Wow.  I just came home from a celebration of life service honoring a 42-year old man who lost a very short battle to cancer.  He was the son of one of my former bosses, and I had met him only once-- so I was mostly there in support of his parents. After this 2-hour celebration filled with stories, laughter, tears and all emotions that go along with those, I feel like I know him better and more importantly heard the valuable lessons of how he lived. Zach resided in multiple places in the United States over his relatively short life.  He grew up in Pennsylvania but spent considerable time in New York City, Philadelphia, Colorado and finally California.  He majored in an engineering discipline in college but he ended up studying the ways of Native Americans in the west.  I remember his father scratching and shaking his head multiple times over the years when I would ask how his son was doing, and he usually ended with something like, "I'm not sure if he'll ever settle down and figure out what to do."  Of course his father--a classic baby boomer--was used to the ways of choosing a career discipline and following that discipline throughout your life until retirement. Ah, but the stories today.  The free spirit; the kindness; the sense of humor; the "being present" for people in his life; the choosing warmth, openness and helpfulness over impatience and aggravation; the making everyone that entered a room--even his hospital room at the end of his life--feel welcomed and honored; the singing in the shower and the car; the laughter; the hikes; the honoring nature; the loving animals; the being present for children.  I'm not kidding.  Person after person (and there were quite a few who spoke) had the stories to back up the character that was Zach. The last gentleman who spoke was a friend from Colorado.  He told us that just before he left for the airport to make the flight across the country for the service, he made a decision to change out of his dress clothes--so sure he was that Zach was laughing at him from somewhere in the spirit world.  And, instead he put on a flannel shirt, hiking pants, and substituted a duffel bag and a cooler for his suitcase.  He spoke of Zach the way everyone else had but somehow he captured the spirit of Zach in this last quote--from Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader from the 18th and 19th centuries:
Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.  Trouble no one about his religion.  Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours.  Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.  Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.  Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.  Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.  Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.  When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength.  Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.  If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.  Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs their spirit of its vision.  When your turn comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way.  Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
Zach was an accomplished photographer and he had his own blog where he clearly demonstrated his talent and love for nature.  You can access his blog here:  https://feralzach.com/tag/zachary-e-dautrich/ Many of you know I've been aware of red tail hawks flying close above me on numerous occasions in the last year.  Well, Zach loved red tail hawks and has numerous gorgeous shots of them on his blog.  On the way out of the service today, we were handed a post card with one of Zach's red tail hawk photos on one side and the Tecumseh quote on the other.  Wow.  There are messages here for me to learn. Finally, I will send a note to Zach's parents to thank them for the service and for Zach.  I think his father, in particular, now has his answer about Zach's calling.  It wasn't so much about what Zach was "doing" that mattered...it was what he was "being" that brought so much joy, respect, laughter and peace to so many people who filled that room today. Rest well dear SMOG.      
Sorry swogbloggers!  My blog was down with technical difficulties (and some, quite frankly, blog-owner error difficulties) so I'm back and have a lot of catching up to do! So, this post (below) will be a follow-up to my last entry with the video of the gentleman who held the sign and blindfolded himself.  There was a bunch of commenting done outside of the blog that I want to highlight for all readers to follow. So here we go!! Changing Our Operating System The reason I'm writing about this theme is because all the work I've been doing over the past 5 years really comes down to this issue at the core.  Unless we change our operating system and how we view the world (issues, decisions, judgments), we can't move to higher levels of adult stage development. We stay stuck in the same way of thinking and processing information.  What's wrong with that, you ask?  Well, judging by how things are going right now in our political arena, with security in our cities, with civility on social media, with the heroin epidemic, and so on, I think there are many reasons to advocate for a change in our way of thinking. I'm not so naive to think this can take hold without some kind of major revolution.  There's not enough people out there teaching this stuff, and our American society was formed on Western Culture values that still hold capitalism, winning at the expense of others, and accumulating wealth higher than most other things.  The interesting thing about that is when we leave this earth, we really can't take those "things" with us.  We all get to a place of letting go, whether we want to or not. So, bear with me as I stream other thought leaders on this core issue of changing the way we look at life.  Changing the way we make meaning of life.  Changing the way we make decisions.  Changing the way we communicate with one another. I realized it was time to do this series after I entered a debate with one of you over my last blog post where I discussed Executive Orders issued recently.  I became so caught up in my argument that I lost touch with listening compassionately and empathetically.  I wanted to present evidence as to why the recent travel restrictions did not make sense and lost touch with the core message of that post.  We can help make America safe AND be careful not to discriminate.  So much in life does not have to be "EITHER/OR" or black and white.  We get so caught up in our polarized position being correct, that we allow no room for compromise. That is what I think is playing out now in our national scene.  Both sides of this argument (notice dualistic thinking naturally says there are just TWO SIDES) think their position is correct.  So now, no one wants to compromise.  The "ban" is either ON or it's OFF.  You are either "with me" or "against me."  You are either on the "right side of this argument" or not. Is picking one of these polar opposites the best way to proceed?  I don't know--you must decide for yourself.  And we wonder why we just had a national election where one candidate won the electoral college and the other one won the popular vote. I ended up only proving--through that stream of emails with one of my dear SMOGs-- that I still have work to do.  So thank you--my dear SWOG follower-- for getting me off the dime and tackling this core issue!
A new SWOG to our little community sent me this wonderful photo with a text the other day. As I read it, I turned to mush. As I blubbered something-- likely incoherent-- in thanks to her for such a wonderful message, she made the suggestion that I turn all of you to mush, too! So here goes. Often we don't realize the positive impact we make in the world.  So per a wonderful SWOG's suggestion, let me pass on this reminder of just how special you are and what a wonderful difference you make. Shine on, dear SWOGs & SMOGs!  Love you all!   img_1680
By now you're tired of hearing all about my Georgetown program but there were so many wonderful learnings and experiences.  So until you beg me to stop, onward I go! On one morning during the last week of class, one of the Co-Directors produced this box of "Angel Cards."  Have you ever seen them?  You can buy them on Amazon (as I discovered after the exercise), and they are these small little cards with one word on them along with a picture of an angel demonstrating the spirit of the word.  So words like "Authenticity," "Wisdom," "Risk," "Healing," "Joy," "Awakening," and so forth are written on one of these little cards and there are 72 of them.  So the Co-Director mixed them up and put them in their little box and then walked around the class and each of the 30 of us took a card. Here's the idea behind them as written on "The Original Angel Cards" pamphlet:
They provide you key words that help you focus on particular aspects of your inner life.  The more you think about the quality reflected by the word on a card, the more you will find the quality echoing in your life whether you pick freedom, grace, abundance or any of the 72 cards.
The Co-Director's instructions were this:  "Pick one card.  It will be the perfect card for you at this moment in time.  Sit and reflect why you believe it is the perfect card for you right now and once everyone has a card, we'll ask you to share your word and why it's perfect for you at this moment in time." Well, you likely guessed from the title of this blog post that my word was TRUST.  And the angel was bowing to a unicorn (which, oh by the way, is the symbol for England--one of my favorite places in the world). I sat and thought only a few moments.  It really came to me quite quickly.  I wrote it in my journal, shared my thoughts with the class that day and now share them with you here.  I said the following:
Trust that you are where you are supposed to be and who you are supposed to be right now.
I felt peace and still feel that sense of tranquility that everything which occurred throughout my life including these last seven to eight years has happened for the purpose of being right here, right now at this stage of development.  Do I feel I have arrived?  What is "arrival?"  Will I ever arrive?  Will any of us ever "arrive?"  Not likely. What's next--everyone asks me--now that Georgetown is winding down.  I don't know.  And, I trust I'll figure it out when I'm meant to know my next steps. May trust and peace be yours today and always.   img_1679  
So some of you have been the recipients of cards that I've purchased from this card company called Cardthartic.  I first stumbled on their cards in Montana and then discovered I could order an array of different cards for different occasions from their online site.  Every order you receive comes with a cute thank you card and usually a free magnet from the owner who signs her name:  "Your Fairy Cardmother."  (OK, I'm sure it's not the owner who sends it, but they make you feel like she did!) What a clever woman and company! She also sends out periodic emails.  So, just yesterday I received one that had this card on the top of it: usa-cardtharticusa-card-2   And her email went on to say the following:
We know it will take way more than one well-meaning greeting card to unite this nation but, cardies, it's a start! In an email yesterday morning, my friend Susan Lyon expressed exactly what I was feeling. “My heart is sad post-debate,” she wrote. “I woke feeling tired of the ugly descent to behavioral lows I am seeing on our national stage.  I hope this finds you writing your big heart out, creating new cards with diligence, delight, determination and a desire to lift up our weary souls.” Susan’s positive ending reminded me of how Sunday’s final debate question was such a breath of fresh air in that tension-filled room. Town Hall participant Karl Becker had asked the candidates, “Regardless of the current rhetoric, can you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?” FYI, when she saw this USA card featured last week, cardie and inspiring patriot Amy Murray ordered 40 and, at checkout in the Order Comments box, graciously added, "I traditionally send friends and family a card to remind them to vote. This year's campaign has been so toxic that I was struggling with what to send.  Of course, Cardthartic has just the right message.  Bravo!  And be sure to vote!” I myself had mailed the USA card to my 92-year-young friend and neighbor Hannlis last week and received a call minutes after the mailman had successfully waded through her Hillary yard signs.  "Just calling to say I feel the same way about you!” she enthused.  “Thank you, thank you for the card."  And I know who will receive my next two: Conservatives who have never held my liberalism against me! :) Jack Kraft and Randy Moore may lean as far right as I do left, but our fondness for each other has only grown over the years. I would go so far as to say -- were it not for these two -- Cardthartic would not be today. Both successful business owners and investors, they helped back Cardthartic, and have continued to have my back for two decades. I’ll never forget what fiscally conservative Jack wrote on the memo line of his investment check: “Spend it wisely and well.” And more protective than I could ever learn to be, it was Randy who early on proposed and then personally secured a line of credit for Cardthartic. “Let’s give you and your staff this sense of security for a rainy day.” While they both could have played on my “I’m so not a numbers person” insecurities, instead they would say, “But this company is nothing without your creativity!”  Well aware of our differences, these gracious men not only helped this woman business owner feel that I have a respected place at the table, they’ve made a point of proudly reminding me that it’s my being at the table that has put food on many others’. Hehe, Jack once stayed in my place while I was away, and I returned to find my television had been tuned to Fox News. I sent him a teasing text that read, “Really?! I didn’t even know my TV got Fox.” and immediately came his quick-witted reply, “Sorry. Before I left, I tried switching it back to CNN, but your set cried out, ‘No! No! Please let me remain fair and balanced!’” So if I’m Dem to the core and yet could not love and admire these Republicans more, how have we bridged our philosophical divide?  Regardless of our rhetoric (and there have been times! :) we’ve never lost sight of all the good in one another, and how it’s our combined differences that make us a better whole.  I hope you are fortunate enough to have your own Jack and Randy, and that you’ll use this undebatable opportunity to acknowledge them and any other compatriots you choose.  Thank you for considering!  
~ jodee stevens founder & creative director
  Oh, by the way, she also put a direct link in the email to be able to acquire two free American flag cards like you see at the top of the page.  Yes, I did send for mine...but I just want everyone to know that the sentiment applies to all of you regardless of whether you get the physical card in the mail or not.  If you love this one, you should see the others.  Here's their website (and no, I don't get any royalties from sales--darn!):  www.cardthartic.com Now for my soapbox:  Celebrate each other and our differences.  Be respectful and kind.  Don't give up your passionate views, AND don't hate others whose views are equally passionate in the other direction.  It's a "grace-filled" way to be.  God Bless the United States of America.
Did you ever have one of those experiences waiting in line at a drive-through restaurant--when you get to the payment window with money out ready to hand over, you learn your bill was paid by the car in front of you which is now driving away?  I've had it happen twice that I remember and I walked away (or drove away) both times with a big grin on my face.  It literally made my day.  When it happened, I found myself thinking, "Now, how can I repay that person's kindness; what can I do for someone today that I might not have ordinarily thought to do?" I had a wonderful experience the other day that some might think on the surface is no big deal.  A girlfriend of mine has a birthday dinner every year on or around her birthday, which is close to St. Patrick's Day.  She always makes a wonderful corned beef and cabbage dinner.  Well, because of a recent change in my diet due to food sensitivities, she was pretty sure I couldn't tolerate the time-honored recipe she uses to prepare the food.  She called me to find out how she could accommodate my diet.  Think about that for a moment...it's HER birthday.  She's already making dinner for herself and at least four others on HER birthday.  She's using a traditional recipe that she's used for YEARS.  Yet she called me to find out how she could help me.  Some folks may not think that's a big deal...but those of us who deal with food challenges know that it was HUGE.  Thank you, my friend.  Her kindness was heartwarming and made me grateful to be among her friends. The gift of kindness doesn't even have to be that hard, it can take only moments in most cases, and it can be absolutely FREE.  Yet it can make a big difference in not only someone's day, but how they look at themselves.  A consulting firm I used to work for had a leadership model that went something like this:  Level 1 was how you viewed yourself.  Level 2 was how others viewed you.  Level 3 was how others viewed themselves as a result of their interactions with you.  "How others viewed themselves as a result of their interactions with you."  Do people feel valued after interactions with you?  Do people feel better about themselves after encountering you?  Or, equally important, can you help people over the long run even if kindness is delivered in the form of a tough message--hopefully lovingly delivered? Think about what a difference you can make in someone's life today.  Doesn't have to cost much--just an extension of graciousness to someone who could use a boost.  You have the power to do that for them.  What a wonderful gift! image    
IMG_0720   Yesterday was supposed to be my last day of work--Friday The Thirteenth--and ironically three years to the day I started with the organization.  The last six weeks has been indescribable as I say good-bye to wave after wave of people I've come to care about.  When my work-through date had been identified several months ago, a girlfriend from a group of seven women who get together monthly suggested we go out for happy hour that evening.  I readily agreed knowing it was probably a healthy thing to spend the evening with people I care about and who care about me. Somewhere in those intervening months the happy hour turned into a sleepover at a mountain cabin owned by the family of one of the ladies AND my work-through date changed to the end of the year.  But, not to be deterred from an opportunity to share some wine and laughs, we went forward with the gathering. Thank God for girlfriends!  Not to minimize the importance of my guy friends (you know I love you, too!), but let me say it again...thank God for girlfriends!  Between the laughter and the tears (most of them coming from laughing so hard it hurt), we had a wonderful time with great food, wine, and conversation.  I read a spot-on quote that summarizes the relationship close girlfriends have:  "They know who you are and they like you anyway."  How true! I've come to treasure time away with close friends.  My college friends and I get together once a year, as well, and spend time updating each other on our lives, sharing our hopes and our fears, and just genuinely caring for and about one another.  As our family situations change with deaths of parents and maturing of children, relationships with friends become even more important to our overall well-being. IMG_0725 Think where man's glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.         ~William Butler Yeats   Thank you--all of you--who follow this blog.  Many of you are close friends who have helped me immeasurably over the years.  I am so appreciative of YOU!   IMG_0724            
That was the headline in this Sunday's newspaper--"Amazing Grace" with a picture of Pope Francis beneath it. I know I haven't posted in awhile and I'm so sorry.  Many of you know the grind of my schedule over the last year with my organization being acquired by a larger one.  Some of it was my schedule.  Some of it was my exhaustion.  Some of it was writer's block and just plain not being motivated to post.  But, when I noticed that headline at the same time I watched Pope Francis on TV minister to prisoners outside of Philadelphia, well...let's just say I was finally inspired out of my funk. I'm not Catholic...never have been even though I've been to my share of Catholic masses over the years with friends.  I haven't really even followed this Pope since he was named a little over two years ago.  I was only vaguely interested in his scheduled trip to America.  I didn't really think it would have much impact on me. For some reason, though, I started to tune in.  I started to follow the news coverage when he arrived in DC.  I read his speech to the joint houses of Congress.  I watched with awe when he arrived in New York City and St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Finally, I tuned in Sunday and watched most of the day as he worked his magic in the City of Brotherly Love. I used to think Pope John Paul II was a pretty cool dude...but this Pope...WOW!  I found myself inspired by his simple message of love.  He seems to teach from the heart like Jesus teaches.  He didn't shy away from the tough messages but he delivered them from a foundation of love--love of this earth, love of our neighbors, love of God, love of each other.  The aura of compassion and grace that emanates from this man is palpable. Yes, I know he's the Pope...but he's different than any of the ones I've witnessed before.  His humility, his kindness, his approachability, his "please pray for me," make this man--I don't know--just unconventional.  I read and later saw the story of the Keating's from Elverson, PA and I wept.  For those who aren't familiar, Pope Francis spotted the Keating's young son, Michael, who suffers from a severe form of cerebral palsy, as the Pope's Fiat drove away from his plane upon landing in Philadelphia.  Ordering the car to stop, the Pope got out walked over to the boy, put his hand on his head and kissed him as his sobbing mother looked on.  Mush.  I just turned to mush. What a role model.  What an inspiration.  I found myself looking at people differently.  This little voice in my head kept saying as I came across people over the weekend, "The Pope loves you and that means God loves you, and therefore I love you."  My heart was filled with mercy and compassion.  Things didn't feel black or white and my tolerance and patience levels soared.  It was grace at work within me. OK....now how do I keep that feeling of grace in place?  How do I transform to that being my default approach and not something that comes along as seldom as our recent "blood moon?" Any and all ideas are welcome!
My Nittany Lions became bowl eligible yesterday. For those of you who aren't football geeks let me provide a translation--they have won 6 football games during the season and that makes them eligible to play in a post-season bowl game (generally held sometime between Christmas and just after New Years). Yeah--so what, you're saying? Yeah, we know you love your Lions, but why a swog post on that? Ah, my faithful swog friends--but yet again there are lessons to be learned with the ups and downs of life. Most of you know that Penn State has been through an unprecedented time in both school history and in NCAA Division I history (unless you've been hidden someplace under a rock for the last 3 years OR are Rip Van Winkle). With the uncovering of the--I hate even mentioning his name here--Sandusky child abuse, Penn State was leveled with unprecedented sanctions which included a 4 year bowl ban. Early this year, the bowl ban was lifted, but Penn State--also crippled by scholarship restrictions--had its weakest team since the whole thing happened. Winning 6 games was not going to be a gimme. Forty-six seniors stuck with Penn State 3 years ago when the sanctions were levied. Even though they were in fact free agents (any school could come in and recruit them and they could transfer without loosing a year of eligibility), they stayed. They stayed. And they persevered losing their beloved coach, having a nation shine a big light on the program, taunting at opposing schools, humiliating losses, lower attended home games and the list goes on. All of which was NOT THEIR FAULT. None of it. They stayed. They stayed in the darkest of times and worked their butts off to move forward. They didn't speak negatively in public about the unfairness of their situation. They didn't make excuses. They worked on what they could control. They persevered. How sweet yesterday must have been for those young men. And no matter if they end up playing in the "Tidy Bowl" versus someplace like the Rose Bowl, they will know the grace of perseverance. We all go through dark times in life. We can't escape this world without experiencing life-altering circumstances. Sometimes it's of our own doing and sometimes it's totally out of our control. But, these young men impressed me with three things we should absorb when those bad things happen to us good people:
  • Embrace the pain and sit with what lessons it can teach us
  • Do your best to forgive those responsible for your pain (bitterness is a poison we swallow and hope the other person dies)
  • Soak in the joy and be grateful when the tide turns
They stayed and they're bowl eligible.  Nittany Nation should be grateful for these young men and the lessons their journey has taught us.  I certainly am.
I had breakfast yesterday morning with my best friend from high school.  We are not originally from this area but moved here independently of one another and, thankfully for me, we have stayed in touch over the years.  After kids were older we have gotten together more frequently, usually for breakfast and occasionally for dinner, but always with a lot to say--a lot to share--often with laughter--sometimes with tears--but always with respect for how much we have each grown over the years. She was one of my pillars when I went through my divorce.  She and her husband took me to one of their alma mater's football games--not an easy feat as it is several states away and a hard ticket to get.  She checked in frequently, and even helped me secure a part time job to "test the waters" in a different industry from the one I was used to working in.  She's just been there--steady, caring and ready with a listening ear. When she left a voice mail last September and told me to, "Call her when I could; she had something she needed to tell me," I knew it wasn't good news.  I could hear the strain in her voice.  I got the voice mail late--after 10:30 on a Sunday night--but I knew I had to call.  When we connected that night, she told me the worst possible news--she had breast cancer.  In some ways, unfortunately, it wasn't a total shock.  Her mother was a breast cancer survivor and each of her two younger sisters had also waged battle with this terrible disease.  But, even so, the news left my heart somewhere in the pit of my stomach and I found myself just feeling overwhelmed with concern. She made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy.  She then underwent chemotherapy and radiation and finished her treatments in the Spring of this year.  She lost her hair, missed a good deal of work, dealt with nausea, nerve tingling, exhaustion, difficulty doing most everything including getting out of bed and even walking.  She even had to deal with a vision of what it would look like if her family moved on if she didn't make it through by seeing the activities they were still participating in without her being able to join them.  But, through it all, she didn't waver in her faith and her will to keep going.  I'm happy to report she's looking good, feeling good, and coming to the end of this chapter in her personal journey. It was what she said toward the end of our breakfast that solidified my desire to write about her this morning.  I'm not even sure how the conversation initially made reference to my Mom (the namesake of this blog), but she told me, "I thought of her when I was going through all this.  I thought of 'Grace,' and I knew that I wanted to handle myself with grace through this whole process." That you have accomplished, my very dear friend.  That you have.     In tribute to all the SWOG's out there that have fought this battle--please know that you are not alone. pink ribbon 2