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~

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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.

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 Wo[man] in the Mirror

I’ve never had a good relationship with my mirror.  It shows the wrinkles, the stray hairs, gray hairs, and flaws in my physique.  In the mirror, everything is backwards to me.  Because I’m used to seeing only my reflection, photographs look off to me.  My hair is parted on the wrong side. I just look a little different.

Truth be told, I don’t like many photographs of myself either – for much the same reason as I don’t like my mirror much.

This past week, though, I had an unusual experience – I saw myself in the mirror and I LIKED what I saw.  In fact, I liked what I saw so much that I took a picture of myself.  I took that picture and placed it side-by-side with a picture of myself near my heaviest weight.  I even had my husband take photos of myself from every angle.  

Looking at that comparison, I saw, for the first time, the remarkable changes that have taken place during my journey thus far.  I realized that because I tend to avoid mirrors and looking at full length photos of myself, I have a skewed self-image.

In the shower, I see the way the skin sags and the remaining fat rolls.  I see each part in isolation.  Although I live my life in this miraculous machine – my body – because I’m am in the inside looking out, I do not see myself as others see me.

I shared one of those comparison pictures on a facebook group for members of DDP Yoga with thousands of members.  It even showed my tummy, but I was so thrilled that I didn’t care.  I didn’t worry about judgment.  I knew the people in that community would be supportive.

Comment after comment referred to my transformation as “inspirational,” and I resolved, in that moment, to try to see myself as others see me.  

This week, a wall of mirrors went up in my workout room – my “fortress of solitude.”  I look at the woman in the mirror.  She has skinny collarbones, and I can see a hint of definition around her abs.  She smiles at me – and I smile back.

All The Colors of the Rainbow (An Unbiblical Marriage)

My husband and I have been married for 15 1/2 years.  We have a child together.  We disagree sometimes.  We make up again.  We have been through some real trials and tribulations, but we have weathered the course and I can say with all sincerity that I think our love and our commitment to each other is stronger than ever.

With the marriage equality issue squarely in the limelight right now, I have devoted a lot of thought to the issue of marriage.

I’ve been delving into the scriptures, and I realized that I have the privilege of being married to my wonderful husband only because the State does not put Biblical constraint on heterosexual marriages.  You see, I have been married before.  I was married at age 19 and divorced some 8 plus years later.  Both my first husband and I have moved on.  We are each married to new partners.  If, however, the State had taken the position that is consistent with the scripture, I could not have remarried.

 In 1 Corinthians 10-11, Paul stated, “10But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”

My husband and I eloped.  The only “guests” at our wedding were the other people waiting at the little chapel for their turn to state their vows.  We did not have to seek approval of clergy.  We did not go through pastoral counseling (not that it would have been a bad idea), we just paid our money, said our vows and signed on the dotted line.

I have close friends in the gay and lesbian community.  I attend services at a church that has taken an “all are welcome” stance on the issue.  They have welcomed my divorced and remarried self with open arms.  Their love has shown me what I have been missing in my life as I worshiped in solitary.

I have witnessed first hand in both my personal and professional lives the havoc that can result when a gay person marries a straight person who is unaware of their sexuality.  Although those marriages are Biblical, they can leave broken hearts in their trail, and frequently do.

As a sinner, I leave the judgment to God.  I have never attended a gay wedding, but I will if invited.  Perhaps gay marriage is not sanctioned by the Bible.  Neither is remarriage after divorce.  Perhaps there are florists and bakers who would have refused to cater my wedding reception if I had planned one.  They’re not making the news, though.   I respect the right churches to refuse the rites of marriage to those couples whose unions are inconsistent with that church’s teachings.  I expect we will see more on that issue soon.

I thank God for my husband.  I thank my family, who may or may not have agreed with my decision to remarry, for accepting us and encouraging us.  I realize that on this issue, we may not agree.  I learn from them, and I am thankful for every opportunity for me to consider my stance on issues where law and faith intersect.  They have always been respectful when disagreeing with me, and I am confident that will continue on this issue.  I love them, and I know that they will continue to love me, just as they have in the past when we have disagreed.

I quietly celebrated yesterday.  I have many men and women in the LGBTQ community who I am honored to call “friend.”  They welcomed me with open arms into their circles.  They did not care that I was once divorced, an unwed mother, or a morbidly obese person.  They simply called me “friend.”

Just as they do not refer to me as their “obese, divorced and remarried heterosexual friend Betty,”  I do not think of any one of them as “My gay friend Max,” or “My lesbian friend Sally” – they are simply my friends.  I love them.  I will celebrate with them.

I am an Ally.  I am a welcoming Christian. I have chosen not to discriminate in my business or in my friendship.  I cannot personally use the scripture to deny the right to marry to anyone whose union doesn’t comport.  I gave up that right when I chose my own path.

Count your Blessings

Prayer and meditation are important to me.  I’ll admit, though, that I am easily distracted.  I start praying and the dog barks or the neighbors’ kids laugh, and I’m instantly thinking about something else.  I’m one of those people who need tools to focus.

I began a new routine today, one that I hope to stick to. I began by writing in my journal – the one saved for positive thoughts and positive memories.  This act of recognizing peace, beauty and blessings in my life helped to get me into the proper mindset for part two, which was literally counting my blessings.

Some time ago I purchased a Mala, which is traditionally a Hindu or Buddhist tool for meditation.  I purchased it for its beauty, and it resides in my special space.  Today I picked up that Mala and tried it as a tool to focus for my prayer practice.  Holding the tassel, I began my prayer by thanking God for the many blessings in my life, including my family and my improved health.  I asked God to bless the people in my life and asked that as I said each name, that He would  bless that person with joy, hope, peace and health, and to bring into their life anything that they needed.

There are 108 smaller beads on the mala.  As the string of beads slipped through my fingers one at a time, the names of 108 people in my life came to me, one after another.  108 blessings.  I know about the struggles in some of their lives, and as those names came to me, I prayed for those situations.  Others I simply prayed that their lives would be filled with the blessings that they bring into my life.

I had no mental “prayer list.” The names and faces came into my mind one after another.  I was somewhat surprised by some of the names that came to mind.  Some were people who had hurt me, and along with praying for blessings for them, I prayed for help to forgive long-ago hurts.

108 people, 108 prayers, 108 blessings.  As I closed my prayer, I thanked God for such a rich life.  I thought it would be hard to come up with 108 people to pray for, but as I write this, the names and faces keep coming.

My life is blessed – truly blessed.

That Kind of Friend

I consider myself extremely fortunate.  I have a large body of friends, some of whom I see in real life only a handful of times in a year, some I see twice in a decade, and some of whom I have met only in online forums.  Friends from all of these categories have cheered me on as I discovered running, shed some pounds, and approached life with a renewed joy.  Others aren’t part of my online universe at all.

Recently I had a meeting with one such friend. The last time I saw him, 4-5 months ago, he said, “there’s something different about you…oh, you cut off your long hair.  I like it short.  It looks good!”  I didn’t tell him that it went beyond that – that I had shed 50+ pounds and trained for a half marathon. I simply thanked him for the compliment and we continued our meeting.

Several weeks ago business took me back to his office.  This time he said, “there’s STILL something different about you.  What did you do?”  When I told him that I had lost nearly 100 pounds, he asked how I did it.  We commiserated about growing older and expanding waistlines, elevated blood pressure and climbing blood sugar levels.  The next week when I returned, his wife dropped by to see my changes for myself and to give me a huge hug.

Yesterday I saw a friend who had been missing from my real life world for five years.  I was delighted that I could keep up with this young, fit woman.  We climbed stairs at a museum and strolled the halls as we chatted as if we’d seen each other only the day before.  At one point in the day, I mentioned how wonderful it was to be able to climb stairs without pain and without being out of breath.  I mentioned that when we last saw each other, my weight had climbed to nearly 350 pounds.  She said she had no idea.  To her, I was just “Betty.”  I was just her friend.

I’m extremely grateful for the encouragement that I receive from my online community.  Some days, a comment or a like can make the difference between giving myself an excuse to have an extra snack or skipping a workout or holding myself accountable.  Those friendly interactions are extremely valuable to me.  Some people discovered me because I have made changes.  Those people are valuable.  Some people follow me because they want to make changes themselves, and I value that opportunity.

However, I know that I have a special person in my life when I can pick up after 5 years and have an afternoon where conversation flows freely.  In those rare friendships, differences in age, differences in size, differences in experience don’t change the core of the bond.  I was always just “Betty.”  I remain just “Betty.”

I can’t imagine ever being 300+ pounds again and struggling with life the way that I did.  It’s a beautiful gift to know that I had and still have so many people in my life who saw beyond the “insulation” and valued me for who I have always been inside.  That kind of friend cared about me before I learned to love myself.  I hope that you all have that kind of friend.  I strive to be that kind of friend, as well.

Love,

Be