12/5/2018 – A Christmas Card from Home by Way of Heaven

This morning began with a series of text messages.  Texting is not my preferred mode of communication, and I don’t use it often, so when a series of “dings” occurred in rapid succession, it was a sure sign that something was amiss.  Indeed, My Aunt Fran went to heaven this morning.

I sent a short message of condolence to my cousin and read the same from other cousins as they came across my screen.  I brewed a cup of coffee and sat in the quiet living room, not quite sure how to feel.

I grew up with many loving aunts and uncles, but Aunt Fran was a favorite. She taught Sunday School and Children’s Church.  She had a room in her basement full of little toys that she would give out as rewards for good behavior. For many years, she regularly cut my hair while I sat on a chair in her basement and she even allowed us to roller skate on the concrete floor.  Sometimes Fran would “kidnap” me for a day. Friendly’s Ice Cream Parlor was a short walk from her home, and we would go together and she would buy me a sundae that was so big that I couldn’t finish it.  Aunt Fran bought me my very first tea set, long gone now, but I remember it well.

Aunt Fran was a talented story teller.  Whether the story was from the Bible or from her youth, Fran had a rare talent for making even the ordinary exciting.  I particularly remember her re-telling of the story of David and Goliath.  She played each role, picking up smooth stones and putting them into a pouch for her imaginary slingshot, and then carefully fitting each one into the pouch to slay the giant.  A day with Aunt Fran was magical.

Mom and Fran were constant companions during the years that they shared at the Apostolic Christian Rest Home in Mansfield.  Each had her own small apartment just across the street the other.  Fran couldn’t see, and Mom had a hard time walking.  Mom was Fran’s eyes, and Fran was Mom’s legs.  They were a good team.  They complemented each other; they needed each other.  Even when Mom’s illness had progressed to the point where she could no longer truly care for herself, she wouldn’t leave Fran.

When cooking a big meal became too much for Mom several years ago, I began cooking Christmas dinner and transporting it to Mansfield, where we would serve up a feast in Mom’s small apartment.  We always invited Aunt Fran, and she always came down the hall, usually bearing gifts, which were often treasures from her own apartment that she no longer used for herself.  I use one such gift – a cast iron skillet – daily, and the lamp made of pink Himalayan salt glows in my study.

In the final year or so that Mom and Fran spent together, Fran’s hearing was failing, and her mind wasn’t working as before.  Last Fall, I was staying a few days with Mom prior to bringing her home with me because Mom had grown too weak to get herself in and out of bed.  She became very sick the night before we were to leave for my home, and I had to call an ambulance.  I called Fran’s apartment, too, but there was no answer.  Although I asked other family to let Fran know what had happened, she was convinced that I had stolen Mom away in the middle of the night without even letting them say goodbye.  No amount of persuasion by myself or others involved could ever convince Fran that I had, in fact, wanted her to know what was happening and even had tried to reach her.  As far as I know, Fran never forgave me.  I had never known Fran to be angry, but angry she was.  That night, I not only knew I was going to lose Mom, I lost my Franny, too.

Forgiveness is a lesson that took me more than 50 years to understand.  I’m doing much better with it, but I still struggle with forgiveness regularly.  It’s easier to understand it than to master it.

I struggle often to let go of the hurt that I cause myself with other people’s words and deeds so that I can just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they apologize or even feel bad for their “wrongdoing.”

I struggle to forgive myself for the times that I fail – whether it’s the dumb thing I did in second grade, or one of the times that I failed so completely that people I love won’t forgive me even though I’ve apologized.  I struggle to let go of that pain, too, and just love them – unconditionally – regardless of if they return that love or even acknowledge my existence.

When I am having those particular struggles -the ones where I struggle to forgive myself – I slip into a mindset where nothing I do is good enough.  I don’t write because “who else would ever want to see it.”  I don’t post pictures of my knitting or of my teacups because “people will just think I’m looking for attention.”  I don’t play the piano because I’m rusty and I make a lot of mistakes, and I struggle to get on the treadmill because I’m slower than I was in 2016.  Forgiveness is the key to happiness, if you ask me, because letting go of pain frees up so much energy to just enjoy life and to just enjoy living.

This morning I forgave Fran for being angry with me, and I forgave myself for not foreseeing that my failure to reach her myself would cause hurt so deep that it would destroy a 50-year bond.  I allowed myself to weep, and to imagine Fran and Mom, reunited.  I believe that Fran, moments after her death, was restored to perfect health with perfect hearing and a sharp mind, and that she understood perfectly when Mom told her that I had, in fact, tried to phone her.

I made it to the office this morning a little late, but pretty much on time.  All day, my memories have kept spilling out my eyes and down my cheeks.  I’m not one given to loud crying generally, but my eyes have grown very leaky since I reached “a particular age.” It’s one of many reasons why I don’t bother with makeup.

When I arrived at the office, my mail was piled on my desk.  On the top of the pile was an envelope with a handwritten address.  A bright red cardinal appeared on the postage stamp in the upper right corner – a lone pop of color on a black and white document.  It’s said that the sighting of a cardinal is a message from a loved one in Heaven.  I saw a post to that effect on Facebook yesterday, so it must be true!

I looked at the return address and saw Dalton, Ohio 44618.  Home!  No matter how long I am in Vermilion, which I love, my heart screams “home” when I think of Wayne County.  In the envelope was a beautiful letter from a beautiful lady who has always been special.  We haven’t seen or talked in more than 30 years, but today, just when I needed a lift, her letter landed on my desk on a morning when I was down, not only because my aunt died, but because the stubborn needle on the scale just won’t budge no matter how strictly I diet or how many miles I run right now.

She shared some of her memories of my parents which I had forgotten about, but which flooded back.  She told me how much she’s enjoyed reading the little blog posts that I share.    She talked about my writing about struggles and transparency and told me that I make a difference.  She put a smile on my face.

I keep coming back to that cardinal on the stamp, and the idea of a message from a loved one in Heaven. The letter left Dalton, Ohio, a mere 50 or so miles away, on November 28th and arrived here on December 4, a day when I wasn’t in the office.  I didn’t personally receive the letter until I got to my desk on December 5- six days after the letter left “home.”.  The pony express would have been faster!  That dear lady closed her letter with “God’s grace and blessing on [my] journey.”  In God’s perfect time, a letter landed on my desk at least 4 days late, carrying with it a message of love and hope and friendship.  I feel like it also carried with it a message of forgiveness from Fran, and perhaps a “hi, I miss you,” from Mom, stuck to the letter with the glue on the cardinal stamp.

My friend from back home had no idea what I would be struggling with on THIS day on the day that she mailed the pretty Christmas card with the beautiful letter inside.  She simply listened to the call she felt to reconnect.  In doing so, she made a difference.  In this day of instant messages and texts and emails, it is such a thrill to open a card or letter and read a message meant just for *ME*.  Had she emailed, instead, I never would have received the message with the red cardinal at just the moment that I needed it.

It is possible to smile through tears.  I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Love,

Be

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Day 1 in the life of a motherless mother. Seek Beauty.

We buried my mother yesterday. She died on a Friday and we buried her on the following Monday. There was no real time for grief between death and burial. As the oldest child – the only child living in the U.S. – the responsibility to make arrangements fell squarely on my shoulders.

There was shopping for suitable clothing for burial to be done, clergy to be found, scriptures to be selected. Although Mom had “pre-planned” the service, there was still a 2 hour appointment at the funeral home.

there were phone calls to be made and announcements to be written. Worst of all were the fires that needed to be put out and the ruffled feathers that needed to be soothed.

Death brings out the worst in some of us.

I spent Sunday night doing difficult work – consciously working through anger and resentments and letting them go. I learned that forgiveness TRULY is for the forgiver and not for the perceived transgressor. I entered the funeral home on Monday with only love and sadness in my heart.

I didn’t arrange a meal, but my cousin surprised us all with a trip to Denny’s, where we enjoyed fellowship and more than a laugh or two.

Today, though, it is my first day back to “normal” without my mom. Tuesday is always my “day off.” That doesn’t stop me from fielding a handful of phone calls and responding to emails, and today is no exception.

As with most days, I had a to-do-list. Mine was pretty simple: run, cry and get a massage. I managed two out of three. I decided that calling to make a massage appointment would take too many spoons, so I let myself off the hook on that one.

Grief is a funny thing. I can be laughing one moment and then something that Mom would say or do hits me in the gut. Something will happen and I think, “I should call Mom.” I think of all of the days when I forgot to call her, or when I was tired and thought to myself, “I’ll call in the morning.”

I remind myself that forgiving myself is possibly more important than forgiving others.

I ticked “cry” off of my list early and often. “Run” was harder. I donned my cold-weather running gear quite early in the day, but I found other tasks to put off the run. I revised my monthly Amazon subscriptions (twice), I rearranged some flowers that I brought home from the funeral. I made tea, ate a snack and played with the dogs.

finally, I kicked myself out the door. I wore a heavy fleece jacket over my long-sleeved technical shirt and a baby-alpaca cap on my head. I drove to the park where my favorite trail “lives” and I checked Facebook and Instagram for “likes” while willing myself to get out of the car and run.

I took a deep breath and opened the car door. I shed the cap and the sweater, knowing I would be too warm after a mile or so. I queued up my playlist and started my GPS watch. I think I made it 200 or 300 yards before the cold wind cut through and chilled me to the bone. Teeth chattering, I turned tail to call it quits. On the (short) trip back to the car a small voice spoke. “You have a jacket and a cap. Use them.” I did just that.

I paused the GPS and I pulled on the warmer clothing. Returning to the trail, I set off at a slow, steady pace. I paid attention to my breath and to the path. Fallen leaves covered hidden roots and rocks. Running safely became an exercise in being present. I did look around me and saw the brilliant hues of autumn. As I emerged from the first loop to the second (of three), I saw bluest skies in the clearing. As I ran through the meadow I skipped over puddles from the previous days’ downpours.

I stopped time and again to take photos to attempt to capture the moments of sheer awe at the world I have the privilege to run through on my two feet. I exited the second loop to make my way to the third loop and found what is normally a trail to be a six-inch deep pond / stream. I decided “let’s not get crazy now,” and decided that multiple loops around the “middle” loop would do.

I looped the “middle” loop three times, all in the same direction. Each trip round the loop I discovered something I hadn’t noticed before. On the first trip it was the view of the fields and trees across the clearing. On the second trip it was the low-hanging branch that I could reach up and touch. On the third trip, it was the prints of an unknown creature in the mud beside my own footprint.

Although I did, indeed, become quite warm in my cap and jacket, I made it 3.5 miles. I got to check “run” off of my mental list. As I guided my car through the twists and the turns of the parking lot to return home, I saw a brilliant crimson tree with the sunlight shining through its leaves. It was so beautiful that it took my breath away. I stopped the car to snap a photo which, of course, didn’t do it justice.

I returned home and inhaled the heady fragrance of a yellow rose the size of a peach. I sought out color and fragrance and sound that gave me glimpses of joy, and that joy brought me comfort. #Comfortandjoy was the hashtag I adopted for an abandoned attempt at building a MLM empire. It’s become my new theme for living through grief.

Today’s lesson was evident – seek beauty. It is everywhere. Enjoy it with every breath. Seek out beauty and find joy. In them, find comfort.

They call it the present because today is a gift.

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!

What’s in a Name?

If you’ve followed my little blog for any time, you’ve read before that I am an adopted person.  I was born in June of 1967.  I didn’t go home from the hospital with my family or origin, but my birth mother didn’t sign papers to give me up until September, so I entered a kind of legal limbo as ward of the State.

When the legal documents allowing it were finally signed, I went home with a family where I was given a name, kind of like when you take home a puppy, I suppose.

I arrived with a handwritten note about things I liked and disliked, but nothing about a name.  Nothing about the names of the people who gave me up or the people who cared for me for those first months.  I was devoid of history – and identity.

I’ve given birth to three children.  Each time one of them has reached that e-month mark, I’ve marveled at their budding personalities.  They’ve known me.  They’ve trusted me.  They’ve listened to me coo their names thousands of times.  They have known who they are.

My mom and dad gave me a name.  They named me after my mom’s sister.  We shared both first and middle names.  She was called by our first name, and to distinguish us I was called by first and middle names.

As an older adolescent, I asked people to drop the middle name.  It sounded too “country.”  I imagined myself more sophisticated than that name – think “Petticoat Junction,” if you’re old enough to remember that kind of thing.

My Aunt and I had a special relationship growing up.  She had no children of her own, and so having a child named after her was an honor that she seemed to really enjoy.

As I’ve aged, I’ve used that middle name more often.  I long to be more “country.”  You can take the girl out of the country and all that jazz.

My birth mother and I found each other on the internet around 20 years ago.  I asked her for my birth name, but she didn’t think I had been given one. I didn’t think much about it at the time.  That chapter of searching for answers brought more unanswered questions, and I eventually found it too painful to continue.  I sent her a birthday gift this year but she never acknowledged it.  It was kind of sappy.  I bought two teacups in a second hand store.  I sent her one set and kept the other so that we could sip a cup of tea together, but apart.

I turned 49 a few weeks ago.  I’ve lived nearly half a century with the name I was given at the age of 3 months and until today, it never bothered me that I didn’t know my “first” name.

Ohio passed legislation a couple of years ago that allows me to request a copy of my adoption file with my original birth certificate.  I downloaded the form this morning. It will only cost $20.00 to see if I ever had a name.  I filled out the form, but it requires notarization and I haven’t decided if I ‘m motivated enough to go to the trouble.

I have a feeling that when the documents come, I’ll discover that I’m the original “Baby Girl,” (eat your hearts out Criminal Minds fans).  I’ll still be me. The diplomas on my wall and my driver license will still match the identity that I have formed. It would be nice, though, when that inner child cries out to know what name to coo to her to bring comfort.

My cousin told me today that I wear my aunt’s name well, and that made me very happy.  She was a special person, and sharing her name is an honor.  This longing isn’t about her death, I don’t think, although that event brought it to the surface.  It was a catalyst, not a cause.

I don’t know a lot about many things, but I know a little about a lot of things.  I just write what I know.

~Be~

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~

How Do You Love Me? (Sorry, Elizabeth)

(With all apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806  1861

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

I had this conversation with a good friend the other day.  We both have spouses whose “love languages” differ from our own.  It’s so very easy to get caught up in mentally listing all of the ways that we show love to our significant others.  On a regular basis, I show love by saying it (words of affirmation), and by reaching out to rub a back or hold a hand (loving touch).  I cook dinner on a regular basis (acts of service), and I buy little remembrances (gifts).  Over time, my primary love language has shifted from “gifts” to “words” or “touch.”   (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Dr. Gary Chapman’s wonderful book, “The Five Love Languages.”  In a nutshell, we each have ways that we tend to express love.  We feel most loved when we receive love in our own “language.”

When a couple speaks different “love languages,” it’s easy for one or the other to feel taken for granted.  That’s where I think we get into trouble sometimes.  Instead of recognizing the things our partner does for us, we keep a list of the things that we do that “go unappreciated.”  Or worse, we keep a mental list of what we’ve done for others expecting them to reciprocate in kind, and we miss it when they express love in their own way.

My husband is an “acts of service” guy through and through.  He does the laundry and cleans up the kitchen.  He mows the lawn, builds things, paints rooms, and makes coffee.  There is literally nothing that I have ever asked him to do for me that he has flatly refused to do for me.  He does these things because they need to be done, but HE does them because he loves me and because they free up my time to do other things (like help run the family business, or write in my blogs).

My husband is not big on gifts, which caused a big problem early in our marriage.  I felt unloved when I didn’t get my birthday, anniversary or valentine’s gift – especially because I invariably would buy one for him.  what was even worse was that instead of getting excited about the gift, he acted like he could have not cared less (which truth be told, was often true!)  It wasn’t until I read The Five Love Languages that I realized why he didn’t “care enough” to buy me gifts and why it hurt me so when he didn’t.  We learned to adapt.  I either buy my own gift or give him a list to choose from.

How does he love me?  This weekend he hung an antique mirror for me.  He installed shelving in the pantry.  He helped me clean the house on Friday evening.  On Saturday, he went for groceries with me.  On Sunday, he worked very hard putting things away for winter and cleaning while I had fun doing some recreational shopping.  He also told me that he loves me.  He wrapped his arms around me while I slept.  He made the coffee.  The list goes on and on.

Here in Ohioland it was Sweetest Day on Saturday (for those of you in other parts of the country, that’s like a bonus Valentine’s Day- it’s a flowers and candy and fancy dinner kind of holiday).  We talked about the fact that Saturday was Sweetest Day on Wednesday or Thursday.  The conversation went something like this:

Me:  Saturday is Sweetest Day – I know you think it’s a Hallmark holiday, right?

Him:  Yes.  I do.  I will buy you something if you want me to.

Me:  That’s okay – I’ll find something for myself.  Is that okay?

Him:  That’s perfect.

My sweetest day gift consisted of chocolate and a wonderful bar of sweet smelling french-milled soap – my favorite indulgences.

Once in a while, he surprises me and picks out a gift for me, and when he does, he knocks one out of the park.  The gifts are perfect every time.  In the meantime, I will count the ways he shows me he loves me, and forget about keeping score.

The Secret Ingredient to Major Life Changes

My invisible (online) friends are awesome.  We know the painful secrets we don’t tell the people in our real lives.  We lament the difficulties of dieting in our secret facebook group.  We have supported each other through divorces and miscarriages, puppies and empty nests.

This week I saw one of them post in our secret group reserved just for motivating each other on our fitness journeys.  It read,

You keep getting smaller and I keep getting bigger.  I hate myself

Eureka!  That’s the problem!

I’m going to let you in on the secret ingredient for successfully making a major change in your life.  I’m not going to charge you a million dollars – not a red cent.  I’m going to give you the gift of the knowledge that took me 48 years to learn.

Are you ready?

[drumroll]

You cannot make lasting, drastic changes in your life when you hate yourself.  You must love yourself.  That is the secret.

Think about it!  If you hate someone, the energy you spend on that person is not utilized to build them up or make them better.  Hatred, loathing, and disrespect for someone lead to destruction. Hatred causes us to focus in the wrong way.

In order to lose 100+ pounds, I have had to make some major life changes.  Some have required a lot of time.  Others have required a lot of money.  Still others have required me to put my feelings above someone else’s.

To lose weight and get healthy, I have devoted hundreds of hours to running and working out.  Those are hours I could have used many other ways.  To make that kind of time, I had to put myself first.  I had to learn to say no to other things.  If I hated myself, it would be far easier to convince myself that I’m not worth the time away from my family that it takes to be active.

I have had to change the way that I eat.   I love myself enough to cook whole foods from scratch – another 8 to 10 hours per week (not including grocery shopping).  I cook according to my food plan – not according to my family’s food preferences.  They are welcome to add or subtract from my menu, but I don’t cook what I can’t eat.  I love myself enough to ensure that the food in my house is healthy and wholesome.  If I hated myself, I could continue to sabotage myself by buying processed and prepared foods.  Buying whole foods is often more expensive than buying junk.  I love myself to spend the extra money to buy the food that I need.

I love myself enough to risk hurting someone’s feelings when they offer me food that isn’t on my meal plan.

I love myself enough to spend the money to buy proper equipment to avoid injury while I run.  I economize in other areas of my life in order to afford good running shoes, a GPS watch and fees for races.

This is the third time in my life that I have lost 100 pounds.  The difference this time is that I love myself.  I don’t hate my body.  I don’t hate my loose skin or my stretch marks.  I love the person I am.  I love the person I am becoming, and I value the lessons that I learned through being morbidly obese.

The secret ingredient to successfully making a major change is love.  You must love yourself enough to put in the work to achieve the goal.