Noticing

 

On Monday I had an opportunity to notice how I am being affected physically and mentally by the threats to the protections put in place after the 2008 financial crisis and to the Affordable Care Act. I can’t afford to lose what I lost in 2008. My daughter can’t afford to have another healthcare crisis if she is no longer covered by health insurance.

As a responsible person, a major focus in recent weeks has been consulting with financial and estate planning experts to once again make sure everything is in order. With my daughter’s changed circumstances … moving in with me and no longer being able to work and live independently … changes need to be made. As a single woman, I find it difficult to make these important decisions alone.

 

Spiritually, I know my daughter and I will be fine no matter what the future holds. I have experienced miraculous gifts of grace in the past, but as my memoir attests, my awakening tends to be long. And, it seems, I have been caught up in fear and dread again. I’ve been afraid to tap into my savings, including investing the money I’ve saved to publish my memoir. We might need it to deal with an emergency in the future.

During lunch with a friend on Monday, something had shifted. She is serving as a caregiver for her mother and is in a similar situation as I. She is single and needs to make decisions related to her mother in the same way I need to make decisions related to my daughter. She needed a listening ear. She said our conversation was very helpful.

And our conversation was helpful to me, too. It gave me an opportunity to notice a difference in myself. It was as though the light had burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I felt totally present to her, a contrast to my experience of myself in recent weeks.

My stomach has been tied in knots, I’ve lost sleep, and most noticeable to me, I’ve had difficulty with holding information in my mind and with word retrieval. But while listening and responding to my friend, I held onto what she shared and words I felt proud to utter and she found helpful flowed easily from my mouth.

And what could this difference be attributed to?

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear  not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” ~Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 10:30-31

Over the weekend, I received a gift of grace. Just a reminder that I am really not alone and that I never know who will show up and offer just what I need at just the right moment. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And what a difference it makes in the way I move through life … in the way I was able to respond to  my friend.

I can let go of all the fear and dread because my daughter and I are being cared for and carried by a power greater than our own.

Thank you, Universe, I needed that reminder. As You know, I learn best through experience.

🙂

 

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Female Happiness

My Cincinnati Writer’s Group is made up of five women and one man. All of us are, well shall I say, striving to be wise elders. I found it interesting that when we gathered, all of us women were groaning about our topic “Happiness.” None of us found it easy to write about. What troubled me was what seemed to me our “giggles and rolling eyes of shame.”

Our one lone gentleman just smiled.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

This is the fourth in my series on “happiness” and what follows are some of the things I found in my research which may account for our female discomfort and possibly ameliorate shame:

When asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” by World Happiness Report researchers, those citing high levels of satisfaction attributed it to “having a partner and a family life.” These are crucial factors in Western countries because of the decreased importance we give to the extended family.

Living alone was cited as a potent source of misery as was compromised health.

  • Four of the five women in our group do not have a partner. Three live alone.
  • Two of us singles are caregivers — one for an aging parent and the other has a disabled adult child living with her.
  • The partnered woman just returned from a disappointing visit to her children and grandchildren. Their busy lifestyles meant that she spent a lot of time alone. Even when they were together, her family members’ noses were often in their electronics.
  • Three of us singles have recently experienced a significant death of either a parent or a sibling.
  • One of us singles is currently experiencing some health challenges requiring a change in lifestyle, adding to her stress.

Two of us female singles are still in the workforce. Happiness research reveals that for adults, income is a more important contributor to happiness than education. People in well-paid roles are happier.

My research further revealed some interesting facts about the gender pay gap, a significant source of inequality for women. The American Association of University Women, a leader on the issue since 1894, reports that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last one hundred years. They attribute the narrowing since 1960 (when I graduated high school) largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

The gap is, however, still sizable, is worse for our sisters of color, and doesn’t seem likely to go away soon. In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

But that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152. No one living today will be alive to see it.

The World Happiness Researchers compared 2005-2011 with 2012-2015 and found that happiness inequality has increased significantly. And people living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness are happier. If I am reading their findings correctly, it seems that the issue of income inequality so prevalent in our country and across the world is a significant factor contributing to inequality of well-being.

Needless to say, the gender pay gap and income inequality in general have lifelong financial consequences. While we in our group don’t dwell on it, none of us single women experience financial security. We have all been creative in juggling our wants and needs with our purse strings.

My conclusion: The women in my writing group and women in general have nothing to be ashamed about regarding discomfort with the topic of “Happiness.” My admiration for the resilience of all women has only increased with my exploration and reflections on the topic.

Do you have a different reading about the World Happiness Report’s findings on “inequality of well-being?” If so, would you be willing to share it?
Have you ever experienced shame or being chastised for not exhibiting the requisite amount of “happiness?” If so, how did you feel and how did you handle it?
How have the findings of the World Happiness Report and AAUW researchers affected you?

 

Gross National Happiness

After choosing grappling with writing about my own happiness or lack their of and deciding on this safe way to write about the topic for my writing group, I found the following enlightening data:

In the 1970’s, Bhutan’s King Wanchuck defied the trends in developing countries who were focusing on their “Gross National Product,” their economic success and prosperity. He found this dehumanizing and decided to focus on “Gross National Happiness.” I thought that was a novel and interesting idea.

In 2012, the Center for Bhutan Studies defined eight general contributors to happiness:

  • physical, mental, and spiritual health
  • time-balance
  • social and community vitality
  • cultural vitality
  • education
  • living standards
  • good governance
  • and ecological vitality

I was pleased to note that for their top indicator, physical, mental, and spiritual health, I am reasonably sound. Even though I have had two life-threatening illnesses, my most recent medical tests have had glowing results. The slight weakness in my heart would be improved if I did more than exercise my fingers at the keyboard most days. 

That same year, the U.N. General Assembly declared March 20 as World Happiness Day, recognizing happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.

Good for you, United Nations!!

In April of 2012, the U.N. began publishing annual World Happiness Reports based on the question: “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” Researchers measured happiness on a scale of 0 to 10 (from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied”).

I’m not prepared to answer that question in this post. You’ll be hearing more from me on this topic in the future.

How would you answer that question?

These researchers identified three key factors accounting for the huge variation in happiness:

  • Economic = income and employment with well-paid, white-collar jobs providing work-life balance, variety, and autonomy happier than blue-collar workers.
  • Social = creating strong social foundations through education and family life. In Western countries where less importance is given to the extended family, having a partner is crucial.
  • Health = physical and mental.

They found the following potent sources of misery. I am grateful that I do not fall into any of these categories:

  • mental illness (depression and anxiety disorders)
  • poverty
  • low education
  • unemployment

 

 

In 2012, the United States ranked 23rd on a 50-country  happiness index. Hmm, that’s interesting. We found ourselves far behind:

  1. Iceland
  2. New Zealand
  3. Denmark

Even Singapore, Malaysia, Tanzania, and Vietnam ranked higher than the United States.

 

The 2017 report researched 155 countries. We moved up in the world. The United States rose from 23 of 50 in 2012 to 14 of 155 in 2017. This time we trailed behind:

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden
  11. Israel
  12. Costa Rica
  13. Austria

Researchers gave a special role to the measurement and consequences of inequality in the distribution of well-being among countries and regions for their 2017 report.

Interesting and enlightening, don’t you think?

They found that people are happier living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness.

Makes sense to me.

Disturbingly, they found that happiness inequality has increased significantly in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole. (comparing 2012-2015 to 2005-2011).

That’s sad to hear.

The researchers began to change the way they looked at happiness. They found that these measures of human welfare are better than analyzing education, good government, health, income, and poverty separately:

  • generosity
  • a healthy life expectancy
  • having someone to count on
  • perceived freedom to make life choices
  • freedom from corruption

I can see how the first four contribute to better human welfare. I found “freedom from corruption” interesting and wonder what the researchers meant by that and whether there is any link to it and good government. I wonder where the United States will fall when the 2018-2020 reports are published? I wonder if anyone I know has been included in their research data. Has anyone reading this ever been asked by a researcher, “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” No one has asked me, except maybe my writing group.

Norway’s rising to the top over Denmark, which had held the top spot for several years, is not attributed to an increase in finances. Instead, it is what they did with their money that mattered. They emphasized the future over the present. Because they have high levels of mutual trust, shared purpose, generosity, and good governance, they found decisions about what to do with their money easier. I found that piece of information very interesting and enlightening.

What do you think about King Wanchuck’s idea of measuring “Gross National Happiness?”

What about the findings of the World Happiness Report affected you the most?

How have these findings changed the way you view the topic of “happiness?”

 

Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

Happiness

Happiness was the topic chosen for the April meeting of my Cincinnati Contemplative Writing Group. Of the six of us, four of our essays referred to the pursuit of happiness enshrined as a right in our Declaration of Independence:

My essay turned into a research project. I will expand on this topic in my next few blog posts. This is my first installment:

I found a 2013 Time magazine article written by Jeffrey Kluger titled “The Happiness of Pursuit.” He points out that Americans have made the pursuit of happiness into a central mandate of our  national character … “an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing.” Even though there is no guarantee we’ll achieve happiness, we are free to go after it in almost any way we choose.

Kluger points out that the kinetic nature of our modern world is making achieving happiness harder than ever. He cites a 1972 survey showing that only one-third of Americans describe themselves as “very happy” and a poll showing that Americans identifying themselves as “optimists” has dropped from 79% in 2004 to 50% in 2013. In our lifetimes, more than 20% of us will suffer from a mood disorder and 30% from an anxiety disorder. By the time we are eighteen years old, 11% of us will have been diagnosed with depression.

This gap between our optimistic expectations and our reality has, according to Kluger, spawned the vast happiness industry that has become big business.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

Interesting that in our group of six, only one of us professed to currently being and always having been a happy person. Other terms used to describe our views on happiness included:

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • uninteresting
  • highly overrated
  • fleeting
  • ephemeral
  • elusive
  • momentary
  • over-used
  • pressured expectation

Except for that one “happy” person in our group, we seem to be following the trend noted in Kluger’s essay.

What words come to your mind when you hear the word “Happiness?”

In what ways have you pursued happiness?

Where do you see yourself on the “optimism” continuum?

How would you write about this topic?

I look forward to reading your comments. More to come on this topic in future installments.

And by the way, did you notice I changed the name of this blog? 

A Disturbing Awakening

Awakenings often begin with a disturbance in the midst of ordinary circumstances. I have found that if I stay with the disturbance long enough and follow its threads in my life, a profound awakening is in the offing. Recently, I experienced this unexpected phenomena.

On a Saturday afternoon in January, I joined three of my cousins (Chuck, Cathy, & Mike) and Cathy’s husband (Gary) for a visit with their mother (my Aunt Evelyn), in her assisted living facility. We formed a circle in a lounge area for our visit.

Mike, Cathy, & Chuck behind Aunt Evelyn

A volunteer at the facility approached us. She seemed to know my aunt and cousins. She shared the progress she was making on her cancer journey. Then she suddenly launched into a political rant.

I found what she said offensive.

I looked down and played with the zipper on my coat.

Mike attempted to engage her in conversation, but she was on a roll and was not really interested in dialogue or in hearing another point of view.

I continued to play with my zipper.

I felt jarred by her intrusion into our pleasant visit. On the hour’s drive back home I wrestled with myself. Despite my discomfort with what she said, I said nothing. I could have launched into a rant of my own. I have some strong political opinions, but I said nothing.

That evening my daughter and I watched a movie that had been recommended by my friend, Ani. Gentleman’s Agreement is a 1947 movie starring Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck portrays an investigative reporter who has been assigned to write a series on anti-Semitism. He struggles with how to approach the subject. Then one day he has an idea. He’s new in town and no one knows him, so he decides to pretend he is Jewish. Instead of basing his series on research and interviews, he would be able to write from experience. Even though his best friend from High School is Jewish, he is shocked by some of his experiences.

In the meantime, he falls in love with a woman. She is from an upper middle-class family and shares his hatred of anti-Semitism. But in her tight-knit community of family and friends, they have a “gentleman’s agreement” not to speak up about the discrimination, prejudice, and hostility they witness. I squirmed as my eyes were suddenly opened to something about myself that has bothered me for years.

From 1990 until my retirement in 2007 I worked as a chemical dependency family therapist for Turning Point, Miami Valley Hospital’s treatment center. I am guessing that the event that bothered me happened sometime around the turn of the century in 2000. The African-American member of our staff decided to do a survey of our African-American clients to see  how they felt about the way they were treated by the white staff.

At that time, we had five or six African-American clients. When our coworker gave us the results, the only thing I remember from that survey was that they dubbed me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I took that to be a derogatory term and it bothered me for years because one of those clients was special to me. In my private practice as a couple’s therapist, I had worked with him and his wife. I loved them and agonized with them about the difficulty he had letting go of his addiction.

So, for at least sixteen years, I carried that with me. What did they find objectionable about my being “nice.” With my father’s shining example, (see my December 3 post), I thought treating others with respect and compassion was a good thing.

But as I listened to Gregory Peck and his love interest argue about her reluctance to speak up to her family and friends, my eyes popped open.

That must be why they called me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I’m too nice to speak up in the face of injustice. Just like today. I stayed silent during this woman’s diatribe, despite how offensive it was to me.

I didn’t like what I saw about myself.

Being “nice” isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it is not enough.

I need to change.

To be continued.

 

 

Influences: My Father’s Shining Example

Robert E. Marshall 1918-2009

Robert E. Marshall
1918-2009

In 1951, when I was nine and my brother eight, our parents sold our house in Sidney, Ohio, auctioned off most of our belongings, and moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Leaving our numerous playmates and beloved neighbors was not easy. I remember the morning we left, sitting in the backseat of the car with my stomach in knots, holding back tears as we said our goodbyes to John, Celeste, and Annie Voress, neighbors who were like family. I had no idea when we embarked on this one-year odyssey that it would have such a profound influence on me.

Dad dropped out of high school after his junior year. Sugar in his urine shattered his dream of joining the air force at the beginning of World War II and becoming an airplane mechanic. Never abandoning his fascination with flight and eventually the space program, he actualized his passion by focusing on car mechanics.

dads-gas-station

When we moved to Florida, Dad purchased a gasoline station. Because of the long hours involved, it became a family business. In order to spend time with Dad, Mom often worked there. Self-service was not yet a reality. Many a customer’s mouth dropped open when Mom approached their car to pump their gas. After school, my brother and I hung out at the station. I mostly remember causing trouble, but I’m sure we were given chores. I observed with keen interest this new environment, learning a great deal about the culture of The South, and being influenced by my father’s behavior and attitude.

The previous owner of the station attempted to teach my northern father how Jim Crow worked in The South. Jim Crow laws replaced earlier “black codes” which were designed to restrict and deny civil rights and liberties to African Americans. In 1951, they were part of the state constitution of Florida and mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. The previous owner showed Dad how to cheat “negro” customers, though he used a derogatory term when referring to them. He didn’t need to tell Dad about the rules regarding the use of the one bathroom and one drinking fountain. “Whites Only” signs were prominently posted.

As soon as Dad took possession, those signs came down. I don’t know who influenced my father, but Dad always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog. He treated his black customers with the respect they deserved. We developed a large black clientele.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When these customers needed work done on their cars but couldn’t afford to pay for it, Dad gave them odd jobs to do around the station in exchange. One day, a black gentleman approached my dad asking for a loan. Even though Dad wasn’t growing rich as a business owner, he loaned the man the money. I was there the next afternoon when this man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, returned the money. “I didn’t need it after all,” he told my dad. Later, I overheard my parents speaking of the irony around the way blacks are viewed in relation to whites … comparing the integrity this black man displayed with the lack of character demonstrated by a white male employee who stole from us.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I began listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by New York Times Best Selling and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. Tuesday, I learned some shocking information about Florida I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t know … some facts that I’m sure the man who asked for a loan did.

Florida was one of the first states to secede from the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War and was one of the first in the South to institute a formal caste system designed to restrict black people after the war. Because Florida was shut off at that time from the rest of the world by its cypress woods and turpentine camps, it instituted its own laws and constitution, allowing this state to commit among the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated anywhere. Violence had become such an accepted way of life that a 1950 special investigation, just one year before we moved there, found that there had been so many mob executions in one county in the 1930s, there weren’t any negroes left to go to trial. In this culture, no negro man could have grown up without the fear of being lynched. That would have included the courageous man who asked dad for a loan.

I doubt when Dad removed the “Whites Only” signs and when he treated his black customers with fairness, he knew he was breaking the law, laws that continued in force until 1965. I’m sure he didn’t view this as an act of civil disobedience, even though that is what it was. I like to think his behavior wouldn’t have changed if he had known. It is the aspect of my father for which I carry the most pride.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

I didn’t know until this week the enormity of the action my father took when he removed those signs. To him, he was only showing respect for another human being. To me, he showed compassion for the struggle of those relegated to the ranks of so-called “losers.”

Dad demonstrated that same soft spot in his heart after we moved back to Ohio. At that time, New Bremen had about 1500 residents. Sometime during the next eight years before I graduated high school and moved away, black people were employed by the alfalfa mill on the edge of town. They lived in run down houses near the mill. I don’t remember seeing them in town except for one high school student two to three years older than I, a beautiful young woman who had the courage to attend one of the weekly dances held for teenagers at the hall above the hotel. I admired the farmer boy who asked her to dance.

I don’t think it was her family, but a fire destroyed the home of one mill family who bore the same last name as ours. Dad went around town collecting food, clothing, and household items for them. Someone asked him why he was doing that. He said, “They’re my cousins.”

“You are the salt of the earth;” Matthew 5:13a

001-2

2008

During the 2008 presidential election, Dad was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. After the election, his health deteriorated rapidly as he grieved the loss of my mother who died early in the morning following Thanksgiving Day. He said he wanted to live to see how Obama fared in office. Sadly, he died on January 3, seventeen days before the inauguration. I have sometimes been grateful he didn’t live to witness the bigotry and obstructionism foisted upon our first black president. It probably wouldn’t have surprised him, but it would have only added to his grief.

In recent weeks I have been contemplating what influences people to be who and how they are. After twenty-six years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela transcended his anger and embraced forgiveness while his compatriots continued to harbor revenge? I read a story this week about a Muslim man who was shot in the face by a white supremacist after 9/11. His faith led him to forgiveness to the point he tried to save his assailant from death row and give his life to educating people about the transformative power of mercy and forgiveness. His actions changed the white supremacist’s attitude from hatred, which he had learned from his step-father, to admiration for this Muslim man and his parents who he realized were extraordinarily good people. These and other stories have caused me to reflect upon how influences in all our lives can be seen in our behavior for good or for ill.

I will never know the influences on my dad. Dad wasn’t a religious man, but in his interactions with those less fortunate than he, I see him doing his best to live “the way of love.”

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13

What I do know is that it is Dad who influences me to use my talents in the service of deeper spiritual values like respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, authenticity, beauty. It is Dad who influenced me to write about Leymah Gbowee, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, and Elizabeth Lesser, people who embody these values. It is Dad who influences me to continue to seek and lift up voices of wisdom, inspiration, and hope who bring light and enlightenment to our dark and murky world.

Thank you, Dad.

I have never been more grateful for your shining example.

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Who has been a shining example in your life?

 What values have you adopted because of their example?

How have they influenced your behavior today?

In what way is your behavior contributing to “the way of love?”

Being True to Me

After I posted my last blog entry, “Bearing My Cross,” Cindi, my friend and one of my biggest cheerleaders, called. She, too, is serving as a caregiver for a family member. She overflowed with enthusiasm for what I had written. She said, “You write at a level of depth that is so real. Most people don’t want to go there.”

I said, “I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

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Since then I have been pondering her words and the force behind my response.

I grew up with disapproval for being “so serious.” As a result, I found it safer to write about sorrow and anguish than to talk about it. My writing became a spiritual practice. Throughout my life, I’ve written letters to the Divine in my journal, pouring out my struggles until some deeper wisdom flowed from my pen.

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Being a witness to this deeper wisdom emerging from somewhere deep inside continues to awe me. It is what helps me grow spiritually and not just survive the vicissitudes of life. That is the spirit I bring to my blog posts and my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.

I experience this sharing of my struggle with personal foibles in my process of growing spiritually as a calling. Still, every time I reveal what is “real” for me, I risk receiving the same censure I received as a young person.

“Most people don’t want to go there.” 

I struggled with the truth of Cindi’s words in the light of the reality in today’s publishing industry. Authors are expected to do 98 per cent of the marketing for our writing. Like most writers, I am an introvert who hates the whole idea of selling myself and my work. Yet, every writers’ workshop is replete with tips for “finding your tribe,” those readers who resonate with your writing. Some people make a living advising writers on how to successfully find readers. I wondered if I needed to change myself in order to appeal to a wider audience. But …

“I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”  ~Jeremiah 1:5

Then, last evening, I watched a recording of Oprah’s interview with Glennon Doyle Melton on Super Soul Sunday. And I received just the glorious validation I needed that finally inspired me to get this blog post beyond the pondering stage into writing. Glennon validated what I had already concluded: What is most important is being true to who I am. This is how I came into the world. This is who I am meant to be.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

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Glennon is new to me and I have not read her memoir, “Love Warrior” or her “very popular blog, Momastery. But these words in her interview with Oprah resonated deeply with me:

“I no longer think I am broken. I think I am a deeply feeling person in a messy world.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Pain is like a travelling professor. The smartest people I know are the ones who say, ‘Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me everything I need to know.'”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Suffering is when we try to skip over the pain and get to the resurrection before the crucifixion…trying to rise before we fall.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon recounted several stories of disapproval she has received for her “truth telling.” Revealing what is “real” is risky. I am grateful to have found this kindred spirit and to witness her success. There are people out there who thrive in the presence of authentic revelation.

I remind myself that despite our flaws and sometimes because of them, we can be powerful channels of the Divine. I relax in this awareness because I find nothing more gratifying than hearing that someone, like Cindi, has found my writing to be validating and inspiring in all its realness…to know that what I have written has made a difference to someone. That makes the journey worthwhile.

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