What We Pay Attention To, an unfinished story


A few days ago 72 Catholics, as a part of the Catholic Action for Immigrant Children Campaign. were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. I am proud to call some of them friends. Two days before their action, over a thousand progressive Jewish activists and allies blocked the entrances of the ICE headquarters in D.C.; dozens of them were also arrested. If I knew them, I’d be proud to call them friends, too. Both of these actions are parts of larger campaigns to support our immigrant brothers and sisters.

Earlier in the week in Greenville, S.C, the same place where people attending a Trump rally chanted “Send her back,” a restaurant owner pledged to give 100% of the restaurant’s sales to the American Immigration Council.

Responding to that chant which was directed at her, Rep. Ilhan Omar quoted Maya Angelou:

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I rise.

Yesterday at the Big Four Bridge, my favorite place in my city of Louisville, KY, hundreds gathered in 90+ degree heat to “reclaim the space” after racist graffiti was sprayed on the bridge a few days before. They were responding to a Tweet by local poet, truth teller, and leader Hannah Drake.  

Weekly in cities and villages throughout Palestine, Palestinians, sometimes with Israelis and internationals, gather to speak out against the Israeli military occupation, speak to reclaim their space, reclaim, exclaim their dignity and right to be.

In Puerto Rico, in Hong Kong, in other places around the world, people are remembering their power and using it to speak out, to call for, to create change. Are we paying attention?

Empowering, creating change happens in public protests. It happens in quieter ways, too. It can happen as parents and grandparents listen and talk to their children and grandchildren about the world, relationships, ways we do and can relate to each other. It can happen as people choose to honor each other in the fullness and complexity of their divine humanness, not for what they produce, but simply because they are.

I’ve been reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy. Throughout the book, she offers this reminder: What we pay attention to grows.*

Knowing the stories above, the sense of courage and inspiration grows. I was going to say my sense. And then I remembered, I am a part of Creation, of All-That-Is. And if I am part of Creation and my sense of courage and inspiration grows, then the sense of courage and inspiration grows.

This evening on Facebook, a friend posed the question: If you could build anything, what would it be? There were many beautiful answers to this question from a large music school to cheap inexhaustible energy sources to a better world to a plan to fix our mental health care system to more affordable housing and on and on. Most of the answers fill me with hope and engage my imagination. We can only build these things if we can dream them first.

What we pay attention to grows.

I love this idea.

I believe it.

I don’t always know how to practice it well.

How do I or we bring to light devastating realities in a way that grows the healing and not the hurt?

Truth-telling is important. Empowering. And yet so often, in seeking to lift up the dignity-humanity-divinity of a person or group facing dehumanizing forces, we truth tell in a way that demonizes and dehumanizes the perpetrators of harm, thus perpetuating harm, though directed differently.

I get it. I’ve done it many times and since that way of thinking and speaking is all around me, I imagine I’ll do it again, even as I try to break the habit of shaming and blaming, a practice I turn both outward and inward.

My nonviolence and nonviolent communication training compels me then to ask this question:

How do I or we address these issues, these patterns of systemic harm in a way that honors the humanity of both perpetrator and victim, actor and receiver of harm?

Those actively doing harm, while perhaps not suffering in the way they are hurting others, are also suffering. They are not well, even if they are well-resourced.

Because when we are well, well at that deepest place within us,

well so that our divine-stardust-interconnected nature shines,

we don’t hurt other people. Not intentionally.

Or if we do,

in humility,

from that place of knowing that we can be both divine and imperfect all at once,

we find ways to try to make amends, to bring healing to the places of fracture.


When I lead Nonviolent Communication training, I often quote Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 
each other
doesn’t make any sense.

Where even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense, I know that I cannot be fully healed until we all are fully healed. Until we’re all in that field.

The healing field.

The healed field.

If I wish harm to someone who’s hurt me or my friends or family or someone I don’t even know, I also suffer. I’m not in the healed field. Because that someone is a part of the Interconnected. And I am part of the Interconnected.

What we pay attention to grows. I do not want to pay attention to and grow the harm in the Interconnected.

I want to lie down in that field.

I want to pay attention to the potential for healing, to the ways of imagination that know and acknowledge the harm, that reveal it, but don’t get stuck in it.  

Yesterday at a retreat for a board I’m on, someone reminded us several times that we can’t do everything, but we can do something.

When we do something, we get unstuck.

Tonight my something is to write, first for myself, to process input in an attempt to create comprehensible output.

Then I share this with you, because maybe you didn’t know the stories I started with, or maybe you don’t know the work of adrienne maree brown, or maybe you’d forgotten that even though you can’t do everything, you can do something.

You can do something that grows your vision of what you want the world to look like. Even one small thing makes a difference.

And then maybe when you remember you can do something, that one small thing, you’ll do it.

And maybe someone else will notice.

And maybe they’ll remember their power, too, and they’ll do something.

And maybe someone else will notice and do something

and someone else and do

and someone




*She also writes a zillion other beautiful, simple, challenging things. If you haven’t read her work, check it out!

Beautiful Mess

I met a new neighbor yesterday. I had met his fiancé a few days before and to both of them, I said apologetically, “I’m not so good about maintenance, sorry about my yard.”


He replied something like, “It’s fine. My mom loves your yard because there’s so much going on.” My yard is full of perennials that are thriving. It is also full of weeds that are thriving.  

My neighbor on the other side also often tells me how much she loves my yard.

A friend came over last week to help me weed and plant veggies. At one point I looked at an area dense with vegetation, none of which I planted, all of which I consider weeds, and lamented how overgrown it was. He said he’d rather see that- with all of its variety, than a yard of grass. He talked a bit about the value of diversity- how each plant…and bug…and every other creature both give and receive in ways that ultimately promote a healthier ecosystem. Looking again, I acknowledged that it was pretty. I noticed all sorts of shapes and sizes of plants and leaves, with so many nuanced hues of green.

This hasn’t stopped me from slowly but surely pulling those weeds and covering the ground with mulch, planting flowers, herbs, vegetables, because I like the tidy mulched look and the idea that by creating some order, I am contributing to the beauty in my yard.

I’ve also been creating more order in my home. This is an ongoing process that has been happening in fits and spurts over several years, as I finally get rid of papers, photos, memorabilia from grad school…college…high school…grade school. Going through those things has provided some fun walks down memory lane, and getting rid of them gives me more space, literally and figuratively, to live in the present.

I believe this process of external clearing in both house and yard is a reflection of the internal clearing happening. Slowly I’m clearing out the weeds of doubt that can clutter my mind, throwing out ideas that no longer fit me or serve the purpose they once did, making space for new ideas, new clarity, freedom.

Even as I clear and tidy up, I reflect on why having order is so important. Why am I apologizing for my beautiful messy uncontrolled yard, the one Mother Nature fills bountifully when I’m not tending it? Why do I apologize or try to hide my beautiful messy self?

More than once I’ve heard friends lament the state of their children’s rooms, saying something like, “I can’t even go in there. I have to close the door it’s so messy.”

When I hear such statements, having been one of those kids, I feel myself tense up. Depending on who has said it, I may respond, “You know, your child can be messy and still contribute in wonderful and significant ways. Being neat or messy is not an indication of your child’s worth or ability to do great things.”

At age 46, I am still in the process of accepting my beautiful messy self and remembering that my value is not contingent on the orderliness of my house, yard, or self. As with my yard, I too often see only the mess and fail to see the luscious blooms of beauty blossoming, or the seeds of truth, love, wisdom sprouting in me. I may not notice my roots anchoring me in a way that also helps others stay steady or find grounding. I may forget to fully acknowledge and celebrate the fruits of my labors, because I am too focused on the labor yet to come.

Those who know me best have seen the mess- the physical mess, the inconsistencies between values and action, the times I forget everything I teach, the times I strive to practice what I preach and still get it wrong- and still accept me and love me. Even knowing that, I try to hide those parts I consider unsightly.

And yet when I reflect on the people who are dear to me, it is the ones I’ve shared the mess with, who’ve shared theirs with me, who I feel closest to. We’ve seen each other in wholeness.

Broken wholeness.

Messy order.

Imperfect perfection.

We’ve seen the beauty in the “so much going on.”

We’ve allowed each other to see the chaotic process of transformation, sometimes chosen, sometimes imposed by circumstances over which we have no control, often a little bit of both.

I don’t disparage order. I appreciate the outcomes of clearing space and organizing in my house, my yard, myself.

I also honor and celebrate the potential and the as-it-is-now of the mess.

The beautiful mess.  

More Beautiful in Person

It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful. 

The lesson of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things.

-St. Francis of Assisi



A couple of weeks ago I created a heart painting that particularly spoke to a friend of mine. She saw the picture on Facebook and liked the image so much she decided to buy the original. She’s in Cincinnati; I’m in Louisville. We arranged for a friend of mine who’s frequently between the two cities to deliver it to her. When she received the heart, she texted me:

My heart is even more beautiful in person.

I was delighted that my art had touched her in that way. Her statement has also led me to deeper reflection:

Isn’t it true that all of our hearts, when we reveal them, are more beautiful in person?

I can hear the voices of protest already. “But what about this person…do you really think this person has a beautiful heart? Or what about that one? Surely you’re not saying that even that person has a beautiful heart?”

My answer is yes, this person…and even that person have beautiful hearts, but some hearts have gotten lost, are in hiding, are deep beneath layers of defensive protection…and so what we see is not actually their hearts, but all the muck and armor and whatever else is there to obscure what we see. I believe that we are all made in the image of God, Love, That Which is Whole.  I also believe that some people’s hearts have been distanced so long from the divine source that they’ve forgotten their true nature.

What is it that causes us to armor our hearts? Is it fear that if we reveal our ourselves vulnerably, we’ll be hurt…again? Is it fear that if we open ourselves and connect to the hearts of others- those who are suffering from the effects of poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other -isms and -phobias- that we’ll be so consumed by grief, guilt, helplessness, that we won’t be able to hold those connections in balance with the connections that bring us joy, acceptance, a sense of agency and purpose? Are we even aware of the armor?

What is it that causes us not only to shield our hearts, but to lash out defensively, assaulting anyone who might try to touch that place most sacred within us, assaulting even people who have nothing to do with us? Are we afraid of what can happen if we don’t act with ferocity? Are we aware that we are only passing on our own unhealed pain?

I can think of more than a few people in both my personal circles and in the public sphere who seem to be acting from these places of fear and anger. I can think of times when I have acted from those places. I imagine there will be more such times. When I am at my best (not acting from those places), I can both hold my own emotions and also generate curiosity about what the other has experienced that has caused them to be the way they are. in those times, I am able to practice open-heartedness. These practices are part of my compassionate communication journey.

When I know and trust my own heart’s beauty, born of divinity, I can embrace God in people where God’s presence is not so obvious. In those moments I remind myself that they are more than what I see. I hope that someday I will see the beauty of their hearts. I wish it for myself, I wish it for them, and I wish it for our world. Our world needs more hearts’ beauty revealed.

What I am learning, slowly, through practice, practice where I learn from messing up over and over again, is that if I approach people with trust in their heart’s beauty, if I embrace God in them, even when I can’t immediately see it, sometimes I may get an unexpected glimpse of their divine nature. Vulnerable. Open. More beautiful in person than I could have imagined.

In truth, this is why I love the work I am called to do. When I am commissioned to create a heart portrait, I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts in a visual image. When I offer Reiki to someone, I get to see the beauty of people’s energetic bodies. When I teach Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication), I get to see the beauty of people’s hearts through the language of both body and words.

The experience reminds me of Thomas Merton’s epiphany at the corner of 4th and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) in Louisville:

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.


You are beautiful.

Your heart is beautiful.

Your heart is more beautiful in person.

I want to see it. The world needs to see it.

And whether we can or we can’t see that beauty in the moment, let us embrace each other, knowing that God is in all things and all people.