Spiritual Leaders

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom. Sharing it, is the first step to humanity.” – unknown

Several years ago I had a friend who was struggling to keep his marriage together after it was revealed that his wife was having a long-term affair. From time to time he’d recount some of the help and advice they were getting as they tried to heal – from therapists, friends and books. One of the most insightful pieces of advice he got was from his pastor who sagely counseled, “You are going to have to say ‘good-bye’ to that marriage. If you two are going to go forward, you will have to build a new marriage together.”

It takes a special role to be able to drop truth bombs and still be heard. Friends might be able to do it, but often have a vested interest in offering up advice. More often than not, they offer idiot compassion as therapist and author Lori Gottlieb calls it. “Idiot compassion is where you want to make somebody feel better, and so you don’t necessarily tell them the truth. And wise compassion is where you really hold up the mirror to them in a compassionate way, but you also deliver a very important truth bomb.”

Therapists can deliver truth bombs but I think we often forget that our spiritual leaders have that capacity too. Given that church affiliation in the US has dropped below 50% for the first time ever, I wonder if we are losing touch with a unique group of people who want to help and also celebrate with us.

Twelve years ago when I was in crisis going through a divorce, I was lucky enough to find my way to a meditation teacher that helped guide me into that practice that has changed my life in many ways. And often when I have a spiritual question or even a lapse in understanding, I will go to my meditation teacher.

I also have the added benefit of relationships with a number of pastors since my dad was in the profession. They teach me again and again that our spiritual leaders whether they be pastors, rabbis or yogis have deep wisdom and history to access whether or not you agree with every bullet point of their theology.

When I asked my dad about that job/role/life calling as a Presbyterian pastor in the years before he died he said,

“I never would have imagined, at 20 years old when I finally made the decision to go in to ministry, I never would have thought that this is what my life would be like. I am so grateful to God for what that has meant, the number of lives that I’ve been able to be a part of. One of the unique things about ministry is that you are able to be with people in some of the most precious, important, holy moments of their life . . . birth, death, baptism, marriage, funeral, crisis. A pastor steps in to the middle of someone’s life at those unique times and that is pretty rare.”

So on this day that is Good Friday for Christians and the start of Passover for Jews, I dedicate the post to all our spiritual leaders that are willing to help us through the important moments of our lives. May we all find ways to support and honor them.

(featured photo is one of my favorite pictures of my dad)

Sunday Funnies: Jan 23

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 4×6 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 paves 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.

DEAR PASTORS

Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister. Yours sincerely, Arnold, Age 8, Nashville

Dear Pastor, Please say in your sermon that Peter Person has been a good boy all week. I am Peter Peterson. Sincerely, Pete, Age 9, Phoenix

Dear Pastor, My father should be a minister. Every day he gives us a sermon about something. Robert Anderson, age 11

Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there. Stephen, Age 8, Chicago

Dear Pastor, I think a lot more people would come to your church if you moved it to Disneyland. Loreen, Age 9, Tacoma

Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon where you said that good health is more important than money, but I still want a raise in my allowance. Sincerely, Eleanor, Age 12 Sarasota

Dear Pastor, Please pray for all the airline pilots. I am flying to California tomorrow. Laurie, Age 10, New Year City

Dear Pastor, I hope to go to heaven some day but later than sooner. Love, Ellen, Age 9, Athens

Dear Pastor, Please say a prayer for our Little League team. We need God’s help or a new pitcher. Thank you, Alexander, Age 10, Raleigh

Dear Pastor, My father says I should learn the Ten Commandments. But I don’t think I want to because we have enough rules already in my house. Joshua. Age 10, South Pasadena

Dear Pastor, Are there any devils on earth? I think there may be one in my class. Carla. Age 10, Salina

Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday, especially when it was finished. Ralph. Age 11, Akron

Dear Pastor, How does God know the good people from the bad people. Do you tell Him or does He read about it in the newspapers? Sincerely, Marie, Age 9, Lewiston

Other People’s Writing: Dec 30th

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest and prolific author. In the forward to his book, The Inner Voice of Love he describes a period of mental and spiritual anguish catalyzed by the sudden interruption of a friendship. To heal from this agony, he took a six month retreat during which he wrote down spiritual imperatives that were his notes on working through his pain and healing.

He never intended for these notes to anything other than private. But eight years after he’d worked through his anguish, a friend convinced him they could be helpful to others. The last note of the book, it includes a quote that knocked me over with its power: “Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past.” Here’s the passage:

As you conclude this period of spiritual renewal, you are faced once again with a choice. You can choose to remember this time as a failed attempt to be completely reborn, or you can also choose to remember it as the precious time when God began new things in you that need to be brought to completion. Your future depends on how you decide to remember your past. Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.

You are facing a real spiritual battle. But do not be afraid. You are not alone. Those who have guided you during this period are not leaving you. Their prayers and support will be with you wherever you go. Keep them close to your heart so that they can guide you as you make your choices.

Remember, you are held safe. You are loved. You are protected. You are in communion with God and with those whom God has sent you. What is of God will last. It belongs to the eternal life. Choose it, and it will be yours.

The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

(featured photo from Pexels)

Building Character

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” – Helen Keller

I’ve been listening to the Dropout podcast about the Elizabeth Holmes trial this fall. She is charged with 12 counts of felony fraud in regards to how she handled investor money and advertised to patients. As I said in a previous post, High-Tech Drama I’m fascinated because in my career, I’ve been privy to all the money in high-tech, mostly at Microsoft and how it influences innovation and character.

Elizabeth Holmes was 19-years-old when she dropped out of Stanford and started Theranos in 2003. She positioned the company as a start-up that would revolutionize the blood testing industry by being able to test for a wide array of factors on a portable testing device that only required a small volume of blood.

It never worked – or at least not reliably. For the short time that the devices were rolled out at Walgreens, they provided bad test results like telling a man he had indications of a prostate problem when he didn’t, another that he was HIV+ when he wasn’t, and an excited mother-to-be that she’d miscarried when in fact she hadn’t. Clearly, there were major problems with big consequences for people that received inaccurate results.

I think this trial could be titled “What happens when you give a 19-year-old college dropout 750 million dollars.” (To be fair, Elizabeth Holmes raised most of the 750 million dollars when she was in her 20’s.)  I don’t assume that you have to go to college to be a success but I would think that some training or apprenticeship on how to be a leader, manage finances and run a company, whether it be institutional learning or otherwise would be helpful.

It’s left me wondering if it’s possible to develop character when you are 19 years old and people are throwing money at you. It’s been intimated that she shows narcistic tendencies but I would think it would be more surprising if she didn’t, given that trajectory.

Elizabeth Holmes, who is now 37 years old, testified at the trial. I cannot begin to do justice to all of her testimony but she seem to do a beautiful job of representing herself. She said there’s many things she wished she did differently – like when she put logos from other companies on documents to make it seem like a 3rd party endorsement. But there’s a lot that she can’t remember, even when emails and texts are read to refresh her memory. Her defense has pointed the finger at a lot of other people: the investors should have done better due diligence, the lab director should have spoken up more loudly, her boyfriend and COO was controlling her and so on.

The thing that I heard Elizabeth say that resonated a great deal with me was something like “The investors weren’t interested in the details of what we could do today, they wanted the big vision of what we could do in five years.” Whatever her intent was in making false statements, that matches much of what I’ve seen in high-tech. People want the hear the magic of what might work one day and are willing to entertain a lot of smoke and mirrors in the process of trying to make something real.

If Elizabeth is found guilty (the jury is currently deliberating), there must be hundreds of CEO’s currently doing exactly the same thing. In no way am I justifying lying and deceitful practices but I’m affirming that venture capitalists of Silicon Valley aren’t usually trying to create truth-tellers and reinforce good values.

All I can say is that I’m really glad that no one handed me three-quarters of a billion dollars at age 19, or at any age. I’ve gained so much character by having to earn one dollar at a time.

(featured photo by Pexels)

I Like It!

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” – Agnes Repplier

When I first started actively blogging, I was pleasantly surprised by the email that WordPress sends out. “Person X liked your post. They thought A Randon Post Title was pretty awesome.” But then those “likes” get pretty addictive, don’t they? So I recently I started thinking about “likes.”

If you hit “like” on this post, is it because you like me and generally think I’m a good person or is it because what I’ve written means something to you? And if you don’t hit “like” is it because what I’ve written doesn’t resonate or because we don’t have a relationship?

I know it isn’t such a cut-and-dried thing but if I break it down that way, I think about feedback and what I give away. After all, “likes” are free for me to give, so why not like everything? If I do, do those likes count for much anymore?

I read a beautiful metaphor that Mark Nepo included in The Book of Awakening. He was talking about someone who was interviewing for a job and she said she wanted to jump and down and yell “pick me.” In this way he said we are all like puppies at the pound, dying for someone to pick us and take us home.

But when I perform for “likes,” it can cost me my authenticity. Not always – sometimes it pushes me to do a better job writing and communicating. But I have also found myself at times changing my voice based on who I think is reading. The former is great, the latter is destructive.

I want you to like me. But as I discover again and again, whether it’s blogging, parenting or being a friend – more than important than that is whether I like me. From there, I’m okay with how many likes I get or don’t get as long as I’m telling my truth.

(photo by Pexels)

Cut the BS

Life is the sum of all your choices.” – Camus

The first time I did preschool with my daughter she had just turned 2 years old and it was a co-op preschool. Parents worked in the classroom one day per week and dropped off our child the other day of the week. The teacher said to us, “Never leave without saying good-bye to your child. It doesn’t work to sneak out.”

I think that might have been the best parenting advice that I may have ever received. I took it to mean to not undermine my child’s trust in me by being sneaky. Just because you can fool a small child doesn’t mean you should. I didn’t know any better at the time but witnessing parents do the “sneak-away” approach at other moments, I’ve seen the resulting effect when it’s happened. The child seems both dismayed that they can’t find the parent as well as beyond consolable because they want the parent for comfort.

I want to claim that I knew sneakiness doesn’t work in life before I was a parent but that would also be BS. I was not attuned to the feeling of tension that signals a choice of not facing or facing the emotions of someone who will be unhappy by what I chose to do. I have ducked out of many parties with a white lie about why I couldn’t come instead of telling the host the truth that I didn’t feel like coming. I shudder to think about the time I canceled going to see U2 with a friend and his son because I had a colossally bad day at work.

But what I’ve learned from parenting isn’t about lying per se – because I don’t tell my kids the truth about many things like Santa and the Easter Bunny and whether or not I’ve ever had sex. It’s more specific to not telling the truth in order to avoid emotions. Like saying we are out of cookies instead of being the bad guy who says “no” because they’ve had too much sugar.

Instead of amplifying feelings by adding the horror of being tricked, this advice has taught me to lean into the discomfort of the initial disappointment. It also honors the emotional intelligence of anyone that I might mislead who can often sense they are being tricked, even at a very young age, even if they don’t know exactly how.

I’m leaving. I will miss you and can’t wait to scoop you up when I return. There is nothing like the sweetness of reunion and it is not possible until we recognize the truth of being apart.

(photo by Pexels)

Truth Telling

Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” – Thomas Jefferson

The other night we were with a family from school and the dad started to tell a story and then turned to his 4-year-old son and said, “James, can I tell a story about you?”

Such a sweet moment of respect and communication. It started me ruminating about how it gets more complicated to tell the truth as our lives get more intertwined. I try to be careful not to tell stories about my kids that I think they would mind reading 10 years or more from now but of course that’s a judgment call.

It reminds me of a story I heard the other day about a friend of a friend. On the outside, everything looks perfect – she’s attractive, healthy, has plenty of money, married with two grown kids, has a cute new puppy. But she’s unhappy, mostly because her marriage isn’t working for her. Nothing is egregiously wrong but her husband is busy with his work and friends and so he’s not interested in making a vital relationship. So she’s working on taking on new things – most recently writing. And here’s where I’ve imagined it lands –if she tells the truth, it’ll crack her life apart.

Of course this resonates for me because it was me 13 or 14 years ago when I was married. Everything looked fine from the outside of my life but on the inside I was starving. I had a husband, who as my dad gently put it after we divorced, “Loved to be loved.” The core of me was stifled into silence because it knew that if I spoke up and said I wanted more depth and meaning than just taking care of my husband it would be the beginning of the end of that relationship. I drank a lot of wine at the end of each day. Numbing was the only thing I could do to stay and not tell the truth.

I know I’m in trouble when I have to stuff down what I know to be true in order to do something. Having gone through it in my marriage, the moment I get a whiff of a situation that can’t withstand the sincerity of living out loud, it screams DANGER to me. When I write or say the small things that I haven’t dared to acknowledge outside myself before but I know are real, it feels vital and like a bridge to others that will hold up because it’s true.

So where does that leave my family? I think like the father the other night, asking to tell a story is a pretty good idea. And the story the dad told was about sitting in a car with his four-year-old, not paying attention to him because he was doing something on his phone. Finally he realized that his son, who he didn’t know could read, was saying, “It says ‘Pizza Bar.’” Hearing that story reminded me not only to ask my kids if I can tell a story but also to remember that they have learned to read or soon will. My truth needs to be told without risking anyone else’s.

Walking Boldly into Truth

“Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

Last year a friend of mine realized that she was gay at 50 years of age. In the 6 months that followed her discovery, she came out to everyone significant in her life. She didn’t have a girlfriend or any other forcing function to do it, she just walked boldly into her Truth. I know that some of those conversations, especially with the older generation were hard but when I asked her about how she did it she told me she was ready to find love and hiding who she realized she was would only hinder her path.

As someone who is walking a less traditional path by having kids as a single person at age 46 and 50, I am so inspired and in awe of my friend. I remember being five months pregnant and feeling really glad I wasn’t showing because then I’d have to tell people what I was doing. (Yeah, that wasn’t going to stay hidden forever. 😊) I had told everyone close to me, but for strangers and acquaintances, I was sure they’d think I was some loser that couldn’t find a partner. Over the years it has gotten so much easier but I really had to work hard to be able to say it without fear.

I told a lifelong friend this the other day and she was surprised. “What?” she said “we just always assumed you were some super-empowered woman.” Ha, ha. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t be a whole genre of stories about heroes who spend the entirety of the middle act wandering around trying to do everything they could to pursue their path without being vulnerable. I can say with complete certainty that if the constriction around my heart hadn’t been so tight and getting tighter every time I thought of having a family and time hadn’t been running on out my ability to have or adopt children, I would still be wandering around trying to find the right husband with which to have children. Anything so as not to have to face the vulnerability of saying, “This is what I was certain I had to do even though the circumstances at that time of my life meant doing it alone. I didn’t want to rush finding the right man and in doing so, make a mess of it.”

In Harry Potter, the young witches and wizards learn to run into the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 to get to the Hogwarts Express train leaving from platform 9 3/4. We reach thresholds in our lives and need to change something — a job, a place we live, a relationship, a way of thinking or being, or something we just have to do — and they feel a lot like that brick wall. It is terrifying to consider running into, always looks easier when someone else does it, and once across, it is the place that transports to the magic life beyond. It’s only a perception that we don’t want to stand out that keeps us from walking into our Truths. When we do, we break that constriction around our hearts and can feel the full power of the vital heartbeat of life.

The postscript here is that with one year of my friend coming out, she has found her person and they’ve bought a house together. She crossed her threshhold and is living in the fullness of her life and it’s a joy and inspiration to watch!

Sliding Glass Door Moments

“Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty –
that is all you know on earth,
and all you need to know.” – John Keats

I was reading yesterday about how the English poet John Keats wrote “Ode to a Grecian Urn” while he was dying from tuberculosis at age 24. As tragic as that is for him, my mind immediately thought of his mother and how she must have felt. Clearly my becoming a mother has altered the angle from which I think about life. I’ve heard of decisions like mine to become a mother described as sliding glass moments – moments where you can see life on the other side and choose whether to open the door and cross the threshold.

I’m fascinated by our sliding glass moments because they define the major plot lines of our lives. They are the story we tell others when we first meet. I was stuck in traffic at 29-years-old and just had broken up with my boyfriend when I saw Mt. Rainier majestically sitting in front of me and decided to climb mountains. I was 39-years-old and my business partner invited me out to lunch to tell me of my husband’s infidelities and my life as I then knew it changed forever. I was 45-years-old and decided that I wanted to have kids and was willing to do it alone rather than rush a relationship that might not be right for all of us.

But as showy as those moments are, I think it’s equally telling how we live each day between them. Before my business partner told me about my husband’s infidelities I was drinking at least a bottle of wine each day trying to numb the fact that I was in a relationship I wasn’t supposed to be in. After he told me, I found meditation and the inner peace that comes with leaning towards life instead of away from it. Before I had babies I would cry hearing any story about the miracle of birth. After I had my kids, I practice my gratitude by writing at least one thing down every day for my gratitude box. If sliding glass moments are the plot lines, I think our daily habits must be the language and tone of how our stories are written.

I looked up the story of John Keats and found his dad died when he was 8-years-old and his mom died when he was 14-years-old. I imagine that his genius was in part defined by those moments and the words he wrote the way he lived each day processing them. Altogether they formed the life that brought the words to us – “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty” – and in reading those we find the echo of both in our own lives: the truth of the big moments and the beauty of our days.

I Had a Dream

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I had a dream last night that was so clear. I was scheduled to preach in a church and while I was practicing my sermon, I became so late that I couldn’t shower or even dress for the sermon. Someone called and asked “where are you?” and I had to just go on undressed, unwashed, holding my baby who was crying and preaching from the heart that “God has a plan. And if you don’t listen, you end up here, unshowered and undressed, holding your baby and living it out. God has a plan, and if you don’t hear it in the whispers, you will bow to it’s shouts. God has a plan and the only thing you have to do is get on your knees and listen.” I told the story of how I asked my beloved dad when he was 78 years old the question of how he seemed to go through life without any speed bumps and his answer was “obedience.” He told me that he at each point in his life when he was in doubt felt God’s hand guiding him and just tried to follow, sometimes hesitantly and sometimes boldly. I told the story of listening to an Oprah Soul Sunday podcast where she talked about listening to the whispers that we hear because if we don’t, the voice gets increasingly louder. I told the story of how I was practicing a sermon I’d written – but it was from the head and so circumstances forced me to show up and deliver what I knew from my heart. I pointed at my baby and said “God has a plan for him at his age” and pointed at a 93-year-old friend in the audience “and God has a plan for her at her age and for all of us in between.”

I’m neither a theologian nor a preacher – my dad was. I don’t usually remember my dreams or put great store in them. But this dream had the ring of Truth so that even in writing about it, I get a shiver of respect. It brings together many things I’ve heard over the last few months and made them fit. Bishop Michael Curry talking about “thin places” as moments when the Truth of God is somehow more apparent and accessible. Poet Nikki Giovanni talking about her belief that nothing in our lives is wasted. That “you are always taking what ingredients you are given and making what you can make. My grandmother didn’t waste. There was nothing that came into her kitchen that she didn’t find a use for. I feel the same way about experience and words.” Rev. Dr. Scott Dudley asking “How big is your God? Is he bigger than your worries?” All three of these things slot into place with the essence of this dream. That somehow all my worries – about my kids going back to school, the details of my work, the how of my life, the fears that I will never fall in love again – get packed into a manageable box. That the only thing I have to do is live into this faith that all the good, bad and the ugly fits into a plan. And there is something bigger than myself, God, that is weaving it together. All I have to do is listen.

I write this to you because I’ve struggled with this all of my life. First as a child believing without question but also without substance. Then in my 30’s not really giving faith much of a thought at all and suffering because deep down I knew there was more to life. And now in my 50’s when it seems like I am continually having a-ha moments that bring my faith, experience and the patterns of life together so that it all makes sense – to my head and my heart. I write this to you because whether you believe and feel the jolt of affirmation or don’t believe and store the words away until some time in the future when they are ripe for you, I feel it is every individual’s job to speak the Truth of their own life. Because God has a plan and all we have to do is listen.