instrument of peace

Smoke colored clouds hug the world today.  My neighborhood is slightly brighter than yesterday with its rain clouds and mud puddles.  The ground is drying up a bit.  I try to create a place for myself that feels zen.  But sitting in my dirty gray chair, I can’t help but notice the yellowed curtains and scratched up windowsill from the dogs that were, once upon a time, supposed to make me happy.  I spend most of my morning trying to get Marley to shut up as she incessantly barks at dogs out the front window.  I’ve already cleaned up a puddle of pee.  I have a headache pulsing in the corner of my left eye.  One glass of wine too many last night.  If there is a thing called Xi, then mine is certainly not centered.

A month or so ago I decided to buy a book about Mother Theresa and today I finally made time to read it.  I’ve always been intrigued by this unassuming woman who committed her life to teaching and serving.  Even though I don’t claim faith in her Lord, there must be something to be gleaned from her life.  Her words are not in narrative form, just a collection of quotes and prayers.  After reading through a few pages that talked a lot about being holy like Jesus, I was paused by a prayer.  The words were not her own, rather it was a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Lord may I not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
because it is in giving that we receive,
in pardoning that we are pardoned.

These words encouraged me, a Christian prayer that I might believe in.  But for some reason, the word “Lord” got stuck on my tongue.  It felt strange praying to “someone” when I wasn’t sure “someone” in particular was listening.  Yes, I want to be an instrument of peace.  Yes, I want to sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.  Yet I don’t know how to pray this prayer for myself without believing in Jesus.  This is a very common feeling for me lately…I don’t know what to call “God” and I don’t know if I’m offending others if I call out to him/her/it singularly.  I can see the heads of my Christian friends waggle back and forth.  That poor lost soul…

In order to still try it, I just omitted the personal salutations.  ________, make me an instrument of peace.  It still felt funky, but at least I could make it through the first line.  After silently speaking the words of this beautiful prayer, I looked around my room.  These past few years, my husband and I have done a lot of dreaming.  Living in a someday mind, saying I want this, I want that.  Not in a four year old way.  But in a middle class, late twenties, American way.  (Pinterest doesn’t exactly help this cause.)  The prayer says that “it is in giving that we receive,” suggesting that all this dreaming and buying will not really satisfy the roots to the wants that exist.  We want something intangible.  It’s called happiness, beauty and peace.  The Pottery Barn catalogue suggests that the white pillow with the embroidered aqua bird on it will bring us these feelings.  But the pillow itself is not the vehicle for those feelings to enter your life.  (I know I’m not saying anything new here…)

Back to Mother Theresa, this woman didn’t sit around and dream about what she wanted or what she should do with her life.  She simply was present and ready.  While the words want, want, want floated around my head I quickly realized that I need to change those words to be, be, be.  If I can just be present and on this page here in my proverbial book of life, rather than peeking five chapters ahead, I could probably enjoy the story a little better.  And if I’m in this moment, I might actually see the opportunities for giving and sowing love just like St. Francis prayed.

I often think that giving is purely financial.  (Probably due to the existence of a recommended 10% tithe every Sunday for twenty-some years of my life.)  In efforts to not freak out about my budget immediately, I decided to think about ways that I can give of myself.  I already have a job that is service oriented.  But lately my mind has been elsewhere, leaving me unmotivated and stagnant in my growth as an educator.  So I need to figure that out and try to be a bit more “present” while I’m at work.  Rather than dreaming of what to make for dinner and looking forward to my lunch break when I can check my Facebook.

Another thing I should probably consider is how I can “give” to my friends and family.  I need to take time to make calls, check in and see how I can help.  Mike’s friend just found out that his daughter’s cancer has returned.  She’s four and has already had chemotherapy once.  She just got her port out a few months ago and now she has to do the whole damn thing again.  My heart breaks for her and her parents.  I find myself closing my eyes and praying how can we help every day.  Have I called?  Nope, but I sure as hell have spent hours on the internet looking at “someday” properties.  I need a serious priorities check.

I tried praying this morning to figure out the answer to what we should do.  But I got tripped up on those “God” words again.  Then I realized something pretty profound (if I do say so myself…).  Maybe I need to stop talking and just listen.  Listening is not my forte.  Back when I was a Christian, I loathed “listening to God” because I didn’t really believe there was a guy hanging out waiting to “tell” me what to do.  So my listening often turned to me making “God” say things in my head.  Today, I don’t really think some divine epiphany is going to come to me.  But I do think that I have a pretty good head on my shoulders and if I could just be I might have enough space in my brain to process an answer.  This means I need to clear out some future plans space that sucks my brain energy (man, that sounds really sci-fi).  Or in super hippy, yogi terms…try to clear out the negative energy so there’s room for positive energy.

I’m going to try to make the prayer fit me…

I need to be present.  So I can be an instrument of peace for those I encounter every day, whether loved ones or strangers.  Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, care; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  I need to be present.  So that I don’t so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.  Because it is in giving that we receive happiness, beauty and peace.

There, that’s better.

© 2012 D. Willson

my meditation

In the words of India Arie (perhaps my guru) – I’m having a private party. Learning how to love me. Celebrating the woman I’ve become.

I’m not a yoga master. I don’t eat vegan. I have a bad habit of getting my energy from coffee, not the universe.

Yet, I do have some completely lost-in-thought moments. While I blow dry my hair, in the shower and sometimes on my drive to work. (Sorry to other drivers who share the road with me). Perhaps regaining my chi is something I have learned to do in my every day activities, not in a steam filled room with strangers.

Today whilst blow drying my hair, I had some thoughts. A couple years ago, I lived in Phoenix, AZ. On one side of the valley lay a town that I loved and hated…Scottsdale. We would go out every weekend and dance. Every weekend I would be faced with some sad realities. People spend a lot more time and money on their looks than me. Old Navy had suited me thus far. Yet when I would venture to the east side of town I’d discover that I wasn’t processed. This meant I did not adequately moisturize. I didn’t own enough couture (still not even sure what that is…) and I wore far too little mascara.

Over my two years of residency, Phoenix caused me to do a few things. Through my career I developed a strong sense of my talents and heart in serving my students. I grew confidence in my abilities in teaching. I also slowly discovered that I was kind of attractive. In my five years of attendance at Michigan State University, I don’t remember getting asked out once. Yet in just a few months of going out with some confident friends, I found that I did have something to offer the dating world.

When we’d go out to Scottsdale, however, my friend Sandy would put on her BeBe dress and I’d pull on my Old Navy jeans. When men would hit on Sandy, I chalked it up to her attention to appearance. Guys would walk up to me and inform me that I wasn’t “Scottsdale.” They didn’t say it in a negative way, just an observation. Clearly I didn’t fit in, but I did stand out.

I met Mike in the middle of my Phoenix journey. I was sleeping with my mouth wide open and drooling. The week following I developed a bacterial infection in my eyes which caused them to turn red resembling a troll. Clearly not my finest moments. Yet, Mike saw me as beautiful, worthwhile. He is a man who doesn’t care about bad breath, or farts or greasy hair. He has even loved me through some of the most mortifying experiences of my life. But he loves my so-not-Scottsdale, crocs wearing self.

Now I may just be assimilating to my new home, but Portland has done a lot for my journey of finding myself. Perhaps because others are a LOT weirder than me. And even though I may not be “Portland,” because of my fiance (soon to be husband) I feel more comfortable in my own skin. For instance, in the past year I have gotten into the habit of not wearing makeup to work. After wearing mascara and eyeliner for a year, you forget what you look like without it. You begin to doubt your natural beauty. Your eyes feel sunken, your skin seems pale and your nose a little too pointy. No wonder the phrase, “I’m putting on my face” is so commonplace. We have learned to wear a mask to cover our real faces.

Today while I blow dried my hair, I looked in the mirror and saw a beautiful woman. No mascara, no eyeliner. I haven’t dyed my hair in over a year. Yet all that processing would have made me jealous a few years ago.

When I was young, I remember getting ready for church in front of the mirror that was on the door of the room my sister and I shared. My father walked by. He said, “you don’t need that stuff, you are beautiful.” I didn’t believe him then. It has take a journey of fifteen or so years to begin to believe his words.

In my blow drying meditation today, I celebrated the woman I have become.

© 2011 D. Willson


I do not bungie jump, or mountain bike or run marathons. I hike an occasional hill, but serious backpacking does not frequent my to-do list. Yet today as I sat buried in a pile of papers, books and snack wrappers I began to realize something monumental. Amidst all of my don’t-do’s and all those challenges I so easily back down from, teaching has always been one I face head on. It is my Everest. Impossible, imposing and treacherous. But I welcome the cold, breath-taking feat.

As if it isn’t enough to simply get to the top of Mount Everest, I’ve also begun to realize that I don’t like to take the easy route. Not the elevator, not the stairs. I like the slow, winding, unbeaten path. The one with crags and mud, and an occasional snake here and there (I won’t mention any names). Teaching is a task that I know is entirely possible, but not everyone can do it. It takes training and perseverance and a thirst for more.

I can think of some people who claim that they “teach.” These are the people who claim that they like to “camp” but really have an air conditioned RV with a 40″ tv inside. I don’t mean to belittle what they do. Certainly, it’s an experience with it’s share of challenges. But if you can come home from a day of teaching without a little mud on your face, you weren’t really teaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be a saint. Nor do I claim to be God’s gift to education. I am lazy and unmotivated many of the days and often uncertain my efforts will ever make much of a difference. But without getting too spiritual about it, teaching and learning are two things I actually believe in. They exist, they are powerful and they change lives. But this act of teaching and this blessing of learning are not natural, givens in our current educational system. They are squeezed out of dire situations, like the last drop of shampoo after you’ve already added water to make it go further.

I believe in the power of good education. Like believing in the wind because you see the effects of the wind. Or better yet, it’s like believing in a hurricane. There’s no denying it, because it you can see the trees being blown over and feel the pelting rain sting your skin. Education saved my good friend from taking his life when he was fourteen. It showed me that I was able to learn science, even when my high school teacher told me that I couldn’t. It’s how a fellow teacher of mine became an influential leader in migrant education after she was told she should “just be a maid or secretary.” It’s the dream of discovering treatments for cancer because you learned all too soon what it does if you don’t catch it soon enough. Teaching and learning are the seeds for miraculous potential.

So as I sit here and peer over my daunting task-list and preparations to climb Everest these next few months, I breathe deeply because I know it is possible. People have made it to the top. Surely, it wasn’t easy. But they made it.

© 2011 D. Willson