Tag Archives: spirituality

Leaving a Mark

Admittedly, I am not the most graceful person on my feet. “You’re like a bull in a china shop” was a exasperated phrase uttered frequently by my mom when I was growing up. Last week, I bumped my shin into the side of my dresser. As someone who bruises easily, I thought, “Well, that’s going to leave a mark.” Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed a nasty bruise on my shin. It took me a minute, but I remembered my recent not-so-pleasant encounter with a piece of furniture. Sure enough, it leave a mark.

“REMEMBER.” That’s today’s word in the continuing Lenten-practice. It’s about leaving a mark.

On my silent, contemplative walk today, I saw a tree that had been burned at one time. I wondered how it happened. Was a child, a teen-ager or an adult to blame? Was it accidental? Was it as a result of a childish dare, or of adolescent rebellion? All I know is that whatever happened, whenever it happened, left a mark on this tree’s trunk for all to see. And, if the perpetrators still live in the neighborhood, I can imagine that they remember what happened, every time they see this tree.

Because it left a mark.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree deepened my awareness of the mark that the words and actions of others left on my life. Like, the day in sixth grade when my teacher told me that I had a beautiful voice after my first-ever (nerve-racking) public solo of “Streets of Loredo.” Mr. Dunn’s words left a mark. I also remember the sting of shame I felt when my first grade teacher held up my ditto homework paper (Note: those of you who are younger than 50 might need to look up what a ditto is) and announced to the entire class that I had gotten every one of the problems wrong. “I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Paul said, “because the assignment was as easy as pie.” At the time, I didn’t understand whether making a pie was easy or hard, but I can tell you that those words also left a mark. Another vivid memory, all of these years later.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree also deepened my awareness of the mark that my own words and actions have left on someone else. I remember the look of delight on a friend’s face when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of love. I also remember hearing the catch of hurt in another’s voice when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of judgment or pain.

Our minds are filled a lifetime of memories that are added-unto every day, as our life continues to unfold. We remember a fun day, a caring hug. We remember an unkind word, a shove on the playground. Each of these experiences leaves its mark on how we see ourselves.

Please, God, I pray, help me remember the crucial lesson of the burned tree trunk as I move through my days.

Spoiler Alert

We’ve all been hooked by it:  “Coming up next …” or “Stay tuned for scenes from next week’s show.”

As our favorite TV show transitions to yet another commercial, “Coming up next …” entices us with glimpses of upcoming scenes in hopes we will not change the channel. There’s something in our psyche that figuratively salivates at the allure of knowing what’s next; even if it’s just bits and pieces. “Stay tuned” in this context carries with it a sense that we will somehow be lacking if we don’t take a peek at what will happen next time. It’s like reading the last page of a book when we’ve barely begun to let the story unfold in Chapter 1.

Lately, these teasers have troubled me. Do I really need to see the preview of a contestant on Chopped  having an unfortunate run-in with an ill-behaving food processor after the commercial break, likely leading to the dreaded words, “You have been Chopped” before the scene even happens? Must I get a sneak peek at the finished kitchen while they are still tearing out the cabinets? Or, is it really necessary to know that by the end of this episode or season, one of the characters will die, while they are still alive in the story?

They try to warn us: “Spoiler Alert!”

There’s a reason why they are called spoiler alerts. Last week, in poking around the social media buzz about the U.S. debut of Downton Abbey’s much-awaited Season 5, I came across (sorry, Spoiler Alert!) a photo of my beloved Anna where clearly something terrible had happened to her. Again. Just when she and Mr. Bates were getting back to a semblance of normal after his imprisonment in Seasons 2 and 3 and her rape in Season 4. Now, instead of letting the story of Season 5 naturally unfold, every time I see Anna smile, I think, “Oh, but you don’t know what tragedy awaits you next!” For me at least, this out-of-context information about the future spoils the telling of the present story.

All of this reminded me of one of the best stories I know about Spoiler Alerts, or, shall I say, an Alert to that which Spoils. It is in the biblical story of the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, and ultimately into the Promised Land. When they left Egypt, fleeing across the Red Sea, there was neither fore-knowledge nor capacity to carry provisions for what turned out to be a journey of 40 long years. So, God introduced them to Manna. God promised to deliver each morning a new kind of bread in the proportionate measure for each household — exactly what was needed each day to consume in order to have the sustenance they needed. No more. No less. Abundance without excess. Pretty sweet, eh? (After all, the manna purportedly tasted like wafers with honey.)

This new manna arrived in the dew of the night and had to be collected each morning, before it was melted by the heat of the sun. Okay, maybe a little inconvenient — like actually waiting until the next episode to see what happens? Or, like not being privy to what might be “coming up next” in our lives?

But, alas, the children of Israel, like us, needed to know what’s “coming up next.” What if God didn’t provide manna for the next day? Wouldn’t it be wise to withhold a portion of today’s bread, and save it in the event that tomorrow’s bread did not come? Nothing wrong with planning for the future, right? A difficult, yet important lesson to be learned: Any manna that was stored from the previous day spoiled to the point of being inedible the next day (except in the case of preparing for the Sabbath — which I hope to explore in a future blog posting).

And haven’t we all learned that lesson the hard way, too, when we live our lives from a mindset of scarcity by not fully consuming what is present before us? When we miss the fullness of today because of fears about tomorrow? What life-sustenance do we miss in a conversation on the phone with a friend when we are glancing at our email while they are sharing with us?

In this new year, I’ve heard from more than one person of a longing to be more present in their lives. For me, this story of manna is the ultimate alert for us to that which can so easily spoil the goodness and gifts in whatever is happening in the present moment — whether in moments of joy or most especially in times that are not easy. Just as the manna was to be fully consumed each day, it helps me to see that I cannot possibly glean the full benefits from the event, conversation or feeling that is presently with me, if part of my attention is spent in looking for the next meal, so-to-speak.

I appreciate this encouragement to be Alert to that which Spoils the blessings of the present, and a call to Stay Tuned — to the scenes in the episode of our present life.

Tending Toward

I delight in finding clever gifts. And for Christmas this year, I found one for my avid-hiker and good-humored brother: a t-shirt with a stick-figure picture of a man in the woods with a tent and the words, ‘Good In Tent’. Ha, Ha — get it?!  Aside from being clever and funny, the message of that shirt kept lingering about my heart and mind for days. What a ‘sticky’ phrase: Good Intent.

Then this morning, on New Years Day, my Facebook news feed included a link to a post entitled One Word. It was written by a woman who had chosen the word “Rise” as her one-word daily intention for 2015 (www.oneword.com). I was inspired. What  would be my one word for this brand-new year? After a moment of quiet, I knew. My word is ‘POSSIBLE.’ I fell in love with the idea of keeping this word in my heart and letting it greet me each day. My daily intention: to open myself to what is POSSIBLE. Yet something within me bristled with anything that smacked of a Resolution — something that is destined to fail after a few well-meaning days.

Smack-dab in the middle of this consideration — a full-circle moment. I could see in my mind’s eye that stick-figure man on my brother’s t-shirt and those sticky words: Good Intent.

Word-lover that I am, I decided to look up the definition of the word, intention, and found all of the expected phrases like ‘aim or purpose’ and ‘a determination to act in a certain way.’ But as I scrolled down the page a bit, I found what I had been seeking:

“In knowing, the mind is said to “intend” or “tend toward” its object.”

A new sticky, yet grace-laden phrase: Tending Toward. Leaning In. Feeding, nurturing and watering. Some days perhaps more than others. My gardening experience has taught me the forgiving nature of most plants. If you miss a day of water, or forget to fertilize, more often than not, the beautiful flower still emerges.

Tending toward. I like that gentle phrase; so free of the rigidity baggage that comes with a Resolution.

This new year, like the stick-figure man on my brother’s new t-shirt, may you discover the Good Intent in your life; perfectly imperfectly tending toward it; leaning in to your own possibilities.

That’s my kind of camping!

‘Tis the Season for … Waiting

A former manager at work put it well when she said that “WAIT” is a four-letter word. I hate to wait. I don’t know anyone who likes to wait. Yet, it seems that (darn it!) we spend much of our lives waiting. Waiting in line. Waiting for that promotion. Waiting for healing. Waiting for that big break. Waiting for vacation. Waiting for spring. Waiting for morning during a sleepless night. Waiting for just a moment to breathe. Waiting in traffic.

It feels like all my loved ones are waiting for something right now: To be able to walk after shattering the bones in a leg for one person, and after foot surgery for another. For a much-needed job. For blood test results that will allow for another round of needed chemotherapy. For a baby to be born. For love.

And, in this season, for many of us, we are waiting in the season of Advent for Christmas. Waiting for peace on earth. Waiting for Santa. Waiting for that perfect gift to be opened. Waiting for hope.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

With all this waiting, it seemed like a good time to ask myself what good can come from waiting? If I’m going to spend a large chunk of my life doing it, shouldn’t I find some meaning in it? If ‘waiting’ is a verb, what do I want it to DO for me? How can it be for me more than simply something to endure?

So, lately, I’ve been experimenting with a new way of waiting. I look at the people in the cars around me, also stuck in gridlock, and I wonder about them and their lives. Where are they going? I look at the person in front of me in the grocery store line, and I pray a blessing over them. I try to be present with my friend who is many weeks away from being able to put weight on her leg so she can begin the process of walking. I try not to offer solutions or make things something that they are not (as much as I’d love to!). I’m trying to just BE in whatever I’m in, and to look for what it is there to teach me.

Lofting ambitions, yes. And while I’m only successful at doing this approximately 4% of the time, I must say that when I can quiet my mind from only longing for the desired future state (my loved one’s healing, MY turn with the cashier at the store), I do find that there can be gifts in the waiting. Gifts of presence, strength, and unexpected connectedness with a stranger.

The prophet Isaiah had some wise things to say about waiting. When I read these words today, it seemed to me that some very powerful, and seemingly contrary verbs were associated with waiting.

“Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”   — Isaiah 40:31

Gaining strength, flying, running, walking … found in the midst of waiting?!  Sounds like this kind of waiting is active and much more beneficial than I had thought!

I, for one am going to keep learning how to wait. And to find blessings before they are expected.

Still Unpacking

I’ve been unpacking for the past four weeks. While my dirty laundry is long-since washed and my suitcase, shoes and toiletries are all put back in their places, I am still in the process of unpacking from my experiences in recent weeks.  My soul, heart and mind are so full that I’ve found it difficult to write. But today, like finding a dresser drawer with a bit of room to put away clean laundry, I have found a bit of space in which to finally begin the process of unpacking.

I had the blessing and honor of traveling to Monaco, France and Italy with my sister — an incredible whirlwind of sights, smells, tastes and emotions over twelve jam-packed days. I witnessed firsthand the magnitude of history that is simply not possible in my west-coast US life. I stood in St. Peter’s Square with thousands of pilgrims and experienced a sense of joy, unity and community that transcended any differences in our understanding of God. I smelled and tasted exquisite food and drink — fish, pasta, coffee, wine and gallery-worthy displays of gelato; all created from a true passion for la dolce vita. I stood and sensed the vibration of the millions of souls (and soles) that had walked on the same centuries-old cobblestones that were now under my very own feet. I even went sailing, for goodness sake, on a racing boat on the Mediterranean Sea! My fingers actually touched the rich wood of a door that was hung hundreds of years ago, as well as stone walls and marble columns that were erected over many lifetimes. And oh, the art! Mind-numbing masterpieces in fresco, stone, bronze and oils on floors, walls, stories-high ceilings and even on bridges. All soul-moving, heart-filling and senses-exploding experiences! The question, almost haunting me: How can I really take this all in?

Upon arrival home, I felt transformed, as if something in these experiences fundamentally shifted something deep within myself. All of it just seemed too big, too grand, too much for this mere mortal. Over these weeks, I’ve felt some inexplicable need to do something with all of it. Not doing as in an action, but doing in terms of putting it all away — finding space someplace in my being for it. And, I’ve been stuck for weeks. How can I possibly assimilate these amazing, not-your-average-twenty-first century-Renton-Washington-United States experiences into the pre-trip version of Lisa? Like the shy introvert that I am, it’s been sort of like becoming acquainted, slowly, with a new friend, who, by the way, is now part of myself. She, whose heart had felt a split-second connection with the soul of the artist who painted or sculpted the masterpiece so long ago; who saw it through new eyes, like the groups of present-day school children who gathered into the churches and museums on field trips. It’s like I’ve needed these weeks to get to know her over tea, in long walks and in whispered heart-conversations while huddled under my covers in pre-dawn hours.

Then, it came to me: this process of ‘unpacking’ is much like the process of photosynthesis. The plant takes in the light and does something with it. According to Wikipedia, it’s a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy into chemical energy that can be later released ‘to fuel the organisms’ activities.’ The word itself, from the original Greek is φῶς, phōs, “light”, and σύνθεσις, synthesis, “putting together”. A constant process of putting together light. I read that the average rate of energy captured by photosynthesis in our world today is approximately six times larger than the current power consumption of our human civilization! Talk about transformation!


Eureka! That’s IT! In what I now know will be a long-term process, as I open myself like a plant in the garden to that which so moved me in my travels – that light – the energy of this can be assimilated first into myself, and then, miracle of miracles, when released, it can alter the very air around me.

And so, I share this with you in hopes that this putting together of the light that so stirred me, will also stir something in you, for your benefit. Is this not the calling for all of us? Whether our hearts are touched by experiences in Europe, or in our own back yard; in the grand display of the most spectacular of natural wonders, or in the tiny puckers as seen in the knuckles of a newborn baby — as we open ourselves to all of this, whatever this is for each of us, an energy of sorts is created and something actually happens. We, and those around us are transformed.

It is from this new realization that I ask an important question to you, and to myself today: What, in my own life, can I begin to unpack; to synthesize, for the essential benefit of my light-dependent self, and for those around me?

Oh, and while I’m at it, I’d love to share a small sampling of photos from my trip with you! Enjoy and be transformed, as I was.

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