Sunday Inspiration

Found this beautiful song a few weeks ago…I love the words, and the ending is a reminder of a song I grew up with, “It Is Well With My Soul.” Brave encouragement!

I’m on the ferry

I’m on the ferry, traveling from Ketchikan to Bellingham, WA. I’m bringing my car out; my car, which I bought new when we moved to Ketchikan in 2009.

My Subaru Tribeca has just over 14,000 miles on it.

Ah, the beauty of living on a small island! Well, the miles will add up quickly enough now.

As of Wednesday, I don’t live in Alaska. I’ll still be working there on a regular basis, part of each month. But I don’t live there any longer.

It’s a beautiful state, and I’ve learned so much during my years there. I’ve gained and I’ve lost. I’ve known joy and sorrow.

A lot of my reasons for moving my hub back to the lower 48 are about family. I want to be closer, and I want travel to be easier and less expensive.

I’m appreciative for the good that came out of my Alaska time, and regretful for the things that weren’t good. But to be fair, good and bad happens throughout life, regardless of location, and I don’t want to irrationally blame an entire state for the ups and downs I experienced there.

Still, I think my frontier adventures are more behind me than before me. The work that I’ll continue to do is very structured, and will likely be time limited.

Today I’m watching the water and mountains of the Inside Passage go by from the upper deck of a state ferry, and I’m thinking about so many things…people and amazing experiences that were part of life in Alaska.

Was it a good thing to move there in 2006? Or would I have been wiser to continue life in Colorado?

Impossible to know for sure…but I’ve learned that good things come and pass, and bad things come and pass…it is my task to keep my balance, to respond to events with love, grace, and calm, and to recognize that sometimes we are only seeing the middle of the story when it looks like we are seeing the end.

The choice is not to be passive; it is to be intentional and deliberate, to be responsive rather than reactive. There is a difference in the two.

One of the things I was challenged to do at the November meditation retreat is to be patient, just observe, and then do the right thing. That’s it. That’s all I can do, and even that I can only do as I have ability. I don’t always get the waiting right…and I don’t always make the right choice.

But that is the intention, and that’s where I find myself today. I don’t know how the next chapter will unfold. There is no definite decision as to next home or hub. For right now it is Seattle, partly by default and convenience. But that could change.

As I sit each day, practicing the art of meditation, I remind myself that this is part of the work of life…sitting with patience, giving events opportunity to develop, and then choosing a path.

Sitting on the ferry, watching the water flow past, I’m in the right place.

Us

Happy today, doing the nothings of life,
Chores and errands feed me.
Who would have guessed that the simplest work
or the mundane round of the grocery store
could light up my face and warm my soul?
It is not the task that holds the magic,
but the companion.
And with you, boring is transformed to joy,
and simple becomes interesting.
With you, I am part of us,
And that is enough adventure
For me,
Wherever I am,
Whatever I am doing.

Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

Stories

Sunlight

I feel the whisper of your kiss on my shoulder.

The early morning light creeps in

And finds we two,

Curled in summer sheets,

Warm and secure.

How long did it take us to get here?

Through decades of life and living,

we struggled to find

the slow unhurried pace

of this moment.

We face each other and smile.

This was worth the wait,

and all the days of busy.

Kids and work, hustle-bustle,

life in the fast lane.

But now we have time.

And we have each other

in the morning light

Curled warm in summer sheets.

Half-hearted

I wake up slow

And remember fast.

That instant when I know

I’m alone in the bed, in the room, in the house.

But worse than that,

I’m alone in heart.

This is not the absence of a trip away

Or a few days’ separation.

This is forever.

And I don’t know how to think of that.

I don’t know how to imagine forever

Without you, without us.

We were a matched set,

And I don’t think I come as a single item.

I see myself sitting on the store shelf,

Someone wandering by

and looking at me curiously,

Only to put me back when it’s apparent:

Half of me is missing.

Unbroken

Last week I had the privilege of seeing the new movie “Unbroken.”

It’s a hard movie to watch, but an amazing story to digest.

It’s taken me several days of thinking and soul-searching to fully appreciate the story. Did I mention it isn’t easy to watch?

“Unbroken” is based on the true story of a WWII airman “Louie” Zamperini. The movie is largely focused on the events occurring during Zamperini’s captivity as a prisoner in a Japanese detention camp. He was often singled out for ridicule and cruelty, at least in part because he was a former Olympic athlete, and he drew the jealousy and disdain of the commander of the camp.

The movie portrays a troubled kid who finds direction and ambition through distance running. He was fast enough, successful enough, to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, and though he didn’t win a medal, he set a record for speed in the final lap of the 5000 meter race. He was slated to participate in the next Olympics, scheduled to be in Tokyo.

Ironically, Zamperini would visit Tokyo, but under very different circumstances than as an Olympic hero.

With the outbreak of WWII, lives and plans changed, and Zamperini joined the Air Force, becoming a bombardier.  When he and the crew he flew with crashed in the Pacific, Zamperini and two others survived the impact. The three men salvaged two inflatable rafts and managed to live over a month with very little food, rainwater, and the hope that came from remembered family scenes and sheer will to stay alive. Finally, on day 33, one of the three dies, leaving Louie and the pilot still adrift on the ocean.

But if the time on the ocean was horrific, day 47 brought a change for the worse. The two airmen were picked up by the Japanese, and were subjected to inhumane living conditions, near starvation, frequent beatings, mental cruelty.

It was hard to watch.

The strength those men displayed was inspiring. How do you keep going when you have nothing left?

And how do you find the courage to look your tormentor in the eye and dare him to do his worst with your look?

At one point Louie is told that he was reported to have died, and he’s offered the chance to speak to his family by radio to assure them he’s still alive. He accepts the offer, but when he’s asked to follow the first broadcast with another one, spreading Japanese propaganda, he refuses, and also passes up the easy life he could have had if he’d cooperated with his captors.

The first camp was attacked, so the prisoners were moved to another location. At the new camp the prisoners worked loading coal barges, and the commander who had singled out Zamperini earlier was again in charge. When Zamperini injures his ankle and struggles to work, the commander orders him to lift a heavy wooden beam above his head, and orders his guards to shoot Zamperini if he drops it.

Watching Zamperini struggle with the heavy load, covered in coal dust, weakened, almost defeated in every way…but then somehow, someway, manage to lift the beam…not just lift it but push it high, fully extending arms to hold it up…the other prisoners stopped in their tracks, the guards and the commander all stared at this man who reached within himself to find unbelievable strength. The commander was so incensed at this victory by his captive enemy that he beat  Zamperini savagely, and then broke down himself. It was a scene that seemed to demonstrate how even when brutally beaten Zamperini’s courage humbled and embarrassed his tormentor.

The war ended soon after and the captives were freed, reunited with their families and able to resume their lives.

Louie married and had two children. But do you think he escaped the memories and the nightmares of his ordeal?

The end of the story is told with a series of photos from Louie’s life, and a narration about how he was truly unbroken.

Louie eventually returned to Japan to meet with his former captors and to forgive them. The only one who would not meet with him was the commander who had treated him so cruelly.

In the end, Louie realized that forgiveness was more powerful than revenge.

He was even able to run in an Olympic Games in Japan, when he took part in carrying the Olympic Torch in 1998. Zamperini died just last year, July 2, 2014, at 97.

I wonder if we still have people like that among us? Men who can face the un-faceable with a determination that seems almost superhuman.

But you only had to see the scars to know: he was only too human.

I watch movies like this and I wonder: do I have that kind of strength? The kind that only appears when the direst of circumstances calls for it? The kind that you wouldn’t guess is there, until suddenly it’s on display for the world to see?

Courage blooms in the strangest of places. And some things that don’t seem courageous can be hardest of all.

I would be willing to bet it was harder, took more courage, for Zamperini to go back to Japan and meet with his captors than withstanding the beatings and hardships of prison.

Why? Because withstanding the beatings was an act of defiance, an act of sheer willpower and determination to survive. And though I can’t imagine the strength that took, I know the will to live is strong and gives power even when hope is gone.

But forgiveness!

Forgiving was an act of choice, an act of generosity, showed a bigness of spirit that can hardly be imagined.

Unless…oh yes, unless you grew up on a faith that celebrates that very attribute.

I’m grateful to acknowledge: I’ve never known the physical suffering that was portrayed in the movie. I’m sad to know that many people, even today, could likely identify with many scenes.

I’m humbled to acknowledge: I don’t know if I could forgive my enemies, if I had lived through that horror.

I’m challenged to acknowledge: I want to reach the point of knowing I could forgive, whatever the hurt. That doesn’t make me a saint…it means I want to be big enough to put myself aside and know: peace comes through forgiving, not revenge.

The final images of the movie were of a smiling elderly man. I’m sure Louie Zamperini died with physical scars from the injuries he endured as a prisoner. But I’m equally sure he found a way to escape the prison of hatred.

I’ll bet his soul was beautiful, even if his body wasn’t.

That’s my goal…I don’t have to overcome physical injury. But I’ve had my share of hurt and damage. I’m 54, and I have baggage. It’s not a contest…I know compared to many, my scars would be light. But the point isn’t the severity of the scars…the point is the healing power of forgiveness, the power that transforms scars into beauty.

Is it easy? Of course not! Does it take courage? Only all you have to give.

It takes an unbroken spirit to forgive those who tried to break it.

It takes an unbroken spirit to forgive those who tried to break it.

Unbroken spirits are not given, they are forged…forged in the will of determination and self-knowledge.

Unbroken spirits are not super-human, they are super-sure: Sure of who they are, what they stand for, and how to be bigger than pain, bigger than mean, bigger than revenge.

Unbroken spirits are called to rise to the challenge, rise big, be strong, be a light and a story that people will see and tell about.

Only time can tell if I will be unbroken…able to rise when I face challenges that would beat me down, and able to forgive when I’m beaten. But I hope I have that will, that grace, that strength, to the degree that I’m challenged in life.

I don’t need to be the stuff of movies. It will be enough if I inspire my children to be strong, or someone struggling with their burden. But I’d like to earn that title: Unbroken. It would be humbling, and an honor, to be anywhere near the character of Mr. Zamperini.

Happy New Year 2015!

January 1, and we’re off! Turning the page, starting a new round of resolutions, finding hope all over again. That’s the plan, isn’t it? A new year to motivate and sort out all the things that didn’t go as planned in 2014. Didn’t go right, didn’t go well, didn’t go at all.

Hope is my one word for 2015.

Hope is broad and generic…it covers anything and everything.

Hope is specific…detailed as my smallest dream, my simplest goal.

Hope is the secret ingredient in life that brings a smile to my face, even when reality isn’t yet the stuff of my dreams.

Hope tells me: I can change the future by how I approach today.

Hope reminds me: You never know how life will work itself out. Expect the unexpected.

Hope reassures me: There are always forces at work in life that I don’t see and can’t control, forces that result in good things that I couldn’t have forecast. Control doesn’t equal a good outcome, and lack of control doesn’t equal a bad outcome.

Hope sings its song to me, a song that only I can hear. I can hear it in the dark, and in times of storm.

I can see hope at work when nothing is visible to anyone else.

I can feel hope carrying me when I need the boost of encouragement.

Hope is as big as life, as strong as my challenges, as bright as the stars, as personal as my heart’s desires, and my word for 2015.

May each of you find your word for the coming year, and may you find the inspiration to carry you all the way to next December 31. Here’s hope for your year, your success, and the meaning that comes from life well lived!  ~ Sheila

Merry Christmas 2014!

May your day be merry and bright! Here’s a little treasure to enjoy, courtesy of the US Air Force Band. And God bless us, everyone! ~ Sheila

Merry Christmas

Christmas Eve

Another Christmas! This one is unique, and will take its place in the hall of Christmas memories. All years have their special joys, and some bring special sorrows. And sometimes the combination of the two lends the greatest poignancy. On Christmas Eve, I slow myself to think, and to absorb.

I mark the mystery. I celebrate faith in an event that shaped the world. Expectation hangs over the season and the day, mirroring the waiting of birth and the joy of new life. Faith is personal, but faith is also shared, and joyously visible in words and symbols. Faith is on display, a reminder that I am not alone. I will never be alone.

I mark the magic. I drink in the sight of children who are just old enough to realize: something is happening, something is coming, something is in the air. The growing awareness, the wonder, the anticipation…does it ever get old? And does it ever lose the power to restore a grown-up’s heart to child-like innocence? Children remind us that there is always goodness in life, always hope, always a reason for gratitude.

I mark the memories. Scenes from the past flood my thoughts as special moments flood my heart. I remember giving, and receiving; gifts that were unexpected, and all the more precious for the surprise; the times when we could say, “this is the good stuff.” I look at the loved ones in my life who celebrate with me and know: I am so blessed. I think of the ones who are no longer here, no longer part of the family scene, and know: they are so missed. The blessing and the missing get tangled up in my heart, until I hardly know which is which. Blessing and missing are inseparable realities of the day, and how could it be any different?

I mark the miles. The days of being surrounded by family are long gone. It’s hard to get everyone together…just too many challenges of distance, schedules, ages, and needs. But I’ve learned to appreciate the people and the moments, and if some gifts are exchanged before, or after, Christmas Day, well…it isn’t the opening that counts, it’s who you’re opening with. And sometimes you have to adjust your schedule to open gifts with family who are far and wide in many time zones. The important thing is that distance doesn’t separate hearts, and time zones don’t prevent us from sharing.

Tonight I’ll make my traditional foods for tomorrow morning, homemade cinnamon rolls and hand-rolled sausage balls. I’ll make full batches, though we don’t have a big group this year. But we’ll share around, and spread the joy, and snap photos. And we’ll mark this year’s surprises. We’ll add to the collection of memories, sweet and funny, heartwarming, and yes, the bittersweet. And in the end, I know we’ll say, “this is the good stuff.”

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Lighting the way!

Happy birthday Jack!

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Blue eyes!

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The serious side of Jack!

Our Jack turns two tomorrow. What a boy he is! He’s the sunniest little fellow, almost always happy and smiling…at least when I see him! He sings to himself…a little personality trait I think he got from his dad…I often hear his dad humming…now that’s a sign of a contented heart! Little Jack is learning the alphabet, and his words are growing every day. He’s blossomed so quickly from baby/toddler to little boy. Love that little guy!

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