Former Skeptic Finds Peace and Hope

I didn’t come into 2015 with a well planned list of resolutions, only that I mostly intended to focus on maintaining a positive outlook. I’ve mentioned a few times this mental and spiritual shift I’ve felt inside over the last half a year, and positivity seems to be a recurring theme as I try to nurture this change.

As I continue to write, I keep coming back to this thing that I’m feeling. And I suppose that’s because inside, to me, it feels monumental, even though I know that to the outside world it might be almost imperceptible. My circumstances and physical surroundings remain largely unchanged while mentally I’m seeing things from an entirely different and hopeful perspective. Someone commented that, (at least from my writing,) I’ve always seemed to be a pretty upbeat kind of person. I can see where that would seem true. There are things I’m willing to write and those I choose to hold back.

It’s not that I’ve been unhappy my whole life. It’s more like there was this vague but constant sense that I was missing something. And I couldn’t figure out if it was a legitimate feeling, or if I was just a spoiled brat who couldn’t be content with all the comforts and privileges I’d been blessed with all these years. Whether you could see it or not, I had a good sense of skepticism and sarcasm.

And then seemingly out of the blue, it was like, “Oh! It all makes sense now!” Challenges, people, events and circumstances, both those that are discouraging, and the type I willingly embrace, they all make more sense. These days I feel more able to rise to the occasion. I understand hope. Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. It’s enormous, yet it’s simple.

Faith. It makes more sense now. The old me kept trying to find it in the ways and places I was taught are the only right ways and places. I had to finally let myself step out of that mindset to understand that God is happy to have me find Him wherever I do. And if that’s not inside the walls of a church, that’s okay. I still feel like my not “having” a church may only be a temporary thing anyway. Maybe, maybe not. But I had to get past the idea that I was going to disappoint others by not doing things the “right” way. Once I finally got past that roadblock, so much fell into place.

It wasn’t really out of the blue. I believe that now, though it seemed at the time like a combination of life’s circumstances, the right people, and well-timed coincidences that brought me to this changed awareness.

Okay, I can’t help but think I sound like a hippie sometimes. I don’t care. I feel great!

It could just be this is something that comes with age or maybe I’m just a slow learner. Either way, I don’t care because I love this mental and spiritual place that I’m in these days. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Nothing on the outside has changed, but I’m significantly happier and more peaceful than I’ve ever been. And I don’t want to go back to the uptight person who used to be all too familiar to me. Every day now, I seek to feed this state of mind and spiritual awareness. I’ve found things to read (daily devotions, the Bible, websites dedicated to positivity and enlightenment) that keep me grounded in a better place and help me look beyond where I’m at today. And what I really love is that this all seems to draw like-minded people to me. Or me to them. However it works, it’s happening. And the crazier thing is, most of them are people I’ve known for years. I just never knew this side of them. My relationships with a few people are growing deeper day by day, even though I thought we’d come to know everything there was to know about each other.

When I look back on all the years when I remained in such a stagnant place, I feel a little bit regretful. I’ve always been aware that I was fortunate to have the life I’ve had. But that didn’t stop me from feeling my share of distrust, bitterness and self-pity, or that I didn’t have enough things or the right experiences. Sometimes I look back and regret all the things I could have done, but didn’t do so much better, as a wife, parent, daughter, sibling, friend, employee or whatever. Don’t get me wrong. All things considered, things have turned out pretty well. I just often wonder what might be different had I worked harder at some things – like finished college, been a more patient parent, a more forgiving wife, or forgiven myself for all the things I saw merely as my shortcomings instead of as stepping-stones!

I have to keep reminding myself that I’m here now and that’s what matters. The past can’t be changed. All I can do is live better now, in each moment, as it comes.

I was at the gym Thursday morning with my friend, Erin and we were chatting about goals and resolutions. Hers are better defined than mine, but we’re both seriously working to really ingrain a positive mindset within ourselves. I mentioned that in addition to that, I want to work on being more intentional. When she asked what I meant, I said that I’ve spent my entire life always looking ahead, to the point that I often miss what’s right in front of me. She agreed that was a good goal.

I’ve had our conversation in mind since Thursday morning and have been mulling over how to be more intentional. I often trip myself up in my good intentions by becoming so immersed in the daily grind that forget all else. I was thinking about this as I stepped out of my car into the office parking lot yesterday morning. As much as I love my job, I find it hardest change my old ways there. I was trying to remind myself not to get so lost in work that I neglect to face daily challenges from this more positive mindset. I hate when I fall back into my old and negative ways!

hawk on branch_resizedAs I began to walk across the parking lot, I saw a hawk sitting in the bare branches of a tall tree on the edge of the nearby pond. And whether it’s because a hawk isn’t something I see very often, or because his appearance was so regal, or because I’m more likely to look for signs in my surroundings these days, I stood and stared for a moment before he spread his wings and soared away. He was on my mind all day, to the point that I decided to dig deeper.

I loved what I found when I googled the hawk; the idea that animals can possess a spiritual essence. Spirit Animals. Interesting concept! If you’re a believer in such things, here is what my encounter with the hawk is said to mean.

Hawk often represents the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences if you choose to become more observant.

Many of the messages Hawk brings you are about freeing yourself of thoughts and beliefs that are limiting your ability to soar above your life and gain a greater perspective. It is this ability to soar high above to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture that will allow you to survive and flourish.

I’m going to choose to take this as encouragement that I am moving in the right direction!

Spirit animals, huh? Do I even want to know what all those squirrels in the back yard are trying to tell us? ;-)

It’s a whole new year and anything can happen

The new year began yesterday as I putzed around the house, tackling a few chores. I contemplated the blog post I was sure to write as a means of ushering in 2015 and pondered whether or not I was willing to document any sort of resolutions. Then Mark surfaced from the lower level and asked, “Ready to go?”

“Go? Go where?”

“Dave and Julie’s,” he responded.

Apparently we’d been invited to go watch football and eat lots of food with other people. I guess Mark mentioned this in passing at one point in the past couple of days, but it had evaporated from my thoughts. Besides, I don’t like or understand football so it was relegated to recesses of my brain.

“When does the game start?” I asked. (Since I’m not a football lover, I wasn’t even sure what team we’d be watching.)

“An hour ago,” he replied. (This is why we don’t put Mark in charge of the social calendar. We’d always be late.)

Leo

Leo

Scratch blog post-a-day from the list of resolutions! It was never a serious consideration anyway. I threw together a plate of summer sausage and seasoned crackers and off we went. We showed up around half-time and spent the afternoon with friends, watching football, talking football, talking other stuff and playing with cute dogs. It was fun, and the homemade chicken wild rice soup was delicious!

After football, we went to my mother-in-law’s place for the evening. Her cul-de-sac was filled with cars. The rest of the family was already there. And there went any chance of writing a well-constructed New Year’s Day blog post. Still, I continued to think about resolutions. I’m not generally one to make them, but considering that I’ve experienced a pretty significant and positive shift of self in the past six months, it seems worthwhile to commit to continued efforts.

I recall that last year at this time, I made myself a Positive Jar with the idea that I’d write down one positive each day and tuck it in the jar. In theory, I should have 365 positive things to look back on by now.

There is actually a grand total of twenty-one written positives in the jar. I managed to write a few, but most of them were contributed by Kacey and her friends, and there’s one from the dog and cat too. Big FAIL on my part! Really, is it ever a good idea to commit to doing anything every single day for an entire year? Even with the best of intentions, life tends to get in the way now and then.

Still, it wasn’t a bad idea. Maybe it was just the wrong medium. I have a blog where I like to document things. Positive stuff could be noted here. Sort of a virtual positive jar. And much more likely to happen.

I used to think that positive thinking was just a trick to encourage ourselves to be more upbeat, and that in the face of real struggle, it had no hope of being truly effective. In the past six months, I’ve learned differently. It started like a little raindrop that turned into a waterfall and me seeking more information. Since then, I’ve been seeking anything and anyone to support this positive change.

Something shifted inside and I’ve come to know that the things I tell myself become reality. If I continuously carry thoughts of worry, I will constantly worry. But if think positively, encouragingly, confidently? Anything is possible. Relationships – even if I can’t make them healthy, I can rise above the strain. Health goals. Career aspirations. All of it is in my grasp if I believe it. I’ve realized that even though I’ve always been a generally upbeat person, I used to carry around a lot of bitterness and blame as a result of any difficult circumstances. But I now see that every experience in life is an opportunity to learn and grow if I look for it. It’s not a mind trick. It actually works. And a positive attitude tends to spill over onto others, in much the same way that griping and gossip tend to be contagious, only this is better.

In the last six months, I’ve come to realize there is a whole world of possibility out there that I never realized was available to me. So it seems that if I’m going to resolve to do anything, it’s to continue down this path. I could cite a lot of other resolutions about health, hobbies, faith and the kind of person I want to be, but these things can and likely will happen as a result of that one resolution. So that will be my goal. Think positive thoughts and anything can happen!

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Christmas is upon us. And we’ll be missing my father-in-law as we celebrate this year.

On Sunday, the entire family was called to hospice to say goodbye to Bob. He was struggling and earlier had communicated to one of his daughters that he didn’t think he could take much more. Mark and I joined the rest of the family in Bob’s room as we quietly gathered around his bed. His daughters were circled around him, holding his hands and praying with him. His breaths were coming too far apart. There were so many tears as  we all watched and waited. The minutes and hours ticked by as we alternately took turns coming and going from the room. There were too many of us to all be there at the same time.

At one point, I went out to the great room to sit and exchange comfort with other family members. Mark’s mom was there too, when one of the nurses came out to talk. She told us that Bob had stabilized and it seemed obvious he wasn’t going anywhere that day. She suggested that if anyone wanted or needed to go home, they should do so without guilt. She recommended that when anyone of us did leave, when we said goodbye to Bob, we might tell him that if he wanted to go while we were away, it would be okay. She said sometimes a dying person just needs to know that it’s okay to go.

Most of the family went home with plans to come back at various times so that someone would be with Bob around the clock. Mark and I stayed a while longer, along with his mom and youngest brother. Kacey brought us some dinner and after eating, the five of us sat in the room, watching Bob rest. Eventually, Mark suggested that I go home with Kacey while he stayed with his mom and brother. I had things that desperately needed doing at home, and so I agreed. Before leaving, I leaned over Bob and took his hand. He looked up at me as I said, “Bob, Kacey and I are going to go now. We love you.” He moved his hand in acknowledgement.

I’m so glad I told Bob I loved him. I always got along just fine with him, but he and I weren’t affectionate in the way where we would express love for each other. I never had any doubt that he loved me too. But it was never said, only assumed.

On Monday afternoon, Bob passed away.

I had just returned to my desk after lunch when Mark called me at work to tell me Bob was gone. He was sad but calm. We made plans to meet at home and go to the hospice together to meet his family. Mark’s mom, two of his sisters and his older brother had been with Bob when he passed. He had not been alert or responsive all day. They had been sitting in the room with him, just watching him slowly breathe, when they realized the last breath had come and gone. Bob left quietly, without a struggle or obvious pain. I am so grateful for that. Mark was so afraid that his dad’s passing would be traumatic. Instead, it was very peaceful.

The hospice staff was wonderful. Such compassionate people they are! In addition to the tears shed for Bob, I think there were some as a result of having to say goodbye to the people who so lovingly took care of Bob.

After everyone had come and said their last goodbyes, we were all gathered in various clusters in and outside of Bob’s room as Mark’s sisters packed up his personal things. In the hallway just outside the room, there are windows overlooking the trees surrounding the hospice property. Mark pointed out a cluster of deer on the edge of the trees, looking toward us, flicking their tails and bobbing their heads now and then. More than one of us surmised that Bob had sent the deer as a way of telling us he was just fine. He always loved the outdoors, and in his later years, continued to buy deer hunting licenses, but never loaded his gun when he went out into the woods. There’s a corn crib in his front yard at home, just for the deer.

Sunny, another member of the staff told us that the deer always come when it’s someone’s time. They seem to know, and are always there at the time of a patient’s passing.

I continue to be in awe at the miracles that occurred during these last few weeks as Bob made his way out of this world. He seemed to come back from the brink of death several times. Family divisions were healed. And I came to believe in life after death in a way I never have before.

On Sunday, as Bob was struggling so terribly, I was sitting in his room with the others. We had agreed not to talk. It seemed to be what Bob wanted. So I prayed. I prayed that he wouldn’t hurt and I prayed that he wouldn’t be afraid. And I was thinking about his best friend, Howie and how he had come to Bob a few days earlier. I was imagining him being there to walk along with Bob as he left this world. I wondered who else might be there to meet him and it occurred to me that if I could choose someone to welcome Bob to Heaven, it would be my Grandma T. Just a random thought. My Grandma T loved everybody, and everybody loved her. If I could send someone to help make Bob’s journey easier, it would be her.

On Monday, as we waited in the great room at hospice for the mortuary staff to take Bob’s body away, a volunteer came in to play piano. She played a song or two before I realized she was playing How Great Thou Art. Most people know that song. Many of us love it. It was my Grandma T’s absolute favorite and she used to play it on her piano. I think she was speaking to me through that song, saying, “I got your message, honey girl, and I came to welcome Bob, just like you asked.”

As many have recently reminded me, those of us left behind will be sad for a while for our own loss, but where Bob is now, it’s a huge celebration. And I truly believe it.

Not a Bad Year

Mark and I squeezed in a bit of Christmas shopping last night ahead of our nightly visit to his dad in hospice. As we drove, I was feeling a bit reluctant. We had been to see Bob the night before and his breathing sounded so labored. He’d startled from his sleep a couple of times, waking with a fearful look on his face and grasping at the air before settling back against his pillows again. A nurse had come in the room to observe and listen, and her concern was evident. I was downright scared, having a hard time staying put in the room, afraid I was going to watch my father-in-law die in front of me and not knowing if I was strong enough to deal with it. When I mentioned this to Mark last night, saying I wasn’t sure I could go back, he insisted his dad was only snoring. But I know that to some degree, Mark (understandably) only sees and believes what he wants to where his dad is concerned these days.

Mark looked over from the driver’s seat as we headed to the hospice facility. He asked if I was going to be okay, and I said yes. I said I’d just walk out to the hospice’s great room if I didn’t think I could handle watching and hearing Bob struggle for breath again.

We were almost there, driving under the lights lining the dark highway, the bright lights of oncoming cars shining in our eyes. We were quiet for a moment and a series of thoughts flashed through my mind. We’ve both been doing some heavy thinking lately.

“It’s been a bad year,” I said to Mark, thinking not only of his dying father, but about my parents and their struggles with age and health. I was also thinking about our kids. Both Brad and Kacey experienced broken hearts this year, as each saw the end of a long-term relationship.

I’m grateful that Kacey appears to be moving on so remarkably well, but worries about Brad have been heavy on my mind, even though almost six months have passed since he broke the news to us. He didn’t suffer a mere break-up. His engagement ended. They’d been living together for several years and shared a dog. And when she moved out of the apartment, she left a lot behind. Their joint lease didn’t end until the end of last month, but she had yet to come claim her belongings and still had a key to the apartment. She would be graduating from her program this month and most likely moving to wherever it is she finds a job.

Brad expected her to come clean out her belongings by the end of the year. When I asked what he wanted for Christmas, he told me, “Tupperware. Pots and pans. Kitchen utensils.” He joked that we might buy him furniture. He was certain that he would soon be left without the necessities of daily living, because so much of what fills the apartment was hers. My biggest fear was that she would take the dog. Although Brad had made it clear he didn’t intend to give up the dog, she was just as insistent she would not either. Custody of Dacotah has been a big question all these months. Dacotah has been Brad’s constant companion and comfort as he’s begun to rebuild his life. I’ve worried endlessly that he would suffer even more heartbreak if he lost her too.

Mark and I have each tried to talk to Brad a few times in an attempt to help him protect himself as best as possible, not only with Dacotah, but in the division of their “stuff.” But he didn’t want to talk about it with us. His time with his family, he said, was a time to forget about all the hurt and pain. He’s an adult, and we knew it wasn’t really our business if he didn’t want to talk with us. Still, I wanted to protect my “boy” and make sure he could keep his dog. I could help him regain new belongings, but I knew I could never replace Dacotah if he lost her.

This week finally saw the day we’d all been so worried about, and all I can say is I am grateful to his ex. Brad called Mark yesterday and told him it was done. She took only her bare necessities and left the rest for Brad. She left her key on the counter and sent him a message saying everything else was his. Most importantly, she left Dacotah. I know she loved that dog every bit as much as Brad does, so I know it wasn’t easy in the least for her to walk away one last time. As much hurt as has come from this break-up, I can’t tell you how grateful I am to her for that last act of generosity.

All of those thoughts went through my head in the span of a few seconds as Mark and I made the short trip to see Bob. And I corrected myself out loud to Mark. “It hasn’t been a bad year. It’s just been a challenging year.”

“It’s been a good year,” he agreed. “With a lot of challenges.” He was right. If I count all of the blessings of the year, they would far outnumber the bad things.

A lot has been proven to us this year, to me especially. I’ve experienced a transformation of self within the last six months that brought with it an explosion of faith, hope and belief like I’ve never known before. This came almost out of nowhere, and I’m not entirely sure why it happened when it did and to the extreme degree that it did.

Actually, I do know why. I’ve been looking for it for years and my eyes and heart are finally open. It doesn’t matter why or how. All of those years of struggling to find what it is I really believe – even whether I believe – are behind me. And now I know. I had to get past the idea that I had to believe and practice faith only in the way and in the places I’d been brought up to believe were the only options. And once I’d cleared that tremendous hurdle, it was all so clear.

Almost overnight, my sense of skepticism disappeared. The lack of self-confidence that I’ve carried around all of my life to some degree has almost melted away. The tightness of constant worry I’ve always felt in my chest? Gone. (Most days!) We’ve had some pretty tough experiences this year, but I feel like we’ve climbed to the top of a mountain. I no longer hope that my family is strong enough to handle adversity. I know it. My sense of doubt is quickly disintegrating. My ability to believe in other people comes so much more easily. Amazing how different people look when you believe in them instead of doubting them. I’m astounded too at how easy it now is to know that if I want something in my life, I only need to believe it’s possible. And I’m impressed every day, how often like-minded people cross my path.

Before we walked into Bob’s room last night, I said a silent prayer that I wouldn’t be afraid. And when we walked in, his breathing still sounded very labored. But he was sleeping, and somehow seemed more calm than the night before. We didn’t stay too long before we left to take Mark’s mom home and head back home ourselves. It’s always hard walking out of Bob’s room. I never know if he’ll be there for us to visit another day. He’s going to leave us soon, but I know he’s going to a better place. I know it! Bob told Mark the other day that he’d visited with his best friend Howie. Howie passed on a couple of years ago and I now know he’s let Bob know that he’ll be there to greet Bob and walk with him when Bob is ready to let go of this world. This whole experience is helping me to know that people in our lives will come and go, and we’ll be just fine.

Meanwhile, I am ever so much more grateful for the simple good things in life.

 

Happier

These past few weeks, something has changed in me.

I’m happier.

Maybe happier isn’t entirely the right word for it. Happier, yes. But moreso, significantly less anxious. About everything. There’s a level of calm I don’t remember ever experiencing. Which in turn translates to happier. 

It would be hard for anyone else to appreciate the enormity of this change unless you had any idea how uptight I tend to feel at any given time. Uptight is just a part of me and I’m used to it. I don’t know exactly when I started to feel as if I just worried enough, that I could have some control over any problem. It was probably always there to some extent. I see it within my extended family in varying degrees. But I have a feeling it seriously escalated when I became a mother. And even though I never had a chance of knowing or controlling the future, over the years, I’d developed a habit of holding on too tightly. Such unrealistic expectations inevitably lead either to relief that things turned out the way I’d hoped – or to disappointment and bitterness.  Really, I didn’t even understand how much I normally allow things to brew inside of me and how often I think and worry and rethink any situation. Until something changed for the better.

And the irony of it all, is that this ability to start letting go came when normally, I would have been least able to cope. Without getting into too much detail, this shift happened just after I learned that some of my loved ones are going through a really rough patch. (No one is sick or dying, and in the grand scheme of things, it is the kind of thing that happens, and life goes on, one way or another. But it’s hitting close to home right now and it’s really hard.) I spent a few days crying here and there. There were days when every hour brought an aching over the fact that there was not a single thing I could do to steer things in the direction I want them to go. It took me a few days to realize that with or without my painful emotions, the situation is going to play itself out as it will.

I mentioned recently that I’d been reading a particular book that had stirred a significantly positive shift in ideas that had been cemented in my mind for years. My goal in wanting to read this book was to ease my guilt over my church-going habits, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’d started reading Jesus>Religion with only a mild curiosity about what the author had to say. After all, in comparison to me, the guy’s just a kid. What could he know? But he’d made an impression on the friend who loaned me the book. I wanted to see what she was all fired up about. And the impact on me? Ended up being profound!

I’d had a somewhat strict religious upbringing and in all my years of practicing the faith, I’d always felt out of sync. I just didn’t get it and never felt like I quite fit the mold. I couldn’t find the peace and connection I thought I was supposed to feel as a Christian. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong and why it was so easy for others, but always seemingly just out of my grasp. My struggle as an adult was that I’d quit practicing my faith, but wanted to find the place where I belonged, either with a church or just within myself. But going to a church of a different faith, or getting comfortable with not belonging to one at all meant going against the teachings of my upbringing, which incurred tremendous guilt. Even though I’m a well-seasoned adult, I know how disappointing it would be for me to acknowledge any of this to my dad. So I tried for a while to get myself right without finding my place, and now I’ve done almost nothing for years, always with the thought that I’ll figure it out eventually or get comfortable with going back to where I started. How? I didn’t know. Not surprisingly, I spent a long time going nowhere and doing nothing where my faith was concerned.

The book fell into my lap. The ideas in it filled in so many gaps in my mind. I was flooded with a sense of relief so big that I wanted to share it with others. But I didn’t know how to describe what exactly had happened. I’d read a book. So what? But something was different. I couldn’t quite put it in words just yet. The book felt like a launch pad in my life to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

So I was in the midst of this book, and very pleasantly surprised at the fact that I was absorbing something that felt good and important when I came to know that certain someones I love were really struggling. I couldn’t fix it and I found myself frequently distracted from my daily routine. Tears were coming often while I reminded myself that this situation might play out happily in the long run, or it might not. And nothing I could do or say could fix it. And normally, something like this would make me angry and sullen inside at the unfairness of life. Not that anyone outside of my immediate family might know this. I can put on a pretty good face for the world when I have to. But I knew what to expect in the face of a tough situation like this and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

The thing is, those dark feelings with which I’m pretty familiar didn’t continue to overshadow every minute of every day as I’d expected. Something was different, and ironically, in the midst of a situation I was certain would continue to pull me down until it righted itself. Some people are naturally glass-half-full kind of people. I’m just not. I recognize this and have worked hard to deal with it for years, and I guess I’d let myself get comfortable with this aspect of my personality. Acknowledging it seemed the best way to combat it, so why not?

But I’d read that book. And while doing so and since finishing it, I’ve noticed a huge shift. I was thinking differently than I used to and recognizing that my thoughts have power. I always knew they had more power than I wished they did when it came to negativity. Suddenly, the idea began to sink in that they might have power in a good way. I know there are others who have always firmly believed in the power of positive thoughts. I did too, as long as my mood was right. If it wasn’t, well then it was all just a nice idea but not very realistic. This world is an ugly place sometimes.

Now though, something’s different. I don’t feel like I’m enduring this alone and I don’t feel like I have to fix it. I’m still sad about not being able to fix it. And although I wish I could pray and obsess over it enough to influence the outcome so that everyone is happy, I know that’s impossible. I now see that it might work out as I hope and it might not. If it does, maybe it was a learning experience meant to make those involved stronger. If it doesn’t, maybe it was meant to be a gateway to a new road for all involved. And I no longer feel so impossibly tightly wound over the fact that I am not in control. This is such an unfamiliar feeling for me. For the first time, I recognize that crap can be going on all around me, but that I don’t have to dissolve inside into a total emotional puddle because of it.

Ultimately, I am a person who wants God in my life, but I’d had these preconceived notions of how I was supposed to know him. And since doing it that way didn’t seem to work for me, and doing it some other way was “wrong,” I was stuck. Suddenly, something began to click and I realized I was free to seek God wherever and however I could find him. The trickle-down effect was that I didn’t have to try to know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t have to tie myself in knots until everything works out as it’s going to. And if I’m not finding God in the place where I’m “supposed” to find him, then maybe I should just be open to him wherever he finds me. And everything is just a little bit … actually a lot easier.

My 21 year-old daughter seems to have a much stronger handle on all of this than I ever did. I was telling her yesterday how as a mom… even as a mom of adult kids, I always want to protect them from hurting. I wish so much sometimes that they never had to feel sad.

She sort of laughed at me (in a gentle way.) “Mom,” she said. “I get that as a mom, you wish you could control this stuff. But sadness is a part of life and we have to deal with it sometimes. We can handle it.”

I wanted to hug her, but I was driving.

I feel like this is the tip of the iceberg, that it took something that really shook me up to make me recognize that there’s a better way to face and embrace life. (Also? Feeling a little silly that it took me this long to get here.) I realize that the old me used to think the only way to empathize with someone was to really embrace the sadness and hurt until I was aching inside myself. And how much this all held me back from really embracing everything else the world has to offer! How did I not see this?

Weirdly, I wake up each morning lately with a new ambition. Not because I’ve distanced myself from difficulties and not because I think everything is going to be all sunshine and roses now that I’ve learned a new way of handling problems. It’s because I’m anxious to keep strengthening this new attitude. I want to test it out (but hopefully just a little bit at a time!) and see how the new me deals with challenges. There are some that I know will continue to challenge me. That’s okay. If not, how else will I learn what I’m supposed to learn from it all?

It feels a little bit strange to share something so personal as this and I’ve been debating it for days.  I got this email a few days back – one from a daily subscription to which I’ve begun to pay closer attention. I kept going back and rereading this particular message which said:

What if, Terri, happiness didn’t have anything to do with what you had, where you’ve been, or who you were, and arose entirely from what you chose to think about, yet nobody knew this?

And what if changing your thoughts, so that you could feel happier more often, would entirely change what you had, who you were, and where you’re headed, yet nobody knew this either?

Do you think if we told them they’d choose to think differently?

The part of me that said “its weird” to share this thing lost out to the part of me that believes that message was right and I was supposed to do something with all of this.

So there you have it.

 

God’s not in the mailbox

As it often does, the lunch time conversation turned to religion. We each talked about the different ways we were raised in our faiths, our pitfalls along the way, the different beliefs we’ve held over the years. I mentioned my disappointment over the fact that I couldn’t recall having one of those big faith moments that so many people have experienced. You know the ones – those moments when someone clearly hears God speaking, or sees Him in the everyday surroundings, or simply has a defining moment when His presence is undeniably felt. I said that maybe it’s a failure on my own part that I haven’t had one of those moments. Either way, it contributes to my struggle with religion.

I wanted to lighten the mood, so I relayed an experience I had just last night. I was reading. Mark was watching t.v. and opening mail. I hadn’t been minding my husband, but he caught my attention when I heard him say, “Oh that was freaky! This is freaking me out! Look at this!”

I looked up to find him holding a sheet of paper in front of me that looked like this:

“Just stare into His eyes,” Mark told me. “Stare at them for a few minutes and you’ll see them open!”

So I stared.

And I stared.

And I stared some more.

I could literally feel my heart sink. His eyes didn’t open for me. I was sure it was a sign of my failure to be strong in my faith.

“His eyes aren’t opening for me,” I sort of whined to Mark.

“Just keep looking. They’ll open.”

I stared more. I knew what this was. I’ve seen plenty of optical illusions in my time. I couldn’t make this one work.

“I can’t see it,” I said to Mark, feeling defeated. And then I Googled the image to see what my failure said about me.

I explained to my coworkers that I was relieved to see that according to Google, this illusion was unanimously seen as a scam. The picture comes to you by mail. When you see the eyes of Jesus open, you are amazed and filled with awe. And this will make you want to follow the enclosed instructions and send your prayer requests (and some moolah!) to the designated church, which only exists as a P.O. box. Some “pastor” is getting rich off this scam. But he’s getting nada from me because the miracle failed to materialize for me.

My coworkers wanted to see the image that had me so bothered, so after lunch, I passed on a link. Thus ensued the following instant message conversation:

I’d like to think God has a sense of humor. I sure hope so because this had me laughing harder today than I’ve laughed in … I don’t know … a long time! And I’ve really been feeling like I could use a laugh lately. My coworkers sensed my feelings of worry over a silly mailing and took it upon themselves to make me see the lighter side of it. And anyone who has coworkers like mine would surely feel blessed!

Have I learned anything from this experience? Yes. I can find God wherever I think I might find him. It doesn’t have to be where others tell me he should be found.

Church

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to church. I think the last time was in May when Kacey was confirmed at the Cathedral in St. Paul. And I think that by that time, I had long since fallen away from any sort of regular habit of going to church. I don’t know why I do that. I get in a good habit of going to church, and then I let circumstances allow me to fall out of the habit. I guess because sometimes I think too much and let the complications of life dictate my desire to go visit with God.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a subtle little nagging feeling of wanting to go back to church. I ignored it last weekend, but this morning I woke up and knew that I was going to go. I knew if I tried to get the kids to go with me, one of them might join me, most likely Kacey. But it would probably only be out of some sense of obligation to me that she might go. That’s not what I wanted to be on my mind when I went to church today, so I knew I would go it alone. My subconscious did a good job of trying to sway me. It kept telling me how much I hate going to church alone. I always think people are staring at me and wondering what my story is. I answered back to my subconscious this time and told it that my life would be a LOT easier if I’d quit being so damn concerned about what I think other people think about me. No one cares if I show up to church and sit alone. No one is wondering about me. Lots of people show up to church all alone. Yes, lots of them come as couples and as families, and with friends. But lots of people come alone too. No one cares. My subconscious went off to sulk or something and my positive attitude and I went off to church.

I’m so glad I went.

I have another ongoing struggle about going to church and that is the fact that I have lost my desire to worship in the faith in which I was raised. This causes me a lot of guilt, because I was raised Catholic. And if the Catholics are known for anything, it is guilt. And even though I am clearly an adult… have been one for a long time… and I can make my own choices, my subconscious has a tendency to step in on this issue too. It tells me I should be in the Catholic church. It tells me I’m deeply disappointing my family by exploring other places of worship. (And I know that I am.) But after forty years of feeling like I was just… missing something… in the Catholic mass, I think I’m entitled to go in search of it elsewhere.  In fact, I think I’m more than entitled. I think I’m obligated. So when I’ve gone to church willingly over the past couple of years, I’ve gone to a particular non-denominational church where I feel very comfortable (once I get past being there alone! )

It was good for me to go today. As so often happens when I attend this particular church, I felt as if the message was directed right at me. In this place, I feel as if I can hear God speaking clearly to me, answering all of the questions I’ve been asking of late, through the voice of the pastor. I know God speaks through all of his people. I know.  I can almost hear my dad, the Catholic deacon, trying to convince me that God speaks just as clearly, maybe more so, through the Catholic priests. I’m sorry, Dad. When I go to mass, I try to hear God. I really do. It’s just that when I’m there, it feels like I’m trying to tune into a radio station that only comes through fuzzy and staticky at best. When I go to this other church, I hear God in surround sound! How can I ignore that?

Today, the pastor spoke about praise and celebration. Ironically, he even touched on a habit of Christians living in Western Civilization. He said we have a habit of thinking it’s ok to let our moods decide whether or not we’ll worship on any given Sunday. (Ahem…Terri?) He cautioned that it’s a bad habit to let yourself fall into; and that even when you least feel in a frame of mind to worship, doing so can completely turn you around.

Duly noted!

But the main message was about how it is important, at times, to let our worship be a celebration. Other more traditional faiths might frown on the raising of hands, shouting in praise, dancing in worship and displaying sheer, uninhibited joy for the Lord. They say it’s not becoming. The pastor says it IS becoming. We’re allowed to cheer and shout in celebration of an athlete or team’s success. We’re expected to display excitement, sing and dance when we hear our favorite musical artists perform in concert. Our outbursts are a sign of our support and belief in those people. Why wouldn’t we do the same for God?

Why wouldn’t we?

He talked about how this kind of worship can often change the entire atmosphere in a faithful gathering. He described times when he has actually felt a change in pressure, or a physical change in himself, like an electrical current running through his body, but in a good and positive way. I wasn’t sure I could ever be capable of feeling a physical change during worship, but I believed it had happened to him and could happen to others. I figured it’s all in your frame of mind and what you’re open to. A lifetime of leaning on the somewhat reserved side would probably prevent me from ever experiencing God in such a physical manner. I think God had other ideas today.

When the pastor finished speaking, the band began to play and sing. The music was joyous and grew louder and louder. I just listened and felt the words within me. Out of the corner of my eye, I was aware of a young girl sitting on her dad’s shoulders, waving her hand above her head in praise. All the people surrounding me sort of faded from my vision and I felt a sense of peace falling over my shoulders, like a blanket. I took a deep breath and just felt my heart fill with serenity. I didn’t jump or shout or dance. That’s just not me. But it was amazing. And it was physical and tangible and I want more of it. How can that be wrong?

…Think I’ll try this again next week…