Friday, October 26, 2012

Home...







"Home is where you hang your hat."

I love being home, no doubt about it. I always have. Even when I was a teenager, I would have much rather hunkered down with my family in front of a good “made for TV” movie than to be out with a group of friends. To me, home feels good. It feels safe. It feels comfortable when the world seems edgy and rough. It feels consistent when everything else rushes to change.

In this world of striving – striving to be richer, striving to be smarter, striving to be thinner, striving to be happier, striving to be healthier, striving to BE anyone other than who we are in this very moment - in all of our conditioned discontentment, we fail to see that we are exactly where and who we need to be– in this moment. Yet, how can it be anything different? But if we are in a constant state of striving, how will we ever know? How will we ever become aware of the beautiful fact that we are already there?

In mindfulness meditation you intentionally commit to being fully present in this moment, not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but to simply realize you are already where you need to be. You aren't trying to attain anything - not even mindfulness itself. You just accept things as they are. In Wiktionary, the Wiki-based open content dictionary, they give this definition of the Old English proverb, “Home is where you hang your hat".
Rather than feeling nostalgic or sentimental, one should simply accept any place where one happens to reside as one's home.
If we truly come to a place of acceptance about ourselves, if we stop striving and realize that in this moment we are ALL that we need to be, then home becomes a place within ourselves. Home is wherever we are, and coming home means a returning to our true selves, a place we are destined for. As the poet Cavafy describes in his journey home to the island of Ithaca, finding “home” was not some external place to arrive at, but a place of awakening and enlightenment within.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
I am very thankful for the physical place I call home. But I have also been in a mental state where no matter where I am at; I can’t seem to find my way there. In my days of striving to find a diagnosis, I was further from home than I have ever been. Fear is like the kindling of the past fueling the fire of the future we dread. It keeps us moving outward, farther and farther from home.

Letting go and accepting where and who we are is not some sort of passive resignation. It is your intentional invitation to the unlimited capabilities that reside within. When asked why people are afraid of this acceptance, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes,
Maybe the fear is that we are less than we think we are, when the actuality of it is that we are much, much more.
The hat in the above photo still hangs in my home. I bought it during a time of great transition in my life, long before I became sick. I've put it on and taken it off many times over the past seven or eight years, each time hanging it back up on the corner of my mirror or on a hook in the entryway. It's presence comforts me. Seeing it there tells me I’m home. 

Right where I’m supposed to be.






Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Liberate Yourself From All Your Bullshit"



“Can you question who you are? And are you comfortable with not knowing?”
~ Jon Kabat Zinn


Being chronically ill can really play havoc on your emotions. In fact, research shows that chronic illness and depression almost always, at some point or another, go hand in hand. I fought this idea for a very long long time. In my mind, it was bad enough to be thrust into the category of "chronically ill people", I was NEVER going to add myself to the list of "depressed people". This I could control. 

Well, I can't even begin to tell you all that is wrong with the above way of thinking. I also cannot tell you how painful it has been to come to this realization. Yet, at the same time, it's been each painful step that has lead to the beginning of my freedom from this suffering. How so? Well I'll tell you two very important things that I have learned.

First of all, I had to get over myself. Labeling is wrong. Period. For more reasons than I can even mention in this post. We have this habit of experiencing life and then carefully putting those experiences in categories that we label as "good" and "bad".  Had a pleasant experience at the DMV...good. Had to wait for my prescriptions for over an hour...bad. Today I heard from an old friend...good. Today no one commented on my facebook status...bad. My children spent time with me after our evening meal....good. My husband had to work late...bad. And so it goes...every day, all day long, for our entire life. We experience things, we label them, we tuck them away in our minds as facts. Some of this labeling serves a very good purpose. It keeps me from making decisions that could be harmful to myself or others. But quite often, our labeling serves no purpose at all and actually lends itself to the harm of my self or others. 

Then, without even knowing it, we make decisions based on what our minds believe to be fact. For example... if I had a pleasant experience at the DMV I may choose to tell others how wonderful my counties DMV is. I may offer to go to the DMV for my husband next time the need arises. If I had to wait for my prescriptions for over an hour, I may tell my friends how horrible our Walmart pharmacy is. I may even change where I send my prescriptions to and ultimately have to drive extra miles just to pick them up. And let's say my husband has to work late...again. I may tell myself that he does not care about how difficult it is for me to put supper on the table without him. Worse yet, I may begin to tell myself that maybe he has had enough of my illness and is somehow falling out of love with me. Which leads to insecurity, which then leads to anger or maybe even resentment, which leads to me becoming short with him or verbally questioning his motivations. 

So, second of all, what we need to realize is that our thoughts are not facts. Our thoughts are our experiences, often times hijacked by our emotions, labeled as good and bad and tucked neatly into categories in our minds. Without having to go into a lot of detail, you can easily see how our experiences can be misinterpreted. And it goes without saying that illness, medication, depression can all have a significant impact on how we label our experiences. As Jon Kabat Zinn so eloquently puts, "Stop living My Story. Liberate yourself from all of your bullshit". I simply am not the sum of my experiences. 

So then, what am I? Who am I? This question never seemed so frightening as it did once I became sick. But it doesn't have to be sickness that brings this question to life. It could be the end of a marriage, it could be the loss of financial security, it could be death of a loved one, it could simply be old age. At some point in all of our lives, the identity we cling to lets go and all hell breaks loose. Who am I if I can't provide for my family? Who am I if I no longer have my health? Who am I if I loose my friends? Who am I if my spouse dies? 

We seem to get through these losses, as difficult as they are, as long as something else remains for us to cling on to. But sometimes life takes away everything. And then what? 

I have by no means lost everything. In reality, only death can do that, as far as the physical world is concerned. But I have lost enough to struggle with the question of Who am I. And it was not that I all of a sudden thought, "Oh my gosh, who am I?" It was much more subtle than that. The question came to me in the form of depression. And this depression made itself known to me in the form of anxiety. An anxiety that every so quietly entered into my life creating havoc with an already complicated illness. And what I found out is that the only way to get rid of that anxiety is to let go of  knowing.  

We hold onto knowing as if our lives depended on it. When in reality, it is the NOT knowing that brings true life. If we are preoccupied with who we “know” ourselves to be – I am this, or I am that – if we conclude that we are only the sum of our life experiences – then who we are becomes completely limited. When we end the sentence simply at “I am.”, then who we are becomes completely limit-LESS. Liberate yourself from self-identifying and you will find that life is so much greater than you could have ever imagined it to be. You will find that instead of being "let down" or continually disappointed by life, you presented with a never ending list of possibilities. 

For me, I am no longer defined by my illness...or by my ability to run marathons, or by the wonderful mother that I am, or by being the wife of an amazing man, or by my painting, or....

I simply am. And that makes me everything. 

Peace,




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creativity - one step at a time



Since posting my last article, my husband Dave made his way into the Stillwater Gazette with his 90 day journey to the top of the Main Street Stillwater staircase. The 90 day mission, which ended on day 143, brought much more than making it to the top each day (157 steps in all), it brought a new perspective on life. Sometimes it just makes sense to do something that makes no sense at all. 
Click Here to read the full article.

Life is good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Journey Into The Unknown


Recently, my husband ended a 90 day journey to the top of the Main Street stairway in Stillwater, Minnesota. Funny, as I type that, it sounds like it took him 90 days to get to the top! Actually, the journey was a daily one. Every day as he drove through Stillwater he stopped and climbed to the top of the stairs to take a picture. This 90 day mission took him 143 days. What began as a whim on a cold February morning ended as something much greater - something unknown, yet powerfully significant. He says, "It's a great luxury to do things that don't make sense."

There is a white building on the left side of the street. It towers above all the rest and slopes without reason on the back corner. On the backside of this building there is a pair of windows.


Inside those windows lives a beautiful women. 
She is my daughter, Anna.


This is her first apartment on her own. No roommates. No live-in boyfriend. No help from Mom and Dad. This picture was taken the day she moved in. Exhausted from the days events, she is graceful, elegant and filled with passion for her life. I painted the picture of her that you see on the wall behind. The eyes of a then 13 year old. Piercing. Asking their questions of me. Hoping, trusting. 


This picture was taken on that very same day. Low lighting and movement producing a haunting reflection on life. These are how days seem sometime. Fleeting, ghost-like apparitions. We try to hold on, as if grasping at smoke. But the Universe has a different plan.

In the heart of Los Angeles, right next to Beverly Hills, there is an area called Sherman Oaks. This eclectic town is approximately 1,975 miles from where I live. In this town lives a piece of my heart. Sometimes a piece so large that its absence takes away my breath. Sometimes a piece so large that I scarcely can hold the joy that it contains.

This is my daughter, Amanda. 


She and Daniel moved out to California four years ago with an old car, a few suitcases and a roll of toilet paper. They had nothing else...except a dream. A hope. And trust.


Last month I took my first trip to visit Amanda and Daniel. It's crazy what can happen in four years. When I think of all that has happened to me in the past four years - getting sick, fighting for my life, becoming disabled, learning and accepting - and compare it to all that has happened in her life...

I realize that none of us really knows how this crazy journey will go. Not one of us. Yet, we keep walking. We keep loving. We put ourselves out there again and again - being vulnerable - because the risk of losing does not even compare to the gift of being loved. So we chance it. Again and again. When the whole world thinks we're crazy and everyone else gives up. We just keep believing. Because some day...some day.


Some day you take this picture and you realize that love is bigger than you could have ever imagined
and it's worth every tear and every hope and every fear. And that 2000 miles aint nothin'. 

And then there were three, where there once was 
only two. 


This is my oldest daughter Aleela and her husband Keith and the newest addition to our family, Adella Marie. 

Being the oldest isn't easy. It makes you responsible. It makes you determined. Charting unknown territories,  with an impetuous invincibility. Refined, lovely, compassionate. 

They brought this miracle into the world and I can't help but be thrown backwards into the past each time I look into her deep blue eyes. I see a little girl in a pink dress, with a pink bow in her hair, standing on a stump in the yard singing to her hearts content. Unmoved by the world that surrounds her. Freely creating masterpieces of make-believe, joy flinging off the tip of a wand. Pure, care-free and open. 

Oh, my beautiful Adella Marie. What will you become? Where will you go, my precious, precious baby girl. If you are one millionth of what your mama is, you will be rich with life. 

I have no idea what steps you will take. But this I know - I refuse to live a life of fear 
when it comes to this world. And I will work with all that I am 
to show you the hope
and the beauty
and the joy
of this amazing 
place.
   

In 1987 I was 21 years old. After the birth of my second daughter, Amanda, I was told it would not be a good idea to have more children. Two operations later - Anna May was born in 1993. Three seemed like a good number. A safe number, all things considered. 

1996 I was 30 years old when I became pregnant with twins. Life will do that to you. Throw you that curve ball, when you're not looking. When you're not paying attention. It will just hit you square between the eyes 
with the most amazing
marvelous
miraculous
life-changing
gift. 

Meet Emma Jane and Sara Jane.
They were a two-for-one deal
and 
I cannot imagine life without them.  


They are the last two at home. They have known a life very different from their other sisters, although the sinew of sisterhood is more powerful than one can ever imagine. I see it between these two and it is the force that binds them all together, connecting them, holding them tightly through every storm. I see a beautiful trust in the knowing that no matter what, no matter what - they are never alone.

Often times when I talk of Emma and Sara people will say, "Oh, a surprise " But isn't everything in life a surprise? We are lucky that most often during our day things happen to go as planned. Gravity still pulls in the right direction, the alarm clock goes off when it's suppose to, the milk is still in the fridge... But it's all up for grabs, really. Yet we trust.

On September 28th, 2006, Judge Eric J. Lundell granted me a judgement of divorce from the father of these five daughters. He was my first true love. I met him at the age of 16 and married him at the age of 18. We had so many dreams. And for 22 years we watched most of those dreams come true. We also experienced the painful end of others. There are very few things in this life that shake your foundation like divorce, all horribly painful, all life changing.

In the middle of my writing this morning an old friend from work called to just say hi. She herself has experienced one of these "things" when she lost her husband to cancer a couple of years ago. She talked of how Fall made her reflective. How in that reflection there was sometimes a bit of sadness. She talked of the colors and how the leaves fall off the trees and things begin to shut down for winter, and how that brought about feelings of death. But only a "little sadness" she said, because like the new relationship she now finds herself in, and like the flowers that eventually burst forth in Spring, "things must come to an end so that others may begin."

It is our ability as human beings to take tragedy, in it's finest hour, and turn it toward reclamation. A holy redemption. The freedom to begin again.

I don't even know where to begin when it comes to my "second chance" at life. I think I've only had a dozen or so of them! But if it would not have been for the miracle of love and forgiveness, I would never have had the chance to be the step-mother of Casey and Maddie Johnson.



Being a step-mom is not something you grow up thinking about. In fact, in my day, the only vision of step-mom's were that of Lady Tremaine from Cinderella and the Queen from Snow White...not really images I like to emulate. It's tender, risky business. Hearts are at stake. The hearts of children, of mothers and of fathers. You tread this area like walking through a room full of kittens...in the dark. Slowly and softly.

There are simply no words to describe how blessed I am in this regard. There's a knowing that comes before this kind of love.It's what makes love all the richer. It's like sunshine after the rain. Like spring-time after a long winter. It's what keeps us loving again and again.

I started writing this morning because I was missing my daughters. It's tough sometimes, having kids live so far away and being too sick to travel. When I feel this way I have a tendency to start telling myself stories that are not very helpful. So I thought that maybe if I just started writing, I might work things out. Kind of like the journey that my husband was on - the 90 day journey that I wrote about at the beginning of this article. The one that went from 90 days to 143 days. He didn't really know what was going to become of his mission, he just knew he needed to be on it.

It's when I try to make sense of it all, when I try to ground my feet in something that really isn't there, that I struggle. My husband is so right. It is a great luxury to do things that don't make sense. Isn't that what loving is all about. If you think about it - most days it doesn't make good sense. But we do it anyway. We love, we trust, we hope...and we love again.We venture into the unknown.

No one has taught this to me more than my daughters.


Peace,








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