Common Threads

Young or old, male or female, immigrant or Native American, educated or not, those of various religions and preferences, we are all human and share a great deal in common.  Sadly, it has been difficult recently to find the common factors.  The divide shows up among once jovial neighbors, friends who share a monthly bridge game, family members at the dinner table, co-workers in the staff office.  The parting of ways manifests itself dramatically on social media where unbridled frustration and fear appear at every click.  Uneasiness is apparent in polite conversation, as people try to be kind and avoid tricky topics.

My blog is about the journey—particularly about taking on new risks and adventures in the final quarter of the game. So why am I writing about the above?  Because it’s inescapable — and it’s part of the game.  What’s going on in our country affects the lives of our children and grandchildren and we need to pay attention.  I don’t pretend to have a solution to the divide we’re experiencing, but do suggest eight first steps:

  1. Listen to many voices, i.e. access varied sources of information

Intentionally read papers and watch news broadcasts that are known to be of the opposite political leaning from your own.

  1. Avoid hasty conclusions about people

Adopt a “no conclusion, no judgment” posture.  Period.

  1. Go out of your way to meet new people, especially those who have a different appearance, nationality, religion, or lifestyle

If you are Christian, visit a mosque. If you are Muslim, attend a Christian service.

  1. Smile more

This actually feels good and is perhaps the easiest way to say “Welcome to my world.”

  1. Take the time to hear people’s stories

Preconceived ideas about people (aka prejudices), especially about certain groups of people, usually vanish when we actually get to know a person.

  1. Give second chances

We are human!

  1. Choose gentle language

How differently we might view the  national health care discussion, for example,  if the plan were called a ”pilot program,”  which any new initiative is, to be reviewed and improved, rather than a “failure,” to be repealed.  Words are powerful and can be neutral or inflammatory.

  1. Be empathetic: imagine walking in the other’s shoes, figure out what makes that person tick

This may require all of the above. Experience a softening of the heart, let go of rigid beliefs, and become a more compassionate person.

Perhaps the above steps will help make a difference. It’s worth a try!

~ Post Script ~

For social media posters who share cute pictures and uplifting quotes, thanks for brightening my day.

For friends who approach me directly with honest respectful dialog about difficult issues, kudos to you for giving this a chance.

For leaders who take a stand for what is right in the face of repercussions, I congratulate your bravery.

For those who pray, please pray fervently that we will overcome the divide and again find the common threads we share as Americans.

It has been a week…..

…..and I am thankful. Thankful that Election 2016 is behind us. For months we were bombarded with negative rhetoric and ugly visual ads. Facebook throbbed with new posts, one more outrageous than the last. Terms such as crook and misogyny became part of everyday vocabulary in reference to our soon-to-be chosen president. The focus was on criticism rather then optimism, negative findings of the past rather than creative ideas for the future, exclusion rather than inclusion. I don’t know about you, but I was sad about the whole process.

Finally November 8th arrived, and I had the privilege of working at the polls with a fine group of people. We arranged tables to accommodate voters efficiently, hung customary notices, reviewed our assignments, and began the day with a long line at the door. Smiles and cheerful greetings welcomed our neighbors as they arrived. One dear elderly lady carried out her civic duty with the help of a patient daughter, others had moved to another part of the community and needed directions to their new polling location, a kind restaurant owner delivered lunch and then hours later dinner. Quite a few voters brought children and teens,  and we welcomed them eagerly as young witnesses to the democratic process. First time voters received a round of applause and cheers, much to their surprise. Some of us worked from 6 AM until closing at 8 PM .

After a full day at the polls, I returned home to view the colorful map and hear the earliest results coming in from the East Coast. Like many, I was very surprised. Late evening stretched into night at which time the map was complete and it was clear that the ever-intensifying nightmare of the campaign season had culminated in a victory for one candidate. Unprecedented protests followed along with fascinating commentary and many questions. Will campaign promises be fulfilled? Did the public receive false impressions from postings on social media? How did mainstream leaders miss the cries of a mass of the population that evidently feels “left out”? What impact will the new president in the White House (or on 5th Avenue) have on European nations teetering on the brink of electing far right leaders?

Only time will tell, I suppose. I hope and pray that thoughtful consideration and wisdom will play a role. Now one week later, there is another question. Should I prepare my mother’s cranberry-orange gelatin salad or fresh whole berry sauce? This is a question I can handle. And it gives me much joy!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Christmas 2015

My father is ninety-four years old and has dementia. He lives in the personal care area of a nursing home where he benefits from the quiet environment, predictable schedule, and friendly staff. Chattering birds and a fluffy guinea pig reside in the lobby and add amusement and life in a place where people are slowing down. Daily activities and devotions led by the chaplain enrich Dad’s days. He receives healthy meals served to him at the same table, in the same seat, with the same companions each day. He is content.

Christmas 2015 was special. My sister had planned a meal at a nearby kid-friendly restaurant so that family members of four generations could gather at the table. Dad was dressed nicely as I spotted him slowly crossing the parking lot in his usual cautious way.  He was fidgeting with his wallet when I reached him, which he found to be empty. I quickly gave him a few bills, believing he would feel good about that. I think he did. We found a nice long table in a quiet corner. The ambience was festive and the food tasted yummy.

An unexpected challenge arose when Dad began asking about our mother. He asked repeatedly “Where is Mother?” and eventually turned to me between bites of pecan pie and apple crisp to ask “Is she dead?” Indeed, our mother, his dear wife of sixty-nine years, died five months ago.

We had been advised to not talk with Dad about her passing. It made sense, since we could see that he would probably not progress through the grieving process to a state of healing. The news of her death would be a surprise each time. In the past months, we had all tried to gently skirt around Dad’s inquiries. There were a few times when I thought he may have grasped the reality and wanted to protect me from knowing our mother was gone. Dad had invented reasonable explanations for her absence. “She’s on a retreat and will return soon.”  ”She’s attending a meeting.”  Occasionally he asked if I had seen her.  I told him he will be the first to know when I see her.

Somehow Christmas Day was different from usual visits. The family gathering made us all very aware of Mother’s absence. Leaning closer and looking into his sweet eyes, I had to be honest and say “Yes, Mother is dead. She’s with Jesus now but we can feel her presence in our hearts. She’s still with us.” He seemed to understand as I answered his repeated questions. It seemed right to simply be honest on this day of celebrating Jesus’ birth. Indeed, the image of our mother with Jesus was beautiful and comforting.

Amidst the sad moments at our Christmas table, there were the joys of smiles and laughter, antics by the youngest children, heartfelt conversation, and a hobby horse direct from Santa’s sleigh. Dad ate a good meal and even had two desserts.  By the next morning he had forgotten all about Christmas. Breakfast time found him at his usual table, in his seat, enjoying coffee with his companions. The disease that causes his forgetfulness is also a blessing, and we are grateful!

Author’s note – I share this family story in the hopes that some readers will identify with the situation and be touched, others will become curious about dementia and seek information, and many will advocate for increased research so that brain health will one day keep pace with body health. I welcome your comments.

Christmas News

“I bring you good news……” from Luke chapter 2

Christmas is a wonderful time of year.  Many people fill their days to the brim with festive, joyful activities—fragrant times in the kitchen with spices, cookie cutters, and sweet sprinkles scattered about;  bustling times in shops where fresh garlands welcome us at the doorway and holiday tunes float in the air; creative times spent wrapping gifts with colorful paper or fabric and ribbon, yarn, miniature bells or holly sprigs. There are quiet times for writing Christmas cards and reading the sweet messages of friends and family that arrive from afar.

Christmas events in churches are for me the most marvelous celebrations! These begin with Advent wreath making and hanging of the greens and lead to joyful choir concerts and kids’ musicals, collections of food for those in need, caroling at nursing homes, and live nativity scenes. This year I will attend a bereavement service for those who have experienced loss. Together with candle-lighting, scripture, and lovely melodies of the ancient Taize tradition we will celebrate Christ’s birth. There may be tears but also comfort and healing. Indeed, Christ came to bring us joy and peace.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year in every season of life. May it be so for you!

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them (the shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them,  and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ ”      Luke 2: 9 – 11

My heart breaks….

……over the events in Paris. Answers to the questions around hatred and violence seem to allude the finest statesmen, diplomats, scholars, military experts, leaders of all kinds. I certainly have no answer, just heartbreak. My morning devotional directed me to words of comfort which I share with you in the hopes that you will find meaning in them also.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law….If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”    Galatians 5: 22 – 26

Just imagine a world in which everyone embraced these words. Just imagine…….

More than ten thousand Americans….

More then ten thousand Americans turn sixty-five each day. That’s a lot of people. Some still work at full-time jobs. Others volunteer at the local school, public library, or food bank. Some take courses to learn new skills, to reinvent themselves, or simply to use their brains. Others care for family elders or young grandchildren. The impressive factor is that they are healthier and better educated than any previous generation of Americans and they are motivated to make a positive contribution to the world around them. This is quite a force!

I have been reading and inquiring about what all these older adults are doing. I am in fact one of them. Amazing real-life stories fill the pages in my head. An elementary teacher tutors children in after-school homework sessions; dentists, doctors, and nurses offer healing to the poor in developing countries; a pharmacist serves meals to the homeless in an inner city ministry; a corporate project manager accompanies middle school students on a bus en route to after-school activities, an entrepreneur transports college athletic teams to sports events; a psychologist helps manage a food bank. These folks are all retired! To be sure, they are not sitting around in rocking chairs.

God wants us to live life to the fullest at every age!

Why faithtofigs?

One of the most difficult decisions of my life was the decision to retire from a job I loved. I walked away from the healthy challenges and deep satisfaction of meaningful work. There were several good reasons to do so, which you may discover some day in my manuscript on retirement, but in the end it was a leap of faith. Trusting in a loving God I mustered the courage to step away from my comfort zone and embrace the unknown. But would I get bored? Would I miss my students and colleagues? Would my mind deteriorate? Would I be financially secure? Even as questions continued, I had faith that opportunities were on the horizon and retirement would unfold into a refreshing new life. I reminded myself that faith is believing in the unseen and trusting it to be good.

Now enters the fig story. My dear grandmother, a charming southern lady, made the best ever fig preserves. On those special occasions when we visited her home in North Carolina, kinfolk young and old gathered around the large round table in her breakfast room. There was plenty of good food, including grits, but most of all I remember the toasted homemade wheat bread served with butter and her scrumptious fig preserves.

During my career I rarely had time to bake homemade bread and never tried making fig preserves. It was only after retiring that I discovered fresh figs at a nearby market and made my first attempt. And yes, I used my grandmother’s recipe. Every bite was sweet, delicious, and healthy! While exploring names for this blog the fig project came to mind. The tough decision to walk away from meaningful work resulted in amazing freedom.  I had time to do whatever I wanted to do. My mind was relaxed and uncluttered, and I began to see the world in a fresh way. The fig preserves became a symbol for new opportunities to be creative and the joys to be discovered when we step out in faith. And so I welcome you to my blog, faithtofigs, once again. If you have a faith story, a fig story, or a retirement story I would be delighted to read it here. Just click reply and write away.

Take a risk…

Have you taken a risk lately? I’m stepping out there just now to create a new blog and I seek your help. If you are a baby boomer, know any boomers, or wish you were one, then this is the place for you. My blog is intended as a venue for sharing thoughts about the transition from a life-time career to the freedom of retirement. But wait! No one talks about retirement today. It’s about reinvention, refiring, reimagining, redefining and for good reasons. Rocking chairs are out of style. The “retirees” I know are as active as ever, using their skills and education to make a difference in public service, mission work, new part-time jobs. They are working on new college degrees, traveling around the world, serving meals to the homeless, and advocating to end human trafficking. This is where you come in. What are you doing, or what do you dream of doing, in the second act of your life? Share your thread and let’s see what happens.