Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Life of Courage and Beauty

Summer Dale passes away

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” -- Kahlil Gibran

One of the greatest gifts and honors of being a minister is the privilege of planning and leading memorial services.  The chance to be with a family during their time of sorrow and grief and celebrating a life with tears and laughter is some of the most precious and sacred work I have ever done.  I say the words from Gibran at every memorial service I lead.  To remind myself, and more importantly those who have gathered, that the more we love, the more we grieve.   I believe these words with all my heart and yet sometimes they are so, so hard to hold onto.

On Sunday an amazing young woman, Summer Dale, lost her battle with cancer and passed away at the age of 16.  I met Summer, her twin brother Jordan, mom Lynne and dad Al, seven or eight years ago when they began attending the congregation I served in Atlanta.  I didn’t get to know her very well but her beauty and joy radiated everywhere she went.  When I left the congregation six years ago I took a little piece of Summer and her family with me.  A little over a year ago she was diagnosed with cancer.   A child facing cancer is a heartbreaking reality of life that is beyond comprehension.   It shouldn’t happen.  What do we do when it does?

Rage at God or life for many of us.  Summer chose to start Team Summer.  As the news video on the link above describes, she raised money to help other kids with cancer have a little happier life.  I suspect that’s not what most of us would have done.  It’s impossible to read about Summer’s life, or watch the video and see the smiles on those kids faces - and Summer’s too - and not be deeply moved and inspired.  How could someone so young be so courageous, so giving, so full of love and life?  The last few months I have been around the world visiting sacred sites of men and women who have changed the world.  I have interviewed people who are integrating spirituality and entrepreneurship.   I have created a word for those who have been called, inspired by a spark of divinity, to serve something greater than themselves and create something new that changes the world.

Summer Dale was a calltrepreneur.  She changed the world with her joy, her courage, her love.  She inspired those who knew her and those she never met.  Just like St. Francis and St. Clare and any great calltrepreneur.  Her life was far too short but the impact she made was greater than some who live four or five times as long.   

On Sunday I will be attending her memorial service and I will laugh and cry with those who knew her and knew of her as we celebrate her life.  I will try to remember Gibran’s words between our shared tears.  I will send all the love and prayers I can muster to her family and friends whose lives will never be the same because she is gone and even more so because she lived. 

 Summer told her family and friends that cancer was a blessing because it brought so many wonderful people and experiences into her world.   As death approached, she asked them to promise her they would let people know “I’m not scared of this.  I am not afraid.” Thank you Summer for your life, your example of how to live and die.   May we find the courage and grace that lived in Summer to face the comparatively small challenges we face in our lives and be not afraid to make a difference in the world. That was Summer's delight, let it be ours as well.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Birthplace of Innovation

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." -  Brené Brown

I am probably late to the Brené Brown craze.  If you aren't familiar with Brown she became an "overnight" sensation in December 2010 when a Ted talk she gave on vulnerability went viral and millions of people saw it.  Since then she has written a new book and added another Ted talk on shame earlier this year.  Brown is a researcher/story teller who discovered that one of the secrets of people who live "wholehearted" lives is their willingess to be vulnerable and have the courage to be authentic.

In her new book, Daring Greatly, Brown writes:  "And the answer that appeared over and over in all of our efforts to better understand vulnerability?  Naked."  If I had any doubt about whether or not Brown is a calltrepreneur that sentence confirmed it.  She is.  If you have read any of my previous posts you know that one of the inspirations for calltreprenuership is the fresco in Assisi of St. Francis standing naked before God.  For me, the decision to follow one's calling is akin to standing naked before our beloved for the first time - both terrifying and exhilarating.  Or to say it another way, to be vulnerable - everyday.

Brown has found that vulnerability, the ability/willingness to risk being the first to say "I love you" or to try something new, is foundational to innovation, creativity and change.  It makes sense on so many levels and yet it isn't so easy to master.  I recommend Brown's books and videos to learn about her experiences and recommendations.  They have me wondering how to cultivate more authenticity in my life and in those around me.

As a recovering compulsive gambler I know about risk.  Even though I haven't made a bet in over 32 years my capacity for trying new things is still high.  But trying new things isn't always an act of vulnerability, especially if trying new things is something one does all the time.   To create, to connect with someone, to change ourselves and the world, often starts with stepping outside of our comfort zone. Especially when our deepest selves - inner wisdom, life and/or God - challenges and invites us to do so.

How do we do it?  Faith is one element.  Faith in that still small voice, in what we cannot control and faith that when we move towards our hopes and dreams good things will happen.  Hanging around people who practice vulnerabilty is another.  People who are willing to share themselves emotionally and creatively and who realize the goal isn't perfection but authenticity.  Getting help.  Many of us didn't grow up getting gold stars for being authentic.  I got them for getting straight A's and 100% on tests.  Therapists, spiritual directors, coaches, mentors, colleagues, friends and family have helped me learn and remember that being real is much more important than being perfect.  It is a lesson I suspect I'll never fully master but one that is important to keep studying and practicing.

Innovation, creativity and change.  These are the tools of calltrepreneurship.  If vulnerability is where these are born may we be born again and again.