Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Treasured Christmas Memories

We all remember Christmas' past.  Treasured memories.  My first guitar was such an unbelievably awesome gift that carries with me today.  And another - a little reel to reel tape recorder that sparked the career path I have followed.  How very magical!  How very magical that the giver would not know at the time what spark they had started!!!
I'm not certain but believe both those treasured gifts were second hand and found at great sacrifice and with special care.  It's the special care that is most treasured by me.  "Santa" could not know where they would carry me.  They have both carried me far.  Those two Christmas mornings stand out.  I still play guitar so many years later.  My career is all about recording messages.
Two others also stand out.  My little brother , age 4, must have been with Santa along the way.  He could not hold a secret and told me I got a typewriter for Christmas.  Much to my surprise, on Christmas morning, there was no typewriter.  It was actually a cash register and my very own corner store.  And he got cardboard building blocks from which we could build a fort.
And that was the last Christmas we had with our mother, December 25 1965.
I cannot imagine how hard the following Christmas was for my father.  But I do remember the Christmas.  We all got ski's.  They had little springs to go around our boots.  Dad took us out and we tested them right away.  Skied on them many times.  And the neighbor across the road gave Mikey a barrel full of monkey's and me pic up sticks.  I remember it still.
So the moral of story is - none of us knows how important a gift may be.  None of us knows if it may be the last.  Follow your heart and do the best you can with what you have.
It is important.  It is meaningful.  It matters. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Sweetest Gifts

There are no greater gifts than simply taking time to be happily together - in person, on the phone, on skype - time.  The gift of time can take other forms - gifts specially made by hand with heartfelt attention.
We make special effort at Christmas to share time together and seek just the right gifts.  Our imaginations come alive.  This year I'm so happy to be surrounded by many people who spend all year with a spirit of Christmas.  They give their time freely and look for opportunity to create joy.  It's a focus of their lives.
These people look for opportunity to make a difference, to do acts of kindness - sometimes large and sometimes small.
You might be thinking that's easy for people whose lives are good.  "I have blah, blah, blah going on.  I need to focus on my family first."
In each of my "doer" friends lives there are struggles.  Some are caring for aging parents or struggling children.  Some have suffered loss.  They face financial struggles.  They still find opportunity to help strangers and friends alike.  It makes them happier people and very lovely to spend time around.  I want to be more like them.  And it just keeps growing.
The acts of kindness may be simple and seemingly small gestures like offering to carry a stranger's bag to the car at the store.  Running to the store for a friend who has posted a stressed out message on facebook about not having what they need to bake cookies.  Painting rocks of inspiration for unknown people to find.  Making sure a young woman has a dress to wear for the prom.
It requires awareness.  Seeing.  Seeking.  Acting.
For me it's a spiritual awakening.  I have a tendency to be very self contained and introspective to a point that I can miss things happening around me where I could make a difference.  We have to train ourselves to see opportunities of all kinds.  If we are only aware of our own troubles and needs, we can't see anything else.  We will miss opportunity to create and feel joy.
It makes a difference in the lives of everyone involved, most especially our own.  Everyone grows happier and it's contagious.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A greater Love

I've written a few times about our dog Tobey.  He was about a year old when we got him.  As you can see from this picture, he is an absolutely beautiful Sheltie.  He's posing with his best friend Molly Mutt Paws.
We don't know all the details of his young life but he was pretty scared of the world when we met.  Molly is the reason he came to live with me.  Friends were trying to help him find a quiet, permanent home and brought him to me.  But he met Molly first and immediately fell in love with her, much to the astonishment of my friends.  They had not seen him connect with anyone - even another dog. 
He may not have been so certain about me.  He ran away the first day and I had a very hard time running through the streets of Franklin trying to get him before he got into serious trouble.  For months he was afraid to enter the door to come back in the house and had to run exactly five circles around the yard before he had the courage to dart through.
Eventually I learned that he felt safe with four things - Molly - on the couch - on the bed - and on a leash.  After he grew to trust me, the best way to introduce him to new people was to put him on a leash; even in the house.  If we are connected, he feels safe.
I can measure great progress with Tobey.  We are so lucky to have great friends.  Now, as Front Porch Folk gather at the house to play music, little Tobey eventually wonders down on his own and timidly works his way around to his musical friends.  They have patiently searched for ways to connect with Tobey and it has added meaning to all our lives.
And what is Molly Mutt Paws story?  Not so very different from Tobey's.  She was a stray waiting adoption at the Humane Society - 9 months old.  She too had a hard time connecting.  Many times when I first had her she ran away.  She was afraid of children to the point she cowered.  Today she is Miss Socialite and cannot get enough attention.  That is due to neighbor children, my nephews, family and friends, a trainer and agility training helping her.
I never understood why Molly was so fearful in those early days.  Then, after having her some years, I recently discovered, she had been shot and still has pellets in her leg.  She too had troubled days.
It took a village of people to help these two furry friends live happier lives.  We could not take away the traumas they once suffered.  It could not be just me alone.  It has taken a broader love and compassion than I alone could offer.
To me, they represent the greater work we must all share for humankind.  We cannot raise our children in isolation.  We cannot grow in isolation.  It takes a strong community - a broader love and compassion to make a real difference.
Let me be part of that kind of change!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where is the religious freedom line?


If you wonder why I scoff at the argument of religious freedom needing protected over gay rights, see what is happening in Uganda.  Religious freedom is no excuse for hate. 
Well, you may say, it's not the US, it's Uganda.
Evangelists from the United States are fueling the passage of this bill.  Killing gay people is at the heart of the religious argument.  The "Kill the gays" bill is popular in Uganda and will likely pass in the Parliament.
During the Chick-fil a controversy, I had friends and family arguing that outrage at the CEO's comments was violating the man's religious freedom.  Some argued that gay rights needed to put on the ballot to determine the outcome.  They could not understand why I felt it was not a ballot issue and further that I didn't think religiously back hate should be protected.
OK folks.  Where do you stand on Uganda? Are you on the side of the religious freedom for US evangelists backing a bill to kill and imprison LGBT people?  Because it's popular in Uganda, do you feel it should be the law?
Who's funding the US evangelists who are going to Uganda and supporting this bill?  Are you?  How about money from Chick fil A?
If this bill passes, LGBT people will be imprisoned and killed.  Further, anyone who knows a person who is LGBT and does not report it, can also face criminal charges.
If you were in Uganda today, where would you stand?  You are in the United States.  Where do you stand?  How deep does your hate go?  How much are you willing to support someone's hate?  Will you help them kill for it?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Acts of Kindness

Sometimes I need reminded of the ripple effect of Acts of Kindness.  Small acts of kindness can have great meaning.
Last night I wasn't much in the spirit of rock painting at Christmas past.   With Rock on Oil City, we go to many local events encouraging young and old to paint rocks and sprinkle them around the city to bring a smile to the finder.  After you do something for a while it's easy to become numb to the reason it all started and the meaning it may have to the people participating. 
I must admit that I tried to escape rock painting at Christmas Past.  It's crowded.  Lots of kids excited to see Santa....
Out of the blur of faces and mingling paint, real people with heart felt stories reminded me that the simple opportunity to paint a rock at Christmas Past has greater meaning.  And we may not know how meaningful it is.
A young mother with two little girls came to paint rocks.  They were there last year and their Daddy painted rocks with them.  Through tears the young mom said their daddy died unexpectedly just a few weeks ago.  Through her pain, she brought the girls to Christmas Past to continue a family tradition.  And part of that meant painting rocks like they did with Daddy last year.
Several families expressed that they were looking forward to rock painting again.  One dad said they put their painted rocks on the mantel where they stay all year.  Hopefully, last year's rocks will now be planted out in the community for someone to find and smile.
A new friend helped this year and in the course of the evening expressed how sharing these experiences with us has changed her outlook on life.  It's turned what could have been a bleak Christmas into one filled with renewed joy.
If I had been successful in escaping rock painting at Christmas Past, I would not know how many people would have been disappointed.  How important is painting a rock?
Of course it is not about the rock painting at all.  It's about spreading kindness and creating memories.
Simple kindness has a ripple effect that lifts people up.  No act of kindness is small and inconsequential.   We may not learn about how it is rippling out but it is. 
I'm thankful to be reminded.