Rise Up Reflections August 2016

Welcome to Rise Up Reflections August 2016! August certainly turned out to be a very tumultuous month, personally and emotionally for me! (See August 12 entry) Hopefully the fall months will feel more “normal,” whatever that means! Thanks for visiting.

Rise Up Reflections August 2016

August 1: When was the last time I made someone smile widely, or laugh hard?

Just yesterday, actually. I was in a committee meeting with fellow Quakers and we had just finished considering a few tender items on our agenda. When the next item came up, which was mundane in nature, I took a light-hearted approach to it and made a playful comment that for some reason cracked everyone up. It wasn’t so much what I said, but what others added on top of what I said, and before we knew it we were all laughing. It was one of those cleansing moments that we sometimes don’t know that we need until after we’ve experienced it.

August 2: What makes me come alive?

A strong cup of tea before dawn, a good prayer or poem to savor, being on or alongside the water and the sound of children— all in just about that order.

August 3: Who is waiting for me to be kind?

My sense is that everyone I meet would be hoping, if not expecting, me to be kind.

August 4: What is on my “not to do” list?

I am in my 11th month of a one year commitment following my retirement to do “no new thing” for one full year. It’s an intentional decision, a practice really, to allow time to see where that of the Spirit may lead me to next.

I especially like the way that today’s Dailey Question is worded, enough so that I feel a new article welling up within for my blog! Thank you, good folks at Gratefulness!

August 5: What lessons can I learn from mindfulness? How can I practice mindfulness today?

It may be just me, but I don’t think of mindfulness and the value of practicing it in terms of learning lessons. Instead, I approach mindfulness as a state of awareness and being present, not even thinking, so that the boundaries of thought and what’s in it for me are pushed away from whatever conscious awareness I might have at a particular moment of time. When that happens, which I confess doesn’t happen often enough, new ways of seeing, giving and doing appear all around me.

The best way for me to answer the second part of today’s question is to just begin and then try to forget the question. Chances are I may not be able to do that either.

August 6: What makes my heart sing?

What makes my heart sing is listening to music, preferably live and watching the sun come up in the morning. Of course being with family and now and then catching just the right image with my camera makes my heart sing too.

I also enjoy greatly connecting with other people who share similar interests over great distances online. I was born 35 years before the Internet and every now and then I pause to remember with gratitude that this amazing tool wasn’t always here.

August 7: What can envy teach me? How can I learn from it, and let it go?

There are surely some things that I like or that I desire to have or experience. But personally and emotionally, I’m pretty sure that I’m being honest when I say that I don’t envy what other people may have or what they can do that I cannot do.

It could be said though that I admire greatly the skills of certain writers and photographers, but I don’t envy them.  I am inspired by their work which in turn helps me to improve my own skills. That’s not something I want to let go of. Instead, I carry it with me everywhere.

August 8: What animal am I most grateful for? Why?

Our beloved family dog, Grace. Even at just four years of age, she’s had a case of sudden onset of glaucoma, now in both eyes and despite excellent veterinarian care, she’s almost blind. Lately she’s been teaching us what patience, dealing with change and trusting in others for total care looks like.

August 9: What smell/aroma provokes a grateful memory? What is the story of this memory?

I began working on farms as a kid and was a farmer for ten years as a young adult. I left farming in ‘79 for other careers. Today, whenever I drive by a freshly cut field of hay and smell the aroma of it curing in the sun it brings me right back to my farming days of the sounds of farm machinery, cows bellowing and calves scurrying about and blatting for their mamma.

Many careers leave us with memories. But when you’ve worked with livestock, crops, living things and the land, there’s a power and knowing that settles down deep in the bones that never dies.

August 10: What if my Hindrance might be my Furtherance?

In some ways I have found this to be absolutely true in one area of my life.  I’ve been dealing with, and have been treated for, significant back pain for nearly a decade now. It has required me to greatly alter many things that I used to enjoy doing, and completely stopping doing certain other physical activities that I had long enjoyed. Fortunately, I go to the gym daily and still steer for my rowing team three days a week, that otherwise keeps in decent shape.

These days, with a specialized work station in my home office, and now being retired, I am able to write more and focus on creating photography with increased discipline and time. I am in the early stages of seeing just where that all leads (furtherance?) but I know if my back allowed me to do things that I used to enjoy doing, my daily routines would surely be different. I remind myself daily of my good fortunate to have options, to have a plan B to move into, as so many people, both near and far, have no other such options at all.

August 11: When did I last really “play?” What did play awaken in me?

With six grandchildren living nearby ranging in ages from 11 to 5, I’m happy to say that I get a chance to play with them on a fairly regular basis. One day it might be Wiffle ball or bean bag toss in the backyard, flashlight tag if it’s dark. I keep a small tub marked “study aids” on one side and labeled “cleaning supplies” on the other side, which I store and rotate on a high shelf. The labels are a decoy so the grandkids won’t want to check out the contents! Now and then, if it’s going to be a hot day and the family is over I take the tub down, open the lid and fill the twenty or so squirt guns inside up with water! When the grandkids arrive, it’s time to battle!

My life has been blessed with work and ministry among children and teens for over four decades, and now I am in the season of grandchildren. I’ve facilitated countless games and activities over the years and now and then I was able to jump in and take part in the “play” as well. However, I was always aware just how brief those moments of truly being lost in the sheer spirit of play was, and how quickly the adult in me roared back, to be responsible and on the lookout for all the places where play can go wrong. That’s a burden of adulthood, and one that children, thank goodness, need not carry.

These days as I somewhat dash around the yard squirting my grandkids or run (well, sort of) the bases playing Wiffle ball, the moments of truly being at play can last a bit longer, until that is, the voice of reality chimes in and my wife reminds me what tomorrow will feel like. And darn it, she’s always right, too.

Rise Up Reflections August 2016. Gracie.sm-1
Gracie before blindness

August 12: What aspect of myself is calling out for remembrance today? 

Today’s question, with the lead in photo of the adorable puppy looking straight up into the camera, is especially difficult for me. Our beloved dog, Gracie, lost her battle with glaucoma in both eyes and has gone totally blind just this week. Because the meds used to control her eye pressures, and the pain associated with very high pressures, are not working, she will have both eyes removed today and prosthetic implants inserted. I am grateful for the many photos we have of Gracie which will help us to remember how she looked when her eyes were healthy. Once Gracie heals, we look forward to having her being pain-free as she continues to be loved by us as she learns how to navigate around our home without vision.

August 13: How can I be even more generous with what I have?

These days I have the gift of much more flexible time in my day to day routines. I have been narrowing down which youth serving program, ideally one with the fewest resources and need for volunteers presently, could use my help.

August 14: How is my life better than it was 5 years ago?

Over the course of the last five years my life has been enriched by the birth of one more grandchild; continued availability of health care as I continue to live; and thus far I’ve been able to walk in, and most importantly out, of many funeral homes over the last five years.

Having had the privilege of becoming retired almost a year ago, I now have the gift of more available time, to care for others in new ways as they appear and to focus more clearly on my writing and photography, more so than five years before now.

August 15: How can I contribute to a more just world today?

In attempting to answer this question I feel that it is a whole lot easier to write or talk about contributing to a more just world than it is to actually do something about it that has a real impact. Like many people, I support various causes that do what they can to address the many issues needing attention around the world. But I am also aware that my own good fortune, quality of life and consumption of resources frequently has a direct and sometimes negative impact on under-served people around the world.

Of course, being aware, having compassion, speaking out against injustice and opening my wallet are all important things for me to be doing, but it still frequently leaves me feeling that so much more needs to be done.

August 16: What is magical to me?

It’s magical
how new life happens
how bodies heal
how day and night keep coming
how hope and faith unseen endures.

August 17: Difference brings gifts. How can I include someone in my life whom I might normally exclude?

Whenever I take the time to truly explore, to listen to others who express viewpoints on matters with which I do not share, I come away having learned new things or new perspectives. That may well be the gift received. And perhaps the other party received something too. I admit also that I don’t do this as often as I could, or should, because doing so takes time, and that’s where the first loss lies for sure.

I submit though that I don’t intentionally “exclude” the other in the course of living through a day, but rather, and unconsciously, just don’t “include” the other. Whether that is a function of natural selection, of choosing a path of least resistance, or a character flaw on my part, is a question I’m content to leave unanswered.

August 18: If I knew that I would always have enough, what would I share freely?

I try to share whatever I can whether or not I have enough. The needs of others and addressing those needs in any way that I can, should always be my first priority. The following quote applies to my response today and is one that I am reminded of often:

“If someone comes to you asking for help, do not say in refusal, “Trust in God. God will help you.”  Rather, act as if there is no God and no one to help except you.”  – Hasidic teaching

August 19: How is a challenging situation helping me to open my heart and my mind to a more expansive way of embracing the world?

On a purely personal level within my day-to-day world over the past few weeks, there is this: Our beloved dog, Gracie, who developed a sudden case of glaucoma, and despite a rigorous treatment plan, went totally blind and had to have both eyes removed in order to eliminate the pain she was in. She’s now making good progress in recovery (thanks also to many here who sent their best wishes!) and for that we are grateful indeed.

But the dog who loved a good off-leach romp along the beach and through the dune grass, or who bounded full-tilt around the yard chasing squirrels, who jumped into the van and into her seat in one seamless hop for a ride across town, of course, has changed. And she is teaching me new lessons.

Gracie is delighted, it seems, with each new day, and wags and twirls about to greet us each time we return home from running errands. She delights in sitting safely on-leach, in the shade of our yard as we do chores, and she wags and leaps to the ready for car rides, even though she cannot see where the car is, but allows me to guide her up her new dog ramp and into her seat. She looks happy, is pain-free and is adjusting and I am doing my best to catch up and following her lead.

For sure, all this is a minor moment in the grand scheme of worldly concerns. But it is our world at the moment, and the recent challenge of caring for one of God’s creatures has brought not only change but a new way of seeing and embracing what’s new.

August 20: What is the “great fullness” of my life?

The great fullness of my life
took root
grew strong
in faithful time
beside one woman
three daughters
six grandkids
a caring career
and passion
for painting a

August 21: The world needs my care. How could I offer myself more fully to the cares of the world?

It makes the most sense for me to respond to today’s question experientially, from within my own Quaker tradition and process. If I hold a lasting concern about a worldly situation, and have taken it to prayer for discernment and seasoning, and then sought the guidance of other Friends for how best to move forward, then I begin to respond to the leading that in turn brings me to the work.

However, I note the plurality in the word “cares,” referring to offering myself to the cares of the world, and that causes me pause. I think that one needs to be very careful in taking on too many cares, just because they are there, because to do so we run the risk of utter fatigue and burnout. I’ve met many generous and good people who took on so many woes and weights of our hurting world that they made themselves sick. It seems to me that we can do better work and caring of others by first being clear about why we are doing it, concentrating our focus and making sure that our supports are in place.

August 22: What everyday happenings do I most cherish?

Waking up! If I get that far everything else is possible.

August 23: In the natural world, when/where do I feel most humbled?

I feel the most humbled in two places that both involve water. The first, is anytime that I am swimming in the ocean amongst the waves and sea life that is all about. The enormity, sheer beauty and complexity of the ocean itself, with me just a speck of life within it, instantly informs me of where I fall in the order and rhythm of life itself.

The second, is when I’m out rowing with my team, called the Gray Buzzards, (we’ve been together 15 years) and my role is to steer the 29 foot boat. Occasionally the weather will change suddenly and we’ll find ourselves rowing through strong winds and chop or rain or snow squalls that wasn’t forecasted. That boat, even with six rowers aboard, can feel pretty small and insignificant out on the open water. But when it’s calm, or almost so, we get to see the sunrise and hear the gulls above or see the seals that surface for air, so close that we can hear them exhale and inhale before they dive again. It’s all a panorama, a show of life unfolding and in those moments we just row in unison not talking and hold the silence.

August 24: How do you experience feelings of gratefulness in your body? When was the last time you felt this?

Though I am grateful to wake up each morning, thus far, I admit that the first thing I feel when I arise is not gratefulness, but my age! It takes the bones a bit of time to want to work together. Once I’ve been up a while, that’s when I usually feel fortunate that I can move, that my eyes work, that I can hear and I can do almost all of the things that I want to do in the course of a day. And for that combined ability, I am grateful indeed!

August 25: What am I able to teach others?

A somewhat perfunctory answer would be that I could teach others the things I have been doing for decades. But whenever I am asked to lead a discussion or workshop on a topic, what I’m most interested in is sharing the heart, the soul and the spirit behind whatever I’m teaching. That’s the most important thing to me. I think that we all have sat through sessions where we learned the “nuts and bolts” of a topic but the fire in the belly for the topic at hand was glaringly missing by the presenter. That’s the thing that I always try to share, the essence and spirit of the subject. If I don’t feel that passion and fire for a particular topic I usually decline a request to teach it.

What I marvel at though are what I call the master teachers out there who can teach the “101” of anything with passion, total knowledge and joy of a subject over and over again. They amaze me and I hold these people, who are few and far between, with great admiration.

August 26: What “wrong” can I “right” today?

Perhaps the best I can say at this time is that I can heighten my awareness as my day unfolds to be mindful of where “wrongs” take place, however obscure they may be, and to address them if it is within my power to do so.

As for the bigger “wrongs” of the world, such as wars, abject poverty, hunger, discrimination and human trafficking, there’s no “righting” these wrongs, sadly, in one fell swoop. The most I can do as one person is to use my voice and available resources in the best way that I can, in partnership with others, to chip away and hopefully over time to impact and lessen these kinds of wrongs that plague humankind.

August 27: Look up and around where you are. What three things can bring you a sense of gratitude or wonder?

Three things that bring me a sense of wonder:

  1. Just last night, watching our six grandkids barefoot, playing and streaking across a late-August farm field, getting dirty, sweaty and taking in life, as their parents, our children, with Gramma and Grampa, sat listening to music.
  2. On the lower left side of my bookshelf sits three bulging notebooks, loaded with keepsakes, of lives lived and expressed with colors and words and art, from decades of working with children. Every so often I scan their contents with thoughts of consolidating three into one, and fail. It makes me smile.
  3. Our dog Gracie, three weeks post-op and now blind, looking my way, smiling, wagging for love and happy as heck.

August 28: What can I do differently so that I end this day with greater reverence for it?

Now and then I find the need to remind myself to pause, to be truly present to the moment in time that I am standing in, to look around with the freshest of eyes possible, waiting, to hear and feel within the movement of life within which I also live, and utter to no one in particular, “Thank you for this day, oh Lord, thank you for this day.”

Whenever I remember to do this (confessing that some days I do not) the day that is about to pass feels lived more fully and with reverence.

August 29: What are the gifts that I have received from loved ones today?

At four AM my time, I haven’t seen or heard from any loved ones yet! But what flows regardless of time or their physical proximity to me at any hour is this: I know and I feel within that I am loved by them, and that I love them also, and that is the sweetest gift of all.

August 30: What can I commit to not taking for granted, from this moment forward?

My good health…
An absence of war…
Water that flows from my faucet…
The air that I breathe…
The God that I know…

August 31: What life-lessons have I learned lately?

As this month comes to a close, I think that it’s safe to say that I have learned at least 31 new life-lessons over the past 31 days! All I need to do is read over the Daily Questions that I have pondered and answered during August and lessons aplenty can be found.