Rise Up Reflections December 2016

Rise Up Reflections December 2016

The last month of the year in 2016…wow! I will admit that responding to the Daily Questions, especially this month’s Rise Up Reflections December 2016 and following last month’s presidential elections in the US  (think Trump!) has been especially challenging…which is why I kept my feet to the fire each and every day! (As in, getting me out of the middle of myself! Ha!) That said, there are some wonderful questions this month that really tug at the heart and soul. Hope you enjoy, and thank you very much for visiting!

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Dec 1: What small change could help to make the rest of my life the best of my life?

Having retired about fifteen months ago, I know that I am determined to stay active and productive. Active physically, as best I can with my current back conditions, but productive also with my photography, some writing and providing pastoral care to others as way opens through Spirit. And by and large this is a gift that is happening.

Still, I can feel an inner restlessness within me that I don’t quite understand. It gives me useful energy to do the things that I can and it nudges me to be thinking about what the next thing might be in my life. But I don’t want to be missing the ‘here and now’ of the everyday-ness of life either, so some balance in all that would serve me well. Finding harmony—that sweet spot— between intentional action and inner stillness is a life rhythm that when achieved would serve me well for the rest of my days on the planet.

Dec 2: If I did not care what people might think, what would my most outrageous expression of gratefulness be?

We live in a coastal community here in New England and we enjoy as an entire family, grandkids and all, going to the beach throughout the year. During the summer months many years ago when our own children were young I used to take a long tall pole with a colorful thin banner on it and stick it in the ground. The wind would keep my colorful streamer flying high behind our chairs and blankets as we sat spending time with family and friends. For me it was a symbol of joy, that we’re here, alive, enjoying this day amid the waves and wind and sunshine.

My poor wife was always embarrassed by my very public display and after awhile she persuaded me to take it down for good. From time to time I think about that colorful banner blowing in the wind way back when and what it symbolized for me. Gradually, however, my photography and writing on my blog at Rise This Day in many ways has taken the place of my waving banner celebrating life. It’s not quite the same but it does the job of expressing my joy of life and living through a day.

Dec 3: What qualities am I grateful for in a friend?

That such a person finds enough goodness in me to consider me their friend.

Dec 4: What would allow me to be more tender toward those I encounter today?

By listening fully when others are speaking without thinking of my response before they finish talking; and, by truly paying attention to the language of their bodies and hearts.

Dec 5: How might I experience my meal when I truly ponder the people, animals, plants, and weather whose efforts brought me this nourishment?

Upon first reading today’s question, my first thought is, I would lose my appetite!

But I get it. Actually, I find myself thinking along these lines frequently whenever I’m about to begin eating, especially fruits and vegetables, knowing that so many of these foods are made available through the labors of many people who frequently are underpaid and/or who labor under harsh and poor working conditions. I also know that I am complicit upon taking my first bite, from the tea I am drinking as I write, to the coffee I will have later and the clementine I will have with my breakfast.

Dec 6: What miraculous blessings of my body do I most take for granted?

That after a night’s rest, more or less, my entire body regenerates itself for the new day ahead. I expect it to do so. I count on it to be ready to go day after day from one year to the next. But when I stop to think of it, that’s a rather bold expectation, isn’t it? I’m crossing my fingers, eating my oatmeal, hitting the gym and saying my prayers that parade marches on!

Dec 7: How can I be of service today? Rise Up Reflections December 2016

One of the books by the late Ram Dass is titled “How Can I Help?” which is about service. I have always found that by keeping that book’s title uppermost in my mind and heart as I go about my day helps me to see and to feel where I could be of service to others. However, the trick for me is to remember this and not slide into a fog as I go about running errands and such and missing those little moments when being of service to others might be close at hand—that is, if I keep myself aware for it.

Dec 8: Who has passed from your life and left you more grateful for knowing them?

Rise Up Reflections December 2016
Jim Toothaker

James Toothaker – A friend and fellow Quaker and minister who nurtured me early on when I was new to Quakerism in the 1970’s and then guided me in ministry in the years that followed. Jim taught me to see and feel the beauty in people, in stone formations and in the world as a whole with fresh eyes and with hope. He died in the mid 1980’s in his eighth decade of life. I am looking at his picture as I write.

Dec 9: When have I offered someone authentic forgiveness? What did I learn?

Many years ago I was wrongly accused of an action that caused me considerable hardship and stress in both my professional life and within ministry. Five years after the accusation the person sent me a hand written note of apology. I had to sit with this welcomed development, which in itself created another burden for me. Should I accept this person’s apology at face value, even though many others involved in the initial issue would never know that an apology was made?

I did accept this person’s apology and in doing so it forced me to deal with the anger I was still feeling. But once I did so, and over time reconnected with this individual I discovered that the feeling of true and honest forgiveness is indeed a gift that one gives oneself, and it’s freeing for the heart, body and soul.

Dec 10: What inspires me every day?

What inspires me every day? Waking up!

Dec 11: What sentiment could I share today that would be healing for everyone I encounter?

The words of William Penn, modified for today’s language, “Now let us see what love can do,” has served me well over the years. The phrase is less about intended action and more about a quiet sense of where to meet the other, an ideal place for healing to take hold.

Dec 12: How does longing enrich my life?

My experience of longing has been that it has the potential of enriching my life when it eventually morphs into action. Otherwise it just remains as a steady ache in the heart and gut and is of little use to me or anyone else.

Yet longing has a job to do. It’s presence, for myself at least, also acts as a seasoning agent over time that has me weighing the pros and cons, the do’s and don’ts, assessing fear and the shape of failure before gathering strength to take action.

Dec 13: What do I truly give away without expectation of return or reciprocity?

Everything. Why not? If I give what I can, share what I know or offer my help when it appears needed and I do so expecting something in return, that’s not giving or sharing, that’s commerce.

Dec 14: If I knew I had a month to live, what would I start doing now?

Wow! Thank you. I woke up this morning feeling grateful and reasonably certain for having this day to live, and now I have a whole month? That’s awesome! That gives me time for even more beach walks with my wife, to see our grandkids, to get my finances in order, to update my photography files, to say thank you to scores of people, and to wrestle with God to extend my contract.

Dec 15: When have you given a gift to someone that you truly gave away with no strings attached? How did it feel?

Today’s question seems very similar to the Dec 13 question, so it feels like I am repeating myself.  But here goes; I seldom think of what I might do or give to another as having given them a “gift.” I just do it and that is that. Of course it always feels good to be able to give to and share with others, but I give what I can not to feel good for myself, but because the doing and giving for others is just the right thing to do, period.

Dec 16: What strengths of character have I earned from the hardest times in my life?

That I can do and handle, thus far at least, anything that comes at me, from sudden job loss, financial struggles, public humility, health challenges, loss of loved ones and believing people are basically good, that faith is important and family is everything.

Dec 17: What books have made me feel most grateful?

The Family of Man. The Museum of Modern Art, 1955
The Sun: Not a book, but an excellent monthly magazine. Edited by Sysafransky.
Let Your Life Speak, by Parker J. Palmer. 2000
The Only Necessary Thing, by Henri Nouwen. 1999
The Journal of John Woolman. 1774. A Quaker classic.

Dec 18: Every life experience contains seeds of wisdom no matter how hidden the blessing. What seeds can you harvest right now?

As soon as I finish reflecting upon and sharing my response to today’s question, I need to finish preparing a First Day School lesson (Sunday School) to share with a group of children ages 6 – 11! A ridiculous age spread for sure! I need to harvest my own faith and life experience of what the season of Advent means, spiritually, beyond the hype of Christmas giving of toys and so forth. And this needs to happen without tarnishing the anticipated joy and expectation that children have of Santa and the arrival of Christmas morning.

I also thought to myself, “Okay Jesus, I could use some help here. After all, this is Your party as I recall!” Maybe that means, just pray, Kevin, just pray.

Dec 19: If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?

Probably more complaints! If we can’t complain, what on earth will we talk about?

But seriously, if I could let go of all my complaints, what would I personally find underneath?  OPPORTUNITY.

Dec 20: How do I love trees? Let me count the ways….

Rise Up Reflections December 2016
A Grand Old Maple…whom I miss.

Trees! For me, trees possess so much more than just their physical beauty. In fact I wrote an article for the Gratefulness blog awhile ago called “The spiritual strength of trees.” Here’s the link (below) on this site if anyone would like to check it out.

http://gratefulness.org/grateful_living/the-spiritual-strength-of-trees/

Dec 21: How can I be a better friend?

By remembering to ask, “How are you?” and making a point to truly listen.
By reaching out to a friend whom I haven’t seen in awhile for no particular reason other than to say hello and to catch up.
By asking a friend who is struggling with something, “How can I help?”
By accepting my friend just as he or she is and in the “place” that they’re in.

Dec 22: How can I make time and space for the gift of silence today?

I can receive and benefit from the gift of silence today simply by allowing it to happen! Every waking moment doesn’t need to be filled to the brim with constant noise and chatter. Making room for silence can be difficult and uncomfortable for many people I realize. But silence, be it for minutes or days on end at a retreat is so rejuvenating for the heart and soul.

Dec 23: Toward what person can I open my heart, and make a needed difference for both of us?

In my more optimistic moments, I wish that I could open my mind and my heart to Donald Trump, the incoming US president. It distresses me to think that I will hold this person with such contempt for the next four years and possibly beyond. The things that Mr. Trump stands for run counter to nearly all of my values politically, socially and morally. Of course, regardless of how much or how little my heart might open to Mr. Trump, I seriously doubt that it would make a difference to him at all.

Dec 24: How can I cultivate peace in the midst of chaotic moments?

As a Quaker, (and since Quakers are “supposed” to be all about peace!) centering myself in a prayerful place, even while speaking, has usually helped to lessen chaotic situations. It usually works, but not always. Being aware of, and staying with my breathing, in a meditative mindset, almost always helps too. In general, keeping myself calm, and my voice, and listening more than speaking has almost always helped to lessen chaotic situations.

As a pastoral counselor with training in mediation and conflict resolution, we were taught a few simple approaches for helping to lower the temperature in a room when things begin to get heated, agitated or chaotic. If everyone is standing up, then be the first to sit down. Respond to questions being asked or statements being made by reframing them as questions using calm, clear, and short responses. If possible, use the person’s name within the response which helps to make the other person, or persons, feel heard. That’s a start, at least.

With the above as a backdrop, I try to keep the following three things in mind when I find myself in the middle of tense and chaotic situations:

  1. Don’t fix anything.
    2. Don’t ride a horse you’re not on.
    3. Ask yourself, when movement on an issue seems impossible at that particular time; “Do I want to die on this hill today?

Dec 25: How can I be a source of gracious surprise for someone today?

Perhaps by calling or writing to someone whom I haven’t seen in a long time and have become disconnected from. I have a few friends that have moved away or had to relocate due to jobs, etc, and with the passage of time we have just lost touch with each other.

Here’s wishing those good folks who frequent Gratefulness.org a joy and peace filled holiday season!

Dec 26: What can I learn from my regrets?

Oh gosh, how much time do I have? It could take hours! But, the most important thing that I think I have learned over time is to accept my regrets for what they are and let them go. There’s a few long-ago regrets that do keep rolling back into my conscience from time to time, and those I consider how they might be informing me, guiding me to a better place or perhaps limiting me still in some way.

Most of my past regrets were connected to life choices which seemed right at the time. But most are ones that I cannot do anything about today anyway, so why bother fretting over them? Then again, when it has seemed useful, a few of my past regrets have been helpful to share with others so that they might avoid a particular decision. When this happens, it creates something of value to another person out of something that had been a regret of mine earlier in life.

Stepping back though with a longer view on this topic, I wonder: It seems to me that “regrets” are close cousins of uncertainty, self-doubt and self-blame that when labored over excessively serves little good. Today’s question, though instructive, reveals a delicate walk, I feel, between learning from our regrets and being overly influenced by them.

Dec 27:  How could a sense of gratitude shift my perspective in this moment?

Quite easily, actually! Some days, even some moments, and here’s how:

On days when I rise and my back is roaring and I need to take meds, I try to remind myself that hey, I’m alive and I’m fortunate that I have medication to relieve my pain.

I am disappointed that it’s far too windy to go rowing in the harbor this morning with my fellow rowers, but gosh, I get to dress for the gym and go there instead! How lucky am I to have such options!

I can’t work on my photos this morning because my pc is in the shop for repairs. Poor me, I have to use my tablet to return emails and share on this site today. As I write I am reminded of a note that i received from a man last year who told me he can only comment on my blog once a month when he’s able to get to the public library in his city.

I deal with some fluctuating right eye health issues due to a retinal occlusion that can be really annoying sometimes. Our dog, Gracie, who is totally blind, waits for the jingle of car keys and my pronoucement, “Do you want to go for a ride?” then walks to the van, hops in, sits in the front seat, all excited, gets to the conservation land, waits to be leashed, jumps out and happily leads the way up the trail. She can’t see a thing yet couldn’t be happier!

It’s not even 6 AM yet and I’ve lost track of the number of things I can be grateful for. Now how to remember this hour by hour!

Dec 28: What memories sustain me?

Memories of my childhood; recollections of our three daughters growing up, memories of early ministry and beginning a new retreat program for Quaker children; and 31 years working as a youth advocate for my community are all precious memories I carry with me every hour and day. Semantics perhaps, but it’s just the way that my mind works, such as it is!

Dec 29: Given that are all perfectly imperfect, how can I better embrace imperfection in life?

Oh, I seem to have no difficulty embracing my imperfections! In fact, I am told that a few of my imperfections have achieved art status.

Dec 30: How have I experienced gratefulness amidst periods of hardship or loss?

As I reflect on years past during times of personal and/or household hardship that it was also a time when we were made aware of all that we did have at that moment. Perhaps that’s just human nature, to comfort and remind oneself with the good that is present during times of challenge. But whatever it is or why we do it, it sure helps to ride out times of hardship.

Holding on to a measure of gratefulness during times of loss, and especially death, is a different animal, I believe. But I know that I have felt it many times. Sometimes it’s as simple as being grateful for my own life, that’s continuing, even as I mourn the loss of someone I’ve loved or who was a friend. A somewhat unpleasant fact of life is being aware that the older we get, the more funerals we find ourselves attending. A refrain that I’ve spoken to myself many times is, “anytime I can walk out of a funeral home it’s not a bad day at all.” A course and blunt statement for sure, but it surely reminds us of our own gift of life yet unfolding. And for that I am truly grateful.

Dec 31: How would I live this day, if I thought it might be my last?

For starters, I would do my best to see the faces and hear the voices of all the people I love, starting of course with my family members. This might take more than a day to do, so perhaps I should just take a long slow walk on the beach with my wife.

Okay, I have done my duty and answered today’s question, which, btw, on the last day of the year is a rather depressing question! However, upon first reading it, this is how I wanted to respond:

I’d rather live this day and not ever, ever, think that it might be my last day to live, period. Because to do so runs counter to how I live my life, which reminds me of a favorite line from Zorba the Greek:

“Maybe you’re right, Boss. It all depends on the way you look at it….look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. “What, granddad!” I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned round and said, “My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied, “And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’ ‘Which of us was right, Boss?”  (Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba The Greek.)

I rest my case! Happy New Year to all!

Thank you for visiting Rise Up Reflections December 2016. I am truly honored.

Text and images by K. Lee