how to honor a life lost too soon

in what is sure to be a week filled with media coverage surrounding last week’s mall and school shootings, it is important to make some decisions. these decisions, when converted to commitments to yourself, have the power to help you and the world.

this is likely going to be a hard week to move through. holiday music will be interspersed with news updates including information about the perpetrators and grisly details of how the impacted individuals died. this morning, in one such update, the news of the first funerals in connecticut was peppered with references to how many times the child had been shot. 

this kind of information does not help us.

this kind of information does not honor the life of the child who has been lost.

the power is in your hands this week to chose life with all it’s rich, difficult, complexities or to chose a powerless stuckness of sorts. it does not benefit the residents of the affected communities to ruminate on the tragedies that have occurred. it does not honor one’s life to focus on how one died.

unless you are actively working to determine more effective safety systems for shopping malls or schools, you are a coroner, you are a first responder who needs to work through your own trauma, or you are working to affect gun control laws or services for the individuals struggling with psychiatric disorders that make them prone to instability and violent behavior you will likely be more negatively impacted than positively helped by consuming alot of detailed news this week.

the individuals who died last week at the hands of gunmen were people with lives that i’m guessing were normal, extraordinary, interesting, unique, boring, and complex. instead of spending our time thinking about the way in which they died, let’s remember them for that...for having lived. for having been on this earth in their own crazy, unique, individual ways. for having mattered to those around them. 

so, when you feel tempted to ruminate on details, when you feel as though your heart might break for the families of those who are grieving, when you feel tempted to hold on to your own children (or mothers or brothers or husbands or friends) because you fear that they, too, could be taken at any moment, try to engage in life. breathe deeply, do something active to give voice to your hurt and sadness, love someone specifically and with wreckless abandon, journal, celebrate the life of someone important to you, write a letter, turn up the music and weep or dance or yell, pray, talk with someone that helps you feel better, and, mostly live. it’s the most potent way to honor the lives of those whose opportunity to do so has been taken.


when children are murdered

when children are killed everything feels wrong in the world. and it is.

twice this week, irrational acts of violence have taken lives in public places where murder should never happen. not that murder should happen anywhere at all. in both cases, children were impacted. some by bullets that took life or left scars and some by visions and experiences creating invisible scars deep inside the soul. 

it is not only the children at clackamas town center in oregon or at sandy hook elementary school in connecticut that will have to struggle to come to terms with what they have witnessed. because of a constantly connected population, it is nearly every child today who will see images and over-hear conversations that will likely trouble them and lead to disorienting questions about why such tragedies occur.

for this reason, and so many others, i beg of you to have self control when “consuming” the media. both today and in the future. both when you are alone and when you are with others. especially children. seriously.

some will say that staying in near constant touch with a trauma and it’s unfolding details helps people gain “mastery” over situations that are frightening and out of ones’ control. still others will offer that a deep sense of empathy can result from taking in the immensity and pain of a trauma by flooding onesself with visual and written accounts of the event. i’m not sure i support either claim.

i find that staring at a screen, gobbling up gory details, past the point where the basic facts are given typically leads people to feel powerless, paralyzed, angry, and scared. none of these responses help ones own internal sense of stability nor the internal worlds of those around them. passive consumption does nothing.

active processing, however, helps. talking about what has happened, in appropriate ways with appropriate people, gets it out of our heads and into a space where we can share the burden. answering the questions that children have with just what they’ve asked for (no more or less) makes them feel empowered to ask about that which unnerves them without the secondary trauma of being given information they aren’t ready for. being open to wondering with yourself, with God, and with others about why pain exists and how you, as someone outside the trauma, might be able to help soothe the hurt that exists in the world. mr. rogers once said, “whatever is mentionable is manageable.” if you are paralyzed with fear (or rage or sadness) you are not likely to “mention” this in ways that it can be worked with and through. the children and more vulnerable people in your life will see this. you and your entire community need to be able to mention that which is upsetting (in appropriate ways) and then move to active ways of working through.

talk about what’s bothering you, ask others what is bothering them, listen, draw a picture, run as fast as you can around the block, take some deep breaths, pray, write a letter to someone you know who has faced a loss in the recent past and who could use you reaching out to them, hammer some nails, jump some rope, pound some clay, cry, yell, and then...sing, hug someone, tell someone they matter to you, give your lunch to the homeless guy you passed on the way to the restaurant, go give blood, keep breathing, keep praying, keep talking. just, whatever you do, don’t just sit reading/watching the news paralyzed by the tragedy. that is no way to to live and certainly no way to honor the loss of life you are reading about.

as a person who has lost loved ones (including children) to murder i will tell you, the press wants the story. traumatized witnesses and communities want details in order to make sense of what has occurred. everyone else buzzes with anxious sadness that is palpable. just look at how social media has “lit up” today. 

when children are murdered...when anyone is murdered...they don’t need to be remembered by their deaths. their family members and loved ones don’t want the trauma surrounding their loss to be what is held on to. death by murder is such an ugly reality to try to wrap ones head around. so...today...right now...get the smallest amount of information you need then get moving. loving. living. empathically. lovingly. in ways that honor the lives of those whose lives were cut short.


gifts of another sort

i recently struck up a conversation with the kind gentleman accepting my returns at target. it was a bizarre transaction since i was exchanging 16 sports bras for a cart full of paper products. when you volunteer for a theater company you just never know what you’re going to be buying and bringing back. i thanked him profusely as he patiently scanned in the bar code of each bra, checking it against my receipt. he seemed surprised at the gratitude, which made me feel sad. come to find out, it’s rare for customers to exercise their freedom to give feedback when things are going well. “typcially,” he said, “the only time anyone comments on our customer service is when they find it lacking.” 

i thought about this all day. isn’t it grievously true that too often we save our comments for complaining? we may enjoy seven fantastic meals and only think to actually talk about the one we hated. we’re quick to return our “not quite to the perfect temperature” latte and yet never think to look into our barista’s eyes to thank them for doing the job they do. we enjoy clean bathrooms yet look away when those that make them so are pulling their cart in or out of the door and we only ask to speak to the manager when we are dissatisfied.

i am making a commitment to give comments of another sort this month. when i speak with a customer service rep of any kind on the phone and they simply engage with me efficiently, i’m asking to be transferred to their manager so that i can sing their praises. i’m taking 60 seconds to fill out comment cards and list peoples’ names that have helped me. when a manager is present i’m walking over to them and pointing at the amazing clerk and saying, “fantastic job you did hiring that wonderful person there! way to go!” i’m looking the person who pumps my gas (we can’t pump our own in oregon...i know...weird...) in the eye and saying, “what you do matters. thank you so much!” and i’m leaving notes and tips in my hotel rooms thanking those that clean and tidy. 

i am determined to give gifts that matter and gifts that last. gifts that are loud and bold enough to counter the criticisms usually spoken with little regard for their lasting effects. for gifts of graciousness build up and grow into graciousness in return.


x ray vision

i’ve spent some time, recently, with a few people who would fit into the category that our world calls “beautiful.” while i am personally connected to these particular individuals by blood, love, and history, it is shocking to me to witness how often it is their physical appearance that gains them recognition in the eyes of others. “you’re so beautiful,” literally spills from peoples’ mouths upon introduction. wide eyed stares mark awkward pauses. a few times people have actually commented to me about the gorgeousness of my companions as though: a) the “object of beauty” weren’t present and hearing the conversation or b) i somehow deserved credit for being associated with such stunning attractiveness. if it weren’t so surprising to me, i would have a comeback and if i did, it would sound something like this:

“i know! (insert name) is really beautiful. it’s shocking to me, however, that you saw it so quickly. typically graciousness and determination take time to uncover. honesty reveals itself in similarly slow and methodical ways. intelligence and character can’t be detected by the human eye and humility is rarely revealed upon simply learning ones’ name. to be honest, so little about beauty can be seen. at least beauty that is solid. and grounded. and deep. you are brilliant to be so perceptive! i’m amazed!”

beauty that resides in the external only is just a part of a persons’ story. i feel sad both for those who are seen as having this gift and for those who are seen as lacking it. the former leave encounters with the world feeling as though their externals are what matter most, fearing a loss of their most-important-to-the-world gift with each inevitable imperfection that comes with being human. the latter, however, feel marginalized, are often over (or at least under) “looked,” and feel compelled to find compensatory methods of making a positive first (that leads to lasting) impression.

in this system, everyone loses.

social psychology tells us that people tend to settle in friend groups and partnerships with individuals who they find similar in physical attractiveness to themselves. for example, individuals who perceive themselves a “7,” so to speak, on the american “1-10” scale of attractiveness, tend to associate with individuals they see as falling in the “5-8” range. they wouldn’t want to risk dipping too far down into the scale and losing some of their own attractiveness by being closely associated with someone too far “below” them and they don’t want any 10s around to reveal their lack.

does this bother anyone else?

while i’m sure that my blind spots are as big as anyone else’s, i see physical appearance as being only one small part of what makes a person beautiful and compelling to associate ones’ self with. scales that refer to externals only can do no justice to the intentions of the heart, the brilliance of the mind, the creativity of an individual, or the complexity that drives them.

i wish we all had x ray vision. not the kind that every teen age boy seeks with dime store glasses that promise to “see” through clothing. the kind, instead, that sees past the externals and into the being of those with whom we share space. the kind that waits to make judgements about beauty until there are substantive reasons to do so that don’t leave the externally beautiful feeling objectified and the externally less-than-beautiful feeling left out. vision that sees flaws (in ones’ self and others) as part of what makes a person unique and interesting. vision that tends toward noticing what makes a person “fun,” “loyal,” “brilliant,” “special,” “relational,” “generous,” and any other number of other traits in equal proportion (at least) to the ratings it makes about physical appearance.

and if we can’t have x ray vision i wish we could have x ray perception that would allow us a reality check about how the words we use about ourselves and others label, qualify (or disqualify), and shape the way we encounter. for, regardless of our physical appearance, our words, and even our thoughts/intentions, can contribute to a world wherein beauty is skin deep or further in...where only x ray vision can see.



"None of us gets to be competent, mature people without the help of others... people who have loved us all along the way. I'd like to give you a minute to think of those who have believed in you...those who have helped you live your life knowing what was good and real. A minute of silence to remember those who have cared about us through our lives..in our being who we are right now.”
(insert one minute of silence)
“Whomever you've been thinking about, whether they're here or far away or even in heaven, imagine how pleased they'd be to know that you recognize what a difference they've made in your becoming.” fred rogers
i receive a monthly email quote from the office of family communications, inc., the organization conceived of and nurtured by mr. rogers. the quote you just read is the one i received today. if my memory serves me (and it usually does with all things mr. rogers), he delivered these words on live television when presented with a prestigious life time achievement award. i remember him at the microphone, in a tuxedo, speaking to a room full of celebrities and standing there for a full minute in complete silence. he didn’t just suggest finding a time to consider the important people in one’s life. he actually created the time. right then and there. i have always wondered how many teachers, neighbors, mentors, doctors, and parents received phone calls from those assembled that night and i’ve considered how many hallmark cards were sent the following day to those who were thought of in that minute of pause. 
last week i had the humbling honor of hanging out at biola university where i was participating in a campus wide conversation about faith and technology. before i arrived i ordered 4000 pipe cleaners to be handed out during my first talk. as many folks know, i always bring something for people to play with while i talk. it keeps them engaged and gives them something to do if they find me utterly boring. my bringing toys is nothing new. what happened after that first talk at biola, however, was utterly unique. i was brought offerings. pipe cleaner creations in the shapes of shooting stars and thumb braces (to help protect against the effects of over zealous texting) and magic carpets and genie lamps, cards with original art work and meaningful words, and tomes scribbled on the back of notes being studied for a test following my talk. later in the week more offerings were made. words, spoken and written. playdough sculptures and gluey collages. lingering conversations filled with eye contact and awkward transitions. one special student even brought me a massive jug of apple juice. “if i brought you a gift,” he said, “i thought you might remember to pray for me.” trust me phil, jug of juice or not, i will remember to pray for you.
as i packed my suitcase at the end of the week i felt a deep well of gratitude to these students who possibly felt silly, who risked being misunderstood, who likely felt awkward in offering tokens of their thanks and expressions of their struggles, their longings, and their hopes. 
these are offerings of the most precious and rare kind. for many, writing a check is easy. for others, giving time is a breeze. some offer up effort or labor without thinking twice. much less frequently, however, people feel free to take risks in making offerings. instead we give what is “safe.” what is “normal.” what is expected. we shy away, however, from offerings that are personally costly, relationally risky, and that have the possibility of being misunderstood.
as we north americans embark on a day of thanks-giving i challenge each of you to sit in a minute of silence. let the name of a person (or two or three or...) float to the surface of your mind. once there, consider an offering of gratitude that would speak deeply and directly to that individual and make it, thinking not of how silly you might feel in giving it nor how misunderstood the offering itself might be, and instead “imagin[ing] how pleased they'd be to know that you recognize what a difference they've made in your becoming.”



if you’re breathing and you live in the united states you’ve been hearing alot about ohio these past few weeks.

i had the distinct honor of visiting one small part of the state a year ago and i can see what all the attention is about. i ate one of the best indian meals i’ve ever tasted in a locally owned restaurant and found incredibly unique teas at another. i marveled at an intersection in one small town which housed a jewish synagogue, a greek orthodox church, and a christian college. a few blocks away sat a muslim mosque. all were stunningly beautiful, each in its own way. the people i encountered were friendly and warm, smart and broad minded. i can see why ohio would be all the rage. it’s a really wonderful place.

the reality is, however, that it’s currently on the map because of its significance in the upcoming election. if the media was all you attended to you’d never know that there were indian restaurants or exotic teas or vibrant faith communities or smart people in ohio. you’d think there were only electoral college votes. this makes me sad.

so often, these days, we settle for 140 character summaries of “news.” we feel uber-connected to current events yet our knowledge of them is sentence deep. “super storm shuts down northeast,” “new poll puts candidate x in the lead,” “negotiations between teachers union and district fail,” “honey boo boo endorses candidate y.” with the sheer number of updates we receive in a day we feel caught up and yet often know very little about what’s really going on. further, what we do know is likely biased by the shape of the social and digital networks we’ve created.

just as the less experienced internet user forwards every warning they receive to everyone in their inbox, we mindlessly forward and “like” and repost and retweet without much thought for considering the content. in so doing we reduce the complicated realities of life (and politics and religion and weather and relationships and, well, everything) to trite digestible sound bytes. 

it’s as if we’re becoming increasingly comfortable eating meal replacement bars instead of preparing a balanced breakfast. such bars are convenient and filling and even have some nutrients but they pale in comparison to the taste, experience, and nutritional value of a thoughtfully created meal or the complication presented in having to make sure that there is balance in one’s diet. you may love chocolate chip protein bars but that doesn’t mean that a constant stream of them is optimal for your health and well being.

it’s the same with current events. it’s the same with life. there are things i like. there are things i agree with. things that are easy for me to chuckle at or “amen” in response to, to understand and to comprehend. these are things that are easy for me to promote. there are also difficult things, complex things that i want to be hearty enough to welcome. things like my neighbor’s differing view points, my fellow country member’s divergent and complex needs, the preferences of those that tick me off. these are the reasons i want not to be content with short updates and news from only sources i, in my certainty, “condone” as worthy. 

i want, for myself, to become less and less content being sure of everything related to politics. i want to be open to complexity and to respectfully listen to those whose opinions and preferences i don’t share. i want to take the medias word for less and less and rely on the tried and true methods of inquiry and research and deep exploration to find sturdy places to land ideologically, practically, and realistically.

and so, ohio, i honor you. not because i want to shape you or mold you or convince you to vote like i want you to but, rather, because we share space in this world and you matter in it as much as i.


making space

on a recent trip to southern california i was motivated to think a great deal about space. while there i heard story after story of the space shuttle, newly grounded, preparing to make its way to its permanent home in an air and space museum. folks were mostly concerned about the ridiculous number of trees that were removed along the sidewalks of the streets it would travel along. as i encountered the buzz i kept thinking how humorous it was that we were busily clearing space down here in order to commemorate having made space in, well, space.

it strikes me that each of us could benefit from a similar kind of clearing.

more than any other time in history, our lives are full. we make our way through our days in status updates and think in 140 character tweet type self talk. we chronicle our meals via instagram and pull out our mini super computers (called cell phones) any time we are idle. in the grocery store check out. at red lights. during dinner and even with friends. one of the newer regular complaints amongst my partnered clients revolves around the amount of time their partners spend reading, playing games, and trolling social networking sites while sitting on the toilet. truly. we are available 24 hours a day and there are plenty of screens that will oblige our availability.

in response to an article i recently shared about how sleeping with smart phones might impact sleep quality, a young man (who i used to babysit...nothing like the young teaching the old...) emailed me about his high school band teacher. this wise sage had reminded his students that the rests in music were as meaningful as the notes that were played. rests are active, they accentuate, they direct attention.

it’s similar with space. spaciousness, whether it be in the realm of intrapersonal experience or our actual geographic locales, matters. the trick is that is typically not easily created. it isn’t easy to move a huge space shuttle through small and busy city streets. it was created to move in much less restrictive spaces.

it’s similar with our souls. we were not meant to live squeezed into the spaces we place ourselves. the expectations of ourselves and others in our new 24 hour full on connectedness, the commitments we have actively and passively made, the demands of our vocational and personal work, the necessities of day to day living all threaten to choke out any rest time that might present itself. further, we delude ourselves into thinking that staring at a screen is restful so exclusively substitute screen (and earbud) time for true self time.

without rests, however, music (and life) becomes cacophonous. imagine the frenetic feeling that would result from removing the rests from the familiar opening bars of bethoven’s fifth symphony. if the “dah, dah, dah, dddaaaahhhh’s” had no space to separate them, the music would become a single lump of sound. it would lose it shape, its feeling, its uniqueness.

so it is with all of us. without rests we lose our selves. we become defined by what we do, by what we watch/listen to, by how we update, by who needs and wants us (and who doesn’t). we become caught up in productivity and consuming rather than with restoring a sense of internal balance and calm and being able to delay gratification and/or stimulation. the trouble is, rests are active and many of us have no idea how to achieve them. what is restful to some is not to others and often we stop trying if we don’t achieve early success in resting our souls.

so consider what you have readily available and begin there...with lungs that can take in air, with a body that can stretch and move, with a mind that can wander and imagine, with a nose that can smell and a mouth that can savor. with a minute or two or three, an hour, or more. begin small...by simply being still and opening yourself to receive the rest that can come in the way it comes best for you. notice it. lean into it as you would lean into the wildest turn on a roller coaster for there is nothing more stimulating than rest.


i want to slam poems in spanish

i want to slam poems in spanish. 

read that again.

i want to slam poems in spanish.

now picture me reciting that line followed by 3 minutes of other similarly sleek sentences in some cozy coffee shop, crammed with people, and filled with the smells of fresh grounds and the sounds of steaming milk. 

i want to slam poems in spanish. 

i want to, but i don’t. i don’t because i can’t seem to write in poetic form and if i did i think i would die a death by hyperventilation waiting to recite poetry in front of an assembled group. one poetic line is all i’ve got and that isn’t enough to make my wish come true.

i’m called to other things it seems. things like listening and noticing and loving. periodically i feel called to bring someone a meal or to write one of these posts or to pass along a link to something that i think might change someone’s life. or week. or day. sometimes i feel called to send a text that says “i’m thinking about you. you matter.”

which is what i did today. i texted my friend garret who is on tour, performing spoken word poetry around the country. shortly after i pushed send my phone rang and it was garret. we got to talk for a bit and it was lovely to have sound accompany words in ways that texts can never accomplish. it was exciting to hear him describe a recent calling, made clear to him when the person he was staying with him was watching rambo 3. it’s not often that someone recognizes their call while overhearing rambo 3 and working on poetry. he did, however, realizing that, just as rambo realized he was, perhaps, put on this earth to accomplish the task set before him, he (garret) was possibly put on this earth to share his words with those of us who need to hear them. 

which brings me back to wishing i could slam poems in spanish. 

a couple of weeks ago i was at a slam where the open mic included a young woman who performed her piece in spanish. it was beautiful. it was stunning, actually. i have no idea what she said but the sounds of the piece were soulful and the response of those who understood the words was profound. people “mm-hmmm’ed” and blew out little “whoooo” breath sounds and shook their heads. i’ve made these sounds and gestures when i’ve heard my friends and others slam. i love being lulled by the rhythm of the meter and feeling of different poems and those who recite them. i can hear, in my mind, the pauses and rises and falls that create emphasis and call the hearer to attend in a different way. i hear them in my unwritten spanish poem and yet have no natural way with which to bring them forth.

could i learn to write poetry? sure. could i overcome the sheer terror i imagine involved in performing a piece? possibly. and yet, that isn’t the point. i don’t feel called to it. i desire it, but i don’t feel called to it.

i recently got to hear richard rohr speak about living from a place of deep, internal “yes.” he reminded the assembled crowd that it is healthier to identify ourselves by that which we are for rather than by that which we are against. this “yes” feels to me like a calling. i can wiggle and shake and squeeze myself into becoming a slam poet but it will never bring about the deep yes that i experience when i live into my true calling which often feels so ordinary and non remarkable. my calling doesn’t have a meter or rhythm or involve lulling. and yet, it is mine. and maybe i was put here to live into it.

and you have yours. and maybe you were put here to live into it. it may not be what you wish it was. you may not even value it. you may clean houses instead of writing top ten hits. you might extend kindness on the train home rather than climb mount kilimanjaro. you might check groceries or teach children or sit on boards or coach a team or answer phones instead of doing any number of glamorous things you imagine. and yet, if these simple acts tap into your calling, then you are in the exact right place at the exact right time. your “yes” may seem like the most mundane and ordinary thing in the world to you and yet it might be just what the world needs...even if you don’t understand it....kind of like poems in spanish.


mind reading and me

it’s a normal friday and i’ve been greeted with all kinds of kindnesses. mostly via email and mostly by businesses i’ve frequented of late. an airline thoughtfully asked if there was anything i needed (that they could provide) for the trip i just booked. a cosmetic store kindly inquired about the mud mask i recently purchased as a gift for a friend. my favorite shoe brand informed me that i could order the new fall line, in my size, with a simple click of my trackpad. the company that hosts my web domain sent me important reminders regarding storage, demographics i’m missing, and how to expand my audience. ticketmaster sent a list of shows i might enjoy based on those i’ve purchased tickets for of late and itunes suggested i might love a particular new bosa nova recording.

i feel so known. i feel so loved. by my computer and every corporation who accesses me through it.

for years i worked as an executive assistant. in those days my official title was “secretary” and i really did make coffee, file actual sheets of paper, and call each financial planner in the practice by their title and surname. i hand wrote phone messages and delivered them on little pink slips of paper to individual offices. i had a very good teacher and excelled at my work which was, essentially, to study each planner’s habits, norms, and preferences and cater to them. in so doing it was thought that i would increase their efficiency and, therefore, their productivity. after a few short weeks i was able to deliver the perfectly creamed and sugared cup of coffee at exactly the right time without ever being asked. i knew where to book lunch reservations and what types of thank you gifts to send to whom. i could anticipate which clients would want to chat with me before their appointments and which wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. i finessed my relationships with local florists and entertainment venders and could capitalize on those connections when needed. a job well done meant that my employers rarely had to ask for anything. it seemingly just appeared.

this was how the world worked when i was a secretary. back then, the more you anticipated and successfully responded to the needs of your employer, the more dependent upon you they were for their success. there was a downside to this, however, and executives with bang-up assistants began to expect the same kind of mind reading at home that they received at the office. coffee (or cocktails) should be delivered without being asked for. breakfast should be served, not made. items should simply appear and, somehow, all necessities magically anticipated and dealt with.

which brings me back to today. i have trained my computer, and the cyber universe it brings to me, to be an excellent assistant. all the companies i do business with have done the same. my preferences are catered to and i’m presented with offers that are so highly informed by my habits and behaviors that they truly are hard to pass up. it sort of makes the people in my life pale in comparison. if i weren’t so aware of the whole process it might feel as though my mind were being read. 

i come from a species that loves having its mind read.

one of the most common relational complaints i hear has to do with the lack of mind reading that happens in relationships and, instead, the terrible task of asking for what one wants. it is seemingly no fun to try to engage in the messy dynamics of tending to more than one set of needs and capabilities.  “if i have to ask for x,y, or z, it won’t mean as much when i receive it.” “he’s known me for 25 years and i still have to remind him it’s my birthday.” “she’s eaten with me for 14 years and she can’t get it through her head that i don’t like tomatoes.” “we’ve been best friends for forever and she still forgets that i need some alone time.” “he doesn’t remember that i prefer...” “how could she be so clueless as to not know...” the list goes on and on.

it’s so inconvenient to have to ask for what we need and want. it’s so much easier to have it delivered without our having to think about it. when this happens we don’t have to risk disappointment. we don’t have to open ourselves to the possibility of being let down or told no. the trouble is we also don’t put ourselves in places where we can encounter situations or things that are new or different. we don’t provide ourselves with opportunities to learn flexibility, communication skills, and character. 

my computer knows exactly when, each month, to make “offers.” businesses know when i am most likely to buy something on impulse and stumbleupon provides pages to pull me in when they’ve “missed me.” if all i ever purchase is music suggested to me because of my prior purchases i’ll never hear music that is different from that which i already like. in so doing i might begin to believe that “my kind” of music is really the “only” (or superior) kind of music. if i don’t ask you to remember my birthday with a token, i leave open the ability to resent you when you don’t give me a gift. if i rely on mind reading i will learn to rely only on things and people i teach to read my mind rather than being grown by the spontaneity of real live relating.

the truth is that, in the real world, we can’t have everything we want. if our partners, friends, parents, teachers, and the like all responded to our wishes and wants like our computers do our worlds would be reduced to as many narcissistic microcosms as there are people. we would all be catered to, “spoiled,” and incredibly  one dimensional. we’d be isolated and self sufficient or, worse, entitled beings who see others as existing only to meet our needs. we would never be required to slog through the process of having to articulate our needs and let others respond honestly. we might never be let down but we would be so lonely. and so alone. fully satiated and fully alone.

so why not lean less on the “personal assistants” in our pockets and on our desks and embrace the excitement of living in a world where our minds aren’t read? where we taste food before we read 85 reviews on urban spoon. where we experience a city looking up rather than down at the gps in our hand. where we  go to lectures and concerts as often as we watch entire television series’ back to back. where we try things that are unknown and new and ripe for exploration. where we are given opportunities to do the hard task of asking for what we’d like and the even harder job of letting others respond as they can. where we develop character and perseverance and resilience and connection...


learning while we sleep

new research finds that humans can learn while asleep. a recent study found that volunteers took deeper breaths when exposed to a pleasant smell while they slept and shallower breaths when exposed to an unpleasant smell. by pairing a high pitched beep with the pleasant smell the volunteers eventually began to take deeper breaths when the beep was presented even without the pleasant smell all while asleep. not only did learning take place during sleep, it also carried over to the research subjects’ behavior during wakefulness. while they had no conscious recollection of what they’d experienced while sleeping, they acted on their learning while awake, taking deeper breaths when the high pitched beep was sounded during their wakeful hours.

while the implications of these findings interest me on many levels, a few thoughts in particular have held me captive since their discovery.

if we are learning while we sleep, what is the cell phone under our pillow teaching us?

if smells and sounds presented during sleep “taught” reactions to the volunteers that persisted during wakefulness, how are the rings, beeps, vibrations, or even simple presences of our phones (and other screens) in our beds teaching us?

it appears that sleep provides an opportunity for our brains to consolidate our learning. this means that we take material we’ve been presented with during wakeful hours and encode it into more deeply integrated memory as we rest. if we study for a test then take a nap, we’re likely to recall more than we would without sleeping.

several years back a fad diet centered on a pill to be taken before bed. “lose weight while you sleep!” “burn fat while you dream!” were tag lines used in ad campaigns. what impressed me most about the fact that this diet pill sold well was the fact that it exposed our tendency to forego the rest of the night for the worries of the day. “since i can’t seem to make myself skinny during the day, how about i go to bed hoping to tackle my weight problem while i sleep.”

sleep is intended to function as a “breather” for our minds and bodies. dreams help us work through situations from our day and our cells regenerate while we sleep. as the size of our technological devices has decreased and screens have become an integral part of many bedrooms (think televisions, laptops, screen based readers, ipads, ipods, and phones) it seems as though these vital functions of sleep are now in competition with those stressors that fill our days. whether we use technology in the bedroom to entertain, stay in touch, do our work, or keep us from feeling lonely we are abstaining from opportunities to learn to let the concerns of the day go and settle into the rest that night might offer. aside from the research findings that illuminated screens can act as mood de-stabilizers and stimulants, the mere psychological dependence upon being fully connected, even while we supposedly sleep, seems worthy of a good, hard look.

as a people we have nearly fully embraced the belief that we can’t get by without a cell phone during our waking hours. do we need to make this our night time reality as well? sure, there are fun apps (that seem so useful) intended to read our sleep cycles via movement and find the best time to sound the alarm based on them. there are timers designed to turn our “falling asleep” music down, and eventually off, when our movements suggest we are asleep. cable, hulu, youtube, and netflix allow a cast of characters to keep us company through the entire night. and we are left learning, through it all, that quiet, rest, and nothingness are to be avoided at all costs. reinforcing the truth of our technological dependence during the day we consolidate the notion that being unplugged is not worth the cost. even the cost of rest.

and so we’re left asking, what’s the worst thing that could happen if i left my phone charging on the kitchen counter and pulled out that silly old alarm clock out of the goodwill box in the garage? what might i miss if i let my texts and emails and television shows wait until daylight? and what might i receive?


murder is (still) not entertainment

it’s been a month since the tragic mass murder at a colorado movie theater during the midnight release of “the dark night rises.” 12 families are 30 days into grieving their loved ones and 57 others are helping shooting victims regain a new sense of normalcy.

summer is coming to a close. pencils and binders fill store shelves and the cavalcade of new releases at the movie theater have slowed down. we’re heading into fall. people have final vacations to take and school years to ready themselves for. movie theaters aren’t where folks spend the last few weeks of summer. looking at the revenues from this years’ june and july block busters, however, our theaters were busy these last couple of months. when you look at the list of films that brought in droves of viewers it seems as though our fascination with violence has not waned from previous years. violence sells. so does murder.

some will argue with me, “it’s not violence that we crave. it’s action. just adrenaline pumping action.” others will say, “superhero movies aren’t focused on violence, they’re pure escapist fantasy fun. the violence is a means to an end. lighten up.” some will accuse me of being a kill-joy, a spoil-sport, and an over-reactor. i’ve decided, however, that i can handle those arguments and names more than i can handle being silent.

a month ago countless people were being shot and killed on screen in the movie that was being projected as fourteen were murdered in real life. on screen, cameras pan away from victims in order to focus on the action elsewhere. in real life, during the colorado shootings, however, those hit were either killed or are now dealing with injuries ranging from paralysis and amputation to lost eyes and internal organs. all are left with hospital bills and the psychological trauma that accompanies such an event. fear of crowds, exaggerated startle responses, nightmares, inability to enter enclosed spaces, and countless other symptoms face those who have witnessed real life murder. onscreen murder, however, seems to leave us un-phased.

i recently watched an interview with two young women who were in the colorado theater during the shooting. they described the moments between the first gun shots and the apprehension of the gunman as surreal. one of them pointed out that the movie was still playing and provided an eerie backdrop and soundtrack for the real life scene. other victims have spoken of the chilling realization that the green laser sight spot they’d so often seen in films was actually being seen on the bodies of those next to them as the gunman chose his victims.

what an oxymoron, real life murder playing out in front of a screen where clean, tidy murder is offered as entertainment.

in the days following the incident we, as a people, were horrified. we read the news. we searched for motivations for such violence and watched the cell phone videos of those present over and over and over again. we talked about murder and even about how violence in entertainment impacts us. even still, we kept on going out to movies, playing our games, and living our lives. somehow, time passed and we were on to other news stories. how quickly (and conveniently) our attention shifts.

in "the dark night rises," the onscreen violence is simply a part of a far flung story meant to entertain. at other times the violence and murder found onscreen may be said to be for point making. or consciousness raising. regardless of the intent of the film (or game) maker, however, flooding ones’ senses with the images and sounds of violence has an impact on ones’ neurological functioning and mental states. just as we inoculate our children to potentially deadly diseases by giving them small doses of the diseases themselves, so we inoculate ourselves to the reality of murder by passively watching it happen before our eyes without any sense of consequence or reality. as a result we become shockingly emotionally unresponsive to the reality that murder creates.

every image we consume counts. it is within each of our personal power to make deposits into our intellectual, emotional, and physiological “health accounts.” we can chose deposits that enhance our emotional intelligence, empathy, and relational capabilities or that numb us to others who are put in harm’s way. we can chose to flood our brains and our minds with images that are life giving or those that are murderous. we may spend our entertainment dollars affirming the unconscious assumption that murder can be entertainment (with no consequences) or we can become mindful of what we are taking in and how it affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. in so doing, it is my hope that we can, in our lives and in our entertainment choices, find ways of affirming and celebrating life for all its beauty rather than for its potential to end in “exciting” ways. 

what will you do to celebrate life today? what will you do to celebrate someone else’s life today? what might it look like to affirm the lives of those you encounter? how will you make your choices count, in every important way?


what i learned at summer camp

i have never been a camper. i faked sick in order to leave outdoor education camp early as a fifth grader and am known for the “i love NOT camping” sign in my van. i’ve signed on for long, group road trips, slept on church floors, been on serve trips and retreats, but camping has never been among the activities i desire to experience. until this past week.

months ago a friend asked if i might consider serving on a planning committee for an upcoming high school camp. not just any camp, this is the one that my husband grew up going to and that both my children adore. i couldn’t just say no. so, i said i’d help with the planning but i just couldn’t work out actually being there all week, missing the time with clients and invading the camp space that my daughter needed as her own. one meeting into planning, however, i was hooked on the team and couldn’t imagine spending four months planning only to miss the actual event. i was in and i was going to have to deal with my camp phobia and hesitancies about leaving work to “work.”

on the morning i left for camp i realized that i had mindlessly chosen my “not so much a hugger” t shirt to wear. knowing that a cigar is rarely just a cigar, i chuckled at how my unconscious mind was working to communicate with my fellow camp staff. “don’t hug me and we’ll get along fine this week” didn’t seem like the best message to lead with so i changed clothes and drove to camp, fearing how i’d fare. an introvert in an extrovert’s body i knew that sharing the week with 350 high school aged campers and 50 staffers would be a stretch. while exceedingly comfortable speaking to large groups, i’d never “taught” high schoolers and i’d never worked with youth or youth workers. i figured i’d be the oldest person at camp by at least 20 years and i was confident that i was going to be asked to gain “street cred” with the campers and staff by looking ridiculous in skits or by eating bizarre concoctions that i was dared to consume. i was somewhat terrified by the time i arrived.

come to find out, i had nothing to be terrified of. as it turned out, i loved camp. not liked. not tolerated. loved. truly. when the week ended i felt truly sad to leave the packed, exhausting, demanding, hug fest that my week had been. i drove away a different person, working on how i’d make time next summer to return. i want to return. here is why:

1 i learned about myself. there is nothing like a new experience to teach me about the places in which i am stuck or unaware. being completely out of my element, having to ask for help and/or information (how does meal time work here? where do i need to be when?), and not being in complete control of my time brought me new insights. come to find out i actually can fall asleep before midnight, i don’t need to snack between meals, and when free time is built into the schedule i actually enjoy it rather than filling it with tasks.

2 i learned how to share. i didn’t just get to do what i wanted. all five of us on our team needed to come to consensus. i couldn’t just put things where i wanted them or arrange the programming as i saw fit. i needed to listen and bend and flex. i had to make space for others and usually found their ideas to be better than my own after i got over the initial sting of disappointment of not getting my way. i had opportunities to serve my team and to have them serve me. humility is most authentic when learned first hand.

3 i learned to take risks within my team. at the beginning of the week i took on a task i didn’t like (partially because i knew it would teach me alot) and, when i became over burdened by it, i asked others to take it from me for a day. this is something i avoid at all costs in my day to day life. in order to accomplish new tasks placed on my plate at camp, however, i had no choice but to either go without sleep (which i seemingly needed more than i do at home because i was spent at the end of each day) or to ask for help. this was no small task for me and yet the payoff was huge. i admitted, to myself and others, that there were limits to my ability to accomplish and, in so doing, embraced my humanity more openly and received gracious care from others.

4 being uncomfortable (and out of control) grows me. i ate what the cooks made, when they made it. i was on the camp schedule and was where they wanted me when they wanted me there for 7 full days. i had very little cell phone coverage and no internet. i couldn’t “fill my time” by being productive or mindless with either technology. there was no fridge to raid when i was bored. i learned how often i rely both on things outside of myself and on my freedom to escape a situation to divert attention from feelings of discomfort and/or tasks i don’t want to tackle. this week was different. in quiet moments i was faced only with myself and my resourcefulness or lack thereof. in following the preset schedule i learned to “submit” to the needs and rhythm of the group. these were powerful points of learning and growth for me.

5 i found out that my age didn’t matter. i never imagined that i would fall into the nearly universal rut of fearing irrelevance as i age. sadly, however, this has not been wholly true. spending a week with high schoolers and young adult staff, however, challenged my thinking. they saved me seats at dinner. they told me i was “rock star,” “adorable,” and (my favorite) “smart.” they wanted to braid my hair and talk neurobiology during free time. they taught me card games and dance moves and asked for the names of the tracks i played as we gathered. they borrowed my clothes. by the end of the week i was wearing my pajamas and baseball caps all day and not caring about the dark circles that come with age and exhaustion. i felt energized by the community i was embedded in and somehow even began initiating hugs with this family i’d spent the week with. the years between us melted away in every good and meaningful way. the truth they spoke to me was every bit as important as the truth i spoke to them.

the reason i feel compelled to share these lessons here is that i want to challenge each of us to think ahead about next summer. to decide NOW if there might be places where our presence might not only matter but might also grow us in new and important ways. if we think and dream and plan NOW about making a difference THEN, it might actually make its way on our to-do lists to research camps, complete volunteer applications, and pencil a week off next summer to serve.  in so-doing we open ourselves to the truly surprising experience of being grown while helping others to do the same.

if you’re bereft of ideas as to where to start in finding meaningful camps to volunteer with, here are a few of my favorites:
camp to belong (http://camptobelong.org) this amazing camp offers siblings who live apart from each other, in the foster care system, the chance to reunite for a week at camp. this is an amazing organization that operates internationally.

twin rocks friends camp (http://www.twinrocks.org) twin rocks is a beautiful quaker camp on the oregon coast. they have opportunities for week long service or summer long internships. 


bipartisan friendship

it’s an election year and i’m already tired. tired of the name calling. tired of the “he said,” “well, he said” back and forth (how sad is it to have no she’s in that sentence?). tired of the fund raising (should electing a president really be allowed to cost this much?) and, mostly, tired of the assumptions. i’m really tired of the assumptions.
a dear friend of mine was recently sitting at a family event when some of her extended family began disparaging the political party that is not theirs. “it’s impossible to be a [fill in said party name here] and be smart. [put that name here]s are just idiots.”
little did they know that my friend is a member of said “idiot party.” while family, they had no idea of her political leanings and opinions. if they did, they would have known 1) not everyone in the party could realistically be called an idiot (my friend is one bright woman) and 2) it’s best not to make assumptions about the person sitting next to you.
we have so much to learn from the person sitting next to us. and the person who pumps our gas (i live in oregon and don’t get to pump my own). and the baker who’s been up since 3 a.m. in order that we may have a fresh loaf of bread. and the journalist who writes for “that other” publication...the one we hate. and the kid clad in headphones turning the subway sign on the corner. and the person sitting next to us in the pew, or the desk, or the bus seat, or where ever we find ourselves sitting.
when we stop trying to be right we become so much more neighborly. 
think about it: if i am certain, absolutely certain, that my take on things is the only take on things, why in the world do i need to convince you of it? wouldn’t it be more respectful, more kind, more friendly to share in a discussion or engage in an honest back and forth than to try to belittle, shame, or scare you into my way of thinking? if i’m excited and passionate about what i think, wouldn’t it be more logical to simply want to share my passion than to want to discredit yours? why do i need you to be an idiot if you disagree with me? 
i’m undertaking my own mini challenge and it is this: in these next conflictual months i am endeavoring to live in respectful graciousness with my neighbors. if my frustration rises to a boiling point, i will get myself out of the heat and cool off before i speak. if i find myself wanting to call someone else names, i will remind myself that i could easily be called the same. or worse. i will work, with everything in me, to treat you as who you are, more than a partisan party member and, instead, my friend.


the smallest of things

the smallest of things can turn a day. a person following too closely, an indifferent welcome, a honk, a funny look, a smile. 
today my day was turned by $1.50. i had an early morning meeting downtown and hadn’t taken time to eat breakfast or pack a lunch. the day ahead was filled to the brim with scheduled events and the meeting ran late. my only chance at food was going to need to be quick. racing to my car i noticed a single taco truck on a corner and rejoiced to see vegetarian tacos among its offerings. practicing my (very bad) spanish skills i ordered one. two minutes and $1.50 later i unwrapped the warm bundle of beans, lettuce, and pico de gallo held together by a homemade tortilla and slathered it in hot sauce. as i savored it all the way to my car i felt myself melting into a state of unaccounted for gratitude. i felt exceedingly grateful to the man who had treated me kindly and had made my taco. i wanted to run back and tell him how delicious it was and how the warm softness of the tortilla played against the crisp coldness of the lettuce. how the hot sauce made my nose run. i wanted to thank him for putting up with my (terrible) spanish. i felt grateful to a city that supports food carts, to a God who values diversity and built into us tastes that are different from our neighbors’, and to the person whose place i took at the meeting this morning. if she hadn’t needed a replacement i would have missed this opportunity for a $1.50 to wake me up.
i could have done so many things differently. i could have raced to the car, head down, or phone to ear, not looking up and around to notice the option in front of me. i could have hurried off to something more “known.” $1.50 could have gotten me much more than a solo taco at a taco bell drive through and yet spending that there would have done nothing to turn my thoughts to gratitude and my mood to lighthearted. the flavors wouldn’t have woken me up to themselves and my surroundings in nearly the same way. i would have consumed food rather than experienced a moment. i could have sloughed off the feeling of joy since it seemed so ridiculously out of proportion to the actual experience and yet it felt so wonderful to let it live. to let the wonder of that little wrapped taco turn my day around.
there are so many ways to turn a day. my day. your day. the grocery clerk’s day. the customer service rep you interact with on the phone’s day. the person cleaning the bathroom at ikea’s day. the mail carrier’s day. so many ways.
mr. rogers wrote a beautiful and simple song that goes like this: 
there are many ways to say i love you.
there are many ways to say i care about you.
many ways. many ways. many ways to say i love you.
he goes on to add:
there are cooking ways to say i love you...
there are drawing ways to say i love you...
there are playing ways to say i love you...
today i literally felt like a moment loved me and i loved it back. i loved being right where i was and it made me want to love everyone and everything that was there with me. the cart owner, who i’d never met had he not been right there, willing to make me something warm and wonderful. the sunshine that peeked out from behind a cloud. the air that filled my lungs. the hot sauce. all of it. the moment. 
and that’s what a day is. moments. strung together. one after another. and it takes only small ones to turn things. cooking moments, drawing moments, playing moments, so many kind of moments and so many moments to let oneself be loved in.
so, turn things.
in the moment.
to hear mr. rogers’ amazing song go to: http://pbskids.org/rogers/songLyricsManyWays.html  (i promise you...it’s worth it...it’ll stick in your mind for the day and remind you to engage in as many ways of loving as you can!)


murder is not entertainment

whenever there is news of a murder i feel sick. seventeen years ago my sister in law (my husband’s sister) and three nieces were brutally murdered by my brother in law. nothing prepares you for experiences like those that are encountered after the homicide of someone you love. nothing.
with as fast as news travels these days, it would be nearly impossible to not have heard about last night’s mass shooting at a movie theater in colorado. if occurrences like this do not make us feel sick, something is certainly wrong. when murder doesn’t induce sadness and discomfort it seems to me that we have gone sideways as a people.
shortly after my sister in law and nieces’ deaths, i became loosely involved with an awareness raising campaign about media related violence. dubbed “mine” for it’s title “murder is not entertainment,” the campaign fell somewhat flat. it was just too steep a hill to climb, that of the entertainment industry and the american population’s fascination with violence in entertainment. if it was too much for a well organized and publicized organization to turn the tide regarding what we watch, i know, for sure, that it’s too much for me to do alone. here. on a blog.
i can, however, ask a few questions and kindly request that you consider them. i can encourage you to make your entertainment choices with intention and wisdom. i can beg you to spend your entertainment dollars with full awareness of what you are supporting. i can point out that the children in your life are watching you and determining what they will consider movies worth watching. i can remind you to live ridiculously compelling and adventurous lives that fulfill and challenge you and inspire others to do the same. when we do so we rarely need entertainment that raises our heart rates, titillates our senses, or manipulates our emotions.
what i cannot do is be silent.  i cannot ask that you refrain from supporting films which numb you to the impact of violence and murder but i can ask you to be aware of the reality that there are likely families who have known the personal sting of both in the theater with you, living on your street, or sitting in the desk next to yours. i cannot speak with scientific certainty (although plenty of studies exist) but i know that i cannot passively watch murder as entertainment and say that it does not make an impact. if i believe that sesame street can teach children, how can i say that television and movies that contain excessive violence don’t do the same?  
i humbly suggest that we all use today’s news as a motivator to re-consider what we view as entertainment. to think about how our entertainment dollars talks and our actions speak. to determine ways of at least matching the violence we consume with images/words/thoughts/behaviors that are life affirming and grace filled. to not rely on shocking and adrenaline stimulating images as our sole source of emotional stimulation or entertainment. to recognize murder for what it is and to feel appropriately uncomfortable with it. to chose, instead, life.