Letting go …

HandsLast week, I drove to my son’s apartment to help him move out after completing his undergraduate work at college. On the way home, I stopped in front of his freshman dorm and spent a few minutes looking at the window where he spent that first year away from home.

   I remembered sitting there four years earlier after dropping him off for the first time, looking at that same window and wondering what was going to happen to him. Feeling like I was abandoning him, even though I knew that wasn’t the case at all. Maybe, it was more a feeling of losing a part of myself.

   Such powerful feelings! And I felt them again when I dropped my daughter off at a different college two years later.

   Those feelings have been refreshed the last few weeks. Friends have posted about their tough moments when they took their children to preschool and left them for the first time, or took them to first grade, or to their freshman year in high school, dropped them off for that first year of college, drove them to the airport so they could start their career in the service.

   So hard when you walk away! Those moments bring a tear to our eyes and send a shiver through our souls, don’t they?

  Have you experienced this? What did you feel when you dropped them off? A discomforting sense of change in your life? Maybe a feeling of helplessness? A disappointment that you wouldn’t be there with them as they have new experiences, some good and some frightening?

   Part of it, perhaps, is that we realize they are no longer so much in our hands as in the hands of someone else. And that scares us.

   We drop them off, and they’re in the hands of others who can inspire them and care for them _ if they so choose. Will they choose to care as deeply for them as we do? Will they listen to them and dote on them and pay attention to them the way we’ve done all these years? Will they love and care for them as if they are their own children?

   As I asked those questions, the questions turned back on me.

   I realized that there are other parents hoping that I will love and care for their children just as much as they do. There are so many moments every day when someone else’s child is in my hands. Do I recognize this? Do I choose to see them and love them that way?

   In reality, our hands are never empty, even when it feels like we’re letting go of someone so special to us. As we open our hands, we find them filled with so many others _ others’ children, others’ parents, others’ brothers and sisters. And we have to choose.

   Will we treat them with the same love and care that we give to our own children? Will we treat everyone as family?

   Always, we have so many others in our hands. And that’s a joy and a challenge. Our hands are never empty, and we are never on our own.

   We’re always in the hands of Someone else. Someone who is always encouraging us to open our hands and let others in.

Giving words their power

Words   We’ve spent the last few days recalling the anniversary of the March on Washington and listening again to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. talk so powerfully about his dream of a land that is full of love and free of hatred. Stirring words. Inspiring words. Spirit-infused words. We’re also reminded that they’re only words until they produce action. 
   It’s one thing to be inspired when we hear something, another thing to respond to the inspiration and to do something.
   Powerful words play a big role in our lives, challenging us and  leading us. God is love. Love one another. Be compassionate. Love your enemies. Whatsoever you do to the least. Your brother‘s keeper. An instrument of your peace. Give to all. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Blessed are the poor. All men are created equal. The common good. Government of, by and for the people. I have a dream. Be the change. Make justice a reality for all God‘s children.
   Those and so many other words inspire us to raise our lives and our world to new heights. But they remain words until we commit ourselves to live them. Then they acquire real power.
   Change starts with the moment we invite the Spirit that inspires and infuses those powerful words to get inside of us.
   The civil rights leaders had a lot of experience with this. They encountered many people who liked the words, but weren’t willing to act upon them or sacrifice for them. The words produced a temporary, good feeling, but left no lasting mark.
   When the Rev. King was in a jail in Birmingham, Ala., he wrote about this reluctance to live the words. He hoped that white churches would join the movement to ensure that every person is treated as an equal child of God. Instead, many of them resisted. And, as he put it, “all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”
   They wouldn’t let the words reach their souls.
   The Rev. King greatly admired Gandhi and emulated his way of nonviolent protest. During his campaign in India, Gandhi told a gathering of students that they had “reached almost the end of our resources in speech-making, and it is not enough that our ears are feasted, but it is necessary that our hearts have got to be touched and … our hands and feet have got to be moved.”
   Inspiration is wonderful. Action is what‘s needed.
   Which brings each of us back to that moment of decision. When we hear the powerful words, do we nod and feel inspired for a moment, only to go back to doing what we’ve done all along? Or do we let the words get inside of us and change us so that we can bring change to the world?
   Do we empower those powerful words?


What a wonderful world

One day this summer, I finished jogging at dusk and stood in the backyard for a little while, cooling down and enjoying the evening. Our backyard faces a park. I could see magical lightning bugs rising from the ground and taking flight, blinking as they went. A breeze cooled me and made the leaves of the nearby trees rustle. Hundreds _ thousands? _ of crickets and other insects began to fill the night with their song. A family of bats darted overhead. Soon, countless stars became visible against the darkening sky, little beacons that have given us inspiration, direction and a sense of place in our universe from our very beginning.

Everything felt so saturated with Life! What a wonderful world, huh?

Some folks refer to such moments as transcendent moments, times when we escape the everydayness of our lives and experience the overwhelming magic and miracle that is all around us and within us. We allow ourselves to get caught up in God’s handiwork. We sense our place in a creation that is so amazing. And we feel grateful to be part of it.

Those moments aren’t confined to nature. An inspiring story, a special song, a painting that touches us, the look in another’s eye that resonates _ all are moments of this amazing grace.

Sometimes, I’ll go days and weeks without looking up at the stars _ too bad, huh? Those God-soaked moments are always there for us. We just need to recognize them and choose to experience them.

What provides those special moments for you? Where are your sacred places? What do they make you experience and feel?

Some others’ thoughts:

“I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with redwood trees.” — Anne Lamott

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God.” — Anne Frank

“I have watched the sun rise and set on the ocean, many oceans, across many seasons. I’ve watched the water by starlight, marveling at the fluorescent green breakers at midnight. Watched it in the heat of the day. Listened to its crashing roar that I love so much. … It reminds me of the power of God’s creation, and nobody has to explain it to me.” — Amy Grant, “Mosaic”

“And if you would know God, be not therefore a solver of riddles.
Rather, look about you and you shall see him playing with your children
And look into space, you shall see him walking in the cloud,
Outstretching his arms in the lightning and descending in the rain.
You shall see him smiling in the flowers, then rising and waving his hands in the trees.” — Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”

“When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.” — Gandhi

“I see skies of blue, clouds of white
Bright blessed days, dark sacred nights
And I think to myself: What a wonderful world!” — Louis Armstrong


Always a possibility for joy

There‘s a television show on Monday nights called “Castle.” It’s about a mystery writer named Richard Castle who helps New York City homicide detective Kate Beckett solve tough cases. Beckett became a police officer in part because her mother, a community activist, was murdered and the case was never solved.

In one episode, Castle notices that Beckett keeps a stick figure in the top drawer of her desk at the precinct. And it’s very odd-looking. The sticks that form the limbs don’t match. The head looks like one of those football-shaped coin purses. All of it appears to be held together by dried, gnarly seaweed and twine.

Castle wants to know the story behind the stick figure. Beckett tells how on the day of her mother’s funeral, her father noticed she was very sad and took her to Coney Island. They walked along the beach in their funeral clothes for a long time, and it became a special time for both of them. At one point, they gathered items that had washed up on the beach and made the stick figure.

So, why does she keep it in her desk drawer?

“He’s a reminder,” Beckett says, “that even on the worst days, there is a possibility for joy.”

I love Beckett’s stick figure. It reminds me that joy isn’t so much a feeling as it is an attitude or an outlook. And, ultimately, a choice. In a sense, we make our joy, just like Beckett and her father made the stick figure.

Joy can touch any moment, if we choose to allow it.

If we define joy as that soaring feeling we get when things go exactly the way we wished they would, we won’t have much joyfulness in our lives. Those moments are few and fleeting.

Joy is different. It involves stepping outside the moment and seeing the big picture. Recognizing grace working all around us, in us and through us. Being thankful for our place in an amazing creation. Reminding ourselves that we’re loved unconditionally and endlessly just as we are.

And loving back.

Love is the twine that holds the stick man together. By loving others, we create joy for them and for us. And because we can always choose to love, there is always a possibility for joy.

Have you had some of those Beckett moments when someone helped bring joy out of your pain? Can joy and pain co-exist? What helps you create joy in your life?

What do you think?
Stick figure