Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr. Day - 2016

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, what he stood for and what he accomplished. Let's not forget what still needs to be done. Oh, I know some of my friends don't think anything still needs to be done. Some are even angry. There are things to be angry about, regarding systems and policies, and maybe we don't all agree with what those are. But where we need to be careful about anger is when it becomes directed toward people or groups of people.

There once was someone I was very angry with for over a year or more. I didn't think I hated this person, but I later realized that if my feelings for this person hadn't turned into hate, then I don't know what hate is. I have repented of this, of course; but I'm sharing to say that it was only much later on down the road that I recognized it for what it was. In case you think - because I'm talking about Martin Luther King Day - that this story was about race, it wasn't. The person in question was the same race, economic class, and gender as I am, but my point is that we tend to read about hate and think that it isn't us, that it would never, ever be us. Yet, it's so easy to cross that line and not even be aware of it. 

When I read Martin Luther King Jr. speaking of "love, not hate"…I think his words were revolutionary for our world, and still are. I also think we often don't realize what hate means. We think it's this nebulous thing that doesn't apply to us. Here's the definition from Merriam Webster's online dictionary: "intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury". 

All my life, in all the parts of the country where I have lived, I have heard comments that would seem to bear out that definition, and especially regarding race. I believe there are still systems that need to be improved to protect people from other people's hate, but I also believe that one of the most important things we can each do as a person is to strive to love and to keep letting love overcome and drive hatred from our world. What if we look at people respectfully as individuals? What if we see all people as the same, yet each unique, each struggling with something, each possessing a great treasure of goodness inside, each created by God with enormous potential on earth and the potential to inherit heaven?

If we find ourselves complaining about people of a certain race or religion or nationality, are we looking at them as individuals? Did God - who made each of the snowflakes different - make people of any one race or religion or nationality all the same? Did he make people who deal with any particular circumstance all the same?  Did he make people who espouse any particular view all the same? Or did He make them all different? And doesn't he look at each person whom he lovingly created, and continue to love them, individually, uniquely? If we really stop and think, if we really stop and feel, can we do any less? Can we do any less for Him? 

Saturday, January 02, 2016

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. I remember watching my mom's hands as she drove. They were always soft. It wasn't because she didn't work but because she always remembered to use lotion, something I couldn't seem to pick up. 

My mom was born to an Irish father who, I was later told, sometimes used his fists to settle a problem, and a Dutch woman who kept an immaculate house and had only an eighth grade education. They grew up in the Midwest with my grandma having to quit school to care for her siblings and feed them, her father, and the farm workers, after her mother died. My grandfather left home at 16 to escape the abuse of his step-father. He worked as a cowboy, a farmer, and later as a professional carpenter. When I knew them, they lived in a darling little house he had built, which was decorated with the fruits of my grandmother's knitting, crocheting, and embroidery hobbies; and they had an extensive garden and orchard.

My mom married my German-English father, whose father had always been a professional carpenter and whose mother had been a teacher and, when I knew my paternal grandmother, she was the leader of the state ladies' auxiliary for the carpenters' union. They lived in town, kept up on current events, and when my parents married, my dad told my mom not to tell his parents that her bookkeeping job was for a brewery.  

My parents worked and scrimped to put my dad through college to become an electronics engineer, and then, all his life, he worked his own business on the side, in the evenings, as well. Though not a professional carpenter as both my grandfathers had been, he could also build. He built a tiny house from scrap lumber for himself and my mom while he was in college. I once asked him if my mom ever complained that they didn't have indoor plumbing and he said no. Later, he built a combination playhouse and tool shed, a desk and, with a co-owner family, an addition to our little beach cabin. I like to jokingly say that I grew up with an outhouse and a hand pump, but of course, that was only on weekends and only for a few years until they installed indoor plumbing.

Someone used to speak of my maternal grandmother in a disparaging way (behind her back, of course). I have no recollection who it was who said it, but it was pointed out that she said 'ain't', ate her peas off her knife, and didn't have a high school education. I never saw it that way. But when I look back, I even see the opposite. I recall a picture of my mom and dad roller skating before they got married, and my mom looked very classy. She must have gotten her classy start somewhere. 

I've always remembered my mom saying that this or that was "not classy". But recently, I had a chance encounter with someone who struck me as possibly being upper class (whatever that is, right?), and for some reason, she made me think of my mom. Then I remembered, too, one time - years ago - that I had the privilege of flying business elite because my daughter was working for an airline, I was flying stand-by, and they had the space. I met a family who struck me as the epitome of upper class...the kind of classiness that looks nice, well groomed, but not necessarily expensively, and who smiles and treats everyone with respect. Remembering that, last night, I started recalling some of the things my mom taught me, and then I started writing them down, and then the list got longer and longer. 

This may be some-50's and 60's, some simply common sense, and some just my mom. But here are thirty rules of life that I was taught by a woman who came from uneducated parents who someone had the gall to make fun of, but who probably had more "class" than the person who said it. Boiling down what my mom taught me into a sentence, I would say that being "classy", as my mom taught it, has little to do with either formal education or money. I can't say I practice all of this, all of the time, and I'm sure you all could make similar lists. But I've simply enjoyed this walk down memory lane and writing a little tribute to a woman whom I didn't fully appreciate for too many years. 

My Mom's Thirty Guidelines for Life:

Dress appropriately for the occasion; 
dress up a little to go downtown
Take a bath and dress up a bit to go to the doctor
Dress according to custom, for example, white shoes in summer, black shoes in winter, and the purse should match
Buy new clothing for the beginning of school and for going on vacation

It's okay to wear hand-me-downs, as long as they are clean and neat
If you let a hem down and there's a line, you can cover it by adding rick-rack where the line is
It's okay to make your own clothes; it's probably better quality than store-bought
Always sew a missing button or a hem right away, before you wear the item again
Always be clean, with hair and clothing neatly groomed; it isn't classy not to be well groomed

Treat people the way you would want to be treated; it isn't classy to treat people badly
Treat everyone, without exception, with respect
Never stare or comment on someone's appearance
Never make fun of anyone
Say thank you to the cashier, to your hostess when you visit, and to the bus driver
Say excuse me when you walk in front of someone
Write thank you notes

Don't talk about bathroom functions, illness, or underwear in public
Always cover your mouth when you sneeze, cough, or yawn
Don't burp out loud or yawn out loud
Chew gum with your mouth closed and never blow bubbles in public
Don't ask nosy or overly personal questions
Let the people you live with know where you are going and when you will be home

Keep a neat and clean bedroom, bathroom, and house
You can make delicious food without spending a lot of money
You don't have to buy the most expensive item, but you shouldn't necessarily buy the cheapest item
Homemade gifts are as good as, or better than, store-bought gifts

Work hard
No one is going to do everything for you
Working together with relatives on projects is expected, and it's fun too
Use your talents

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Are Our Words Important to Our Nation?

We seriously need to speak with more loving words in this country. We have a crisis. I denied it for a long time, but I've come to believe we do. I don't think we often realize that our words matter. I'm not saying that any particular shooting was caused by our unloving words, but I do believe that we live in an unhealthy emotional climate.
Stories go viral, sometimes instantly, and we get caught up in them, and we feel we have to have an opinion. Whether it's an airline passenger putting his seat back or a restaurant owner scolding a toddler, we hear about it, make a judgment, and we think it's our business. Believe me, I include myself. I got all caught up in that restaurant story a while back before I realized that none of us were there. 
We - as a people - hear stories about things that happen here or elsewhere in the world, and we let unhealthy emotions such as anger and fear color our judgement. We sometimes let fear and speakers and writers who are fearful tell us what to think of this group of people or that.
Fear has its place. In the midst of a shooting, fear is normal. When you don't know if your loved one is safe, fear is normal. Fear can even help us with "fight or flight" in the moment or in the hour of a crisis.
But if we live with fear and anger every day...normal emotions, but if we give in to them to the point of making decisions, and especially judgments, based on them, we can more easily make bad decisions or poor judgments. When our judgments adversely affect other people, I believe it's like a snowball, or a snow fort from which to take potshots. It takes time and effort to go from a snowball to a whole city or nation of snow forts, but it seems to me we are working toward it.
I wonder how inclined we as a nation are to putting people down, when someone who speaks disrespectful words to or about many groups is supposedly a "front runner" for one party's presidential candidate (though I do wonder where that title comes from; no one asked me). I wonder how much respect we have for the individual person when I see people say, "Those people"...whatever supposed "group" they may be indicating. I wonder what our vulnerable teens and young adults are learning when they see and hear fearful and angry and disrespectful words thrown around, all over the web.
I know it's simplistic. I'm a pretty complex thinker, myself. I know it's not the only answer. But I'm more convinced every single day that we need more love and more respect. We need to look at each person and realize that this is an individual; realize this person has a mother or a brother; this person has a backstory that we probably know nothing about (even if we know some of their backstory); and realize that this person was created by the same God who made us.
What if we looked at people who believe differently than we do or who make decisions we don't like, and we said: I wonder where they are coming from; maybe they think they are doing the right thing. We can fight for principles we believe in (whatever they may be, and my friends and family are very diverse in their beliefs)...we can fight for principles without stripping any one of their dignity, without assigning motive, knowing that only God knows what is in anyone's heart.
I'm not saying don't punish individual people, within the law, for hurting other people! I'm not saying don't stop people from breaking the law. I'm not saying don't work to change laws we think need changing. I'm just saying we need to love. We need to respect. We need to show our young people that their world, their country, their community - and today, the online community as well - can be a loving place, not just in deeds, but in words, words which often precede deeds. 
How can we fight evil except with love? 



Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Book Review - Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Have you ever picked up a spiritual book, opened it, and said, "I ought to read this"?  I have; but this is not that book. There was no ought about it. As soon as I started, I didn't want to stop…except that I wanted to write this review on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary so - for that reason only - I took a break.

Even though each part is written by a different person, each part that I've read so far has been equally engaging. As the title indicates, each of many authors takes one word from the Hail Mary to write about. Who would have thought that reading about the word "of" or the word "the", for example, would be inspiring? And yet it is! These are highly accessible, very real, short spiritual essays.

I look forward not only to reading all of it, but also to reading each essay again and again. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to preview this book, and although I thought I was getting to read a book for free, I am now looking forward to buying the paper copy to add to my little library. Thank you to the writers and especially the editor, Sarah Reinhard, for making this book happen. 

You can order the book, which comes out October 16th, here:

or here: