As I look in the rear view mirror of the month of April, it was indeed a month chock-full of new life coming with springtime and newly made commitments of marriage (See April 9 entry) at a wedding that I had the pleasure of conducting. Rise Up Reflections April 2016 found me answering several thought-provoking daily questions from Gratefulness.org that inspired me to write and post a few new articles and pages, such as: When the Bridge is gone, the Narrowest Plank Becomes Precious, and Answering Questions About Grief and Loss.
As in previous months, I invite visitors to also reflect on the questions listed below and to answer them for your own exploration of heart and soul.
April 1: Who do I want to learn more about?
Lately I have been thinking again about Brother Lawrence, the fifteenth century monk. It’s been years since I’ve read the writings attributed to his early life and later ministry. His way of being in conversation with God all day long, of devoting the rest of his life to working in his monastery’s kitchen and referring to himself as the “lord of all pots and pans,” has always moved me deeply.
I’m grateful for the prompt today. From here I’m moving to my bookshelf to find that book on Brother Lawrence!
April 2: What acts of kindness did I notice or experience today?
I have yet to slide out into the world around me today, so we will see what acts of kindness unfolds throughout the day.
But sitting here in the delicious hour of 5 AM, I have always felt that the solitude and quietness of this time of day is itself a gentle and kind time of day which always feels like a blessing.
April 3: How can I ease the path that others are walking today?
This is a good question for me today because I have two important meetings within my faith community following worship today. Not that such gatherings are ever contentious in nature, but being mindful of the path that others are on is always a good thing. At the most basic, interpersonal level, if I listen fully and with an open heart to truly hear others, that should go a long way. I’m sure that another question here on another day will nudge me to examine how this day went!
April 4: What wisdom do I most want to pass on to the world as my legacy?
That, “It doesn’t matter what color you paint your God, just find one.”
April 5: What are some of the joys that come from being exactly the age I am right now?
I have worked many jobs since I was 14 years old, and for most of those years working more than one job at a time. Today, I am thrilled to be able to say how grateful I am to be fully retired, active, and doing whatever I want to do! Such a blessing, indeed.
April 6: Sit quietly and notice your breath breathing itself. How can you remember your breath as a blessing?
Being in touch with my breath Is something I have been doing for many years, perhaps because of learning and practicing healing touch work, energy work or reiki with others. When providing pastoral care to others (non-touch) I pay close attention to their breath whenever possible. I have also done breathing exercises with my youthful clients in the past. The interesting thing is that whenever I do this with others, it immediately impacts and informs my own breathing as well.
It has been my experience that breath, in this case my breath, can, when I am truly paying attention, be a river of energy, information and a path to that which is holy.
April 7: In the garden of life, what do the weeds teach me?
Weeds happen. They’re everywhere, yet their flowers, when left to bloom, are quite stunning and beautiful. In life, I suppose I do my best to work around the obstacles and distractions that keep me from completing a task or moving through my day. But sometimes it’s the unexpected, the unplanned and looked-over little things, much like weeds, that have brought surprise, a smile and something new to me also.
April 8: How can I make my life more meaningful, starting today?
Honestly, I am satisfied with the meaningfulness of my life at the present moment. I am blessed with so many riches all around me. What I hope and pray for, and to do with all that is within my power, is to take care of my health, keep praying, exercise daily, continue to look for new things that stimulate my sense of wonder, and imagination and to get a good night’s sleep in the process! If I can do that, everything else will take care of itself!
And with that, it’s time to drag my bones off to the gym! Hope everyone here has a glorious day.
April 9: (Funny thing, no question came from the site this morning, so I decided to reflect on the wedding that I will be officiating at today.)
Within hours I will be officiating at a wedding for a young couple. I have known the bride-to-be since she was a young girl, which makes the occasion very special for me, and of course the young woman’s family, too. I’m sitting in my home office with papers all about that have been added into what will be the wedding program later today.
Even in today’s society (in the US at least) that for the most part supports open relationships among couples, I am always amazed how significant the institution of marriage is still to most who experience it. It still matters, and it matters a lot. The beauty in all this, for me, is being a part of this process, of overseeing and pulling the pieces together so that what unfolds will be joy-filled, spiritual and meaningful to all in attendance. The couple has been living together for a few years already, but today, they have decided to marry, and they are very excited, indeed. That too, is beautiful.
April 10: What feeling states do I most deeply desire to experience?
To be of use. To be able to bring some measure of comfort, joy and shelter to others in heart and spirit at this new and emerging stage of my life. My hope and my passion these days, having recently retired, is to continue to find ways for my writing and photography, primarily though my blog at Rise This Day, to be a source of support and a resource that provides value to those who visit. That is my hope, my prayer and my passion.
April 11: What struggles are offering me opportunities to grow right now?
In a strange way I am struggling with not working extensively day in and day out with young people as I have for the past four decades. Yet I am also enjoying the freedom to do things that I never had enough time for before retirement.
I have intentionally, with the support of a small committee of Quakers who meet with me, to do “no new thing” for one year following retirement. The idea is to welcome a time to be “fallow” for rest and renewal and to wait for what that of the Spirit may lead me to do next…or not. It’s hard to be patient and trust in this process. Then again, I so love what I’m doing now also. Such a lovely challenge to have, actually!
April 12: In what moments do I feel the greatest contentment?
The moments when I feel the greatest contentment are:
Spending time in front of our fireplace with my wife.
When I’m walking our dog on the beach or in the woods.
Anytime I’m out rowing and steering with my team.
When I finish a piece of writing that I can live with.
When I capture an image the way I had hoped to.
When my entire family, three daughters, three son-in-laws and six grandkids are all at our house.
April 13: Caring for others is a blessing. For whom do I care?
I care for my wife, (who cares for me, also.) I care for each other member of my family. In the realm of pastoral care, there are at any given time as many as my heart and spirit can hold.
Then during retreats or at our annual conference (Quakers) my role as the pastoral counselor greatly increases the number of people for whom I care for. Of course I don’t provide direct care to all of them at the same time, but I am present and available to everyone when and if needed. It’s not direct physical care in the sense of the word, but it is caring just the same, which requires intentionality, prayer and listening, and all of it is indeed a privilege and a blessing.
Speaking of caring for and helping others, check out my page of quotes called Helping Others Helps Us Too. (Thanks)
April 14: What are the riches in my life that cannot be lost?
The riches in my life that cannot be lost is the love of my family from past to present and all of the people I have known, loved or cared for in my life up to the very minute I post this reflection.
April 15: What are the simplest things that bring me joy?
A good, strong cup of English tea when I wake up each morning.
Seeing the sun rise while rowing early in the morning.
Writing an article on a new topic on my blog and pressing “publish.”
Watching our grandchildren play amongst themselves.
A romp on the beach or in the woods with our dog.
Falling into bed at night after a day well lived.
April 16: When have I felt delight?
Just the other day in fact. I received a Facebook message from a woman, now in her late 30’s, married with two children, thanking me in great detail for having helped her when she was struggling as a teenager. Imagine that? After all these years and now retired, to have received something like that out of the blue? That brought me both joy and delight.
April 17: With whom or where can I be still and listen?
Whenever I am meeting with someone for the purpose of pastoral care, that’s a time when I am most still and listening deeply. When I am sitting in meeting for worship among other Quakers each week, the silence, and stillness, is rich and deep which leads me inward for even deeper listening.
April 18: Where does reverence arise in my life?
It may sound a bit cheesy, but I have a sense of deep reverence for that of life itself, be they plants, animals, water and of course, people. Beyond the natural world as we know it, I hold a sense of ongoing reverence for the presence of the Holy Spirit at work within my life and among other people near and far. It’s hard to explain. It’s just something that came into my life many years ago and never let me go. It shapes, colors and strengthens everything I do.
April 19: If what I appreciate appreciates, what is appreciating in my life?
Seems today’s question could be answered from several angles depending on how one reads it. I’ll approach it from what I appreciate within my life.
I appreciate time, my family, this time of year, which is springtime for me. I appreciate a good meal; words that work; decent scotch; spending time with my grandkids; apple crisp; salt air and rowing, which I’m on my way to do right now!
April 20: How would my life change if I measured it by moments rather than by the clock?
Having retired just six months ago, I am slowly discovering that the time of day and even which day of the week it is are becoming less and less central to what I do or don’t do in any given day. And while I was craving to have more time as I neared retirement, I also never realized just how “un-clocked” I would become once I stopped working all week.
I cannot say though that I am truly living by moments. I prefer early mornings for writing, then exercising, then photography for much of the mornings. In the afternoon its outside for yard work or walks with my wife and our dog. Around three in the afternoons, there’s a couch with my name on it too! I may not be governed by the clock, but I’m still wearing my watch, I keep an online calendar of commitments and planned writing projects, and I always like to know roughly what time of day any given moment I might be in.
It seems I’m just a newbie in this living by ‘moments’ thing. Besides, I have many things I am looking forward to doing tomorrow, next week and in the months that follow. And those things have a better chance of becoming moments when I focus on making them happen. Still, I appreciate today’s question very much even if I’m not there yet or may choose to never arrive.
I realize too that this ‘moment’ of reflection will end shortly and abruptly when our six grandkids that are sleeping over in the next room wake up and the rumble of day begins! Now there’s a moment for sure!
April 21: Gratefulness is humbling. What does that mean to you?
When I consider and experience gratefulness as humbling, it takes me out of the center of my own universe. All that I receive within and upon me, through all of my senses, through daily nourishment that springs from this earth and fuels my body, is a gift and a treasure, of which I do not own.
I may have purchased the tea and the cup I am holding to drink my tea, but the tea was grown and the cup forged elsewhere, by nature and craftsman first, then made available for me to purchase. I am grateful for my hot tea and grateful for what grows and the hands that made my cup.
April 22: Whose kindness has touched me?
Many people’s kindness has touched me. So many in fact that it is difficult to choose just one. Besides, it’s easy to recollect people whom I know that are kind in every-day situations. What I marvel at are those people out there who manage to express outright kindness to specific people who are agitated, angry or dissatisfied in some way over a particular situation. They may be upset about a service or product not working property, or feel that they have been mistreated in some way, and when they present their issue to someone whose job it is to help them sort it out, that person (usually) remains calm, courteous, listens well and then right’s the wrong with a genuine smile with “can-do” body language. Now that’s kindness.
Oftentimes these people are found in places we might not expect, like behind the return desk at Wal-Mart, and even in a stuffy, cramped government office building where there is a person whose job it is to help citizens with their problems. There may not be enough of these types of good, kind people, but they’re out there and we oftentimes don’t give them a thought. I know that I sometimes need to remember this when I’m standing in line waiting for service and when it’s finally my turn, a kind and friendly face is ready to help me. I need to remember to be grateful for this person, too.
April 23: What is the weather in my heart today and what should I “put on” or “take off” if I want to enjoy it?
I am responding to today’s question in the literal sense first because the timing is so perfect! Here’s why; my rowing team is scheduled to row today at 6:30 AM and it’s my job as the boat steerer to cancel due to inclement weather. On days that I row, I dress for those conditions, otherwise I dress for the gym. I have two sets of clothing ready to go. But every now and then, like today, I’m dressed for rowing and notice that it has started to rain, and so I change again for the gym.
It occurs to me that certain days can be like that also, a need to change, to take off or put on, for the prevailing and unanticipated conditions. I know too, that whenever I resist making the adjustment the day doesn’t go very well.
April 24: Can I take a moment to appreciate that a “really hard day” for me, might actually feel like a good day to others? How might this be true?
It’s perfectly understandable and normal that if I’m having a “really hard day” that another person, or many other people actually, may be having a terrific day. In fact I count on hearing that from others I meet when my day isn’t going very well. Knowing this lifts me up and gives me hope that tomorrow may bring a better day. Thinking otherwise, for me at least, would mean that I’ve got my head stuck in my own universe and orbit!
April 25: What needs to be released in my life, in order for me to live more fully?
In the wishful thinking department, my response would be that I need to “release” the nerves and arthritis that causes my back to be in varying levels of constant pain. That’s what I would like to release! Oh the things I could do if that happened! That would be so nice. But what I continue trying to do is not release it, but to learn better ways of living as well as possible with it, and some days I’m good at it and other days not so good! Welcome to life, right?
April 26: What might I do to help someone smile today?
Prompting a smile from another person almost always happens when I greet them by name, make direct eye contact and simply say, “It’s good to see you again.” That usually does it.
April 27: What would others say are my greatest gifts? What can I learn from this?
To be honest, I am not at all comfortable talking about or even writing what my greatest gifts may be. It’s not because I don’t know what those gifts are, I do know, but they are gifts that have come to me spiritually, emotionally and through place and being present where I am. I do not own them. My duty is to provide stewardship of the gifts that are entrusted to me and to live into them, not talk or write about them. Others may speak of whatever gifts they may sense are within me, and if they do, I should be praying as they speak.
April 28: How would my life change if I believed everything is happening for my learning?
For me, I’m not sure it’s about “believing,” but rather “expecting” that I should always try to learn from the things that happen to me and learn from the events that happen all around me. To do otherwise is to lose an opportunity to fully utilize my God-given human faculties and to grow as a person throughout my life. The trick though, for me, is to find openings of insight even when that learning is painful, as in times of loss, financial distress, worry or finding the hidden lessons in disappointment and dreams unrealized. Making sense of these harder things, when I can, changes my tomorrows for the better.
April 29: What vulnerability needs my compassion right now?
Right now? Then I’d have to say that my own chronic back pain could use some compassion from me. When it keeps me from doing some of what seems like the simplest things, it makes me very frustrated. Or, when I go ahead and do things that I know will end up leaving me in pain the following day, let’s just say that I don’t have kind thoughts about my lower back! And feeling that way never helps either, I realize. I’ve been taught by others that how I envision this condition, and the kind of energy I send to this part of my body, including being compassionate to it, also impacts my pain levels. As a person who has done healing work with many people, I get that, but I don’t remember it often enough, I’m sure.
April 30: What do I need to shift today, in order to feel more grateful?
At this very moment, sitting here in the pre-dawn light and attending a weekend conference among Quakers engaged in ministry, the shift I am eager to make is to just settle in as a conference attendee to listen and learn from folks from all over the country. It’s always nice to switch out our usual daily rhythms for something different now and then, even though I tend to treasure the every-day things that I do at home day in and day out.