What's Behind Door #3?

This Christmas Eve I experienced a scene familiar to many households. Our three sons were excited all day long incessantly asking, “Is it time to open presents yet?” As they chomped at the bit, we insisted they chomp down dinner, but their minds were someplace else wondering, “What will I find inside those gifts with my name on them?”

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Finally the event was upon them, but barely a moment was spent absorbing what the gift was let alone slowing down long enough to thank (or even acknowledge) the giver. Almost immediately, the boys were back searching for the next package with their name on it. At last, as the paper was pushed aside and piled in shreds, there were no more --- no more gifts.

This is not simply a holiday scene under a Christmas tree. This is the scene, unfortunately, found in many of our lives. We reach and
strive and search for the gifts with our names printed on them. We find them, take them, rip them open, and reach out for the next one. Until one day, there are no more gifts. Even gifts which are not material, but are ultimately more important, our intellect, health, and last breath are gone. We breathe in, unwrap our gift, and when we reach for another it is simply not there to take.

I visited a dear friend with an excruciating decision to make over the Christmas holiday. My friend has unwrapped her last gift in this life. It reminded me of the old TV show Let’s Make a Deal. Behind door #1 my friend has “life” breathing by mechanical ventilator, and receiving nutrition through an IV. She is very sick. As she mouthed to us herself, “This is my day. I have nurses suctioning green goo from my lungs, and brown poo from my___.”
Oh yes, and the price tag for this existence will now be $10,000/mo.

OK. What’s behind door #2? Over the last three months my friend has been back and forth from the threshold of door #2 four separate times. The attempts to wean from the ventilator have resulted in diminishing O2 levels, rising CO2 levels, severe anxiety, and suffocation. The result of this dance with door #2 led my friend back through door #1 which seems meaningless, and if she continues all the way through door #2 it leads to the death of her body. The end to this
extraordinary life, too seems meaningless.

Is there a door #3 to choose?

What then lies behind door #3?

Faith?

Prior to exercising this amazing choice, my friend locked me in a piercing, blue-eyed gaze.
I perceive a look not of fear or peace, but one of
meaning. She seemed to come to a place of great wisdom, understanding, and resolve to what lies behind door #3. Even in death, my mentor was taking care of me.

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In the end, after we exhaust the gifts of life under this earthly tree, we are left with the greatest gift of all behind door #3. The only door with true meaning seems to lead to the inexhaustible gift of our Creator’s love. As we close the door on one year and open it on another, we must remember the gift of unity with the creative force of God is available to us in this life as well as in the next. We need only to open the door, walk through, and abide there.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.    
Hebrews 11:1

Our dear friend passed through the veil leading to the pure energy, truth, and light found through door #3 at 10:24pm on December 28
th. In the quiet moments by my salt lamp, I will listen for her wisdom.

Wishing you a New Year of endless possibility and many gifts with your name on them…
Michele
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Mentor, Protector, and Friend

If we are lucky, we may have ten. We may be blessed throughout our lives to have ten people who truly believe we have just what it takes to handle anything we need to do or accomplish all we desire to attempt. One of my ten is ready to cross over to the other side of the veil. God is calling the piece of His own image, which He shared with my dear friend, back to Himself. This woman was my mentor through my early years as a physical therapist, my protector from myself when I was my own worst enemy, and my friend in mind and spirit forever by my side whether I was marrying the man of my dreams or having our first baby.

It is hard to imagine my life without you, and it feels lonely here where you use to be.

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But now I pray for God's will, not my own. I pray for all fear, of the past and of the future, to be lifted. I desire for you to remember the things you taught me; God's mercy is bigger than our failures, the grace of our true spirit will win over the limitations of our ego, the peace of eternity is here for those who humble themselves to love, and His perfect love drives out all fear.

Please do not doubt. During your years of compassion and caring for so many, you have always been the most extraordinary example of His hands and feet.

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
1 Corinthians 13:12-13

He tore the veil with His love, and now His arms are open wide for you.
I love you so very, very much my mentor, protector, and friend.

Please write your note below while keeping our dear friend's name in confidence. David and I will be visiting on Thursday morning, and I will cherish the opportunity to read your words directly to her.

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Your Gift or Mine?

The holidays are a time for giving. The opportunities to give and the need for provision are apparent and abundant. We palpate this spirit, we plan activities to teach our children, we choose to give where our hearts lead us, and we feel good. It does feel good to give.
 
A physical therapy student, and fellow traveller to
China last May, was reading a book which challenges us to think about the way we give. Robert Lupton, author of Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life, calls us to rethink both our motives and our strategies when we extend our hand to another. Lupton founded Focus Community Strategies to address Atlanta’s urban pove
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rty in 1976. His book draws on over 30 years of what works and what doesn’t in addressing long-term solutions to poverty in these communities.
 
One story in his book reminds me specifically of the gift giving season which
motivates many of us, including myself, to reach out further than we might during other times of the year. His testimony was profound and somewhat disturbing because I realized the way in which one gives could possibly undermine our ultimate goal. Lupton’s take home point was, “Never do for others what they can do for themselves,” because, of course, this diminishes their dignity.
 
He tells a story of a well-intentioned clan who arrived at the home of their adopted Christmas family with arms overflowing with grocery bags of food and colorfully wrapped presents. The entire family met them at the door. The children were excited for their surprise packages and mom gratefully received the groceries. On the surface, the event, the interaction, and the feelings of goodwill seemed perfect. What no one noticed was the children’s father, the head of the family, peeking out from behind a curtain in a back bedroom. Embarrassed. Ashamed.
 
This was not the goal.
 
This one-time gift was a loving yet static intervention for a family whose head required assistance in becoming
dynamically empowerment. A community program was put into place where gifts are donated and parents of children come to a large gymnasium and choose, for very minimal cost, the gifts which best fit their family. There is empowerment in the choice and pride in the purchase. The most important thing is dad receives the kisses and respect upon his self-wrapped delivery.
 
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While our boy’s hearts are young, we want to foster the awareness and desire to fill a need. As they grow and find their own gifts, we hope to reveal the joy received as one generously extends their time, expertise, and talents with the goal of empowering another to reach for their dreams. It is here, within this mysterious circle, we find our true relevance as human beings.
 
The pure God-consciousness of Christ comes to our planet, our nation, our village, and our hearts not to drop off a random one-time gift but to provide a
lifetime of empowerment and certainty. We are called to be His hands and feet.
 
May you rest in the peace of a gift received this Christmas and embrace the hope of endless possibilities in the New Year.

All my love and respect, Michele
 
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Make a Thanksgiving "Deposit"


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We often think of Thanksgiving as a day when we slow down, gather with family, embrace good friends, and “give” thanks for the many blessings in our lives. As we sit around a table of tasty dishes and feel the warmth of those who love us it is impossible, no matter what challenges loomed yesterday, not to be humbled within our abundance.

Instead of worrying again of our responsibilities, unmet desires, and lack, we “give” thanks.

I’m half way through reading Stephen Hawking’s latest book, “The Grand Design.” Those of you familiar with the text may be wondering why a professed Christ-follower is entertaining a book which firmly leaves in its conclusion no room for a Creator. Well, this is precisely why I am spending the time. The brilliance of mind inhabiting Stephen Hawking is exactly where the scientific mind of our next generation will reside.

About one-third of the way through the book Richard Feynman, a famous quantum physicist, is intrigued by the question of how wave interference patterns arise from the double-slit experiment even when you send particles through one by one. Aren’t we all? On page 78 of "The Grand Design," I ran across a Feynman diagram I actually understood, and if I can understand it anyone can. A Feynman diagram, in the world of quantum physics, proposes a particle can take all possible paths imaginable, but that probabilities tend to fall into certain paths or trajectories. When the paths of many particles are observed together, we can see the wave or interference pattern they create because of their different lengths.

The interesting concept presented in the diagram seen here is the idea of path sums. When I looked at the movement of these particles (the yellow path) and the sum of their trajectory (the blue arrow), I immediately thought of my own life.

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When I am on purpose, the sum of my movements, thoughts, and behaviors have a positive trajectory as in the top particle’s path. But when I am worried, striving, or frustrated my life is not moving as quickly toward my stated goals as I'd like, my path is erratic. The sum total of my day, week, year – lifetime – is small more like the bottom particle's path.

Jesus told us clearly and boldly, "Do not worry."

Why? Why is this so important? I believe it is because worry, strife, frustration, and expectation mess up the trajectory of our purpose... And they steal our joy.

Gratitude always produces a net positive sum in our lives, and it is the surest way to stay on purpose. So, instead of the idea of “giving” thanks this holiday, remember when we slow down, humbly place ourselves at the feet of love, and acknowledge we are all breathing images of God we actually make a Thanksgiving “deposit.”

May God Bless you and your precious family and friends this Thanksgiving.
Make a deposit.
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Cornerstones: NOLA, Old Friends, & 9th Ward


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I spent four days last week in New Orleans with five fabulous females who graced my high school days. Twenty-six years had passed, but not a moment has gone by. We are the same silly soul mates now with the beauty and wisdom gained over a quarter century of experiences. Children, careers, husbands, and lives stand as reference of the time in between, but when you are cornerstones nothing can take away your relevance to one another.
 
Right out of the gates we did risk life and limb placing each of our 44 year old selves on a Segway for a tour around the French Quarter. Shortly after becoming experts of the new electric form of mobility, our group was winding through the streets and up onto the bank of the Mississippi. From this vantage point one could look across the river through the
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early day haze to the general area of the 9th Ward. Mike, our fearless leader and guide, told of facts and rumors surrounding the cause of the breached levee system which took an estimated 1,500 lives in New Orleans alone after hurricane Katrina. He filled in gaps with thoughts of his own about the lack of support to rebuild even now.

As we dined and played over the next couple days, we decided to see for ourselves what five years has done for the devastation.

 
We piled into a red SUV taxi and Albert, a native Haitian calling New Orleans home for the last 16 years, told all he knew about the events following the hurricane. He did not hold to the rumored conspiracy theory to breach the levee against the 9th Ward in order to decrease the risk of the water giving way in another area of the city. “I can’t feed a rumor that feeds anger,” he said to us. A healthy perspective in all areas of life.
 
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We drove through areas of the city where the water had been 4-6 feet high extending for miles. We crossed a bridge over a now sleepy river we call the mighty Mississippi. Entering the 9th Ward from the left, Albert pointed out a concrete slab, once gas station, which had been scene to weekly murders. As we waited at the corner staring at the now vacant space, we didn’t yet realize how many empty slabs in front of us would be final remnants of the horrifying realities which unfolded five years earlier.
 
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t showed us an area of the 9th Ward where actor and activist Brad Pitt heads up building new homes for displaced residents. We stood along the repaired Industrial Canal levee and attempted to picture the 30 foot wall of water that came rushing through the still neighborhood at 4:00 am August 30, 2005. Ghostly quiet images stood everywhere; foundations with street numbers spray painted in white, a working street light directing no one, stone stairs leading to nowhere, and shells of homes with eerie numbers written on outside walls permanently documenting the dead found inside. It was Saturday afternoon and we finally heard the sound of normal life as two adolescent boys played basketball in an open air court.
 
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With a nauseating sense of the incomplete, we intruded into the real story of Tynace. This lifetime resident of the 9th Ward, Tynace now fifty-five, obviously chose to return and rebuild. He stood in front of a beautiful home adorned with a white picket fence and flowers as he sipped an afternoon beer. We introduced ourselves and jumped into a loving yet personal interrogation. Tynace told of the infamous early morning, the crash of a barge, a “boom”, a nightmare. Albert, our cabby, stood off to the side motionless and without eye contact. Tynace made clear his view of an act against the 9th Ward.
 
“It is not rumor. It is a fact.” He passionately shared views of events whose facts may never be completely known. What is known, following hurricane Katrina 80% of New Orleans was under water and virtually all of her levees breached.
 
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Tynace told of the days which followed, his boat rescue of family, the death of his friends, his journey across town, his horrendous stay at the Superdome, his travel to Houston, and work in Austin which made it possible to earn the money required to return and rebuild. He is proud of his efforts, and he is angry at the government. He turned to us and said, “See that light?” pointing at a street lamp gone dark after the storm. “I looked up at that light and told God I’ve lost everything.”  God told me, “Remember, everything is mine.”
 
We asked Tynace why more people had not returned to the 9th Ward. He quickly answered, “No money, no support, no nothing.” We asked how many of his friends did not survive the night and days which followed the hurricane. Tynace pointed and pointed as he made a 360 degree turn in front of his oasis now standing virtually alone on the street. He told us some of the land does not belong to anyone any longer, and many opt never to return. “I guess they feel there is just not enough to come back to,” he added.
 
“Why did you return?” we inquired.
Tynace
 
“This is my home. This is all I know. This is where I belong. That was my grandpa’s workshop,” Tynace added as he pointed to a large tin building beyond the curb lamp lighting his street again. Sipping his beer Tynace looked up at the street light and finished our discussion, “Keep looking at the light. Everything’s gonna be alright.”
 
The 9th Ward is Tynace’s cornerstone.
 
As with most things we pry deeply into, we often come away with more questions than before we searched. The solid image I did take away was one of cornerstones.
 
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We dined one last night together, shared drinks and belly laughs, relived old memories and pondered the future. The truth is we all have storms in our lives. For some of us the sands have shifted beneath our feet more than others. Good friendships, like Tynace and the 9th Ward, have strong cornerstones. The passage of time brings changes and each day brings the conscious choice to grab ahold of those foundations and continue to build.

To my cornerstones, I say, “Thank you.”

 
Always appreciate your thoughts. Michele
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Angels, Demons, and Superheroes

Halloween. It is some people's favorite yearly event and others condemn it as witchcraft. Why?

I believe any uneasiness is inherent in the fact that the images swirling around Halloween, the day of the dead, and
all souls day tend to hit a little close to home.

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Masks. We all have them, and we all wear them. Some of our masks are placed to pretend we are angels, and other masks are donned to give off that demon appeal, but they are all disguises. Masks deceive. They hide the truth from view, or they embellish images that are really not there. Either way you look at it masks are worn for the purpose of acceptance. We don't like to discuss our masks. We may more readily discuss our selective demons, but the masks we choose, if aware of them at all, are very difficult to disclose. We may need them again.

Death. We all fear it, and we all have to do it. We do not like to think about it, talk about it, or be around it. I think we should... More. Why? Death removes the masks.

I was archiving old blogs today while Joshua played on the computer, and I ran across last year's Halloween post about
picturing people as skeletons when you begin to feel afraid or intimidated.

Open. Raw. Exposed. This is how we feel when we take off our masks. This is how we are in the end. This is difficult to snuggle up to.

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So, on Halloween night we will see our fair share of angels and demons and masks, but one costume fortunately always reigns supreme. Deep down we all want to be superheroes. They are the essence of angels and demons combined. I love the movie the Incredibles. A superhero becomes super when they understand their strengths, and a superhero becomes super when they no longer hide their weaknesses.

This Halloween instead of turning off the lights and worrying about the counter religious flare of the evening take the opportunity to teach our children how to be superheroes. Remind them a superhero's power is not their own. A superhero's amazing abilities are not something they worked for or earned. These powers are a
gift. Take the opportunity to remind our children that all superheroes have weaknesses and flaws. They are not perfect. They rarely work alone. They rely on one another.

A superhero is simply an everyday hero who courageously refuses to be tossed around by the negative forces he encounters and instead allows God to work through her.
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Take the event of Halloween to remind our children how to be a superhero in this world... How to take off the masks and reflect God's image.

Embracing your superhero... For with God all things are possible.
Happy Halloween.

Always enjoy your comments. Michele

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Your Life... Wave or Particle


My friend’s name is John and for a little over a year and a half he has been living and working with the diagnosis of ALS. John is a 6’2” high-energy particle physicist, who up until May, could be seen gracing the UT campus and physics research laboratories with his lengthy, paralyzed arms snuggly secured into his front blue-jean pockets.
In June, John was also diagnosed with a brain tumor. On August 30
th this brilliant mind went home.
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Quantum physics, being John’s life work and my intellectual pet project, gave us plenty to talk about during our many visits together. Yet, beyond his extraordinary intelligence was a rooted soul and steel faith that is truly difficult to describe. When I think about the cards John was dealt it reminds me of a quantum theory we now use in many of our day to day technologies, the fact that all particles, no matter what type, have a wave component to them as well. This wave-particle duality is a fascinating reality of all things encountered.

Since the early experiments that established light travels as a wave but interacts as a particle, many more hours in the lab have painted an even more interesting picture.
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One of my favorites is the rendition of the double-slit experiment in which one electron at a time is emitted from a source (don’t worry I have no idea how they accomplish this either) at a screen with two tiny slits in it and then detected on a screen behind that. So, you have one particle emitted at a specific time presumably going through one of the slits (because it is a particle, sort of) and landing on the back screen in a specific place. Simple enough, it sounds like an event to me.

The particles hit the screen in chaotic positions that appear to be completely random. Over enough time however, something remarkable emerges, a wave pattern. How do particles released one by one, much like the events of our lives, end up creating a perfect wave pattern? It is almost as if time and the order of the event of the particle's release did not, in the end, matter to the outcome at all.

I can’t help but be comforted by this odd but true physical reality when I think of John. When we think of the random things that occur in our own lives and in our world that appear to be completely chaotic, one must wonder what will emerge when the experiment is over. Will we be aware enough to look back on our lives with enough wisdom to see even a glimmer of the perfect pattern all those random events manifest? Even a glimmer would be exciting.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”     1 Corinth 13:12

My attempt at a tribute to John, I will never forget you:

The Oak Tree

The sturdy oak your symbol, strength complex and profound
Your trunk rises far above us, roots firmly penetrate the ground
 
Your branches remain flexible under weight of this enormous storm
Never wielding excess force, but with gentle power they conform
 
To the changing physical insults, ripping away at your control
Unable to touch the steadfast faith of Tree’s resilient soul
 
Arms hang like dead limbs daily decreasing your reach
Placing them snuggly in pockets, proudly standing to teach
 
As your ink drenched leaves dance across our hearts
Rains cannot wash away their priceless indelible marks
 
Steady fruit of life’s work colleagues continue to praise
We freeze in awe of Oak’s grace as you accept the last of your days
 
Roots reaching down deep for the life giving stream
Calmly and peacefully unable to capture the dream
 
Oh, to be silent and still inside a brilliant mind
As it sails far from shores of dense and material kind
 
Rustling winds from heaven prompt and guide your choice
Controlled in death as in life, we strain to hear your voice
 
Quietly sleeping you shed these dry and temporal leaves
Energy completely transformed… Bursting forth through eternity

Michele Zink Harris

 

 
 

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Both Sides of the Giving Hand

A Caregiver’s Spiritual Journey

Movement

Looking back on a life, any life, one realizes the only thing we really want in the end is to be relevant. We want to be certain we have made some sort of difference. We want to feel secure in knowing our legacy will not simply vanish with our body as we pass from the planet. This universal longing is at the core of being human.

My choice of career in healthcare, specifically physical therapy, was grounded in this desire to be relevant. Of course I did not realize this at the time I made it. I was completely unable to see the real motives through my own altruistic mask. Moving constantly as a competitive gymnast, a straight-A student, and a chronic perfectionist, I was taught this was the proper way to strive through life. I had my goals, my plans, and my steps marked out and documented in a three-ring college-rule binder, and I never missed an expectation. School was over, a job on a spinal cord and brain injury unit secured, and I was in complete control. My life was perfect. I had become a legitimate caregiver, but it has taken decades to unravel the true magic that lies within and beyond my side of the giving hand.

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I was young, fresh, and passionate. Moving from room to room, down to the gym, and across to the pool, I was responsive to your physical needs. I took great pride in the treatment plans designed, goals achieved, and family training completed. I felt fulfilled and you felt taken care of, but in the end we both left empty. Year after year, moving, striving, extending, and giving, I was a respected expert. Teaching, mentoring, knowledgeable, and strong, I was sought out for my expertise. Movement is life. My role was to do whatever I could to give you back your movement. In rehab through the use of muscle reeducation, adaptive techniques, and technology, I did this job very, very well. As I worked through those years there were sparks of the joy of true communion, but my ego quickly stomped them out on my way to see the next patient. Movement is life, so I moved. I was a healthcare provider who helped put movement back into your life, but I was not a human partner who helped put life back into your movement.

I spent years perfecting my skills and achieving my goals, but did I grow? Really?

Can one grow if they do not first receive? Can a flower grow without first receiving water from the sky, light from the sun, and food from the soil? Of course not, but I still felt I was in control of my destiny. Can a human body move, work, or provide care without first taking air into its lungs? Of course not, but I stood convinced I was the giver and not the taker for this is where I found my relevance.

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So my illusion grew, while my soul remained static. I stayed the course moving, searching, striving, and extending, but I arrogantly missed much of what you had to offer me. Physical functions were restored and life roles reestablished. I passionately cared and advocated for you, but more like a parent than another human being struggling against the same ultimate fears. I continued on consumed by the desire to be the giver not realizing I was denying you the greatest gift of all - - to be received. I rushed forward enveloped by my own importance into another room to give again. I was satisfied in my own relevance, but missed the joy of true communion with you completely. I believe that I loved you and you loved me. I cried deeply at your funeral because you were my friend. I know now it was also because I had not slowed down enough to embrace all I was to learn from you.

I moved appropriately to the world’s standard in other parts of my life as well. I married a loving and successful man, and we set out to make ourselves a family. Is this where I first began to palpate it? Is this the first time I was yanked to my knees? Was this the first realization that control over my life was only an illusion? My heart was ripped open and vulnerable. I found myself groping on the other side of the giving hand with the news of miscarriage number three.

Receptivity

At what moment does a heath care provider, a mother, any human being, understand the choice they have to make? This revelation comes at different times and is cloaked in different circumstances, but the choice is eventually and inevitably made clear to everyone. We are all forced, sooner or later, to stop denying and turn to face our ultimate fears – loss, disability, and death.

Our children came. They are a complete blessing and a pure gift for I had no control over their timing, their health, or their path. This was a pivotal point in my life. I had to humbly acknowledge that I was the receiver. I began to see the finite game of life through the lens of an eternal perspective for the very first time. I began to see you differently. I began to open up to the enormous gifts you possess. Through your brokenness of mind and body you acquired a strength I am just beginning to understand. Please forgive me for denying you the joy of receiving from you more fully. I now understand I truncated a mysterious circle. Through my desire for relevance and the constant movement of the giver, I neglected to receive from you. As a result, I devalued you and missed the culmination of this divine truth. It is in giving that we receive, and it is in receiving a gift that we complete the circle of joy.

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I thought again of the flower. Does it really matter if a flower faces the sun, has water to drink, and food to be nourished by if it does not remain connected to the vine? In my hard arrogance and encapsulating pride, I actually believed I could remain a brilliant flower without being attached to the vine. In my ignorance, I believed I had the capacity to continue giving without turning to receive from the vine and from you. Fortunately, by grace alone the truth was shown to me and instead of burning out and abandoning a career I held dear, I began to grow.

I cannot pin point the time or the place. I cannot identify a specific patient or an epiphany. This has been an evolution of heart and soul. It was an enfolding that was not my doing, for it was the doing that needed to be set aside. I needed to cease in the striving for relevance, and as I did I realized relevance itself is a meaningless desire because it is lost within the judgment of the past. The only reality is the gift of the present moment. I could anguish in the guilt and the opportunities lost, or I could move forward and be a different type of provider, teacher, mother, mentor, and friend. One who has a never-ending capacity because now she is open, still, and ready to receive as well as to give.

All of the individuals I have had the opportunity to treat have knit the fabric of who I am. All I can say to you today is, “Thank you.” Though I must admit the ALS population reigns as the supreme teacher. Why? I have to believe the answer to this question lies in the current reality of the inevitable helplessness one feels as a caregiver to these patients. You have forced me out from behind my wall of relevance because I am unable to change the course you face. I can help maintain range of motion, but your muscles still waste away. I can help maximize chest wall mobility, but your respiratory function still declines. I can provide technology so you can move through life, but I am helpless to provide life to your movement. Ultimately, the profound choice to leave this broken house behind and release your soul or continue fighting is yours alone to make. You are the picture of grace in unbelievable circumstance. I am humbled by your strength, and in your presence I feel overwhelmed and vulnerable. My mind is bound tight with the thoughts of my own human frailty. Through you I have realized we are all disabled.

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As we crawl across this rock, the limits of one’s body and mind are defined as their disability. But what are the limits of one’s heart and soul defined as? Physical and intellectual disabilities are challenges we can see, but disabilities of the heart and soul will take down a family, a nation, a human race. Our physical and intellectual capabilities are glorified in this world, but the illusion of strength and independence they produce separate us from God. This, of course, is our greatest disability. It is here those strange utterances from the Mount long ago, lying so contrary to our materialistic and egotistical world, begin to make sense. It is in our weakness and loss of control that we make room for the power whom alone makes us whole.

As humans, fear is the only real constant. In some there is the fear of losing power, position, and control. In others there is the fear of not enough resource, opportunity, and security. In others still there is the fear of complete injustice and oppression. We combat these fears by closing ourselves off, hiding our weaknesses, and building up walls of false confidences and disguises of control. In a world where we seem incapable of accepting our own weakness, how can we accept the weakness of others? Not until we become aware of our own brokenness and fear can we embrace the universality of the vulnerable heart. It is from here we will begin to receive and accept every human being as a valuable link in the chain of humanity. It is here we embrace unity.

Unity

So in the end I find my own relevance by empowering yours. I began to think it is much less about disability rights and much more about human relevance. We must stop separating the individual with a physical or intellectual limitation into some arbitrary disability category. We must become honest about our universal weakness and surrender to our inherent limitation as human beings so we can evolve in our strength as a unified humanity.

God made it very simple in His two great spiritual laws of love. You must first abide in me with everything you’ve got. Lose the ego and leave your pride outside the door, all your advanced degrees and continuing education hours mean nothing to me. I am the source of your being. I am the movement behind your breath. I am the gift you must receive if you are to have even one more moment of life. Once we realize this unity with the creator of the universe, we can be confident in our weakness. We can accept ourselves where we are without being content to stay there. Movement is life, but first we must be still, open, and humble enough to receive life.

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Once we accept our collective disability and our need for constant unity, we arrive at a place where we can love each other “as” ourselves. Not in the same “way” as ourselves implying some sort of quality, but “as” ourselves demanding complete unity. This is the true meaning of communion. When I loosened my grip on my identities, my responsibilities, my expectations, and illusion of control over my life, I became empty enough to receive from you. I now realize the dynamic nature of both my relevance and my capacity.

These beliefs were solidified during a short-term medical mission trip to Hengyang China under the guidance of International China Concern. ICC is a Christian development organization who partner with the Chinese welfare system providing love, hope, and opportunity to hundreds of disabled and abandon children. The individual interactions with the children and young adults at the orphanage were powerful because of the grinding need, but in working with ALS patients I was no longer a stranger to feeling helpless against overwhelming reality. What I experienced in China was a deeper understanding of the needs of humanity as a whole.

The experience provided me a broader perspective of the concept of victim. I left China wondering, “Who is it that one prays for?” Is it the abandoned child, or the parent with no resources and no hope? Is it the person in the park with a hard heart who looks in disgust upon a child with disabilities? Is it the corrupt government officials at local levels, or is it the party leaders wrapped and warped by a godless ideology? If one embraces an eternal perspective, all are victims who are separated from the truth, from the source of creation, from love. When a society places value only on the physical and intellectual capacity of its members to give back to the whole, this society starves its heart and its soul.

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This society remains incomplete.

We are all critical links in the chain of humanity. The truth is you are strong where I am weak. You are able where I am disabled.

Together we are complete.

We find unity in the to and fro give and take of our capacities and gifts as well as our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. As humans we must surrender to each other at the level of the heart, or we remain unable to complete the circle of joy that defines our being human. We remain a disabled humanity. We can only access this heart when we lose ourselves to the point of sharing our deepest fears. We must strip naked the ego and cast away the illusion of our independence and control over our lives. Following my trip to China, I finally possessed an understanding of these strange words of scripture, “Hold on to your life and lose it, lose your life and gain it.” There has never been a time when I felt more alive than when I had completely lost myself and was fully in your presence receiving your gifts.

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It is in your enormous capacity and empowered relevance that I find my own. This is not found in the concerns of the past or in the hopes for the future. Instead, it is found in the reality of the present moment. It is within the circle of giving and receiving where relationships are dynamic and real. Movement is life, but life is impossible unless first we are still, open, and humble enough to receive it. Receptivity is the remembering that at every moment of our lives we are on both sides of the giving hand. Unity of heart is the only true path to the spiritual evolution of humanity. We are no longer left empty - - but leave full.

This is a testimony.

This is a confession.

This is a personal revelation.

This is a caregiver blessed in the light of truth, “For it is in giving that we receive, and it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”

By: Michele Zink Harris
June, 2010

I wish to thank the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and all the staff involved in the
Pen2Paper writing contest for honoring my journey and my attempt to put this sacred walk into words. My God Bless your every effort.

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When Colored Plastic Begins to Fade

The first week of another school year was met with many a tear. Some of these tears may have been for joy, but my guess is most of them were an outward sign of the passing of time. Even though I am blessed with one last year with our youngest son before he enters kindergarten there is no escaping it, I am no longer a young mom.

We all find ourselves at
crossroads as we traverse the terrain of our lives. Whether your crossroad is at the moment the colored plastic begins to fade, or the season when your heart feels torn out as your baby leaves for college, the choices are the same. We can turn in sadness and lament the loss of our youth, or we can turn in gratitude and excitement for the dawning of a brand new self.

As Colored Plastic Fades
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I thought I would never see the day
The colored plastic began to fade

But today as you turn 4 and 6 and 9
I realize my babies are no longer mine

Today, upon gazing down the hall
Large colored plastic toys replaced by small

Your hands once awkward, clumsy, and tight
Now balanced, manipulative, and precise

The days of chaos and clutter too will pass
Tears will fall wishing them back at last

Heartbroken I am, ever wishing them away
The day the colored plastic began to fade

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So we
move on, never wishing them away but trying not to be imprisoned by the beautiful memories of the past. We work to always stay in the present and thank our lucky stars for the special friends we have to share the journey. We were never meant to go it alone.

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I received the honor of having an essay included in a very special book about this journey. “From the Heart,” is a collection of stories and poems that track the fun, the challenges, and the truly phenomenal aspects of parenting. All proceeds from this collaborative effort will go to children’s charities helping fund medical care and research to find cures for some of life’s most devastating diseases.

The book is a perfect gift for mom, grandma, or any child mentor.

Below is a Q&A with Beth Davis the founder of Write for Charity to provide you some more information about the project.

Q: Tell me a little bit about this project. 
A: From the Heart is the brainchild of the ladies at Write for Charity.  After finding out that her youngest daughter needed surgery, our chief editor, Beth Davis, felt a driving urge to make a difference in the lives of children, particularly sick children.  The idea of writing a book for charity had been thrown around our office for some time, but she jumped in with both feet to get it moving. 
Understanding that writing a book in a short period of time would be an unrealistic task, the ladies went full steam ahead in search of collaborators.  They searched magazines, the blogosphere and writers groups from around the country for the best and brightest writing talent they could find, extending invitations as they went.  After sorting through over 300 submissions over the course of several months,
From the Heart was born.  The book is a creative collaboration of nearly 100 different stories and poems from all aspects of parenting.  July 1st was the kickoff to our 90 Day Challenge and we’ve been moving ahead with book sales ever since! 

Q. What is the 90 Day Challenge? 
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A: The 90 Day Challenge is a book sales drive that represents a goal that we set for ourselves and the collaborative authors who are choosing to participate.  The goal is to jumpstart sales of From the Heart in the first 90 days by selling 10,000 copies of the book and raising a large lump sum of money for charity immediately. 
The book is currently only
available for sale on our website at www.writeforcharity.com, but it will be available at many other retail locations following the 90 Day Challenge. 

Q: Why not make it available through a national distribution channel during your 90 Day Challenge?
A: We elected to sell the book at www.writeforcharity.com during 90 Day Challenge and wait to distribute the book into bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders and on website like Amazon.com due to the costs associated with a distributor.  By selling the book on our website, we are able to control in house costs, raise profit margins and, in turn, donate more money to our selected charities. 

Q. Who will benefit from this project?
A: The desire to contribute to children’s charities has driven this project from the very beginning.  Since the minute we decided to publish this book, we knew that children’s hospitals and juvenile disease research foundations would be the beneficiaries when it came to fruition.  All of the profits from this book will be split between various Children’s Hospitals and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Center. 

Q: So, 100% of proceeds from this project go to charity?
A: One hundred percent of profits will go to our selected charities.  Obviously with a project like this, you have printing costs, but other than that, we have committed all of the funds to our selected charities.  Our authors have donated their work, our editors have donated their time and our graphics people have donated their talent.  We are very lucky to have such a wonderful group of talented people involved in this project.  For a list of contributors, visit www.writeforcharity.wordpress.com/the-authors.   

Q: Tell us something we don’t know about your project. 
A: Well, the biggest thing would definitely have to be the caliber of our contributors.  We have several nationally recognized writers in our group of nearly 80 contributors and many of our contributors have been featured in nationally distributed publications, on popular websites or on television.  Their willingness to donate their work to our cause is admirable and I know that everyone who reads this volume will enjoy their poems and stories.  Together with our contributors, we have begun a grassroots effort to raise funds for our wonderful charities that is growing by the day.  Their eagerness to help get the word out about the book is admirable and we appreciate their support. 

Q: What’s it in for me to support this project?
A: The charity situation on a national level has taken a severe beating as of late. Many incidents of run ins with unsavory “charities” have appeared in the media in the past several years.  Many individuals and companies have completely lost trust in those trying to do good work because of a few “bad eggs.”
Many individuals have contributed time and effort to put this project together.  Our authors contributed their work out of the kindness of their hearts and our editor, layout artist and designers all contributed time as well.  Because they believe in the mission behind this project, to help children in need, we hope you will take the time to support us and
purchase a copy of the book.  The book in itself is a fantastic product and by purchasing, you are helping a good cause. 

Q: How can I support Write for Charity’s From the Heart?
A: There are a number of different things you can do to support the project.  First and foremost, you can click here to buy a book!  On our website, we have the ever popular blog buttons which I have starting seeing crop up all over cyberspace.  You are welcome to download the “supporter” button for your own website if you are so inclined. 
This is the first anthology we have done and with the success we are already seeing with it, we know it won’t be the last.  Contact one of our editors at press@writeforcharity.com for more information on how you can contribute to one of our upcoming projects or help to support our current project.
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Row, Row, Row Your Boat...

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Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…
Life is but a dream.


I hit my early forties before I realized the profound meaning hidden in this preschool rhyme. Within its simple and whimsical lines, runs a deep and eternal truth about our lives and how we perceive them.

Row, row, row… without movement there is no meaning. For an event to occur and for us to perceive it requires two objects existing
relative to one another and moving within time and space. To row is to move.

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What are we rowing? Our boat in this poem is clearly the consciousness of our individual life experiences. Where are we rowing these lives? We row our lives down the stream. The stream is everything around us. The stream can be thought of as our environment, the people we encounter, the thoughts we entertain, the linear time and three dimensional space in which we live.

A while back I posted a blog titled: Time, a toilet paper roll, and a paintbrush stroke.
This stroll speaks to the fascinating and relative concept of time itself. You may enjoy it.

I believe the adverb chosen in the first line of "Row, row, row your boat" is well thought out and critically important.
Gently. What an interesting choice don’t you think?

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In our competitive, fast moving, and aggressive doggy eat doggy world, living our lives gently does not come up very often. It reminds me of the word meek, again, not a term that frequently appears on the Fortune 500 page. But in certain circles the gentle and the meek inherit the earth. Curious.

What about the second line; merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily? Four times, now this must be important. What does this word, merrily, mean? The Webster dictionary defines merrily as being cheerful or joyous in disposition or spirit. Nice. No wonder it gets poll position in the middle of the ditty and repeated four times. To approach our lives merrily is to be grateful but not too serious.
I have to confess I have fallen short in the merrily and the gently categories over the years.

Life is but a dream. What! Where did that come from? We were clipping along in a children’s rhyme, so we thought, and then, “Life is but a dream?”

Is it?

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If one believes in a transcendent, intelligent, creative, source of everything, then why not?
If one believes in the science of general relativity of space and time, then why not?
If one believes in the transitory nature of all things material, then why not?
If one believes in a
dynamic and expanding universe that came into “being” at a moment in “time” during some enormous movement when time too “began,” then why not?

So, there you have it.
In a childhood rhyme we have movement, consciousness, experience, joy, and a dream.
Aren't you curious to know more about this Dreamer?

Love your thoughts. Have a great weekend, Michele

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Quiet Greatness Among Us


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Have you ever been waiting at a light, glanced through the window of the car next to you, and wondered what that person is thinking? Have you ever been standing in line at Starbuck’s and considered where the person in front of you is heading next? Have you ever been awkwardly sitting in traffic, afraid to glance up at the person standing on the corner with a sign, but still find yourself silently pondering her story?

Being in healthcare, I am thrust into a uniquely intimate relationship with people. This relationship is absent any true invitation on the patient's part. These individuals certainly do not invite into their lives the reason why I am there. Mine is a sacred profession. On a daily basis, I come face to face with my own fragile humanity. I treat individuals whose lives instantly change at the moment of an accident or the day when word of a diagnosis is given. All of the people I treat have amazing lives and intriguing stories. Within the chaos of any given day, we sometimes forget how really fascinating people are, and how blessed we are with the opportunity to be in communion with them.

A couple weeks back I was in the home of one of my patients living with the diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and into the room came a handsome gentleman in his 70’s. My patient introduced this man as his surrogate father and mentor, Jerry, who was visiting from Hawaii. This gentleman, who appeared younger than his years, had undergone knee replacement surgery and was continuing to have significant pain and decreased mobility. My patient and I had previously discussed a remarkable technique my husband, David, provides to help regenerate and strengthen both cartilage and the non-contractile white tissues a.k.a. ligaments and tendons. As Jerry asked for the basic information about prolotherapy and how he might access it in Hawaii, I remember being taken with his gentle demeanor. I asked Mr. Coffee a few questions, but it was obvious he did not wish to interrupt my patient’s treatment session or take up too much of my time.

As I packed up to leave the house, my patient told me a little more about Jerry Coffee. What he told me was enough to make it clear this was much more than a humble man in his seventies with bad knees... But aren’t we all. I did a little research when I returned home that evening. The quote below is taken from the front page of Jerry's website:

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“U.S. Navy (retired) Captain Gerald Coffee’s heroic story is legendary. While flying his RA-5C reconnaissance jet during a combat mission off the aircraft carrier USS Kittyhawk, he was shot down over North Vietnam. Immediately captured, he was then held prisoner for seven years in the notorious ‘Hanoi Hilton,’ where torture and solitary confinement were routine. For two and a half decades, his spellbinding keynote talk 'Beyond Survival' has inspired thousands worldwide with a life-changing message of hope, faith, courage, and honor.”

Captain Coffee’s tag line for his inspirational speech reads, “Reaffirming the invincibility of the human spirit.” This is a phrase not at all foreign to me, a phrase from my own lips. These are the exact words I use when describing what my patients with spinal cord injury, brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and ALS have revealed to me over the years. I must admit though, my greatest teachers are the individuals I have come to know who are living through the diagnosis of ALS.

Beyond Survival Book
I know my patient sees his mentor and wing-man, Jerry, as a man who has overcome the insurmountable obstacles of being a prisoner of war.

I know Jerry sees his courageous younger friend, Mark, as a man who is overcoming the insurmountable obstacles of being a prisoner of ALS.

For me, I am grounded and humbled by the presence of these two great men living their lives in courage, faith, and grace. I feel enormously blessed to be in communion with the invincibility of the human spirit. Moving forward, I hope that I can in some way mirror their steel faith during times of fear, adversity, and self-doubt. In Captain Coffee's own words to change my prayer from, "Why me God?" to "Show me God."

Go forward this week in awareness, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

I know this to be true. My advice... Slow down so you don't miss the angels among you.

Your thoughts are always an inspiration to myself and others.
Michele
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With Grinding Needs Everywhere... Why China?

In speaking with different groups of people about a rising China, I noticed a bubbling up of anger and fear in many. These feelings seem to stem from multiple dimensions grounded in economic threat, past political distrust, and ideological oppression. So the question, “Why do you feel the need to go all the way to China to work with orphans when so many need help everywhere?” is a fair one.
 
This question, like the question of relevance I shared in the last post, had no firm answer. I simply did not know what was leading me to China. But I remember a line in the “Artist Way” that may shed some light, “Anger (and fear) can point the way, not just the finger.” Many times the things that make us feel most uncomfortable and uneasy are just the things we need to do. When we stretch, we grow.
 
I could never have dreamed how China was going to affect me. I have benefitted from the strength and wisdom of those with physical disabilities, and from the openness and love of those with int
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ellectual disabilities my entire career. The individual interactions with the children and young adults at the Hengyang welfare center and orphanage were powerful because of the extent of need. But in working with ALS patients, I am no longer a stranger to this feeling of being a helpless caregiver against overwhelming reality.
 
What I experienced in China was a deeper understanding of the needs of humanity as a whole, and this was fascinating and humbling.
 
I now have a broader perspective of the concept of victim. I left China wondering, “Who is it that one prays for?” Is it the abandoned child, or the parent with no way out and no hope? Is it the person in the park with a hard heart who looks in disgust upon a child with disabilities? Is it the corrupt government officials at local levels, or is it the party leaders wrapped in and warped by a godless ideology? If you embrace an eternal perspective, all are victims who are separated from the truth, from the source of creation, from love. So who becomes the greater victim? Who finds themselves separated the most and suffering within the greatest darkness?
 
Our physical and intellectual capabilities and our illusion of strength and independence separate us from God. This, of course, is our greatest disability. One finds those strange utterances of Jes
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us from the Mount long ago confusing and contrary to our earthly experience until one sees their own disability of heart and soul. My answer to the question, “Why go to China?” began to take form. “China is going to be an enormous part of our children’s future, and the state of China’s heart must be our concern.”
 
In every society the layers of victims are varied and many. Fear is the only constant. In some there is the fear of losing power, position, and control. In others there is the fear of not enough resource, opportunity, and security. In others still there is the fear of complete injustice and oppression. Differences, loss, disability, and death are the ultimate unknown of our human condition. Fear can lead to the exclusion of those facing these realities in any given society. When looked at this way, we realize we all are disabled.
 
Those with physical and intellectual disabilities continue to be rejected and excluded in many countries today, but we must not forget our own history. It was a short 17 years ago when my good friend, Sharon Gardner, sat at the kitchen table with visionary Justin Dart and from her wheelchair penned the lines that would lay the ground work of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Throughout most of the twentieth century American families also felt few options and resources when faced with the needs of a child with severe physical or intellectual disability. Our history of disability rights is a positive but young one.

We should be cautious not to take a
self-righteous posture with nations at a different point on the
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path. Our only concern should be a vision of justice, opportunity, and empowerment. This vision must be all that motivates us to move out in love, and not an egotistical control of the steps one should take to arrive there.
 
The only way out from underneath fear is hope. Hope in something greater.
 
I see the next generation of young people with me on this trip, and the next generation of Chinese college students visiting the orphanage with this hope. I see the work of ICC and the desire to educate and break down the barriers of superstition and fear in the Chinese community with this hope. All movement forward requires thrusting oneself off balance, extending our reach, and planting our next step some place new.
 
Wh
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y is it imperative we include and empower the physically and intellectually disabled populations within all human societies? We need to because our spiritual evolution depends on it. These individuals we so quickly devalue have abilities we “temporarily” able-bodied and able-minded don’t have. They have the potential for strength and wisdom, a tenderness, openness, and fearless love that we simply do not recognize in our competitive and materialistic world. Those with physical and intellectual challenges may have disabilities we can see, but those with heart and soul challenges have disabilities that will eventually take down a family, a nation, a spiritually conscious species. Not until we become aware of our own brokenness and fear can we embrace the universality of the vulnerable heart. It is from here we will begin to see every human being as a valuable link in the chain of humanity.
 
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When a society only places value on the physical and intellectual capacity of its members to give back to the whole, this society starves its heart and its soul. It remains incomplete.
 
I am moved by the last lines of the book, Becoming Human, by Jean Vanier.
 
“We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time.”
 
Thank you for joining me in my journey to China. I would love your final thoughts.
Michele
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The Greatest Fear - Our Own Irrelevance

In the last two entries I attempted to identify the multiple dimensions and illustrate the gravity of the problem facing the disabled and abandoned children of China. In this blog, I want to address another of those haunting questions which accompanied me on my journey.

During the decision making process, planning, and ultimate departure for a destination orphanage on the other side of the planet, I received this question repeatedly, “What lasting impact, what difference can you possibly make in just two weeks?” This inquiry, which was posed by friends, colleagues, and my family, defined the only true fear I had; my own irrelevance.

Of course I did not want to burden my husband, children, and patients with my absence if the whole trip was pointless. The fact is I had absolutely no answer to this nauseating question. I truly did not know what could be or would be accomplished. I simply felt led.

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After spending some time getting to know our young team, I realized I was not the only one wrestling with this fear. Fortunately, the angels at ICC, the children and young adults at the orphanage, and the Chinese nationals gave us the greatest gift we could receive. They readily accepted every gift, expertise, talent, and extension of love we had to offer.

We immediately settled in to different areas of the welfare center and ICC run orphanage. Many, many gifts were given and received and lives changed on both sides.

Da Da Before
That is just the beautiful way it works.   

Personally, I had the opportunity to work closely with Alison and Galina, the two international ICC therapists, providing seating and positioning input for those with significant neuromuscular impairment. The little girls in the fifth flat had wonderfully stable wooden chairs but benefitted from some additional interventions to provide them more boundaries and support for their extremely low muscle tone.

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These two photos of Da Da show a bit of what we were trying to accomplish. 

Alison already had phenomenal connections with a Chinese gentleman in Hengyang who quickly created the seating components we requested. He constructed, padded, and covered thigh guides and lateral supports, and he made anti-gravity wooded wedges so the girl’s chairs could be rotated from a functional position upright to a rest position tilted about 40 degrees off gravity.

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This photo of Ling Ling with her chair on the wedge shows her seated in a rest position, stable, and aligned. Now all she needs is a set of wheels.  

This experience reminds me of a story I heard long ago about a little boy and a starfish. Walking alone one morning a little boy encounters hundreds of starfish washed up along the beach. Seeing each starfish suffering with a grinding need to breathe, the boy reaches down and begins to toss the starfish back into the water one by one.

Just then an older gentleman walks up beside him and asks, “What are you doing? There must be thousands of starfish along this beach. Each time the tide comes back in, hundreds more are deposited. What possible
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difference can you make?”

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The little boy looks at the old man, thinks for a moment, and reaches down tossing another starfish back into the sea.

“Well,” turning back to face the gentleman, “I made a difference to that one.”

There were a number of young boys in a different area of the orphanage with more positioning needs. We took the opportunity to use these little guys for an instructional session together with the PT students and the Chinese nationals training under ICC to be therapy techs.

Bing Bing Mat Eval Best
We completed mat assessments and went over some ideas for interventions to address the different needs. Similar to the young therapy techs in the welfare center these Chinese nationals were intent and hungry for information, and the interaction with the doctorate level PT students from the U.S. was priceless. The entire experience was a poignant reminder that when we teach we can have exponential reach

All in all I believe we positively touch lives. Many of which, we will never be aware.

Were we relevant?

Did we impact the problem in all the ways we would hope?

Are these questions ours to ask? Are these answers ours to judge?

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The problem of relevance is inherent in the limitations of the term. This concept is static, and life is dynamic. Relevance is something we strive for, want to have, and wish to hold on to. But for us humans, trapped in space and time, the search for relevance is a search in the past. By the time something is judged as relevant it is gone. It is meaningless really. What is important is the reality of the moment. Are we living it, pouring into it, aware of it, being present for it?

My final thoughts are these, “Why didn’t Jesus simply wave his hand and heal the entire village?”

“Why doesn’t God swoop down and obliterate evil, suffering, and oppression with a bolt of lightning?”

I believe the answer is because this would place His relevance in the past.

Our Creator chooses a living relationship. She chooses to dynamically soften and change the hearts of individuals. He chooses one to one interaction, touch, and healing…

Throwing us back into the life giving water, one starfish at a time.

Our greatest fear may be our own irrelevance, but perfect love drives out all fear.

1 John 4:18

If you are interested in the Hand in Hand ICC child sponsorship program visit
www.chinaconcern.org

Thanks for the opportunity to share.
I would love your thoughts. Michele


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Palpable Stories of China's Disabled Children

The last blog post gave background to the situation around disabled and abandoned children in China. This one cuts to the heart of the matter by presenting palpable individual stories and a surreal day in the park with the kiddos from the orphanage.

Bi Bi with Jess. Best
The first “story” is about Bi Bi. I placed the word story in quotations because we know very little solid information regarding the actual situation around most of the children. Bi Bi is one of the bright and happy little girls with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy now under the loving care of ICC. She cannot walk and is cognitively impaired, but she has the love of thousands within her and can give you a “don’t mess with me” scowl as convincing as any five year-old I have ever encountered.

There were stories told that Bi Bi’s courageous father had come to see her. It is believed now that she is a twin. As a parent, I can only conclude that Bi Bi’s father loves her, he thinks of her, and he simply cannot personally care for her within the current system. When I think of the bond between twins, I wonder if Bi Bi's sister or brother can feel her spirit as well.

Next is the tale of Sheng Sheng. This truly is a tale because we have absolutely no information about this little boy except that he was abandoned and brought to the welfare center just a month ago. We can tell by Sheng Sheng’s teeth he must be about six years old. He loves to be outside. If he could speak, Sheng Sheng could tell us his own story. It might go something like this.

I was born into a loving lower class family. I was fine and we all went home together. My mommy and daddy both had to work hard to put rice on the table, but my Granny took very good care of me. She was always there. I did not walk or talk as early as the other kids. We had no money for doctors or therapy, but Granny did the best she could. She loved me. Eventually I started walking and talking a little with Granny’s help, but then one day she was gone. Do you know what happened to my Granny?

Mom and dad tried to put me into school, but the school would not accept me. I did not understand. No one seemed to understand. I sat at home a lot in front of the TV. I cannot walk by myself, and I don’t have anyone to talk to. I was very lonely and now I am here.
Do you know where I am?

Sen Sen
I had the opportunity to work with Sheng Sheng quite a bit while in China. He is a profoundly developmentally delayed little boy, but it becomes obvious when you handle and play with him that his physical and cognitive levels were higher in the past. He needs one to one therapy and a lot of love and affection to reach his potential. ICC is now currently at capacity in Hengyang, and they are unable to bring Sheng Sheng under their direct care. Alison, ICC’s one physical therapist from the UK, promises to try and include Sheng Sheng in some group activities with the other ICC boys his age.

A boy like Sheng Sheng would probably not be in line to receive the Chinese tech’s attention within the welfare center because his likelihood of being adopted is so low. Before I left though, Alison and I completed a therapy evaluation with these young, caring, and smart ladies. They were engaged and hungry for knowledge as we went through an assessment, goals, and an appropriate treatment plan for Sheng Sheng. Alison translated what we were seeing and saying as I watched in awe of the artistic beauty of hand written Chinese across a P.T. evaluation. I learned later from Alison what we had done with the therapy techs in the welfare center was a first.

Where there is hope… There is possibility.

We spent every day within the welfare center and ICC facilities during our two weeks in China except one. I never dreamed the depth of the problem would be revealed during a walk in the park. We piled our team, some of the Chinese caregivers, and lots and lots of strollers for the non-ambulatory kiddos into the ICC bus. We arrived and unloaded. By this time our group of tall and lanky Westerners was quite used to being stared at, but today was different.

Sue, Me, and Group at Park
The looks we received from others in the park were ones of shock, dismay, and disgust. The confusion and discontent of seeing a group of disabled children out at the park was palpable. For the first time, I felt in my gut what was being described to me as the societal stigma and prejudice against the disabled. I thought of how Jesus must have felt when he was asked, “Why do you spend your time with the worthless and unlovable of our society?”

The message of Christ was played out in some small way that day in the park. Captured in the life of Christ was his movement not just his words. He did not just say there is a spiritual law that governs the consciousness of your society by loving the least of these…
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He loved them.

We had the divine opportunity to increase awareness and soften hearts that day in the park. He does show up when we follow him. I have never felt closer to God than on that day, and again I received much more than I had given.

Here is a poem that illustrates a portion of what I have been given.

 
 My heart is swollen tight to the point of breaking
While yours is empty and open, ready for taking.
 
My eyes fill with confused and stinging tears
While your eyes show no sign of earthly fears.
 
The enormous lump in my throat makes it hard to speak
While your laughter fills the room with giggles and squeaks.
 
My mind is overwhelmed with your grinding need
While yours is calm, uncluttered with desires to succeed.
 
My ears recoil from the chaos and shrill
While yours withdraw to a place of silence and still.
 

Boy in standing frame. Tender touch
My soul aches for what you do not have
While your spirit soars free, joyful, and glad.
 
Are you simply unaware? Not knowing what you lack.
Or is it me, as I play judge of a life that’s intact.
 
Who is rich here, and who is poor?
My child you have redefined what it is to have more.
 
You live off a strength I fear never to understand
As you bless me again...
...With the tender touch of your hand.
                                                          

Michele Zink Harris
Hengyang, China 2010

Your thoughts always keep me going...

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China's Disabled and Abandoned Children

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After being approached by one of my PT students from Texas State University late last fall regarding joining a team to serve the abandoned and disabled of China, I immediately began to research International China Concern and the reality of life in this mysterious and complicated nation. So many questions bubbled to the surface. The first and most poignant was, “How does the proud nation who hosted the elaborate 2008 Olympic Games abandon their disabled children? What is the full story here?” And the second question, which I will address in a subsequent blog, “What in the world do I think I can do about it?”

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I have been intrigued with China for a long time, and I cannot deny that I truly felt led to join this group of young people under the leadership of International China Concern. I did not over think my next move, and with David and the boy’s love and support I simply answered, “Yes,” to His call. I didn’t want to go in completely empty minded, so I studied some Mandarin, listened to a 48 lecture Great Courses series on China from the fall of the dynasty through present day, and reviewed my pediatric development during my drive time between home health patients. All three were tremendously helpful.

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International China Concern is a Christian development organization focused on bringing love, hope, and opportunity to China's abandoned and disabled children. It sounded good, but I couldn’t help being skeptical about how a Christian organization partners with a welfare system inside of a communist state. The answer to this question became clear as I had the opportunity to work side by side with the angels who are ICC. 

Hengyang is a large city in deep mainland China. The people live on very little, but not unlike hundreds of millions throughout rural and urban centers. As you
China-Hengyang
know, China has undergone rapid and enormous capitalization and growth within its economic sectors. When market reforms extinguished the communes prevalent under Mao Zedong, the cooperative medical system (CMS) began to dissolve as well. The current healthcare situation in China is very challenging rendering the majority of care and procedures, if they can be accessed at all, as an out-of-pocket expense. We learned there is very limited support or resources for families who find themselves faced with a child born with special needs or disability.

Further compounding these issues is a deeply ingrained societal stigma around disability in general. The value of an individual is closely tied to the physical and mental capacity to provide for the material needs of the society. A child with a disability is rarely seen as valuable or deserving of care. The one-child policy places crushing pressure on an individual family unit to have a child that will be capable of providing for his or her parents as they age. All this taken together paints the grim picture of up to an 85% mortality rate seen
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within the welfare centers. There are facilities throughout the of cities in China each with hundreds of disabled children, caring staff simply too small in number and resources, and a lack of overall education, empowerment, and the spiritual energy to see these brilliant little souls as the children of God they are.

Let me end this exploration of why decisions seem to be made the way they are with an actual and almost unfathomable situation. While we were on lunch break one afternoon from the orphanage, a premature baby boy was wrapped in a blanket and left in a box outside the gate of the welfare center. He looked about 28 weeks gestation with very weak respirations and a lot of bruising on his skull.

Why not just go in and hand him over to the welfare staff?

Because abandoning your child is actually illegal in China even though there seems to be no way out for these families. So a child must be left for someone else to find them and then taken in by an uninvolved party to the welfare center. The same superstition, bad luck, and bad karma around having a child with a disability seem to exist around death as well. The family is given no hope by the doctors, and they are told to leave the hospital. The thought that fear, superstition, and social stigma keeps a parent from even holding their baby until he dies is difficult to wrap one’s head around. The abandoned premature baby boy with no name had returned home to his creator by the time we returned to the orphanage the next morning.

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Even with all of this, there is hope. International China Concern is one of those beacons in the darkness. With projects now in both Changsha and Hengyang, ICC has taken over the care of hundreds of children with disabilities and given them the love, hope, and opportunity to live in safety and dignity. ICC appreciates the multiple layers of victims within China and has long term visions for the entire nation. So back to the question, “How does a Christian organization partner with a welfare system inside of a communist state?”

I believe the answer to this question is that ICC practices the true meaning of evangelism; to gently love and serve without a personal agenda, and when we have the opportunity to declare “why” we do it…
We tell them clearly, “Yahweh.” 

I always appreciate your thoughts, and I look forward to sharing more of this amazing journey in future blogs. Michele

For further information on the healthcare system in China.
http://takingnote.tcf.org/2008/04/chinas-health-c.html
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Do you see a Rectangle or a Circle?... "Yep."

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Last week I sent a good friend Rob Bell's DVD, "Everything is Spiritual." If you haven't had the opportunity to hear Rob speak, he is quite entertaining. Much of this particular message revolves around the amazing and odd realities of physics when things become very, very large, or very, very small.

In other words,
"Everything is Spiritual," is a layman's discussion of general relativity, quantum mechanics, and where the two meet in a spiritual unified theory. Most of these perceived oddities of course are secondary to our painfully limited ability to perceive our universe while trapped in three dimensional space and linear time.

Rob Bell borrows, just as did the creators of "What the Bleep," from the 1884 satirical novella, "Flatland," by Edwin A. Abbott to demonstrate his point of our limited perception. In two dimensional Flatland, something as simple as a marker can look very different. Take a marker and hold it between your fingers (a glue stick works well too) so you are looking at the length straight on. It is a rectangle. If you live in two dimensional Flatland the marker is certainly a rectangle. Unless of course the marker faces you top on in your version of Flatland, rendering the marker an indisputable circle. As humans, living in our "superior" three dimensional world we answer the question of whether the marker is a rectangle or a square with a matter of fact, "Yep."

The marker trick is great for kids when they are struggling to understand the
point of view of another.

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In less than two weeks, I will have the opportunity to join a group of physical therapy students from Texas State University, representatives from River Stone Church, and other medical and non-medical Christian volunteers on a trip to Hengyang China. Our team will be traveling with International China Concern. ICC is a Christian development organization focused on bringing love, hope, and opportunity to China's abandoned and disabled children. We will be serving in the ICC Hengyang Project which currently cares for more than 100 babies, children, and young adults, all abandoned and with special needs.

Being literally half way around the planet, I cannot think of a more important time to keep the "marker trick" firmly in the front of my mind. I will be immersed in ancient cultures, languages, and ideologies much different from my own. In a place so foreign to my comfortable rectangular perception, I pray I can turn my mind inside out, appreciate the full circle of humanity, and
answer His call with a simple, "Yep."

As a physical therapist with a specialty in both seating and movement disorder, I hope I can impact the enormous physical need in some small way. As a mother, I hope I can provide a loving touch and a smile that will
transcend cultural and language barriers. As a woman, I hope I can empower a young woman to reach for her dreams. As a Christ follower, I hope to be constantly humbled with the knowledge that nothing can be done without aligning with the dreams of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask for your prayers as we prepare our hands and minds to be strong while our hearts break for what breaks His.

A special thank you to my husband, Dave, and all the friends who will be helping make the time while I'm gone a little less stressful for the boys.

God's Spirit
More exciting news! My children's book, "God's Spirit in the Heart of Every Child," is available. Thank you all for your love and support of this project.

Gift idea........
Click here to look inside


Order Your Copy
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Religion, Relationships, and Relativity


Our fourth grader, AJ, bounced out of worship last weekend with this proclamation,
“Did you know Christianity is not a religion? It is a relationship.” These very words came up again in a conversation with good friends over sushi last night. I guess this is why many times I feel it is personally more engaging to identify myself as a Christ-follower than with any specific faith. Words so box us in… Don’t they?

These conversations reminded me of a courageous book written by a dear friend and past colleague, Chuck Meyer. Chuck was a member of the Episcopal clergy, a gifted lecturer, author of several books, and served as both Chief Operations Officer and head of the Ethics Committee at St. David’s Medical Center during the same years David and I were practicing there. Chuck, slender and quick, could be seen darting from building to building only to immediately slow down to a speed appropriate to lovingly counsel a patient or family through the impending transition we call death. He was also responsible for changing the verbiage we use at the end of one’s life from DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) to AND (Allow Natural Death). Chuck Meyer was brilliant.

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During a drive home from Houston on November 13, 2000, Chuck Meyer met his own transition from this earth in a fatal car accident which ended his life and gave him back to his Creator. But before this tragic day, Chuck wrote one final book. He states in his forward it was a book he hesitated to write but that needed to be written. It is a personal and raw account of years of intense life experiences and what came to be Chuck’s final thoughts on the church. In his book, “Dying Church Living God,” we are called to begin again. Here is a taste.

“Rather than being reformed the Dying Church must be allowed to die in order to see what resurrected form will emerge. Like a bug on a windshield, after 2000 years, the Church just went splat against the onrushing movement of the Spirit. And thank God.”

Wow. This was a thought provoking read.

Further along in the book Chuck writes of Jesus not coming to earth to start a religion but to form a way to a relationship. But what is in a word but the meaning? What about the word “religion?” Religion is from the Latin “re ligio” which interestingly means “to bind again.” Well, maybe he did come to start a re-ligio. Unfortunately the true meaning of words become tainted and skewed under the failings of human history. Another word that tends to have an unwarranted negative visceral response is the word “repent.” This word, also from Latin roots, “re pense” simply means to rethink. This is never a bad idea.

All relationships require that two things be relative to one another. What is a relationship but the experience of relativity? And what is experience but the movement of oneself in relationship to other things? God’s two great spiritual laws of love outline these relationships so clearly. We have the first and most important based on the relationship between ourselves and our Creator, and the second, which is like it, between ourselves and one another.

Religion, relationships, and relativity… What is in a word but the meaning?
Thank you Chuck for your legacy of
exponential potential and for never boxing God in.

Always love to hear your thoughts. Have a wonderful week. Michele
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Happy Easter - Make Something New


I have never been particularly fond of New Year’s resolutions. By the time Halloween, Thanksgiving, two of our son’s birthdays, Christmas, and New Years have come and gone,
I don't feel resolved to do much of anything except hibernate for the rest of winter. As lovely and exciting as the
gift of the season always turns out to be, I’m simply exhausted.

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Now Easter, this is a time of year I can resolve myself to something new. Blessed with a much cherished run, I am reminded there is scarcely anything more beautiful than springtime in central Texas. The hills burst forth with tender, young green, and the roadside teems with the vivid and varied shades of wildflowers. Everywhere you look the earth is coming into being, transforming, and building something new. This is the very essence of Easter hope.

Wrapped in the profound mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is the fact that everything must die in order to be made new again.

I have always been hesitant to cast away things I am comfortable with, even if they truly do not serve me any longer. Those
dung balls we feel we must hold on to and manage day in and day out can be pretty sticky and persistent. Yet, I believe we are called to let go of anything standing in the way of fulfilling our true purpose. Perfectionism paralyzes the process and serves no one. For me personally, I need to let the self-doubt and fear of failure die so I can resurrect a positive movement forward toward the dream of becoming a published author. There, I said it. Actually, I wrote it, bigger yet. Now that I have climbed that ladder to the next level of commitment, I need to kick it away so I am unable to descend it again. We must believe the only direction is up when we do not allow ourselves the option of climbing back down.
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Easter brings the hope of living a life aligned with the
Creator of the universe. Rethink. Reconnect. Replenish. Rebuild. Renew. Recreate. Redeem. Are these not beautiful words filled with infinite possibility?

The springtime egg and the tomb are empty. This Easter, challenge yourself with the humble courage of the way, truth, and life and go make something new.

Happy Easter everyone. Michele
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Ever feel like a dung beetle?


Let's leave behind the
burning questions of mankind and lighten it up a bit.
I began to research dung beetles about a week ago for a children's story that has been banging around in my head. I never imagined I would experience such a kindred spirit with the super strength bug, but I most certainly have.
I am curious if you will feel the same.

Dung Beetle
The dung beetle is a powerful and beneficial bug. They comprise more than 5,000 species and have been doing their thing upon the planet for at least 200 million years. The dung beetle, also known as the scarab beetle, feed partly or exclusively on feces. They appear to spend every waking hour pushing and packing, rolling and stacking the dung of pretty much any kind of animal. They prefer to live in low, dark, and wet environments so they can tunnel into the soil and bury their dung away from others who may desire to steal it. Another fascinating characteristic is the scarab beetle's manipulation of the dung using their back legs. Once getting the ball of dung rolling, the dung beetle will follow a blind and straight line path despite all obstacles.

Then it hit me. "Oh good grief, I'm a dung beetle."
How much of my day is spent blindly pushing and packing, rolling and stacking laundry, dishes, kids toys, groceries, paperwork, bills, lunches, homework, patient schedules, and virtually any household inhabitant's stuff?

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We are just a bunch of dung beetles reorganizing, repainting, cleaning, storing, finding, rearranging all of our... Dung. Then, we have to be certain all of our dung is secure so no one else can come in and steal all of our... Well... Dung. Then I thought, but my dung does not stop at the house and car and laundry and schedule. Human beings have dung balls like our desire for relevance, success, popularity, control, acceptance, titles, power, and respect.

The dung gets so deep you can no longer see the beetle.

"You cannot serve both God and (Dung)" Luke 16:13 (slightly modified)

Anything and everything that separates me from my focus on the Ideal is dung. Whether these are desires which stroke my ego, or stuff that fills my day, any and all dung balls must be managed. This pushing and packing, rolling and stacking can annihilate precious time, energy, and focus away from hearing the
still, small voice inside that points me toward my purpose.
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As I finished my research for the story, I came across yet another fascinating bit of history about our beloved little beetle. The scarab beetle enjoyed a sacred status among the ancient Egyptians. Beautifully carved stone scarabs were placed in tombs with the dead because the beetle represented transformation or a changing of form. The dung beetle was linked to the concept of "coming into being."
As Easter approaches, my hope is to allow the death of a dung ball or two so my clear purpose can be
resurrected and "come into being."

I'll never be able to look at a dung beetle and not see a little piece of myself.
Please share if this resonates with you and have a beautiful weekend. Michele
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Time, a roll of toilet paper, a paint brush stroke

I want to thank everyone who weighed in on the last blog. If you have not checked out the somewhat polarizing topic and the insightful comments that followed, please do.

Time. What a loaded term to ponder. Everything we do is marked by time. Time rules our lives, yet our concept of time is painfully limited. The universe was born some 14 billion years ago. Our solar system and planet Earth formed an estimated 4.6 billion years ago. The first dinosaurs appeared on Earth around 230 million years ago and reigned until about 65 million years ago, dominating the planet for 165 million years. The first human beings… Well, let’s use a prop taken from a Standard Deviants video our sons play over and over to illustrate this one. The toilet paper roll.
 
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Roll one of those large toilet paper rolls completely out on the floor. You may need to do this outside to get the full effect. The last square and a half or two of that roll is the life and times of the dinosaurs. To mark our time in this enormous unfurled space you must tear off a tiny, almost unobservable, piece at the very end.
 
The idea of evolution is obviously rooted in change over time. It is important to remember this is virtually an unobservable amount of time when we appreciate the big toilet paper picture. I am not an archeologist, geologist, paleontologist, or cosmologist although I am fascinated with them all. I certainly do not want to argue about the specifics of a million years here or even a billion years there. What I think is interesting is the discussion of evolution which polarizes so many is really fueled by our limited concept of time. Scientists and theologians over the centuries have scraped and clawed and burned people at the stake over the “truth” of our place as human beings in space and time. As we
re-discover more and more about our universe we are challenged with the concept of the relativity of space and time. We are now forced to face how meaningless this argument may be. Appreciation of these mind-blowing concepts should ground us in a feeling of overwhelming unity. I believe God would be in favor of this.
 
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Time can only be marked by the relationship of two things in space. This relationship produces what we perceive as an event. Our universe, brought forth out of nothing, created time and is continuing to expand through space. The transcendent Artist of this masterpiece continues His brush stroke across the canvas. Time as we conceive it becomes meaningless in the wake of this unimaginable and transcendent creative movement. A movement we are free to dance within because of our opportunity for conscious connection with the Creator. Evolution is simply a human concept grasping for stability as we ride this unimaginable wave of creative movement. The use of this term makes it no less Divine.
 
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As we humbly crawl for about 50-70 years upon this spinning rock that orbits our sun, which is one of the estimated 300 billion stars making up our Milky Way galaxy, which is one of the estimated 300 billion galaxies constituting the universe, we must accept our blessed lives are but a firefly’s flicker. I glance down at my iPhone one more time so that I am on time for an ALS patient facing the end of his time, and I realize my life is no more than a heartbeat of God. All I can hope for during my flicker of a lifetime is that I made Him giggle.

Thank you for entertaining my fascination for this topic. I love to hear your thoughts. Michele
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We have the fossils... We Win.

When a sticker keeps bumping into your day sooner or later you have to write a blog about it. I have two questions I need help answering.

Who are we? And what exactly did you win?
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I am assuming the “we” on this bumper sticker is referring to those who believe in evolution. If this is the case, that would include me, so what did I win? Seriously, if this cute little animal trapped inside of the Jesus fish is intended to infer that because evolution is true then God is not, please pull over so we can have a discussion.
 
The theory of evolution has been widely accepted by well-informed Christians throughout the decades. Pope John Paul II in his 1996 message delivered to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences specifically spoke to and expanded upon his predecessor’s position on evolution elevating it from a hypothesis to a well accepted theory. What is a theory? A theory is a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena. Evolution? Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations. In other words, the Pope put evolution into the same “yep, that appears so” boat together with relativity and gravity. I believe it is unsatisfying for our scientific next generation to throw up our hands saying, "Evolution is just a theory." In the same way, I believe it is unsatisfying to the Creator and Sustainer of our amazing brains to not keep using them to search for the unification of truth.
 
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This brings us to the overarching discussion, science and theology. What is theology? Theology is the rational discourse about God. Science? Science is the systematic accumulation of knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. OK, enough of that, but definitions are really important. Why? Definitions are critical because we talk and think in words. As humans, we are constantly interpreting through experience an understanding of revealed truth. There will always be a struggle between the attempt to define in words what science has currently discovered as workable fact and the ultimate and unchanging truth of the universe. Truth will always transcend facts.
 
Science and theology have been intertwined since the dawn of humanity and will be forever. You can separate church and state, but you cannot separate science and theology if you desire to successfully move forward with either. Saint Augustine of Hippo during the 4th century put forth the doctrine of the unity of truth. Saint Augustine argued there is not one truth for theology and another for natural or scientific knowledge stating they are the, "two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." A solid majority of the deepest thinkers of all times have believed in a transcendent Creator.
 
Saint Thomas Aquinas, another icon of synthesis, states,
 
“Both the light of reason and the light of faith come from God, he argued; hence there can be no contradiction between them. Faith therefore has no fear of reason; but seeks it out and trusts it.”
 
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Unfortunately the history of man tells a story mired in distrust and fear of emerging scientific discovery. Feeling a version of truth threatened, humanity has frequently engaged in oppressive, unjust, and bloody conflicts between science and theology. This missing of the mark, fueled by position, politics, and power, reveals it is the ego of man which continues to stand in the way of our evolution both natural and spiritual.
 
Danger lies in the strict and literal interpretation of words written in a different time and to a specific people. Theologians have long ago assured us the Bible is inspired truth not dictated words. Saint Augustine's belief that the Bible's ultimate divine authorship is partly obscured behind the human words expressed by human writers became fundamental to Christian theology. Jesus himself taught in parables. I often wonder if we should think more about why He chose to do this. His message was the renewal and rebirth of humanity through the humility of accepting His gift of love and the mystery of the Two Great Commandments… Dare I say our evolution toward the truth?

The link between the meaning of those words and their unchanging truth must always be our selfless goal. Wisdom must move us beyond ego whether it be for our belief in the religion of the
One God or the religion of atheistic humanism. Both are religions and both require leaps of faith. One religion requires the leap of faith to random spontaneous origin, and the other requires the leap to a transcendent Creator.
 
Wisdom knows all and understands all.  Wisdom 9:11
 
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Life is movement. Experience, relationship, and perception are movement. Creation is movement. In my opinion, evolution is the most obvious proof of the Divine creative movement of all things seen and unseen. Our human evolution brings us ever closer in form, mental capacity, and spiritual consciousness to the ability of the creature to know the Creator. The ability to accept His gift and reflect His image through our lives.
 
Humanity culminates in the creative infusion of an eternal soul and the consciousness of a being who can ponder the meaning of life, the afterlife, and the Creator of life.
 
How cool is that… We win!

One opinion, one blog, complex topics beckon for your comments.
Michele
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Face It... Perception is Reality

Once again I want to thank everyone for their comments on the blog, “Mom, I do not believe there is only one God.” Many of you weighed in, and as usual the comments brought the post to life. There was one comment that facilitated a follow-up discussion with AJ I did not have planned. I did not think it was necessary. This is what we think of many of the most critical conversations in life… Isn't it?
 
I asked AJ simply, “Did you feel I shot down your views, opinions, and thoughts the other night when we were talking about God?” I barely got the question out, and it was obvious he did not need to think about his response for even an instant. His answer was in the front of his mind as he snapped, “Yes.”
 
“Wow, I really didn’t think I did that. I really did not want to do that AJ.”
He assured me I did. As I opened my mouth to apologize, AJ said, “I really don’t want to talk about this right now.”
 
I respectfully turned for the kitchen slightly wounded and enormously sorry. I had successfully accomplished the polar opposite of what I had intended. When someone feels shot down they will do one of two things; shoot back or shut down. Poopie.
 
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This whole thing reminded me of an excellent book I read a couple years ago titled “Unchristian.” This book compiles current and groundbreaking research commissioned by Fermi Project and conducted by the Barna Group.  The focus of the research answers the question, “What does a new generation really think about Christianity and Christians?” The book was published in 2007, and I believe it should be required reading for anyone who calls themselves a Christ follower.
 
Without boring you with too many statistics, they found 70-90% of Americans between the ages of 16-29 perceive Christians as judgmental, too involved in politics, anti-homosexual, out of touch with reality, insensitive, and hypocritical. Ouch. It would appear we are successfully accomplishing the polar opposite of what we intend. Now you can see why my experience with AJ brought this book, its research, and its message crashing back in on my consciousness.
 
AJ’s perception of the conversation was different from mine. This fact makes his perception no less a part of my reality. The research shows the perception of Christians is different from what we intend. This fact makes their perception no less a part of our reality.
 
Our purpose is to reflect Christ’s image in our lives and to the world, and it would appear Christianity continues to have an image problem.
 
I am constantly humbled by my children as they teach me how to treat others. God blessed me with their unique and tender ways of opening my eyes and my heart to the fact that what goes on in my head and what I perceive as reality may not be their reality at all.
 
We all must face it… Perception is reality.
I perceive you have a comment.

 
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Thank you!

I want to thank everyone for the amazing comments to the last blog. If you have not visited the last entry please do and please do not miss the comments... They definitely bring it to life. After re-reading what I had written and the comments others shared, I feel the need to qualify something I wrote.

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My history growing up in the church felt very static to me. I do not remember being taught from the Bible or about the Bible much at all. Sunday morning consisted of services with my parents, and although there were readings from the Bible and sermons around the gospel, I do not remember ever cracking it open. I could very well be selective in my memory, but I do not recall such things as children's ministries, teen engagement efforts, recovery programs, global outreach opportunities, or Bible study. So, my comment about, "Because the Bible tells me so," not giving me a firm place to stand when faced with scientific questions was due to this static interpretation I unfortunately had of the book. I take full responsibility for this.

I have been blessed beyond belief by my new faith home
Hill Country Bible Church. I have realized within the last decade the Bible is not at all static. It is alive. The content is open to human interpretation which can be extremely fallible at times, but the Word is dynamic within every heart.

I love science of all disciples. There seems to be nothing more dynamic than science. You name the discipline... It is moving.
I believe with every bone in my body that science is the art of rediscovering the heart of our Creator. The two can never be separated.
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"Mom, I don't believe there is only one God"

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I vowed since the time our sons graced the planet that I would never prohibit or control any "age appropriate" reading materials. Over the last three weeks, AJ has devoured four of the five New York Times best-selling Percy Jackson novels. With an intensity rarely seen in nature, he consumed 1200+ pages of adventures between gods and half-bloods. I watched him read all day barely coming up to eat, and well into the night armed with his flashlight under the covers until he finished. I believe I even observed a thin layer of dust settling on the DSi. Astonishing.

Then, bouncing into the car after karate last Thursday he throws out, "Mommy, I don't believe there is only one God." How is that for a conversation starter by your 10 year old? I don't know for certain, but I bet there are at least a few of you who would have joined me for a glass of Cabernet before fielding that one. This is not the first time AJ has positioned himself in a way that made me spiritually squirm. Matter of fact, one Saturday morning about 3 years ago he rolled over and told me, "God is just a myth." "How in the world do you expect me to believe in something I cannot see?" That is when I began to study
quantum physics and ponder how I was going to be ready with sound spiritual answers for our scientific sons.

There was a time when I asked questions I felt were inadequately answered. The "because the Bible tells me so" answer I received as a child did not help keep me from falling away from my faith as a young adult. During college there seemed to be this invisible wedge between my search for truth in science, and my search for truth in God. I had no firm place for my faith to reason from as I sat in awe of human anthropology, evolutionary biology, and comparative anatomy. Since then, my personal path has experienced the enormity of consciousness through my human relationships, the height of spirit through my patient's lives and deaths, and the overwhelming love through my children. I have no doubt the universe and our
One God is big enough to hold it all.

AJ, on the other hand, was really angry with me. "Why do you think the universe can't have lots of gods? Why are
you so sure there is only one?"
I thought to myself, I am not going to dodge the question. I am not going to stick my head into a pile of dogma. What
am I going to say?

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I grasped for something scientific. The Big Bang. The singularity. The beginning of time and space. If there is a beginning of everything, I don't believe there was a party of god's hanging out like a planning committee. If there was, it would not have been a "beginning" and we know there was a beginning to the universe.

"Scientists have found the best evidence yet supporting the theory that about 13.7 billion years ago, the universe suddenly expanded from the size of a marble to the size of the cosmos in less than a trillionth of a second." Washington Post, 2006

How, could you not be impressed with that? I could tell AJ was not impressed. He was mad. I left him alone for a while. Then I asked, "Are you angry with me because I don't agree with you?" He nodded his head, "Yes."
I reassured AJ that I was not angry with him because he didn't agree with me. "I have had a lot of time to think about this, and you will have a lot of time too." That was it for Thursday night. That was enough. I had a glass of wine.

As I packed AJ's lunch Friday morning, I slipped in a note, "Your Creator designed your mind for discovery. Don't ever stop
thinking and searching. Love, Mom."

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13

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Last spring my husband Dave and I attended a debate down on the University of Texas campus. Inside of Gregory Gym on a typical Tuesday evening sat no less than 3000 students and parents, faculty and guest speakers, skeptics and seekers. The topic of debate was evolution verses intelligent design. I think we would all agree "design" is not the issue. There is obviously design. The debate is the nature, the force, the movement behind the design. I love this stuff. I will never be done wanting to learn and discover and ponder this stuff.

Dave leaned over and asked, "How many do you think are skeptics and how many are seekers?"

I thought about this for a moment and came to a
peaceful conclusion, "If you bothered walking in the door, you are a seeker of something."

I feel this is my primary job as a parent... To keep them seeking.

Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.
- Albert Einstein

Curious to know how you would have approached this one.
Michele
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Enormous Display of Right Mindedness

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As I reflect upon the overwhelming tragedy that continues to unfold in Haiti, I want to take a moment to appreciate the enormous international display of heart consciousness. Even though the information and technology age brings with it a set of interesting challenges, no one can deny the ability to share stories and images of Haiti's devastating earthquake has stimulated the right mind of a planet.

I am amazed by the creativity of the medical personnel who have actually been able to make their way into the city, and humbled by the courage of rescue and recovery teams from around the globe. I join the world in prayers of thanksgiving for the out pouring of resources and
love for our neighbors. Haiti will need our touch long after the images fade from the media. God bless all efforts.

"There is within human nature an amazing potential for goodness."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Right Mind or Left Field

If I give it any thought at all, I cannot help but be consumed in awe by the workings of the human mind. This has been a long-term fascination of mine through my physical therapy practice and my personal search for rhyme and reason to my own, sometimes bizarre, thoughts and behavior. I was blessed with the opportunity over the Christmas break to rekindle this flame.

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Jill Bolte Taylor is a PhD in the area of neuroanatomy – she is a brain scientist. Jill has written a life-changing scientific memoir highlighting a sudden brain hemorrhage at age 37, and her eight year recovery titled, “My Stroke of Insight.” At the core of the story is her personal experience and discovery of the differences between the circuitry, processes, and perceptive purposes housed within the two hemispheres of our brain. When you finish her book you will have a new appreciation of when you are in your “right mind” and when you are out in “left field.”

The left hemisphere of our brain holds the logical analysis of the details of our experiences, and forms our linear perceptions through language and comparison. It is our material, time and space mind. As Jill was experiencing a massive bleed within this left hemisphere, she reports a loss of linear and temporal thought, a loss of external language and internal "brain chatter," and a loss of personal boundaries and judgment. In other words, as Jill lost the separate ego identity field of her left brain she entered into the peaceful pasture of her right mind. Now, with her right hemisphere dominant, she felt an overwhelming sense of calm, silence, and oneness with everything around her. Heaven. One of the most interesting aspects of her account was the loss of temporal thought. While in her right mind, Jill did not experience thoughts of the past or the future. In her right mind was only the present and therefore she no longer experienced thoughts of comparison, judgment, fear, or loss.

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You.      Isaiah 26:3

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In our right mind is only the present moment which is timeless and eternal. Our right mind is spontaneous, uninhibited, nonjudgmental, joyful, and free. It is not bogged down with details, timelines, entitlement, or comparisons, but sees the big picture, wide view, and seeing out of both eyes wisdom resides here. The great human moments of intuition, insight, and inspiration all occur as products of our right mind. The Two Great Commandments can only be incorporated into human existence when we are present with our right mind… The Gift of unity with our Creator, and the ability to love others “as” ourselves can only occur if we truly believe we are one with them.

To live in this world we need both sides of our brain, but the human race as it stands today has become heavily weighted and focused in our logical and material left hemispheres. We are bags-of-water beings of high-productivity and high-technology, trillions of over-scheduled and over-stressed cell parts. When time is
always of the essence, there is very little room for the likes of our right mind.

Do you think this is what Jesus meant when He said to be “in” this world but not “of” this world? Being in our right mind means being connected to our
heart’s consciousness instead of out in left field attached to our ego’s consciousness.

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Armed with this scientist’s unique journey and insight we can identify more quickly when we are out in left field rather than in our right mind. We can remind ourselves that our left brain’s job is to calculate, categorize, explain, and divide the material world into digestible parts, and we can applaud our right mind when it holds the hand of the Divine and sees the majesty, magnificence, and
unity of all creation.

Rumi reminds us, “Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment."

Your thoughts always make the blog. All my respect of your right mind. Michele

Dr. Taylor's book, TED talk, and story can be found at:
http://www.mystrokeofinsight.com/
I highly recommend her
18 minute TED talk. It may change your life.

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The Snowflake Perspective – Happy New Year!


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I remember winter days growing up in Lincoln Nebraska when I would grab the black construction paper and dart outside at the first sign of a snowflake. Poised and still, I would catch these tiny crystal masterpieces from the sky.

They say no two snowflakes are exactly alike. As I stared more closely at the
unique and complex structures against the black paper background, the question “why” came to
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the mind of even a young child. Why would precipitation falling from a dreary gray sky be so exquisitely beautiful? As a child, I saw no point to this other than my own entertainment. As an adult, I see no point to it other than my Creator wants me to stop and wonder.

Only moments after relishing in the snowflake’s
individuality and diversity do I witness it melt into an indistinguishable tiny puddle. The snowflake’s identity is simply two hydrogen atoms and
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one oxygen atom bound together in molecules and spun into an intricate frozen fabric.

“Th
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at is all I am,” says the snowflake. “All of my fascinating individuality and extraordinary design is made of the same stuff as every other snowflake.”

Our beauty, like the snowflake, lies within our
delicate diversity. We must remember our diversity is unimaginably delicate. The human genome is 99.99% the same. At the level of our genetics, all of the diversity we see in the human race lies in the expression of 0.01% of our genes. We are 99.99% exactly the same.
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My hope for 2010 is a planet which reaches out for the
humility and eternal perspective of the snowflake. Out of the dreary dark skies of violence, oppression, and fear, we can experience a world of hearts that actively celebrate the beauty of their diversity and consciously embrace their overwhelming unity. As we peer over the horizon of a new decade, I believe if we are not feeding this hope... We are starving our children’s future.

May God Bless your New Year. Michele

“Only humility will lead us to unity, and unity to peace.”           Mother Teresa
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