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Strong on the inside

Some days I don’t feel strong. Days when I don’t have the words. But I do know that telling stories is a non-negotiable part of healing.

Mr. Rogers stepped out of a Manhattan subway train onto the platform. A group of people recognized him, including a young mother with her 6-year-old son. The boy brandished a Star Wars light saber and was intent on whacking everything—and everyone—in his path. This included Mr. Rogers.
The mother stood mortified, “Honey, please don’t hit Mr. Rogers! I think it’s illegal. And it’s not polite.”
Oblivious, Fred Rogers drops to his knees, next to the boy, now eye-to-eye. He whispered to the boy. The boy whispered back and put away his light saber. Goodbyes were exchanged.
One hour later, the people traveling with Mr. Rogers had enough suspense. “You have got to tell us what you said to the boy!” Mr. Rogers smiled, “I told him, we are a lot alike. I have a sword too. Not as nice as yours. Mine is wood. I keep it inside me, for all the times I don’t feel strong. When I think I need to impress people, I take my sword out, and I believe that when people see the sword, they will think I’m strong. But when I feel strong inside, I know I don’t need my sword, and I put it away. Looking in your eyes right now, I know you are a loved little boy, and I see you are very strong on the inside.”
The little boy said, “I guess I don’t need my sword today.”

When I give talks, this is my favorite story to tell.
Because inside, I’m that little boy, on those days I don’t feel strong on the inside.
I know what it is like to take out my sword, and do my best to impress (or fool) everyone around me. To appear stronger than I feel.
There are so many competing messages about where we tether our identity. It’s no wonder that we find comfort with our sword, rattling it around. “Look who I am.”
But here’s the disconnect; we’ve swallowed the notion that strength is only about power, as in control, or being over and against. So, we fixate on rising above weakness (or at least pretend, and don’t let anyone see it). When this happens, we lose sight of the fundamental reality that strength is in vulnerability. We are tough enough, to be soft and human. Tough enough, to access tenderness, gentleness, empathy and humility.

This past week in conversations with friends, we revisited memories of the unimaginable. “Where were you?” Our 9/11 stories reminded us that our strength is in community, allowing us to access broken places together.
Stories as markers, stories to find our grounding, to remind us what truly matters, after life’s card deck gets reshuffled.

This week I also spent time in conversation with health care professionals, about replenishment and renewal. And we talked about the duty for measurements (goals) in our work, meant to indicate success or growth. And how easy it is to focus on (and measure) the wrong things. And when we do, we take our swords out.

Life’s pace certainly exacerbates this conundrum. We assume that our identity is predicated on the sum of consumption / distraction (more) plus velocity (hurry). And our mantra becomes, “This is not enough.” (Meaning this relationship or job or circumstance or new toy or prayer or faith or moment, or whatever.) As a result, I am (we are) not present.
And given my need to impress (or consume or use or add or rush) I end up whacking everything around me. This is when my life becomes “garbled.”
You know, a world swirling with unhelpful and inflammatory rhetoric, walking around as a resentment in search of a cause.
But here’s the deal: I don’t want to live with my heart clenched and disconnected.
So, I needed Mr. Rogers today… Terry, put away your sword.
Because it doesn’t matter what we expect from life, but what life expects from us. As a result, we can choose to unleash the heart, in order to be our better selves. And no one can take that away. They can demean us, belittle us, criticize us and silence us. But no one can take that away.

I also needed Mr. Roger’s reminder that there is a word spoken about me. It tells me that I am enough, and strong on the inside. And not because of anything I have done or failed to do. Which means that I can live and choose and commit “from acceptance” and not “for acceptance.” I’m not doing any of this (prayer, rest, reflection, renewal, letting go) to impress anyone or earn points. Life is full enough. This life. This moment. This conversation. This encounter. The sacred present begins now.
This is about honoring the wholeness that is already there.
I don’t need my sword today.

I don’t want to be afraid of a soft heart. Although, if we’re honest, this whole soft heart routine can give us nothing but headaches. Because we all know that in the midst of navigating the heart’s uneven terrain (you name it… grief, infatuation, loss, devotion, sadness, passion, eagerness, waiting, longing, perseverance, sorrow, emotion), the life we “really deserve” is passing us by. (As if all matters of the heart are associated only with life’s unpleasantness, or potential hurt.) And we forget that our resiliency comes from on the inside, and not from adding more to the armor we wear meant to keep life from hurting us.

Miracles still happen. And when they do, Lord have mercy it is good. This week playing golf, I made a hole in one. Yes, I’m smiling real big. And yes, the smile will be with me until at least October.
Speaking of October. It feels like we’ve skipped right to November. It’s grey and cool and wet. And leaves cover the path where I walk around Fisher Pond.
Gratefully, the garden soldiers on. Time for squash and pumpkins and boundless tomatoes.

Quote for your week…
If you’re wearing a disguise for too long, it will be difficult for the mirror to recognize you. At the end of the day I hope you become the person they didn’t expect you to be. Be proud to wear you. Dodinsky

SM reflection questions and exercises are available for group and personal use. Let me know if you want to receive.


Today’s photo credit — Horseshoe Falls… Bob Keener… Thank you Bob… 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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Oct 23 — St. Mary, Park City, UT
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Podcast to Enjoy — Embracing Woundedness — Terry, on The Next Chapter with Charlie Hedges

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In the mailbag…
–Dear Terry, God has blessed me and so many others, by your ministry. I wish this contribution could be more. My deepest thanks. Sr. Peggy
–How did I ever get thru the week w/o Sabbath Moment to help me feel whole?   Thanks so much for coming to St Gall & sharing you. Blessings, Sue
–Hi Terry, been awhile. I thought I would say: first of all I loved this week’s SM. It spoke to me deeply and reminded me of a lot of special things I need in my life. Like the present moment and more grace and mercy and to be unarmed and enough. Thanks for writing it!  Tobach
–Hi Terry – wonderful having you to camp! Everyone loved you and your message was powerful. We would love to have you return in the future. Paula Bott, Whispering Winds Retreat Center
–Terry, I always look forward to your Sabbath Moment on Monday Morning. You are probably already aware of it but Maria Shriver has a similar newsletter. This week’s Sunday Paper seemed to be right instep with yours. Perhaps the universe is using the Internet to get my attention! Thanks for your always meaningful and inspiring words. Blessings, Mary
–Terry, I just need to thank you once again for your thoughtful comments. A while back you posted a quote from Thomas Merton. I now have it taped to my computer so I can read it every day. I am going through the darkness, harder and worse than anything I’ve gone through before and this really helps. “You don’t need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment and to embrace them with courage, faith & hope.”  Thank you for this and other wise comments. I’m hanging on. Sincerely, Page
–I love Oliver Sacks! I am a professor and teach a psychology course on the brain. I have the students read one of Sacks’ books, An Anthropologist on Mars, and we also talk about the book/movie “Awakenings”. I make sure throughout the course as we are talking about brain disorders and disease that the students don’t forget that these disorders and diseases are happening to people… individuals… who are suffering and having difficulties that impact the essence of who they are and the people who love them. We cannot forget that as we seek to understand their underlying issues and the brain itself. Kristy
–Thank you Terry. I’m feel very grateful today; No cows or cow pies. Esther

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You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that. Charlotte to Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web 

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
Where I left them, asleep like cattle
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
And the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Wendell Berry

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What had been done has been done;
What has not been done has not been done; let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us, and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.
New Zealand Prayer Book

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