A couple of days ago when a deadly EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, I watched the devastating stories and my heart went out to those folks. I suddenly remembered an NPR story from late April when tornadoes took hundreds of lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The day after the Tuscaloosa twister, I happened to hear this report by Michelle Norris with a firefighter, Reginald Eppes.
The nature of fire is such that everything foreign to it destroys it and everything akin to it gives it further strength. The light of the spirit reacts in the same manner.
The Art of Prayer
It is an extraordinary thing to ask oneself: Is this something - an activity, an action, an input - giving light to my spirit, or is it something that dampens it? Is this friend, this music, this book, this relationship, this job, this act, this though process giving or taking life? And if it is life taking, what the heck am I doing here? This is a question I do not ask myself frequently enough. Too often, I mindlessly engage in activities that quench my spirit, dampen my faith and suck the life out of me.
I am not talking about debauchery here. No. I am speaking about the simple life-sucking, insidiousness that wends its way surreptitiously into my world. For example, in the evening when "the Littles" are finally abed, I put my feet up and watch T.V. without really wondering how the program is benefitting me. Is it "feeding" me? Likewise when I choose to eat something that I know does not support my long-term health. Oh and let's not foget the odd acquaintence who is given to salaciousness; why do I return his calls?
I am not suggesting that life is all about work and that watching TV or chatting with friends does not have a place in my life. I think moments of relaxation and levity are absolutely essential. I am simply observing that so often these are not mindful choices and --let's face it -- there are only 24 hours in each day. Mindfulness is the key to making sure there is room and time in my life for true friends, for optimum health, for important work and for authentic joy.
That which is "foreign" to the spirit destroys is and that which is "akin" to it "gives it light." Something to ponder.
Several weeks ago when we were beginning work on our side-yard landscaping project, Pepper came out to lend a hand. At nearly 15, she is strong and fit. She helped me move the sod that Paul was cutting and transfer it to another spot. It was hard, sweaty work so we kept our chatting to a minimum.
Finally she said, "I love hard work."
"Me too!," I replied.
"Why do you think we like it so much?"
I pondered that a moment. "It builds character."
She laughed. "Isn't that just something adults say to make kids work?"
Actually, no. I believe it. I think we were designed to work hard. Hard work shows us that we are capable. It reinforces the fact that we are "wonderfully made." It reminds us we are strong and resilient. It makes us sleep soundly at the end of the day.
Working hard reminds us that we are actually a privileged "few." For most people on our small planet, everyday life is hard work. It is humbling to know that people who may have far less to eat and a less luxurious bed are somehow able to work longer and harder with a lot less complaint.
I think working hard alongside others is bonding in a primal and deeply satisfying way. We are communal creatures and we are meant to struggle together, not alone. Somehow, looking back at a job well done is so much more fulfilling when we can say, "We did it," rather than, "I did it."
Culturally, we tend to blame the obesity epidemic on fast and processed foods. I believe our "fast" lifestyle with the lack of hard work is a huge contributor to this epidemic. My great grandparents traveled on horseback, used a wringer washer, washed all their dishes by hand, cut and hauled wood to cook on the wood stove, cut the yard with a reel mower, grew much of their own food, cared for their animals, and even walked outside every time they needed the outhouse. My life of microwaves, dishwashers, indoor plumbing, automobiles and grocery stores is so lacking in work.
That day, working alongside both the girls and Paul, I felt bonded to my community. I loved having the little ones playing nearby and the feel of the sun on my neck. I loved having time to contemplate my life but no room for the internet, the telephone or the TV. I enjoyed seeing that I am stronger than I was a few years ago, not weaker. I relished having to soak the dirt off my feet a few hours later. I loved the smell of the damp earth and the weight of the dirt on my shovel. I enjoyed feeling the work my muscles were doing.
But the best part of the day was standing together at the end and saying, "Ah, we did this." So yes, dear child, I truly believe that hard work builds character. And it builds mine as well as yours!
A week or so ago I wrote about a "Crappy Anniversary." Even in writing it, I knew there was a "gotcha" in there somewhere. I stand behind the sentiment; I do believe that there is as much to be learned -- or perhaps far more to be gained -- from the challenging, downright difficult times as from the joyous ones. Nonetheless the fact that a year later I still veiewed the event as "crappy" was the clue that some clarity is lacking.
The night after I wrote the post, I dreamed about it. I dreamed that I called my former pastor and bastion of clear sanity, Father Sam, and was talking to him about the post. In true Father Sam form, he said he smelled a rat. He asked me when I was going to get off my sanctimonious potookus and take full and complete responsibility for my own joy. Though dreaming, I could feel the heat of embarrassment surge into my face and belly. Ironically, I became even more self righteous and tried to counter with an argument that this was something that had been done to me. Surely he could muster some sympathy me. I said, "If I was standing in the middle of the street and got run over, would it still be all my responsibility (meaning all my "fault")?"
My imaginary counselor looked at me with a mischevious look , almost a wink, and said, "Well, you were the one standing in the middle of the road."
Crud. I woke up. I mean I sat bolt upright and saw the light dawn. The whole "ouch" behind "Crappy Anniversary" is that I still believed I had been "wronged." That is the crux of it right there. As long as I am walking around believing I have been wronged, I am still holding onto a piece of resentment and that resentment is keeping me from fully healing. In other words, it's hurting me, not the people who supposedly wronged me.
The tricky part is this. We truly believe we are "wronged" by others. Yet when I look truly objectively at various times I have been "wronged," I can see that is not what happened. Most often when I'm hurt by another's actions, they weren't intended for hurt. Most often they were simply trying to meet a need in their own life and they did not think ahead to the impact this would have on me or on others. I am at affect of their actions, but I was not targeted by them. Does that mean the other person is not accountable for his actions? Of course not. But I'm not God. I don't get to judge; it's not in my purview.
We live in a culture that supports the idea that we are frequently wronged. If you doubt me, consider how many times a day we see ads for class action lawsuits. I live in a state that still executes people for their crimes. Quite often after the executions, members of the families of the prisoner's victims are interviewed. At least half the time, they say the execution did not right the wrong. That's because the "righting" is up to us. The righting of the wrong is a matter of us shifting our perspective and being willing to truly and fully forgive -- and then to "repeat as needed." I do not believe forgiveness is something we do once. I think because of our sublime human ability to remember, it quite often takes repeating. Yet that forgiveness is the key to my living a life of true joy.
I have a successful marriage of 21 years and five wonderful children who amaze and challenge me every day. I am a Special Ed Teacher, a professional Life Coach, a Certified Personal Trainer and an advocate for children. I have an amazing, full-on, wonderful,crazy life. What more can I ask?