He Was Just An Ordinary Guy Or Was He?

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We tend to believe changing the world means we need to be out there, preaching, speaking, and occasionally being loud because we want to be heard. Isn’t that what the world wants us to believe?

I am incredibly sad today because a friend died. He was young, my son’s age, and that is when I first met David Paal Jr., as a little boy. I must admit over the next forty-some years I lost track of him. We moved and my son changed schools and we didn’t move back to our home community for ten years when my son was grown.

I connected with Dave again a few years ago because I began to see his photos on his media pages. They were breathtaking. As an author, I wanted to try my hand at creating my own book covers. I could see my stories and plots in Dave’s pictures so I messaged him and asked if I would be able to use one of his pictures for my cover. He immediately said yes. We met for coffee so we could hash out the details.

As we chatted I found a humble man with a great sense of humor. His photos were a part of who he was and how he saw the world, yet he didn’t seem to realize how special his talent was. He wasn’t out to make money just to share his love of his hobby. In fact, when I suggested ways he could make money with his talent he seemed to only want to pass the joy onto others.

We chatted recently, him giving me permission again to use his photos in a couple of new book covers, one to update a cover from a past photo I used, and another for my new book coming out in March. Again, his generous attitude registered with me. I am so happy I was able to share both covers with him before he left this earth to use his talents in heaven. I can only imagine the landscape he is seeing through his eyes.

I don’t like to use the word ordinary for anyone because each person is unique, but yet for this blog, I am going to use the word ordinary to describe Dave, even though he was extraordinary. The reason for this is we view those who influence us in the world as different than us ordinary joe’s that keep the world running, working everyday jobs in industries that are not recognized as careers that leave a mark or influence anyone. They are quiet, in the background people, some of who we don’t see because of their ability to keep us going and we take them for granted.

Dave was an ordinary guy with an ordinary job and a fabulous hobby that he excelled at quietly. He was kind, funny, and humble. Yet, this man influenced people on a wide-reaching basis in his quiet way of those he worked with and reaching out to the world with his photography, sharing it on social media so the rest of the world could for a few moments see the breathtaking work that God created.

Seeing his photo’s you knew who Dave was. He let us know through the pictures he took. He loved his country, he loved the communities he was part of, showing those of us that live here through his photographs what we miss every day, because we aren’t looking. He gave us the gift of seeing the beauty of our lives through the lens.

Dave loved nature and old buildings, but most of all he loved his family. His son, his mom, dad, and his sister and her family. Through any difficulties in life, I would say he had his priorities right.

Dave Paal, Jr., you changed lives. I do not think you realized how far-reaching your influence was. You will be missed and always remembered. Thank you for sharing your love of photography with us and for showing us and showing me what true generosity is.

Friendship – Nourishing or Toxic?

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Yesterday my phone was busy. I was blessed because I received phone calls from friends. They brightened my day and reminded me of the gift I was given when these people chose me to be their friend. All of these particular people were old friends. Friends from childhood, my early years as a wife and mother, my middle years as I struggled, as we all do, with responsibilities we never dreamed of in our wildest dreams that we would have to tackle.

As I pondered my conversations throughout the day with these people, I was not only amazed all of them called me on the same day, but that it seems as if we just talked yesterday. Throughout this pandemic we have been in closer touch sharing our joys, our fears and just talking silly. What had kept us together so close all of these years?

As we grow both in our personal lives and in the way we present ourselves to the public there are some friendships, old friendships, that fall along the way for many different reasons. Perhaps we didn’t always connect and take the chance and show those friends who we are, or we did, and because of it just didn’t mesh anymore. There is something about hearts aligning that keep important relationships going, along with hard work.

Although, I must say, with the friends yesterday, it has never felt like hard work to keep the friendship. Probably because our values align, our interests may be the same, but along with that we have challenged each other to try something new and experience each others interests. And…after trying their crazy ideas, it’s been perfectly acceptable to say to them, “You can do that but I think it sucks.” All in all, through it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, we have the luxury of acceptance of who we are. We feel safe in those friendships sharing our failures, our fears and also our triumphs and successes and we are happy for one another.

Inevitably, as we go along life’s road we have let go of people because the way in which we change and feel and believe, is too different for us to maintain a connection. We agree to disagree but life’s circumstances have changed us so much that middle ground is hard to find. We are in a different era in our lives and we need a friendship and a soft place to fall that isn’t there in a friendship, and maybe never was, but we made excuses and bit our tongue so as to not provoke judgment from a friend. I say that as these friends were probably doing the same thing with me.

I have changed. I have always been opinionated. I was spoiled. I didn’t have time or enough compassion for those who had less than I. I didn’t care about others feelings, or I shouldn’t say I didn’t care, but I didn’t see them. Life hits you in strange ways. My wake up call was job loss, illness, losing people I cared about, Alzheimer’s in a family member and their ire, and abusive relationships. I found when we were down and out I no longer fit in some places because our cash was gone, and we live in a world where belonging needs money. Some friendships I thought I could count on I lost, occasionally because of my attitude. Once we peeled away the mask of acceptability because of what was happening in my life, people went away. I learned the true meaning of friendship and the true meaning of compassion, and that I am not a sum of the kind of house I live in, what type furniture I have, or if what kind of vehicle I drive. Figuring out how to pay my bills was more a challenge than trying to keep up appearances.

I’m not complaining because those experiences opened my life to so many peoples struggling like we were, and though we were never in the situation some are in now, I have empathy for those who use the food shelves, need help and assistance during a tough time and who struggle every day with illness or mental health problems. Let me tell you there are days I want to go back to not caring about anyone because it hurts to see others hurt.

My old heart friends have been there with me through it all and I felt no judgement. That doesn’t mean they let me get by with bad behavior. They are very good at calling it out, but it comes from a place of love. Those are the friends you need. Disagreement but no judgement, calling you out when they see you making a mistake, or putting their take on things when you have a different viewpoint but it’s never toxic.

I can be a very toxic person. I don’t want to be that toxic person that destroys lives, but I also don’t want to be that person in a friendship that has to bite their tongue all the time, or be scared if I voice my opinion I am going to verbally be assaulted. For a long time I felt guilty wanting to distance myself from some people, but talking to the friends I did yesterday I realized I am only toxic when I spend time with others that feed that toxicity. There should be no guilt in letting that go. Friendships should make you a better person and those are the ones to hold on to.

I am rambling. I guess that’s what a blog is all about. I do have some advice. When you are with a friend ask yourself how you feel when you are done with a conversation. Are you a better person being with someone? What brings you together? Is it a commonality of spreading toxicity or love? Maligning others that think differently than you or uplifting others and accepting the differences? How has life changed you? It took me a long time to get out of the pity party of the circumstances we were in. It was the friendships that stayed, put up with me, listened to me and jerked me up once in awhile that got me through. They know who they are. I am forever grateful because that is true friendship. I still fall short being that type of friend but we are all a work in progress. The key is to keep that progress going.

A Summer of Ponderings

Since I quit my column, Something About Nothing, I have been more silent on my blog. This summer I needed a step back to see where I have been and where I am going. I am not sure I am there yet, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you. I have never been good at keeping things inside and yet I found there were so many feelings I was stifling because I wanted to keep friends, not cause a ruckus, and that is what I was trained to do most of my life. Don’t get angry, don’t yell, be strong.

I remember a be strong moment when I was pregnant with my first child and my dad died. I was an only child and everyone told me I had to be strong for my mom and I was until…   I remember walking down the aisle following the casket after the funeral. I heard someone sobbing loudly and realized it was me. Strong took its toll at the worst moment. This summer I found I had never properly taken the time to grieve for missing my dad, and it was 48 years ago that he died, but I held those feelings inside of me because I needed to be strong.

I like to think of myself as an authentic person but I realize I am not. I have said things are ok and fine when they really aren’t. When I felt my voice and feelings didn’t matter or they wouldn’t be heard so to avoid conflict, I would stay silent, but hurts don’t disappear that way, they may diminish, but until they are acknowledged they never go away or get resolved.

This summer seems to have awakened a journey in my heart. We have been dealing with the illness of a loved one, that is invisible to others and there is a level in which you don’t talk about it because when you don’t know how to cope, it is hard to explain it to others so you retreat or… you put on a smile and hide the heartbreak.

I also have been examining my faith journey and what I was taught to believe and what I have experienced throughout my life. I could say I have been putting together the pieces. I wouldn’t call it a faith crisis, although some would because I haven’t been to church much this summer, but it isn’t a crisis as much a faith growth. I started my life in the Catholic Church and after my marriage joined the Lutheran Church. At the time it was more about the leadership of the Priest in my church community when through conversation during our pre-nuptial counseling, he revealed himself to be racist. My husband recognized it, I didn’t, and my soon to be husband felt he could not belong to a church led by a man that felt that way about another race. Looking back I brushed it off and thought my decision with leaving the Catholic Church was more to do with going to church as a family because as my dad was of another religion, the Catholic Church at the time didn’t allow that. Examining my heart I now know that Priest’s comments were also a part of my decision, even though at the time I tried to make light of it to excuse the behavior. So right now, after 48 years I will say, “The Priests behavior was not ok.”

This summer in my faith journey that is still going on, I was fed by friends of different religions and different backgrounds. I was fed by book studies with strangers and discussions with different beliefs. I was fed because though there were basic differences we disagreed upon, we listened to one another, not always understanding and expressing that in a graceful way, but coming through it with love and kindness and a feeling of relief that we could come together with differences and leave with differences, but we were allowed to speak and be ourselves and not be judged. I learned church family doesn’t always mean those from a brick and mortar church. I learned a Pastor or a Priest make a difference depending on their leadership. I remember when I joined the Lutheran Church one of the reasons is what I saw in the leadership of Pastor John MIkkelson, a wise, kind, strong leader. He showed us who he was. He let us know where he stood. He could lead and delegate and make all feel welcome. The rest was up to us. I have heard the words “I don’t go to church because of a Pastor.” But I will say this, we need to respect the person who leads so that we can respect the message that is being taught to us. That respect does not mean they are perfect but they show us their flaws, can admit when they are wrong, and they know how to feed a flock that inspires us to go out into the world and treat each person we meet that are searching for their church family to feel accepted and welcomed. Have I done that? I don’t think so.

I used to be very involved in the church when I was younger. It wasn’t something I planned but at the time our Pastors, after Pastor Mikkelson visited each and every home in their congregation. The visits only lasted five minutes but they felt it was important so they could meet their congregants where they lived. Some complained the majority of the congregation actually liked the visits. It was because of those visits and Pastors I got more involved in the Sunday School and was in church more often. They knew who we were and it was easier to go to them with problems because they took the time to get to know us.

Last Sunday in my home church it hit me what I was looking for and what I think many are looking for in a church and that is to be accepted. To be able to show others the good, the bad and the ugly. For someone to say I don’t understand, but I care about you and I will tell you if I feel you are harming yourself or others and do it with love and acceptance of the person, not the actions. I am looking for a church that follows the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28. I think the Message Bible speaks to me the best. Matthew 11: 28-30. Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” That is the feeling I want when I enter my church. As many of us are, I am tired. I am weary. I judge myself so much I don’t need to be judged by others. I can do it far worse than anyone else can and I need a place to go and people to be with that is a safe haven no matter how I dress, no matter what I look like. How about you?

So what have I decided about my faith crisis or faith growth? The journey will continue. The climate we are living in today pits us against each other in religion but history shows it always has. Who is right? Who is wrong? Who worships the correct way? Who believes the correct way? Whose sin is greater than the other? We point fingers. We judge. And we are weary. And I have felt myself doing the same thing because of the climate of our country today and I don’t like myself for it.  I need to stop.  I wonder how God’s love or a higher powers love can shine through any of it, but it does if we look for it.

Next week…. more of my summer musings about writing and painting and family.