The Hidden Message

Last week a massive snowfall in Buffalo blanketed upstate New York with more than eighty-six inches of snow in several storms. It will likely go down as the most extreme Lake Erie storm on record. The blizzard also reminds us of one of the greatest miracles in nature. In the midst of all the snow, the likelihood that any two of those snowflakes are alike is virtually zero.

Snowflakes form when water vapor condenses around a speck of dust high in the clouds. The shape of a snowflake when it lands on your face is determined by air temperature, how the water vapor condenses and where it falls. When the temperature is between 27 and 32 degrees, snow crystals take the shape of six-sided plates. As the temperature declines, needles form, then hollow columns and fern-like stars.

Did you know that certain types of water can also display beautiful crystals when frozen? Internationally renowned scientist Masaru Emoto discovered that water from natural sources produces a variety of hexagonal crystals. According to Emoto, who died on October 7 at the age of seventy-one, these crystals represent the balance, symmetry and life force of Mother Nature. Conversely, the absence of crystals in most tap water indicates that the life forces in that area have been compromised energetically.

Emoto also discovered that water exposed to classical music can result in well-formed crystals with distinct characteristics matching those of the music. The beauty of music actually changes water into a more beautiful structure. On the other hand, music that is angry and full of objectionable lyrics, such as heavy metal, results in malformed and fragmented crystals.

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But Emoto went even further. When he wrapped a piece of paper with a positive word written on it around a bottle of water and then froze it, gorgeous crystals also appeared. Nothing happened with negative words, however. The Hidden Messages of Water, Emoto’s New York Times 2004 best-selling book, contains pictures of incredible crystals of water from all over the world.

Consider this: 99% of a human fetus is water. Our bodies are 90% water when we are born, 70% water when we reach adulthood, and 50% water when we die. Since we exist mostly as water, it makes sense that to stay healthy we need to purify the water that flows through our body. Water is truly a life force, transporting energy throughout our body, with a mysterious ability to cleanse and give life. Is it any wonder, then, that we humans are often drawn to water? Is it any wonder that baptism by water, a sacrament of the Christian church, is one of the fullest expressions of God’s grace?

In Emoto’s experiments the most beautiful crystals were formed when he taped the words “love” and “gratitude” around a bottle of water. Furthermore, he discovered that the vibration or energy given off by the gratitude crystal is more powerful and has a greater influence than the love crystal. That’s because gratitude comes first.

It’s interesting that gratitude and grace derive from related root words, gratus and gratia. Gratitude results from having been given something (i.e. grace) and from knowing that we have enough. Consequently, love, the giving of oneself to others, results because we first have gratitude.

The hidden message of water is love and gratitude. Emoto’s thesis is that if water responds to classical music and positive words, then human beings, composed of mostly water, will also become our best selves when we are treated with love and gratitude and when we express love and gratitude to others.

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Thank You Crystal

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. It’s one of my favorite holidays because gratitude lies at the heart of human existence. When we drink in the water of gratitude, the beautiful crystals formed in our spirit enable us to send positive energy into our world. When we say positive things to others, energy flows outward to heal our environment and purify our water. But that energy also helps us and others fulfill our dreams.

Emoto writes, “So how can we go about finding our path in life? I have constantly stressed the importance of love and gratitude. Gratitude is the creator of a heart filled with love. Love leads the feelings of gratitude in the right direction. As the water crystals show us, gratitude and love can spread throughout the world. We all have an important mission: to make water clean again, and to create a world that is easy and healthy to live in. In order to accomplish our mission, we must first make sure that our hearts are clear and unpolluted.” (The Hidden Messages in Water)

The hidden message? Gratitude, love, thank you. This Thursday, as you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, I invite you to take a long drink of water before you dig into your food. Listen to some beautiful music. Share positive words with one another. Fill your home with love and gratitude. Write a few thank you notes this weekend. Pay attention to the unseen energy all around you. Become a crystal of beauty to someone else. Change the world.

Blessings,
Laurie

P.S. I will be on vacation this week, so the next blog will be on Monday, December 8.

Saved from the Gypsies

My mother-in-law will celebrate her 95th birthday tomorrow. Alma Geraldine (“Gerry”) White was born on November 18, 1919 in Logan, New Mexico. Gerry’s mother Lela was born in the Native American territory of Oklahoma in 1896 and as a five-year-old child traveled by covered wagon to New Mexico along with their cattle and horses. Lela may have been the only redhead in the entire territory and was a novelty to the Native Americans.

Gerry herself also traveled by wagon train to northern New Mexico when she was three months old, and her father got a job with the railroad hauling ore. New Mexico was a rough and tumble place in the early twentieth century.

One of Gerry’s favorite stories was about the time when her older sister Helen wanted a puppy. Helen was so fixated on getting a puppy that when a group of gypsies passed through with horses and wagons, Helen traded her younger sister for their puppy! When Gerry’s father Guy arrived home, he said, “Where’s Alma?” Helen said, “I traded her to the gypsies for a puppy.” Guy rode off, gun in hand, to rescue Alma (Gerry) from the gypsies. He got Alma, but they didn’t get their puppy back.

Since Lela was a staunch Baptist, Gerry, too, grew up as a Baptist. Because there were no schools in Chama, sister Helen was sent to the Loreto Academy, a Catholic boarding school in Santa Fe known for its miraculous staircase. Because of the harsh treatment that Helen received at the hands of the nuns, little Gerry was sent to help Helen. The first time Gerry saw Helen being punished by the nuns, she lit into the nuns like a banshee. Her discipline? Gerry had to sleep with the nuns at night. Gerry was never afraid to call it like it was.

Gerry’s parents eventually moved to Santa Fe where she graduated from public high school in 1936 at age sixteen. There was no thought of higher education because there were no colleges in the Santa Fe area. Besides, Gerry was too young to be accepted into college, and her parents didn’t have enough money for college.

Gerry was always very good at math, so she got a job keeping books at a department store. Then she moved on to the accounting department of a wholesale grocer. Every time Gerry had an opportunity she took the civil service examination and eventually landed a job at the state capitol of Albuquerque in the accounting department.

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One time an insurance man came in to speak to her boss and said, “You can’t imagine the number of girls who are quitting jobs and going into the Army.” Gerry thought that was a ridiculous idea, but the next thing she knew, she was down at the recruiting office herself! Gerry passed the IQ test with flying colors, but the physical part was a different story. Gerry had asthma and was always rather sickly as child. Nevertheless, Gerry was recommended for Officer Candidate School.

Somewhere around this time Gerry married. She was still a teenager, and her husband was sent off with the entire New Mexico National Guard to Bataan in the Philippines. These were all boys that she knew from high school. Every single soldier but one died, including her husband. Gerry said that the one young man who did survive was never right in his mind.

Gerry was more determined than ever to enlist, for she believed that our country was fighting for its life. There was a reason she was saved from the gypsies. Gerry went to Officer Candidate School in Des Moines, Iowa and was one of the first five thousand women in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). The WAAC was first established in 1942 and was converted to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943.

The WACs were the first women to serve in the ranks of the U.S. Army outside of nurses. They were not universally accepted at first, but it soon became clear that fighting a war on two fronts would demand resources in industry and the military beyond those that only men could bring.

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Although basic training was difficult for Gerry because of her health issues, she did very well in the mental tests. Gerry was chosen as one of one hundred and fifty young women sent to Washington D.C. for what turned out to be a three month secret mission in the winter of 1943. Gerry said, “We were picked for our mechanical and analytical ability. The plans were that the Army would train women to take over the anti-aircraft artillery in Washington D.C. and eventually the entire east coast.

“So this was an experiment. We were assigned to an old CCC camp at the Arboretum in Washington, and those old barracks were terrible. They were just boards and cold as the dickens. It was January. We actually lived and worked in underground bunkers, kind of like caves, where they had three bunks and an old coal stove to keep us warm. We built fires in the coal stove, and the person in the middle bunk was nice and warm. However, the person on the top burned and the person on the bottom froze. It was miserable living, believe me.

“We had to hide our tracks leading up to the bunkers. Also, all of the women had to use APO addresses and they were not allowed to call home for the entire time they were there. The mission was to protect Washington D.C. against any enemy that might make it over the Atlantic Ocean. We used huge search lights at night to follow planes. Women were not supposed to have the use of guns, but we had huge 90 mm guns. We knew how to take apart and put together these giant search lights. We were the first cadre to take over antiaircraft artillery for all of Washington and the entire eastern seaboard.

“After we learned all this stuff, President Roosevelt decided that none of our enemies had planes that could bomb our east coast, so they disbanded us. Well, we were absolutely sick because we were so full of anticipation. We really wanted to do it.” Gerry was then one of ten young women from the group to be sent to the Air Service Command in Spokane, Washington. This is where she met her future husband, Paul Haller, who was in the Air Force. From there she was moved to officer Candidate School at Boeing Field in Seattle where she set up a budget and fiscal office and watched B-29’s being made.

After getting married, Gerry and Paul were both assigned to Dayton Ohio, which was unusual because couples did not often get to stay together. They were both discharged in 1946, each having served four years. They eventually settled in Michigan, where Paul’s parents lived.

Gerry and Paul had three children, and Gerry went on to become a successful CPA. Not wanting to lose a piece of her heritage, she and Paul raised horses on two hundred acres of land outside Hastings. Gerry also became a very active United Methodist, moving beyond her Baptist heritage to adopt her husband’s religion of the warmed heart and free will. In the mid 1970’s they moved to Florida where Gerry switched careers and became a real estate broker and agent.

I first met Gerry in 1978 and marveled at her determination, drive and grit. I always wondered what Gerry could have done and who she would have become if she had lived fifty years later than she did. Even so, she held down a full-time job, raised three children, and managed a gentleman’s farm. Saved from the gypsies, Gerry blessed all who knew her.

No one ever imagined that Gerry would outlast her three sisters, two of whom were younger. After a difficult childhood with asthma and a time when she spent months in bed, Gerry persisted and became accomplished in a world that wasn’t quite ready for successful women. It was probably that feisty New Mexico spirit.

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Just this past winter, Gary and I took Gerry to see a movie, August: Osage County.
After the movie was over, Gerry leaned over to me, and said, “This was the scariest movie I’ve ever seen since King Kong.” (King Kong was released in 1933!) “What the heck was this movie all about?”

“Maybe you didn’t get it because you had a margarita for dinner.”

“Well, I recognized Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.”

Then, on the way back to her assisted living room, Gary said, “I like your hair, Mom.” He knew she had gotten her hair done that day. “You mean my wig?” she said. Gerry was referring to Meryl Streep, who wore a black wig in the movie when she was in public.
“How do you like my wig? I’m wearing one, too,” I said. My hair looked somewhat like Streep’s wig.

Gerry did a double take and smiled. Then she led us with her walker back to her room.
I dreamed that night of a young Gerry Haller, saved from the gypsies to …

Give the nuns fits;
Push her frail body to its limits in basic training;
Woman-handle those huge searchlights;
Keep Army financial records in tip-top shape;
Ride horses, free as a bird;
Move from faithful Baptist to faithful United Methodist;
Talk proudly of two grandsons in the Army and Navy;
Serve as one of the very first WACS in the U.S. Army;
Do our income taxes online until age 93.

Happy birthday Gerry! Thank you for your service. I want to be like you. I love you.

Blessings,
Laurie

The Assumption Trap

  • Our church was really excited about the Vital Church Initiative, but no one ever said we’d have to change the way we’ve always done worship.
  • I can’t understand why our pastor’s husband won’t join the men’s study group. Isn’t that his job?
  • Our new pastor didn’t say hi to me at coffee hour after worship. I don’t know why he doesn’t like me.
  • She shouldn’t be on the Finance Committee. She’s too new to the church and doesn’t understand how money works around here.
  • They promised us that the conference would never close our church, but no one will give us help to pay our bills.
  • I’m not going to vote for the new addition to the building. We can’t possibly raise the money in this economy.

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Assumption: a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.

It’s human nature to make assumptions. Assumptions are a part of our belief system and help interpret the world around us. Because we learned these beliefs previously, we take them for granted and do not question them. From our assumptions, we then make inferences about others in order to make sense of our surroundings.

If we live in a dangerous area of the inner city, we lock our doors because we assume that anyone ringing our doorbell has evil intentions. If we come from the country, we assume that everyone who lives in the suburban communities of a major city has great wealth and is snobbish. Because of the values our parents taught us, we assume that everyone who is overweight lacks self-control, everyone who is gay has chosen this “lifestyle,” and everyone who struggles with substance abuse issues is morally weak.

Each one of us makes judgments and comes to conclusions about others based on what we have been taught and have experienced. Consider the assumptions that people made about Jesus and the inferences that they drew. Jesus ate with sinners. Therefore, he must be a sinner himself. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Therefore, he broke the Jewish law. Unlike John the Baptist, who fasted, Jesus came eating and drinking. Therefore, he is a glutton and a drunkard. Jesus cured a man who was blind and mute. Therefore, he has a demon. The inference: Jesus was dangerous and a threat.

The belief systems of many of the Jewish religious leaders were so deeply ingrained that they could not conceive of Jesus as anything other than a rebel and a heretic. Those assumptions about Jesus so threatened the status quo that they eventually led to his death as the so-called King of the Jews.

Why do we make assumptions, anyway?

  • We make assumptions when we don’t have all the information that we need to make a decision or judgment. Rather than ask questions, seek correct facts and clarify intentions, we default to our own belief system.
  • We hear what we want to hear. At times the truth may be so painful that we shut ourselves off from the reality of a situation and choose to stay within our comfort zone.
  • We forget or have never learned one of the hallmarks of healthy conversation, “Do not assume malicious intent.” Rather than acknowledge that people bring different viewpoints to a particular situation and may see the data in another way, we decide that it is others who are at fault or are out to get us.

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A mark of healthy self-awareness is realizing that the inferences we make are greatly influenced by our assumptions about people and situations. In 1997 Don Miguel Ruiz published a best-selling book called The Four Agreements; A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. These four principles are designed to help us live whole, happy and productive lives.

1. Be Impeccable with your Word
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
4. Always Do Your Best

Ruiz puts the onus on us to avoid making assumptions by asking questions and seeking the information we need to make wise decisions. He writes, “If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don’t tell us something, we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don’t understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.”

Open and honest communication, which can mitigate the drama that plays out because of assumptions, is at the heart of all healthy organizations, including the church. I wonder how the vitality and sustainability of our local churches might be enhanced if we all had a professional communications staff person. Clearly, that will never be the case, yet there are ways in which clergy and laity can work together to enhance effective, clear communication.

What can clergy and church leaders do to avoid the assumption trap? Lay people who don’t know what’s going on will invariably make assumptions about what is going on. They will also share those assumptions with others as if they are true. Hence, gossip and the rumor mill. That’s why it’s critical to be out in front with communication.

  • Communicate as often and as clearly as you can. Even having no new news to report about a particular issue can be shared so that everyone is in the loop. Seek the help of laity with skills in the area of public relations.
  • Make regular reports about the financial status and overall health of the church.
  • Realizing that others may not want to hear what you desire to communicate, be clear, transparent and non-anxious.
  • Have periodic “town hall” meetings where church members can ask questions and dialogue face to face.
  • Don’t sugarcoat the truth. At the same time, offer hope and encouragement. Trust, faith and confidence are contagious.
  • Clergy and church leaders must have a positive, can-do attitude. Parishioners will follow our lead. If we ourselves aren’t convinced that our congregation can do the impossible; if we aren’t certain ourselves that we can raise $300,000 for a building addition; and if we don’t believe that the power of the Holy Spirit and a viable strategic plan will enable us to grow and reach new people for Christ, then none of it will happen. Period.

What can laity do to avoid the assumption trap?

  • Recognize when your own biases may cause you to hear only what you want to hear.
  • Learn how to see situations from more than one point of view and broaden your understanding.
  • Rather than share your assumptions with others by spreading rumors, take the initiative to ask questions and seek clarification.
  • Understand that certain things such as personnel issues need to remain confidential; trust that your leaders are acting prayerfully and in the best interest of the church.
  • Never assume malicious intent on anyone’s part.

How do we avoid the assumption trap? Alan Alda once said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” Clean those windows and bring on the light!

Blessings,
Laurie