An Experience of God

I’ve been standing on the outside looking in for too long now. Being unemployed has it’s advantages, and I’ve been appreciating them more lately, but I’m ready for training, and learning something new. I want to have a mentor, be part of a team involved in meaningful service work. I’ve been teaching communication skills for many years, and yet I still have so much trouble knowing how to deal with people who have a different point of view, and an emotional investment in maintaining it at all costs. I want to learn more about conflict resolution, and how to bring it about so I can help my family, which is experiencing great emotional conflict. So, I’m inspired by the field of ‘appreciative inquiry,’ and pastoral counseling education.

I also believe that having a strong interest is enough. I mean, why not give people a chance if they are motivated, and want to learn. In Korea, many students weren’t able to take the major they were most interested in because they didn’t test high enough for it. People were taking courses they weren’t interested in. There’s nothing worse than to see a student studying something he or she is entirely uninterested in.

Motivation is such an important factor in the learning process. More so than qualification. As a teacher, I had to first motivate students before teaching them anything. And although some of them were already proficient in English, they didn’t necessarily do the best or get the highest grade. The motivated students, even those with poor communication skills to start, got the same chance, and sometimes went whizzing past the smart-alecs in the class who already thought they knew everything.

I’m motivated, so I think I’m a good candidate for this CPE internship. I’m telling myself this on the eve of an interview. I’m strongly motivated to be in this field of spirituality, where every day we enter the world of emotions, the world of pain and suffering, the world of death and dying, loss and grief. These are things that society does not teach us how to deal with. Young people think they have forever, but when you get older, you’ve seen so much more, and you’ve started to question everything again, and you know you don’t have that much time to learn.

When I met the supervisor on the phone, he told me he’s interested in the theology of suffering. I had to think: What does he mean? Why do we suffer? What is it?

The first thought is that we learn when we suffer. We tend to try to avoid suffering at any cost. Who wants to sign up for something that they know is going to be painful. Of course, we sign up for sports teams or yoga classes and burn those muscles and hold those postures til they hurt, but painful relationships are different. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. However, when we have to stretch ourselves, go outside our comfort zone, and feel the pain a difficult relationship can cause, often these are the most memorable and growth-producing times of our lives. The people that I have the hardest time with at the beginning often turn out to be the most endearing, lasting, and real connections in the end. They make you struggle. You have to go deeper into your heart to embrace them, to accept them, not to shout at them, or judge them, not to walk away from them. These are valuable people. They make you leave the surface life and enter into the world of insecurity and struggle, and the struggle ends up being about you, not them. You face yourself and grow. In the classroom, the most challenging student often ended up being my favorite by the end of the semester~ or at least the most memorable. It happened a lot. I had to work hard to figure out how to respond. I was forced to change in some way, and it was usually for the better.

When someone willingly carries a burden for you, suffers for you, or makes a sacrifice on your behalf, it softens your heart. You don’t always know when someone is sacrificing for you. But when you do, and it often changes the way you see things and the way you behave.

I had an experience with a student one year in Korea. It was after the semester was over. He came up to me, and told me he had dropped out of the class after just a few weeks. I went back and looked at his record. And I said, “Oh my God! Why did you drop out? You could have passed. You were OK. What was it?”
He said, “I didn’t think I could do it. I wasn’t as good as the other students.”
“Did you ever come and talk to me?”
“No.”
“Why not?”

Telling the story makes me want to cry. I wanted to help him, I was right there ready to help him. It wasn’t like I knew him from the rest, but I wanted each of my students to succeed.

It made me think about how God must feel towards us. If we never ask for help, we can’t receive it. I realized that if the kids don’t tell me what’s going on, I never know.

I told that student, “Your teachers are there, but they can’t read your mind. They’re waiting for you to do your part. You have to take the steps. If it’s hard for you, you have to go talk to your teacher, you have to tell them, ‘I’m afraid’ or ‘I’m not able.’ I would have told you, ‘You’re doing great!’ and I would have helped and encouraged you, taken you under my wing and seen you through. All you had to do was come and ask, and accept the help.”

The universe is waiting for us. All we need is to take that tiny first step, like going up to the teacher after class, and saying, “Listen. I want to do this. But I can’t.”

And the Universe will respond just like a good teacher: “What do you mean, you can’t? Of course you can. You’re my baby. I love you. You’re doing great. You’re doing just amazingly great! The fact that you came to see me, you just won thousands of points over all those students who don’t. So hang in there. You can come to me every day, or every week, whenever you want. I’m here. And I’ll be here. I’m never ever gonna not be here.”

That experience made me realize how precious teaching is. You get to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be God and encourage people (I’m not trying to be presumptuous here); and you also get to learn how important it is to take responsibility for your own life. It doesn’t mean you have to do the whole job. You just have to start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can. And ask for help when you need it.

Wonderful students
Wonderful students

A Letter to My Dad

My sister saves all the treasures of our family, so I call her our archivist. She handed me this letter I wrote to my dad when I had just turned 14. It tells so much about what was going on in our lives at that time (a big move from New England to Florida, and my father’s absence while taking the exam to practice medicine in Florida). It also shocked me to discover a part of myself I’d forgotten~ thoughtful, articulate, and full of compassion for those less fortunate than myself.

I was using Dad’s stationery from his alma mater, Dartmouth. I’m impressed by my letter writing form~ date,  indentations, beautiful handwriting. I’m still a letter-writer, and even though my handwriting has changed a LOT since then, people still admire it all the time. Don’t we teach that in school anymore? Maybe not.

Anyway, Dad, this letter is for you~ again ❤

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A LETTER TO MY DAD

May 26, 1965

Dear Dad,

Your letter was beautiful. Thank you for the advice.

You’ll never guess where I am right now: sitting on the lounge-chair outside on the terrace. We just had a cloud-burst and everything is cool and balmy. Would you believe it? It was up to 95 degrees this afternoon. We sure needed the rain.

I saw a movie last night with Mother, Sue and Brownie. It was called, “Nothing But a Man.” It was really fantastic. The whole movie was based on the life of an everyday, hard-working Negro family~ something like “A Raisin in the Sun.”

As I sat there, I saw how frightening it would be to be a Negro, to just walk out into the streets and know that people would look at you, and perhaps even threaten you. I saw how hopeless the life of a Negro was, even if he knew that he was not inferior, even if he knew that what he stood for was right, even when he stood up for it.

The main character in the movie was a young, thoughtful Negro who worked in a railroad gang. Though he stood up for his rights, his fellows submitted readily to the white man’s cruel hand and tongue, without a struggle. He was termed even by his fellows as a troublemaker because he would not be treated like dirt by the whites, but fought back. Thus, he lost many a job and his intelligent person longed for the freedom it deserved.

What made the movie so good was the truth in it, the reality and aliveness. It had no typical movie-like ending, where the hero lives happily ever after. It left you hanging, and it left no answer, because there isn’t one. It was sad. Dad, what can we do to give the Negroes hope and a reason to live? So many of the Negroes believe that they themselves are inferior, and they don’t even try. They drop out because there’s no sense in an education (they have reason to believe this) because as soon as they apply for a job, they’re usually taken last, for often whites have priority. Why is there this stupid prejudice? Will the whites and colored ever be equal?

I can’t write what I feel on paper very well, and if I did I would use up all my stationery, so I’ll stop.

I hear you’re coming home for several weeks. Will you be here for the auction? All of us here miss you so much ~ we can’t wait to see you. Do you have a tan? You ought to, what with all that sun. The plans for a new house are very exciting. This way we can plan it the way we want it. Boy! I don’t see how you can study such a long time. I don’t think I could stand it. I guess you’ll be glad when it’s all over.

Mommy’s having some people out to look at the house tomorrow, and we’re scurrying around to get the place cleaned up.

I just finished reading “The Last of the Mohicans.” It was terrific, but it was kind of long. Whew! 435 pages!

I’m having a going away party this Saturday, the 29th. Wish you could be here, Dad, so you could meet all my friends. Since we can’t have it in the barn (it’s filled with lumber), we’ve decided to have it outside on the terrace. I just hope it doesn’t rain!

Nancy got a 3rd place in the horseshow on Sunday. She was happy but she would’ve much preferred a first. Oh well, next time she’ll get one.

We’re here giving away tons and tons of things. It’s fantastic! The Bevens are already so loaded with “Gatlin Generosity” that each member of that less fortunate family has two overcoats for the winter and a choice of 20 different outfits for school and the like. It’s really funny, but it’s so much fun giving all these things to people who need them that you forget you’re sacrificing some of your favorite things.

Well, Mother is going out and she wants to mail this letter, so I’ve got to close my lengthy epistle with these words:

I love you and life is not the same without your presence. I would that I could spend my last days at Willowbrook with you here too, but it cannot be, so love and kisses until you come back home.

Your loving daughter,
Robin

PS I just had to enclose this masterpiece of Nancy’s. It’s really great! Look at number 2, the way she’s got the horse twisted around. It’s really funny that a kid so little would notice and be able to draw this position so well. She’s going to be a real artist some day.
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BODY BEAUTIFUL

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BODY BEAUTIFUL

I love you, body~
Thank you
for serving me faithfully all these many years,
for never deserting me, even when I thought badly of you~
that you were ugly…
or shameful.

I love you, body~
I’m sorry
I forgot about you so often
and treated you so carelessly
as if I had another stashed somewhere behind…

I love you, body!
Please forgive me
for taking you for granted,
for not appreciating just how wonderful and precious you are
and how amazing and unbelievably perfect you are!

I love you, body!

How beautiful and strong you are.
How soft and supple you are.
How amazing it is that you and I are here together….

Thank you for everything.
I love you just the way you are.

Body Beautiful.
I love you ♥
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A Man, A Horse, and A Dream

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My husband’s cousin raises a special breed of horse, the Native American pinto. He is passionate about the breed and dreams of making it as popular here in Belgium as it was for many years in the US. We went to visit him to photograph his horses, and to talk with him about his work.
Pinto
Two Horses
The Stallion
Filip's drawing
To see the complete pdf file, see Filip’s pics

LA PART DE FEU

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LA PART DE FEU

This morning I had a long talk about life with my 91 year old neighbor Denise. She asked me what I was writing in my notebook. I had written, “I’ve got to remove my expectations. It makes people feel bad,” but I wasn’t sure how to say that in French, so I said, “Je veut me changer.” I want to change myself.

She was intrigued and said, “Let’s take a walk in the park, and after I show you my favorite places, we’ll sit and you can explain what you mean.” Of course, she said that in French, but I’m not going to try writing it all out here now. There would be far too many spelling mistakes, and it would only be more confusing.

After showing me the Sequoia at the edge of the park, and pointing out each of the particular trees and flowers that were most beautiful to her, we chose a bench in the sun and got down to the work of a philosophical conversation. It took quite a long time, as many of the words she used had to be explained and then examined in context, and neither of us had brought a dictionary, but I will give you a summary of the main points:

1) everyone has something good and bad.
2) Me too~ I have something good and bad;
3) Appreciate the good in people and ignore the rest if possible;

At this point I told her that in my life I had always been searching for the perfect person.

“Ca n’existe pas!” she said firmly, and we both laughed.
This brings me to her next point:

4) Perfection can be found in ART, but in life we have to learn to accept things as they are.

Then she wrote down the word, ‘Resignation,’ and I threw up my hands and exclaimed, “NO! I don’t believe that’s the way!”

Maybe in French the word has a different meaning, but in English to resign oneself to something has quite a negative connotation, and it’s not the way I want to live my life. I explained to her the difference between resignation and ‘serenity and acceptance.’ She said she would think about that, and then took my pen and wrote ‘espoir’ – ‘desespoir’ and that somewhere in the middle is reality. Which led us to the next point:

5) In between hope and despair is serenity and acceptance;

Then she wrote ‘exigeante’ and under it, ‘concession.’ I thought I understood. Then she wrote the word ‘decu’~ (I don’t have a French keyboard so I can’t put the little tail on the c)~ and ‘deception amoureux.’ Was it self-pity? discouragement? I didn’t know until I got home and my husband explained that it means ‘disappointed.’ Ahhh! of course~’disappointed in love.’ The next point:

6) We need to make concessions, and temper our demands of others, or we will always be disappointed.

Do you like these kinds of conversations, I asked. “Oh, j’adore!” she said, and added that it’s not easy to find people to have them with. At that point she smiled and told me that I looked like I was getting tired. I laughed and answered, “Oui! Je suis remplis.” Jean told me later that I should have said, “J’en avais assez,” but she understood 

I took out my camera, and got a selfie of the two of us, and then some pictures of the beautiful park and especially the grand sequoia as we strolled home. She commented that I see the beauty and good in trees, but I need to learn to see it in people, too.

“Tu as raison,” je lui ai dit. (You’re right! I said.) We walked back home arm in arm, and she tried to say something else to me, but I could not understand. “Come inside, and I’ll get the dictionary.”

The idioms she was using were, ‘Faire la part de feu,’ to cut one’s losses, and ‘Faire la part des choses’~ to put things in perspective, our final point:

7) When we make a mistake, or lose something we wanted to keep, we have to cut our losses, and put things in perspective. Yes, I sighed. I’m learning….

We were both pretty exhausted. For one, the conversation had taken place basically in French, and two, we both have a limit to how much we can handle of that sort of thing! Round two next week  A bientot!

The Sequoia

The Sequoia

The pond...

The pond…

Her favorite
Her favorite trees in the park.

SPEAKING WHAT’S HIDDEN ~ searching for a model of growth and development

We gather, we talk, we argue, we share. We risk it all and open our hearts, and THEN the magic happens. What is it that we NEED to talk about, and why does it feel so risky so much of the time? 

I am searching for a model for human relationship, growth and development, both in my personal life and in the organizations and communities that I belong to ~ my family, workplace, neighborhood, and church. In a way, it’s like searching for the buried treasure. X marks the spot.

Treasure lies HERE

Treasure lies HERE

Margaret Heffernan, in her TED Talk Dare to Disagree, said that 83% of CEOs are afraid to bring up concerns about their companies because of the conflict it might cause. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree.html

This reticence to speak up or out can happen in any organization, and not just to the bosses. I am sure you are familiar with the feeling. Maybe you were like me and afraid to challenge your father until you were finally a college graduate and decided it was time to say what you really thought when he made fun of your decisions. Or maybe you had a hard time telling your employer that you couldn’t come to work one day because there were workmen in your house and you felt very uncomfortable leaving them alone there with the key. Why is it so hard to be honest?

Authority figures can sometimes be intimidating, but even authority figures themselves have trouble bringing up problems that might rock the boat.

The question, “How can we create a forum for safe and honest discussion?” is really important to me.

Well begun is half done.  

This was the topic of our conversation today with Philippe and Yoko. Speaking what’s hidden is important~ and it can be easier than you think. Making a place to share is a good place to start. You might learn something important. Realizing how sensitive your daughter is to criticism, for example, may help you change your approach to her. Knowing your students’ needs can change the focus of your lesson plan. Giving your employees the freedom to ask for what they need can motivate them to contribute more.

The leader who asks for input from her constituents is a collaborative leader. Collaborative leadership is an exciting new paradigm for me. I first encountered the term while reading about Wisconsin 2020 Health initiative. I was out on the veranda, and felt like I had just discovered the key to the universe! ( http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/hw2020/pdf/collaborativeleadership.pdf)~ A way leading to greater growth and more sustainable development.

But it takes time to find out what people are really thinking and feeling. There are reasons why they are not participating more, or coming at all, but they aren’t just going to tell you unless you make it safe for them to do so. Maybe there’s a simpler solution than we realize. If there is one, I’m on a mission to find it!

Philippe and Yoko Jacques visiting us in Liege

Philippe and Yoko Jacques visiting us in Liege

Ice-Cream cake~ a Sweet Conclusion

Ice-Cream cake~ a Sweet Conclusion