Cherish Your Friends

This past spring as part of my Lenten discipline I took on something instead of giving up something. I had been thinking a lot about past friendships from college and graduate school and I realized I missed those people in my life. I decided I would take time to reach out and hopefully connect with six friends with whom I had lost contact. I was interested then to read of a study that encourages people to make those phone calls or send a text or email. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people often underestimate how much their friends and old acquaintances appreciate hearing from them.

“If there’s been someone that you’ve been hesitating to reach out to, that you’ve lost touch with perhaps, you should go ahead and reach out, and they’re likely to appreciate it much more than you think,” said Peggy Liu, the study’s lead author. The researchers conducted a series of 13 experiments with more than 5,900 participants to see if people could accurately estimate how much their friends value them reaching out and what forms of communication make the biggest impact. In these experiments, reaching out was defined as a phone call, text, email, note or small gift. The experiments found that initiators significantly underestimated the recipient’s reaction to the check-in.

“It’s often less about these kinds of grand overtures that we can make in our relationships and more about the small moments of letting a friend know that we’re thinking of them,” said Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert who was not involved in the study. A recipient appreciated the communication more when it was surprising, such as when it was from someone the recipient did not regularly contact or when the participant and recipient did not consider themselves to be close friends, the study found. “When you feel that sense of positive surprise,” Liu said, “it really further boosts the appreciation that you feel.”

Relationships, including friendships, can be one of the strongest predictors of how healthy we are and how long we live, and they can boost our overall well-being. During the pandemic we certainly found that when we are disconnected and isolated from our friends and loved ones we suffer from increased anxiety and depression. We know that friendships require nourishment and after leaving college and graduate school I had starved the relationships which had meant so much to me. Most of the six friends I reached out to live in other states and one lives out of the country. I was able to see the friends that live here in person and the others I spoke to on the phone. With each one it was fun to hear their voice and catch up on where they are at in life. Just as the study found, each person I talked to appreciated the fact that I had reached out to renew our friendship. My intention now is to feed those friendships and keep them alive. Who are the friends that you might reach out to?

The Reality of Good News

T.S. Eliot once wrote humankind ‘cannot bear very much reality.’ I think the point he was trying to make is usually misunderstood, but, I thought of those words when I recently heard that number of people avoiding news-media has doubled in the last five years.

As a child I remember my Grandma ensuring that she watched both the lunchtime and evening television news bulletins, as well as having a national newspaper delivered in the morning and a local newspaper delivered each evening. Gone now is that rhythm for most people. According to a recent poll, only 17% now read a physical newspaper daily. Only 53% watch TV news bulletins. Its often discussed that smaller percentages of people are engaging with professionally produced, politically neutral news, and ceasing to distinguish it from passing entertainment or editorial comment. Perhaps T.S. Eliot was right when he famously wrote that humankind ‘cannot bear very much reality.’ But not all news is bad. When the evangelist Mark began to write his book, he started out with ‘The beginning of the gospel…’ which means ‘good news’. The start of the good news. That book talks about suffering, tragedy, in-fighting, occupation and political intrigue among many other things. So did he make a mistake? Did Mark forget what he said he was supposed to be writing about? For those who read that book, as well as the other books of our scriptures, it is important to remember that story of good news is set, not in a fairytale land where life is tranquil and charming, but rather in reality. And that is what makes it such good news. The news that causes us to see beyond the day-to-day difficulties, and to know the reality of God’s love for each of us. It is a knowledge of that love which led Mark to start his book by highlighting to 2000 years of readers, that that love is good and transformative. Hundreds of years before that, Isaiah knew the same to be true as he wrote “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and transformation”. May we hear that message of love, peace and transformation today. For that is the reality of a life of faith. T.S Elliot was right, we cannot bear too much reality. But perhaps that is because we all need to take a break from the bad news – to rediscover what the good news of love means for each of us.

Things That Can Be Equally True

One of the many challenging aspects of living is to understand and experience that two seemingly opposing things can be true. This life lesson doesn’t come easily however, because as humans, we like to keep things simple. Black and white, either or. Our brains are designed to put things into nice, neat, and uncomplicated categories. This sorting and categorizing serves an important purpose: it’s a lot easier for us to interact with our world this way. Everything seems to settle into a nice category. Happiness and sadness. Good people and bad people. Healthy food and unhealthy food. True and false. Jean Piaget, a prolific child development researcher and psychologist suggests that when new information comes into our brains, we have two options: fit it nicely into an existing category or schema (assimilation) or do a complete overhaul of the categories to fit the new information (accommodation). At some point each of us realizes that our world is not so simple and our categories do not seem to fully encapsulate our experiences with life.

Embracing the “AND” or holding two ideas at once can be very freeing. Think about holding these truths: You are resilient AND you need a break, you are kind AND have boundaries, others have it worse AND your pain is valid, you are independent AND you still need others, you can be sad and grieving AND relieved and joyful, you are strong AND you need support, you can be sure about something AND change your mind, you are sad sometimes AND you are happy. Someone has suggested that perhaps that’s why we have two hands—to be able to hold the complexity of feelings and experiences of life. Dual feelings and beliefs can be equally true. One of them doesn’t cancel out the other. Writer and podcaster Tsh Oxenreider says it this way: “Two opposing things can be equally true. Counting the days till Christmas doesn’t mean we hate Halloween. I go to church on Sundays, and still hold the same faith at the pub on Saturday night. I shamelessly play a steady stream of eighties pop music and likewise have an undying devotion to Chopin. And perhaps most significantly: I love to travel and I love my home.” Somehow it seems that as we get older life presents to us many more nuanced, gray areas that don’t fit into nice, neat, black and white categories. Sometimes we need to be easy on ourselves and others, we are all just doing our best! We can celebrate AND be challenged by the fact that we are complex, loving, impassioned individuals that deserve to feel a range of emotions without judgement from ourselves or others.

New Beginnings

We are now well into 2022 and settling into what we are certainly anticipating will be a better year than 2021! For many, the start of a new year is a time to look forward, consider the possibilities that lie ahead, and make a resolution about things you would like to change. Sometimes these New Year’s resolutions are small tweaks you’d like to make to improve some aspect of your life. Other times, they are monumental shifts that you want or need to implement. There are a few key areas that might be worth adding to your list.

Share your time, talents, and treasure

We all have unique ways we can contribute to the betterment of the world around us, and the new year is the perfect time to start. Plus, several studies have found both physical and mental health benefits for seniors who volunteer with causes they care about.

There are near-countless ways to give of yourself to worthy groups and many of them are available through CareCorps here on campus. As we begin to restart many of our community outreach programs, tutoring at our local elementary and high schools, animal shelters, food pantries, blood drives, and community centers — just to name a few — are always looking for committed volunteers.

Not sure where you’d like to offer your time, talents, and treasure? Didi Cruz, CareCorps Volunteer Coordinator (x18526) is a great resource start your search.

Try something new

Want to learn to play the guitar? Take dance lessons? Start watercolor painting? Go hang gliding? Learn Italian? This is your year to resolve to try something new! And many of those opportunities are available through our LifeLong Learning program.

Focus on wellness

No matter your age, this is a perennial favorite when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. But the truth is: it’s always a good time to refocus on healthier lifestyle choices.

Maybe you could stand to lose a few pounds, exercise more often, or eat more healthfully. Perhaps you’ve been putting off that trip to the doctor or a preventative healthcare screening. Or it could be that you need to work on lowering your stress level or confronting your anxiety. Whatever wellness area you’ve been neglecting, commit to making a healthy improvement in 2022. It could improve your quality of life or even lengthen your life!

When was the last time you reviewed your personal legal documents including your power of attorney/healthcare proxy, advance directives, and will? For some, it may have been decades since these important documents were created, and a lot may have changed in that time.

Advance directives, sometimes called a living will, are documents that can help guide healthcare decisions made by doctors and loved ones should you no longer be able to voice your wishes for yourself.

If you need to change or update anything on your advance directives, it is best to complete a whole new document and give an updated version to your healthcare providers, attorney-in-fact (from your power of attorney), and other loved ones.

A will allows you to pass along your assets (tangible or monetary) to specific people or organizations after your death. Depending on your particular situation, wills can be very simple or very complex, but regardless, it is wise to review your will periodically to ensure it still reflects your wishes. Always work with an attorney should changes need to be made to a will.

Speaking of monumental shifts, this will also be a year of significant change for me. After six of the best and most meaningful years of my life serving the senior living community at Beatitudes Campus, as well as much prayer and deliberation, I am honored to have accepted the CEO position of another organization. Although I will be physically leaving next month my regard and admiration for this tremendous campus of residents and staff will never leave me. I hold the time spent here and the mission, vision and values that I have been able to enjoy, help refine and live as very dear. I am so happy to see all the progress that has been made and look forward to the completion of the redevelopment program.

I thank the board of directors, Michelle Just, President & CEO and all my colleagues for the opportunity to work with them as well as my cherished teams in Marketing, Sales, Outreach and Assisted Living. And my sincere thanks for all the many kindnesses that you have extended to me and for the many lifelong friendships that I will always treasure!

Thoughts on Resolutions

I’m not one of those people that is big on making New Year’s resolutions, however, this year I thought that perhaps I’d set some goals for myself for 2022. Reports indicate that well over half of all resolutions fail, and in the interest of being more successful I’ve done a little research and come up with a list of tips and tricks to make sure my resolutions (and maybe yours too!) pan out.

Pick the right goal-I’m not going to be Miss America by the end of 2022, that’s not a reasonable goal, so be sure to pick a goal that is reasonable and manageable for you. If your goal is based on something that society or someone else is telling you to change you’re not going to be successful. Be sure to choose a goal that is important to you.

Make a plan-it’s great to have goals, but how are you going to achieve them? Try to make a list of steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal. Allow for any hurdles that may crop up, they’re inevitable, and unforeseen challenges are the number one destroyer of New Year’s resolutions.

Don’t expect perfection-I’m not perfect, and I need to allow myself the grace to fail. However, failure doesn’t need to be permanent. If you fail at one of your goals, think of it as a temporary setback. Trying to cut sugar, but lost all willpower and had a cupcake this afternoon? Forgive yourself, but don’t quit! Start new tomorrow! Success is still success whether it’s your first try or twentieth.

Celebrate smaller successes-break your goal down into smaller pieces, so you can check off your successes as you achieve them. Maybe your goal is to walk around the perimeter of campus every day. That’s a long walk, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t pull it off every day, but make an effort, maybe only walk to the end of your building hall and back, but celebrate it!

Gather your people-Don’t feel like you need to do it alone, bring a friend along! We tend to have greater success when working as a part of a group or with a trusted friend. This gives you someone to cheer your on when you need it, and to listen when you need a kind ear.

Most of all remember, be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not achieving everything all at once. As for me, I’ve got a pageant to get ready for, see you all in 2022!

Love Goes Where It Is Needed

Yesterday I was reading a book by Evelyn Underhill. She was a nineteenth century poet, novelist, and a theologian. One bit of this book in particular stood out to me. She wrote this about love, that “Love is creative. It does not flow along the easy paths, spending itself in the attractive. It cuts new channels, goes where it is needed. Love goes where it is needed.” In the New Testament scriptures, we hear something else about love – that ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them’. Paired together these two insights make a remarkable statement: That God is made known to us as love when we need it most.

So where do we need love most?

Well perhaps we need love most in the parts of us that are broken, or hurting, or afraid; the parts of us that we often don’t want to acknowledge ourselves, and sometimes struggle to share with God. But that is where God is. Exactly where we need Love to be,
– with us in our vulnerability, where and when we need God the most, cutting new channels into our hearts. Abiding with us. Staying with us always. Evelyn Underhill knew that love went where it was needed by the person of Jesus, and the first letter of John explains how she could know that; “God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which we are made whole. Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another” So let’s go and do that – let’s go and love as we know that God is loving us.

Holidays and Empty Chairs

‘Tis the season to surround ourselves with friends and family and count our blessings. It is a time to take inventory and acknowledge all that is good and sweet and right. It is about celebrating presence but sometimes what this season is marked by more than anything else—is absence. Pastor John Pavlovitz writes:

“Surrounded by noise and activity and life, your eyes and your heart can’t help but drift to that quiet space that now remains unoccupied: the cruel vacancy of the empty chair. The empty chair is different for everyone, though it is equally intrusive. For some it is a place of a vigil; the persistent hope of a prodigal returning, of a severed tie to soon be repaired, of a long overdue reunion to come. It is a place of painful but patient waiting for what is unlikely, yet still possible. For some the chair is a memorial; the stark reminder of what was and no longer is, of that which never will be again. It is a household headstone where we eulogize and grieve and remember; a face we squint to see, a hand we stretch to hold, a voice we strain to hear. This may be the first time the chair has been empty for you, or you may have grown quite accustomed to the subtraction. Either way it hurts.”

Pastor John Pavlovitz

I know that hurt, as do you. My father died twenty-four years ago on November 25th so when my family gathers around the Thanksgiving table every year, we are aware of the empty chair which he filled. We feel the absence of his presence. We remember how he loved Christmastime! The holidays are supposed to be filled with celebration, joy and peace but often they have a way of magnifying loss; reminding us of our incompleteness, our lack, our mourning. The lessons that the empty chair teaches us are about living in the moment and being thankful for what we have and about growing through our struggles. Sometimes we acquire that wisdom and find that healing in our own way and in our own time and sometimes we don’t. Life is unpredictable and messy that way. In some way during the holidays, we all sit together gathered around this same incomplete table and one thing we can offer one another is our compassionate presence in the face of the terrible absence. Pavlovitz suggests that “in this season each of us learns to have fellowship with sadness, to celebrate accompanied by sorrow. This is the paradox of loving and being wounded simultaneously.” May we each make peace with the holidays and the empty chairs. And remember, if you need someone to sit with you in your sadness, you need not be alone – just call one of us (Chaplain Peggy, x16109 or Chaplain Andrew, x18481) and we’ll be there.

Mercy’s Beam I See

Advent has always been my favorite season in the Church calendar. Singing in all of those Advent Carol Services as a child whilst holding a flickering candle clearly made an favorable impression… despite the piercing cold!

The theologian Walter Bruggemann reminds us that while Advent is a time for getting ready, “getting ready time is not mainly about busy activity, entertaining and fatigue.” He goes on to explain his thought on how to be prepared in a spiritual sense for the coming celebrations of Christmas is about also being “abrasive, in that our preparation is also linked with asking, thinking, pondering and redeciding”. Abrasive is at first glance a curious choice of words, but by “abrasive” he means that the season of Advent is best approached by making a conscious and perhaps even uncomfortable decision to rebalance and reorient our lives, refocusing on how we can live our lives fully in tune with God. When experienced with an open heart and mind, the season of Advent aims to provide insight and perspectives for us to welcome God’s light into our lives in the person of Jesus. Over these past couple of years, carving out that space for pondering upon how God’s light shines into the darkness and difficult parts of our lives becomes even more vital. And so instead of being unbalanced in a perpetual state of getting ready so as not being really ready for anything – I hope you may join with me in being mindful of how we use or time between now and Christmas. To find the right balance of preparation and contemplation as we ponder, watch and wait. Perhaps I’ll start by revisiting the words of Charles Wesley’s Advent hymn ‘Christ whose glory fills the skies’; “Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by thee; Joyless is the day’s return, till thy mercy’s beams I see, till they inward light impart, glad my eyes, and warm my heart.” May we all see beams of mercy and light this Advent season.

Time and Age

I was touched by a recent Facebook post that shares about things we learn through time and age: Read it through to the end, it gets better as you go!

I’ve learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing “Silent Night”. Age 5

I’ve learned that our dog doesn’t want to eat my broccoli either. Age 7

I’ve learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back. Age 9

I’ve learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again. Age 12

I’ve learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up. Age 14

I’ve learned that although it’s hard to admit it, I’m secretly glad my parents are strict with me. Age 15

I’ve learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice. Age 24

I’ve learned that brushing my child’s hair is one of life’s great pleasures. Age 26

I’ve learned that wherever I go, the world’s worst drivers have followed me there.
Age 29

I’ve learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it. Age 30

I’ve learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don’t know how to show it. Age 42

I’ve learned that you can make someone’s day by simply sending them a little note.
Age 44

I’ve learned that the greater a person’s sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others. Age 46

I’ve learned that children and grandparents are natural allies. Age 47

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow. Age 48

I’ve learned that singing “Amazing Grace” can lift my spirits for hours. Age 49

I’ve learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone. Age 50

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Age 51

I’ve learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills. Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you miss them terribly after they die. Age 53

I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life. Age 58

I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. Age 62

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. Age 64

I’ve learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you. Age 65

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision. Age 66

I’ve learned that everyone can use a prayer. Age 72

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. Age 74

I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch – holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. Age 76

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. Age 78

I’ve learned that you lose family and friends over time, so make new friends and remember the good times. Age 80

I’ve learned that you should pass this on to someone you care about. Sometimes they just need a little something to make them smile.

Only God Can Make a Tree

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

– “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

This poem is what my mind kept returning to as I visited San Antonio a few weeks ago. I was there to see my Aunt and do some sightseeing around the city and my eyes and heart were drawn to the beautiful trees there. More than once I had the urge to climb the branches of a few of them, but resisted only because I may have gotten myself kicked out of places like the Alamo and the San Jose Mission if I attempted such shenanigans.

There were beautiful tall oak trees all over with their large armed branches twisting and turning as they reached ever outward and upward. Within their twiggy fingers they held air plants which reminded me of tiny unfinished birds’ nests.

At the Alamo there was a huge pecan tree that was planted in 1850 by the explorer and rancher Peter Gallagher. It is the oldest tree on the property and is called a “pampered princess’ by the Alamo horticulturalist because it is treated so well by all the caretakers. Being over 80 feet tall I would say this pampered princess is very well taken care of and adored by more than just the squirrels.

I have always found myself feeling closest to God when I am in nature and amongst the trees. There is something about a large ancient tree that not only reminds me of the Creator, but shows me who I should strive to be as well. Standing strong and sturdy against the elements. A sentry, offering a place of respite without judgment in the shade of its leaves and the strength of its limbs. Reaching skyward towards the sun with a quiet grace knowing, that no matter what happens, all shall be well.

Nature is a spiritual place created completely from seed to towering tree by God and for me it is sometimes the best sanctuary for prayer. May we all be able to appreciate and enjoy the blessings we can find every day in nature.

Friends of Plaza View

I recently had lunch with a great fellow, Charles Hobgood. It seemed as though we had known each other for years-and in full disclosure, I knew of him before I ever actually met him. “Hobs”, as he prefers to be known, came to the campus from Defiance, Ohio where he taught at Defiance College, a United Church of Christ College. He and Marabeth conducted most of their research about the campus from afar, taking video tours and attending webinars that we conducted over the course of the pandemic.

But little could I have known the heart of this true giver until we had an opportunity for a little “tea and toast”, and he shared with me a vision for being of service to our assisted living residents in Plaza View. So, with his vision, foresight and kindness, we are starting an organized program of serving residents called “Friends of Plaza View”. Hobs has penned some narrative that I believe says it quite well:

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the moon
“You owe me”
What happens with a love like that?
It lights the whole world

Hafiz – 13th century Persian mystic

Hafix’s main point is how important it is to make a contribution. This is verified by what the gerontology literature says today are the two most important aspects in aging well – namely having an influence on our daily lives and making a contribution in our world. The opportunity to participate in the Friends of Plaza View gives residents of the Beatitudes a chance to actualize both of these characteristics.

What does becoming a Friend of Plaza View ask? It asks that you do one of two things – either become a one-on-one friend with a resident of Plaza View or volunteer to help in the facility for an hour each week helping the staff do things like distribute the mail or pass out beverages, etc. What does become a “one on one friend” mean? It could mean many things such as just sitting in conversation, watching a TV show together, attending an event together of just taking them out into the sun.

I think on of the greatest definitions of love is: “love is the process of leading you back to yourself.” What is the process of leading you back to yourself? LISTENING!! Sometimes a person needs a story more than dinner. Oh, and one more extremely important point – this is a two-way street where we both learn from each other. The chance to sit under a canopy on the patio outside of Plaza View and chat with a hundred-year-old plus African American woman about the life she’s led in a segregated word is like a free graduate school education without tests and papers.

How do we get started? The short way is, if this speaks to you after you have read about the opportunity is to email me at [email protected] and I will get in touch!! (Please leave your email, phone and campus address and which of the two opportunities speaks to you.)

If you want more information, a staff member or I will be coming to the various building meetings to chat more and try to engage you in this project. It is important to know that this is a need well beyond our campus and nationally 56% of all Plaza View-like residents identify loneliness as a major issue.

Rod’s epilogue: So, along with Hobs, I am thrilled to be a part of an organized effort to be the community that cares – from within and with not only staff but residents involved. Thank you, sir for your generous spirit and heart that radiates the true mission of this campus! Great days ahead!

Japanese Kintsugi

Awhile back I broke a favorite vase of mine and I tried as best I could to put it back together again. It brought to mind the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty after his fall. I kept the vase although it didn’t look the same and I couldn’t use it for it’s original purpose. Perhaps it looked ok from afar but upon closer inspection you can see where it was broken and repaired. I thought of my vase when I learned about the Japanese artform called Kintsugi. It is a beautiful form of ceramics which has much to teach us. When a vase or bowl or cup is broken, artists gather up the broken pieces and glue them back together. It is how they put them back together that is steeped in wisdom and beauty. They mix gold dust with the glue and instead of trying to hide the cracks they own them, honor the, even accentuate them by making them golden. They celebrate the cracks as part of their story. Kintsugi ceramics are stunningly beautiful and it is believed that once repaired in this ancient method, Kintsugi pieces are more beautiful, and more loved than before they were broken.

According to art historians, kintsugi came about accidentally. When the 15th-century shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl, he sent it to China for repairs and was disappointed that it came back stapled together. The metal pins were unsightly, so local craftsmen came up with a solution — they filled the crack with a golden lacquer, making the bowl more unique and valuable. This repair elevated the fallen bowl back to its place as shogun’s favorite and prompted a whole new art form. Recently, a resident gave me a book called Life is Messy by Matthew Kelly who asks the question, “Can something that has been broken be put back together in a way that makes it more beautiful than ever before?” Kelly laments how quickly and easily our society throws broken things away because we cling to the false notion that we have to try to keep everyone and everything from being broken. He says, “I marvel how God doesn’t use straight lines or right-angles in nature. We invented right-angles and straight lines to prop up our insecure humanity. The perfection of nature is marked by crooked lines, brokenness, imperfect colors, and things that seem out of place. The perfection of creation is achieved through its imperfection. And so it is with human beings. Your imperfections are part of what make you perfectly yourself. If we put on the mind of God, we discover one of the most beautiful truths this life has to offer: Something that has been devastatingly broken can be put back together in a way that makes it more beautiful than ever before. It is true for things, but it is even more true for people, and it is true for you. This is the source and the summit of hope.”

Scripture agrees that like the kintsugi crafters who repaired the shogun’s bowl with gold long ago, imperfections are gifts to be worked with, not shames to be hidden. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Owning the fact that we are all clay jars allows us to be free and human in the way God intended. Each of us is subject to chipping and cracking and likely to contain imperfections but it is those cracks and imperfections that give us character and beauty.

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore. “Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh. “Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice. “We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”

Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house. Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?” “We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.” “Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better. Because Pooh and Piglet were There. No more; no less. (A.A. Milne, E.H. Shepard)

This is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. The goal is to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help. Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues. It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

Did you know?

  • 78% of all people who die by suicide are male.
  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35% since 1999.
  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition.
  • Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:
    • 4.8% of all adults
    • 11.8% of young adults aged 18-25
    • 18.8% of high school students
    • 46.8% of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students

If you or someone you know are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)

You also have crisis resources available here on campus that will connect you to the treatment and support you need. Call Chaplain Peggy (X16109) or Chaplain Andrew (X18481) or Josephine Levy (X16117) and Jessica Meyer from Success Matters (X16110) or speak to any staff member and they will help you find the support you need.

Pilgrimage Socks

What do you think of when you read the word ‘pilgrimage’? Websters Dictionary offers us two definitions; ‘a pilgrimage being a journey undertaken by a person to a shrine or a sacred place’, and also and perhaps more interestingly, ‘the course of life on earth’. Whether we think of pilgrimage being to a particular place, or within the wider sense of life itself being a constant journey towards finding enlightenment and joy, it remains clear that by necessity pilgrimage (even a metaphorical one) includes change, and importantly, a change within the person undertaking the journey.

Some time ago, while listening to a Rabbi speak about Jewish values relating to aging, I heard this quote; “I have reached an age when, if someone tells me to wear socks, I don’t have to”. Perhaps some of you can connect with that sentiment, and if you can then you are among illustrious company because that quote comes from Albert Einstein. I’m not sure how often Einstein wore socks, but there is something wonderful and refreshing about anyone who in growing older has also grown bolder.

The pilgrimage of aging is a journey, a journey to allowing us to know ourselves and God in a new light, accompanied by the wisdom of our years. That journey might be difficult, but if we look around us there will be people to help us on our way. If we approach aging as a pilgrimage to greater understanding rather than just the nuisance of ‘getting old’, then we open our hearts to learning, self-appreciation and freedom- even the freedom of not wearing socks if you don’t want to. May we all know that on our pilgrimage of life we do not journey alone. We all as fellow pilgrims journey with God as our guide. Perhaps this is best put by Sidney Carter in his hymn One More Step Along The World I Go; “You are older than the world can be, you are younger than the life in me, ever old and ever new, keep me traveling along with you: And it’s from the old I travel to the new; keep me traveling along with you.” So let us journey on together.

The Cookie Thief

A friend of mine was waiting at an airport one night with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and eventually found a place to sit and wait for her flight.

She began reading and was soon engrossed in her book, but happened to see that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be grabbing a cookie from the bag resting between their two seats. Attempting to avoid making a scene she decided to ignore him.

So, she munched on a couple of the cookies and each time she looked up from her book the gutsy cookie thief was again diminishing her stock! She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking to herself “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took he took one too, until there was only one left. She wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought “oooh, brother! This guy has some nerve! He’s so rude- he didn’t even show any gratitude!!”

She could not remember being so annoyed, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She thrust her book into her purse and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving cookie bandit.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, and looked into her purse for her book which was almost completed. As she reached in her purse, she gasped with surprise- there in front of her eyes was an unopened bag of cookies.

She said to herself- “If mine are in here, then the others must have been his.” Too late to apologize, she realized that she was the rude one, the ungrateful one, the thief.

Perspective and hindsight are precious commodities. We can all become so wrapped up in our lives that we forget that there are two sides to every story, and as Aesop’s fable says, ‘every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both before we commit ourselves to either’. Perhaps today we might all take a moment to consider the perspectives of others on our own actions. Perhaps we ought to try looking at ourselves and our actions from someone else’s perspective? Perhaps we owe someone an apology? Perhaps we will be brave enough to do something about it.

Optimistic Realism

I find that to be a worthy challenge to be an optimist AND a realist. To learn to hold those two opposing but equally true things at once. We can grieve all that we’ve been through and also find the strength to deal with the ongoing reality. We can grieve those we’ve lost. We can lament, and fight and struggle with our pandemic fatigue while also finding hope in today, in the reality here and now as we seek to live each day to the fullest.