A Cloud’s Gold Lining

The Golden Temple at night, beautiful in its silence.

The Golden Temple at night, beautiful in its silence.

The other day I spent an hour on the phone with a woman in California, hearing her story for a client project. She kept using the word “beautiful.”

Every experience in her life’s journey was beautiful. I’ve never met her in person, but her voice just sang with sweet happiness, and I believed her when she said something was beautiful – whether she was referring to her 2 a.m. volunteer service washing the marble floors of the Golden Temple or her journey into yoga or her uncertainty over career aspirations and next steps.

Everything was beautiful.

VitaebellaIt reminds me of the movie years ago called Life is BeautifulI hated it, but everyone else loved it. An Italian man is imprisoned in a Nazi camp and he acts jolly and joyful for his son, so as not to scare him. At the time, people told me I would understand when I became a parent, that you would do anything to not break your child’s world.

I see it in a way now, but I couldn’t fathom finding beauty in such circumstances back then. I’ve learned, though, that seeing the world as beautiful is a choice. The world is neither beautiful nor ugly – it just is. You make of it what you make of it depending on your own disposition and level of happiness.

262659Audrey Hepburn said: “I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”

When I get a cantankerous email from the ex or a client is not communicating clearly or I am simply running out of time to get everything done, I can look at my life as going to pot or I can look at it as full and beautiful and cherish the gifts before me.

Happiness and beauty are choices.

Ajeet Kaur in concert at Karma Yoga this past Sunday night

Ajeet Kaur in concert at Karma Yoga this past Sunday night

Sunday night, Shaya, Eliana and I went to a concert at Karma Yoga featuring Ajeet Kaur. She’s a Kundalini Yoga performer and this was a kirtan concert, a performance of musical mantras. I loved it. I swam in heavenly devotion to the beauty of the music and the words and the happiness that came from dancing and moving to the beat, letting the sound current move me.

There is a song by many Kundalini artists whose refrain chants about being bountiful, beautiful, blissful, and we sing it in class as if we mean it. The rest of the world may think it odd, hokey, hippy-dippy. I don’t care. I truly felt as if I were in the place I was meant to be, that all my life had led to that moment and that’s where I wanted to stay, always.

But I had to leave. Take the music into my house, away from that cocoon. Live the values and ideals as I walk through my days. See beauty in imperfection. Hear beauty in the voice of someone I may not be fond of. Choose to see the good.

Choose to see the good.

ed2781b0c8a0ffbb8589b110Much of the time, I do see the beauty, but I fall prey to humanness, too. I find the flaws, I whine, I get cranky, I feel misunderstood. It’s ok. I swim my way back through the dark to the beautiful moments and people. To truth.

A favorite poet of mine, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote, in Letters to a Young Poet“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue…”

“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is,to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you win then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Love the questions.

Love the questions.

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Missing the Ball

tennis-ballsI brought my racquet back, didn’t even glance at where the yellow fuzzy ball was hitting the strings. My eyes were focused on the other side of the net, in the far corner, where I wanted to hit it down the line.

Of course, I didn’t. The ball landed in the net. I lost the point. All because I was focused on the outcome instead of the journey.

I played tennis this morning, and I realized as I prepared to hit the ball, I was entirely focused on where I wanted it to land – not on hitting it.

That’s called looking ahead instead of being present. I do it all the time. Many of us do. And it usually leads to a terrible shot, a definite miss.

present-4Of course it’s a metaphor, for life. You’ve heard the cliche – do the work and the money will come. Journey, not destination. You get there anyway.

It’s the lesson that anxiety and depression are all about future and past, respectively. Peace is present. The ultimate gift.

Why is it so hard to stay here, right now? Why must we peer ahead, around the corner, at who’s walking down the sidewalk in the distance? Why not focus instead on the tiny spider, a true miracle, crawling his way up the driveway to some destination or purpose we cannot fathom.

As a writer, I could conceded that I have spent my life recording the moment – but in doing so, it is very much living in the past. Holding on to yesterday. Recently, I went back to a memoir I had started years ago about work. It contains lovely essays about different chapters of my working life – from waitress positions to early journalist posts in New York and beyond.

G6d5UbLIt’s so in-the-past. I tried to resurrect it, thinking that if the writing is good, and the messaging, then it doesn’t matter how long ago it actually happened.

But I’m not there anymore. That person with those insights from so many years ago no longer exists. I am here today in this incarnation, with these perspectives and they look nothing like the young, naive version of my earlier self.

It’s the same thing with scrapbooks and photo albums. We hang on to the past for what purpose – do we ever really open them up and peer at the pictures from that amazing trip five years ago? Not really. Not until we’re old and consolidating our belongings to move into an assisted living facility and our children or grandchildren decide what to keep and what to toss.

Except who we are today is inherently dependent upon who we have been. All the experiences before this moment made this moment, led to the now, so how can we discount them and toss them off the edge of the cliff, never to be seen again?

It is indeed a conundrum without answer.

Ann Landers once said, “Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

 

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A Little Nice Goes a Long Way

random-acts-of-kindnessThe woman at the front desk of the club where I swim smiles as I walk in.

“Good morning,” she says in a sing-song voice. I can’t help but smile back.

At the end of my swim, subdued and more peaceful than when I walked in, I walk toward the exit, but don’t leave before hearing, “Good bye! Have a nice day!” I can’t help but smile at her and say, “You too.”

kindness2I left feeling all sorts of good. What a nice person, I imagined. I bet she is loving to her family and a ray of sunshine to be around. Perhaps that’s not even true, but her niceties to me go a long way to imagining that she is, at the core, a very nice person who cares about others and just wants to impart kindness.

Contrast that with how many times I have issued complaint about rudeness or bad customer service or mean behavior. I don’t know if I have ever singled out a person for their kindness.

We should. I should call the club manager right away and tell her that the woman at the front desk is lovely and kudos to them for offering kindness from the moment someone walks in the door.

kindness-3Every time my children are nice to one another, I should point it out and compliment them (I usually do). In fact, I should do that 10 times more than I criticize or offer “constructive criticism” (which is a horrible term – I mean really, what is constructive about criticizing someone?).

It should be the first thought in my head every morning – How much kindness can I proffer on others? How many compliments? How man smiles?.

After the prayer thanking God for giving me another day, another chance at life, another breath.

If you think about it, it is so complicated to be nasty. It takes so much more energy to spit venom in the direction of another. Think of the energy summoned to do so and then afterwards, ruminating over the fallout, wondering if they will ever forgive you.

So why not pour it all into being nice? A little nice goes a very long way.

FuneralProcessionYesterday, I was driving home from shopping and noticed a funeral procession. The cars all had orange flags on their hoods and drove slowly in a single-file line. The law has it that a funeral procession trumps traffic lights, so they can all stay together in their progression toward the cemetery and the deceased’s final rest.

It’s a lovely law, and I found myself wondering why we don’t also offer such kindness to other drivers? To wedding limousines? To pregnant women about to give birth?

If we looked at the roadway as a mirror for interpersonal relations, I sure hope it wouldn’t be only when we have passed on that we offer the ultimate exception to all rules, the final kindness. I hope we can implement this in daily goings-on, because that is far more important.

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A Fresh Start: Rosh Hashanah 5775

“We don’t want to end the life of our enemy; we want to transform the heart.” – Rabbi Aaron Bergman, in his Rosh Hashanah sermon, 5775, 9/25/14

What a powerful concept.

As a new year dawns for me and my brethren, I ponder this message, remembering how my eyes filled with tears upon hearing the words spoken to a packed room of hundreds upon hundreds of parishioners.

Dressed in our holiday finest, many people who never come to synagogue at any other time of the year, we filed into the sanctuary, which seats 1,000, and the social hall, which probably held nearly as many, and packed both rooms full, eager to turn over a new leaf, start a new year different than we ended the last.

During the service, a group of men harmonized the prayers in beautiful song. We read prayers for our country, for Israel, for the armed forces here and there, wishing safety and peace and love upon all. We prayed that our government make good choices, right choices, and I was acutely aware that prayer is simply a reminder for oneself – it’s not looking out for others as much as it is an awakening that we are part of the cosmic truth, and everyone, every situation, is a mirror.

Argument can lead to understanding, you know. As long as you have compassion and an open heart. When you care enough to engage in argument, you have a great chance of resolution at the outcome, and perhaps a deeper appreciation for the other person’s position.

It’s when conversation shuts down that we begin to lose.

Last night, my parents and my sister’s family gathered around my holiday table. It was the largest crowd yet in our new dining room and we made it work. I served matzoh ball soup, homemade challah and gluten-free challah, salad and deli roll, two kinds of chicken, couscous with vegetables, squash soufflé and tsimmes like my grandmother used to make. I forgot to serve the beets.

My daughter made apple cake pops coated in white chocolate and caramel. We dipped apple slices in honey for a sweet year, said blessings over wine and bread.

And then the kids dispersed to play with their cousins in the cooling night.

A beginning, any beginning, even the dawning of a new day, is another chance. A blessing upon our heads and our hearts. A gift to change.

I am so grateful for the chance to start over. God knows I say and do things at times that I wish I didn’t, so it’s good to know we can regenerate, begin again.

And then when we get it right, we have the opportunity to be humble, to be human, to be new like a baby opening his eyes for the very first time, to see things clearly, the vision of the angels.

We don’t wish death upon anyone. We wish peace and clear sight, so that we have a chance of uniting with all beings toward true and lasting peace.

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Throwing Away Mistakes: It’s that time of year

As tonight at sundown begins the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, or the birthday of the world, I would like to share this essay, which first appeared on ReadTheSpirt.com earlier in the week. A happy, healthy new year to all of my readers, and to everyone!

We will walk through the cascading hills of Cranbrook’s grounds, between and among the tree-shaded trails. The kids will climb into the arms of a steady old tree, balance in the fork of branches, jump down without fear. We will debate whether to take the path that leads to a carefully scripted line of boulders, where they can dance and skip from rock to rock, or take the other path, the back way, and end up at a grand finale of stones.

Rushing-WaterAt some point in the middle of this autumn hike, my four children, husband and I will pause beside the water. Most years, it’s the drumming river next to the Japanese gardens, but last year we sat on a platform beside the still and silent pond. Either way, we’ll open the bag of old bread and crumble pieces into crumbs to disseminate over the water’s surface, letting the current take last year’s choices and regrets away forever, making room for this year’s clean slate.

Tashlich in a Jewish community depicted decades ago...

Tashlich in a Jewish community depicted decades ago…

This is the tradition I’ve built with my family in the spirit of tashlich, the Jewish practice on Rosh Hashanah, or sometime between the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 10 days later. Tashlich is the ritual of throwing away our sins so that we may start anew, start fresh, in the dawning of a new year.

It’s a cleansing, so to speak, of the soul.

FNM_040112-WE-Dinners-008_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscapeWhen I became a single mother of three young children in 2008, I began my journey toward personalizing my spiritual pursuits. I grew up as a secular Reform Jew, doing my duty – services twice a year, where my sister and I camped out in the synagogue bathroom and commented on other people’s outfits. Bored by the observances, we muscled through until the time when we were set free into the parking lot and onward to home, to imbibe on chicken soup and matzoh balls and revel in the day off from school.

In young adulthood, I chose Orthodoxy, my form of rebellion. I spent a decade in the ritualistic rigidity of very traditional Judaism, learning the roots of my heritage, observing as much as I could stomach. I sat in long services on two days of Rosh Hashanah, trying not to fidget from the not-knowing, the lack-of-understanding. My rabbi had compassion; he encouraged me to attend a learner’s service, admitting that the high holy day observances are heavy, too much for someone not raised in the culture of immersion.

e623c6aa1ac02d7419ce927ad2bc41a8_w613I dreaded the 25-hour fast day of Yom Kippur, though I did it, muscling through in the way that I did as a child in my liberal synagogue. Either way, I didn’t find my place in my religion until I set myself free from an unhappy marriage at the age of 37. It was then that I felt brave enough, confident enough, strong enough, to create my own rituals, and involve my children in tangible observance of our long tradition.

The first time I took the kids to Cranbrook for tashlich, I made a conscious choice not to use the word ‘sin,’ which is the common construction for this practice. The bread crumbs symbolize our sins, which we cast off for the moving waters to carry away from us. And then we are free, free from sin, a clean canvas with which to start a new year, in hopefully better spirits and character than the one just ended.

IMG_20130713_171725_367I didn’t want to teach my children that our religion is a punishing one. I wanted them to embrace themselves in success and in failure, and the word sin has such a harsh connotation. So I used the word ‘choice’, asking the then 2-, 4- and 6-year-old sweet ones what choices they would like to make in the coming year.

“I will be nicer to my brother,” said one of my children.

“I will listen to Mommy more,” said another.

“I will read more books,” said the third one.

And I joined them, admitting my own human-ness in front of these precious souls.

“I will try not to yell,” I said. It was hard being a single mother; I was easily excitable in those early years trying to figure it out for myself. I threw that regret into the waters and watched the bread crumb dissolve into nothingness.

After the bread supply was depleted and I had just a plastic bag left to carry home, we continued on our journey. The Pewabic tiled fountain under leafy pine and maple. The cairn beside the swampy pond. Overgrown shrubbery nearly obscuring the narrow path toward the majestic old house with its fountains and gardens.

We climbed to the Greek amphitheater and the children ran up and down the rows of seats, called with echoing voices from the open stage. We were free in the forest, reveling in our connection and in the freedom to be reborn after making mistakes, grateful for second chances.

My children are older now and I am thankfully calmer. We still do our tashlich routine, a favorite of mine, with each passing year. We go to synagogue to mark the significance of the holiday season with community, but it isn’t until we get out in the open air and sunshine that we feel energized to start anew.

My precious children

My precious children

I have two middle-schoolers who roll their eyes at me even as they snuggle in close. I have a third-grader and a fifth-grader, too. All are wrapped in their version of good and bad, their understanding of the way our world rejuvenates itself.

I still use the word ‘choice,’ preferring its participatory connotation over the finger-wagging ‘sin.’ As we stroll along the pine-scented trails, I listen more than I talk, letting them take the stage, letting them share their revelations of what it is to live a good life, what it is to release regret into the warm hug of the generous world.

Lynne Meredith Golodner is author of eight books including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. She owns a public relations company called Your People LLC, guiding spiritually-focused businesses and nonprofits in storytelling and relationships to build their reach, and blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com. She lives with her husband and four children in Huntington Woods, Michigan.

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Take Off the Mask: Enter Self-Love

“What makes you think it’s ok to talk to me like that?”

No answer. Eye-roll. Whatever muttered under the breath.

Parenting-QuoteAs the two Tweens alternate between loving me and hating me and back again, the little guy whines his way through breakfast, getting dressed, shoes on and school bag packing. Please stop, I beg him. Be sweet.

The minute we pull up to school, however, the little guy calls to a friend with a bright smile on his face and starts up a peaceful, pleasant, loving conversation.

This is called Parenting WTH.

Lately, my children have been infected with the Tween Angst Syndrome. Three of them, at least. The little guy still snuggles in, but the older ones love me and hate me in equal measure and they are not afraid to show it.

I am trying hard to draw lines between proper and unacceptable behavior, but I feel like I’m treading in quicksand and sinking fast. I love them so much. I know parenting is all about letting go, from day one onward, but this part is uncharted terrain, hilly and full of dips and spills that I never saw coming.

A friend suggested that the little guy’s about-face in front of school could simply be the putting on of a mask. At home, she said, he might feel free to show his true feelings. Safe.

At school, however, it’s best face forward, even if it’s not true face.

insecure_imageMaybe. It made me wonder how many masks we wear on a daily basis and whether we might remove the disguise in exchange for a healthy routine of self-love. The same friend mentioned that as the key to a successful life.

So how do you achieve self-love?

In this week of reflection and fresh starts, I think about how much I cater to others, how many times I play the martyr, and how often I take care of myself.

Whether it’s my early morning meditation or a restful night of complete sleep, time alone under the waving trees or time with friends without the mommy guilt that often comes with it.

Sending-LoveThere are whole weeks of serving everybody else. Yes, we are here to serve others, but not at the exclusion or detriment of the self. Without a solid home base, we are no good to anyone.

I’ve also been noticing how often the stories we tell ourselves don’t match up with the real deal. You know what I mean – the stories where we think a friend no longer likes us and we feel bad for ourselves when really, that person is running crazy in their own life. Or the story we tell of how something, anything, is another person’s fault – never ours. Or the woe-is-me story, applicable to any part of our lives – look at how tough I have it, having to cook every night, having to do all the laundry, so much work, so little pay, blah, blah, blah.

The other day, I walked along the river banks with an old dear friend, who shared Carl Sagan’s famous quote that puts everything in perspective. Do any of the insecure, sad stories really matter, in the end?

Earth is that pale blue dot in the distant corner of this photo. Think your problems are so huge now?

Earth is that pale blue dot in the distant corner of this photo. Think your problems are so huge now?

It’s the notion that from far away space, Earth looks like a small blue dot, so insignificant in the scheme of existence, so very small. And yet, we make mountains out of nothings into fears and imaginings that paralyze us from accomplishing all the good that we were brought here to do. We get sidetracked by angst-riddled Tweens and forget our only job is to love.

Inspired by Voyager’s incredible picture of Earth as such a tiny destination, Sagan wrote this book to put us all in our proper place. We are so much less important than we think – and so much more important than we can imagine.

Here’s an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan:

6a00d83451739969e20120a5cd3fde970c-800wi“That dot…That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

We can turn the tide if we want to. If we want to. That’s all it takes to step inside the eternity of Right and Brilliance and Love-filled Light.

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Time of Renewal: Equinox

RogueRiverPicWe walked amongst leaf-lined paths, damp from the night rains. The river rushed and curdled beside us with that soothing sound of ever-flowing water. A purpose on a path – to flow from one point to another, until its destination is reached.

It was early morning, and we talked as we walked. A few people passed us on the trail, many with dogs, but otherwise it was quiet. Not many people were awake and out.

It was old friends connecting, talking about mundane things and the big ones, too. What really happens after death? The children, coming-of-age, in their own awkward ways. The way it is to be a fortysomething woman who works and raises children and how very tiring that can be.

nikeI am having a hard time finding my message this morning. So much to write about and yet at the same time, nothing at all.

This is a big week. A two-day holiday of renewal, celebrating the new Jewish year, and 14 people coming to dinner on Thursday. The autumn equinox, when we cross over from the wispiness of summer to the serious fall, when darkness comes sooner than we expect every single day and with it, the cool air of things ending.

busyI spent the weekend ferrying kids between places. A son at his friend’s bar mitzvah. A daughter to the mall for the clothes she needs. The whole family to the farmers market. Grocery shopping. Bookstore – twice. Cooking for the holiday. I think there was more but I forget because we’ve stepped into Monday with all of its own expectations and demands.

It’s 47 degrees outside, a rude awakening. There will be a fast day of work followed by pre-holiday haircuts and dinner at a client’s restaurant. Then homework. Then bed. There isn’t even time enough to sleep, at least not for me, but really not for any of us.

Photo 30 Jan 2014 21_29We prepare for the big moments, for the contemplative days, for the days of reflection and awe, and then, hopefully, we immerse in their sanctity and quiet, to truly reflect and begin our path in a different way, a clean slate. On the second day, we will throw stale bread crumbs into a rushing river as symbols of the bad choices flung forever away, the good choices now ours to hold.

It seemed I spent years yearning to become a mother and now, my house is filled with children growing up and away into their own unique independent selves. My eldest is 12 1/2, on the brink of teenagerdom, on the brink of manhood.

Praying WomanLife passes in significant and little ways, a movie before my eyes. Thank God we have moments to stop and ponder, moments to celebrate, prayers to recognize the infinite in the finite, the significant in the insignificant.

We walked along the leafy path beside a river that goes for miles and miles – way beyond our comfortable cradle of community, reaching its fingers into other communities that we don’t really know. There are so many ways in which we are all truly connected.

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In that In-Between Space

4499305450_50c7295989_zAs the morning dawned, the dewy grass lifted the air into view. Warm meets cold, the nights of fall arising to the mornings of Indian summer.

Today proves to be a bit warmer, and tomorrow too. Just in time for our heat to be working. The new boiler’s off-gassing settles in and around the house, the sunlight carried on tufts of wind from the open window to balance the senses.

I rose early to make school lunches. Balanced meals, a bit of fruit and veg, chips and sandwich, and a treat. I remember my school lunches – bologna sandwich, and I’d put the potato chips between the bread and meat to mix the salty crunch in with the smoothness of the sandwich. Adding texture. Adding taste.

challah425aAfter the lunches were squared away, I made the dough for tonight’s Sabbath challah. The Breadsmith recipe, with vanilla and coconut oil for a smooth, tender, sweet bread. After school, the kids and I will shape them into braids and bake in the oven for steaming loaves to bless as another night sets in.

The grass sparkles every morning now with the thawing from the night. Fingers of diamond-crusted green. The sky is pink on the horizon. The yard is quiet. The house is quiet. The people are quiet. Arising to meet a new day is the best time for pondering what-if, what-has-been, what-will-be.

IndividualityAnd so the kids are to school and I am to work and all is routine again. Sunshine delighting the senses. A day filled with learning and inspiration, client meetings, bending in yoga poses. I’ll find a way to do my meditation. Get my daughter a new viola, one that fits her. She’s grown. Make the chicken pot pie for tonight’s dinner and cook the vegetables we haven’t used into something new.

The in-between space between summer and fall, when one season melts into another, when we burrow into sweaters and blankets and each other. That’s what is happening before me. A friend waves from her car window at school drop-off. I wish her a happy birthday. She smiles from recognition. I am glad to give it to her.

We all want to be noticed.

It is a revelatory time of year and I sure hope we can take the time to stop and notice the moments, find the meaning hiding behind the aging trees. Yes, I’ll roast the chicken and cook the carrots for next week’s new year holiday, but will I stop to contemplate all I have done and all I will do, how I can be better, stronger, kinder, in the coming year?

I sure hope so. If not, what’s the point of it all anyway?

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A Lesson on Inspired Leadership: LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud Departs

 

Outgoing LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud (second from right) with LSSM Board Chair Kathy Lieder (far left) and LIRS President/CEO Linda Hartke (far right)

Outgoing LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud (second from right) with LSSM Board Chair Kathy Lieder (far left) and LIRS President/CEO Linda Hartke (far right)

Today I had lunch under a tent in the parking lot outside Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. The occasion: a fond farewell to LSSM CEO Mark Stutrud, who leaves to become CEO of LSS Illinois after this month.

Hundreds of people converged from places near and far, all with fond memories of this man who has not only been a fearless leader of an amazing organization that provides care and nurturing for every individual in its path, but he has been a friend, mentor and inspiration as well.

In my two and a half years working with this wonderful organization, I have loved my interactions with Mark. His brilliance and intellect made for conversations where I learned, pondered and expanded my perspective. I’ve written speeches and articles for him, based on lofty ideals that he has made into reality.photodune-5244893-leadership-s-580x400

LSSM logo blueLSSM logo blueAnd he leaves after a decade-long tenure during which he expanded the non-profit immeasurably – under his leadership, LSSM has grown its foundation from $3.5 million to $13.5 million, its organizational budget from $73 million to $109 million, all attributed to expansion in senior living services, the addition of continuing care units and affordable housing units and the acquisitions of home care, home health and therapies companies.

But that’s not why I’m writing about him here.

Doing-Gods-workToday, I saw the true connection that happens under good leadership. There were tears among people close to Mark, who have been inspired by him and grown under his guidance.

And I listened to speech after speech by people of faith about how Mark truly does “God’s work,” and lives his faith each and every day.

We are truly living in a new age. Today, it is acceptable and even admirable to say in public, loud and clear, for all to hear, that the work you do is guided by God, inspired by above. Bishop John Schleicher, bishop emeritus of the Northwest Synod in Michigan’s Lutheran community, described Mark as akin to a “porous pot” like a shard he brought from Honduras. These clay pots, with their careful construction and lining, filter the toxic waters of that nation so that people can drink it safely.

6TPU_Pure_waterHe said Mark “filters out the toxic words from the world” and produces “pure water that gives life for so many people.”

You understand the metaphor.

I sat beside interim CEO, Vickie Thompson-Sandy, my friend and colleague, who is equally inspiring and inspired. We talked about our children and the travails of parenting and then we talked about the web of individuals seated around and among us, who are so driven to make the world a better place.

I have to say, I love my work.

make the worldI help wonderful people put their incredible thoughts and visions into messages that speak to the masses. Through the work that I do, I get to meet incredible people who are truly changing the world. And a part of me believes that the work that I do helps them get there, even a little bit.

We should all do work that inspires us and that brings inspiration to others. We should all engage in work that makes the world a better place.

It was Kahlil Gibran who said, “Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.”

Mark Stutrud, receiving a farewell gift from Pewabic pottery

Mark Stutrud, receiving a farewell gift from Pewabic pottery

To do work with joy, to put your whole heart into the task at hand, to know that the world is better for your efforts and your presence, that is the lesson.

Thank you, Mark, for your inspiration. And thank you, God, for allowing me, gifting me, work that continues to inspire me and helps the world become a place of peace.

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Storytelling Heals the Soul

My whole life, I have loved to write. Tell me how I can devote my days to putting the words on a page and healing people's souls with my stories.

My whole life, I have loved to write. Tell me how I can devote my days to putting the words on a page and healing people’s souls with my stories.

When it comes from the heart, the heart comes with it. Words on a page, the dip and hobble of a lifetime of stories never told. Coming to peace with our pasts, with the people driving us, for better and for worse, and the words form the stories into crystalline wishes carried off on the wings of clouds, lightening our load.

Last night was the first of a six-session writers workshop I’m hosting this fall, and it was a fabulous gathering. Birch logs crisped in my fireplace while we passed stapled packets around the living room. A food essay. The beginning of a book about a narcissistic mother. A memoiristic essay about tragic moments that built a life. The mellifluous prose of a family grappling with a late mother’s Alzheimer’s. A blog post with equal parts humor and self-deprecation.

wordstolife writing power eating disorder journeytolifeBravery, all. To put one’s feelings on a page and share them with others is perhaps the bravest work there is. To dare to speak aloud what harbors in your heart.

We all have skeletons in our pasts. Some are long and gangly, bones bumping in the dark. Some are tiny and seemingly insignificant – but to each person, those hidden secrets, the details that directed us on perilous turns, they are huge.

We give voice to the ills of this life, and it frees us. There is really no need to carry around the heavy, bulky baggage of the past. It is so over. So way back there. Why drag it into the now?

writingAnd so we gathered, eager writers with important voices, preparing to launch their words into the world to help others, and to free their souls. It was lovely. It was warm. Reassuring. A quilt of talent and voice in a safe space to become who we are meant to be.

I love teaching writers who want to write. I’ve taught college English and children’s writing and adult ed and more. Each class was a gem in its own right, but truly, the adults who choose to write and to immerse in learning how to write better and more are the best students. They want to be there.

CBD - Green Apple Books & Music story writing workshopYesterday, I had my first Hebrew tutoring session. I learned Hebrew as a child and I can read it well enough, but for my forthcoming trip to Israel, my first in seven years, I want to be able to speak a bit, to get by without reverting to English, as we Americans do the world over.

My tutor reviewed verb conjugations and pronouns, the gender of the language. I asked for homework. I said I would do better with practice. Eager, devoted, I wanted to be there.

We make the best students when we choose to learn. What better situation to truly take the lesson inside yourself and be changed for the better?

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