Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Spring Cleaning Discovery

Spring has returned which meant I was doing foreign things last weekend - working in the yard and cleaning the garage rummaging through boxes of books and papers discerning what I no longer needed.  This process of sifting through the stuff of our lives is an important spiritual practice.  Not ony because letting go and saying goodbye is essential to making peace with life and death but because we never know what may lurk under the cobwebs to remind us what we most need to learn.  And you thought you were just spring cleaning!

One of the relics of my life I re-discovered was a paper I had written for a class I was taking in 1990.  The paper is titled "Don Southworth's Mission - June 31, 1990".  This five page paper, with the date that never happened, lays out my mission and purpose in life and my hopes, dreams and speculations about how my life will unfold.  Reading through the paper I am reminded of the ambitious and slightly naive 32 year old dreamer who wrote it.  Most of my professional and personal goals haven't happened the way I imagined.  I'm not yet a grandfather.  I never met my biological mother.  I am not retiring at the age of 55 with a net worth in seven figures.  I haven't published several books.  I am a minister.  My wife and I do tithe.  We have taken a trip to see the United States.  I have a college degree, in fact two of them.

While the particulars of my life haven't happened the way I hoped and imagined they would, I was struck by those things that haven't changed in over 20 years.  I wrote the paper looking forward imagining what my life would be like in six months, one year, five years, twenty years and when I die.  While many of my goals have changed the ones I have for when I die haven't.  "I will be remembered as a person who had integrity and helped many people.  My legacy will be that life is about crying a little, laughing a little, and mainly showing up."  I still hope that will be so.

The paper ends with a list titled: "The assessments of Don Southworth people will hold:"  Everyone of the seven goals on that list are as true today as they were on June 31, 1990.  I think there is a good chance that some of them might even be coming true.  I hesitate to list them because it feels a bit self-serving but maybe my list will inspire you to create your own.  The list isn't as important as the commitment and reminder it can be for creating and living the life we yearn to have.

  • He was dedicated to growth.  He constantly was learning and exploring the world around him.
  • He was honest and told the truth: about himself and those around him.
  • He was a man who lived and taught a message of love and spirituality to everyone he met.  He accepted others and learned from them.
  • He was a human being and made lots of mistakes however, he learned from them and kept his humility because of them.
  • He lived a life of harmony.  He knew how to work and play.
  • He was a great father and a loving husband.
  • He was happy and joyful and shared this with others.
  • The world was a little brighter place because he walked on the planet.
Reading the paper, and especially the things that haven't changed, reminds me of two old sayings, "God laughs when we make plans" and "When there is no vision the people perish."  It's good to make plans and have goals for our life.  They can help shape the trajectory of our lives and can provide inspiration and reminders of what we hope to be.  But we should hold them lightly.  I was struck in re-reading what I hope I will leave behind that there wasn't any mention of books or sermons or companies I have created or jobs I held.  Seems to me that's the way it should be.    




Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Yahtzee Cup of Life



"We're all just seeds in God's hands...Where we land is sometimes fertile soil and sometimes sand." -- Kathy Mattea

I grew up living in the apartment across the hall from my grandmother and grandfather.  When I was in the second grade I lived with them for awhile when my mom was sick.  I think that was the first time I played Yahtzee.  Yahtzee is a dice game, a bit like poker, where the object is to use strategy and luck to score more points than your opponents.  My grandparents and I had hours of fun playing Yahtzee back in the day, as did my kids when they grew up and, when dad twists a few arms, sometimes today.  It is a simple game in an era of video games, Angry Birds and Words With Friends where no computer is needed.  Just five dice, a score pad, and a pencil - the dice cup is optional.

I can't remember the first time I realized that life is a lot like a Yahtzee cup.  I think it was when I was at a conference, meeting with a number of really cool people who I had never met before.  We were beginning a two-year class and had been randomly put together for one of the first assignments.  Before long we were sharing, thinking and connecting like old friends.  Strangers thrown together sharing a time in life, a Yahtzee cup if you will, that was virtually out of our control and yet was an opportunity to create something meaningful together.  I realized how often life is like that; we get to be with people "randomly" who we might fall in love with, create something amazing with or, simply, enjoy a few moments in time.

I was reminded of the Yahtzee cup the weekend before last when I attended a retreat sponsored by the Center for Courage and Renewal and facilitated by Parker Palmer and Marcy Jackson.  Parker has been one of my mentors and teachers over the years and I was nervous and a bit giddy to meet him.  He was one of my closest companions during my lowest days as he has written extensively about his bouts with depression with a poignancy and honesty that is rare to find.  He was everything I hoped he would be and more.  But I was in for a surprise, a surprise that one often finds in the Yahtzee cup of life.

The first evening of the seminar I noticed a woman in the class who looked familiar.  Her name didn't seem right but a trip to Google Friday night confirmed my suspicion.  It was one of my favorite country singers of all time, Kathy Mattea.  I listened to Kathy's song, Seeds, almost every day in 1996 when I was contemplating leaving the corporate world and entering seminary to pursue ministry.  The song inspired me and challenged me to look at my life to find the fertile soil and not the sand.  I overcame my feelings of awe on Saturday morning and invited Kathy to share a small group with me.  After our group discussion I told her about the difference she had made in my life and connected with her, during the rest of the weekend, not as a star-struck groupie but as someone who shared a hunger for learning and a deeper connection to the sacred.  She was everything I hoped she would be and more.

Parker and Kathy weren't the only "stars" in the class.  Each one of the 24 people in our circle were amazing people who were CEO's, homemakers, artists, educators and clergy who were stars in their own right.  One of the great lessons of the retreat for me was a reminder, maybe at a deeper level than I ever have realized before, that people who create great things and inspire others, especially me, are not all that different than anyone else.  And when I, when we, live from our deepest, most authentic calltrpreneur-self, we can do the same.

Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates.  I think I'd say it's like a Yahtzee cup.  By a combination of strategy and mainly luck we are thrown together with people we may or may not know, with a chance to make something beautiful and even surprising happen.  Maybe it's a piece of art, a new company, a deep friendship or a pair of aces.  Who knows?  Our job is to show up and play the game, taking as many rolls as we can knowing that the possibilities and consequences are often out of our hands.  We're all just seeds in God's hands...or dice in the Yahtzee cup of life.






Saturday, March 23, 2013

Happy Birthday!

Don - age 4 days.  As usual, with mouth open.

"Did you think the universe went through 20 billion years of work to create you if there was not a particular function that you - and only you - could do?" -- Brian Swimme

55 years ago today I entered this life.  Although I was there I don't remember much about the day.  Too bad.  I know that the day of my birth was a little more complicated than many.  The woman who carried me for nine months and gave birth to me made the decision to give me up for adoption.  I recently discovered she died in 2007.  I'm sorry I wasn't able to say thank you to her or my biological father, who died in 1967, in person.  My birth, I've been told, brought much joy to my mother and father who adopted me and took me home from the hospital.  On my good days I've returned my joy and gratitude to them and - hopefully - the rest of the world as well.  

I'm a big fan of birthdays.  I keep track of them.  I send emails and sing off-key renditions of Happy Birthday to tell people how glad I am they were born.  While I've always loved birthdays, I haven't always remembered what a gift it is to be alive.  Depression, addiction, and hopelessness has a way of doing that and I've suffered from all three at times in my life.  But not today.  Especially not today.  

They say that ministers have only two or three sermons in them that they dress up in different ways, with different stories but essentially say the same thing. I'm not sure I have two or three.  I might only have one.  That life is a gift, more precious and rare than any jewel or star in the universe.  That we must do all we can, getting all the help we can find, to celebrate and share that life.  A life that is like no other and, if we listen and pay attention, will call us to do something great.

If we believe that God is the reason for our creation, maybe it is easy for us to embrace the idea that each of us comes into the world not only unique but with a purpose, a calling to be and do something wonderful.  Now I believe in God, if God is the name for that which is greater than me and within me at work in the universe in mysterious ways I will never fully comprehend.  But when I think about the amazing miracle that life - and each one of us is - thinking that God is the reason I am here is too simple  compared to the bigger reality that Swimme alludes to.

Imagine everything that has had to happen in the two two, or twenty, billion years for us to be alive.  If that doesn't blow your mind I don't know what will.  Think of all the atoms and molecules that had to dance around just perfectly to come together as a human being.  Think of all the accidents and coincidences that had to happen just right for our great, great, great, great grandparents to meet and fall in love.  If you like math, factor that number by about a million for every generation on our family tree.  Infinity seems to be WAY too small a number.  Think about all those eggs and sperm who didn't want to get out of bed, so to speak, on the day of our conception, and think about those who did.  And think about everything that has happened to let you read these words anywhere in the world, whenever you wish.  Wow!

There was a time in my life when I would imagine the speck of sand I was in the vast history of the universe and I would feel small, even meaningless.  Humility is an attribute to cultivate in life; worthlessness is not.  It's sad to think how long it takes for so many of us to learn this and how some never do.  It took a community, in fact several of them, to learn this and to keep reminding me. 

This morning my email box is filled with birthday wishes from friends, family and retailers with their own special ways of saying how much I mean in their lives.  Included below is one I received.  Take away my name and put in yours.  I suspect that is what this emailer does every day.  May you remember its sentiments whenever the job is going rough and you doubt you can take it one more day, or the loneliness aches so deeply that you think nobody ever felt the way you do or when you want to return this life for something newer and shinier.  Happy birthday to me.  Happy every day to you.

A few years back, not so long ago, heaven and earth erupted into a major celebration with the news of your impending adventure into this very time and space. You see, someone like Don Southworth doesn't come along all that often. In fact, there's never been a single one like you, nor is there ever ANY possibility that another will come again. You're an Angel among us. Someone, whose eyes see what no others will EVER see, whose ears hear what no others will EVER hear, and whose perspective and feelings will NEVER, ever be duplicated. Without YOU, the Universe, and ALL THAT IS, would be sadly less than it is.

Quite simply:

You're the kind of person, Don,
Who's hard to forget,
A one-in-a-million
To the people you've met.
Your friends are as varied
As the places you go,
And they all want to tell you
In case you don't know:
That you make a big difference
In the lives that you touch,
By taking so little
And giving so much!

Don, you are so AWESOME! For your birthday, friends and angels from every corner of the Universe, including buddies you didn't know you had, will be with you to wish you the HAPPIEST of days and an exciting new year in time and space. You won't be alone!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Don!