An Invitation

You can create a life you love… right here, right now.

You’re going to work with the raw material of your life… exactly as it is.

Start with a willingness to practice creating moments of
Peace, Joy, Empowerment, And love… in each day.

What would that look like?
What is peace? Joy? Empowerment? Love?
How does one live those qualities?

Peace is a deep inner quiet we each have within us, that can be accessed anywhere, any
time, by briefly pausing, breathing deeply and allowing one’s self to be still.

Joy is the exuberant feeling that comes from being aware and awake to the small miracles
and wonder of life in each moment.

Empowerment is recognizing one’s ability to take action, and taking action.

Love is making a choice in this moment to support one’s divine potential or that of
another with kindness and compassion. Love is not an adjective, it is a verb.

You can create a life you love by bringing these qualities to the circumstances of your life
as they are now. All you need is a sincere “yes” to yourself… and a daybook…

A daybook can be on your phone, I-pad, computer. It can be a big beautiful journal or a
little notepad that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse. It can be a graphic journal
where you draw instead of write.

Each day just take a moment to record:

When today did I create a moment of peace?
When today did I create a moment of joy?
When today did I create a moment of empowerment?
When today did I create a moment of love?

As you begin doing this right here, right now… your life will change and you will begin
creating a life you love.

Posts made in December, 2014

Setbacks and Success

What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? . . . What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? –Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

The day after Christmas we took down the tree.  I was sorry to see the twinkling white lights and sentimental ornaments from decades of Christmases returned to their boxes and placed in the dark storage room so soon.  But we had forgotten to water the tree so we couldn’t wait.

My husband, Brian, had to work that evening, so after the final green needles had been sucked into the vacuum cleaner with one last hardy blast of that earthy evergreen aroma, I put on my sweater and went to a movie.

moonlight-walk-john-atkinson-grimshaw-After the movie, I went on a little walk and reflected on the past year. It was an honest look at my life: the satisfying fulfillment from goals that were met; the depressing details of dashed expectations with the ones that weren’t; and incredulity over unexpected events I could have never foreseen.

My year-end meditation led to some conversations with family members.  One person expressed deep regret, to the point of tears, over a mistake made with serious outcomes.  After validating their pain, we explored together what new choices in life the event had led to.  As the narrative expanded, a place was created for self-compassion and forgiveness, and insight of how the ‘mistake’ led to previously unimagined possibilities.

Post-Christmas may find us worn out, which can give way to disappointment over unfilled hopes we had for ourselves in the past year. Crucial to feeling empowered versus discouraged, requires asking ourselves important questions:  What did I learn about myself from this experience? Were my expectations realistic?  Are there parts of myself or reality that I choose not to see?

This kind of inquiry can lead to important self-discovery, insight, and even awakening.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my own inquiry I realized I have been over-focused on outcome and under-focused on process during the past year. As you may already know, last summer I was part of a journalist’s panel discussion in Salt Lake City, Utah, on the famous Gary Gilmore case I had covered as a young reporter.  (See July 28/14, Finding Peace with Life’s Contradictions, in the archives.)

The morning after the panel, I was approached in the hotel lobby by Nina Schiller, the wife of Larry Schiller, who had produced, The Executioner’s Song, the movie and book about the case.  Nina works for a major publishing house in New York City.

“You should write a book about this,” she said to me.  “I am!” I replied.  “Then we need to help you get an agent,” she said, clasping my arm and leading me to her car where Larry was waiting to go to the airport.   “Larry,” she said, “We need to help Tamera get an agent for her book. What about Ike?”  “Ike . . . .” Larry replied thoughtfully, “Yes, I could see Tamera and Ike working well together aren’t we having dinner with him in a few weeks?”

They quickly gave me instructions for writing a brief proposal to send to them and left with good wishes.  I stood in the road stunned by what had just happened.

writeAs soon as I got home I spent two solid days writing my little four-page proposal.  On the morning I was to send it to them I looked at it and realized I had some big problems with the direction I was going.  I called Larry and talked it over with him.  He gave me some important advice and steered me towards a rewrite.

And then…

I froze.

For weeks I couldn’t wring one word out to assist me in embracing one of the most important opportunities of my professional life!

Readers, I wish I could say it is finally written.  It is not.  I’m disappointed. But, what has happened, is that I have found my voice for the book.

I had one more conversation with Larry, who has been a mentor, and came to see I was immobilized because I was writing the wrong story! With an important shift of direction, a rough draft of chapter one, just fell right out my head and onto the page.  The one person who has done a first reading of it, another writing colleague, had tears in his eyes and gave me the nod that I am on the right track!

Then quite unexpectedly, an overview of the final chapter came to me one random day during the holidays. That’s all on paper too.

woman_flow_waterI can’t control whether an agent will like what I have to offer.  I can influence my ability to write regularly, even if it’s just a short time each day. I can trust outcome, even if it’s not the outcome I imagine.

I had paralyzed my own process by being over-focused on the outcome of the proposal.  When I entered the process of discovering what I really wanted to write about, the book began to write itself. The prospect of writing a proposal now feels more manageable.  Once that is completed, I will just write and trust what follows.

I now have hope for my New Year’s goals.  But it is hope based on the grounded work of showing up for process versus getting lost in fantasies and fears about outcome.

peaceful-woman-628x363As the last days of 2014 unfold, notice when you’re giving into ‘failure narratives’ because you didn’t make the progress you wanted to on last year’s goals. Instead, explore what you learned, different ways you could approach the goal this year, or if you need to re-evaluate your goals or timeline.

Forgive yourself and ask, “What can I do?”

Join me next week and I’ll share with you more on incorporating process and practice in goal-setting for 2015.

In the meantime, Happy New Year!  I hope you can celebrate life in its whole – honoring both setbacks and success.

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One Christmas Moment

“There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions.”  -Bill McKibben

christmas-winter-wonderland-3I love Christmas!  I know, some of you may be groaning right now, bent under the burden of being ‘the Christmas magician.’ That task largely settles on the shoulders of women, mothers.

Believe me, I know.  For 37 years I have been the director of Christmas in our household.  My first Christmas as a mother, I was actually finishing crafting one gift in the hospital after having given birth to Annie, our first child. It’s a telling statement on what I expected of myself, and what I had taken on.

And honestly, what I remember most is bringing our sweet, beautiful new daughter home on Christmas Eve, dressed in red, where she was welcomed with ‘oohs’ and ‘awes’ into my husband’s large and welcoming extended family. She played the role of the baby Jesus that night, in the family’s reading of The Christmas Story, complete with live child actors.

That was my Christmas moment that year.

What I have come to realize is that despite all the energy we may put into the pageantry that Christmas can 006934become, there is so much I don’t remember about so many Christmases.  But it seems that every year, there is at least one moment where time stands still and a magical experience unfolds, leaving an imprint that is never lost.

I’ll never forget that moment during Christmas, 1963.  It was the year my mother had died, 10 months earlier.  My father took on the role of ‘the Christmas Magician’ with such enthusiasm I have never forgotten the scene when I walked out into the living room rubbing my eyes, still sleepy.  He had been waiting for me to wake up and rang his Christmas bells heralding Christmas morning. He had been working three jobs to pay for hospital and burial expenses, plus to keep the two of us afloat.  And yet there before my wondering eyes were my first set of skis and boots, deep red ski pants and coat (with red velvet collar), and sheepskin lined boots to wear to and from the mountain!

4126411675_26266a6344_zAnd sitting next to it was a new Barbie and Ken with ski attire, and a little set of wicker furniture for them!  I had seen the Barbie sized wicker couch and chairs in Newberry’s when my Dad and I were shopping.  He was the type to notice.

What touched me so deeply, even though I was only nine, is that I knew the sacrifice his generous gift had meant.  More importantly, I knew that my dad had always wanted to ski and never had been able to thus far in life.

He took me to ski school every Saturday after that and watched!

One of the happy memories of my life is that a few years later, he too got skis and we skied together from then on.

What are some of your favorite Christmas moments?  Was it the year a puppy popped out of a box on 92e1f34cb2b487a4b2f6fd922c81af0fChristmas morning? Or the first year you got to help your Dad put the lights on the roof?  Was it a favorite teacher who saw a need you had and took you aside for a moment of understanding and wisdom?  Was it the look on a child’s face the year you helped a struggling family? Or was it the first time you were kissed under the mistletoe, or the first time you really appreciated Handel’s Messiah? Was it the year your family served Christmas dinner to the homeless at a soup kitchen or watching your favorite version of The Christmas Carol?

Christmas_CarolersSometimes our cultural consumerism approach to Christmas, referred to in Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli, robs us of the wonder of the season with its over-emphasis on buying. I have been guilty of being sucked into that machine. These authors offer us an invitation to focus on our values, creating a Christmas that responds to our most deeply held ideals and desires.

I love Christmas because my parents loved Christmas.  They both loved life and loved people.  Christmas was a time to share that love.  I remember my mother with a can of spray snow in her hands, showering the evergreen boughs that were part of the decorations she created.  I still have the brass bells strung on a long strip of leather that Daddy rang every Christmas as he used his deepest voice to say ‘ho, ho, ho!’  I remember both of them giving of themselves to others. My Dad’s Christmas sacrifice shaped my emerging personality deeply. That Christmas was less about the elaborate gifts and more about his willingness to sacrifice for others—and to find joy in it!

christmas-nativity-paintingI love Christmas because it catapults life into a time of wonder, beauty, remembering others, gathering with family and friends, honoring traditions, and reflecting on the values and sacrifices of the Christmas story, of a babe born in a manger, marked by a wondrous star burning brightly in the sky, which led both shepherds and kings to the scene of His humble birth.

As I write I am gazing at a beautiful statue of Mary, perhaps the most famous mother who has ever lived.  She is draped in a beautiful light blue robe with a gold brocade border, over a simple cream-colored dress. The countenance on her face is a reflection of reverence.  Her head is ever so slightly bowed and her hands are clasped in the manner of prayer.  The ends of bare toes protrude from her long dress.  It is a statue that invites deep contemplation.

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001I think of the miracles and wonder of the Christmas story as it is told in The Book of Luke in the New Testament, a story that reminds us, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

That’s a reminder I need every day of the year.  I still have presents to wrap and food to buy and cook, but just maybe, right now, I am having my Christmas moment for this year.

In the midst of all that might be weighing you down with the countdown to Christmas, it is my wish that unexpectedly a moment will arrive; one with calm, and wonder; a moment of reflection, love, and joy; a moment that reminds you why this all matters! And I invite you to go to Creating a Life You Love on Facebook and share your Christmas moment, whether from your past or present!

Happy Christmas!

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The Return of the Light

This coming Sunday, Dec 21, is the winter solstice.  Below is an article I wrote last year sharing my solstice story.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus

Dear Readers,
This coming Sunday, Dec. 21, is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.  It will also be the 36th birthday of our oldest daughter, Anne Elizabeth, and the 24th birthday of our youngest daughter, Mary Rose. (We have six daughters and no sons.)

The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol and sistere, which means ‘sun stands still’ because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the Sun’s path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. Though it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, from each day here on, there will be a few more minutes of light with the lengthening of each day.

IMG_2014Annie’s birth, and the year prior, was a time of light returning to my life.

Working as a newspaper reporter in Salt Lake City, Utah, I covered murderer, Gary Gilmore’s story and his subsequent execution, for which I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize at age 23.

Though I had professional success, spiritually, I was bankrupt.

Covering the Gilmore story put me in the company of other journalists that were much more sophisticated, calloused, and experienced, than I was.  At 22, I was swimming in waters too deep and dark for my youth and naiveté. Both the story and the people I spent time with exposed me to the shadow and darkness in life.

I carelessly abandoned once deeply held values, made choices I would later regret, and engaged in behavior that took me on a path far away from my true self.

Stressed Young WomanBy the time my work on the story was over (it had lasted over six months) I turned down an opportunity to get a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York, and returned to the mundane stories I had previously been covering.  I was deeply depressed, unfulfilled, and unsure of what to do with my life.

One day I received a phone call from my brother Rodney, 17 years, my elder, who lived with his wife, Jean, and their children in Vancouver, WA.  His invitation was simple: “Come home.” And his counsel was direct, “I want you to take a leave of absence from your job, come up here, and just take some time to sort things out.” He told me he felt inspired to make this generous offer. (My parents had both died during my youth and my oldest brother’s and his wife served as surrogate parents for me.)

Within a week, I was packed and heading north on I-5.

I am part of a religious family whose Christian faith goes back generations. I take care in my writing to respect the individual spiritual paths and beliefs of my readers. I am more private about my specific spiritual leanings. Today, I choose to be a bit more transparent.

Soon after I was home, Rod encouraged me to come back to church, to get involved in its program for young adults.  Reluctant and resistant, but wanting to respect my brother’s advice, I decided to open my heart to possibility.

scan0005The first activity I attended, I met my husband. (Of course, I didn’t know the importance Brian was going to have in my life that night.) And I felt more comfortable at the activity than I had imagined.  There was a diverse group of people who were friendly, funny, and willing to welcome me into their circle.

As I studied, pondered, and prayed, — and had a lot of fun, I found myself returning to the light and experiencing a spiritual reawakening. Meanwhile, Brian Allred became more and more interesting to me. His deep spirituality and commitment moved me. I was captured by his friendly nature. I loved his mind.  The deal was sealed by how well he danced!  In December I received a sweet little surprise, a Christmas card in the mail from him.  Shortly after that he called and invited me to a New Year’s Eve dance.

That last dark night of December, we couldn’t stop dancing or talking. By the time we parted company at 3 a.m., I knew I had found my spiritual partner.  He had the same experience and proposed three days later. We were married three months after that, and had our Annie nine months later.

mother-with-newborn1I was a reluctant prospective mother. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. But then I held my newborn baby, Annie in my arms, on Dec. 21, (the Solstice that year). Tears rolled down my cheeks as I gazed at her and something unexpected happened: I fell in love again.

I learned of the heart’s infinite capacity as each of our other five daughters arrived.  When it was Mary Roses’ time, the last, she arrived early – on Annie’s birthday and the solstice. Rose was born at home, close to the Christmas tree, with her other sisters present (at their request.)  Annie was the first to hold Rose.

The solstice has special significance in my life.

7793090_orig1It is a deeply reflective time for me.  During the winter solstice, the earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it ever gets. It is the longest night of the year.   As a metaphor for my own journey, it is interesting to me that the seasonal movement of the sun’s path comes to a stop on the solstice before it reverses direction, with each day having more light. So long ago, I too reversed direction.

The solstice can be seen as a time of new beginnings.  We all have times of walking through darkness and shadow.  We can find our way to the light again. We discover the path again that leads back to what is true and right for each of us.  We can integrate what is revealed and uncovered by our descent into darkness.

I feel a great celebratory significance of a season that marks a time when I had fully turned away from the dark path I was on, reclaimed my lost self, and returned to The Son.

VashonI celebrate the magnificent wonder and beauty of the earth and the marvels of the heavens. I rejoice at the great gift I was given to return to my truth and find my spiritual partner on this earth. Becoming a mother, not only to Annie and Rose, the bookends of our group, but also to Maria, Amanda, Sarah, and Suzette, is one of the great joys of my life.

To be able to write and to integrate all my past experience into one great whole gives great purpose and meaning to my experience.  This Sunday Dec. 21 will also be the second birthday of my “Creating a Life You Love” website.  Of course I deliberately chose this day.  It felt sacred to launch something so dear to my heart on that day, to begin another solstice journey.

Consider on this solstice, how you, dear reader, might welcome the return of the light into any shadows or darkness in your own life. Offer yourself the gift of your own curiosity and compassion as you explore. Be patient with a process that happens in small increments. Believe it is possible to change direction where needed. Discover your own solstice journey!
Love, Tamera

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Illuminating Beauty

“ I have come to believe that by attending to beauty
and enlarging our sense of beauty,
we are able to live with greater appreciation,
engagement, wonder, and reverence.”
–J. Ruth Gendler, Notes on the Need for Beauty

1399744_10152032128995746_798913405_oThanksgiving day my husband Brian and I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan to visit our daughter Sarah, her husband Grant, and their three children.  Grant is working on his doctorate in higher education at the University of Michigan. We arrived late for dinner, but didn’t mind—our priority was seeing our family, and Sarah had promised plenty of leftovers.

Wherever Sarah and Grant live, Sarah becomes a community organizer.  Soon after moving to Michigan, she made friends with other couples, started a book group, and started planning events and gatherings.  At Halloween she rounded up everyone in the neighborhood for a Halloween parade—she herself was wrapped head to toe in white gauze, going as a mummy.

While they lived in Palo Alto, while Grant was at Stanford, she became active in an organization that gathered unused fabric samples from upholstery houses in San Francisco and then recycled them to area fabric artists religious_winter_lgfor their work. She was one of those artists and created lovely book covers, purses, and quilts from the beautiful samples.  In the process, the earth was relieved of the added burden of many bolts of fabric being tossed into landfills. Instead, beautiful creations, fashioned from the excess, showed up in a fabric art exhibit and sale Sarah organized.

As we walked into their humble student dwelling on Thanksgiving, my eyes filled with tears.  Two long collapsible tables had been placed end to end in a crowded living room to accommodate ­­seven couples and their children. Dinner was over, but all of the adults were still sitting at the table—people from all over the world who were sacrificing a lot to get more education.  The plates had been cleared, their chairs were pushed back, and one by one they were sharing what they were thankful for.  Far from her hometown, Sarah had organized a tradition she grew up with.

For me, it was the most touching sight I had seen all week.  Here were all these hardworking young people during finals week, during a time of great hardship and sacrifice, pausing to appreciate all that was good in their lives.

NotesWhat I witnessed was beautiful.  I felt an immediate, reverent sense of engagement with, and appreciation for, these people.  These are not words one would necessarily associate with beauty.  But J. Ruth Gendler, an artist and writer, has expanded my vision of what beauty is and the great need for it in our lives.

During her youth, Gendler wanted to distance herself from what she considered our cultures emphasis on appearances.  “Equating beauty with something fancy and inaccessible didn’t make sense with my experience of the abundance of beauty,” she writes in her book,  “ I was fascinated with what happens when one brings a small piece of nature inside—a shell, a feather, an unidentified white flower—and how these intimate gestures change and charge a space.”

Looking up the definition of beauty has its surprises.  Besides being defined as “a property, quality, or state of being. . . which is attractive, pleasing, fine, or good looking; comeliness.”  It is also defined as “something that is particularly good or pleasing. . . . an excellent example of something.”

christmastreeI adore December, in part, because of the emphasis placed on creating beauty.  There has always been something fascinating to me about bringing such a live specimen of nature—a tree—into the house!  And then, further, to adorn it with tiny jewels of light and shiny, colorful ornaments.  From childhood until now, I have felt a sense of awe and wonder looking at a Christmas tree at night with all the lights out except the ones on the tree.

My parents loved Christmas and my mother loved beauty.  When I think of my childhood home it is with lovely memories of window boxes filled with pink and lavender petunias and rich, deep-green ivy calling attention to the window shutters.   I remember freshly pressed tablecloths topped with fresh flowers.  I can still see my mother standing in front of her bedroom mirror putting on dainty jeweled earrings.

Cool Images055Beauty takes many forms and can be inspiring enough to evoke tears; delightful enough to make us laugh; astonishing enough for a sense of awe.  Just yesterday as I walked outside at dawn, the sky was illuminated with layers of pearled pink and orange clouds as the sun rose in the east.  At the same time to the north a huge rainbow arched in front of a massive bank of grey clouds.

Beauty requires our attention and attention slows, deepens, and expands our lives. If offers us a pause in which our perceptions are heightened. We realize that even that which is taken for granted can be a miracle.

B1cNwSkIgAA5Iz3Anne Herbert, a writer who wrote the famous quote, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983, started a cultural movement for a time. The collaboration between kindness and beauty in the same sentence expanded our definition of both qualities.

As Gendler puts it, “Beauty breaks us open and connects us to the hearts of others, the soul of the world, deepens our connections with the places we live . . . and the people we love . . . “

Before we left Michigan we helped Sarah and her children Edwin, 6, Leland, 4, and Amelia, 18 months, decorate their Christmas tree.  It was a great reminder of how to regard the world with awe.  Excited squeals, laughter, and exuberance filled the room as their small hands lifted each ornament to a branch on the tree.  After the tree was adorned, they stayed in the living room, literally for hours, examining every shiny ornament; playing games; laying under the branches. Yes, the tree was a beauty, but even more beautiful was the children’s response. When you think about it, decorating a tree in a house is sort of a ‘senseless act of beauty’ and for the heart of a child, a great act of kindness.

Perhaps we can pause from the rushing of our December lives to notice and participate in creating beauty and kindness.

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Yielding to Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is not nebulous, unpractical and idealistic.
It is thoroughly realistic . . .
Ultimately you discover that without forgiveness,
there is no future.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Forgive-1Recently I wondered, what if I chose to yield to forgiveness versus clinging to a resentment I’d been dragging around?  A slew of holiday advertisements I’ had perused were strewn across the couch.  As much as I love to give Christmas presents, I felt hollow as I looked at the slick cadre of bargains. I yearned for something meaningful.

Perhaps a renewing energy could be breathed into the holidays by letting go?

I’d gone to bed grumpy the night before, nursing old injuries. The weight of it was deadening. I was tired of my clinging mind.

Ann Landers once said that hanging onto resentment is like letting someone you’re angry at live rent free in your head! And I’d been reading stories of forgiveness that truly seemed like a rebirth, a new lease on life.

Forgiving is not easy though.  Often we’re even unsure of how to forgive.

flat,550x550,075,fMy thoughts were not helping. To forgive we need to get out of our head and go into our body.  It is the habitual patterns of our brain that keep the injury alive.  As we exit thinking and enter feeling, our ruminations find release. Our grievances give way to grief.  As we find the courage to grieve our injuries, we can step back from taking our injurer’s inventory. Grieving gives way to grace.

Many years ago I was caught in a struggle to forgive a serious emotional injury caused by another person’s actions.  I went to my brother Cardell, 14 years my elder, for advice on how to let go. I told him how terrible this person’s actions were.  His response shocked me.  “That’s none of your business,” he said.

“What do you mean it’s none of my business—it happened to me!”

forgiveness-pic-300x246“Your business is what you are going to do with it,” he said.  He explained that I had no control over what the person had done.  I only had control over how I dealt with what had been done. I could not undo the actions of the other. Staying focused on those actions gave away my power. My job was to live the injury into irrelevance by not allowing it to hold my attention hostage. I needed to take my own inventory of the hurtful actions I had authored.

It took me a long time to do that.  Like many, I struggled finding a practical process to help me forgive.  The answer came in the book Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.  She outlines four stages of the forgiveness process:

Forgo – This means to ‘go past.’ Dr. Estes suggests taking “a break from thinking about the person or event for a while.” She points out that this gives us time to strengthen in other ways and is a practice for the final letting go.  This is a time for creative distraction—knitting, journaling, painting, cooking, etc.

Forbear – This is a stage that requires patience as we ‘bear with’ the injury. Dr. Estes invites us to abstain from punishing in small or large ways. This is a time to “refrain from punitive uttering . . .acting resentful and hostile.”  By doing this we build the character strength necessary for forgiveness.  Forbearing creates a container which protects us from the toxicity of our anger and desire for revenge.

forgive-811Forget – This is a time to ‘refuse to dwell,” Dr. Estes says.  We make efforts to loosen our brain’s hold on the memory.  This does not mean we make ourselves brain-dead.  “Conscious forgetting means letting go of the event, not insisting it stay in the foreground,” she writes.

Forgive – Forgiving does not mean giving up protection. “It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate,” Dr. Estes writes.  We have reached a point we don’t have much to say about it anymore.

“You are not waiting for anything. . .” Dr. Estes writes, “There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go.  It may not have turned out to be a happily-ever-after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once Upon a Time waiting for you from this day forward.”

Nick-Ut-Uncropped-Version-Napalm-Girl (1)Many of us who were alive during the Vietnam war will never forget the newspaper picture of a terrified nine-year-old girl running down the road naked and screaming. Kim Phuc was saying, “Nóng quá, nóng quá” (too hot, too hot) after being a victim of Napalm bombing by the South Vietnamese in an American led assault that was a mistake, bombing the wrong target.

After snapping the picture, Associated Press photographer Nick Ut took Kim Phuc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where it was determined that her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive. After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures, however, she was able to return home. Ut continued to visit her until he was evacuated during the fall of Saigon. 

Kim-and-her-childYears later Phuc went to college, married, and sought asylum in Canada, eventually gaining citizenship, and getting a perfect score on the citizenship exam. In 1997 she established the  Kim Phuc Foundation in the United States, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.

Perhaps her greatest victory was forgiving her injurers.  She said it took a very long time.  An unexpected experience presented itself to actually meet with John Plummer, the American who had ordered the attack on her village Trang Bang in 1972.

She was a Veteran’s Day speaker at The Vietnam war memorial in Washington D.C. in 1996.  Plummer, whose life had given way to alcohol, two divorces, nightmares, and guilt, heard she was coming and arranged to be there.  He told a reporter he had to say he was sorry.  An Associated Press story by Anne Gearan recounted their meeting.

When they met back stage, Kim saw him, took a few steps, and then stopped.  “I couldn’t move anymore,” she said, “I stop and I turn, and he looked at me.”

 

There in the shadow of the Vietnam War memorial, the soldier, then 49, and the child, then 33, embraced.

6a00d8341c562c53ef0163060722ab970d-600wi“She just opened her arms to me,” Plummer said.  “I fell into her arms sobbing.  All I could say is ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.’”

She patted his back and said, “It’s alright. I forgive. I forgive.”

In 2008 she told NPR, “Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days, but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?”

 

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