A journey to another level


The past few months, I have been on a spiritual journey. Not the picturesque kind where you trek through some tropical jungle or pristine mountain, alone with nature and finding God. No, mine has not been nearly that glamorous. My spiritual journey has been a lot more realistic and intermingled with work, endless chores, daily responsibilities and the mundane beauty of life. Of course, I didn’t set out to have a journey, but I am having one nonetheless.

The thing with unintended journeys, is that you don’t know you’re on one until it starts. Then, once you notice it, you cannot be sure when it will stop – not that it really needs to. This spiritual awakening seems to be centered around three seemingly inconsequential events: a two-week military class, a movie and a family visit.

First, I didn’t expect enlightenment from a mandatory two-week military class. Quite the contrary actually. I expected a painful experience that included charts and tactical maneuver plans, which I can honestly say I am lagging behind on in terms of familiarity due to my job field. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Instead of grilling the students on tactical decisions and military knowledge, they forced us to expand our perceptions. We discussed critical thinking, personalities and strategy.

In each of the sections, we broke things down. Why do we think something? Where did that belief come from? Did we consider another view point? Did we consider third- or fourth-order effects? We discussed thinking traps and fallacies, biases and preferences. We explored how different personality types work and how to work with each style. We argued national strategy in thoughtful and respectful way. At times, it was a painful experience for some of us. We had to listen to view points we didn’t like or agree with. But we had to listen. We had to think. We had to consider these statements and beliefs and dig deep. Not just think, oh, I don’t agree with you. It was more. It was WHY don’t I agree with you? Then, came the hard part — we had to dissect our whys and give them logical reasons to support them.

In general, I don’t think most of us do this very well, especially in the very divided Nation that we seem to have lately. We all want to be right. We all want to feel heard. Yet, a good majority of people don’t really LISTEN (myself included). We don’t stop to hear all the sides, weigh the facts and situations, and put ourselves into that perception. No, we immediately jump to decisions and conclusions and judgements. We tend to assume we would have done something better, something different or something obvious. Yet, we were not in that situation with all those factors weighing on us. And, we didn’t HAVE to make a decision.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers in life. People are difficult. Life is messy. And situations are never the same. Then factor in alternative facts, propaganda and emotion just to complicate things even more.

Just because you think you might do something in one situation, doesn’t mean it’s the only way to solve a problem. Just because you are offended by something, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s logical.

I was thinking all of these things, pouring over my life, world events and all the whys. I was trying to see the world differently. Then, I watched a movie (The Shack) that put these thoughts into more perspective.

In the movie, a father takes a spiritual journey after the loss of his child. There were several thought-provoking moments of the movie that I really recommend watching. However, one of the more prominent moments for me was when the father is asked to decide which of his two remaining children will go to Heaven and which will go to Hell. Naturally, he struggles with this choice and eventually offers himself instead. Remind you of a Biblical story any?

Surrounding this part of the story is judgement and love. There is a line where the Holy Spirit tells the grieving father that man was not designed to judge others, yet we do it every day. We judge people by their clothes, jobs, talents, culture, religion, race, hair color, political party and so on. Every day we make judgements on people we have never met, never spoken to, never considered. We measure them against ourselves like we are some perfect role model that does no wrong. We expect them to look like us, be like us and respond like us. Yet, we never consider what it is like to be them, walk in their shoes, or deal with situations from their view point. But naturally, we must be right and they must be wrong.

When I combined these thoughts on judgement with the thoughts swirling in my head from class, it stopped me. It made the world even more complex and overwhelming to me. How can we ever hope for world peace when the human race is too busy judging each other? How can we solve real issues when we don’t typically use critical thinking skills? How do we improve things in our world/Nation/state/county/neighborhood/home when we don’t want to change or consider others or include others’ thoughts? I didn’t know, and it felt overwhelming.

Then, I went home for a visit. While home, there was a good bit of tension. Without telling the situation (since it is not my story to tell), I will just say that my family circle had a series of events to deal with: a tragedy, a mistake and a decision.

While dealing with a devastating tragedy, a family member made a mistake and now that person and others around them were forced to deal with it. The path they chose was not typical, and it upset some people. So much that it created division. People chose sides, built camps and stopped talking. Anger and resentment and hurt were working hard into the hearts of loved ones.

I had my thoughts on the situation of course. Would I have put up with this? Would I have done something different? Immediately, I thought yes. There is no way I would have done XYZ! But then I stopped. I stopped judging, and started loving. I started to think of what it must be like to be in that series of events. I thought about the third- and fourth-order effects behind the possible decisions. I thought about what my anger may have been if I were in the place of those family members. I thought about what my anger was in my current place. I considered WHY I felt the way I did…and then I expressed those thoughts to my loved ones.

It was a difficult talk. I was filled with my own emotion and they were filled with theirs. I explained my view points and concerns and they explained theirs. I heard their emotion. I felt a taste of their pain. I could see the difficult choices they had before them. Would I have chosen differently? Frankly, I don’t know. Everyone is different, so maybe. But really, who am I to judge how someone lives their life? Who am I to rate how they responded to the situations?

I may not have to agree with the choices made, but it doesn’t really matter. What was important for me to realize was that my only part in this mess was to decide on one thing – did I still love my family members or not? Of course I did. So, if I loved them and stopped judging them, all I needed to do was support them.

That didn’t mean I held a parade praising the things I didn’t like. It didn’t mean I embraced the factors I was concerned about. But my opinion on their life was irrelevant. All I needed to do was help them, love them and offer an ear. I didn’t need to write them off and out of my life just because they were dealing with some unorthodox situation. I didn’t need to stop talking to them because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t need to be mean to them because I would have chosen some holier-than-thou option. I just needed to love them.

I suppose the moral of the story is that my journey has brought me to a conclusion. We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, nor can we always solve the ones near home. However, if we start with our own hearts and homes, we can make a difference. We can start a ripple of love. We can stop judging and start loving. We can stop assuming we are better, faster and stronger than everyone else and use critical thinking skills to work on issues. We can move past our biases and preferences to really think about a situation before we speak on it. We can do some homework and research and gather real facts before we spout of hate and judgement on a topic or person or situation. We can stop grouping individuals as all the same.

I know that is all easier said than done, and the world will probably just continue on its angry divided judgmental path. However, I do have the choice to be different. I have the choice to not be a part of the negative. I have the choice to make a difference in my part of the world, and I choose to be fair and loving. I choose to dig deep and think things out, weighing the options. I choose to not judge. I choose to try to be a better person and hopefully, that will make a difference. And, if we all do the same, that ripple could spread. And maybe, just maybe, together we can make a bigger difference.

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May God grant you with wisdom and patience as you move through life. Just don’t forget to love in the struggle. ~ Nato

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Scrambled news


As a child, I thought there were clear lines. Things were either right or wrong, black or white. However, as I grew up, I learned the world was much more complex. So complex that sometimes, there was no black or white, but merely shades of gray.

These shades of gray invade every aspect of our lives. We debate on everything too. From whether eggs are a healthy protein or cholesterol killer to if the media is worthless fake news or valued free press, we plead our case.

It seems nothing is simple anymore…or maybe, it never was.

Eggs have always been eggs. Their molecular composition has not changed. Nor has their nutritional values. They are both things: high in protein AND cholesterol. So, depending on what you read and your nutritional needs, they can be good or bad.

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For example, the Mayo Clinic states that eggs can be a very healthy option.

Most healthy people can eat up to seven eggs a week with no increase in their risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that this level of egg consumption may actually prevent some types of strokes.

Yet, for a while, eggs were reported to be a bad food choice by many. For example, Live Science states that there is no real dietary need for them.

Cholesterol is an important component of all human and animal cells and influences hormone biology, among other functions. Since your body naturally has all it needs from producing its own cholesterol, there is no dietary requirement for more cholesterol.

The problem here is that both arguments are factually correct. So, if we can have this much debate over the simple egg, naturally, every other issue is bound to be more complex.

That brings me to the media and the current buzz over their value. Just like eggs, there are two distinct camps. There is the #FakeNews camp and the #NotTheEnemy camp.

And, just like debate on eggs, both camps have some validity.

Is there fake news out there? Of course there is. However, it is usually called propaganda. This simulated version of news aims to inform its audience with the goal of altering an opinion on a topic. Sometimes there will be a nugget of truth buried in the “news.” Or other times, it is completely false. Either way, this propaganda can be powerfully misleading.

This fake news is not a left- or right-wing problem though. It can easily be found across party lines. Heck, it can be found across the globe for that matter.

On the flip side, there is good journalism out there. For generations, reporters have discovered many wrongs in the world. From unethical business practices to inhumane treatment of segments of society, reporters have provided the checks and balances in our democratic society.

This necessary “watchdog” in America is essential. Unfortunately though, the watchdog’s growl is not always appreciated, especially if its directed AT you, rather than FOR you.

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No one likes criticism of course. There will always be an endless stream of naysayers and complainers who think their way is better. However, as mature adults, it is important for us to sift through the claims and evaluate if there is any validity. And sometimes, we have to realize…the truth isn’t always pretty. Nor, is it always for us. However, just because something is not FOR us, doesn’t always mean its false.

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This harsh reality is what makes democracy work though. It helps to keep people honest and makes them accountable.

But as average people in this era of #AlternativeFacts, how can we trust what we are reading? With new “media” sites popping up all over the internet, it can be hard, if not impossible, to know the truth of what we are reading.

Fighting propaganda is a serious concern these days. And it is a issue that falls into the laps of the readers, according to National Public Radio.

Stopping the proliferation of fake news isn’t just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news also need to find ways of determining if what they’re reading is true.

If you read their article, they give some tips on filtering out fake news, which I highly recommend.

I guess the bottom line is that you should get your news from multiple sources, or like the saying goes…don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

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For Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge ~ Black and White.

Stumbling into kindness


When fall hits, I start thinking about Christmas presents. I like to have my holiday presents all planned out early so I can enjoy the season without rushing. However, this year I happened to stumble upon some gift giving at the last minute for some strangers. And in the end, it was more of a present for me…

This was the first Christmas that my children would both be gone. They were both off at college and celebrating Christmas morning with other friends and family. So that meant no stockings, no early morning presents or no childlike excitement. Needless to say, my mommy side was a bit sad. I enjoyed making the holidays extra special for the kids. (It may have been even more fun for me than them.)

So when I came across a Facebook post asking for donations for local families in need, I quickly offered some help. It would be nice to feel like Santa and it seemed simple enough. Buy a few grocery items that could be placed into a holiday food basket. The organizer, who was a stranger to me, happened to live just a few miles from me. That made it even easier for me to offer more help upon dropping off my contribution.

After talking with her, I found out that her idea of making a couple of food baskets turned into donations for eight families. Her and her two daughters had come up with the idea and made a simple post to a community Facebook group. Then, myself and others started donating. So her two baskets turned into eight. She was so overwhelmed at the sudden rush of donations, so I offered to help her deliver them on Christmas Eve. I mean, why not? I wasn’t doing anything with my kids that day anyway.

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This is the “basket” of food that was collected, which then turned into eight more.

For ease and safety, a majority of the baskets were taken to one location so that people could pick them up there. We were met with smiles and tears and genuine appreciation. Grown men and women humbly approached us and said, I’m …. you said to met you all here.  One man was picking up a basket for a woman with cancer. She wasn’t feeling well enough to get out, but her son came along too and greeted us with wide eyes when we gave him the food. Another woman showed up all tearful in her van that had a blanket for a side window. And a tattooed man that spoke of motorcycles could not completely hide his emotions as he drove away. It was touching to see how we had affected people in such a good way.

After we gave out those baskets, we had two more to deliver in the local area. One was to a single mom of five young boys. They didn’t know we were coming and when our cars pulled up on their dead end road, the boys started peaking out the window. I am sure they were wondering what a group of people were doing on their street all of the sudden. With a gallon of milk in my hand, I started to walk with the girls towards the house. Then I stopped. I realized I was walking with the girls who helped plan the event with their mom while she was standing back by the car. I couldn’t give out stuff with her girls while she stood in the shadows. I turned around and urged her to go instead since it was her idea after all. (We were trying not to overwhelm the lady by have too many people come to her door.)

So from the road, I saw the girls hug the young boys and the moms both wipe tears from their eyes. The boys started hopping around looking in the basket. There were no toys in the basket, but food is never a bad thing when your hungry.

Shortly after that, we stopped by an extended stay hotel. A lady came out slowly with a walker. She approached us and let us know that she was the one we contacted. We gave her the laundry basket full of food, and she started to tear up. I don’t know her story, but she thanked us for our kindness. I never thought I’d be in this position…but I am. So thank you. It means the world to me. 

The organizer of the baskets hugs a woman we gave to as her husband and daughter stand nearby.

I thought about her comment: she never thought she’d be here. That is so very true. None of know when life could give us some circumstance that throws us into a tailspin. And I know from my personal experience, it is hard to accept help. It is difficult to admit you need assistance. And it is humbling to need help from strangers.

As I watched these women hug, both crying, I felt a mix of sadness and joy. Here I was on Christmas Eve, standing in a parking lot with a bunch of strangers crying, and yet, I felt complete. Yes, I missed my kids and this was not how I envisioned my holiday. It was not even an idea until two days prior. Like the woman receiving the basket of food, I never thought I’d be here either. But here I was, and it felt good to be a part of something so simple and yet special…even if I stumbled into it.

 

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For the Daily Post Discover Challenge ~ Hope Gone Viral.

Update: Since this unplanned plan went so well. The ladies formed a group called the Breakfast Club and we plan to do more donations throughout the year.

And here is a message from the lady with five boys:

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Goodbye Roller Coaster 2016


If 2016 were a roller coaster, it would be the kind that leaves your feet dangling in a pool of frenzied piranha and your head whipping into the clouds to catch a glimpse of the unicorns frolicking in Heaven. In other words, the highs were glorious and rare but the lows were absolutely horrible.

The dips of the ride 2016 were low and heartbreaking with the deaths of legends and history-making icons like Gwen Ifill, Alan Thicke, Leonard Cohen, Janet Reno, Arnold Palmer, Prince, Gene Wilder, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, John Glenn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Merle Haggard, Joe Garagiola, Morley Safer, Carrie Fisher, and sadly, the list went on. And in the middle of all this death, the presidential election gave us a full shock and awe ride. For that is when American civility, tolerance and basic decency was flipped upside-down in the name of progress and change.

Though losing all those notable figures and values in one year made our heads spin, 2016 brought us even lower by taking out names we may never have known, in cities we may never have thought about. Across the globe hate bread attacks, killing innocent people in the name of terrorism. From Iraq to Belgium to the United States, nameless people were murdered by tragic explosions, mass shootings and stampeding vehicles. Many of us will never forget the face of that little boy who sat in shock in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo.

However, this was not enough shock for a ride like 2016. No, it needed more “thrill.” So 2016 threw in some homegrown hate, natural disaster and local tragedy. The world stumbled around trying to fight a Zika outbreak that kept popping up around the globe. A mix of sadness and outrage flowed when a child was rescued after falling into a gorilla pit at the Cincinnati Zoo, which then resulted in the gorilla’s death. Fires raged in multiple states leaving a wake of homelessness, destruction and death. Hurricane Matthew struck the Caribbean as a Category 4 monster that claimed up to 900 lives and then flooded out many parts of Louisiana.

As we all tried to catch our breath from these steep descents, 2016 threw in even more twists and turns. We saw: a young singer get shot by a fan, churches and people attacked and killed because of their race, police offers murdered because of their uniforms, buses full of people overturned, random stabbings and shootings of normal people for ridiculous reasons, and a child drug away by an alligator at a Disney Resort.

This painful list of nonstop tragedies plummeted many of us into cold sweats and nausea. It was all we could take to not throw ourselves off the ride while it was in motion. But like they said when we boarded the ride, “Please keep your hands and feet in the ride at all times and remain in your seat until the ride is over.” So we clenched our teeth and prayed for it to end.

Now that it is almost over, many of us are relieved, or realizing we relieved ourselves during the ride. We are gathering our wits and prepping ourselves to get off this damn roller coaster. (And not too soon I might add.) As we prepare to walk away from the horrifying ride 2016, hind sight and bragging rights of survival will set in…eventually. The distance will allow us to acknowledge the highs of 2016. Yes, there were some. Just like any roller coaster, there were peaks and fun twists to enjoy.

For those of you who might still be in shock and denial, I’ll remind you of a few pleasant highlights of the ride 2016. (And yes, I had to look some of them up!)

Though our election seemed to kill some hope and human decency through its long contentious descent (on both sides), it did shoot us up through some glorious broken glass as six women secured political seats across our country. (Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Tammy Duckworth were elected to the Senate, Stephanie Murphy and Pramila Jayapal won seats in the House of Representatives, and Ilhan Omar was elected to her state’s legislature.)

And whether or not you like her, First Lady Michelle Obama proved herself to be a brilliant orator as she dropped one awe-inspiring speech after another onto us, giving us hope we would survive the ride if we stuck together.

All the flips of the year were nothing compared to the mouth-dropping tumbling of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team in Rio though. They stole our hearts as much as they did the gold medals.

Another fun surprise of the year 2016 was the rise in the tiger population. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 3890 tigers were found across the globe this year. If you think that is a low amount, think again. It is actually a huge increase from the less than 700 that were found in 2010.

If we paid attention on one of the ride’s peaks early in the year, we may have seen Scott Kelly descending from space after nearly a year at the International Space Station.

Or maybe we noticed the 108-year old curse that was broken when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in Game 7. Yes, some of us (like me) wanted the Indians to win as they had a compelling story as well. But even so, you have to love the end of a curse. (Wait, does this mean the curse of 2016 can end too?)

On a much smaller peak, but still fun nonetheless, 2016 managed to get hoards of people off the couch and out of the house. Yes, they may have been walking around like zombies and bumping into each other as they stared at their smartphones looking for imaginary Pokemon, but that is not the point. The interesting side effect to the game was that even self-proclaimed lazy people were outside in the real world moving their bodies. One point for the Pokemon Go game creators there! And, as a side bonus to this plus, a comedian created a hilarious version of this game (Chardonnay Go, which is way more my style of game) that wound up going viral and had me, and many others, cracking up.

After months of spins, the agonizing ride for protestors at Standing Rock Reservation paid off as the pipeline was rerouted to not run through the reservation as planned. Win for humanity!

The ride 2016 even included a water attraction. Yes, it was a self-induced water attraction as people poured buckets of icy water over the heads in the name of ALS. However, the money raised from the viral challenge that took over our social media feeds is claimed to have raised money that helped researchers discover a gene believed to be among the most common contributors to the disease.

So amongst all the horror of 2016, there were moments that glimmered and made us smile. I suppose the extreme ups and downs are what makes a roller coaster so memorable. If all we had were peaks, we may not appreciate them as much. Those low points give us more perspective and balance. Though, the ride 2016 had to have more lows than several others. But, with that said, there is nothing we can do to change it. The ride is coming to a stop. So, we can either let this ride of a year beat us, or we can pull ourselves back together and move forward so we can prepare ourselves for another adventure.

Surely, 2017 will have its ups and downs like any other year. There will be shocks and twists and surprises. But I am praying for a brighter and more uplifting ride…because 2016, if you were a roller coaster, I think you’d be closed down.

 

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Best Wishes into the New Year~Nato