Don’t let go of the Oar

It was in a crowded bustle of running, laughing children and grownups with coffee cups in hand, catching up and sharing their weekly news after the Sunday sermon. I spotted a friend in this happy crowd and walked towards her. She was holding the most adorable child with another little one close to her side when she leaned over and said directly into my ear so no one else could hear that the most terrible and devastating thing that could happen in a family had just happened in her’s. She was still in shock really yet here she was with the kids and the coffee and the crowd of happy others.

What do you even say in a moment like that when the setting is incongruous with someone’s reality?

My mind flashed to a time years ago where I stood on the riverbank with nearly 100 good friends, their families and kids, waiting to launch a flimsy raft into the surging Merced River. One by one, in groups of twos, threes, and fours, I watched our friends get into their rafts and get carried away down the river. What an incredible journey on a sunny summer day. Everyone else had launched, it was just my dear friend Jeanne and I that were left. We two were the mother hens who insisted on launching after the menfolk and kiddos had gone safely down-river ahead of us. We had intentionally chosen the raft that seemed to keep deflating, the one that no one else wanted. Maybe it was the multiple patches on one end of it from a previous interaction with a ragged river rock. We wouldn’t have put our own kids in it for safety sake but we got in and with barely a half a paddle it started to simultaneously sink and carry us forward. And fast. The melted snow water was freezing cold. The water was rushing and the rocks were slippery under foot. In a matter of moments we were capsized and although the water was barely to my waist I couldn’t keep my feet under me. My friend flashed into immediate action, yelling over the sound of the river and trailing laughter of those that were already too far ahead to even notice our plight. With a locked on stare she drove her paddle toward me and commanded “Don’t let go of the oar!“

If I’d been closer to her I would’ve grabbed onto her instead and we both would have gone down. But I did as she said and we both held onto our respective ends of that oar with a white knuckled grip. We managed to hold our own ground and the oar as we inched our way from the middle of the rushing waters back to the safety of the riverbank.

I’ve never forgotten that experience or those words. They’ve replayed in my head over and over in many life circumstances ever since. It’s what you say to a friend in deep or rushing waters.

Stand firm when you say to your friend, “Don’t let go of the oar.”

Box of Branches

I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.

Mister Rogers

Is there someone in your life that really “gets” you?

Surprisingly the “one” that really gets you may not always be your significant other. It might instead be an old grade-school friend or your brother from another mother. Perhaps a cherished four legged friend who seems more like a soulmate than do some of the humans you hang out with.

There’s an overwhelming sense of human completeness when we feel that another living being truly sees us and loves us because of who we are. Not “in spite of.” And it’s on a surpassing level when no words need to be exchanged. A look between two. A look that only deepens the bond that is shared.

After my evening drive home in the usual rush hour traffic on this Valentines Day I was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty good sized box on my doorstep. The return address label revealed who had sent it, bringing a warm smile to my face. When I opened it up I got choked up. There was a box full of branches from the California Laurel trees that grow wild in the Central Coast area of California. From someone who knows. From someone who gets me and what makes my heart happy.

There was candy and a card and a few other things that were so unique to my particular interests as well. So thoughtful. So entirely unexpected and greatly appreciated.

We all long for a Significant Other who knows just what we like and knows just what makes us cry when no one else is looking. We are loved after all. By Someone who knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us because of who we are not in spite of.

You’re One of my Kind

What’s that compelling force that draws us to one person more than another? Much like an ancient spice blend, a very fine wine or a complex French perfume there are many notes at play, a varied collection of complex ingredients.

As with an exquisite fragrance we’re drawn by the top note – the first impression.

“The middle notes are considered the heart of the fragrance. They last longer and have a strong influence on the base notes to come. A perfume’s heart is generally pleasant and well-rounded and sometimes infused with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom.” (here here!)

Finally the bass notes, detected once that first impression has completely evaporated. These mingle with the heart to create the full body of fragrance, providing a lasting impression, lingering on the skin and in the heart and mind for hours after the top notes have dissipated.

What is that compelling force? Perhaps it’s something even the best of our poets and scholars and theologians cannot capture. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Explain it and define it as we may, we just know when we know.

You’re one of my kind.

Take a Seat

“Take a seat,” they say to you.

Simple enough. Those words are said to us and used by us on a pretty regular basis. Three words that convey unique and particular meaning based on the current environment and what’s happening in the moment.

Are you at a performance venue staring at your ticket numbers when approached by a helpful usher? Are you in a bustling new restaurant finally being led to your table? Perhaps invited to your new in-law’s house for the first time? How about entering the HR office for a final interview of a job you desperately need?

Then there’s this, why is some news better delivered sitting down? Imagine yourself in a hospital waiting room the moment the doctor emerges from surgery and is now headed your way. Take a seat. Please.

It isn’t just the words. It never is. That’s the beautiful thing about them. It’s the setting, the circumstance, our frame of mind – including what we do or do not want to hear.

Just something to think about. Wisely used, only three simple words can become the greatest gift we can receive.

It’s OK now.

I love you.

Take a seat.

Corrective Lenses

Mr. Skyles, my fourth grade teacher, sent a sealed note home with me one fine school day.

Perhaps because I was a rather compliant child I would’ve never dreamt of steaming open a teacher’s note but I sure was curious. Mr. Skyles expressed his concern that I was not able to read from the chalkboard and noticed I was holding my textbooks up close. Neither of these things had I noticed myself.

My mom had a full-time career back in the day when other moms wore their aprons and spent quality time reading Betty Crocker. An immediate appointment with the eye doctor was scheduled and corrective lenses were prescribed. I’d like to think that I rocked those Cat-eye frames but I hated them. By the time I hit junior high they were stashed in the back of the dresser drawer.

Fast forward to my eye exam with a specialist just a few weeks ago. At the conclusion of the comprehensive exam I was pronounced to have 20/20 vision and asked if I’d had a LASIK procedure! What? I still haven’t stop laughing over that question!

Just this morning I chose to watch a little TV while waking up. The screen seemed so out of focus and my vision was blurry so I squinted, blinked, rubbed my eyes, reached for an old pair of glasses, tried cleaning those glasses, but the blurriness would not go away. I was worried and wondered what was wrong with me.

You know what? It wasn’t me. The program itself was out of focus. Blurry. If I’d had a LASIK procedure on the spot it still would have been out of focus. What I saw right in front of me I allowed to play tricks on both my vision and my mind.

Here’s the thing, it’s not always you. There will be times when everything in you will think that you are the one out of focus. But perhaps only the Clergy and psychologists and therapists among us know why we doubt ourselves so easily. Why we can be so quick to try to fix ourselves, telling ourselves that there’s something off, something wrong with the way we’re seeing things, never imagining that the object of our gaze is indeed what is out of focus.

It’s not always you, baby. Be aware of that. It’s not always you.

I can see clearly now.

❤️ Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤️

Old Time Is . . .

Riley was the right friend at the right time.

Actually his name was listed on the pedigree paperwork as “Sir Riley” and that he was. From the minute he was brought to me he was the lord of the manor. Riley was a gift given to help heal a broken heart. His quirky, needy, emotional little personality was less of a medicinal as was originally intended and more like a foot in the door. That spirited spaniel prevented me from closing that or any door permanently. I mean, after all, you can’t close a door on someone standing in the threshold. Especially when that someone has the largest brown eyes that communicate with a look that you are their world and that they literally can’t go on without you. And such is the relationship with many a King Charles Cavalier spaniel and their owner. I’d say that 84 in dog years is a good long time to spend with a human. And then The Goodbye comes. Like the roses from my garden that bud and blossom fragrant and vivid in color. They are also fleeting. No gorgeous rose lasts forever. They are not eternal but are a temporary delight to be enjoyed in the moment.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.” Do you remember that line from the movie The Dead Poets Society? It was first written in the year 1648. Those words written by a vicar in Devonshire still have a voice today. Unlike yesterday’s rose and unlike Sir Riley.

It’s essential to realize that all living things have a beginning and an end. Time deceives us into thinking that “it” will always be there and we will always be in it. That our roses and Rileys and relationships are constant. Since we are all subject to time, which as Robert Herrick stated, “is still a-flying,” we would do well to appreciate all the moments that we can.

Carpe diem.

The petals of the rose in this photo dropped one by one during the time it took to write these words this morning. Such is this life. It’s both sad and so very sweet and so are the memories of roses and Riley.

Under the influence

Last night after work, tired from a very full day, I stopped at the post office to mail a valentines package to someone very sweet. There was a gentleman using the self-service machine there in the after hours lobby, dressed in an understatedly chic style that made him seem to be somewhat superior. He was taking quite a long time, having some sort of technical difficulties and I found myself becoming increasingly impatient with the wait. The machine continued beeping loudly at him several more times until the man gave a sigh of annoyance and surrendered in defeat.

As he walked away he made a parting derogatory remark in a beautiful French accent. Maybe it was the accent or that he looked to be more distinguished than the typical SoCal locals. I made a mental note of giving him a free pass for that French attitude of his.

Finally getting my turn I noticed straight away that the equipment I’d used so many times at this local branch of the USPS had been replaced by a similarly looking yet upgraded model. As I began the usual process the new bossy machine started giving me grief. I quickly went from impatient to flustered to resentful. The darn machine refused to cooperate! But. was it this inanimate piece of metal and circuitry or was it the growing frustration in me? I took a breath and realized that my approach to this machine was under the influence of the lovely but disgruntled Frenchman. The subtlety of his protest and the sheer fact that he was a rather suave “international” type granted me license to adopt his stance oh so easily. If he’d been sloppily dressed, swore loudly, and kicked the machine for good measure I would have criticized the user instead of the equipment. But I fell under the influence of this Frenchman.

My take away from that brief postal encounter was this: we are daily under the influence of the people we’re around. The everydays and the briefly encountered. The culture, the society of our times. So subtle, so affecting. This is also true — those around us are daily under OUR influence. Our kids, our coworkers, and even our brief encounters with others in line at the post office. Why not realize we’re influencers in the everyday smalls of life and be intentional about swinging the people in our atmosphere toward the light?

PS: My dinner of steak, beets, and pan roasted Brussels sprouts was outstanding!

An Unpruned Rose

A tall unpruned rose grows in a corner of my garden. It’s tucked into an area that’s already somewhat crowded, competing with the night blooming jasmine on the wall alongside the honey suckle that spills over the top of it. And then right there in close fellowship with the others is the brightly colored Bougainvillea crowning the whole display. If any of these head turners were properly trimmed they would not be so stunning.

Who shines brightest when there’s so much brilliance, color and fragrance growing freely in one relatively small space?

For me it’s this one glorious rose.

Because it lives in a cramped corner of my garden it has grown taller to seek out the sun. It’s height has allowed it to stand above the others as the beauty that it is. She stands alone in a category all by herself. Having sought out the sun that made her fragrant, turning her red velvet to the deepest shade, she has risen to her current place of prominence.

But then rain. Necessary rain. This time dear rain didn’t come alone, it brought a windy friend along. She’s a strong one that gal. The two of them had a marvelous time in my garden and except for a small patch of green onions, which were fairly pummeled, all the other residents fared well.

As will happen naturally to anyone with their hands raised upwards to receive, in the rose’s case to soak up the sun, she also received the unexpected. Her cup-like blossom filled up with the rain and she bent under the weight of it. It sounds so poetic and yet it’s exactly what happened.

I would love to hear your own inner thoughts on this. Please contemplate and comment to continue this true story.

A Cup of Life

What’s the first thing you drink in morning?

For me it’s water first then coffee. Luckily I’m a long-time agua drinker and I love a tall glass to start the day. Almost like a breath, nearly automatically, I pour and drink because my body says it’s thirsty. So check, ✔️, got that done. I move on to the big guns. Caffeination. And I enjoy it in the first part of the day, before anyone or anything needs my attention. Before I start thinking about the day that lies ahead. Coffee meets me in that quiet place where I start my day. It’s water that I’ll gulp down to quench my thirst, but never my coffee. Coffee is not about gulping and quenching, no not at all. Coffee is many things and in that magical morning moment it can be both the spring board that launches and the companion that has come for a ride-along.

While my coffee time is never as long as I’d like it to be, it isn’t rushed. For me it’s not a time to slam it back, gulp it down and run. Nope. Not in my morning routine. Ever. This is my time, with me and my cup, with me and my early-morning awakening thoughts. Several of the Scottish based novels written by George McDonald (a favorite of CS Lewis) include this descriptive phrase which has never left my mind, “He came to himself slowly as was his custom.“ It’s as if George McDonald himself has given us permission to gather our thoughts slowly as we “come to ourselves“ each morning. Morning, after all, is a re-birth of sorts where every day is as new as a fresh start; yet another opportunity to lead life in a way that brings joy, the way it was designed to be lived.

So, if I may ask, what fills your cup? And what’s your unique process? Do you slam or savor? What if, in a perfect world, you had a perfect slice of time to go with that morning cup? How it might change the way you greet each day. How it might alter the way you face what the daylight brings. The coffee and the slice don’t change our day per se but they can change our thinking and outlook on it.

Get your brew on and join me for just a few minutes each day – wherever you are in the world, whatever time zone in your 24/7. Join me in a quiet place of reflection and relationship. What will you fill your cup with today? is a 365 day journey I’ve just begun. There’s an open invitation to join me whenever you can. This is a new challenge for a new year of writing and sharing day to day thoughts for all of 2019. There’ll be a weekly post added that you will only find here. Join me when you can and let’s share a cup. ❤️☕️❤️

Five Simple Words

Once I went to Greece with three good friends. We ate their yogurt and photographed ourselves with headless Grecian goddesses in front of countless architectural ruins.

Beth Moore was filming a women’s Bible study there and we were in her audience. In one of her talks she told of a backwoods joy ride in a beat up old truck, dogs along for the adventure, her husband at the wheel seemingly intent on hitting every gully with dramatic effect, swerving the vehicle both for maximum reaction and maximum fun. She described bouncing wildly in the cab of that truck while having the time of their lives. Just enjoying life in an old truck in the back woods with her man and her dogs.

Near the end of the session notecards were distributed with instructions to write a brief note to ourselves with a key thought from some of the proceeding days of teaching. Beth said that she herself would mail these back to us, one by one, when the time was right.

A few months after returning home the first friend got her note! The message she wrote to herself in the past was now speaking to her heart in the present. Then the next friend and the next received theirs. It was almost a full year since we’d returned home and I worried that my note had gotten lost. Beth Moore promised she would send them out at just the right time but mine didn’t come.

In just that one year so much had happened. So much time gone by, so many unexpected, even unwanted, life experiences and water under the bridge. Multiple bridges. I couldn’t remember the words that meant so much to me almost a year ago in Athens. But then my note finally arrived! I cautiously opened the envelope to read the simple five words I’d written on that day.

We’d been told that the journey was going to be exhilarating. That it would also be bumpy and there’d be times we might even hit our head on the ceiling but if we were going to live with any degree of joy sometimes we’d have to do what the note said. Its illegal in California but I’m telling you, there are times when you just have to do it if you’re truly going to enjoy your life.

Take your seat belt off.