How Many Friends Is “Normal”?

When we live too much in the imaginary world of TV, movies, and social media, we start to believe that fantasy is reality.

Take friendship, for example.

harvesters sisters girls friends picking grapes steve henderson art

Each in her own way, according to her ability, but together. The Harvesters, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

In the land of myths, six to eight young, attractive, witty men and women regularly interact without anyone ever having to go to work, clean the toilets, or wash dishes. They just flow from one fun situation to the next, tossing out one liners and being close and supportive and connected.

Those without seven close friends orbiting about on a 24-hour basis start to think there’s something wrong with us. Why doesn’t our life look like it does on TV?

Because TV isn’t real, but our lives are. When we focus too much on the entertainment world’s voice, we forget the beauty, truth, goodness, and reality of what we have.

The artwork, The Harvesters, reminds us of this beauty. Two sisters join, each in her own way, to pick grapes under an arched portico. They are friends, true friends, because as family they share a bond that is unique, precious, and special. (And while yes, there are dysfunctional families, there are also many, many dysfunctional “friendships” — we just don’t focus on these.)

Because we are shuttled so early into schoolrooms of 30 other people all the same age, we pick up the impression that friendship is limited to our “peer group,” a group, as most of us readily concede, is as welcoming and supportive as a flock of chickens. (Ever heard of a pecking order?)

Family doesn’t count — not siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents. Nor neighbors. Nor people we see every day with whom we share a welcoming smile. These can’t be friends, real friends, because they’re not all the same age, which, according to movie world, is a major requirement for friendship.

How limiting and absurd.

Friends come in all ages, from all backgrounds, and frequently so don’t fit our entertainment-derived definition of friendship that we don’t recognize them as such.

But if they care for us, and we care for them; and they’re there for us, and we’re there for them, well, they’re friends.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Movies Aren’t Real, but Real Life Is

Why Your Life on This Planet Means Something

Facebook Friends

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So American — Assigning Value Numbers to People

In the U.S., we pride ourselves on being a classless society, but we’re really not.

We have our Hollywood idols, our political royalty, our Silicon Valley Influencers, and a selection of Instagram celebrities who are famous because . . . because . . .

good shepherd indian grand canyon sheep southwest steve henderson desert art

Good shepherds are often not monetarily rich, but they overflow with priceless qualities. The Good Shepherd, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

Since we pride ourselves on efficiency as much as we do being classless, we tend to ascribe mental numbers to people, based upon a value we assign to what they do. Lawyers, doctors, politicians, successful entrepreneurs, financiers, scientists, and of course celebrities — these are “worth” more than others, presumably because they work harder, are smarter than others, and contribute more to the world around them. Or they’re very attractive.

They “deserve” their “success.”

Conversely, people with low paying jobs of little esteem — non-leaders, non-influential, non-important, non-rich — “deserve” their obscurity and society’s disdain.

“If they wanted to make something of themselves, they would,” we sniff.

The artwork, The Good Shepherd, invites us to turn around and walk the other way, approaching people from a different perspective.

Good shepherds — people who care for others, people who do the actual difficult and physical labor of watching over young children, or very ill people, or loved ones with long-range debilitations, carry some of the lowest scores in our societal classification score.

And yet to watch over sheep, to care for them, to protect them from harm and fight off predators, takes intelligence, alertness, acumen, perseverance, and determination — all of the elements we accord to professions with the highest value scores.

More importantly, good shepherds need to be kind, compassionate, patient, and truly caring because if they’re not, the sheep won’t and don’t trust them. These latter elements, the ones that are truly important if we want our planet to operate with the idea that all humans, not just a few, matter, are singularly unmentioned when we extol the value of the top-numbered career credit scores.

It would be nice if the planet’s important people possessed rich, deep character traits, but, we shrug, you can’t have everything.

That being so, it’s best to seek out — in ourselves and others — the traits that are truly worth something. No need to wait on the leaders for this one — their focus is on other things.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Do You Suspect That You Don’t Matter?

Housewives, Unemployed, and Other Invisible People

Insist upon Living Your Life

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Too Much Stuff? Yes, It’s Stressful

It’s fun to have things, nice things — a car that works, comfortable furniture, books and mugs and clothing and kitchen appliances and meaningful knick knacks — stuff.

And, in the United States, most of us have a lot of stuff, sometimes too much, as evidenced by our fascination with shows about hoarders. Perhaps vicariously watching people who are overwhelmed by stuff makes us feel better about the many drawers in our home, overflowing  to the point that we only see 10 percent of the contents, much less use them.

sea breeze coast beach ocean seascape grass sand steve henderson art

A gentle breeze, the sound of the surf, the feeling of sand underneath our bare feet: what we find here isn’t stuff, but peace. Sea Breeze, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

Because sometimes we have so much stuff that we don’t know what to do with it, and it keeps us busy dusting it, organizing it, moving it around, and boxing it up to give away so that we have room for more, new stuff.

And while this is an unlikely form of stress, it can be, for many people, stressful.

The interesting thing about stuff is that it’s not limited to items we touch. While an overly cluttered environment is disquieting, it is minor compared to a messy, scattered mind, strewn with anxieties and worries, angst and restlessness, uneasiness and envy, misgivings and doubts — the mental stuff we absorb each day through advertisements, movies, “news,” pop culture books and magazine articles, Influencers, sermons, social media posts, junk mail, and political speeches.

The result of this is that our mind is filled with thoughts that do us no good, crowding out those that could, pushing aside meditation and prayer and deep thinking and replacing them with worries that we are inadequate, deficient, incompetent, lacking.

The artwork, Sea Breeze, invites us into a place where there is no such stuff — neither material nor mental. A soft breeze blows through the grass, and under our feet (bare, of course) we feel the delightful tickle of sand. The surf in the background is gentle, rhythmic, soothing.

This is not an empty place by any means, because it is full of quiet and tranquility, serenity and peace — what we look for to imbue our mind.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Peace and Quiet: We NEED These

Is It Too Noisy to Think?

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Lies and Darkness, Truth and Light

Gossip and rumors are obviously not good things.

They do not, however, happen in a vacuum. They occur when truth is obscured, when shadows are presented as light, when people responsible for giving explanations are not trustworthy themselves.

mount nebo mountain utah wilderness landscape steve henderson painting

For now, the peaks are hidden, and the cracks and crevices of the mountains obscured in shadow. But light and wind work their changes. Mt. Nebo Range, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

It doesn’t matter if it’s a small town squabble or national debacle. Regular, decent people are smart enough to know when they’re being put off, and that’s too often how these things go.

“Just don’t say anything about it, and it will all die down,” is the conventional wisdom of people in power.

But it doesn’t. Die down, that is.

Once the item is off the front page of the newspaper, replaced by something new and improved that is distressing, shocking and violent (or, conversely, some wild and wacky antic by a reality show celebrity), it’s assumed that it’s forgotten. And while the rumors and gossip may die down, the questions, the doubt, the distrust held by regular, decent, smart people remain.

And most importantly . . . as the light shifts, it shines into the shadows, and what was hidden is revealed.

The artwork, Mt. Nebo Range, catches the Utah wilderness mountains in a moment of clouds obscuring the peaks.¬† At the foothills, portions of the landscape repose in darkness, and it’s difficult to see detail.

But the landscape, and weather, are not static — as we stand in the winding dirt pathway at the right foreground of the image, we look at the peaks and know that sometime — maybe soon, maybe not — the breeze will blow the clouds away and the peaks will shine in their detail. As the sun advances across the sky, what was in shadow will be no more. The entire landscape will look different.

All we have to do is wait — patiently, watchfully, steadfastly. And while we wait, we continue to think.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

The Lies We’re Told

Bullies and Bunny Rabbits — This Is Not Looney Tunes, Folks

Deception, Deceit, Dishonesty — Is This Our 3D World?

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Who Wants to Be Angry All the Time?

This last week, I encountered a number of angry, irritated people. A couple of them came out verbally swinging, and while my first reaction was to swing back, I didn’t. Instead, I did the old “a soft answer turns away wrath” thing.

palouse falls waterfall landscape wilderness washington steve henderson

Anger, like massive quantities of water, needs time and space to diffuse. Below Palouse Falls, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

For one person, it worked. He calmed down, and by the end of the interaction we were new friends. His problem was successfully resolved.

The other guy wasn’t having anything to do with soft answers, and was fully into wrath. He was not interested in explanations, reparations, or solutions: he just wanted to vent. Which he did, vociferously.

Suffice it to say, his problem was not solved, and we did not part friends.

Lots of people are angry these days, and understandably so. We live in a society where there are decided problems and issues, but no person within our reach who can actually solve them. Instead, we shuffle from one “customer care,” customer service, or political aide to the next, with the too frequent response of, “Gee, we’re sorry this happened, but I can’t do anything on my end. I’m really really sorry.”

It’s easy to get mad at the messengers, because they’re the only ones we can talk to. The people with power to make things right hide in the shadows.

The artwork, Below Palouse Falls, gives a visual of where we might want to be in this frustrating situation. In our anger, we’re upriver at Palouse Falls (center background — you can see the spray). By the falls proper, a vast cascade of water floods over the cliffs, roiling and boiling in the pool, 200 feet below. This is our anger, and while we are here, we are in danger from the power and flow of water. It can drown us.

But just below the falls, the water calms, and we are able to think more clearly. We need not (and should not) give up pursuing justice, but we do so more wisely and well when we are not venting, in a state of furious, impotent rage.

In a clear place, in a quiet state, we more effectively act.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Your Vote Is Worth Less Than Your Prayer

Little Things Really Do Make a Big Difference

Are You Important?

 

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Little Things Really Do Make a Big Difference

It is natural for human beings to want to make a difference in the lives of others around us. For all our issues — we can be selfish, greedy, envious, arrogant, proud, angry, and petty — we also possess good qualities. Kind, reasonable adults feel compassion toward those who are hurting, and when we ourselves have been hurt in similar ways — we’ve been lonely, we’ve fretted about money, we’ve made stupid mistakes and been treated with understanding — we’re less likely to trumpet judgment.

geese sunrise river columbia country morning dawn river steve henderson art

In the landscape, the geese make up a very small physical part, but they add — literally — volumes to its impact. Sunrise on the Columbia, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

Our society, which worships celebrities and rich people, tells us that the only way to make a real difference is to head to poor countries overseas and start a non-profit foundation. But this is a misconception that prevents real people from doing the true good we can do.

Truly, it’s the little things that make a difference: a genuine, kind compliment to another is priceless. A small, random gift to someone for no other reason than that they exist creates unseen, but lasting, impact. And listening: never, ever underestimate the power of putting down your phone, turning to the person who is talking to you, looking them in the eye, and listening. Not judging, not thinking about what you’ll say in response, but listening.

The artwork, Sunrise on the Columbia, illustrates the importance of the little, hidden, almost unseen things. In the big picture, the gaggle of geese swimming by physically play a very small part, seemingly eclipsed by sky, trees, the river itself. But they are what make the morning magical: we hold our breath as they swim by because we don’t want to break that magic, scare them away, impel them to flight. That tiny little flock of geese transforms a beautiful morning into a memorable one, and when we tell others about it, that’s what we remember.

Small things . . . are not so small after all.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Are You Too Ordinary to Make a Difference?

Why Your Life on This Planet Means Something

Are You Important?

 

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Peace and Quiet — We NEED These

Some words go together really well, like “cookies and milk,” or “crackers and cheese.”

Food aside, another fine pairings of words is “peace and quiet.” And while it’s possible to enjoy cookies without the milk, or crackers without the cheese, peace and quiet complement one another in a way that is strongly interwoven, to the point that if you pull on one thread, you unravel and weaken the fabric.

banking columbia river canoe picnic island river steve henderson landscape art

A lone canoe, in a quiet, remote place. Here, one finds peace and quiet. Banking on the Columbia, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

In a place of cacophonous noise — loud voices, thumping “music” beat, dinging phones, and the drone of the TV or radio — it’s difficult to feel at peace. Quiet invites us to slow down physically, and mentally.

In the same way, in an environment of anger, frustration, anxiety, hatred, bitterness, envy, and sarcasm, the heart is not quiet. It agitates, worries, fulminates, cries out for relief — for peace.

The artwork, Banking on the Columbia, invites the viewer to step away from the noise and the tension into a remote place where one can wander and explore — because that’s what we do when we are in a place of peace and quiet: we give our minds opportunity to wander and explore: to question, to think through issues, to daydream, to wonder.

When we are constantly surrounded by noise and stress, our minds do not have this freedom, but they run, like hamsters on wheels, around and around and around the same concerns, the same worries, the same irritations. Life seems to have no answers because we do not have time and space to seek them.

We need to step away. If we cannot paddle a canoe to a remote island, then we can close and lock the bathroom door, put in ear plugs, and run a hot shower or bath. But we need to find peace and quiet.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

“Quiet” and “Shy” Are Not the Same Word

It’s Not Abnormal to Want to Be Alone

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Children Have Something to Teach Adults

Children see the world differently.

One, they’re very literal. I’ll never forget our daughter, at two, responding to a question about how people reacted to the new dress she wore to a special event.

child eden summer garden green hat innocence country steve henderson

Children find beauty in items because they are beautiful, not because they possess a false or artificial value. Child of Eden, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

“Did you get any comments on your dress?” we asked.

“No,” she said, looking, vaguely alarmed, down at the skirt. “There’s nothing on the dress.”

This is charming, yes. But there is also a wisdom to the straightforward, uncomplicated way that children approach their world and the people in it. They do not look for — nor expect — hidden motivations. They do not manipulate words in clever and cunning fashions so that they seem to be saying one thing but really meaning another. They do not value items for no other reason than that the marketplace announces them relevant or trendy or cool.

In many ways, they exhibit a logic that we adults have lost.

The artwork, Child of Eden, explores this sense of innocence and wonder. A little girl stands in the midst of a garden — and where better than a garden to personify innocence? She clutches a bunch of radishes as if they were the most beautiful bouquet.

Who is to say that they are not? Like flowers, this bounty of the garden is colorful and varied in shape and form. They’re fresh and new, a sign of the season’s growth and abundance.

In the little girl’s mind, a cluster of radishes would look fine in a vase, a worthy gift to be taken to her mother or father as a sign of her love.

To the adult mind, it’s an odd gift. But to the wise adult mind, the one that observes children and tries to recapture their curiosity, their openness, their willingness to accept things at face value, it’s a truly precious gift.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

The One Time It’s Good to Feel Small

Think Like a Child

Manipulating Children

 

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The Power of Doing Nothing

Busy, purposeful, efficient, enterprising — these are words of excellence and worth in American culture.

When you think about it, the U.S. doesn’t actually have a culture, unless you consider going to work, thinking about ways to get rich, spending money, and losing ourselves in TV, movies, and social media a hallmark of culture.

summer breeze country boy flying kite freedom steve henderson art painting

No place to go, no homework to complete — a young boy is content with simply doing nothing. Summer Breeze, art print from Steve Henderson Collections.

The imaginary Christian heritage many ascribe to this nation (which Kevin M. Cruse excellently discusses in his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America) adds to our enslavement to work, money, and commerce. Too many people who consider themselves Christians quote Proverbs (“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” — Proverbs 13:4) than they do Jesus (“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” — Matthew 5:5).

If you’re poor, they sniff, it’s because you deserve to be so. Nothing is said about many being poor because wages are low, so that corporate business profits remain high.

The result of this culture of ours is that we’re chronically busy, incessantly pushed to do more with promise that we will somehow be more: richer, smarter, faster, more powerful — virtues of the modern business world.

The artwork, Summer Breeze, encourages us to step out of this mindset into a place of quiet, reflection, imagination, and freedom. A young boy — unbound from the confines of the schoolroom — walks with a kite in the breeze. (Think of it — he’s not even flying the kite, and isn’t that the purpose, the very reason of existence for the kite? So thinks the person shackled by U.S. cultural norms.)

Perhaps he sees himself as a sailing ship, his kite the sails. Maybe he’s a bird, high in the air. Or maybe . . . he’s just feeling the tug of the kite against the wind and glorying in the strength of his arms, holding on.

It matters not. He is alone, free with his thoughts, away from schedules and tasks, obligations and lessons, goals and duties. In doing nothing, he has time to think, and in thinking, he is doing much indeed.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

When You Live Smarter, Harder, Faster — You Don’t Live

Insist Upon Living Your Life

How the Corporate World Infects Christianity

Desperately Trying to Fit In

 

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God Made the Boat. You’re the Boat. God’s Not Going to Burn up the Boat.

The American Evangelical “Christian” church has much to answer for in people’s confusion about God. After all, their central tenet is this:

God made you.

You’re a sinner.

Because God is perfect and you’re a sinner, He can’t stand you and recoils at your presence.

zephyr sail sailing boat vessel schooner sea ocean steve henderson art

Because God has an investment in the boat, He is intent about making sure it does not capsize. Zephyr, art print from Steve Henderson Collections

The only way He can tolerate you is if you ask Jesus to step between you and God. If you don’t, God will send you to eternal hell. If you do, God will accept you and you can live with Him for eternity.

This is how God loves you.

It’s no wonder people find difficulty with a God like this — no decent human parent would treat their own children this way because unconditional love doesn’t . . . place conditions. And yet American Evangelical Christianity thrives upon them.

The artwork, Zephyr, is a visual example of one way God, the true God — the Father who reaches out to His children and calls us through eternity to be a part of His household — works with us. It looks like this.

Our life is the boat.

God made the boat. (He knows, when He made the boat, that it has issues, but He made it anyway. To destroy it afterwards because it has issues is foolish on the part of the person building the boat.)

God owns the boat.

The boat needs a captain, and the Owner’s choice is Christ — because, being in close connection with the boat’s owner, Jesus knows all about how the boat runs.

The boat also needs a First Mate (that’s us), working closely with the Captain and the Owner of the boat with the joint goal of sailing the boat through many seas — stormy ones, calm ones, on sunny days and rainy ones, in and out of ports, all around the world. Now the First Mate could choose to act as Captain (and many of us do), but without training and teaching from the Captain, we probably won’t do so well. After all, we start out as babies, with little physical or intellectual ability to sail a boat. We need time, and teaching. Unless that teaching comes from someone who knows and understands the boat, we’ll falter.

The Owner of the boat isn’t going to burn it up because the First Mate won’t recognize the Captain. The Captain isn’t going to throw the First Mate overboard for taking over. Rather, the Owner of the boat and the Captain — because they are sensible, intelligent, and compassionate people —¬† will keep trying to connect with the First Mate to build a cooperative relationship.

What matters is the boat, and that it sails successfully.

Thank you for joining me at This Woman Writes. Posts complementing this one are

Three “Christian” Teachings That Jesus Didn’t Teach

Kicked out of the Group? Take Time to Think

Is Jesus the (American) Way, Truth, and Life?

 

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