I happen to have an amazing sister who, much like our mother, were both blessed with huge, empathetic, and deeply humanitarian hearts. While strong willed and imbued with hearty, well-tested, pioneer stock, their Norma Ray attitudes (combined with a selfless passion to serve) found them continually taking on the weight of the world.
When I think of my mom, who passed years ago, I often look at the world around us now, and am so grateful God took her when He did. She died of cancer four years after her diagnosis after initially going into remission. During this time, something heartbreaking was happening at home or somewhere in the world. I often wonder if it was indeed the emotional weight of the world which she took on, that triggered the cancer and was ultimately what crushed her. And that was at a time when news was still filtered and pasteurized. Now? Well, I hate to think…
This past month I sat and read so many of your private letters. In them I can see more evidence of this ‘shouldering the world’ creeping into your own lives as things beyond our shores escalate. The bad news is that as more evidence of man’s abhorrent behavior is now caught on smart phone cameras, conflict has become very much more real. The only good news is that we are getting the truth firsthand and have new means to lend our voices and emotional support in a way our species has ever been able to do before.
In fact, recently, I’ve wondered how many more Jews might have been spared in Germany, how many solders might have come home from Viet Nam, how many starving African children might be alive today, had social media been there to capture the truth and shine light into secret dark places? While the internet can be a misleading, snarky, cesspool in the wrong hands, it’s power to assemble those with common interests into powerful masses has proven staggering.
Still, for people like my sister, already compelled to help, these most-vivid images and stories unfolding in real time, are even more heartbreaking. Especially when conflict happens to people who are more like us than not. Seeing real timelines of people who lived in a beautiful cosmopolitan city, wearing our clothing brands, enjoyed the technology we take for granted, makes it even harder to watch.
As so many of you have shared with me, like my sister, these videos and cries for help make it frustratingly impossible not to get completely swept up in their suffering as well.
Believe me, I get it! A few decades ago you could count me as one who ran towards strife and conflict as well. In fact, in 1999, I created a major platform to build self-esteem through better understanding of the power of personal creativity. The goal was to get folks to live more authentically, intentionally, and more self-sustaining using the home as ground zero for better managing “fear”. It worked. My heart was in the right place, I had youth on my side, and we did changes lives. However, it damn near killed me.
The saying goes, “God does not give us anything we can’t handle.” Trust me it’s true. What I didn’t realize is that you actually have to have a far more intimate daily relationship with God to even hear Him – one that goes way past the once a week, spoon-fed church pew experience.
Yes, absolutely. As with anything sustaining there must be a solid component of balance to it. But what I didn’t fully grasp at the time was that to know that balance requires dipping more than just one’s toe far deeper into the waters of faith. Only when we’re sure of our own armor of faith can we even begin to fight the wars for others.
This is not to say, what my sister thought that I was implying, that we do nothing or that we turn a blind eye in the meantime.
Ironically, my sister, head of our Viewer Communications department (who talked to many of you all during those TV years) was in those very same trenches with me and worried about me like I suppose I worry about her now. And she had reason to.
You see, I too have a huge and fragile heart. I also have the gift of “Jazz hands” and was a seasoned performer well before I came to television. That’s a nice way of saying I had a leader’s ego personality. Once given the global platform, I became Joan of Arc…fighting for every single injustice brought to my attention. I battled anyone who tried to exploit the pure message of “personal creativity” which I felt practically “ordained” to deliver.
Back then, ironically, it was she who tried to remind me that one can’t save the world. She was the one who tried to tell me to let go of the things I could not control.
It was only after I decided that it was time to leave television and had enough separation to finally decompress, retrace my own belief system and begin a new narrative, did I finally see what God was trying to tell me.
I know now that I can’t “fix” one’s nature. I cannot change hearts and I cannot save anyone, much less myself. That’s God’s job. But boy, in the midst of those heady TV years, I sure did try.
You see, all God had ever asked of me was not to save the world, but just to step out across a few thousand stages and in front of ever-present cameras and millions of folks and JUST SHOW JOY! I didn’t fully understand then what “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” meant nor why he asked it of the those who were clearly oppressed?
Bottom line was that I was there to deliver HIS simple message, not my personal diatribe.
All He’d asked was that I convince others that they had a voice no matter how small. That they too possessed the very same transformative power of personal creativity that I was showing them. That they might not be able to change the world, but that they could in fact change the dynamic quality of their own lives, under their own roofs. “That’s it.” God kept saying, “That’s important enough, so please, just stay in your lane and let me take it from there!”
Of course, I get it now. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it? I had stepped out in faith with God at my side too many times, then said to HIM, “Great, thanks so much, I’ll take it from here.” In essence, I was not stepping out in faith at all. Faith is about unwavering trust. Somehow, I didn’t trust that God could deal with these parasitical capitalists and shallow showbiz folks better than I could? So embarrassing! Geez! I still have night-cringes when I think how self-righteously, arrogant I was. And trust me honey, there’s been way too much self-righteous insanity hurdled at us in the name of “God” already.
So, as I read your letters and my sister’s sanely and well-founded outrage spewed into our own morning emails, all I could sense was her blood pressure escalating, on top of the already stressful events happening in her life. I felt her pain and suffering to the core and felt that no matter what I might say, my words could be misinterpreted to suggest that I didn’t care what was happening in the world. But in truth I do. Very much so. So much so that I have prayed continually, “What can I do Lord? What is my role in all this? How can I best serve you now?”
I shared this with my sister who over the past month has had a blow-by-blow accounting of my new life-reinvention (as shared in my last blog to you alll) and my own struggles to find new meaning, new value, and new clarity in a whole new darkening world at this late chapter of my new life.
Lo and behold it was through her, that God answered my own prayer.
“…I sure do understand, as we have spoken before; that the preparation time for a new path in our lives is always exciting. Re-organizing, purging, getting all things ready, making things new again......and then, oh yeah, we actually have to do the hardest part (the work itself). I totally get that. It's like going to Office Depot and having the fun of getting and setting up office supplies. Fun, fun, fun!
And then, “oh yeah, I gotta actually do something with them! But you will start.” She continued. “I have no doubt. And as you also said, we can only spread love and light at this point in our tired and dark world. And don't forget, one way is to spread beauty, and that is what you do with your beautiful designs and color and your way of creating harmony without high-end expense. That is your gift to others - truly! So, between that and your ever-encouraging words, you are indeed spreading desperately needed light into the world. Keep gently encouraging people to do the right thing, dear brother. Remind them to love each other, yet still find the sunsets and blooming daffodils, and above all, the courage to keep going.
As for me…I guess I will always want to suffer to some degree, with those who are truly suffering. I will never turn a blind eye to it. But certainly I will continue to strive for balance. It is what I seek as I straddle both sides of the coin. Balance…hopefully.”
I know! Gulp! Right?
What you may now suspect is that even dashing off her morning letter to me, as she’s half out the door to a hugely stressful medical clinic job, her words, without even trying, touch. (She wasn’t head of my global communications operation just because she was my sister, you know!)
I have urged her to continue to write her own blog, which I know full well is time consuming and can often make one feel intimately vulnerable, especially when one questions the value of their own voice. But I guess perhaps what I’m trying to say is less time suffering with others and more time giving them your gift of words, might be the comfortingly inspirational balance?
I don't know how much of a voice I really have truthfully. I read Maria Shriver's newsletter each week and admire her so very much for her voice and words. I pale very much in comparison…But who knows. If I ever have the time, I hope I can nurture that more.
I responded back this morning:
It is written that Only God can shoulder the sins of man.
—And if we are where I think we are, trust me…they will get visibly worse and more abhorrent before they get better. So, we have to be strong in absolute faith.
…I don’t think there’s any question that if you and I were actually “there” and it was part of our spiritual journey, we’d be right in the thick of it --- in harm’s way, doing the very best we can for everyone around us …without giving it another thought.
But that’s not where God has put us now that we’re in our 60s. At least not…yet.
Acknowledging, praying, shedding a tear and then turning it over to God is what He asks. Only he knows the destiny of every soul on earth. And if we listen closely, we will discover that we’re all called upon when we are needed, according to the gifts He has given us. And I believe one of those gifts is our voices and our ability to connect. As you have just written to me, I return those exact same words back to you!
“Keep gently encouraging people to do the right thing, love each other, still find the sunsets and blooming daffodils, and above all, the courage to keep going”
Those are your beautiful words dear sister, in a style and voice that’s uniquely yours. This is not about being an experienced journalist. Save that for Maria Shriver. You are not an essayist.You are not Jane Fonda the celeb activist. You are a learned and wise child of God who on many occasions, has taught His word so compellingly to others…
So, I say the same to all of you. Use your voice. Show your faith. Not by condemning, inciting more chaos, or spouting the obvious injustice which is amply getting plenty of coverage…
The only way to truly “find the balance” in a world where evil gets all the press, is to raise your own unique voice…joyfully and from the heart! If killing must happen let’s do it with kindness. Let’s clobber the enemy with love. Let’s remind each other of the blessings we do have.
During the war in Britain, while bombs fell, the wives wrote their servicemen husbands not about their conditions, outrage, politics, nor even worry, but about the little everyday nuances of life going on as usual.
“Marta got coffee with this week’s rations and Cory, come to find out, has a green thumb as the victory garden is exploding. I’m learning to put up so I can make that delicious relish you like. It will be waiting for you.”
So, we too have to give it “a stiff upper lip” and put as many messages of love into the world as we possible can. Even if it’s simply a list of the 5 things you feel grateful for today. Every loving voice of gratitude counts. Let’s swamp the internet with them!
Meanwhile, I will do what my sister and God says. I shall do what’s asked of me. Stay in my lane and continue to urge each and every one of you, to keep your doom-scrolling to a minimum and tell those you truly do love, just that. Send blessings of courage…then hand the rest over to God.
Keep yourself busy by making wherever you call home the most honest and creatively perfect sanctuary you can, one which keeps your heart open, safe and joy-accessible.
I just did a radical change to my own living and work environment. This time, rather than making it the chic, streamlined elegant showplace I thought I wanted, what my heart really craved was full blown unabashed sentimentality. But that’s another story for another blog.
Let go, Let God and let your little lights with the pretty lampshades illuminate the dark. Together they are the prayer candles in the window, lighting the way.
We can do it! We must!