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Today was the final Sunday of our November theme of abundance at UUCA. I led worship, along with my friends Bob and Kendra. You can watch a video of the service here: http://www.uucava.org/livestream/.

You can read my meditation and prayer here:

I encourage you to put your feet on the floor. Feel your seat beneath you and observe the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Notice your breath. Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in comfort. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in strength. Breathe out generosity. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Spirit of life, we come together here today after having been scattered near and far during the past week. Some of us are refreshed and rejuvenated by time off from work and reunions with beloved family and friends. Some of us are weary from tense and difficult moments and feelings of obligation rather than joy. Some of us labored, some of us were served. Some of us were surrounded by love, some of us were lonely.

Whoever we are, may we find refuge here.

Spirit of life, as we begin again today, we ask for another chance. An opportunity to be kind to ourselves. To truly love ourselves so we can better love others. We seek relief and ease because some of us are Just. So. Tired. We seek clarity when facing an uncertain diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, in the midst of debilitating symptoms. We seek reassurance as we endeavor to do right by our children when parenting can be so stressful. When we are young and when we are old, we seek acknowledgment. We want to know that we matter. At every age, we wish to be heard and understood. We seek grace along the path that is littered with our mistakes. We seek courage to be bold and step onto a new, unfamiliar path. We wish for the strength to unclench our fists and let the anxieties, the fears, the old hurts be carried away on the winds, leaving our hands and our hearts free. We long for the freedom to laugh and to cry with abandon. We seek release.

Whatever we seek, may we glimpse it today in this place, and claim it for our own.

 

And here’s my reflection:

FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE

I have a contentious relationship with time. I am always running late, always composing an apology in my head. I promise it’s not because I don’t respect you or value our relationship. It’s because I am overly optimistic. I always think I have time to do one more thing before I go. Write one more sentence, put away one more load of laundry, cross one more thing off my to-do list. I am wildly unrealistic about how much time something is going to take. You would think that by this point in my life I would’ve figured this out, but no.

My family is so often late that we’ve invented a game called the good excuse bad excuse game. Note that we do not play this in the exact moment when we’re tumbling out of the house and into the minivan, because I would be way too flustered. But in a moment of calm, we can play. Here’s how it works. One person says, “sorry I was late, I decided I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but eventually I did.” Everyone responds, BAD EXCUSE! Another person says, “Sorry I was late, I was rescuing 100 puppies from a burning building.” GOOD EXCUSE! And we continue to come up with the most pathetic or most heroic excuses we can think of.

As silly as this might seem, the good excuse bad excuse game points to an unspoken truth. The most valuable use of your time is often when you are helping someone else, when you are sharing your abundance, just like in the story Kendra read earlier. But what are the abundances we have to share? How can we find them when we so often focus on what’s scarce in our lives?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may have sorted yourself into one of the Hogwarts houses. Is your abundance bravery, loyalty, intelligence, or ambition? Do you possess an abundance of patience in a world that prioritizes speed and multitasking? Are you able to bring presence into a culture of preoccupation? I know that I am awed by people who are able to be fully present with me, to make me feel like I am the only person in the world who matters at that moment. Yet this quality is not one of my abundances. For better or for worse, my mind is always tuned in to several channels at once. I can’t NOT hear a conversation happening across the room, or the oven timer going off, or notice that someone in the vicinity needs something. One of my abundances is an astute power of observation, but not focused presence.

Maybe your abundance is more practical, like agility with numbers and the ability to manage or make money. I interview a lot of people on behalf of one of my clients who say they became budget counselors because they always loved numbers. I have always felt like I am allergic to numbers. At the annual meeting at church, my eyes glaze over when they talk about the budget. I am terrible with money. I sometimes wish our currency were only in words instead of numbers. Then I could understand. This trouble with numbers often comes into conflict with another of my abundances, which is generosity. Are you raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, or orphans in Haiti, or school supplies for girls in Nigeria? I am guaranteed to donate, whether or not I can afford it.

In fact, one of my favorite holiday traditions, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been giving alternative gifts to nonprofits that I hand pick—and now my husband and children help choose—for all of our family members. We do this at an alternative gift fair, like those sponsored by Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington, or in Arlington, Gifts that Give Hope—which is hosting this year’s event on December 9 at Discovery Elementary. Or online through the Catalogue for Philanthropy. What these organizations do is bring together wonderful charitable groups and tell you what exactly your $10 or $20 or $50 donation would do for their beneficiaries. For example, a $5 donation to your local animal shelter would buy chew toys for a dog waiting to be adopted. A $25 donation to a nonprofit that serves single moms who are survivors of domestic violence would buy a week’s worth of diapers. A $50 donation would buy a bike for a young person in an African village to have the transportation needed to start a business. We take time to think about what kind of donations would be meaningful to each family member. Like the dog toys for Uncle Larry and Aunt Susan who have loved dozens of dogs and cats over the years. Cooking classes in honor of my aunt who taught me to make delicious food from scratch. You get the idea. On Christmas morning, we open these gifts along with all the others and read out loud where the charitable gift will be going. My family’s goal on Christmas morning is to make people laugh or cry, and often these gifts elicit tears. And they don’t take up room on anyone’s shelf, and they’re making the world a better place. These gifts also remind us of just how much abundance we have in our family and our community.

Going for the laugh is also fun, like when I got my mom an autographed 8×10 photo of Adam Levine because she’s a huge fan of the Voice. You have to balance things out.

The paradox about my contentious relationship with time is that time is what people want most from me. Time is what my kids want, time is what my parents want. My husband, my dog, my friends, my clients, the church. Even though it doesn’t feel like I have a lot of it, time is my most valuable abundance to give.

My parents have everything they could possibly want, and more. But my mom is thrilled if I give her a Christmas gift of a day where I help her clean out her closet and go to lunch. We take each other to concerts and plays and readings, where we share the gift of time spent together, sharing an experience. Seeing and hearing live music is one of the great joys that my husband and I share. When we devote so many hours to working and managing the house and taking care of our children and our dog, the simple act of making the time to be together and do something we both love can seem monumental, but it’s so important.

What Facebook has abundance of is memes, and many of them are silly, and some are annoying, and some are offensive. But some are really good reminders of what matters. One I remember said something like, “if you have a stack of dishes in your sink, it means you have enough food to eat. If you have a pile of laundry to fold, it means you have enough clothes to wear.” It’s easy in Arlington, or in Northern Virginia, or Greater Washington, to feel like we don’t have enough. We have plenty of first world problems. But we also have plenty of abundance. Abundant opportunities, abundant amusements, abundant things to see and people to meet. Abundant chances to serve. Abundant ways to receive.

As we close out our month of abundance, and our weekend of abundant food and company, and we look ahead to a month that may be filled with hope or anxiety, love or loneliness, generosity or uncertainty, or maybe all of these. Remember to take with you this month your inner abundance. Is it compassion? Vision? Wit? Steadiness? Creativity? Maybe you can’t name your inner abundance right now. If that’s the case, give yourself time to find it. And when you find it, give it away.

May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.

IMG_2373I never expected to love my quiet moments of solitude at the dog park quite so much.

I never knew that dogs are kind of particular about which other dogs they befriend and run with or wrestle. Sure they’ll sniff any dog’s rear ends, shamelessly, but they tend to wait until a dog who’s at least a little bit special comes along until they put their whole hearts into the chasing or the grappling or whatever interaction they deem appropriate.

I never understood how the varieties of dogs are endless, like humans, and how dogs come in so many shapes and sizes and colors. At least at our dog park, perhaps because it’s in South Arlington, the dogs are quite diverse.

I never realized how many tiny feathers were inside a pillow that a dog could chew to shreds. (I will be finding little feathers in my office for years to come.)

I never anticipated how much like a sibling a dog could be to my children, and exactly how they would each respond to her.

I never knew how pleased I would be when my dog pooped or peed. I had no idea how similar the urine-soaked laundry would be between potty-training children and a house-breaking dog.

I never thought about how much pet ownership is like parenthood in terms of admission to this completely new world where you look around and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and you’re just making it up as you go along. It’s a club I never especially cared that I didn’t belong to, but now I do. It’s like stepping into the wardrobe and through to Narnia–it’s been here all along but I didn’t quite see it.

I never imagined we would find a dog as sweet and gentle and affectionate as Daisy, who is so perfect for our family. She doesn’t jump on us, but she always wants to be pet or to snuggle. She sometimes thinks she’s a cat. She’s a little anxious, but then so are we. She’s a lot of work (but so are we sometimes) and definitely worth it.

 

IMG_2241Perhaps naively, I did not anticipate how much like having a new baby adopting a dog would be. Having had two babies myself, I can say with assurance that there are many differences between new humans and new animals entering one’s life, but a surprising number of common themes.

  1. Your standards (or at least my standards) for cleanliness, hygiene, and what I’m willing to look like in public may shift. Or plunge into embarrassing depths. I remember when Zoe was born she would spit up a lot and at some point I would say to myself, “well, there’s not a LOT of spit-up on my shirt…I can go out like this.” Eventually you have the presence of mind to clean yourself up a little more, but some permanent damage is done in terms of what you will tolerate.

    Suddenly I have become a person with dog hair on her clothing. I imagine people might look at me and think, “Did you not realize you have dog hair all over your shirt?” The answer would be yes, but I had several more pressing things to do than locate the lint roller and remove it. And if you see someone out walking in the early morning who looks like a thinner Michael Moore, that would be me, with a baseball cap and a hoodie, and possibly pajama pants, taking Daisy out for a constitutional.

  2. Your eyes are opened to the extraordinarily enormous and somewhat unnecessary variety of products you can buy. A few days after we brought Zoe home from the hospital, Randy and I went to Babies ‘R’ Us to pick up a few supplies we realized we needed. When we walked in I’m sure our bloodshot and sleepless eyes widened in shock at the absurd number of choices of every baby product you could ever need, and many that you really don’t need at all but you might just buy anyway in a moment of confusion.

    I found PetSmart to be the same experience. There are so many brands of food and within each brand so many flavors and then different kinds for different ages of dogs, and different breeds of dogs, and dogs with different kinds of medical conditions. There are dry foods and wet foods and organic foods, and single serve pouches in case you’re packing a lunch or snack for your dog when she goes off to school. There are so many treats and snacks and chew toys. Some of the chew toys say “for light to moderate chewing” or “for heaving chewing.” How do you anticipate precisely how much your dog will want to chew on a given toy? A main difference between baby products and pet products is that many of the products designed for dogs seem to be bacon flavored. I’ve rarely seen a bacon-flavored pacifier.

  3. You have entirely different feelings about your dog than about anyone else’s dog, no matter how much you like another dog. Your baby and your dog are instantly special and important in a way you never understood before they were part of your family. I am not saying I am at the point now that I love Daisy like I love my children, but a strong connection forms quickly. One moment this dog is one of dozens of dogs in a sea of rescue animals, and a week later you’re looking soulfully into the dog’s eyes trying to understand what she’s thinking.
  4. You’re somewhat confused at first. Just like a baby’s behavior changes from day to day and week to week, so does that of a rescue dog, we have learned. According to the vet and our trainer, Daisy may not reveal her true personality for a few weeks or longer. She hasn’t barked once. Will she ever bark or remain the strong, silent type? Who knows? At both my kids’ early pediatrician visits and Daisy’s first visit to the vet, I arrived with a notebook in which I had written a long list of questions about Daisy and what to expect and how to best take care of her. It’s good that our pediatrician and our vet are patient people.

    For the first five or six days Daisy was here, she didn’t really touch anything that didn’t belong to her, except for unexpectedly eating the head off a sunflower (I was in the midst of texting my cousin about Daisy and thankfully she assured me with a quick ASPCA web search that sunflowers are not toxic to dogs. Then one night she quickly and enthusiastically tackled the chew toy she had previously ignored, completely shredding the tennis balls that were threaded onto the braided rope. She started gnawing on the rope too. And then she looked around and realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of chewable things. We had to move fast. This morning when we were trying to get out the door to go to church we could only locate one of Zeke’s sneakers. It turned out that Daisy had the other one and had been nibbling on it. Zeke was exonerated and we realized we would have to have a new plan for shoe containment.

    So far she hasn’t jumped on anyone at all. The first couple nights she was here she tried to jump up onto the table during dinner to see what she could eat, but we dissuaded her and she hasn’t done it since. She still certainly lurks around the table and pokes her head into our laps, but no jumping.

    Until tonight, when she was lying on the couch and she noticed that Zeke had left his seat, leaving his plate of chicken pot pie unguarded. Swiftly and boldly, she leaped over the back of the couch. Luckily Randy’s lightning quick reflexes kept Daisy from completing her mission and Zeke’s plate remained safe. But we were surprised to see just what Daisy was willing and able to do.

  5. You experience these small moments of bliss. Any parent or pet owner would be lying if she said all of this wasn’t a whole lot of work. And expensive. And messy. But every once in a while you have a moment. With your baby it’s that feeling of contentment after they finish nursing and fall asleep on your breast, or when they’re nestled under your chin, or when they smile or laugh for the first time and then you can’t get enough of that joy.

    With your dog it’s on a walk in the woods, watching your dog just stand absolutely still, listening to the bluejays and sniffing the air, thoughtfully observing her new world. Or when she snuggles up to you on the couch, resting her head and one paw on your thigh, laying claim. Or when you see that elusive tail wag that says she’s having her own little rush of happiness that hopefully means she’s starting to feel at home.

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