Candlelight

I am like a candle. My role as the wick is to stand tall and shine my light to all within my corner of the world, my sphere of influence. One candle doesn’t light up an entire room—much less an entire house—but it can light other candles, and has infinite potential if it just keeps burning. These lit candles have potential to reach the whole world, like the Olympic torch. 

The candle needs a few things in order to burn:

– First of all, it needs to be lit. It can’t start on its own volition. The spark comes from somewhere outside it. Our flame can be lit from other candles—when we’re inspired by people in our lives; or straight from the lighter—when our inspiration comes from God, our higher power. We must be close enough to—intimate with—others and God to catch the flame: we cannot be on the other side of the room.

– Second, it needs a fuel source: the wax, which must be continually pooled around the wick. The wax supports the wick and allows it to stand on its own rather than falling over. My wick draws consistently on this fuel source as it burns. I need to be constantly connected with people who fuel and support me. I receive what they freely give, and then I am enabled to give my light and heat to the world. The larger the circumference of the wick, the larger the flame, but the more fuel it needs.

– Third, a candle needs oxygen. If you put a lid over a jar candle, it’ll keep burning for just a second, then flicker and die. Oxygen can’t be seen but it’s constantly surrounding our flame and we feed on it, unless we cut ourselves off—which doesn’t mean it is gone, but that we can’t access it. The oxygen is spirit, God’s power, and the energy of the universe.

– Fourth, a candle needs to be trimmed. Sometimes parts of the wick get used up and must be removed. If not, the candle can still burn, but the flame flickers a lot rather than providing a steady glow, and the flame leans sideways. Trimming our wick is removing limiting beliefs and anything else that no longer serves us. The candle must be extinguished while the wick is trimmed, but can be immediately re-lit for a better effect. We have to take the time and effort to clean ourselves up and examine how we can be more effective.

Can you think of any other ways you may be like a candle?

 

Receiving the Kindness of Strangers

“Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” -Brene Brown

On Thursday I was sitting with my young children in a roomful of people at the Hampton Inn. The baby was fussy and I was trying to soothe him while filling out some paperwork on my lap, not too concerned as my three-year-old complained that his tummy hurt. Thinking he was just hungry, I gave him some fruit snacks, which he held but wouldn’t eat. Suddenly I heard *that sound,* which every parent dreads. I jumped up, shouting “Oh no!” My little boy’s undigested lunch was everywhere: all over the plush chairs and carpet, on his sister’s lap, even on a library copy of Calvin and Hobbes. Everywhere except his own clothes, ironically enough! The people in the row behind us vacated their seats before I had even fully realized what had happened. (I sure hope none of them had been wearing nice shoes!) I just stood there not knowing what to do, for what seemed like a long time, although it was probably just half a minute. I hadn’t brought in my diaper bag or anything since it was just a short meeting, so I had nothing with which to clean the mess up. It was a strange, helpless moment.

While most people had cleared as far away from the smelly puddle as they could, a few of the other parents came up and offered me napkins and baby wipes. One lady asked if she could help in any way, and a guy gave me a vomit bag, in case little Toad threw up again. (Which he did. Twice.) I’m very grateful to these people. They didn’t have to help me; they didn’t know me, and they had their own kids with them. I wish I had more fully conveyed my gratitude to each of these people, but I don’t think it came across. I realized later that after having made eye contact while speaking to them, I had looked away quickly. I had felt so uncomfortable in the moment they were offering help. As I was doing my best to pick up the big chunks with paper towels someone had brought from the bathroom, a hotel employee came with soapy water and started scrubbing the carpet with a brush. I was down on the floor cleaning next to her, but I just couldn’t bring myself look at her or hardly speak to her because I was humiliated that she had to clean up my child’s disgusting mess. I could explain my feelings and behavior away by saying I was just flustered, or focused on cleaning up quickly, or concerned about my son, but I knew there was more to it and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

I learned several things from this little experience. First, when your kid is complaining of an upset stomach, don’t just blow it off! Second, people are awesome. It’s always hopeful to see how readily people step up to help others out in times like these. That guy who gave me the vomit bag is a hero in my book. Third, I gained a new perspective on how it feels to be on the receiving end of help and dependent on strangers, and that our value and worthiness are permanent regardless of our level of need.

I’ve been in the position of being in need before, but rarely among no one but strangers who have no connection or obligation to me. It’s been common and natural to depend on the help of family to some extent, and even friends. A few years ago, while healing from an injured back from a fall on icy steps, my mobility was so limited that my husband had to help me sit down and stand up. When he was at work and my little Buddy, then less than two years old, shattered a glass on the tile floor, I called my neighbor to clean up the glass for me. While I felt reserved about asking her for help with such an urgent and unpleasant task, she was a good friend and we had a history of helping each other out, so it didn’t feel as uncomfortable as accepting help from strangers. And I certainly didn’t feel embarrassed about it.

So why did I feel so embarrassed in the vomit situation? These were people I’d probably never see again. Was it because I had shouted “Oh no!” so loudly in the quiet room? I’ve never really exercised much restraint when surprised or upset. I don’t think that was it. Was it because I thought they might judge me as a bad mom for bringing a sick kid out in public, or not being prepared with supplies for every eventuality, etc.? Not that, either, as this is just something that happens with kids, and we all know no one is to blame. I think I’m just not used to the uncomfortable position of being in need. I’ve always been very self-sufficient and was taught since I was a child that I had value when I was of help to others. So in a twisted way, if you follow that logic, then I don’t have value if I am in need of help from others. No one meant for me to internalize such a message, but I think I’ve been operating on this piece of bull-crap programming for a long time now.

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Although I haven’t read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn since I was a child, I still remember one part well because I was so baffled by it. The family in the book is very poor, yet they and nearly all their neighbors resist wealthier people’s efforts to be charitable to them. They see accepting handouts as a blow to their self-respect because they feel it’s their duty to provide for their own. When a rich girl makes a show of giving away one of her many beautiful dolls, on the condition that the recipient be a poor girl who shares her name, there are many girls named Mary who yearn to have that doll but refuse to go up and receive it. It’s too shameful and humiliating for them to admit that they are needy, even for so precious a prize. The girl in the book finally claims the doll, but then hides her away and never plays with her or even looks at her because that perfect doll reminds her of her humiliation. She feels less worthy, less valuable, than the pretty rich girl.

Most of us have been socialized to perceive ourselves as weak or “less-than” when we are in need. Being in need is a vulnerable position to be in; uncomfortable, to be sure, but being vulnerable is not weakness. We all need each other, and were designed to depend upon one another. Children and the elderly and infirm are naturally needy, but we don’t look down on them as having less value because of that. For some reason, in middle age we pride ourselves on our perceived self-reliance and independence from others. The ways we depend on others can be a lot more subtle and easily overlooked. We are wired to need love and connection with others, and not having that actually harms our health and shortens our lives. We must have need and be vulnerable if we are able to experience love and connection or have any relationships at all.

If we all need other people, why are we so reluctant to ask for and accept help? Along with the fear of being perceived as weak or less-than, I think part of it is that we fear rejection by others. Rejection is a phenomenon that exists totally inside our own heads. If we ask something of someone and he or she declines, we’re no better or worse off than we had been before having asked. The feeling of rejection only comes from the meaning we ascribe to the refusal. Clearly, it’s making something out of nothing.

As part of our major backyard landscaping project, my husband has just finished installing the irrigation system. Although we’re contracting out most of the other work, we had decided to do this portion ourselves. There came a point where it got to be too much work for one person to do alone, so we asked several friends, family members and neighbors for help. We are so grateful for the people who came to help; they did an awesome job and made a big difference. I’m also grateful for the kind intentions of those who communicated that they wanted to help but couldn’t. Although it was hot out there and the work was far from fun, what surprised me the most was the large number of people who either simply didn’t respond at all, or said they’d be happy to help but didn’t show up. It would have been easy to interpret this as rejection, but that is not a healthy way to see it. When I want to help others but am unable to do so, I don’t see myself as rejecting them; it’s just that circumstances create complications sometimes. And although this is rarely my experience, I can see how it might be easier to just say nothing than to try to find the words to explain what’s going on in a situation that makes both the requestor and the potential helper feel so vulnerable.

e8210-law-of-abundance-293x300Giving and receiving are what life and relationships are all about. It’s been helpful to me to see this as a cycle: as you give, it opens you up to be able to receive. And as you receive, you are then set up to be able to do more giving. If we get hung up on either the giving or receiving end, then progress is halted until we learn to more fully give or receive. (Here’s a previous post about this phenomenon.) My experience with the vomit showed me that it’s perfectly okay to be on the receiving end of help; that it is not a shameful or devaluing experience, but simply a part of life, a part that brings feelings of gratitude and joy. This give-and-receive cycle can keep going round and round, and expanding if we will let it, making us better people and improving others’ lives all the while.

When Mothers Suffer

Happy Mother’s Day! As you might expect, my thoughts have been full of my mother and also my grandmothers. I like this old photo of my mom, JoAnne, and her mother, Erma, because it’s not posed and seems vulnerable and “real.” It’s hard to condense a few thoughts for this post concerning the immense topic of motherhood and all that it means to me, but my mind keeps going back to a few memories again and again, which tells me these need to be expressed.

I’m learning that the selflessness that generally accompanies motherhood is something that has to be learned (for me anyway). Sure, when that first baby comes, the inclination to be selfless comes naturally, springing from the tender feelings you feel for that precious child. But the truth is, those tender feelings don’t hang around on a constant basis, and when they are absent, it is so much harder to choose what’s best for the child over what I want.

This is an area in which my own mother is a saint. She’d be the first to admit that she’s not perfect, but the consistent pattern of selflessness that she has shown over my entire life is awe-inspiring. She had to have wanted that last piece of pizza or cake all those times, but she always offered it to me or my brothers. (And of course, immature as we were, we always took it.) What’s even more amazing to me was that I almost never saw her spend her time or resources on anything self-indulgent. I never saw her watch movies or TV (unless she was simultaneously exercising or folding laundry). She never asked for “alone time” away from the family or went on outings with friends. She never spent money on anything for herself that was unnecessary. I don’t think those things are bad; they can, in fact, be very therapeutic for a mom if done responsibly. But, unlike me, my mom would never have taken 3-4 days away from her young family to indulge in a road trip to the Shakespeare festival to attend six plays with friends. (Although I feel a twinge of guilt for these trips, I’m not going to give them up! I’ll write more in the future about the need to feed our souls—fill our own buckets—so that there is even more of ourselves to give and share with others.)

My mother knows how to walk the line of serving her children without spoiling them. She made sure we knew how to do things for ourselves, so at those times that she chose to do certain things for us out of love, we knew love was motivating her, and that it was not that she thought us incapable. I have some brothers who still say, “I’m capable of getting it myself!” when she offers to bring them a glass of water or something else small. I know they simply don’t want her to exert herself on their behalf, but I’ve learned to just gratefully allow her to serve me, since “acts of service” is her primary love language. Not allowing her to express love in these ways might feel to her that we’re not accepting of her or her love. Furthermore, what I’ve learned from the Give and Receive Cycle is that merely giving isn’t enough. You also need to consciously receive what others give, in order to allow your cycle and theirs to keep turning and blessing you both.

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Here is a photo of my mom and my first baby on vacation. My mom had made that particular little dress for me when I was a baby. I’m able to more fully appreciate her now that I’m increasingly realizing what loving my own children entails. I didn’t understand my mother’s love for me until I became a mother myself. I could really go on for several more paragraphs about how wonderful my mom is and how much I love being a mother, but I feel an urgency to share something much less fun to write about. It’s time for a confession. I’m sure we’ve all hurt our mothers at some point. As a mother, I fully expect my children to hurt me; it’s a question of “when” and not “if.” But the reason I feel so terrible about what I did to my mom was that I hurt her ON MOTHER’S DAY. And because, although I didn’t mean for her to get hurt, my bad behavior was to blame, so I can’t dismiss it as purely an accident. And because I didn’t apologize to her (at least, not until much later).

I had been a teenager, and I don’t remember the details very clearly, but I was fighting with one of my brothers over some kind of big, heavy, solid thing. My mom was sitting on the couch near where we were struggling over possession of this object, and as I finally wrenched it from my brother’s hands, it collided with my sweet mother’s head. I still remember the sickening sound and feel of the wood striking her forehead, and how she cried out in shock and pain. I dropped the thing and ran to my room and cried. When I came out and saw the huge, ugly, black-and-blue lump on her head, I felt so terrible that I wouldn’t acknowledge what I had done. My poor mother had thought that I didn’t care, or that I had wanted to hurt her.

Every time I’ve seen my mother really suffering, I have been too sad to be able to find any words to say anything at all. It seemed so cruel that someone so angelic must suffer that I was completely floored by the injustice of it. I remember a time when she was suffering horrible abdominal pain, which landed her in the hospital for a few days. I regret that, although I had been present, I wasn’t a source of much comfort to her because I was so lost in my own feelings of confusion and dismay. I’m sorry for that, Mom. I wish I had been a more caring and attentive daughter to you during your difficult times.

Thinking back on these times reminded me of an experience my paternal grandmother had had as a young girl, which she shared with me near the end of her life as I interviewed her for her personal history. Here is a photo of her with the first four of her eight children. (My father is the little boy to the far left.)

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The first thing Gert could really recall about her mother was an incident that happened on a cold winter laundry day, when she was very young. Her baby sister, only three months old, had been in a basket right next to the wood-burning stove, on top of which was a big pot of boiling water. Her mother didn’t know that someone had screwed the steam vent shut on the pressure cooker. She went to open the lid and the steam and water burst out all over her. The steam burned her face and body very badly. The steam and water had gotten trapped in her tight sweater where it continued to burn her. Miraculously, just moments before this happened, Gert had heard the baby crying, so she had taken her out of the basket and happened to walk far enough away that they were both unharmed at the time of the accident. Little Gert hadn’t known what to do; her mother was suffering so badly, but she went for help.

My great-grandmother was in the hospital a long time. She had to get skin grafts and wasn’t able to move her arms because some of the skin had been welded to her body. After a long time she got well, but she always had the scars and limited use of her arms. Gert was so glad that she had been able to save the baby, having picked her up at just the right time. (The basket that the baby had been in had gotten boiling water in it, a testament to the horror of what might have occurred otherwise.) Gert says this experience was the biggest shocker of her childhood, and she was so shaken with emotion as she told me this story that I knew it had haunted her for almost her entire life. Seeing our mothers suffer to any degree is probably one of the most tormenting experience anyone can have.

Just today I was reading about an experience a man told at his mother’s funeral. As a young boy, he had been canning peaches with his mother and accidentally spilled some of the scalding juice onto her hand. She calmly went to the sink, ran her hand under cold water, and applied balm and bandages to the burn. She didn’t yell at her son or get angry at his mistake, which certainly had caused her great pain and discomfort.

Because I know just how just how hard it can be on children to see their mothers suffer, the lesson here for me is to selflessly consider their feelings, even when I may be in great pain myself. I look back in regret at all the times I’ve sobbed and cried in front of them. I had caused their little hearts to grieve through my own indulgent display of emotion, which I should have allowed in private rather than in their uncomprehending presence. I’m filled with guilt at all of the times I’ve yelled at them in anger when they’ve accidentally hurt me through their rambunctious behavior. From now on, I will strive for self-control as I seek to do what’s best for my children and conserve the tender energies of their hearts.

I’ll leave you with some wise words of advice from my grandma Gert:

“Enjoy your life. Follow what you know is true. You can do a lot for others and bring happiness to yourself, too.  Love your partner in marriage to the fullest extent and raise your children in the light of the gospel and love them fully and guide them back to our Heavenly Father; they are precious not only to you, but also to us who have gone on before them!”

Today Really IS My Lucky Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Wishing you lots of the “Luck o’ the Irish.” Although I don’t believe in luck, per se, I do believe in karma, and you’ll soon see why.

We’ve never gotten too much into the Irish part of St. Patrick’s Day. But because it’s my little boy’s birthday, March 17th has been special for our little family these past four years. (It helps that green is his very favorite color!)

Ever since I was a little girl, we’ve had a tradition of letting the birthday child choose ANY cereal in the store for their “birthday cereal.” (A big deal, coming from a family that values healthy eating and frugality.) This morning we had green pancakes because I had forgotten to have him pick out his cereal, but we went to Smith’s later this morning to get it. He promptly selected a box of “Lucky Charmers,” and while I was there I picked up a lot of other items from their sale this week.

Since the boys were hungry after a long morning playing at the playground and story-time at the library, we ate some corn-dogs, during which time my son kept asking me to sing the “Corn Dogs” song from Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band over and over. I complied a couple times, then we resumed shopping. My younger son, whom we call Toad, kept whining and crying, and when I turned to look at him, he was swaying in the seat of the cart, his eyes rolling back in his head. So I held him and tried to get him to lay his head on my shoulder, while pushing the cart and checking my phone for digital coupons and keeping track of the birthday boy, whom we call Buddy.

In the checkout line, I was in for a pleasant surprise! The store manager approached me and said I had been chosen for a random act of kindness, which they are doing every day right now. He paid for all my $50 worth of groceries! Buddy and Toad were excited when they were also given balloons and suckers. All the while, Buddy excitedly chattered away about his birthday. Even little Toad chimed in, saying “Pizza Pie Cafe!” (which is where we’re having dinner tonight, at Buddy’s request, due to the fact that they have all-you-can-eat chocolate pizza!)

Basically, my very-routine experience today turned into a unique one of gratitude and joy. I don’t know why I was chosen to receive the random act of kindness (probably out of pity since I had my hands full, quite literally)! I don’t believe in coincidences, so it was for a reason, even if I don’t see it now. But being on the receiving end makes me want to give more to others and be more aware of opportunities to make their lives a little brighter.

Have you heard of this Give and Receive Cycle? It’s amazing how it works; as long as we keep the wheel turning, we will experience abundance. I’ve noticed that most people are great givers, but they often get hung up on the “Receiving” side. If we don’t receive willingly and graciously, we won’t have anything to then give. Also, we need to receive because it’s part of someone else’s “giving” side of their own cycle, which will then allow them to go on to receive in the future. I know that this is a true principle. Not only have I experienced this phenomenon every day of my life, but I’ve heard many, many stories from others illustrating its veracity.

I haven’t always been the most willing giver. When I was putting my husband through college on a first-year teacher’s salary, it was tough. We didn’t think we had the funds even for Christmas gifts for each other that year. When I told my mom about the situation, she shared an object lesson that has stayed with me ever since.

When you refuse to share even what little you have what you have with others, it’s like you’re holding on to it with a closed fist. A closed fist isn’t capable of receiving anything new that may come your way. A hand that is open from having just given, is still open to then receive. (This is very similar to my post about the Silver Platter principle.) Thanks, Mom, for sharing that with me and changing my perspective so drastically.

I’m gratified to see my “lucky” experience today in the light of the Give and Receive Cycle. My receiving of a material blessing has prompted me to give this information here today, which I’m sure will add abundance to the lives of some of you readers out there. I really feel that there’s someone out there who needs this message. If any of you have had experiences with the Give and Receive cycle, please share it in the comments. I love to see evidence of this principle in action!

The Silver Platter Principle

“Riches, both material and spiritual, can choke you if you do not use them fairly. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up. God does not impose himself on us. Even God cannot put anything in a heart that is already full. …Fill the world with the love God has bestowed on you.” 

-Mother Teresa

I am a seeker and a messenger. What do I seek for? Truth. And when I find it, it often transforms into a message burning inside me, and all I want to do is to share that message. Reader, you are a seeker too, or you wouldn’t be spending your time reading right now. I’m going to let you in on something. The secret to obtaining more truth is … be a messenger as well.

Truth (which I’ll refer to as “gold nuggets”) is bigger and purer than we humans. It originates from our higher power, and is given to us as we seek it in order to do good. My higher power is God, whom I call my Heavenly Father. He sends me these gold nuggets of truth and knowledge, usually by means of other people, through teaching and example. The process is very simple. For example, someone will recommend a certain book, author, practice, or training program, and I’ll feel something like an itch I can’t scratch until I’ve taken the necessary action, and the truth I find from that source changes my life in some way. I know it’s no coincidence. 

Sometimes I’m given a gold nugget as a result of asking for it specifically, but other times it feels like it just comes to me freely. When this happens, I ponder on these questions: For what reason did this knowledge come into my life at this time? What am I meant to do with this knowledge? To whom am I supposed to teach this truth? The answers to these questions make me feel profoundly humbled and greatly loved, simultaneously. 

However, when I know that I need to share these gold nuggets with others, and I choose instead to keep them to myself, I start to feel something akin to depression. I feel selfish for holding back this truth, which enriches my own life so much, from others, depriving their lives through omission. This is my motivation for starting a blog. (While one-on-one mentoring is an ideal setting for teaching these principles and motivating change, I can only influence a limited number of people in such a way.)

The “Silver Platter” is simply a way to visualize what you can choose to do with the knowledge and truth that comes to you. I picture myself holding a large oblique silver platter on my forearms. Gold nuggets are placed on my platter. Eventually they become heaped up so high that I have no room left, and some of the nuggets begin to fall from the platter. I instinctively tip the platter in toward myself, to keep them from falling off, and to allow more to continue to heap up. But it cannot continue this way. I feel increasingly burdened as I try to balance and hold the weight, and I feel a sense of loss over each new nugget that falls before I can even catch a glimpse of it.

So what’s the alternative? As the nuggets come to my platter, instead of tipping it toward myself, as I’m naturally inclined to do, I will tip the platter away from myself, into the hands of others. My platter will soon become empty, but each nugget I shared makes an impression on me that I will have forever, without needing to continue to bear the burden of its weight. What’s more, the platter never stays empty after being tipping out. The next time, I notice twice the number of nuggets of insights and ideas coming to my platter, even more brilliant and pure than the first had been. I tip those out as well, and the next time, it’s threefold, and then fourfold. I will have enriched myself more than I ever thought possible, and enriching all those around me who were willing to receive. I also feel weightless and unencumbered by the responsibility to share.

I aspire to tipping my silver platter out to you, readers, through this blog. I hope that the tools, insights, and principles you find here will benefit you as they have me. And I hope that you remember to tip your own platters out at every chance you get, because that’s when life truly becomes yummy!