America’s Moment of Truth

My moment of truth came March 1, 2014 in the driver seat of an F250 pick up truck. I was responsible for others’ lives and was the only one who could see the headlights of a semi about to plow into us. I had a choice to make…and no time for navel-gazing contemplation! Do I guard my own self interest and make a run for it? Or do I guard the lives of my passengers? If you think it was an easy choice, you’re very mistaken. But it was the only choice that I could make and still be true to what is most important. On that day I acted with courage and nearly lost my life, but I found my heart.
Americans sit in a metaphorically similar seat. I believe in the fortitude and goodness of my fellow citizens. Yes a lot of nasty things have been said and done in response to the election, but regardless of how the majority vote swung the majority of Americans believe in strength of character. The majority of Americans are not painting swastikas on walls, bullying kindergartners, or threatening minorities. Those people are the danger coming; they’re not the solution. For the rest of us, we have a choice to make. Do we run away with our emotions and further polarize our country? Or will we act with the courage to set aside our fear and anger in the interest of keeping our nation alive and well?
The word courage has its roots in the French word “coeur”, meaning heart. The solution to the danger we see lies first and foremost in our ability to act with heart. As has been said many times courage is not an absence of fear; it’s taking action despite it. Every time you choose to act with a heart for others you’re stepping into the role of a leader. A leader isn’t someone with power or position; it’s someone with courage and character and the world desperately needs more leaders. Now is the time for all Americans of good character to become the solution, to become leaders with HEART. We protect our country by first guarding the well-being of our neighbors, including and especially those with whom we disagree. And instead of running away, we lean in with courage. Now is our moment of truth.
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Grow Compassion, Decrease Problems

Neuroscientists have a saying: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” In other words, whatever you focus on literally gets larger. Focus on pain and your experience of pain gets larger. Focus on compassion and your experience of compassion gets larger.
 
I’ve been in terrible pain for three and half weeks since I fell and broke both bones of my right wrist. We’re not sure why it hurts unusually badly, but one thing is certain – it really sucks. Have you had the experience of something terrible happening that constantly tugs at your focus? It’s hard to think about anything else except that one big thing bothering you.
Besides using ice, elevation and medication to make the pain tolerable I work round the clock at being intentional with my focus. Instead of anger and frustration, most of the time I manage to make a different choice. I don’t need the stress furrows in my forehead getting any deeper. I need my capacity for love and service to others to go deeper, so I turn my attention to other people. I listen more patiently to my kids, I pray for people who I know are struggling, I sit in quiet meditation focusing my attention on the world around me. 
Giving our time and attention to other people’s needs, rather than our own aches and pains (whether of the physical, financial or relational variety), expands our awareness of others’ needs. Besides taking our minds off our own aching needs, it makes us better equipped to help people with their problems. Every business in the world centers in some way around solving problems, because every business involves humans. The better equipped we are to solve problems the more effective we become in every relationship. Which means, we will lesson problems in our own lives.
See how that works? I start with a simple problem, but I turn my attention to focusing on other peoples needs. My brain grows in awareness and understanding which in turn improves my relationships, therefore decreasing complex problems in my life. As compassion grows problems decrease.

Why we should plan for giving in our living

I spend a lot of time on Facebook. No, let me rephrase that – I spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME on Facebook. I’m not interested in cute pics of puppies (OK, I like some puppies but definitely not cats) or reading people’s irritations disguised as an open letter to a stranger (you know what I mean, “Dear jerk who cut me off on the highway….”). My passion is connecting genuinely, profoundly and usefully with people and ideas. During many months spent bedridden I developed a habit of surfing Facebook. It became where I could connect with the world. Now I’m kind of stuck with that habit (including the lots of time in bed part if I’m being totally honest). Recently, while surfing the social media giant, my brain was prodded enough to put it in a blog post.

Before typing a “status update” Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” So friendly. There’s a LOT on my mind! (My job title is ‘Chief Daydreamer’ for a reason.) Lately I’m thinking about money…and how we relate to it. Facebook is the prime driver of GoFundMe and other giving campaigns. In my own life over $54,000 was donated in less than two weeks on my behalf because of strong relationships and social media. My community stepped up mightily!! And cemented my commitment to giving.

In our modern consumerism culture we have an odd relationship with money. We fear lack of it, try to buy happiness with it, interpret value with it, and express approval with it. But ultimately, in its most basic and essential form, we trade time for it. We all know the expression “Time is money.” In fact time is all we really ever have. (Yes I know this is getting ridiculously deep but I’m on a roll.) Whenever we give or spend money what we’re really trading is a piece of our life. 

Less than two months before the collision, I announced through newsletters and Facebook that my company would be tithing (giving 10%) from profits in every community where we worked and encouraging supporters to join us by giving as little as the price of a cup of coffee. In fact, while I was on vacation in Paris a week before the crash I was emailing with my client at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo coordinating a collaboration involving them, us, and a local charity that benefits mothers and children. It was a beautiful plan! Then everything fell through…and I became the charity case in need of help. Time for a new plan.

After I was out of the hospital I faced medical bills for the rest of my life. I had a profound choice about how I would relate to money, as we all do. Saving my life came at a very high price (over $2.5million and counting), but I have chosen to live in gratitude not fear. I give money because it’s giving a piece of my life to others. 

I grew up hearing my daddy say, “If you can’t live on 90% of your income you’re livin’ too high on the hog!” He was talking about savings, which we do, but I also apply it to giving. Every month we budget for giving globally, locally, and individually. I take seriously the idea of community in the biggest sense. Giving internationally and locally is done through planned charitable contributions. Giving individually happens because of Facebook. When I see the GoFundMe posts I don’t cringe with guilt. I have a budgeted line item for individual needs. I know people will need help, just as I have, and I happily give a piece of my life with gratitude.  I made it a plan. 

Questions to ponder if you’re the pondering sort – What’s your relationship with money? What’s the ROI (Return On Investment) of giving for you ? What, or who, are you giving your life to?

Prescription for Community 

On this day a year ago my husband, father, and sister-in-law flew from Seattle to Baltimore to join my brother and me. We had made the trip on August 26th, early in the morning the day after celebrating my son’s 17th birthday. All family focus was on the transplant surgery scheduled for September 1. 

From the first news of the traumatic wreck, working as a team, my entire family took on the project of saving and protecting my life. The transplant was just the next step, albeit a gigantic one! Across the country and in half a dozen countries around the world (that I know of) friends and strangers prayed and gave assistance however possible. Although many times I’ve felt lonely in my pain, the truth is that all along I’ve been held by a vast web of kindness.  

We’re not islands. We don’t exist and thrive exclusively through our own grit. Please don’t misunderstand, grit rocks and I’m all for it. I’m extemporaneously typing these thoughts on my phone after returning home from pushing myself through a yoga class that kicks my half-butt. I put focus and intention every day into growing as strong as I can mentally, physically, and spiritually. Yes, I’ve got grit. But that’s only an option because of the support from other people.  Living in community is the only way we can all thrive. 

Do you want to accomplish greatness? Follow this prescription: commit to personal fortitude AND pour your heart into building strong community. Give all of your presence, attention, and kindness to others without agenda. Nurture relationships without the interference of ego and judgement. Community requires compassion to flourish. 

As write these words I’m counting down the hours to the 1-year anniversary of my brother giving me a kidney.  His sacrifice gave me a stronger body and a heart more deeply committed to the power of service and compassion. We all possess the power to make a world of difference. 

Curing Discontent

With coffee in hand I went to my Executive Think Tank (aka the hot tub). It’s a beautiful sunny day and I was trying to quiet my spinning thoughts with a simple mindfulness practice. I have such a hard time calming my mind. My brain has always run at mach-10 speed. Maybe everyone’s does, I but I like to think I’m special. In any case I was frustrated with my inability to settle the spastic pinball that is my brain. Then I stopped……what was I doing?! I said this prayer:

“I am so sorry! Please forgive me. I cannot believe that I am complaining about my mind operating at a million miles an hour. THANK YOU Lord that my brain can operate at a million miles an hour! Thank you, thank you!! Amen.”

There was a time when no one knew if my mind operated at all. That was followed by more than 2 years of struggling with the effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury. I’ve had to relearn all the knowledge that I took for granted: cooking, sewing, using a computer….everything! And here I was frustrated at how well my mind works. Talk about a loss of perspective and gratitude. I’m embarrassed for myself.

We all lose perspective sometimes with how incredibly blessed we are. We complain about the very things that merit gratitude. We complain about gaining weight but forget to be grateful that food is so readily available. We complain about household maintenance but forget to be grateful for safe and comfortable shelter. We complain about the effects of aging but forget to be grateful for all the time we have in the world. Worst of all, we complain about the attitudes and actions of other people but forget to be grateful that we have abundant opportunities to connect.

The result of today’s Think Tank time isn’t so much a ‘Big Idea’ as it is a simple reminder: The quiet murmur beneath the roar of all discontent is a lack of perspective and gratitude. Ignore the roar and listen for the murmur.

Facing the Fear

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My husband and I watched a late night movie at home – ‘Into the Wild’. The performances were fantastic. So good in fact that I freaked out. Spoiler alert: the last scenes are a close up look of the main character dying alone.

The movie ended and we switched off the lights in our bedroom. Steve fell quickly asleep. I was left shaking with fear and anxiety. I couldn’t understand why I was so bothered until I noticed that my mind was juggling images from the end of the movie with my images of hospitals. So many hospitals. Quietly in the background, my mind connected the pieces.

I reconnected with an intimately familiar, paralyzing fear of dying. I’m not afraid of death; I’m afraid of leaving everyone that I love. As I type this tears are welling up. My dark bedroom, normally comforting, suddenly reminds of the dark in my hospital room at night. I’m afraid of the night and of sleep. So many nights spent fighting sleep, followed by fighting the same recurring nightmare of death pursuing me. The dark room frightens me because what if I never see morning?

I’m restless and sick to my stomach. I want to run away from these unwelcome feelings. And yet, I actually lived it when there was no escape or distraction or comfort. I lived through the lonely and terrifying darkness. I lived through……this is what I must hang on to. I lived through as my fears and nightmares played out. I lived through the monsters stalking and terrorizing me. I lived through when the fears were my reality.

I can be at peace with my fears now because they’re only tricks of the mind and emotions. I can look squarely in the face of those fears and smile, because I already know…I LIVE.

We all have fears big and small. Perhaps the key to living in peace is to look squarely and bravely at our fears. Are the ‘monsters’ actually real? Or are they a trick of mind and emotions that we allow to play on us? I choose to live with the courage to look my fears in the face. As I do, the monsters shrink and fade away. And I smile.

Shingle Hells

I thought I was so smart! Before getting a kidney transplant I researched vaccines that I needed. I discovered that the shingles vaccine recommended for everyone over age 60 is a live vaccine and not allowed after transplant. It took some convincing, but my insurance agreed to pay for the vaccine for a 48 year old. Woohoo! I got the shingles vaccine and proceeded to transplant feeling both safer and smarter.

Fast forward 10 months…. Turns out I don’t know everything. The shingles vaccine (known as zoster) while important is still only 51% effective and less so in immune compromised people such as organ transplant recipients – like me. After 4 days of brutal rib and back pain I woke up Monday morning with a garish rash wrapping in a wide swath around my ribs on the right side from spine to sternum. 24 hours later the tell-tale blisters were forming.

Fortunately I had a doctors appointment scheduled anyway – because I always have a doctors appointment scheduled somewhere – and I got started on antiviral medication, extra pain pills and lidocaine patches. My bedroom looks like a pharmacy! But I’ve got it under control and once again I felt smart. For a brief period.

After 24 hours of aggressively managing pain with pharmaceuticals and chocolate, I finally read the directions on the prescription lidocaine patches out of curiosity. I mean, how complicated could it be? Peel off the backing and stick the patch to your skin….’Do not use for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period.’ Huh.

Husband: “How long have you been wearing the patches?”

Me: “24 hours. I’ve been in hellish pain!”

Husband: “Yeah, getting too much lidocaine in your system is bad.”

Me: “Why? Does it make you go numb inside?”

Husband stares blankly…..

It turns out that too much lidocaine absorbed through the skin can be fatal. I can just see the obituary now – she died from a sticker. I’m seriously rethinking feeling smart.

Maybe you’ve felt pretty smart sometimes. Maybe you’ve had your pride knocked down a peg or two. Much like shingles, it hurts. How we react makes all the difference. As long as we don’t get angry and defensive, these humbling lessons provide opportunities to add useful knowledge and humorous anecdotes to our toolkit. You never know when those tools could be a lifesaver for someone else. Wishing you many lessons and a full toolkit!

Autumn (1)