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Enough with the Answered Prayer!

Posted May 30, 2015

cabin washed away

If you've been watching the news, you might have seen stories about catastrophic flooding last weekend in Wimberley, Texas.

I'm on a hill three miles outside of town, so I'm fine. But like everyone, I have friends whose homes were destroyed. They have spent the week shoveling mud and mourning losses.

I am astonished at the power of nature and, perhaps, the power of prayer.

We had been in a drought for four years. We prayed long and hard for rain. Often.

Rain started to fall in the autumn last year, then through the winter. Nice, gentle rains and drizzly days that promised proliferous wildflowers.

The flowers did bloom, but spring remained rainy. Then rain started to fall every day in the vicinity of Austin, and May became the wettest month since 1921.

We looked at each other and wondered what was going on. Climate change? Hell freezing over?

And then on Memorial Day weekend, this.

The ground already was saturated, so the water had nowhere to go. The Blanco River rose from wading depth to 44 feet in a matter of hours, unprecedented, roaring torrents of water that were especially terrifying in the middle of the night.

As rain showers continue even now during the flood cleanup, I wonder:

Have your prayers ever been answered all at once?

Maybe you wanted a relationship and, after years alone, suddenly three or four people were vying for you?

Or you needed a job and one day found yourself forced to choose among five or six offers?

I have also realized, at times, that I now had exactly what I once wanted, long after I had forgotten wanting it.

What causes these imbalances and delays?

Prayers aren't “answered,” of course. We attract or allow various experiences into our lives, choosing from the unlimited possibilities that already exist. We bring them into being with our expectations and focus of attention, consciously or otherwise.

At least, that's how I understand spiritual law to work.

So . . . did too many of us “allow” rain into our experience, causing a great flood? What about the people in California, who are also praying for rain? Or are they subconsciously focused on drought?

Maybe all these outcomes – the natural disasters, the relationships, the jobs -- are just laws of nature or vagaries of human behavior.

Maybe I just desperately hope we create and control everything!

We do and we don't. I deeply believe we create it all, individually and collectively, at a level we cannot fathom. That's one of the universal spiritual laws of our existence.

But when things happen we couldn't have predicted, certainly didn't want and don't understand, I have to lean on another law: God is all there is.

No matter what happens or to whom, God is in the midst of it. No matter the labels we use – tragedy, victim, devastation – there is an order to it we cannot know.

I don't mean it was God's will or some kind of test from a Supreme Being.

I mean the love, life and wisdom guiding us – the energy we call God – is never at rest, never unavailable and never finished with us.

Someday, maybe, as our souls drift away from this planet, we will see how it all made sense. The only flaw was in our vision.

I have a month's sabbatical coming up in June-July, and while I'm away, I plan to send you a four-part series of blogs about different ways to view our lives.

Humans have access to four basic levels of awareness, from total victim to God in expression. And we have a choice about where to dwell.

In this flood or any situation, we get to choose what to think, how to feel and how to create our experience of it.

What amazing power! The power of nature, of prayer and of the human spirit.


The Price You Pay for Love

Posted May 23, 2015

Someone said grief is the price you pay for love.

floating featherIf that's true, then many of the people I know have loved deeply, because grief seems to be all around me right now. One friend lost a sister, one a mother, another a wife.

I used to think of grief as profound sadness and loss. True, it is an emotion, but it's also an action to take.

Crying and laughing are something you do.

The laughter used to surprise me.

I suspected that people were lying at funerals when they told funny anecdotes about the departed, that they were painting the rosiest possible picture.

Then I realized that's what they were remembering in the moment—the good times, the funny stories, the quirks and mannerisms that were unlike anyone else's.

Nature is kind. When someone dies, we often are flooded with good memories of them.

Tears can be more complicated. Once the faucet is turned on, grief pours forth for all the losses of the past, many of them un-grieved before.

Has that happened to you? Someone dies and you start to cry for them, then you're also crying for the child who went off to college and the cat who ran away and all the starving children of the world. All the pain you haven't acknowledged.

And crying for the future! What could have been. Crying for what you had together and what you didn't, for what was accomplished and what wasn't finished, for what was said and what you didn't have a chance to say.

Even if you were in conflict the person who died, which makes grief trickier, the planet will never be quite the same without them.

I know people who avoid death—that is, they won't go to hospitals and skip out on funerals. Certainly, attending memorial services or sending notes to the grieving can be awkward. What can you possibly say?

But it's untrue that nothing can make it better for them. Nothing you do can make it different for them. But you can make it a lot better by showing up, speaking words, writing notes, taking food, sending flowers—all those gestures that say “I know, I care, I'm here.”

Even if you do it clumsily.

I've noticed a trend toward not having any kind of funeral or memorial service.

While I acknowledge the dead no longer care about music or flowers or eulogies, I think it's important for the grieving to mark this line of demarcation.

A service allows you to say, if only to yourself, Right here, right now, my life has changed. From this day forward, because someone I love has died, my world will never be quite the same.

Yes, the grief will subside and days will become routine again, but never in the same way. And that is worth acknowledging.

So I hope if you have anything or anyone to grieve, you will find a way to observe that your life has changed. Some of the best and most honoring events I've attended for the dead were just a gathering in someone's living room, where people told stories and laughed and cried together.

If that is the price you pay for having loved, then I guess it was worth it.


Downwardly Mobile

Posted May 16, 2015

downward spiral staircase

I hear all the time from people whose income is not what it used to be.

They lost a job or retired. They got sick or had a special needs child. They have far less money to spend than they used to. The world seems to have shifted underneath them.

But nothing surprised me more than to realize some people, including my own brother, see me as downwardly mobile.

Not in an unkind way.

They just observe that I left a reporting job in Washington, D.C., to become a minister, first in a big church, then in a small church. They see each decision as throttling back, lowering my sights.

But I've done exactly what I wanted to do every step of the way!

As I write this, I'm in my stone house on a hill, overlooking a green valley with soft rain falling. I live in a no-hassle small town.

My small church not only delights me with its wacky people and projects – we're rebuilding the labyrinth because wild hogs rooted up the old one! – but it leaves me with time to write and read and pursue spiritual interests.

What's not to love?

Every time I drive past one of those sprawling apartment complexes – and more are being constructed every year in surrounding towns -- I'm grateful I no longer live in such an anthill.

My life is what I always wanted. I could show you the vision statements I wrote in prosperity classes and dream-building conferences, describing exactly this!

And yeah, I make less money than I used to.

I know so many people who have voluntarily adjusted their style of living to be simpler and more modest so they could pursue happiness. While others, of course, were involuntarily booted out of a comfortable lifestyle into a lower bracket and believe they are living with loss.

Either way, what we once gave lip service, we now know for sure: We cannot judge ourselves by financial success or job positions.

What you do for a job, how much money you make or the title you carry have nothing to do with who you really are. What a blessing to learn that!

Even before the financial crisis of 2008, I believe Americans were abandoning traditional concepts of success. It was part of the spiritual awakening that has been going on since the 1970s.

Previous generations might have been trapped by expectations. I mean, imagine if Don Draper had wanted to become a massage therapist! (He's the hard-drinking ad executive on Mad Men, circa 1960s.)

We have more options.

The upside to living in an economy or world that falls apart is the opportunity to follow your bliss.

We are being nudged or even forced into creativity, reinventing ourselves and our lives, perhaps in ways we always dreamed.

What we thought we should do might no longer be possible. Now we can do what we want to do.

If that means less income, don't be surprised if other people think you've failed.

Just smile quietly to yourself. This might be what you always wanted.

Only you can define your success.

PS -- I'm aware not everyone who reads this blog lives in the United States, and I know Americans can be a little self-obsessed. If you are among my international fans – and hey, there must be half a dozen of you! -- I would love to hear your point of view about global economic changes and how it has affected you or those you know. Do you see an upside to the changes?


Be the Tortoise

Posted May 9, 2015

This was one of those little videos I watched, didn't think was a big deal, then couldn't forget.

It's about slowing down, taking more time just to live.

What would happen if we seriously decided to slow down? What could I cut from my day? What would I stop doing or say “no” to?

Actually, I think the key might be in taking more care with what I say “yes” to, taking more time to consider exactly where I want to focus my life force.

Maybe it's not the speed with which we do things but the presence we bring to them, being conscious and aware in the moment. Staying present seems to stretch time, have you noticed?

I learned this on a vacation. Paying attention to every moment and enjoying it to the fullest made the vacation seem much longer and more luxurious than worrying about cramming in enough activities before the time ran out!

Watch the video -- it's just three minutes – and let me know what you think. What inner and outer adjustments have ever slowed the pace of life for you?


Belligerent Victims

Posted May 2, 2015

victim cartoon

Just when I think everyone has realized we attract our own experiences . . .

That thoughts have creative power . . .

That our lives mirror our beliefs . . .

I run into another belligerent victim.

You know the type. In the first 10 minutes after meeting, you'll hear their long story of being victimized. Something happened in the past – or is happening currently – that is terribly unfair and wrong, but of course there's nothing they can do about it.

And don't suggest there is!

That's what makes these victims belligerent. Sure, we all have bouts of self-pity sometimes. And unfortunate events do happen that take time to work through.

But belligerent victims can't be talked out of it. Ever. There is no answer, no solution and no comfort to be had.

I've tried of course. Being in a so-called helping profession, I try to help.

I rarely name the elephant in the room – “Wow, you're trapped in victim consciousness!” – but I do sometimes try to reframe the situation in a more positive light or help them consider options they might not have considered.

Nope! The belligerent victim will have none of it.

With or without a condescending smile, they will start at the beginning and go back through the story, carefully explaining to me again the distressing extent to which they are victims and why there's nothing they can do about it.

Sometimes they were wrongly fired from a job.

Sometimes a medical treatment went awry.

Sometimes they think their children are being dissed. (There's nothing more belligerent than a Mama Bear.)

One that I hear often is how horrible a previous church was, how insensitive the minister, how cold the congregants. Sometimes decades have passed, and they're still angry.

I heard from another belligerent victim not long ago, someone I hardly know, who bitterly assured me the whole world is out to get her, and she is always misunderstood and mistreated. I could have logically countered her arguments. But she didn't want to talk about it!

Makes me tired.

But I know – before you throw it in my face, I know – that if you spot it, you got it.

So I have to look within and ask whether I am a belligerent victim in any area of my life.

That would be some area where I've decided things are bad, will always be bad and will never change.

And yeah, I do have a couple of those areas. I'm not actively upset about them most of the time – just resigned (dramatic sigh) – and you could never convince me things will be different.

I think of it like having blue eyes. Not going to change.

So don't try to cheer me up, dammit! Don't tell me there's another way to see it or you know some options I could try.

Because I am absolutely sure this is the way things are and will always be, and I have years' worth of evidence to prove it!

Oh dear.

Are you a belligerent victim in any area of your life? You don't have to admit it; it's kinda embarrassing. But it's worth taking a look.

Is there something you dislike about your life and yet you could argue all day about why it will never change?

Share thoughts here. (But maybe not the whole victim story!)


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