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Finding Hope Through Gratitude

I believe in the message of hope. I believe in hope in the midst of despair. I believe when we are despairing, God despairs with us. And that underpins hope, because if God suffers with us, there is meaning in that hopeless experience.

A compassionate God offers us a steady supply of hope, but we do not always avail ourselves of it. Our means to do that is through gratitude. Gratitude is what brings hope into the present moment. Hope may seem a distant promised land but gratitude gives us awareness of the manna we are eating in the wilderness at this very moment.” 

These words were the opening of a paper I wrote for a ministry class some years ago but the words ring as true to me today.  As we wander in the wilderness of Covid 19, there are many for whom gratitude may seem a stretch.  Maybe you have lost a loved one and the virus has prevented having the closure of a celebration of life surrounded by friends and family. Maybe your job has been shut down and you have children to feed. Perhaps you are experiencing deep depression or panic attacks fueled by our present circumstances.  How do you find gratitude within yourself in this present moment?

“In this present moment” is the key.  In this present moment, ground yourself.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Ask yourself: where are my feet? That may seem silly.  Do it anyway.  Recognize your feet as connected to solid ground (or imagine them connected if something prevents your putting them flat on the floor). 

Ask yourself:  where is my head? What thoughts am I feeding?  Name at least one thing for which you are grateful.  Continue searching if something doesn’t come immediately.  You might look to the book of Psalms or some other reading that you find uplifting.  I have sometimes turned to Psalm 42: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?  Hope thou in God, for I shall yet again praise him for the help of his countenance.” If all else fails, think of someone you can do something for and be grateful for that motivation. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.

            Shalom, Kate

P.S. Bonus healthy snack from Hope’s Cafe:  slice an apple and sprinkle cinnamon on it. Dip it in yogurt. 😊

Witnesses to Life

Today Terry and I witnessed the adoption of two of the children from church.  What a blessing it was to be included as friends and family gathered to share in the joyous occasion.  The circumstances that had brought these children into this family were rather dire.  But here we all were, the two boys most of all, celebrating this event.  I felt caught up into the shared elation, a part of the family network of relationships.

              Being witnesses to life seems like mindfulness intensified, a greater awareness of being a participant in that which you witness.   I have a friend on FaceBook who has full time responsibility for what I understand to be a great nephew.  I do not know what created the situation that made her care  necessary.  But in every post, love just radiates from the page.  I find myself writing comments to her, affirming the love she conveys.  Even in the unconventional, rather sterile world of a computer screen, I somehow feel I am experiencing the gift of participating in this little family. 

              So many times as a therapist I felt like a witness to life emerging from some dark place.  Once, as a very young therapist just starting out, I was working with a depressed woman who browsed in bookstores just to get herself out of the house.   When, after some weeks of therapy, I commented that she was beginning to look brighter, she responded that she, indeed, was feeling better.  She noted that she even had discovered books on the upper shelves! She had been so downcast for so long that she had never noticed anything existed above the lower shelves. 

              Beyond being mindful, I encourage you to think in terms of being witnesses to life.  Pay attention to whether that increases your sense of participation, being vitally connected to that which you witness.

              May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.Shalom, Kate 

Hope’s Café Bonus:  I recall from my sociology courses, the term “Participant Observer,” a role a researcher would fulfill by actually participating in an activity, not simply observing it.    Witnesses to Life seems to me a richer, though similar, term.  Witnessing Life combines being mindful, for example, of the song of the bird, and feeling connected to the bird and in some sense being part of its song, as well.

The Blue People

              In 1820 a French orphan named Martin Fugate settled near Hazard, Kentucky.  He eventually married a woman who carried a recessive trait he also unwittingly carried, called methemoglobinemia.  The effects of this rare blood disorder cause the skin a blue tint because the hemoglobin in the blood  is unable to release oxygen effectively to body tissues.  It would be nearly 150 years before the disorder would be understood and a treatment discovered.

  The Fugates bore seven children, four of whom were bright blue.  As you might guess, the response by others to this dramatic difference was not tolerance.  “The Blue Fugates” or “The Blue People of Kentucky” were shunned at best and horribly mistreated at worst, sometimes even lynched.  So they retreated from the wider population, only making the situation worse as intermarriages among cousins, aunts and other close relatives took place. 

There were varying degrees of the blue color.  Those with lower concentration of methemoglobin might only blush blue in cold weather, while people with high concentration were bright blue from head to toe.  While the condition didn’t cause any special health problems, the social embarrassment and mistreatment certainly were problematic.

A doctor named Madison Cawein III, a hematologist at the University of Kentucky, discovered a cure in the 1960s.  He convinced the blue people tucked back in the hills to let him draw blood which he could then analyze.  The solution turned out to be a commonly used dye called methylene blue with which he initially injected them. He later found pills containing the same ingredient worked better.

In the material I found online, Benjamin Stacy, born in 1975, was reported to be the last known person born with the active gene and his treatment was successful.  So imagine my astonishment last week when I encountered a woman at the local nursing home with this noticeably blue skin.  I, of course, can not say that it was this same condition.  But she looked much like some of the pictures I found online.

In 1943, Kentucky banned first-cousin marriages, in part to prevent birth defects.  However, the Ku Klux Klan fought vigorously for the bill’s passage to maintain “white supremacy.”  Others were interested in keeping their clans strong by preventing young lovers from marrying enemy cousins, loyalty to one’s clan being deemed crucial.  Both the intolerance of difference and the mentality that would seek to keep a bloodline “pure” are reminders to us of the need to be welcoming of others and open to a culture that is growing increasingly diverse.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  I learned about this condition several years ago when I read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.  The novel was about The Pack Horse Library Project, which ran from 1935 to 1943.   The horse riders braved incredibly bad roads and weather to deliver literature to isolated families in Appalachia.  These folks lived in the poorest and most isolated areas of eastern Kentucky and had inaccessible roads, few schools and no libraries.  Thus, these brave riders encountered the “Blue People.”  The book is well written and very informative about this era of “book women” and this genetic condition of “blue blood.” 

Also of note is the author’s mention that the Fugates originated from France and were descendants of French Huguenots, as nearly as can be determined.  She questions: “Could the Fugates’ medical anomaly mean they were true “blue bloods” descended from European royals?”  (If so, what irony to have been so shunned and regarded as repulsive in Kentucky).

Growing a Soul

This week I came across the letter of Kurt Vonnegut written to a high school class in 2006.  I had seen it posted before, but grasped it at a deeper level this time. The English class had been assigned to write a famous author to ask for advice. Of the letters sent, Vonnegut was the only one to answer.  He wrote, in part:  “ What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

These words penetrate as I consider the writing of this blog.  I write for the discipline of it, the challenge of it, the pleasure of it.  Over time, I have begun to experience the connection with those who read the words I post.  Most importantly, though, I have realized that this effort requires mindfulness.  I pay attention through the week to my life, what I notice, what I might bring to this space.  So perhaps I am “becoming,” finding out “what’s inside” of myself, making my “soul grow.”

What if soul growth was our measuring stick for all our tasks?  I recall at one point in my life when I was very anxious about money.  I began to go to my meditation space to pay bills.  That turned out to be a valuable instinct.  My worry abated as I shifted into gratitude.  I began to feel more blessed than burdened.  I think that qualifies as “soul growth.”

Pain has sometimes been a vehicle of soul growth for me.  I learned this first when I was the mother of an infant.  I had injured my knee the night before she was born, and I struggled to manage some of the tasks for her care.  I began to use the pain as a call to prayer.  I felt connection to others in pain.  The same applies to my occasional sleepless nights when I offer my prayers for others whom sleep is eluding.

So, thank you, Kurt Vonnegut, for a meaningful letter and the important reminder to come to our lives in mindful ways that allow for soul growth.  Your letter epitomizes the line I always close with:

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Though I came across the post about Vonnegut on Facebook, do you suppose I heard his words differently because I was more deliberate in the last week about the kind of attention I gave to Facebook, as I mentioned in my previous post “Technology Idol”?

Technology Idols

The report I receive on my cell phone of the time I spent on it the previous week is always a surprise to me. Now, in my defense, I often go to sleep to my Insight Timer. That adds up. But likely Facebook is the culprit. (Notice how cleverly I made Facebook the Villain. I would have you believe I am merely a victim of Facebook!) 

For years, Terry and I did not have cable television because it was not available to us or the cost was prohibitive to put the line in. We were able to finally get cable about a year and a half before we moved from Tennessee. Now we have established it in our home in Montana.  The availability of television shows and movies is still a novelty to us. We often end our evenings watching multiple shows or a movie. We do read, but often that is accomplished on our Kindles.  

I read an article today written by an embarrassed parent who confessed to hiding in the bathroom to scroll through Facebook so his child would not see him spending so much time on his phone. He compared his phone to an idol. Indeed, there is some truth to such an admission. The amount of money spent on the purchase of phones and the monthly charges can be astounding. They have become a high priority for which we sometimes choose to pay dearly.  

Lest I sound totally jaded, I will say that I appreciate my phone, the convenience and safety of having one. Years ago, when Terry and I still had our private practice, we were “beeped” by our answering service, while we were out on a Sunday drive in the country. There were still pay phones at that time. We stopped at one, where a person was using it and clearly had no intention of ending the conversation. We drove for a little way to the next one we could find and encountered the same situation. The next week we purchased our first cell phone, one of the early ones, a monstrosity in comparison to today’s models. I quickly adapted to having a cell phone. Once on a cruise when I was without my phone or computer, I felt somewhat anxious. In the middle of beautiful surroundings, I allowed my focus to be marred by the lack of access to technology. 

I say all this as a reminder, to myself and to any who would recognize themselves as sharing this dilemma, that we easily become attached to our electronics in a way that distances us from more important matters. There is a world full of wonder. There are relationships needing tending. The father hiding in the bathroom recognized he was missing time with his son. What might you be missing? 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.Shalom, Kate 

Hope’s Café Bonus: Might I suggest a technology “diet”? I have stopped automatically turning on the tv in the mornings to take in the quiet. I am considering spending a day a week when I do not open Facebook. What might work for you?  

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Wonderment

Wednesday night as Terry and I were out for an evening walk, the brightest shooting star I have ever seen came crashing across the sky, looking so close to the earth that I almost felt like I could reach up and touch it!  What a wonder to behold!  I will treasure the memory of it.

Last weekend we had a little overnight getaway just outside Yellowstone National Park.  A friend suggested we drive the scenic byway through Shoshone National Forest on our way home.  Oh, wow!  At every turn, something spectacular appeared.  Rushing streams, lovely lakes, dramatic mountains, breathtaking views delighted us.

I once had a friend who said of the Grand Canyon, “I don’t know what the big deal is.  It is just a big hole in the ground.”  Is that not astounding?  How does one live lacking the attitude that nature is full of marvelous features to appreciate?  Such beauty should break us open to deeper places within ourselves.

How fortunate I am to have had a mother who paid attention to the exquisite splendor of the night sky and who was forever fascinated by mountains.  My husband, too, is attentive to nature.  He once woke me up at 3 a.m. to see a most gorgeous full moon spilling its light over the Smoky Mountains.  When we would take walks on our farm, he would often point out a hawk or other bird taking flight, an animal he could make out in the distance, a particular bird song he heard or flowers he found especially pretty.   

When my daughter was four, from out on the patio she called, “Mommy!  Mommy!  Come see!”  Startled, I thought something was wrong.  I rushed out to find her enthralled with the flowers I had planted.  I know very little about plants of any kind but had made the attempt at a small flowerbed with sunflowers and zinnias.  Amazingly they flourished.  What a small act on my part for the huge reward of my daughter’s pleasure.  She has had a love for sunflowers ever since.

When Terry and I had a home on the lake, sometimes the three of us would sleep on the dock, lulled by the lapping of the water and the motion of the dock.  Even as I write this, I can sense the peace and pleasure of those nights. 

There is much to savor.  Let us tune up our attention, open our eyes, open our hearts to wonderment.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, the color, lights and shade.  These I saw.  Look ye also while life lasts.”—-from an old gravestone in Cumberland, England. 

Enduring Connections

Last Saturday I had a phone call from my longtime friend Mary.  Having moved several thousand miles from each other in the last year, we agreed to be intentional about monthly calls.   She befriended me when I first moved to Chattanooga, where we worked together..  Over the years we have shared many good times.  Outside work we spent time shopping or in activities with our daughters or our families.  Early in our relationship we went on a family camping trip where I quickly learned the difference in our biological clocks!  Terry and I were startled awake by the sound of breakfast underway and wondered aloud what could be possibly going on.  Years later, Mary would come when my mother was dying.  Several years after that I officiated at her daughter’s wedding. 

Last Sunday evening, Terry and I enjoyed a lovely evening on a neighbor’s patio, with some new friends we are just getting to know in our new home.  I first met last winter when I was walking at the high school during the cold weather.  In the spring when I started a walking group at our church, she attended once and we had a conversation about writing.  In the summer, she invited us to a little workshop in her home where she had invited a writer from Billings to lead us. We had friends visiting from Tennessee at the time and she invited them as well.  Later she informed us about a writer’s group held at the library.  Now Terry and I  attend that group  with her and others. 

In my previous life as a therapist, I encountered clients without friendships and the support such relationships offer.  People without those connections are at such a disadvantage.  Sometimes they had been “burned” and were afraid to make friends.  Sometimes their circumstances limited their opportunities.  Sometimes their people skills were lacking.  When their lives were embedded in significant other problems, the lack of a support network made everything harder.

So I cherish my friendships and am so grateful for them.  Sometime in my teens I recall developing the notion that over the years I would have friends scattered everywhere so that no matter where I was, I would have friends available.  I have in some small measure achieved that. With the addition of so many social platforms now, there are an increased number of ways to connect.  So even in Montana, I have regular Friday zooms with friends back in the South.  I am reminded of the song from my Campfire scouting days: “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.Shalom, Kate 

Hope’s Café Bonus:  “Friends are the most important ingredient in this recipe called life.”  — no attribution

Fear

In 2016 Terry and I were enjoying an evening at the park with our just-turned-one year-old grandson.  Suddenly a dog got loose from its owner and raced by me, the leash wrapping around my leg, throwing me to the ground unconscious and bleeding.  I had always loved dogs and parks and evening strolls.  But now I was fearful of dogs and didn’t ever want to return to the park.

I recalled that after a car wreck when I was 18, my mother would not allow me to quit driving.   She assured me that I would have to get back on the road sooner rather than later.  Thank goodness she did.  I once was volunteering to drive folks to the polls to vote and encountered a woman who had had a similar experience in her teens.  She never drove again. How limiting!  I did not want to cripple myself in that way.

So I knew after the episode with the dog that I needed to conquer my fear.  I searched quotes about fear.  I wrote in my journal and  posted on Facebook as a way to process that trauma.  And in due time I acclimated to being around dogs and I did go back to the park. 

A poem endures in my memory that addresses this very situation:

“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise. I choose to risk my significance; to live so that which came to me as a seed goes to the next as a blossom and that which came to me as a blossom, goes on as fruit.”—Dawna Markova

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.Shalom, Kate 

Hope’s Café Bonus: “We must travel in the direction of our fear.”—John Berryman

Homeostasis

For whatever reason, this word has kept floating through my mind lately.  You may recall from some course along the way that it means, simply put, “the ability or tendency to maintain internal stability in an organism to compensate for environmental changes. An example of homeostasis is the human body keeping an average temperature of 98.6 degrees.” homeostasis definition sociology – Search (bing.com)

But this word has broader implications for the upheaval and division we are now encountering in society.  I recall in some upper-level sociology course in college, the professor’s describing a family in therapy who had become quite dysfunctional in the midst of the problems they were experiencing.  He asked what might be your first question.  I responded that I would ask when was the last time things were going well and what was different in their lives then.  This, in a nutshell, is how I understand what is happening in our world now.

 There is a drive toward “homeostasis,” toward what feels like “how it used to be when life felt more nearly normal.”  The problem isthat what felt more like normal to me, to which I struggle to return, is different, sometimes vastly so, from other folks’ experience of “normal,” to which they struggle to return.  These are often opposing visions which means my efforts can clash with  those of others as they seek to find their “homeostasis.”  We have a shortage of tolerance for each other’s difficulties and are quick to see “the other” as evil.  Admittedly, it is currently hard to find common ground. 

However, I recall reading a book some years back called Conservatize Me by John Moe, a professed liberal who sought to immerse himself for a year in conservative circles in an effort to learn more about this worldview and those who espoused it. He discovered he could find some common ground.   I remember admiring him for his willingness to challenge himself to expand his understanding in the way that he did.  I prefer that to name calling, threatening, even resorting to violence in the face of what we find offensive.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.Shalom, Kate 

Hope’s Café Bonus:  I once witnessed a counter protester at a peace rally with a sign “Peace Sucks.”  I thought: really???  Later, when I was called on to speak at a rally myself, I said that I considered there was some merit to what the counter protester posted because, I said, peace requires us to go within ourselves and confront our own capacity for hostility or even violence.  We likely prefer to think of ourselves above that.  Maybe that means we need to look more deeply.

Soul Weary

Pandemics, extreme weather, extreme politics, violence in response to even the most petty disagreements…..is anyone else exhausted?  My mindset has always been that you can endure many things because “this too shall pass.”  I now recognize that likely the majority of these situations will be with us for years to come. 

So how do we ground ourselves?  My Insight Timer is a godsend in helping me focus to meditate and pray.  The Timer opens with a quote of the day.  One day this week the quote was: “I meditate so my mind doesn’t complicate my life.”  That struck home!  Meditation helps me clear the Brain Clutter I accumulate!  For me, this practice is essential.

My other necessity is getting out in nature.  This week Terry and I were at long last able to drive the Beartooth Pass, a trip that was highly recommended to us from the time we arrived last summer. 

The Beartooth Highway is an All-American Road on a section of U.S. Route 212 in Montana and Wyoming between Red Lodge and the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park.  It has been called “the most beautiful drive in America” by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt.  Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid-May through mid-October, weather conditions permitting. 

When it was supposed to close on a mid-October Monday last fall, snow forced them to close it early.  Terry and I had planned to drive it the Saturday before they were scheduled to close it so we missed that opportunity.  We awaited the reopening in May only to have it close soon after it opened, once again due to snow. We were elated this week to finally make this trip. 

When driving east to west, the highest parts of the Beartooth Highway level off into a wide plateau near the top of the pass, then descend to the junction with Wyoming Highway 296 (Chief Joseph Scenic Byway) near Cooke City, the northeast gateway to Yellowstone National Park.  On the way one passes numerous lakes typical of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area which borders the highway along much of its route.

Many have enjoyed this drive since the pass was opened in June 1936.  But its history, of course, predates that.  In August 1872, the pass was crossed by Civil War General Philip Sheridan and 120 men returning from an inspection tour of Yellowstone National Park.  Rather than take the long detour down the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River to return to Billings, Sheridan took the advice of an old hunter named Shuki Greer who claimed intimate knowledge of the Beartooth Mountains.  When the road was opened in 1936, it essentially followed Sheridan’s route over the pass.

May we recognize the necessity of making the most of opportunities to renew ourselves in what can be a soul-wearying time.

 May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:

Ice Cream!

Some years ago Terry and I went on a cruise.  One of the pleasures we discovered on the ship were their daily offerings of ice cream and sorbet.  Our favorite was cocoa sorbet.  When we returned home, I found a recipe and we have made it several times since then. 

When we retrieved our ice cream freezer from our storage shed last week in order to make cocoa sorbet for company, we found that our freezer had not survived the move from Tennessee.  No problem, we thought.  In true American consumer fashion, we would just buy another one.  We embarked on what turned out to be a fruitless (and sorbet-less) search. 

I have fond memories of my father’s cranking ice cream in a green wooden bucket. I recall “ice cream socials” as a frequent event at church.  How many of those socials did I attend as a kid, and, for that matter, as an adult? Were my southern roots showing? Did Montanans not make ice cream? This fear was increased when one clerk eyed me incredulously and said, “You mean ice cream you make yourself?”  He pointed us finally toward a little table top ice cream maker that would make two quarts.  We were not persuaded!

Next step:  Google ice cream freezers.  We learned that Walmart was getting a shipment of freezers.  Next opportunity we drove to Billings and happily returned with our prized item.  It seems it wasn’t necessarily my southern roots that were apparent, but my age:  the box containing the freezer was labeled “Nostalgia.”  😊

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus:  Cocoa Sorbet requires 3 c. water, 1and1/4 c. granulated sugar, 2 T. corn syrup, pinch salt, 2 t. vanilla extract, 1 c. cocoa powder unsweetened.  Whisk ingredients together until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well blended and smooth.  Chill for 1 hour.  Freeze in an ice cream freezer following manufacturer’s directions.  Serve and enjoy!  Let’s keep the frozen treat tradition going!