Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dreaming on the First Floor

Last night I had a very soothing dream. I dreamed that someone, who I will allow to remain nameless because they do actually exist outside the dream world, met me at my work and told me that the "tough stuff" I have been going through over the last few years was "ridiculous." He said he could understand why I would be hurt. This person, who happened to be a very important man, said he could not believe how it had "all gone down." He told me he was surprised that I had held up so well. He said he noticed I had quietly "gone off the radar" and missed seeing me. Then he gave me a big hug and told me to "bounce back" and "continue doing great things." As he said this last line, he was holding my shoulders and looking me right in the eyes. It was a very powerful moment. Then he disappeared out the front door of my office building as quickly as he had appeared. I stood there, in my office, speechless. I felt relieved, validated, soothed.
Then I woke up.
I am one of those people who can remember most of their dreams.That's always been true. Even as a child, I remember waking up from vivid dreams and being able to recall and retell them, some I can even remember all these years later. I remember one where a giant sized ball of tightly wound yarn and a huge shiny
needle were in the middle of a big empty room, just sitting there, looming ominously over me like something in a sewing museum. I would stare up at the giant strands of yarn and marvel and feel slightly anxious.
I remember one dream where I am running down a long pier made entirely of dark jagged rocks that stretch out toward the ocean. I teeter as I run too close to the craggy edge, the ocean waves crashing way below. The pier was always very dark, the rocks black, wet, drenched in sea water and foam and the time of day was always the very late afternoon, right before the sun goes down. I had this dream many times and the giant sewing kit dream more than once. And of course, like all good kids, I had the dream of being chased by dinosaurs. One night, while running from a T-Rex as fast as I could (Where was that cave? The Land of the Lost folks always found it!), I woke up with a thump and pain in my mouth and realized I had fallen out of the top bunk of my bunk bed and bit my tongue. At least the dinosaur didn't get me.
Dreams can be strange. But the one I had last night was very soothing. I know dreams are something that MY brain makes up so it should come as no surprise that this very important man said words I needed to hear. He validated my suffering. Something about that was, and is, very healing. To just have someone say, "I hear you and you have every right to feel that way" can be so reassuring. I try to say those words when I am listening to people who are struggling -- try to help them feel not so "crazy" for feeling the way they do, because let's face it, with rare exceptions, we have all felt "that way" haven't we?
Lately, I have not felt in touch with my spiritual side. I have felt a bit discombobulated and lost due to a variety of things including the "stuff" that this VIP man in my dream was trying to help me get over. 2013 wasn't a bad year by any stretch, but it was challenging to say the least. I cried as hard as I have ever cried a few times, but also shared quite a few hearty laughs and celebrated a number of successes. I guess that is how life goes, but I really was glad I had that dream last night, before the end of the year, to help me put a little more "closure" on a rough patch from the past year.
The other day, I picked up a little book by Andrew Murray entitled "Abide in Christ." (Get it here for $1!) It is about 50 pages long and divides up nicely into 31 readings. I read the introduction and preface yesterday and plan to read one chapter each day in January. The book is about how Christians starve on the first floor while the second floor is full of food. In other words, we don't know how good we have it, how loved we are, how Christ wants to bless, comfort and heal us, so we writhe around in our misery, starving and weak, on the first floor of our troubles instead of abiding in Him. If we only knew. If we only reached out.  Seeked. Asked. Knocked. I am sure I found this book for a reason. I'm not a spooky mystic, but I do believe that many things happen for a reason. Like soothing dreams. And small books at Thrift Shops strategically placed at eye level.
Maybe I will find this book to be like the kind man in my dream last night? Maybe while I have been down here on the first floor eating Top Ramen, there has been home-made lasagna on the second floor? Maybe while I have been trying to lift a heavy box all by myself on the first floor, there has been endless pairs of helping hands on the second? Have I been running from dinosaurs on the first floor when there has there been a safe haven just above me?
That's what Mr. Murray is going to try and tell me in his little book. Maybe that is what the VIP man in my dream was trying to help me understand? Don't disappear. Don't struggle alone. Don't just dream on the first floor. Come to the Second Floor.
Now if I could just figure out what in the world that giant yarn ball and sewing needle was all about? Maybe I missed my calling as a seamstress?
Yeah right.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013 - Feel free to post, print, forward and share!
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your Music is Scaring My Dog

The other day I took my dog out in the car with me to run errands. We pulled up next to a monster truck at a stoplight and I heard a screeching noise next to me. My dog whipped her head out the window to see what the clamor was. We both heard what sounded like zombies singing along with a drum machine. My dog literally cocked her head (think RCA dog), pulled her head back inside and hunkered down in her seat. I couldn't have agreed with her more. The music was scary. Picture the movie World War Z - one of those zombies trying to "sing" its heart out - a guttural, screaming, primal-I'm going-to-eat-your-face type sound all on one note, if you could call it a note. Then picture a frantic, methodical "tic-tic-tic" drumbeat that sounds like someone is holding down the fast-forward button.
Or a simple way to put it:
This guy was blasting "Angry Teen Music" from his over-sized, knobby-tired truck.
And my dog was petrified.
The light changed and we managed to pull away, and I found Jackson Brown on the radio. "Running on Empty" seemed like a lullaby. She settled into the seat next to me to lick herself and all was well.
Later that week, I heard something else that scared me. It didn't scare my dog, but my guess is if she had heard it and understood it, it probably would have.
I heard that at the Church of the Nativity in the Holy Land, a lot of fighting goes on. Inside. The church is shared by three different Christian orders - Armenian Apostolic, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Each one has a "section" of this holy church. This is supposed to be the church that marks the spot where Jesus was born, but it is also the spot that marks where division thrives. The religious folks are very territorial about their section of the church. If a Greek Orthodox is sweeping his corner of the church and accidentally runs his broom on the Apostolic side, a fight may break out. Broomsticks have been raised and lowered on the heads of rivals. Sometimes, Palestinian police have to break things up. If someone were to walk in in the middle of the brawl, it would look like robed janitors duking it out with cleaning supplies. Funny, when you think about it that way, but also very, very sad.
And scary.
This type of things scares folks away from God. It makes me cringe to call myself a Christian. Truly embarrasses me. Why would I want to be associated with the Christian religion when they can't even get along inside the very church marking the spot where Jesus was born?  And it is not like an Orthodox is sneaking over to spray graffiti on the Catholic side of the church, or a Apostolic holy man is peeing in the Orthodox corner of the church -- nope, they are cleaning it!
Hey!  Keep your broom on your side, buddy! 
Don't even THINK about dusting on the other side of this line!
Get your OWN Windex Holy Father!
Yes, even when cleaning up, they must stay in our corners. Even on the very spot where God's Son lay down his wee head in the manger.
How this must break God's heart.
To see this debacle. This despicable act. This division.
And how it scares people away--just like a monster truck with screaming zombies blaring out of it's speakers. The clack of broomsticks as they clash in mid-air, the insults, the hatred, the yelling, the anger--all of the fighting that goes on in this sacred church and in other Christian churches and communities--makes others, non-Christians, want to run, drive, jet-away from Christianity as fast as possible. Can you blame them for burning rubber to get away from the noise as soon as the light turns green? Certainly not.
I struggle not to run myself.
I try to focus on the Christians who were the first ones into the Philippines after the typhoon.  The ones who show up as doctors and nurses and caretakers in foreign countries and here at home to care for the sick, homeless, runaways and single moms. I try to smile when I see the new Pope spending time with the poor, humbling himself enough to downgrade his living quarters. I think of the kind Christians I know who have changed my life for the better, been there when I needed them and shared words of encouragement at just the right time. (You know who you are!!)
But sometimes, it isn't enough to get the shouting zombies out of my head.
I need to look at the One who's birth we celebrated yesterday. The King who comes as a tiny baby and can't even find a decent place to lay his head his first night on earth. The child who grew up to challenge the religious leaders of the day. What did he do when he saw religious hypocrisy?
He threw over tables and grew angry.
He exposed hypocrites for what they were.
He pointed at the "high and mighty" and said, "Don't be like that."
He also lived, loved and reached out to the outcasts and the lost.  He soothed wounded hearts and healed broken bodies.
He didn't scare people away. He allured. Children wanted to sit in his lap (and he didn't have to promise them their favorite gift for Christmas.) "Sinners" wanted to eat with him and he obliged wholeheartedly. Bumbling buddies became devoted disciples. Doubters became faithful even unto death.

Let's not let the screaming religious zombies drown out the soothing music of the "reason for the season."

Hope A. Horner, 2013
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Warm Associations

What if you received a Christmas card with this line in it:
"I look forward to the warm association we will continue in the coming year."
What if it came from your neighbor? A co-worker? Your pastor? A friend? Would you be OK with the words "warm association"? What if it came from your sister? Or Mom & Dad?
Not so good. Kind of cold, huh?

This line was in a Christmas e-card I received from my workplace financial advisor. It was blasted out to hundreds of employees wishing them the joys of the season and all the best for the new year. The words "warm association" really caught my eye. Yes, we are associates. I see you a few times a year by appointment only and you tell me if I am on track with my retirement financial planning and investments. We chat about the weather outside, the conditions of the market; you recommend this or that and I nod, not being a numbers person and say, "Sure, that sounds good."  Basically, my money stays right where it is and you say you're glad to see me and I'm looking good and I return the compliment and then I walk out of your tiny temporary office at my work location while the next eager employee, just years from retirement, rushes in with her portfolio in hand. NEXT! Time for your warm association!

If I sent a Christmas card to a family member and wrote, "I look forward to our warm association in the coming year" they would think I was either joking or rude. I am known for being a jokester so they would probably look for the cheesy "Christmas letter" to go along with my card. You know the one that brags about everything the family has accomplished in the past year and conveniently leaves out all the negative?

Hello Friends, Family and Warm Associations,
Seasons Greetings! Wow, didn't 2013 go fast? We wanted to update you on all the things God blessed us with this year, or at least those few things we can fit in these fourteen single-spaced typed red and green pages! 
Our little Jimmy climbed Mount Everest! Twice! We're thankful that we sent him to those private climbing lessons in kindergarten even though we had to refinance our 6 bedroom, 5,500 square foot house in Brentwood to do it. Our eldest, Sally, graduated from high school this year (VALEDICTORIAN JUST LIKE HER MOTHER!!!) and got into Harvard, but she is just going to have to be OK with med school at Stanford because we want her close. We agreed that if she would stay close, we would allow her to use our late model (2013) Audi A8 as a "transportation car" to get from point A to point B. (Point A=Standford, Point B=Our beach house in Carmel!) 
It wasn't just the kids who had major achievements this past year! This past summer, Bruce and I took that European language tour we always dreamed about. (This trip is only for those who can speak fluent French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and of course, English with the Queen's accent.) We plan to do the Asian one this summer, so if you speak Mandarin, Japanese and Thai feel free to join us! We plan to leave in March after a short 7 1/2 week trip to the Seychelles.

May God bless you as much as he has us,
The Jones Family
PS) Would you believe won Publisher's Clearinghouse? All those subscriptions to The Smithsonian and The New Yorker really paid off!

One year, I actually did include a joke Christmas letter in with my Christmas cards to family. I don't remember all I put in the letter, but I do remember that it was quite sarcastic and good for a laugh. I didn't do that this year, nor did I write "I look forward to our warm association."
But the card from my financial advisor did make me think.
Is my life just full of warm associations?
There are so many people I love in my life and I would say I am an openly loving person, although not hugely affectionate or overly demonstrative. I know people who, do to traumatic negative love experiences (i.e. lack of love from parents in childhood, betrayal by a significant other, etc.) are not able to love fully. I am not one of those people. When I love, I love, and have no problem saying the words "I love you" and meaning it.
But I am also so busy, so driven, so independent, so happy to be left alone, that I can fail to connect in meaningful ways with important people in my life. Sure, I call, I write, I check in, I go to lunch, I hug briefly, send Christmas cards and gifts and then get back in the fast lane or disappear into my quiet cove. Part of it is my job, which keeps me quite busy, and part of it is my personality. I am like my dogs. I need attention for a little while, but then for God's sake, just cover me with a blanket and leave me alone on the couch. And give me a book or my laptop so I can write. (That last part is me, not my dogs. My dogs can't read or write, but if they did, you can bet it would be in my Christmas letter!) Don't get me wrong --I love being around people, and have a great time when I am with them, but I am one of those folks who also thoroughly enjoys being alone. I relish my quiet time. I'd trade a rockin' holiday party for a quiet night browsing at Barnes & Noble in a heartbeat. At work, I laugh, network, joke and "play well with others" but I prefer working on projects alone or in small teams. And I dread workplace lunches.
Really? We all have to eat together in the party room at Mimi's Cafe? You mean I have to spend $20 for a salad and a water and repeat, "No I haven't seen the latest episode of "The Real Housewives of Miami" for an hour?
OK, so it is not that bad, but you get my point. I would rather take that hour to munch on a home-made turkey sandwich by myself in the break room while I prop up a book with my free hand. There might be one or two other people in the room. Fine. As long as they are reading, too. Or meditating. Or humming quietly and strumming a guitar with their eyes closed.

I know I am not the only one who feels this way. There is a new book out that I just finished recently (See what can be accomplished when you just say "no" to Friday night parties!):  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain  Get the Book for $3 Here
She shares how introverts, often overlooked, are good "barometers" of what is really going on in an organization because instead of bouncing off the walls and chatting away at the water cooler, they are paying attention, listening, observing, watching and absorbing. For this reason, they should be included in the decision making process and can be very good leaders. They are usually respected for being cool headed, sensitive and possessing good listening skills. This is a good thing, but it can also mean that introverts have few close friends and mainly just "warm associations". I guess as we get older that tends to happen anyway; we lose the junior high need to be surrounded by friends and constantly pelted with "Xs and Os", but I want to be careful that I'm not disconnecting with others because I am "too busy." I do REALLY love my friends, neighbors, family and co-workers. I am not afraid to show it. I just need to slow down a bit and let it show more often. Yeah, work will get in the way sometimes and alone time is OK. But if the people who really matter turn to mere "warm associations" then I will be really missing out on the true joys of season. LIFE is but a season after all, and there can be a chill in the air, so it's time to turn up the heat on those "warm associations."
Not with my financial advisor though. That would be weird.

-Hope A. Horner, 2013
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