Saturday, December 21, 2013

My most dreaded question at this time of year

It's just days before Christmas and again I realize that it has come upon me fast. Things to do, things not yet finished, the thrash that this time of year can be is here in full force.

I have enjoyed this Advent a lot. The making-room-in-your-heart part of the season. In lieu of checking off items on the to-do list,  I have been spending time with people I care about. I have been knitting chemo caps. I have been reading a good and racy novel to a dear friend a chapter a week. I've been doing satisfying work at my job. I have learned a great deal about myself and those I love. I have enjoyed time with my kids. I have kind of bucked the trend.

Last night, I had a young man appear on my doorstep. "Good evening. I'm with the National Atheist Society and I have a brief survey I'd like to conduct with you."

"Uhm...no. No thank you. I support what you are doing, but I'm not interested in answering questions tonight."

No. I am not an atheist, but I am probably alot more closely aligned with him theologically than with some of my other Christian brothers and sisters. 

Would he have asked me if I am "ready for Christmas?" It's a common conversation thread at this time of year, like chatting about the weather. I choose to answer this one carefully when asked of me and it depends on who is doing the asking. Do you mean that all my cards have been mailed, my shopping done, presents wrapped, cookies baked, house immaculate and looking like a Better Homes and Gardens spread?

The follow up question as we return to life after the holiday is, "Did you have a good Christmas?" Does that mean that everything went exactly how it was planned? All Norman Rockwell, everyone minded their p's and q's and everyone was delighted with their gifts and we were with ours? 

Here's the thing. That place within us that is yearning to be touched isn't touched with gifts and food and stuff and cookies and reindeer and Santa.

As a child of the 60's, I grew up with "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In fact, in my copy of the book, there are notes written for me when I read the passage from Luke 2 as a little girl during a Christmas program. Charlie Brown is increasingly frustrated, depressed, and disillusioned about the commercialization of Christmas. Yes, even in 1965 when things were supposedly, simpler. He is about at the breaking point when he turns to his friend Linus and asks, "What is Christmas all about?!" 

And Linus replies, reciting these ancient lines from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter two.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."


"So there you have it, Charlie Brown. That's the true meaning of Christmas."

 Wait. That's it? No Christmas cards? No spritz cookie recipe? No obligatory obligations? No gift buying/wrapping/opening? No watching my beloved, "White Christmas?" But it isn't Christmas without these things!

Or is it?





Monday, November 25, 2013

Surrender

 I've been participating in an online meditation challenge the past couple of weeks. These are always hugely transformative. 

Today's thought was so timely. In the practice of learning to be present, one must learn to let go and trust that things will work out they way they should for everyone involved. This means I don't always get my way and I have to be ok with that. There is a huge amount of trusting the unknown in this practice. That is really challenging for me because my mind wants to know what is ahead and to be able to lay a path to get there. Rarely is this possible. Often this approach sets us up for disappointment that things do not go as we had planned. 

Here's what Deepak Chopra said in the lesson today. (And if you are following this same meditation, I'm a couple of days behind .)

"When we hold tightly to a goal, we often find it to be elusive. We may say to ourselves, “I want this so badly. I can see my goal. Why can’t I reach it?” The answer lies within the fine art and practice of detachment."

"As we detach from the outcome of whatever we desire, we let go and gently surrender to the wisdom of uncertainty, which holds our freedom from the past, the known, and the limitations of any preconceived notions. In our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we give ourselves over to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe, trusting that what we desire will come to us."

Some of us have expectations and plans for a lovely holiday this week. We hope that Uncle Ron doesn't hit the wine too hard, that our mother-in-law will be a gracious guest, that the tension between family members is lessened, even for one day. We hope that all our loved ones will be well and happy, that the men are all strong, the women are good looking, and the children are above average (with a nod to G.Keillor).  Detachment says, don't try to orchestrate this, just let it unfold as it will and love it for what it is. 

There's our focus for the week, and weeks, ahead. It's about letting go of our own expectations to allow it to just happen. This is important stuff. Time to show up. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Must Be Present to Win

This past week, a friend made an observation that was pretty powerful for me. I was told that I was "present."

What exactly does that mean? It can mean being readily available, in the moment, not thinking of the past or the future, open to whatever comes next.

One of my best skills has been to leverage the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you can do it, you can. If you want it, you can work for it. There's no such thing as luck, but making it happen. Taken to extreme, this can be seen as controlling or even manipulation. For me, it has been my way of getting things accomplished.

However...

I've been working at being present these days and for me, that's no small feat. This requires a willingness to be open to opportunities as they present themselves rather than focusing on my personal agenda. It requires letting go, of being detached to an outcome, and that involves trust that things will work out for the best. For me, this spells out as vulnerability, which when chosen intentionally takes a great deal of inner strength. (Dr. Brene Brown has a lot to say on that subject.)

I have come to realize that my willing things to happen, making things happen, and yes, forcing things to happen, has been an effective defense mechanism that has provided a very false sense of security. This approach has not entirely served me well because crappy things still happen and the adage, "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it" rings very true.

I'm not saying that working hard for goals and going for what we want in life is wrong. Far from it. Motivation and hard work is the sweat equity we put into what we achieve in life. Nothing is handed to us and doing what it takes to make it happen is important.

But there is a balance, like everything else. When I focus with laser-like intensity on my own agenda and I don't allow myself to be present to possibilities, I am viewing the world through the peephole on my front door and keeping the door closed.

Being present is also being mindful of the little everyday miracles that life provides. The beautiful frost on the window this morning. The warmth of my little house. The comforting smell of brewed coffee.


Being present is a gift. If you are struggling with finding something to be grateful for in this week of gratitude, see where you can open yourself to the possibilities that surround you. You may be very surprised by what you find when you allow yourself to just be.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Super Powers

It's that time of year. The full court press to New Year's Day is truly underway and to me, it just seems to add a layer, a heavy sodden woolen blanket, on top of the usual everyday march through The List of Things to Do.

Reflecting back on the week that was, I continue to be struck by this notion of my own super powers. Granted, sometimes, super powers are truly needed. This week good people of the beautiful City by the Bay where I think my whole family left its collective heart this summer, truly did not disappoint. When the going gets tough, the tough turn out to play with a darling five-year-old boy named Miles who wanted to be a superhero.

Didn't see the tape? Oh, my. Stop everything and do so right now. Here's just one of a million links.

Honestly, I think he avenged evil simply by being adorably cute.

The SFPD Commissioner deserves an Oscar, no doubt, and even the President of the United States PLAYED along with Miles on Friday afternoon along with thousands of his neighbors. Incredible.

Thing is, this little guy has been a superhero all along. And yesterday, everyone who played along became one, too.

You have superpowers of your own. You know that, right? It may not be as extravagant as what Make a Wish pulled off yesterday - but even small acts of kindness delivered in the right way can have enormous influence. Let Miles and all his playmates inspire us to realize that we each can make a difference in someone's life every single day.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The world will keep turning. Must remember that.

Oh, crud.
Maybe there needs to be chocolate chip cookies?

It is a Monday in mid-November. Remembrance Day/Veterans Day, to be exact, and I am feeling unwell. Fighting off a sinus headache and general malaise while drinking ginger lemon tea with
honey and watching snowflakes the size of quarters rain down is just not what I had in store for today. And it was such a fun weekend, too!

"Glass half empty" days are gratefully few and far between for me so when I do feel cruddy and unsettled by some physical ailment, I know that I will push myself through it as quickly as I can. It is a chink in my armor. When I am not feeling well, I tend to question all kinds of silly things and contribute to the half-empty outlook.

It is hard for me to realize that the world will keep on turning if I take a day of rest. I know, I go on and on about how important it is for us to take care of ourselves, but geesh, it is hard to actually DO it at times when you don't want to, isn't it?


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Remembrance

Many Christian traditions celebrate All Saints Day on the first Sunday of November. Some saints live among us today and some have gone before us.

I have Julian of Norwich on my mind today and her reassurance that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing, shall be well." It is a mantra for me to resist the temptation to worry, a truly useless activity.

From neighbors and teachers, to co-workers and friends, we all know someone whose life and the way it touches ours is worthy of remembering and honoring.

Who will you honor or remember today?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reduced to Joy

I was sipping coffee on the way to work,
the back road under a canopy of maples
turning orange. In the dip of woods, a small
doe gently leaping. I pulled over, for there
was no where else to go. She paused as if
she knew I was watching. A few orange
leaves fell around her like blessings no
one can seem to find. I sipped some
coffee, completely at peace, knowing
it wouldn't last. But that's alright.

We never know when we will blossom
into what we’re supposed to be. It might
be early. It might be late. It might be after
thirty years of failing at a misguided way.
Or the very first time we dare to shed
our mental skin and touch the world.

They say, if real enough, some see God
at the moment of their death. But isn't
every fall and letting go a death? Isn't God
waiting right now in the chill between the
small doe's hoof and those fallen leaves?
— Mark Nepo
Maytag Park, Newton, Iowa


Everything is in transition, even when it may feel like we are stuck or lost. This is why it is so important to pay attention. To pause and appreciate the moments as they pass by. This is your life, right now, in this moment, not something that you are searching for. Pause. Appreciate. Live.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

What Makes You The Person You Are Today?

For a jillion years, I've watched ol' Dave Letterman come up with his Top Ten lists. In the dorm, my friend Betsy and I would have a lite beer and eat saltines with peanut butter and watch Dave after an evening of studying and laundry. A friend encouraged me to think about creating a top ten list of my own. But what would it be? Favorite books and authors? Favorite music? Best ideas for a second date? My bucket list of travel places?

As I thought about the theme of my top ten list, I was cleaning up my house. A total stranger walking into my home would instantly know that I have teenagers by the stuff in the room. J-14 magazines, X-Box controllers, school-issued mac books lying around, backpacks and earbuds, wild tie-dyed socks... it used to be small and sturdy board books, crayons and paper, dolls and stuffed animals...

Into the teen years, my kids are working on figuring out who they are as individuals - all the while society, their friends, classmates, and popular culture are having an influence on who the adult version of themselves will be. And it got me thinking, what were the influences in my life that made me the adult I am today? Think beyond the "givens" of your parents, your school, teachers...we can all claim those. Dig a little deeper into stuff others may not think of when they see you.

In no particular order whatsoever... (Typical.)
  • Watergate. I was in the third grade, the time when kids begin to recognize the influences of government, their sense of fairness and how people in positions of authority treat others. I think it sparked an interest in government and politics that led me to study political science and history in college. Kinda proud that my kids had a "West Wing" marathon on Netflix this summer.
  • Monty Python (The boys still dig that I am nerdy in this way.)
  • My friends who lived in my town and went to my school. 
  • My friends who lived at least 100 miles away and we only met at church retreats and camps and through hours of long-distance phone calls and 20-page handwritten letters. Still my closest and dearest sister friends.
  • Public television, particularly Masterpiece Theater and Mystery - without which I might not have been interested in going on a Thomas Hardy jag and reading some of the most depressing novels ever written. They are amazing stories and slices of history. Classic novels, for me, are pretty extraordinary. 
  • Garrison Keillor's "Lake Woebegon" monologues that glorified my growing up in a Swedish-American family on the edge of the prairie.
  • My stepdad Phil who taught me how to be an excellent spectator of sports and how to understand football and basketball. It has paid off in spades with a lifelong personal interest as well as being able to share this with my teenage son. I'm the one who is bursting with pride to take my kids to games at my alma mater and it is a tradition that Phil would have dearly loved to see continue. I think of him every time John and I walk through the opening into Kinnick.
  • Opportunities to travel as a kid and to leave my community where I was raised in The Time Before the Internet. 
  • My church. Yeah, I know I mentioned this before, but being raised in a denomination that fostered thinking as well as faith, gave me the tools to walk my own spiritual path without judging others' paths, and to have a community that truly gave a damn about people beyond themselves was deeply influential for me. When I left my little rural town on my own without my parents for the first time, it was 1979. I went on a trip with a bunch of teenagers to the national convention of our denomination. Our denomination made big news by being the first mainline denomination to ordain an openly gay man. As a teenager, my friends and I didn't grasp The Big Deal of it all because most of us had been raised that this was not an abomination much less a sin. I am deeply grateful for being raised in a church and a wider church that preached God's extravagant love to all, without any strings attached. 
  • My college experience at the University of Iowa from 1982 to 1986 had a profound influence in my life. I suspect that is true for most people. It is typically our time to find our true selves and I know that I did. My friends at that stage of my life were about the best and most eccentric group of interesting and amazing people I could have never hand-picked. I am grateful for the oddity of Facebook that has reconnected me with many of them. 
  • A sense of being a Midwesterner. With our easy going attitudes, we are well known for our sincere concern for others. When I travel or meet people from other regions of the US or other countries, they remark on my "niceness." It even impacted one of my earliest jobs. "You are too nice to be in politics," I was once told by a DC campaign consultant. I took that as a genuine compliment. Interestingly, I worked for Republicans at that time.
As I think about these things that had a tremendous influence on shaping my life today, I wonder what my kids' lists will look like. What are the experiences and people and memories they are making right now that will influence who they are becoming? What about you? What is on your list of top influences in your life that have brought you to where you are today? Something you might enjoy thinking about.

Just a word for my dear lifelong buddy Matt - Bill Bryson is YOUR author. Go pick out something he's written - for you, I'd suggest "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" and I swear you will laugh out loud throughout the entire novel. My personal favorite is "Notes from a Small Island" about his first experiences in England. You will often find his work in the travel section. I honestly laugh until I am weeping. And who doesn't need more of that?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Excuse me, I have one nerve left and you are sitting on it!

Sharp and shooting, pinchy, seize-up and unexpected pain went shooting through my right sit bones this weekend and I finally put together the tender lower backache of the past couple of weeks combined with lots of car time, time sitting on bleachers, time sitting in conferences, complete blow-off of my fitness regimen created a painful siege on my sciatic nerve.

Armed with ibuprofen, a heating pad, ThermaCare wraps, advice from my acupuncturist, my massage therapist, and one of my best friends, I have faced the realization that once again, I have pushed myself beyond healthy limits.

Anyone else guilty of this?

Thought so.

Deep in the trenches of everyday life, it doesn't seem like a big deal to not have time in the day to get in the fitness center regularly. Until you find that you don't have energy or desire to even take a walk.

Often we don't see warning signs until we look in the rearview and realize that we could see an injury or illness coming but do nothing about it until we reach the point of pain or bedrest. And this applies to emotional injury, too. It's easy to get attached to the outcome we want to achieve only to set ourselves up for disappointment.

Pause for a moment right now. Take a little scan of your body and soul. Where are the places today that need a little extra care and attention? Honor these, as my yogini would say, and provide that TLC that you need. It's Thursday. You can see the weekend from here. Put a flower on your desk. Write a letter to a friend or your aunt in Florida. Take a walk at lunch. Little things, to be sure, but they can prevent bigger issues ahead.

Take care of you.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Try to see it my way

Yesterday was a wonderful fall getaway day. Out of the house for nearly 12 hours, my 15 year old son and I headed to the University of Iowa for Homecoming. 77,000 people in and around the football stadium created a small city within a city, nearly ten times the population of the town where we live. There's no such thing as 'personal space' when you shuffle your way through the corridors of a football stadium, or practically sit on the lap of the person next to you. It's just how it is and if crowds are an issue and lack of personal space gives you the vapors, you know that you either suck it up or stay home. I'm ok with togetherness for a while. Not sure I could plunge into that crowd every single home game, but a couple of times a year, I am energized by our collective energy focused on one thing.

Looking at the crowd, nearly all decked in our school colors of black and gold, it strikes me that these people agree on one thing and they are passionately committed to following a particular football team. Something that unites us at a time when we as a nation seem to focus with laser-like clarity on our differences. And even beyond that, there were others in the stadium cheering for their team to defeat our beloved Hawkeyes. But everyone's heart swelled with the playing of our National Anthem. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

Perhaps a suggestion would be for us to shift our perspective a little to open our minds to understanding why another may hold views different from our own. What would it do if we were to attempt with an open mind to see why others disagree with us? Instead of trying to change another's opinion, what if we try to understand their point of view instead of judging them for it? We can still agree to disagree, but we might get closer to respecting differences instead of chastising.

I will be the first to admit that this is not an easy task. But I also know that shouting at each other will not change anyone's opinions, it only serves to entrench each side to their own viewpoint all the more strongly and we grind further and further apart. 

What else in your life would benefit from a change of perspective? What if you found something to appreciate about every person you encounter through the day? Yes, even those who may challenge your peace of mind. Especially them. You get back from the universe what you put out there. If respect is what you seek from others, then you must find a way to respect something about them. It could even be something as small as their choice of coffee or the bike they ride to work. It takes some doing, but what you receive in return is a whole lot less stress and who doesn't want that?

"If you want the best the world has to offer, offer the world your best." - Neale Donald Walsch


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sugar Coated, with Sprinkles

I've been lamenting the lack of a roadmap through the middle of life lately. You can read about it here: (Where's Your Roadmap Leading You?)

In all honesty, my original roadmap probably looked more like the journey through Candy Land, all sugar-coated with sprinkles. The pair look like Dick and Jane as they skip along the brightly colored squares and they live happily ever after in the Gumdrop Mountains subdivision.

I was an awfully long way into Candy Land, up near the Ice Cream Floats and Peppermint Stick Forest before I realized that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere because I was passing the road signs for The Big Ds  - Disappointment, Disillusionment, and Depression. I was lost.

Really? This is not my life. It's supposed to be sunshine on the Rainbow Trail.

Over time, I began to retrace my steps and in the process of doing so, I found myself again.

You see, what I've learned is that our true selves, our souls, never change, never fade. They are always within us completely whole and radiant. And while I may be feeling lost without a roadmap for midlife, the truth is, the roadmap I thought I had was a child's game. We may have plans and hopes and aspirations, but life takes us in directions we never imagined before. This week marks my eighth year in moving to Grinnell. This was most certainly not on my roadmap or radar, but often times the surprises that life presents are greater than anything we could plan.

Just last evening, a friend of mine who is also "new" to Grinnell was sharing with me how she and her husband think about all the places where they've lived and all the situations and events that brought them from one place to another. Life happens by opportunity, by chance more often than it does by design.

Coming to Grinnell and leaving my hometown, my life, my friends, was not easy for our family.  We were truly uprooted and it took a toll on us. We were in a difficult place before we moved and this was magnified when we moved. I had given up on the notion that there was a Happily Ever After. I lost and buried my radiant self so deeply, I started to sleepwalk through my life.

But over time, new friends, old friends, began to unearth my true self. They saw my radiant light that I thought had gone out. The thing about our true selves is that when we uncover a little bit of it, we want more. It feels right. Our intuition and our "gut" tell us where we should go and if we trust it, we realize that we have been following that all along, not some predetermined way. When we trust that voice, that energy, it always leads us in the right path. Our gut tells us when we've made the right choice, when we speak our truth, when we set boundaries. A roadmap through life often gives a false sense of security. But when we can rely on our true selves and our inner compass to point us in the right direction, we find that we may not end up where we thought we would, but it's the right place.








Sunday, September 15, 2013

An exercise in exorcism

Here is an exercise I have recently learned in exorcising a negative thought, belief, or emotion that has never served you well. Pick one. Fear seems to be a common thread - fear of success, fear of rejection, fear of Everything. Somewhere inside of you, there is at least one of these limiting beliefs that you need to break up with. Write it out. Recognize what is keeping you from living fully as the person you were created to be. I've noticed how friends of mine lately have been doing a pretty good job of listening to their limiting self-beliefs, standing in their own shadows, and not seeing just how truly extraordinary we all are. This feels pretty darned good, by the way... Here is the letter I wrote to one of my limiting beliefs.

Dear "I Am Not Enough,"

The time has come for us to part ways. You have been a constant companion to me for a very long time and now, I must say goodbye.

Ever since I can remember, you have been with me to ensure that I never felt like I completely measured up to a standard that was
a)false,
b)completely unattainable, and
c) not designed for my unique self.

I've hung around with you for nearly all of my life, and now, I must say goodbye.


I want to thank you for motivating me to learn more about myself, to work hard on self-improvement, and to go within to help me search out ways of being my true self. I have found my true self now and no longer need your yardstick of measurement to tell me that I am not enough, because, I am most certainly more than enough.

All the best,
Doone

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Where's your roadmap leading you?

A friend of mine had coffee with me yesterday. We first met a year or so ago in the modern way - on line - and enjoyed a morning of coffee and conversation on a crisp fall day. We stayed in touch through email and Facebook and decided that online friends should see each other in person at least once a year, so we had coffee in person yesterday, nearly a year later.

It was like we just picked up where we left off and talked about big picture things, life, relationships, and how we are navigating our journeys through the middle of life.

And that is tricky way-finding, indeed.

As he reminded me, there is a cultural road map laid out for us as we make our way through the first half of life. We graduate from high school, perhaps go to college, enlist, get a job, find a girl or guy to marry, have kids, and settle down with a mortgage and car payments. It's imprinted on us from a very early age. The expectation is that we will live happily ever-after.

And blessedly, many do. Which makes it difficult for those of us who do not.

When we have done all The Right Things and think that we have followed the prescribed road map to the letter and still long-term happiness is elusive or even impossible with that individual we first made vows with, it can shake us to our core.

What's wrong with me? What if I never find another person to love? What if this is all there is? I'll die alone and they will know me at the store as the old lady with 45 cats who only buys tins of Little Friskies and half-gallon jugs of gin and Donut House coffee!

And at middle age, many of us find that our roadmap to happiness brought us to very unfamiliar territory. How ever did I manage to find myself here? (Insert your location).

At this point in life, there is no cultural road map, as my friend pointed out yesterday. Not only has there never really been one for middle age folks who find themselves single not necessarily by choice, but today, when it seems like all cultural norms for relationships are kinda up for discussion.

Last week, my dear friend who is an interim pastor at my home church put out a note on the congregation's Facebook page that a couple that he and his late partner have known for ages were coming to Iowa because after 37 years together, they were now able to marry. Would he do the service for them? And John asked the congregation gathered there on Facebook if they would approve of this ceremony during Sunday's worship service?

Within moments, the outpouring of love, joy, enthusiasm, offers of wedding cake, nuts, and mints, punch and colored napkins flooded the page. There was no question that of course, this faith community would welcome them and give these strangers in their midst the most glorious hospitality. I put myself into the couple's shoes and just wept for the joy of love. A rare and beautiful thing.

See? Not only are we redefining (finally) culturally-accepted relationships but the church is meeting on Facebook and connected spiritually despite miles of geography.  Roadmap? Uhm...GPS?

"Our roadmaps for relationships of all kinds are changing, Laura," he said. "There is no road map for the second half of life."

What makes it hard is that we have had what we thought was the roadmap to life and there isn't anything to guide us now. We are searching high and low for security when all we really have is this moment. Live for today, they say. We don't really get that until we arrive at this point in life. It's something that those of us traveling in the middle of life begin to recognize with a bit of fear and horror.

Until we realize that if we simply enjoy the journey, without trying to dictate or focus on the outcome, we will enjoy the journey so much more. If we focus on what we want the outcome to be, we close ourselves off to any other possibilities that are obviously beyond what we can imagine for ourselves.

My takeaways from this week:
  • Stop projecting. You have no idea of what's about to happen next.
  • Go within to find security. Nothing outside of you can do that. Any kind of "security" found elsewhere can be eliminated in the briefest of moments.
  • Be open always. Grow and expand. Limit nothing. Live abundantly and simply. 
  • Keurig Donut House Coffee is as addictive as any drug out there.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Just the Way You Are

Oh, yes, I know, it's a tired song and one that I suspect even Mr. Joel would like to allow to retire gracefully, but its lyrics are resonating so strongly with me right now. He sounds so good on this clip. Not a bad earworm for the day and I want you to sing it to yourself before you sing it to another.

In the frenetic pace of life, I often forget and it is such a relief to be reminded that I am enough, just the way I am. It is so wildly easy to attach our self-worth and value to someone or something outside of our own selves. We work for others' approval to validate us and that makes us needy, doesn't it? When we want others to measure our self-worth, we miss the point entirely. It certainly sounds like common sense in writing, but in reality, I have to work at reminding myself that the most difficult person and the most important person I need to impress and gain approval from, is me.

Maybe this sounds familiar to you, too.

If I am seeking love and approval from others, it doesn't fill that need for love in me, from me, does it? It's never enough because it's not what I ultimately need. If I try to fill that need externally, I might also turn to something like food, shopping, alcohol, (fill in the blank) to find that feeling that I am searching for.

Like Dorothy, we have been wearing the ruby slippers all along. When we realize that we are enough just the way we are, we can fill the hole with self-respect, esteem, love, abundance, joy. Until we have it ourselves, we cannot give it away. And when we cannot give it away, it can't be returned to us. Get it?

When we make changes in our lives because it is what is right for us, not what we think others want us to do, then we are living authentically.

Find a way to believe this about yourself. "I am worthy and enough simply because I am."






Sunday, August 11, 2013

Awakening, again

"Join me in a 21-day meditation challenge!" was a message posted on my friend Sandy's Facebook wall. I notice that when I just jump into things without giving it too much thought, my subconscious is in need, searching the universe for the opportunity.

"Why not?" So I jumped in.

Every morning, before the world and my ego self, recognizes that I am awake, I access the daily reflection and meditation that shows up in my in box. It's been a week now and I've noticed some things.

I've noticed that some of the exercises are pretty challenging. I was told to spend one day doing a simple affirmation whenever I found myself looking into a mirror. Make eye contact with myself and say, "I see you. I appreciate you. I love you."

No big deal. Except that it WAS. Do you really see your self? Many men shave in the morning, women may apply a moisturizer or a full face of make up, but do we really look into our own eyes? And then tell our selves that we love us? I was really surprised by the awkward feeling I had the first few times I did it. Thing is, no one else was looking. I'm in the ladies room. Alone. It was just me, myself, and I, and it took some getting used to.

Do we really allow ourselves to know who we truly are? Not our roles, not the personality that has been created, not the person that life has molded us to be, but the true essence of our selves? This may be a revelation for some, the possibility that the push and pull we feel within at times is the tug of war between who we really are and who we and the rest of the world have deemed we "should" be. 

I have found that when I am spending my time being my everyday self, the person the world has deemed I should be,  I worry more. I worry about whether or not I am enough or worthy. There's a lot of measuring done - bank accounts, car, house, material things, social life, etc.

My ego/everyday self keeps me in line. I check my words. I don't fully share my feelings of joy, love, disappointment, hurt, anger. Besides, living as my everyday self insulates me, protects me. I'm not opening myself and risking getting hurt. I can just keep the walls up, keep everyone in their tidy and defined boxes, my new found boundaries up, and my true self stays protected. 

This past week of engaging in daily meditation has been interesting. I am witnessing this interplay between my everyday self and my true self, the push and pull between them. When I am mindful and present and living in my true self, my ego gets nervous and sounds the warning bells. Like the voice on the GPS after you've gone against their driving directions or simply missed the turn, there's this slightly disgusted tone in the voice, "Recalculating." Duh. Trust me, Loser.

I get that my ego self is there to protect me. But like my Norton Antivirus system that has decided that my iPod shuffle is an intruder that we will not allow ourselves to sync up with, or the over protective parent,
or one guy tries to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb and now we all take off our shoes before we fly, there are times when our concertina-topped walls are keeping out far more good stuff than they are protecting us from what could be a threat.

There is no doubt that those walls are there for good reason. We know from painful experience how devastating life's experiences can be. None of us escape these and we learn to protect ourselves as best we can. We mitigate our risk. We build an elaborate system of landmines, moats, locked doors, and such in order to protect ourselves from ever experiencing that pain again.

I was reminded this week about the story of Icarus who had a great dream to fly. He built his wings and flew too close to the sun. His dreams got him hurt. Or did they? After all, he did fly.

The gifts of life are abundant and rich. In order to fully experience them, we must be willing to open to accept them. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To let people out of the emotional boxes we have placed them in for our own protection and safekeeping.


"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  Anais Nin

The bud can die on the vine, without ever blooming or coming to fruition. Where do you need to allow yourself to open and take a small risk?





Sunday, August 4, 2013

What's under the bed?

As a young undergraduate in the early 1980's at the University of Iowa, the comic strip "Bloom County" was a favorite of many. Berkley Breathed, the creator and cartoonist of the strip, lived in Iowa City in the early days of Bloom County and referenced many Iowa City landmarks.

For me, the enduring character of Michael Binkley and his closet of anxieties has been a light-hearted way for me to deal with my own. Every once in a while, my own closet of anxieties opens up a Pandora's box of irrational and bizarre things to worry about.

Dressed in his sweet footie pyjamas and his totally 80's techno-pop hairdo, Binkley has a closet filled with 80's icons that scare him to pieces. What I admire about Binkley, is that he is not too afraid to actually take a look inside.

I notice that when life has a particularly high number of stressful events that require me to be on my game pretty much all the time, I tend to have these kinds of night visitors.
"It's the friends you can call at 4 a.m. that matter." - Marlene Dietrich

And usually what happens is that my 4 a.m. someone is there and can take the flashlight, shine it under the bed and in the closet and say, "See, Laura? There's nothing there but good stuff."

Good stuff, indeed. Here's a post I read today that admonishes us to not gloss over the good stuff. No kidding. How many times do we take for granted the incredible that happens to us every day? I live a charmed life, no doubt about it, and I often miss it thinking that because it's not happening the way I envisioned/scripted/wanted-to-control, that somehow, it's not good. Silly, isn't it?

Just like any parent trying to calm a child's fears, the question is, "Is this for real?"

Makes sense, doesn't it? Are these unsettled feelings coming from true stressors, things that are actually happening or is this just my overactive, highly-developed imagination awful-izing things? And, it's always the latter. I find that I don't lose sleep over the events of the day that I'm living through, but the oh so tempting act of worrying about potential problems.

Seth Godin wrote about the opposite of anxiety this week and he defined non-clinical anxiety as "experiencing failure in advance," and "amplifying the worst possible outcomes."

Yes. That's it. So, let's imagine the best possible outcomes and be amazed by all that is good instead of scaring the wits out of us with monsters under the bed.







Saturday, July 27, 2013

So, where were we?

July has been a wild and crazy ride and now it is nearly over. The kids got their school registration packets in the mail with all the papers to fill out, class schedules, and lists of supplies to buy in the next few weeks. They are kind of excited about school starting again, which is encouraging. I'm not wishing summer away, but it does make that transition back to the school year a lot less dramatic when it's greeted with a skosh of enthusiasm.

We're all back home now after summer trips and nothing else planned for a while. It feels good to plan trips, look forward to them, and then be able to return home to enjoy the memories made.

The past month has been intense and filled with transition, both obvious and subtle. In the coming days, my dear stepmother will be moving to a care center because of the progression of dementia and her body inconveniently giving up some of her motor skills. She's falling more and it's just not safe for her to be in their home. It's not what anyone truly wants, but there it is. My dad and stepsister have given her the gift of being in her home for several months. My dad would say that getting old ain't for sissies. I would say that caring for those who are getting old takes Herculean effort. And a village.

I bought advance Iowa State Fair tickets this week and Dad is coming along. Easing out of 24/7 caregiving into 24/7 free time would be a tough one for me and we're thinking of ways to get together more as we all move into this new place of being family.

Emily wanted to redecorate her bedroom this week while John was away and was motivated enough to clear the room of absolutely everything, including a full dresser, by herself. Of course it is all in my living room at present, but we're nearly finished transforming a little girl's room into a teen girl's room. The flower fairies are long gone and now a vibrant turquoise is taking the place of the pale yellow.


I'm also recognizing that the time I am spending on my own are little test runs for me, easing me into the next several years. My oldest is a sophomore this year and before we know it, we'll be moving him to college. My youngest is starting 7th grade and she will not be far behind. I stayed in a motel by myself for the first time in my life a couple of weeks ago. A small thing, but I find it interesting that individually, and collectively, we are all transitioning toward greater independence in my family.

My church is also going through a long transition searching for pastoral leadership. As the moderator, or president, of our congregation, I've been spending the past month securing us a pastor. I find it interesting that I have hired more pastors in my life than any other "employee." I'm thinking the number is seven for various congregations and positions. I must say that this most recent one is one of my favorites and he hasn't even started yet.

This is the summer when my core sister-friends turn 50. They've been blazing trails through the decades with me since I was 13. They did just about everything before I did. They told me about driving on their own. Their first legal beer. Voting. And all the other things, boys, girls, diplomas, mortgages, and marriages before I did. And they have served me well to show me the way.

It is human nature to fear change. Although, if we were pressed, we wouldn't really want things to stay the same. It is possible to hold opposite emotions and feelings at the same time. That desire we have for our children to have wonderful, fulfilling, and independent lives while holding on to our desire for their daily presence at our kitchen table. The time of having a foot in each place. Of watching a 12 year old going back and forth between girl and young woman.

Several years ago, I would have been terrified and completely overwhelmed by a month like this one. And I freely admit to feeling nervous, but also excited and energized at the possibilities that lie ahead.

If you haven't read Elizabeth Lesser's book, "Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help us Grow," you should. Recognize that all transitions, happy and joyful ones as well as those that are painful, are changes. They may come with feelings of grief. Lesser's book is the handbook you wish you had when you don't quite know what to do when these life changes arise. It's one of those books you pass along to friends.

Lesser writes, "How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and blossom into who we were meant to be."

I know this to be true.



Friday, July 5, 2013

Toweling off from the stress bath

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon...

While that's another's famous opening line, it's true here, too. The kids and I met my mom and stepdad at Ikea in Minneapolis last Saturday. We had kottbullar (meatballs) and lingon and it did my little Svensk-Americansk heart a lot of good. No, they don't taste anything like Grandma Betty's, but they'll do. We had a browse and then they went their way back to Detroit Lakes and I went my way back to Grinnell. Alone. We'll do this again in a couple of weeks.

Alone? I know, right? A couple of weeks!

Like a kid looking forward to summer vacation, the whole idea of being only responsible for my own self and no one else spreads out in front of me like the toy section from Sears and Roebuck. The potential! The possibilities! I can eat what and when I want to for supper! I can go to bed at 8 if I wanna. I can control the TV remote!

Two days into my amazing vacation, the stress of life starts finding its way out of me. I am exhausted. Monday morning, I can hardly haul myself out of bed. I go into work late morning only to turn around and come right back home to bed and sleep for two hours, awakened only by the phone. I feel numb and beat. Seriously, I don't even want coffee. Referring to my ethnic heritage, coffee is the drink of my people. Russians have vodka, Brits have tea, Swedes drink coffee. Copious amounts. I have no desire for the stuff this week. It's as if my body has said that I am beyond coffee. I need rest, not caffeine.

The last time this happened, I later learned that I was expecting my son John. I can assure you without a doubt that is certainly not the case this time. So what is it?

It's stress. Honestly.

We coast along through life thinking that we got this. It's all good. Make the lists, check the boxes, we got it goin' on, don't we Baby?

But our bodies tell a different story. We are bathing in our own stress hormones and we don't even know it. Have you ever been working toward some goal or event, a date on the calendar and then you end up sick a few days after? When our bodies finally have a chance to let down, the stress comes out.

I miss my kiddos, no doubt about it and I'll be very glad when they come back home. But I also realize that as a single parent I need to particularly aware of this. To do things on my own, to be myself and not always in parent mode. Making time for myself and finding time to be alone is not easy, but hugely important. It's a little trickier than it seems to get used to being alone. I'm an extrovert who needs alone time, but this is a lot of alone time for me. I suspect I'll get the hang of this about two days before they come home.

This is the shape of things to come. With a rising high school sophomore and seventh grader, I have more of this time to look forward to. Perhaps I need to see these weeks on my own as practice for the real thing.

In the meantime, it's time to recognize that my stress levels are far higher than I realize and I need to be taking it seriously. Rest. Exercise. Eating well. Spending evenings with friends and those I love. Reading good books and trashy ones, too. Living life well means being a human being, not a human doing.

Is it time for you to step out of the shower of stress, too?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tractors, Not Tanks

What a gorgeous day to celebrate Independence Day!

In Grinnell, one can walk through the neighborhoods and know where the parade route is by the lining up of lawn chairs mid-afternoon. Where parties and gatherings welcome passersby with cold drinks, watermelon, and even live jazz in the backyard.

Walking down Broad street, I can "hear" my destination with music on the deck from The Funk Upstairs, a solo sax supported by a combo of drums, bass, rhythm, and keyboard.

It's so Grinnell.

In Iowa, we don't show our independence with a parade of tanks, artillery, and soldiers passing by. It's grannies in flat bed trailers and old boys from the VFW. It's golf carts and vintage cars festooned with red, white, and blue. And the closest thing to armed soldiers are cub scouts with water pistols.




Instead of tanks, we show off the equipment that feeds the world. Tractors both antique and those so new they haven't seen any black Iowa dirt on their tires.
"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism."  - Erma Bombeck



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Avion de Papel

My view this morning is from my friends' condo on the third floor with a view of the hills northeast of Castro Valley, CA.
We planned our trip around yesterday's comida at Eden UCC. One of my chosen sisters is the pastor at Eden and twice monthly, their congregation distributes food to the neighbors in need. They have things for children to do and the adults have an opportunity to visit with each other. It's a neighborhood event that brings residents together. 
John and Em had fun. They pitched in to help where they could and participated in a music class with the kids from the neighborhood too. Em played ball with the boys who were there with their mothers.
I sat at a table with paper, crayons, markers, and coloring pages. Children came to the table and checked me over. They saw that I was kind of a cool adult because I was coloring, too. It didn't take long for them to warm up and talk with me. The preschoolers wanted to impress me that they knew their colors in English - "yellow", "pink", "purple", their English better than my Spanish.
I'm not sure what made me think of it, but I made a paper airplane for one of the boys. He was so excited. He'd throw it and it would come undone. He'd run back to me and say, "No fly!" I'd fix it and he'd continue. We did this for about a half hour. As the other children saw his paper airplane, they would come to me with the page they had colored, hand it to me and I would make an airplane for them. 
A little girl - close to three years, I would guess, brought me a sheet of paper to have an airplane like the boys did. I made it, she ran to show her mother, and then ran back to me. I knelt down to her and she kissed me on the cheek and whispered, "Gracias." For those of you who know me well, you know the Herculean effort it took for me not to be a blubbering gob of goo at that lovely gesture. 
Seeing 60 families with a group of kids with them collecting food for the week, puts life into perspective. On Monday, our wallets were stolen out of the car where we were parked at a tourist destination. I am temporarily without access to my assets, to my identification, and for me that's just a pain in the behind. I'm not wondering how I am going to feed my family. 
I bonded with a mother who had two little ones. Her older child was simply too cute for words. He was tired and fussy. I came over and brought him paper and two markers and began to draw simple pictures. I drew a house.  "Casa," his mother said. "Gato," his mother said. He giggled and his big black eyes disappeared with his broad smile. He got fussy again and I made him a paper airplane. "Avion," his mother said. "Airplane," I said, and he ran to play with the other boys. 
John said that he was talking to a group of boys. They all saw him as the cool teenager paying attention to them. "I'm from Iowa," he said.
"Can you take the BART there?" asked one of the boys. (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
"Not exactly," John said. "But I did take the BART to come to see you." 
"It is not our differences that divides us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences." - Audre Lorde, Poet

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Scent of Coffee and Coppertone

Today's view of the porch is the San Francisco Bay.

Slathered with Coppertone, I walked up and down the parking lot of the hotel looking out at the water and vacation dug a little deeper into my state of mind.

As a parent, it's an extraordinary thing to experience things through your child's eyes. Yesterday, as my daughter took her first plane ride, that she remembers, it was a real kick to see that exhilaration in her, which in turn, had the same effect on me. Perhaps that's why I seem to be just about the giddiest one of the bunch here. The awe of seeing the clouds from the top down for the first time is pretty amazing.

It didn't surprise me that my 15 year old son would be shepherding his girls, young and old, checking the arrival and departures board and hoisting suitcases off the carousel. My 12 year old girl goes between teenager and a cranky little girl when hungry. Our grandma and I are taking it all in through them and giggling more than anything else. Tea time at the Denver airport was a lovely layover break.

In a few hours, we'll meet up with my first college roommate, Barbara. Fate brought us together in 1214 Quadrangle, University of Iowa, 31 years ago. When we've seen each other, it's been in Iowa City at Homecoming. I know that this is the first time, of more, that I will visit them.

In a couple of days, we'll head to the east bay and join my longtime heart sibs for what is also my first visit to them as well.

It's all good.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cleansing Waters


 

A couple of weekends ago, it rained. A lot. Like nearly seven inches of rain in 12 hours a lot. But it was the two inches that fell in one hour that overwhelmed our community's storm sewer and caused water to come up through the floor drain in hundreds of houses in our town. For some of us, the sump pumps could not keep up, the lift station failed, water came in through the basement window.

I woke up thinking that it had rained a horrendous amount and I had not heard my sump pump. It was about 4 a.m. and I headed to the basement to find water coming in. Shortly after, I heard a fire truck coming up and down all the streets in my neighborhood waking people up and warning them that we were flooding.

It was a helpless thing. I plugged in my sump pump and started bringing up items that were at risk of being ruined. I called my neighbor at about 6 because I knew they were up. Slightly panicked, I asked what I could do and he said that there really wasn't much to do until it stopped. The water was coming up the floor drain, through the foundation and through the basement window. Within an hour, I had two inches of water standing throughout the entire basement.

Exhausted and without something constructive to do, I went back to bed and tried to rest while my sump pump did its thing.

By the afternoon, my 15 year old said something hugely important. "We're really lucky, Mom."

"We are?"

"Yes. We have had nearly seven inches of rain and we don't have any more water in our basement than we do. And it's not sewage. We're lucky."

So very lucky. Our water issues were really just a pain in the behind. We didn't lose any of our appliances or anything of significant or sentimental value.

Perspective is a precious thing. If I can get to the end of my child-rearing days, which are fast approaching, and know that I have instilled in my children the ability and the insatiable desire to see the positive, the good in a situation, then I have given them something truly important. Along with that positive outlook is to recognize that each of us have the freedom to choose how we react to something that is outside of us. Whether that is someone important who has disappointed us, a call that didn't go our way, or an event like a basement flood that we had no way of preventing, it's a whole lot easier go of life if we do not give away our own authority to our feelings. Happiness and joy come from within, as does sadness and despair. We all know those who seem to have that raincloud hanging over their heads when life really isn't treating them poorly at all. They just choose to see it that way.

The trick is finding joy and happiness when the outside world really is rough. Unfortunately, for every person who can see the glass half full, there are many more who see it half empty.

People all over town had an unplanned basement purge of items that were hauled to the curb. Soggy and sodden strips of carpet and pad, cardboard boxes, things that had been contaminated by the flooding and often, sewage. Collectively, we had a community clean up day in a way that none of us wanted.

My kids made hauling damaged items out of the basement a "fun" task. When it was time to bring up the old carpet that had been down since before we moved in, my son put on a classic 60's dance party cassette tape and we danced to "Good Golly Miss Molly", "Mustang Sally", and "Devil With the Blue Dress." We "cut the rug" indeed.

Kids and I are heading out on a vacation tomorrow and it couldn't come at a more opportune time. We're ready for a change of scenery and making memories. Life lessons and milestones deserve reflection and celebration. This time, it's about the steps toward becoming an adult and being a part of something bigger than oneself.

Cable cars, artichokes, and breathtaking views from Highway 1. The bigger the life lessons, the better the celebration, right?


Friday, May 17, 2013

The Day

Several years ago, I noticed that May 17 was an important day in my life.

31 years ago today, I graduated from high school and then got to spend four weeks in Europe on a church trip that made the transition from high school teenager to college freshman. I'm still in touch with many of the others who also made that trip. In fact, one of them is now my banker and we had a great conversation in his bank just yesterday.

Four years later, I graduated from the University of Iowa, like my uncle and grandfather before me. I sat at graduation with Jay, a friend I met on my very first day on campus.

I went on a first date on May 17 with the guy I married. Vietnamese food and a walk around the Old Market. Five years later, we had our wedding rehearsal dinner on May 17.

Seventeen years ago tomorrow, I got married. A hot day with armloads of peonies. Lots of promise for a long and happy life.

And then there was the May 17 when I was overwhelmed at Ron's funeral. He will always be 35. In the midst of that grief, my toddler son took his first steps across Grandma's deck.

So, here I am at May 17 again.

In my wildest dreams, I could never have envisioned where I would be today and what my life would look like.

I had an amazing time catching up last June with the class of 1982. I will see my college roommate in just a few short weeks in California. And no one gets married thinking that they are going to be the couple that doesn't beat the odds and ends up divorced.

In 1996, I could not have known that I'd be working at an incredible job that is rarely the same everyday, with extraordinary people I truly love. I would have been shocked that I would find myself a single mom doing double duty with two amazing kids. So many of my friends in Grinnell are people I've only known since I moved here seven years ago and my life is so much richer for it.  The new people in my life, those I have reconnected with, and solid friends who have been hugely important to me all along are my foundation.

May 17 is now known as The Day. I feel a little like Caesar on March 15, visited by spirits and whispers of, "Beware!" All the memories of The Day surround me and it's always good. Today, I will honor The Day with self care and a 60 minute end-of-the-day massage, a lot of reflection, maybe a little crystal ball gazing, all most certainly with complete gratitude.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Sunday in May

I'm not a big fan of Mother's Day. I'm not all that excited about baseball, either. I do like apple pie.

Yeah, born and bred American.

Last year, I finally came out with my thoughts on Mother's Day. It was risky. I mean, who doesn't like Mother's Day? Who could possibly find fault with something that honors mothers? Seriously?

I wrote, "A Little Rant for Mother's Day" last year. Still pretty much my feelings about the holiday. And then this week, one of my pastors posted this: "A Non-Mom Speaks About Mother's Day" and I found a kindred spirit. In addition to my mom, I have a stepmom, and several who have been heart moms, modeling mothering for me. I'm pretty lucky.

And when it comes to being a mother myself, there is no one else I'd rather be than mom to John and Emily.

I'm having a Mother's Day weekend with my kids, my mother and stepdad. It's a lovely spring weekend and there is much to celebrate. There'll be a strawberry rhubarb cobbler for tomorrow night's dessert and my son will grill burgers for us. And I am grateful.




Thursday, May 9, 2013

Everyday humanity

letting go...The past month has been a rather intense stretch of time. It's not often, mercifully, that all areas of my life require much more than their usual fair share of attention at the same time. It felt a little like trying to cook a holiday meal with a hot plate. The recent events were all big, and big enough that I couldn't multi-task my way through. They each needed my undivided time. And, that's exactly how it happened. One event completed, an ever-so-brief moment of feet-up, and the next situation appeared.

In the midst of difficult and challenging situations, some pretty amazing things happened. I found myself engaging with people who needed to pour themselves out. I just happened to be the one who made the invitation to be a listener.

Recently, Donna Schaper posted a quote from poet Greg Kumera, who wrote, "The world needs your cargo as much as you need to lose it."Schaper is a writer for the UCC Daily Devotional. You can read her full post here. Schaper's words seem to illustrate what's been going on in my life lately. People need to talk, to share, to dump their cargo, leave past hurts and disappointments behind.

And while I'm listening and being present, I'm also receiving. Not their baggage, but their respect. They have honored me with their trust. What an amazing thing it is to trust another and what a gift to give as well. Trust in someone else seems to be a difficult thing to earn these days. To be willing to be human, to open up, and to share.

It's also a big task to be the listener. To hold someone's feelings, memories, and stories in a way that honors them and keeps it about them. It's tempting to want to fix and make things right or to take on their story. That's not what this is about. This is about listening and being present for them. It's not an easy task and I found myself thinking of all the "professional listeners" in my life. I have a deeper appreciation for their ability to be fully present, yet remain detached. There's a lot of hurt in these conversations.

I invite you to take a chance. Find someone you can trust and open up.And by all means, if you are honored to be chosen a listener, take it seriously. Be human about it all. Allow yourself to feel what it's really like. And  then do it again.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Yes, it's going to be alright

I hadn't heard the sump pump kick on after days of rain and I was starting to wonder if it was dead. I visited with a dear friend who knows about stuff like this and he told me how to troubleshoot the situation. After I had Googled "sump pump won't start," I felt a little less intimidated about it all.

But last night, I needed to actually get down there and check on it. When I got down to the basement, I saw water pouring in through the basement window from the torrential downpour we were having. I did all the right things - the wet/dry vac, moved things out of the way, made sure the dehumidifier was on full steam, opened the lid on the sump. I was handling the situation. I Was On It.

But I had this naggling feeling that I wasn't. I had this sense of indictment.

"This is all your fault. If you had just cleaned out those gutters like you knew you were supposed to do, this wouldn't be happening. What do you spend all your time doing anyway? This is going to end up costing you
 a lot of money and you could have prevented it. Way. To. Go."

Arrgh. Truth is, the whole situation could have been much worse. It was really pretty well contained and I was taking care of it. It did require a troubleshooting phone call to my personal MacGuyver who talked me down off the ledge and in a very clear and matter of fact way walked me through the steps of dealing with the sump, which did pump after all. He reassured me that everything was going to be okay and giving me that  reassurance was just as important as the "how-to."

But that crazy voice in my head. Not long ago, that voice played in my head a lot. I'll bet you have that same tape, too. It's a best-seller, unfortunately. We can knock ourselves down so easily and so well that we often don't even realize that we are doing it. I haven't heard that indicting voice for a long time, so when I do it is startling, self-abusive, and scary.

Take a moment to listen to the tapes in your head. Do they build you up more than they tear you down? Would you talk to someone you love like that? Of course not. So why do we talk that way to ourselves?

Habits, voices from our past, unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and more contribute to this self-deprecating soundtrack in our minds. And what's worse, we believe it! What does this negative self-talk actually do for us anyway? It tells us that we can't do it right, we are to blame, we are not enough as we are, blah, blah, blah.

That serves no one. Not ourselves and certainly not the people who love us. The next time you hear that tape in your head, know that without a doubt, you have the power to stop it. Take a breath and tell yourself that you are doing it right, there is no blame to be assigned, and that yes, you are most certainly enough.

The basement is still slightly damp, but it's going to be fine. I know now how to check out the sump pump and what to do if its not working properly. I know that if I don't clean out the gutter when the sun is shining, I may be cleaning it out in the pouring rain. And most importantly, I know that I am strong and yet willing to admit I need reassurance once in a while that everything is going to be okay.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Is the grass really greener over there?


I found this on one of the best blogs I have ever read in my life. If you need a little inspiration, please check it out. Just click on the picture!My family and I are planning a trip to San Francisco in a few weeks. The stars and planets are lining up and I do feel like I have won the lottery. It's a unique and glorious situation that's making this happen. We're traveling with one of our Grinnell grandmas to see other close friends who live there. I'll also get to see one of my college roommates and her husband who live in the area. Whenever we talk or she visits me in Iowa, she often adds the line, "You'll want to move here. You will." I've never been interested in living far from Iowa, but it does intrigue me from time to time, especially as I grow older. And as my children grow and move into their own lives, it holds a certain kind of pull for me.If I were to move to another part of the country I'd never been to before, I think it would serve to make me appreciate Iowa even more. It's not because I see the grass as somehow greener or opportunities better or that by starting over once again would somehow finally make life right. I would go because I was curious, not to escape. 
In my life, I've been in places where I have had to start over. If I didn't, I'd continue to live life in a waking coma. Just going through the motions. Instead of packing up and moving on, which I could not do even if I wanted to, I actually had to face the issues. Where I needed to go, was inside. And I learned that that is a much more demanding journey than to find a new place to live. Truth is, had I just decided that I'd be happier living somewhere else, I would never find that place. The issues, the past hurts, the disappointments and brokenness would also be coming with me along with my furniture and boxes of household stuff. No matter where I'd end up, I'd still be feeling unfulfilled and left wanting. 

I have a lot of living to do in the next several years with my kids at home and getting them on their way in the world. Considering what comes next in my life is as intriguing as seeing what my kids consider what's next for them. What I do know is that these days, I'm traveling a lot lighter from the inside. I've shed a lot of my cargo and I am living more authentically than I ever have. I know that wherever life takes me, I'm healthy and well, ready to continue on the journey. 

Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence? Or is it that they've taken better care of their lawn? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

This morning, I read this post from Seth Godin, "Just the good parts." And it was timely. 

My dad will tell you "getting old ain't for sissies."

I'd add that choosing to live life fully and authentically really isn't, either. It's no wonder many of us spend a heckuva lot of energy trying to avoid feeling the full import of our emotions. 

Godin suggests that many of us just want the good parts of life, but we're not willing to be open to the possibility that things might not work out. We might attempt something new and be disappointed or fail. We tell ourselves that it's too big of a risk to take and that it is just easier to avoid the disappointment and pain by taking a pass. But what we miss if we don't take the chance to fully live!

"Instead of cursing or fearing the down moments, understand that you've chosen reality, not some unsustainable fantasy," Godin writes. "It means that you're doing worthwhile, difficult work, not merely amusing yourself."

However, there are plenty of times when I wish "worthwhile" wasn't so difficult. 

The very thing you're seeking only exists because of the whole. We can't deny the difficult parts, we have no choice but to embrace them. - Seth Godin

Living authentically requires being fully present and there are times when that is not easy. It's being aware and feeling one's emotions especially when they might be too strong. Meeting the inevitable challenges of life with an open heart is hard to do, but the rewards are immense. If we want to feel the good stuff, the joy beyond words, we have to be open to the risk that it may not work out. The point is, if we are too scared of failing, then we're never really fully living. 

Where in your life, your relationships, your career, are you most afraid of taking a chance? What joy, love, or success are you willing to miss because you are too afraid?

"The open path is a matter of working purely with what is, of giving up altogether the fear that something may not work, that something may end in failure. One has to give up the paranoia that one might not fit into situations, that one might be rejected. One purely deals with life as it is." Pema Chodron - The Ocean of Dharma