MATTERS OF THE HEART MATTER

I admit it: I love going to the movies. I love the whole package. I want to sit in the dark and be transported to another time and place for ninety minutes. It would be much cheaper to wait for films to come out on DVD, but life is too short to settle for a TV screen image of the great dramas that have captured my imagination and thrilled my heart. And please…pop the popcorn and layer the butter! I’ll count calories elsewhere. Truthfully, I would go to the movies more often if there were films I cared to see. I’ve walked out of theaters when I realized the trailers did not accurately portray the film’s disappointing or disturbing content. On the other hand, I find no shame in seeing movies that I love more than once. (However, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen “The Help” or “The Notebook.” You don’t want to know.) Movies entertain us, but more than that – like great art or music – great movies touch us and move us in ways that go beyond the story itself. We would do well to pay attention to those stirrings deep within because they matter – they reveal the matters of our heart and our longings. Knowing our heart helps us to find true north and set our course in life. My husband could not stem the flood of tears that flowed after seeing “Field of Dreams.” The compelling story of a father/son conflict and a touching ending certainly justified misty-eyes; but the movie exposed a part of Jon’s heart he was unaware of: It tapped a pocket of pain over his relationship with his own father. Jon had his mother’s artist’s eye. He followed his heart and studied photography at the Center For Creative Studies in Detroit. My father-in-law never understood Jon’s refusal of his offer to set him up in business when a local sandwich shop went on the market. Art could have only dreamed that his immigrant father could have given him such a leg up in life. Seeing the movie shortly after the loss of his dad helped Jon give voice to the pain of those unmet expectations. Bringing them to light brought healing. Scenes from my life flashed in my mind as the credits rolled at my first viewing of “The Help.” As a child of the sixties, I wished I could ride a Greyhound bus from Michigan to Mississippi to join the marches to end segregation. I also recalled the summer of 1966. I was 16-years old and had just graduated from high school. I rode a train to the Chicago area to work as a nanny for a wealthy family. My employer took advantage of me from the day I arrived. She heaped on new responsibilities that were not a part of my agreed upon job duties. Although I couldn’t begin to compare my experience to that of the women in the movie, I know the humiliation of being looked on as the hired help and treated as “less than.” These memories of my youth poured out of me as my daughter and I rode home from the theater. I had not thought about them in years, and certainly had no reason to discuss them with my children. I also spoke of other jobs as a waitress and motel maid in my college years that gave me an understanding of and compassion for people in service positions. “The Help” was the catalyst that helped me share that part of my life and my heart with Aimee. I am grateful to my favorite writer Ken Gire for teaching me to be more attentive to the music, books, and movies that stir my soul. In his book The Reflective Life: Becoming More Spiritually Sensitive to the Everyday Moments of Life, Gire tells of his practice of “marking the trail.” He keeps a list of the books read and movies seen each year to remember where he’s been on his spiritual pilgrimage and what has touched him. I mark the trail of my spiritual journey in the covers of the prayer journals I keep. Matters of the heart matter. Movies can take us to the heart of the matter. Today’s challenge: Think of a movie that stirred something in you. Take time to reflect on what it reveals of your heart and your longings. Share it with someone you trust. Mark your trail.          ...

COURAGE TO CHANGE

In the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, we know what to do with the 92 inches of snow that fell in January: We’re throwing a party! Actually, Michigan Technological University (MTU) is throwing the party, but we are all invited. MTU’s annual Winter Carnival is a welcome break for the winter-weary. The detailed snow sculptures are always a highlight. We’ll enjoy a torchlight parade down the ski hill and watch with wonder as fireworks reflect on the snow.  We will all turn out to root for the home team as the MTU Huskies take on Alaska Anchorage in hockey. Our Winter Carnival Queen will be treated to a ride on the Zamboni. The infamous MTU Pep Band will have us on our feet cheering, as well as locking arms with strangers, swaying to “The Blue Skirt Waltz” (Better known as the Copper Country Anthem in these parts). There will be something for everyone: rousing competitions of broomball, skiing, ice bowling, snowshoe races, basketball, snow volleyball and human dogsled races. The festivities will culminate with a dance called – what else, but…the Snow Ball. Yes, indeed. When winter hands us 92-inches of snow in one month, we make snowballs, ice rinks, and snow sculptures. We bring on the winter games. Around here, we laugh in the face of minus 20-degrees wind chills. Since winter comes – and stays – every year, we make the best of it. It’s our version of “If life gives you lemons – make lemonade.” I’d vote for the Serenity Prayer as our official winter petition: God grant me the serenity  To accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. November is traditionally the hardest month of the year for me. Bidding farewell to our spectacular autumn foliage and saying hello to the gray skies of winter always triggers sadness in me. That feeling is exacerbated by grief stirred by memories of significant losses I’ve experienced at that time of the year. These are things I can’t change, but I’ve learned to beat those blues back with a stick. I swing into action with a self-care plan as soon as I turn the calendar page at October’s end: I call friends and plan fun get-togethers. Though many recommend taking Vitamin C during winter months, I load up on large doses of Vitamin L (Laughter). I invite friends over for movie nights. I arrange for walking partners and coffee dates, especially on gloomy afternoons. I schedule a massage. I cozy-up my kitchen with pots of simmering soups. Before I know it, I’ve successfully weathered another November; it’s time to buy a turkey and ready the guest rooms for my family to come for Thanksgiving. In my world, the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season – that most wonderful time of the year! December is a month-long celebration, complete with bright lights, my favorite music, delicious smells, and cherished traditions.  I travel to my daughter’s and delight in my grandchildren for two weeks. At that point, I’ve made it through the worst of winter, and my thoughts turn to spring. The weather isn’t our only problem. Whether we live in northern Michigan or the southern-most tip of Florida, we all have wintry seasons come and go in our lives. We get snowed by people and situations out of our control.  Just as in winter, those days are dark and long, with seemingly no end in sight. How do we make it through? With God’s help we accept what we cannot change, and find the courage to change what we can. Today’s Challenge: Has life handed you lemons lately? Are you stuck in a wintry season with little hope for spring? Ask God to help you accept what is out of your control. Look to him to provide the strength and courage you need to change the things you can. Make your own action plan for self-care…then implement it! Hang in there – spring is coming!          ...