Sunday, December 29, 2013

Four Tools I'm Carrying into 2014

2013 has been a phenomenal year in terms of my mental outlook. I returned to my counselor in January for a tune-up. Twelve months later I'm still being coached by her and am harvesting some really dramatic results. She has been planting seeds of thought and reflection for years, and this year I saw so many of those seeds sprout in different areas of life.

As I approach my 39th birthday in days, I see the New Year as a new landscape to cultivate. The tools I've acquired (or fine-tuned in 2013) are certain to ensure that 2014 is productive and enriched spiritually and otherwise. These are the tools that I'm carrying with me in 2014 and beyond.

With practice I no longer label the negative aspects of life in a flurry of self-talk. Say I pack my lunch in the morning before work. On the commute miles from home I realize I left the lunch in the refrigerator or worse on the counter where all the food will spoil and have to be thrown out. I used to engage in negative talk. "Dang it, I knew this was how the day would start. Now I have to spend money I was trying to save by packing the lunch. My mornings never go right." I have learned that this inner dialogue is an energy drain, changes nothing, and is ABSOLUTELY USELESS. Now in moments of forgotten lunches or the bigger things life throws my way, I take a deep breath and remind myself It's okay. I can handle this. Sometimes I have to repeat this over and over. No matter how often I tell myself this, I am far better able to take life as it comes. Repeat after me, ONLY POSITIVE WORDS. Make no mistake. This takes practice, but it is so worth the time and practice.

In 2013, I identified areas of my life where boundaries did not exist and where some boundaries needed to be redrawn. Of the four practices, I am declaring this one the hardest for me to do. It required me to look at some painful scenarios, mourn the losses they meant for me, and reclaim what is best for me. I came to understand that some (if not most) of my past suffering stemmed from the lack of boundaries or my poor maintenance of said boundaries. I imagine the rancher who doesn't maintain her fences and as a result her ranch is threatened by the forces that would normally be kept out by a sturdy fence. In 2013, I mended my fences thus protecting my heart's acreage from outside attacks. Repeat after me, CREATE BOUNDARIES FOR HEALTHY INTERACTION.

The boundary maintenance became instantly easier to do when I began removing the "shoulds" and "suppose tos" from my inner and outer dialogues. Each time I thought or spoke a should or suppose to my boundaries were weakened. These words create unrealistic expectations and almost always usher in disappointment. They are the cousins to negative labels and unhealthy self-talk and undermine positive outlooks. Should and suppose to insinuate black and white,control, and ulterior motives. They keep authenticity from taking root and are generally no good. They do not leave room for the grays that are inevitable and beautiful in life. Repeat after me, THROW OUT THE SHOULDS AND SUPPOSE TOS.

Removing negative self-talk, re-drawing boundaries, and removing counterproductive vocabulary ushered in my improved ability to live in the moment, the best tool for living life to the fullest. As I sat with my counselor recently, she stopped me mid-sentence and said that all day she'd been talking to clients about the importance of living moment to moment, not worrying about what was going to come next. She thanked me for already doing this and not needing to be reminded. WOW. I'd been practicing it so much in the past two years that I didn't realize it had become second nature. Her feedback encourages me that the work I have done this year will help me to take the New Year as it comes and will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls that have wrecked my positive outlook in the past.

I wish you a Happy New and Peaceful Year.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mid-week Prayer

Dear Lord,

I have been praying without ceasing, and phew! I'm worn out. There is so much need around me. So many opportunities to ask for your divine presence, healing, and help.

Diagnosis, prognosis, unemployment, and discouragement. Small requests and Giant worries. These just scrape the surface of the troubles of the people who need you - strangers and loved ones alike.

It's a good kind of tired. I feel close to you each time I pray on another's behalf. I'm getting better at letting go of the outcome and knowing that your will will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Thanks for the Heaven-on-Earth moments too. When my daughter listens and follows instructions on the first request, when there's an opportunity to help a mama whose overwhelmed. When technology makes it possible to stay in touch with long-distance friends. When we see geese flying together in the sky. Thanks for taking my breath away and for reminding me how grateful I am to have every one of these breaths.

All this prayer and need, more prayer and more need is changing me, God. Help me to be quiet and hear your words. Help me not only to hear your words, but to heed them too.

And so it is, Amen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mid-Week Prayer

Dear God,

I lift up the calamities of Earth to you tonight. They are too many to count.

Please be with the people of the Philippines. The suffering and devastation is immense. It boggles the mind and confounds me. Please ease the pain, hunger, and confusion. Help make the roads clear for deliveries. Help coordinate efforts of many good organizations so that the relief and comfort can be shared with the greatest number of people in as smooth and efficient way possible. Be with those who are so desperate that they are choosing violence and looting as a means of survival. Create pockets of good in the midst of all that awfulness. I pray that the prayers and contributions of people all over the world would be a blessing to each soul in need. Be with families who have been separated and children who may be alone and afraid. Ease it all with your presence and the presence of helpers.

Lord, please be with the people in my own community who do not have adequate shelter and warm clothing for the temperatures that will continue to drop. Please create warm pockets physically and spiritually that can bring comfort. Open the hearts of those of us who are warm and protected. Let us not rest easy while others are cold and miserable.

The one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy is fast approaching. Please be with the families who lost loved ones that day and the community as they prepare to relive that horrific day. Thank you for the strength and resolve that community has demonstrated to move forward in peace and love. Help others to be inspired by their example. Please help those mamas, daddies, sisters, brothers, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, classmates, and teachers feel you ever so close in the coming days.

For the painful things that I am not aware of, I pray for your comfort and presence to dwell there too.

In the name of your Son, Jesus, I pray,

The Words that Count

While Mama’s naturally drawn to healthy foods, she can eat whatever she wants and doesn’t gain weight. It would be a blessing if she packed on a few pounds. On the other end of the weight spectrum is Daddy. He doesn’t like veggies unless fried okra counts. He likes couch time and a handful of chips.

Caught in the middle is Sweet Girl. She likes Daddy’s leniency with soda, chips, and candy, but also knows Mama’s mantra: eating healthy food is good for you.

Now she’s learned some new words outside the home: fat and skinny. She’s working out if one of the words applies to her. Sweet Girl is six. She has an athletic build. She’s neither heavy nor willowy.

The other night she leapt into Mama’s lap and said something about being skinny. This is what Mama said: “You are healthy. That’s the most important thing I care about when it comes to what you look like. I also care about you being smart and funny…” The conversation became a word game. She added some words to the list and echoed some of the words Mama threw out. Mama’s list included being compassionate and showing kindness.

Without missing a beat, Sweet Girl said, “I am kindness.” Mama prays that Sweet Girl can concentrate on the words that count amid all the other words that will swirl around her… and that she’ll grab a cup of greek yogurt when she needs a snack.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Late Week Prayer

God of Light and Love,

I've been thinking about big things this week.
How easily we humans separate ourselves into "better than" categories, so I prayed.
How frightening it is to release our children into the hands of schools, teachers, and other caring people, so I prayed.
How life is not fair in big and small ways, so I prayed.
How a beloved friend may lose employment, so I prayed.
How I miss my grandma and good friend Lois every single day, so I prayed.
How bad it feels to be misunderstood, so I prayed.
And then I remembered how wonderful it is to be surrounded by amazing friends, and I gave thanks.
I remembered how beautiful your creation is during Missouri autumns, and I gave thanks.
I remembered how you healed my dad when he was so sick, and I gave thanks.
I remembered how much I love being my daughter's mama, and I gave thanks.
I remembered the new baby born into our friendship circle, and how much her mama prayed for her arrival, and I gave thanks.
I remembered how satisfying it feels to do hard things and grow resilient, and I gave thanks.
Mostly, Lord above, I give thanks that I have you to lean on and to look up to.  Thank you for loving me and all of your creation so very much.
And so it is, Amen.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween Long Ago

The most striking feature of my last Halloween in Hutchinson, Kansas, was that I did not go to see my grandparents--something we had previously done every year on this occasion. That particular night endings and new beginnings were vying for my attention.  I was 15 years old, so I didn't have a costume to show off.  Instead I accompanied a friend and her little sister as they trick-or-treated around what would soon be my "old" neighborhood.

The next morning a moving van was scheduled to arrive.  Professional movers would dismantle the only home I had known.  We would live out of suitcases in a new house in a new town until our possessions followed us to Michigan.

I didn't go to my grandparents house because I was too young to drive.  My parents were busy with their own goodbyes and to-do lists, and plus, we'd be saying goodbye to my grandparents on the way out of town.  I was busy with the festivities and with the bigness of what was ending.

The next afternoon my grandparents stopped by our house for a quick visit while my sister and I were at school and the movers made trips in and out of the house. Grandma then drove them home, and a few hours later my grandpa slumped over on the couch, and was gone. Dead.  Without a last Halloween visit from his granddaughters.

A friend of the family drove my mom to the high school to pick me up.  It was in the school parking lot that I got the news.  Our move was postponed for a few days, so that funeral arrangements could be made.  I had a few extra days with my friends, which was great.  But now I also had a few days to absorb the shock of leaving behind a beloved grandma who was losing her husband and a son and his family in the same week. The pain of THAT goodbye has remained with me ever since.

As Halloweens came and went in the years soon after our move, I grieved the visit I didn't make in 1990.  I had to work to keep the guilt of not seeing them at bay.  As time has passed and I have the benefit of perspective and maturity, I am convinced it worked out as it should have.  In some ways, not visiting them helped keep my memories of them intact.  My memories weren't tinged with a quality of "lastness" with my grandpa. They were happy and teeming with all of the wonder and happiness that came with being their granddaughter.  Together Grandpa and Grandma infused my first fifteen years with enough treats to last a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mid-week Prayer

God of Light and Love,

I am reminded this week just how quickly life can turn upside down, inside out.  I offer my prayer for those whose lives have been scrambled by heartache, accident, worry, or the crushing weight of the every day. Bring them comfort by whatever means they can accept it: a surgeon who stops to listen, a nurse's gentle touch, the smile of a stranger, a letter in a mailbox.

Guide me, I pray, to worry less about my own circumstances and concentrate more on the needs of others.  In that mindset, I know that my stresses and strains can be relieved.  Help me to remember that it's not my job to fix everything for everyone, but that where my gifts and talents intersect with their particular needs, I pray for the courage and energy to respond.

Thank you, God, for the many ways you have met me where I was: bereft at the bedside of my once-paralyzed dad, in the driver's seat at my wit's end with a non-verbal toddler, in deep conversation beloved friends. There are too many times to count, and for that abundance I am deeply grateful.

I pray for a good night's rest for a friend's injured parent, the stressed out, exhausted mamas in my circle, and for everyone in between.

With gratitude, I pray, Amen.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Month in Review - October's Favorite Things List

This has been a trying month.  There are no two ways around that, but I tend to agree with Abraham Lincoln who apparently said, "Most people are as happy as they choose to be."  In that spirit, here are the bright spots to my month--in no particular order:

  • Crossed off Rhode Island from the list of states I haven't yet visited when I attended a professional conference in Providence
  • Filled more than 40 pages in my journal
  • "Words are alive and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living." - Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave
  • PBS replays of Downton Abbey Seasons 2 and 3 for this D.A. newbie
  • Listening to the audio version of At Home At Mitford by Jan Karon on my daily commute
  • Martha Beck's insights
  • Beginning my Christmas shopping and making good progress
  • The way that organizing my home spaces clears my muddled mind
  • Attending the Peace Colliquy with my daughter and her love of the day camp for kids
  • Reconnecting with friends from college
  • The fact that I still think of our trip to England nearly daily
  • "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." B.K.S. Iyengar
  • Sunday afternoon naps
  • Raspberry muffins and my pumpkin dessert
  • Migraine-free days
  • the writings of Sarah Ban Breathnach and Anne Lamott
  • Brilliant blue skies of autumn
  • New clothes--on sale
  • The nearly daily funny sayings of my daughter
  • Music of Mat Kearney, Dawes, Sarah Bareilles, and Ingrid Michaelson
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Less TV
  • Writing a letter of recommendation for a beloved friend
  • Knowing that paying attention can turn around any bad day
What 's on your list this month?  Are you keeping track?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rejection #1

In May, I submitted my essay, From Skinny Nanny to Well-Rounded Mama:A Journey to Acceptance, to Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine's Inaugural Reader Essay Contest.  I am excited to announce that I have my first REJECTION to celebrate!

Excerpt: "The once late-bloomer has emerged a confident, strong-willed woman content with who she is. I never thought I’d be as comfortable in my own body as I am now. I know who I am, what I want, and am satisfied with sailing through life in this slim vessel. The journey from awkward pre-teen to confident woman was expedited by the experience of pregnancy. For the first time in my life, my straight edges slowly began rounding, softening. At weeks seven or eight, my Gap size zero khaki work pants began tightening in my mid-section. This was a new sensation and one in which I reveled."

I am proud of this essay, and not being a contest winner does not diminish this.  I am motivated to keep delving into the themes and experiences in life.

One of the winner's essays can be found here and I encourage you to take a moment to read it.  Her essay is beautiful. 

Building a Writing Life - One Rejection at a Time

My writing life took a giant leap forward this summer when I enrolled in the Washington University Summer Writers Institute.  For two intensive weeks, I explored what my strengths and weaknesses are as a writer, and most importantly, I came to understand that for me, writing is the way I make sense of my life and the world around me.  Metabolizing the world through the written word is the point of my writing.  If/when I am published, that will be the cherry on the top.

My author's statement is "To feast on words, explore their power and serve up writings which inspire and encourage my readers and myself."

My amazing instructor Deanna Benjamin said this summer, "You are going to submit 300 pieces, and get one published."  Her comment sparked the theme of this blog: to celebrate every rejection as an opportunity to learn and hone my craft.  When work is accepted, the celebrations will be sweeter.

I'd love for you to join me on this writing (and reading) adventure.