Making a way out of no way.

John Lewis was an American hero. His whole life was a testament to fighting the good fight and trying to make the world a better, more egalitarian place even in the most dire of circumstances. Today, he is laid to rest, but he left us words, every one ringing with truth, to give us light and help us find our way without him:

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

“That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

“Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

“Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

“You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May his words hold true in our hearts, and let us live up to the example he set. Let us go forward in the spirit of peace with everlasting love as our guide. Let this be our solemn vow. Now is the time.

Choosing joy.

Sometimes joy is a matter of perspective. It’s reaching down and being grateful for it all, the mess, the euphoria, the triumphs, and the tragedies. Grateful to be here, to have a voice, to have people to care about, to have a chance to make a difference. Joy in it all is a choice.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen unpacks this further:

Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.  What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.

What is the promise behind the circumstances that threaten to steal your joy? Is there something hopeful there? Seeing that promise may just be the key you are looking for.

Embracing this life.

The might have beens are a killer. We each take so many forks in the road, it’s easy to wonder how our lives might be if we had taken a different turn—gone to a different school, chosen a different career, picked a different partner. Those might have beens can keep us up late with longing and despair about the life we currently have. And, more importantly, they can strip those lives, the actual lives we are living, of joy.

Consider this poem by Carl Dennis:

The God Who Loves You

BY CARL DENNIS

It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you’d be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings
Driving home from the office, content with your week—
Three fine houses sold to deserving families—
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you’re living
On any scale of satisfaction. And every point
A thorn in the side of the god who loves you.
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
Who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments
So she can save her empathy for the children.
And would you want this god to compare your wife
With the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation
You’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight
Than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel
Knowing that the man next in line for your wife
Would have pleased her more than you ever will
Even on your best days, when you really try.
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
Is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives
You’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
And what could have been will remain alive for him
Even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill
Running out in the snow for the morning paper,
Losing eleven years that the god who loves you
Will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene
Unless you come to the rescue by imagining him
No wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend
No closer than the actual friend you made at college,
The one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight
And write him about the life you can talk about
With a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,
Which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.

Carl Dennis, “The God Who Loves You” from Practical Gods.Copyright © 2001 by Carl Dennis. Reprinted with the permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors, see http://www.penguin.com.Source: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004 (Penguin Books, 2004)

We have choice and agency in the life we have. It is there we find meaning and purpose. It is there, in the now, that we can find joy. Embrace that life.

Savor the little things.

For better or worse, we have pushed a collective pause button. Our world just got narrower on the outside. Perhaps this is the time to broaden it on the inside. Enjoy the moments. Reach out to people to check in and tell them you care. Savor the little things. Pause and reflect.

It’s OK to struggle.

Sometimes life is hard. Really hard. Relationships falter. Obstacles seem insurmountable. And just getting to the next day feels overwhelming. At times like these, we have to remember that it is OK to struggle.

We don’t have to be perfect. We do not need to have all the answers. Sometimes all we have are questions. But that is often a good place to start. And then we begin again, one foot in front of the other, perhaps not seeing the whole path ahead, but just enough to know where to put each foot.

“Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Uncomfortable? Yes. Exhausting and overwhelming and painfully hard? Yes. But not impossible. And it won’t necessarily feel this difficult and debilitating forever. You’ve made it through similar hard things before. You’ve survived every single bad day and every obstacle the universe has ever thrown at you. You’ve survived all the things you felt convinced would break you. Every single one. And this is evidence that you can make it through this too.

“You don’t have to figure everything out today. You don’t have to solve your whole life tonight. And you don’t have to tackle everything at once. You just have to show up and try. You just have to focus on the most immediate thing in front of you. And you have to trust that you’ll figure out the rest along the way. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. And its okay to make mistakes. You’re still learning how to navigate this new path. It’s going to take time, and you’re allowed to give yourself that time. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get all A’s or be the best version of yourself or outperform everyone else. All you have to do is show up and try. It’s always been enough before. It will be enough this time too.”

— Daniell Koepke

Here’s to you finding the light to take that next step, and then the next and the next, until your path leads you out of this present darkness. It is OK to struggle.

Dust you are

dust

The world existed before us and will go on after us. That’s a hard thing to wrap our minds around because we see things from our point of view. It’s hard to picture a scenario without ourselves in it. And yet, that day will come. Our chance to make our mark will end. While it seems at first like a very sobering thought, it can be uplifting because it reminds us that we are here now; this is our time to dance, to love, to give, to celebrate, to reach out to the other dust particles like ourselves and do our bit. This is our moment. Let’s make the most of it.

Seize the day.

berries

Today is the day. Seize it, use it, enjoy it, fill it up with meaning and truth. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Now. Today. Here. This moment right here, right now, holds all your opportunities for action.

Your imperfect offering.

 

offeringPerfection can be the enemy of progress. When we need to move forward, we often wait until we come up with a perfect solution, sometimes so long that the opportunity to make our contribution passes. It is not only ok to be fallible, it is all we’ve got to work with: Our imperfect, fallible, often short-sighted selves doing our best to make the world a better place right here, right now, with what is right in front of us.

Take a minute to watch this lovely video of Leonard Cohen singing a reminder that perfection isn’t an option; we must do our best now.

Spotlight on Home

homeswithinSomething there is in each of us that yearns for home.  Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a physical place. We travel back to that place and wonder why it feels different. What has changed? Why doesn’t it still feel like home? Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a particular time, a past perhaps that wasn’t complicated with today’s troubles, and lose ourselves in nostalgia. Sometimes we confuse that yearning with a particular person and, if we lose that person, wonder if we will ever feel at home again.

But what if home is not a particular place in time but a feeling we can take steps to cultivate? Here are some suggestions that might bring that feeling of home into your life:

Embrace the Now

Think about those times when you felt a deep sense of belonging and contentedness. Chances are, it was when you were lost in some sort of activity, maybe with people you love, and you lost all sense of time. No checklists, no to-dos, no schedule. Just falling into the moment and letting it lift you out of the day into something bigger.

Welcome Others

Remember that old TV show, Cheers, when everyone shouted “Norm” when he came in? A place where “everyone knows your name?” That sense of welcome is something we can offer others. Greeting them, smiling, welcoming them into the conversation or community. That is a profound thing we can do, and that sense of home that we give to them will undoubtedly rebound to us and make that place in time feel more homey for everybody.

Lay Down Your Weapons

It is hard to enjoy someone else’s company when you’re disagreeing with them. Sure, some conflict is necessary and even healthy to life together, but set aside time to come together in harmony with people. Search for the common elements you agree on. Abandon the judgment and criticism. Enjoy a game or activity that deemphasizes competition. Savor the time together.

Use Your Own Definitions

It’s easy in a social media culture to look at other people’s homey pictures and events and think you need to duplicate those exact things if you want to feel the sense of home they’re experiencing. In fact, that’s one of the strategies behind advertising: “Look at these happy people. Don’t you want to be just like them? If you buy our product, you will be!’ But that comparative decision-making is a set up for disappointment. Instead, look at your people and experiences and find ways to enjoy them that are uniquely your own. And then maybe consider holding those moments a bit sacred, away from the instinct to share. Savoring your home life beats bragging about it every day.

Realize Life is Difficult

For many people, that feeling of home doesn’t include suffering or loss or heartbreak, but is this the way it should be? Isn’t that comforting of each other through the ups and downs of life exactly what home should feel like? We don’t need to run from the hardships in life, we just need to be there with each other through them. Everyone’s life has bumps and bruises. We are all vulnerable.  Pretending we aren’t and that we have the perfect home life is just a set-up for disappointment. For those of us who have weathered storms, having a friend or family member down in the trenches with us has made all the difference and made even the horrible experience feel like home.

Make Time for Your People

Who are the people you love and make you feel at home? Are you finding time to spend with them? Sometimes, even when we love people and hold them close to our hearts, we need to schedule time to spend together. It’s a fast-paced world, finding an opportunity to slow it down to spend time with your loved ones is important, even if you have to pencil it in on your schedule.

Your Roots are Global

The connections between you and anyone else in this world exist, no matter how far removed. For an eye-opening experiment into just this theory exactly, take a look at this DNA experiment.  That knowledge of connection to others, even those seemingly nothing like you or even those you hate, can ground you to see others as yourself, to greet others, to befriend others, to join into a global community where you can feel at home wherever you go.

Today, come home.