Life’s Lightning Strikes

What?!!! Lightning struck our house?!!! Oh my God!!!

 When lightning struck our family shore home a few days ago, thankfully, we were not in the house, nor even in town. But when such an unusual, dramatic event occurs, it naturally leads one to wonder about the big questions: What is the meaning in this? Why did this happen? Is God trying to tell me something?

I don’t know. I will never know. My ego wants so badly to affix an explanation (like a little gremlin in my mind that demands fixed answers), but I’m learning that the spiritual life involves not knowing. It’s the hard work of humility and letting go of certainty. I don’t like that very much.In fact, few of us like to live in the powerlessness and vulnerability of uncertainty particularly when we face danger, trouble, and distress. So what can we do?

We can ask for help and then lean into the faith that there is some source of goodness at work in invisible ways. We are not alone; God is accompanying us (yes, right now) helping us (yes, each of us) navigate our troubles.

The story of the lightning strike and dealing with its aftermath has brought to fruition some important lessons that have taken shape in my life over the past year.

The lightning strike was dramatic, part of an intense, powerful storm that blew through Cape May, New Jersey on the afternoon of Saturday, June 6, 2015. Neighbors actually saw the bolt of lightning hit the house and heard a loud explosion. Our next-door neighbor was blown off his bed. The bolt hit the top of the chimney, traveled down the side of the house into the pipes and wires, from the tippy top of the house to the lowest point in the basement. So freaky!!! Electrical smoke ensued, but no fire, thank God. The brick chimney, air conditioning system, and various electronic systems were damaged. After arriving to assess the damage a couple of days later, we smelled gas and discovered that the lightning’s electrical force created a small hole in the hidden internal gas plumbing line resulting in a gas leak. The house could have exploded. Oh my God!!!

Lightning and other such stormy events can happen anytime. One out of 200 houses are struck by lightning each year, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute (so much more frequent than I would expect). But there are other life events that can feel like being struck by lightning, leaving us vulnerable as we try to pick up the pieces. Here are some tips for you to move through the aftermath of whatever “lightning” you experience. I’ve found that three P’s – People, Perspective, and Praise – have been essential in helping to cope with the turmoil of life’s lightning.

  1. PEOPLE. Upon discovering the gas leak, I called the gas company who promptly dispatched a serviceman (Dave, my hero) within 30 minutes to assess the situation and provide instruction. I was so frightened that I couldn’t comprehend what Dave was explaining to me. He talked on and on about which gas line was damaged and what needs to be properly “grounded” in the future and how we can provide “unions” in order to fix it. Needless to say, these words do not mean the same thing in the spiritual care world in which I work as they do in the world of plumbers and electricians.

Close friends and neighbors, Terri and Bob, swooped in, took copious notes and   helped me listen to Dave’s explanations. Other neighbors and countless service people appeared throughout this drama to help and support us. Most days, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get service people to show up the same day in our small town of Cape May (locals call this phenomena “Cape MAYBE”). Yet on this particular Monday, numerous service people showed up on time to help deal with this crisis.

Lesson #1: Ask for help and watch closely for angels in disguise who are sent to help you.

  1. PERSPECTIVE. Aside from this lightning episode, I’ve been dealing with much emotional turmoil over the past several months, grappling with frustration, grief, and resentment involving people I love. To help me move forward, my motto has been “reframe, reframe, reframe.” To reframe is to look at what you are experiencing from a different viewpoint. We can reframe our perspective by placing ourselves in others’ shoes, by readjusting our lens outward to look at the bigger picture, or by trying to move ourselves to a new vantage point. Regardless of the technique, reframing a situation changes our perspective and helps us adjust to and find peace with difficulties. Was it lucky or unlucky that our home was struck by lightning? I choose to take the view that we are lucky to be alive.

Lesson #2: Seek new perspective- reframe, reframe, reframe.

 3. PRAISE. A few months ago at a workshop, I was told to reach my hand into a small brown bag and select a poem. The following poem from Rainer Maria Rilke was given to me.

Praise dear one,

Let us disappear into praising.

Nothing belongs to us.

This poem was exactly what I needed at the time. First off, who doesn’t love being called “dear one”? Beyond that, it reminds us that our grumbling is rooted in the belief that we own things or are entitled to them. Nothing belongs to us. We come into the world with nothing and we depart with nothing. My brother says that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. By detaching from our expectations (lifelong work!), we become lighter and our burdens gradually seem to disappear. Then we are able to thank our lucky stars, count our blessings, and praise God.

When I consider the lightning storm and what could have been catastrophic, it’s easy to praise. It’s more difficult to offer praise, though, when you face trouble or disaster, and you cannot see the good anywhere in it. See #1 and #2, and then hopefully, in time, you will get to #3.

Lesson #3: Praise, dear one. Nothing belongs to us.

Though nature’s lightning doesn’t strike every house, life’s lightning does strike everyone and we discover ourselves shaken up in unexpected ways. When that happens, may you lean into people, perspective, and praise to help you move through.

Blessings and love,

M

Digging God Out

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There is a really deep well inside me.

And in it dwells God.

Sometimes I am there too.

But more often stones and grit block the well,

and God is buried underneath.

Then God must be dug out again.

-Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life*

How timely that one of my first days of December was spent with nice men who came to clean out our well, replace the pump, and get the water flowing. Our backyard is fairly deep, reaching more than 450 feet below the earth’s surface. The water pressure has been gradually decreasing so we knew it needed a good servicing.

What a God-wink. That rascal, God, has such a sense of timing and humor. I can almost hear a gentle laughter. It is the first week of Advent and there is a divine invitation here. It’s time to dig God out.

In the Christian tradition much of December is spent in the season of Advent. Advent is the season that we wait and watch for God to break through (again) and be born. Advent culminates with Christmas, when we celebrate God’s coming to us by being born in the form of Jesus. It is paradoxical because we acknowledge that God is already here and hard at work (thank goodness!). Yet, God will also come again. Isn’t this so reassuring to know that God is not finished? Our world is so desperately in need of Love.

God is in all of creation, pulsing with life- often very hidden, but also very evident. The heartbeat of God is also within each of us, and we are called to be bearers of this presence.

Unfortunately, there is so much that blocks and clogs this Source of Love. So much stuff: worries, fears, expectations, self-centeredness, cynicism, judgments, lack of forgiveness, and ego to name a few. There is also this feeling of unworthiness- do we really believe that we are sacred?

What can you and I do to dig God out? Wouldn’t it be great if nice men could come and clean out the grit and dirt and replace our pumps? But alas, there is no such easy fix. Instead, this unblocking, unclogging, and digging out is the task of a lifetime. In fact, it is probably central to the spiritual life in most faith traditions.

Perhaps it begins with an intention to pay closer attention. What if we listened for the heartbeat of God pulsing around us in ordinary moments? What if we looked for signs of the Divine breaking into even the most challenging situations? What if we tried to honored the sacredness of our loved ones as well as our enemies?

That could be a start. Let us dig.

*Etty Hillesum was a remarkable modern day mystic. As a young Jewish woman, she chronicled her spiritual journey through her diaries. She died in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29.

Claiming “Contemplation”- Part 1

Contemplation? No, that’s not for me. That’s for quiet, reclusive people. That’s for those serious, religious people. Not to offend those that really love the word “contemplation,” but it brings to mind an image of navel gazing. In fact, if you look up the definition of the word, some dictionaries actually refer to navel gazing.

For years, I’ve resisted the word “contemplation.” Sometimes situations or words get under our skin because they have a lesson to teach us. I’m thinking that’s the case with this word.

Recently I discovered a passage from Thomas Merton (a spiritual guru whom I admire but don’t really “get”):

“Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.  It is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.  It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant source.  Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that source.  It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith…” (Seeds of Contemplation)

WOW. Although this passage is pretty deep, there are some words that jump out at me: wonder, awe, awake, alive, invisible, Source. These are all words that I LOVE. Not only does he use some of my favorite words, Merton describes a life that I desire and aspire to. And his description has nothing to do with being reclusive, overly serious or navel-gazing.

Merton describes a way of being and living that is available to all of us. Imagine if we could live like this! We’d be engaged with real life. We would awaken to the fact that there is that of God in all things. We’d be tuned into wonder. We’d be overflowing with gratitude. Everyone we meet would be able to sense this alive-ness within us. We would be almost glowing!

So maybe it’s time to claim contemplation. Or at least open the door to it and get to know it better (Part1). Then perhaps it could become part of our everyday lives in a way that makes difference in the world.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Blessed Messiness

People often think of life as either a fairy tale or a tragedy, but the truth is that it very much a combination of both. It is blessed messiness.

I spent this past Labor Day weekend in Cape May saying goodbye to the summer. It was a beautiful weekend filled with family and friends beside the sea. We had a houseful of fun guests. Many of our family members got dressed up and attended the Commodore’s Ball at the Yacht Club. Our pictures on Facebook made it look like a fairy tale weekend.

What people didn’t see was the sadness hidden beneath the surface. Saturday, August 30, was the one-year anniversary of the death of our beloved niece, Meg, who died tragically from her addiction. We were missing my mom whose absence has been so magnified through the summer. Saturday afternoon we held Dede Boutique, sorting and dividing Mom’s baubles and costume jewelry.

The weekend was lived as both fairy tale and tragedy. We visited Meg’s and Mom’s ashes, prayed, and hugged. My sister (Meg’s mom) and I got our nails done – toes painted in Meg-like fashion, fingers painted in Mom-like fashion. We attended the ball on Saturday evening with a desire to lean into life and look forward, rather than dwelling on the grief that still lived in our hearts. All the girls wore a piece of Mom’s jewelry.

Life is filled with joy and sadness. We smile and cry, sometimes simultaneously. Our joys get plastered all over Facebook, while the sadness gets hidden in our private journals. That’s human nature- who wants to wallow publicly and bring everyone else down around them?

Don’t let the seemingly perfect Facebook pictures fool you. We all live somewhere between the Fairy Tale and the Tragedy. It’s good to remember this time and time again when we see everyone’s happy posts and photos.

We do well to live authentically, honoring the blessed messiness in our own lives, as well as in the lives of others. Meg’s final Facebook post contained the following quote: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

I offer a blessing for everyone reading this:

May you know that you are not alone;

May you have the strength to lean into your joys amidst your struggles;

May you discover a gentleness to hold the good and bad together;

May you remember that you are loved.

 

 

The Invention of Wings: Seeking Freedom

On the eve of the 4th of July, a holiday that celebrates freedom, it seems appropriate to review a book that explores freedom.

Sue Monk Kidd’s Invention of Wings is a stirring, inspirational story centering on the universal human quest for freedom. Set in early nineteenth century Charleston, the historical novel explores the intertwined lives of two girls who challenge the injustices of slavery and oppression.

As the book opens, Hetty (“Handful”) Grimke, a ten-year old slave, recalls her mother’s story about her African ancestors who had wings that helped them fly over trees and clouds. Handful’s mother tells her that one day, Handful will gain her wings and fly to freedom.

Sarah Grimke, a white girl from a prominent, wealthy Charleston family, receives Handful as a gift for her eleventh birthday. Horrified, Sarah attempts to disclaim the gift in front of the family guests at her party. She later vows to help Handful get free.

Over the next 35 years, both girls struggle to find their wings. While Handful’s struggle is obvious and brutal, Sarah’s is one of mind and spirit, as she has a driving desire to be a lawyer, unthinkable and unattainable for a woman at that time.

Historical fiction helps us learn about history as we enter into the real and imagined stories of those who lived before us. I find myself grateful for the courage and sacrifice of those who enabled me, centuries later, to have a voice, obtain a law degree, and follow my dreams. With the Source of Love as our guide, we are invited to continue the work of freedom today, often in less obvious ways.

 

 

The Serendipitous Gift

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.”

-Dede Wilson (Mom)

A stud sensor.  I opened this seemingly random gift on Christmas Eve as part of our traditional gift swap and wondered what the heck it was. No, it’s not a tool to find attractive men! The packaging instructions revealed that it is a tool that one uses to locate support frames behind a wall of a home or building.

The tool sat on a table in the family room for a few days waiting to be moved to the basement workshop. Yet, I kept pausing to look at it; something intrigued me. It dawned on me that the stud sensor is a wonderfully symbolic gift, as I am in search of some stability.

My foundation has been profoundly shaken.  Mom died a week before Christmas and I am struggling to readjust to life without my mother in it.  Our mothers are our original source of life as well as our teachers, listeners, cheerleaders, and companions. They love us in a way that no one else does, and they hold us together in ways we don’t even realize until they aren’t here.

A stud sensor is a serendipitous reminder that there is and has always been a hidden framework holding me together, holding our family together, and holding our world together.

Mom’s life and legacy point the way. Although she’d been sick with Stage 4 cancer for almost two years, she lived, laughed, and loved fully through the end of her life.  Her final words,  “I love you,” were communicated via hand gestures, as she was on a ventilator.  Just before she was wheeled out to the operating room, she pointed to her heart, spelled “L-O-V-E” with her finger into the air, and then pointed to each person in the room, including the orderlies who had arrived to transport her.

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.” Mom offered this advice in a recent interview, echoing insight from wise people such as Moses, Jesus, and The Buddha. Such good company!

Relationships form and support us. When shaken by loss of any kind, it is vital to remember that love is the foundation for all of life. Although no one can replace a loved one, we will, in time, adjust to a new way of living. Interconnected relationships become reshaped, new ones are built, and we discover support. We love each other through it. Thankfully, help comes from God, from the angels that surround us, and from those who came before us.

Written in gratitude for all those who are providing a supportive foundation by offering their love, care, and prayer. 

A Nest for the Season

What a delightful surprise! While putting up the Christmas tree at The Well Center this past week, we discovered an empty bird’s nest tucked inside the boughs of the tree!  The nest is a simple, fragile creation made of scraps of grass woven together by a bird that needed a home and a safe place to give birth.

This empty bird’s nest-perched amidst the community’s tree-is a wonderful invitation for all of us.  Where are the places of refuge in our spiritual lives? How can we make spaces in our lives for new growth? How can we come together and become a nest for what wants to be born in us?

In the Christian tradition, the period just before Christmas is known as Advent. It is a time for waiting in expectation for God to come and be born again and again and again. In the hustle and bustle of the season, take time to listen for and nurture the new life that is growing in you. Advent, darkness, and winter remind us of the importance of nestling in to wait in empty expectation for the new life that is growing.  Be a nest.

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