Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Charm from the Skies Seems to Hallow Us There

our house is full of boxes, even after we've hauled almost 500 boxes of various sizes to storage in our new home town.  all the decorative items that made our house "ours" are packed away, as are the souvenirs of trips we've made and things that remind us of our life as a family here.  we can begin to picture another family living here, and our minds have shifted from thinking of this as "our" house to realizing that soon someone else will occupy it.

despite the depersonalization of this home, it is still warm and protective, a safe haven, as it has been for us for the past thirty years.  i recall our first look at our home when the realtor unlocked the door for us.  when we walked through that front door, we knew immediately that this was "our" home.  everything about it welcomed us, and we knew our search for a house was over.

as i sit thinking about this wonderful piece of architecture, my mind goes to the new owners and what i would say to them about how much this home has meant to us.  it has embraced us, it has made us better people.  the architect and the first owners who worked together more than fifty years ago to create this place must have "gotten" each other, and the spirit of their collaboration lives on in the home they created.  we are the third family that has called this "home", and in a couple of weeks a fourth family will move in.

i hope that the new family will find the joy in living here that my wife and i and our two children found.  i hope that they will sense the warmth that their new home generates.  i hope that they will look forward to coming into this home at the end of each work day and feel that it their refuge, as it has been ours.  we will be sad to leave, but we know that it is time for others to enjoy this house as we have.  we looked at many, many houses in our new home town before we found one that spoke to us as this house spoke to us thirty years ago when we walked through the door that first time.  we are excited to find such a home there, and, as with this home, we knew as soon as we walked in that it was the right home for us.

may everyone find such a place to live, a home that embraces them and comforts them, a home that protects them--not only from the elements but also from the vagaries of life in this world.  may those who have no place to live find shelter and peace.  may we all work until there are no homeless, no hungry, no poor, until all people find a place to belong.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Where Troubles Melt Like Lemon Drops

our planning for our big move continues, and a myriad of details swirl in my mind.  there's so much to be done when undertaking such a move--bank accounts to be closed and new ones opened, addresses changed, business affairs put in order, all the arrangements for movers, closing out of professional and personal relationships--the list goes on and on.  on top of all this is the packing, the acquisition of boxes to pack in, the sorting and thinning out of possessions.  in addition, my wife is suffering from some health problems that we have to attend to, many of them brought on by the stress of the move.

amidst all the chaos, i began to feel overwhelmed a few days ago.  i am normally a very optimistic person, but some of our relatives who have been here helping us with our packing are very negative.  their pessimism dragged my wife down, and in my efforts to keep her spirits up, i suddenly felt completely exhausted, drained of the energy it takes to move forward with the joy and excitement which is my usual persona.  after our relatives left, my wife suffered a severe episode with her health issues, and i went to bed that night filled with anxiety.  the next morning, i sat for my daily meditation, focusing on my feelings of helplessness in the face of all the chores and decisions ahead of us.  as i sat, i explored my emotions and how my angst expressed itself in my body.  at the end of my meditation, i realized that all this was a passing phenomenon, one that i could deal with and come out happy and whole at the end of it.

i was able to admit that i'm no super-person who never experiences worry or depression, but i am a resilient person who can deal with these temporary problems.  i can be strong for my wife when she needs me, and i can see beyond the negativity of those well-intentioned folks who tend to see only the worst possibilities as they attempt to help us.  as i honestly owned my feelings, i was able to accept them as natural under the circumstances, that as the circumstances change my feelings will change, too.  my feelings are not me, but a transient reaction to transient events.

may we each live into our inadequacies and shortcomings, accepting our imperfections, while opening ourselves to the deep strength within us.  may we not confuse the stories we tell ourselves with the reality of who we are.  may profound joy and peace undergird us as we deal with the vagaries of our daily lives.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Love to the Loveless Shown

my wife and i are busily packing for our move.  we've begun the process of buying a home in our new town and must be out of our present home in about three weeks.  one of my wife's sisters who lives in the town where we're moving came to help us pack, and her two other sisters decided to drive up to help us.  one of them is controlling and is very free with her advice as to how we should live our lives.  she had not been in the door thirty minutes before i had to stifle the temptation to tell her to mind her own business three times.

when this sister is around, my wife is very ill at ease.  i soon realized that her fear that i would blurt out something in anger at her sister's meddling and my wife's  desire to do the same was causing my wife a great deal of stress, and i resolved to shrug off her sister's unwelcome advice so as not to compound my wife's trepidations.  we made it through the evening without any angry outbursts, and the tension headache my wife was suffering from had subsided by bedtime.  as i thought about the grief this sister causes those around her, i tried to think about how she must be suffering.  she pushes all those who want to be close to her away by her insistence that all things be done her way, and she has no friends.  her only daughter cannot get along with her, and her grandchildren spend time with her reluctantly.  in her loneliness she reaches out in the one way she believes that she can, by sharing her life experience to tell others how to conduct their lives, and in the process further alienates those she is trying to help.

over the course of that first evening with her, i resolved to look for ways to have compassion for her and to recognize that her bossiness was a symptom of her deep suffering.  it costs me nothing to refrain from angry rebuttals to her unwanted advice and benefits all those around us when i hold my tongue.  today, my goal is to look for all the good in her that i can and to remember the source of her need to help in the only way she is able, unwelcome though that help may be.  i hope to remember that she didn't have to travel 250 miles to help us pack and go another 250 miles to deliver as many of our belongings as her vehicle can carry to our new home.  i hope to respond in gratitude for her generous help and to shrug off the comments that so often cause me to become angry.

may each of us find ways to show compassion for those who cause us suffering.  may we be grateful for the opportunity to live more skillfully that they afford us.  may we love the most unlovely.  shalom.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Give Thee Back the Life I Owe

last week i wrote about a situation in our church that was causing my wife and me a great deal of anxiety.  that situation is moving toward a resolution, not the one we had hoped for, but a resolution nevertheless.  the aggrieved staff member is actively seeking employment elsewhere and, in the meantime, is making the best of a difficult working environment.  he hopes to stay on until he can complete some projects that will benefit the children and youth with whom he has been working, but it may be that a new job will present itself before he can do that.  i fear that his departure will make an already bad state of affairs in our church worse, but when he leaves he and we will know that we have done all we could to minimize the damage that has been done by other parties.

our moving plans continue, and their pace is picking up.  our children were home this weekend to help us load a rental truck with all the boxes we have packed so that we can move them to our new hometown where we will store them in a rental space until we can find a new home.  while we're there, we hope to make an offer on a house so that we can complete our move by the end of next month when the buyers of our current home will take possession.  we are anxious about not having a home to move into and hope that anxiety will be ended by the time we return from our trip to deliver our packed boxes.  if that is the case, we can move forward with confidence in packing up the last remaining odds and ends in our present home, a house that has been our refuge for the past thirty years.

we realized as our son and daughter worked with us to move what seemed to be hundreds of boxes, though the number was certainly not as large as it felt to us from our aching muscles at the end of the day, how fortunate we are to have two wonderful children.  as my wife and i talked last night just before falling asleep, we marveled at their willingness to work so intensely without complaint and at their comments that this was the least they could do for us after all we had done for them.  they worked together so well, treating each other with great kindness, and we are so delighted that, though they are separated in age by ten years, they have such great affection for one another.  to have such children is a great blessing to us in our advancing years.

amidst all the changes that are coming in our lives, the great constant is the abiding love that we feel for one another and the close family ties that bind us, our children, and their spouses together.  as we look back on our lives and all the difficulties we've faced, it is gratifying that kindness and compassion for one another overrides any differences and obstacles, that we are united in love.

may each of us find such connections to other human beings.  may we recognize the power of love to heal the wounds and suffering of life.  may the love we feel for those close to us expand to include all that we come in contact with, and may we see each sentient being as our kin.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By Schisms Rent Asunder

some big changes are coming in our lives, my wife and me.  our home has been on the market for about three months, and this weekend it sold.  we are planning to move about 250  miles north of here to where we have relatives that we enjoy spending time with in an area that has great scenic beauty, an area where we've always wanted to live.  all of our close family here is gone, either through death or from moving away, and we want to enjoy our last years near relatives we hold dear.

during the past week, we have been preoccupied with a difficulty in our church which has taken precedence over our big move.  the relationship between our minister and another member of the staff has taken an ugly turn, and the head of the personnel committee of the church has taken the minister's side in this very personal conflict.  the staff member under attack is a kind and gracious person who is much beloved in our church, and the situation has become critical enough that a large number of us have felt that we must intervene on his behalf.  Trying to find a solution to this conflict and protecting his job has been at the center of our lives even with the upcoming major change in our lives.

now we are fearful that the divisions created by this crisis will be the death knell of our congregation.  this morning i am using this post as a meditation on what steps we might take to help heal those divisions before i go later in the week to meet with the minister to make some parting suggestions before we leave for our new home.  there have been an increasing number of participants in our church who oppose the minister, and she seems to have been unwilling to reach out to those who oppose her.  the first thing that must happen is that the hurts and acrimony caused by her attempt to remove another member of the staff have to be put aside.  she and the church secretary who has become her ally against him must go to him and ask his forgiveness and his assistance in leading a "save our church" campaign, honestly admitting that past differences have increased already-deep divisions in the church.

the lay leaders of our church must adopt policies that allow for greater input from the members-at-large in the decision making process, holding their monthly business meetings in a location that is large enough to accommodate more people and encouraging members to come to those meetings with their suggestions and comments, even if the meetings last longer and conducting business is slowed down.

a committee that is not made up of the official leadership must be formed, though one respected elected leader should chair it, someone who is viewed as being on neither side of the pro- and anti-minister factions.  this committee needs to focus on reaching out to those who have stopped attending and stopped contributing to the church.  one of the few ways our members can express their disapproval of the actions of the minister and leadership is to withhold their presence and their financial support, since most matters are decided by the elected leadership, rather than by the whole membership of the church voting on important decisions beyond the election of the leadership.  in reaching out to the congregation, the members of the committee need to listen rather than trying to convince the disaffected that they are wrong.

the church leaders need to look for ways to reduce the church's expenses without placing essential programs in jeopardy, and they must ask the congregation for suggestions as to how to do this.  we are on track to run a deficit of $100,000 or more for the year, and the depletion of the church's reserves is on everyone's minds, regardless of which faction one is a part of.  knowing that the church is undertaking a major belt-tightening program would go a long way towards convincing those who now withholding their contributions that the leaders are serious in addressing the problems we face, particularly if more of the general membership is given the opportunity of make suggestions.

more than anything else, the leaders and staff, particularly the minister, must begin to listen in a non-judgmental way.  much of the anti-minister sentiment has been created because people don't feel that their objections are heard or their view valued.  there is a sense, largely justified, that those in power have run roughshod over those who disagree with them because they could, so those who haven't been heard feel that they've been ignored and marginalized.  in a recent congregational meeting intended to convey information about the minister's contract with the church, one member rose to ask questions about the finances of the church and was told that, since her concerns were not pertinent to the purpose of the meeting, she was out of order.  she hasn't been back to church, and who can blame her.

the chief process for input from the congregation to the leadership is a system of advisory committees that deal with various aspects of the church's life.  the leaders need to make certain that those committee's are made up of congregants who are not elected leaders, with an elected leader chairing each committee to be an intermediary between the committee and the leadership.  as the committees are now constituted, one particular elected leader serves on four of the seven church committees, chairing one of them, and is also the church's treasurer.  this is too much power for one person to have.  the personnel committee is made up of four of the elected leaders, with only two members-at-large serving on the committee, leaving little opportunity for congregational input or a diversity of views.  these practices reinforce the sense of being ignored that many who are not in positions of leadership feel.

it pains my wife and me to think that we will soon leave this church where we have found so many friends, so many loving people who, like us, feel adrift in the midst of the controversy.  some have stopped attending because it is upsetting to them to walk into the strife every time they go through the church doors.  we understand their feelings and often have to force ourselves to be present, knowing that this undercurrent of animosity runs through the church.  we have little to lose by offering our suggestions, in view of our imminent departure, even if those suggestions are unwelcome.  we can then leave knowing that we have done what we could to end the church's divisions and move it toward healing.

may we learn to listen, to seek common ground, and to demonstrate genuine concern for the well-being of others.  may we not view questions about our decisions as attacks on them.  may we seek to step into the other person's shoes and look at things from another's point-of-view.  may we see differences of opinion as opportunities to learn rather than as threats.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

To Be a Friend

Last week i wrote about the "flame of care," and this week i find that the demands of my life are keeping me from posting this morning as i usually do.  i hope to find time to complete a post for my blog later in the week, but the needs of a friend for support are more important right now.  i hope those who read my blog regularly will check back in a few days and find that i've found the time to post.  if that time doesn't present itself, i plan to get back on schedule next tuesday.  shalom.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Who Will Light the Flame of Care?

there are days when the responsibilities of life seem to close around us and weigh us down.  i had such a day yesterday, and i am hoping that this day won't be a continuation of it.  my wife and i have decided to make a move so that we can be near some of our family--all of the family that we moved to the place where we now live some thirty years ago are gone, either having died or moved away.  after so long in one place, living in the same wonderful house that has brought us so much joy and that is filled with wonderful memories, it is hard to leave.  yet we know that we will enjoy being near loved ones that we've longed to spend more time with, and we are excited about the prospect of beginning another chapter in our lives.

we've found that, since we've retired, we are called on to do a great deal of volunteer work.  it's difficult to say no because we know that the work we're asked to do is worthwhile, and we feel strongly that we should do our part to make our community a better place.  now we've reached a point where the work we are doing for others is consuming an inordinate amount of our time, so that we have little time left to take care of our personal responsibilities.  we struggle to make time for our household duties--washing, cleaning, making repairs, shopping for and preparing meals, tending to the yard--and have to sit down and prepare a weekly schedule to fit it all in.  yesterday, when we made our list for the week, we saw that there didn't appear to be time left for our own enjoyment of life; our obligations to various organizations and to keeping our home running would consume almost every waking minute.

i went to bed feeling overwhelmed, and, as i sit and write in the dark of the early morning, i'm not certain how we will fit everything in this week.  i know that it will all fall into place if we take one day at a time, but, from the perspective of looking at this week's list, the challenges of the week ahead are daunting.  this, coupled with our anxiety about selling our home and controversies in our church that don't seem to be moving toward any satisfactory resolution, makes me want to throw up my hands and declare myself no longer responsible for the commitments i've made.  i won't do that, though, because i'll let too many people down.

in the back of my mind, i know that the frustration i feel at this moment is temporary.  as i check items off the list, the sense of being buried under too many chores and not enough time will dissipate.  my normal sense of optimism will assert itself more and more each day.  at the end of the week, i'll look back with satisfaction at all that was accomplished and wonder how i allowed myself to feel discouraged.  even as i write these words, some of the burden is lifted, and i look forward to tackling some of the items on our list.  i can't solve everyone's problems, i can't force our realtor to go out and find a buyer for our home, i can't fix everything that's wrong in the world or even in my little corner of it, i can't step into the breach every time some job needs doing.  all i can do is keep plugging away, doing my part, helping where and when i can, leaving those things i don't have time for until another day.

may i recognize my limitations.  may i look beyond the mundane tasks to the good that results from doing them.  may i accomplish what i can each day and fall into bed exhausted with a sense of satisfaction at having done my best.  may we all find balance in our lives and reserve time to take care of ourselves in the process of caring for others.  shalom.