Sunday Funnies: Feb 6th

Another installment from my dad’s humor cards.

The backstory: My dad was a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years. He kept a well curated stack of humor cards – little stories or observations that he typed onto 5×7 cards. Then he wrote in the margins when he used that particular item. His humor was often an easy way to settle in to something deeper – by laughing and thinking about the buried truth in these little nuggets, it paved the way to an open heart.

When we cleaned out his desk after he died 7 years ago, I was lucky enough to stumble on this stack. I pull it out regularly to have a little laugh with my dear Dad. Now when I post one of them, I write my note next to his and it feels like a continuation.

Parables

  1. Man came in after being bitten by a mad dog. The doctor confirmed he had rabies and it was too late to do anything, he should die within the week. He sat right down and began writing…filled one paper and its back, went to a second. The doctor said, “Wow, that is a pretty long will.” The man replied, “Will, nothing. I’m making a list of people I plan to bite.”
  2. There was a pastor who said wrong things and often didn’t know it. One Sunday his wife told him he said Jesus took 5,000 fish and 5,000 loaves and fed 5 people. So the next week to make up for it, he off-handedly said, “We all know Jesus fed 5,000 with 5 fish and 5 loaves – who could imagine how he did it?” And a boy spoke up that he knew how — he did it with all that was left over from last week.
  3. A pastor announced that 20 years ago Jesus called him to this parish but now Jesus has called him to another ministry and he had to respond to that call and leave. The congregation stood and sang a special hymn… What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

Our Deepest Fears

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” – Malcom S. Forbes

I have a friend whose affable and outgoing father has developed a little bit of memory loss in his 80’s. To talk with him you wouldn’t notice it but it manifests in that he thinks he doesn’t have enough money. No matter how many times his daughter tells him he’s does and he’s fine, he feels like he’s broke.

It reminds me of my grandmother who became very self-conscious about the way she looked as she aged. She thought other people in her senior living home were gossiping about her when she ate in the shared dining room because she didn’t look right. No amount of reassurance would overcome her inclination to stay in her room.

These stories make me wonder if we all have some deep insecurity or worry that if we never fully heal could define our golden years.

I know what mine is. I feel self-conscious talking about faith. My beloved dad was a Presbyterian pastor with such a specific theology. But what resonates with me is less defined – examples of faith, depth, authenticity, grace, forgiveness, selflessness from all spiritual traditions inspire me. (To be fair, my dad called himself a big tent guy meaning however you got into the faith tent was fine by him).

When I go to speak about faith, I get hung up on the words to use because my upbringing gave me a specific dialect. My meditation practice has given me the feeling of deep faith but not the words to replace it. So somehow my respect for my dad has muted my lived experience and created an impediment to speak of my Budheo-Christian path.

It calls me to heal it so that I can speak of the Divine miracles and great gift that faith has been for me. I have been so fortunate to stand on the top of mountains, feel the Universe all around me and stand in awe of the wonder of creation. And I’ve experienced this feeling of being carried by God in so many pivotal moments when I have been confused, unsure, and broken. Nurturing the small voice of God inside me has repeatedly enabled me to navigate to the next right thing in my path.

I’m heartened by the story about my friend’s dad because even though he feels like he doesn’t have enough money, he has a deep faith that makes him feel secure. So I work on my confidence to speak of all that God has done in my life all the while having faith that it will all come out okay.

(featured image from Pexels)

Deep Enough

“When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt you head back and laugh at the sky.” – Buddha

My honorary aunt and uncle came to visit recently. They were my parent’s best friends since before I was born so every time I’m with them, it feels like old times. Talking with my 92-year-old “uncle,” he asked about my son going to daycare all day during the week. “He seems so little for that” he says. And I agreed and added, “True, he is little. But I need the help.”

My uncle looked off, squinted his eyes as if he was trying and failing to imagine choosing to be a single parent, taking care of children, working and balancing it all. Then he looked back and gently said, “I guess I could see that” in a tone that confirmed he couldn’t.

My uncle is a renowned Biblical scholar and retired professor of Theology. He once spent 17 years writing a book on the gospel of Matthew. But he has very little practical knowledge of the world. Years ago my uncle visited a college in Texas and was sitting next to a rancher at a meet-and-greet dinner. The rancher said he had 300 head of cattle and my uncle asked how many cows that was. The rancher famously replied, “I don’t know about where you come from but here in Texas, our cows only have one head each.”

In the moments when I struggle to find any sense of the spiritual plane in my hectic life, I sometimes envy people like my uncle who seem to have created calm and ordered lives in which to acquire deep knowledge of the Divine. I would love to be so deep in the study of life, Mystery and God. But life has called me to be broad instead.

When I sit to meditate in the morning, I usually find I already am participating in the mystery of life, just in a different way than the enlightenment I imagine I could reach if I had hours to go deep. In the quiet moments before I wake my two kids and go full on to get them out the door, I often get a glimpse of the Divine and Universal Flow find right here in my beautiful, messy life.

Sure, I have popcorn in my bra and am changing diapers in the back of my SUV between dropping my daughter and school and my son at daycare but I don’t need to be a scholar to know that God is right there, laughing at the gentle touch between us.

My uncle has only been able to been so deep because he has my aunt who has handled almost all the details of their life, their kids and grandkids. At the end of their visit, she said to me with a smile and a wink on the way out, “I don’t know how you do it all.” And I felt the presence of God in that spark of knowing that passed between us.

(photo from Pexels)

Praying for Rain

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.” – Rabindranath Tagore

My friend, Mindy, told me this story about her son when he was about 6 or 7-years-old. It was the beginning of the school year and her son didn’t want to have to sit next to Henry in school. He came up with the idea to pray about it. The next day after her son came home from school, Mindy asked him whether or not he had to sit next to Henry. He replied, “Of course not, I prayed about it.”

I was reminded of this story the other day when my daughter was looking for her kinetic sand and said she’d prayed to God that she’d find it. I knew I’d thrown the kinetic sand out so no praying would help! I threw it out because I’d been praying not to have that stuff all over the floor and I knew how to make that happen. 😊 But it also made me think about my relationship to prayer.

The longer I live the less I know what to pray for. As our overall human and my individual scientific understanding of our world has grown, I’ve found it precludes praying for anything that I know how it works. And the more that I think I’m in control of my life, the less that I pray for things like money or even happiness.

So as I summon my centeredness and quiet as I meditate, I find myself instead praying more for a feeling and connection to the Divine. Praying for a voice that speaks kindness, a heart that serves from its depth and a mind that is childlike enough to search for mystery. I pray for an acceptance of things how they are and eyes to discovery the delight in it all. I pray for arms that are tender enough to hold everyone that I encounter during the day. I pray for ears that are open to listening and a patience to do it without judgment. I pray for a curious nose that can draw me to the sweet smelling things around me. I pray for a feeling of grace so that I face the day from my depths instead of my human fragility. I pray for feet that will guide me to my individual path that I should be walking and the courage to do it.

This weekend my daughter was praying for rain. I thought that one was likely to pan out given the forecast but it turned out that she was praying for rain right at that instant. So I shook the wet tree branch that she and my son were standing under and we laughed and laughed. Then when it really rained, we ran around, jumped in puddles, held our umbrellas upside down and sang. That turned out to be exactly what we all were praying for.

A Legacy of Love

Legacy is planting trees under whose shade you will never sit.” – Richard Leon

I went to a dinner last night to honor a foundation my dad started 25 years ago. The foundation takes any money bequeathed in wills to the church he was pastor of and gives out grants to deserving organizations. The one they featured last night was a non-profit that helps with refugee settlement and combats the trafficking of children.

Sitting there listening to the work of my dad’s legacy, I pondered what the echo of our lives is when we die. Certainly the love and memories we have made lingered in the hearts and minds of the people we love but beyond that, is there anything else? I’ve helped build a few Habitat for Humanity homes – does that make any difference? What about words? Books? Blog posts?

Thinking about my dad’s quote above, we can plant trees under whose shade we will never sit. Presumably that means that there will be more oxygen to breathe, comfort on the hot days, possibly even food to eat for the people we leave behind and for our communities. We can plant and contribute to organizations and ideas that help ameliorate the pain in the world. And my dad did. But where does that mean my work as his daughter begins?

Someone in the room last night asked for a member of our family to speak. As the youngest child, I assumed it would be my brother or my mom since they’ve always done the talking but it turned out they nominated me. Without any preparation of what to say, I started with the depth, faith and the love that my dad started in me and how that fire still burns. In fact, it feels as if I have come to embody my dad even more in his absence than I ever did when he was alive, in search of God, kindness and love. We do pass a torch to the next generation and I think it’s in the form of the fires we light within other people. It’s not as quantifiable as money left to a foundation but it’s just as powerful.

Negotiating Inner Peace

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” – unknown

Yesterday I was trying to read my meditation books to start the day. In one there was a poignant passage about all the past leading to now and the future proceeding from this here but all we have is the one golden moment of today. In another, it was about pausing to appreciate our accomplishments. And the third was about setting forth into the world with the intent to unify and belong instead of to conquer and thereby treading a gentler path through life.

All I could think was “I don’t have time for this sh!t! I’ve got to get stuff done!” It started this internal dialogue that went like this:

[Practical Me] Really beautifully written messages but sometimes I just don’t have time to consider anything at any depth.

[Philosophical Me] Ha – isn’t that the point? That we could spend all of our todays just getting stuff done and putting off any search for meaning and appreciation for beauty until long after it’s gone?

[Practical Me] Yes, but today I really have so much to do. It’s the first day of school, the first day of the month and I have so much work to get done.

Here’s where I negotiated peace between my selves. Yes, there are sometimes where I don’t have time to consider all the sides, the long-term implications and all the other things that can become in their own ways a buffer between me and the experience of life. Sometimes I just have to act.

But it’s the feeling of being in a rush that can be settled out before jumping in. That there is a tiny space for setting intention to be mindful in my efficiency. A moment to be purposeful, not panicked. A note to myself that yes, today is in fact sacred. I will pause to acknowledge accomplishments. And in doing all I need to do, I will try to unify and not to break any things in my haste.

Fear of the Dark

Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

I have a clock that projects the time and temperature onto the ceiling of my bedroom so that lying in my bed I can open my eyes and when they finally focus, I can see what time it is without so much as moving a muscle. It’s a pretty silly gadget but I’ve had it for more than 10 years and since it continues to display the time, I can’t very well justify getting a new clock. But it has to be dark enough in the room to see the numbers so I was surprised this morning when I awoke at 5:24am and could see it on the ceiling. The 16-hour days of summer have passed and even though it took me a couple more minutes to adjust to that and get myself out of bed, I loved getting up in the dark, it has an extra layer of quiet.

When I was younger, my sister used to call my “Pollyanna.” Which I think was a compliment but our relationship is fraught so it’s hard to tell for sure. Whether she meant it kindly or not, she definitely was using it according the Meriam-Webster definition “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.” In other words, I’m a little bit sunny – or maybe a lot.

So it’s taken me a long time to appreciate my dark sides. Like how uncomfortable I am when things are edgy and pessimistic. And my inability to foresee that things just might not work out. The era of COVID has been a terrible time to be an optimist – I’ve been wrong on every prediction of when things would go back to “normal.”

Just as I’m enjoying the shorter days, I’m also learning to accept that I can be both light and dark. In fact, sunniness without some down time is exhausting. There’s very little I can do about my optimism which seems to be innate but as I’ve learned to listen to my fears, anxieties and wounds I’ve found a deeper humility by leaning into all of me. As I help my kids name their frustration, disappointment, envy and jealousy, I am finding it easier to name mine. The other day when I was feeling envious of a professional colleague who seemingly has no trouble promoting themselves, something that is very difficult for me, I named it and instantly felt more human.

When I rolled out of bed in the dark this morning, I found it more accepting of my sleepiness and more sacred in the quiet. Somehow, it’s easier to bring all of me, light and dark, to the meditation cushion when the sun hasn’t yet come out. The candles I light every morning glow brighter in the dark and I’m starting to discover that I need to accept both in order to fully see.

The Other Side

Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” – Buddha

Last weekend I took my kids to a swimming beach in a very wealthy suburb of Seattle. It was beautiful – the grounds perfectly maintained, a recently built dock of all the latest materials so no one would get a splinter, a cabin as beautiful as you would hope for a restful lakeshore vacation for the lifeguards to use when they were off rotation and a play structure with no graffiti. It felt like an idyllic break from the signs of homelessness, addiction and lawlessness that are so evident in Seattle these days.

Within 10 minutes of peeling off our top layers and getting into the water I heard a father chastise his son, who looked about 10-years-old, “You are just a dumb kid.” And because I’ve read so much about how shame doesn’t work, especially in parenting, I felt shocked because I can’t recall hearing someone shame their kids in the six years I’ve been a parent. I’m in no way claiming that it doesn’t happen in the big city but just that I haven’t heard it.

We moved on to the play structure which was almost deserted except for two other kids. My daughter breathlessly ran over to where I was standing told me that a little boy who was about a year older than my toddler was punching my son in the stomach. The child’s mom was about 50 feet away, completely uninterested, so I walked over and the child had taken a lap around the structure and was now pushing my son. As I carried my son away from the child, I thought again how odd that was both to have kids touching each other these days and to have parents totally tuned out. These little incidents reminded me of the adage that money doesn’t solve everything.

My dear dad spent fifteen years as a senior pastor in a Presbyterian church in a very wealthy community before he retired. I remember the gist of many sermons he delivered to the very generous and lovely congregation was that quite often the problem with money is that it makes us think we don’t need faith. Whew, that at least is one problem that I don’t have. 😊

As I drove back to my middle-class neighborhood, I was thinking about our universal humanity. That I with my kids, the homeless heroin addict on the street and the wealthy patrons at the park on the other side of the lake all have hearts that ache for love, lungs that long for clean air, and backs that get tired when they carry too much. Maybe we only differ in how far we think we are from suffering. It made me remember again that there is no way to drive away from suffering but instead I just have to meet it, in me and in others, with as much faith and empathy as I can muster.