Monday, October 31, 2011

A Place Of Reckoning


Sometimes I wonder. About me, that is. The activity that fills my days is quite different from the days of young children, careers and marathon running. The days when a quiet house meant opportunity to get one more job done - scrub a floor, clean out a closet, pay some bills. The days before sickness. When running 13 miles before 10:00am on a Saturday meant that we had time to bike four miles into town for scones at the local bakery before undertaking the new landscaping. 

I have always loved being busy. Never once wished my life to be anything different. Filling drawers with fresh laundry, surprising children with cleaned bedrooms and cooking homemade meals was to me, some of life's greatest privileges. Blessings, indeed. It's a new kind of busy now. One that I am still learning about. One that I, at times, find uneasy in the making. So I wonder. As my busyness takes on new form - out of necessity, moving away from the physical towards more of the intellectual or spiritual - I find myself in a place of reckoning.



Social media plays a significant role in my days. It has not always been so. Three years ago, I could be found standing atop my "anti-Facebook" soapbox, eager to explain the virtues in not getting caught up in all of that. It most definitely wasn't for adults. But as illness took me away from family, friends and work, email and Facebook became my connection to the outside world. And I was hooked.

But as there is with everything, too much of anything can quietly and ever so surreptitiously mess with even the most balanced life. Slowly shadowing truth and exaggerating narratives in our minds. Building our own realities.

Click...I wonder what the kids are up to?
Click...I wonder if anyone "liked" my status this morning?
Click...I wonder if I have any comments on my blog?
Click...I wonder what my favorite Lupus sites are saying?
Click...I wonder if I got any Hotmail since yesterday?
Click...I wonder why the kids aren't on?
Click...I wonder if I have any new followers?
Click...I wonder if I have any new comments on my blog now
Click...I wonder if I have any emails on my gmail account? 
Click...I wonder if the kids are on yet?
Click...check my personal Facebook...Click...check my Facebook page...Click...work on my newest blog entry...Click...I wonder...as little red numbers affix themselves to icons above and stats below - 
I wonder. 

This past week we had the memorial service for my father-in-law, Ralph. As I wrote in Forever Blessed, he was a family man and a true gentleman. The pastor who officiated the service spoke of him as a man of dignity. That, he was. In his last days we all had opportunity to sit with him and talk about life in general - a gift I will cherish always. My father, who is some eighteen years younger than Ralph, had great respect and admiration for my father-in-law. Days after Ralph's passing, my father stopped by to visit with me about his last conversation with Ralph. A conversation that took place after weeks of hospitalization and physical therapies, after his decision to check himself into the hospice. You see, my father-in-law never once stopped taking care of his family. Even in the end, making decisions so others would not have to. In speaking to my father in regards to those last days, my father-in-law said something to my father that forever changed him. In those last moments together, my father-in-law looked at my father and said these words. "I just decided, what sense does it make?"
  
As my father was forever changed that day, so too am I changed in the telling of the story. Every day I hear my father-in-law's words as I click through the moments of my life.

You must understand, this is not a question that somehow separates the good and bad, the meaningful and meaningless in our lives. My father-in-law would have never meant it that way. In fact, his humor and eagerness for fun, taught me that sometimes the best sense comes when there is no sense at all! A trait he passed down to the wonderful man that I married. A trait that brings welcomed levity to a sometimes wearied home, as illness will often do. Rhetorical in nature, this question comes at the end of a life well lived. This question comes, and is easily answered, after years of hard work, determination, integrity, honesty and love. 

As I click through my week, I ask myself, "What sense does it make?" It is a balance I don't take lightly.  Hoping that by living my life with sincerity, by being present in the moments I am blessed to live, and by loving much, the answer comes easily.

So I wonder...


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Daffodils


The Daffodils - 1802 Version

“I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”


It's a subtle changing, this movement from the joy in doing towards the joy in knowing. Letting go of the sadness and grief for the revised parts of me. The parts of me that cling to the past. The parts of me that remain uneasy with today.

The parts of me that secretly wish to run once again, wild and free from pain.  

This changing, this joy in knowing, only happens in this moment. Letting go opens my heart to find the gift of what is -

beautiful.

Joy in the knowing of all that I have had. Those moments when I too, gazed and gazed, but gave little thought to the "wealth the show to me had brought."

Joy unending.

"They flash upon my inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

This is Peace. 












Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Defines You?


I've seen a lot of these lately, in my flipping through the many pages of facebook. In fact, that is where this one, this "Badge" or "Poster" as they call it in the social media world, came from. I promptly "lifted" (another techy term) this one right from some unaware, well meaning individual. I wish I could remember who. Even the identifying print at the bottom has become fuzzy in the many "shares" of it's life.

There's an edge to this one. I get it. I mean I "get" the intended point, which I believe is meant to be a good thing. And, in reality, it is. It's what I have taught each one of my girls and it's a belief I work on with myself. Don't base your worth on what other people think of you. But there's just something... "In your face" about this one. I imagine myself speaking these words to an actual human being. (Which, I believe we forget out there in the world wide web) But who would I say this to, and under what circumstances? Think about it. Would I say this to my husband, to my children, to my friends...to who? And if I did, even though it's a "truth" I live by, how would this declaration make the person I am speaking to feel? Really?

And then there's the question, at least in my mind there's the question, "What does define you?"
To begin with, let's define define...


de·fine

 [dih-fahyn] verb -fined, -fin·ing.

verb (used with object)
1.
to state or set forth the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.):They disagreed on how to define “liberal.”
2.
to explain or identify the nature or essential qualities of;describe: to define judicial functions.
3.
to fix or lay down definitely; specify distinctly: to defineone's responsibilities.
4.
to determine or fix the boundaries or extent of: to defineproperty with stakes.
What is the meaning of you? What is your nature or essential qualities? What is definitely you? What are your boundaries? At the risk of  making things more complicated than they might need to be (which I have been known to do) or maybe at the risk of making things too simple (depending on your school of thought) I will answer all the above questions with one answer:

Nothing.

Nothing defines me. Not even I define me. The minute I define myself, or allow anyone or anything to define me - no matter how righteous - I am imprisoned within it's constraints. It's the old reality of impermanence sneaking up on us once again. Everything comes to an end. Happy gets sad, rich gets poor, healthy gets sick, young gets old, professionals get passed by, eyes get blurry, fast gets slow, people change careers, they change marriages, they change styles, they change beliefs, they move to new cities, they grow beards, cut hair, move teeth, loose legs and find freedom in experiencing something they never dreamed of experiencing. The minute we finish the sentence, "I am..." we give life to these identities, and in doing so, become the ghost of an image that exists in one place only, and that is in our minds. We forget that who we are is not found in our minds or in any one's mind for that matter. Who we are is found only in our "Being". And with each new cell growth, with each exhale, with each blink of an eye we are changed. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe, said"Everything flows, nothing stands still." He said it's like stepping into a river - you never step into the same river twice. How true! Whether we are talking about a river, or a human being, or time itself - there is what something was - there is what something will be - and then there is the space in between. A space that cannot be pinned down, cannot be defined...THAT is where you and I reside. Always changing. Never the same.

What beautiful freedom exists when we understand this! Tragedy does not define me. Sickness does not define me. Success does not define me. Beliefs do not define me. In being defined by Nothing - I am Everything, abounding in possibility.  If I could wish for one truth for my daughters to understand, it would be this. To wake up each morning unshackled from the regrets of the past, emancipated from the definition of what "should be" and  empowered by the freedom that comes in the understanding...

I am.

This is the message, the badge, the poster I choose to share!

If you would like to "lift" one of these badges for your blog or facebook page, FEEL FREE! Or, if you are unsure how to do so, send me an email and I can send them to you as an attachment.




I wish you the peace that comes in knowing
you are everything you need to be, right here, right now,
in this very moment.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Facts of Life Friday


On this most frigid fall Friday morning (a whopping 27°F), four fun Friday facts...

This is a day I will forever be thankful for. We were living in Dubuque, IA at the time. My oldest daughter Aleela was less than two years old. She had been playing outside in front of our house on a beautiful Fall afternoon. The yard fenced in, I let her sit out and play by herself quite often. She was playing so sweetly that I decided to snap some pictures of her through the window of our living room. I remember the moment like it was yesterday (now some 23 years later). I was overcome with the feeling that she was unsafe. I set the camera down, walked through the house to the back door, walked along side our home to the front yard and quickly picked her up. Just as I turned around to walk back, a pickup truck smashed into the front of our home. You can see by the post in the second picture, compared to the post in the third picture, the truck landed exactly where she had been sitting. The man driving had suffered a seizure and missed his turn, driving straight through our fence and into our yard. How life could have changed in that instant. How thankful I am that it did not.

This is a picture of Leer Lutheran Church. One of four that my ex-husband and I served in over the 22 years that we were married. It's a chapter of my life that is filled with bitter-sweet memories, but that is a conversation for another day!  Leer Lutheran Church was the first of the four congregations that we served in together, and it will forever hold a very special place in my heart. Some of the most loving people I have ever known fill its pews each Sunday. And although my spirituality has grown in a much different direction, I will carry their example with me for all of my days. Like how to take a two inch slice of homemade bread, top it with butter and freshly canned jelly and cover it with fresh cream....oh yeah. Life at Leer was simple and good.


This is a picture of Emma and Sara, our twins, taken in 1996, less than a week after they were born. They were the last of five daughters, and I have since been blessed with two beautiful step-daughters. (And a granddaughter on the way!) There has been no lack for hormones in our home. This picture is clearly indicative of the personality of each of these girls. Sara, my Type A, borderline OCD child, spends most of her day organizing our days (thank goodness) and fretting over life in general. Emma...well, Emma is just Emma. Much to her sister's chagrin, Emma can cruise through just about anything. They are each other's best friends, and they bring nothing but pure joy into our lives. Those of you old enough to remember The Odd Couple, Sara is most definitely Felix.


This little bugger is the root of all evil...well, maybe not the root of all evil. But it sure feels that way sometimes. In my world, they call it the drug you love to hate. Prednisone is a miracle medication, relieving inflammation, reducing pain, supplying energy to extremely fatigued muscles and bringing back a sense of well being. It heals painful sores, shrinks knuckles and knees back to their normal size and basically makes me feel human again. It also keeps you awake for days on end, makes you think you are starving all the time (hence, unwanted weight gain), increases sweating, creates drastic mood changes, weakens tissues in the body as well as the immune system and causes osteoporosis...to just name a few. It's never a good thing to be on prednisone too long if one can help it. Two years is too long, and so I have once again begun my journey to taper off. I've tried it before, unsuccessfully so, becoming too ill to continue. It takes a long time to get off this medication - months or even years sometimes. I've made my way down from 60mg to 5mg, at which I am now loosing my hair. Keeping my hair is one of the benefits of prednisone for me. Definitely one I am willing to give up so my bones don't break!


So, there you have it!

Keep warm and have a wonderful weekend!!


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forever Blessed

Hello dear friends, it's been awhile.

It's been a busy couple of weeks for me - for our family. Writing comes hard. I can't decide if it's because I am too full...or too empty. Possibly a mixture of both. While catching up on some of my favorite blogs, I came across a quote by Red Smith that Brené Brown used when trying to describe her struggles with writing her new parenting book, "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed." So true.

There are times when I write when the purpose is clear and the words flow so smoothly. And then there are times when my heart is full, emotion so strong, that I hesitate to even stick the needle in for fear that I'll have no control over what comes out. These things are tender and must be handled with care. For me, and for you.

Ralph Harold Johnson
This is a picture of my father-in-law, Ralph. But I never called him Ralph. From the moment I met him, "Dad" fit the bill. I could not imagine calling him anything else.
He passed away last week.

He spent the last seven days of his life at the N.C. Little Hospice, surrounded by his family. It was a decision that he made, and one that allowed his loved ones to let go of the role of caretaker and simply just be family. For seven days we sat together, ate home cooked meals together, had birthday parties together, laughed together and loved one another. As difficult as it was at times, it was one of the most meaningful weeks of my life.

The director of the hospice made a comment about Dad that not only speaks the truth, but will stick with me forever. He said, "You know the old saying 'You never get a second chance at a first impression?'. Well, my very first impression of your dad was that he was a true gentleman." He could not have been more right. My father-in-law was indeed, a true gentleman.

Always well dressed, always up for a big family gathering, always kind, always ready for adventure - he was the center of our family and the glue that held us strong. Wise beyond measure, quietly unassuming, Dad always knew just when to speak. Sometimes his words were lessons, sometimes facts, most times laced with a good bit of dry Scandinavian humor. His spirit lives strong in the hearts and lives of his children, in the wit of his grandchildren, in the joyfulness of all who knew him. He will be dearly missed, yet his legacy will be celebrated for lifetimes to come.

I've learned a lot these past weeks. As a daughter-in-law, I had many opportunities to sit back and watch as conversations took place, decisions were made, care was given, and tears were shed. I am humbled at the compassion and cohesiveness of this family. Unified in all they do, I learned what it means to sit in a place of trust, resting in the arms of those who love you.

As someone suffering from illness, I also had the opportunity to watch what it means to suffer with dignity. The joy of being with his family took precedence over any discomfort, or pain, or fear. What mattered most to this man was not himself. What mattered in the end - what always mattered most to him - was his family.

We are given but one opportunity. You never get a second chance at first impressions, and you never get a second chance at life. What we choose to do with this day is all that matters. Not yesterday, not tomorrow...just today. My father-in-law knew this well.

And we will be forever blessed because of it.




Ralph Harold Johnson

Monday, October 10, 2011

Impermanent Things



Impermanent Things 

Peter Himmelman


All these impermanent things
Oh how they fool me
Dominate and rule me
They keep me waiting here forever
All these impermanent things
Well their beauty's never aging
But their worthlessness's enraging
You know we all stand alone when we're together
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day
All these impermanent things
Present yet elusive
Passive yet abusive
Tearing out the heart in utter silence
All these impermanent things
Well they point in all directions
Like secondhand reflections
And they're leading us to subtle shades of violence
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day
All these impermanent things
Well they're trying to convince me
Baptize my soul and rinse me
Purge my mind of honesty and fire
All these impermanent things
Well they all add up to zero
They make-believe that they're my hero
Then they fill my mind with doubt and false desires
Why keep hanging on
To things that never stay
Things that just keep stringin' us along
From day to day

Friday, October 7, 2011

Facts Of Life.... Week 2



Well, despite the weird glitch that prohibited you all from posting any comments for a few days, this turned out pretty darn good! Many of you were creative and figured out how to email me, so THANK YOU! One thing that did come out of this minor debacle is the little red envelope you see at the top of the page. If you click this, it should take you right to my email. So if this ever happens again, feel free to click away. Or anytime, for that matter!

I LOVED all of your responses!! Some marvelous conversations grew out of them and I even got a picture or two...of YOU! Here are a few snippets I'd like to share...

"Hi friend! How can I know you for SO long and not know that you do not have a tummy button!?!? I guess for one....I've never looked and in what sort of conversation does that come up?!?! Ha! I did have to laugh about that."
"I am so blessed and have so much to be thankful for."
"Some things on my 'bucket list' are:
Swim with the dolphins
Go sky diving
Hold a chimpanzee
See wild mustangs
See a glacier fall
See whales in the ocean
And the list continues............"
"I am a 15 year cancer survivor (24 yrs. old when diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma)."
I have never ever drank a cup of coffee, despite years working as a nurse on the night shift.
My dream is to go to Ireland someday!"
"I had two brothers and one sister (I lost one of my brothers when I was 16, he was 18), my grandmother raised me, I volunteered in my youth in a hospital and on the first aid squad, and I love food and to take pictures."
"I'm afraid of flying."
"I sleep with socks on, summer or winter."
"I've always wanted to pet monkey."

So, here goes WEEK #2...




THIS is my absolute favorite way to wake up in the morning...very slowly, with my husband, a cup of coffee and all the animals. It can take up to three or four hours for me to actually remove myself from the bed on these days. Thousands of pictures can be found in this disheveled 5' x 7' space, each one of them capturing moments of simple life - silly, quiet and holy. 







THIS is me and my Grandpa Elliott.
This man could fall asleep faster than the speed of sound, on any surface, in any climate, with anyone around...including me. He was the master of the 10 minute nap, and I adored him. My childhood summers were spent on their farm place and I followed him around just like one of the many kittens that could be found outside their kitchen door. He taught me how to fish, how to pound nails, how to sneak cookies out of the package before you check out at the grocery store and how to properly eat sardines at midnight...watching old movies.
When I think of the good things in life...I think of my moments with him.


THIS is a picture of my medications.
I currently take 33 pills a day and receive bi-weekly infusions of IVIg. I DISLIKE THURSDAYS IMMENSELY, because this is the day that my weekly pill holder runs out. I've been known to wait until Noon to take my morning pills out of shear laziness. In fact, it's Thursday as I type this...10:05am...and I have yet to take a pill.
I'll pay for it later.


THIS is my wonderfully crazy family...or at least part of them. On this particular day I was very sick and so my oldest daughter (the one in the apron) drove to our home after work (two hours in the opposite direction of her home) to cook supper for all of us. They decided to "entertain" me and dressed up in old prom dresses. My husband, the GREAT sport that he is, played the part of Raúl. I'm still not sure who that is??? There is NO lack of imagination in our home, and play is a regular item on the agenda!

THESE are pictures from the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon. It was the best marathon of my life, finishing just over 3 hours and 39 minutes. Totally unprepared, I ran as a bandit that year for a women that had to bow out at the last minute. My time would have been good enough to qualify me for the Boston Marathon. 

This is also the day that I got sick. The end of over 30 years of running. 

These are also pictures of my children and family waiting hours in the cold rain, right around mile 20, in order that they might cheer me on. 

They're still cheering. 

Now it's your turn!









Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep It Sacred




Time is an interesting thing.
I really had never given it much thought, other than the fact that there just wasn't enough of it, until about a year ago. Eckhart Tolle talks about "clock time", that which we need for practical purposes. And "psychological time", that which is the egoic mind's endless preoccupation with past and future and its unwillingness to be one with life by living in alignment with the inevitable isness of the present moment. Both, constructs of the human mind.

Take a look at Nature, for example. This world turns, the seasons come and go, the sun rises and sets - and there is no care for what time it is. In this moment the leaf is on the tree, in the next, it is not. Like Tolle says, "Everything seems to be subject to time, yet it all happens in the Now. That is the paradox." To try and understand this concept, just think of how the world would be if there was no clock time... really think about it.

Every October my egoic mind slowly begins its movement towards my own endless preoccupation with the past and future. Why October? Because this is when we first start seeing and hearing about...yes, here it is...

Christmas.

Christmas 2010, in the basement with all the kids!
Don't get me wrong. I love Christmas. I love the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, I love how the snow looks on the pines outside my window, I love the time spent with family and all the excitement that comes along with having way too many people is one small room. What I don't like is the pressure that time puts on me - or better stated, that I put on myself. Time to decorate, time to bake, time to shop... and then add a dose of chronic illness and it all becomes quite overwhelming.

I have gotten much better over the years. Transitioning from young motherhood to Grandma (yes, I will be a grandma in February!!) has helped significantly. It's easier to let things go and let the next generation take hold. But I still do my fair share of fretting.

This morning I read the most wonderful blog post by Julie Daley on her site, Unabashedly Female. I highly recommend taking a peek. She speaks to the rhythm of life and how this has nothing to do with time. And how honoring that rhythm is nothing short of sacred. It's a good message and one that I plan on re-reading weekly - at least until January 1st!

Not only do I NOT want to get caught up in the whirlwind of the holidays - I can't. Not unless I want to end up in the hospital. Which, although it may get me off the hook for some things, really isn't all that much fun. So I have decided to come up with a mantra for this year. By definition, a mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation". This is my mantra for the 2011 Holiday Season...

Keep it sacred.

Kind of like, keep it simple. Which, I believe, that if I do indeed keep it sacred - simple just naturally follows.
Honoring what is holy, honoring my own body, honoring those that I love, honoring the present moment - this is what it means to hold my day sacred.

What to buy...   keep it sacred
How to decorate...   keep it sacred
How to entertain...   keep it sacred
How to use my time...   keep it sacred
What thoughts to occupy my mind...   keep it sacred
What words to speak...   keep it sacred

If I hold onto this concept of honoring the sacred in my day, then I am taking the first steps towards creating transformation. Transformation that not only blesses me, but blesses all those around me. And honestly...
what better gift is there?






Sunday, October 2, 2011

What if?

                                                                                                                                 Photo by David Ralph Johnson


Each day I learn more than I teach:
I learn that half knowledge of another's life
Leads to false judgement;
I learn that there is a surprising kinship
     In human nature;
I learn that it is a wise father who knows his son;
I learn that what we expect we get;
I learn that there's more good than evil
     in this world;
That age is a question of spirit;
That youth is the best of life
No matter how numerous it's years;
I learn how much there is to learn.

             ~ Virginia Church

Do you ever think about the "what ifs" in life? 
What if she really didn't mean what I think she meant? What if he has that look on his face because he's tired? What if that person looking at me from across the room just thinks they might know me? What if that friend didn't call because she was busy caring for someone...maybe even herself? What if the car that just cut me off honestly had no idea I was there?
So often, we think we know. We attach thoughts, ideas, reasons, emotions and energy to things that we think we know. But do we, really?

What if, just for today, we assume we don't know? Maybe even, assume the best, not the worst? 

Holding onto the idea
 that no matter my age, 
today, 
I will learn how much there is to learn.



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