Here’s the thing…

In early August, Jeff and I booked reservations to travel to Chicago on December 6th. It would be the second of our newly established annual Christmas on Michigan Ave get-a-way.

On November 9th I caught a bug which was diagnosed a week later as pneumonia. A week on antibiotics and I still had no energy and a cough that wouldn’t end.

The pneumonia made us rethink our trip agenda, simplifying to allow for a lot of rest time.

A week before our trip, Jeff booked a room close to LAX for the night before our scheduled departure in order to keep our travel days manageable.

We loaded up the car Tuesday morning and headed south to LA. As we neared Santa Barbara the haze over the ocean turned to smoke and we began to see the plumes billowing up from a wild fire still 30 minutes away.

“This probably isn’t good for me,” I said though a series of coughs and quickly covered my face with my sweater making a custom face mask. Jeff took the hanky he always has in his back pocket and did the same.

As we drove further south we were surprised by the lightness of the traffic as we sailed through a stretch of highway that is usually at a stand still. The sky grew darker and sun turned red, it reflected orange sparkles off the water.

When we passed the area that had been ablaze during the night, the sky became brown and black as new fires erupted. After we passed the view in the mirror resembled the severity of a mid-west tornado.

Then the winds hit. The 40 to 60 gusts that were predicted were now a reality. Palm trees swaying, sand and dust blowing across the highway. The ocean looked angry as if it was being churned up from below. Large pockets of mist and salt air circled over the top like a giant caldron.

Jeff was holding tightly to the stirring wheel as we felt the force of the winds. The road wound around the coast line forcing us in and out of the blowing sand, gusting winds and ocean spray. Rounding a bend we both saw the wall of brown heading toward us, as it hit the sound of stone, shells, and sand bounced across the hood of the car, slamming full force into the windshield, and sliding across the roof. There was silence for a second and then round two repeated the performance.

A man on a bike was stopped on the side of the road trying to protect his face from the on slot of nature.

We rounded two more bends and the sky began to lighted. The sun displayed hints of yellow once again. Reflecting off the windsheild we saw the new dents, cracks and divits the sand storm had created. Ten miles down the coast we again saw the ocean mist turning to smoke as another fire had broken out and the high winds carried the smoke over the ocean waters.

Pulling into the beautiful beach town of Manhatten Beach we were both tired and ready to breath fresh air. Lunch and a walk on the pier calmed the nerves but the smoke had irritated the annoying cough that had lingered the past four weeks.

Ready to settle in for the evening we made our way to the hotel, out quiet night was beginning at 4:00.  A short time later we settled into a corner table in the bar. We talked about life and about relationships. I coughed and sipped on a hot toddy.

The next morning we woke to the lights of LA and the layer of smoke that blanketed the hills. It appeared that there was new plumes of smoke billowing up just east of the HOLLYWOOD sign.

I turned on the local new for updates from the fire we had driven through the day before. There were now six fires burning across the LA area, schools were closed and highways shut down.

Then it hit me, if Jeff had not persisted in making Tuesday nights reservations, we would have never made it to the airport this morning.

So, here’s the thing – this is the God I believe in.

He’s not wizard and we aren’t chess pieces on his chess board.                                      He isn’t a God that stops all bad things from happening.                                                         He is a God that promises to walk with us.                                                                            He is a God that has promised he knows what’s ahead and he’s made a straight path for us.                                                                                                                                                                  He does this by gently calling.
He quietly directs.
He offers ideas, inspirations, opportunities.

He impresses on a husbands heart to make a reservation that will allow his wife, recovering from pneumonia, to have a more enjoyable trip. A week later, it is the only way to get them to the airport due to out-of-control raging wildfires.

This trip that was planned three months ago will take us a few short hours away from our family who has experienced a great loss this week. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this tragedy was predestined. But what I will confess with confidence is when we learn to listen to God’s quiet nudging, life flows in ways that gently carries us through the best and the worst of times and gets us to where we need to be even when we are unaware we need to be there.

 

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Layers and Layers and Layers

In the past few weeks it’s been made very apparent to me that I’ve created a bit of a nightmare. It started by cracking the door open just a tad and suddenly I realized it was taking all my strength to keep this monster contained.

The monster is made up of all the extra responsibilities I’ve taken on over my lifetime. It’s all that STUFF we do that we don’t really want to do, or things we do because no one else will, or because we feel guilty. Perhaps it’s because we can do it way better and faster than anyone else. Those things.

Now, I find myself not wanting to do most of them anymore! But it’s not that easy to stop. I know people are expecting me to simply continue to do those things. Yo!

All this STUFF feels like a zillion layers of clothing that I’ve put on and now it’s just heavy and hot under the weight of it all.

I had thought that maybe I needed to stand up, throw off all the layers of clothing  and proclaim that “I’m done!” But that could create a few ripple effects and possibly even a tidal wave or two. I also considered packing my bags and leaving, except I like where I live and for the most part, I like my life. I don’t want to start over.

I was contemplating how could I possible be free from this mess I had so willingly created over my lifetime when the image of a naked toddler popped into my head. You know, 18 months old, totally naked and making his escape from bath time. Running through the house as fast as his chubby little legs could take him, butt cheeks flapping, arms waving in the air and a giggle of freedom that makes you laugh just thinking about it.

“Oh, God, how do I get from here to there? How do I get out from under all these layers?”

One layer at a time…

Yep, just one layer at a time. One situation at a time. One new discovery at a time until I’ve removed all the extra layers and find myself to just me, doing the things I enjoy.

I don’t have plans to run around naked but I would be delighted to sashay through the remainder of my life in a sundress, wide brimmed hat and a shawl – just in case it gets cool. I’d like a refreshing beverage in my hand and every time an opportunity presents itself, I’ll straighten my dress, adjust my hat, take a long cool sip and respond, “I don’t want to do that… but thanks for thinking of me.”

6.2.1.glasses

I just recently realized what the saying, Six to one, half-a-dozen to another means. All my life I thought it referred to a mathematical equation – like a ratio.

6 is to 1 like 1/2 of 12 is to another; another equalling X, thus 6:1 = 6:X.

The equation made sense but what was mind boggling was how this equation trickled down into our everyday vocabulary, especially when it came to ordering donuts.

You can imagine my surprise as Jeff and I were driving past Big Tire and I realized that perhaps this mathematical theory was simply referring to the number 6 and the different ways it can be described.

It’s like the Glass half-empty or half-full saying. I love half-full people and I hope the half-empty people will someday see life differently. But if it weren’t for the half-empty people, the half-full people wouldn’t have so many opportunities.

I wish the world was divided into these two groups; half-empty, half-full. But I know it’s not.

I feel sad for the Why isn’t anyone filling up my glass people.

And there’s always the Where did I put my glass? folks.

We’ve all met the I believe that’s my glass person.

In our house we have someone who puts all the glasses in the dishwasher before we’re done with them so we become Where’d my glass go? people.

There seems to be a rule that there’s always a no one gave me a glass guest at every party.

And the precise, did you wash that glass? ones.

There’s the patient I’m waiting for the perfect glass who have a difficult time with the I’ll drink out of anything people.

Then there’s my favorite, Do you have a pitcher?

Half-full, half-empty – it’s kinda like 6 to 1, half-a-dozen to another!

All My Friends…

She claims she doesn’t remember saying it. But she did. I remember the moment. We were sitting in her unfurnished new home and every word we spoke echoed through the open space bouncing off the walls back to us. It was like sitting inside a really bad stereo.

She was making something to drink and the words rolled off her tongue and changed me forever.

“All my friends are strong women…”

I can’t tell you what she had said prior, I may not have been really listening. I have no idea what followed because those six words clogged my ears and brain.

What does that mean? I asked myself.

We finished our time together, said good-bye, and I crawled up in my jeep.

“All my friends are strong women,” I said as I turned the key in the ignition. “I have no idea what that means – but I think I should!”

I repeated this bold statement to family members at dinner. They seemed unaffected by it and all agreed with it.

“What do you mean it makes sense!” I shouted in my head. “You can choose your friends?” Now my words hit me just as hard as her had a few hours earlier. “I can choose my friends! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?!?!”

A few days later we were at dinner with friends and I was still contemplating this idea.  I repeated the story; “…and she said, ‘All my friends are strong women.’ I don’t know what that means.” I confessed. “But I sure want to!”

I sensed I had comrades across the table. Our friends looked at each other and I recognized their expression. I had the same the moment I heard it said.

“Did you know that?” I asked. “You can choose your friends! Go figure? You don’t have to have a relationship with everyone you meet!”

I now repeated this proclamation every day (and several times though out.) The idea that I have the power to choose who I let into my life, who I invest my time and energy in, and who I intend to build strong relationships with has rocked my world to a new level. It seems silly, even childish, but it’s not.

It’s giving me a measuring stick and a way to evaluate my relationships. It’s given me a new standard to live from. It’s given me a new appreciation for those I call friend.

What’s also just a little weird…(I’m lowering my voice in case someone else is listening)…since I’ve been making this proclamation…I’ve met several strong, interesting, intelligent people and it feels as if we are already old friends.

Sitting in ashes covered in soot

Have you ever looked closely at the story of Cinderella? It’s a terrible story. Mother dies,  father marries a bitch, two evil step sisters arrive, father dies, and Cinderella’s only hope of escape is a fairy god mother or a prince.

What are those chances?

Children grow up is situations that are less than perfect and for some, the only way they will survive is to go into a – survival mode. But when someone remains in the survival mode for the rest of their life, there’s a problem.

That is why I was shocked when after I had reached my pique of a frustrating, I heard myself say, “I’m done playing the role of Cinderella!”

I gasped! Who said that? I looked around in disbelief.

“I’m not Cinderella!” I exclaimed to myself. “I like my mother! I’m not waiting for a Prince, I’ve got a Hoppie! I’d be okay if a fairy godmother granted me wishes, but I’m not sitting on my ashes waiting for her to appear.”

So what part of this story was my inner self speaking to? Could it be … (dadadadaaa) … the two ugly step sisters? (I like to say ugly because it makes them less scary!)

YES!! I do that!! I know I Do!!!

When they walk into the room I shrink into the dirty, bucket carrying, ash shoveling, servant girl, who talks to birds and hopes someone will take pity on her. When the bully speaks up my first instinct is to meet their challenge, but the Cinderella in me shuts me down. When the unkind accuse, I want to make it right, but suddenly I’m covered in soot and feel unworthy.

It’s a role that seems so out of character, yet, it’s also second nature. How have I not realized this in the past? Why hadn’t I turned the survival switch off?

Many of us play those roles. Either it’s the victim orphan, or the victim of a unloving parent, a victim of limited finances, or a victim of bullying. And some times, we continue in the role even when our circumstances have changed.

It’s time to flip the switch and turn off the flashing neon sign announcing our victim-age. Let it flash and buzz and flicker until it goes dark. It’s time to choose new roles, new characters that have fun, who live life, and aren’t willing to sit on their ashes covered in soot.

I’m happy to give this particular role up. I gladly walk away. And going forward, the announcer in my head will loudly proclaim, “The role of Cinderella is NOT being  played by …. ME!”

Put down the shovel

Ever feel like all you do is shovel other people’s shit?

Before I explain, I need to make a little adjustment. You see I grew up in a house where we ate chicken chests and we wore top underwear. There were some words such as breast or bra that were just not appropriate. So the idea of writing about shoveling shit is well beyond my mother’s comfort zone. Out of honor and respect for this lovely and proper lady, I will now refer to shit as bananas.

Ever feel like all you do is shovel other people’s bananas?

I did. I was great at it!

 If you are a manager it’s basically your job description. Parenting requires it; kids produce a lot of bananas. Bad relationships demand it. There are some individuals whose purpose in life is banana production. 

I didn’t realize until recently just how often the banana shovel was in my hand. It may have actually become attached along with the yellow cape and rubber gloves. Someone would make a mess of their life and I was ready to report for duty. Bad decissions being made at work, I could fix it. If you produced them, I was ready to shovel them.

Not sure what the trigger was, but during a marathon conversation I was having in my head, I boldly announced, “I’m done shoveling other people’s bananas!” 

It was as if I had stepped on the handle of the shovel causing the other end to fling up and hit me in the head. In doing so, covering me with peelings and banana mush. Why was I waisting so much time and energy shoveling bananas when I could be…at the beach!?

It was surprisingly easy to set the shovel down. I removed the yellow cape and rubber gloves as well. I took a shower and scrubbed off the mush and residue of a life of banana shoveling. Then I got in my jeep and headed to … the beach. 

The shovel is still laying where I left it. It beckons me. It sends me messages of encouragement of how brilliant of a banana shoveler I really am. I says it misses me.

At times I’m tempted to pick it up and get to work – saving the world from bananas. 

When I feel overwhelmed with the need to shovel, I am thankful that there is a booming voice in my head that thunders, “Ma’am, step away from the shovel!” 

Lemon Limes or Lime Lemons

It’s been almost nine years since we moved to California. A move that was never part of the greater plan, but a plan that we’re so grateful happened. Shortly after we arrived we bought our first citrus tree, a Key Lime Tree. So excited we put it in a big pot, set it in the sun and waited for it’s fruits.

IMG_3293We waited, and waited, no fruit, just pretty little white flowers. It’s not hot enough here to grow Key Limes. So we bought a Lemon Tree. We put it in a big pot, set it in the sun and waited for it’s fruit.

IMG_3289After our first harvest of three lemons, we figured it needed a brother. So we bought our first Lime Tree. We put it in a pot, set it in the sun and waited for it’s fruit.

The first year I picked a beautiful green lime, cut it open and bit down with great expectations. It was disgusting! Bitter, dry, with a thick rind. Each year I let them get a little bigger but it never helped. IMG_3292

This year I forgot about them. It actually rained here and we were so busy watching the radar that I let my sad lime tree go.

One afternoon I walked to be the back corner of the yard to sit in a rare appearance of the sun when I noticed my sad green limes were turning yellow. “What the….?”

I let them go another month or so and to my great dismay, all my little green, thick rind limes, grow to enormous size and all turned yellow.

Go figure, it’s been a lemon tree all this time and we’ve been forcing it to be a lime.

There’s a really deep amazing life lesson there, but you’re smart enough to figure it out.

IMG_3291

Margins

The term marginal has been used a lot lately. Typically it’s used to describe those who are different, or have specific needs, who are not the norm. There is a very distinct group of people that come to mind when I think of those who are marginal.

If I step back and look at all the people who could be classified as marginal, it’s the majority of the world. It’s much easier to describe those who aren’t marginal, that would to be white, males, who think they make a lot of money.

A short time ago, someone listed women in their list of marginal people and I was taken back. “Hmmm, never thought of it that way, but I guess you are right.” And for two weeks I began seeing myself as marginal. I was discriminated against, I had less career options, I wasn’t born a boy…

It was for two weeks and only two weeks, because that’s how long it took me to want to throw in the towel, slit my wrists, and give up ‘cause I was born a girl.

Enough with that! Other women may be marginal, but I’m not.

If you close a door on me, I’m exceptional enough to know you’re most likely not worth the trouble. If you say no, I’m intelligent enough to figure out another way. Stay in the box, what box? Boxes can become coffins.

I don’t intend to walk through this life carrying the MARGINAL banner. I most likely won’t spend much time fighting the cause either. I’m a doer. I’d rather create a life from which I can help others.  A life others want to be a part of. Some may says that’s marginal, but to me it’s the full page.

If you find yourself in one of those marginal categories, I would highly recommend that you step out of the margin and on to the page and begin writing your own story. You can be whatever you want, even a white, male, who thinks they have a lot of money.

The best part about writing your own story – you get to set the margins.

Making Mojo

It’s a simple equation; negative energy fuels negative energy.  Doesn’t matter if it’s on opposite ends of an argument or coming from opposing opinions; negative energy fuels negative energy.

Remember your parents saying, “You can’t fight fire with fire!” This time they were actually correct. Fighting fire with fire –  usually creates a bigger fire.

I heard it explained that the reason the election went as it did was because both sides become so negative that the negative forces joined and became more powerful than the positive. We’re still feeling it. I can’t remember this much unrest since I was a kid watching the riots in the late 60s early 70s.

But it’s not easy to turn all this anger, frustration, and fear into something positive. That’s because there isn’t anything positive about anger, frustration, and fear. Allowing those emotions to control us is not only hurting us, it’s fueling the flames of the negativity we’re fighting against.

“WHAT! I’m not adding to it, I’m fighting it!!” I can hear you yell at me. If that makes you feel better,  go ahead and believe it. But it’s not true.

Even the peacefullest protest can add sparks if it’s done out of anger and resentment for what is, rather than a desire for good, justice, and what’s right.

So how do you balance negative energy? That’s also very simple, create positive energy. However, positive energy is not simple if you are drowning in the pool of muck of negativity. Just saying words that sound positive, when it really isn’t felt or believed, still equals negative energy.

“So basically we’re screwed and the whole world is falling apart and I need to buy guns to protect myself and build bomb shelters and stockpile food and stay home from work to watch the news and write nasty things on Facebook…” (I can hear your thoughts)

No! That’s what weird people do. When we find ourselves angry, fearful, and frustrated, it’s almost impossible to turn those situations positive. We have to be willing to unclench our hands, turn off our phones, change the channel,  ask our diner guest to leave, and begin thinking on things that are good, that make us happy, go to happy places where we find joy.

Once we do – we must STAY THERE for as long as possible. Why? Because we are creating positive energy. Positive energy, no matter how, or where, or what it’s created for, is the only way to defuse the negative powers that seem to be taking control right now. And the longer you stay in that awesome, fabulous, joyous state, the more energy we create and smaller the pile of muck becomes.

So let’s stop allowing yourself to be sucked into the muck! How about letting go and thinking on  things that are good, pure, holy, fun, loving, beautiful, exciting, energizing, abundant, adventurous, joyous, motivating, magical, wonderful,…

Create some positive mojo and watch the negative lose it’s power!

The Unleavened Life

There’s nothing more tiresome as listening to wealthy people complain about all they have to do to care for their wealth.” It should be a line from a movie, but it’s not. It doesn’t even come up as a quote on Google. I know, I checked.

slo-austynelizabeth008I figure if you are smart enough to acquire all that wealth, then you are certainly smart enough to figure out how to take care. Unfortunately, this assumption is rarely accurate.

Our family celebrates Passover each year. We do it for a couple of reasons; one is that we are part Jewish, or at least hope we are. The other is that we love the deep heritage that comes with the Jewish culture.

There is a point in the seder meal that touches me deeply. It’s centered around the matza bread. Matza is similar to a big flat cracker.

The simple Jewish translation goes like this: The Jewish people were waiting for God to free them from Egypt. They were so ready, and knew for certain that it was going to happen, that they didn’t put any rising agents in their dough BECAUSE when God said ‘GO!’ they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise. Thus they ended up with a big flat cracker called matza.

Life is so like bread. The more complicated the recipe, the more ingredients it needs, the longer it takes to make, to rise, and to bake.

When we live complicated lives, we miss so many opportunities. We wish we would be called to do great things, but if the call came, we’d have to let it go to voice mail and retrieve it when we had a minute to breathe, or next week.

It takes all of our energy to manage our responsibilities, debts, belongings and relationships. It’s exhausting, possibly even more so than listening to someone complain about it. There are amazing opportunities that cross our paths daily and we’re too preoccupied to see them.

An unleavened life allows one to answer the call, go when needed, grab an opportunity as it appears. A uncomplicated life gives time to appreciate the world around us. Freedom to enjoy the pleasures of life (without the drain of caring for them).

And when God says ‘Go!’ or “Now!’ or ‘Here it is, just what your were waiting for!’ – those living an unleavened life are ready, willing and able.

The unleavened life, it’s like a big flat cracker that goes anywhere you wish to go.