Health and Holiness Don’t Come Easy

 

” … inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’.”                 – Matthew 25:34

It’s no secret to those who know me that I don’t like to cook.  I never have.  Granted, this a bit of a challenge since for the past almost 20 years my sole job has been a housewife.  If you were to write a job description for the role of housewife, I think most people would include cooking and preparing meals as a significant part of that job description. I should clarify here that’s it’s also not that I can’t cook.  When I prepare food it comes out pretty good most of the time, and sometimes even really good.  It’s that my heart just really isn’t into cooking, so I try to avoid it except on those days when I have nothing better to do.  And sometimes a trip to the dentist is a more appealing thing for me to do than cook, so I think you can appreciate how little I enjoy it.

While it’s rarely my first choice to cook, it is however, a priority of mine to eat!  I love to eat!  Especially junk food.  All the packaged, processed foods that get all the bad publicity these days?  I {heart} them.  Deeply. 

The thing is, as scientists and nutritionists tell us, those foods really aren’t good for us and have no redeeming value.  The vitamins, nutrients, and minerals that are necessary to human health and long life are severely lacking in these foods.  So we are advised to include them in our diets only rarely, if ever.

In Matthew’s Gospel today,  Jesus provides a similar caution about our eternal health.  Just as many of the perfectly legal and totally enjoyable (but often harmful) foods in the American diet are not advised for health and long life, many of the perfectly legal and totally enjoyable things about the American way of life (egocentricity, promiscuity, money-grubbing) are not advised for our eternal health. Today, Jesus warns us that the life we live here on earth –this brief, worldly life– is in many ways a preview of what our eternal life will center around based on the choices we make while here.

So, while I love  Suzy Q’s and Girl Scout cookies (I’m looking at you, Caramel Delights), I must admit that my health suffers from them when they aren’t taken in small doses. (I say this with confidence as I single-handedly stuffed my face with a box of Caramel Delights over the course of an afternoon and evening this past week.  I mean, I had to off-set all that Lenten fasting with something, right?)

The point is this: most of us enjoy things that are not good for us.  Most of us don’t willingly choose a life of healthy eating, nor do we choose a life of holiness and selflessness.  But most of us also desire to live a long, healthy life and I think most of us–regardless of what we believe comes after this earthly life–would like that time to be spent without pain and suffering.  But our choices matter, and we must train ourselves to desire what is right and good for us in order to get the outcomes we desire…in this life, and the next.

Reflect:  What is the one most unhealthy or unholy practice, habit or addiction in my life right now? In what ways do I rationalize spending time doing this thing I love even though I know it isn’t good for me?  What is one change I can make to put more distance between me and that unhealthy or unholy habit in my life?

Pray:  Lord, thank you for loving us so much you only want what is best for us.  You know our human weaknesses. Though you desire for us to be healthy and holy, you never force us to be.  Help strengthen us to stand firm against our weaknesses.  Make your desire for us, our desires, too! Give us the wisdom to begin building the foundations of healthy and holy habits both in this world and the next. Amen.

 

Something’s Gotta Give

May day!  May day!

Yes, it is the first of May.  And my introductory shout is both a celebration of that long-lost holiday of putting out flowers on doorsteps for others, and also that call of desperation we hear from captains of the air and sea when they are in trouble, and their ship or their plane is out of control.

Today I feel both a reason to celebrate, and a need to get my “ship” back in control.

The most obvious celebration in our household today is for my middle son, who turns 11.  Eleven!  As usual, my mind screams where did the time go?  It seems like only a few years at most that my husband and I were celebrating both the blessing and the bewilderment of having a second  healthy boy (11 pounds and 6 ounces of healthiness to be exact!) Still, celebrating him and the young man he’s rapidly growing up to be is so much to celebrate!

Then, there’s my call for help.  It’s to get me out of my own mess.  I keep reminding myself these are really and truly only problems faced by people privileged enough to live in First World countries like the good ol’ US of A.  So, please know that as I complain, I am also grateful.

The last month or two for me has been a ton of ridiculousness of volunteer activities and the like.  Not to mention anything that can go wrong seemed to go wrong for my husband at work, which meant later than usual nights for him as well.  It all ended last weekend in a big hurrah when I decided (only about a week beforehand) that being part of our neighborhood garage sale was also something I should do.

That makes perfect sense when you’re already exhausted from too much chauffeuring of kids to lessons and activities, volunteer commitments at their schools, and not disappointing the tens of people who look forward to my thrice-a-week blog.

Yes, when better to do a garage sale?  Oh, and a lemonade and bake sale put on by the neighborhood kids, along with my kids.  At my house.

Of course, I should do that, too!

So, Friday was a flurry of activity here trying to set up and price items for Saturday’s sale.  (No time for blogging that day).  Saturday morning the doorbell rang at ten to eight with the neighborhood kids raring to go. (Not entirely unrelated to my whole theme of the post today, their sale was *mostly* for charity–they each kept $5–and they ended up raising over $50 for Autism Speaks, so their story, too had a great ending!)

Anyhoo, then there was me, bleary-eyed and staring through the steam on my mug of hot green tea as I opened the garage door and the car loads of bargain shoppers swooped in.  And,  while most of the whole sale is a blur, I do remember this:  I remember having to use the calculator for a woman who was buying $6.70 worth of clothes and miscellany because she gave me a $10 bill.

I know.

(I know.)

As I slowly punched the numbers in she blurted out, “$3.30My change is $3.30!”

Yes, I know monkeys can do math better than I do.  But, my question is, can they do it on about four hours of sleep and with so many distractions going on around them?  My garage was full of people milling about and every other second one of the kids was asking me a question!   Anyway, luckily for me,  at the moment she told me what her change should be, my calculator simultaneously concurred.

And that’s when I realized I had no dimes or nickels for change.  (I’d planned on only pricing things in quarters, but obviously changed my plan without consulting my brain).

Lovely.

Anyway, it all worked out.  I told the lady to take the two 10 cent items for free.  She quietly thanked me and then, very kindly went to her car and returned with a dollar and 20 cents worth of dimes to not only pay for the two 10 cent items, but to also provide me with future dimes for change.

What is my point, you wonder?

I have no idea.  (I’m still really tired and it’s now Wednesday).

Which kind of is my point.  I had reached a point where nothing much was making sense at all anymore.  Why was I doing all this volunteering?  Why was I adding more things to do to an already overworked brain and body?  Why was I continuing to say yes to things, even though the most obvious answer should have been to say no?

I’m still not entirely certain, but I do know this:  no matter how hard we try to do everything and then some, we all have a breaking point. And at that point something’s gotta give. And, unfortunately, in my life, that usually means my husband and my kids have to put up with a tired, cranky wife and mother.

Sound familiar?

I wish I had a better answer.  All I know for sure is that along with my kids and husband, I suffered for taking on so much.  I didn’t want to be grumpy.  I didn’t want to be so tired.  And I didn’t want to be doing anything on the weekend besides enjoying my family (which I was not at all able to do because of all my “yeses” to other things).

So, when Monday came, I worked all day on some of the other volunteer things I’d committed to doing, and as I was able to cross more and more off my list,  I started to feel a sense of peace.  (Even though I had to sacrifice the blog again to get them done).  I started prioritizing and making a punch list.  Tackling one thing at a time.  And bit by bit my load has lightened.  And I have found stillness and peace and quiet again.

And yesterday, there in the stillness at the bottom of all of it, was God.  Waiting.  Holding it all up with me (or for me).  Reminding me that every decision I make impacts others.

Every decision.

It’s how I’ve come to understand what Catholics call “original sin.”  Our decisions have a ripple effect: on ourselves, on God, and on others, even  through the generations.

It’s a tough row to hoe, knowing this.

Still.

There is hope!  And my hope comes from knowing this:  that the ripple effect is also true of our good deeds, when we follow the promptings of the Spirit.  I remember having a conversation with my priest at my last parish in Wisconsin, and he told me that following the Spirit is like throwing stones into a pond.  We let the Spirit carry out our work like ripples on the water…and sometimes?  Sometimes, they touch something and bounce back to us!

And that’s why I have hope.  Because, while I know that my crabbiness and crankiness has a ripple effect, I believe that my good deeds do, too.  Otherwise, why would the lady who was only minutes earlier yelling at me about her change (and hinting–not so subtly– at my idiocy) return with not only payment for items I’d offered her for free, but also with change to spare?

It’s the miracle of mercy.

And it is why I have hope that when my earthly life is over, those who have known me will  remember me not for the stained and blotted effects of my thoughtless,  hurried and sometimes cruel choices, but rather that they will feel their hearts flooded by the loving and heartfelt goodness that comes from the light of the Spirit within me.

Because it shines in us all!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:5

2013: Simplify

Happy New Year!

It’s obviously been awhile since I’ve posted.   And the problem with not writing for a while is the same problem as anything else you like to do that is good for you, but is also lots of work:  the longer you stay away from it, the more difficult it is to start up again.

But, I’ll tell you this much.  I had a great time while I wasn’t writing.

I had a very relaxing Christmas with my family.  We took a road trip to Florida and hung out and did all kinds of  fun stuff while we were there.  All our worries, and troubles were left behind.

All too soon, of course, I found myself back wading through waist-high piles of laundry, and sorting through endless emails and junk mail.  Hard as I tried to stay in the frame of mind from that vacation, it didn’t take long to feel overwhelmed by life’s chores and duties.   There was a scene from Finding Nemo  that kept playing through my mind.  (Probably because we played it in the car about four different times in both of our 17 hour drives).  You know the scene where Marlin and Dory are all caught up in the peaceful feeling of staring at the phosphorescence emitted from the angler fish that’s luring them closer, until finally Marlin notices (almost too late) that the light that’s making them feel so good is coming from a fish that is about to devour them and he says, “Good feeling gone!”?

finding_nemo_dory_marlin_angler_fish

Yep.  That’s about how I felt:   good feeling gone.

I was back to making list after list of chores that needed to be finished.  Volunteer work that needed to be completed.  Kids appointments and activity arrangements.  Errands that needed to be done.  Odds and ends that needed to be completed around the house, and of course, the then looming task of coming up with some resolutions for the New Year.

Buried under all these lists and plans, I thought back to the last day of our trip.  On that day, we were going to spend the day at Busch Gardens in Tampa and I was determined to plan and plot out the day, so we could get all the things we (mostly me) wanted to see and do crossed off the TO DO list before we had to return home.  So I was marking maps and taking surveys from the family wanting to know everybody’s TOP 3 THINGS THEY WANT TO SEE AND DO AT BUSCH GARDENS.  And I tried to plan them out.  Then, I panicked with the realization that there were eight of us on this trip and that would result in 24 things to see and do in one day with a wide area of interests since we ranged in age from 7 – 66.  So, I went back to the drawing board, and re-surveyed everybody asking them OF THEIR TOP THREE THINGS THEY WANTED TO SEE AND DO AT BUSCH GARDENS WHAT IS THEIR NUMBER 1?

That was better.  It narrowed our list to only 8 things to HAVE to do, which felt much more doable.  Then, I only needed to plan out lunch times, and locations, times of some of the things that were scheduled events people wanted to see/do, etc.

Even in that moment I could feel myself beginning to go a little crazy with the need to control and plan and plot our move down to every last detail, but it will all be worth it, I told myself.

That’s when my brother, who is every bit as prone to nervousness and worry about controlling time as a Zen monk in deep meditation,  piped up and said, “How about we not plan anything and just go to the park and see what happens?”

I looked at him confused.

What was he suggesting, exactly?  That we just show up haphazard and leave a day at an amusement park to chance?

I thought about it a bit.  If we did that, it would certainly mean I could just “stand down” the rest of that evening.  I wouldn’t have to do anything else but go to bed, wake up the next morning and head out the door to the park.  (Well, I am a mother of three, so it’s not quite THAT easy, but you know what I mean).  It was certainly a different approach than anything I was used to.

So (with some reluctance) I agreed and that’s what we did.  Left our day to chance.

And you know what?  We ended up getting into a really short line for a big roller coaster, and we saw an animal theater show that hadn’t made it onto ANY of our LISTS OF THINGS TO DO AND SEE, but we all agreed afterwards it was a highlight of the whole day.  We also ended up walking past a BBQ chicken stand right as it opened, so we were at the front of the line that quickly grew longer behind us.

Whaddya know?  I had to ask myself at the end of that day, maybe NOT planning isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

But still, I thought as I starting organizing and listing all the things that I was resolving I would do and get right this year, that was vacation.  REAL LIFE doesn’t work that way.  If you want to change, you need to plan.

Clearly, I hadn’t yet learned the breadth of the genius lifestyle my brother has always known.

Suddenly as I began listing improvements in the sixth area of my life (yes, six areas, one per page with 12 points to work on in each area, one for each month…makes sense, right? :))  that I was resolving to improve in the coming year, I realized I  was growing so tired from the list, I was pretty sure I’d not even have the energy to ring in a New Year let alone make changes in one.  Overwhelmed yet again, my brother’s words came back to me.  “How about we just show up and see what happens?”

But this isn’t a vacation, I thought.  This is LIFEThere’s a difference.

Then I thought of my brother, who, in the best possible way has made his entire LIFE a vacation.

That’s when I realized that maybe vacation isn’t really a trip you take to get away from everything, but rather, a state of mind.

I know I’m still a long way from being able to approach life with the same kind of open-ended questions as my brother, but I can make an effort to try it out more often.  And around the same time I was thinking that, is when this little  word popped into my head:

SIMPLIFY

And I began to think, what if I only made ONE resolution for this year…and it was this word ?   Could it work?   Would I get results?

I have no idea.  But, I’m sure if I asked my brother he’d say, “Let’s find out.”

So, I am.

And with that,  I give you my entire list of resolutions for 2013:  Simplify.

I hope you’ll join me!

How I Failed at Couch to 5K…the second time.

Wouldn’t you think that after a run with God, life would just get all easy and stuff?

Well, you can stop wondering.

I’ll just tell you flat-out:  it doesn’t.

At least it didn’t for me.   Which kind of stinks, because I was really looking forward to living to a ripe old age,  breezing through life and then falling into God’s arms at the end of it going, “Wow.  That was pretty cool!”

Well, after last week, I know the former and the latter are still possibilities,  but the middle part?  It’s definitely out.

And of course I have a story about it.

But before I begin there are a few critical background elements you need to know:

1.  When I began the Couch to 5K program (aka “C25K” ) for the second time (I quit in the third week my first time) my concern had nothing to do with how fast I was running, or how far.  Only how long.  I figured if my body could convince my mind that it could run for 30 straight minutes at the end of 8 weeks, then the rest would fall into place.  (Plus–and this is an even bigger factor– the app I was using didn’t measure distance or pace, only total time).

2.  At the start of the school year we’d convinced our oldest son to join the cross-country team at his school.  He’s 12 and had not conditioned all summer.  The team ran between 2.5  – 3 miles on their first day of practice.  Suddenly working up to this distance over 8 weeks didn’t seem like such a big deal.  My son was experiencing more of a “go hard or go home” kind of training,  and he was doing just fine.  This was a bit humbling, but he’s 12I’m almost 40.  So I’m OK with that.

3.   I know for a fact I can walk at least a 15 minute per mile clip or better.  It’s been timed.

4.  In addition to the C25K program, for the past 6 months I’ve also been working out  4-5 times each week doing a 30- minute workout DVD (mostly Jillian Michaels), and I also walk the dog at least a mile a day (usually more), every day.   So, you see, I wasn’t really starting from the couch.

5.  Finally, I’m going to be using the whole “elephant” (heart) and “rider”(mind) imagery again that I introduced in my last post, so if you want to get up to speed with where I came up with that, you can read my last post here.

OK, I think those are all the essentials.   Let’s see if I can fill in the details…

After my great running experience at the end of week 5, I only had three more weeks to go and I would be running a 5K.  Of course, that’s assuming I was running a full 5K (3.1 miles) at about 10 minutes a mile.  I didn’t go so far as to think I was quite that fast, but considering I could walk a 5K at at 15 minute per mile clip, I figured I was probably running at about a 12 minute clip.

That’s kind of where the story begins.  Because sometimes the things I assume to be true can get mixed up with a moderately important thing called reality.  And sometimes they meet in a head-on collision.   This little story falls into the latter.  So sit yourself down and get comfortable as I unfold the train wreck of my experience for you, best I know how…

It just so happened our oldest son was wrapping up his first week of cross-country the same weekend I was expecting to finish my C25K.  I’d been running as long as 28 minutes 3x/week at that point, and was sure there would be no problem adding another 2 minutes to get to the 30 minute mark.  I was ready to put a big ‘ol check mark by this sucker and my plans were then to try to stay running for 30 minutes a day two – three times a week moving forward.

So when my oldest son came home from school before Labor Day weekend and said he needed to run at least two miles per day on two days over  the long weekend , I offered to run with him.  After all, I reasoned, I’m ready for this!  I’ve been training for SEVEN WEEKS!   Plus, as a result of running with my son, I’d actually be finishing the whole C25K a few days early.  Bonus!

Then Husband came home from work and offered to run with Son and I, too!  Awww.  Poor Husband, I thought, this is going to be a tough little run-in with reality for him.  He hasn’t run at all since last year.  And because I’m so thoughtful, I decided I would try to go easy on him.  And Son.   No need to embarrass them, you know.  My elephant (heart) was happy with the idea that I now had two running partners for the weekend, and my rider (mind ) was feeling particularly positive about these last few runs, so, unlike the last time he was more than welcome to come along for this adventure.

We all laced up on Saturday morning and began the run.  Within the first two minutes Husband and Son were a half-block ahead of me.  Ha! said my rider (mind) to me and my elephant (heart).  Amateurs.  They’re going to be walking pretty soon because they aren’t pacing themselves (at my [assumed] 12-minute pace).   Oh well.  They gotta learn somehow.

Except they didn’t.

If anything, the gap was only increasing.  I was falling further and further behind!

This was NOT how this was supposed to go!!!

Over half-way through, Husband and Son had doubled their distance between us.  I yelled out to Son who was the only one wearing a watch. “TIME?”  I yelled.  “WHAT’S THE TIME??”  (I didn’t really like how panicked I sounded).   Son stopped moving, but kept running in place, turned around to face me, and cupped his hand to his ear  in a I-can’t-hear-you motion.    Great.  Somehow I’d fallen  so far back I was out of earshot.   And trust me, my voice travels!   This was not a good sign.  “Eight minutes left!”  he shouted.  Well, that stinks, I thought. Especially considering I thought he was going to say, “two.”

Near the end (I was guessing, because the guys had turned around towards home), I was so mad and irritated that they (non-training Husband in particular) were not only able to finish, but also finish faster than me, that I turned down a different block than them so I would no longer have to stare at their bodies growing smaller and smaller on the horizon as I dragged myself along.

Finally, sweaty and winded, I walked up the drive.

“Wow!  That felt good, didn’t it?”  Husband said as I dragged myself up the driveway.   I noticed he and Son both had water bottles in hand fresh from the fridge and were stretching.  Oh, goody.  I’d fallen so far behind they had time to refresh themselves while I was finishing my “run.”  (I had to use the term loosely– in quotes– now, because compared to them, I was no longer sure exactly if what I’d been doing could even count as running.)

“Should we drive the course to see how far we ran?”  Husband asked.  “Sure,” I brightened.  Aha!  This was going to be my reward!  I was sure of it.   This would be where we’d drive around and I’d find out that even though they were faster, we’d certainly run farther than I usually ran.  So we climbed into the car and began the trek.  Down the farm road and back?  1 mile.   Good.   Around this block and that one.   Add another .5 mile.  Uh-oh.  Was that all?   My insides stiffened.  My elephant was numb.  This wasn’t looking good.  I hadn’t run but a bit further than this, total.  “Where did you stop running?”  Husband asked.  “There” I whispered.  I couldn’t even look.  “Good job, Hon!” said (frustratingly positive, optimistic) Husband.  “1.75 miles for you and that makes…(as we pulled up to his and Son’s end point) 2.25 miles for us.”

In 28 minutes.

I couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry.   I just blinked.

“Not bad for a first day!” said Husband with a smile.  FIRST DAY???  I wanted to shout.  Instead I just asked, needing to know the WHOLE. UGLY. TRUTH. even though I feared the answer,”What’s that put my pace at?”  (On a good day my math is choppy at best.  Right now, I was far too distraught to even attempt it).  I braced for the answer.

“Uh…let’s see.  How far did we say you went again?”  (Seriously, did he have to rub it in?)

“1.75,” I said.

“That puts you at about a 16 minute mile.”

16 minutes per mile!?!?  I could walk faster than that!  My elephant (heart) was so wounded, he just hung his head and turned his back to me.   But my rider (mind)  came to the rescue!  “Beginner’s luck for them and a bad day for you,” he told me. “We’ll show ’em what we’re really made of tomorrow!”  Yeah.  That sounded right.  Beginner’s luck.  Tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow will be MY DAY to shine!

***

The next day was muggier and more overcast than the previous one.  I’d not had a great night’s sleep, but it was certainly better than the night before.  Mentally, I was more ready than ever to show Husband just who the Workout Warrior was in this family.

We headed out to the park with the dog in tow.  This time I downloaded a new app that measured it all…time, distance, pace, etc.  Heh, heh!  There will be no denying this, I thought to myself as we pulled in to the park.

We hopped out, stretched a bit and, trying to stay humble, I turned to Husband and Son  and made a sweeping gesture towards the trail, “You go ahead and start since you’re faster.  The dog and I will stay back here.” I said.   And we’ll be passing you soon enough, I thought.

So they started.  And the dog and I followed.  Hmmm.  They’re moving at a pretty good clip again today, I thought.  Well, when they hit that first hill they’re going to slow down a bit.  But it was harder than I thought.  I looked up the hill in time to see the tops of their heads as they cleared the hill barely breaking stride.  So, I kicked it into gear as best I could to get to the top of the hill…only  to see them already around the next curve.  The dog obviously saw them, too, as he began pulling me ( remember him? my reluctant running partner? ) around the curve to catch them.  “Traitor!”  I hissed at the dog.  He clearly wanted to run faster.  With the guys.  He pulled and pulled.  I kept shtsss’ing and tugging like the Dog Whisperer to know avail.  We got to the top of the second hill and I could see them turning the corner into their final stretch of their first lap.

There was no catching them, now.

And at that moment, my giant elephant heart broke in two.

This was not how this was supposed to go.

Suddenly I was overcome with emotion.  There I was in the middle of the park with  Son and Husband  barely in sight, a dog who wanted to be anywhere but with my slow, sorry self and the clouds that– though I was praying would strike lightning so we could all go home and forget this day ever happened– refused to do anything more than squeeze the air out of my lungs.

Tears welled in my eyes.  I pulled on my sunglasses (because of the glaring clouds, of course) and stopped running.  Why bother, I thought.  I took a shortcut across the trail so I would meet up with Husband and Son to hand over the dog.  (They still beat me there).  I dropped the dog’s leash and–adding a final insult to my already injured (elephant) heart– the dog took off in a full-out run to be with the big boys.  Husband and Son turned to greet the dog, (barely winded) and smiled and waved at me as I stared long and hard at the backs  of their heads as they disappeared down the trail.

Inside my elephant (heart) was so sad and broken, and my rider (mind) was so stunned, I just stood there fighting back the big, choking sobs that threatened to break loose.

Once we get home, and I shower, I thought,  I’ll  feel better.

Turns out a shower wasn’t enough to wash away the pain of my very wounded ego.  I was in no mood to look for any positives to this whole humiliating experience.  Instead, I just crawled up on top of a big ‘ol Pity Pot and let the s#*t  pile high.  That’s an ugly sentiment, I know.  But it’s true.  Brooding, moping, pouting…it was all there.  I searched my rider hoping he might have something positive to say here.  Or at least some explanation for how things had gone so wrong.  But he was no help.  No help at all.  And my elephant?  Well, he just had the saddest little look about him.  Like baby Dumbo with those big teary eyes.  And he turned his back on me and walked away.

So where was God now?  And what had happened to that soul of mine?   I searched all around, but there was no sign of either one now.  No “house of goodness,”  no feelings of the Spirit of God and his eternal love.  Just… darkness.  Dark as a tomb.

I went through the motions of the day OK (well, at least I think I did…you should probably ask Husband to define “OK”, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t much fun to live with).  Everything felt a bit heavier.   At first I was pleased to see my rider  come back, but he started in with some pretty worrisome thoughts:  This whole time I’d thought I was running a 12 minute mile when I was actually “running” slower than I can walk?  What did the neighbors think when they saw me “running”?  Did I even look like I was moving?  And the dog!  This whole time I’d thought he was having a hard time keeping up, but after today’s events it was evident, he clearly thought I wasn’t  running at all.  In fact, he probably lagged behind because he figured if I was going that slow he could at least get some good sniffing in. 

Then I groaned.  The girls in my Facebook group.  Ugh.  I’d made a big ‘ol announcement that I’d be wrapping up my final week of C25K this weekend, and they’d probably be waiting to hear that I’d finished.  I couldn’t bear to post it.  Not because I feared them mocking me.  In fact, I’d probably prefer it.  Instead I knew they’d either try to cheer me up with those encouraging verses like “well, you’re lapping everyone still on the couch!”  or some such thing  (And as I already pointed out I hadn’t really started on the couch).   Or worse, they’d feel sorry for me.   (I like my pity parties to be a Party of One, thank you very much).  What if they’d say something like, “Awww, that’s OK!”  or   “Keep trying!”  Double ugh.  It was NOT OK, and now I wasn’t sure I’d ever try again.     So, unless someone else had had to work themselves up to a 17 minute mile, I really didn’t want to hear from them.  So I stayed away from the page.  I just couldn’t bear it.

Later that evening,  I wondered again:   Where is God in all of this?  Is this some kind of punishment for my pride?   A joke?  And what came to my mind then was an image of Mother Teresa and a saying of hers that I love:

“We are called to be faithful.  Not successful.”

Which is true enough.  But puh-lease. Not right now.  I’m too busy having this pity party.   I rolled my eyes, grumbled to myself, “Shut it, Sister!,” slammed the door on that thought, and  climbed back up onto my Pity Pot.

Day 2 was a little better.  I mean it was what it was, right?  I  had to face the facts.  After eight weeks of training, it turns out I “run” a 16 minute mile.  I thought some more about Mother Teresa’s words from the day before and thought that maybe she had a point.  I had been faithful to the plan.  Maybe I could at least find hope in that.  I HAD run 3 times each week for the length of time I was supposed to (except when I was on vacation) and so what if I wasn’t exercising a “run” properly? I was at least exercising some discipline.  (It was little consolation, but afterwards I’ll admit my heart felt a little better.  A bit more open to the possibility that perhaps I wouldn’t need to brood about this forever).

Later that day, when I wondered Where is God in all of this?  again,  more words came to me.  They were Richard Rohr’s words this time reminding me,

“If we don’t transform our sins, we are bound to transmit them.”

Thanks, Richard, I thought, sarcastically.   Was it a sin to run badly?  Of course not.  But I knew he wasn’t talking about the running.  He was talking about the condition of my heart.  (Resentful.  Closed off.  Hard.)  And the condition of my mood.  (Bitter.  Angry.  Self-loathing).  Hmm…he might have a point, but I was perfectly content being angry and bitter and full of self-loathing right now.  Giving any more thought to that  would have to wait.  *Door slam*  I was done thinking about it.

Then came Day 3.  I woke up thinking maybe today I would spill it to the girls on Facebook.  I might be able to face their sympathy or encouraging words now.  But, I wondered again, Where is God in all of this?  And then in my mind flashed the image again of Husband and Son and Dog cresting the hill and disappearing.  UGH!  I thought, growing angry all over again.  Why were they so much better than me when I’d been the one working SO hard?   Clearly, I still was not ready.

But then.

Then,  that morning  I cracked open my devotional reading titled “Holy Reversals” by Patti Gallagher Mansfield and couldn’t believe what I was reading.   The words jumped off the page as though they’d been written just for me

  “… the Lord showed [me] that this very disappointment, difficulty and disillusionment with others could be

a tombstone or a stepping stone

for [me], depending on [my] response to the offense.”

Well, now. Those were some words worth thinking about.

Suddenly, it was all pretty clear. This whole experience could either be a story about the day I stopped running (“running”) or  it could be…something else.  But what?  Again, the image of  Husband, Son and Dog flashed in my mind.  This time, though, my breath caught.  In all my anger do you know what I’d missed?  I’d missed being witness to a beautiful moment between a father and his son, and their dog.  My husband.  Our son.  Our dog.  I’d missed the beauty and the miracle of the fact that my son was willing enough and courageous enough to take the time to get stronger and better when he’d suffered a pretty difficult first week of training.  I missed the willingness of a father to run with his son even though he’d not run in a year.  I’d missed the ability to just get out there and do the best I could and enjoy the day for what it was:  a day of courage and willing spirits all the way around.

I’d missed it because I had not been willing.  I’d been plotting.

Plotting how to win.

How to be better.

How to show everyone how it was done.

And I’d failed.

But now?

Now was my chance to make this a stepping stone, instead of a tombstone.  Now was the chance to seize the opportunity to be humble.  To realize I had done the best I could, but that others have done much better.  An opportunity to realize that if I felt good doing something that was good for me, it was OK even if it hadn’t turned out the way I’d thought it would.

And then I realized something else.  If I’d been faster that day?  If I’d been where I wanted to be beside (or preferably in front) of Husband and Son and dog?  Well, then I would have missed the image of the three of them running together, wouldn’t I?  And right then and there I took a mental snapshot of the three of them.  And I tucked it right back into my –now healing– elephant (heart).

By day 4, I knew I was on the right track again.  I decided to go for a run even if I was going to be slow, and even if I could walk faster than I could “run.”  Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe I should’ve never called what I was doing “running” in the first place.  Maybe I should have used the word “jogging.”  At least it would have sounded like I could go faster, but  I just chose not to.   Or, my rider (mind) joked, maybe since you can walk faster than you jog you should call it “wogging.”

And I laughed out loud.

And that’s when I started moving my feet in the motion formerly known as running.  And I recognized again  the  *I* that had emerged with the elephant and rider once before.  The *I* that I call my soul.  And as my legs moved (yes forward, you smart alecs!) my elephant and rider both welcomed her (my soul is a female!) back.

Well, my rider  wondered, where have *you*  been?  Last time we looked for *you*, it was black as a tomb in there.

Tomb?  said my soul.

Yes, rider and elephant both nodded.

Soul just laughed.  That was not a tomb, she said.  It was a wombAnd from it came New Life.  A life of joy and love and laughter that had been missing for a short time.  Waiting until you were ready for it.  But now it’s back.

Yes.  Yes it was.

***

Thirty minutes later I walked back up the driveway,  feeling more refreshed and renewed than I had in a long time.

I glanced down at my iPod to check my pace:   a 15-minute mile.   I sighed.  Then I did a quick inventory.   My elephant (heart) was content and rested.  My rider (mind) was quiet and calm.  My soul was happy and at peace.

Hmph, I smiled to myself,  I guess numbers don’t matter all that much when you’re running at the speed of God.

And I opened the door and went inside.

The Day I Let My Elephant Run

So it turns out I have an elephant.

I never realized it before.

Fortunately, I don’t need to exercise it or anything because I have a rider for it, too.

But that’s kind of getting ahead of myself, so maybe I should back up a little.

Two years ago I joined a group on Facebook formed by a friend of mine that I knew pretty well in high school, but she graduated a year ahead of me, moved on with her life and I with mine, and as sometimes happens with “old” high school friends, we lost contact for a decade or so.  I’d hear updates of her life through other mutual friends or family that knew her, but mostly we were both off just living our lives, doing our own thing.

Then one day Mark Zuckerburg engineered his way into our lives with the invention of Facebook.  And suddenly all the friends anyone ever wanted to know what happened to were suddenly very reachable.

She and I were one of the lucky ones who reconnected.

As fate would have it, she was going to begin an exercise challenge known as the “30-Day Shred.”  It’s a workout created by Jillian Michaels (of TV’s The Biggest Loser fame) made up three 20-minute workouts of increasing intensity consisting of cardio, strength and ab training all in one.  My friend offered that any Facebook friends of hers could join this challenge with her, and since I already had the DVD (but had never really done it in 30 days), I joined the group.

Fast forward two years, and her humble little group of “friends” has grown to over 50 people (friends of friends are in now, too, so many of us do not know each other), and we post our workouts, our frustrations, our favorite healthy recipes and generally try to be encouraging to one another in the area of fitness and healthy lifestyles.  It’s a great thing and definitely an important part of my road to wellness over the past few years.

That being said, it can also be incredibly annoying.  Why?  Well, because some of these ladies tend to make Jillian Michaels look like she’s a lazy wimp.    Just when you start to feel all proud of yourself for doing 10 situps without passing out, someone will post (usually the same day) that they just completed the 10,000 situp challenge in 4 days.

Or something like that.

Anyhoo, despite the fact that it can be annoying, I realize there’s really nothing wrong with someone finally reaching a goal they’d set for themselves.  And their goals really don’t have anything to do with me, so in general I find it easy to be supportive.

But there was one challenge that just really bothered me.  It was called the Couch to 5K, and much like it’s name, the intention of the workout is to take you off the couch and up to running a 5K in  8 weeks.  Pretty neat, but I was doubtful I could do it.  I mean, the couch part I was OK with, but the 5K?  Not so much.  Especially since the last time I remember running was in 2005, and that was just to the end of my driveway because  I was trying to flag down the postman for some mail I needed him to deliver.   So running a whole 5K seemed unlikely.

Still…many of the women swore by it, so I decided to give it a try.  I tagged my dog as my running partner and for three weeks we ran together.  And you know what?  It really wasn’t all that bad.

Then I started getting bunions.

And it started getting hotter.

And so we quit.

And that would have been the end of it, if it weren’t for these nagging encouraging women on this chirpy little motivating group on Facebook.

About that time was when I realized the “positive peer pressure” that we parents so often hope our kids will experience in order to give them that little bit of courage they’re lacking to try something new,  was actually happening to me.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to be the only one (out of 50 women) who couldn’t run a 5K.

Starting from the couch.

So, I laced up my (new, better-ftting) tennis shoes and I started over (with the dog).  And the dog wasn’t too crazy about trying this again, because he’s more about walking and sniffing and pooping and leaving pee-mail for all the neighborhood dogs than he is about running for no reason.  And since it was getting hotter all the time and he has a long furry coat, he’d often be trotting as far behind me as his 6 foot leash would allow.  This was fine by me.   Because every day I ran, I could at least brag post on my Facebook group’s page that I’d completed the workout, met the goal for the day,  (and I’d try not to rub it in too much that I was running faster than my dog).

So the weeks wore on, I met the three week mark and blew past it, knowing this time I would not quit until I reached the end of the eight weeks.  Sure, there was a week or two when I’d take off for vacation and unlike my dedicated Facebook friends, I would NOT continue my workouts then.  But, when I got back home, I’d start up again.  And I was pretty thrilled with that.

At the end of week 5, I thought something must be wrong with the plan.  Because suddenly my workouts jumped from running no more than eight minutes at a time (with 5 minutes walking and then another 8 minute run, alternating for 20 some minutes) to suddenly running 20 minutes non-stop. 

WHAT????

That couldn’t be right.  I checked the posts of some of the gals on the Facebook group and (big surprise) those who had surpassed Week 5 reported how, while intimidating, it was not only possible to achieve a 20 minute run by that time, but that they’d actually surpassed that goal on that day.

*sigh*

I was surrounded by insanity, it appeared.

Still, I wanted to at least have bragging rights to completing SOMETHING (the last thing I’d completed, I think, was the original 30-day challenge two years earlier.  I’d never even tried to go beyond that other than to workout somewhat regularly each week).  And I was curious (though plagued with doubt) to see if I could also meet this goal (since it was now confirmed I wasn’t reading a typo).

So, when Week 5, Day 3 (you “only” run three days a week) arrived, I strapped on my running shoes, juiced up my iPod, leashed the dog and began the 5 minute warmup (which is supposed to be a “brisk walk”).  I’m not going to lie to you.  I was practically throwing up at the idea of running for 20 minutes.   And yes,  I did realize it was entirely possible that my biggest obstacle was my head.  (What if my body was really capable of this challenge?  What then?)

That’s when my thoughts turned to the elephant and the rider.  They were mentioned in an audiobook my husband downloaded before our vacation, and together we’d listened to much of the book on our way to and from our vacation destination.    The book was called Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

In it, the Heath brothers talked about how, when motivating others (or ourselves) to change, it’s important to determine whether we need to appeal more to a person’s head (their mental outlook, thoughts, etc) or a person’s heart (the way they feel about something).  They likened these two parts of our selves to an elephant (our emotional side) and a rider (our thinking, analyzing side).

I’d enjoyed parts of the book, but hadn’t really applied it to anything in my own life… until that moment.

Suddenly, as my warmup was winding down and I was going to begin running, I knew that everything I needed for this run was in my (elephant) heart.  Because my inner dialogue, my thoughts and analysis (rider) of this whole situation, were just not positive.

So you know what I did?

I told my rider to dismount my elephant.

And he did. (I have no idea why my rider is a man…that’s probably a whole ‘nother book I’ll need to buy).

Anyhoo, that was it.  Off my happy ‘ol elephant-self trotted.

Prior to this day, I’d roughly planned my route so that at about the 10 minute mark, I’d feel closer to home (in case I needed to stop).  (Curse you rider for tainting my elephant’s thinking!).  And I’m not gonna lie.  For about the first 5 or 6 minutes, I felt like an elephant out there.  I was moving slow, I was trying not to exert myself, saving my energy for this looong run.

As I neared my “10-minute marker”  I was growing nervous, because on this program (it’s an app you can download) a voice command will tell you that you are half-way.  And I was nearly half-way, but still no voice had told me so.  Oh no, I thought, maybe my iPod stopped?  Or worse, I wasn’t even half-way?  Just as the doubt nearly consumed me, I reached for my iPod only to hear the blessed announcement, “You are half-way.”  And you know what?  I still hadn’t reached the spot I’d imagined.  I was so happy (this would come to haunt me later, but that’s another story…) because in that moment I *knew* I could run another 10 minutes.

So I did.

Just me, my dog, and my elephant.

Not a rider to be found anywhere.

And then, when I was nearing the end and heading for home, I heard the “one minute left” command.  And I found myself thinking, only one?   I thought I could go at least the remaining loooong block to my house, then I thought maybe I could even go around the block one more time…so I did!

When I finally stopped running, I looked down at the time completed to see I’d been running for 28 minutes!!  A whole 8 minutes beyond what was necessary!  Then I came home and did 25 pushups, too! (The pushups were part of another challenge.  That I never even finished.  But that’s irrelevant.)

And that’s when I realized something.

My elephant can be a real showoff.

So what does all this have to do with God, you may wonder.  (Since that is usually my angle here.)  Well, at first, I wasn’t entirely sure it had anything to do with God.  I mean, what more was there to think about:  I trained.  I ran.  I conquered.

Even so, I invited my rider back in, who couldn’t help but get me thinking again (it is his job, after all).   And he helped me take inventory of what I knew for sure:

1.  It was a great day!

2.  I’d surpassed a goal that had seemed impossible.

3.  I was savoring every moment.

4.  Everything was coming up rainbows and unicorns and life in general was just about as perfect as it’d ever been.

5.  I’d also (for the first time, really) plugged into a new awareness about identifying whether my internal messages were coming from my heart (elephant), or  from my head (rider).

And with that 5th nugget of info, suddenly, a new thought occurred to me.  Before I started running, *I* told the rider (my thoughts) to leave my elephant (unthinking, energentic heart) alone:  Which *I* was giving this command?

It wasn’t my elephant.  (He [I know, another male, uh!] was busy eating grass, minding his own business waiting to run).

It wasn’t my rider that told himself to get down. (He was busy throwing a little hissy fit about not being able to go along).

So who was this–now third–I, then?

Well, I can’t prove it, of course, but I’m pretty sure…

  it was my soul.

You know, that all-knowing, all-loving,  part of me (and you) that houses the Spirit of God (goodness)?

I held onto that revelation for a moment.

I let it sink in.

I exhaled.

And I felt a certain Truth resonating within me.

Wow.

WOW.

And suddenly?

Well, suddenly setting a new personal best record of a 28-minute run didn’t seem like the biggest part of my day.

How could it?

After all, I’d just spent 28 straight minutes running with God.

A Fiction Word

Last week my kindergarten daughter was working soooooo hard on something that we were nearly late for school.

And it wasn’t homework.

At least not assigned by her teacher.

It was something she really wanted to show her teacher, though.  I think she was hoping for a “wow” factor.  And because she’s six, it was very evident from start to finish that, at the very least, she was especially impressed with herself.

Fortunately, she has the kind of kindergarten teacher that I knew would not disappoint her.  (And 33 years later, my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Phelan, is not disappointing me, either!   But that’s another story.  For now, just know I got your note, Mrs. Phelan, and I was touched beyond words!  Thank you!)

But now, back to that self-imposed project of my daughter’s.

What was it, you ask?

It was a word.

A fiction word (as she called it) that means “when you feel something.”  By way of further explanation, she gave this example, “Like when you feel like you are wearing a necklace, but you don’t have one on.”

And the word she made up for that feeling?

librareiinstastane (pronounced lie-berry-en-sta-stain)

Of course, being the English major that I am, I enjoyed very much her making up a new word.  It cracked me up that despite the fact she actually spelled the first part of “librarian” correctly, she still pronounced it “li-berry.”

Still, fiction words are pretty cool.  I mean, she’s in good company after all.   Lewis Carroll immediately came to my mind and his nonsensical Jabberwocky poem, and, of course, the well-worn world of gaxes and sneetches, et al. created by the beloved Dr. Seuss.  So I beamed that she was fearless enough to just make up a word.

And a definition.

And show it off.

And for whatever reason, this word hung with me all week (while her dad was out of town).  Off and on I would find myself wondering What part of speech is it?  Adjective?  Verb?  How would you use it in a sentence?  (For some reason it never occurred to me to ask her to use it in a sentence).

Anyhoo, the week wore on and every time I would think of this word, I would smile.   I’d think about how she came home that afternoon with a  note from her wonderful, compassionate, amazing teacher that said proudly:  “This is an enormous fiction word!”  followed by a big smiley face.

Because it was.

And I’m sure it made her smile.

Simple as that.

But still, something about it lingered with me.  I’m really not sure what or why.  Just thoughts of that word drifting in and out of my consciousness throughout the week.

Then, on the weekend, when her dad returned from his trip, I told him the story and showed him the word.  Without missing a beat, he walked into the living room where she was sitting and started a casual conversation with her by saying, “You know what, Bean? (That’s her nickname.  We don’t fancy naming our kids after vegetables, just so you know. )  Sometimes I librareiinstastane my Blackberry.”  And he said it without even looking at her.

She glowered at him. (Because she almost always does. *sigh*  We have no idea why.)

And he replied innocently, “What?   I do.”  And he turned and left the room.

And I’m sure he does.

And now I knew how to use it in a sentence.

And the whole point of my writing about it is this:  I don’t have a word for how I’ve been feeling, or why I haven’t been writing, or just where I am in my faith journey right now.

That’s why I haven’t written.

Not because I don’t want to.  Or because I’m done with this whole blog thing.

Not at all.

In fact, I librareiinstastane words for my blog.

I really do.

But just like the definition says:  I feel them, but they’re not really there.

Hopefully, maybe even sometime soon, I will un-librareiinstastane those words.

But for now?

For now, there are no words to form sentences that outline or connect the thoughts along my journey.  Only some random thoughts that I’ve been repeating to myself often, which I’ll share with you now:

“All is well, and all is well, and all will be well…” ~Julian of Norwich

“God does not love us because we are good.  God loves us because GOD is good.”  ~Richard Rohr

And then there is this story shared in Ronald Rolheiser’s book Our One Great Act of Fidelity, from a lecture he’d heard given by James Mackey  about a man on a hunting expedition in Africa who bagged two wild turkeys and headed back to his camp (that story I paraphrase here, but the point of which has been bouncing around in my head for weeks):

At one point upon his return to camp he realized that he was being followed by a naked, starving, adolescent boy.  Seeing this, the man unbuckled his belt, let the turkeys fall to the ground and gestured to the boy to come take the birds.  The boy ran up to the birds, but refused to pick them up.  He was, seemingly, still asking for something else.   Finally, as a last ditch effort for the boy to show what else he needed, he backed off from the birds several meters and stood with his arms and hands outstretched…”waiting, waiting until the man came and placed the birds in his hands.  He had, despite hunger, fear, and intense need, refused to take the birds.  He waited until they were given to him…”

And on that final thought, that’s perhaps why I’ve librareiinstastaned the words for this blog.

I refuse to take what I’m experiencing and share with you, until the words for it have been given to me.

In the meantime, just know I don’t mind this lack of words.

My twisted, jumbled wordless journey suits me just fine.  (It’s not real helpful to the blog, though, so that’s why I thought I’d check in).

But for now, know this:  that when the words are finally given to me?

Well… I’ll be  certain to write a big smiley face next to them.

 

Waxing Nostalgic

 

I sometimes think we are a little overly zeaous in our efforts to become whole.  I don’t know that we will ever be whole.  I believe that God calls us to be in process and this means one step at a time, one minute at a time, one day at a time.  A faithfulness to living our lives in process is, perhaps even more important than all our efforts to become whole.

~from Gold in Your Memories, Macrina Wiederkehr

Ahh…that time of year again.

The kids’ school year is winding down, their activities are ramping up, and I am left standing in the frenzy of it all going, Wait!  What just happened here??

This happens every spring.  And every fall.   As my kids proudly march forward with time, eagerly looking ahead at what they’ll get to do the next year, and how much they can’t wait until X or Y or Z.  And all the time I’m sneaking downstairs and pulling their little onesies or memorable outfits out of storage boxes and sniffing them hoping that last little smell of their babyhood is still there.

Yep.  Welcome to motherhood.  These are the parts that everyone talks about (Where did the time go?  Oh, my gosh, they’ve gotten so BIG!), but no one really TALKS about.

You know what I’m saying?   No one talks about the way it can hurt sometimes when you least expect it as your first born, The Oldest One, now a growing “tween” stares blankly at some cartoon nonsense on the TV and in your mind’s eye you see him as a two-year-old infatuated with a show about talking trains.  Something he would now not only roll his eyes about,  but mock if you were to suggest he watch it.

And your now (very tall, very large-footed) 10-year-old, The Middle One, still sucks up trivial facts as though his mind is a vacuum cleaner,  but now instead of you telling him or reading him the facts, he’s giving them to you.  He doesn’t need  you to read them to him or to explain them at all.  Now you’re the one looking puzzled, wondering (and then secretly running off to search Google and see)  if what he’s saying could be true–that Albert Einstein really does have an element named after him. (He does.)

Then, there’s the Little One.  The only girl.  The one who just last fall boarded the school bus smiling and waving to you, so proud to be a kindergartner.  And you smiled and waved back even though inside you felt a part of you die.  Now she’s a full-blown reader and thanks to her EXTREMELY talented teacher, she shouts out words like “onomatopoeia” and “alliteration” (and she can tell you what they mean).  And another part of you dies because she doesn’t need you to read to her at all now, and she sounds like a fourth grader instead of the kindergartner that she still is for the  23 remaining days of school.  (Not that anyone’s counting).

*SIGH*

And so you sit here, trying not to panic as the clock ticks fervently forward in their lives (and in yours).  And you may begin to wonder why you ever wished away their time at home with you.

At least I do.  I remember how much I was going to relish the day all three of them were all in school ALL DAY.  And how I was going to have time to plan (and make) healthy meals, and I was going to have time to clean the house, and update the checkbook, and decorate to my heart’s content and greet the kids at the door with a warm smile and a fresh batch of baked goods each day…You see where this is going, don’t you?  I stop myself just short of donning the pearls, dress, and heels as I smile and push around the vacuum cleaner. (That part even I knew at least wasn’t gonna happen.  I mean, who smiles while they’re vacuuming?)

But at the very least, I thought I’d have a lot more things figured out right now.  Which was my first mistake.  Not because I’m incapable of figuring things out, but because of the time restraints I put on what is ultimately a lifelong process.  And all too often, at least in my personal experience, it’s not until the process is complete, that I realize that I’ve finally figured things out.  But then a new process begins.

The bigger question right now is probably, Why am I surprised?  It’s ridiculous, really, when I take a step back and really look at what I’d expected this year to be:

  • We were going to move to a new state. (check)
  • My kids were going to be in school all day. (check)
  • I would take a few weeks to get the house in order (every closet cleaned, every photo album filled, every old video dubbed to DVD, etc.) and become a gourmet cook and domestic goddess that miraculously loved waking up to begin cooking and cleaning, though I never enjoyed them before. (umm…still a work in progress….)
  • I would be a fitness queen! (Well, I DO workout regularly, but since the whole “healthy gourmet meals” thing has been overlooked, I have succeeded at being both stronger and fatter).
  • I would  launch myself into volunteer opportunities and different committees with the schools and at church and that would, in turn, open doors and point the way for me to my new calling. (Welllllll…I DO volunteer in the schools and at church sometimes, but so far I’m not finding my new calling…except to again remind myself that while I enjoy being in schools, and despite the fact that my B.A. in English Education would allow me to do so, I do not want to be a classroom teacher. )
  • I would understand the meaning of life.  (Yeah.   Another little coinky dink that fit perfectly into my “plan.”  Did I mention that I’m turning 40 this year?  Because EVERYONE knows that by the age of 40 the meaning of life suddenly all makes sense.  Except it doesn’t).
  • I would be fulfilled. (hmmm…still waiting…..)

And that’s where I am now.  Realizing that perhaps my expectations were a TOUCH too high for what this year would bring.

The reality is that each and every time we’ve moved (three times in five years), it takes me a full year (give or take) to unpack my brain and my emotions from that experience.  It takes me a full year (give or take) to get all of us set up with our new doctors, dentists, and hair stylists.  It takes me a full year (give or take) to realize which of the new people I’ve met, I could actually call and say, “Hey, do you want to get together?” and not worry that they’re going to say, “Uh.  Who is this, again?”  Add to that the fact that this year I crossed an invisible milestone where I am still a “stay-at-home-mom,” but most of the time the only one here to “mother” is the dog.  Stir all that together, and suddenly it feels like more of a recipe for exactly what I’m experiencing now:  nostalgia, mixed with a cupful of questions, and stirred together with a dash of wonder and a pinch of doubt.

The realities of this “recipe” and some of the “extra ingredients” I’ve thrown in, though, aren’t all bad.

For instance, in the process of this year we’ve rescued a very loving and intelligent Golden Retriever.  And  while I’ve never been one to consider my pets my “kids,” he has, like them, made me realize that just when I thought my heart couldn’t possibly grow any larger, he nestled himself right into a cozy available spot and opened a door there to show me that love isn’t always about words and actions.  What he’s shown me is how primal and instinctual love is.  With him it’s never about what I say, or what I do, but always WHO I AM.

I’ve also started this little bloggy adventure.  And I’ve (sort of) kept it going even beyond Lent.  And while I’m certainly no writing genius or expert, I’m suddenly realizing that nobody ever expected me to be.  Except me.  And so like the vision of pearls and heels behind the vacuum, it’s time for me to let that expectation go, too.  I don’t really want to write genius material, anyway.  I want to write about my journey.   So that sometimes, when I feel like I’ve lost my way, I can go back and say, “Oh, maybe I’ve gone farther than I realized.”  And I want to share it with others, so that maybe every once in awhile they’ll say, “Huh.  I thought I was the only one who ever felt that way…”

And my kids?

Well, it CAN be heartbreaking to think about their childhood and how fast it’s gone.  But, the real tragedy would be if I only mourned that loss, and didn’t celebrate who they’ve become.

That’s where the painful memories meet the Joyful Now.

Because while The Oldest One no longer plays with toy trains, he does still play with Legoes. But, as a middle schooler, he is also joining in with the adults from time to time when people come over, and he throws in his own two cents of opinions about whatever topic we’re discussing.  He’s also developing a great sense of humor. (Which despite my every effort to take credit for, he assures me comes from his Uncle Jeff.) (He’s probably right.)

And the Middle One?  Well, he’s thankfully developed his father’s ability to keep and store information in a concise and neatly organized file cabinet of a brain.  My brain holds facts more like a laundry basket.  It’s all there… but I have to dig for it.  And sometimes I can’t find the mate for the sock I need.  Still.  It’s nice to be able to sit back and let him teach me all he’s learned.  Some of it sounds familiar, like maybe I did know it once upon a time?  But much of it is new, too.  And though I’m sure I don’t want to be a classroom teacher, part of my reason for wanting to pursue teaching as a career is because I’ve always loved learning.  (Well, not algebra, but that’s another story).  So, the fact that my son loves sharing his newly found information and the fact that I don’t mind hearing it and learning it (or rediscovering it), makes our time together pretty enjoyable.

Then there’s the Little One.  Well, she may know fancy words like onomatopeia and alliteration, but just this morning she needed help getting her shoes on and she flat-out refused to leave the van without her “love note kiss” to her hand.  And only yesterday she was crying…big BAWLING sobs…about a stuffed animal she saw on TV that I flat out refused to buy for her.  So, I guess she’s not exactly leaving for college just yet.  And the fact that I can see how time keeps marching on makes me appreciate all the more every last snuggle and kiss and hug. Because I just never know when she won’t want them any more.

That is how I’m in process right now.  Not whole.  Not entirely fulfilled.  And despite the fact that I love my husband very much, he didn’t “complete me” the way Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger did for each other in Jerry Maguire.  For the record, having kids didn’t complete me, either.  Neither did getting a dog.  And to be fair,  expecting any one of them, or all of them collectively to “fulfill” or “complete” me, is a pretty tall order.  I mean, I’m pretty sure I don’t “complete” my husband.  Or my kids.  Or even the dog.  And to think that I could (or that they’d want me to)  would be a LOT of pressure that I don’t really need.  In fact, I’d be as sure to fail at that as I did my “little plan” for this year.

But by God… I am so grateful that they were brought into the process of my life.

And just like that!  The nostalgia is gone.  So is the self-doubt, and the nagging worry about all that I’d intended to do but didn’t get done.

The memories remain, of course, but without the longing for the past.  And suddenly, just like my kids, I’m back once again to looking forward to what the future holds.

But mostly…and this can only come for the wisdom of someone who’s lived almost FORTY YEARS or more…I realize milestones are like the pearls of life.

We can admire them.

We can cherish them.

We can hold them from time to time.

But in order to string them together,  we must walk the strands of the journey.

And every part of it– the pearls and strands– is essential to making our life the Crown Jewel it was meant to be.