Wednesday, November 26, 2014

An Antidote to Negativity...Random Acts of Kindness

Sometimes the questions are complicated
and the answers are simple. 
                                             -Dr. Seuss

From time to time I over-think and over-analyze what goes on. Several weeks ago, negativity hit my door with a loud bang, and I stewed and fretted and ruminated and prayed. And then I prayed some more. And then, since I am an extrovert, I processed. I tried to make sense of that which just didn't make any sense at all. I'm not sure if you have ever done that, but if you have you know how it feels. More and more complicated. I was awash in the questions. Why, why why?

My beloved husband has only seen me stewing like this a very few times in our thirty plus years of marriage. When that happens, Bert knows to"let me be," as he puts it. He walked by while I was journaling about it all, paused and almost whispered, "The answer is simple, Linda." I looked up and knew he was up to something."I'll take you out to breakfast at Hogans. That always helps."And it did. 

Kindness is always a powerful antidote to wash away the impact of negativity, meanness and hurt.

So once we sat in our usual booth at Hogans and got our usual menus and ordered our usual meals with our fabulous and usual server, Katie, the fog started to clear. All at once, I knew what was required. It literally hit me like a bolt of lightening. The answer was simple.

Counteract what had happened with kindness, LOTS of kindness. Penetrate the space around me, the people around me with all of the love and care and kindness and gratitude that my heart could muster.

And what specifically hit me was that while Bert and I are generous tippers to those who so graciously help us and serve us, and we had always done so for Katie, I had never once, never ever tipped our cook at Hogans, the guy who makes our breakfasts. I knew in my deepest heart of hearts that this had to change and it had to change NOW!

So I quietly asked Katie if tips were split between those who worked there and her facial expression said no, they weren't. So I went to the owner of the cafe, who always works on Saturdays and Sundays, and asked if it would be okay to tip Aaron, the cook. Now Aaron is no small guy. He's actually quite huge, covered in tattoos, and usually wears a Seahawks t-shirt while he slings those hash browns from one side of the grill to another. While he breaks eggs
and makes pancakes...well it's a sight to behold. One of our rituals in Hogans, an old fashioned 1950s neighborhood hangout in Spokane, is to yell to Aaron "Thanks for the great breakfast!" each time we leave. Since the grill is out in the open in the restaurant, and Aaron makes breakfast in front of a crowd at the counter, he usually looks up and grins. Not a huge grin, but a small grin, a grinning from the inside kind of grin. 

He's used to it now, that yell of "thanks!" He even waves to us when we come in. And we are "regulars!"

So, since the owner said "yes, you can tip him but no one does and he'd never expect it," I couldn't wait to pull off this unexpected surprise. I dug deep into my purse where I carry various and sundry items you never know when you'll need, and pulled out an envelope. Then Bert and I started to unload the bills in our wallets into it. Five twenty dollar bills to be exact. We had planned to do some Christmas shopping with that money, but that could wait. 
I just knew this had to happen right his minute.

Aaron was up to his eyeballs in orders and both hands and arms were flying around with the bacon and the eggs, so I gave the envelope to the owner with one request. "Please tell him that his great breakfasts feed our stomachs and our hearts." The owner looked puzzled. I said, "He'll  know what I mean." We yelled our "Thanks for the great breakfast!" and left.

I immediately felt better. The hurt was gone, the fear was gone, and I couldn't wait to get to
the grocery store where Tom's Turkey drive was going on. That's where you buy a bag of groceries for a family, a turkey comes with it and on Turkey Tuesday the meals are given to 11,000 needy families. We do it every year.

Rosauers is not far from Hogans, so off we went. Bert, who always loves to clown around and sometimes swing dances with me in the grocery store if the music is just right, rolled down his  car window and proclaimed, loud enough for anyone in close proximity to hear, 
                                                      "She's back!"

And I was. My heart was back. My spirit was back. My gusto was back.
I was doing kind things for others and I felt alive again! Ahhhh...I think there is a life lesson here!

We bounded into Rosauers and started taking bags off the shelf. We picked one out for every one of our grandkids, and said their names out loud. Those grand babies that range in age from 23 to 3 bring such light and love into our lives that we wanted to honor them as we got Thanksgiving dinner for 14 families. We've never felt better! Our Christmas fund was getting smaller, but our hearts were getting bigger! 

The shopping cart was full of bags and as we put them on the conveyer belt in front of the cashier, she smiled. "WOW!" was all she could muster. Bert grinned at her and said with glee in his voice, "These are in honor of our grandkids. They'd want us to do this." Then we left Rosauers and headed to our car, bundled up with our jackets and scarves to protect us from the 
freezing 30 degree Spokane weather.

What would our next kindness adventure be?

As we started to get into our car, we noticed all the freezing volunteers along the entrance to the grocery store parking lot. All of them were holding Tom's Turkey day signs as a reminder to passing motorists. They had been out on that curb as we drove by, headed to Hogans, and they were still on duty as we were leaving the Rosauer's parking lot. We just looked at each other and smiled.

We spied a drive thru espresso stand in the same complex and with a grin on or faces and joy
in our hearts, we drove up and ordered six hot chocolates. We were on a roll. We were smiling and laughing as the barrista asked, "Six? You want six?" "Yes, please,"I answered. "We need to get them to the volunteers over there." She started to grin and chat and said she couldn't wait to see their expressions when we delivered them, especially the teenage gal who had dressed in a turkey costume. The barrista's voice was now animated and full of kindness. She volunteered to donate six cookies to the sidewalk party.

Yes, doing random acts of kindness is contagious!

We delivered the hot chocolate and cookies, the teenage girl in the turkey costume cried she was so happy, everyone was stunned, including us. After some quick hugs we headed home. 

On the way home, we were both quiet, thinking about what had just taken place. Quiet is always unusual for me so Bert went first. "How do you feel now, honey?"And I started to cry. And truthfully, on and off I've been crying ever since. I managed to choke out, "I feel lots better." And he pulled over, stopped the car, reached over to hug me and I let the tears and the joy and the lessons all mix together as I sobbed and sobbed.

If it took having someone be less than kind to help me find how much you get back when you give kindness, then it was worth going through that pain. 

All of the complicated questions faded away. The answers were simple. When you feel bad and rotten and sad and scared, do something for someone else. Give your love, your heart, your pennies and it will come back tenfold to you.

And as Thanksgiving is here tomorrow, I am so grateful to be reminded of this lesson. 
I have SO MUCH to be grateful for!

May your Thanksgiving be full of love and joy and peace and gratitude.
May you see God's blessings at every turn.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Ouch! unexpected pinch

One day she finally grasped that unexpected
things were always going to happen in life.
And with that she realized the only control 
she had was how she chose to handle them.
So she made the decision to survive using
courage, humor and grace. She was the Queen 
of her own life and the choice was hers.

I've never done well with people who are mean. And while I know
as surely as I am standing, okay sitting here, that 98% of God's world
is filled with amazing, gracious, kind, and unselfish folks, I also am realistic enough to get that the other 2% can do a lot of damage. Last week I inadvertently bumped into several of them. And it hurt and not just a little bit.

Someone once suggested to me that since I was a Christian, God would keep
me from feeling pain. After all, the person said, wasn't my God a God who could do anything? I had to take a long slow breath before trying to answer that question. Because it is a complex one.

The God I know and love and serve is the Creator of ALL, Almighty and He loves me enough to come along side me in every aspect of my life. But does He shield me from pain and hurts and tough times? No, He doesn't. Those are the times that I grow closer to Him, lean on Him more, seek His word more, and try desperately to love people the way He loves people. Unconditionally.

Last week it wasn't easy to do that.

I am a big believer that words are powerful. Words can do great good and heal and support and help. Or words can hurt and leave scars that don't go away.
Whoever said that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."...well, they lied.

I may be oversensitive to the meaning behind words. I grew up in a home where at times words were used as weapons. My Dad, and especially when he had been drinking, threw words  around like darts heading for the bullseye on a dart board. He knew just where to land the big ones. He knew the vulnerable spots and often went for them. Now please don't misunderstand. I loved my dad dearly, but I didn't like who he became when his anger exploded.
He was suddenly mean and scary, a terrible combination.

So that brings me to last week. The names and place shall remain anonymous
as I am not going to use a computer to damage them the way two folks used emails to throw a few well paced darts at me. The words were totally unexpected. The level of contempt was very thinly disguised. And there was lots of innuendo, fill in the blanks with wondering. Are they talking to me? After all, this is being sent to more than one person. I couldn't help wondering, if they were so upset why they never said a word about it to me individually. Banging the keys of the computer and letting the vent ooze out somehow gave them courage. One word kept surfacing for me. One sentence kept floating back, over and over again. And here it is.

It's easier to throw sticks and stones when you hide behind a computer.
However, it is just pain cowardly. That's right...cowardly.

Yes, it is hard to come to someone and in a face-to-face conversation share how something they did hurt your feelings. Yes, it is hard to share disagreements in philosophy or ways of doing things in a face-to- face format. 

It is an adult skill to do that. It takes courage to do that. And it is the right thing to do that.

It allows the other person you have a conflict with to see your face and hear your voice and get the magnitude of what they did that hurt you. However, and since I teach conflict management, I have come to believe that if the goal is to solve a problem or improve a relationship, then find the courage to talk to the person.

They can't fix or change or apologize or make amends when they don't even know they hurt you.

I see this a great deal on some well known women's blogs. I have stopped going there because I cannot stomach the fact that someone would start up a blog of
"haters" who judge and condemn and vilify another human being. How
could someone say such nasty things and not think they would hurt deeply.

More frightening perhaps is that they actually wanted to deeply hurt the other person.

This wasn't an easy week for me. I prayed and prayed and asked for God's guidance. What should I do or say back. I knew for sure that this attack, although thinly disguised, came from someone who must be hurting. It took awhile, but I finally got to the spot where I could pray for them and ask God's guidance about how I could respond in a loving manner. 

I made the decision to survive using humor and courage and grace. I had no control about their comments, but I did have control over my response. 
Would I be aggressive and defensive? Would I debate them on the grounds that their assumptions were inaccurate and unfair?

Or would I try to gain the seed of truth from what they were upset about?
Would I show compassion and empathy, even if they didn't. Would I find the courage to be kind and caring and loving and compassionate, in my heart, no matter what. 

I am still in process. I am focusing on how much LOVE surrounds me and there is SO much of it. I am so grateful for those who love me as I am, faults and all.
I am so grateful for family and friend and colleagues who appreciate the me God created and express that gratitude rather than thinly veiled contempt.

I made a small attempt at communication back and tried to pepper my words
with hope and care and concern and a desire to heal hurts.

My beloved hubby, upon reading what was said, had a few well chosen words to share. I won't put them here as they might make you blush a bit. But once he calmed down he said, "Plain and simple, honey. They may be a bit jealous of what a great person you are, " Of course he would say that because he loves me with his whole heart.

My daughter sent me the quotation at the start of this blog post and listened to me as I felt so sad and almost sick to my stomach. Her empathy and care and calling to see how I was doing...well she and Bert saved me this week.

Vicky Westra, without even knowing the details of the hurt, told me she'd
pray for me and that she loved me and was grateful for me. Also, a quote on Vicky's blog helped my thinking:

                      Focus on what matters and
                   let go of what doesn't.

My friend Sharon understood and listened and was angry that someone would vent on me in such a cruel way.

And without my asking for it, countless students and friends and family
connected with me. They didn't even know what had happened. But their kind and loving words soothed my hurting soul. God is good all the time and He knew I needed support.

And finally, in my quiet time, filled with some unrest, I've asked God to help me learn whatever lesson He has in mind for me in this situation. I know I am not perfect. I know I may have done something that hurt them so badly that they would want to hurt me back. I don't know or understand what that is exactly, but I am open to talking and finding out so I can apologize if necessary.

And my goal? Be kinder than necessary. Go out of my way to let others know they matter to me. 

And what keeps coming back in my prayer time?... a clear message 

Words are powerful. They can do great good or great harm. Always use them carefully and share them in love. And in the end, be the woman I was created to be. Instead of slinging hurt, sling joy and hope and peace and love.

Thanks God, I'm listening!

God Bless!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What to do...when your computer blows up

Technology can be your friend, or not.
                                    -Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. There, I said it.

I am appalled and horrified to realize that recent studies show Americans spend an average of six to eight hours a day in front of some kind of screen. A television. A phone. A computer. Absorbed. Totally absorbed and oblivious. Captivated. I'd even go so far as to say addicted. That even includes children in grade school. Yikes!

Like the young lady in the Safeway parking lot. She was headed to the store, her smart phone in one hand, eyes down, gazing at the screen and she was totally unaware that she was in a parking lot with busy cars whirling everywhere. She wandered aimlessly into the lane of oncoming traffic. One car screeched to a stop, another going the opposite direction slid to a standstill and guess what... she never looked up. She never saw she was in danger. Finally, an older gentleman rolled down his window and gently shouted, "Miss, be careful!" The look on her face said it all. She looked up, dazed, almost glassy-eyed, and stared at him as if he was from another planet. She shook her head, went back to her smart phone and somehow managed to meander into the Safeway store without bumping into the automatic doors.

I'm aware that younger America is marinated in technology and not all of it is bad by any means. But to quote my Grandma, and I seem to dispense her wisdom frequently these days, "sometimes a new fad isn't all it is cracked up to be."

Yup, Nana, I read you loud and clear.

Since I am a college professor and spend my days with savvy college students 
who navigate technology as easy as breathing, I can see the benefits of easy access to information. Really I can.

Everyone has a phone and I do mean everyone. These days I'll often be found saying "Get out your phones and google the Gottman Institute and see what they say about how to handle conflict gently in gender relationships." Easy peasy. All the world at your finger tips.

I get it. Even I am computer dependent. That's how most of my students communicate with me after hours. That's how I blog. That's how I contact consulting clients. And perhaps I didn't recognize my own dependency on this magic information dispenser until my home computer blew up.

Blew up is not an exaggeration.

One minute it was working fine. Then I closed it. 

Later, when in great expectation I opened it again, the screen had lines going every which way. It looked like an etch-a-sketch drawing where a toddler had gone wild with the buttons and covered the screen with lines. Oh. my. goodness.

I made a mad dash to the Apple store, as I use a Mac Pro, and was met by a young computer geek with a huge smile A smile that lasted until he saw my screen. "Oh dear" he whispered. Then he opened up the back of the computer, which I have had for at least six years, and sighed. The kind of sigh that never comes before good news. And then he said one word, as his eyes looked at the computer and then looked at me. He wasn't so disgusted as to be obnoxious, but you could feel a tad bit of contempt. 

"VINTAGE," he said in disbelief. "How old is this?"

I imagined myself at some archeological dig site where a rare bone is discovered. Yet in archeology that discovery might bring elation. This discovery had a side-order of disbelief and criticism served with it.

"Vintage," I said, punctuating the word with an explanation point. And then I started to laugh.

I don't mean a small and lady-like laugh. 

I mean a holding your sides until they hurt kind of howl. And when I could breathe properly and get words out in a coherent fashion I whispered, "Just like me. Vintage."

I left the Apple Store with a new Mac Pro, following the exchange of data from one computer to another. It's important to add that I am filled with gratitude that I had the resources to get a new laptop. 

I came home and told every detail of my story of the blown up computer to my dear husband Bert. 

He gladly listened, with a twinkle in his eye, to the entire, saga. After all, he's a marvelous counselor and is used to listening attentively and genuinely to people's problems. However Bert sees the pros and cons of overuse of technology, uses a computer as little as possible, and only does so at work.

Bert still relishes the old fashioned tradition of getting a newspaper at our door, holding it in his time-worn hands,  sipping and savoring his coffee,  and examining each page of the paper at his leisure. He comments on the photography in the Spokesman Review and the story titles, little things that most of us miss. After all he comes from a family of book publishers who specialized in historical, Native American and "coffee table" books. As a child he was in on every aspect of what it takes to do the research for a book, write a book, edit a book, and do the photography for a book. He appreciates the "art" of publishing and holding and feeling the final product.

I am so, so blessed to share my life with this man of tradition, even though years later he wouldn't know a kindle from a spindle. He's old-fashioned and that's only one of the countless things I adore about him.

Bert nodded wisely as I gave him the details of the computer mishap. Then he gave me a big hug and kiss, and he solemnly, with a small side of humor, told me he loved me. He assured me that he'd love to get that new computer for me for Christmas. And then we both started to chuckle when I recalled the proclamation that the old computer was declared "vintage." After all my "vintage" life-partner rarely even uses a cell phone.

God Bless!
Love, Linda

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding Light in the Darkness

There's a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
                                                            - Leonard Cohen

The landscape in Spokane is almost unrecognizable. One day it was warm and sunny and 63 degrees and the next day it was stunningly freezing. Fall was in its
glory and then winter came along and BAM!

That's really how life is sometimes. It seems that all is as it should be
and then suddenly things are off kilter. Uncomfortable. Shifting and changing.

Nope, I didn't vote for that!

It gets dark very early now, It's dark when I leave for work and starting to get dark when I come home. And I find I have candles everywhere. No, everywhere. I have candles out in lanterns in the back yard, sharing shreds of light beams with the crisp frost. I have candles in almost every room. Just in case. Just in case someone needs comfort and needs to know there is Light in the darkness.

For me that light has always been Jesus.

He's the one I call out to when tears are streaming down my face. He's the one
who has been my light on the darkest pathways. He's the one who has guided me along rugged roads, when I stumbled at almost every turn.

He's the One.

Several of my very dear friends and beloved family members are going though very tough and challenging times right now. Some days it feels like the darkness is overtaking their lives and they are on a very slippery path. It feels scary and unreal and out of control. In those times of darkness, and believe me I have been there, I have called out to Jesus in pain and despair. I felt like there was no crack of truth for light to even find its way through.

But there is a crack in everything. That's how the healing light gets in.

This last weekend Bert and I got an Emergency Car Kit for our beloved Granddaughter Glory Sihin, now 17 and adopted three years ago from Ethiopia.
She has had her drivers license for only a few months and this is her first winter driving in the snow. So we purchased a AAA card and an all-weather bag that has everything from a small shovel to a flashlight and flares. Glory was amazed at all that she might need, in case she was stuck in an emergency. 

After rattling off all all the snow storm and emergency protocols , I looked at her dear face and saw her smiling at me. I could read her mind and she could read mine. 

"Okay," I said. "Pray first and then use the Emergency Kit." 

He is there for every emergency!

And when I wonder what the next sentence or paragraph or chapter is in my life...I remember that I am not alone in the darkness. He is there. Right
with me. Holding out a hand. Bringing a candle to help light my way.

Yes, the weather has changed and I find I am missing the warmth of the sun,
the chatter of friends outdoors, and the feel of dirt underneath my fingers as I
nurture small plants. Yet I know this season will bring me a new sense of His presence. A new renewal of how much I need His guidance.

And I will pray, and pray and pray some more...for my dear soul sisters
who are struggling and choosing and growing and trusting in Him.
You know who you are and you know how much I love you!

He will not leave us. He will light the way!

Of that I am sure!

God Bless!
Love Linda

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Veterans Day...Through the Eyes of Children

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes.
                                        -Maya Angelou

Whenever Veterans Day nears, I have a pit in my stomach.
During that day, and for several days afterwards, I feel the
enormity of what has been sacrificed to keep me free. I feel a gratitude that is overwhelming and linked with tears. I say to my students who are veterans, to my husband and other friends who have served, "Thank you for your service." However, it rings a little hollow. That phrase is heartfelt, yet it doesn't begin to cover the cost.

My Dad was a veteran in WWII, stationed in Italy for more
than three years. He was newly married. He left a business, a wife, his country and lived in a tent. He loaded bombs into airplanes, day after day, in an effort to keep Hitler from taking over Europe and the rest of the world. On Veterans Day I always pull out the pictures of my Dad in his uniform. My younger Dad. The one who still smiled easily. There was no question that he would serve. He wanted to give the gift. 

In later life he wondered aloud, and with much sadness, if perhaps some of those bombs had also hurt innocent people. That wondering hurt his heart. According to my Mom, a new bride when he left, Mark was "a changed man." How could he not be.

A life changed forever.

War is awful and horrible and hurtful and many tough
lessons have been learned in the wars we have fought. And the life of every soldier, on both sides, is changed forever.

Yet no matter where we stand politically on a war, in my view we need to love and care for those we ask to go and make the ultimate sacrifice. Vietnam Veterans often came home to cat-calls and horrible signs. Not only had they made a huge sacrifice, it seemed like so many of them were vilified at home.

Hopefully we learned a lesson from the pain they 
endured. We may not agree with a war, but we will care for and love those who went to serve in it.

My beloved Bert was/is an Army paratrooper. I say "is" 
because it is so a part of who he is today and the values he holds. Now, as a counselor, he often works with Veterans who are struggling, who have PTSD. Serving changed them, grew them up, brought them square in line with a side of life that stretches and pains them, and pains those they love.

And women serve and leave home and children and lives that will never be the same. They give their all to keep freedom alive. They serve with honor and love and dignity and pay the cost.

Lives changed forever.

Saying thank you doesn't seem adequate, but it's what I have to offer. Saying thank you, not just on Veterans Day, seems to be even more important. 

A friend at the college where I teach sent me this video link on Tuesday. And the tears flowed. Somehow the voices of these sweet third grade elementary children captured what was and is in my heart.

Don't miss this.

God bless!

Finding Comfort in Kindness...sharing from the heart

                                If every person made it a rule that                          wherever you are, whenever you              ...