Evolution

yearbook

 

Last night I went to my 40 year high school reunion…I know, right? It seems impossible to remember what it was like during those years so many decades ago, and the hundreds of people that crossed my path on a daily basis, but then…I walked into the room and spied name tags, and it was as if those memory/feeling files awakened from a long slumber and I was back in 1977. No judgement, just happy hello’s and good conversation…for the most part. It’s hard to disregard those memories, feelings and insecurities that were so plentiful from 15-18, many of which were rooted in placing pretty much every body else above myself, as if there was a game being played and every one else got the rule book, but me.  I also realized, though, that even though I felt foolish a lot of the time, I had much better taste in friends than I ever gave my younger self credit for. They were good people then, only to have evolved through life’s trials to be even better versions of themselves today. Those whom I didn’t feel worthy of back in high school I felt no need to pay heed last night either, but only in the calm and resolved maturity when it just doesn’t matter any more. And besides, there were just so many good people to reconnect with and hear about their lives. There were so many happy memories, and they are the ones to celebrate and reminisce about.

It was also interesting to hear feedback from people about how they saw you in high school. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself thinking, given all the positive statements, I wonder why I felt so tortured and alone in high school much of the time? I’m sure it’s the same for many of my cherished friends, because we just didn’t spend as much time pumping each other up as we could have, a teenage thing I suppose, the inactivity of our frontal lobes…so I will do it now. I am an accomplished and educated woman…but I wouldn’t have become the me I turned into without so many wonderful people throughout my adolescence who were there to help form and support me, even if I was too myopic to notice. I was so impressed with all the stories I listened to and shared last night. Regardless of the path that each of us took, I have a much better appreciation of who they are now. 1977 was full of good people, people who help build the foundation that is me and I really am grateful. I hope, too, that I helped build a foundation for others as well. Most importantly? Like wine, we do get better with time.

A Lifetime of Bearing Fruit

louises-smile

I found out late last night that one of my roommates from college passed away. In looking through all my old photo albums, I was aware, once again, of those positive influences in my life who helped me overcome my inadequacies, and stood as an example of goodness, truth and such kindness. She stands front and center. I know its common to talk about people who die in celebratory language and images. But Louise was the real deal. She would get teased sometimes by her Pollyanna approach to the world, but she was just, simply, so good. She helped me stay optimistic when my more brooding tendencies would begin to take over. A fellow sojourner on a quest for spiritual enlightenment, she visited a community in Canada to calm her spirit and find some answers, like I did in the desert in New Mexico. She found her soul mate in her husband Tom, a relationship I often used as an archetype of how a man and woman behave in a healthy relationship. I wasn’t always good at social cues, and Louise somehow helped me navigate through the complications of relationships. Even after all this time she continued to be that person who glowed, and that was intrinsically so much better than many of us not just because she was kind, funny and smart, but she moved in the world living a life that reflected her spiritual values and made it seem uncomplicated and effortless…and she never made me feel inferior, never once, even though I believe it to be true, in every sense of the word. Lou was matter of fact about what was necessary to be a modern Catholic Christian. She had her causes and worked tirelessly to bear her own brand of “good fruit.”

She was that friend you could always pick up right where you left off. I was able to talk to her on the phone a few times after she got sick because she lived in another state. The first time, I didn’t even know she was sick, we didn’t talk about that, we just picked up and updated like we usually did. My world was brighter every time we connected, and it is my hope that I made her world brighter too. She was my only friend that continued to write letters long hand as well, waxing philosophically much of the time, continuing to search and grow. They are in my box of letters along with others like my father’s that made me think and grow. She again, was much better at it than I was. I would start but never finish, and end up sending missives separated by long periods of time that had many different sections that were started and then stopped. I regret letting my own ill health often get in the way of reconnecting, but I do feel confident that she knew how much I loved her, even if we didn’t see each other very much.

I have often used Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” in the story of the wood fox, to depict how to make friends or tame people…

https://maryfrancesflood.com/2013/07/02/1479/

Louise tamed me. She transformed how I learned to see the world. I’m sure through her husband and beautiful children, her friends and family, no one will see the wheat fields in the same way agian. And it is nice to know that there is one more angel in heaven watching over and bringing us light and hope.

In My Shoes

my shoes

I think this will be my last post detailing my year of clarity. I feel complete, for now anyway, and want to enter into the season of light focused only on that. It seems funny that showing you the context of all my previous posts this year will be the subject of my last. I think it’s because I needed to do the journey first, before I open up my coat and share life in my shoes. Perhaps then you can understand why I believe as I do and maybe take something away that you can use on your own journey. The bottom line, is that I can never unhear, all I’ve heard; I can’t unsee all I’ve seen; and most importantly I can’t unknow all I’ve learned. I am who I am because of it.

Also, I needed to have the strength to say to those who are reading this just to be judgmental or to find fuel for your dislike, to say stop reading, or better yet, go ahead, keep reading…because I don’t give a shit anymore. I don’t wish you ill, but I certainly don’t wish you well. Harsh, it’s true. But I think I’ve spent too much time parsing words and feelings not to offend anyone, or try to be my best Solomon in all my posts. While being fair and balanced and living as a disciple of Christ is still my main objective, this election cycle has brought out the true character of many who I just won’t waste my time or breath on anymore. I embrace that is who you are, I just don’t have to listen to you anymore. Make no mistake, I am not talking about those who have a polar opinion from mine, there are still plenty of you in my posse…I’m talking about those who judge before they listen, embrace fear, refuse to look for truth, or only enough to justify their world view and those who only associate with people who are just like them. While the number I disassociate from may be few, it is something I have never done before but need to because of the impact it was having in my life. What’s funny, is I’m sure those people will never know it because they stopped really seeing or listening to me a long time ago.

No axiom, truth or ideology ever comes to me lightly, except the love of God and the call to be a disciple of Christ. While I may be a good student, I am not an easy one. I’ve pissed and moaned and thrown many a tantrum learning valuable lessons. So let me highlight just a few of those instrumental ports of call on my journey of faith. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be like one of those infernal slide shows that go on forever…just a few tidbits. Know that there are some givens: I have a great family, I’m blessed with privilege and a great deal of comfort. The experience that follows are in addition to, or in spite of.

When I was in college, I used a January term to live in a contemplative monastery in the desert of New Mexico. During my stay at Christ in the Desert, we began our day at 2:30 in the morning to pray according to the divine office of the Rule of St Benedict, an order that balances prayer and work. Without going into depth, I understand why Jesus began his ministry in the desert, in prayer and silence. It was the hardest (and not just because I wasn’t allowed to talk) and most transforming experience of my life. I fought with and conquered many internal demons over that month. It was the foundation for everything that what was to come.

The next January term, I chose to work with the United Farm workers (UFW) movement in La Paz California. There, I saw what solidarity behind a spiritual and nonviolent leader, Caesar Chavez, could do for the powerless and disenfranchised. I was also witness to racism for the first time in my life, and how protesters gallantly withstood all the horrible words and actions taken against them, all just because they desired to be treated fairly, with dignity and pride. I worked as a laborer that month, it was hard, humbling and it refined and polished me in ways I never could have predicted.

After I started working in ministry, I received the chance to travel with the National Council of Churches to then Soviet Russia. It was a terrifying, mind boggling, heart wrenching, uplifting, life transforming experience. It was during that trip at the ripe age of 24 when I saw the impact and effects of raw political power. It was there that I learned to recognize its lizard qualities that slithered and slimed their way into the world. I was no longer the naive, altruistic girl that I once was living in a global world.  I went back four years later to see how it had progressed, doubting that democracy could ever work there efficiently…I was right, it couldn’t. Not that its people aren’t marvelous, they are…there were actually more Christians there than members of the communist party. Politics, though, are another story. It is also why I despise Putin so much.

Throughout my ministry, I worked with the poor and homeless, did respite for the mentally disabled, worked in a nursing home, a drug treatment center for adolescents, was part of a team who worked with modern media and the gospel message. I got to teach, write curriculum and preach the good new of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, but I learned so much and was graced with interacting with so many incredible people. I’ve worked with prisoners and laborers, met rock stars, politicians in Washington and media moguls. I’ve eaten on clay floors and dined on Italian marble. In every one of these experiences people are often the same with varying levels of brokenness. Every one of them needed love beyond the basic dignities of life.

I’ve had the pleasure of having many gay friends who have shown me great sacrifice and commitment in being able to love who their heart chooses. When I was teaching, I was blessed to live in a wonderful neighborhood far beyond my pay grade when I was rented a room in a house from an incredible lesbian woman and her daughter, also gay, and who is now an incredibly powerful pastor in Minneapolis. I will attest to the beauty and strength of all my gay friends and their families and children, and am happy to have them in my life and the life of my family and children too. It is so natural and easy to love them and support them, I cannot fathom why anyone would not (which is a bit sarcastic because traditional religion is the true culprit for all the hate).

I’ve learned to understand sexual abuse, mental illness, suicide and PTSD, all first hand from students, friends and family. I’ve had to live with structural and physical maladies that have greatly altered and challenged my life. Yet in all these times, that in spite of these challenges I was always aware of and felt God’s presence. In fact, all these challenges gave root to all of Jesus teachings for me. The Gospel doesn’t make sense in a perfect hardship free life. Personally, I’ve endured misogyny and abuse, and also great and deep love and support. It’s true, that when you most need them, in the darkest of times special people enter your life to be what you need, and then are on their way.

My latest destination on my journey is to this small little hamlet on the St Croix river. It is insular and safe, uncomplicated and many times without the challenges of the greater world. It was a good place to raise my children except I could never let them be part of the bubble that can exist here. I had walked too far for that. I left my church here, and found another that had a more open world view. And to my boys, I know I forced you to give your Christmas to a poor family, invite the fringe to all your birthday parties, serve on mission trips and study  the bible, and challenge every assumption or stereotype you threw in my face. I demanded you research and listen and be open to others, and dad, more than me made you put only good things in your bodies. Hopefully you will thank me for it some day, cause I am sure proud of how you turned out. We have a wonderful business that brings health to our community and our patients are some of the best people I have ever known.

So after all these steps, this is why I refuse to stand for bigotry and hate. This is why I stand for all my LBGTQ brothers and sisters. This is why I will fight for people of all ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political ideologies. This is why I stand for truth and will never shy away from pointing out inaccuracies that so deeply penetrate our media today. This is why I try so hard to root the Gospel in the most subtle of actions and behaviors. I am who I am, never to be pigeon holed into a left or right column, or belittled by any limiting moniker. My path is one of power and love, because I am a child of God and these are MY shoes. And as a servant of Christ I will fight for your shoes too.

 

In the Blink of an Eye

illuminationLate last night I received news as I anxiously set my alarm so my son and I could witness the blood moon lunar eclipse that a high school friend of mine had died this past summer.  It completely took the wind out of my sails, since I had literally just done a search for her on the internet.  Most probably the obituary didn’t come up because I included her maiden name in the search, and I felt horrible that I hadn’t had a chance to reconnect like I’ve done with many other friends from the past.  Those of us messaging in that moment talked about a reunion of our Young Life friends, a group I was involved in during high school.  So many good memories, and most importantly, so many building blocks that were essential in becoming the woman I am today.

We don’t celebrate those friendships like we should.  I missed the chance to tell Ardy how much she meant in my life, I will try harder to not miss other chances that come my way.  So here is a challenge: post a shout out or memory of a person who influenced you, and thank them…I’m sure you will make their day!

The Comforts of Home

comfort of homeThis has been an overwhelming week.  Tragedy strikes, the kind that one wonders if its possible to come back from…and then, small miracles happen that renew hope.  I have to say what an honor it has been to work together with amazing people in this small little hamlet who have responded with no less love and compassion than heavenly angels.  The effortless ease with which we pulled together to help our friends, our neighbors, attend to whatever needs there may be, is indeed inspiring.  In the lull of day-to-day, it’s easy to isolate in our own personal dramas and let the negativity of the world overwhelm and discourage us.  Then, by no small miracle we are given an opportunity to pull together and bestow the kind of loving embrace that soothes the wounded soul.  Broken hearts of a few are augmented by the functioning hearts of the many.  We are the body of Christ as we pull together and carry our friends in their need.  From a simple desire to sooth and help, to comfort and to heal, to mourn innocence gone too soon, connections happen that strengthen us all.  I feel in this moment the magic of my simple yet extraordinary community.  Regardless of position or politics, we are a community to be proud of, the best that America has to offer, and proof that in even in the darkest moment our hope will prevail.

In the Quiet, Her Melody Sounds

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There is so much noise in the world… voices that breed chaos and fear, that drown out hope’s melody.  Then, there are the voices that still the noise and soothe the heart.  The simple beauty of innocence, in which the melody of hope bares the true litmus test of God’s presence and reign over this world.  Sadly,one of those voices in full swing of transforming the world, moved to join the choir of heaven to magnify the purity of her singular sound.  Our human ears may not have the physical ability to hear the fullness of that heavenly choir, but in stillness I hear Sarah’s simple voice and know that she is here, her melody continuing in the day-to-day.  Once created in the image of God and sanctified by Him, her melody will continue for ever more helping heaven quell the tide that evil brings.  She will forever sing for her family, for friends for those who have lost the ability to hear the song of hope.  Through her melody I pray that loved ones can find comfort as they miss her physical presence.  In remembering her, I will try even harder to listen and to hear the unique song of all of God’s children and celebrate that through them, hope will reign.

Back to Observation

eyes of graceFrom my unrecognizable place in the world, I’ve seen a lot.   Being in the middle has had its advantages.  I’ve learned a lot from being a middle child, living in the Midwest, graduating several times in the middle of my class, having a middle-income, juggling the challenges of the middle class etc.  Far from being mediocre, though, being in the middle has offered me an equidistant view to the world. From the thick of it, I see an increasing sense of discontentment, anxiety, stress and a loss of hope.  It seems that my penchant for average has kept me, sometimes against my will in a position of observation.  There seems to be a ubiquitous grey cloud that hangs over society today, even a midst the plethora of groups who have laid claim to the key to happiness or in the alternative try to isolate the exact source of our discontent and eradicate it.  In all honesty, most of those groups on high who offer solutions to any and all problems if I would just surrender my control and give into “the right way of thinking” are never all that hopeful or happy, which truly doesn’t inspire much credibility on their part.

And yet, I’m not offering any magical solution either.  However, it doesn’t mean that a solution isn’t there, just waiting to be recognized.  After years of honing my observation skills, I think I understand why we aren’t necessarily in a better place. It all lies in our perception and our ability to see the solution.  No solution to any problem is helpful if you can’t see it.  So let me use another sense to focus on the problem.  Focus on your hearing for a moment: I cannot sing.  I’m not being modest.  I really can’t sing.  But, just because I’m aware of my own limitations vocally doesn’t mean that I also forgo the ability to make a decision about whether someone else can sing or not.  Pretend you’re on a variation of the show American Idol.  Now, instead of it being your job to listen to potential singers, focus on the contestant’s perception of their singing.  The truth, or proof of talent, is what comes out of their mouths, not from voicing the opinion that they are the one you are looking for.  Very often, you respond with incredulity, because it is painfully obvious that many of the contestants are delusional.  Then, just when it feels like there is no hope, and you’re ready to accept anybody that may have only a glimmer of talent, a pure tone and melody presents itself often from the least likely contestant. It is keeping alive the hope, like a beautiful song, that an answer to a prayer exists out there for each one of us. All of us ordinary folk have been inundated with really bad singers for too long now.  The negativity of the information we receive from almost every angle, like nails on a blackboard, is making my head hurt.  Like those terrible singers on American Idol, some people are just plain off-key and should be told so.  When truth becomes buried so deeply under the screeching of the tone-deaf, it does have an effect on the rest of the world, making it harder for the rest of us to hear the clear tones of truth.

Bad things happen, to be sure.  The cure, though, is much more basic and a lot more boring, which may, to many people, make it far less interesting than being delusional.  Truth is often the bitterest of pills and it is indeed a challenge to encourage consumption in a way that is palatable…but I do feel obligated to try.  The answer lies in not what one sees, but how one sees it: the process of observation.  For example, take something simple like the cacao bean, cane sugar, and cow’s milk.   Looking at these raw materials singularly one may not see anything remarkable, but who could have guessed that, as an addendum to a long and adventurous journey of discovering a new world, these ordinary elements would work in concert together to become one of the great culinary discoveries of all time: chocolate.

The fact that chocolate has been a delicacy and has delighted our taste buds for centuries isn’t at all surprising.  What may be surprising, though, are recent scientific studies that have also shown the impact that the properties of the cocoa bean has on our health.  Many of you are probably aware that consuming chocolate releases endorphins : a natural morphine like substance that your body produces that inspires well-being.  Were you aware that chocolate may also improve cognitive function and make your heart healthier also?  Had the cocoa bean been left in its natural and bitter state, perhaps we wouldn’t have been so willing to include it as practically its own food group.  Again, so there is a great food that is good for you, not such a big deal.  The biggest miracle of chocolate though, doesn’t lie in our taste buds or sense of well-being, but how it came about in the first place.

The truly amazing part about the interactions between the Mayans, Aztecs, Columbus, Cortez, and some Spanish monks, is that individually they never intended to discover a new food.  The creation of chocolate is only one example of what can happen when simple elements of different worlds unwittingly merge and then emerge into something entirely new and different.  Like children do, the key is to observe the world in a way that is teeming full of potential.  Perhaps it is God’s intent to present us the necessary raw materials and let our hearts be the source of seeing what ordinary elements mixed together can do to transform the bitter into the delightful.  It also took time, some failures and a host of different players to find the perfect recipe.  The creation of chocolate is the perfect metaphor for the plot of the movie in my head: there is always something great that can come out of any journey, even if it is unintentional.  The challenge is to believe that any road can lead to chocolate by learning to see the infinite potential in ourselves, and the ordinary things and people one sees along the way.  My entire life thus far is a living testimony to this truth.

In a general sense, the purpose of these post’s on observation is to create a cosmic sort of chocolate, so to speak: to create a process by which one can see the world in a way that looks as good as chocolate tastes…and is still healthy for you. It just doesn’t make sense that from this world of amazing raw materials God would give any of us great visuals without also setting us in the right direction and providing means necessary to be a part of bringing them to fruition.   It’s simply a question of being able to see and then bring together the right ingredients. I’ve also learned not to be too rigid about what the final result will look like, to limit the number of roads necessary to get there or even stay around long enough to actually see the fruits of my labor.  And I can say with confidence that I have never been disappointed. Confused at times, perhaps, but never disappointed.

That being said, because each of our lives are different I wouldn’t necessarily expect anyone else to fully understand or appreciate the movie in my head, like I probably wouldn’t fully appreciate what is going on in anybody else’s either.  It’s important to preserve subjectivity.  Not only are we all predisposed genetically to certain traits, we all have accumulated millions of different experiences, resulting in millions of unique personal dioramas.  So really, no one individual will ever see the world in the same way any other does.   This also means that no one else can give you an instruction book on how to live out the movie in your own head.  What I’ve observed is that too many people rely on others to tell them how they must see the world to find success which is one of the causes of the world’s deluded thinking.

The whole point here is not to have you embrace the movie in my head, but to embrace the movie in your own head and learn to observe the world in such a way so that it can happen.  Figuring out what ones uniqueness is and putting it out there in the world to mix with others is the first step.  This is not without challenges, especially in this day and age, because being a totally different and unique individual often runs contrary to societies’ push to be defined by and live within specific cultural rules created by bigger and seemingly more powerful people than us ordinary folk.  It is easy to succumb to the pressure to allow an external standard to tell you what to think and define who you are and your place of importance in this world.  If we all saw the world the same way, there would never be growth, which depends on a myriad of different perspectives, from the grandest to the simplest.  As an ingredient, my addition to the mix might be the most basic, but essential nonetheless.  Like chocolate, it’s the different ingredients coming together that can bring a dream to life.

Because each of us is different, the need to have outside acceptance or approval can be fatal when striving to live one’s dream.  Understanding what goes on in one’s head is central to the individual only.   Don’t get me wrong, acceptance and approval is nice, but it isn’t a requirement.  When I think of some of human histories greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Jesus, Galileo, Shakespeare, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Susan B. Anthony, Einstein, to a personal favorite of mine, Teilhard De Chardin, they were far more familiar with condemnation than acceptance.  Where would we be if they hadn’t persisted in the face of societies’ disapproval?  The simple reality is that no one else can live my life or fulfill my dreams, but me.   Most of the things that I’ve accomplished in my life never would have happened had I waited for permission, approval, or enough of an understanding by other people of what goes on in my head for anyone to give me support in the first place.

While approval isn’t essential, it is also impossible to achieve one’s dream in a vacuum.  We are all dependent on ordinary elements to make the movie in our heads a reality, whether it comes in the form of a person, an idea, or a simple experience.  And it is being able to see the importance of those simple things and have faith in their potential in whatever guise they are presented to us that will determine one’s failure or success.   Expecting that someone else can give you all the answers will almost guarantee failure, and rarely are they packaged with a bow and flashy wrapping.  Although acceptance by others is never necessary in bringing a dream to life, the knowledge that each individual out there may be essentially the exact ingredient necessary for a dream is reason enough to encourage everyone to “be all that they can be.”  The more I actualize my own dreams, the better chance, even if unwittingly, I can help actualize someone else’s.  How often does that thought come into your heads?  How often to do you start your day with this thought:  I may be the exact ingredient necessary to help someone’s dream come true?  Even if it is in the subtlest way, that thought should change everything about how you observe the world…when was the last time anyone told you that you were essential to success of the world…to the success of building the Kingdom of God?  I thought so.  So, let it start now.  Be cosmic chocolate to someone.  They don’t even need to be aware of it…only you do.