Evangelistic Soil

Evangelistic Soil

Lent  19

 

I know what you’re thinking…Evangelism?  What does that have to do with gardening and growing a better self?  In a word – harvest.  That which we reap from our being is our evangelism to the world.  Recently I heard a talk in which the speaker accurately portrayed the shunning many have for this word “evangelism”.  Evangel is the root of the word evangelism and while, like many words, it has had its metamorphoses throughout time, it means to “announce”.  For us it means how we are seen and heard.

 

Evangelism became the property of Christians when they began to define the word to mean the good news or gospel.  This occurred sometime in the mid 1600’s and still relates to the original meaning.  The speaker I heard said we needed a new word, synonym for the word “evangelism” that was less frightening and less denomination specific.  Some suggested “practice” while others simply wanted to forget the word existed at all.  It is a word that ranks in the lower forty percent of all words so clearly others would like to ignore it as well.

 

The problem is that we cannot ignore our personal evangelism.  It is how others see us and hear us and it is not based just on our appearance but more importantly on our actions.  This blog is not just for Christians nor is it devoid of spirituality.  However, I firmly believe that evangelism is not the property of the faithful, any faithful.  I believe evangelism is dialogue and we all have that every day.

 

Adam S. McHugh wrote a book about introverts in today’s culture of extroverts.  “The verbal tool… is not confrontation or preaching but dialogue.  We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat one another’s logic.  The process is more important than an immediate decision.”  When we engage in dialogue, whether of the voice or of actions, we are participating in evangelism and sharing who and what we are.

 

This past week we “grew” our self-worth.  This week we will “water” that self-worth by increasing our knowledge, gaining understanding of self as well as wisdom for encouraging dialogue with others.   The biggest stop sign we have in our communion with others is fear.  We may think of it as hesitancy but it is fear, fear that we don’t really know how to proceed.

 

I really wish I could give you an owner’s manual for life but there just is not one.  Hindsight is definitely easier than trying to predict the future.  I have a notepad that states “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  How do we create the future?  That is also not a certainty but we can have a better chance at creating a good future if we live what we seek.  If we want a more peaceful world, we have to live peacefully.  If we want a better environment, we have to be better stewards of our natural resources.  We have to learn from the past, practice in the present, and believe in the future.

 

Gardeners do just that when planting their gardens.  They learn from past years and evaluate what worked and brought about a better yield.  They then apply those lessons to the current crop, believing in the potential of future harvests.  We should do that with ourselves and yet…we seldom do.

 

We need to plant our feet firmly in evangelistic soil,the territory of good news and positive thinking.  We all have had those “oops!” moments.  We all have had a time we stumbled or bumbled our way through something.  What we need to do is remember we are growing each and every day in the soil of those goofs.  Our very being here on earth is a story of hope.  We are the living embodiment of potential and survival.  That minute of great embarrassment or failure or even grief has already become history.  It is now a evidence of survival and provided the seed for tomorrow’s success.

 

The best knowledge we can remember is that we are always growing.  For me the best synonym for evangelism is presence.  We need to always be present in our living, practicing what we believe and remembering that life is a learning experience.  When we are truly present in our living, then we will share the good news of our beliefs and our being, the presence of life itself.

What I Am

What I Am

Lent 18

 

This might not be the post I am most comfortable writing but I received several requests for it so … This is my answer to requests for explaining who I am, what I am.  During Lent we are planting a garden of sorts, growing ourselves and, hopefully, a better world.  I have had some requests that I share a bit about who I am.  I have tried very diligently not to make this blog all about me.  I do not discuss what I am wearing, where I have been, or what I am eating.  These posts are reflections about living and the diversity and sameness we all share.

 

I have asked you to undertake journeys in your mind, of the soul, and perhaps outside your own comfort zone.  I have encouraged you to reach out and touch another, help those in need, and realize that we are no different from anyone else.  Some feel it is time I share a little of myself in that cause.  As I wrote in the first post on Ash Wednesday: “The purpose of this blog is to explore the connections we have with others and for the past two years we have done just that.  We’ve woven stories, explored through literature, exchanged recipes, and traveled the world seeking sacred places and artifacts.  However, it is time to look inward and undertake the hardest thing of all – a look at ourselves.”  So I guess it is time to take at look at me.

 

I am a writer.  You might be thinking…”well, duh!”  I am also a human being, a musician, a writer, a reader, and a creative soul.  I believe I am uniquely made and consider myself to be a child of God, although how I define God is probably not like how many might define that Supreme Being. (We’ll save that definition for another time.) 

 

I am a descendant from the immigrants considered to be the first indigenous people on the continent of my home.  My appearance is very normal; hair color, eye color, and even skin color being among the “normal” range of humans, nothing considered a mutation or genetic anomaly.  In short, I am average; some might and have deemed me dull.  I like who I am.  To me, all of those descriptions are true but unnecessary.  You might notice that I did not tell you I breathe.  I am alive and as a human being, I breathe.  To me, telling you I write or read or create is very much like breathing.

 

I could tell you I have the most adorable toes on earth.  I happen to believe that is also a truth, although I realize that my toes are simply that – five digits on the end of my feet, nothing more or less than anyone else has.  There are those that have categorized me as handicapped, even though I can do things they cannot, like write with both hands and sign my name exactly the same with both hands.  I see no point in having bad dreams so I usually wake myself up and move on to more pleasant dreams.  To some this is weird; to me it is expedient.  I love order but am not obsessive about it.  I wish I was; then my living quarters would much cleaner.

 

In short, what I am is a human being and I am of the female variety.  There are contradictions and sameness, joys and tears, attempts and… the occasional success colored by failures that were wonderful life lessons.  I live with faith guiding each step I take and when I stray, I chastise myself and then seek what can be learned.

 

I am a unique creature and yet, just like everyone else.  To me, mankind is like a box of crayons.  We all have the same basic recipe and needs and yet, our differences not only make us special, they brighten our world and reflect the beauty and potential of living.

 

There is a danger in overthinking to the point in which we fail to live, only think.  As we go through this series this Lent, I hope you remember that the most crucial point of gardening is the enjoyment of the garden.  Most of all, I enjoy life.  I am that strange lady in the store softly singing to herself or that woman walking down the sidewalk dancing in time to a melody only I hear.  What I am… is alive.

Truth Be Told

Truth Be Told

Lent 17

 

It may seem like we have already discussed this, like three days ago with the post about being authentic.  Truth and authenticity are often synonyms for each other… with one exception.  We expect others to be honest and consider that when they are, they are being honest.  It becomes a different story when we apply that to ourselves.  I haven’t checked every list of synonyms but you seldom see integrity as a synonym for authenticity.  When we live honestly, we live with integrity and yet, somehow, that isn’t considered being authentic.  I wonder why.

 

We can grow nothing within ourselves if we are not truthful with ourselves.  My plants in my garden outside have no chance to thrive and survive if I am not honest about their needs and my response to that.  Our selves need the same thing.  Here is where our gardening to grow a better self can get a bit uncomfortable.

 

You may be surprised to learn that so-called experts do not agree on what truth is.  Even the words that mean truth have varied meanings, everything from unconcealment to steadfast, faith to agreement, trust to pact.  Throughout history, truth has meant that which was revealed but also that which a majority of those present agreed to consent.  In real life terms, truth might be discovering the sun will rise on the horizon at dawn but it could also mean that if those present on the shore agreed that the sun was not really the sun but the moon, then the new day would become the beginning of the night, a pact with one accord having been made.

 

Confused?  Me, too.  Truth is risky and tricky.  It is also absolutely essential when we are dealing with ourselves.  The Greek sage or wise man Chilo lived somewhere around 560 BCE.  He advised us to “Prefer a loss to dishonest gain; one brings pain for the moment, the other for all time.”

 

American president and writer Thomas Jefferson once claimed “Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.”  This is especially true in writing our own stories.  Yesterday I asked you to dream of a better self.  We cannot expect to turn those dreams into reality without being honest with ourselves.

 

I will not presume to know what you have been hiding from yourself.  You know it all too well.  Ripping off that veil of dishonesty can be painful.  Trust me, I know.  I am still in the process so please do not assume I think I know it all or have achieved it all.  I am, as my bio states, a simple traveler on life’s road.

 

Take some time and review your best moments.  Then think about what you really want the world to remember you as long after today.  Do you only want to be seen as dressing in the current fad or do you want to have a legacy that lives on after our earthly visits are done?

 

Marcus Aurelius, a Roman of ancient times and favorite of mine, has some great words of truth we should all remember as we strive to better ourselves.  “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.  Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

 

Only you can determine your truth.  Only you can write your story.  We all have those supporting cast members in our lives and sometimes we seem to lose control, unsure of our next moves or lines to say.  Truth must have trust.  I believe in you.  I hope you believe in yourself enough to be honest with yourself.  I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr:  “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

 

Maybe today was not your best day.  I have had an entire week like that, quite honestly.  I stumbled and bumbled; was embarrassed and dejected.  Through it all, though, I kept going.  I learned and laughed and today, I am better for having lived my worst week in a long time.  There will be another “worst week”; life is like that.  However, with honesty of self, I live a life of integrity.  That is what I call winning.

Envisioning the Self

Envisioning the Self

Lent 16

 

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”  It may seem strange to begin an essay/blog post about dreaming of a better you or me with words from the American feminist Gloria Steinem but really, the feminist movement was all about empowerment.  Some would claim it was designed to destroy the fabric of a nation and indeed, in some areas of the world, equality is seen as that – a destructive tool.  Empowerment is about strength and two strong people are much better than one – unless that one is too scared to have another strong person beside them.

 

The characters of comic books and sci-fi movies are delightfully entertaining but alas. We have no people with the ability to neither soar through the atmosphere unaided nor leap skyscrapers in a single bound.  No one person can turn themselves into a super strong block of ice nor cloak themselves in invisibility.  In short, we have no Superman.  What we do have is the potential for super men and women.

 

It is imperative that we dream about a better tomorrow and more specifically, a better self.  Nothing else can move forward until we do.  The comic book characters and movie representations of those characters enthrall us and also offer some wonderful life lessons.  They give us hope and, at the same time, serve as reflections of our fears and dreams.

 

At some point, most of us have felt invisible.  It seems thrilling for someone in a story but to walk among the crowds and feel invisible is actually very painful.  We want to belong, not be ostracized.  The character Wolverine is seen as handsome and strong.  Having become a mutated human through a tragic accident, his claws are as steel and he can rip his enemies apart.  We often feel ripped apart by the words of others and have probably been tempted to respond in like fashion.  I ask you this, though:  Have you ever seen Wolverine smile?

 

The first step to a better life is a better being.  It is a process and it takes time but first we must envision it, envision a better self.  The journey can be rough and tough-going, as J.R. R. Tolkien eloquently described.  “All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost.  The old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

 

Two of my favorite quotes about this come not from writers but from scientists.  It may seem strange but what after all is science but the envisioning of a better world, based upon the past and the present?  Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  We often forget to apply that in our lives.  We may go to bed at night not having accomplished our goals for that day but we did not fail.  We simply learned other lessons, some of which were things not to repeat again.

 

The other quote is something Albert Einstein once said.  “A human being is part of the whole called by us [the] Universe, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself; his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by weaning our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

 

We need to embrace ourselves as part of nature’s beauty, envisioning a more positive self-image and believing we can be better than we are.  In short, we need to dream a better self.  Harriet Tubman was born a slave and spent her life seeking a better self, difficult since she lived under laws that sought to suppress her becoming that.  “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

 

When we dream and believe we can be more than we are, we open the door and take the first step towards making it a reality.  Once accomplished, even in small increments, the better you will lead to a better world.

 

 

Engagement and Touch

Engagement and Touch

Lent 15

 

I am a reader and as such, I connect with some of my favorite authors via social media.  I have always found the struggle they discuss to name a book interesting.  I never really understood the struggle they faced to find a title; that is, I never understood it until now.

 

I usually begin with a title and then elaborate on that title in the body of my work.  For example:  This post is part of a subset within a series.  It comes during the week we are discussing self-worth.  Its subject matter is supposed to illustrate how we use our perceived self-worth.  In other words, how we feel about ourselves determines how we act, how we engage others in our lives and the “touch” we make and leave on another.

 

The most important things we will ever do in our lives are primarily centered around how we treat people.  What we do is based on what we believe we can do.  Before we attempt anything, we must first believe it is possible and that we can achieve it. 

 

The title above, “Engagement and Touch” seemed both timely and on topic as well as self-explanatory.  It met all of the criteria of a title and yet, I did not really like it.  Why?  I guess because I thought a better title would be that which describes what stops us from engaging with others and making a difference, touching others with our own self-worth.

 

When we feel good about ourselves, we feel powerful and capable.  The explorer is willing to begin the journey because he/she feels capable of surviving whatever may come.  A scientist is willing to work the experiment because he/she understands the process and the value in both success and unexpected results.  The carpenter understands the wood and his/her tools and that confidence builds and transforms a block of wood into a work of artistry.

 

We must reach out to “touch” our neighbors on this planet.  Sometimes that “touch” is a figurative touch that offers support and sometimes it is a literal touch that provides comfort.  It should never be a harmful or painful touch.  We do not fully live until we are engaged in living.

 

The Reverend Russell H. Conwell was once the minister at Grace Baptist Temple in Philadelphia, PA over a century ago.  The church at that time met in a cramped building and often more people came than could fit in the space available.  There were always more children who wanted to attend the Sunday School than the space could accommodate. 

 

One of the children who often was left in the crowd outside was Hattie May Wiatt.  The Rev Conwell visited Hattie and her family at their home one day as a means of apology for their being unable to gain admittance to services.  During the visit he described his hope for raising funds to construct a building large enough for everyone.

 

Hattie May applauded this dream of a place where children could go to learn, the future Temple Sunday School.  She secretly began saving what pennies she could and looked forward to seeing the minister’s vision become reality.  Unfortunately, Hattie became ill and passed away.  The family gave the Rev Conwell a handmade purse they found among Hattie’s things.  Inside were fifty-seven pennies and a note: “To help build Temple Sunday School so more children can go.”

 

Rev Conwell showed his congregation Hattie’s fifty-seven pennies and asked them to believe as Hattie had.  Touched by the little girls’ endeavors, the congregation became engaged in the vision of a new building.  Hattie’s original fifty-seven pennies were sold.  Her fifty-seven cents became two hundred and fifty dollars.  The congregation took that money, converted it into pennies, and sold them.  They purchased land next door and the subsequent engagement of the congregation became not only a new church but the seed money for Temple University’s Hospital and School of Medicine.  Hattie believed in her own self-worth and that of Rev Conwell.  Look at what that positive self-worth accomplished and continues to accomplish today!

 

So why don’t we all make such great efforts?  Why my dilemma with the title of this post?  The answers are just one word…Doubt.  Doubt is our over-thinking; our enemy that manifests itself as worry.  Doubt is not a new human condition.  Buddha offered advice about it between the sixth and fourth centuries BCE.  “There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt.  Doubt separates people.  It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations.  It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.”

 

Take five minutes and list your most pleasant memory and then your happiest activity.  Each of those required skills.  Focus on those skills and talents and realize that they are things you have.  Celebrate that, please.  I am pretty certain you probably have another great memory or activity with even more skills.  Recognizing those increases and helps build your own self-worth.

 

You have much to offer and the world is waiting for you to offer.  We need you!  Turn your back on doubt.  It serves no purpose.  Focus on the positive and let your self-worth be the seed currency for a better you.  Engaging in life and touching the lives of others helps us grow and flourish.

Best Gift Ever

Best Gift Ever – Authenticity

Lent 14

 

As someone who has written her fair share of thank you notes, I know that the simplest and hardest gift to offer and/or give is the gift of self.  It is scary.  It is risky.  It is one thing if someone doesn’t like a sweater you have given to them.  It is another thing entirely if you offer them yourself and they reject that.  After all, rejection hurts.

 

Google has defined this blog as “inspirational” so it may surprise you when I write/say this:  Someone doesn’t like you.  Yes, it is true.  Someone out there does not like you and possibly, they have even rejected you.  Guess what?  You are still alive.  You survived that rejection.  They did not like you and – surprise, surprise, you survived.  It is not only okay that they did not like you; it might just be the very best compliment you have ever received.

 

Authenticity of self is much like authenticity of a priceless piece of art.  Like that piece of art, you are a creation, valuable in your uniqueness.  Earlier in this series we discussed our “inner voice”.  Meredith Monk explains one purpose of our inner voice in helping us strive to be authentic in our lives:  “That inner voice has both gentleness and clarity.  So to get to authenticity, you really keep going down to the bone, to the honesty, and the inevitability of something.”

 

It is unfortunate that many people view one end result of being authentic is an accompanying vulnerability.  Unfortunately, we often view such vulnerability as wrong.  It is almost as though we have left something valuable unattended.  If we are vulnerable, then we must be doing something wrong.

 

Bah humbug.  Admittedly not the most eloquent sentence I have ever “borrowed” from a classical writer but it fits.  Let me repeat it:  Bah humbug!  We are human beings, not walking fortresses or safes needing to be secured against an invading army or crew of robbers.  We are works of art but our purpose is to share and be shared.  Otherwise we are living visionless and without purpose.

 

No one currently walking on this earth ever learned to walk without falling down.  It is part of the growth process.  I personally don’t remember the first time I stumbled.  I am fairly certain I probably cried out when it happened, though.  Falling down hurts, but how marvelous that I got up and kept trying.  Now I can walk, dance, and take myself any number of places….and it’s all because I first fell down.  I was first was vulnerable but that vulnerability led to being independent and strong.  I grew into being mobile and that took me into the world.

 

When we are true to ourselves, living an authentic life, we are really living.  More importantly, we are increasing our self-worth, growing a better being.  In the play “Hamlet”, William Shakespeare offered a bit of great advice:  “This above all: To thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

 

When we are authentic, we are vulnerable.  Sarah Ban Breathnach, author of the bestselling book “Simple Abundance”, described it as “The authentic self is soul made visible.”  Take a second and reread that last sentence, please.  The vulnerability comes not from our being weak or deficit but by being visible.  When we are present, truly and honestly present in our own life, then we are our authentic self.

 

“To be nobody but myself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.”  The poet E. E. Cummings just described the difficulty in being authentic.

 

To be authentic is to be honest.  People often shy away from honesty but you need to be honest in spite of their fears.  Carl Jung once said that it was ‘the privilege of a lifetime…to become who you truly are.”  It is the best gift you can give, not only to the world but to yourself. 

Acceptance and Denial

Acceptance and Denial

Lent 13

 

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?  Most of us, after a certain age, start to see our parents or grandparents.  We realize that we have Grandma’s nose or Dad’s ears.  Perhaps we’ve always known about the family stature and delighted in either reaching it or passing it.  For some, their vocation is also a matter of family tradition.  There has been an on-going debate about what skills and talents might be genetic since man first realized inheritance applied to more than just land holdings and revenue.

 

Recently one of my own progeny said they heard my words coming out of their mouth.  I should in complete honesty add that they did not seem overjoyed at this event but they did admit the wisdom of the words they’d had spoken to them as a child.  A parent has to take their compliments whenever and however they can!

 

I had an acquaintance once that looked very much like her mother.  She was not very happy about this and I could understand why.  It is to be hoped that all parents nurture and support their children but the truth is that some people never really mature in their roles as parents.  In short, some people bear children without having a clue as to how to nurture them.  My acquaintance’s mother was not a supportive person to her daughter and often was a hindrance.

 

Having known this person for several decades and upon a chance meeting, I inquired about her mother.  I was being more polite than expressing any real interest but was very surprised nonetheless when my acquaintance smiled and said her mother was doing well, having outlived most of her contemporaries.  I asked if their relationship had improved.  My friend smiled and said that it had not.  She then casually said that while one might grow older, one did not always mature with age.

 

I had seen this acquaintance through several crying bouts when we were younger because of the pain and neglect of her mother so her offhanded remarks caught me by surprise and I told her so.  She replied that she still looked like her mother but now had accepted the resemblance.  “Just imagine,” she asked, “what the woman would have done if my looks were not proof I was her own child!”  While her mother’s behavior had not grown with age into a more loving relationship, my friend’s acceptance of her familiarity of physical appearance had brought her comfort.

 

All too often our value as a person is based upon anything and everything except who we are inside.  Regardless of which creation story you believe, we are uniquely made and individuals in our own right.  When we allow the behaviors of others to be the currency of our souls, we are denying our right to self-worth. 

 

I hope this week you are looking into your mirror and seeing past your reflection.  Our true value is found not only in physical appearance but in our actions and our words, our compassion and treatment of others.  At some point we are all alone with ourselves. We should strive to get to know ourselves and then become a person we can like, a person we feel as value. 

 

We create our own currency.  No one else can do that.   No one else can be us.  When we allow someone else to deny us the right to be ourselves, we are abdicating our own presence and bankrupting our self-worth.   “Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”  Harvey Fierstein’s advice is pure gold.