Please, Receive Your “Sorry” Back

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“Be the hand of a hopeful stranger – a little scared, but just strong enough. Be the light in the dark of this danger, ‘til the sun comes up.”

“A Safe Place to Land” (Sara Bareilles)

It’s humbling every time someone …

who is hurting,

who is lost,

who’s been or feels abandoned,

who others have discarded as “broken”,

who is longing for anyone (even a stranger) to listen,

who’s thirsting (or, in some cases, starving) to be seen – without judgment,

who is lonely,

who is grieving a loss or a life interrupted,

who needs a reason to keep holding (and fighting) on,

who is desperate to catch a glimpse of hope …

finds their way to my virtual doorstep.

Most are young. Many are not. To the outside world, some appear as if they’ve got it all together, others (just as apparently) do not. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the circumstances that led them to the edge of despair, but they have lots in common: gentle (some might say fragile) spirits; kind and uniquely beautiful hearts; keen and creative minds; a deep sense of empathy; a love of animals; quiet courage; an Elsa-like fear of their innate powers; and a soul that feels – everything – intensely.

They also share a common language. They’re quick to tell you that they’re tired of “being a burden” and don’t want to add to what they’re “certain must be the ones you’re already carrying”. They openly invite you to “tell them if there’s no more room at the inn”, because “they’ll understand”. Some will come out of the starting gate with an apology, but all include at least one in every conversation or text exchange that follows. Ask “what exactly they’re sorry for” and you’ll quickly discover they’re sorry for, well, just about everything

for “being a screw up”,

for “imposing” on your time,

for not trying hard enough,

for “should’ve-known-betters”,

for “disappointing”,

for tardiness or eagerness,

for talking too much or not enough,

even, believe it or not, for being “the reason” for tears shed – by you, for them.

In time, you’ll come to realize that their sense of self-worthiness is so compromised, so completely obscured from view that what they’re truly “sorry” for is taking up “valuable” space in the world and consuming air that “certainly” would be put to “better use” by someone else – anyone else. Pause for a moment and imagine feeling that way for even an instant – and then consider (as I often do) that for every one of them there are thousands more who live in that space, including (likely) someone in your immediate work, social, or family circles.

I mention all of this for two reasons. First, because recently a new friend came “knocking” and reminded me just how much pain there is in the world right now, especially now. And, second, in the hope that this message will not only find its way to her heart, but to a heart (or two) like hers that is still searching, longing for, and deserving of a respite from the storm:

Dear Friend,

Please, receive your “sorry” back! Because, where I am concerned, you are not, never have been, and never will be a burden. You also need not worry about, let alone feel sorry for my tears. I actually welcome my tears. I welcome all my emotions. They’re an integral part of what it means to be fully alive and I don’t attach anything sorrowful to that, nor should you. As for my “plate”? It’s always full. That too is a by-product of living an open-hearted Life and showing up, both of which I wish for you. One final thing – for now. Despite what you might think, I’m not in your life because you’re struggling. I’m in your life because you have a beautiful heart and a rare spirit – and you’ve lost sight of that – of her – for a minute. I’m here to love, to listen, and to help you find your way home to her. And, I’m not going anywhere until you do.

Holding Hope, Me

https://tinyurl.com/y34m9rrk

*Art Credit: “Starry Night” (Van Gogh)

“… and the Tree was happy.”

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For the longest time, I wondered how a cute little children’s book that I’d always held dear could evoke such strong and polarizing emotions in adults. And yet, if my experience is representative of the whole – and I have reason to suspect it is – that’s precisely the case with Shel Silverstein’s 1964 classic, The Giving Tree. Trust me, you’ll find very few readers in the gray area on this one. People either “love it” or they “hate it”, but in both instances they do so with great passion. And, I think I finally understand why: It’s the juxtaposition of the image above and the 5 words that accompany it – “and the tree was happy.” I’ve actually gotten into some spirited discussions with “the haters” over the years and most thoroughly enjoy the book right up to the time that the no-longer-so-little-boy becomes a selfish ingrate, who is indifferent to the tree’s existence – save for the extent to which he might be able to use the tree to acquire the material things and enhance the relationships he grows to covet.

But, it’s the tree’s response to the growing boy’s ingratitude that irks “the haters” the most. You see, in spite of her friend’s cold indifference, the tree continues to give – and to love – first urging the boy to sell the entirety of her harvest of apples, then insisting that he strip her of her very branches and use them to build a home and, finally, donating her trunk so that he can build a boat and sail away – and, hopefully/ finally/maybe be happy! Eventually, approaching death’s doorstep, the boy returns for what will likely be his final visit. To “the haters” it’s what happens next that is most unsettling: Despite having every reason to turn her back on her childhood friend and already having given him her leaves, branches, apples and trunk, the tree gladly offers all that she has left (i.e., her stump) as a place for her bone-weary friend to sit and rest. Indeed, “the haters” are convinced that had her friend needed to grind her stump, the tree likely would have complied. In my mind (and that of “the lovers”) there is no “likely” about it!

I have no doubt Silverstein chose that image and those 5 words for a reason, namely to illustrate the simultaneous simplicity and complexity of a giver’s heart. His fictional tree is intended to remind all of us that, at the end of the day, our true beauty, our self-worth and the fullness of our life, indeed our happiness, is not dependent on how we look, what we possess or how we compare, physically or otherwise, to those around us, but rather the extent to which we empty ourselves in serving and loving others. The fact is: Silverstein’s heroine could have been the most magnificent apple tree in the orchard. Its trunk could have been sturdy and straight – perfect for climbing. Its branches could have been especially well-proportioned and strong, perfect for swinging. Its leaves could have been lush, exquisitely defined and brightly colored, perfect for weaving into a crown. Its fruit could have been plentiful and delicious, ideal for a mid-afternoon snack. Its canopy could have cast a broad net of shade, a welcome respite from the hot summer sun.

And yet, without the ability to share – lovingly, selflessly, unhesitatingly, whole-heartedly, unconditionally – all that it had to give with the boy and without the boy’s corresponding willingness to accept and embrace those gifts, even if it wasn’t always with an appropriately grateful and reciprocating heart, it would have been just another tree anonymously blowing in the wind, subjected to the vagaries of the elements of nature, destined, like all of the other trees in the forest, to live out its life, wither away, and die. As it was, however, the tree’s life was full and its joy abundant, albeit not in the “smiley face” way we’ve grown accustomed to seeing and experiencing happiness and not without its share of longing and heartache along the way. Why? Because the tree came to understand that selfless (okay, sacrificial!) giving and loving is the essence of Life. It’s also an integral (I would submit indispensable) part of what it means to be fully human in a world of thirsting hearts.

Silverstein makes it clear that it’s not always easy being the tree. She certainly had her share of sadness. But, in The End, she was happy – I promise!

https://tinyurl.com/y3n8juk9

A Few Thoughts About … Pop-Tarts

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Several weeks ago, a fight broke out in a small Midwestern town, but chances are you didn’t see a story about it on the evening news or read about it on the Internet.  In fact, I wouldn’t have even known about it, but/for the fact that a friend of mine happened to be one of the combatants.  Her foe?  A strawberry Pop-Tart!  Now, most objective observers, especially those unfamiliar with eating disorders and the so-called Eating Disorder Voice would have difficulty believing, let alone understanding how such a thing could happen. After all, we humans are made to eat and Pop-Tarts are made to be eaten. It’s that simple. But, as the early morning text message from my friend, who has spent much of the past several months vacillating in the gray zone between relapse and recovery revealed and those similarly afflicted will readily attest, the dilemma she was facing was far from simple: “What do you do when you want a Pop-Tart, but you can’t have a Pop-Tart?” she asked. I was quick to respond: “You may be talking to the wrong person,” I shot back.  “I LOVE Pop-Tarts and would never even consider talking someone out of eating one! I recommend blueberry frosted (winking face).”

At first blush, my response is likely to evoke criticism as being insensitive, if not downright mean-spirited and hurtful.  But, there was a method (and a message) to my madness.  Just a few days early, I’d had a very “spirited” conversation with my friend about the lies, distortions and general irrationality of her Eating Disorder Voice – the bully that, at times, still insists she weigh herself obsessively, eat meals sporadically, and, most hurtfully, believe that her beauty, sense of self-worth, loveability and ability to belong are tied to her physical appearance – none of which, of course, is true.  It had become a common and, candidly, at least from my perspective, tiresome theme in our recent conversations and I’d finally had enough.  So, I challenged her with this: “Let me ask you a question:  When you were 4 years old, do you think you gave a damn about the number on a scale?  Do you think you ever ignored your hunger cues? Do you think a single friend or playmate of yours ever spent even a second thinking about how you looked, let alone deciding whether to play with you based on it?” Silence. “Were you happy when you were 4?  Were you healthy? Did you love life?” “Yes,” she whispered.

Believe me, I get that it’s not that easy.  I understand that eating disorders are highly complex, multi-faceted, brain-based illnesses that require considerable familial and/or professional intervention to overcome.  But, I also understand this: Whether you are in the grip of an eating disorder or firmly rooted on the road to recovery, it’s imperative that you not only recognize the Eating Disorder Voice for what it is (i.e., an unrelenting and unapologetic pathological liar that is hell-bent on your destruction), but that you have a go-to strategy for combating it every time it rears its ugly head.  I’m sure those who are expert in the treatment of these disorders have lots of good ones to recommend.  I just happen to be fond of WWFYOMD (“What Would Four Year Old Me Do”), especially when it comes to battles over Pop-Tarts!  Why?  Because, in my mind, it’s always helpful to remind ourselves (and our loved ones) of a time when life was simpler, less encumbered, when we were more free-spirited, healthier and happier.  It’s there, after all, where our authentic self, our true identity and, ultimately, hope reside. That’s why I said what I said.

“But, I still feel full from last night’s dinner,” she responded.  “Melissa*,” I said. “That dinner has long since done its job of nourishing you.  The ‘feeling’ that it’s ‘still there’ is a figment of ED’s lying imagination.  That’s all I can tell you.  That and enjoy the Pop-Tart.  Staring at a blueberry frosted one in my top desk drawer at work as we speak!” “Then, let’s have one together,” she said.  And we did across the miles.  Actually, I had two! Another battle won. Trust me: The 4 year-old you is a bad ass!

*name changed

Raindrops on Roses – A Reprise

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“When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things and then I don’t feel so bad.”

Sound of Music (1965)

I don’t know about you, but the last thing or things I tend to think about when I’m in a rut or feeling blue are “raindrops on roses”, “whiskers on kittens”, “bright copper kettles” or “warm woolen mittens”, “brown paper packages tied up with strings” or “wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings”.  No, when I’m stuck and feel the darkness setting in, my mind immediately goes to more adult things. I question my worthiness.  I fear for the future. I start to wonder what’s wrong with me, what’s missing, what I need to do more or less of to fit in, how it is that I can feel so alone in a crowded bar or restaurant, why I always seem to be the one who has to initiate where relationships are concerned, why so many others appear to be without a care in the world, where I misplaced my voice, my ability to laugh – my joy – what it will take to feel fully alive again.  But, as I passed by a local park filled with the unmistakable (but recently silenced) sounds and smiles of children at play on today’s walk, it occurred to me that, all those years ago, Julie Andrews may have been onto something, an elixir of sorts, a well-spring of nourishment to replenish weary or frightened hearts: Favorite Things!

For some, it will be “things” that remind them of childhood – when they felt free to express themselves, be themselves, emote, engage, enjoy, explore and experience the world and each other – unabashedly, unapologetically and honestly – to find joy in moments. Perhaps it’s something as simple as a front porch or playground swing, a water slide, a stuffed animal, a treasured book, jumping rope, or a board game. Maybe it’s a keepsake from a special relative – a photograph, a letter, a favorite recipe, a piece of jewelry, or a knitted scarf or blanket.  For others, it may be a game of catch, a piece of music, a play, a smell, or a secret fishing hole. Still others will recall favorite restaurants or meals, a ride at an amusement park, activities like writing, singing, sewing, drawing, or walks in familiar surroundings.  Some will have a favorite place – the beach, a lake, a stream, the shade of a special tree, a farm or meadow.  But, while everyone’s Favorite Things are different, each shares an important trait: In their presence, it is impossible to restrain our heart from smiling; and therein lies their magic – the ability, if only for a moment, to introduce light, joy, safe harbor, or peace in the midst of a storm.

“What a remarkable gift that is,” I thought to myself as I continued on and the children’s laughter grew more and more faint.  And then I realized it was one that, with a little thought, I could (and probably should) give to myself.  So, when I got home, I began scribbling with heart smiles as my guide:

Any seat in Fenway Park.

Leaving the first set of footprints on a dew-covered fairway.

Blueberries.

A real hug.

Being the reason for someone else’s smile.

The breadsticks at the Red Diamond Inn.

A wagging tail.

Any song by David Gates and Bread.

The Giving Tree.

“The Wright House” at Ocean Isle Beach.

Firsts.

Apple pie (no mode).

Og Mandino’s writings.

A heart talk.

Hitting the sweet spot.

A comeback story.

Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the NBA All-Star Game.

The smell of freshly mown grass.

An intimate kiss.

Mini-golf.

Climbing a dirt pile.

Watching children at play.

The North Grounds Softball Field at UVA.

The Grotto at ND.

Dusk on the SHC golf course.

Long walks.

Simon and Garfunkel.

An original 7-11 Icee (Cola).

Flipping baseball cards.

Red licorice.

Drying tears.

The Little Engine That Could.

Watching someone realize a lifelong dream.

A perfect strike.

Writing words that matter.

I’m not suggesting, nor am I naïve enough to believe that any of these “things” offer a permanent respite from the often very real and complex challenges associated with being an adult, a parent, and with Life generally (especially in the face and amidst the fears of a global pandemic) .  They do, however, serve as readily available reminders that: there is good and joy in the world; that, at various times, both have been part of my world; and that, chances are, when the storm passes, they will be again.  Why not take a moment then to create your own list and the next time you find yourself looking for something to do or about to board the train to Bitterville, pull out your list, close your eyes, pick an item at random and remember what that feels, smells, tastes, sounds, or looks like!  I dare you to keep from smiling.

http://tinyurl.com/hy4xom7

Let Love In

As seen on a Sussex Directories Inc site

“I once asked my mentor, ‘What’s the most important advice you’ve given or received in your 30+ years of practice?'” ‘That’s an easy one,’ he replied. ‘Let love in!'” Dr. Stephanie May

Dear Stephanie,

Despite what I told you at the time, I realize now that I didn’t step into this space searching for answers about myself – how it was I could’ve done so much for so many for so long and yet still felt so all alone; how it could be that my heart seemingly knew no limits when it came to giving to other hearts in need and yet was so incredibly inept when it came to receiving love for itself; why my best – my absolute best – routinely elicited accolades from and, on occasion, even the envy of others, but never registered with me as being even marginally good enough; how someone could appear so put together, so in control of his world and his emotions on the outside and yet be so broken (shattered really) on the inside. No, I came in looking for a fight, hell-bent on finding out what was wrong with everyone else – why they didn’t get it (get me) – how they could be so oblivious, so indifferent to my pain – and when what I found instead was love, compassion, open arms, grace, empathy, and the prospect (however remote) of hope and healing, I started one.

And so, for the better part of the next three months, we butted heads you and me. Actually, I was the one who did most of the butting. Week after week, I came in not with humility and a heart open to change, but with another story, another compelling example of how I had been wronged, misunderstood, disrespected, underappreciated, overlooked, taken advantage of – unseen. In my mind, I had more than enough evidence (ammunition) in my stockpile to prove every point, a rock-solid case for why none of it had anything to do with what was wrong with me and everything to do with what was wrong with the rest of the world. I was on a mission and, for weeks on end, you just sat there – mostly in silence – never taking a note, absorbing every verbal body shot I delivered, saying just enough to make it clear you were listening (carefully) to every word, that not a single one of the thousands of tears I shed fell unnoticed, and that, in spite of my often offensive and angry words, I was welcome to come back. I’m sure more than once you wondered, as I did, if I would … if I could see that your lack of engagement had less to do with you not getting it, than with you not buying it … but, come back I did.

And then, one day it happened.

I don’t even remember what we were arguing about, all I remember is that I’d had enough – enough of you finally pushing back against the misguided narrative I’d been telling myself for a lifetime and grown quite comfortable with; enough of you calling bullshit on my tired tales of woe – no matter how compelling my side of the story presented; enough of you insisting I entertain the possibility that there was another, less self-victimizing side to those stories that told a very different tale – one grounded in a deeply wounded little boy; enough of you trying to convince me there was a better, less defensive, more open-hearted way to live; enough of you chipping away at the walls of my heart that I’d spent so much time building and reinforcing and took much pride in. And so, as had become my go-to move whenever I’d had enough, I got up to leave – without a word – and you in mid-sentence. And I would’ve left had I not seen the tears spontaneously streaming down the sides of your face – and known they were of my making. “I wonder if you realize how much that hurts,” you said simply. Sitting back down was the best decision I ever made.

With Eternal Gratitude, Don

I’m not sure what it is about the darkness that causes those lost or trapped in it to push the light of love away, when love is offered and what’s needed most, but the phenomenon is real. I know, because I’ve experienced it in my own life and in the lives of those I love (dearly) and have worked with more often than I care to think about, let alone admit. And, I was about to do it again that day, a drowning man all but scoffing at a life preserver – a hand and heart repeatedly, unconditionally, non-judgmentally outstretched in love, offering a moment of grace, of peace, of respite from a storm that, truth be told, had been raging around and inside of me for far too long. Yet, the darkness would have none of it and, true to where I was in that moment, neither would I. Fortunately, this time around the light won! It’s part of the reason my go-to move now is to stay, lean in a little closer, and love harder. It’s also why I refuse to give up – on the wounded, the lost, and the lonely – no matter how many times they pull away or how effusive they are in insisting they’re “fine”, that “they’ve got this!” There’s simply too much hanging in the balance to let the darkness win!

https://tinyurl.com/tx7q4sx

Just Be Love*

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The older I get, the more convinced I become that, in the end, it all comes down to a moment-by-moment battle between selfishness and selflessness. What’s the “all” you ask? Everything. Literally. The “winner” dictates the way we view, treat, and speak to and about ourselves, the way we relate to our significant others (spouses, partners, etc.), the way we friend and neighbor, the way we parent, the way we interact with colleagues, “subordinates”, and staff at work, the way we compete, the way we treat and consume our living spaces and the planet, how we view and respond to those in need (indeed, whether we see them at all), the words we speak, how we spend our money, all things social media, our politics (sorry, not sorry!), how we respond in times of crisis and in their aftermath, whether we’re creative or critical, our willingness to offer a helping hand (or two!) without being asked, whether we judge or empathize, and how and whether we listen – to name just a few examples.

The problem is: We too often default to selfish. Most don’t do it intentionally, though some do. No, for most of us it’s reflexive. It’s been hard-wired into our DNA since the beginning of time, when our predominate need (real or imagined) was self-preservation. Regrettably, it’s part of what makes us human, but, paradoxically, it’s also what stands in the way of our being and experiencing what it means to be fully human and sharing it with others. It’s the voice inside that tells us to pull away from significant others, friends, family members, or colleagues in the midst or wake of a disagreement, rather than leaning in close and doubling down on love and compassion. It’s what causes us to lash out or shut down in the face of well-intended and even constructive criticism and to be quick to judge words, circumstances, and behaviors of others (friends and strangers alike), rather than seeking to understand them. It’s also the birthplace of our always needing to be right regardless of the relational cost and the “my way or the highway” mentality that increasingly seems to be the rule of the day.

There is another way. Admittedly, it’s a bit counter-cultural. Some might even say – revolutionary. The good news is: Unlike the recipe for Coca Cola® or the Colonel’s seasoning blend, it’s not a secret. Never has been. However, because it’s contrary to every fiber in our being, it requires constant and considerable intention that few are willing to commit to, especially when they discover: that their new found lifestyle will be tested and challenged at every turn; that more often than not, it will seem counter-intuitive and not what the situation, the conduct, or the recipient seemingly “deserves”; that, on occasion, it will demand sacrifice (lots of it); that for extended periods of time it may go unreciprocated; and that, at times, it can be exhausting. But the rewards of living it (to you and those whose paths you cross), the healing it engenders, the peace (of mind and spirit) it promotes, the bridges to emotional intimacy it builds, and the sense of exhale it gives way to are unspeakably rich, beautiful, life-changing, and enduring. I know, because I’ve seen it in action!

Just be Love. That’s it!  It’s that simple and that complicated. But, not just any kind of love – feel it in your bones kind of love; steadfast, not going anywhere (other than by your side) – ever – kind of love; pick you up, dust you off, and, if necessary, carry you on my back to safety kind of love; four-legged friend kind of love; constant, unwavering, and unconditional kind of love; predictable as the sunrise, reliable, patient kind of love; desirous of understanding kind of love; slow to criticize, let alone judge kind of love; childlike, honest, transparent kind of love; “your burdens, brokenness, and pain are mine too” kind of love; “together we’ll work whatever it is out” kind of love; “you are never alone” kind of love; any hour of the day or night kind of love; given freely with no strings attached kind of love, willing to get messy kind of love, run into a burning building kind of love; guide you home kind of love. I know it sounds impossible. I also know it’s not. Difficult? Yes. Undoable? No. Capable of being done perfectly? No. Worth doing however imperfectly? Absolutely!

Where do you start? With those closest to you. And, without any fanfare. Challenge yourself to live this way – to Just Be Love – with those you profess to love for the next 24 hours. What does that look like? It looks like prioritizing their needs, beginning with what has replaced self-preservation as the human heart’s predominate one: to be seen, to be heard, to be accepted, and to have greater emotional intimacy – and placing yours on the back burner. Maybe it looks like undistracted time in conversation or at play or both with your children. Maybe it looks like a book at bedtime. With a spouse, it might look like a hand held, honoring their need for quiet time, a long overdue, non-lame hug (or, better yet, end of day or break of dawn snuggles – heck, do both!), or a word of affection, affirmation, or encouragement. Whatever the “moment” brings, filter it through a prism of the love described above and reflect it back in your words and actions. I’m virtually certain it’ll be contagious and that, by day’s end, your needs (as well as theirs) will have been met, your heart and soul will be fully replenished, and you’ll not only be ready, but eager to start all over again tomorrow. And then, bring it to work!

You most certainly won’t “win” all the “moment battles”, but you’ll win a lot of them and your world, our world will be immeasurably better because of it!

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*The grainy, “non-digital” photo that introduces this post was taken 41 years ago, when “love” was young. We lost A LOT of precious “moment battles”, individually and as a couple, between its taking and today.  But, we’ve also been through A LOT and we “won” our share of them – mostly in spite of ourselves – along the way. Today, thankfully, we win MOST of them and it’s attributable to intentionality and learning, through the grace of God, to surrender and JUST BE LOVE!

For The First Time … And The Last (A Prayer of Gratitude)

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Maybe it’s the unprecedentedly challenging times we find ourselves in, their juxtaposition with the spontaneous laughter of a little boy I heard coming from a nearby playground, the spectacularly beautiful sunset (shown above), a dear friend’s recent reflections on the passing of an open-hearted and selfless loved one who had lived a full life – or, more likely, some combination of them all – but on last night’s walk, I found myself overwhelmed by this simple thought: Whether our eyes, ears, hearts, arms, and minds have been truly “opened” for the first time or are opening for the last, there is important – soul healing – work to be done and lots to be grateful for. That thought resulted in this prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

Thank you …

For the eyes You opened today –

to the stunning tapestry of another sunrise

to marvel at the magnificence of Your creation

to seek only what is good, true, and noble

to look beyond yesterday’s brokenness and missteps

to catch a glimpse of their soul’s eternal worthiness

to see others’ scars (visible and invisible) with empathy –

for the first time … and the last.

 

Thank you …

For the arms You opened today –

to provide a place of refuge to a weary soul

to embrace without expectation of something in return

to remind a wondering heart that it is cherished beyond measure

to cradle a child

to welcome a prodigal home

to provide the added support needed on the road to recovery –

for the first time … and the last.

 

Thank you …

For the hearts You opened today –

to let love in

to expel the darkness

to offer and receive forgiveness

to accept, without second-guessing, the gifts of reconciliation and redemption

to more fully embrace and express their servantship

to a moment of tenderness and self-acceptance –

for the first time … and the last.

 

Thank you …

For the ears You opened today –

to listen without judgment

to discern what’s really being said

to hear the words “you matter” and “I love you”

to welcome an “I forgive you”

to capture Your whisperings

to get lost in the magic of a child’s laughter –

for the first time … and the last.

 

Thank you …

For the minds You opened today –

to the miracle that is our next breath

to the magic that is a single heartbeat

to child-like wonder of a bird in flight

to the value of a single trusted friend

to the healing power of a simple word of encouragement

to the restorative warmth of a ray of sunlight

for the first time … and the last.

 

And, Thank you …

For showering us today –

with Your boundless grace

with Your inexhaustible mercy

with forgiveness beyond our understanding

with unconditional love

with the gifts of wisdom and discernment

and the hope of eternity spent in Your presence –

from the beginning of time.

 

Amen.

 

“I’ll Have The Spaghetti And Goosebumps Please!”

spaghetti and meatballs

My travel woes have become legendary.  I get that, once in a while, everyone who travels with any degree of frequency has experienced a hiccup or two – an unexpected mechanical or weather-related delay, a carry-on bag you were certain would fit in the overhead compartment above seat 42B that wouldn’t cooperate, a three year-old in the seat behind you with titanium vocal cords capable of screaming for an entire cross country flight – even an occasional cancellation or lost piece of luggage when you could least afford it.  But, I take travel issues to a whole new level and somehow manage to “elevate my game” seemingly with each new trip.  A few examples should suffice to illustrate the point.  I once arrived for and boarded a 5:30 a.m. flight only to learn that the overnight crew had “forgotten” to fuel the aircraft for our trip to LA! Then there was the time when, needing to make a tight connection, I and my fellow travelers on what was to be the originating flight were advised by gate agents that the jetway being used to deplane the aircraft we were to board had jammed 3 feet short of the exit door, making it impossible for those on board to get off!  Or the time when, moments before we were to push back from a gate, the pilot embarrassingly announced that the caterers had mistakenly taken all the food and drinks off the aircraft and were nowhere to be found!  Still not convinced that I’m the Joe Btfsplk of travel?  Imagine being at a nice resort and having the desk clerk accidentally grant you early check-in privileges to a room that already was occupied! Fortunately, the 5″ stiletto heels and lingerie strewn across the room that greeted me when I opened the door immediately alerted me to the error in time to make a hasty exit before its occupant(s) got out of the shower. Suffice it to say, friends, family, and business colleagues demand to know my travel itinerary well in advance of trips so they can be certain to make alternate arrangements.

A few years ago, however, I outdid myself.  I was covering a deposition at Christmas time for my partner, who had a last minute scheduling conflict.  The deposition was being held at a hotel in a VERY remote part of Florida and was supposed to last the entire week.  In fact, my office had reserved a room at the deposition site with a Friday checkout anticipating that schedule.  But late Wednesday, the group I was with expressed certainty that we would finish a day early (i.e., on Thursday).  So, in an effort to avoid a bill for an unused extra night, I checked out of the hotel early that morning only to discover several hours later that the deposition would not conclude until Friday after all, due to an unexpected shift in the witness’ health. “Well, that’s inconvenient, but no big deal,” I thought to myself, as I headed to the front desk to rebook my room only to learn that, in the intervening four hours, this hotel – located in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE – was SOLD OUT for the night! After several emails, my assistant advised that she had found a hotel 18 miles away that had a room. What neither of us realized at the time was that it was located in an area that was EVEN MORE REMOTE than its predecessor. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded a change of scenery, but after four long, contentious days on the road, I was hoping for a much shorter commute and a good meal. You can then imagine my surprise (and frustration) to be told by the front desk at check-in that, aside from a Waffle House less than a block away, the nearest restaurants with any name recognition were those found near the hotel I’d just left – 18 miles away. Disheartened, I headed to my room to unload my stuff and make a quick call to my office to get caught up on the day’s events – convinced that, when I was done, I’d be heading back to restaurants I’d already eaten at the three nights before and whose food and service I’d found less than inspiring.

It was then that I remembered seeing a roadside billboard for a local Italian place about 5 miles down the road, a place I’d passed a short while later, but dismissed as a possibility based on its side-street location and appearance.  When I shared my day with my legal assistant, she was adamant that I give the Italian spot a try, “You’ve got nothing to lose,” she insisted, “and, who knows, you might just run into some friendly people.”  I took her advice and headed out.  She was right!  As I walked through the door of the quaint, beautifully Christmas-decorated neighborhood restaurant, I was greeted by the friendliest hostess you’d ever want to meet as if I was a longtime favorite customer.  She escorted me to a seat at the small bar just steps away from a large manger scene that illuminated the front of the restaurant and introduced me to one of two bartenders, who, it would turn out, couldn’t possibly have been any nicer, more attentive or more engaging. I went with my go-to dish – spaghetti and meatballs – which just happened to be the “Thursday Night Special” and the three of us spent the next hour and a half exchanging stories.  I told them about the series of events that had brought me to their doorstep and had to smile when one of them, a spunky young woman, whose effortless sense of humor and engaging personality reminded me of my daughter, cast her gaze to the manger and with a wry smile asked rhetorically, “Oh, so you’re here because there was no room at the inn?!?” They, in turn, shared stories about the restaurant – how it had burned to the ground a few years earlier and only recently re-opened after the owner had generously taken financial care of the entire staff during the rebuilding – and pieces of themselves.  One is a working mom of three, including a recently born little girl – the other, aptly described above, was playful and a bit on the eccentric side. The food was amazing, but it was the connection made between three complete strangers, under the most unlikely of circumstances and in the most unlikely of places that took me by complete surprise and warmed my heart. Still, it was what happened next that took my breath away.

Moments after the check arrived, I shared that, while I was a lawyer, writing is my real passion. “I wrote a book,” I blurted out – not entirely sure why. “I don’t know if I have a copy in the car, but if I do I’d like to give it to you as a gift for being so kind.  I set the check down with my credit card and headed to the car.  Buried in the back of the trunk, I found a copy of “Dear Ashley” I didn’t think I had, hurried back to the restaurant, and presented it to the mother of three.  Soon my other new friend and several curious servers gathered to look on. One by one, they smiled broadly at the cover photo and commented on how “priceless” the picture is. Then, with the exception of mom, they all returned to work.  “It’s not just for people who have daughters,” I volunteered as I focused on signing the check and, at her request, the title page of the book. “It’s also for people who are daughters.” “Oh, and one more thing,” I continued, sliding the signed check in her direction.  “It’s not really a light-hearted read.  You see, several years ago, our daughter nearly died battling an eating disorder.  Her courage is what inspired me to write it.”  Suddenly, her eyes became soft.  She leaned in, reached across the bar, placed her hand on mine, and said quietly so as not to be overheard, “Don, God brought you here tonight. This book is going to save the life of someone in this restaurant. Thank you.” And with those words still hanging in the air, she turned, put the book in a safe place next to the register, and walked away.  I paused for a moment reflecting on just how many things had to go “wrong” at the same time to create a moment so “right”.  As I, too, turned to leave, with goosebumps racing up my arms and tears welling up in my eyes, I passed the manger and smiled – suddenly grateful for another day of deposition, a random rebooking, a billboard, my legal assistant’s insistence, a buried copy of my book – and that “inexplicably” there was no room at the inn.

The Legacy of Hope Summit

hatsuhinode-mountain (002)

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go, love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” L.R. Knost

On February 4, 1983, Karen Carpenter, one of the 20th century’s (and this country’s) most recognizable, prolific, and beloved music icons died at the age of 32. Her reported cause of death? “Heart failure resulting from ipecac poisoning”. Her actual cause of death? Complications associated with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Historically, a high-profile celebrity death like Ms. Carpenter’s would serve to exponentially heighten public awareness relating to the culprit illness and act as a catalyst for fundraising efforts in support of medical and scientific research aimed at better understanding, seeking the early detection of, improving treatment protocols for, and ultimately eradicating and/or preventing the disease. Indeed, the historical landscape is littered with examples of that phenomena, particularly in the United States.

But, news about Ms. Carpenter’s illness and eventual death was different. Despite her substantial notoriety and the fact that, at least according to one biographer, hers was the first high-profile celebrity death caused by an eating disorder, Ms. Carpenter’s struggles and premature death did little to move the needle when it came to increasing awareness among the general public of these insidious, life-threatening diseases, let alone to prompt an outpouring of research funding aimed at identifying their root causes and educating health care professionals as to what could be done to more effectively treat them and prevent or temper their deadly proliferation. Instead, it resulted in the promulgation of what would turn out to be the first of many misguided, uninformed, and stigmatizing myths concerning these diseases, namely that “such illness[es] can be traced to the failings of mom and dad”.

Troublingly, in the nearly 4 decades since Ms. Carpenter’s death, proportionately little meaningful progress has been made in areas that affect virtually all eating disorder sufferers, including: (1) public awareness; (2) enacted state and federal legislative; (3) the availability, accessibility, and affordability of quality care; (4) the development of evidenced-based standards of care; (5) research and research funding needed to, among other things, first define and then refine those standards; and (6) strategies aimed at early detection, intervention, and prevention. Not surprisingly, during that same period, the number of people battling these often deadly diseases worldwide has increased in every decade and it continues to do so at an alarming rate. In fact, left unchecked, their prevalence may soon reach epidemic proportions and compete for a spot as this country’s number 1 public health crisis.

And yet, there still is no public outcry that something be done; no outpouring of state, federal, and private research funding; no insistence that life-saving care be afforded to and affordable by those who desperately need it; no teeth-baring state or federal legislation ensuring, among other things, fair insurer reimbursement for such care; and no nationwide educational initiatives aimed at early detection, intervention, and, ultimately, prevention. That’s about to change. Later this week, 24 highly-respected eating disorder experts and thought leaders will convene in pursuit of several ambitious goals: (1) to reach a consensus on initiatives that will have a significant impact on those afflicted with eating disorders; (2) to recommend concrete strategies for achieving those goals; (3) to anticipate likely obstacles to their achievement; and (4) to chart a course for navigating and overcoming those challenges.

Enough is Enough. It’s time to unite – for change, for healing. It’s time to leave an indelible legacy of hope.

Beyond The Broken

kintsugi before and after

Maybe if you walk long enough, often enough, with eyes and heart wide open, and in the right places, it just happens. You see some remarkable things. And I have: a young girl learning to ride a bike for the first time and celebrating the accomplishment with her dad; a weekend duffer finding the sweet spot and watching in disbelief as his perfectly struck iron shot soars through the air and settles within inches of the cup; the special bond between an old man and his dog; a pair of 80+ year-old lovers still holding hands; a child taking their first steps; a little boy with skinned and bleeding knees mustering the courage to get back on his two-wheeler and try again; breathtaking sunrises, sunsets and rainbows; a father hugging his teenage son with intention and compassion;  the magic of a game-winning goal; a single mom teaching her son how to throw a football; a friend drying another friend’s tears; orchids in bloom; the kindness of strangers; Santa Claus riding on the back of a firetruck; and rain falling on one side of the street, but not the other; to name only a few.

But, it’s the things I sometimes see in the ordinary, in images I’m certain I’ve seen a thousand times before, but, thanks to insights gleaned from hard lessons learned, I now see differently (perhaps as they were always meant to be seen) – that inspire me, resonate most deeply in my soul, and often stop me in my tracks.  And, so it was on a recent Saturday morning, as I came across a young bird picking up a tattered piece of fabric on the sidewalk and carrying it to a perch in a nearby tree, where she was in the early stages of building a nest.  I really hadn’t planned to give the moment a second thought and didn’t, until few steps later when I felt that now familiar stir inside of me.  Uncertain of its source, I continued on, making the nearly 2 mile circle back and then I saw her again, this time sifting, with the determination and enthusiasm of a holiday shopper, through a small pile of brown leaves at the base of a tree.  It was then that tears started trickling down the sides of my face and I hurried home to put them on paper:

What does she see . . .

in the tattered piece of cloth torn from a since discarded blanket?

in the fragile twig convinced it lacks the strength to survive, let alone contribute?

in the delicate feather left behind by a recently departed friend?

in the scrap of paper torn in anger from another letter of rejection?

in the fallen brown leaves certain their life was over?

in the tender reed bruised and buffeted by one too many storms?

in the straw, the piece of string, the remnants of an old cotton ball, the low hanging moss?

What does she see . . .

in the brokenness?

in the discarded?

in the misshapen?

in the ill-fitting?

in the left for dead?

What does she see . . .

that we can’t or refuse to see – that we walk by, dismiss, disregard, trample upon?

She sees beyond.

She sees missing and essential pieces.

She sees the blueprint of a home that is uniquely hers.

Pieces that woven together with tenderness, perspective, patience and care will one day provide her and those she loves with warmth, comfort, security and shelter,

that is beautiful –

that she is (rightfully) proud of.

Maybe as we prepare to turn the page on a New Year, we can resolve (dare I say commit?) to stealing a page from my new feathered friend’s songbook. Maybe we can allow ourselves to look beyond what may, on their face, appear to be the mistakes, brokenness, and ill-fitting pieces of our (and others’) pasts (or presents). Maybe we can see them for what they are: pieces of something bigger, something stronger, something more life-supporting, something that woven together, tenderly, patiently, lovingly, with all the good is our “home” – what makes us uniquely beautiful.  Maybe in the process we can replace the shame and guilt that we have associated with them with rightful pride for having battled and overcome. Maybe, for just a minute (and then another), we can entertain the possibility that those who love us most and know us best have been right all along:  We are all of that – the broken and the beautiful – and still loved and worthy of love beyond measure.