sanitized experience

big disclosure: i don’t use anti bacterial soap. i have no issues with those who do. i respect it’s importance and place in the world and am glad it exists. i love seeing huge dispensers of it in offices and grocery stores. in rare situations i will indulge in a pump or two...when meeting new babies and their parents or visiting the hospital or ill. most often, however, i simply wash my hands well and thoroughly with lots of hot water and bubbly soap. if i’ve handled something particularly dirty or questionable i wash my hands twice as i do when i’m sick or changing diapers.

i feel good about about this. my kids were babies when the medical news was heavily peppered with cautions about protecting our immune systems so heavily with anti-bacterials and antibiotics that we could become unable to resist common germs. i took this seriously (even though i never researched it in depth) and so far, the whole consistent use of soap and water schtick has been a system that has worked for me.

my mind works in bizarre ways so i thought a lot about my feelings about anti-bacterial soap on a recent trip. i was traveling to speak and chose to add a day to give myself some writing and down time in a new city. i cherish these little pockets of time and desire to eek every second of fun, productivity, and rest out of them. looking forward to the trip, i decided ahead of time to treat my planning like i treat my hand washing: the “old fashioned” way. this meant that i would use the internet to find and book a hotel that struck my fancy (using hotel sites alone...no review sites) and to rent a car but that i would do all other aspects of the trip checking nothing out ahead of time. no review reading. no “top 10 things to do in dallas” lists to tick off. i would simply go to dallas and have an experience. my time might not end with me having eaten the perfect food or seen the most amazing site but it would be filled with getting my hands dirty experientially and relationally in a way i rarely do anymore.

when i pulled out of the rental car garage i studied the paper map that had been left for me in my car and chose a path to the hotel. i made it there without incident and stopped at a market next door where i bought local fruit and vegetables to bring back to my room. upon check in at the hotel (which i chose as a result of my not so secret love of independent hoteliers who are bringing old travel lodges back to life) i asked where, in meat and barbecue land, i might find a hearty vegetarian meal. their suggestion was amazing and, over dinner, a server on break chatted with me about other places to be sure and eat while in town. she hugged me when i left and promised to look for me when she visits oregon. 

the next morning i hesitatingly headed to the hotel’s partner restaurant, knowing it was a meat eater’s paradise. once the waiter knew i was a (cheerful and gracious) vegetarian he began filling my table with everything non-meat related he could think of. i loved this man at once and asked him what i should see if i had 24 hours in his hometown. i wrote down everything he said. that night, armed with my two server’s ideas i mapped out the hours i had allotted for exploration. 

a tire blow-out on the freeway the next morning meant i had an extra opportunity to meet a local when mike, the triple a respondee, weighed in on all things dallas. after huge thanks and a shared selfie i followed the sound of drums to a park where i met acro yoga folks who “flew”* me and found a food truck with the best grilled cheese, tomato, and jalepeno sandwich i am sure i will ever eat. across the street at the art museum i met viviene who, when i asked if she could orient me to the museum, told me to “relax and let the art minister to me” and that i “was family and that [she] hopes someone will tell her the same if she ever gets to come to portland.” later, gazing at the spot in the road where jfk was shot i looked around and witnessed people laughing while others cried and still others walked by without seeming regard for the specificity of the place. likely, these latter folks were home and walk by us tourists all the time. this felt somehow right.

in that moment, it struck me how much i had experienced without ever looking at yelp or trip advisor. i had eaten well (stupidly well), experienced connection with a variety of people (not in-depth connection but simply that of asking and listening to what they liked and thanking them), and had seen art and historic sites.  i had found my way in a new city without the help of a disembodied voice coming from my phone and as a result actually had a sense of location and space in this new place that i sometimes never have when i travel with the help of gps exclusively. on top of all of this i didn’t feel the anxiety or sadness that i sometimes feel when i’ve over-researched what to do in a city and simply don’t have the time to make it all happen. it felt beautifully rich to have simply had a dallas experience that was directed by dallas residents.  

checking out of the hotel, i gushed to the front desk staff about my trip. i told them that i had emailed them details about how wonderful i found their hotel. as i left the parking lot i realized that i had done this at each location i found to be beautiful, meaningful, or delicious by making a verbal or written effort to express gratitude and praise to the proprieters and staff who had contributed to my experiences. each time i did this the response was something like, “if you loved us, we’d love a review on trip advisor/yelp! that’s where we succeed or fail.” this struck me. it is obvious that a satisfied and thankful customer (even a gushingly grateful and expressive one) isn’t really enough for a hard working business owner anymore. they know the power of a negative review and feel a need to capture any potential positive ones. no longer can they relish in doing the work they love or feel called to or stumbled up (whatever the case may be) but now they must also run p.r. campaigns in order to ensure their longevity.

in many ways i have come to think of internet review sites as the anti-bacterial soap of our experiential lives. these sites, at the ready to direct us toward the best of everything and away from whatever others seem to deem only worthy of a star or two, keep our experiences safe and tidy. sometimes i wonder if they keep life too safe and too tidy. there are times, of course, where resources (time, money, energy, etc) are at a minimum and doing research up front is imperative and crucial. do we really, however, need to read multiple reviews before choosing each experience we have or business we frequent every day? if we do, and we fashion our days with wonderfulness curated by the reviewers who have done the experiential work of life for us, might we begin to rely on a certain “safeness?” 

sanitized experience has it’s place. it also has it’s cost. a life lived completely inside one’s comfort zones padded by the safe and seemingly reliable opinions, critiques, and reviews of others has the potential of making a life very narrow and rigid. lives lived in this way don’t build up immune systems that can respond flexibly, handle hardship, less than the best, or the “good enough.” these lives miss out on the hilarity that can ensue when the absolute wrong route is taken or the whacky restaurant chosen. these lives visit places but don’t experience them. they inhabit spaces but aren’t fully present in them. just like bodies that are used to anti-bacterial soap, the slightest speck of dirt can cause alarm and possibly even illness.  

so why not choose an adventure? it doesn’t have to be a huge one. it might be one that simply stretches you just a little. try a restaurant you know nothing about. instead of waiting to give a review online, give it in person, allowing the business to right a wrong or celebrate a success. choose a book that simply appeals to you rather than one that’s been suggested. watch a film completely outside of the genre you prefer. read or listen to a news story from a perspective that is not your own. or, go a bit further. have a day that unfolds in a place you don’t know. you don’t have to get on a plane to do this. i bet there’s a corner of your own city (or one nearby) that you’ve never wandered in. try a spin or yoga or tennis class even though you’ve never entered a gym. go to a civic/community event you know nothing about (a town hall meeting, a dance recital, a concert at a church, or book or poetry reading) and revel in the stretching that occurs. get your hands fully dirty...knowing that there’s plenty of soap and water for whatever is left that you don’t want to keep.

*to be "flown" in acro yoga is basically to have a base person support your weight while you "play" with finding balance in different poses. while my flight looked nothing like this, here is an example of my daughter flying click here


new year's resolutions (aka breathe deep. aim true.)

we’re headed into week number three of a new year. if you’re human, this likely means that you’ve been hearing, thinking, or fretting about new year’s resolutions. yours, your office mate’s, or your mother’s. those made with well intentioned planning and those chosen out of obligation to lose weight/exercise more/eat more healthy/eat less carbs/take greater control/let things go/tidy things up/make more messes...you get the drift.

over the week that wished 2014 farewell and 2015 good morning i was volunteering at a national young adult leadership conference. one of my tasks was to bring a 15 minute talk in one of the large general sessions. this, for me, was a challenge. give me an hour to tell you how gifted you are and how to discern what you are called to do and i’d be fine. to do that well in 15 minutes, however, felt impossible. at breakfast on the morning of the talk, a dear soul named amy, handed me a patch that said, “breathe deep, aim true.” amy is wise and her gift enabled me to let go of the driving need to hit the bullseye that morning. it’s message freed me to simply do my best, to aim at the target that i had agreed to. rarely can i do that when the anxiety of meeting a goal causes me to hold my breath, clench my teeth, and muscle into whatever task i’ve set for myself.  

to truly make a healthy resolution one must be purposeful and determined about a behavior, thought, or feeling to be cultivated, deepened, or extinguished. resolution making at its best is about careful evaluation regarding something to be altered and discerning choices about the best way to go about that. a hastily declared intention made at 11:50 on new years eve doesn’t count. neither does a commitment made out of guilt or shame or peer pressure unless it is canoodled on and considered and weighed and owned. to work toward achieving a resolution one must embrace struggle inside and out. to be resolute means to be admirably purposeful and determined. it does not mean to be perfect.

for change to take root, for habits to be broken and norms to be set, realistic and accessible plans must be made. contingencies put in place. grace stationed at the ready and plenty of kleenex and baby wipes for taking care of the tears and sweat involved in purposeful and determined living. change requires breathing deep and aiming true over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. expecting to hit a bullseye when you haven’t yet managed to hit the target is unrealistic at best and punitive at worst. don’t give up. recognize your progress. empathize with the part of you that thought/hoped/knew this would be easy and embrace the struggle that is change. aim, then breathe, then aim again. notice where your effort takes you and what you might alter to get ever closer to the center...the goal. tension and pressure and self talk that shames you will not get you there. instead, breathe deep and aim true. breathe deep and aim true. breathe deep. aim true. breathe deep. aim true. breathe deep. aim true.



this week i tried an experiment. i offered sanctuary. i’m sharing this experiment with you because it’s december, hopes/wishes/expectations are high, the world is moving fast, and sanctuary is hard to secure.

sanctuary is defined as “a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter.” (webster) it is home, it is safety, and it takes many forms. there are physical sanctuary spaces and there are relationships that serve as sanctuary in all the important ways. the best sanctuaries provide shelter, nourishment, and basic attendance to needs. bird sanctuaries offer places to nest, food, and protection from contextual threats. natural habitat sanctuaries keep the “unnatural” out and, at the minimum, faith based sanctuaries offer space for gathering with like minded others and the Divine. sanctuary doesn’t end there though. home can be sanctuary and so can you.

while most of you reading this have a roof over your head and food in your belly you may have never considered your place of residence as a place of protection. similarly, the thought of your self as a sanctuary for others may have never entered your mind. let’s take a minute to consider these options. 

seriously...close your eyes and consider: how could my home/car/place of business/my self be a place of protection and shelter for someone in my life?

if my self welcomes your self with grace then you are protected from judgement and given shelter from abandonment, alone-ness, and more. in listening better, attending more, and taking a few risks we might both be nurtured by the sanctuary that results.

the risk i took this week involved me opening my home as a place for retreat. i didn’t sweep or clean the sinks. i didn’t plan an elaborate menu or promise great entertainment. instead, i put out some bowls of nuts and fruit, made a simple pot of soup, lit some candles, piled blankets and heating pads by the front door and invited people who are the “givers” in my community to come and go, read or sleep, journal or stare into space, and simply just be. i asked participants to walk right in between 11 and 5, find their space, and embrace the quiet of a community of people being fed by some stillness. it was a beautiful time simply because it was. 

so often we don’t offer ourselves or our homes as sanctuary simply because we lack the vision to see that what we have is exactly enough. we don’t need better answers, more advanced social/relational skills, cleaner homes, better furniture, or catered buffets. we only need our selves and what we already have. i believe that we can always stretch what we already have without going without ourselves.

what if sanctuary is simply our full humanity being willing to welcome the full humanity of others? to love and to allow ourselves to be loved into feeling protected and nurtured and fed. what if we could offer sanctuary with a simple look, an honest word intentionally stated, or by sharing something we have that others might need? what if we allowed enough to be enough as we do so rather worrying that our offering needs to be perfect, extreme, or given without awkwardness? who cares about awkwardness when you are offering something as sacred as sanctuary. it’s bound to feel risky when our whole messy humanity gets offered up to the complex humanity of others in order to extend nurturance and safety and welcome. 

if you’re up for the risk, i’ve assembled a small list of ways you  might offer sanctuary in the coming days. i’m sure you have ideas too and i would love to hear them. if we each took even one small swing at this challenge, we might just change the world (while changing ourselves).

ways of offering “sanctuary” (from the easiest/least costly to more difficult/involved/more costly):

smile at the grocery checker. ask them about their day. genuinely listen to their answer.

look into the eyes of someone in your home/work place/church/volunteer organization/classroom and tell them one thing that you appreciate about them. don’t make it a joke.

have a conversation with someone where you listen 90% of the time and talk only 10%. resist the urge to give answers, turn the conversation to yourself, or “fix” the person you are with.

greet the poor and disenfranchised, or just “different,” among you with a smile and eye to eye contact when you encounter or pass them on the street. a “hi” wouldn’t hurt either.

if you drive kids around a lot as part of your normal routine, turn your car into a place of rest (name it something like “the calm cab”). buy small (cheap) battery operated tea light candles, travel with relaxing (but interesting) music or recorded books, and set an ambiance of quiet and rest. try some car yoga and deep breathing.

gather the change from your purse or car (or get some when shopping) and drop it into the bucket of the salvation army bell ringer when you arrive at or depart from a store. thank them for their work.

if you end up having to call customer service, work hard to make the encounter a positive one and then ask to be transferred to the phone agent’s manager in order to commend them on the great service.

carry a small stickie note pad. leave a note on the public bathroom mirror thanking the person who cleans the bathroom or stick one on your mug before putting it in the “bus your own” bin at the coffee shop, thanking the dishwasher.

rake your neighbor’s leaves/shovel your neighbor’s snow.

write a note/email/text to someone who has experienced a loss during the past year. tell them that you remember and that you care. resist the desire to offer platitudes and offer nothing but empathy and love instead.

use side walk chalk to leave encouraging notes on the sidewalk or on the ground by peoples’ car doors.

carry $5 coffee or fast food gift cards to give to those who can’t afford a hot drink on a cold day.

purchase the drink of the person behind you in line.

bring store bought goodies to the people who work at your local trash department, post office, fire department, etc. (they often can’t accept home made food items) with a note of gratitude.

go to a pet store and use the self serve machine to make a dog tag with a message such as “you matter.” place it on a ribbon or simple chain and give it to someone who needs this reminder with the instructions for them to pass it on when they find someone who needs it as much as, or more than, them.

surprise someone with a meal. drop it off with a smile and simple note that says “save the time you would have used to make your dinner and use it to stare into space, listen to music, read a book, etc.” even a simple loaf of bread, container of soup (or can of soup), a bag of salad, and some apples will do to make someone feel loved.

offer to do the laundry for someone in your life who is stretched thin. pick it up, take it home to wash and dry it, and return it the following day folded.

offer to watch someone’s children or ailing parents for an hour or two. if you have the resources, give the person you’re relieving money for coffee, a meal out, or a movie.

open your home (even if it’s messy, the dishes are dirty, or you wish it were better appointed...it’s the ultimate gift of comfort to invite others to encounter you as you truly are). light candles, offer simple food (even popcorn and water works), and provide space for people to retreat or connect. it isn’t what you serve or the decor you serve it around that will provide sanctuary for people. neither is it the intricate theme or event you plan to entertain. rather, it’s the opportunity to authentically connect with real people and our selves that speaks deeply. real people have sanctuaries that aren’t perfect and we all long to interact in honesty with our real selves invited to the table.


relational fire setting (ferguson, facebook, and fire safety)

it’s been a little more than twelve hours since the grand jury in ferguson missouri announced their conclusion and there are fires everywhere. actual fires burning in and around the city (and elsewhere) and relational fires burning everywhere.

it is important to be aware that our words can be like sparks. they fall upon ears connected to hearts and minds where our language starts relational fires all the time. 

in a time when throwing words into wide open spaces is easier and farther reaching than ever, it is important to be mindful of the impact of what proceeds from our lips and our finger tips. in a culture where delaying is rare and impulsive commenting a national pass time we are constantly throwing sparks into the wind. because the ears that our words reach often exist in living rooms and coffee shops and homes far removed from the ones in which we sit it’s become far too easy to fail to consider the tinder we are throwing sparks toward. 

when building a bonfire at the beach or a camp fire in the woods we are told to survey the area, to prepare and light the fire with intention, to consider the size and scope of the fire relative to the setting, and to have what we need to put the fire out before we light it. lighting a fire without the right conditions can be futile or dangerous. either it just won’t work or it runs the risk of burning out of control, of spreading, of becoming dangerous.

what might our discourse today look like if we used the same caution? if we thought first (and long and hard) then crafted well constructed comments to be placed with intention out in the world? if we tended these comments with caution and care for everyone around the fire in mind (as opposed to caring only for our own safety or escape plane)?

physical fires are not the only dangerous ones. relational burns can be every bit as destructive. fire is a beautiful gift and unfathomable tool. i am spending my day praying, intending, and hoping that we will use the fire of our words respectfully, empathically, mindfully, and with love which is the way that all super powers are best engaged.


finding your ten minutes (sh*t still & other ideas)

research out of university of virginia this past summer found that a majority of individuals asked to spend between six and fifteen minutes in a room alone with no stimuli chose to administer a light electrical shock to themselves over having no stimulation at all. this may seem extreme but it really doesn’t surprise me at all. 
as a person who has become hyper-aware of our cultural dependence upon technology, media, and digital devices, i notice this phenomenon all the time. from where i sit it seems as though we are increasingly uncomfortable when we find ourselves alone, still, quiet, or in any other number of what we might consider to be under-stimulated states. notice any group of people standing in line, waiting for their table at a restaurant, or sitting just about anywhere alone and you will likely see a phone or two (or ten). as a people we would rather do just about anything other than wait in an open and receptive posture. so, instead, we surf, search, read, comment, post, and tweet. 

the conundrum we’ve created for ourselves is profound. we are uncomfortable with stillness of mind/heart/body so we don’t require it of ourselves. consequently, the less we practice being bored, quiet, and still the less capacity we have to handle these states of being. in no time, we have developed the habit of distracting ourselves and any ability we did have to tolerate boredom (otherwise known as “open and receptive states of mind and body”) has atrophied due to under-use.

this cycle will not stop itself. 

neither will it be easy to reverse.

it is, however, worth it to try.

ten minutes a day is all it takes to double the grey matter in the regions of your brain related to emotional regulation and self control. while the participants in the research that brought us this finding were engaged in mindfulness meditation (much like contemplative prayer) for those ten minutes, i am convinced that even letting our minds wander in non-judgmental ways, or being still and quiet while soaking in the surroundings, or any number of other self directed experiences might have similar effects. 

there is an immense amount of freedom in finding ourselves able to entertain, stimulate, soothe, and regulate. being dependent upon a device for these things leaves us, well, dependent. finding ten minutes to do so could, quite literally, change our lives. it could increase our creativity, lead to greater cardiac health, open doors to calmness and internal peace, grow our capacity for empathic, authentic connection to others and more.

finding our ten minutes need not be a challenge. here are some places to grab them back from:

time spent waiting in line.
time spent mindlessly surfing facebook, youtube, twitter (or any other number of sites).
time spent watching the binge watching the third (or tenth) episode of that favorite show.
time spent at red lights or stuck in traffic (turn off the radio and leave your phone in the trunk).
time spent waiting for your coffee/to go/meal order to be prepared.
time spent waiting for a friend.
at a meal (or coffee date) you take yourself out to...alone. with no book or phone.
on a walk where you leave your phone behind.
on a silent sit where you sit someplace in public for 10 minutes and do nothing but look up and around.
at a library or museum where you can be quietly with others.
time spent in the bathroom. (a very creative university administrative staff person (yes, that’s you chett!!) recently suggested, after hearing that students tweet from the toilet at one of my talks, that we start “sh*t still: a contemplative movement of people committed to quiet potty time.” i could not agree with him more!!!)
time spent lying in bed before or after sleep. (i recently saw an art print that said something like “you’re the person i want to lie next to and look at my phone.” ugh...)

phone free time can change us. it can empower us to know ourselves and our abilities to live in the world. it can make us squirm and make us grow. it is worth the effort and it is possible. it will feel odd at first. and we might fumble and look foolish and feel even more strange than we look. anything worth doing is worth doing awkwardly and this is worth doing.

so, i challenge you, find your ten minutes and fumble through it with awkward empowering strange and fulfilling confidence. the pay off just might astound you.


relational thanks giving

it’s been a full fall. travel, speaking engagements, and an ability to stretch whatever is left in the fridge has meant that i haven’t done a real grocery shopping trip in several weeks. the farm stand nearby has provided plenty of produce and we’ve just made due without every thing else. this week, however, i am home and i’m ready to stock up, to fill my fridge and freezer, and to make soup. lots and lots of soup. so, tonight, i went to the store. several of them actually. and...i am stunned. the holidays, it seems, are now “officially sponsored” by a gazillion brands touting pumpkin this, matzo that, and peppermint everything to make “your holiday table complete.” end caps overflow with “holiday favorites” and “frozen” themed cereal/fruitsnacks/hotchocolate/andeverythingelse (all “stocking stuffer approved”). pumpkin marshmallows, power bars, and chips (yes...they exist...pumpkin chips) promise to “elevate your thanksgiving table.” menorahs, christmas lights, and ornaments sit happily next to the thanksgiving table decorations (which are now on clearance) and everything everywhere seems to scream “BUY THIS AMAZINGLY THEMED FOOD/DRINK/GIFT/DECORATION TO MAKE YOUR HOLIDAY GATHERING PERFECT.” 

ladies and gentlemen, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday GATHERING and, if there were, you certainly would not find the elements for it at a store.

this is a stressful time of year for many. expectations are high. romanticized notions of family and celebration are before us everywhere. time is short and calendars are full. the options are hyper-plentiful (roast your own organic pumpkin and make your own pastry for pumpkin pie, order one from the bakery, buy frozen crusts and canned pumpkin, buy pre-made crusts but use fresh pumpkin, buy a frozen pie?) gone are the days of a few cut flowers on the thanksgiving table which held turkey and gravy, potatoes, stuffing, and cranberries. oh, and, green bean casserole.

the family that i married into holds a large thanksgiving potluck every year. the first year that i attended, my stress level was high. i was a novice cook from an urban home heading out to the country to contribute a dish to a table full of delicacies made by generations of from-scratch cooks. these were folks who grew their own gardens and made their own grape juice. they canned and dehydrated and baked bread. i wanted to be embraced by these magees who, i assumed, had never bought a convenience food mix of any kind. i wanted to contribute something hearty and wholly homemade to their feast so i went to work peeling potatoes, toasting home made bread crumbs, going from store to store trying to find fresh herbs (this was 1987 when grocery stores showed no evidence of herbs other than in the dry good area). i made my own stock and bought butter from a local dairy. i stayed up cooking most of the night before thanksgiving and woke up early that morning to finish. hours later i entered the gathering with pans of home made mashed potatoes and stuffing, a raging headache, and feeling like i might either cry or throw up if anyone looked at, let alone talked to, me. exhausted and nervous, i was giving my husband the silent treatment simply because it was his family i was trying so hard to impress. as the day went on and a few kind family members complimented me on my stuffing (which was soggy, overly salted, and passable at best) i began to relax enough to eat. by that time my offerings were gone so i helped myself to a heaping plate of the stuffing and mashed potatoes that grandma herself had made. they tasted, as i expected they would, amazing. i went back for more and, low and behold, learned from grandma herself that both had come fresh from boxes. “oh goodness,” grandma said, “i don’t have time for all that work on thanksgiving. not when everyone is coming over. this stuff (pointing to the boxes in the pantry) works just fine.” this wisdom will stick with me forever. i had made assumptions about what was important for this particular family time (from scratch cooking) and had missed the mark all together. what was most important to the magees was the togetherness and my misdirected effort left me largely unavailable for that.

where we put our time and energy, our forethought and intentions, our hearts and even our money, matters. it matters not because there is judgement or punishment awaiting us if we spend them “incorrectly” but, instead, because these expenditures shape us. i am not, by nature or practice, a cook. by trying to present myself as one i profoundly shaped the experience i had 27 years ago. working for the “wow, you really outdid yourself!” and “you fit in with all of us kitchen savvy magees” caused me to miss the opportunity to share myself authentically. in some ways, i didn’t bring what i really, most meaningfully, am meant to bring to the “table.” 

what do you have to contribute to the potluck that is november and december? retail establishments of all kinds will tell you that, whatever it is, it is not enough. they’ll suggest (in passive and active ways) that you “need” to supplement whatever you’ve got with an unending variety of items, large and small (take, for instance, the pilgrim/colored leaf/turkey/corn husk name card holders i saw this evening). the not-so-subtle messages are, “what you’ve got isn’t enough. more is better. in every way possible. every. single. time.” 

these are lies.

you are made to bring something specific to the community of which you are a part. if you haven’t found that community yet i know that there is one out there for you within which you play a unique role (i’d also love to help you find it). grandma magee knew that her role was to create the space and welcome people. the potatoes and stuffing were add ons. my role was to be a dodgen in the midst of magees...bringing a different kind of energy, connection, and “doreen-ness” to the family gatherings. 

what do you best bring and what might you be tempted to bring that is so far outside of your authentic gifting that it will keep you from being present? if your gift takes the form of creating ambiance and space, then, by all means, decorate. if it is cooking, do that part. perhaps your gift isn’t one that retail circulars address. maybe you haven’t even seen it as “bringable” but, when we think about it, aren’t listening and asking questions or playing the ukelele or leading the charge for a post meal game or walk or song fest all gifts? even the introverted community member plays an important part, holding the peaceful and deeply internal balance of the group. the bottom line is, if each of us were to confidently offer that which we were made to bring, our gatherings would be richer, heartier, more unique, diverse, and mult-faceted than what any picture perfect holiday table depiction could offer. culture, history, and tradition tell us that the perfect turkey is key but that simply isn’t so. the most important part of your gathering may have nothing to do with turkeys or food or even a set table.

knowing where, as fredrick buechner says best, “our great gladness meets the needs of the world” provides an incredibly important spotting point as we head into the part sprint/part marathon of the holiday months. it can free us from wheel spinning, unrewarding, fruitless, and sometimes actually harmful ambitious effort and empower us to contribute boldly.

so, this year, in a world that tells us that only the “more-than-full-meal/house/event/gathering-deal”  will do, i challenge us to open some boxes, add water, set the dish on the table and proceed to give the most meaningful potluck offering possible...that of yourself.


why dorothy left kansas & jack climbed the bean stalk

i have never been accused of taking things too lightly. never. i love depth and intensity and crave meaningful experiences. i hear patterns, themes, and the unconscious and have an active imagination. it’s who/how i am. sometimes it’s all a bit much inside my head. 

when i played dorothy in my college’s production of wizard of oz i spent a lot of time wondering why dorothy would leave kansas. if it was her unconscious mind that took her to oz in her dreams, what existed in her conscious experience that drove her away? i looked for answers in her dialogue and read a variety of versions of the story to master the character. sure there were solos to perfect, dances to learn, fellow actors in tin and fur and straw to create chemistry with but what really interested me was why dorothy left “home.” especially a settled, peaceful, kansas home which smacks of security and warmth

recently i saw ashland shakespeare company’s production of into the woods which is an all time favorite theater piece for me. in it, stephen sondheim has created a world in which the capricious wishes of fairy tale characters are carried beyond mere fulfillment to places of reality and consequence. cinderella finds the prince’s charming ways to have a narcissistic edge previously unnoticed. rapunzel pays a horrific price for escaping the tower her mother has locked her within. the baker loses it all to find a role he has no idea how to fill and the tidy, familiar home under jack’s beanstalk becomes much less compelling once he’s met the “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful giants in the sky.” wishes, it seems, come complete with entire sets of experiences that we can never anticipate.

if elements of truth can be culled from insightful fiction, it seems worthwhile to wonder, why dorothy might long to leave the warm home of auntie em and fairy tale characters make wishes that ultimately alienate them from their light hearted stories? why do they, and so many of us, long to leave the security of the familiar for the world of the unknown? if civilization provides us structure, what is it about the woods that calls to us all?

there is so much at stake in departures from the familiar. so many “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful” possibilities in departing the homes (both real and symbolic) that we have built for ourselves and stepping into the unknown. so often the new, bright, adventures bring with them heart ache and longing and sometimes even death. even if “only” the death of innocence. and yet, we still take the risk.

at our core, i believe, is a curiosity about the worlds that exist outside of our familiar ones, the “woods” on the outskirts of our comfortable “homes” (selves). the spaces we inhabit in our embodied lives grow black and white, mundane, ordinary, or harmful over time and we long for the color, redemption, and grace of new places. we want fresh starts, adventure, release, healing or freedom. we crave something “more.” or at least “different.” we flirt with the unknown, the slightly edgy for us, possibly dangerous, usually enticing, brighter colors of the unfamiliar. sometimes we idealize these places of newness. sometimes we see them just as they are and choose them anyway. we are all suckers for experience. we were made that way. we want, at root, to feel, to experience goose bumps, and to escape the dull flat lands of our lives. even if only for a while.

with the amazing transporting capabilities of the internet and near constant access we have to it, we have more opportunities for escape than ever. wish for something to look at that’s more colorful than your embodied “black and white” reality? find it online. wish for relationships not bound by the constraints of how you look (or don’t look), your communication anxieties or shortcomings, or the limits of time and space? find them in digital spaces. feeling bored? watch something. surf the web. escape into video games. scour facebook. feeling sexually deprived? find some porn. want to eat out? use the web to find exactly what you want/expect/have had a million times before. unmotivated to set goals to get you out of the slump you’re in? don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

i have come to believe that there is a digital oz for every embodied kansas, a “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful” cyber woods for every tangible (small) space we inhabit.

we escape when we are bored, tired, and lonely. hungry for god knows what we look to the internet to fill us up. there is a youtube video, a reddit article, a website, a game, an app, an instagram/tumblr/etsy feed waiting to transport each of us out of the known spaces we inhabit and into the world of our wishes. we seek relationships, self improvement, possessions, experiences, and places online like famished athletes after a race. we’re so tired of the ordinary (the ruts, pitfalls, mundane, predictable) and so desirous of something anything different and it’s so easy to find in spaces where accountability means nothing. 

the trouble is that in the finding we sometimes stumble across places, images, behaviors, and people that may not be healthy for us. titillating? yes. life affirming? no. captivating? no doubt. emotionally and intellectually “nutritious?” not so much. and all the while our embody-able spaces go un-explored and under-tended. while we are developing empty habits, we are also neglecting the physical spaces we live in. if kansas is good for family and wheat fields but neither are looked after, why spend time there? especially when there’s so much life in oz.

far be it from me to say digital spaces should be avoided. moderation, not abstinence, is my gig. mindless consumption and overuse, however, are a different story. i know these places and ways. i’ve been there. after seasons of ridiculously late nights resulting from boredom or worry (or any other number of emotional states) i’ve received packages in the mail from half.com that i don’t remember ordering. i’ve “stumbled upon” long past the five or ten minutes i’ve budgeted to do so. i’ve binge watched netflix and indulged stupid curiosities that have not contributed to happiness (if only i were taller and thinner and not every single way that i am). while oz is exciting, it comes with risks and consequences and some of them aren’t easily undone in the kansas’ in which we live.

so let’s explore the woods...take a trip to oz. let’s just do this with our eyes wide open and with a plan in place that is driven by life-nurturing norms not empty habits. let’s visit the embodied places of awkward, unknown, “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, [and] wonderful” at least as often as we do the digital ones. let’s dip our toes in the water we can sensually feel every time we take a shower in cyber space and as our digital lives become increasingly a part of our real lives may we never lose touch with what it means to embody our selves.