Take your shoes off...

Is this photo what you imagine taking off your shoes should be like?  Well...think again.  As good as it feels to slip our toes into warm sand on a far off tropical beach, it isn't the only place that the benefits of setting your feet free can be felt.  The truth is that taking your shoes off most any place is good for the soul. 

I have always been a shoes off kind of person.  I know I am not in the majority.  I began to consider my feelings about how taking our shoes off related to our personalities and stress levels shortly after I got married.  They say that opposites attract and in this area my husband and I definitely were of opposing views.  He never took his shoes off except to shower and slip into bed. I, on the other hand, took off my shoes whenever the opportunity presented itself.  At my desk while working, in the car as a passenger, immediately upon walking in the front door of my home.  I actually carry a pair of socks to slip on when I take off my shoes to teach or speak if I'm feeling the need to be a bit more relaxed and connected to those I'm trying to reach.  

I persisted in my encouragement of shoe removal with my husband over the years.  I was certain that was one simple thing he could do to feel less stressed and positive on a daily basis.  He was certain I was ridiculously simple minded. I had no "proof" -  there were no internet searches back then ... I just knew it.   I believed that somehow taking our shoes off was connected to much more than just comfort.  I knew that the simple act of taking off our shoes had the ability to relieve stress on a substantial level.  It allowed for greater relaxation over short periods of time throughout the day.  Going shoeless provided a "grounding" opportunity when focus and communication was essential.   Years latter I began to research reflexology at the local library and soon found myself enrolled in massage therapy school.

There is plenty of research available on line for your review these days if you need it.  I understand that just because the concept of removing your shoes is a simple one that it isn't always an easy one to adopt.  I would suggest that you give it a try.   Here a little, there a little.  Invest in some new socks if need be.  As for my husband?  We took a short flight to visit my mother two weeks ago.  As the pilot announced the planes decent to our destination, I noticed that my husband was quietly slipping his shoes back on. 


A walk along the river's edge...

A mother sat on the side of the road next to a large tree.  A small memorial of flowers and candles sat next to her.  It was 2:15 in the afternoon.  24 hours ago her son was killed in a car accident as 3 boys were making a quick run to get a Slurpee before Cross Country practice began.  In an instant she was thrown into the raging river of tragedy.  "Where would Peace be found in these waters?" was the question I asked myself that night one week ago. 

This young man was a friend of my two youngest daughters and their peers.  His parents had come here to build a better life -  a good life -  for their children.  They would work hard and sacrifice so that their children would get a good education, go on to college, and raise families of their own here in a place that they would know as home.  As a mother myself, I have spent much of the last week in empathy overload, and yet no matter the heartache I felt as I contemplated myself in any similar type of situation, I knew I was not feeling anything near the depth of her pain.  I could not place myself there.  I had experienced the loss of my father and an older brother -  walked beside my mother as she made the journey through grief.  But, that was distinctly different, they had lived full lives, many more years than this boy, and most importantly they were not my child.  No, I could not know her pain.

I attempted many times over the past week to post something but I was without words.  I knew that peace could be found in all of this but I wasn't sure what it would look like. Then quietly it began to appear.  The countless face book posts of love and support were a mirror with the reflection of Peace. For my own children it came through their friends.  It was inspiring to watch these High School kids come together, lift one another, mourn with the family, and face the challenge of continuing to move forward through their homecoming week, and cross country district finals only a few days away.  For some it would appear in the form of making a difference by selling T-shirts at the homecoming game to raise money for the funeral expenses.  For others it would be wearing those same T-shirts in a show of solidarity and love and honor. And for me, it would come through a simple call to service. 

It was a text message on Wednesday.  A dear friend of mine who was very close to the family of this young man was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of feeding the mass of mourners who were expected at the funeral which was set for Friday.  I did not know it that day, but through that simple text the hand of Peace had been extended...  I made two phone calls - both to good friends - women who also felt helpless to do anything that would make a difference. The emails went out within the hour.  I texted my friend back.  Don't worry about the food again.  It is taken care of.  It will be there.  Food - comfort food.  It was a call to arms for mothers within our community. 

As the appointed hour for delivery arrived, 3pm at our homes, we became a little nervous.  Would the emails be answered? We had simply given an opportunity for service, with a date and time for delivery.  Each dish of their choosing was to feed ten people.  It was as simple as that.  Now, at 2:45, and with very few deliveries yet to be had, I was doubting.  We had food, but not enough to feed the hundreds that were anticipated.  When Veronica and I walked up to Jill's door to add her deliveries to ours she opened the door with a smile.  "They came...I should have never doubted...everyone just wanted their dish to be delivered warm."  Her kitchen and dining room was full of food.  Two women pulled up as we were loading with their casseroles warm and inviting to share. A mother who had lost her own 35 year old son just one month prior had a visit with Peace as she delivered her platters of food.

When we arrived at the church we found that many people had sent food with their kids who would be attending, and even local restaurants answered the call for comfort through food by donating dishes.  It was unbelievable the amount of food we took from our cars that day.  Each item purchased and/or prepared with love.  It was an opportunity to reach out to this family, who they did not know well enough to approach personally, and give them the equivalent of a community group hug through a meal.

I tried to find my daughters seated somewhere in the chapel, but there was standing room only and  people 30 to 40 deep outside the doors.  As I pulled out of the parking lot I could see the ground waiting that had been prepared in the small cemetery next to the church.  The sky had turned dark and a cold October rain had begun to fall on my windshield.  My heart was suddenly heavy.  My thoughts once again turned to this young man's family - a father, mother, and two teenage siblings. If life is like a river you walk beside and tragedy the turbulent rapids, surely it had taken every ounce of strength his family had to pull themselves out of the raging waters long enough to walk along its rocky edge today.  I had been foolish to think this meal would somehow carry Peace to them on this day.

7:15 p.m. the phone call came.  "Brenda, it was beautiful!  The plan had been for the family to leave immediately following the service, they were sure they couldn't handle anymore...and then they saw the food.  There was so much.  It was beautiful.  They tell us there was over 1000 people who came.  There was healing in that food - conversation - and love!  Thank you! Thank you!...I will call you tomorrow..." 

Food.  Comfort Food. Yes, I am sure it had taken every ounce of strength they had to walk along the river's edge that day - the temptation to let the waters carry them away- and under- would have seemed inviting.  In the coming days they will have to make the decision again to walk along the river rather than be carried away by it.  It will not be easy this decision to navigate through the grief and forward.  Forward...moving forward.  Hmmm...that was my goal this month.  Peace...it will be there at the river's edge.  Friday it was found in a hot dish.





Peace is a grasshopper

16 years ago I was asked to give a talk on the subject of peace and the family. I don't remember much of the details now, in fact none. What I do remember is the weekend prior to this that my husband and I took our family down to Seaside Oregon for a late fall visit to the beach. I was pregnant with our daughter Katy and she was soon to arrive, Brian had just opened his Law Practice doors, and I was also leaving my job where I had spent my days the last twelve years to begin my work as a full time mom. I needed the beach. I had been asked to speak on a topic that I wasn't really "feeling". Everything about my life at the time was in transition and uncomfortable. I was great at my job, in fact they would have to hire two people to replace me. I was comfortable there, I was the expert. At home full time with four children...what was I thinking??

Strange that I remember the day we drove South so vividly. I remember the sprinkling of rain on the windshield and the gray clouds in front of us on the highway. As I was watching them the wind blew open a gap through which I could see that behind the clouds there was a bright blue sky, and although I could not see the sun, there was a distinct golden ribbon of light along the edge of the opening. I wondered if that was what people meant by a "silver lining" in the clouds, and I felt my hope renewed that the weather might cooperate with us. That maybe this was the right road to be traveling. It was a quiet drive, the kids slept most of the way down, I spent most of the time pondering my talk on peace and wondering why it was so elusive in my own life. Peace had been sitting next to me in the car but I hadn't even really acknowledged it's presence I was so caught up in all my thinking.

We stopped at a rest area/boat launch when the kids woke up. My husband walked the three kids down to check out the boats coming in and out of the Columbia River. In the distance I could see that they were all running around chasing something in the grass. Then I could tell that my son, the oldest, definitely had something he was running up the hill to show me. Please don't let it be a snake. As he got closer I could not see anything at all in his hands, but the girls were so excited running next to him. I knew there was definitely some great prize he carried.

When they reached me at the top of the hill, a good three hundred yards from where they started, perched on the back of Taylor's hand was a single grasshopper. There he was in all his glory, light brown, spindly legs, beady eyes looking right at me. They were all out of breath and talking at the same time about how they had been trying to catch them... and then this one simply jumped onto Taylor's hand. The truly amazing part though was that it remained perched there for the entire bumpy journey up the hill from the boat launch. None of them could believe it. Brian and I couldn't either. Time to set him free and finish our drive.

I thought about this grasshopper for at least a year after that day. I considered how peace was like that grasshopper - very difficult to catch, not likely to live long in a cage, and most joyfully experienced hopping freely about an open field. Why did it seem to rest with some so easily, just as that little hopper did with my son? Why with even the best effort did it remain just out of the reach of those who wanted to "catch it", and hold on to it? I didn't have any of the answers, but I did a lot of research on the subject. I even told an old man once - he was a writer - that I had a great title for a book, "Peace is a Grasshopper". He laughed and told me that all good writers have many great titles for books - its the content that they're missing. He was right of course.

That was the beginning of my personal pursuit of Peace. Pursuing anything is a lot work. And thus the idea is that anything worth pursuing should be worth the effort extended. I took a minute to look up the definition of Pursuing (better make sure of my word choice now that it is out there for the world to see...) This is what I came up with:

  1. To follow in an effort to overtake or capture; chase:

  2. To strive to gain or accomplish:  

  3. To proceed along the course of; follow:

  4. To carry further; advance:

  5. To be engaged in

  6. To court:

Yep. That's the right word. Now that I have that settled in my mind, it is time to consider if it is worth the effort. I mean that in all sincerity. Is it worth the effort? To go into this "pursuit" you must ask yourself this question. The mistake that is often made is to think that it is easy. Two years ago I was snuggling with my 17 year old daughter. She had just recently given birth to a beautiful little girl of her own. Her new baby was sleeping next to us. She asked me, "When we were little and you would hold us, did you ever look at us and think...this one is going to grow up and total the family car... this ones going to grow up and yell at me she hates me and I'm ruining her life...and this one is going to grow up and get pregnant in high school...?" I laughed out loud. In that moment I loved her more than ever. Nope. That's not what you think. Life is not easy...but definitely worth the effort when Peace is present. Each of those experiences, and many more than I can count in addition, have been journeys of discovery as I have pursued Peace along the way.


Peace is more like a river you walk along side of than a glass of water you drink and are done with. I will be honest with you, most people around you don't think it's worth the effort at all. If you can't catch it and keep it in a cage for future use as needed - why work at the pursuit? True...simple conversations about Peace will not deliver it to your doorstep. But Peace knows your voice...recognizes who you are when calling it's name...and it always hops over for a look see. Easy to walk by that little grasshopper - if your not looking for it in the tall grass.


C'mon and squeeze in here...

Wednesday I spoke with a really good friend and family member. We were up at our cabin and my daughter noticed a pickup being loaded up with bags of belongings two cabins down.  There was a for sale sign out front, and we knew it had been sold recently.  Was it really her moving out?  Or was it the new owner moving in?  We walked down to see.  It was her.  Strange...we hadn't really spoken more than two or three times this past year.  I knew she was in the process of moving on...moving forward.  She had actually been doing it all along, this  just made it much more evident.  Selling the cabin..."his cabin".  She and the kids hadn't been there much in the past year.  She also was in the process of moving out of "their house" into "her condo".  All big steps.  Huge steps really.  Steps that she alone would have to take, no one could take them for her.

It has been about five years since I squeezed between she and her husband in their bed and shared a great Taco Bell lunch.  He was soon to die from Pancreatic Cancer.  We all knew it.  That day we didn't think about it.  We laughed, ate Taco Bell (very liberating to have it be just fine to eat Taco Bell in bed - with friends), discussed the "little people" the new pain medication had added to his list of occasional visitors, and nothing else...just a visit.  It is one of my best memories of his last months.  It is the day I came to admire his wife in a way I do few others.  

Everyone handles the challenges life throws at you differently.  Especially the big ones.  And, have you ever noticed everyone else seems to know exactly how best for you to handle yours? She certainly had no shortage of suggestions.  I must admit I was one at times who wanted to hurry her journey. Well, I'm absolutely certain that five years ago, I best rephrase that, I think I'm absolutely certain, that I would not have handled the last months of my husbands life as she did.  I would have been up cleaning the newspaper off of the chair next to the bed making a proper "visiting space" for those who entered the room.  I would not have said "the rooms a disaster...c'mon and squeeze in here!"  and as a result, the visit would have been much less fun, much less liberating, simply put...much less.  Less of everything truly important.

 But that was then...I am fairly certain, as I was taught by her example in the face of the most dire challenge, that now, perhaps I would be able to focus on what's most important... the visit.   I try in all areas of life now to say "c'mon and squeeze in here!"  I must admit I'm still not great at it some days. (Wish I didn't have to type that but my kids read these.)  One thing is for sure...the "rooms" of my life are often a mess, a disaster even -  depending upon the day.  Just thinking about that makes me laugh.  In fact, those of you that know me must be laughing too and hopefully saying to yourself, "well, at least she honest." 

You can have peace in your life even in the midst of a disaster.  The kind of peace that enables you to say "c'mon and squeeze in here!"  There is no need to clean off a visiting space on the chair.  Peace much prefers to squeeze in right next to you and share some Taco Bell!  Isn't that what we are looking for...the kind of peace that doesn't require a clean room?!  I have even noticed that during those times when I am most desperate for a visit...I have cleaned off "the chair" and I am sitting across from it, staring at it, arms crossed, tapping my foot impatiently...eventually (sometimes days later) I look up from the chair and there at the door is the visitor I've been waiting for.  Patiently waiting for me to say "the rooms a disaster...c'mon squeeze in here!", and like the good friend that Peace truly is - we share what is most important...the visit.


Destination Unknown...

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