New year; new work; and the battle with ants

GoodReportSo here I am in February looking at an old January to-do list. The list contains several simple action items (enter this; file that…) but the checkbox next to them remains glaringly empty. And so my inner To-Do-List Manager screamed: “Let’s do something about that!” And, with great resolve, I set out to overcome whatever was holding me back from completing my stated goals.

As I turned the pages backwards in my notebook, I discovered a pattern. Most of my January entries revealed that the month was spent in investigating new styles of artwork and trying it out with my own personal spin. My successes were well documented.

I also entered quite a few notes on a “free life” obtainable only through godly service and charitable acts versus a life totally consumed with self and self-interest. My journal says that I prefer the free life.

Another journal entry revealed, however, the reason for the unfinished to-do-list. This entry was a challenge to create a series of YouTubes focused on family values. The challenge came in response to a recent news report of terrorist activity in a nearby county. The unexpected attack resulted in the deaths and hospitalization of many.

The incident left me sad, angry, and with dreams of ants. According to some dream analysts, ant dreams often act a metaphor for a deeper and larger infuriating problem. My journal notes also indicated that my problem was a deepening concern for our children’s safety and peace. The concern grew with each additional news report.

As a communication expert, I know the power of the spoken word. Words change things—for better or worse. I was determined to use my words to address, in a positive way, the problem of fear, children’s safety, and family values.

This was an important to-do list. Whatever was holding me back is gone; and I am very grateful. Here are the links to the YouTubes that have been developed so far; I suspect there will be more.

The videos focus on strengthening family values such as common sense, joy, wisdom, and determination as a response to fear and anxiety. As always, positive critique, suggestions, and comments are welcome! I would especially appreciate your stories of how you are preparing and training your children to face the growing threats of terrorism in your community.

https://youtu.be/2wO1UlKTTPQ

Establishing family values begins with an end goal in mind. Watch this video as we explore 16-year old gold medalist Gabby Douglas as she faces her greatest enemy–discouragement.

And,

https://youtu.be/sWMOxYyniiI

In the face of violent crimes and acts of terror, many families are left devastated. This 3-minute video discusses how to deal with fear effectively. It provides parents an insight into a core family value which overcomes anxiety, depression, and fear.

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Hidden Treasure

If everything happens for a purpose then Mira Kirshenbaum offers a fifth reason– the ability to discover buried talents within ourselves which will change our lives for the better. She writes that when we look carefully at the bad things that happen to us, we oftentimes find that a “…talent exists just waiting to be discovered.”

I agree with Kirshenbaum, that is, sometimes, after suffering loss we do become aware of a hidden talent. It’s not the only way to have a special ability come to our attention but there does seem to be a connection between personal loss and the use of a new ability according to experts in the fields of sociology, health, and psychology seem to agree.

For example, the ARTC (pronounced artsy) is a program funded by the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board in Wisconsin. The program offers creative art workshops and seminars to help those with drug addiction. In comparison, the Center for Grief Recovery and Creativity in Wisconsin quote Robert Fulghum, author and Unitarian minister, as one of their guiding principles to recovery. He writes: “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief… that love is stronger than death.”

Further, the American Psychology Association (APA) found in a recent study that creativity and creative endeavors are part of sustaining a purposeful, wholesome, and balanced life. They also found that creative endeavors are a key or important part of recovery.

SeekLifeOne of the things that I’ve learned over the last 25 years of study about creative endeavors and children’s stories is that stories are powerful because they prepare our hearts to receive a truth. Life truths help us to make sense of things that are perplexing which is extremely valuable for healthy and wholesome living. For example, think of the story that Jesus told his disciples of a hidden treasure that a trespasser had stumbled upon in a field (Matthew 13:44).

In the hidden treasure story, we learn an important life truth: there are times that we feel emotionally, mentally, or spiritually like trespassers, interlopers, or uninvited guests. The familiarity and comforts of home are suddenly gone. Because of loss or grief, we find ourselves traveling through an unfamiliar place; we’ve lost that which is comforting like a family member, job, position, or anything else that had previously helped to define us and who we are; we feel like we are stumbling along without a plan or purpose.

Interestingly, what the hidden treasure story tells us, like Kirshenbaum, is that it is highly likely that despite the feelings of loss and anxiety there is secret wealth placed inside of you by God–waiting to be accidentally discovered. This treasure will redefine who you are (from trespasser to titleholder). And, perhaps most importantly, because it is not a mere distraction, your hidden treasure will redirect your life interests and activities toward recovery and life.

Living Life’s Way in 2014,

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The Power of Forgiveness

LoveWarmsHeartThere’s very few of us who have not thought a lot about some of the ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed. In fact, Mira Kirshenbaum, Everything Happens for a Reason, reveals that anger, guilt, envy, and not feeling safe are all signs that we carry a heavy burden of not being able to forgive—ourselves or others. But forgiveness does not always come easily or quickly because of two key reasons: shame and guilt. And both are the result of a basic need to point an accusing finger at ourselves or someone else.

Kirshenbaum sees our need to blame someone or something as part of our natural perspective in life. She writes: “Part of what can make it so hard for us to forgive is the automatic way we orient ourselves in life through blame. If anything goes wrong anywhere, the first thing anyone thinks about is who to blame… Blame is a very deep instinct because it makes us feel safe.” (p. 111) and, no one wants to feel as if they are constantly living under personal attack.

As I thought about Kirshenbaum’s examples she gives for Reason #4: To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness–or, perhaps said differently, to bring us to a place where we can accept the “…possibility there’s something else besides blame…” I found myself asking: What is there besides hate, fear, blame, and the inability to forgive? Are there legitimate reasons to forgive the cruelty of something or someone?

Mira Kirshenbaum offers her readers a spectrum of reasons for putting away finger pointing and accusations. She asks us to consider forgiveness when:

  1. The other person’s cruelty was because “he or she was sick, damaged, or limited somehow”;
  2. We see that the other person has “suffered enough…even if they haven’t suffered as much as we have”;
  3. We realize “we are safe now”;
  4. We recognize that “we don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t forgive”;
  5. We find that the other person makes up for what was done;
  6. We understand that “if we don’t forgive, we’re the ones who are hurt the most.”

Life is not perfect and neither am I.  There have been many things and people in my life that were incredibly cruel. There have been many times that my Christian values stood in conflict with my feelings.  As I remain open to God’s  leading, however, I’ve found that His amazing grace helps me to substitute finger pointing with the power to forgive. But forgiveness does not come cheap; it takes great inner strength and commitment. I’m reminded of what Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

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Life Without Fear

LifeDistress or anxiety that “…hijacks a life taking it in a direction we don’t want to go,” writes Mira Kirshenbaum, is not a life worth living. Some fears are “perfectly reasonable” but some are “terribly damaging” to the point of freezing us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And so she explains (reason #3 of 10) that things happen in order to show us that we can let go of fear and live life wholeheartedly.

There was something in Kirshenbaum’s third reason that caught my attention. With all directness, she exposed the relationship between life and fear. Her writing suggested that we don’t always live and walk in the fullness of the life given to us; and it is fear that causes us to miss out.

Her writing brought back memories from many years ago, my community college days and my budding interest in photography. I had become hooked with black and white imaging and scrapped together the $25.00 for a new Pentax K-1000 camera body. Over a stretch of two years, I won almost every student photographic award and had my images published. Those were the days! However, as my work life and advanced studies demanded more of my time, the sound of my Pentax’s shutter release button slowed and then quietly faded away–until just last year.

I was invited to join a local photography club which met once-a-month. Oddly enough, I found myself making up excuses for why I shouldn’t go—too far away, night driving, cost of gas, and so on. But was it really the distance? Or time of day? I even found myself wrinkling my nose at the thought of getting out the new digital camera that had supplanted my old Pentax.

As the meeting time came–and with some emotional feet dragging, I set out to travel the 30 miles. The meeting went better, however, than what I had expected. The small group of members greeted me with genuine warmth. And, perhaps just as important, I found a group of individuals who held a similar fascination with the power of images to speak.

It wasn’t until later, as I thought about the meeting and club members,  that I realized how my  anxious feelings had taken  hold of me. I discovered that my reasons for not doing something that I had so enjoyed during my college years were actually holding me hostage. And, I found that my excuses were rather the voice of fear—a fear that was attempting to hijack my life–leading me in a direction that I didn’t want to go!

I’m glad for Kirshenbaum’s third explanation and insight for why things happen, that is, to show us that we can let go of fear. And, perhaps most importantly, I’m glad for the freedom that I can now push the button of my digital Minolta, letting me pick up where my trusty Pentax had left me.

Living life’s way in 2014

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Reason#2: Self-acceptance

jeansOne of the things I enjoy doing is going through a bag of hand-me-down clothing from one of my sisters. As I hold the pieces of clothing in my hands, I imagine beading or fabric painting or adding an applique to make it uniquely mine. An old dressy brocade jacket becomes “just the right fussy” accessory to give life back to my worn and faded jeans. As I sorted my new wardrobe additions, I thought about Mira Kirshenbaum’s #2 Reason–self-acceptance to explain why things happen. I realized that my sister’s hand-me-downs helped me to see life’s troubles in a different more valuable way.

Insightfully, Kirshenbaum observes that as we grow up, we’re trained into a hand-me-down culture with an emphasis on material goods and dog-eat-dog ways. This type of culture doesn’t lead to a wholesome, balanced, and happy life. She argues that, from a personal perspective, a material culture totally disregards who we are and our true purpose for being here on earth. Moreover, she writes that this type of culture requires membership in a Cosmic Kindergarten to help us make sense of things that happen.

Additionally, Kirshenbaum sees a materialistic culture as negative and binding; it places us into a mistrustful, dark and fearful position. She writes “…many of us live like spies in an enemy land, vigilant against ourselves in case we might be found out…” (p. 82). The darkness of this position is only broken when we accept ourselves for who we really are—spirit beings with good and bad qualities. And that is why things happen–to free us from this darkness and lead us into self-acceptance.

In comparison, the apostle Paul enlarges our understanding in regard to both self-acceptance and living within a materialistic culture (see his first letter to the Church at Corinth). He finds that to truly understand who we are, we must go beyond seeing ourselves as isolated. Instead, we need to  seek out and accept nothing less than a direct and mature relationship with God. This relationship leads us into a free and spacious life within a community beyond the reach of a materialistic and crushing culture.

To walk in the fullness of life, according to the apostle Paul, we must go beyond being “the creaking of a rusty gate,” “sounding brass,” “tinkling cymbal,” or “unprofitable” soul. Instead, we must focus on “that which is perfect” or a relationship of love with God, ourselves, and others. He reasons that love brings us face-to-face with a true reality—a reality that a materialistic culture denies.

Like Kirshenbaum, I agree that self-acceptance is a key factor in making sense of life. However, I don’t think that we stay in a never ending state of a Cosmic Kindergarten subject to darkness and fear. St. Paul held that the desire to go beyond the state of being “tinkling cymbals” and “nothing” is the key to a true understanding of life and love. This desire leads us to a place where we can make sense of our experiences–good or bad. And, for me, self-acceptance sustained by a love of God, self, and others, has an additional benefit in that it opens a door understanding–out of a Cosmic Kindergarten–toward becoming a mature spirit being.

As I sorted through my sister’s hand-me-down clothes and readied them for washing, I realized that the love of my family, friends, and neighbors helped me to sort out the hurts and bruises that I’ve suffered over the years. I’ve come to truly appreciate those things that helped me make sense of this crazy world. And, without a doubt, I’ve learned that my direct relationship with God has brought me to an indispensable place of acceptance toward myself and others.

Living life’s way in 2014

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The Gift of Life’s Struggles

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

Have you ever walked into a room and felt out of place? You experience a feeling of discomfort, look for the nearest exit, and then make a bee-line toward it? According to Psychology Today, you are not alone. All of us desire to feel safe and secure or “at home” in familiar surroundings instead of apprehensive and fearful in unfamiliar places. So what should we do with all these painful or stressful events?

In Part 2 of her book, Mira Kirshenbaum asks us to look at difficult or fearful events and life-long struggles as a gift for many reasons. She believes that these events will prove themselves beneficial if we give it enough time. Among ten explanations, her Reason # 1 is: these events happen in order to help you feel at home in the world. She believes that when the life we are living, similar to a pair of ill-fitting boots, becomes uncomfortable and painful, it is for a reason. The painfulness we feel acts as an encouragement to look for a life that fits who we really are.

Kirshenbaum gives several examples of distressful life events. Among them she describes: a close artist friend (and restless soul) who writes a letter explaining how kidney failure helped her to savor her life despite the physical pain; an orphaned 13-year-old becomes emotionally pained and embittered when suddenly left to the care of an aging stern grandmother; and, a wealthy spoiled young woman who finds herself physically and emotionally imprisoned inside a women’s prison in Central America. In each case, the life ordeal turned each of the individuals into more confident and caring people.

With these examples, Kirshenbaum reinforces that pain and suffering as well as the awkwardness of feeling out-of-place as natural and necessary; it is part of how we learn about the true nature and meaning of life. She writes: If anything about nature is true at all, it’s that the natural world is a place of learning…Valuable lessons are always being learned and there are endless wonderful gifts waiting for us, especially as a result of tough breaks we have to deal with… and this learning gives meaning to our lives (p. 34).

Importantly, Kirshenbaum establishes a spiritual side to life’s classroom. She believes that God’s goodness and presence is ever-present in this learning environment. This belief situates us as living beings of great value and importance as we are called by God to be more, not less of our true selves. She argues that we have free will to choose and that God has “custom tailored” learning experiences as opportunities to choose. These learning experiences result in our being the very best we can be. For Kirshenbaum, Cosmic Kindergarten is a place where we find about our true spiritual nature and develop our abilities to handle such forces as: life, insight, knowledge, faith and love among many others.

I agree with Kirshenbaum’s call for a deeper understanding of life being more than just food, drink, shelter, or clothing. The human spirit is an incredible creation which requires training in recognizing what is good and what is bad. One very valuable way of training is through exercising not only our emotions but our physical senses.

Additionally, her writing made me think about who I am and my own identity. I learned some years ago in a class I took on social media that our identity can be categorized in many ways—spiritually, socially, economically, even psychologically. I discovered we are not out here by ourselves, each of us living in separate untouchable spaces. Rather, everything that happens to us shapes who we are and how we know and interact with each other—every experience, every action, every word, every thing.

My prayer? …that in response to life struggles, all the painful and stressful events… that my choices result in my good and the good of others.

Side note:
As I thought more about the concept of a living spirit in training, it led me to create a 12×12 digital artwork to express the force and shape of this “becoming” a full spirit being. It is entitled: Identity.

I invite you to think about who you are becoming through all of your life experiences, listen for the voice of God’s living spirit, and then celebrate the creative spirit you are becoming.

Living life’s way in 2014,
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True Meanings

SeekLifeIn my last post, I mentioned Mira Kirshenbaum’s belief that everything in our lives, everything that happens to us, happens–for a reason. And, in her book, she further explains among the ten reasons, her readers might find one or more that will quench our natural desire to answer the question: Why me?

I’d like to share her list in addition to noting that her answers are 10 among many others. They are an excellent starting point as we begin to make sense of life, understanding, and love. We are individuals, however, that don’t fit into a rigid life perspective. So I invite you to read her list and then add to them as your experience and wisdom gives you understanding.

The Ten Meanings of the Events in Our Lives (Kirshenbaum, 2004, p. 20)

1. To help you feel at home in the world.

2. To help you totally accept yourself.

3. To show you that you can let go of fear.

4. To bring you to a place where you can feel forgiveness.

5. To help you uncover your true hidden nature.

6. To give you what you need to find true love.

7. To help you become stronger.

8. To help you discover the play in life.

9. To show you how to live with a sense of mission.

10. To help you become a truly good person.

Helen Keller once said that life’s purpose was to experience the invisible and to gain wisdom and understanding:

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touch. They must be felt with the heart.”

Living life in 2014,

M Buck

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