“Don’t just stand there despairing.”

It’s been a rough week on this corner of the planet. A boy is killed, apparently for the color of his skin, and the long simmering racial divides of a community erupt into what looks like a third world uprising: unarmed protesters against authorities in full military gear. And we wonder how it will be different.

A man who was obviously enormously talented in moving us both to laughter and to tears as well as making our hearts soar (and who was by all accounts a lovely human being) takes his own life. We try to imagine – or try not to remember – the depths of such black despair and we wonder how it will be different for others.

In other parts of our planet centuries of conflict are being played out with weapons old and new. Hatred stoked by the centuries erupts into killing and cruelty, and we wonder how it will ever be different.

Along the border of our own nation there is a struggle between too much and not enough. Children fleeing from too much danger, abuse and hopelessness find themselves rebuffed by communities feeling already over-stretched by not enough resources, not enough answers for the problems they themselves face. We wonder how it can ever be different.

There were events in my own life this week that didn’t make the news. A former client shared an email with me that she’d sent to her friends, “outing” herself as one who has struggled with the great black dog of depression and who now consciously chooses to live her life in ways that allow the light in. It was a brave and heartfelt email, and a reminder that for her, life is very different.

Last Saturday I also attended a meeting of the Steering Committee of Baptist Women in Ministry, NC. As we talked about next year’s meeting I thought back to the first meeting I attended so many years ago. Thirty, maybe forty people huddled together hoping for hope that locked doors might be opened. Our theme, taken from a song lyric, was “One by one, truth will grow.” As we met on Saturday I thought about how different things are now. We provide not insubstantial scholarship money for a woman student at each of the Baptist Divinity Schools in NC. And in recent months women have become pastors at both Watts St. Baptist in Durham and Riverside Church in New York City. One by one…

This week I’ve been reading John Philip Newell’s book, The Rebirthing of God. In it he quotes Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Mayanmar activist) Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent most of the last twenty-five years under house arrest. “Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.”

It seems as good a word as any for this week. Don’t know how to resolve the Middle East or global warming or immigration or race relations or the scourge of depression? Do what you do know. Do one thing. You may think you’re only touching one life but you do not know how many other lives that one life will touch and how many lives those lives will touch. You may only write one letter but you do not know if yours will be the letter that’s the tipping point. You may only clean one stream or befriend one person who is of another race or political party or from the other side of the tracks. But you do not know where those steps will lead.

Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.

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Southerners Driving in the Snow

It’s happened again.

winter storm
Southern dogs not intimidated by snow (from 2010)

The south has gotten what our forecasters call a Major Winter Event and northerners call a nice day. The internet is full of the snickers from snow savvy people as they watch entires cities becoming paralyzed by an inch (or less) of snow.

My first reaction, as a southerner, is to be a tad defensive and to invite them to go running with me. In August. At noon. The problem is that life-sucking humidity doesn’t make for the same compelling video as pirouetting cars on ice.

My second reaction is to point out that  I am writing this blog from my office , that despite being both a southerner and a woman I navigated snow covered streets just fine. But that feels like tempting fate. After all, I do have to get home.

And then I realized that this is a great example of something that often comes up with my clients. Sometimes clients will beat themselves up for not knowing how to do something. They’re missing a crucial life skill or social skill. On some level they know that as adults they should know how to do these things but they don’t. Maybe it’s dealing with money. Maybe it’s dealing with feelings.

They take that lack as more evidence of their unworthiness as a person. They must be defective. In the words of Bill Murray from Stripes, “There’s something wrooong with us, something terribly wrooooong with us.” But there isn’t.  They aren’t fundamentally defective. The truth is,  they’re just like southerners in the snow.

There are two parts to knowing how to drive in the snow. First, there’s information. You have to know what to do; for example, don’t slam on brakes. Secondly, you have to have practice. When you live  in a a place where there’s meaningful snow once every five or ten years, there’s not much chance to practice. In addition, in the south winter weather usually means as much ice as snow. Ice is the great equalizer. No one can drive on ice – all you can do is ride it out and try not to overreact.

These people sitting in my office aren’t defective. They just missed out on something. For whatever reason, they didn’t have adults in their lives to teach them these things. The adults in their lives didn’t model good habits and social skills. I tell my clients that it is as if they grew up in a house (and school) where only English was spoken, and now they are down on themselves for not speaking fluent German. In the immortal words of Rocky Balboa while courting Adrienne, “Gaps, we all got gaps. You got gaps. I got gaps.”

Of course, now as adults they have the responsibility to fill in the gaps, to get for themselves the  things they need but didn’t get. That often takes a little work. And a not so small dose of humility. It’s easy to let your pride get in the way, thinking that you should know things and not being willing to admit that you don’t. Like learning to drive in snow, you have to get the information they need and then practice the skill.

I had a dad and brothers who taught me to drive and to drive in bad weather. But not everyone has that gift.

If you didn’t get what you needed, cut yourself some slack. Focus not on what your gaps say about your worth as a person (for in fact, they say nothing.) Focus on what you’re going to do to fill in that gap.

Driving lessons, anyone?

My devotional book, Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us is available at Amazon.  Check it out!

Before you make your New Year’s Resolutions

According to University of Scranton Professor John Norcross, who studies such things, by June 60% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions.

Cheery thought, isn’t it?

A lot of things contribute to our failures. We make goals that are too big and too broad. I will never eat sugar again for the rest of my life. (There’s a reason people in recovery talk about taking it one day at a time. Forever is a big bite to take on at once.) They are too much of a leap from where we are. I will start running and do a marathon in a month. They are too vague. I will get into shape.

Good goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.) If I make a resolution to give up brussels sprouts that’s not relevant because I never eat brussels sprouts anyway.  If you’re into such things, here’s a worksheet.

But there’s another reason we drop out before reaching our goals. We define what we’re going to do but we never address the mess inside our head. It’s like trying to drive with the brake on. It’s hard to succeed if there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’ve always been a failure. (Here’s more specific information on dealing with the critical voices in your head.)

fitness motivationAs a mentor with the No Boundaries program sponsored by Fleet Feet (as well as in my own journey) I’ve seen how much our heads can get in the way of our feet. That’s why I created MindRight/BodyFit, a weekly podcast or PDF addressing an issue that can get in the way of beginning or maintaining a fitness program. You can read more about it (and even sign up!) here.

 

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals for living in healthier ways. Just don’t forget to take care of the unhealthy stuff between your ears.

Put Down the Phone and Get Connected

As  I write this I’m at my neighborhood Starbucks, enjoying working in my secondary office (their patio.) Across the way is a scene I have seen repeatedly over the last week.

A parent or parents is/are out with a their child. In this case, both parents. The parents have their phones and the child has an iPad. They are all glued to their screens. At least these folks occasionally look up and share something from their electronic world. The other week I watched a mom and her son never say a word to each other as she returned phone calls and he played a game. Not a single word.

It is all  I can do not to snatch the devices out of their hands and scream at them, “Do you know how short this time is?”

Look, I’m not a Luddite. I have my laptop (on which I’m writing this.) I have my phone. I have for the moment lost my iPad and have had a difficult time weathering the change. (While hanging out watching TV with friends I’ve been known to pull the phone out. I’m trying not to do that, even thought the TV already serves as a third party in the room. It’s an easy distraction. If I’m alone, I’m working to change the habit of immediately pulling out my phone.)

I’ve been  known to give couples an assignment to text each other during day to express gratitude or appreciation. I am as beholden to Apple as anyone.

And yet what I’ m seeing more and more disturbs me more and more. Our electronics are becoming our primary relationship. We reach for it without thinking. We have become so used to being distracted we no longer realize that it is a distraction.

We are cheating each other of the gift of our attention.

And we need that gift. We all, every single one of us, need that gift. In Death of a Salesman Willy Loman’s wife declares, “Attention must be paid.” When we have one eye on a phone we cannot be fully present to another person. Being fully present creates a safe space, a space in which we can speak of our dreams and our fears, our triumphs and our stumbles.  Someone’s full attention tells us that we are valuable, that we matter more than whatever is on that little screen.

It makes a difference even when we are alone.  I want to weep when I see people out walking, hunched over their screen, completely missing all of the gifts creation is showering around them. One of the truths about paying attention is that the longer we look, the more we see. How much do we miss when we never look up?

Put down the screen.

Stop relying on Huffington Post or YouTube to give you something to talk about. Let your child’s imagination muscle be exercised even without the help of Disney.  Look to the stuff of your own day, listen to the silly story your child wants to tell. Just look around… the way the clouds are scattered across the sky, the kindness etched into the old woman’s wrinkled face, the way your coffee tastes in your mouth.

As a child  I frequently had my nose in a book, and I’ve wondered if what I did is any different from what I’m seeing now. Here’s the difference. When we went out on the porch to eat watermelon together, we were together. If I’d picked up a book I would have been told to put it down – it was rude to shut other people out that way.

Just this morning a radio show host told of going out to dinner with a group. Someone demanded that all phones be placed in the middle of the table. Anyone who picked up their phone before the evening was over had to buy a round of drinks. I can only hope they had a designated driver.

Put down the phone. Get connected.

With your family.

Your friends.

Your Self.

Legacy

Been thinking about legacies lately. Not the kind that gets passed down in a will but the kind that get passed down in our hearts.

Becoming a beginnerI started thinking about it as I read a column about a World war II vet in our area. Like Forrest Gump, he always seemed to be around when history was being made: meeting Douglas McArthur, Pearl Harbor after the attacks, the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the bomb dropping at Hiroshima. I gradually realized that I knew this vet: his grandson is married to my niece. I didn’t make the connection at first because I hadn’t heard most of the stories.

Which led me to thinking about the legacy my niece’s children have. Their dad’s grandfather was a frogman, swimming underwater to find and defuse bombs before they could blow up ships. He’d gotten the job because as a boy, he’d grown up swimming. My niece’s grandfather (my father) was a sniper in Gen. Patton’s army. The work suited him not only because he was a good shot but because much of it meant working independently, freelancing, going out ahead to scout out the land and the enemy. He liked being able to do that. An artist, he could draw what he saw.

Two great grandfathers who did what they could in a terrible time. Two young men – more like boys, really – who used what they had in order to stand up to a great evil. Two men who did a job that was terrible in ways I cannot imagine, who sacrificed more than most of us know and who came home to do the mundane, priceless; blessed work of providing for and raising their families. As family legacies go, my niece and her husband could do worse.

I profoundly hope that Jack, Emma and Olivia never have to fight in a war. (If they do, Emma will be the one with combat boot bling.) I do hope, however, that they will live in the courage and commitment of their great grandfather’s legacies: that they will use what they have to make the world a better place, that if they see evil or when they see injustice they will not be afraid to oppose it. That they will work to bless the world, whether one cause at the time or one family at the time.

I hope they realize that doing such things is simply in their blood. They are the descendants of Joe and of Clive.

Family legacies can be great treasures that inspire us. Or they can be cautionary tales that we choose to rise above. What are your legacies?

Know thyself.. if you have time

Recently I was picking out a birthday present for my just-turned four year-old great-niece. It was a pretty easy task, and not just because she already has a deep attachment to bling, pretty dresses and Dora. (Thank God for Dora, the one non-princess in her life.)

No, it was easy because we just spent a week at the beach together. I saw her when she first got up and I saw her going off to bed and I saw her for most of the hours in-between. We played together and ate together and went to the movies together. Having watched her play, I knew she loved to color. So when I found the coloring books filled with pictures of Dora and various Disney princesses, I knew I had a winner.

I knew her because I spend time with her. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. It seems that I keep seeing people (including, at times, the one in the mirror) who feel like strangers to themselves (myself). It’s not hard to figure out why. They(we) haven’t spent much time with themselves (ourselves).

I can hear you sputtering in protest from here. You already have so much to do and now I’m going to make you feel guilty for not adding one more thing onto your plate. Well gosh, I hope not.

It’s not about adding one more thing onto our schedules, except those times when it is. Sometimes we have to say no to somethings in order to carve out a little time just to be with ourselves. More and more I find myself turning off the TV at night (or never turning it on) so that I can have some time. Just time to read a book that makes me think or to play with my dogs, which both reminds me of how much I’m loved and how much I need not to take myself too seriously.

But we can also clear out the time as we go about our day. Brother Lawrence found in the humble, repetitive act of washing dishes a time for prayer and devotion and growing in faith.  As I walk my dog I can spend the time rehashing (and beating myself up for) a mistake I made or I think I made. Or I can reflect on my life, where the itch of neglected dreams or unacknowledged pain is making me uncomfortable. I can look at what I didn’t handle so well and think about ways to do it better next time (which is completely different for beating myself over the head for being stupid, not that YOU’VE ever done that).

Even if our lives are challenging, when we are living in concert with our own best selves there is a flow that feels right and good. But first we have to take some time to be with those best selves. How are you intentional with your day? How do you find time to get to know yourself?

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Do you have your copy yet? Strugglers, Stragglers and Seekers: daily devotions for the rest of us is  in print. you can get your copy here and here. Local folks stay tuned for book signing announcements.

This is the cover.
This is the cover.

from amazon review…

“As an admitted straggler, my Bible has more than a layer of dust on it. Peggy’s book is more than enough of a reason to dust yours off (come on, I know I am not the only one, here, right?). In this work, she takes Bible passages and brings them to the present day complete with our modern struggles, humor, and hope. I only received this book 5 days ago and already I feel more connected to my faith. I am reminded that living with mindful intention is at the heart of moving from being a faithful person in word to becoming a faithful person in action.”

Opportunities missed

Recently I manned (or is it personed?) the West Summit Publishing booth at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship gathering. People came by to buy books, sample candy (we had the best in the exhibit hall) or try to figure out what we were about. (My favorite comment: A man walks up and reads the “West Summit Publishing” banner over our booth. He scans the table full of books and enlarged pictures of book covers. Then he asks, “What do you do?” I wanted to answer “conga dancing” but refrained.)

I had several people, maybe as many as four or five, stop to tell me they had a book or were writing a book. I talked with them about their project. For most of them I had to tell them that because we are a small company with a well-defined niche, their project wasn’t an appropriate project for us.

I offered them something else. “If you email me,” I said, handing them  a rack card with my email address on it, “I will send you an email with everything I know and have learned about publishing options and how to pursue them.”

pathwayYou have to understand, this is no small thing. Stepping out into the world of publishing, whether you are looking for someone to publish your work or publishing it yourself, can be a confusing and overwhelming place. I was offering to cut through some of the clutter for them, to share what I’ve learned after investing a lot of hours in research.

It’s been a couple of weeks. I know it’s summer and people are busy with vacations and the like. Maybe people will eventually get around to sorting through the stuff they picked up in the exhibit area and will email me. But to date, not a single person has taken me up on my offer.

Maybe they didn’t think I would do it. Maybe it seemed too intimidating for them even to consider – all they want to do is write books and not have to bother with the rest of it. I don’t know. All I know is that if someone had offered such thing to me I would have sent the email that night.

The experience has made me wonder about the humber of opportunities that we neglect, the gifts that people are waiting to give us but we cannot allow ourselves to receive. Sometimes it’s the gift of a friendship, or a helping hand. Or the gift of an opportunity to do something or go somewhere that we never dreamed we’d get. even so, we talk ourselves out of it. We  can’t take the time. We’d have to get shots. We’d have to find something to do with the dog. In our anxiety and fear, we take small speed bumps and turn them into the Alps.

Or maybe we just figure that it’s too good to be true. Even when it isn’t.

I think that it was Julia Cameron who said that sometimes we not only look a gift horse in the mouth, we swat them on the rump to get them out of our lives.

So what opportunities are you ignoring?