Laugh More

Last week our family saw a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CalShakes, my favorite Shakespeare play at one of my favorite theatres.

CalShakes always makes for a great family outing: time together over a picnic in the grove and a good show, and my kids both enjoy live theatre which feels like a parenting win. This wasn’t a perfect production, but it contained some terrific performances. Best of all, I heard myself belly laughing throughout the show.

Laughter is the best medicine, right? But somewhere along the winding path of personal and professional stress, I fear I misplaced my sense of humor. I may have become too serious for my own good. I used to be silly and laugh easily; I need to unearth that version of myself.

Besides, laughter is healthy, and life is too short not to enjoy; there will be plenty of time for being grave, well, in the grave. (Although, I just wrote a ridiculous line because I plan to spend every non-second of the afterlife whoopin’ it up for a grand ol’ eternity).

How about these quotes:

Laughter is an instant vacation. –Milton Berle
I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong. –WEB DuBois
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. –William Thackeray
A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin
Laughter may not add years to your life but adds life to your years.
You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.
Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg.

[Are you laughing yet?]

Psychology Today outlines some of laughter’s benefits for body and mind:

Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.

To that end, I am making play my work. I am actively eliminating stress from my life and spending time with my pets and my loves, outdoors and in. I am looking for opportunities to laugh, whether I’m cracking myself up or laughing at funny things outside myself.

Like this clip from The Ellen Show:

And who doesn’t laugh at laughing babies?

So how about you? What makes you laugh?

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Getting Lost

It helps to remember that getting outside can put me in a better mood.

A walk around the block is obviously good for the dogs. It’s good for the body. And it’s good for my soul.

I had been in a funk when Guy and I leashed up the dogs for an hour-long walk. As we strolled we laughed when one or the other would attempt to pounce on a lizard who had already skittered away. We laughed some more when they stuck their noses into Mexican feather grass—something smelled good—and the grass looked like a lion’s mane on a three-bodied monster. We saw a hawk soaring overhead. We admired roses of every hue growing in our neighbor’s gardens. The gray clouds of my mood parted as I noticed the world outside myself.

I felt more rested (rest-full) for having moved my body outside than I did when I sat still in my comfortable chair.

This weekend we had the honor of witnessing the baptism of our friends’ daughter at a beautiful Catholic retreat center. When the service ended and we had congratulated the happy family, we strolled the grounds.

In one lushly planted brick-walled garden, I spotted a little statue of St. Francis holding two birds. I would have missed him entirely if the birds had been painted with more subtlety—the fire engine red glossy paint positively popped against the green foliage.

He delighted me, so I snapped a picture.

He seemed to be hiding, lost among the leaves and yet exactly where he should be. The birds seemed to glow even brighter for being held by Francis.

I want to be “lost” like St. Francis, perfectly content in my natural hiding spot. I like being a little bit lost in my own pursuits, in flow, attentive to the beauty in front of me rather than caught up by distractions. I want to be surrounded by nature, beauty, peace. And I suppose it would be nice if, on occasion, I brought delight to those who happen to notice me hiding in plain sight.

Cultivating Quiet

To increase happiness, I made a commitment in January to practice silence by minimizing noise and negativity of all sorts.

Since then, I’ve given myself permission to turn off the car radio when there isn’t a song that moves me. Music off, I get to sit with my thoughts for the duration of the drive—and struggle to quiet the voices in my head. So many imaginary conversations or arguments, complaints I will never speak, apologies I will never hear. Rehearsing what I might say, rehashing what I could have said, reimagining the route conversations should have gone…

Banishing imaginary conversation partners, I still have to contend with my own voice. Harmful self-talk, the comparison game, the voice Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way calls the Censor, “a nasty internal and eternal critic” who “blurts…a steady stream of subversive remarks.”

I picked up a book from the library with the intriguing title 10% Happier. In the preface, ABC News anchor Dan Harris writes about his own inner voice:

I’m talking about the internal narrator, the most intimate part of our lives. The voice comes braying in as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, and then heckles us all day long with an air horn. It’s a fever swamp of urges, desires, and judgments. It’s fixated on the past and the future, to the detriment of the here and now. It’s what has us reaching into the fridge when we’re not hungry, losing our temper when we know it’s not really in our best interest, and pruning our inboxes when we’re ostensibly engaged in conversation with other human beings. Our inner chatter isn’t all bad, of course. Sometimes it’s creative, generous, or funny. But if we don’t pay close attention—which very few of us are taught how to do—it can be a malevolent puppeteer.

I anticipate this wrangling to achieve peace-filled silence will be a lifetime effort. With practice, it has gotten easier. Practice, prayer, writing, even exercise have all helped. With continued diligence, it should become even easier.

During different seasons, involving more or less stress, the noise will obviously ebb and flow. Sometimes I anticipate I will avoid the inner noise by turning up the volume on exterior noise. Or I may have to, for a time, engage the imaginary conversations as a means to keeping peace, maintaining my sanity, and excising my own demons.

I remain committed to cultivating, even enjoying, the silence, speaking kindly to myself, hushing the blurts. Still, be still.

 

Learning from Babies

Q15 lost his passport coming home from Mexico over spring break. He claims he gave it to Guy, Guy doesn’t remember ever receiving it, neither can find it. We need a replacement since Q leaves on a Scouting canoe trip in Canada next week.

Within a certain window of time and requiring both parents meant we had to go to the Federal Passport Office in San Francisco. We had an 11 am appointment for the first full day of summer (bummer for the kiddo—we made it up to him with lunch of his choosing).

Apparently, you make an appointment to stand in line to gain access to a room where you stand in another line. More than an hour later, you talk for approximately one minute with someone who gives you a number and asks you to be seated (another line). When your number is called, it takes about ten to fifteen minutes of paperwork. By the time you have completed the process (sans passport, which we made another appointment to pick up), you have spent less than 20 minutes interacting with an official and more than 2 hours waiting.

Lots of parents had littles in tow. Poor babies, stuck indoors, waiting (curiously, I saw no parents pull out books or toys). One young mama seated next to me had a daughter of about three and an eight-month-old son. The daughter quietly entertained herself (remarkable, as my boys for sure would have made a scene). Mama dandled the baby in her lap.

Baby made eye contact. I smiled and he cautiously, then fully, smiled back. He looked away, and when he again turned to me and I smiled, he beamed. He extended his little fingers and I gave him my pointer finger to grasp. He gurgled gleefully. We played this game repeatedly.

Later, another mama sat next to me with a slightly older (maybe thirteen to fifteen months?) curly haired little girl. This darling was not afraid to make her voice heard! She squawked for joy as she stared intently into my eyes.

Another baby peeked over her mama’s shoulder at her sisters seated in the row behind her. She quietly cooed at them and squinted her entire face with her smile. She looked distressed when they looked away and delighted when they gave her attention.

While Q stared intently at his phone, I took pleasure in baby-watching. At least they made the inching minutes pass more enjoyably than similarly staring at my phone (let’s be honest: I did some of that, too).

It was easy to “chat” with the babies. I made a little effort to engage with the first mama, but she barely responded. She smiled but didn’t make eye contact. She answered my question without elaboration (hence, I know her son was eight months old).

We should learn from the babies. These healthy and well-loved babies didn’t hesitate to make eye contact, smile, and talk in their way. They trusted in the goodness of those around them. They wanted to see and be seen.

Why do we lose that openness? Why do teens and adults prefer to stare down, or away, engaging with no one and keeping their thoughts to themselves?

How might life be more fun and the world a better place if we looked at one another with the unsuspicious joy of an infant who has just learned to smile?

 

Stay Human

Cautious of the time-sucking danger of social media, my Guy has intentionally cut back. A few months ago, though, he saw a post from a friend selling two three-day VIP tickets to BottleRock, a music festival in Napa. He immediately expressed interest, except the cost was a sad-but-immediate deal-breaker.

Someone who cares for us all witnessed the interaction and arranged to anonymously buy the tickets for us. I overheard Guy echoing our friend’s giddy enthusiasm when she called to share the news. Wide-eyed, I felt loved, plus a wee drop of trepidation–an extrovert and an introvert head to a huge venue with thousands-upon-thousands of people, and the introvert handles it…how?

On the arm of her Guy, of course. I love him, and he thrives on energetic crowds. This was a too-good-to-pass-opportunity. We said yes, with gratitude.

I spent the entire Memorial Day-after the concert weekend in my pj’s, tired and happy. We found friends we haven’t seen in too long. We made new friends. People shared drink tickets and food. We helped one another to good seating/standing, especially the shorter folks, and exchanged numbers to share pictures and, maybe, keep in touch.

We saw incredible artists, some whose music we knew, others we’d only heard about. Names became faces, and acts on a stage became artists to follow. It’s one thing to hear a song or several on the radio; it’s another thing altogether to see an artist at their craft. BottleRock was all about the artist, and we were there for it, in all meanings of that phrase.

Have you ever been to a silent disco? You put on headphones, tune to your DJ’s channel, and dance. Take off the headphones, and you witness a crowd jamming in relative silence. When more than one DJ spins on the same stage, you flip between stations–especially when you see, say, the red headphoned folks go crazy while you’re on a mellow blue jam… I feel hip in new ways (so. not. hip. Hah!).

Meandering through the masses–some of the best people-watching imaginable–we discovered art at every turn (including the art of delicious food/drink–yum!). Even better, we witnessed kindness, starting with our Good Samaritans who provided the tickets.

Our friend raved about Michael Franti: “He’s So Fun! Don’t miss him!” As we waited I casually chatted with a young woman next to me, incidentally the age of our older son, who confessed that she’d probably heard Franti “like, about 500 times? He’s the soundtrack of my childhood.” Which intrigued me: I must have heard his music, since her childhood and my son’s surely shared music?

Our friend was right–he’s so feel good, so positive. We made sure to see him twice! And of course we recognized his music. I bet you have, too, even if you don’t know his name.

A couple songs in to his VIP set, a boy about 10-years-old with Down Syndrome came on stage. Welcomed, amidst smiles and high fives and dance moves. They gave him the mic: he spoke, sang, danced. He took pictures with the crowd. I cried. I suspect Guy did, too.

Franti’s ethos: Stay Human. He stands for equality, all-abilities, kindness. Over and over, he invited children of different ages, abilities and colors to the stage and to the mic, to dance, to be themselves.

Before he introduced her, we noticed a female vocalist who had only half of her right arm. Franti had seen one of Victoria Canal’s Instagram stories, playing piano and singing with her angel voice, and invited her to Nashville to compose a song together. They spoke of being unlike anyone else they knew, bullied, and yet able to create space to be the heroes they and others need.

The things we think might keep us out of contention might be the very things that put us in the race. What we–or others–consider weakness might be exactly what we and others need.

Let’s stay human, friends. Let’s be kind. Let’s give others the benefit of the doubt. Let’s stop competing and start promoting others, rejoicing when anyone does well, knowing that as we come together, we can make the world a better place.

Boomerang

For Mother’s Day, I received two bouquets of flowers: one from my in-laws and another from my kids. I posted pictures on social media because I have a thing for flowers.

The next day, my neighbor and her young daughter stood on my doorstep holding a beautiful bouquet of homegrown roses. Mom had shown my pictures to Daughter; Daughter led Mom outside to pick a bouquet from their garden, carefully choosing one by one the flowers she wanted to share with me.

My former neighbor and friend planted and nurtured those roses. This simple gift felt like it connected more of us than were present in beauty and friendship.

Later that day, another neighbor dropped off a gallon bag of lemons from her tree. Two days later, still another neighbor brought over a bouquet of fresh herbs with an invitation to snip more from her front yard garden.

Humbled by these generous gestures, I wondered aloud what I could share.

Northern California has experienced odd mid-May weather: a cold front dumped rain on us. My just-blooming roses had become so heavy that I feared they might snap their stems. During a break in the weather, I ran outside and quickly cut as many blooms as I could. I shook them dry-ish and brought them inside.

As I considered what to do with them, I realized that evening would be the last gathering for our middle school group where I have served as a leader for the now-8th grade girls during their three years of participation. My two co-leaders are high school students. I set about tying up two bouquets with white satin ribbon to present to these darling girls.

One of the 8th graders pounced on the bouquets and took it upon herself to present them to the high school girls, who both choked back tears of joy. One said that she had given flowers to her teachers last week, and now she understood how they felt: honored. Loved.

I told Q15 this story at breakfast the next day and he said, “Of course. Boomerang.”

When I asked what he meant, he explained: “It’s the boomerang effect. We talk about it at Boy Scouts whenever there isn’t something else to talk about. When one person does good for another, so that person does good for another, and the good keeps flying around…”

I’m grateful they talk about such things at Boy Scouts. We should all talk about it more often.

The night after I presented the girls with bouquets, the church had a scavenger hunt/end-of-year party for the 8th grade students. I couldn’t go because I had to work. So the girls came to my workplace, and one of my high school co-leaders handed me a jewelry bag; she had purchased matching friendship bracelets for all of us. My turn to choke back tears. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Earlier that evening, my co-worker had told me a story about a BART worker he chats with when he takes BART late on weekend nights. This middle-aged gal does a great job in an under-appreciated position and often has to deal with the last-car crazies, those who have over-imbibed or are trying to hide so as to sleep overnight on the train. He said to her, “Perhaps only you and I in all the world actually know what goes down on nights like these.” She sighed in agreement.

On Mother’s Day, our wine bar gave away flowers to our guests. At closing time, he wrapped up a few blooms for his BART friend, who was genuinely moved. A few nights later, she presented him with a $10 BART pass a tourist had given her since he wouldn’t be able to use the remainder. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Last night I trimmed a few more roses and brought them to a friend who plays piano in the bar a few nights each month. She lives alone, is facing health issues, and I thought she might like them. She smiled and exclaimed, “Oh! These are the roses I see on Facebook!” Yes, they are.

Personally, I’ve never played with an actual boomerang, but I sure am having fun watching the love fly here and there!

Power Posing

I first heard of power posing years ago from a friend who mentioned that she was teaching her young children to stand in front of the bathroom mirror every morning, hands on hips like Wonder Woman or Superman, and speak positive words to themselves, for example, “I am amazing!”

Okay. I’m all for positivity. Whatever works.

Turns out there is scientific support for assuming a power pose. Our body language both reveals our inward state and can influence it. In my early 20’s, I remember having to sit through an uncomfortable staff meeting. Afterwards, an older-than-me wise woman pulled me aside and told me that my crossed legs, crossed arms, and downward chin-tilt had given me away. I am an open book, and I definitely have resting bitch face, and working toward more positive body language will improve not only how I feel but how others feel toward me.

Power posing in the mirror, with positive affirmations, may help, apparently. As will taking up all the space I need, physically and otherwise. (Why do women need to be taught these things that men seem to know instinctively?)

This week’s Bible study comes from one of my favorite passages: Psalm 139. This beautiful poem about God’s passionate pursuit of His beloved–the Psalmist, me, you, humankind–never fails to move me. I need, we all need, regular reminders of how loved we truly are.

But this week came with new insight. Those three big theological words/concepts, the Omni’s–that God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere-present), and omnipotent (all-powerful)–are also pictured in this Psalm. In fact, they can serve as hand-holds to the poetic structure: vv1-6 show God as omniscient; vv7-12 show God as omnipresent; vv13-18 show God as omnipotent. What a beautiful pairing: that God is as ALL as the biggest theological concepts and so intimately involved with His creation. Yes!

But then, what about vv19-22, where the Psalmist moves from God’s love to invoking His wrath on “the enemy”? Well, isn’t that just so human? He knows he is created and loved by God, and also angry that everyone doesn’t get it. The world isn’t as it should be and the Psalmist feels ticked off, like we all get from time to time. And yet, he doesn’t dwell there but quickly asks God to search his own heart, to clean up his junk and lead him in righteousness. Good move!

What does this have to do with power posing? I was struck again this time through that our all-powerful God comes searching for us, before we were a twinkle in our parents’ eyes, before we had anything to give. And His pursuit of us, when we acknowledge it, should give us courage, should empower us to know deep in the core of our beings that we are amazing. Because He made us.

We can stand, hands on hips, speaking aloud The Truth: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” We don’t give ourselves superpowers, but receiving and repeating the truth of God’s love sung over our lives should give us renewed strength. What might change in my day, in my life–or in yours–if we regularly repeated those words to ourselves?

Who is God: What is God Like?
Psalm 139

Connect
If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

Study
Read aloud Psalm 139:1-6.
Notice all the things God knows.
What does it mean to be hemmed in by God, with His hand upon you? Explain.
Read aloud Psalm 139:7-12.
Notice all the places God is present with us.
What does it tell you about God that He is always present with you?
Read aloud Psalm 139:13-18.
What does this section say about God’s power?
What value does God put on each day of each human life?
Read aloud Psalm 139:19-24.
Why is the Psalmist angry? How does he handle his anger?

Live
What does it mean to you that our all-knowing, everywhere-present, all-powerful God is also so intimately personal with people?
How does it (or might it) impact your everyday life that God pursues you so passionately?
How can you share with others the love of God portrayed in this Psalm in ways they can receive?
What is God saying to you through this study, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray aloud the prayer of vv. 23-24, ending in silent confession and dedication.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Psalm 139:13-14 individually and with your family.
What does it mean to you that God made you?
How might your day be different if you said to yourself (and God) in the mirror every morning, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”?
Thank God for doing such good, creative work in your life and the world.