. The repenting side and the relieved and thankful other side.

[This is often excruciating and not always satisfying. Even if the outcomes are not what we hope. We benefit from trying…as do the generations that follow. Who knows? The situation – and relationship – can still change in that possible future.]

5) Rejoice – Put your hand on your chest. Can you feel your heart beating? Can you feel the rise and fall of your breath? Be grateful. Rejoice in the present. We didn’t die from our past. We still have a chance to put things right. Maybe imperfectly…but it’s possible.

A wonderful scene of this possibility is found in the 1970 film “Scrooge”. “I’ll Begin Again”.

The past doesn’t have to be forever. You have a present. There may be a future…one not framed by the hurting past but built on a healed past. We have that possibility…in our present. We can do our part… it’s the only thing we have in our control. Is it complicated? Of course, but it will always be worth the effort.

*Special thanks to my writer friend, Angela at Living Well Journal, who talked and prayed through this with me…on a neighborhood walk, in the cool of a Spring morning.

A note I found just this week flipping through an old Bible. Mom would leave love notes around whenever she came to visit, and we did the same after her pattern…and taught our children to do the same.

Monday Morning Moment – Spend a Minute with Pollyanna and the Contrarian – There’s a Place for Each of Us

A friend recently gave me the card above and it set me thinking about how far we get from who we are sometimes. She gets me. She knows my heart, even when it feels a tad dried up.

What would you say to the idea that we are all on some spectrum of Pollyanna to Contrarian (Curmudgeon even)?

Is that a bad thing? I say no.

Since my teens, friends (and not so friendlies) have used the word “Pollyanna” to define my responses and outlook. That person is defined as one who “looks for the good in everyone and everything – and she finds it!” For some odd reason, it wasn’t to be considered a compliment. Even one of my sons has said, “You can’t trust Mom’s take on people” – the reason being I see beauty in everyone, and all sorts of redeeming qualities. Well…I used to anyway.

Now, in recent years, reluctant contrarian is more what I’ve become. [After writing this piece, I came across someone who writes under the title of reluctant contrarian. Funny.] It certainly wasn’t my ambition to become curmudgeonly…but life happens. We see the things that, if tweaked, could make a difference in a person, product, or process…and wonder aloud why not? Then, if we persist in our opinion, we become like a dripping faucet or clanging cymbal. Sigh…

When my friend gave me the card (image above), it set in motion a resolve in me. To rediscover that Pollyanna inside. To look for the good. To extend grace. To brighten the day. To play Pollyanna’s Glad Game…until it becomes a habit again.

Photo Credit: The Glad Game, Pollyanna, Pinterest

The Glad Game – Lost in the Magic – Shez C.

What’s Wrong with Being a Pollyanna? – Christin Ditchfield

Pollyanna Principle: The Psychology of Positivity Bias – Courtney E. Ackerman

The Perils and Possibilities of Pollyanna – Dr. Judith Rich

Pollyanna vs. Curmudgeon: The Case for Realistic Optimism – Peggy Haslar

This contrarian/curmudgeon thing that happened to me in the last few years probably relates to some process of entropy – how life in this broken world drifts toward disorder or randomness…unless we constantly intervene.  This idea breaks down with those who start as contrarians. They don’t move toward being more Pollyanna’ish over time, BUT…it could be they move to being curmudeongly. What do you think?

[Sidebar: I asked my husband – who naturally bends more in the direction of contrarian: “Which would you say you are: Contrarian or Curmudgeon?” He answered quickly: “Are those my only two choices?!” We got a good chuckle out of that…and then decided he was serious more than contrarian, analytical more than curmudgeonly.]

What’s the contrast between these extremes? Night and day.

Photo Credit: Thesaurus

How to Become a Curmudgeon – Wikihow

Curmudgeon’s Day – Word List – Facebook

Walter – Analyst Contrarian – Corsairs – Some language but fascinating workplace observations

Finding My Inner Curmudgeon – Chuck Bloom

I do think there is a healthy place in the world for us to co-exist. The Pollyannas and the Contrarians. In fact, The article above – Walter – Analyst Contrarian – Corsairs – speaks to this somewhat in the workplace. I see the wisdom of cooperating “adversarial pairs” in any setting. Here’s a bit of what the article poses:

“There are two sides to most things. Honestly, most things are wickedly multi-dimensional but most humans are only good at comparing two things…two distinct points of view…Forcing alternate perspective is a great technique for combating cognitive bias…It doesn’t prevent it. It simply makes it more apparent…Minimally, take the contrarian side of every issue…Always test the opposite hypothesis…By forcing a counter view, you expose both sides of the argument…Taking the opposite position artificially, occasionally exposes that your initial inclinations were actually dead wrong. Two perspectives create intellectual leverage…use it.” – Walter – Analyst Contrarian – Corsairs 

For life in the world beyond business, I have had the great pleasure of being on advisory boards and ministry teams, both having very different sorts of people as members. Some more task-oriented, some more people-oriented. Some more thinkers, some more feelers. This is reminiscent of Roger Martin’s The Opposable Mind – regarding integrative thinking – where you are able to seriously consider different points of view – like how we grab hold (with our hands) and understand assessments not our own.

Beware, if you’re looking at yourself [people who think just like you] all around the board or conference room table. We gain from both the Contrarian and the Pollyanna… and all those in between.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

5 Friday Faves – Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind, Mental Health Awareness, Antidote for Self-deceit, Showing Up…Or Not, and Unmasking

1) Beyond the Guitar – Beauty to the Ears & Mind – We think of beauty more in what we experience visually, but there is a powerful connection between music and the mind. Beautiful music soothes the soul and lifts our hearts. Moves us. Often it is because of nostalgia attached to the music, but even without that emotional connection, music can bring our minds to a better place.

Your Brain on Music – Pegasus, UCF

Nathan Mills, of Beyond the Guitar, has that way about his craft. Moving our hearts with the beauty of his arrangements and performance. I don’t know any of the pieces in his medley of 4 Underrated (but Beautiful) Video Game Themes, but something happens when I listen. Shoulders drop; breathing slows; wonder sets in. Beauty has its way with our ears and our minds.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Beyond the Guitar

2) Mental Health Awareness –  May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme message for 2021 is “You Are Not Alone”. Our need for connection is bigger than ever, having gone through so much COVID isolation. Whether mental health issues are our own personal struggle or we are family, friends, caregivers of those who struggle, helps abound. We just must be aware and utilize them.

Tools 2 Thrive – Mental Health America

Mental Health Awareness Month 2021: What to Know – Karen Veazey

Photo Credit: Twitter, Nicolino Frate

Suicide and death by drug overdose have increased during COVID. They are shocking for us and real losses, either for us or for friends. We can’t keep isolating ourselves from each other. Finding ways to help is imperative.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Key Ministry, Your Neighbour #GiveHope

YouTube Video: Unseen: Exposing the Mental Health Crisis Among Special Needs Caregivers | Documentary Trailer

3) Antidote for Self-Deceit –  Self-deceit (or self-deception) is “a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception”.

The Most Dangerous Form of Deception: Self-Deception

I’ve allowed myself to be deceived (either with the help of outside influences or from sheer will and desire, wanting something to be so, or not be so). It’s not pretty. One of my strongest memories was sitting in a circle of friends who essentially did an loving intervention with me. I was in a self-destructive (but non-abusive) relationship, and they had the courage to point me to the changes in my life and thinking. I will never forget it. The life I have now is much impacted by their willingness to go to that place with me. Forever grateful.

Regarding deceit, it is way too easy to get into our own heads and assess life with a self-tuned receiver. I wrote about this before (the practice of noticing). A somewhat dated video (with a still fresh message) speaks to this so well.

During the particular season of self-deception (described above), I got to the place that lying in my bed at night, when I would usually pray, it got impossible to pray. That was terrifying. It’s like all the desires and my rationalizations for them had crowded out any space for God. Especially for a holy God. Like I said, terrifying. No matter how loving God is, I couldn’t justify praying when my own desires trumped His for me.

The Antidote to Self Deception – J. D. Walt

As the video illuminates, as we get out of our own heads, and start seeing other people around us, we find the antidote. Caring more for others than ourselves, we can actually clear our heads some. Self-deception causes us to “circle the wagons” and keep others at a distance. As we determine to get close to people again, especially to genuinely listen and serve, our own deceit can be more readily understood/recognized. Of course, our neglected relationship with God will take its own time and action on our part. He is ready, when we are.

Photo Credit: Chip Scholz

4) Showing Up…or Not – Showing up is a good thing. For all of us. Keeping commitments. Being present. Choosing to lean in. Listening.

So much is said about listening and its positive impact. To listen requires proximity.

On the East Coast, this week, we had a gas shortage (or a perceived gas shortage…not sure which is more accurate). Everyone was making decisions about filling their tanks and sorting out needful car trips vs. those that can be jettisoned for another time.

I was a part of a couple of meetings where some folks didn’t show up. Without a phone call, text, or email message. Was it the gas shortage? Or did it display something else? Honestly, I also wondered how often I’ve done this same thing myself.

We are in a culture right now when a RSVP yes can turn to no without a word. I’m showing my age…but does this matter?

Below you’ll find quotes from three different authors on this and what it can mean. The showing up…or not. After you read their observations, I’d love to hear what you have to say in the Comments.

“Standing someone up is a personal attack. You are saying that you have no respect at all for this person’s time, energy or feelings. This person set aside time from his or her day to hang out with YOU.

And maybe he or she didn’t feel like showing up. But no, this person had enough respect for you to feel as though he or she couldn’t bail on you. Then how did you repay the favor? You didn’t show up. With no warning.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that if this person cared about you enough to make and honor plans with you, odds are that he or she would probably be WORRIED about you when you don’t send a message. Because falling off the face of the Earth is a little alarming….You get the picture here.” – Candice Jalili

Why It Is Literally Never, Ever OK to Just Not Show Up For Your Plans – Candice Jalili

“There are commitments you are not going to keep no matter how hard you try, but even if you fail to keep them, you can still honor them. How do you do this?

“The difference between “keeping” and “honoring” is key: keeping a promise is about the letter of the promise, while honoring a promise is about the spirit. It is even possible to keep a promise while not honoring it. People will forgive an honored but un-kept promise, but it takes a real saint to let go of an un-honored promise—kept or not.

So what are the practical aspects of honoring a commitment? They are:

  • respect
  • communication
  • productive effort

It’s uncomfortable to take responsibility (for a failed commitment), but discomfort is a lot easier to shoulder than disrespect or disappointment. Even if you failed to honor a commitment up until now, it is not too late: disrespect and disappointment can be rolled back or even erased in the face of genuine honor.” –  Kenneth Vogt

How to Cope When You Fail to Honor a Commitment – Kenneth Vogt

[The two writers above have very different tones to their pieces. Both worthy of note. I especially appreciated Vogt’s distinction of honoring a commitment (whether you’re able to keep it or not). Honoring the person by communicating your inability to keep the commitment…as well as the honoring that goes on by making the effort to keep the commitment whether  easy or not. We don’t really know what goes on for another who does the work of keeping a commitment or the one who just can’t. What we do know is what it is like for us to keep or not keep a commitment; to honor or dishonor a person in the commitment. So much more understanding and care come out of the smallest communications. Something to think about.]

Below Rachel Macy Stafford posted an image and (in the link) a Facebook story about sitting in a line for gas this week, and an elderly man, just ahead of her, deliberately nodding her way (as he chose not to completely fill his tank, doing what he could to “leave” some for her). No RSVP’ed commitment. No relationship. But a deeply kind gesture to her that she was seen. We all need that…that being seen.

Photo Credit: Rachel Macy Stafford, Facebook, The Hands Free Revolution

It’s…“a deliberate decision to look out for the person behind (you)…It’s not about us. Even though it’s hard not to think only of our own needs, there is someone behind us…and someone behind that person…with their own set of struggles. If you can…will you look out for them? A wave will do, just so they know they are seen…it’s the kind of gesture that takes people farther than a full tank of gas.”Rachel Macy Stafford

5) Unmasking – Get ready for another new culture shock thanks to the Coronavirus: unmasking!!! I am so excited myself.Photo Credit: Pexels, Gustavo Fring

Based on this week’s CDC recommendations, fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or physically distance anymore (except in rare defined situations). This, of course, is still only a recommendation and each state must give direction at a local level. Our governor just announced that we will align with the CDC recommendations.

Now, no one is going to know who is vaccinated and who isn’t. If we have learned anything from COVID-19, it is to be wise in dealing with the viral world. Those not vaccinated will probably forego masks as well. The freedom feels intoxicating, honestly, but possibly fearful to some, even some who are fully vaccinated.

I hope we can leave fear behind us. COVID is still rampant in some parts of the world and that is tragic. As we in the US and other countries get past our own experiences with this virus, hopefully we can be a help to those still battling the disease.

The culture shock part is real. I will have my mask with me, and see what the signs say on the doors of each business, store, school, or community space.

Still….so worth celebrating!!!

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That’s a wrap. Would love your comments below on your own favorites of the week. Thanks for stopping by. It means a lot to me.

Bonuses:

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Twitter

Angry with God: Living in the Tension of Partial Understanding – Brad Hambrick

YouTube – Podcast – An Honest and Raw Conversation with Francis Chan – Preston Sprinkle

My next read:

5 Friday Faves – Music and the Soul, Asking Good Questions, Hygiene Theater, Life-transforming Poetry, and 5 Energizing Habits

5 favorite finds of the week. Enjoy and thanks for stopping by!

1) Music and the Soul – We all know the soothing touch of music on our souls. It lifts us and takes us to nostalgic places. Photo Credit: Quote Fancy, J. S. Bach

Nathan at Beyond the Guitar is like an online music therapist. Sweet guitar melodies that cause us to travel to a film, TV show, or video game that brought us fun, but more often, joy in the experience.

Nathan’s latest posted arrangement for classical guitar is linked below. Sweet piece.

YouTube Video – Zach Snyder’s Justice League Meets Classical Guitar – Beyond the Guitar

Occasionally he plays a song just for his patrons. This week he performed Leo Brouwer‘s Cancion de Cuna. Such a romantic classical guitar piece. I wish I could bring you that video, but unless you’re already a patron, you will miss that one. Here’s him playing it in 2009 (thanks to his filmmaker roommate Duy Nguyen. He was a youngster then, but the soul knows. Enjoy the loveliness.

I love his music and how it elevates our souls. Words can often do the same for us, especially us extroverts. Below are links about how many see the impact of music on our hearts and health…here, words are used.

Music Is Good for Your Soul, and Your Health – Gary Drevitch

Power of Music Quotes – Good Reads

75 Music Quotes on How It Heals Our Soul

130 Inspiring Music Quotes That Will Fuel Your Soul

2) Asking Good Questions – Several years ago, we were in charge of a cross-cultural post-grad experience for groups of 20-somethings (millennials). One time, a mom came out to visit her son, and she gave us some good advice (although at the time it wasn’t something I wanted to hear). I’ll get back to that advice shortly.

In this cross-cultural context, these young people had many hurdles to quickly master – language, culture, worldview, physical and emotional challenges. Having lived well for many years in this particular culture, we could very easily fall into just “telling” them what to do and how to succeed, and often we did just that.

This mom told us, “Young adults want to discover their own way through difficulty. Ask them good questions and they will find the answers for themselves.”

Sigh…OK. I get it. It may take longer and require more work on the part of the teacher, mentor, supervisor…but it is excellent advice.

Asking the right questions is an art. Too often, we just default to giving the answer rather than asking the question. Four excellent articles on this are linked below. Asking questions (the right way with the right intent) can build trust and transparency. We also find out what we need to know rather than making suppositions that could be way wrong.

Photo Credit: Alison Wood Brooks & Leslie K. John, HBR.org – Brilliant article linked below

7 Keys to Asking Better Questions (What I’ve Learned From My Leadership Podcast) – Carey Nieuwhof

Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions – John Hagel III

How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions – Mike Martel

The Surprising Power of Questions – Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John

3) Hygiene Theater – We have dear friends who are still terrified by COVID-19. Even after so many of us are vaccinated. Lives have been severely altered by the safeguards put in place with the advisement of the CDC and other government agencies as we “follow the science”. That sacred science changes weekly because we are gaining new understanding of the virus with increasing data helping us to open up our lives more.

Thus the flurry of articles and videos now on the topic “hygiene theater”. Remember early on when we were told to sanitize our surfaces, wash our vegetables/fruits, and vigorously clean all public places on a daily basis.

Photo Credit: KUT, Pixabay

What have we learned? How have we changed in our mediation of COVID impact? Now that I’m fully vaccinated and so many in my life have been, I look forward to welcoming people back into my home and visiting others as well. Shopping, though still often online or curbside pickup, has been happily opened up. Still, it seems we live in a world that is strangely toxic. All of us wearing masks and wiping down surfaces wherever we go. In this seemingly apocalyptic space.

When is the fear of COVID, of dying, so paramount that it squeezes all the joy and quality out of our lives? How can we move forward?

Now, I won’t play down the danger of COVID. We have lost friends and colleagues to it over this year. Not many, praise God, but some. The fact that there is still such a fear of it, over a year in, seems inordinate. Given the numbers. For sure in the US. Especially when COVID-related deaths reported appears suspect.

Maybe I am unwisely cynical. However, the deep cleaning still being advised (in our schools, for one huge example) seems unnecessary. Given all the findings. Given what we know about the transmission of COVID (through air and not surfaces). Follow the science, right?

I’m grateful for every turn in the COVID pandemic that restores life processes for our good. Kids in school. Friends visiting in each other’s homes. Work forces back in full. Weddings, births, graduations, funerals, hospital stays with our people in attendance, fully supporting us.

Enough with over-sanitizing. Now, on to masking. When is it truly protective and when is it theater?

Deep Cleaning Isn’t a Victim-less Crime – Derek Thompson

Now the CDC Wants to Shut Down Hygiene Theater – Kent Sepkowitz

4) Life-transforming Poetry – OK, maybe not everyone loves poetry. Yet. The poetry of artists like Preston and Jackie Hill Perry, Ezekiel Azonwu, and Janette…ikz have such a way with words. They lay down truth with their poetry. It is unique and powerful. God and person honoring. Check it out below:

5) Energizing Habits – Author, entrepreneur Scott Young has posted The Nine Habits to Increase Your Energy. See his post for strong commentary and quick-starts, but here’s the list of 9 habits:

  1. Go to bed early.
  2. Exercise every day.
  3. Twenty-minute naps.
  4. Do your hard work in the morning.
  5. Set your intention the day before.
  6. Sell yourself on your goals. [Motivate and incentivize yourself toward meeting your goals.]
  7. Get better friends. [Not about getting rid of friends, but if some are particularly needy, then set boundaries, if necessary, and make time for the friends who energize and encourage you as well.]
  8. Read better books.
  9. Align your life. [What are your priorities? Are some necessary parts of your life taking too much from other parts (work, family, health, hobbies)? Work out the conflicts.

The Nine Habits to Increase Your Energy – Scott Young

___________________________________________________________________________

Hope you’ve had some of your own favorite finds. Please share in the Comments below. It means a lot you came for a read.

Bonuses:

Fave Quote This Week: “We are sometimes faced with circumstances that seem as if they must mark the final act. We sometimes encounter providences that make us believe the book has been closed and all has been lost. Yet when we are pressed, we must not think we have been crushed, but believe that God can still bring about a great redemption. When we are struck down, we must not think we have been destroyed, but rather have confidence that we are being prepared for some great blessing. When we are persecuted we must not determine we have been abandoned, but know that we are being made ready for some great usefulness to God’s plans and purposes. We must wait, we must withhold judgment, we must read to the end! For no story, least of all our own, makes sense until we have read all the way to the final page. It is only then, in light of the whole, that we see the skill, the ability, the genius of the Author.”Tim Challies, Always Read the Story to the End

[A girl’s diary from 1929 – borrowed from a friend. The first owner of the diary is not written anywhere in it. Amazing for me to read her words about daily life almost a hundred years ago.]

Changes I’m Making in my 70s Heading Toward My 80s – Ellen van der Molen – Facebook

ImagePhoto Credit: Twitter, Ian Kremer

What to Say When Someone’s Gaslighting You – Elizabeth Yuko

The Problem with “Mom Boss” Culture – Amanda Montei

New favorite source of quotes embedded in images: Square Quotes

Photo Credit: Tim Challies, John Newton, Square Quotes

Worship Wednesday – Tyler Perry’s “Refuse Hate.” and Revolutionary by Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Heartlight

[Adapted from the Archives]

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.Psalm 4:4-5, 8

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Ephesians 4:26-27

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”Matthew 5:43-45

The 2021 Oscars (Academy Awards Ceremony) this week delivered the lowest ratings in the award show’s history. It’s been a strange year. The highlight for us was actually the acceptance speech for this year’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The recipient is the filmmaker and benefactor Tyler Perry.

Watch his very different, almost politically incorrect, 3-minute acceptance speech below. [Full transcript here.]

An excerpt follows:

I refuse to hate someone because they’re Mexican or because they are Black or white, or LGBTQ. I refuse to hate someone because they’re a police officer. I refuse to hate someone because they are Asian. I would hope that we would refuse hate.
So anyone who wants to meet me in the middle, to refuse hate, to refuse blanket judgment and to help lift someone’s feet off the ground, this one is for you, too. God bless you and thank you Academy, I appreciate it.”Tyler Perry
As  followers of Christ, we cannot join the throngs of people who hate. We may want to block or cancel the words or actions of others. Yet, we are confronted ourselves by the truth that we were all once the enemies of God…and He forgave us. Do we presume that our indignation is more righteous than His? Do we consider our being wronged as more needful of judgment than His own? God have mercy!
What is the response of the believer toward those we are tempted to feel hate?

Only love. Spoken and acted out in kindness and mercy.

Do we stomp and kick the dust at that calling and command? Do we hold tighter to our stones? Do we give lip service to “forgiving” but everything in our actions and attitudes tells a different story?

How thankful we can be to a God who is all-wise and all-loving! He understands us completely. He walked among us, in the sandals of the incarnate Christ. He experienced hatred and persecution, even to His last breath on this earth. Yet…He forgave, He loved, He administered the greatest kindness possible – His life for ours.

In His loving mercy, He has taught us how to live in this life.

We are to love. We are to forgive. We are to keep our own hearts from sinning against another. We are to remember that we and our neighbor (enemy or friend) are both made in the image of God. We are not to forget our own bent toward sin…the very sin that caused Jesus to take the cross upon Himself…for us. Not just for another.

God calls us to remember whose we are. He is at work in our hearts, in that of our neighbors (and enemies), and in the nations.

We can join Him…through revolutionary acts of kindness.

I’ve just recently discovered the writing of Lois Tverberg. She teaches the Scripture in context, meaning within the culture of the world in which it was written. We might think Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies is hard. Yet, if we recall our own struggle with sin and how neighbors and enemies are not so different from us, we can access the grace of God to love…and show kindness.

Jesus’ Most Radical Teaching – Lois Tverberg

Loving Your Neighbor, Who Is Like You – Lois Tverberg

Instead of striving to be right…what if we strove to be kind – loving, serving, and praying for those our flesh cries out to hate? This is the way of Jesus.

Josh Wilson (with a team of other songwriters) gave us the song “Revolutionary” in October 2019, having no idea what 2020 or 2021 would hold. It was a prophetic call to the church to love…all.

“It seems natural, almost effortless, to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities. Drawing attention to those differences keeps us glued to the news and social media because of the moral outrage we feel towards the “other.” I think there’s a better way though, and that’s the way of empathy and understanding, the way of kindness….No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, deep down I know that we are not as different as we are led to believe. There is peace to be made, there are names to be learned, meals to be had, chasms to be crossed, and it all starts with kindness.Josh Wilson

Worship with me.

Maybe you’re not like me
Maybe we don’t agree
Maybe that doesn’t mean
We gotta be enemies
Maybe we just get brave
Take a big leap of faith
Call a truce so me and you
Can find a better way
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen, yeah
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different, yeah
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
I’m turning the TV down
Drowning their voices out
‘Cause I believe that you and me
Can find some common ground
See maybe I’m not like you
But I’ll walk a mile in your shoes
If it means I might see
The world the way you do
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
What would Jesus do
He would love first
He would love first, hmm
What would Jesus do
He would love first
Yeah, He would love first
So we should love first
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
God help us get revolutionary*
“‘Revolutionary’ is all about kindness,” shares Josh Wilson. “I believe that kindness matters. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity we see in the world and on the news, and this song is a reminder that we are called to more than that. We’re called to love as Christ has loved us. I am so encouraged by the acts of kindness I’ve seen recently, even amidst a worldwide pandemic, even in an election year. In many ways, our struggles are actually bringing us together. We’re learning that we all have a lot more in common than we thought, and it’s beautiful to see the ways people are serving each other. The lyrics are a prayer for God, through us, to start a revolution of kindness. Will you join us?”Josh Wilson

Postscript:

Josh Wilson also wrote “Dream Small” which I covered here. He capturing how God has wrapped all commands into two – for our good and to the glory of our magnificent God:
Love God
Love others.
“Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans
From rivers.”

Worship Wednesday – Dream Small – Josh Wilson – Deb Mills

Story Behind the Song “Revolutionary”

5 Friday Faves – LOTR’s “May It Be”, Easter Reading, Forgiveness, On Death and Dying, and Music in the Family

1) LOTR’s “May It Be”Classical guitarist Nathan Mills, at Beyond the Guitar, and singer Malinda Kathleen Reese previously collaborated on a beautiful cover of May It Be. This week, he arranged, performed, and posted a full rendition of “May It Be”. Take in all the beauty here.

2) Easter Reading – Every year, sometime early in Lent, I pull out the books below to read in anticipation of Easter. Rich and inspiring.

This year, I added Timothy Keller‘s new book Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter. Wow! It is taking time to read because every page is full of meaning…requiring savoring and reflecting. Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church in New York City (since 1989). Since 2017 he oversees the work of Redeemer City to City – teaching, mentoring, and writing. The book Hope in Times of Fear was written during the year of COVID-19 (2020) which is also the year he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Hopefully God will give him, and us, many more brilliant and beautiful books. For now, this is my new favorite. Thanks, Dr. Keller.

Just here you will find one of the stunning passages in this book:

“The claims of Jesus Christ, if they are truly heard for what they are, never evoke moderate response. Jesus claimed to be the Lord God of the universe, who had come to earth to give himself for us so that we could live for him. That is a call for total allegiance. You will have to either run away screaming in anger and fear or run toward him with joy and love and fall down at his feet and say, ‘I am yours.’ Nothing in the middle makes any sense. Unless you are running away from him or running toward him, you actually don’t really know who he is. Peter has done both. Because of the instruction that he has received from the risen Jesus, Peter now knows enough about the gospel of grace to realize he has nothing to fear from Jesus’s divine presence. But there is a great deal of unfinished business between Peter and His Savior.”Tim Keller, p. 98, Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter

3) Forgiveness – I don’t have a lot to say right here. To me, it’s so clear. We are wise if we forgive. We are wise if we ask forgiveness.

This past week, I listened to this old Eagles song “Heart of the Matter”.  It’s a sad song…about regret. The focus was the need to forgive…before it’s too late.

It reminded me of a blog I wrote some time ago (I’ve written many about forgiveness or the lack of it).  Singer songwriter Matthew West wrote a really beautiful song titled Forgiveness, out of a story of terrible loss and extravagant forgiveness.

I just want to leave the lyrics right here:

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…

Forgiveness
Forgiveness

It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you

Forgiveness, Forgiveness
Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
Forgiveness, Forgiveness.*

Why Do We Add to Our Trouble? – Tim Challies

YouTube Video – Forgiveness (live) by Matthew West

Story Behind the song “Forgiveness”

4) On Death and Dying – Having been a cancer nurse, I am familiar with this topic more than most maybe. However, it is never an easy one, given we don’t want to lose people we love nor do we want to leave people we love.

It is important for us to talk about death and preparations for dying, even if it is uncomfortable. It is a loving thing to do. My husband’s sweet dad, John, prior to having surgery some years ago, executed an advance life directive spelling out his wishes for end-of-life. He did great through that surgery and lived many healthy years afterward. Julia, his wonderful wife, didn’t think about it again. Then after years of poor health with Parkinson’s, he had a massive stroke. We were so grateful that the medical staff were able to retrieve a forgotten document that made decisions regarding his care so much easier for us. John had made decisions in his love for his family… years before. Because of this, we got to bring him home, with hospice support, and be with him, caring for him, until he died a week later.

With COVID, and now even with vaccines, we have had to take a clear-eyed look at death. When my neighbor, who is a bit older but as healthy as me, told me she and her husband had met with the funeral home to do their planning, I was a bit stunned. Yet, it is important and such a loving thing to do for a family.

Julia, my precious mom-in-law, and I, on a visit last year, had challenged each other to complete our own advanced care (or end-of-life) directive. We haven’t done it yet. Either one of us. So I pulled it up again…and hope to finish it this weekend.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, one of President Biden’s medical advisors on COVID, has been very public in his desire not to live past 75. Of course, he is only 63, this year. 75 may not seem as young to him as it might in a few more years. He talks about the diminishing returns of getting older, and that it its own loss, for the person and for those who would care.

I don’t care for Dr. Emanuel’s take on this, but I do very much agree with the following:

  • Think seriously about your beliefs in God and what happens in the after-life.
  • Get right with God and reconcile with those you are at odds with…especially family members. For them, if not for yourself.
  • Decide what your wishes are about end-of-life. Write it down. Tell your children or medical representative.
  • Make whatever arrangements you can while you still have your health.
  • Be sure your will is clear and understandable to those for whom it will matter most.
  • Then live your life in all its beauty. When dying begins, it can have its own meaning and purpose. I think of Kara Tippetts and so many others who died as they had lived.

What else should be added to these points? Please comment below.

The Hope That Sustained Tim Keller Through 2020 – Matt McCullough

Growing My Faith in the Face of Death – Timothy Keller

20 Quotes From Tim Keller’s Short (New) Book on Death – Ivan Mesa, Tim Keller

Passing On – Documentary – Arizona Public Media – thoughtful documentary on end-of-life planning. Also the complementary film “Dying Wishes”

The Passing On Movie – a Documentary – on disappearing traditions of Black funeral homes

Advanced Life or End-of-Life Directive – State of Virginia – pdf

Kara Tippetts and other stories of redemption – Deb Mills Writer

Photo Credit: Screenshot, Life in the Labyrinth

5) Music in the Family – Wow! Don’t know how I missed the Kanneh-Mason siblings until recently. They have been playing, both together and as soloists, since at least 2017. Ranging in age from 11 to 24, these seven are incredibly talented and hard working in their craft – playing either cello, violin, or piano. When the COVID pandemic hit, they were all home together, in Great Britain, and made even more music together. The video below of them playing Redemption Song is how I first heard them. Wow!

The Kanneh-Mason Website

We are a musical family as well. Not world-class maybe (yet…who knows?!). However, we do know what it is like to hear music all the time and to always have an audience or somebody who plays alongside. The Kanneh-Mason siblings have really benefited from growing up together with supportive parents. Read this great piece to find out Everything You Need to Know About the Kanneh-Mason Family.

I have in my to-buy wish list their beautiful album Carnival of the Animals.

Raising The Kanneh-Masons: The World’s Most Musical Family – Jessica Duchen

That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for stopping by. It means a lot. Enjoy the weekend and those you love. Keep the door open…

Bonuses:

Banana Pudding – Karen Burnette Garner

YouTube Video – I Waited For You – Janette…ikz Wedding Vows

Photo Credit: Facebook, Tropical Life Food and Fun

My Favorite Things for a Civilized Life – Sally Clarkson

YouTube Video – A Song for Mama – Boyz II Men – This song is new to me. Heard it this past week as part of a funeral to a mom who died of early-onset Alzheimer’s. It was a fitting tribute by her two sons.

Monday Morning Moment – Gentle and Empowering Wisdom on American Racial Struggle – Bryan Stevenson

Photo Credit: The Richmond Forum, Bryan Stevenson

My children didn’t grow up in the South. They are TCK’s (third culture kids) spending most of their childhood in other countries. They/we were minorities in those countries, so they understand some of what that means. A big difference is that we were still privileged minorities. We had the blue American passport. We could be forbidden entrance to those countries in the future but, once in, we would most probably always be allowed to peacefully live in and peacefully leave from those countries.

These children of ours have all now spent their college years and early adult years back in the US. Their understanding of racial differences has been impacted, having lived as “different” in other places.

Their parents, that would be Dave and me, taught them from a color-blind Biblical ideology. That’s how our parents taught us and I’m thankful for that kind of worldview. God loves everyone; we are to love everyone. Never based on what they look like, including skin color, an immutable characteristic. This is always a bent that moves people toward each other. We had been sheltered in life from the hardships and challenges of what it was for some to grow up black in the US. We didn’t know. We should have. Now we know more. What we may not know is what it is to love and experience love across differences (be it race or social status).

Our kids, since returning to the US, have found themselves in a culture of outrage, blaming, and unforgiveness. The push for academics and work environments to include Critical Race Theory and anti-racism is much more divisive than healing. Do not hear in anything I say below in support of such teaching.

What is the answer? What can we do? When a hardship or marginalization falls along racial lines? The Richmond Forum took us many steps forward by hosting Bryan Stevenson as speaker this weekend.

Stevenson is an American attorney who founded and directs the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. He advocates for those who did not receive fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row. He also fights the situation where children are tried and imprisoned as adults…when it is not necessary for the sake of society, at the detriment of the child.

He talked and we listened. Stevenson, without judgment or contempt, talked about what it would take to move forward. He listed four actions we could all, no matter our race or privilege, do.

  1. Find ways to get proximate to people who are suffering. – Stevenson focuses intently on proximity. We can’t presume to know what it is like to be poor, marginalized, abused, or excluded. We have to come near. Find meaningful ways to do so. True innovation is only possible when we develop real understanding of those who feel the burn of racial, societal, or socioeconomic difference. Stevenson encourages us to “wrap your arms around the excluded and affirm their humanity and dignity”.  We know we live in a culture where “if you’re rich and guilty, you’re treated better than if you’re poor and innocent”. This isn’t a victimizing statement. It is simply true. Do you disagree?
  2. Assess and change our narratives if they keep us indifferent to people. What is our belief, our story, about race in our country? Is there bias in that story? Does our story disbelieve racial injustice? Is our narrative meant to protect us from feeling any sense of responsibility, or even compassion, for today’s racial tensions? “A narrative of racial difference made us indifferent and comfortable with slavery. We had to create a false narrative to justify slavery. That narrative gave rise to white supremacy.” White supremacy is such an emotionally charged phrase in these days. Stevenson gives a space for us all to consider how that had impact in the past, and what lingers today in people’s narratives. What do we fear? What makes us angry? He asked the question, do any of us have “a presumption of dangerousness and guilt regarding blacks”? This may be what law enforcement officers wrestle with in their work in parts of our cities. Have we taken it on as part of our beliefs? To get to truth and justice, and that narrative, we must create space for truth-telling. Stevenson spoke of how other countries have very publicly dealt with their own unjust treatment of fellow countrymen. South Africa, Germany, Rwanda. In recent years, he and others established the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In hopes that America one day can heal in this painful part of our past.
  3. Stay hopeful. Stevenson talked about hope being our super-power. If we become calloused and cynical, we help no one. Least of all our children. For they will have someone’s narrative thrust on them – either through education systems or news media. Better for us to confront what is true about racial bias by listening and learning from those most affected. Listening and learning from each other, then incorporating that into our own narrative, life, and work. [I have a writer friend, an intelligent articulate young man, wise beyond his years, who happens to be black and who strongly insists the listening and learning must be in both directions. He actually gives me the most hope for what is possible in this American situation.]
  4. Be willing to do what is uncomfortable and inconvenient. There are no shortcuts…Truth-telling is the first priority. Healing is a possibility.” We can move forward with the smallest of steps that will grow larger as we persevere. One option is to get involved with the Equal Justice Initiative, from wherever we are. We can find out what agencies in our towns are working toward healthy communities and learn from them. Plugging in where we can. Embrace Communities is one of those agencies in our state. Also, as my parents taught me, we can be kind, lean in, vote for what’s right, and serve others…all others, for we all need each other.

Stevenson said so much more than I covered here. To hear this brilliant, thoughtful, hopeful black man speak on this painful and divisive issue was thrilling and captivating for us. If you’ve ever had one of those awakening experiences [not “woke” – that word has darkened the conversation politically for many of us] – like a black friend telling how he has been pulled over by the police on multiple occasions, having done nothing wrong; or reading Stevenson’s book Just Mercy (or seeing the film of the same name), or visiting someone desperately poor, or watching the documentary 13th, or what? You say…what are we allowing to gentle and mature our own narratives, reckoning with “the implicit and unconscious biases” of our lives?

I’d like to close with some of Bryan Stevenson’s remarks from an interview almost a decade ago. His honoring wisdom was not an outcome of the terrible summer of 2020. He’s been beating this drum for all his adult life. We are wise to listen and learn.

What is justice? I think justice is a constant struggle. That’s as good a definition as I can come up with. I think that injustice is evident when people are not struggling to protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community — for fairness, equality and balance.Bryan Stevenson

When I talk about race and poverty, I’m not talking about doing things for African-Americans. I’m talking about doing things for the entire community.Bryan Stevenson

An Interview with Bryan Stevenson: What Is Justice? – Kyle Whitmire

Worship Wednesday – Proximity to God and the Marginalized – Nearness – Nearer to God – Deb Mills

Just Mercy Quotes – Good Reads

“Do Some Uncomfortable and Inconvenient Things”: A Civil Rights Champion’s Call to Action for CEOs – Matthew Heimer (watch the video at start of the article)

YouTube Video – True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (HBO/Kunhardt Films, 2019) – Documentary

TED Talk – We Need to Talk About Injustice – Bryan Stevenson

YouTube Video – 13th – full-length documentary – Netflix [“The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime”. – Wikipedia

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror – EJI Report

Interfaith Day of Prayer – Prayer by Bryan Stevenson

Photo Credit: Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, Pinterest

5 Friday Faves – Romantic Flight on Classical Guitar, Snow Days Turned to Spring, Normal, Relief vs. Rescue, and Carefully Taught

Happy weekend! Hope this finds you well and enjoying the many small miracles of life. I’m a bit behind on posting Friday Faves. Sometimes they are so excellent they still end up in my Friday Faves weeks later…some of these are like that, and others are as fresh as this weekend. These are all for you. Enjoy!

1) Romantic Flight on Classical Guitar – Anyone new to this blog will have the pleasure of experiencing Nathan Mills‘ music, maybe for the first time. He is a classical guitarist whose work is found under the brand Beyond the Guitar. He arranges and performs themes from movies, TV shows, and video games. A heart and body lift on sweet nostalgia. We probably all know the positive impact of music on our minds and bodies. I personally never cared for instrumental music before Nathan’s journey with classical guitar. Now, we always had music in our home. Always. My preference was anything vocal. The thing that’s interesting in Nathan’s music. It feels vocal. He makes the guitar speak to the heart. Maybe the nostalgic familiarity of the tunes is part of it, but there’s something in his expressive playing…just so heartening. Check him out with his latest arrangement: Romantic Flight from the film How to Train Your Dragon. #LikeSubscribeShare

2) Snow Days Turned to Spring – In Central Virginia, our snow days might be past us. Early Spring flowers are popping up and flowering trees are beginning to brighten the gray of our landscape here.

A friend pointed me to the poet Billy Collins and I’d like to present in contrast his “Snow Day” poem and his poem celebrating Spring entitled “Today”. The kids (above) are ours and the flowers (below) are in our yard/neighborhood.

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.

“Today” – Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

3) Normal – What does that even mean? As we come up on a year physical distancing and wearing masks to keep COVID at bay, people don’t even talk anymore about a return to normal. Nor even about a new normal. We are reinventing normal. If we’re wise, we’re also looking “down the road” to where our choices today will lead.

Photo Credit: Old Comic Strip, Bill Watterston, Calvin and Hobbes

One issue for me is my struggle with reckless eating. COVID restrictions have not been my friend in this area. I overeat for about every reason possible – for recreation, out of boredom, when under stress, and even when happy. Food is just such a lovely go-to. Until this last year’s isolation pushed me to the highest weight I’ve ever been…but that’s again in the past.

In October I started seriously looking “down the road” to a life possibly shortened by my casual over-eating. Started using the My Fitness Pal app and asked for a Fitbit for Christmas. The non-Premium app is free and we caught a sale on the Fitbit.

After four months, I’m way below the highest weight I’ve ever been.

Do I miss the reckless eating? Absolutely! I miss McDonald’s double-cheeseburgers and fries. I miss Waffle House. I miss eating all I want. I miss Shyndigz fresh fruit cake and Piccola Italy‘s feta cheese and sausage pizza. One day those things will come back in my life… maybe. What I don’t miss is the normal of too often getting short of breath climbing hills and struggling to get up off the floor after playing with our grands. Also what I hope to miss is a stroke or…(almost hard to write this scary thing) dying from COVID because I put myself at even greater risk.

Now normal is weighing and logging food, eating less than I would before, listening to my brain when I’m actually full, and having only one cookie instead of 3…or 5. It all works out to a beautiful different…a new normal.

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The change in eating is one thing. Way more challenging is how to be in people’s lives with the struggle of physical distancing and Zoom fatigue. That I am still figuring out…but one shot down and one to go and it will become less of a challenge hopefully. And a different normal will emerge.

[Sidebar: There was a time in the not too distant past when I went off sugar for over a year. It happened, there was benefit, but I don’t want to repeat it. As I get more fit, do I miss the chew of a French baquette or a perfect frie? Absolutely. Sugar though is still a part of my daily intake…and there will come a day when I will enjoy my daughter’s birthday cake again and MomMom’s refrigerator coconut cake. Many times over. For now: a Kathy Kaye popcorn ball is enough. Sorry for the long sidebar – like confessing in an Overeaters Anonymous group. 🙂 ]

4) Relief vs. Rescue – Words mean things. The 2020 CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act)  and the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act reflect a difference in meaning and approach. I just want to focus on two words: relief vs. rescue. Relief communicates easing the pain or stress of someone in a difficult situation. Rescue communicates much more. Rescue is to come to the aid of someone who can’t help her/himself. Rescue is freeing or delivering someone from an impossible situation. Both describe a response but one is a greater response and a greater need. Can words be prescriptive? Making us think we have a greater need? Making us think we need a greater response? Making us think we are helpless without the intervention of government?

The power of words is well-known and well-documented.

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”Diane Setterfield

We can woo and cajole with words. We can speak with an authority that demands acquiescence. We can speak with such brilliance or passion that we must be believed.

Check out this little TikTok video below (forgive the thumbnail shot of the young woman; it’s the second woman, @thesavvy, you will see that brings the point). Now I haven’t done fact-checking, but she I believe. How about you?

Two educators I’ve discussed before also talk often on the power of words in our world. They are economics professor Glenn Loury and linguistics professor John McWhorter.Photo Credit: The Glenn Show; YouTube

We don’t agree on everything, BUT their authenticity and brilliance in calling out the use of words to move political agendas and change culture is super fascinating. See one of their videos linked below.

YouTube Video – In Defense of Knowledge – The Glenn Show – Blogging Heads – Glenn Loury and John McWhorter

YouTube Video – Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Debate in U.S. Senate (C-SPAN) – February 2017 – just another example of the use of words to actually draw differing sides together.

5) Carefully Taught– The food for thought on this fave of the week is the painfully exquisite song from the Rogers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Classic movie released in 1958. Remade in 2001. The song You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught relates to an American military officer who has fallen in love with a young woman from the islands during WWII. He struggles with his own prejudice even in the face of his love for her. I saw the first movie sometime in my childhood. It was confusing for me then because I had not been raised to hate people different from me.

We are confronted right now with so much racism and presumed racism, it’s hard to know how to think critically on it or what to do definitively about it. Somehow we must separate the politics (driven to divide) from the persons (being used by those various platforms).
The song speaks to the incredible importance of parenting our children to choose love over hate; understanding over withdrawing. I do wonder if we are born with a bent toward racism…of choosing people who look like us, for whatever reason. Fortunately, if that’s the case, we don’t have to stay there. Parenting matters. Thankfully.

Photo Credit: Norman Rockwell

Six Words: ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught‘ Intolerance – Michele Norris – NPR

Are Racists Born or Raised? If You’re a Racist don’t Blame It on Your DNA – Grace Russo Bullaro

How I Learned to Care About Social Justice Growing Up Southern Baptist in Oklahoma – Mark Wingfield

YouTube Video – James Taylor – You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught

That’s all. Have a great week. Filled with people you love and those you can serve. It means a lot you stopped by.

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Bonuses:

The most extraordinary quote I’ve just discovered:

The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him. – Frederick Buechner, from The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life

YouTube Video – Without You – For King & Country – Ft. Courtney [If you’ve ever faced a cancer diagnosis or a critical illness – life and those we love take on an even deeper meeting. This song says it.]

The Hope that Sustained Tim Keller Through 2020 – Matt McCullough

Key takeaways from Atomic Habits by James Clear – Genevieve Deaconos

Just a little bit of James Taylor and Carole King…you’ll be glad you stayed:

Worship Wednesday – Set Free From the Lies about Ourselves and Each Other – Fear Is a Liar – Zach Williams

Photo Credit: Flickr, Lisa Hall-Wilson

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now this is what the LORD says–the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.1 John 4:18a

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

What happens when we believe lies? Oh, it’s not that we are gullible or naive. Lies sound true when spoken in the first-person pronoun. As in “I’m such a failure.” or “It’s all my fault.” Or by someone we care about. As in “You are impossible to please.” or “You will never change.”

When we, or people we love, come under an attack of some sort, we respond. Always. Two physiological responses may immediately come to mind. We fight or fear (literally fleeing or just in our head). That fight or flight response is much researched and well-documented. My default is flight…in fear. If I have to, especially for the sake of my children or others needing help, I would fight, but fear would be part of that battle. So, even in the fight response, it is mixed with fear. The threat is perceived as so real, we fear for our lives or our personhood, at some level, and we fight for it.

I too often go to fearful flight. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you go to fight. Either one can be used in ways by our enemy to keep us from a third response. That being collecting our thoughts around what is true and acting in a way that gives space for God to fight for us…and for the relationship that feels threatened. That does not mean we won’t be physically removed from a fight (to protect or for justice or mercy’s sake). Nor does it mean that we won’t be tempted to fear. We must learn to resist the lies…and the Liar.  To replace the lies with what is true. So that we are not defeated already – by believing fear’s lies or by unleashing fury that hurts in its own right and only escalates fear in the end.

When I heard Zach Williams’ song Fear Is a Liar, the lyrics drew me in immediately. I knew that experience. That experience of fear being a voice in my head, telling me things that simply were not true…but sounded true. Paralyzing me when God means for me to be free. I am free in Him. Not cowering. Not withdrawing. Fear picks us up to throw us down somewhere dark and outside of who we really are. Fear is a liar…and is generated by the “father of lies”. At first, I struggled with the personification of fear in this song…but more and more, it is like battling with Satan himself, or one of his minions. The truth is that “greater is he (God) in me, than he (the evil one) in this world”. Photo Credit: Flickr, Artem Popov

My Mom and I, through the years, would often quote 2 Timothy 1:7 to each other.God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. We both struggled with fear and needed to remind each other of the truth. My husband Dave has often helped me come back to my senses with just the two-word imperative: “Pull up”. When we struggle with fear, our thoughts can grow more and more terrifying and send us on a deep dive, spiraling out of control. Just the reminder to “pull up” would spark my returning to remember what is true.

Those of us who fear need people in our lives who remind of us of the truth and the God of truth. Not in a platitudinous way. But in a way that wraps around us, stays with us, loves us through it. Who are your people?

[Sidebar: For those of you who default to fight or fury…the wisdom is the same. Return to what is true, what is full of love, what is genuine power. Being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” is not weakness; it is a right response that gives space for God to act. Also, another huge truth to remember: God forgives as we repent. When we shrink away in fear or strike out in fear, God does not leave us in a crumple of failed flesh. We are His. Warriors. Prophets. Priests. Children of the One God. He has flung our sin as far as the east is from the west. It does not define us or diminish us as His repentant own.]

Worship with me and cancel the fear with the truth of God. Extinguish its darkness with the light of the perfect love of Jesus. As you worship with this song, remember the lyric “he” isn’t the person in front of you – the “he” is the Evil One. Our fight is not with that person in front of us…it is a spiritual battle…and we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar*

Fear does not die easily. It requires an act of will and an act of faith. Often I have to pray myself out of fear before sleep at night, and praise my way out of picking it back up in the morning. This is after a lifetime of battling with fear. However, there is nothing sweeter…nothing…than knowing that God’s got this. Whatever “this” is. We live in a world full of scary and confusing struggle. We can’t see yet how it will all come out or what is happening in the unseen. Trusting God with what frightens and acting accordingly is how we deal with the struggle. We don’t retreat…we don’t attack…but we also don’t go it alone. That gives me joy, and I will not to be afraid.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – JesusJohn 16:33

*Lyrics to Fear is a Liar – Songwriters: Zach Williams, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Lindley Smith

Zach Williams Music

Worship Wednesday – No Fear – Same Power – Jeremy Camp

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns – East to West (Official Lyric Video)

Fear Is a Liar – 91 Images on Pinterest