You and I Are The Solution

I realize it seems that so much is happening right now. We’re overwhelmed with countless opportunities for positive change. From the environment to how we treat each other and other forms of life, from rampant political corruption and global financial meltdowns to a seeming decline in social, decent, and honorable values, we are being forced to honestly examine issues that concern humanity’s future and well-being.

You and I can see the seemingly unending stream of negativity and conclude that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. You and I can also expend our precious life-energy assigning blame, arguing the issues, shunning accountability, jockeying for power, maintaining the status quo, dreading the end of the world, or focusing on fear and misery.

Or, we can choose to be part of the ever-growing, worldwide collective of people who grasp this moment in time as their best chance to positively and peacefully address challenging issues that will result in the evolution of our individual and shared consciousness. We stop waiting, arguing, and pointing the finger of blame outward. We courageously and responsibly spend our energy by being an active part of the solution to clean up our messes and protect our Earth home and all who inhabit it. We openly and candidly challenge ourselves to change “business as usual” in all aspects of life. We assume personal liability for doing what we can each day to be a catalyst of change and raise positivism from what appears, on the surface, to be a sea of negativity.

You and I can begin to manifest the change we desire by finding an area of interest that makes our heart sing, where our skills are a good fit for making a constructive contribution. Join those expending energy by honestly evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of our political and judicial systems. Become personally involved at the local level to ensure the best education for all children, to help reduce illiteracy, and equip them to deal with the issues we are leaving to their attention. Join a local environmental group and clean up our parks, cities, rivers, lakes, and streams. Assist in educating your community about recycling. Work with local animal shelters to bring the benefits of spaying, neutering, and adoption to our cities. Get involved to end hunger and homelessness. Serve as a mentor to an “at risk” child.

At home, remain aware of what you allow into your mind and heart as entertainment. Search out programming that inspires your intellect and supports the positive values you desire to see in yourself, your children, and our society. Send television and movie decision-makers incentives to develop positive, inspirational, and intelligent programming by turning off anything that insults your intellect or offends your values.

Seek impeccable reporting from news organizations you consult. Research the facts regarding current issues, rather than accepting editorial opinion and hearsay as truth. The time has come to use our brain.

Remember that beyond what advertisers want you to believe about what they think you want from life, the most valuable things are having family and friends, great relationships, enough to eat, a roof over your head, a healthy body, clean water, clean air, a healthy planet, healthy pets, and, foremost, living from the heart. These values are shared by countless people throughout the world. So, encourage others to live in alignment with what is truly important by no longer allowing media and advertisers to tell you what is valuable.

Scrutinize the organizations you entrust to foster your spirituality. Have the courage to question and move away from any organization or doctrine that perpetuates abuse, control, and fear or assigns responsibility for self-centered situations to something outside of you. Separate yourself from and stop supporting anybody whose personal agenda incites hate, negativity, blame, control, discrimination, ridicule, or rationalizations of those behaviors.

We are at a pivotal point in our development. The time has come to grow more connected to our wise, helpful, and intuitive heart. This is the part of us with the patience, discernment, and innovation necessary to help us have the best relationship with others, avoid problems, make life easier, and find the best solutions to what we face.

To motivate this part of us, we need to step away from the familiar and into the vast unknown of limitless positive possibility within our heart. We are not here to wonder what the future may hold. We are here to create the future we want, moment by moment, day by day. We have the ability to be the positive change agent we desire. We stop apathetically waiting for someone else to go first. There are no other people to go first. We are it. The time has come for us to become involved.

Our world is magnificently beautiful. Without a healthy Earth, we do not exist. It is not responsible to wait for some body of “knowledgeable people” to fix what is wrong with our planet. You and I must be the ones to take action.

There is no government, policy, or law that can effect greater change than you and I doing our part each day. Let’s promise one another to care about the impact each of our personal actions has on Mother Earth. Let’s join forces and clean up what we can of our planet. Together we will make a huge difference. You and I are the answer!

Let’s begin by viewing challenges as opportunities to make positive changes. Let’s agree there is nothing gained by continuing to view each other and what we individually and collectively face through a negative perspective. Let’s accept there is no one responsible for coming to our rescue. Let’s stop the self-deception that any group or governmental body operates on the enlightened level necessary to solve our problems for us.

We are capable of cleaning up our messes. We are best qualified to educate our children, stop overpopulating the planet, stop overfishing our oceans, end a dependency on environmentally destructive fuels, and accomplish any of the other items on our universal to-do list. Let us have faith that when the majority of us courageously lead the way in demanding a higher standard of responsibility from ourselves, the desire to rise to the higher standard will become prevalent.

You and I do have something vital to offer. We do have power to initiate positive change. The small actions we take daily do make a difference and will bring about the change we all desire.

We are the solution!

The Power of Teamwork

I’ve lived in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri. In those places in the United States we had lots of rain or snow each year.

But for almost twenty years now, I’ve lived in California.

Like many places in the southwestern part of the U.S., we’re in the midst of a very bad drought. We’ve been told to severely cut back on the amount of water we use for outdoor plants, grass, and trees.

My neighbors and I love our plants, grass, and trees. They add beauty, shade, and peacefulness to our apartment buildings. So we decided to join forces to save our green spaces.

We’ve gone back in our history to find an old solution to solve a different problem: a bucket brigade, originally used to fight fires, can now be used to save water.

Several hundred years ago, “bucket brigades” consisted of two lines of people stretching from the town well to the fire. People passed buckets of water to those at the fire, and sent the empty buckets back to the well to be refilled. Later, with the invention of the hand pump, bucket brigades were used to keep the pump filled with water.

Thanks to the History of Fire-fighting article on the Merrimack (New Hampshire) Fire and Rescue website, I learned that in the early days, most fire companies were volunteer or privately operated. Fire-fighting equipment in the colonies was rudimentary at best. Leather buckets, hooks and chains, swabs, ladders, and archaic pumps were the tools of the trade in the early days.

Fire buckets in colonial towns had the owners’ names painted on them. Laws often required residents to purchase them and keep them in repair. In the 1680s in New York, the number of buckets a home or business needed was determined by the assessed fire risk. A baker was required to have three buckets on hand and a brewer had to have six in case of fire.

Firefighting finally got an edge with the invention of the hand pump, or hand tub. The foreman of each pump company would use a large “speaking trumpet” to give orders and urge his crew on.

As we know today, a bucket brigade was certainly not the best solution to fight fires back in the 1600s. But it’s the solution they had at the time. And the old technology of a bucket brigade can be put to good use in the 21st century to fight a different problem.

To save as much water as possible, my neighbors and I keep a bucket in our showers to catch the clean water that flows out while we wait for the water to get warm. We also keep one in our kitchen sinks to catch the non-soapy water from washing vegetables and fruit, or water that has been used to boil corn or steam vegetables.

This practice is allowing each of us to contribute many gallons each week to water our outdoor plants and grass and to keep a birdbath filled for our feathered and squirrel friends. We are making use of what we already have to help keep our shared green spaces alive while also adhering to water regulations. It gives us great satisfaction to know we are doing something to be the positive change we want to see.

It’s a small thing all of us can do to help conserve clean water, one of the most precious resources we have. So let’s join forces.

You can use a bucket and do the same. Even if you live somewhere that is not experiencing a drought, every drop of water everywhere is precious.

Together we can lead with our heart and use the old bucket brigade idea to help solve a different problem.

Look Outside the Box

“Hey Giorgio, the peanut butter box is here,” says Ralph, a huge St. Bernard who is looking out the window when he excitedly calls for his little Chihuahua buddy to hurry over. They live together in a home with a large picture window that gives them a view of their owner’s porch and front yard.

Tiny Giorgio jumps up onto the stool by the window and looks out. He sees that a box has been delivered from Chewy.com.

Big Ralph knows that soon after a box like this arrives, their owner gives them peanut butter. So he thinks it’s a peanut butter box. But little Giorgio patiently explains that the box contains their flea and tick medication, which their owner will give them later with peanut butter. Despite the explanation, Ralph still considers it a “peanut butter box.”

If you live within delivery range of the online pet store Chewy.com, you may have seen their very popular commercial, “The Peanut Butter Box Is Here.” It rivals the touching Clydesdales ads during the Super Bowl. It’s one of my favorite commercials ever. So clever and cute, and the title — “The Peanut Butter Box Is Here” — is a phrase I catch myself singing to my dog Ruby when I coat her medications in peanut butter.

Go ahead and admit it, pet parents, you sing it too.

It’s such a warm and fuzzy (pun intended) commercial. And, in addition to being clever and cute, I find the exchange between Ralph and Giorgio a lesson in how we often only see what we want to see and don’t consider there may be a bigger picture to what we see. Like big Ralph’s focus on the “peanut butter box,” while Giorgio sees the box but goes beyond to acknowledge the flea and tick medications that are inside.

How often do you and I focus on only one aspect of what is in reality a much bigger picture?

For example, we see someone (partner, politician, preacher, etc.) as who we want them to be rather than who their behavior tells us they really are.

A friend of mine has an unmarried adult daughter who became pregnant. My friend felt no stigma around her daughter’s pregnancy; however, she had a problem with her daughter’s boyfriend, who psychologically tormented, manipulated, and was disrespectful to her daughter. She also had difficulty with his mother, who defended her son’s abuse.

The daughter also excused the boyfriend, saying she loved him. She refused to listen to her mother or sister, both of whom asked her to see the man for what his repeated behavior revealed was the truth of his character. Their words fell on deaf ears, because her infatuation with her boyfriend was blind. She did not want to see beyond the box of her infatuation.

But doesn’t infatuation see what it wants to see? Limiting our overall view?

With every fight, the daughter complained about how badly her boyfriend treated her. Each time, her mother and sister reasserted she had to end the relationship. The young woman repeatedly refused to let the man go. But my friend looked beyond her daughter’s infatuation.

She knew the young man’s abusive treatment of her daughter was not love. In this case, my friend exercised a tough-love option. Since her daughter lived with her, she asked her daughter to leave her home. My friend knows love is always positive, even when it seems to act in the opposite way to stop enabling negative behavior. She knew as long as she allowed her daughter to stay, the young woman had a place to return after each mistreatment and argument.

When this option was removed, her daughter was faced with a choice. Either continue to take and excuse the man’s abuse (see what she wanted to see) or begin to care for herself and admit she was being treated unacceptably. This was a choice only she could make. No matter how much my friend loves (cares for) her, even as her mother, she was still powerless to change the behavior, perception, or self-esteem of her daughter.

After living with her boyfriend, my friend’s daughter had a change of heart. She finally saw beyond the box of her infatuation to admit how she allowed herself to be mistreated by her boyfriend and his mother.

Over the course of life, I’ve learned the boxes we create about people, situations, and belief are bigger than we often allow ourselves to admit. Take the idea of what God is.

We are told what God is, but the truth is, we really don’t know. We see what we have been told to see, often without opening the box of belief to expand our understanding. Yet, if we were to take a drinking straw and look up into the night sky through it, we would see about 10,000 stars within the tiny circumference. Multiply the objects in that small space by the entire night sky and the number of stars, planets, and universes is beyond comprehension.

How can God be put into a specific box of gender, form, religion, or set of beliefs?

Wouldn’t an out-of-the-box, expansive view of God be the universal acceptance necessary for us to stop fighting one another over God, our differences, and religion?

I believe so. Likewise, imagine the kinder world we will create when we expand our view of other people beyond the tiny box of a preconceived idea.

One time my uncle’s car broke down on a sparsely populated stretch of two-lane highway. This happened long before cell phones, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere. He had to depend on the off chance that someone would come along.

After a while he heard a soft buzzing that sounded like a swarm of bees heading in his direction. As the noise grew louder, he watched the horizon. Soon a group of motorcycle riders crested the hill.

Even though my uncle had not personally encountered bikers before, he was terrified at the sight of them. He had formed a critical conclusion of motorcycle riders from others’ opinions and harbored a preconceived idea that they were all dangerous. He feared they would rob and possibly harm him. With nowhere to hide, he felt completely helpless as he watched them approach.

I’ve known several tattooed biker guys with scraggly beards, do-rags, and wallets on chains, and I realize how they might seem ominous. Yet, I know from experience that we cannot accurately measure the true character of any person or group of people based on a stereotype.

Most of the motorcyclists waved as they passed by my uncle. Two riders stopped and politely asked if they could be of help. They discovered the problem and repaired it, and soon my uncle was back on the road with a new perspective on people who ride motorcycles.

From partners, to God, to stereotypes, every day in many ways, we are presented with opportunities to get outside the box of limiting belief and expand our perspective.

It’s something that Giorgio and Ralph remind me to do. And of course, they also remind me to smile and take pleasure in the little things. Like how delicious I also find peanut butter to be.

It’s Time to Unfold Our Angel Wings

 

I’m gay and that’s okay with God. But my being gay is not okay to many Christians who proclaim to love Jesus who told us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Including those who attend The Door Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in McAllen, Texas, that performed the Broadway musical Hamilton on August 5th and 6th with edited lines to reference Jesus Christ, according to viral footage of the production circulated over social media. A sermon was also added to the production in which a speaker likened homosexuality to drug addiction, alcoholism, and financial struggles.

The specific homophobic line added to the play was: “Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs – with homosexuality – maybe you struggle with other things in your life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.”

As you can imagine, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton scandal) is not pleased his 2016 Pulitzer Prize­–winning play was altered to include words of religious judgment against members of the LGBTQ2+ community and those who struggle with addiction or other life challenges. I’m not happy either, because this sort of hate-filled misinformation about gays and those deemed to be “other,” “less than,” and “sinners” is widely spread by people who twist their distorted religious ideas of an omnipotent being to press agendas of inequality, control, and prejudice. It is always some “other,” like me, who is the focus of pretend “Christians,” those who don’t consider, or care, what Jesus would say to them if he were sitting in the pew.

I knew I was gay around age five. I cannot tell you how I knew so young. Yet it is not uncommon for some gay, bi-sexual, and transgender people to know at such an early age. Naturally, being gay was a secret I kept as long as possible. I dared not tell anyone. I knew exactly what would happen. In church, and within society, it was made clear how much my kind was despised and feared.

At age eighteen, I could no longer deny who I was and I told my parents. With the intention of changing me, they sent me to a physician who sexually molested me. Then I was locked in a psychiatric hospital because they thought I was depressed. Sure, I was depressed. I had just been sexually violated and the two people who were supposed to love me, like Jesus would, told me I was going to hell and had broken their hearts.

Sadly, my parents’ Christian religious experience taught them to detest gay people, while at the same time they had to make sense of contradictory messages, such as Thou shall not judge and Treat people as you want to be treated. So when I confessed my big secret, they faced their worst nightmare, too.

I am certain they believed their motivation was love. Maybe they wanted me to be viewed as “normal,” whatever that meant. Possibly they believed changing me to heterosexual would save my soul and I would be free from eternal hell-fire and damnation.

I am also convinced my parents desired to escape being ridiculed and shunned themselves if my secret got out. Their words to me, “You’re a business risk,” and I ought to “Go live at the Y.W.C.A.,” revealed their concern about how my being gay would look to their business associates, friends, and church congregation.

There is a happy ending to this part of my story, as Mom and Dad are now two of my biggest fans and best friends. Faced with the truth of who I was born to be, they eventually came to a place of unconditional love by bravely questioning their beliefs. When they did, they found love to be stronger than fear. What other people and the Church think of me is no longer important to them, as they know my integrity through the honesty, kindness, and responsibility of my words and actions.

But there remain countless numbers of people who proclaim a devotion to a loving and inclusive “Christ” who point the finger of blame outward, rather than turn the mirror of honest assessment around to ask themselves: “If I don’t listen to the stories of those impacted, or care that my beliefs wound people, isn’t this living in a consequence-free ivory tower of self-righteousness?”

A Bible teacher at my parents’ church lectured the class about how gays are worse than drug addicts. I mean no offense to anyone challenged with addiction; I am only saying I know well the commonness of religious prejudice and the ignorance of those who attempt to compare biologically determined sexuality with substance addiction. This self-righteousness and holier-than-thou hubris have allowed many “Christians” to abuse me in the name of their God. I have been spit on, verbally accosted, and physically threatened by those who use their dogmatic beliefs to defend their egocentric and spiritually ignorant hatred of my being different.

Here’s the truth: I am gay and that is okay with God. Yes, even though there are seven “clobber” verses in the Bible about same-sex relations. We all need to fast-forward to the 21st century and remember, Biblical times were light-years different from our own time. Anyone, anywhere, who represents Jesus or professes to follow him, has the soul-advancing duty to educate themselves about ancient beliefs that were the basis for Bible verses that continue to be used today to shape and defend Christians’ judgmental view of homosexuality.

The Religious right is wrong about me. No matter what is written in ancient texts, people who profess to be “Christ-ian” — the religion founded in Christ’s name — have the spiritual responsibility to Jesus, to God, and to their fellow human beings to challenge any and all hurtful beliefs. Pushing against the status quo is exactly what Jesus himself did. Questioning beliefs such as homosexuality is sinful, or a choice, or an addiction, is spiritually prudent, particularly since science now provides evidence for biological and environmental causes.

The people at the Door Christian Fellowship in south Texas and countless others on the religious right need to open their heart to who Jesus actually was. They need to update their understanding of the Christ who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. They need to accept the world has transformed in countless ways since Jesus’ era. Yesterday’s knowledge, understanding, and technology always yield to todays. Jesus would not want us to ignore scientific discoveries about human sexuality, vaccines, the environment, and so much more.

Modern science and research matter if we want to expand our understanding. We can’t simply deny science when it conflicts with a religious belief.  It is these conflicts that give us the opportunity to learn and grow. Sure, questioning long-held, generational religious indoctrination is challenging work. But to deny scientific indications that human sexuality is genetic and biological, yet accept other scientific evidence that personally validates us or a loved one, is hypocritical, illogical, and self-serving thinking.

Do we believe Jesus was hypocritical, illogical, or self-serving?

I am gay. As Lady Gaga says, “Yes, we are born this way.” Sexuality is not a choice we make or something we learn. But hatred is learned. Prejudice is learned. Abuse of religion is learned. Using Jesus’ name to justify hatred and prejudice is learned.

To be right with Jesus, the Church and all who profess to love him should be the solution and teach all children, by example, how to walk in his footsteps. One way to do so is to show children how to distance themselves from the bullies and religious extremists of the world. We must refuse to allow our children, and ourselves, to be influenced by people who mistreat and persecute others, including those who do so in the name of God. We must bravely defy bullying and exclusive behavior wherever it arises, in order to courageously side with a supportive and inclusive Jesus.

That means those who profess to love Jesus must truly act as he would and get up and walk out of red-hot preaching, or any religious service or political rally where leaders or their followers defend the hatred of our brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ2+. Or where they denigrate believers of different religious faiths. Or women and girls. Or those of any other race than theirs. Or they use their influence to press biased political agendas that limit people’s human rights. Or they lie to us. Or they steal from us.

What if everyone who identifies as Christian, or as a fan of Jesus, courageously moves themselves out of atmospheres of irresponsibility, hate, and disinformation? 

How many “Christians” unfolded their angel wings and got up and walked out of the Door Christian Fellowship’s performance of Hamilton? None, I suspect, but I don’t know.

What I do know is that Jesus, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I would have unfolded our angel wings. We would have joined hands stood up, walked out, and made it very clear to the religious right they are wrong about me. Jesus would tell them they are wrong about who he was – an ambassador of inclusive and non-judgmental love. He would say the Bible and their judgmental religious beliefs should never be used as a weapon against anyone when he was an ambassador of love.

Listen to Understand

Through e-mail, I agreed to pick up and return my friend Katherine to the airport. Two weeks before her arrival, something came up that required me to change plans for transporting her back to the airport. Still through e-mail, I assured her I would find someone to give her a ride.

She arrived and I was there to greet her. After some time together, I confirmed I was unable to give her a ride back to the airport. The news came as a shock. Nothing I said could convince my friend I had sent a second e-mail two weeks earlier; she was convinced I was lying.

I can be stubborn, and I can be argumentative. But for too many years being obstinate and confrontational did nothing to resolve my conflicts. And clinging to the notion I had to be proven right only added fuel to the fire in the disagreements I had with others.

It was not easy, but the truth was no matter how much I wanted validation from Katherine, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with her. Leading with our heart is caring more for friendship than pride, so I chose to let go of my ego’s need to be recognized as right. I did not want to be angry with her, nor did I want our time together to be uncomfortable. The only option I saw to ensure my peace of mind was to be patient, accept what was, and allow the situation to resolve itself.

A few weeks after my friend returned home, she was having repairs made to her computer when several mysteriously lost e-mails arrived in her in-box. Among them was the one I had sent. However, for several days Katherine was distant. She was embarrassed for not giving me the benefit of the doubt. She was upset at herself for allowing hurt feelings to invent reasons to justify turning her back on me. She was also angry at herself for discounting my history of honest and loyal behavior. She was frustrated for permitting herself to invent ego-illusions that somehow my actions were a personal attack.

I am pleased to share that in the end Katherine let go of beating herself up because she realized she was also right! She had not received my e-mail before she left. We were both right and that fact did not result in one of us having to be wrong. Yes, there were two sides to our story but there was only one truth between them.

The everyday interactions we have with loved ones, and even strangers, present countless opportunities for us to defend ourselves in egocentric ways. However, when we stop and think about it, we realize in the overall design, you and I are only alive for a very brief period—much too short to waste time holding a grudge or settling for drama, fear, and sadness. We can appreciate the fact that when we place more importance on being proven right than we do on maintaining healthy, respectful relationships, we have, in essence, donned flowing silk robes and placed ourselves in the middle of a dense rose garden. Life situations and interactions with other people become masses of twisted thorns that rip and tear at the fragile material. No matter how painful the thorns are or how deeply they tear at us, we are uncomfortable shedding the robe of our prideful self-image.

With pride at stake, we do not stop to question the cost of having to be proven right. An egocentric mind does not care about the feelings of friends, family, or strangers. Wounded ego is not content unless we are proven right and someone else is proven wrong. And on the occasions we are the one who is wrong, our ego is not interested in voluntarily confessing our guilt; we are fine remaining quiet as a mouse sneaking off with a piece of cheese.

To lead with our heart, we let go of the need to be acknowledged as right—even when we are. While there may be two sides to every story, there really is only one truth between them. Truth has a way of surfacing eventually, making our relationships – even those with strangers – worth much more than egotistically defending our personal pride.

Of course it is not possible for us to agree with everyone all the time about everything. But I believe it is possible for us to stay agreeable when disagreeing. And simply because we disagree with someone does not mean that person is wrong.

Imagine how a willingness to listen to one another to understand both sides of a story will change our relationships and world for the better.

 

Find a Need and Fill It

I know this is just a 25 mile per hour speed limit sign.  And it is my sign, because I am the reason my street has this sign.  That makes me very happy and proud. Let me explain.

I live in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States.  It is a huge place with thousands of busy streets filled with millions of cars.

My neighborhood in LA is located between two very busy streets – Wilshire and Olympic Boulevards.

Every day hundreds of cars (yes hundreds) use our street as a cut-through from Wilshire to Olympic and from Olympic to Wilshire. The traffic is non-stop from early morning until early evening. People rushing to and from work use our street to avoid traffic signals at major intersections. And for whatever reason, many of the people in those cars speed up and down our street, sometimes dangerously fast.

For many months my neighbors and I have felt powerless to do anything to help keep our street safe. Some of my neighbors scream at passing cars. I want you to know that does not work. But I certainly understand as we’ve all felt frustrated.

So one day in late April this year, I took action. I wrote a letter and got 29 of my neighbors to sign it. We sent our official request to the traffic manager of our community asking for speed limit signs and speed bumps.

He is a very kind man but after a lengthy conversation we were informed that city codes prevent us from having speed bumps on our street. But he said we could have speed limit signs installed at each end of the street. Which caused me to wonder why the signs were not already there. (?)

Of course this was not everything we wanted but it was what we could get. And we would not have gotten the signs had we not alerted the city official with the power to do something.

While these two signs may not stop everyone from speeding up and down our narrow street, maybe they will help remind visitors they are in a neighborhood with young families, children, pets, and older people.

Getting the signs is a small example of what can happen when people work together to be the positive change we want to see. If these signs get some people to slow down, and that reduction in speed prevents accidents, we’ve made a positive difference.

You and I cannot change the whole world but we can look to our part of the world for ways to help make our neighborhoods safer, cleaner, kinder, and more respectful.

I encourage you to be the positive change you want to see.  Find a need and help get that need filled. It sure feels good to do so.

 

Care About The Wake We Leave

When I was young, I often went out on the boat with my dad. He liked to fish, and I enjoyed being with him. I adored the chill of the early morning air and the sunlight dancing on the water. I was in awe of my dad’s skill as he took aim, casting the lure between the branches of a long-dead tree, now partly submerged in the water near shore.

To reach the magical spot I enjoyed, we first had to cross a big lake. My father made certain my life jacket was on tight. Then he pushed the boat away from the dock. Once we were safely clear, he put the motor in high gear and we were off, speeding toward our destination.

I did not enjoy facing into the strong wind created by the high speed. Holding on tight, I looked backward, observing the effect the boat had on the water as we raced over the calm surface. Spray shot up over the bow, wetting us. Buoys jerked up and down as we sped by. A flock of ducks quickly took flight, their tranquil morning disturbed by our waves. When we were closer to land, our boat’s wake crashed hard against the shore.

After what seemed an eternity, we arrived. My dad slowed the boat down and turned the noisy, smelly, water-churning engine off. He moved up front to an electric trolling motor that silently propelled us the rest of the way, leaving only a small ripple as evidence of our passing.

As we moved slowly, without upsetting the wildlife, I delighted when dragonflies landed on the boat. Fish swam close by, undisturbed by our presence. Once, a bird came and sat for a brief moment on the steering wheel.

When it came time to head back, I became disappointed. Too soon we were off again, zooming across the lake, our wake disturbing the water and everything on it as we went by.

Many years later, during an especially hard period, it dawned on me: I am like a boat. I too leave a wake as I travel through life. Today, I choose to move at a slower, more purposeful pace, although I have not always selected the right speed and direction—in the form of responsible behavior—that represented me well to myself and the world.

There was a time when I behaved as a fast boat, churning up waves of drama and chaos that crashed hard over me and others. Many of the people I knew in that “former life” will confirm it.

Running late, I aggressively honked at the cars in front of me or became impatient with pedestrians crossing the street. When I had loud parties, I ignored the impact on my neighbors. The plastic cup I carelessly threw in the gutter became part of a swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. Lying caused people to distrust me.

I now admit it because I was not genuinely proud, happier, or more peaceful for acting thoughtlessly. Life did not become easier or less stressful as a result of racing along without caring about the consequences of my actions. Life was most difficult when I behaved as if I were entitled to do as I pleased.

Over the course of my life there have been many times I did not care about the wake my behavior created. The truth is that although I may live in a free country, I am not entitled to behave as I please! I am not free to do what I want without regard to the consequences of my actions. Action without accountability is not free. There are always consequences!

The more I allowed myself to push the boundaries of what is morally, ethically, and socially acceptable, the higher the level of negative payback I received. It was eventual and inevitable.

Extensive personal freedom requires me to operate at the highest levels of personal integrity. Doing so maintains my positive advantage within systems that often allow and encourage pushing acceptable boundaries to intolerable and ridiculous extremes. The notion it is suitable to act without caring about short- and long-term consequences is completely egotistical, motivated by the impatience, immaturity, and thoughtlessness of my self-centered ego.

Finally it dawned on me that I could not possibly be the only person who gets hurt, stressed, angry, abused, bullied, or ostracized. Other people also feel pain and deal with negative “life stuff.” That open-hearted aha moment was what it took for me to stop seeing myself as separate and alone and to start seeing myself as one part of our Earth family.

Yes, there was a time when I did not have the level of awareness necessary to recognize how my actions impacted other living beings. Today I realize caring about the wake I leave is what makes me feel fantastic about me. The gratification I receive from working hard to do the best thing for all concerned is more satisfying than another person’s praise. Assuming accountability for my behavior results in my loving and respecting myself.

Doing the right thing is the right thing to do, because people of honorable character always finish first, even when we do not win the race.

When we have an argument with a friend, we apologize. Real friends care more for friendship than pride.

If we see someone struggling to open a door, we stop and offer to help. Helping others makes our life richer.

Smiling when we pass people on the street, at work, at the bus stop, or anywhere else makes our heart sing. When we send our heart out front to greet the world, it makes us content and others feel seen.

When we notice a car waiting to turn on to a crowded street, and we are in the position to let the person in, we do so. The time we spend allowing someone to go ahead of us is time well spent.

Our self-love and respect come from leading with our heart to care about our behavior. From being respectful of our neighbors, to being on time, to being a positive example of what to value and how to behave, we strive to be our best. We listen attentively and readily share our feelings. We speak to others with respect. We assume responsibility for healing our emotional baggage. We refuse to jump to conclusions about other people or speak of them unkindly. We do not accept hearsay as fact. We appreciate how good it feels to properly dispose of trash and lessen our impact on the environment.

At the end of each day, as the last thoughts filter through before sleep, we want to remember we did our best to be a representative of the finest humanity has to offer. Today we want to remember we made the world a better place for our being alive. Today we want to remember we were appreciative of the gift of life.

In gratitude for the gift of each day, we lead with our heart to create a living legacy of which we are proud. There is nothing naïve, submissive, or weak about supporting the ascendancy of our peaceful, courteous, patient, and responsible heart. True power is choosing to stop rushing through life without paying attention to our actions. Real courage is slowing down to keep our heart open to care about the wake we leave.

Little Eyes Are Always Watching

The aroma of warm gingerbread cookies swirled deliciously around my granny. She was an excellent playmate, thrilling storyteller, and creative tailor of special items to outfit the fantasies of children.

When we skinned our knees, her gentle hugs were comforting. Spilled milk seemed to go unnoticed. There was never an angry, blaming word for a broken dish.

Granny was satisfied with life. Her glass overflowed. She accepted people as they were, laughed easily, and greeted each person with a smile. She did her best to enjoy every day to the fullest. Each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were convinced we were her favorite. She loved and was deeply loved. Yet her life was not easy.

She wanted to attend school but had to stop at the fifth grade because her family needed her to work. Granny was not wealthy, lost her teeth early, and lived with heart disease. She also faced the unimaginable grief of having to bury her five year-old son.

Despite adversity, she did not dwell on or run from the disappointments of life; she courageously faced hardship by grieving, accepting, forgiving, and moving on. She made mistakes. But instead of living with regret, she made the effort to make a better choice the next time she faced a similar situation.

Granny was not afraid of death. She was focused on doing her best, each day, to live in ways she would honestly be pleased to remember. Eighty-five years of doing her finest added up. When she passed away, crowds of people came to pay their respects.

During her memorial service, her spirit was alive in the shared memories of family, friends, and acquaintances. She was praised for creating a life of joy and serenity. People were deeply moved by her humility, kindness, and friendship. Her compassion, trustworthiness, and faith were inspirational.

Each person with whom Granny spent time was touched by her open heart. Though decades have passed since her death, my memories of her have aged well.

When my other grandmother passed away, she did not leave the same memories. Her attitude was negative, her glass always half empty. Nothing was good enough. Life had been too hard.

She placed value on things. My memory of her surrounding herself with fine objects is especially vivid because I was not allowed to sit on the furniture in my grandmother’s living room. I learned not to take it personally. Thinking back, I do not remember anybody ever sitting in her living room.

My grandmother also supported judgmental television evangelists. She sent them money and was especially generous with those who desired to change gay people into God-fearing heterosexuals. At the time, and knowing I am gay from age five, I took this personally. Later, I wondered if she may have felt differently had she known about me.

My grandmother’s lifetime of self-centeredness caused her heart to close. Instead of facing life’s hardships and challenges head on, she attempted to medicate them away. She was constantly ailing and focused on her suffering. As a result, her off putting demeanor kept other people at a distance. At her funeral, people struggled to find positive things to say. It was awkward and embarrassing.

Today, I realize how fortunate I was to know both of my grandmothers. While they were two different people, each taught me by her own example.

One grandmother modeled how to create a life filled with anger, resentment, and loneliness. She did not connect the dots between investing adversely in life and receiving the undesirable in return. She spent her life looking outward for accountability and change. When it did not come, she resorted to blame and increased efforts to control others.

The other grandmother was a positive role model who showed me how life works best. Granny understood she did get back what she put out in the world. She recognized part of loving herself was doing the work necessary to intentionally change any of her behavior that did not feel good to her or to others. She accepted that the greatest legacy we can ever leave is choosing how well we live.

How do you want to be remembered?

I don’t mean when you pass away and remain in the memories of those you leave behind. Nor am I talking about any intelligence, position, wealth, beauty, or power you may have over others. At the end of each day, how do you honestly, with your heart, want to remember about how you are choosing to live?

I believe this is a very important question because it’s your life, and your legacy is your choice.

A Tiny Visitor Taught Me A Big Lesson

Photo by Christian Spencer

A gentle thud caught my attention. This sound was curiously familiar.  As a bird lover, I know immediately when one has been temporarily blinded by the sun’s reflection, causing it to crash heavily into one of the many windows in my home. I rated this sound similar, yet lighter, reminiscent of one human finger placing a single sharp rap on a pane of glass.

I hurried to the kitchen window that wrapped itself around the right back corner of my house, offering a magnificent view of the tree-filled backyard. Scanning the bushes and grass close to the house, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I rushed down the steps and reached the bottom just as one of my dogs, Charlie, who had been roused from a nap by the sound, arrived there. We headed in the same direction, stopping at the hydrangea bushes lining the flower bed beneath the window. There, on a single leaf, lay a hummingbird. I scooped up the tiny bird before Charlie could get the notion to do it himself, and headed back up the stairs into the safety of the house. Charlie remained for some time, sniffing for the source of the odd smell that lingered in the air.

Once inside, I opened my hand. Cradled there was one of the most spectacular beauties of Mother Nature, tiny and still. The bird’s eyes were shut. It was stunned by the impact, but it was still alive. I saw it breathing, and with one finger pressed lightly against its chest, I felt the rapid beating of its heart.

Braving the likelihood of having to refuse another invitation to tour my aging neighbor’s beer bottle collection, I ran next door to get witnesses to this event. On the doorbell’s second ring, Marie, the old man’s wife, slowly opened the door. Through the screen, she motioned for me to come inside.

“Thanks, Marie, but no. I want you to come outside to see what I have in my hands.”

“Robert, come here and see what Regina’s got,” Marie hollered back over her shoulder into the cavernous hallways of the house.

Soon Robert appeared, smiling from ear to ear, ready with his invitation for the tour. But Marie spoke up before he could.

“Look,” she said, pointing to the little mass of metallic green feathers.

“Well, would you look at that,” Robert replied. Surprise spread over his face as he saw the tiny bird. He had probably come to greet me with thoughts of familiar things – a tour, the weather, how high the grass was growing and when he’d get around to cutting it. What he found as he opened the screen door to join us on the porch was most likely not in the realm of his imagination. I watched his face as he stepped out into the beautiful spring day. Wrinkles he had borne like badges of honor for all he’d seen during his 85 years of life seemed to smooth out in awe of what he now witnessed.

I told them the story and answered their questions as best I could. When they were satisfied, we all fell silent—a new occurrence in the six years we had known each other.

The bird remained still, its eyes closed as both Marie and Robert took turns gently and lovingly stroking its tiny body. Touching the bird allowed each of us to know for sure what we were experiencing was real. It was so soft and downy, small and helpless, yet its powerful heartbeat was proof of its tenacity to survive.

After a few more minutes, I told my neighbors goodbye. I felt such a love connection with them for sharing the experience with me. But now, something called me to be alone with the little bird. I returned to my front porch and got comfortable in one of the chairs.

I was reluctant to leave it alone, fearing it would perish to a wandering cat. It was beautiful, small, vulnerable—and yet displayed a magnificently strong design in such a petite package. I was torn between wanting to keep it and praying for its full recovery.

It was a male Ruby-throated, the widest ranging of all North American hummingbirds. I remember as a child growing up in South Texas, they were constant visitors throughout the spring and fall. The tiny bird was common in Central Alabama, too. I often watched three or four competing at my feeder. Almost invisible, they dove, and darted, and dive-bombed, and somehow miraculously avoided colliding with each other. Cheeping and clicking, they delivered strong protests to others who tried to compete for a spot to rest or feed. I thought them civilized representatives of a natural world with often cruel and uncaring aspects. They are two-inch-long powerhouses of fierce independence. Hummingbirds are always ready to courageously defend their territory, but in a way in which the birds never seem to get hurt. I thought how wonderful it would be if humans, too, could find ways to settle differences without hurting one another.

Sitting on the porch holding the bird, I was content. Rescuing birds, squirrels, mice, and other creatures from nature’s harsh realities is one of the things I do. It’s a common occurrence for me to make a box for a family of robins upended from their nest by a thunderstorm, or find a new home for the mice I might discover while spring cleaning. This, however, seemed a different and more enlightening connection to the natural world.

I had witnessed hummingbirds so many times but never had been this close. Their wings beat so fast they often seemed more fantasy than real. A blur of color flitting from here to there so quickly my eyes could not follow. Nevertheless, here one was, real and still in the palm of my hand. I was able to see up close how its little clawed feet curled slightly and to study the perfectly uniform feathers that covered its small body. The vibrant, iridescent colors of its wings and throat were truly amazing.

We sat together for several more minutes. With each moment, I wondered if it was going to make it. Tenderly I stroked its chest, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it woke up. Flipping up from its side, it sprang to life. It hesitated for a split-second, seeming to gather its bearings. Then it was off, propelled rapidly upward by its awakening. As it cleared the porch, it made a half-circle and returned to where I was sitting. It hovered in front of me, about two feet from my chair, and remained for what seemed a full minute. Never taking its eyes off me, it stayed back, yet was close enough that I could feel a slight breeze from the rapid beating of its wings. As it looked at me, I thought surely it was saying thanks for plucking it off the leaf and keeping it safe for the past half-hour.

I will never know exactly what the little bird was thinking as it made one final circle above my head and flew away. Later I found some tiny feathers on the porch that must have fallen from its wing or tail. They weren’t green like its body, or red like its throat, but white and black and gray. Today I still have those feathers in a very special bowl.

Holding the hummingbird was a miracle. It was an opportunity that taught me to appreciate the things I love, to cherish each moment, and to courageously get back up when life throws a punch. It was an awesome privilege to be given thirty unforgettable minutes when time stood still and I held the most exquisite creature in my hands, to feel its warmth, and to marvel at its magnificence. That little bird taught me to pay very close attention to life, because often the best gifts really do come in the smallest packages.

How Can We Know What God is?

If we take a drinking straw and look up into the night sky through it, we would see about 10,000 stars within the tiny circumference. Multiply the objects in that small space by the entire night sky and the number of stars, planets, and universes is beyond comprehension.

How can we know what God is?

We are told what God is, but the truth is, we do not know.

To me, God smells like a rainy day. God feels soft, like the fur of a kitten. God sounds like songbirds. God looks like spring, summer, winter, and fall. God’s grace is each act of forgiveness, compassion, equality, responsibility, humility, respect, and honesty. I believe the best way to view God is to see God in everything and everyone, because that view of God motivates us to treat all people and all life as we want to be treated.

Let’s look for God’s magnificence of creation in one another and in all life.

Wouldn’t this view of God be the universal acceptance necessary for us to stop fighting one another over God, our differences, and religion? 

An expansive spiritual education is not achieved by taking one course.

You and I do not come to a place of expanded wisdom of God’s Divine plan of the interconnectedness of all life by staying in a comfort zone where we are spoon-fed what someone else wants us to believe. Just as we do not receive a well-rounded education that serves us throughout our entire life by having limited experiences or by taking one course.

Achieving a high school diploma requires years of work and the study of many different subjects. To receive a bachelor’s degree involves more years of commitment, challenge, and immersion in an even wider variety of subjects. Pursuing a master’s degree demands additional years of even harder work. And to receive a Ph.D., M.D., J.D., or other terminal degree necessitates an unwavering commitment to many years of intense hard work and dedication.

With each level of education we achieve, the reward is a wider amount of knowledge. Our skill levels increase as do our deductive reasoning and critical thinking abilities. Our values and priorities change. We develop our inquisitive nature.

In all educational pursuits, beautiful things come from challenging ourselves to learn and grow. We also learn and grow from the vast opportunities we have to experience different societies, information, and people. The same is true of our spiritual development, because the more we question ourselves, our beliefs, and our religious and social practices and traditions, the more we learn, grow, and change for the better.

How can we know what God is?