Eleanor, August, Aylan and me- we are all the same: My life as told through “Eleanor and Park”, “Wonder” and the world around us


Happy last-day-of-December friends!

As usual, I have not written here as much as I planned, intended, committed or wanted to.  I did feel the need to write you this one last time before 2015 is officially behind us and so I’m typing this out as I’m packing to head out to the beautiful Lake Crescent Lodge in the Olympic National Forest.  Since finding out we are moving back to the other side of the country in June, “we” (really I but I’m pulling everyone into my memory-making madness) have been doing everything with an extra appreciation of it being the “last time”.  So, for our “last” NYE living here, P wanted to go back to the gala at LCL.  He is always up for an excuse to “dress up” and I love seeing him dressed up, so it’s a win-win.

It’s possible you missed it, so just in case: I LOVE CHRISTMAS! and this past month has been almost perfect.  I am a planner (shocking I know!) and I very intentionally planned for this December to have lots of margin- time for reading, resting, walking, reflecting, celebrating, drinking coffee with friends and family, staying in the same clothes for 36 hours (ok 48, but only the one time!) and truly soaking in all the parts of this month that make it my favorite time of the year.  We had sweet visits from both of our families and great times over coffee, games, P’s latest “catch” being prepared and eaten (by some) and just all around enjoying life together.  I am so grateful and my heart is so full.

Also, my heart is so broken.

I love December so much.  AND YET.  I know what it means for so many.  I know those of you who put on your armor and take your flask and calendar in hand and ram or numb your way through the month because the thought of facing it full on unprotected is literally too much to bear.  I see you.  I k now you.  I love you and I hurt with you and I understand you.  I have had Decembers that felt like death and I know that sometimes, you just have to get through a thing.  I honor your pain and I pray for your pain.  This is not new; it is a tension I feel every year and I take it very seriously.

This year, especially, I feel the pain more deeply.  I spent much of October and early November in a deep sadness and sorrow that I had a hard time balancing.  Why you might ask?  Basically, because I am saddened by the inhumanity of humans on this planet at times.  I am saddened by the death and the terror and the lack of access to basic human rights- needs, really- and the lack of ability of so many of us to really face what that means.  I am saddened by each word I hear, word I read, post I see that reflects that fear and hatred and misunderstanding and by the knowledge that our words ripple up and down and out to the far-flung corners of the world, where they take root in hearts and lives.  Along with so many, I truly mourned the death of little Aylan Kurdi because finally it felt like more people “got” it, this thing that I have “gotten” for quite some time.  What is it?  It is this:

We are all the same.

In between all of these big feelings two books also made their way into my hands and they couldn’t have been more timely.  First, my Kathryn gave me Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I must insist, that if you haven’t read it, you stop now and buy it, request it or download it. (Seriously, you will thank me later.)  If you have children, read it and then read it to/with them.  I immediately fell in love with August, a 10 year-old boy who was born with complex medical issues that led to a physical appearance that is described as fairly horrendous.  The way the author brings this story to life, with believable dialogue, situations and lessons learned was truly gifted and I found myself wanting to volunteer to read it to a 4th grade class somewhere.  I want to believe in the goodness and the kindness of us all, and especially the inherent kindness of kids before they are tainted by the world’s (and by adult’s) sometimes unkindness.  I wanted to celebrate the fact that different CAN be ok and that “different” in some ways, is really just a thing we create to make categories of “us” vs “them.”  Wonder is where the message first started really working its way into my heart:

We are all the same.

As I put down Wonder, I picked up Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and I found the theme continued.  This is a true love story, taking place on a bus, in a school, and in a tiny house and typical neighborhood.  The words capture so perfectly the deep feelings and drama of teenage emotions and the cruelty and courage of those who feel them.  You want to protect Eleanor from the pain and cruelty of being “the big girl” with red hair that earns her the nickname “Big Red.”  You want to punch the mean kids and you want to hug Eleanor and look into her eyes and tell her how important she is.  You want to cheer Park on, encouraging him to stand up and live into his feelings and his instincts to be kind.   You want to give Park’s parents an award for being real and reasonable and for allowing their hearts to change and you cheer for their secret journey that feels so important.  In the end, you just realize all the places you connect with more than one of the people in the story.  You realize:

We are all the same.

Here’s the thing.  I believe our “otherness” is really just based on categories we create based on things we have all or no control over and yet, in the end, we are all the same.  We love, we hate, we get hungry, we need sleep.  We are kind, we are cruel, we are hopeful, we are resigned.   Realizing this doesn’t mean things are easy and they aren’t magically “fixed” but they become more clear.  Things get a little brighter and you realize that in this, our “sameness” there is hope and there is goodness and there is light.

I have talked to enough of you in the past few weeks to know that while some of you are with me in this, some of you most definitely are not.  You’ve made me cry and you’ve made me mad, but still I love you and I am for you and in the end: We are all the same.  Because of that, I am convinced that the only way forward is to truly listen to each other, to have the courage to listen to people “different” than us.  To do the research and the listening required if we are going to speak our opinions, often stating them as if they are facts.  We owe it to each other to listen, to learn, to try to find places of “sameness.”  What we are doing now, here in our world with all the focus on  “us” vs “them”:  it is not working.

And so as we headed into the dark days of December, I found myself really embracing the darkness, but only so that I could light a candle (or two, or ten) each morning and see for myself the way that light breaks the darkness.  Even in the darkest of black on Dec 21 at 2 in the morning, a single candle shatters the darkness.  It is a law of this universe: the dark cannot overcome the light.

So I am grateful to Eleanor and to Park and to Wonder and to Aylan for teaching me that I am my unique self, named for that very light.  And yet:

I am that 10 year-old boy who feels ashamed and yet has confidence because of the love of those around him.

I am that teenage girl who is overweight with bad hair, is made fun of on the bus, wants nothing more than to NEVER be noticed and who feels the first whispers of what true love feels like.

I am that precious baby Aylan whose parents loved him so much that they were willing to literally face death to give him a chance at life.  I am his parents.  I am those guiding the boat.  I am the photographer on the shore.

I am you when you feel scared of the “otherness” of people you don’t know and don’t understand and I am you when you head into that unknown to face your own fears and attempt to bring more light into the dark places.

I am you when you love Christmas and sweet time with family, and I am you when you are terrified of the dark alone of December 25th every year.

We are all the same.

So my wish for you this minute, this day, this year, is that somehow, in some small or big way, you see that:

We are all the same.

So much love to you all,


Chatter, Commentary, Contemplation and Compassion (some thoughts on C words): My life as told through Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird.

As we slide/tiptoe/crash into this new month (with an extra hour of sleep to boot), I’m tempted to give some commentary on all the reasons I haven’t been writing here, but instead I’m just going to slide/tiptoe/crash back in and hope my words might have something to say to you wherever you find yourself this Nov.

In a class I’m taking we have been studying and practicing meditation and our professor suggested a book called “Into the Silent Land” by Marin Laird.  In general, the word “meditation” usually involves a stilling of the body in order to still the mind, which can bring peace, calm, clarity and connection to one’s life.  My personal reason for meditating, as a follower of Jesus, is as a form of prayer.  It’s not the only way I pray and it’s not the main way I pray, but it is one way I pray that has had effects on my overall health.


What I’m interested in talking more about here is one of the specific skills in and benefits of practicing contemplation, which is recognizing and learning to separate from the chattering and constant replay of the stories in our minds.  Learning this skill can give greater insight, acceptance and understanding of ourselves, which in turn leads to greater compassion and understanding of the world.  I think these thoughts are applicable to anyone who might want to listen, wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of comfort with meditation.

Here’s the thing.  I believe with all my heart that the words we use have the power to give life and to take life, even kill. I believe that people are dying all around us (literally and figuratively) because of words they tell themselves and words they put into the world.  This book has helped me see the interplay between these things, and I’ve learned how to recognize this crazy thing I (we) do, how to stop the process and how that can actually change the way I live my life.

If you believe the mind works both in a logical, reasoning way and in an intuitive way (non-logical, just “knowing”) way, it is this intuitive part that we are trying to get to in contemplation or meditation.  The difficulty comes when the reasoning part stays so loud it prevents us from hearing beyond it.  If this reasoning part of our mind is “not engaged in its primary task of reason, given half a chance it fizzes and boils with obsessive thoughts and feelings”.  Don’t you find that true?  It can happen when trying to fall asleep, when driving or when we have a rare minute to ourselves- anytime we don’t have an immediate task to focus on.

Let me give you an example from the world of running (surprise?)! that anyone can likely identify with.  As you start up a hill, or you feel a twinge in your knee, or hit a point of exhaustion, your mind starts talking to you.  It says things like: “See, you always do this, you’re just weak and lazy” or “What were you thinking?! You’ll NEVER be able to make it up this hill?” or “You might as well just stop and walk, it doesn’t matter, you were stupid to think you could do this anyway and now everyone knows you’re a failure” or some other variation of this

At this point you have a choice.

You can either choose to listen to the story, spinning it round and round as usual, OR you can go to your mantra.  A mantra is a word or phrase chosen beforehand that you grab onto at the first sign of the chatter.  You notice the commentary has started but you give your mind something else to focus on instead.  The mantra helps you get to that inner place that keeps going even when it is logically told to stop. You knew when you picked your mantra that this time would come, just as you knew then that you COULD do whatever it was you were attempting.  You can find story after story of people who use this to get them through seemingly impossible situations, running and otherwise.  A third option here is to intentionally CHANGE the words we say to ourselves.  Instead of just repeating a short mantra, which some might call “zoning out”, others find help by choosing a different story for their reasoning mind to tell themselves.  My friend C recently had to complete a run in a set amount of time, and by first recognizing the familiar words, then changing the story they usually spin, she allowed her mind to “tell” herself a new story. As a result, she was able to run more quickly and confidently than ever and came out of the experience empowered rather than discouraged!

Learning to combat these stories takes practice.  The first step in the process is learning to become aware.  When we begin to feel anxious, angry, scared etc we have to recognize the chatter when it begins.  We learn to “observe the fear or the anger or the envy- whatever the thought-feeling- and not the story we spin about” it.  In addition, “This watchfulness also applies to our tendency to add thought upon thought upon thought.  We notice, for example, our anger and how it is quickly followed by another thought that judges it: “I should not be having this angry thought” or “after all these years I still can’t let go of my anger” or “ I thought I dealt with this years ago.”  This aggregate of thoughts must also be observed and we must each see for ourselves that part of the reason we can’t let go is that we whip these thoughts and feelings into a great drama that we watch over and over again.” YES!! I do this! (Do you do this? Because I do!!)

The thing is, left to itself our minds will always start the commentary.  The mind will use “one of its millions of hands” to grab onto something (real or imagined).  This grabbing, and it is lighting quick, produces the story we tell ourselves about our anger…”

After developing awareness, the next step is learning to “meet the thoughts with stillness instead of commentary.” For me, this has been the absolute hardest part of this process, because many of the stories are only a few years younger than I am.  Instead of spinning stories, we recognize that behind the story is a feeling and the story is only “a mass of thoughts and feelings and an unpleasant tension in the body”   We have to learn to see that we are NOT in fact our feelings or thoughts or the stories we create about them or “we go through life simply reacting to what is going on around us, with little awareness that we are even doing this or that life could be otherwise.”  If we can find a way to notice the thoughts and feelings without letting the stories take over, we can see that “without the story, the feelings don’t have power.”  “The bottom line is this: “minimize time given over to chasing thoughts, dramatizing them in grand videos, and believing these videos to be your identity.  Otherwise life will pass you by.”

Here’s another real-time story that might help explain.

My October was an overly full month of travel, work, classes, meetings and various other activities and I finished it out with three full days of work an hour’s drive away.  I headed home this past Friday afternoon with another 24 hours of work to finish in the following 18 hours.  No big deal, except that I was supposed to run in a race with my friends R and R on Saturday; I had even talked P into coming!  I went to bed late and got up early but just couldn’t finish it all in time and although I knew it Friday, I waited until the last minute to admit it because the stories in my head had started.  “You always do this.  You are slow and lazy and don’t manage your time well.  Now you have to back out of something and everyone is going to think you are not dependable and that you are lazy and don’t want to run in the rain.  You are always finding excuses to explain your inefficiency and it serves you right if everyone is mad at you because you should have planned better.”

You get the point.

I was too tired to notice when the story started spinning or I could have used my new-found tools of recognizing the feeling behind the story, refusing to listen to the story itself and instead filling my mind with my prayer word as a way to center myself.  Instead I let them spin and spent the afternoon inefficiently working and telling myself that no matter how hard I try, “some things will never change.”

After finishing my work and going for a run with my wise friend A, I began to acknowledge the hours-long movie I’d allowed back in.  I spent some time thinking about the feelings behind the story and pondering why I had fallen for my mind’s sneaky tricks.  I realized that I was sleepy and hungry and emotionally tired from a long month.  I acknowledged that being seen as a dependable person, someone who always keeps their word and will “be there for you” is an important part of my identity.  I realized I felt like I had let my friends down and they would be mad (not true, they aren’t those kinds of friends) and that not showing up for something I paid for and signed up for tempts me to call myself “wasteful”, “selfish”, “lazy” and “rude.”  I realized “it is precisely this deeply ingrained habit of meeting thoughts with commentary, sometimes frenzied and obsessive commentary, that creates the noise in our heads, a good deal of suffering, as well as the sense of being separate from God and isolated from others.”   I was experiencing anxiety and guilt and shame and while the stories tried to convince me that I AM those feelings, the truth is I’m not any of those things and I get to choose whether or not I believe them about myself.

Not surprisingly, the next step in this whole process (if you are interested J) is realizing that whatever story it is we are telling ourselves about our feelings is usually rooted in some place of past hurt or brokenness or pain.  I’m not suggesting we dredge up past pain for the sake of drama or that we dwell in all the ways we’ve been hurt in our lives, but I am suggesting that connecting my need to be seen as dependable and hard-working goes way back in my life and effects the decisions and choices that I make daily.  As Laird then puts it, “The practice of contemplation teaches us how to be in this wound.  When we discover the silent core of this wound, we discover a place of noncondemnation, of silent, loving communion with God and of compassion for all. “

One of the most interesting parts of all of this is the way in which this compassion with ourselves, as we learn to notice our thoughts/feelings but not start the commentary and stories about them, actually works to make us kinder, more patient and more compassionate with those around us.  When we “realize we are …not the drama unfolding in our awareness, our lives are freer, simpler, more compassionate.”   When we are more compassionate with ourselves (or if you feel better saying we “give ourselves a break” it’s that same concept) we learn how to also have more patience and compassion for others.

I’m guessing a few people didn’t make it to the end, a few have no idea or interest in what I’m saying and many already have this figured out.  For the rest of you, hopefully you can remember that we have a choice in the words we tell ourselves and those words ultimately affect the way we live our lives.  Is there a different way you’ve found that helps you stop the commentary in your mind?  If so, I’d love to hear!

(All the quotes in this post are from the book mentioned above.)

We can do some things

Saturday June 20th was World Refugee Day.

Did you know?

Maybe you saw a social media post but for most of us, I suspect it wasn’t a holiday that registered.  Before my trip to Thailand, I would not have been aware that such a day exists.

But not now.  Now I’ve seen refugees; I’ve hugged them, listened to them and cried with them.  I’ve smiled at their children, whose faces light up with the same smile as every other child in the world.  You can’t see where they live (and why), what they eat (and don’t eat), what they have (and don’t have) and turn away unaffected.  You can’t listen to their stories, even through translators, and not feel connected as one human on the planet to another.

You can’t look a refugee in the eyes and come away the same.  

painting “Run” by artist refugee

We can’t all do everything and we shouldn’t all do the same thing but we can all do some things.  I intentionally say “things” because I believe that most of us can do more than what we do.  I have realized that I can’t go everywhere I’m invited, because when I see injustice, poverty and pain, I want to fix it.  I want to give whatever I have to make things better, but I can’t do that for everyone everywhere.  It’s a hard truth for me, and yet that’s why the world needs ALL of us!

So one of the places I’m picking to stick, to say “I am with you” is with the Burmese refugees and those working for their freedom and health.  I still know very little in the big scheme of things, but I know more than I did a year or a month ago. I know more than most of the world’s population, which has been tragically proven in the last few months as we’ve watched the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Burma.  I want to learn more.

And so I’m going back.

I’m going back to say “I see you.  I hear you.  Your life matters.  How can I help?”

our friend Suebu
our friend Suebu

I’m going back to use the gifts, knowledge and strengths that are uniquely mine in whatever ways they might bring peace, health and education to people who are literally dying for lack of those.  I don’t have time or space to go into the extreme lack of each of those and how that combination of missing factors contributes to minutes and years of a life that most of us have no reference for.  If you are reading this, chances are you know me, so please trust me when I say I’ve been there, I’ve seen it and there is great and continuous oppression, abuse and poverty among the many Burmese ethnic groups living in Thailand and Burma.  They need our support.

Here’s the thing: I have always suspected that inherently, as humans walking around on this planet, we want to help.  We have an internal drive that makes us care about others and how we can help those less fortunate.   We get distracted by busyness or lack of money or time, or the belief that what we do or don’t do doesn’t matter and the days go by and that drive gets pushed deeper.

But I know you want to help because you told me with your actions.

I’ve had the privilege in the last year to have my eyes opened to many places that need our help and support.  One of them allows me to provide pediatric care to a greatly underserved group of children.  This opportunity to care for these families has been one of my favorite things that has come of this post-military life.  Last week on a whim, I asked you to help meet some needs for this population.  Here’s what you did:

I asked for a book, and YOU SENT ME 12!  Not only does one mother get to benefit, but now the entire group gets to!  I asked for a $250 donation for an unnamed medical need, and FOUR OF YOU WROTE WITHIN ONE HOUR asking to fill the need anonymously.  Last Christmas, YOU GAVE ABUNDANTLY- over and above the needs- to give to families you didn’t even know during the holiday season.

I believe that drive to give and help is always trying to find a way to get out, an avenue of release so to speak and I’d like to suggest today- LET IT OUT!  It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you do.  Do SOMETHING!  Do anything!

Watch a movie with your kids and have an honest discussion.  (Maybe “The Good Lie” is a place to start if age-appropriate.)  Take a donation to your local women’s shelter, food bank or prison.  Attend a local meeting for human trafficking awareness, or better yet host one.  Write a blog post, take a trip, join an advocacy group, say a prayer.  Start a book club and discuss these topics- in ours we just read “Escape from Camp 14”.  I highly recommend it as a place to start these discussions.  I also just finished “Little Daughter” which is a biography of a Karen (Burmese) refugee.  It is a great place to get an idea of just what life is like for a “real” refugee.

If you would like to help, but aren’t sure where to start, maybe you could come to a party at my house!

When we head back to Thailand, we’ll be doing medical teaching, English teaching and relationship building.  There is great need for education and also for supplies– durable, weather-resistant, portable equipment and electronic aids.  There is need for money– for salaries of the medics who work 24-7 to take care of their people, for food and basic living expenses.  There is need for prayer– for safety, peace, healing and education.  There is need for advocacy– for people to talk about the atrocities in Burma- in big/public spaces and in small spaces in your world.

If you are interested in helping in any of these ways- and each is as important as the other- I’d love to invite you to stop by my house on Sunday July 5th from 1-5.  Come show support and learn more about refugees from Burma and oppressed Burmese ethic groups and how you can help.  I’ll have mango sticky rice and Thai iced tea and we’ll be out in the sunshine, so come over and enjoy the afternoon or just stop by for a minute.  (If you are near in heart but far in miles and want to help- let me know and we can make it happen!)

If you’d like to just stop by and catch up as summer rolls on, I’d love to see you with absolutely no obligations!

If you have questions or would just like to sign a card that says: “We are with you” I’ll personally deliver that card to people who will appreciate it.

If you’d like to just ask questions or learn more, I’d love for us to learn together.

If you’d like to help support with donations or supplies, I can help you make that happen, and get personal feedback to you.

If relationships are important to you and you’d like to personally support someone working in dire healthcare conditions, there are so many opportunities for that.

If you’d like to provide lifesaving medical equipment or education materials for remote village group education we are in need of things to make that easier.  Here are a few of the specific things I’m hoping to take back with me in July.  I can’t buy/supply them all, but together, who knows, we just might be able to!

Specific needs:
1. Newborn Isolette for warming and phototherapy:
The infant and maternal mortality rate in Burma is among if not the worst in the world.  Simple life-saving measures are simply often not available.  Our program manager in Thailand has found a locally-made isolate that runs off of blue LEDs, and I had a chance to see one and watch it work properly on my trip in January.  The price is $250.  If this is something you’d be interested in supporting- we can make that happen!

2. Otoscopes:
Ear infections are common across the world and these would help identify which children could most benefit from scare antibiotics. Even the basic/in-expensive ones would provide much-needed eyes for children’s ears.

3. Nutrition/Food– The majority of the people in this area have nutritional deficiencies. In the specific area where we’ll be working there is a high rate of vegetarian and vegan families and few alternative protein sources for these families living in poverty. Moringa is a plant that provides incredible amounts of protein and vitamins that help build muscle and prevent anemia and other nutritional diseases.  People on the ground are looking at ways to support local families in building moringa plantations which would be sustainable, reliable sources of nutrition.  If this is something you have experience or knowledge in, or would like to donate towards, we’d love to talk to you.

4. Ipads/Tablets:
Arming the medics with these gives them the ability to show videos and teach on a variety of topics. Have an old one or a way to purchase a discounted one? We’ll take it!

5. Oxygen concentrator:
It is very difficult to transport patients from remote clinics to the next level of care when that is needed. I traveled along the same roads that are used for this transport and even in perfect conditions they are rugged and unpredictable. Having a reliable way to provide oxygen during these long journeys can make a world of difference.  These are not cheap and we are looking for persons either willing to donate or discount a portable version, or perhaps to partner with a few other people to provide this.  I would LOVE to be able to take this with me in July.  If you have contacts or this is something that speaks to you- let me know!

6. O2 sat monitor (preferably with AAA or AA batteries):
The ability to monitor oxygen levels can mean scare supplies of oxygen, antibiotics and transport is provided to the people who need it most.  These are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment that would be greatly valued by the medical staff.

7. Portable Ultrasound:
This is one of those “big” items, that almost feels too big to ask for, but I’m putting it out there. If you have contacts or access to used or donated items or thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

LayTonKu medical clinic and staff
LayTonKu medical clinic and staff

I hope to see and hear from many of you- I am so grateful for all the amazing and giving people in my life and for the opportunity to give back to those who have such great need.  We can’t do everything, but we can do some things.

What can you do?

Saving lives (again)- YIKES!, Aloha and Discovering G-dog: My life as told through ALL THESE BOOKS BELOW:

As usual, it’s been a while and the books are piling up (in both the “read” and the “read me” piles) and I just can’t keep up with ALL THE BOOKS.  There are so many.  If I could have a job where all I did was read all day every day I would be the best employee ever employed on the planet.

But alas, I must keep working (and not even alas because I love all the “work” I am doing right now, but still, it would be a good job, right?  Reading all day? Every day? I. Can. Not. Imagine.).

I thought I’d catch up a bit by giving you some short synopses of some of the books I’ve read since last time.  I have rediscovered that great American building called THE PUBLIC LIBRARY and I am wearing a path from my door to theirs (which incidentally is 1. 8 miles apart) so many of these books I can’t send you but I bet YOUR library has them too.  If its designated as “mine”, let me know you want it and it’s yours- I’ll drop it right in the mail to you!

The Life You Can Save (revisited) (mine- still up for grabs):
So.  While initially reading this book (and I wrote about it here) I connected and was challenged by the overall “message”.  I noticed a lack of spiritual/Judeo-Christian-worldview words and language but also did not pick up on language that would suggest beliefs opposite to that.  I don’t always extensively research an author’s background before reading, so I did a quick google search on Singer and read two somewhat generic blurbs and moved on.   So imagine my HORROR when a few days later in two DIFFERENT places I came across his name in the context of some pretty provocative ethical beliefs that differ greatly from mine.  (I don’t really want to encourage reading his thoughts and beliefs necessarily but suffice it to say he has pretty horrifying (to me) thoughts on the topics of euthanasia, the inherent worth of the elderly, mentally and physically handicapped, deviant sexual behavior and various other things.)  I started to read more and frankly had a lot of distress about deleting the post, writing a follow-up post, sending out some other form of follow-up, something?! because I didn’t want anyone to think I agreed with any of his reasons behind his thoughts.  Continuing to process,  I realized part of what was troubling me was that I could believe in so much of WHAT he said, but with a totally different WHY.  My entire life from big trips to daily minutes is built on the belief that ALL human life has dignity and worth.  As I have traveled and read and become more involved with areas where injustice continues I have only come to believe this more.  That post led to some great conversations with people in my life and I do agree with much of his challenges as regards poverty in this world, but I want to make it very clear that I believe we should care about justice and poverty and safety and oppression not because it benefits the “greater good” but because I believe EVERY person has the right to those things because of their individual worth.  While I don’t feel the need to start researching authors, I have learned a lesson that when I am “recommending” or commenting on a non-fiction book, I will be more intentional about knowing the author’s background.  I don’t want to belabor this issue much more but am more than happy to talk about it with anyone who has thoughts/questions/insights.

The Girl on the Train (borrowed):
This was a sort of last minute pick in book club last month and I LOVED IT! It reminded me of Gone Girl but with less annoying insanity and with more reality.  And by “reality” I mean that this author was writing about things like alcoholism and infertility and abuse and mental stress as only a person who has “been there” could do.  I always connect so much with writers who are able to show by their words that they didn’t just do “research” but that they “lived” their research whether personally or relationally.  I don’t know this author’s story (see above, didn’t research!) but I just feel certain she is writing from a place of knowledge in some of these areas.  In recent years I’ve noticed how you often go through something REALLY hard, and then sometime down the road you come along another going through that very thing.  What is always so amazing and encouraging is how words (or silence) of experience and understanding can really be a lifeline to sanity and hope.  I suspect it might be a primary way we heal and redeem some of those painful things- using them as a tool to help others.
Another big theme I took away from this book is the way we create our own version of others’ “reality” based on limited pictures we see of them (can anyone say social media?) and quite often (maybe never?) do those creations match the actual reality.

Sisterchicks Do the Hula (mine- up for grabs):  My friend Ros gave me this book for my birthday (two years ago?) and I just read it last month (I’m sorry Ros!).  I do that a lot (maybe because I have 412 books to read at any given point?)  I LOVED the way it literally made me want to board a plane that night back to Hawaii.  (Seriously- I looked up ticket prices.)  I think in some ways, Hawaii will always be my home.  We had the great privilege of doing our residencies there and the island life just got in my blood.  I simply step off the plane and feel this thing that I imagine many people feel when they return to their childhood homes.  Hawaii to me is about peace and sunny, breezy beaches, and calm and aloha and love and friends and nature and home.  I am pretty sure I am more at peace there than anywhere else on earth.

Mary Oliver poems (library):  I know that Mary Oliver isn’t exactly a new author, but I haven’t exactly been a big poetry reader overall.  Her name kept coming up and I picked up a few of her books from the library before heading to Florida to spend a week with Pete.  I absolutely fell in love with the way she talks about nature, probably because I was sort of immersed in it that week.  She brought a level of peace and calm (and peace in the questions) to my heart that week.  I love the way she puts in short phrases complicated things we feel all the time.  I don’t write poetry much but I have a special place in my heart for it because it makes me think of my grandmother.


Stitches (library): If you don’t know Anne Lamott you should check her out.  She writes more honestly about grace and love and life and hurt and peace and hurt and laughter and hurt and writing than maybe anyone I know.  She reminds me of Brennan Manning in the way she embraces her faith and God’s grace but still admits daily all her faults and problems and how she holds on to God’s grace anyway.   Whoever you are, whatever your story, whatever your “things” are, you will find a welcome place in Anne Lamott’s words.  I promise!

The Rosie Effect (borrowed): Our book club read The Rosie Project last year and we all absolutely loved it.  Some disagreed but I loved this second one just as much.  I think this series tells an amazingly well-written story that gives a very human side to an often misunderstood group of people.  The main character has Asperger syndrome and is portrayed in such a real way that I can’t help but think it comes from real experience with people with Asperger’s.  This book reminded us of how quickly things get “off” when we don’t communicate and how sad that is to watch from the outside.  I think when this happens we sometimes make up our own stories and rarely are they based in reality.   I have known people who do this and then can’t remember what’s real and what’s not; I’m sure at some point most of us have been that person.  I love the way that this story helps you think of people with Asperger’s as “people” and not only their diagnosis.  I also really loved the subtle but obvious hint that sometimes taking emotion out of a relationship or issue can actually help

Vanishing Grace (library): I pretty much love everything and anything Philip Yancey.  His book What’s So Amazing About Grace is one of my Top 10 of all-time favorites.  I think he writes so beautifully about why grace matters and how having it in our life changes the world.  This book carries along on that same theme, specifically looking at why, if grace is a trait unique to Christianity alone (of all religions), have Christians often been seen as and acted like those with the LEAST grace- for ourselves and others.  I find this a fascinating topic

Tattoos on the Heart (library)– I have recently had more exposure to the prison system in general and the American prison system specifically.  I found this book through those conversations and channels and there is too much to say for this post, and will require an entire post all its own.  It is absolutely going in the top 10 for this year if not my life thus far.  Please get this and read it now.  How could you NOT want to read about a priest working with gangs in LA who is known as “G-dog”?  I WANT to talk about it with you!  Go.  Get it.


On Being Mortal (library): THIS. BOOK. TERRIFIED ME!  This surgeon has written several other great books exploring hard topics in medicine and ethics and humanity and I do think it was a well-written, thought-provoking book.  It explores how we as Americans and citizens of the world think about and experience issues related to death, dying and the aging process.  It is a fascinating short story of how our culture has come to think about aging (and what to do with those who are aging- yikes! All of us!) and how we approach conversations around death.  I am struggling so much with issues in the American healthcare system right now and I tend to get really “franxious” (frustrated/anxious- I just invented that word) when I read accounts like this.  Accounts that trace things out in a way that shows the insanity (but also the reason the insanity happened and why it continues and why “insanity” isn’t the best word because most insanity happens slowly, slowly over time until it’s the norm.)  This subject always hits me in a weird way because when you think about growing older when you don’t have children it can cause some anxiety if you let it.  Then, maybe because when you turn 40 (which I am still TOTALLY excited about) and you realize you are old enough to actually THINK about growing older as something that is happening to you (where DID all these wrinkles come from!?!) you realize that you do actually now and again have to think about it.  And that’s a good thing, but for some reason this book caused me a good deal of stress as I was reading it.  I’d be interested in others’ thoughts!

Ghost Wanted (mine):  This is latest in her newest series of books which are always a good, quick read with loveable characters.  Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand mystery series is my absolute favorite ever, second only to Agatha Christie.  I’ve been reading them for 20 years now and when the new one comes out each time it is truly my favorite day.  She recently announced on her website that the next book following Annie and Max Darling would be her last, and I’m not ashamed to tell you I actually cried some real tears.  Seriously.  I think I must not have been the only one because a few days later she retracted her post and decided she could not “kill” them.  Thank you Lord for this gift.

Other recent books:
Boundaries (mine): a classic.  You could read it 20 times and still learn more
In Search of Balance (mine): did not like as much as Margin, but still good stuff
Lila (library) I know so many people loved and connected with this book, but is there anyone else out there that just didn’t like it?  If so, PLEASE write and tell me- I want to understand why I alone of all my friends and family just couldn’t get into it?
The Meaning of Marriage (library):  Tim Keller.  Enough said.  If he wrote it, I will read it.

That’s it for now!  What are you reading and why?  I need some more books for the pile!

We Are the World, Petri Dishes and Guatemalan “Treasures”: My life as told through “The Life You Can Save” by Peter Singer

Last fall while on a long drive, P and I started playing our usual game of “Name the Tune/Musician.”   I pulled up “Hits of the 80s” and we were cruising through Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi when suddenly I felt I had jumped in Marty McFly’s time machine back into my 11-year-old body.

I was sitting by the radio in MS with my dad listening to Casey Kasem’s New Year’s Eve Top 100 countdown of 1985, ready to celebrate!  I had spent the entire year 100% OBSESSED with the song “We Are the World” by USA for Africa and I was convinced the countdown was just a formality.  As P and I drove toward home, my eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with emotion as I remembered the passion I had felt around that song and its message.  The idea of so many people uniting and donating their talents and money to help those struggling struck something deep inside.  The idea of people in the world starving to death that I could help was something I had never considered.  It’s possible this is where my “bleeding heart” originated, but I suspect it was planted inside me right from the beginning.  As I sat thinking about these things I realized the last months of my life and the latest places I’m spending my time and energy are not so far off from where my heart has ALWAYS been drawn.

We Are the World! (and check out the sweet hair!)
We Are the World! (and check out the sweet hair!)

I started thinking back over my life starting with my love of words that speak to my heart whether in person, books or song lyrics.  I thought of the way I have always loved to learn, of being absolutely transfixed by petri dishes and bacterial experiments memorizing bacterial names like they were NOTHING when I couldn’t figure out basic physics to save my life.  I recalled my college advisor asking if I’d ever considered medical school (NO!), and the excitement of seeing those words “We are pleased to welcome you to the class…”  I recalled SSGT Green helping me fill out the paperwork to join the Army (how did THAT happen?) and amazing times in HI and DC where compassion for patients and a love for educating and encouraging were instilled deeply by outstanding staff and colleagues.  I remembered difficult times in Iraq and with military medicine in general as I grew more and more frustrated with administrative roadblocks, monetary and politically motivated missions and the ever-increasing feeling that I was not able to really make a difference in the way I longed to.  I thought of making the decision to separate from the Army (not easy but the right one for our family of 2) and how that opened up doors for me to travel to Guatemala, Bali, Bainbridge, Thailand and Burma among others.  I began to believe more fully that it really is true.   When you follow your heart (and for me that means God’s voice in my life), you begin to see the patterns woven in right from the beginning to bring you to the place where you are most alive, doing what you were truly created to do.  All of those pieces of my life, when looked at in review make sense for the days of my life now.

Enter “The Life You Can Save” by Peter Singer.  Introduced to this book in 2011 after hearing a speaker challenge us to read it and pass it along, I connected with the message and started reading but never finished.  This January while focusing on my month of “finances and budgeting” I picked it up again at just the right time.

My review: I do not recommend most people read this book, to include those who:
– don’t want to read hard facts about money, wealth, poverty and inequality
– don’t want to feel bad/confused/conflicted/frustrated/guilty/mixed-up about the complicated issue of poverty
– don’t want to think about the fact that our current response to world poverty is “not only insufficient but morally indefensible”
– feel like you are doing all you can and reading this might make you mad
– are not interested in changing your life in ways that might require you to question things about the way you live

At some point during my reading, I felt each of these things and more but I knew that the simple clear words were true and that ignoring them didn’t make them any less so.  I realized my lack of knowledge, compassion and action when it comes to world poverty was really not acceptable to me anymore and so if you feel that way too, you might want to check out this book.  In it, you’ll see many facts that are hard to read and believe.  Things like:
– although the average American believes our country spends 15-20 percent on foreign aid, we actually spend less than one percent
– a modest contribution from everyone who has enough to live comfortably (defined as eating out occasionally, buying bottled water, etc) would suffice to achieve the goal of lifting most of the world’s extremely poor people above the poverty line of $1.25/day

What I so appreciated about this book is the difficult suggestions Singer makes about what the majority of us who live comfortably could (and he says should) do to make a real difference.  I have read many books, articles and thoughts on these subjects and find these some of the most challenging but difficult to argue with.  At the same time, he addresses the common and uncommon arguments, thought processes and questions of those who don’t agree with his words and proposals and lays out the reasons we have such a hard time knowing what and how to DO anything.  I particularly loved the way he brought in sociological and historical reasons for the state of poverty and inequality of wealth in our world.  He spends some time going over the pros and cons of different types of aid organizations and ways we can be wise about where our money goes.  He also discusses the actual physiological and physical results of giving and generosity that are hard to argue with but also hard to translate to practical starting points for some.

Mr. Singer is a well-educated and respected ethicist and having a personal interest in medical and humanitarian ethics I particularly appreciated the arguments and unique ideas he brought to the subject in this area.  (I would love to discuss these with anyone who might decide to read this book!)

I think this book resonated with me for several reasons; It made me uncomfortable, defensive, sad, guilty, confused, encouraged and excited.  When I am feeling that mix of emotions it usually means something good is going on, something that means change is coming.  In this case, the change had already started and this book helped put more words, facts and motivation behind some of those changes and I closed the book inspired and grateful for people who share their gifts of knowledge through writing.

On finishing this book I recalled the way that my heart, interest and energy has always been drawn to issues of poverty and oppression (seriously SOMEONE reading this feels me on the We Are The World thing, right?), be it in my backyard or across the world.  I was reminded again that when our lives (money, time, energy and attention) are spent on the things that come from the deepest parts of us, we are usually happier, healthier, more productive people.

I reviewed the places I already give, examined the places I spend money regularly as well as the ways I make money, and made some adjustments in all those areas, including some new commitments.  While people tell me often that they “love” my life (and I’ve written about my feelings on this previously) the truth is I love my life too.  I have been given the gift of medical and military training, an understanding husband and flexibility of schedule that allows me to go places and do things that others sometimes can’t for a whole myriad of reasons.  These advantages have connected me with people doing amazing things and serving selflessly in areas all across the globe.  I have the opportunity for ongoing relationships with many of them, letting me advocate for the work they are doing and people they are serving from a place of face-to-face knowledge.

I don’t tell you all of this because there is anything great about me, but to encourage you to do what you can do where you are with what you have.  If you are already supporting organizations that work with underserved, marginalized or suffering groups of people- WAY TO GO!  I would LOVE to hear who you support and why; what is it that captures your heart?

If you don’t know where to start, are looking for new places to get involved or are looking for a personal connection to an organization, I’d love to help!  There are so many great organizations out there from HUGE non-profits to small groups doing unseen work that makes a difference in individual lives.  Start your research with groups that work with populations you care about or are already involved in!  If you are drawn to medical work, education, empowerment, after-school programs, food/nutrition/poverty, at risk-youth or family focused organizations among others, here are a few I have researched and supported and have ongoing relationships with (many of them through child or family sponsorships).  For many, I will be visiting the organizations regularly (some within the next year) and could help make personal connections with sponsored children or local workers with gifts, pictures, words or other information (or you could come with me on a trip!)

Bali Children’s Project: dedicated to education as a means of improving the lives of disadvantaged young people in Bali; BCP is founded on the belief that children, empowered to realize their potential, will enrich their own lives and their villages and contribute to the world we all share. (Your child sponsorship provides school fees, clothes and supplies as well as after-school programs and dance lessons!)

Our sponsor children in Bali!
Our sponsor children in Bali!

Soddo Christian Hospital– The vision of Soddo Christian Hospital is to provide excellent medical services, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to make disciples.  (You can sponsor families/medical personnel, donate toward medical supplies or education among other options)

The Mocha Club:  a community of people giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to fund development projects in Africa; Five main project areas: Clean Water, Education, Economic Freedom, Orphan Care, and Healthcare; Our vision is to provide a way for people who don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars to make a difference in Africa. Our community-based website allows members to start a team and invite friends to join them in giving up the cost of a few mochas a month to support their chosen project.  (Join my team or make one of your own, this one is simple, inexpensive and fun!)

World Vision–  Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice; in nearly 100 countries around the world, serving all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.

Compassion International– Christian child advocacy ministry that releases children from spiritual, economic, social and physical poverty and enables them to become responsible, fulfilled Christian adults. (Let me know if you are planning to sponsor a new child through Compassion for some cool possibilities!)

The Potter’s House (Guatemala): Located in the heart of Guatemala City is the largest dump in Latin America. More than 11,000 people live and work in and near the dump, and nearly 6,500 of them are children.  Potter’s house is a Christ-centered organization that fights poverty in Guatemala by promoting a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ while deploying holistic development programs that focus on at-risk children and youth.

Lay Tong Ku Medical Clinic (Thailand/Burma): It’s hard to find Lay Tong Ku on a map much less a workable website for the newly dedicated clinic!  If you are interested in sponsoring a medic’s salary in this clinic providing care to severely underserved and oppressed people, there is great need and you have the opportunity for ongoing relationship here if that sounds fun to you!

some of the dedicated medical staff at the Lay Tong Ku medical clinic dedication

Girls on the Run (West Sound chapter): We inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.  You may not be aware that right here in the Kitsap peninsula we have many children living at and below the poverty level.  Many girls who would most benefit from this amazing program are not able to participate because they can’t pay the program fee.

Home of Hope Lebanon: Focus on creating a nurturing, encouraging, and helpful environment, which shall: first of all, help the children to recover from the traumatic events which they have passed through; and second, to educate and raise the children to be intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to face an increasingly biased future.  (This is one of my favorite “connection” stories.  The need is so great here, from money to workers/volunteers to encouragement!)

Hope House (Hattiesburg, MS): Hope House Ministries seeks to serve Christ by providing emotional, physical, and spiritual support to the homeless following the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as we attempt to respond to the call of Matthew 25:31-46.  (My dad and step-mom are highly invested in this awesome ministry and helped many of you provide warm sleeping bags and other needed gifts this Christmas.)

If you are interested in hearing more information about any of these I’d love to hear from you.
If you are interested in reading this book, let me know in the comments and I’ll pass it along, it’s one of the requirements of reading it.
Also, if you know what the number one song of 1985’s Top 100 Countdown was, I’ll send you another fun prize! (no cheating!)

A Year in My Life- as told through books: The Happiness Project

Happy 2015!

Happy New Year from Kauai!
Happy New Year from Kauai!

A new month, a new year, a new season. As I think back over 2014- my year of experimenting with living life outside of the Army- I realize I assumed in 2015 I would return to “normal” life, picking back up with typical rhythms and days. It turns out I learned a lot last year, not the least of which is not everyone has typical “rhythms” and there are a lot of different ways to live life fully. I have found this really exciting especially as I’m thinking about future goals and plans.

Thinking about this in December, I knew I wanted to do something a little different this year. Instead of one or two big goals and in the spirit of continuing to explore all the different ways life CAN look, I kept coming back to the idea of smaller goals and more all-encompassing changes. Things that could be slowly explored and incorporated or discarded, much like Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project.”

This book has been on my (long) list of books I’d “like to read sometime” and although brought up several times in book club, it never fully made the cut. In December, Brandi mentioned she was going to read this one in addition to the group pick, so I grabbed it from deep in the pile and started reading.

I’m not sure exactly why it took me so long to read it; perhaps a combination of “all the hype” sometimes turns me off and wondering if such a thing as a happiness “project” is really a “sensical“ thing? The truth is- I LOVED IT!!! and I read it at EXACTLY the right time that I needed to (isn’t it just CRAZY how that happens? You book lovers know what I mean!) For a person who LIVES for lists and challenges, quests and outlines, “rules to live by” and mantras, goals and planning (picking my new organizer each year is an EVENT!), this book was like feeding an addiction. (At the same time, I can see why people who do NOT like these things (so sad) would lose interest in this book very quickly and might find it quite annoying. For instance the other person who lives in my house would find this book excruciating I think!)

As I was considering my own version of the “Happiness Project” it made perfect sense to work it into my New Year planning. One of the things I want to continue to improve on (in quality and quantity) is my writing, so as I was thinking about all of those things together, I had a (brilliant? crazy? interesting?) idea. What if I gave a “theme” to my writing this year, which might help with a more regular schedule and give constant input for posts? Since book club was one of my favorite parts of last year, and the Happiness Project is what started this whole line of thinking, what if the posts I write this year are tied in to the books I read? Not book reports at all but more ideas and connections I make with my own personal life while reading. A sort of “year in the life” of a reader? The idea kept sticking around and so I’m going to go with it- starting with this post!

My life as seen through:The Happiness Project. As a very short summary of this relatively short book, Gretchen Rubin (a lawyer who left that work to pursue writing) decided to approach 12 areas of her life in a very planned way, in order to see if she could purposefully increase her happiness. She selected areas like “health” and “parenting “and “marriage” and “organization” and assigned them each a month of the year. She then developed 3-5 goals/rules for that area that she stuck to for that month. Using a chart she could visually document how well she was doing as she processed the experience through writing. I really like the way she logically addressed and explained how the process went- discussing many rules/goals that she abandoned because they just didn’t work for her (like keeping a physical gratitude journal) as well as some that she worked into her life as the new norm (like a particular gym/work-out plan) and others that she relaxed on but still tries to incorporate as she sees the benefit (like getting 7 or more hours of sleep a night).

Another part of her process she shared was a set of “Rules to Live By” she developed- things like “Be Gretchen (no one else)” and “Cut people slack”. These were more reminders that apply across categories and could be recalled easily in different situations. I loved how she kept referencing them within the areas she was working on in a particular month and how they became sort of second-nature to recall in a particular situation.

For my “project” I’m not thinking of it as a way to bring more happiness, but instead to provide intentional boundaries, goals and areas of growth for the year as I continue to explore what it means to live a healthy and centered life. I think there is great value in reviewing the past year and looking ahead to the next year to acknowledge lessons, make changes and set goals small and large (regardless of success percentage!).

Modeled after the Happiness Project, I picked an area to focus on each month, as well as one “rule” or “resolution” for each month’s topic/focus that I am going to try to stick to for the whole year. Each month, I’ll pick 3-4 other goals (in addition to the one I’m incorporating for the whole year) to really focus on. In addition I made my own set of “reminders” (aka Rules to Live By) that I am already finding INCREDIBLY life changing (numbers 5 and 7 below are in the lead!) So, if you are interested here’s what my “Centered” Project year looks like (I’ll just give you the one yearly goal for each category vs all for each):

Jan: Finances– 90% of the time, nothing new (goal to not buy things, buy/use recycled/reused/borrowed when able and to try my best to buy 90% of new things from local/small businesses)

Feb: Marriage- “Be” Love- (the 1 Corinthians 13 kind- patient, kind, humble, not boastful, unselfish, not irritable, rejoicing in truth not injustice, hoping/enduring/believing)

Mar: Minimalism– Always choose the “lighter” option (as pertains to the earth, food, waste etc.)

Apr: Play/Fun– Preserve margin in my life

May: Food – No second helpings

June: Health (holistic standpoint) – Do something active every day

July: Work and Writing– Refuse to give any attention to dread- turn dread into anticipation

Aug: Relationships (family/friends)– Pay attention (listen well, phone down, be present)

Sept: Spiritual– Be Dawn (the person I was created to be, no one else)

Oct: Declutter– Regularly give things away

Nov: Contentment– Hold everything lightly (plans, material things etc.)

Dec: Centered life– Live from the “core” (spiritually, core exercises, know what’s important to me etc.)

Reminders to Live by:
1. Live “lightly”- weight/nutrition/exercise, minimalist, decrease possessions, be an encouragement/light to others, laugh more
2. Be “present”- present over perfect (stolen from Shauna Niequist!), no multitasking, listen well, decrease cell phone dependency, look in people’s eyes, don’t overextend emotionally/relationally
3. Make good choices (inspired by Viktor Frankl and Michael Hyatt)
4. Relationships always trump. Relationship trumps all.
5. Act the way I want to feel- the outer shapes the inner (A.J. Jacobs, Gretchen Rubin), trust truth, God, facts not feelings in the moment
6. Be “Dawn”- a light (dawn), run my own race, no comparisons, show up where I can bring needed knowledge/strengths/gifts/help, embrace my uniqueness instead of focusing on differences
7. Assume the best- (of others) – assume positive intent, cut people slack, remember not everyone is like me and that’s ok!
8. Create margin- know my limits, take care of myself
9. Encounter every lesson in life on purpose (Jadah Sellner)
10. Refuse to give attention to dread- turn dread into anticipation, offensively attack dread with gratitude
11. Cultivate patience- learn to wait well, look for places to be patient
12. Remember the “BE”s- Be kind, be quiet, be gracious, be honest, be active, be content, believe, be “love”, be grateful, be positive

(You can see a couple of these are also focuses for a particular month, because they need extra attention!)

So there you have it- some of my goals, hopes and intentional thoughts for 2015. Feel free to call me out on any you see me “not remembering” (but do it kindly?J).

I’ll be back in a few days if you want to keep “reading” along with me (I’ve already got three others to tell you about!) and I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on The Happiness Project if you’ve read it, any goals or resolutions you made or any other thoughts you may have!

Merry Christmas Eve- Peace, Love and Gratitude to you!

It’s time, it’s time!!

Christmas is here and so this, (at least by intention) will be the shortest post of my blogging life!  This fun day started out with twinkling lights in the dark, seen while running across the Narrows Bridge with this crazy and fun running family I was welcomed into 5 years ago.    The (second) annual Christmas-Eve-run-across-the-Narrows is ALWAYS followed by coffee at Starbucks (because of course it is and yes, doing something twice makes it a tradition,) where we linger over coffee and laughter and reminisce over last year and plan for next year until one by one we head out to what our individual day holds for us.

This morning was made especially special because my new (running, Girls on the Run, music-adoring, crafty, generous, FUN) friend Ruthie joined us (which required her to get up MUCH earlier than the rest of us- Yeah Ruthie!)  The day continues with cooking and reading and phone calls and Christmas Eve service and dinner with friends and various other preparations and celebrations, but I couldn’t miss taking these few minutes to say Merry Christmas Eve to all of you, my friends!! Here are my (short and “sweet”) words to you this December 23rd afternoon (in WA at least!)

Awesome Ruthie and me!
Awesome Ruthie and me in the middle of the bridge!


Thank you!  Thank you for your friendships and for the way you have been so generous with your time and feedback and encouragement and support as I (intermittently) share my words with you here in this space.  Thank you for the way you make me feel less crazy when you say “me too”!  Thank you for the way you say “thanks” when something I say makes a difference in your life- that is the greatest gift you could ever give me, so with all sincerity, thanks.

More than any of that, THANK YOU for the way you supported, in words and thoughts and actions, the (snow) Angel project!  When I first posted about this I had no idea how it would turn out.  Then as I told you here, I was a little discouraged for a few days, until suddenly there were so many of you writing with people in your lives that could use some Christmas angels.  THEN, the way you guys responded just made me feel overwhelmed with gratitude most days.  You gave sleeping bags and lights and money to help those who don’t have beds or walls to sleep in feel warm this winter, which is a gift that is just too hard to explain the meaning of.  I’m not sure those of us who’ve never had to worry about that COULD ever really understand.  You gave enough money to help a grade-school child (in an immigrant community with great need) to be able to attend school using public transportation for almost an entire year, (with enough money to hopefully help his community a little in other ways this season).  You made Christmas happen for two families who are hurting and holding on for better days and I’m not sure we’ll ever really know all the ramifications of that kind of gift.  You gave 8 new beds to a hospital in Ethiopia where this is truly a gift of health and life!  You gave diapers and clothes and shoes and toys and other things I don’t even know about and for that I am so truly grateful to call you friends.  I would like to note also that so many of you already give to your own friends and family and community and neighbors and that makes me just as happy as connecting you to people here.  Basically, thank you for your generosity and for reminding me that it’s ALWAYS in giving (in tangible and intangible ways) that we “get” the most.  Or as one of my (eloquently worded) friends put it:

“I can’t tell you how much my heart and soul needed to do this. They should be getting lots and lots of Amazon packages (plus a gift card for groceries) in the next week or so. I really hope it helps. Goodness knows it has already helped me more than anything else this season. Tis better to give…”

So, again, thank you for being the awesome community that you are!

I’d love to sign off for the year by sharing an article that I’ve really been thinking about these last two weeks (written by Joshua Becker, a “minimalist” blogger whose approach really resonates with me).  It’s written from the standpoint of setting expectations for children for Christmas, but I think it’s pretty applicable to all of us who live in this first-world nation of plenty.

I read this right around the time of our last book club (yeah for the first year of book club which turned out to be one of the highlights of my year!!).  We went around and shared our favorite memories (as we were sharing tasty treats!) of Christmases past.  You know what?  EVERY SINGLE ONE of us shared a memory of a moment– with parents, siblings, children, friends, spouses, community- memories of time and experiences with others that shaped our lives long after the moment had passed.  We reflected that in light of realizing the importance of the memories of Christmas (over any gifts we did or didn’t get that we didn’t remember all these years later), maybe we should focus on creating those with our families and trusting that those moments will be the things that last through the years.

It is with a very full and grateful heart that I say Merry Merry Christmas Eve to all of you. 

I hope that the past month and the next few days are filled with good food and laughter and good drink and good runs and beautiful sights and a few fun things you might have been hoping for.  More than any of that however,  I wish that each of you has moments with your people whoever they may be, that you are recalling at a book club or cookie exchange years from now as you think back on your favorite Christmas memories.  Moments like these:

me and Crumzy Clare at the Girls on the Run 5k!
me and Crumzy Clare at the Girls on the Run 5k!
Theo, Anna and me at the  Celtic Solstice before the Army/Navy game!
Theo, Anna and me at the Celtic Solstice before the Army/Navy game!
5th Annual Holiday dinner with friends!
5th Annual Holiday dinner with friends!

Much love and peace to you all!

Peaceful Sam
Peaceful Sam