Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#1 Path out of Poverty: Education

As I continue to recover from a flu that mowed me down, I hope you'll agree this old blog post bears repeating.

Having learned at an early age that I was good at school, I absorbed the message like good body lotion soaks in that education was my ticket out of poverty. School, with few exceptions, became a refuge---a glorious island of organization and positive experiences in a sea of chaos. I never went through a stage in which I resisted going. I grieve and feel burdened by the fact that all children of poverty do not get this message as strongly as I did or are unable to receive the message. Decades ago I heard commentator Paul Harvey say the "highest place in heaven will be reserved for the person who clears the snow from the church steps on Sunday mornings." I disagree. The highest place in heaven goes to teachers who communicate to students that education is still the first and best ticket out of poverty. I cried when I heard President Barack Obama point out to African-American children the realistic stats on how many poor, black boys will make it out of poverty on basketball scholarships! Education unlocks far more doors than basketball.   

With these feelings about school---in spite of fourteen different elementary schools---it's not surprising I blossomed in high school. I was still shy but functioned well in class, in several extra-curricular organizations and with a small group of friends. And I carried the mantle of designated achiever in my family. One of my boyfriends later told me they called me the "shy Univac." For younger readers, the Univac was the first significant iteration of a computer. Those years constituted the beginning of my desire to find myself and it wasn't easy. Although I was shy, I was a performer. Although I was good at school, I didn't have a self definition of being smart. In many respects, I didn't know who I was or who I wanted to be. 

The religious piece of my identity rested firmly in place but when nominated to be in a beauty pageant, I was thrilled. One of the judges when he read I was going to be a Southern Baptist missionary asked, "Then why are you in a beauty pageant?" I didn't understand why the two needed to be mutually exclusive.

At that point I fully expected to be a missionary. I applied only to three Baptist colleges, was admitted to all three and chose Georgetown because it was close to our original hometown, Evansville, IN and it was where Aunt BJ had gone to undergraduate school. Marriage, birth of my son, Husband Number One's illness moved me away from missionary plans but the Georgetown College environment and culture during the Sixties proved to be a safe environment for a young woman trying to find herself. In 1965, Georgetown had never had a dance on campus. Those wild fraternity boys had off campus dances and then my sorority staged the first off-campus dance sponsored by women. Sin and degradation! Finally, my senior year, the first on-campus dance was sanctioned. I never had a curfew until I arrived at Georgetown! 

God bless the role of education on my path.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Learning from Cleo

I received a copy of Cleopatra:A Life by Stacy Shiff by virtue of my membership in the book club, From Left to Write. This is not a review. This post was inspired by the book.

Cleopatra---consummate politician, sex goddess, mother, sister, ruler, daughter, heroine. What can we learn from her?

Learn the language and culture of the people you wish to influence—in her case she wished to rule them. Cleopatra was Greek by birth but learned the language of the Egyptians when other Ptolemies refuse to do so.

Visit with the people. If we are to influence others they must know we care. Walk among those you wish to persuade.

Understand the macro and the micro political lay of the land. Cleo not only walked about the villages and knew her people, she visited Cesar and knew the larger context of the nation she was trying to rule. This is an excellent model for all of us. Whether you’re trying to influence a family, a corporation, a church or a nation, know the greater context of what informs and demands the attention of your people.

And it doesn’t hurt to look good and know the power of your own sexuality as Cleo did! 

When Life Hits a Wall

This blog and this life has been temporarily interrupted by cold/flu or dastardly allergies. Stay tuned for the resurrection, hopefully, sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Can't LOVE be simple?

This post was inspired by the novel, Carry Yourself Back to Me by Deborah Reed. A copy of this book was given to me by virtue of my membership in  This is not a review of the book.

Deborah Reed sets up a story for us that highlights all the ramifications of loving others, loosing those we love and learning to forgive. Like many good stories, it is a universal tale of love.

The book instigated my thinking about the complexity of loving others, a proposition that is rarely, if ever, simple. Perhaps the most pure form of love is mother for child but even that can sometime be made complicated by circumstances. What if you have to give that child up for some reason? What if you have initiated the pregnancy as part of a scheme to get the money required for the survival of the rest of your family? Why can’t even that purest of all loves be simple?
A favorite John Lynner Peterson photo says it all about  LOVE!

I have a new friend and a very old friend who are staying in loveless marriages for their own complicated reasons—in spite of loving someone else! Why can’t love be simple?

I have loved more than a few alcoholics in my family. That is truly a complicated love that many people have experienced. Why can’t love be simple?

And then there is the complicated love we experience as parents when we learn there is an expiration date on children following our wishes and demands. We learn that we love people even when they make decisions we disagree with and when we can no longer protect them from themselves. Why can’t love be simple?

I’m currently thinking the purest form of love is grandparent for grandchild. I revel each day in the simplicity of it. I don’t want the day to come when it will be more complex. I hope the most complicated disagreement we will ever have is whether Poppa will buy him a Happy Meal or not. I know that will not always be the case. Why can’t love be simple?

Have you experienced a simple love? What made it so?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing Memoir - Finishing Memoir

My teacher, Leatha Kendrick's book

As most of my readers know, I can see the finish line on the memoir that I have been writing for over three years now. As with many writers, seeing the finish line causes great angst. We tend to want to go back to the beginning rather than put ourselves “out there” for others to judge.

So I’m currently seeking help in finishing from a course at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY. Great course. Great teacher, Leatha Kendrick.

My intention in this class is to polish. Like a good shoe shine, car wash or make up session, we need to polish our writing off with the sparkling shine. The shine reflects back to all who peer in to it. My hope is that my memoir will reflect back to readers a moment or incident in their own lives that will open up with wisdom, understanding and/or peace after reading of my experiences.

I have benefited immeasurably by writing my memoir. I think others will benefit only if the writing has been buffed to such a sheen that they see something of themselves in the book.

I want to be open to hearing, learning and responding in this “finishing class.” It requires a degree of trust that my classmates will be able to provide the elbow grease which leads to the final shine. I must be willing to muck-up my project a bit with the grease of new thoughts.

What is your writing experience with finishing a major project?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest Post: Religious Literacy: Americans Don't Know Their Stuff by Amanda Parker

Today’s post is by a young woman I’ve watched grow up, in fact, as her pastor, I baptized her. I am amazed and impressed with the adult she has become. I now tell her, “I want to be Amanda Parker when I grow up.” Her response to that is, “We’ve come full circle.”
Amanda’s blog, called Faiths of the District, deals with her experiences and thoughts on religious while doing religious/political/service work in Washington, DC.

My comment and one other on this post follows.

The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but … Americans still know relatively little about religion.”

In 2010, the Pew Forum released a major study on religious literacy in America. The results were amazing: out of 32 questions, an average of 16 questions were answered correctly. Perhaps more interesting, though not surprising, Agnostics and Atheists scored the highest. And of course they did – most people who reach that point where they throw their hands up in the air and say “I have no idea what’s out there” probably did a lot of searching before they reached that point. Or maybe that’s just a simplification of my experience.
Below is a link to Pew’s religious literacy test (doesn’t contribute to the actual survey). I scored really high on it (14 out of 15 correct!) … but I’m not bragging.

OK, how’d you do?

Part of my motivation for starting this blog was to become more religiously literate and to share my findings. If I blogged more often I would probably achieve that.

Now I want to talk about religion and what that has to do with who you are.

In a 2008 poll, it was found that the more educated you are, the less likely you are to believe in god. That may explain why the “god-less” groups (athiests, agnostics and secular humanists, to name a few) are more likely to know the facts on religion than those who actually believe. They dedicate a lot of time to doing the research and poking holes in spirituality. I do that, too… a lot. But it’s really annoying sometimes. More importantly, I think people who are more religiously literate are better able to design a form of spirituality that works for them.

A dear friend directed me to this article – so much fodder for my flames: “With more years of education, you aren’t relatively more likely to say, ‘I don’t believe in God.’ But you are relatively more likely to say, ‘I believe in a higher power.’”

A little personal insight here – I’m doing the online dating thing and people are obsessed with talking to me about religion (Aside – interesting data on religion and compatibility:  Literally 21 of the 807 words in my profile have to do with religion and yet that’s all anyone can talk about.
The feedback is really interesting – some people just want to know what I believe, some want talk about the decline of society due to lack of religion, some people want to discuss/debate Kant and Dostoevsky, some people want a link to this blog, and some people want to tell me that “religion is the opium of the people“. Thanks, dude, but I’ve heard that one already. I want to be truthful about my stance on religion – I’m deeply spiritual. I do believe in a higher power. I am also very intelligent. Don’t hate.

Since we’re talking about religion here and I’m a firm believer that I have none of the answers, I want to close with asking why is religion important? Why is it not? What are its functions? Why is it awful? Why is it great?

Feel free to break it down in the comments section or just think about it on your own. Also feel free to bring Kant, Dostoevsky, Marx, Jon Stewart and anyone else you really care about to bat on this. Also, feel free to be anonymous. I know you’ve got it in you.
         LoveLoudly Says:
I stumbled across your blog through the Theology tag and I enjoyed your post. I’ve seen quite a few polls like these but I feel like they never quite make the larger leap. Its not just that people are less informed on religion but I would argue that people are becoming less informed on everything. Religion is a buzz-generating field to discuss but it seems that similar trends are occurring in everything from politics to economics. While most of the “West” (for lack of a better term) has nearly infinite information access we actually seem to be learning less and less. I have a personal inclination to pin it on the extreme shift towards an ideological rhetorical style of discourse over the last decade or two but i can’t offer particularly strong statistics or studies to back that up.
As to your specific questions, I would argue that religion (whatever one’s stance, mine is probably made clear by my avatar) as a whole is important because it makes up an inextricable and major part of an individual’s worldview. Coupled with (and perhaps indistinguishable from) philosophy, ethics, science and metaphysics (to name a few), they collectively define how we look at the world. Ontology and essence is a tricky subject but it doesn’t seem too untoward to at least suggest that our worldview is the most personal and essential element of our being. While there is certainly the option to deny organized patterns of religion and theology, to deny the importance of something like a personal understanding of theology is impossible.
On a more random note, based on some of your posts, you might be interested in my friend Tom’s blog. He spent the summer touring America visiting and commenting on most of the major mega-churches in the country.

Brenda’s comment:

Great post, ‘manda! One of my favorite answers is “there is a God-shaped hole in us that only God can fill.” Can’t remember who said it. I also think that simplicity on the near side of your thoughts about religion means nothing! Simplicity on the far side of your thoughts about religion mean everything. In other words, do the searching, do the questioning, do the study, then boil it down to the most simple premise you can believe in—there you have your God-shaped hole.

So proud of you!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When the Rubber Hits the Road of Authenticity

I attended the Women’s Circle Meeting of my church yesterday. The topic of study was “Blessed are the poor” from The Beatitudes. The lesson was well taught and challenging questions were raised, such as,

Who is responsible for the poor---people of faith or the government or both?
What institutions would you like to see address the issues of poverty?
What should we be doing to get to the root of poverty rather than addressing the surface?

I won’t answer the questions here because I would like for my readers to struggle with them yourselves and because I’m going a different direction with this post.

But one hint: there was good discussion about the role of public education and Christian education.

After the lesson was over, I raised my hand and said, “I was one of the poor children we have been talking about today. I was reared and nurtured by women like those around this room. I can’t go back to those women and say ‘thank you’ so I would like to thank everyone in this room who has extended their love, nurture and guidance to the children of the poor.”

I shared with the group the wonderful African word “ujamaa” which essentially means community or the concept of “it takes a village to raise a child.” I was one of those children who were raised by the village instead of by my family of origin.

It didn’t hit me emotionally until after I finished speaking that my statement to these women was, in essence, “coming out” to Lexington as a child of poverty. I served with many of these same women on various boards and did volunteer work in the community. Not once during those years did I reveal my background. I was at the stage in my life that I needed to prove I was worthy of being part of this group that I so admired and wanted to be considered their equal. I was still developing!

Authenticity has become my mantra---yesterday the rubber hit the road

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Congratulations and Best Wishes to Mary and Don

Mary and Don's Engagement Photo by John Lynner Peterson

I officiated today at the wedding of dear friends, Mary and Don. What a delight. Many in the congregation commented that it was the happiest wedding ceremony they had ever attended.

Noted author Scott Peck draws an analogy between marriage and a base camp for mountain climbing which Mary and Don have claimed as their own. They explained to me (I would be the last to know), If you want to climb mountains you must have a good base camp, a place where there are shelters and provisions, where one may receive nurture and rest before you venture forth again to seek another summit. Successful mountain climbers know that they must spend at least as much time, if not more, in tending to their base camp as they actually do in climbing mountains, for their survival is dependent upon their seeing to it that this camp is sturdily constructed and well stocked.

Mary and Don have chosen to build a base camp together that will nurture them through life as they venture forth from this marriage, always to return to their source of shelter and provision.

This creative and vibrant couple also created a beautiful symbol of their mountain climbing metaphor in their rings. They are beautifully crafted with mountains carved around the ring.

I asked Mary and Don to write letters to each other about why they love the other and why they wanted to be married to him/her. These letters will go in their keepsakes of this day. There were interesting reasons as you might well imagine. Many expected reasons and some you might be pleased or surprised about. Did you know that pumping someone’s bicycle tires is a reason to love someone? Mary also loves Don because he is not a spirit squisher! And Don assures us that it’s a basis for love if you too like to read, love NPR and vampires. Who knew? And their list will go forward from today.

Thank you, Mary and Don, for allowing me to share in your special day. You have taught us anew what it means to love.
And, of course, the gorgeous photos and specially designed and printed guest book are by John Lynner Peterson.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Travel is the enemy of bigotry!

The subject line quote is by Denis Belliveau and Francis O’Donnell retraced Marco Polo’s entire 25,000-mile, land-and-sea route from Venice to China and back. PBS recently aired their documentary, "In the Footsteps of Marco Polo" about the trip. It is a motto my husband John and I have found to be true throughout our lives. John’s exhibit, “Who is My Neighbor” opens at the Clark County Public Library on October 1st and run the entire month. The Opening Reception is October 7 from 5:30 – 7:30 pm and John will lecture on the exhibit on October 18th at 6:30.

The story of John’s travels ranks right up there with Belliveau and O’Donnell’s retracing of Marco Polo’s. The provenance behind the photos brings even more enlightenment to the concept of being a neighbor to all peoples.
Granddaughter Payden kissing "Bobby," a Sepik River sculpture from Papua New Guinea

Remember the song, “You have to be carefully taught” from South Pacific? (Linked here to a Barbra Streisand rendition.) The song, sung by the character Lieutenant Cable, was considered controversial when the musical first opened. The dialogue which preceded the song said, racism "not born in you! It happens after you’re born..."
Rodgers and Hammerstein risked the entire success of the show when legislators challenged its decency or supposed Communist agenda. Georgia lawmakers even introduced a bill that would have outlawed entertainment containing "an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow." Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, "The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in. (Wikipedia)
Join us for John’s exhibit in Clark County for an update on “Who is My Neighbor?” You have to be carefully Untaught if you got the message wrong the first time.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vagabond Childhood---a memoir

Brenda Jane Sims, five years old

During the nation’s idyllic migration to the suburbs in the Fifties, my family moved from rented house to rented apartment to federal housing project. This nomadic lifestyle colored my childhood as sure as the western sunset colors the sky. The hottest summer in decades we spent in a tiny upstairs apartment where a delivery man brought ice in big blocks for the ice box. My Least Favorite Award goes to the apartment with the outhouse--yes!--inside the city of Evansville, Indiana during the Fifties. Could my lifelong intestinal issues have come from the terror of creepy-crawlies when perched precariously over that rough-hewn wood? My tiny butt tried to find balance over a hole big enough to swallow my body while my psyche fought being devoured by fears.  However, each dwelling place proffered best and worst memories. The outhouse apartment came with a delightful old man who wanted to sharpen with his multi-purpose jackknife my only school pencil before the school year started. I’d looked forward to using the school sharpener because I didn’t want the task botched, but when he pushed, I could not say no. He carved a point so sharp and smooth it was a cupid’s arrow straight to my heart.
The best and worst of federal housing projects stun me when viewed through my rear view mirror. Among its best features was the experience of living intimately in a black and white melting pot. Our next-door African-American neighbors brought throw rugs and pillows over to make our apartment presentable when ex-in-laws visited. When I later discovered racism existed not just as historical phenomenon, I was shocked. We did not learn prejudice at home and we did not experience or learn prejudice among our white and black neighbors. My dusty memory proffered playgrounds with no grass and a wasp sting as the worst of the project not racial tension. And I actually liked the giant block of cheese every family got from welfare.
In 1960, when I was thirteen, mother and stepfather Herman moved us all from Indiana to California for the promise of better work for Herman. The initial trip to California consisted of all five children from age fourteen to an infant in one car. I don’t remember the make of the car; I do remember it was not a station wagon. Baby Vivian cradled down on the front floorboard near Mom’s feet. The other four of us fought over back seat real estate. Dirty, tired and grouchy, we arrived in California after two thousand plus miles in four days for the start of my eighth grade year. Because Mom’s homesickness never abated during these years in California, trips back and forth between California and Indiana became family lore. One Christmas trip, we all had colds so Herman just passed the cough syrup over the seat and we all drank out of the bottle.
Our first house after moving to Torrance, California came in exchange for our service as janitors for the church next to the house, actually not a bad house except for the cockroaches. We cleaned the toilets of the church on Saturday and sat in the pews for worship on Sunday. Finally, the next year we owned a home for the first time in Palmdale, CA where we stayed three whole years. We purchased two homes in the same neighborhood (I have no idea why, must have been some misguided adult plan to make money on them) and moved back and forth between them during those three years. I still view those as “the stable years.”
Mom romanticized our rootless life by saying she ‘had a gypsy streak’ and sang Golden Earrings in her smooth contralto voice. “There is a story, the gypsies know is true--that when your love wears golden earrings, he’ll return to you.”  The connection of this romanticism to our vagabond life escaped me. Sister, Margaret, added to the embarrassment by dubbing us “the new idiots,” her own creative nomenclature.  This condition compounded with being “the late idiots” because we couldn’t seem to get anywhere on time. Our family occasionally put the fun in dysfunctional but more often just dog-paddled for survival. Mom delighted in reminding us that Grandma and Grandpa Sims held the record for the fastest move because they decided to move to another house before they had the bed rails set up in the current one.  God knows what circumstance created that record breaking departure and God is far too busy to keep up with my family’s travel plans. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guest Post Today by Lynn Motley LCSW

My guest today is Lynn Motley LCSW whose post on Labor Day spoke to my need to self care. It would make me feel old if I told you that I taught Lynn in Sunday School when she was in high school, so I won't. Thanks, Lynn, for appearing on Grit and Grace.

Ironically, this Labor Day, rather than playing I had planned PROJECTS. I wanted to use this three-day weekend to get all of the things complete on my “to do list”: things that can keep me up at night — thinking and planning all of the things that I never seem to have time to do. I love that feeling of accomplishment and checking things off my list.

Just as the weather this weekend did a U-turn, so did my plans. After several blistering days, I awoke on Saturday to a break in the heat with slightly overcast skies. It was if someone had pressed the mute button on the audio. It was quiet. I was quiet. I found myself in a very mellow mood, a mood that would not support me with accomplishing all of my plans. Truthfully, I really could have cared less….I just wanted to “BE”. When a thought arose about my list, it was met with disinterest. What’s up?

I decided to surrender to my mood and just go with it. Rather than “fight it” or try to push through it, it might be a way my body and soul are trying to tell me to PAY ATTENTION. Maybe the Universe was conspiring to get me to pay attention, too.

Pay attention to what?

Here’s what I learned:
That when I listen to myself, there are gifts that unfold….Gifts that are more important than getting the next thing checked off of my list. In rejuvenating, recharging, and tuning in, I can be mindful of the small things. I tune into nature. I can appreciate myself and my body for more than just doing. An ease in relationships shows up and the space between moments of busyness in my family expands. I find Inspiration to sit in my pj’s and write this blog….

I love the idea of being planful and it is important to “git r done”; I also love being organic and being in the flow of life.

Why is this important?

As we learn about relationships, attachment and connection, we know that all of this juicy relatedness stems from responsiveness and attunement. Simply put: being present, paying attention and meeting another’s needs. If this is what the “glue of relationships” is made of, why would it be any different for our relationship with our self?

This got me thinking about really honoring ourselves and giving ourselves permission to listen into our needs, our wants/desires and to take care of ourselves, just as we would with others. Self-care — not selfishness. What if we had this as the most important and the first item on our “list”? I think this self-attunement has gotten misappropriated onto the “selfish” list or the “lazy” list; rather than on the “self-care” list — that keeps us balanced and responsive to life.

Try starting here with this as the first item on your list, today and everyday as a window into your soul. Tune in and pay attention. Without labeling, just observe. Notice what your body is telling you. What inspires you — or not. Honor this place. Maybe there is a need you’ve shoved down, or an action you’ve been taking habitually, rather than listening into what is best serving you. Giving ourselves permission to “be” at the top of our “list” is freedom and power. As for my planned “to do list”, it will always be there. But the moments of being responsive and attuned-in this weekend have given me an interesting detour into a more important place.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Value of Persistence

Persistence in Art
Photo by John Lynner Peterson
When I taught at Franklin County High School, Frankfort, Kentucky (my first job right out of college), I agreed to have my Advanced Drama class participate in a program the guidance counselor wanted to try with a small group. One activity consisted of affirming a positive characteristic that you saw in each class member--similar in nature to my departmental meeting story mentioned earlier. Since the counselor asked me to participate, my turn came to receive the affirmations from my students. Independent of each other, ten out of twelve identified in me some variation of persistence--stick-to-itiveness, never give up, up for the challenge, tenacity--you get the idea. In my mid-twenties then, my self-knowledge still developing, I gasped that the outside world, especially my students, knew this about me. I knew I persisted on tasks and why I felt I had developed this capacity. I didn’t know the trait paraded around so obviously that even teenagers recognized it. Once again, someone held up the mirror for me to see myself.
Upon reflection, I determined my development of persistence was probably--like most skills--part nature and part nurture. Life circumstances demanded persistence and, fortunately, I seemed biologically bent in that direction. But I also maintain if you value certain skills you can learn and polish the competence. Certainly some skills will come easily to some people. I recall a man who vowed to “plan more spontaneity into his life.” He might get there; it will just take him a bit longer than others.
In fact, those less naturally inclined toward a certain skill might even turn out a better “end product.” My voice teacher complained to me, “You have been gifted with a nice instrument so you expect everything about singing to come easily to you.” Others with less ability may work harder and get a better final product. There you have it. We can choose to be persistent or not in a given area. Perhaps if I had confided to my teacher about the conduit between singing and being sexually abused, she could have moved me beyond the crippling layers. Persistence sometimes needs to intersect with courage. I chose not to have courage in revealing myself to voice teachers.
On the occasion referenced earlier about terminating my half-sister Vivian’s parental rights, I had to mix courage with persistence. Mom and I decided we had to file suit after learning of abuse and neglect of Vivian’s daughter. Terminating parental rights, as it should, involves climbing steep legal mountains. At one point, we were due in Louisville for a hearing. We needed to make an early morning, ninety minute drive on extremely icy interstates, down to one lane each direction. Our presence, though not mandatory, would speak volumes about our commitment to the suit. Mom immediately suggested, “We just better stay home and pray.”
I was flabbergasted; grabbed my car keys and sassed back, “You stay home and pray. I’m showing my face in that courtroom today.” So I did.
Sometimes persistence benefits a bit from naïveté or just plain ignorance. Around eleven years of age, my neighbor and I played in her shed creating a clubhouse. The friend asked her dad to help by pounding a sixteen penny nail into the wall. He replied, “You can’t use a nail that big in that kind of wood. I’d wear out before I got it deep enough.” To which his daughter snapped, “Brenda did one already. Can’t you do the other one?”
That same naiveté was at the root of my persistence in talking my way out of traffic tickets several officers of the law wanted to write for me on occasion. Taking Mark and one of his friends to their gifted children’s program at the University of Kentucky, I noticed flashing lights behind me. I pulled over. The young friend in the back seat got nervous and scared. Mark assured him saying, “Don’t worry. I have never seen her NOT talk her way out of one of these.” Persistence pays dividends. I did not get the ticket and Mark’s little friend was impressed. (After so many flashing lights I finally have learned to monitor my driving habits.)
I suppose my natural bent toward persistence constitutes the most significant characteristic for surviving what life has dished out. Remember the old parable of the mule who fell into the well. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth saving so he hauled in dirt to bury the mule in the well. As the workers shoveled the dirt on the mule’s back, he shook it off and kept clambering up. Blow after blow his reaction continued. Shovel after shovel of dirt miraculously accomplished what the mule could never have done on his own. Battered, exhausted but triumphant the mule stepped over the wall of that well.
I didn’t choose with intent for persistence to be my motto for life but it has served me well.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Books that Change my Life: "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd

I fully support the concept that God did not stop speaking the minute the New Testament was finished. God still speaks to us in numerous ways and we ignore those messages at our own disservice.

God spoke to me in The Secret Life of Bees. Sue Monk Kidd’s writing spiritually stirs my mind and my heart. Many years before the publication of this novel, I read When the Heart Waits, Kidd’s non-fiction, personal story of coming out of the pit of spiritual death and re-awakening to a new authentic self. My readers know I have been studying the work of Brene’ Brown about living authentically. Kidd was on to this route decades earlier and described her awakening as the task to “dismantle old masks and patterns and unfold a deeper, more authentic self.” 

This process of “becoming real” continues with The Secret Life of Bees. One myth-buster that shouts loud and clear from the pages of this, her first, novel is that God is an old white male. The African-American women of the novel gather around a Black Madonna who nourishes their life and circumstances. Lily, the young girl at the center of the story runs away from an abusive father and rampant racism. She is less aware that she is running toward a mother-figure(s) to replace the mother she lost and an unconditional love that engenders her ability to forgive and give love.

There’s one metaphor that plays a significant role in the book that I have used in spiritual workshops. One of the three African-American sisters has emotional difficulties that seem to suggest she is a Christ-figure. She takes on all the burdens of the world, to such an extent, she can’t function unless she writes the burden down and puts the piece of paper in a crack in a wall—essentially her wailing wall. How much better off would we all be if we could adopt this metaphor and detach from life’s problems after turning them over to whatever source of love you are able to claim.

Authenticity of Kidd’s own spiritual journey shouts from the pages of this transformative book. Experiencing the journey along with her cannot be accomplished by attending this movie. Run to the library or bookstore to give yourself this treat.


Saturday, September 3, 2011


A friend pointed out to me this week an article on new research that Tiger parenting does little to change the genetic bent your child arrived with. Another friend reminded me years ago that in his opinion parents always take too much credit and too much blame for whom their children become. I am forced to admit I constantly see the strong thread of genetics in my children and grandchildren in both positive and negative ways. I’m learning to embrace the reality of the blood lines and enjoy the journey.

Leadership runs strong and steady on the Sims side of my family. Grandson Tristan, six years old, proved this week the leadership gene has been passed to the next generation. Like his father and me, Tristan can be easily distracted. So his wise teacher came up with a fabulous solution. When expected to do independent work and unable to focus, Tristan is now encouraged to raise his hand and let his teacher know that he would like to move to his “office.” His office is the teacher’s table in the back of the room away from the hustle and bustle. Rather than feeling isolated or disciplined, Tristan assumes this is a place of honor and leadership and “acts professional and adult-like in his office.” You can see in the picture that he is large and in-charge.

It didn’t take long to remember an incident from his father’s childhood that exhibited leadership too. A dear friend of mine, who was retired from teaching, accepted a substitute day at my son Sims’s kindergarten. As she began to make the snack that morning, Sims told her, “You’re not doing it right. That’s not the way Mrs. Todd does it.”

She replied in her best teacher-ly voice, “Sims, Mrs. Todd is not here today and this is the way I do the snacks.”

Sims turned to the class of 25 kindergarteners and said, “Ok, everybody who doesn’t like the way she is doing the snack raise your hand.”

My friend who had taught for forty years said she knew in an instant that she had mutiny on her hand. Most all the children had raised their hands and Sims was now in charge of the class.

The genetic line certainly flowed through me also. My deceased husband supported my volunteerism when I didn’t work a “real” job. But he decried at one point, “Can’t you just be a member of an organization without being president of every group you’re part of?” The answer was, “No, I’m a leader and leaders lead.”

My Grandma Sims was taken to a nursing home at age 80 with Alzheimer’s disease. She thought she was being taken there to run the place! My sons exclaimed when they heard this story, “That’s exactly the way you’ll be, Mom!”