Embracing the Dark

My “brand,” for want of a better term, has been “comfort and joy,” but the truth is that I have been doing my best to load heavy on the “joy” part.  I find joy in colors – in wild, bright, nearly-neon shades of pink, orange and green.  I have teacups in every color of the rainbow.  I wear eyeglasses that are splashed with many colors.  I love color.

I’m currently listening to “Learning to walk in the Dark:  Because Sometimes God Shows up at Night“, by Barbara Brown Taylor.   The author’s soothing voice is a reminder that life isn’t always colorful.  We have spent generations filling our world with light – chasing away the darkness.  We’ve lost the ability to take comfort in dark things – dark places. Her voice came at me through several podcasts in a short time.  On an impulse, I turned in an Audible credit and downloaded the recording.  I’m so glad that I did.

I’m the first one up in the house most mornings.  I flip on every light switch I pass, filling the house with the artificial sunlight emitted from all of those high-efficiency LED light bulbs.  The author asked questions, and I pondered, “When was the last time that I truly sat in the dark?  When did I last watch the night sky and watch for the stars to appear?”

It seems that August and September each lasted about 10 minutes. Here I sit, already part way through the month of October. My beautiful summer garden has begun to turn brown around the edges.  The petunias are bearing their last blooms; the herbs are going to seed.  Winter is Coming (sorry).  With Winter comes long nights.  With my windowless office, it is far too easy to arrive at work in the dark and leave in the dark.  I must be intentional, some days, to glimpse the sunlight at all.  The vibrant orange roses I purchased a week and a half ago have finally turned brown.  I rinsed the apple-green vase and stored it away.

Emotions can be dark, too.   We can confront dark emotions without being consumed by them.  I’m amazed by the videos of dangerous creatures – night creatures – like wolves and bears and foxes that make their way into backyards and play in the pool or on the trampoline.   I find delight in watching their apparent joy.  Had those homeowners been frightened by the beasts and turned on the security light, flooding the yard with artificial sun, the animals may have scurried away into the forest.  Instead, they sat back and allowed something magical to happen, and those videos have brought happiness to thousands, like me, who will never experience the sight.

In the wake of my mother’s death last year, I pursued joy like a drug.  I purchased yarn in bright colors, hoarded away in quantities it will take many months to deplete.  I asked for (and received – thank you, darling) a room painted a yellow (called “joyful,” no less) in which I could sit and do happy things while looking out the window at happy colors.  Honestly, the room hasn’t received much use.

No, I’m not currently depressed.  I’m just coming down off of an artificial high.  I’ve never used recreational drugs, but I’m told that some so completely deplete serotin – the happiness hormone – that it’s difficult to feel happy after coming down from the high. Those same substances, administered by a professional, can be used to combat serious issues like PTSD. Like those drugs, “Joy,” I think, is best in small doses.  It’s much more special that way.  Seeking out joy is hard work.  An item is only novel a time or two, then unless it is connected to a special memory, it begins to lose its magic.  It becomes another pretty thing to sit on a shelf and dust.

Instead of running from garden to lake seeking perfect sunrises and sunsets (filled with fuschia and orange), I’m going to take a look around at all of the perfect,ordinary, taken-for-granted blessings.  There is beauty in ritual – in the mundane.

I’m not swearing off of joy – I’m just trying to find a rhythm – to get back to appreciating the ordinary.  To enjoy comfort while at the same time allowing darkness  – sadness, melancholy and longing – to creep in where I can watch them from a safe distance.

My dear aunt and uncle in Arkansas recently sent me a gift – a video of my mother and her siblings in 2009.  One sister had already taken up residence in heaven – but the rest of them sat and told stories about growing up – about Christmas and toys and the poor family who stole milk from the cows because their children were hungry.

That DVD sat on the table in the foyer for more than a week.  I was afraid of it.  I don’t know if I was afraid of seeing my mother’s face and hearing her voice.  I don’t know if I was afraid that she might say something about me and my failures as a daughter.  I can’t truly describe the nature of my fear.  I just know that I felt it.

After moving the disc from one room to another, I finally popped it into the computer, sat back with a pot of tea, and watched it end to end.  I allowed the tears to come.  I allowed the grief to come into the yard and bounce on the trampoline.  I allowed myself to laugh at the funny parts, too.

Like the wild animals playing on the swingset, though, dark emotion is a wild creature that for those of us who have found our way back from depression must be respected for the wild thing that it is.  Like the woman filming the black bears, I can watch sadness from the safety of the kitchen window, but it would be foolish to invite it into the house and give it a place at the table.

I would never go out into the yard if a bear was there, but I might brave the night to see how close I could get to a fox or a raccoon.  I would face fear of the dark for the potential experience of seeing something special up close.

If you never go out into the dark, how will you ever see the stars?

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life as a Plant

I just returned from a weekend camping in a place with absolutely no internet connectivity.  My cell phone did not work.  Zero bars.  Nada.  No Facebook.  No weather.  No checking my calendar or sharing pics on Instagram.  The only purposes my handy dandy pocket computer served were alarm clock, music player and e-reader.

Our 18-year-old son is old enough, now, to spend a weekend without Mom and Dad here to manage him.  He wasn’t alone, though.  It was closing weekend of the musical theater show he has been rehearsing for all summer long.  He’s a busy guy.

I had intended to ask my son to water my plants while I was gone, but I forgot, and by the time I arrived  home, a few were just beginning to droop.  I don’t generally keep indoor plants because I have a tendency to kill them, but for a few brief months every year, my back deck becomes a tropical paradise filled with a riot of colors.  I “visit” the plants nearly every day.  I pinch this one back here to encourage more blooms and I move that one a little to the left so that it gets more sunlight. Sometimes, though, I get busy and I forget a day of watering.  Earlier this summer, a combination of a badly-planned container and failure of a drip-watering system led to a “dead” planter.  I had my husband drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of an old aluminum tea kettle that was my mother’s, and I filled it with vines and flowers.  It was lovely.

I went out to the deck one night to commune with my flowering friends and found the kettle plants wilted and dead-looking.  The soil was crispy.  The leaves were crinkly.  The situation looked pretty hopeless.  I cried a little.  I had “built” that container as a tribute to Mom, who I lost in November, and in that moment, my irrational mind felt that I had let her down (again).

My husband said, “just throw the plants out and buy new ones.”  It was tempting.  Instead, though, I soaked the container thoroughly.  I used my garden shears to cut back the completely brown parts and I moved the kettle from the hook where it hung “crooked,” as if pouring a cup of tea to a shelf where it could sit flat (and was much easier to water).

I began watching the kettle planter each day.  On Day 2, it looked a little better.  The leaves that had still been green, but were wrinkled instead of full and lush had filled back out. The extremities on the vines though, continued to wilt and grow brown.  I pulled out the shears once again and cut back a little more.

By Day 3, the “core” of the planter was beginning to look healthy.  There were no flowers anywhere, but the greenery was looking healthier.

By Day 7, new runners were beginning to appear from the vining plants.  By Day 10, a few buds had appeared on the the plant with the tiny white flowers.

Now, two full weeks after the disaster, three of the four plants have made a brilliant recovery.  They almost look as if they had never been nearly killed. I say “almost,” because if you look closely, you can see the scarring on some leaves.  There are some brown parts, too – but if you view the kettle from a distance, you would never know that it was nearly a lost cause.  The fourth plant, with it’s delicate leaves and tiny fuschia blossoms, though, isn’t faring as well as its neighbors.  Perhaps it is the diminutive size of the leaves.  Perhaps this plant wouldn’t have thrived in the same container as the other three even without my unintentionally-caused drought.  It’s surviving, but it isn’t thriving.

While running on a narrow trail through the forest this weekend (without music), I began thinking about the plants in Mom’s kettle.  When you neglect a plant, or when it goes through a crisis, it begins to shut down.  It conserves precious resources for its core.  It keeps its center alive for as long as possible.  Humans do this, too.

It was just about a year ago when Mom told me that her cancer was “alive” again, and that she would need radiation treatments to knock it back down.  In the weeks leading up to that day, I had celebrated my 50th birthday.  I was joyful.  I was celebrating life.  If I were a plant, I would have been “blooming all over the place.”

As the illness progressed, it took her mind.   My own soul began to wilt a little.  My extremities began to wither – I stopped seeking out people and conversations.  A leaf began to die here and there.  She became sicker and died.  People soon stopped sending cards and notes.  The flowers people sent died. The houseplants that people sent to the funeral died, too.  I suppose the fact that I hadn’t watered them had something to do with it.  We entered the longest winter ever, and I had my own “dark night of the soul.”

With Spring came hope.  I waited impatiently for the last chance of frost to pass so that I could plant new life in the containers that still held the wilted remains of last year’s flower garden.  The trails called me, too.  I began running again on paths through woods and meadows.  I began smiling more.  As the pots and kettles and gutters filled with living, blooming things began to fill my life with color, my mood lifted.  I began reaching out.  I even invited people long gone from my life for coffee and conversation.  I, too, began to bloom again.

I recognize my plant-like nature.  When there is a “trauma” in my environment, the “extremities” are the first to go.  I stop doing the extra things that bring me into contact with others.  I stop “vining” – reaching out for new places to connect and grow.  I stop blooming – whether my blossoms are written words or photographs of pretty teacups.

My grief is not over.  Most days I am happy, but once in a while I will forget for a moment that Mom is dead.  I reach for the phone to call her, or spot something I would love to send her.  Those moments are no longer enough to ruin me for the day.

By late Winter, if I were a plant, I would have looked pretty sad.  I imagine I was there, with my long, flowing fronds, once lush and green, now hanging sad and brown.  Someone would come along and offer a word or encouragement and my “core” plant would lap it up.  At work, I would have an opportunity to help someone, and they showed their appreciation through kind words or referrals that brought me more and more to life.  Each act of kindness – each “touch,” whether physical or through the magic of the internet – was like a drop of rain to my parched soul.

Running through the Mohican State Forest this weekend, I was in awe of the resilience of plants – especially the trees.  In some spots, I was forced to climb tree roots as if they were a staircase.  In other places, I saw trees that had been blown over completely and started to grow again in a new direction.  Trees don’t give up and stop growing because there is a storm.

I don’t picture myself as a tree.  I’m far too fickle.  I’m more like a vining plant with long colorful fronds that blooms brightly once in a while.  As I heal, my fronds are filling out and buds forming.  as I hit “publish,” I will have put out my first blossom in a long while.

So, today I will be like a plant.  I will bloom where I’m planted while sending out vines, seeking new places to experience and erupting in an occasional flower that, when wilted, sends seeds out to land in someone else’s waiting, fertile soil of their imagination.

Day 5 – Be Authentic

I learned many lessons during Day 4, but I didn’t write about them. I was in a dark mood. I didn’t feel like doing anything except knitting and wasting time on social media, so I didn’t.

I spent a few minutes reviewing some of the comments that readers have left on my previous blog posts. One of the comments that I received recently made note of the observation that although there have been very difficult times in the past year or so, my posts have been (mostly) positive. That is by design, but I realize that perhaps that isn’t the for the greatest good.

I write as a way to cope with my emotions. Being sad, depressed or lonely feels bad. Being angry and anxious feels bad. For me, and I believe for many others, emotions each have a physical sensation that feels “good,” “bad,” or “neutral.”

These past months have been extraordinarily difficult. There have been many days during which I have lashed out at people who care the most about me. There have been days that I have cried and days that I have shirked responsibilities. I have made nasty comments under my breath and though unkind thoughts.

I will be the first to admit that I am extraordinarily imperfect. I strive to be positive and to show kindness. Some days I fail. Some days I am a miserable person to be around.

There would be something wrong with me if I only felt happiness while my mother was dying. I experienced sadness, rage, confusion and frustration on a daily basis. I had some really bad days.

I wrote in a journal daily. I let the feelings out. I didn’t keep them inside, and by letting them out in the light, I was able to deal with them. Writing about the negative emotions felt like opening the curtains on a dark room and throwing open the windows to allow the clean air to come in.

Many problems don’t look so big or so scary when you put them on a piece of paper.

I started writing in a new journal 3 days before Mom was hospitalized in August. I chose a book with black paper because I felt like even a grocery list could look elegant written in white ink on black paper. I filled every page of that book. Today I filled the last page. I’ve never been so relieved to finish filling a journal and being able to move on. Instead of a black book with black pages and a black cover, I’m next writing in a beautiful book wit a purple cover embellished with beautiful colors. The pages are ivory and they have lines so that my writing doesn’t end up all crooked.

I hope that the sadness and anger that sometimes filled those black pages becomes a thing of the past as I move out of this dark chapter in my life.

Death visits us all. My experience is not special or unique. Losing a parent is the “natural order” of things. Although I won’t allow myself to wallow in grief, the words of a dear friend remind me to be kind to myself. “You are never truly prepared to say goodbye to your mother, no matter hard you try.” He was right.

I’m not feeling very happy or positive today. I’m also not feeling very negative today. I’m pretty close to “neutral” on the emotional spectrum, and I think that’s a pretty good place to be at this stage in the grieving game.

Spread kindness, sprinkle joy. Be authentic.

I love it already!

There is a story about an old woman, recently widowed, who is moved to a nursing home.  The woman is blind and cannot live independently.  She waits, without family, in the lobby as her paperwork is completed and her room made ready.  A staff member describes the room in great detail to her as she waits.  “I love it already!” the old woman exclaims.

The nursing home staff member asks her, “How do you know you love it?  You haven’t been inside it yet.”

The old woman, blind but wise, says, “The actual room and its furnishings has nothing to do with it.  I’ve already decided that I love it.  Happiness is a decision you make on purpose.”

I’m paraphrasing the story.  I saw it originally on Facebook, and a google search showed that a similar story, but not quite the one that I remember was written by Joyce Meyer in “The Mind Connection:  How the Thoughts You Choose Affect your Mood, Behavior and Decision.

It’s been some time since I wrote a blog post.  To be honest, I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself.  We discovered at the beginning of August that my 88 year old mother’s cancer had caused pathological fractures in her spine and right hip.  She elected to have 10 radiation treatments to “beat it back” to alleviate the pain. Although I begged her to come stay with me for the duration of the treatments, she steadfastly refused to leave her home.

The treatments were harder than she expected.  Due to the area that was being treated, there was a lot of irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.  She was frequently nauseated and vomiting, and there was nothing that I could do about it.  Once the treatment started at the cancer center near her home, it couldn’t be transferred to the sister center near mine because of differences in equipment and dosages.

The day after her last treatment we received a call that she was gravely ill, and that management at her independent living community had determined that she was no longer independent enough to stay in her home.  She was a danger to herself and potentially others.   She had to leave, and I needed to be there when they broke the news to her.

I finished up some urgent matters at my office and drove south to Mom’s home.  I packed up a handful of things in case I needed to stay overnight.  When I arrived, Mom was sitting in her chair.  Although we hadn’t spoken, she acted like she was expecting me.  “I’ve decided to take you up on your offer to come stay with you. It will be a little vacation at your house – let’s see how it goes.  I need some help.”

I was delighted that she had made the decision on her own.  I knew that once she arrived at my home, she was unlikely to return to hr own, but we didn’t talk about that.  I tried to get her to just get into the car so that I could help her (and so that my family could help me…)  She refused.  She needed to “clean the house,” and she couldn’t miss her doctor appointment in two days.  I decided to stay with her for those two days.

To make a very long story very short, the doctor appointment never happened.  Instead, my very sick mother slipped into a rapid decline and ended up spending the next two weeks in a series of moves that included two emergency rooms, three hospital rooms, two nursing home rooms and a bunch of procedure rooms.

I was with her night and day for more than a week that seemed like an eternity.  Somewhere around day 4, my mom started to disappear.  She changed from my loving mother to a scared, angry woman who told me that I was evil.  She went from praising the staff to believing that they were possessed by Satan.

She was treated for electrolyte imbalances and a urinary tract infection. Each time they discovered a deficiency, I grasped onto hope that correcting it would bring my mother back.  It didn’t.

She finally settled into a nursing home for rehabilitation.  She was unable to do even the most basic self-care chores for herself.

I really, really wish that I could tell you that she is like the old woman in the beginning of this post and that she was determined to like her room before she even saw it.  Instead, each time I would visit her in the nursing home, she would berate me.  She would accuse me of tricking her into agreeing to stay with her so that I could put her into a nursing home where they torture her, make her fly on trapezes, tie her to the bed, punch her in the stomach, and leave her alone in the dining room for hours and hours without help.  Gradually, I came to accept that the person that I love as my mother has rather suddenly disappeared.

One trip she told me that I am not her daughter anymore.  Another time she told me that there are two of me.  One is evil and one is her daughter, and she is not sure which one I am.  She tells me that she wants to go home – but now she thinks that home is in Kidron, where we lived for many years, but she hasn’t lived there in a decade.  Every visit, she asks me how her mom is – my grandma – who died when I was a little girl.  Every visit, she tells me that she wishes that she had just died.

For two weeks at least, it seemed that everything made me cry.  I stopped doing the things that I love to do.  I stopped doing the things that help me to function – to stave off anxiety and depression.  Instead, I cried.  Sometimes I raged – I would scream in the car driving down the road when nobody could hear me.  I have often told other caregivers “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” but when faced with the same sort of scenario in my own life, I poured and poured and poured until there was nothing left to give, and it still was not enough.

I would start projects  – writing projects, crochet projects, cleaning projects -and then I would abandon them.  My living room became filled with half-done afghans, dish cloths and hats.

One day a few weeks ago when I didn’t have court or client scheduled, I didn’t get out of bed until past 10:00 a.m.  I’m an early riser.  I get up, make coffee and then journal, meditate, and study.  My husband knew then that something was very wrong.

We were blessed with a beautiful weekend in late September.  My husband suggested a boat trip to an island.  Reluctantly I agreed to leave – immediately.  Instead of packing a large cooler full of food to prepare, we left with just our clothing and toiletries, a couple of packs of lunch meat, a loaf of bread, a bag of trail mix and another of potato chips, and elected to treat ourselves to a whole weekend of restaurants.

Although I used to run many miles each month, I had stopped doing that, too, over the course of the summer.  There was a charity run scheduled for Saturday that weekend on the island, and I decided to register and do my best.  I joined several hundred runners at the start line.   There were several times that I had a hard time seeing the road because the tears were flowing so hard.  I wasn’t in physical pain -it was a mental and spiritual battle. I crossed the finish line with tears streaming down my face.  I started something, and I finished it.  The 5k run didn’t become another unfinished project.

I wish that I could say that I snapped out of my funk and began living life again immediately after that 5k, but the truth is that it took another week of slowly beginning again to use the tools that helped me to function after the last crisis in our family.

Anyone who has followed me on Facebook or in my blogs for any period of time knows that I tend to post the happy things.  My life is spent cultivating joy whenever possible.  It’s easy to find joy in a flower when life is smooth sailing.  Applying the tools is much more difficult when the waves are crashing and it seems that the world is burning down around you.

I’m learning that people can’t hurt our feelings.  It’s our own thoughts about events that hurt us.  It’s our own thoughts about life that bring us joy.

For those weeks in September, I spent all of my energy trying to find a solution for Mom’s mental decline.  I spent hours combing my memory trying to find signs that the dementia was there all along and I just missed it.  I spent hours trying to convince her that she’s in a place for help and that she still has a life to live if she just tries.  that “project” took all of the time and attention from all of the other “projects” in my life.  I finally realized that making myself miserable and allowing depression and anxiety creep back into my life – forgoing joy and happiness won’t bring my mother joy.  It won’t bring her peace.  It won’t make her want to live.

I choose life.  Mom will be 89 in a few weeks.  Whether or not she emerges from this event, her life is nearing its natural end.   My visits always upset her.  I no longer see her every day.  It’s not good for her, and it’s really horrible for me.  If she tells my kids that she wants something, I send it.  I’ve stopped worrying so much about what other people think about the matter.

I’ve finished crocheting two cowls and I’m almost done with a poncho that I started at the beginning of summer.  I ran again this week.  I am back into my morning routine.  I go to sleep giving thanks and I wake up anticipating a great day.

I am here to love my life, no matter what may come.  It’s the only life I have, and I’m not about to waste it.  This weekend I am setting up my office in a different room in the same building.  I don’t know exactly what furnishing will fit or how they will look, but I love it already.  I’m going to learn to knit on Thursday.  I don’t know what I will make, but I love it already.

I don’t know what may come, but I’m certain that I can find beauty and comfort in it.  I love it already!

This one’s for you 

There was a time not so many years ago when I would write for the joy of writing. I would write stories and poems.  I wrote term papers and articles.  I enjoyed writing.  I enjoyed sharing my writing.  One day it came back to me through the grapevine that someone felt that my writing was “passive aggressive.”  They felt that it was directed at I them.  Maybe it was. I can’t tell you what was in my head at the time.  

Writing was an outlet for my feelings.  Feelings are not always right or wrong.  Brooke Castillo (check out her podcast) says that the thoughts that we have about a circumstance cause our feelings.  If that is correct, then we can change our feelings by changing our thoughts. That’s a lot harder than it sounds. 

I get anxiety. I won’t say that I suffer from it (although I sometimes do), but the fact is that I experience anxiety is truth.  I am feeling anxiety right now. I am anxious that this blog post isn’t eloquent or polished.  I get anxious that people will think there’s something inferior about me because I admit that I have anxiety. 

Anxiety has a physical quality. My tummy feels a little funny and it feels like someone is squeezing my voice box. Sometimes it feels like my heart is beating in my throat. Sometimes anxiety has an identifiable source. Other times, it’s just there. 

My anxiety has a host of symptoms that accompany it. Sometimes I worry. I play a scenario out in my head and invent a dozen potential outcomes – some of them catastrophic. It’s rather like the movie “Groundhog Day.”  Sometimes there aren’t conscious thoughts – just a feeling of impending doom. 

I used to love to add to this blog. I allowed anxiety to take it away from me. I worried about what other people might think of me as a person or as a professional. I stopped writing. 

Like other things in life, anxiety ebbs and flows. When anxiety reaches its high tide mark, I stop creating. It takes too much energy. There is nothing left for music or writing. I can get through the things that I have to do, but there isn’t energy left to create.  

When my anxiety is high, I hope for an invitation to spend time with someone then make myself sick being anxious about it. If I can push through the anxiety, I nearly always have a great time. It’s getting there that is the problem. 

I know some remarkable people who have anxiety.  Over time, we learn ways of coping with it, or even harnessing it. I’m no expert on treating anxiety- or even coping with anxiety, but I have survived anxiety for at least 35 years, which qualifies me to say it can be done. 

I’m constantly seeking and evaluating new approaches to dealing with anxiety. Some work better than others. My anxiety toolbox includes exercise, meditation and essential oils.  Sometimes it has included medication and therapy. 

May is mental health awareness month. Perhaps this post would have been more appropriate last month, but the truth is that admitting you have anxiety causes…(you guessed it…) more anxiety!

My hope is that there is someone out there who reads this who will say, “I am not alone.”  I’m putting this blog out in the world unedited, flaws and all, to prove to myself that it’s okay to do C+ work once in a while.  If you think this is for you, it probably is. Tell me what you think.  We can talk about it. It would make me anxious…but I think I’d like it.  

Comfort and Joy

Happy New Year!  I’m quite late for a New Year post, I know, and believe me, that’s actually a good thing.  You see, 2016 is the year when I make good on my promise to be good to myself.

“You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

Historically, I have run in the new year and then spent hours poring over journal entries and blog posts from the previous year, decade, etc. to see where I’ve come from, and what track my life is taking.  This year was different – the clock struck midnight and my husband and I shared a sparkling grape juice toast with our youngest son before heading upstairs – together – and falling peacefully asleep.  There was no attempt to review the past – no tears shed at past hurts, and only one resolution:  to be good to myself.

2016 is the year of comfort and joy.  This is the year of self care and learning to say, “no,” when necessary.  I’m taking time (and making time) to do the things that bring me joy.  I’m allowing myself to enjoy the things that bring me comfort.

This is the year of silly songs at the break of dawn, loose leaf tea in fancy teacups, essential oils that smell like liquid joy or comfort in a bottle, and beautiful fibers that wind themselves into scarves and blankets while my eyes watch the television.

Thanks to the efforts of my husband and children, I once again have a “sacred space,” (named the Betty Room by my hubby) where I can sit quietly to read, pray, meditate, and contemplate.  I’m also getting a new bathtub with enough depth to soak – more comfort (and some joy, too).

My first bit of advice for 2016 is to make room for comfort and joy in your own life.  Experiences that comfort us and that allow us to feel joyful replenish the energy that we deplete when we give.  Although giving to others without expectation of receiving anything in return brings its own rewards, when people take from us without giving, over and over, it can take a spiritual and physical toll.  Seek out joy.  Seek out comfort.  Make your own happiness, and then share from that vessel that is no longer empty.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” – Psalm 23:5

We can pray for comfort and joy, or we can seek it out. I had a difficult Monday with a difficult adversary in a difficult proceeding at work.   It was bitterly cold, and when I stopped my car for gasoline, I opened my back door to retrieve a hat.  When I went to shut the door, it would not latch.  Believing it to be frozen, I took it to a local auto repair place hoping they could quickly thaw it so that I could be on my way to a court proceeding.  It turned out to be a broken latch, not a frozen one, and replacement parts had to be ordered.  There was no way to fasten the door shut (except, possibly the rope and duct tape that my cousin suggested) for the 45 mile drive, so I had to beg for mercy from the party with all of the power in that situation.  The tone for the tense email exchange that followed was probably largely imaginary.  The tone of the voice in my head as I read the email response was set by the morning I had already had.

I wouldn’t go nearly so far as call that person an enemy, but it nevertheless the terse nature of the exchange (real or imagined) created a drain on my joy.  I set my little table with one of my favorite teacups as I brewed a fragrant pot of tea.  I rubbed a few drops of my favorite essential oil blends on my temples, and I allowed the aromas from the tea and the oil to surround me with beauty, comfort and joy.  That’s probably not what the Psalmist had in mind, but soon I was singing again.

My husband said, “boy, you’re in a good mood!”  I explained my quest for comfort and joy.  Sometimes you have to “fake it until you make it.”  When you’re faking joy, though, it quickly becomes real as it infects others with smiles (or even laughs).

I’ve had a tough week so far, but my cup runneth over.  Being good to myself is my only resolution for 2016.  Actively seeking comfort and joy is the first step toward achieving success.

Happy 2016.

~Be~

Winning in Last Place

I’m registered for the Run Disney Princess Half Marathon in February 2016.  I went last year and didn’t get to finish (Read more here:  https://justwritewhatyouknow.com/2015/02/27/the-bus-of-shame-or-the-saddest-ride-at-walt-disney-world/).

I’ve been training for the event, and my pace has increased.  Although the minimum pace is a slow 16 minutes/mile, that’s been a real challenge for me.  Recently, I completed training runs at 15 – 16 minutes/mile.  I did a 10K in September with a slow 17 min/mile pace, but that was mostly in the dark.

Submitting a proof of time of finishing a race of at least 10K with an “acceptable” time helps one to get placed in a corral nearer the front of the pack at the Princess.  The goal is 3 hrs 15 min or less for a good corral.  Proof of time must be submitted by November 17, so I didn’t have much time.  I chose a race in Michigan based on the fact that it is near one of my “invisible” (not imaginary) online friends, and she invited me to stay with her.

As the weekend approached, I began to dread the race.  I hadn’t gotten in as much training as I hoped.  It’s a long (2.5 hours) drive each way.  I’m swamped at work, have been busy most weekends and evenings…and about a dozen other excuses.  Add that all to the fact that I was staying in someone else’s home, and my social anxiety kicked in.  I almost chickened out.  I made up my mind to honor my commitments, and I packed my bag Saturday morning, stopped at a local shop for a hostess gift

As I hit travelled west to Toledo and turned north to make my way into that state where “a rose never grows” (Once a Buckeye…) it began to rain just a little. The sun was shining, but tiny droplets were hitting my windshield.  As I looked toward the east I saw a beautiful, vivid rainbow.  A rainbow is a promise.  The rain soon stopped.  I drove farther and the showers began anew, with a brand new rainbow.

I was treated to three rainbows along the way.  I took them as a sign that I was going to have a fabulous weekend.

I arrived at my friend’s home and met her new puppy.  She nearly peed on my foot (the puppy, not my friend), which was a sure sign we were going to be best friends.  I had fun chatting with the grandkids and showing them videos of my own silly dog.  My friend and I ducked out for dinner, then came back, got into pajamas and stayed up late talking.  what a special lady she is.

I went to sleep in her very comfortable guest bed and woke in time to have a cup of coffee and some fruit to fuel up before my race.  My friend had planned to drive me to the race site and cheer me on, but when I realized it was going to be near freezing and that one of the grandchildren had an ear infection, I told her to stay home and I’d be back.  I dressed in my favorite yellow long-sleeved tech shirt with my hippie runner headband that says “I’m so far behind I think I’m in first place.”  I topped off the ensemble with my kaleidoscope tights, my favorite running skirt and bright orange shoes.  My friend’s son asked me if this was a “color run.”  I explained that this was the “Big Bird Run,” and by golly, I was doing my best to look the part.

last headI made it to the race site with plenty of time to spare.  I found a parking spot right in front of the building.  Things were definitely going my way.  I felt great.  I felt fast.  This was MY day.  I picked up my packet, looked at the race shirt, and grabbed the information sheet to read more details about the 10K.  It said, “timing will stop at the 80 minute mark.”  My heart sunk.  I knew I would probably come in about 95 – 100 minutes.  My last race had been 105 minutes.  The one before that 115.

Although the sun shone brightly, I felt as if a dark cloud covered the sky.  I felt inadequate.  I pinned my race bib on, and contemplated what I should do.  I thought about trading the 10K bib for a 4K bib and just having a “fun run.”  A 10K is a lot of work for me.  I decided to try the 10K and just have fun – I would run it as a “fun run” and bring some sunshine to the back of the pack.

At the last race that I ran, although I was slow, I was not last.  There were quite a few runners who were even slower than I am.  As I have improved, I have stopped worrying about finishing last.

I looked around the parking lot.  These were serious runners. Although it was less than 40 degrees out, there were guys in short shorts foam rolling on the freezing concrete.  I was the only “fat girl” (or guy) running the race.  My confidence started leaking out.

I gave myself a pep talk.  I looked at the sky and thanked God for a beautiful day to run.  I gave thanks that I was in no pain.  I sang happy songs to myself.  I cheered as the 1 mile and 4K races started, but I really wanted to cry.

The blue sheet that told me they would stop timing before I finished had asked slower runners to start int he back, so I made my way to the very end of the pack.  The starting gun cracked, and I watched EVERYONE move away from me.   It was like I was moving in slow motion.

I hadn’t gone a full block when the police car pulled behind me with its lights going.  It was going to be a long 6.2 miles.  This was an extraordinarily well staffed and marked race course.  There were multiple police officers or volunteers at every single intersection.  I decided to thank every single one as I went by.  Each one I thanked said, “No, thank YOU, and you’re doing GREAT!”  I didn’t believe them, but I appreciated the encouragement.

My police escort would slow down then catch up with me again.  I passed the 1 mile marker and volunteers with stop watches were giving out splits.  I could barely believe them when they said, “13:49.”  That was my fastest mile ever.  I was still in the very back, but I had the boost I needed.  My running watch was set to chirp every 45 seconds.  I would run as hard as I could until I tired and then cut back to a jog until the next chirp.

At mile 2 I was just under 30 minutes.  At mile 3 I realized I would break my personal record for a 5K.  By mile 4 I was tiring, but I caught up with the two women I had been following.  We would trade off places for the next mile.  At mile 5 the timekeepers asked if I knew if I was the last one, and when I answered “yes,” a young lady asked if she could run the last mile with me.  “I’ve never run a mile before,” she said.

Together we ran that last mile.  I was tired, but she kept telling me I could do it.  I told her I hadn’t voluntarily quit a race yet, and I wasn’t about to start.  As we ran, I told her that I had lost over 100 pounds since I began running in March 2014.  “Look at you now,” she said.

We rounded a corner together with the finish just ahead.  The timing clock was still going.  I came in at just 91 minutes – by far my personal best.  I asked the time keeper if they were still submitting times although 80 minutes was past, and he said “yes.”  I thought “I’m going to Disney World,” and I recovered a tiny bit of spring to my step.

I collected my free banana and my bottle of water.  I thought back to the rainbows that decorated my journey the night before.  Everything about the race conditions Sunday was perfect for me.  I love to run in the cold.  The pavement was dry and mostly flat (except for the highway overpass).  I had my own police escort – I alternated between joking with volunteers about being chased by the police and telling them that I was a very important dignitary who needed personal protection.

I finished dead last, but I finished.  Finishing wasn’t the difficult part – starting was the real problem.  Once I convinced myself that a time was just a number and decided to have fun and show thanks to all of the people who volunteered to stand in the cold on a Sunday morning, I had a wonderful time.  I won.  I felt honored to finish in last place.

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The good people of Roseville, Michigan made me feel like a winner.  Nobody made me feel like I was inconveniencing him by being slow. The elite runners didn’t look at me as if I was somewhere I did not belong.  I was a runner.  I was part of a community, and I was doing something I could not do for many years.

We runners have a saying:  “Dead Last Finish > Did Not Finish > Did not Start.”  I won in last place.  I won big.

I returned to my friends’ house for a shower and a hot bowl of chili.  We visited some more and said our goodbyes and I began the long drive back home.  What had started as a day full of anxiety and self-doubt became one of my proudest moments.  Later I would review my Facebook feed and be reminded that five years ago that day, I had been sworn in as a lawyer, another achievement I never believed was within my ability.

I gained a real sense of accomplishment this weekend.  I submitted my proof of time.  RunDisney says I will finish the half marathon in 3 hours and 22 minutes.  I know I can do better than that.  Those balloon ladies aren’t catching me this year, but if they do, I’ll smile and thank them for volunteering their time on a cold, dark morning.