We look like any two stay-at-home women enjoying the rare cool morning of this summer. It is nine-thirty and we are sitting on her white-railed southern front porch, breeze drifting by, sipping our iced tea. Passers-by may assume we’re chatting about our children, plans for the weekend or any topic that is normal for “women like us”. In fact, we get together to share and support each other in our decades long struggles with mental illness; anxiety and depression. No one would guess it – laughing, sipping tea, care-free and content looking. Looks can be deceiving.
Months go by and I feel and function normally(whatever that is anyhow). Then like a monster in the closet that jumps from hiding I recognize a mood, a fear, a shift in my head. All sense of safety and normality is obliterated. The illness has not been cured, just resting and building power to strike. “I cannot do this again. I’m too tired. I’m too old. It will never end so why try?” Defeated before the battle begins.
No beauty. No joy. No Hope.
It is not the end, of course. You knew that because you have people or issues in your life that bring the same reaction of “I can’t go through this again”. No matter how tired, how discouraged, how impossible it seems to conquer this enemy, I must persevere. Eventually the emotional shock wears off and I appraise the seriousness and depth of the recurrence. I bring out the tools I have used before and face the monster again. Each time I fight the battle I get stronger because I have fought and won before. It is critical to remember victories. Like any chronic illness or recurring event it is exhausting and dramatically interfers with life. Life does that in some way to everyone. Victory is not in the healing. Victory is in the character we build as we continue to fight.
Beauty is found in our willingness to share our struggle
Joy is found in developing perseverance
Hope grows in remembering our victories and expecting more
Do you know what a doplar is? Actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, or how to spell it, but I know what it does. It is a kind of microphone or stethoscope the doctor put on my daughters tummy yesterday and we heard my granddaughters heart beating. Joy, beauty, hope, awe, tears, miracle, AMAZIMG! Part of my excitement is that the sound never gets old. I heard it every month through my two pregnancies and during my other daughters two pregnancies. Every time, it has moved me in that indescribable, mysterious way the soul itself rejoices. A joy that bypasses the mind and heart and goes straight to the core of my being; that invisible intelligence call spirit.
I was hearing a life, a sixteen week old person. A girl who is the size of an avocado, about 5 ounces in weight, 4-5 inches from head to rump, all parts accounted for and she can hear. In five months I will meet her. It will be a new adventure in my life and the beginning of hers in this complicated world. A new relationship is a gift to be taken seriously and enjoyed thoroughly. I am so blessed, as are my daughter and her husband.
Each life, each human being is precious, valuable and important. Each person has a purpose only they can fulfill. I can immediately see the beauty and potential in babies and small children. These qualities are not always so easily seen in adults who have layers of living covering the innate beauty we are each born with. I believe the miracle of a new life, my granddaughter, will open my eyes to see the miracle in everyone around me. I pray it will.
I am outside having my coffee, enjoying the time I have before it is too hot and I go inside for the day. Another Tuesday morning. I have finished my daily journal, my schedule is set and I am ready to make the entries in my Gratitude Journal when I hear an odd cheeping that sounds awfully close. Curious, I raise my head and there it is…a hummingbird. Last week I saw two of them and they were making the same noise. I had never heard a hummingbird sing, only the sound of their wings beating the air. New experiences are especially precious as I age.
The real surprise this morning wasn’t the noise. For the first time this summer instead of flitting from tomato plant, to Leyland Cypress to the Creeping Charlies s/he went to the bright red hibiscus and had breakfast. Full, the bird flew toward me, hovered four feet from my face, said “Thank You” and flew away.
There is something special about an intimate encounter with a wild creature….it is really an up close and personal glimpse of God. Definitely a gift that brought me beauty, joy and hope on a morning I needed it. I am grateful!
In the “About Me ” section of this blog I mentioned that one of my careers was as a High School Counselor. I didn’t mention that I counseled at an alternative education setting known as “Community School”. The students were enrolled at our site when they were no longer allowed to attend either traditional or continuing education sites. These students were at the highest risk for dropping out of school and every other risk known to man. This was my favorite job ever.
Once I stopped being afraid and intimidated by the students I loved them. They were honest, rough and experienced in life beyond their years. They were defensive of the systems of our society and the people who controlled them. That included me. I identified with how imperfect they were and as soon as I relaxed they did too. Most of the students were at the school because events and circumstances in their lives, and the decisions they made to cope with them, were harmful to either themselves, or others or both. These cycles of bad decisions and negative consequences are very difficult to interrupt. It is a merry-go-round often impossible to get off without help. The job of every school staff member was to teach them new ways to think and act to change their patterns. Sometimes it worked and inspired. Sometimes it didn’t and saddened.
How can we find beauty in these children? They act in ways that challenge our beliefs and standards. Where is the hope in generational poverty and cultural permission for teen pregnancy, drug use and violence? It is easy to see good in nature, people and places we love and are like, social norms we believe in. Not so easy to find beauty in people and behaviors we don’t understand nor approve of. Behaviors and attitudes that have been warped and darkened by pressures and circumstances we can never understand.
Finding the GOOD does not mean excusing behaviors that hurt, condoning anti-social attitudes nor ignoring entire segments of our cities population because we don’t approve. It also does NOT mean changing them to he like us. We find the good , like we do for friends and family, by actively looking. We go beyond the surface seeking the uniqueness in every individual and culture until we find what we know to be good in ALL people: Love, purpose,, dreams, needs not met, safety, relationships and God. God created all things—ALL PEOPLE. Look for Him in others and He will show you their beauty as He highlights yours to them.
I received some very gentle feedback on my last post . Something to the effect that since I am retired and no longer raising children, I have a lot of time on my hands. (What does that phrase mean anyhow?) I do have more discretionary time. Time to STOP, SIT and LISTEN. To carefully make choices instead of just going with the flow. I agree, I have more time. That means I also have more time to waste.
I’ve been know to ignore a well organized “TO DO” list and to do crossword puzzles for hours. I’ve also given up chores in favor of reading a good book, or having my grandchildren over, or talking to a friend. The “things” on our lists seem important. Are they the most important things? Grilled cheese sandwiches and popcorn is a great dinner. Dust bunnies on the floor will not runaway. I know because I’m waiting. A missed bath will not make the children sick. A day spent in pj’s could be a memory forever and certainly a rest for the body, brain and soul.
The word CHOICE means picking between options. It doesn’t mean the most mature or productive choice. It could mean the most fun, relaxing or loving option. The key here is balance. (A book about that in the works.) Balance between what is good and what is best in the whole of our life, I think that is people. The choices we make to spend time with people are the important ones. Time is a commodity we cannot expand nor replace. When it’s gone, it’s gone and so are those exact moments, those people, those situations, those gifts.
I use the words deliberate, conscious and intentional to imply that each of us is responsible and accountable for how we use the gifts of time, intelligence and resources. We have the ability to control ourselves, mind, body and spirit. Whether we take control or give control to others is our choice. I’ve done it both ways and LOUDLY AND ASSERTIVELY recommend you play a large part in deigning your own life. Each of us must take the wants and needs of others, our individual responsibilities, our phase of life and God’s will into consideration.
I am responsible for what I think, how I react and what I do. I am the one who will experience the consequences of my actions. Thinking “I don’t have time” is an excuse to abdicate responsibility. Blaming others is too. You can find three minutes, three times a day, and use it to refresh yourself and decide how you want to spend your gift of time. IT’S YOUR CHOICE! Make it wisely.
Some days I feel like the “Energizer Bunny” You know, the little pink bunny, beating the drum, that “just keeps going”. From feeding the dogs breakfast, until I turn off the lights at night, I am in constant motion. There is nothing wrong with being busy and productive. The sticking point for me is that what I do, both physically and mentally, is automatic. I move from morning devotions through a routine until I leave the house to run errands and keep appointments. Later it’s household chores, dinner and the evening routine until the day is gone and I don’t really remember making conscious decisions. After I make my “TO DO” list in the morning,I do not stop to make choices about the next activity, then the next. My day evolves and I follow it with blinders on.
I wonder if I would make better choices if I actually stopped, breathed deeply and slowly, and consciously decided “What should I do next?” Running on automatic pilot I may miss a chance to help someone, spend time with a friend, hear God. How much beauty do I miss, especially the beauty and joy that comes from people? The people in my life I overlook because I am occupied DOING IMPORTANT THINGS. You know — the child tugging at you pant leg repeating “Mommy”. The teen in her room and maybe you’re glad to have her there. The phone call you do not answer or return. These are not only chances to hear but be heard, to love and be loved.
The importance of each day is NOT what we DO, but what we MISS. Interactions with people, enjoying or just noticing the natural beauty around us, resting our bodies and minds, being conscious and deliberate in our actions and gratitude. For me, it means taking five minute breaks during the day to STOP and LISTEN: to the people around me, to my heart, to my body and to God. We make a lot of dust as we busily complete the tasks on our lists. Who knows what will surprise us if we let the dust settle and look around. We might see Beauty an feel the JOY.
Don’t worry, those things you planned to do will still be there, OR maybe they won’t seem so important.
Yes, I am writing about the new Disney/Pixar movie. Went to see it twice: once with grandson and once with granddaughter. Cute, fast moving, perky and a story to tell. We all liked it. The importance of the movie for me was it’s illustration of one of my core beliefs about people: WE ARE WHAT WE THINK. During the film, viewers meet five characters that reside in the “brain control center” of Riley, the 12 year old main character. Each one represents a feeling/action/response pattern: JOY, FEAR, ANGER,DISGUST and SADNESS. Whichever character gets to the control panel and speaks first into Riley’s brain directs her response to whatever is the current situation. If Joy gets there first Riley is happy, if it is Anger—you get the idea.
This is the process (very simplified) that occurs in my head and yours. I hear the alarm clock. I think:
1. Guess I’ll get up and start the day. (neutral)
2. I hate that lock. (negative)
What I DO next and how I FEEL is directly related to my thoughts. Humans are not cartoon characters created and controlled by animators. We can have control over our thoughts and actions, if and when we make the choice to be in charge. When we don’t make the choice, an automatic habitual response takes over and we float down the familiar path of least resistance, again. The mood of our day is set into motion by a thought we don’t even remember and wouldn’t think very important if we did.
Obviously I have used a simple example so it is easy to break down. You can see the cause and effect relationship between the thought, and the feeling and behavior that follow. Try one of your own. Pick a recurring activity you have a negative response to: laundry, cooking, cleaning, exercise, paying bills. Think of your normal response and then rethink it to make it as positive as possible. Let’s not get crazy and say “I love cleaning toilets”. Instead of “I hate doing laundry”, you could say “It only takes a few minutes to put the laundry in”. Another example is “I am so glad I have an automatic washer and dryer”.
Taking control of thoughts takes a ton of work. The implications of changing our thoughts, thus your feelings and behavior are unlimited. Being the master of my thoughts is the first step in being the master of my behavior. It brings JOY to be positive and we can see more beauty when we’re not grumpy.