What's It All About?

It's all too easy for days to pass without reflection. It's my hope that through a greater active awareness on each day, that I will be able to consider God's presence in my life and in the world around me. Writing has always been a way for me to round up my thoughts. This blog seems like a good place to park those thoughts for my own benefit as well as the benefit of others. Please take a moment to read what I have written, to offer comments, and to share the ideas with others.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Good and Bad, Together at Last

Backyard at sunrise-photo by Libby Fife
Autumn is really my favorite time of year. The cool mornings make up for days that can still be hot. Rain can appear from nowhere and the next day will be sparkling and crisp. It's a time of transition to shorter days where the darkness begins to encroach on the light. Certain trees begin to change color and lose their leaves while their neighbor trees remain beautifully green and lush. There really is quite a lot to appreciate among the aspects of the season that seem so different from one another.

My husband and I were recently talking about the visit to the United States by Pope Francis. It was uncharacteristic of my husband to ask me this question but he wanted to know what I would say to the Pope if I was to meet him. It was easy to come up with something that I would like to know: why do both good and bad things happen? If all things come from God then how does tragedy befall the innocent while the wicked seem to escape unharmed? What kind of God sets that sort of stuff in motion? Or does he even do that? Why does he allow it to happen? Or is that even the case?

While I am not the first to ask this question, and I certainly won't be the last, I do have the beginnings of an answer. Or at least a word to describe the coexistence of two seemingly opposite conditions or events. The word is "paradox" and I recently ran across two examples of how the word can be used to describe God's given condition of both good and bad existing at the same time. Others write much better than I do and so I am providing two links to two separate articles. 

I enjoy the writing of both of these authors and so if you have time and have questions like I do, these essays are worth the read. The articles don't answer the question of why or even provide relief from the idea that bad things happen to good people, but they do provide a framework for understanding and accepting that both the good and the bad happen together. You can't have one without the other. And all good things got to come to an end (to quote Jackson Browne!) and that it can be OK.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Peace Like a River-It is Well With My Soul

Stanislaus River-Big Trees Park-photo by Libby Fife
Our county has experienced a tremendous firestorm. The Butte fire started September 9th and is still not totally contained. For about a week, I spent my time cycling back and forth between FB and several local news sites. FB was the worst because that is just some raw and uncensored reporting. Cal Fire's site was bad too because of the statistical (clinical) nature of that delivery. It was all bad. 

The one thing that I have learned both with this fire and with other traumatic events experienced over the last several years, is that everyone copes with stress and tragedy in their own way. One person's way might seem cold or calculating while another person's way might appear to be too emotional. Everyone has their own style and it is important for your own sanity to keep this in mind.

With that said, I hit my own personal limit late last week. I needed to get out and go somewhere else. I chose one of my favorite spots (and a place where there was no smoke), Big Trees State Park in Arnold. Though it was in the path of the fire, the area was unharmed. The fire never reached that far. And the smoke in the air was gone, prevailing wind direction aiding in that blessing. I hiked my favorite trail, looked in the visitors' center and drove on to the south area of the park. I love the Stanislaus river, the limited amount that I can see without some serious hiking. I parked my car and walked down a wooden staircase to take the above shot. As I stood looking at the river and listened to the various sounds, I realized just how much I needed this little bit of peace. I was filled with a sense of extreme gratitude that I was able to stand there at that moment and experience just a bit of God's gift. Just to be aware of it and to think about it. 

As I wrote above, everyone handles stress in their own way. And for those who haven't gotten relief yet, I hope it comes soon. I pray that it comes soon. 

In reference to the title, please see this link to a wonderful hymn, It is Well With My Soul. Please take a moment to read about its author, Horatio Spafford

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Yom Kippur: Are You Really Sorry?

Backyard view-early AM-photo by Libby Fife
My religious views and practices are a mash up of my own chosen religion, Judaism, and concepts and teachings pulled from other religions. To my mind, it's all part and parcel of one thing: worship of and reverence for God and the world that he has provided for us. It makes no difference to me where the ideas come from so long as I understand them, accept them and apply them. I have heard this way of believing called something like a "supermarket" style of belief; picking and choosing what you want from a shelf filled with available pieces from your own religion and perhaps too from other religions or ways of belief. This method involves a selectivity that implies something negative such as saying you are religious while not attending services regularly. The implication is that overall, you are practicing your religion wrong because you don't fully practice it on all levels. There is an element of hypocrisy which is of course an extremely pejorative term. Well, too bad is what I say! I am not sorry for how I do things.

And not being sorry of course leads me to the approaching day, the Day of Atonement known as Yom Kippur in the Jewish holiday cycle. This is the day to be sorry of all days throughout the year. It's an extremely serious and solemn time for Jews everywhere. The entire set of the two holidays, known as The Days of Awe, are a real mix of joy, discovery, thankfulness and sincere feelings. Rosh Hashanah begins the time of personal reflection, of reviewing where a person has gone wrong, and of trying to make sincere amends with the hope of getting things right in the coming year. By the time Yom Kippur rolls around, a person has to have made corrections and believe that things are on the right track. You have to mean it too and put your plan into action because by today, the day of Atonement, God is making a final verdict on your fate. And in fact, your fate will be sealed in God's book! You'd better have it together because this is serious!

With that in mind, as I mentioned above, I am not sorry for how I practice my beliefs. I am of course truly sorry when I fall short of thinking and doing, when I miss opportunities and when I don't fully engage with all of the gifts I have been given. When I wrong someone, I really try and fix that act. Being mindful to begin with, taking time to look around and appreciate, and trying to do for others in my own way are all things that I feel add to the equation. For those things, I will always try and improve each day in some small way. And I hope that is pleasing and acceptable to God because to me, it feels just fine.

Rather than face today with regrets or fear, I will focus on being sure and positive. If you have belief in the idea that you are getting it right most of the time, I think a person can feel OK. G'Mar Hatimah Tovah: May you be sealed for a good year. Simply put for everyone, may the upcoming year be a good and happy one!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Some Thoughts on Acceptance

View over back hillside-early AM-photo by Libby Fife
This past week has been one of slow acceptance. The firestorm that has been raging in our county is now down to a very low roar. From reading the news, it seems as if people have been slowly returning to their properties. Whether or not those properties are still standing seems to be a toss up. Some areas that were devastated by the fire stand right next to other areas that were spared. Some people lost everything and some people only lost an outbuilding or a car. It's incomprehensible what happened here.

There are more tangible things to grasp onto however. The smoke in the air has cleared and the smell is slowly dissipating. The weather is gradually cooling as we move towards Autumn. There is a noticeable crispness in the air. As I walked in our backyard this morning looking for photo opportunities, I reflected on the fact that much of life is about the acceptance of both the good and the bad coexisting. We had dinner with our family last night. They have two of their friends staying with them who are victims of the fire. They lost everything. Absolutely everything except the clothes in their suitcases and whatever they were wearing. It's beyond my ability to understand. And theirs too I imagine. Yet, there has to be acceptance. The worst has happened and what do you do? Rage against it? It's already come and gone. 

I find it somewhat helpful to recall something that I read years ago. Rabbi Harold Kushner, noted author and progressive conservative Jew, wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen To Good People. My take from the book is that bad things are not a judgement or an omen or retribution from God. They are just part of what's what in this lifetime; what constitutes the human condition. That's very hard to accept and yet, I do accept the explanation. I imagine that God is just as offended at awfulness and grieves just as much in the face of tragedy and human suffering as we all do. His presence and partnership is the comfort. 

And as I look at my beautiful backyard and cherish what I have right now, I know that my time will come too. I will have to accept the bad along with the good; the up and the down at the same time. It makes me want to hold on to things just a little bit tighter and with much greater awareness and acceptance.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Shanah Tovah! Keep Looking Up!

Sky Over My Home-Libby Fife
As I look towards the heavens on this holiday of Rosh Hashanah, all I can do is wonder. Questions with no immediate answers seem to fill my brain until my head hurts! I wonder if we will get any rain? Our state is suffering from a terrible drought and my county, along with other areas in California, is terribly affected by huge wildfires. I wonder about the way things work. It's overwhelming for me to consider that my husband and I woke up in our own home today, safe and sound, while others not far from us are not as lucky. I honestly don't know what to make of any of it or how to make sense out of something so awful.

Thinking of that little bit of blue poking through the sky however, I am reminded that renewal and hope and maybe even some answers are possible. Understanding? Maybe. Forgiveness? Perhaps. Clarity in the face of things that are beyond my grasp? I am not sure. Does life continue to go on whether you like it or not? Yes, it does. 

And so as I take the time to reflect on this holiday and to consider where I have gone wrong this last year and how I can fix things and about the state of things right now, I wonder about what really matters. What can I grasp on to that will help? I hope that if I keep looking upward and all around me that the answers will come to me eventually. After all, the New Year has started. Shanah Tovah to all reading. Happy New Year and may it be a blessed one for all of us.

Friday, September 11, 2015


Image of smoke from Butte fire-
burning about 25-30 miles east and north of our home in Calaveras County
fire affecting two counties-Amador and Calaveras
Is God's presence only present in positive events? 

This was the question that I asked myself yesterday as I went about the business of my day. To begin with there is a terrible fire burning in our area. It's about 30+ miles away from where my husband and I live but the effects can be felt over two counties. The smoke is very thick as the above image shot over the hillside shows. That was last night and this morning the smoke is even worse. It's difficult to function normally during this time; yesterday I was incredibly distracted by the thought of the fire, imagining what was happening to people affected by the disaster and wondering if we ourselves are in danger. It was difficult to leave the house but in the end, I did it. Rational thought has to prevail or else you are just living in fear.

My drive took me down to Madera, a smallish farming community about 2 hours away in the San Joaquin Valley. I don't think I have ever really been down there; I know I have never looked around that area, always believing it to just be an agricultural space. The freeway winds through some very flat land. There are no distant hills visible and no real markers on the land itself. What there is, in abundance, is space and buildings. Many, many ugly buildings. I say ugly because all of the structures that I saw were industrial, old, gray and just unattractive. They all seemed related to the farming industry which is not surprising given the fact that our central valley is one of the largest producers of agricultural products in the world.

taken from the EPA website:
California is the nation’s most productive agricultural state, and is home to a $35 billion agricultural industry. Of the ten most productive agricultural counties in the United States, nine are in California, and the San Joaquin Valley is the single richest agricultural region in the world. California produces more than 400 commodities. It is the nation’s sole producer of a dozen crops, including almonds, artichokes, olives, raisins, and walnuts, and is the leading producer of five dozen more. The state employs 27 percent of the nation's farm workers, and produces nearly half domestically grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Almost 22 percent of the nation’s milk and cream is produced in California, and the state is by far the nation’s largest producer of dairy products. 

I include the above information because I find it to be staggering. The statistics support why the land and its features look the way that they do. It looks as if the land has been used up; that it is blighted in some way. Not devastated or desolate but exhausted. And people live in this area. They have to. They work here, raise their families, and likely love the land and proudly call it their home. And even though I had some strong reactions to what I saw yesterday, I don't believe that it is my place to pass judgment. It's not for me to say what the place looks like or how I feel about the consequences of our collective decisions. My experiences yesterday were overwhelming to me however and caused me to question the nature of God's presence. Was he only visible in positive things? Could I find evidence in a day that I felt was filled with negativity?

The answer is yes. This morning things look better. Careful consideration and reflection can turn things around even though the same conditions still exist. The fire is still burning, agricultural business still goes on, and people continue to go about their business. Finding God's presence can be very difficult for me when I focus on things that are external and negative. It hit me this morning that yesterday I was looking in the wrong places. All I was seeing was the external and the negative. I needed to look internally, to past experiences that were positive and good, in order to sense God's presence. If you wait for something beautiful or positive to come along then you may be waiting a long time. And while beautiful and positive things can help, isn't it better to have some alternatives when those things aren't readily available? Something portable that can be carried with you from place to place, no matter what that place looks like or what is happening? Maybe that internal feeling of faith in God's presence is the answer.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Making Time For Time

View From Backyard Rd
For me, it doesn't get much better than this shot above. Sure, that's dried grass there and there is no water in sight. Things look a little parched I guess. What is not visible though is the absolutely gorgeous weather that we are experiencing now. The temperatures are in the low to mid 80's and the breeze is very refreshing. even standing directly in the sun is tolerable; it feels very, very far away  this time of year. Blessed relief and time to enjoy all of it. 

After lunch today, I went out to the patio to have a snoozle on my new cot. I bought the cot as a treat about a month ago and have only been able to use it a few times so far because of the weather. Now that things have cooled down even a little bit, being outside feels just fine. When I was done with my nap I got up to pet Cassie (the cat) and then went to get my camera. I walked out to the very back of our yard to snap the above photo. I looked around at all of the acorns on the ground, burnt to smithereens by the sun, and had a look at the chaparral type bushes that comprise the "wilderness" of our back hillside. My husband says our neighbor has chickens so I looked for a coop but didn't see one. I gazed off at the highway and wondered where everyone was coming from or going to. In short, I just sort of did nothing. I was just kind of "there" for lack of a better term. 

As I walked back inside I reflected that I was "making time for time". Every day of the week I feel I need to be doing something. Some particular activity that has a name and a purpose. Well, what about just spending time doing not much of anything? Or was I really doing something? What's wrong with just "being"? Appreciating what is around you and the gift of time that you have been mysteriously given? I think it counts as something. Definitely worth the time.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Change of Season: A Non Engineered Approach To Joy

Lake Hogan-Wrinkle Cove Trail
2015 September-photos by Libby Fife

It has occurred to me lately that much of my life involves trying to make something happen. Whether it is trying to get someone to return an email or trying to get my middle aged cat to eat or trying to sell my art, there is certainly a lot of "engineering" going on in my life. Think about it. There is the constant necessity to make meals appear on the table, make the laundry be clean and ready, make time to read or to have a walk, or anything else you can think of. It is all effort and all in the aid of getting some kind of a result. And these are all positive things that I have to do. They are tasks or chores or events that will bring about something good (or maybe bad, who knows?) and are part of what makes a life, a life. But, it is tiring. 

As I reflected on that, the fact that it can be exhausting trying to produce some kind of result, I realized that balancing this out would be helpful. As I looked around while on my walk at the lake (pictures above), I thought about the mental process of balancing and realized how grateful I am for the passing of the seasons. I don't actually have to do a darn thing to make that happen. I just have to enjoy it. And as we approach Rosh Hashanah, I can reflect on the ease of effort and pure enjoyment of a gift that is not engineered or asked for, and be truly grateful for a gift freely given.