Saturday, 29 September 2018

Your Limits

May I see my own limits with compassion, just as I view the limits of others.
        Roshi Joan Halifax

A limit is defined as “a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass, or a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible.”  (Google dictionary). Limits are often the boundaries that we have set for ourselves.  And hopefully we know when we have reached our limit.

What happens when we reach the limit?  Are we okay with it or do we decide to push a little further, try the boundary a bit more?  At some point in time we decided what our limits might be and occasionally we do push and try a bit harder to test and see if it can go further.  If we push too far do we snap?  Limits are a place where we can also find comfort as we realize that we have done all we can, pushed as far as possible.

Once in a class where we were studying non violent crisis intervention we were all asked to pick a partner, stand across the room from each other and the partner would walk towards the other and when the person reached your personal space, different for each person depending on your comfort level,  you put your arm straight out to indicate they must stop.  It was a great experiment.  Everyone was different.  I remember one female had no problem with her partner coming nearly nose to nose, the partner was decidedly uncomfortable because they were out of their comfort zone.  It was a simple exercise but one that told us that all our limits were unique.

How do we react when we have reached the limit?  With others we are generally understanding and considerate.  We appreciate the boundary and we respect it and them for having it in place.  Are we as kind and considerate of ourselves?  Sometimes, yes.  But more often we will have a negative conversation in our own mind about how we should have done it differently or better.  We are less kind and understanding of ourselves.  We question if we could have done more, spent more time, expended more effort.  Surely we could have been better.  We are not so kind and compassionate to ourselves.  And yet it is important to be gentle and kind.  To remind ourselves that it is fine if we could not do more, reach more, see more.  It is important to say that it is good to know and stick to the boundary.  It is essential to care for the self, without that care how then can we continue to be positive for others.

Limits are beautiful things they are not intended as a tool to denigrate the self but are intended to care for ourselves.  And when we reach the limit...we are called to be as kind and compassionate as if it were someone standing physically in front of us and telling them that it is all good.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Change Your Attitude!

A few days ago a friend posted this cartoon.  While the cartoon is intended to be humorous it is also a sad commentary on how quick we are to complain and how slow we are to pass on appreciation. Along with this post there were numerous other friends who have been posting sayings such as when you can choose to be anything, be kind.  There is nothing wrong with a reminder to be kind to one another.  There is also nothing wrong with forcing ourselves, even with the above humour, to consider our attitude.

Attitude goes a long way.  Are we known for a positive or negative attitude?  Are we known to complain a lot or for being a thankful, grateful person?  In a sermon the preacher conveyed an encounter that he had.  He told of an incident where a mother and her son were disagreeing on an issue.  It ended with a much disgruntled young person.  The mother simply looked at him and told him that he needed to change his attitude.  That mom had no issue calling her child on a bad attitude or a sulky after effect.  Reminding him that all was not bad in his world but that on this occasion everything  was not going to go his way.  It is a lesson that we all learn at some point, win some and lose some.  Be gracious what ever the outcome.  The preacher went on to emphasize that sometimes we all need that reminder...change your attitude.

So what is our attitude?  Are we gracious in wins and losses? Do we openly show our appreciation and gratitude or merely lodge the complaint(s)?  Are we inclined to pass along kind words that tell a person how appreciated they are or the first to line up when something has gone wrong?  Are we a healthy balance of both?  The cartoon made me think!  The cartoon, brought a smile to my face but it also made me ask do I complain more than I express appreciation?  Do I need to change my attitude?  Living in a society where we often expect immediate gratification, there is no doubt that we all have days where we need to change our attitude.

The cartoon though is a timely, light reminder of a more serious issue.  We forget to say thanks for a job well done.  We forget to convey the message that we appreciated the service that someone offered thinking they already know.  We forget to pass along the kindness.  And that may make all the difference to that person for that moment in time.

There once was a young man who struggled in his professional life.  He often heard negative comments about his work and negative comments of a personal nature.  He avoided colleagues and as a result became known for being unreliable.  When another person said they were going to reach out and make an effort to include him more, give him a schedule to participate in they were laughed at and mocked for making the effort.  Much to the surprise of the nay-sayers the young man responded and was faithful to the schedule that he had agreed to be apart of.  Good things happened on many of the occasions that he participated in and others began to tell the scheduler of how well things were going.  The scheduler, hearing the compliments, decided to mail a note of thanks for the additional effort to let the young man know that it had not gone unnoticed and that it was much appreciated by those that he was interacting with as well as the volunteers that were there to help.  It would be several months later when the young man and the person doing the schedule would be face to face.  At that time he asked if he could speak privately and the interaction for the person doing the schedule was rather shocking.  The young man pulled out his wallet and there was the note card, very worn from the folding and unfolding.  It had obviously been read many times. He went on to tell the person responsible for the schedule that he had gone to the mail and it was with some trepidation that he opened the envelope which contained the note.  He went on to explain that anything he received in the mail was generally not good.  He was shocked when he opened the envelope and read what was inside.  A note that expressed thanks for the work and the extra effort that he put into what he had been asked to do.  He said he had never gotten anything like this and he was so grateful.  The person responsible for the schedule had honestly not given any further thought to the note.  Was somewhat shocked at the reaction and responded that they had heard good things and thought it was important to pass it along.  The note was refolded, replaced in the wallet.  Each of the two persons moved on but for that time it made all the difference.

The thought that a note with a few kind words expressing gratitude for a job well done is not a regular occurrence is sad.  We are quick to pass along a complaint but less so with a compliment.  Somehow we assume that the person already knows if they have done something well.  But really, how would anyone know if we never take the time to tell them?  So can I encourage all who take the time to read this blog to not waste another day before complimenting someone, thanking someone, appreciating someone.  Let them know that their efforts have not gone unnoticed because the smallest of kindnesses make a world of difference to the person who receives the expression of gratitude.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Stories to tell

All sorrows can be born if you can put them into a story
                                                                                                                         Karen Blixen

Stories are important.  Stories offer an escape, which is why as children we likely loved fairy tales.  Stories offer hope, tell about struggles, despair, joy and celebration.  Stories cover every aspect of the human condition.  Some are told to scare us, nothing like a good ghost story after dark around a campfire the scares you to death.  Some are told to make us happy.  Some are told to teach a lesson (remember the dog with the bone who looks at its mirror image in the water?).  Whatever the reason for telling the story, if it is told well, it will have a lasting impression on the story teller and the recepient.

I love a good story.  Through the years I have been told a number of them.  Some are long and you hope the person is soon going to get to the point and finally finish.  Others are highly entertaining. Some incredibly practical.  For example, did you know that flour only absorbs as much water as it needs to be mixed together?  So if you have flour in a bag or container you can add the water and mix it right in your container and then remove it to cook, leaving the remainder of your flour for the next time.  A handy bit of information if you are an outdoors, camping type of person.  An interesting piece of information stored in this non-camper, non out doors kind of persons mind (a camper and out door survivalist I am not!).

People have all kinds of interesting stories to share.  I love sharing in those moments.  You never know what kind of interesting tidbits are going to be imparted.  Perhaps more importantly you never know how important the telling of the story might be to the story teller.  Stories, whatever the circumstance, convey a piece of the person.  Each story tells a bit more about their life, joys and struggles.  The stories are integral to the well being of a person and often help us cope with whatever life throws our way.  It is also important to listen when a story is being told so that the point is understood.  Often times the story teller is conveying a life experience that over time they figured out a way to share.  It can often hide great struggle and sorrow.

I do know that when a story of sorrow is able to be told it is not told quickly.  Nor is it told soon after the experience.  All too often it is first internalized; too wounded to share the great pain the person may retreat for a time.  Most eventually emerge again, they are changed and scarred and slowly they can tell their story.  I remember well the spring and summer I turned twelve.  My father was seriously ill;  it was life threatening.  My mother rushed off to be with him.  My brother and I would go live with our older siblings.  It was a horrible summer, but I had a very patient sister and brother-in-law.  My father did eventually recover and returned home.  For many years no one could even mention his illness where I was, it would reduce me to uncontrollable tears.  The pain and fear were too fresh and deeply private.  My father was not the most patient person with this type of emotional expression and would simply say “stop that foolishness!”  Now, many years later I can selectively share the experience.  It is rarely done randomly and has only been with a select few people.  Most would only be told that I grew up with a very ill father.

Stories, we all have them to share.  Some stories flow freely, others reluctantly dragged from a person.  Each story that we tell imparts a bit more of ourselves to the people that we comfortably share it with.  Each story helps us move forward and remember the experience and what we gleaned from it.  Each story helps us remember the person with a smile as we choose to focus less on the difficult times and cherish instead the happier moments that were spent together building memories.

Stories challenge us, teach us, make us think.  They help us want to know more about another and build a relationship by listening to the story that they have to tell.  We all have a story to tell.

Friday, 7 September 2018

What do you want?

For several weeks now I have been asking the members of my congregations the question “What do you want?”  It stemmed from the Readings in the lectionary that were from the gospel of John.  We have been focused these past number of weeks on the sixth chapter and Jesus as the bread of life.  At one point he asks the people the question “What do you want?”

Without being present to hear the tone, one has to use their imagination.  It might have been frustrated and abrupt, it might have been at the end of  his patience with the endless demands and needs and wants, it might have been warm and soothing.  But think about it, if someone looks at you and asks what do you want, does it engender a warm fuzzy feeling or more of a sinking feeling?  Do you feel free to make the request or do you need to dig deep to find your courage so that you are able to ask for and name what it is you want, need or are looking for?  When I asked the question of those present the body language indicated a pulling away, a barrier seemed to go up.  The question did not appear to make people feel comfortable or welcome.  It did not seem to engender the warm fuzzies but rather there was a certain reluctance to have to either face or answer the question.

A couple of weeks later I returned to the question with my congregations.  This time we looked at it in relation to the story of Solomon.  Specifically we focused on Solomon’s dream when God asked what he wanted and Solomon requested wisdom.  Faced with the same opportunity, I asked those present to consider "what do you want".  Would it be personal gain or would it be something bigger?   I don’t usually put people on the spot to answer and this was no exception.  I wanted them to truly think about what they wanted.  Imagine my surprise when one person said as we concluded the service, “I know my answer, I’d ask for peace.”  There is always something special about these moments.  (Someone actually was paying attention!!!) The answer was heavy duty, sincere and completely selfless.

What do you want?  Depending on the circumstances, what is happening in that moment and life events we all have different answers, wants and needs.  At the same time it is an important question to contemplate so that when we are faced with that question in life and on our faith journey we will have considered how we would respond and know what it is we want.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

New patterns, old fabric

Loss makes artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives
Greta W. Crosby

Losses throughout our lives are inevitable.  Unwelcome usually, but inevitable.  The loss we experience however significant or insignificant changes us.  The change is sometimes hardly noticed and at other times quite profound.  Every loss affects us.  When we experience a loss it means that adjustments in our lives have to be made.

In a conversation with someone a few days ago I made the comment that June and July had been terrible months.  First one car died, then the dog and then my much loved but old Jetta kicked the can. The result, the first time in many years we had to go car shopping.  A minor adjustment.  The death of a much loved pet meant far bigger adjustments in a house where there have been two furry critters for many years.  While we all grieved we  also had to get on with decision making, work and life in general.  Time moved forward and willingly or not we were dragged along with it.

The pattern of our days took on a slightly different rhythm and the fabric of our lives has been forever changed. As clergy, loss is not something new in our household.  We take that walk numerous ways and often with various people.  One thing that is always noted is that the experience changes everyone.  Our life pattern is inextricably changed.  Sometimes our fabric is changed and we learn slowly to walk again.

I have been asked many questions through the years about what I thought about death.  One particular conversation still travels with me.  I was visiting the hospital to see a friend.  In the bed next to him was a gentleman and I thought little of it.  The man struck up a conversation and eventually said you don’t remember me do you?  I confess I hate that question, it’s like a big bag of tricks and loaded with trouble.  I couldn’t (perhaps wouldn’t is a better word choice) lie to him.  So I told him no, I did not.  He proceeded to tell me who he was and how I would know him.  We chatted a little longer.  I knew he was gravely ill so we prayed together.  As I was leaving he said “when I’m back home from my treatment and feeling stronger I will see you in church.”  To be honest I have heard that many times and did not put much credence in it but replied, “I will be there and you will be most welcome.” I did not give much thought to the conversation.  Many months later at the Easter sunrise service we had a lovely turn out of the regular congregants and a couple of visitors.  Following the service I welcomed them with us, told them there  was a fabulous breakfast in the hall and made sure they knew they were welcome to come and join us.  Much to my embarrassment the man said “you’ve forgotten me!”  Horror or horrors, I took a closer look and realized that we had indeed met before.  He was looking much better, had gained a few pounds and held up to his promise to come and see me.

Despite my faux pas it was the beginning of a lovely pastoral relationship.  His cancer was not cured but he was afforded some additional time.  He became a regular attendant to the church  and became a part of the community.  Inevitably the day came when he went missing from the congregation again, the cancer had reared its ugly head again and he was palliative.  It was on one of my visits with him that he asked, “do you think it is better to have a slow death or a fast one where it’s all over in a blink?”  A tough question but knowing his struggles in life and with his partner and several of his children present I knew the answer was extremely important to him and to them.  I told him “both have their merits.  The person with the prolonged death can see it has an opportunity, or gift.”  He laughed sarcastically and said “really, this is a gift?”  I replied “yes.”  “It is a gift because if there are things you need to say to the people that you love, reconciling that you need to do then this is the time to do it.  A quick death would rob you of that opportunity and the opportunity to set things right.”  He thanked me for my candid answer and endeavoured to see it in such a way.  He died peacefully several days later.

The fabric of my life changed for having known him and shared in that most difficult journey that he had to undertake.  Life experiences whether that strong or not invariably change us.  We learn from the people who enter our lives, we mourn those that we lose and we weave different patterns for each experience.  We are forever marked because they have been a part of us whether it is for a long time or a brief period.  Now years later I still think of that conversation, remember my friend with a smile and know that he changed me by allowing me to walk with him.  And for that new pattern in my fabric I am forever thankful.