I love books.  Just love them.  If I lived in olden times and had a lot of money, I would have had a library.  Floor to ceiling books with one of those cool ladders that slides along so you can reach the volumes on the top shelves.  Even to this day, I get goose bumps when I’m on my university’s campus and go by the library.  I spent A LOT of time in that building, and I’m still in awe of it.

My love affair with books is twofold.  One, so many books help you to learn and I love to learn.  They’re filled with concepts, ideas, history, theories, knowledge, energy, passion and just different ways of looking at things.  Secondly, many books help me escape to another world, another time, another person’s life, another drama, someone else’s dreams, and it’s so welcome at times to have that respite.

So combine my love of books with my love of Costco (yes, that’s right–Costco Warehouse–the place that sells everything in bulk) and you have a piece of heaven.  They have books–lots of books–and all offered at a discount.  Yesterday, before I traveled to my Dad’s to visit with him for Fathers’ Day, I went to Costco.  While there, I ventured to the book tables, which is always pure joy for me.  I looked at the titles, picked up a few and read their synopses, searched the piles and just wasted some time.  Even with my love of the actual physical books, I do have an “e-reader” and most often buy my books on line.  So, usually my perusal of Costco books amounts to nothing more than window shopping (Remember my post on having “more stuff?”  E-books are one way to cut down on the physical stuff).  But, today was different.  I spotted two books I couldn’t take my eyes or hands off of.

The first one is titled, “The Eighty-Dollar Champion,” which is a book about Snowman–a white horse who was saved from the glue factory and became a champion jumper.  I love feel-good true stories like Snowman’s.  Combine that with my love of animals and I have all those sorts of books.  “Marley and Me,” “Seabiscuit,” “Dewey,” “Secretariat;” you get the picture.  Into the cart the book went.  Then I spotted a second one, and you won’t be surprised why.  The title is, “The Road to Grace.”  Grace.  My mother’s name and one of my favorite words (obviously).  It’s written by the author of “The Christmas Box” and it tells the fictional journey of a man who walks across the United States after he lost his wife, his job and his house.  Hmmmm.  Yep, into the cart that one went, too!  This blog will likely bear witness to stories and quotes from both of these books in the coming weeks, but for now I’ll leave you with two from “The Road to Grace:”

  • One can never know what a new road will bring.
  • Heroes and angels usually arrive in disguise.

Both quotes kind of remind me of the “unseen” post from the other day.  One never fully knows or always recognizes when we’re in the midst of grace.

Every day I receive at least one of those emails…you know, the kind that have either funny sayings, inspirational messages, stories of epic proportions, Maxine cartoons, spell a word differently and send around the world, etc.  And, of course, there is always the final message–“Make sure you send this off to seven, ten, twenty, five or whatever number of your friends and contacts to continue this message.”  Some of them are like the old fashioned chain letters with messages of dire consequences should you dare to break the chain.

Geez, as if this superstitious chick needs any thing else to worry about!

OK, so I must confess…some days I just hit delete.  I do.  I don’t read the message.  I don’t read the dire consequences.  I just close my eyes and hit delete.  It’s not personal.  I just don’t have the time that particular day to read it/them and be threatened by penalties of unimaginable proportions if I don’t obediently follow through.  And, yes…some days I read them and I laugh, get inspired, try to figure out the puzzle and YES, I do send some along to my friends.  Usually the ones that inspire me or make me laugh get forwarded and others I mercifully– for my friends sake–keep tucked away and don’t send along.

So yesterday–I got this message.  And I was about to hit delete–but I didn’t.  I scrolled down to find this list of “Ten Questions God Won’t Ask on Judgment Day.”  Yikes.  OK–so I couldn’t resist.  Too much fire and brimstone for me to ignore.  And yes, I suppose it’s a little over the top (wait until you see the pictures!), but the “questions” or messages contained in each of those ten frames reminded me a lot of Rohr’s first half/second half of life concepts.  And, I just couldn’t resist saving them on a Word document for posting on this blog.

Yep.  I did.  The heck with forwarding–I’m launching these into uber-cyberland.  They also remind me of A. J. Michalka’s song, “It’s Who You Are,” which I posted on this blog before–but here it is again:  It’s Who You Are Link

So here they are–emailed to me from a wonderful SWOG.  Get ready for Fire and Brimstone.  But, do take a moment to contemplate the messages.  They are good ones.  SWOG Questions God Won’t Ask

Today I need to serve up some real meat and potatoes–a critical issue that faces women in the workplace and a significant reason behind me starting this blog.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up with a brother six years my senior.  I spoke in my post, “The 600 Pound Gorilla in the Room” about the competitive nature of my upbringing.  I didn’t mention it, but I’m sure most of you rightfully concluded I was a tomboy; anything my older brother could do, I was bound and determined to do, as well.  My mom often told the story of my brother going down the sliding board head first and I followed right after him.  The problem was, I didn’t put out my arms/hands at the end to brace my fall.  No matter, the scab on my nose eventually healed.  🙂

One day when I was about seven years old my brother and father were outside playing pitch and hit baseball in the back yard.  I grabbed my mit (which was almost as big as me) and headed out to join them.  Of course, my brother was annoyed, but my father soon taught him the advantage of having me along.  I would run and chase the balls he hit and bring them back so my brother could hit even more (this was before my father built a batting cage for him).  So I would dutifully run all over the back yard after balls and run them back as fast as my little legs would carry me.  This particular summer day was a scorcher and soon my father and brother shed their shirts to cool themselves down.  Undaunted, I did the same thing.  Out of the house runs my mother yelling, “Little girls do NOT take their shirts off!”  Hmmmm.  OK, this is a gender difference–eh?

Fast forward to a week ago when I had the opportunity to facilitate a discussion with local women business owners about whether there are differences in running a successful business for them versus their male counterparts.  It was a great conversation and here are some of the major points that surfaced:

  • The factors of success for a woman-owned business are the exact same as a man-owned business, however, the way the two genders achieve those factors is usually different.
  • Here are some of the issues women face:  Cultural bias in some global companies within certain countries–even within our own country within certain religious groups (Mennonite, Amish, Orthodox Jew, etc.); Networking boundaries because of spouse jealousy or due to family responsibilities (can’t do the impromptu “go out for a beer”); Male executives enjoy social networking with other men–folks like themselves; Negative corelation between success and likability for women–a positive corelation for men; Women business owners often have to manage households and family duties in addition to their businesses–many male business owners don’t have that same level of responsibility.  Can you think of others?

Whether we like it or not, women still face certain biases and here are two links I would encourage you to read/watch that highlight just a few of those.  The first one is research published in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “Are Women Held Back by Colleagues’ Wives?”  Here is the link to that article:  Women Held Back.  The second link is a Ted Talk by Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook.  I would particularly like you to listen to the part of the speech about the correlation between success and likability for men versus women.  You can access it here:  Ted Talk Sheryl Sandberg

We can’t do it the same way, and yet for so many of us our mentors or role models have been men, not women.  Not in all cases– but in most– we have to manage differently, behave differently, negotiate differently and generally navigate unchartered waters.  At least, this has been my experience.  Voila, Strong Women of Grace.

Said tongue in cheek…we can play ball and strive for the same success, but we can’t take our shirts off!

OK, as promised, I wanted to tell you more about the book “How God Changes Your Brain” by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman. I’m not going to do this book justice; it’s close to 300 pages of information outlining the impact of different behaviors or practices on the brain.  For some general information about the book, you can review the following links:  Summary of How God Changes Your Brain and a most helpful summary at:  Chapter by Chapter Summary of How God Changes Your Brain

I just want to remind readers that my premise behind this blog is about women acting with and from strength with grace (versus strength with overpowering control, coersion, manipulation, intimidation, etc.).  Probably the major takeaway for me that I’ve put into practice and that has truly impacted my ability to act more “gracefully” has been taking time to meditate or contemplate–and for me it’s taking time daily to meditate and contemplate God/spirituality/purpose/understanding and so on.  The feeling of peace I derive from this time and how it carries over into my day, my activities, behaviors, reactions to things, etc. has been amazing.  I would say transformational, but I would venture those observations would need to come from someone who knew me a few years ago and knows me now.

The following highlights are found on the back cover of the book:

  • Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
  • Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.
  • Intense prayer and meditation lastingly change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

Here’s an almost unbelievable paragraph found in Chapter 9 on “Finding Serenity.”

As a doctor, I must emphasize that these techniques do not, in any way, replace the appropriate use of current medical practice. but if you add them to your daily repertoire of activities, you will find that they can have a very powerful effect on your life.  They will boost the responsiveness of your immune system, sharpen your productivity at work, and enrich the quality of your relationships–not just with family and friends, but with strangers whom you might casually meet.  Empathy and compassion will be enhanced, and you’ll even find it easier to interact with those who hold beliefs that differ from your own.  That’s a lot to promise, but we feel that the thirty-plus years of research into the underlying mechanics of spiritual practice is so conclusive that we are planning to incorporate these exercises into various programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Spirituality and the Mind.

The above claim is bolstered when you read the authors’ earlier sections of the book outlining brain composition (the frontal lobe, limbic system, anterior cingulate, amygdala, thalamus, and parietal lobe), and the effects meditative practices have on brain activity and chemistry (as demonstrated by years research including brain scans, client behavior, etc.).

We often wonder why it is so hard to change or why, even when people continually run into the same problems or outcomes, they don’t do things differently.  Here’s some information from the same chapter in a section called, Confronting the Belligerent Brain:

The exercises we will describe can change your brain in a matter of minutes, but many people resist doing them, even when they feel an improvement in cognitive function and mood.  Why?  There are different explanations, but the one that makes the most neurological sense is this:  After spending decades building a somewhat stable personality to handle life’s tribulations, the brain is hesitant to alter its underlying beliefs.  After all, even if your behavior is dysfunctional, it has helped you to survive, which is what your brain is primarily designed to do.

It took your brain decades to form these habits, and it’s not easy to turn them off.  Old neural circuits do not disappear, especially if they are tinged with negative or stressful memories.  In fact, it takes a lot of metabolic energy to grow new dendrites and axons or rearrange synaptic connections that have been firmly established over the years…thus, it’s easy to dream up a new idea, but exceedingly difficult to get the rest of the brain to comply.  Even if you succeed in changing different aspects of your personality, don’t be surprised if old patterns of behavior reassert themselves from time to time.

I would venture to guess the last paragraph is a contributing explanation to why it’s difficult to heal damaged relationships.  Not only is it hard to change our own behavior that may lead to dysfunction within relationships, but to trust someone else’s change would be perhaps even more difficult.

So what do they recommend doing?  The last half of their book is pretty much a self-help guide which focuses on explaining several lists.  The first list they outline and explain is “Eight Ways to Enhance Your Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health” in Chapter 8 entitled, “Exercising Your Brain.”  The second list is a guide to various meditative practices and finally, they explain strategies to enhance “Compassionate Communication.”  Keep in mind, I get no “kickback” for recommending any books…but if you’re interested in making behavior changes of your own and how these techniques could assist you in doing so, I would highly recommend it.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste!

The Art of Forgiveness, also by Wilfred A. Peterson.

The art of forgiveness begins when you forgive someone.

It is having a humble spirit and being done with pride and self-pity.  It is taking a step toward the practice of forgiveness.  Hate is death, forgiveness is life.

Forgiveness works the miracle of change.  When Lincoln was asked why he did not destroy his enemies he replied:  “If I make my enemies my friends, don’t I then destroy them?”  When you forgive you change others and you change yourself.  You change discord to harmony.

Forgiveness should span the years.  You should first forgive yourself for the wrongs you’ve done to yourself and others, for the mistakes you’ve made.  Then you should forgive and bless all those who have wronged you during your lifetime.  Thus you release others and you release yourself.  You break the chains of regret and remorse that bind you.  You free your mind from the burdens of the past so you may walk victoriously into the future.

Forgiveness works two ways.  You must forgive to be forgiven.  “He who cannot forgive others,” wrote Edward Herbert, “breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass; for every man has the need to be forgiven.”

Forgiveness should become a habit.  When the Master was asked how often we should forgive, he answered:  “Until seventy time seven.”  He who forgives to infinity will never hate.

The Art of Living by Wilfred A. Peterson. “Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you, but on what happens inside of you. It is measured by the spirit in which you meet the problems of life. Happiness is a state of mind. Lincoln once said, ‘We are happy as we make up our mind to be.’ Happiness doesn’t come from doing what we like to do, but from liking what we have to do. Happiness comes from putting our hearts in our work and doing it with joy and enthusiasm. Happiness grows out of harmonious relationships with others based on attitudes of goodwill, tolerance, understanding, and love. The master secret of happiness is to meet the challenge of each new day with the serene faith that all things work together for them that love God.”

From the beginning of “The Joe I Know” by 70 former players of Coach Joe Paterno.

I have not posted in several days because I’m under a large pile of boxes and I’m having difficulty reaching my keyboard.  As a result, I have just copied and pasted the following from an email I received today.  It was just way too funny not to pass along, and I decided my recent posts were way too serious.  Therefore, I hope you find these as enjoyable as I did (I’m still snickering at a couple of them…)

Winston Churchill loved them. They (Paraprosdokians) are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.

3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right – only who is left..

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a work station.

11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted pay checks.

12. In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put ‘DOCTOR.’

13. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

18. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

19. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

20. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.

21. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

23. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

25. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

26. Where there’s a will, there are relatives.

By now you know I’m a movie junky.  And of course, being on this journey I’m on I could not help myself.  I HAD to read the book and watch the movie Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  One of my favorite scenes in that movie takes place when Elizabeth is in Italy and she’s touring the Augusteum.  These are excerpts from both the book and the movie:

On my way back home I take a little detour and stop at the address in Rome I find most strangely affecting- the Augusteum. The big, round, ruined pile of brick started life as a glorious mausoleum, built by Octavian Augustus to house his remains and the remains of his family for all of eternity. It must have been impossible for the Emperor to have imagined at the time that Rome would ever be anything but a mighty Augustus- worshipping empire. How could he have possibly forseen the collapse of the realm? Or known that, with all the aqueducts destroyed by barbarians and with the great roads left in ruin, the city would empty of citizens, and it would take almost twenty centuries before Rome ever recovered the population she had boasted during her height of glory?

…I look at the Augusteum, and I think that perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated. The Augusteum warns me never to get attached to any obsolete idea about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday, I may have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough- but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository (as the Augusteum once was). Even in the eternal city, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.

Ruin is a gift.  Ruin is the road to transformation. 

I’m sensing a repetitive theme here–how about you?

Falling Upward is the name of a book by Richard Rohr. In it he discusses the idea that we have “two halves of life.”. He starts his introduction with two great quotes…

What is a normal goal to a young person becomes a neurotic hindrance in old age.  Carl Jung

No wise person ever wanted to be younger.  Native American Aphorism

A dear friend of mine gave me this book to read and after reading the introduction, I now understand why.  Here are some excerpts from the introduction:

  • The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently.  The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push–usually a big one–or we will not go.  Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in–but only to be moved out from.
  • In legends and literature, sacrifice of something to achieve something else is almost the only pattern.  The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all.  Yet it is still a secret, probably because we do not want to see it.  We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down, especially after we have put so much sound and fury into going up.  This is surely the first and primary reason why many people never get to the fullness of their own lives.  The supposed achievenments of the first half of  life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further.  Why would we?
  • Normally a job, fortune, or reputation has to be lost, a death has to be suffered, a house has to be flooded, or a disease has to be endured.  The pattern in fact is so clear that one has to work rather hard, or be intellectually lazy, to miss the continual lesson….Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) told me personally once that he felt most Western people were just spiritually lazy.  And when we are lazy, we stay on the path we are already on. even if it is going nowhere.
  • Some kind of falling, what I will soon call “necessary suffering,” is programmed into the journey.  It is not that suffering or failure might happen, or that it will only happen to you if you are bad (which is what religious people often think), or that it will happen to the unfortunate, or to a few in other places, or that you can somehow by cleverness or righteousness avoid it.  No, it will happen, and to you!  Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences–all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey.
  • We grow spiritually much more from doing it wrong than by doing it right.
  • The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling or changing or dying.  The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo, even when it is not working.  It attaches to past and present, and fears the future.

I have only read most of the introduction, but needless to say I am intrigued.  I’ve spoken in previous posts about “clinging” or difficulty letting go of what we know (whether it is good for us or not).  I have spoken about the difficulty of change when we are uncertain of the new reality.  But, life happens and change comes to us whether we welcome it or not.  How can loss become a natural part of our journey?  How can we learn to lean into it like someone welcoming a strong headwind for the way it clears our mind.  How can we have “rock bottom trust” as Betsy tells us about from “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor. Her bible study group was studying the chapter on “the practice of getting lost” last week.  Ms. Taylor talks about how we as humans tend not to veer off the comfortable worn paths of our lives, but in doing so, we miss so much. She also talks about experiencing loss (loss of a job, your lover leaves, the baby dies) and how the “advance practice of getting lost is consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting becomes your choice, as you experience the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.” She calls this “rock bottom trust.”

Faith.  Trust.  Not understanding why things happen, but believing that something deeper and meaningful will result from the changes.  Leaning into the changes–embracing them for what they teach–for how they humble–for how they transform–for how they strengthen us.

More on the book to come!

Dear fellow SWOGers,
I wanted to suggest a book that you might enjoy that speaks directly to the SWOGBLOG purpose. It is, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, by Joanna Weaver. To give insights into the book’s message the Table of Contents includes topics like: A Tale of Two Sisters, “Lord, Don’t You Care”, The Diagnosis, The Cure, Living Room Intimacy, and more. The first sentence in the book states… “Have you ever tried to do it all?” Sound familiar!? I like that this book has an “At-A- Glance” summary of key points at the end of each chapter. (O.K, that’s an indication that I live life in a rush!) If you get this book I hope you enjoy it. Lovingly, Nancy Draude