Just A Shell?

A shell of their former self. That’s what we might think or even say about someone who has been devastated by a life experience beyond their capacity to contain it or deal with it.

There is inestimable value in sustaining our friendships with those who have journeyed through life’s highs and lows—those who have navigated all manner of stormy weather and have survived. Those who have endured losses, humiliations, significant life changes and though knocked down have gotten back on their feet, learning how to walk once more or even to speak again. Redefining themselves as needed. Living again with joy.

If we’re lucky we may have one or two such examples in our lives, oftentimes more. We do well to listen and also to learn from others who’ve made it through so when (not IF) our own storms crash upon us we will have some navigational skills to draw upon. Good people in our circle will lend the support of empathy, practicality, prayer, wisdom and presence that we can’t provide for ourselves.

Empty shell prevention is made of this.

Blowing in the Wind

I’ve only seen the short stubby little dandelions that sprout up in awkward places on the lawn. Always as unwanted visitors. Does anyone other than an herbalist actually cultivate them? Intentionally grow a nice little patch of them just because they’re a cheery little species?

I think not. We employ gardeners to dig them out. We use toxic chemicals to remove them from our otherwise perfect lawns. They show up in by-the-way places. They seem to thrive in roadside patches of hard dry dirt that aren’t tended to or irrigated; that have been paved over with asphalt. Improbable places.

So I saw this random growth of dandelion on the edge of a parking lot. It clearly wasn’t planted there by design but there it grew nonetheless. And the stems were so long and slender as if it had done its very best to grow higher—to rise above happenstance in this utterly unglamorous location.

Here’s to all the dandelions who despite less than ideal circumstances have elected to grow taller, reach higher and lift their faces toward the sun. Somehow finding hydration enough to thrive, sunshine enough to stay vividly lemon hued. In a final season (or is it?) finding a grace to release their seeds of future potential on a gentle wind. Out into the wild they go and will grow in palace gardens and the awkward places alike. Carried on a breeze they start again and again and again. After all, Bob Dylan received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. You never know. . . that just may be where a little blowing in the wind will lead.

The Power

A colleague of mine is walking through a difficult, soul stretching season right now. A hospitalized family member is in pretty bad shape. Chances are they won’t make it long enough to receive the transplant that is needed to survive.

Future plans are being examined from every side and new angles are being contemplated. “If this happens then I could do XYZ to manage things as they develop. I would be willing to try Plan C to become more available for them . . .” She was sharing the situation with me and processing incoming thoughts all at once.

I listened with compassion as this very rational, highly intelligent person shared a mix of strategies and possible scenarios all the while sprinkling in snippets of who this dear one of their’s once was. Micro moments of their childhood and such—peppering the current reality, that of their loved one being at the very doorstep of eternity—with fleeting thoughts pulled from an entire lifetime spent together.

I listened. What else can we do in such a moment? So often we feel as though we must offer an intentional, meaningful, and if we get it just right, powerful word of encouragement. Sometimes though there is power bestowed to the burdened other just by giving them our unhurried and undivided attention and compassion, allowing them to process a situation that is beyond their own control. There is a certain grace to that when the moment calls for us to be silent and listen with Love.

Down For the Count

Three days without the internet—three very long days and nights not being connected to social media, to streaming music or movie service, no form of news outlet, weather service, or even, “hey Siri, find me a recipe for ginger kohlrabi soup.” Emails haven’t sent or loaded . . . (except while at Starbucks). My computer has been worthless other than use of the calculator. So awesome. A smart TV and smart phone ain’t so smart without the power of the internet flowing through their wireless veins.

Ohhhh there were plenty of error messages to go around. The constant refrain on all three devices was a variation on a consistent theme. “CANNOT CONNECT” in the key of C major. Tests were conducted by a helpful, though remote, technician who despite following prescribed protocols could not restore a connection.

It’s not as though I had purposely planned a silent retreat either. I made good use of the time in other ways all the while resenting the disconnect. I got “other” things done during the outage. I’m resourceful like that.

Good news is that a person—a real, live, breathing, thinking, hopefully caring, person is coming to repair the situation sometime in the next six hours. If this posts then they made it . . .

For all the glories of tech, including social media that connects us to worldwide online friends , WE STILL NEED REAL PEOPLE in our lives. We need them and each other to carry on. Really and truly and not just to fix our broken stuff. Though some of us have nailed that, some self-sufficient types (takes one to know one) need a good solid reminder every now and again.

Contemplation

On my walk to the far end of campus I noticed a lone student standing on the ridge facing the small canyon. He stood motionless as if staring at something very far away.

By the time I was returning to my building some time had passed and as I approached the same ridge there he stood in the same place and pose as before. Not moving, still looking out across the canyon. The distance between us was too great to accurately say that he appeared to be transfixed; so focused in thought that he seemed oblivious to anything at all around him. His absolute stillness coupled with his physical posture of tranquility, entirely statue-like, communicated a state of deep reflective thought—of pure contemplation.

In the seeming stillness of thought there is highly engaging activity going on. Some days battles are being fought, some days they are won. Childhood memories are replayed as if being relived. Improbable scenarios are imagined. So much activity without a single muscle being moved and yet our beating heart pounds faster because of these internal escapades.

Contemplation—what a gift! Its a moment of rest for the body and a workout for the soul.

Shifting

As the movement of the ocean affects each grain of sand on the shore we too are affected by the forces around us.

Sometimes in the form of gentle repetition, as a peaceable wave upon the shore, other times as a crashing wave, pounding down on whatever is in its path. In its own appointed time and by gravitational pull it reaches a powerful crescendo. We weren’t targeted though we may feel we were. There was no prescribed agenda for that forceful wave to splinter the innocent piece of driftwood or to displace the solid mass of rock. Shift happens.

Being a living, breathing creature in an ever-living, ever-changing environment means that we will continually grow and as we do we’ll change. We’ll shift. We’ll be shaped by the waves and the storms. What new form we’ll take is yet to be seen.

Are you shifting? Don’t fear it. It is movement. You are alive! You are being shaped.

My Old Friends

Like old friends there is much to be told when you’ve been away from each other’s stories for a while. Much to be shared, to catch up on and why do we care? Because this is a book we want to read! The subject matter is always of interest to us. The small details and the larger plot of a thing, described in detail that feels like its being painted before your eyes in living color. Though in print, placed between two covers its merely ink on paper. But in opening it up, allowing the words to breathe, to form into stories; some that bring a smile, some that break your heart, some that make that same heart beat so fast you can barely catch your breath . . . These are the stories that connect us and keep us held together as enduring friends.

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A beginning, a middle and an end. Pages and chapters and themes bound together tell the story of a life and a friendship filled with loss and love, illness and recovery, then more loss and despair. Some chapters do not have a happy ending though we wish they all did. They just don’t though the urge to edit and rewrite them is strong.

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But thank God for all the daily doings that comprise a life and a friendship. The dailies that keep the storyline moving along. Will it come to a flourishing finish or a flatlining fizzle? Will we find that illusive herd of longhorn (yesterday’s story) or never ever be able to locate them? Sometimes the search itself, the search for the longhorns or the perfect ice cream sundae, or the gravesite of an ancestor or a once shared wisdom will fill chapter after chapter after chapter.

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The seemingly insignificant daily steps of any journey aren’t just “filler” and not just throw-away words on the way to a Pulitzer prize; the real meat of it all; the plot that we’ve come to expect will develop. The book, the friend, there’s sooo much to be discovered, considered, developed in our thought life. It’s exhilarating! And yet if we take the simplistic and thoughtless approach that this one seems familiar as if we’ve seen it all before; read this same basic storyline and we think we know how it all ends we just might miss the greatest story ever told.

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There is mystery in the small occurrences and minor details that may seem so insignificant as to be overlooked. Keep your eyes open and your heart open—to good books to good friends and all the stories that they tell. The real wisdom will often be found in between the lines.

Where’s The Longhorn?

We drove down a road not too far from my sister’s new home in Tyler. We were in search of a herd of longhorns she’d seen several times out that way. East Texas, even in the wintertime, turned out to be more green than I’d imagined. There was an expectation of cactus and tumbleweeds and roaming longhorn though I know this vast state is much more than all that.

When both she and her husband mentioned that they’d seen longhorns out this way I became all the more interested in this pursuit. So down the road we drove several times during my visit in hopes of spotting that herd, even a stray, but we never did find them.

Each time, though, we passed by this curious sight of a tumbledown house with it’s roof still intact lying squarely on top of it’s foundation. Was it a gradual rotting away of an abandoned little homestead? A long ago leveling earthquake perhaps? What might have caused this implosion that dropped the roof down to the ground.

You know sometimes we get the greatest satisfaction or even amazement from something we weren’t in search of. Things we weren’t even going after or pursuing in any way just appear on our way to somewhere else. The unexpected sight of them intersects with a fleeting moment in our lives and we experience an “Oh wow” or an “Ah ha.” We’re out on a metaphorical drive through a particular phase of our lives when we come upon a thing that arrests our thoughts. Others may not ever see it. We want to find it again to share with them but the moment with its “Ah ha” was ours.

As for me my takeaway from our search for the elusive longhorns is this, “Girl, keep your walls built up! Your foundation is rock solid, the roof over your head will continue to cover you but, for Pete’s sake, fortify those walls!”

Stand

Today is the day to stand up on your own two feet.

I suggest you put your shoes on first but you know what? Its a new decade so stand up, whether snow boots or flip-flops or barefoot.

No need for making an angry stand or a belligerent one. Whatever level of strength you have in you today, use it and stand to your feet.

There is so much talk about moving forward at the beginning of a new year let alone this being a new decade. I am one who believes in moving forward because that’s where life is. And yet today my word is stand. Whatever that means to you do it. I’m not saying stand and fight but maybe it’s time for you to. I’m not saying stand and cry. But maybe it’s time that you did and in so doing release what is gone. Maybe today you do nothing else but metaphorically stand up in your spirit— and use your physical feet and get that body of yours standing up as a silent declaration. Whether it’s getting the strength back in your legs to walk or run into your future or whether it’s just a holding-your-ground kind of stand.

Rise up in your spirit and stand.

Scarlet

I’d been back from my trip for several days and had finally gone out to tend to my garden (it looked sad) and the bird bath (it was dry) and to sweep up the leaves that collected.

My absolutely favorite succulent, about the size of a teacup, has been a lush velvety green—at least for as long as I’ve known it anyway—and just this summer it really began to thrive in it’s sunny location. Around autumn several small orangey blossoms began to appear on it. What? A new season a new outfit I suppose. But I hardly expected to return from my trip to find it dressed in scarlet. It looks stunning! It is growing and changing with the new season.

What a difference a change of season can make. In our gardens, in our lives—in ourselves if we’ll let it. Perhaps we’ll feel something different beginning to flow. A new energy, a renewing of passion for a thing that lay dormant. Inside something new, something feeling vaguely electric may be starting to flow once again. Of course it’s not springtime yet. I know it sounds like I describing spring while winter has just begun. Winter is, as we know, the season for dormancy and stillness and such. But perhaps there’s yet something new stirring in your heart in this season of stillness.

Let it! Don’t tamp it down. Let it flow. Doubts and nagging voices aside, allow the fresh flow of a new move in your heart begin to propel you forward. Movement means there’s still life inside. Small, incremental movement will take us from where we were in the previous year or even yesterday into a new place of heart and mind. Take a look in the mirror. Are you scarlet?