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To go where it hurts

A mother begins her weekend breakfast routine, pulling ingredients from the refrigerator. Omelets on the family menu this morning. Before she knows it, her two-year-old daughter has climbed a chair and is now sitting on the kitchen counter.
“Momma, can I help?”
“Of course honey.”
The little girl removes an egg from the carton, and does her best imitation of momma, cracking eggs into the bowl. The first egg breaks on the rim, half staying in the bowl, the other half of the egg, on the counter, and now sliding down the front of the cupboards. Undeterred, and delighted to be cooking breakfast with her mother—“Look mama, I’m cooking,” she squeals—she smashes another egg against the bowl’s rim, and then another.
After the fourth egg, her mother barks in exasperation, “Noooo honey, this is not a good idea. Not right now!”

I’m smiling, in part because I can feel the mother’s exasperation, and more so, because I’m not the one in the kitchen. (There are moments in parenting, when regardless of the experts, there are, quite literally, no words.)
But here’s the deal: Chances are good that any helpful two-year old will break some eggs. At some juncture in my life, I will need to choose. Do I want a tidy kitchen, or a life-giving relationship with people significant in my life (even the ones that include or even create the mess)?
And chances are good that the script I had in mind, will be mercifully and humanely altered.
But it’s not just a kitchen is it? Or parenting skills.
It’s about owning up to the script I carry, expectations or assumptions about what makes life real. Somehow, we’ve swallowed the notion that real life happens after there is tidiness, or after the cleanup, or after the enlightenment, or after the script is edited. And when I live by that script, it chips away at my reserve of hope.

I began my week in a familiar quandary, unsure what to write about.
I finished a great conference in Anaheim, California, grateful for connections. I returned, busy and focused, and missed that last week was Random Acts of Kindness Week. And Friday was National Caregivers Day. So, like the exasperated parent, I gave myself grief for the myopia, instead of seeing the invitation to embrace the power of caring and kindness in a world that needs it, regardless of the day or week we celebrate it.

Here’s my question for us this week. What do we do with life’s script edits (whether personal or national)?
It is true (and not surprising) that chaos (messes, disarray) unnerves some people more than others. (My OCD kicks in. Some of you can relate, those like me who are just plain wonderfully wired funny.)
Our need for tidiness as a condition of well-being comes in many forms:
–if there are questions, we want answers
–if there are struggles, we make resolutions
–if we experience unsightly emotions, we apologize (“I’m sorry,” we will tell others, wiping away the tears.)
–if there are impediments, we want no loose ends
–if there is a blunder or muddle, we are given to a compulsion to explain. Or blame. Sometimes even in a ballistic way.
This is important: Crises can undo us, that is true, but if we attach a crisis to something we can attack (e.g. “the little girl broke the eggs on purpose”), we live defensive and reactive.

But what if life is bigger than avoiding broken eggs? Or even tidying up? What if caring and kindness draw from a different reservoir?
I frequently talk about Sankofa (from the Akan language of Ghana), associated with the proverb, “Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi,” which translates “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.”
Before advice or “should”, Sankofa is an intentional pause to renew ourselves to the values we cherish. To reclaim our voice.
Think of this: broken eggs can be an invitation to honor the truth that “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” (Helen Keller)
And here’s the good news; These values are not arbitrary. They are reciprocal. In other words, when we honor them, they in turn fuel us. “The more alert we become to the blessing that flows into us through everything we touch, the more our own touch will bring blessing,” Br. David Steindl-Rast reminds us. A gift; when we see broken eggs, we can say, “It’s time for a blessing.”

So. Let’s start with what we know.
One, Life is about presence (even with broken eggs).
We have become skilled at (and consumed by) emotional multi-tasking. It’s not just the tidy part that motivates us. We want the assurance that it brings: You know—now that things are in order—I can enjoy life more.
Let us consider this: while we are focusing our energy on the perfect picture (or omelet or relationship or child or church or faith or life script), our mind is already into the future, and because of that, we cannot be Here. Now. Present. This sacred moment. Yes, sacred even in the uncertainty and the pain. And when we can see the gift of the child beyond the mess, we will respond from a place of generosity and hopefulness.

The week, our local news very painful. The first Coronavirus death in the US happened here in the Seattle area. Yes, it is real.
I loved the responses from our local officials: calm. And the best line of defense is to pay attention to our immune system. It reminds me that in a real way, being present is an immunity against exasperation, exhaustion and detachment.

And two, we all have the capacity to care. Let us raise a glass and tell stories in grateful awe, for ordinary people who in ordinary ways, make our world kinder, more caring, and more compassionate, one heart and one life at a time.

It is the season of Lent. Pope Francis challenged us all to “give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first-name basis.” Amen, regardless of your religious inclinations.
Happy Leap Year. I decide to celebrate in the garden, with Spring around the corner, smiling at the daffodils.

Quote for the week…
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. Henri Nouwen

Note: 1. There’s still time if you wish to join us… Our new eCourse This Is The Life . Ten sessions. Perfect for those who observe Lent. An invitation to pause and savor the sacred present.
2. Join me: Discover the Shrines of Ireland. September 24 — October 02. Here’s the information.


Today’s photo credit — Winter dusk at Onondaga Lake Park in Syracuse, NY, Debby Crumb… Thank you Debby… keep sending your photos… send to

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I write SM because I want to live with a soft heart; to create a place for sanctuary, empathy, inclusion, compassion and kindness… a space where we are refueled to make a difference. SM remains free.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–Hi, Terry, Thanks for all you do to awaken our senses. With warm regards, Adrienne
–Hi Terry, Thank you for never giving up on people like me. I’m a back slider in my walk to renew my soul. I give up too easily and give in to the overcast days. But Spring is coming and I will begin again. Thank you for this e-course to help me do it.
–Terry,  I loved your reflection on music in the SM.  For the past 20 years I have worked as a music-thanatologist–mostly in a hospital setting–playing prescriptive harp and using voice to assist people in their end of life journey.  Music is magic…it is home since we are such musical beings.  It gives a call to come home to self and to enter into the magic of transformation. How privileged I have been to share that profound “now” moment with so many people. Donna
–It was such a pleasure hearing you speak again at the LAR Congress.  You make me laugh and cry.  I love your stories and examples of love and kindness.  Also, thank you for giving me a book since I never received one in the mail.  I live in San Jose California and when I started answering the questions, I couldn’t help thinking of the miracle of my granddaughter and her beautiful smile when she sees me coming into the house or when she wakes up from a nap and I pick her up.  I am blessed to watch her three days a week.
From my childhood my memories that I savor is my grandmother’s cooking and the smell of her as I rested my head on her large bosom (very Italian grandmother.)  She taught me the gift of unconditional love.  I grew up in Ohio until my parents divorced when I was nine.  I remember catching fire flies and smelling fresh mowed grass that we would gather and put rocks in and pretend we hens laying eggs.  Oh what fun being a child. I was blessed to swim with dolphins and once I got over a slight tremble of fear, the experience was unbelievable. Thank you Terry for using the gifts God has given you to make us laugh and cry. Toni
–Thank you Terry… born and raised within blocks of the “Crater” and was spoon fed the horror of the day and the long lasting effects on our town and the people residing here. I read and saw Cold Mountain, but you have put a new peace in my soul with your words. Come visit me for a guided tour when you are in Virginia. Petersburg is the best kept historical site in the state. I have been told that I am always humming… just the music of my soul. Nancy
–It is so easy to forget the music inside of us. Thank you for reminding us that it is there, ready and waiting to soothe or excite. It is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Carolyne

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Let us fall in love again
and scatter gold dust all over the world.
Let us become a new spring
and feel the breeze drift in the heaven’s scent.
Let us dress the earth in green,
and like the sap of a young tree
let the grace from within sustain us.
Let us carve gems out of our stony hearts
and let them light our path to Love.
The glance of Love is crystal clear
and we are blessed by its light.

Now is the time to free the heart,
Let all intentions and worries stop,
Free the joy inside the self,
Awaken to the wonder of your life.
Open your eyes and see the friends
Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
Those whose kindness watchful and near,
Encourages you to live everything here.
See the gifts the years have given,
Things your effort could never earn,
The health to enjoy who you want to be
And the mind to mirror mystery.
John O’Donohue 

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us.
May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings.
Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory.
Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. (Please add your own intentions.)
Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.
Richard Rohr

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