What We Have in Common

What We Have in Common
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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein

The campus chimes begin to toll as I step out onto the labyrinth at University of Central Oklahoma, one, two, three, four, five o’clock. A lovely, simple melody follows, and I continue on the red winding path. The music ends, and the chimes from a nearby church echo the same tune back, then play a hymn. It is Good Friday and the campus is deserted; I love the quiet and the peaceful setting. Perfect for my walking meditation today. I am in the first hour of a four-hour silent retreat and prayer vigil.

As I walk I think back over the past six months; I have been part of a group engaged in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. This daily retreat focuses on the entire life of Jesus and places the participant emotionally into scenes of his life with prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Total immersion. I first participated in the exercises sixteen years ago, and as my first experience, this one has been intimate, imbued with spiritual integrity, tolerance, and revelation.

Seldom have I been able to draw an analogy between my life and the life of Jesus. It’s been difficult to fathom what the life of the Son of God (I can hear tympani drums.) would have to do with my life. The Son of God. What could I conceivably have in common with him? It is overwhelming to think of his divinity, blamelessness, patience, and wisdom. After all, he’s Holy, and I’m Not-So-Much.

Life can be unsteady for those of us missing the “Holy” gene. My own life is sprinkled with lesson after lesson learned in the most trying way possible; sometimes we press up against life harshly. We can learn through deep relationship and earned spiritual maturity or through painful experience. The latter, I know well.

What has expanded my perspective recently is grasping the thread flowing between Jesus the man and my own humanity. As long as I regarded him as singularly divine, the reach was too immense to allow me to feel that deep connection. Jesus was not particularly accessible to me.

Over the past months of meditation, examination, sharing and relationship our group of like-minded souls has wondered how God looks upon us. On occasion, we laugh at our own antics, often so flawed, raw, and self-concerned. We conclude that God must get a kick out of us too. Spirit knows we are doing the best we can; it is in fact, our humanity that is treasured.

Last month we shared our meditations on the early ministry of Jesus-going into Galilee to preach to anyone who would listen and to recruit some disciples.

This time I was struck by the similarity between his profession and mine. Jesus was a minister and carpenter, but also a salesperson, like me. From all appearances, his sales figures were substantially better than mine. But still, so similar. Jesus made cold calls, just like me. He strolled into villages where no one knew him, introduced himself, established rapport with folks, gained their trust, and sold them on making massive changes in their lives. What a tough product to sell!

Selling takes tremendous energy and tough-mindedness, especially when you are making cold calls all day each day. For those who have never made sales calls, a cold call is the most difficult type of in-person sales call. You walk into a business you have never set foot in and speak with someone you have never met about a concept they are unfamiliar with, which will cost them. They don’t think they need your help but starting from scratch, you manage to sell them something. It is not for the faint of heart.

This requires a certain kind of energy and sometimes personality. As an introvert, I employ a special mojo to get through it. I wonder if Jesus was an introvert too, and like me had to call on the fringes of his comfort zone.

How he felt walking into a new village and introducing himself, I can imagine. Did he have butterflies in his tummy as he approached a group of leaders or wealthy residents? Did he straighten his hair in place so he could look pulled together? Did he ever walk around the block to summon courage before he could go up to them? Did he occasionally walk away thinking to himself, “I need a do-over on that one!”

He felt the sting of rejection when his words were discounted, or folks shooed him away, and exhilaration when someone actually welcomed him into conversation.

Like me, Jesus also knew betrayal by loved one, and it broke his heart. I remember how deeply injured and sad I was when a loved one betrayed me. I’ve been on a first name basis with chronic physical pain now for twenty-six years and experienced multiple instances of acute severe pain. These pale in comparison to the emotional trauma of betrayal. Like Jesus, I was neither shocked nor surprised, but that inner knowing does not shield you from heartache, it heightens it. The reality of what you must face going forward fills you with a sense of dread. These feelings Jesus and I shared.

Jesus, the man, was smart, verbally adept, direct, caring, and uniquely faithful. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it. He was honest to a fault; potential followers can spot dishonesty in an instant and don’t have to put up with it. He was most assuredly out-of-step with others of his time. This average mortal knows that feeling well.

When in Matthew 11 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.” he had been there, done that. He knew the bite of winter’s cold wind and the ache of sore shoulders from working long hours. He also knew the sweet smell of his mother’s bread baking and had seen love reflected back at him when he looked into the eyes of siblings.

Jesus, the man, came to show us how to live differently and live deeply, to live better, more genuine lives. My favorite prayer from the St Ignatius exercises is the Anima Christie. I often pray its phrase, “Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.” Perhaps if it did, not only would my life unfold with strength, spiritual maturity, and authenticity, but my sales numbers would go up.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. ― Marianne WilliamsonA Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns

Dreams, Memes, and Circus Clowns
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“The circus is a jealous wench. Indeed that is an understatement. She is a ravening hag who sucks your vitality as a vampire drinks blood – who kills the brightest stars in her crown and will allow no private life for those who serve her; wrecking their homes, ruining their bodies, and destroying the happiness of their loved ones by her insatiable demands. She is all of these things, and yet, I love her as I love nothing else on earth.”

-Henry Ringling North, The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story

 

At about seven years of age, I first went to the circus in South Dakota. I was overwhelmed with the largest crowd I had ever seen, the organ music, the enormous animals, and sheer excitement of it. They were selling tiny green chameleons that magically turned the color of your blouse or anything else you placed it on. I never gave a thought as a child to the fate of the little creature, the performing animals who were constricted to circus life, or the folks who lived the circus life.

I haven’t been to the circus for forty years. Even before we knew of the alleged mistreatment of animals and the perils of circus life for performers, I hated to see wild animals in captivity. I remember the last time I attended watching a regal white tiger run circles ad nauseam within a huge sphere; it was heartbreaking to me. I’m sure it was to the animal too. That was my last circus.

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Seven Cold Weather Cures

Seven Cold Weather Cures
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“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” ― Ernest Hemingway

 

I have books all over my house, on my shelves, on my bedside table, on my couch, and on the floor. I think there are books in my underwear drawer. I l-o-v-e to read. Reading transports us to worlds we may never get to see, to ideas that would never come to us otherwise, to characters with depth of purpose we may never experience. Time and perception are altered, and we are given the opportunity to experience our wildest dreams.  Could anything be more delicious on a freezing afternoon than a good book, time to read, and a cup of hot chocolate?

On the road incessantly, I often listen to books that I download from the library. That four-hour drive across the state seems to float by in about an hour. Wonderful wizardry!! Sometimes I read on my iPad, laptop, or iPhone, but I prefer the real deal, an actual–book. You cannot really “curl up” with a Kindle.  Besides, my books are highlighted and underlined, with notes in the margins, and many, many, dog-eared pages.

“Must Reads” suggestions are rotated on the home page of the blog, (Yes, I have read each of them.) but today let’s focus on seven books that touched me, taught me, and opened a door I was better for having walked through.

City of Tranquil Light, Bo Caldwell, 2010

https://www.amazon.com/City-Tranquil-Light-Novel/dp/B0044X158A

Caldwell’s story broke me open. It is historical fiction, but inspired by the lives of her grandparents, American missionaries with family in Oklahoma, who served in China under horrific circumstances. As a Christian, it revealed to me what purposeful, intentional trust in God looks like. It also reminded me of the sacrifices made by those who choose to share their spiritual gifts, and do so by listening rather than preaching and by healing rather than judging. The story also schooled me regarding life in mainland China in the early twentieth century during civil war. Caldwell delivers scene after scene with such clarity and devotion that I was brought to tears over and over again.

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Uncommon Mercy

Uncommon Mercy
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I looked up from my hymnal to see bright, brown, innocent eyes peering back at me from two pews up. Fresh-faced and beaming, most likely of Chinese heritage, she looked about fourteen. My heart stopped, and I gasped out-loud.

I didn’t recall ever seeing her at St Augustine’s and have not seen her since. Looking back at the day, I am not sure I physically saw her.

The night before I watched a movie called “The Flowers of War.” I was drawn to it because my favorite actor, Christian Bale, was in it. I got a great deal more than I bargained for; the story had a profound effect on me. Six months later I feel compelled to tell the story.

Nanjing City

The movie was about the Chinese city of Nanking, the setting of one of the most horrific war crimes in history. I had never heard this story; it awakened me and revealed a depth of sacrifice I am not sure I possess.

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Are You Ms. Letters?

Are You Ms. Letters?
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“At Midnight, even bad days come to an end.” —MsMoem.com

 

Ninety-nine percent of the time I am not naked when I write my blogs. I guess that begs an explanation.

With meticulous detail, I dressed this morning, a new blouse, my cutest crème colored jacket with the cool belt that ties in the front, and my best Antonio Melani slacks. I took extra time with my eye makeup, careful to enhance my blue eyes. I even wore my best bra, not that anyone ever sees one of my bras, but I just wanted that extra confidence boost you have when you know the girls are up in the general vicinity where they belong.

When I arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting my manager for lunch, I jumped out of the car eager to be on time. The only parking place was on Sheridan Avenue, after all, it was Bricktown, Oklahoma City; there is never any parking. A man in a big truck squeezed into the last shaded spot; I inched into the last sunny spot.

West 50

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Searching for Our Better Selves

Searching for Our Better Selves
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For those who lost their lives,

those who suffered unspeakable loss,

and those who were forever changed.

 

In this sacred garden, I walk among the pines, saplings not long ago. I look toward the Journal Record building and realize it was long ago, twenty-one years ago. For residents of central Oklahoma however, the memory is still fresh. Those who stood exactly where I am standing on April 19th at 9:01 that morning back in 1995 cannot walk among the pines.

Pool

I had been on vacation and was on my way back home to Oklahoma City. It was a romantic getaway to Key West Florida at a picturesque bed and breakfast, with peaceful beaches, fresh seafood, fancy concoctions of dark rum, pineapple, and coconut, and badly needed relaxation. Read the rest of this entry

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Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy

Suppertime, and the Livin is Easy
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Food, glorious food!
Hot sausage and mustard!
While we’re in the mood —
Cold jelly and custard!
Peas pudding and saveloys
What next is the question?
Rich gentlemen have it boys, in-di-gestion!

Food, glorious food!
Eat right through the menu.
Just loosen your belt
Two inches and then you
Work up a new appetite.
In this interlude —
The food,
Once again, food
Fabulous food,
Glorious food.

Oliver! -Lionel Bart

I love to eat. Constantly. If I am not eating I am thinking of food. You too? I figured. Eating makes us happy in a way nothing else can. Dining not only fuels our bodies and senses but is a superglue binding our memories and emotions. Those endorphins are furrowed right into our little taste buds.

When that combination of hot peach cobbler and sweet ice cream hits my tongue I am right back in 1966, huddled around Grandma Sander’s kitchen table with my sister Jan and Roger and Howard Sanders. We are playing a game; I don’t remember it, just the flavor of her cobbler and ice cream, like I have a bowl of it right here. I can feel the affection of those old friends and hear the music we sang. “Make the world go away, get it off my shoulder.” Cochran, Hank 1960

Unknown Coffee

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A Valentine to My Younger Self

A Valentine to My Younger Self
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“God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us, “Take up your cross, follow me. . . . Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.”  Henri Nouwen —Turn My Mourning into Dancing

 My niece Jessica turned thirty recently; seems like she should still be my little four year old shadow. Her birthday takes me back to the thirty-year-old I was. Sometimes I think about that naive girl and wish I could tell her what only time and maturity can.

I found a worn photo from my thirtieth birthday; I worked for KATT radio in Oklahoma City then. I was holding my birthday cake with a sleepy KATT mascot iced onto it. The clock above her head read 8:15; I was supposed to be at work by 8:00. Still don’t like that morning thing.

30 B-Day Cake (3)

My expression in this photo clearly says “bite me”. I was newly divorced, on my own for the first time, and had just begun a new commission based sales job. I was poor, persnickety, and pale. Also a smidge insecure and overwhelmed.

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Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?
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Wakonda high school, hats off to thee.

And our colors, true to thee we’ll ever be.

Firm and strong united are we!

Hoorah rah rah, Hoorah for Wakonda high school!

 

When I was a kid we lived in the Tundra for eight years. The incessant cold all but atrophied my grey matter; the above is what is left in the memory bank of our school song, a cloudy memory from the second grade. This Christmas season brings back memories of that time, and my parents, whom I miss more than I can say. This was a divine time in our lives, a time of innocence and possibility.

Our first years as a family were fairly idyllic in small town South Dakota, Wakonda, population 405. Wakonda is an Osage Indian word meaning “Great Creator”, an abstract, omnipresent spirit. Curious that my awareness and seeking of God began when we lived in Wakonda.

SD House Sized (2)

My folk’s first home was actually their dream home; they paid less for it than you would a used car now.  It was on a corner two acre lot with cherry trees, apple trees and crab-apple trees. This place was an absolute marvel for a kid!

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Mary and the Teeth Gnashers

Mary and the Teeth Gnashers
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It seems to me that if there is a bad taste in your mouth, you should spit it out. You don’t constantly swallow it back.”  Amazing Grace, Michael Apted, 2006

 

Hours on end we sat on those hard pews looking up at the minister.  We listened, my girlfriends and I.  Week after week we learned and prayed and wondered why.  And, why not?

The Good Book was read to us and by us, stories that left us out. We felt less than. God was male, disciples were men, preachers were all men, deacons were men, and choir directors were all men. We felt less than.

So few examples to look to, to emulate. Women were revered because they were obedient and docile. From the bible, it seems the only way for a woman to redeem herself as worthy was to give birth multiple times and preferably to male children.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

I am grateful for the bible stories that do tell other stories of women.  We see the perseverance and divine insight of Anna, the faith of Mary Magdalene which lead to healing of her chronic illness, Pilot’s wife warning her husband of her powerful dream about Jesus, “this innocent man”(which he ignored).  The story of Priscilla was encouraging, as she was chosen by Paul to shepherd a church he left behind, and Miriam who questioned authority and helped Moses lead the Hebrew people to the Promised Land.

There were too few of these stories and unless you excavated them, you never even heard them.

It’s sad when you remember where value was placed when many of us were girls. It was accepted as just the way things were. Girls grew up understanding their worth, and later as adults hid the hurt because mentioning it brought on not just opposition, but wrath. Not only from men, but sadly from other women.

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