Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Reflection on 2014...Happy New Year!

                      Sometimes

                                               said Pooh

                       the smallest things

                         take up the most

                      room in your Heart.

                                              -a.a. milne 


I am almost always amazed when another year is just around
the corner. Yesterday, at breakfast, Bert and I reflected on 2014.
We're like that, a teacher and a counselor, always eager to look
at the learnings. 

Life lessons. What moved us? How did God come along side us? 
What adventures did we risk taking? What touched our hearts in 2014? 
What do we wish we had done differently? What brought us to our feet cheering? What broke our hearts? When did we show compassion? When do we wish we had given more, been there more, shown more forgiveness?

My word, and  our word, for 2014 was...  
                WHOLE-HEARTED...all in.

Be whole-heartedly in love with each other and the gift of our lives.
Be whole-hearted about sharing our love and God's love with others.
Have adventures ! Embrace our failures. Relish the hard times and the 
good times. Be present. Soak it all in with unending gratitude.
The miracles of 2014 reside in our hearts. The large and the small.

And we found, in looking back, that often the smallest things take up the most room in our hearts. 

The unexpected thank you note from a 13 year old grandson, a text message hearing a granddaughter loves us, a hug when we needed one. Time with family, playing games or being superheroes together. Seeing our adult children wrap their sweet children in love and care and attention.  Getting a text that a coffee card, and the cup of coffee it provided, saved the day. Having authentic conversations, no matter how hard. Old friends and new friends. God coming beside us in moments of deep grief.

We are so grateful for it all.

 Our word for 2015? We've got it! That's for another post. :)

And may you know that no matter what 2014 brought your way....
that it is ALL a gift. Even those things that don't look gift wrapped.
Even the hardest gut-wrenching moments. Life-lessons to be learned.
How blessed we are to have one more day to learn them.

And as 2014 comes to a close and 2015 peeks its head around 
the bend... 

May you live every day as if it was your last. 
And may you know that God loves you and holds you in the
palm of His almighty hand. He will never leave you or forsake you.
Never.ever. No matter what. That's a promise.

Happy New Year!
Love you all to the moon and back!

Linda and Bert
aka Nana and Boppa

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Grace Under Fire...an AMAZING Christmas gift!

If you have good thoughts
They will shine out of 
Your face like
SUNBEAMS
And you will always
Look lovely.
                               -Roald Dahl 

Her name is Tiffany. Tiffany works at the UPS store, one of the busiest places
in the whole world at this time of year. No matter that she is on Maui where the
ALOHA spirit is evident amongst native Hawaiians.  

I had gotten to the UPS store early to mail some purchases back to the mainland. No Christmas deadline, I was a relaxed observer. I had met Tiffany before. She remembered that I was a teacher, and I noticed the new and sparkling engagement ring on her left hand. An instant connection.

I was the second one through the door, following a sad-looking woman who had wrapped individual presents, but was overwhelmed by all the choices on  how to send them. It was just too much for Anna. I commented on the wreath  she had made for her pre-teen granddaughter. A creation from her heart.

What I noticed immediately was how kind Tiffany's eyes were as she held back a sea of new customers, mostly from the mainland, as she tried to help Anna make a decision. Meanwhile, an older Hawaiian woman wandered in, needed to make xerox copies, and was utterly confused on how to run the xerox machine.

Tiffany took a quiet breath and I imagined her saying a silent prayer.

She at once, with grace and a lovely smiling face, simultaneously answered the phone, helped Anna, and ran the copies for the befuddled older woman.

And then in an instant the humane climate at the UPS store changed. 

"SHE" waltzed in with a scowl on her face,  pushed aside two delightful Hawaiian gentlemen,and had entitled written all over her face. She announced that she was from the mainland (I'll leave the state out as it is not their fault), and that she needed help NOW! She had sent an email after hours with her order. It was supposed to be ready right.this.minute. Everyone looked at Tiffany.

I'd like to insert here a quotation from my very wise Nana...

Everyone is a role model you can learn from. Some role model HOW to do things. Some role model how NOT to do things.

Tiffany took another small breath, as if seeking help from a higher power. What came out of her mouth was nothing short of remarkable. She said (using the young woman's first name and with genuine kindness):"

"I'm so sorry. We have let  you down. I haven't gotten to your order yet. Since there are several people in front of you, I'll need to serve them first. But your order will be free, on me. I'll pay for it as a Christmas present to you. I hope you'll forgive me for not having it done."

Talk about grace under fire! You could have heard a pin drop in that UPS store. The growling young woman, stopped in the middle of her rant. She looked like someone had hit her.

Kindness does that sometimes. It stops us in our tracks.

The entitled young woman fumbled with her paper, handed  it to Tiffany, and said with some embarrassment, "I'll be back about noon." At the door she turned and said,"Thank you. I'm sorry  I was so rude." And she left. 

After a minute of silence the two Hawaiian gentlemen began to clap and sing "We wish you a Merry Christmas."  Soon the whole UPS store was laughing, singing and crying. Tiffany got a standing ovation!

After the store cleared out I talked to Tiffany and asked her what was her take on what had happened there. She downplayed what she had done, but whispered,

"I just asked God to give me extra kindness since I was all out."

Thanks,Tiffany, for one of the best Christmas gifts ever! 

God Bless and Merry Christmas! 

Love,
Linda 







  




 

 

Monday, December 08, 2014

Failure is just part of the process...

Failure is just a part of the process, and it's not just okay; it's better than okay. God doesn't want failure
to shut us down. God didn't make it a three-strikes-you're-out sort of thing. It's more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.

                               Bob Goff  - Love Does

I am taking a big breath before I write this post. Not a medium-sized breath, but a huge breath. It is always a risk to be transparent and never more so than when I talk about my faith, my spiritual life. Never more so than when I talk from my heart-of-hearts. 

So I am willing to take that risk today because being authentic and real helps to keep me alive. It helps me let go of  fear. What if? What if you really knew this or that about me, would you still love me? What if? What if?

Let me start at the beginning. I am a reader. I usually have several books going at the same time. I love all kinds of books. Yet some books swallow me up, toss me around and leave me gasping for air. Some are so deep and thought-provoking that I cling to each word. 

Some, when I read them, feel like someone poked inside my soul and expressed in words everything my heart believed and never had words for.

Reading Love Does, by Bob Goff, did that to me. It was so powerful that the seismic shock waves are still being felt. With almost every chapter I uttered 
a quiet and not so quiet "Amen!" In an African-American church I attended, at least twelve wonderful women would have encouraged Bob with a "Preach it!" exclamation. And yet Bob isn't a preacher. He's a person sharing his faith and making Jesus so real, and Christianity so human, that it brought me to tears at almost every juncture.

I wanted to hug Bob as I read his words. I wanted to say what a relief it was to hear someone else say that the God I know and love and serve is not always found in a church, but may be even more real on a mountain top. What a relief it was to hear him say say that Love is an action, it is a verb. When we truly love others we take the risk to be real ourselves, the self God created us to be. And that God, as Bob describes Him, allows for us to be truly human. And being human means that we aren't perfect. 

We will experience failure. We are going to mess up, count on it!

Yet nothing, and I mean NOTHING, prepared me for Bob's quote about failure, about screwing up, about messing up big time. That quotation blew me out of the water and I cry every time I read it.

You see, my whole life I have been terrified of making mistakes.

I grew up in a family, bless their hearts, that stopped loving people when they messed up. Kept score of everything. That became extremely judgmental, and critical and condemning of  people who didn't live life according to their best guess of how everyone was supposed to live. While they didn't always voice their condemnation and contempt, you could see it in their eyes, in the way they described that person as kind of pathetic or hopeless. They may be on the family tree but I sorta wish I had gotten a different father or mother or sister or brother or friend. It was very polite and toxic, all at the same time.
Everyone knew it. It wasn't really a secret.

The message was this: There is a way to do everything and how dare you be so stupid as to mess up or do it different . There was no place for you here if you mess up, if you are truly human. I still remember my Mom telling me that if I had a fight with my dad that she would have to choose him. In other words, if we had a serious conflict, I would no longer be part of the family. 

And I knew that to be true as I looked at my family tree and the broken relationships. Folks who made a mistake or had a difference or just danced to a different drummer were estranged and never spoken to again. Like my Grandpa with my Dad. Like my Mom with her brother Bob. 

The message was loud and the message was clear.
We will sit in judgement of you and never let you forget how messed up you are and how great we are, not to mess up like you do.

That message was so powerful that to keep someone's love I learned to hide my mistakes. There I said it. I was so afraid of not being perfect enough to get someone's love that I tried to reinvent myself to be who I thought they would love more. I did that for a long time. I felt so apologetic for who I really was that I hid my real self. Pretty soon I lost touch with the real me.

And what a mess I became. Unrecognizable. I wanted to hide my failures or gloss over them or alter them a bit in an effort to try to earn someone's love. Earn is the operative word here. I never felt like I was enough, just as I was. Mistakes and all. 

Have you ever felt that way?

And then one day, thank God, I could no longer live life like that. Being less than authentic took too much out of me. I was finally ready to change. I saw failure in a new way. It was part of growing. It was nothing to be ashamed of.

It took so much courage for me to peel away who I thought others wanted me to be so I could become who God made me to be. No apologies for who He made!

That process of owning my mistakes and embracing my failures gave me new life. It was, as Bob Goff says, "part of the process." So what does that mean concretely in my relationships with others?

It is truly okay to fail; better than okay. Once I believed that, suddenly it is okay for you to know that I am a recovering person, thirty years clean and sober. Suddenly I was and am proud of having the courage to own that for several years, after the pain of a heart-breaking divorce, I drank too much to dull the pain.  Not falling down drunk, but not a comfortable amount for me
to drink. This girl that had barely had a drink in college, and never been intoxicated, lost her way. And then, after lots of personal work, and God's good grace, found it again! :) 

If in knowing that part of my history, you  no longer want to know me or read my blog or be my friend, I am okay with that. 

It is more important for me to share those life lessons and be transparent then it is for me to pretend that chapter never happened. I share that in my classes at the college and I cannot tell you how many students come up and in hearing my story are so grateful to know that it is possible to change. It is okay to fail and to overcome  and to grow back, stronger than ever. They are grateful to know that God did not abandon me during that hard time. Instead, He was there with me, all along, holding my hand and offering me comfort and love and hope.

Suddenly it is also okay for you to know that I am now, as my true self, exuberant in how I live my life. I am a full-throddle type of gal who loves to hug and sing and tell you I treasure you. I live whole heartedly. I give my heart and when I do you will know you matter to me. I go out on a limb for people and show up big time for those I love. I am no longer afraid of you seeing the real me.

Suddenly it is okay for you to know that I believe that people deserve second chances and third chances and more chances to find happiness. I believe that when they do the best they can, that God smiles. And I believe that when those choices we make don't always turn out the way we wish they had, that God embraces us and doesn't chastise us.

I do believe that God didn't make His love for me, or you,  a three-strikes you're out kind of process and I am so grateful He has lovingly helped to dust me off again.

And when someone is judgmental of the hurts and mistakes someone I love makes, I will rear up like an angry Momma bear and defend the person who is hurt by those judgements. I truly believe that if God doesn't keep score of their mistakes and failures, then we should not keep score either.

In fact, truth be told, I am drawn more to human people, people who don't
pretend to have it all together. I am drawn to folks who aren't judgmental and critical of others. I feel more comfortable around people who are real and
embrace other real people. And I certainly like myself a whole lot better when I am real and not afraid. I like myself a whole lot better when I am not
keeping score of the mistakes of others. Sadly, I can be judgmental too. It's as if it passed down in my DNA. And each time it comes up, that critical inner voice that wants to tell others how to do it and do it correctly, I have a strong talk with her. I tell myself it is only my fear talking. A criticizer is not who God made me to be.

I am so, so grateful for the book Love Does. It is worth a second and third read. If you haven't read it yet, get it for yourself for Christmas. Give it to others. It's truly a life-changer and a soul-restorer!

And finally, at this Christmas time, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I rejoice that the God I know and Love and serve loved me enough to make His love real to me. Christmas, for me, is a time of birth and rebirth.

I am grateful beyond words that my God is a God of second and third chances. He is a God that doesn't keep score. He is a God of forgiveness and love in action. He is a God who loves me just as I am and helps me every day to become all He meant me to be.

May God Bless you and keep you and hold you in the palm of
His Almighty hand!

Love, Linda












Saturday, December 06, 2014

What to do when your car blows up, shortly after your computer just did...

Some weeks you'll just utter a prayer,
"Help me stay sane, Lord. Help me look
to you for my security and well being.
For only in You is my strength revived. Only in You is my peace restored. Only in You, dear God, can I find my rest. Only in You."
                            Jerry Sittser, A Grace Revealed

It was a very busy day and I had written a list so long it 
looked like a battle plan. After all, it is finals week at the college where I teach so things are a bit hectic. Okay, really hectic. 
Everything needed to go like clockwork. The ultimate goal was for me to get my youngest adult daughter to the hospital since she was having neck surgery. 

We couldn't be late.

So hustling and bustling I left the building I teach in and headed to my car in the faculty parking lot. Since I get to the college by about 5:30 am each day, and the parking lot is virtually empty save a few cars for maintenance and custodial folks, I can park anywhere I like. My car was easy to see and access as I almost ran out the door. I threw my rolling cart carrying scads of papers to grade in the back seat, quickly turned on the engine, and put on my seat belt. Just the usual routine. 

I was not prepared for what happened next.

I shifted the car into reverse and pressed the gas pedal.
Nothing happened. The car did not go in reverse. I tried drive and the car didn't move, not even a little. I put the car back into park
and it made a horrible grinding sound of protest.

I was stunned and in disbelief. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened on my way to school. I hadn't heard an unusual sound or felt an unusual motion. 

I instinctively knew, from my not so vast knowledge of car maintenance, that the transmission must have blown up. It was gone. The car was totally useless. It was going no where. And this happened today of all days.

Poof...in a moment plans changed. What was I to do now?

Now... when there wasn't a moment to spare. I dashed back up to my classroom where my daughter,who also teaches at our college, was standing. I had just left there moments ago with promises to meet her at the hospital.

"I have some news," I said. She looked at me in wonderment. 
She knew the tight time frame we were on. What was I up to?

"It's my car," I said slowly, trying to stay calm 
and keep the hysteria out of my voice. "It blew up," I uttered, as calmly as possible given the magnitude of what this meant. 

"Blew up? Your car isn't working?"

And so began a car race reminiscent of the old Gene Hackman movie The French Connection. We had to dash north to her home to get another car. I would drive that car and follow her, we'd drop off a car at at the high school where her daughter is a junior (since she needed to pick up the younger children after school), drive back to the college to meet her next class, and then off to the hospital. 

And what a miracle, we pulled that all off with only moments to spare. We made it just in the nick of time to Sacred Heart and she checked in for her surgery, filling out the paperwork as she went down the hall.

As I sat in the waiting room I was still in a state of shock. And then in small increments it hit me. After all, it was only a few short weeks ago that my computer blew up. Expensive, yes, but I could afford to replace it. Replacing a vehicle is another matter all together.

And another scenario set it. I was supposed to go to the Nutcracker Ballet with my oldest daughter and her daughter that very night.
         How in the world was I going to pull that off?

I did what I always do when it feels like the bottom has just fallen through. Pray first and then call Bert.

I knew he was at work, but would probably come home for lunch and get my message. I wanted to keep the fear and trembling out of my voice when I heard his voice message on our answering machine. I told him my car had blown up, wasn't moving forward or backward, and that I was headed to Sacred Heart. News bulletin  I was now using Amy's car. I tried to be light hearted, even a tad jovial. After all when the computer blew up, Bert offered to get me a new one for Christmas. I was quite sure however that a new vehicle wasn't in his budget either.

And then it came to me. A quote. One of my favorites from a new book I'm reading by Jerry Sittser, A Grace Revealed. His prayer about "Only in you is my faith restored. Only in you."

Jerry also wrote another book called A Grace Disguised, a powerful story of human tragedy so confounding that it shakes you to the core. Computers blowing up? Cars blowing up? How about having your whole life blow up? Right there. In front of you. Jerry was in a car coming back from an event with his mom, wife and four children. He was hit head on by a drunk driver and all of his entire family lay shattered by the side of the road. Jerry was doing life-saving measures on his mom, wife, Linda, and daughter Jane all at one time. The three other children were hurt, but not critically. 

He lost all three of his dearly beloveds right in front of his eyes. Poof, they were gone. They were dead.

Jerry Sittser was my Sunday school teacher at the time and his wife Linda sang in our choir. The magnitude of this loss hit all of us so hard that we were rendered almost useless and speechless and faithless...for months and months.

And in this new book, Jerry looks back on how God was there all along. And when hard things happen, unexpected things, expensive things, unthinkable things... He will be beside me as well.

In one horrible moment, Jerry became a single parent to three small children. In one horrible moment his life changed. And he uttered this prayer many times. Minute-by-minute, day-by-day, week-by-week...

"Help me stay sane, Lord. Help me to look to you for my security."

And as Jerry's prayer came back to me in the waiting room at Sacred Heart, I started to cry. I may have lost my car. It may have blown up and need to be replaced. It may be inconvenient or expensive. But I would get through this. It was just a car.
It didn't blow up on the road where I could have been badly hurt.
None of my precious grandchildren were in the car.

Jerry's loss put my loss into perspective in a heartbeat.
His prayer brought peace to my mind and heart. "Only in you, dear God, can I find my rest. Only in you."

And I am so grateful to once again know that profound truth in my deepest heart-of-hearts!

God Bless!
Love, Linda




"Just Plain Hard"...

                  Stand up straight and                   realize who you are,                   that you tower over your               ...