Out of the corner of my eye I thought the sign said, “I’m Courageous Inside.” Cool, I thought. I stopped, and upon closer examination realized it was of course the predictable, promised “Gorgeous” hook often used when the outside of a house looks a little old, or sad.
I walked on smiling. And thinking, well, maybe this is the message I needed today. It showed up on the furthest-away-from-my-house block in a glance, and fits lovingly into the narrative that I have been hearing in this year’s Advent season. After all, we tend to hear the message we seek, or need. And God seems to usually (if not always) find a way, sometimes creatively, sometimes abruptly, to reach us when we get out of our house.
I plan to affirm and say this out loud sometime today.
I am courageous inside.
Maybe one of these words, courageous or gorgeous or another from a surprisingly and unsuspecting place, will meet and lift you as your sign of love. I’d like that.
I felt the stone in my heart melt like hot mercurial goo, a molten lava creating new continents of understanding; the beginnings of a new world where I was no longer a freakishly bulbous figure of too much.
I sensed a fresh scent in the air from a fresher shore of truth, shaped from the essence of all of God’s creation. I could see and be seen as knitted into this perfect weave of beauty; a part of, a coaptation of God’s magnificence and love.
I dared to step further and sink into this new earthly perspective where everything I had deemed as the imperfect physical me began to settle perfectly as is. Then, as I emerged wearing the same sixty-three-year-old coat, with deep pockets still stuffed by all of the worn-out stories that I was told about me, and that I have told and held onto about me, I notice a new lightness.
I am no longer weighted down like a round, red and white bobber by my size or shape or stories. I see and recognize that what felt before like walls and counter-weights has served me well, if not conveniently or elegantly. And, the physical attributes that I had wished all of my life to be changed? They now appear as a loving tether; a natural and useful link in humility, and lift of a kite.
I take yet a deeper breath; a more focused look, and I notice.
Acceptance seems to have settled-in beside me. She recognizes and welcomes the bundle of me as I have been, and as I am now.
Grace points me to a lifetime of experiences uniquely my own and perfectly fit between the grooves of hardship and learning. Failure and growth. Shame too, but then comes wisdom from within, the sacred and most convenient place I always look last.
I looked again. I felt again, this new idea of all is well. And a word rises from that broken stone; travels from this freshly cracked open heart, through a constricted-by-tears throat, and emerges with a gasp to open air.
Note: I cannot attest to being able to hold onto this feeling of such sweet and full emancipation much after it’s first appearance. But, I am grateful for the brief reveal and taste of a new freedom. And pray it, if only but for a moment, comes for others too; by God’s love and in perfect ways and timing. It really is all about Love.
The disease of more lives entirely outside of the now.
The disease of more is fueled by whatever it can grab to feed and keep its destructive combustion aflame, be it food, alcohol, money, time, even love at times.
We all have it in varying degrees.
Some of us have a natural aversion and properly tuned central nervous system that responds and shuts down fueling the fire before significant harms are done to others or ourselves. Others, like me, may yet have a few ounces of aversion left in some areas of life; a fragile awareness of what negative consequences lies just on the other side of continuing but lack (or ignore) the signal to stop in time.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of debates about the root cause of this disease of more, with as many questions and propositions on why one person seems to have a working fuse to halt harms while another does not. I have spent most of my life searching in Bibles and psychology and experimenting in practices and programs to try to change the disease in me. The discontent. The want. The never enough. The disease of more.
That loop of debates, read, in my head or talked about isn’t very helpful to me anymore. It has become an illusion of solution and yet another manifestation of the disease itself – this trying to understand and corral the cause and change. This plotting by prayer or self-willed idealized fasts of foods, thoughts, or behaviors fades as anything other or more-than chasing and killing an obsession with an old reed when the weight and swing of a new sword is surely needed.
What IS helpful for me today is to understand the broader problem, as played and patterned in many forms, and as simple as the disease of more. And to invite ways and support of willingness into my life that center and re-center me to the present. And to love.
Today I am finding that the Buddhist practice of mindful breathing does both. It busts the illusion of a possession or position in life being condition of peace. It removes the condition and makes room for God to meet me in perfection of the present. It is a doorway to my self and my God, where in the simple act of mindful breathing, I return to what God placed in me in the beginning as truth.
The present is perfect and perfect is Love.
“Our breathing is a physical formation. It is the door through which we go home to our self and reconcile ourselves with our self. The object of our mindfulness is our in-breath and out-breath, nothing else. We identify our in-breath as our in-breath and our out-breath as our out-breath. It is easy.”–The Path of Emancipation, Thich Nhat Hanh
“We have to trust the power of understanding, healing, and loving within us. It is our refuge. It is the Buddha. It is the Kingdom of God existing within us. If we lose our faith and confidence in it, we lose everything.”–The Path of Emancipation, Thich Nhat Hanh
Officiant: Those who sowed with tears: People: Will reap with songs of joy.
“There followed after Jesus a great multitude of the people, and among them were women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
The word ‘treasure’ has been showing up in my morning readings; from different places, in different context. It finally catches me, slows me down enough to notice and ask:
What treasure does God have for me, long for me to accept?
What treasure lies in Lent for me this year?
What treasure lies in me?
And I wonder, what if I create a Treasure Box for Lent? With paints and glued-on plastic hearts and maybe some buttons, and fabrics and ric-rac trim. And maybe secret away little notes on scrappy pieces of paper in the box as Lent reveals her treasures.
“Is that okay?” I ask myself. “To walk into this time before Easter with more a notion of creating something fun than sacrifice?
Then, as eagerly as I ran to find the cigar box that I have had stashed away in my art supplies, ‘the achiever’ showed up all worried, just like when I am choosing the next blank-paged journal, that it might not be the right box? Asking performance questions about if I should or could finish it by a made-up deadline of Ash Wednesday?
“What is wrong with me,” I think. “Have I so quickly fallen into the trap of accomplishment without even the slightest glance and allowance for the process? Don’t you remember that God is more in the process business than outcome?”
“Go easy,” I hear. “It is the creating and discovery with God in the unknown that reveals the treasure.”
And so, I begin. And invite you too, to listen for what might guide you from the grip of thinking (too much). What art, song, dance, sport might loosen sometimes-strident, merit-based ideas of faith and move us towards the gentler wonder and mystery of the unknowing, the un-thought? The yet-to-be-created, the undiscovered? To listen for and explore how you might be called to discover your treasure of Lent.
“I am the Treasure, and the Glory of My Presence glistens and shimmers along the way.” – Jesus Calling by Sarah Young
“Lead us to the heart of life’s treasure that we may be bearers of the gift.” – Sounds of the Eternal, A Celtic Psalter by John Philip Newell
* Just a little note of support: It is never too late to begin a practice of prayer and play; to not put too hard of a deadline on yourself to start, do, finish, accomplish. Each day is a new beginning, and each response of the heart is a sacred journey.
Kaboom. It sounded like large objects being tossed into a construction dumpster; a not so unfamiliar sound for us since we are still in construction here on Chevy Chase.
I ran to look out my kitchen window. I saw a US Mail truck laying on it’s side in the intersection of my corner lot. People were already running to the site. I got my husband and we ran outside. The mailman, not our usual carrier I noted, was sitting upright on the curb; blood was running down his stiff arm; a lady stood nearby. I ran back inside to get a comforter because I remembered hearing on TV that people in shock need to be kept warm, and surely it was quite the shock for him; being suddenly hit and tipped over like that in a tiny, more-toy-looking-than-not mail truck.
I gingerly placed the colorful comforter around his legs. He smiled with a mix of gratitude and bewilderment. Yep, he was shook up. He said, “Thank you. I’m all shaky.” I looked him in the eyes and answered with calm available as an observer, not victim, “Well yes, you took quite a hit, but you’re ok.” He smiled more, nodded, as I add, “I bet that was scary but you’re okay. You’re okay. I’ll sit here beside you. Not too close but with you.” They also say on TV, with arms wide-spread like the NBA’s Jason “the Jet” Terry when he drained an impressive three, “Give them room. Give them room for air.”
I noticed the lady on the other side of him, calmly rubbing his back. I looked around; someone was making the necessary calls to 911. I began noticing more of the familiar faces of my neighborhood, some like my corner neighbors I knew by name; others more by: he’s the jogger, she’s the one with that cute little dog, there’s my driveway neighbor in her cute pink sweat pants, holding her baby boy who just turned 5 months old.
Then, a man wearing a light parka and with small child in red-wagon tow, offered the mailman his filled-to-the-brim with ice and water metal mug, saying, “Do you want a drink of water? I don’t have anything contagious.” The mailman accepted, but I could see by his small sips that it was disappointingly not stopping his shaking. But he kept on smiling, and seemed to begin figuring out that he really was going to be okay, and that people were gathering and taking care of him. “You all are being so nice to me,” he said. “I really really appreciate it.”
Someone chuckled a bit and asked if he had delivered his mail to his house before this happened. Everyone laughed, including the mailman who then seriously reported, “I was all done for the day except for a couple of packages to deliver to Ella Lee.” I offered to take them down there but again he smiled, and said, “I don’t think they’d like that.” “Oh yeah, that’s right,” I told myself.
The nice lady and I pulled his jacket a bit higher and up around his shoulders and someone asked, “Should you call your boss?” “Oh, yeah,” he laughed a bit, “but my phone’s in the truck.” One of the guys, just like a Boy Scout, jumped to action and bolted up, then down into the now-vertical vehicle and began looking for his phone and keys. We watched through the windshield as he sifted through the tumble of mail and shelving and paper cups scattered and piled up on the paved street, reminding me of a carnival claw reaching for fluffy toys. Eventually he found the phone, and the mailman made his calls.
It was about then that the fire truck and ambulance showed up, silent running as we don’t want the neighborhood to be too disturbed I suppose. The EMS began attending the mailman and I noticed for the first time the driver of the big, black SUV that had hit the small mail truck. No one was talking with her or checking on her as she tentatively strolled on the other side of the intersection.
There was light chatter, sprinkled with levity that comes after excitement enough to get us out of the house but not so bad as to being terrible, with questions about what happened? One neighbor reported that, “She was driving way too fast and ran the stop sign. Can you believe how loud it was?” One of the firemen said, “This happens all the time. These mail trucks get hit and tip over a lot,” to which someone responded, “They need to be driving Hummer’s.” Yeah right, I think, most people want to eliminate our mail system all together; we will hardly fund a bigger, safer truck. And some of us nodded, awkwardly confessing to having also missed a stop sign before, and added, “It’s easy to do, but she was going way too fast.”
I overheard the EMS person asking him, “Are you supposed to go to the hospital when you get into an accident? Is that what the post office wants you to do?” He answered, “I don’t know, this has never happened to me before.” We looked at one another, “Good answer.”
While the guys stood around, I heard them talking about how we have to take care of our mailmen and our neighborhood, and one said, “We haven’t had this much excitement since Harvey, and all the water, and watching Joe’s dog swim down the street. I again noticed the woman from the SUV. She was coming in for a closer look. I noticed too that I was kind of mad at her. I didn’t want to talk to her. I reached out anyway and asked, “Are you okay?” She said yes, but not with any invitation to continue our conversation as she walked away.
They put the mailman in the ambulance. The fire truck left. The police and eyewitnesses gathered across the street to do whatever they have to do, and the rest of us went back inside to our warm, cozy little mostly ranch-style homes.
The next morning I woke up early, couldn’t sleep; made tea while looking out my window to the corner where there was little evidence, save a slight oil stain, of all the excitement the day before. I thought about the mailman. I thought about how everyone came running out; curious, yes, but also wanting to help. I thought about how much I love my corner, my neighbors, and I love my neighborhood; and how we are a mini-model of the natural design and goodness of humans.
People need purpose.
The lady wanted to sit with him, gently touching his back. I wanted to offer a blanket and sit beside him on the curb with lightness and assurances that he was okay. A man shared his Yeti. Another fished the mailman’s phone and keys from the sideways truck (not as easy as one might think). People ran to the scene to help. Just like Harvey; just like we always do when we think someone might be in trouble.
People need community.
We came out of our homes and talked about our love of our mailman, by name, and our community. It became jovial once the level of damage was ascertained as minimal, but a brief hush hung over us when someone talked about how bad it would have been if someone had been walking close by when it happened. We collected and showed up in the concern and love of our community. It was almost palpable.
People need to understand what went wrong.
We asked questions about how it happened. This is what we humans do, or at least want to ask when hearing news of a death, or accident, or illness. We want to know what happened as if somehow connecting the cause and effect can prevent the same thing from happening to us, or a loved one.
I used to be apologetic for wanting to know why and how in the aftermath of bad news, but I am beginning to believe that it’s practically built into our DNA to want to figure it out, how it works or doesn’t. It’s natural that we want to know and plan and protect as if the random events of life can be figured out like numbered doors on The Price Is Right: Door #1 is a birthday cake, Door #2 a boat, but for heaven’s sake don’t pick Door #3 because behind that is a fast-moving car running stop signs.
We all know life is not like that, not three doors, not neat guaranteed agreements of behavior and consequences. And that we can know, and plan, and yet life still brings on what life brings. We can plan but we are not in control. But yesterday I was reminded that some things are dependable and predictable and lovely, like neighbors responding to a crash. And today as I remember the excitement on my corner, I wonder that I might consider it to be a mini, personal tipping point and invitation to broaden my boundaries and sense of community.
I do love my neighborhood.
Welcome to this space – a gathering place for the mind, body and soul.