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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Who are You Going to Listen To?

Here’s a quick recap for those of you who don’t really know me or have lost touch.  I got hurt badly in a fall just before law school.  Already significantly overweight before law school, the injury, horrible diet (can you say free pizza?) and hours and hours of studying coupled with a completely sedentary lifestyle added up to a middle-aged woman who was not just morbidly obese – I was “super obese.”

Some years later, through changes in diet, DDP Yoga (check it out – it’s amazing) and putting on a pair of running shoes for the first time in my life, I lost over 100 pounds.

My Facebook feed was full of photos of the meals I prepared and notifications from Nike Running Club that I was going for a run.  When people “liked” my post, the app would cheer.  It was really motivating!  I attempted a half marathon in 2015 and was “swept” at mile 8 (I couldn’t maintain the minimum pace).  I didn’t give up.  I was training for a “rematch” with the same half marathon course when I read a Facebook post written by a law school classmate who I considered a close friend.

I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist of the post was that people who aren’t serious athletes shouldn’t post about their workouts – that we just are attention seekers and our “friends” don’t really care about our workouts.  Especially guilty were those of us who enter a competition and fail to complete it.  I was devastated.  He didn’t write my name, but I was all of those things.  I did manage to finish the 2016 half marathon attempt (just barely), but afterward, I lost my mojo.  I would run a few times a month, but I never got back into a predictable schedule.

I stopped posting, so I lost the “cheers.”  I stopped running, so I lost the endorphins that exercise releases.  I started eating potato chips again.  Life took some really tough turns, and instead of going for a run to ease the anxiety, I turned back to food.  Over time, I packed on nearly 50 pounds of weight.

As a self-employed person, my health insurance premiums became really expensive.  I switched from traditional health insurance to a health share plan, and in order to be approved, I had to agree to work with a health coach.  He doesn’t tell me what to do.  He helps me to set goals, and when we check in every week or so, he asks me how I did.  With his help, I’ve dropped 30 pounds.

I’ve missed running.  I’m very slow, so running any distance requires a significant time commitment for me.  My “homework” from my coach a couple of months ago was to sign up for a race.  I signed up for the Cleveland Rite-Aid Marathon Weekend 5K / 10K Challenge which was held this weekend (May 19-20, 2018).  The “overachiever” in me couldn’t just sign up for the 5K.  I had earned 3 medals in 2016 for completing a challenge, so registered for both the 5K and 10K and I set out to repeat that feat.

Here in Ohio, the weather has been miserable.  To top it off, my left foot has decided to grow some benign, but uncomfortable “lumps.”  These two factors combined to make a very serviceable excuse to skip training runs.  I skipped lots of them.  Basically, I didn’t train – I just ran a couple of times when the weather was nice.

I checked the weather forecast mid-week.  Saturday and Sunday were supposed to be stormy.  I ran the 5K / 10K in 2016 when Cleveland had sleet, hail and thundersnow (yes, that’s a real thing) in mid-May.  I nearly didn’t pick up my race packet.

By Friday morning, the forecast had improved.  The forecast showed clear windows for both races.  I posted about not being ready and about my food hurting, and a running friend (an ultramarathoner, no less) encouraged me to join the ranks of the injured and undertrained and do it anyway – so I did.

Saturday was the 5K.  I did really well.  I ran the fastest 5K I’ve run since I started running again.  I was stoked.  Sunday, I arrived at the start and it started raining.  I very nearly turned back, got on the train and made my way back to my car.  The voice of my “friend” was back in my head.  I was going to finish near the very back of the pack.  I hadn’t made it to anywhere near 6 miles in my training runs, and to be honest, other than yesterday’s 5K, I had only run once or twice in the past month.

I was just about to allow my “friend’s” imaginary voice that was telling me that I did not belong on the course to persuade me to return to the car when another  law school classmate saw me and talked to me for quite some time.  He was running his first race.  That brief conversation gave me a minute to chase the other classmate out of my head.

I was sore from the 5K.  I held back the first half of the race because I knew that I was under-trained and I was virtually certain to run out of steam.  I was fine until about mile 4.5 when we had to climb a really steep hill.  I was really tired.  I wasn’t in pain, but it was hard to make my feet go faster than a slow walk.  My pace had dropped, and that guy’s voice in my head was working on me again – “You didn’t train for this.  Nobody cares about your posts.  Nobody cares about your run.  You’re a fake!”

I was discouraged.  I felt like crying when a voice cried, “Betty!”  Yet another law school classmate stopped in the middle of her own race to grab me and wrap me in a hug.  Take that, “mean guy.”  People do care.

The last mile and a half was slow, but I didn’t care.  I was soaked to the skin (the rain never did completely stop) and out of energy, but I had a grin on my face that nobody could erase.  I crossed the bridge over the Cuyahoga River that was just before the finisher’s chute.  I collected my medal.  I found my way to the tent where I received another medal for the completing two races in one weekend, and ran into yet another law school classmate.  She cared, too.

This is a long, long story.  The moral of the story is be careful who you allow as a “tenant” in your head.  Nearly every time I post on social media about a run or a race, I receive a whole bunch of “likes,” which I translate as a positive thing.  Maybe it *is* attention seeking, but if that little reward keeps me on the track or trail, I think it’s worth it.  Anyone who is not interested has the power to block, unfollow or simply “mute” me on social media.

I allowed one post by someone who was probably going through his own issues YEARS ago to be an excuse not to do things that are good for me.  Even sadder, that same guy wrote a post a couple of months ago apologizing to his social media friends for basically being a jerk a couple of years ago.  Months later, I was still allowing his years-old post to be my excuse for not trying.

I ran more than 9.3 miles this weekend, most of them in a cold, miserable rain.  I didn’t use an app that “cheered” me, but I received live, in person love from people I haven’t seen in person in years.  I collected 3 medals to hang from the cane that I used to need to hobble around my law school.  Most importantly, I’ve issued an eviction notice to the imaginary “friend” in my head because I don’t want to renew his lease.  It’s time for him to go.

The announcer at the race said that 15,000 people were registered for today’s events.  The fact that I found three people I knew, some at just the right moment to keep me from “throwing in the towel,” and one to share my joy in having finished went beyond coincidence.  I believe in miracles, friendship and a bit ‘o luck.  Today I experienced all three.

To all of the people who have told me that I am an inspiration and the reason they started doing something hard – whether it was going back to school or exercising – even running: I’m back.  Being told that you’re an inspiration can be uncomfortable.  I wonder why people say that sometimes because I am so imperfect.  Perhaps it is that very imperfection that inspires.  I get back up time and time again.  It’s okay to stumble.  It’s okay to lose your way from time to time.  Finding your way back to the path  is what matters.  Thank you for believing in me when I stopped believing in myself.

To the friend who accidentally found his way into my head:  I didn’t write this to call you out.  It looks like your life today is going in a fantastic direction.  I miss you and I’m proud of you….I just don’t want you in my head anymore.  Okay?

The moral of the story is:  when you have to choose between listening to people who love you and want you to succeed and people who are going through a hard time and complaining about something they don’t like on social media, choose wisely!

Peace out, I’m going to go hang up my medals!

~Be~

 

My Secret Weapon

This morning as I was preparing for a contested court hearing, I couldn’t help but miss my mom.  Mom was my “secret weapon.”  She was proud when I became a lawyer.  She always asked about my work.  I didn’t give her much detail, but I told her about the kinds of cases I was working on.  “I represent a mom in a nasty divorce,” or “I’m a guardian ad litem for 3 kids who love both of their parents.”  Sometimes it was “I have a bankruptcy hearing and my client is really scared,” or even, “the attorney on the other side yells a lot and it makes me anxious.”  Mom never asked for more details.  She just said, “that sounds like hard work, but it’s important and I know you’re making a difference.”

The night before my very first contested hearing, I called Mom and told her that I was nervous.  I didn’t really know what was going to happen.  I was afraid of looking unprepared and making a fool out of myself as well as doing a bad job for my client.

Mom asked me what time my hearing was.  She told me she was going to pray that my hearing would go smoothly.  My hearing didn’t go perfectly, but it did go smoothly.  I didn’t feel anxious or nervous.  I asked the right questions.  All-in-all it was a great success.   My client ended up with a good result, and I gained confidence.

I called mom that night to tell her that the hearing had gone well.  She answered, “I knew it would.  I prayed.”  We have had many of those “night before a hearing” conversations over the past seven years.  She said a lot of prayers for people she didn’t know, and I had a lot of hearings that went smoothly, where I didn’t feel nervous and didn’t make a complete fool of myself.

I’m not claiming to have had divine intervention in my cases – but I can’t recall ever having a hearing go badly when my mom was praying.  Mom’s prayers were my “secret weapon.”  Mom believed in me, and knowing that she believed that I was “making a difference” gave me confidence.    I want to be the kind of lawyer that my mom believed I am.  Sometimes prayer changes things from the inside.

 

Day 8 – Sometimes You Just Have to Feel It

Sometimes the lesson is simply indescribable. You just have to feel it. Any attempt to find the words to describe those profound, deeply-felt changes will pale in contrast to the realization.

This is as close as I can come: The depth of the feeling of being very sad about a change – like death – is in direct proportion to how hard we resist the change. As long as I dwell in the past, wishing things could have gone differently or that I had said something or did something else, I will continue to feel sadness.

When I accept that Mom is gone, and that it happened just the way that it was always going to happen, the sadness eases. It’s out of my control. It always was.

The words make it sound much simpler than the feelings do. You’ll have to trust me on that one.

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.

Special Delivery

When you begin listening for the voice of God in your life, he speaks in many ways.  Sometimes, it is that “still, small voice” in my head during a meditation.  Other times it is looking up to see a sunbeam playing across the floor bringing just a little light into a dark moment.

When I pay attention to “living, instead of existing,” God manifests.  Perhaps you will say that these moments are simply coincidences.  I choose to view them as the breadcrumbs left behind to show me that I am still on the right path.

God sent two messages to me last week via “special delivery.”

I adopted “comfort and joy” as a little personal theme, brand or motto a year or so ago.  I post photos of teacups or flowers, bright colored yarn or even close-ups of my dogs. If it brings me comfort or joy, it’s a likely candidate for my instagram hashtag, #comfortandjoy.

I have an eye condition that makes it difficult to read sometimes.  I do as much of my reading on a screen as I can because I can tweak the contrast and the font size to make it easier to see.  As a result, I rarely look at “real” books anywhere anymore.

Last weekend I went on a little shopping expedition to two of my favorite thrift stores.  At the first, where I have never even glanced at the used book rack, I was forced to stop a moment by the shelves because a couple of people were admiring objects in a curio and blocking my way.  I turned to the bookshelves to pass the time, and my eyes lit immediately on a daily devotional about “Simple Abundance” with “Comfort and Joy” in the title.  I picked it up and paid for it.

At the next stop, I was waiting for my son to try on some clothing.  I had already checked out the dishware and found no teacups that called to me, so I walked to the book shelves.  Just the day before, I had reviewed my Amazon “Wish List.”  On it was Regina Brett’s book, “God Never Blinks.”  I’ve enjoyed reading Regina’s newspaper columns for years.  She has inspired me on many occasions.  I “follow” her on Facebook, and although I frequently have considered buying her book, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Just as at the previous shop, the first book that I saw “called out” to me.  Its bright orange cover drew my eye, and into the cart it went.

Those books sat on my coffee table for several days, untouched.  I opened the cover of “God Never Blinks” and saw an inscription from a daughter to her mother on Mother’s Day 2012.  It made me a little sad to know that a carefully chosen gift had made its way to the Salvation Army store.

I turned the page, and saw that the author had autographed the book, and my amazement that this little book had found its way into my hands was magnified.  I turned to the Introduction section, and as I read the words, I knew that I had discovered a soul sister.  Tears streamed down my face.

I’ve been reading from these two books for a week now, with no hint of discomfort – no visual distortion.   Now, I read a lesson each day.  I want to keep turning the pages and consume the entire book in a single sitting, but it would be over too quickly.  Instead, like a box of expensive chocolates, I will savor just one each day, letting the words sink in slowly.

God didn’t just send me a message.  He sent me an autographed copy.  Thank you for your words, Regina, and thank you to unnamed “favorite daughter” who bought her mom and autographed book in 2012 that would be delivered into the hands of another mother nearly 5 years later.

 

Day 6/365: Prayer and Meditation

I spend a period of time each day in prayer and in meditation.   I set aside time each day for each of these practices.  I am not a theologian or a guru.  I have found, though, that prayer and meditation complement each other and add a great deal to my life.

I have heard it said that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening for the answers.  That may be an oversimplification, but I like the sentiment.

The first thing I do in the morning, before I get out of bed, is to give thanks for another day of life.  If my husband is in bed, I check if he is breathing and give thanks for that, too.  I (silently) say “this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” and then I wake up my 16-year-old son and round up the dogs.

I go to sleep at night (literally) counting my blessings and giving thanks for the many people and things that bring joy into my life.  I don’t view God as a vending machine in the sky that doles out favors in exchange for prayer tokens.  I don’t spend much prayer time asking for specific blessings.  I do, however, seek answers.  I ask for inspiration, and I receive it.

I attempt to spend 15 – 20 minutes each morning in meditation.  I have some recordings that i like to use to get into a meditative state of mind.  It seems my mind is always working on one question or another, and it is difficult to reach a place where I can just “be” instead of “doing.”

I have learned to keep a pad of paper and a pen handy when I meditate because ideas just pop into my mind.  Without my mind planning projects or worrying about details, I am free to simply breathe in and out and listen for inspiration and answers – or just to relax and enjoy life.

There are many free meditation apps for iPhone and Android that are useful tools to help you learn to meditate.  Although it’s cold in Ohio as I write (1 degrees F, brrrr), when the weather is warn, there is nothing that I enjoy more than sitting in nature with my eyes closed and just simply observing the sounds of nature and the sensations of the sun and the breeze as they touch my skin.  In these moments I can truly disconnect from the wear and tear of life’s distractions and allow God to speak.