In a box of dusty papers lay a treasure buried years ago: a poem from Mother on the importance of both strength and courage. Her hand-written note across the top of the page made this an even greater treasure, “For Barbara, who exemplifies this better than anyone I know. Lovingly, Mom.”
From Mother’s hand and my dusty box, from my heart to your eyes, words on strength and courage:
Strength and Courage
It takes strength to be firm.
It takes courage to be gentle.
It takes strength to stand guard.
It takes courage to let down your guard.
It takes strength to be certain.
It takes courage to have doubt.
It takes strength to fit in.
It takes courage to stand out.
It takes strength to feel a friend’s pain.
It takes courage to feel your own pain.
It takes strength to hide your own pains.
It takes courage to show them.
It takes strength to endure abuse.
It takes courage to stop it.
It takes strength to stand alone.
It takes courage to lean on another.
It takes strength to love.
It takes courage to be loved.
It takes strength to survive.
It takes courage to live. (Author Unknown)
*Personal Update: Some people tour national parks during the summer. I toured emergency rooms and urgent care clinics, instead. I recovered quickly from a round of pneumonia, thanks to care I received in an Omaha hospital. Outpatient cataract surgery gave me better vision than I’ve had since high school. My recently broken foot has mended. An adrenal deficiency is still problematic and its cause undiagnosed. Heart and lungs are behaving well. Next summer I want to visit parks.
A friend found a yellowed paper in his father’s desk after his dad died. It described his father’s approach to life. Dad didn’t wait for happiness at a future time, nor did he expect it to be given to him. He knew that happiness and joy reside within us if we choose them. He chose happiness and joy. Here is part of the foundation on which he built his life and the grace with which he faced an incurable cancer.
Passports to Happiness
We permit too many opportunities for happiness to slip by because we labor under two major delusions. One of these is that we shall be happy when–
When we arrive at a certain destination;
When we can be with a certain person;
When our schooling is finished;
When we get a better job:
When we arrive at a certain income;
When we are married;
When the baby is born;
When we recover from our illness;
When our bills are paid;
When we own a new car;
When we move into a new home;
When some disagreeable task is finished;
When we are free from some encumbrance.
The second delusion is that we can buy a ticket, or pay admission, to happiness. We seem never to learn that, wherever we go, we take our happiness or unhappiness with us; and that whatever we do; it is how much of ourselves we put into the doing which influences our happiness–far more than what the outside world contributes.
The only way we can insure happiness is to train ourselves to be happy in spite of, not because of, what life does to us. When we succeed in doing this, we become wise and useful adults.
I’m back again. The past six months have been exciting, frustrating, life-giving, challenging, depressing, affirming, and anxious. It was six months of short-term projects, learnings, accomplishments, and frustrating health problems. I want to share what I’ve been doing. I am going to try it again, with a few tweaks.
In my most recent experiment of how to live well in this part of my life with its health limitations, I invested myself in a cluster of short-term projects. I chose each one to express a different part of myself, use different skills, and nourish me in different ways. I tried to stagger the times when each project would place the greatest demands.
Ah, “the best laid plans of mice and [women] oft go astray.” Yes, it was fantastic to bring my skills, experience, and personality to the Greater Good in ways that made a positive difference. I felt more alive and engaged than I have in ages. I wouldn’t trade that stretch of time for anything.
However … I was like a gardener who wants her flowers to bloom sequentially across the seasons, but instead, they all bloom at once. Or, I was like a cook who puts too much yeast in her dough, the loaf expands beyond all expectations, and then falls. Or, my activities became like that B movie from the 1960’s, The Blob that Swallowed New York, spreading out to encompass every cranny of my life. Truly mixing metaphors, I think my life became an extravagantly colorful, yeasty-smelling blob of goodness that eventually needed to be calmed down and cleaned up.
Every project grew faster and bigger than I had planned. After three months of a full calendar and rest breaks when possible, I went into hibernation with (in sequence) a pulled muscle in my back, a powerful cold, the flu, a sinus infection, and laryngitis. I recovered from those in time for a wonderful Christmas with four generations of family filling our home.
The pieces of my life in the last few months:
I organized a 60th wedding anniversary party for my husband’s parents in Twin Falls, Idaho, while living in Pasadena, California. A small catered party for fifty people grew to 200+, gathering in late October to celebrate Jo and Al’s love and let them know how many lives they have touched for good with their love.
No longer a pastor, I can now get involved in electoral politics, so I jumped into the Obama campaign with both feet and became the organizer for phone banks in Pasadena. My teams made over 25,000 calls into swing states. My youngest volunteer was 16, the eldest was 102. Our eclectic mix of rocket scientists, veterans, teachers and nurses, small business owners, college deans, laborers and contractors, consultants, unemployed folk, retirees, students, and at-home parents formed a short-term community as we worked for a common goal. I ended each phone bank proud of our country and the citizens who make our democracy work.
When my pastor took a three-month sabbatical, helped with pastoral care. Being with people in their times of need and being a presence through whom the love of God is experienced is an essential part of my being. We brought the presence of God to each other.
I agreed to chair the adult education ministry at my church. I figured the load would be light until after the party, election, and sabbatical were finished. Silly me. The Education Minister resigned in June and I learned my team is responsible for the entire Christian education program–cradle to grave. We needed renovations in the nursery, new teachers, and curriculum. As Team Leader, I was also automatically part of the Search Committee for a new Education Minister. That project hit high gear in August and continued after the others were finished.
These are the major items, each chosen in advance for its meaning and limited scope. With each one, its meaning and scope became greater than I could have imagined. I met new people, learned skills, and made a lasting difference. What more could I want? More time and energy, I suppose, but that would be greedy. I’m grateful for what I could do. Whenever my health crashed or I needed to rest, others picked up the task and kept it going. It was fantastic.
Now I am coming out of hibernation and poking my head into the world again. After six months of not having the energy to keep up with friends, family, personal email, and blogging, I think I’m back in action.
That’s it, folks, more or less. The anniversary party and election are long past, my pastor is back from sabbatical, a new Education Minister was hired, and my health is on track. It is time to start the next group of short-term projects.
Although it might have been a blob that swallowed my life, or yeast that expanded the loaf until it fell, what I like most is to think of these months as a garden that went into extravagant bloom all at once, and when spent, entered its dormant phase. Get ready. Dormancy is over and the seeds are stirring in the ground. I’m eager to see what sprouts this spring. More later……….