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.

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The Destructive Power of Anger

I try very hard not to hold a grudge.  I know how much energy it wastes.  Worse yet, while I’m wasting energy and feeling miserable, the person on the other end of the grudge is blissfully unaware of it.  Someone dear to me once told me, “don’t let someone take up space in your head without paying the rent.”  I’ve remembered that and try to live by it.

Last year, someone who I had to deal with on a regular basis did some things that made me angry, then they said some things that hurt my feelings.  The result wasn’t pretty.  To his great credit, he has extended an olive branch and tried to mend fences on several occasions.  Although I said the words, “I accept your apology,” the truth is that I never really let go of the incident.

I went to the gym this morning to run a couple of miles on the indoor track.  I set my app to remind me to run for two minutes then walk for 60 seconds.  My favorite playlist was playing, I felt “fast” (for me), and I was having a great run. The first half of the 2 mile run was great.  I thought about what I would do when I finished my workout.  I thought about the fun I had over the weekend.  I could feel the grin on my face.  People were smiling and waving.

Then, at 1.27 miles in (I happened to look at my running app), last year’s “incident” popped into my head.  As soon as I thought about that person and what had happened, I got frustrated.  I mentally told myself, “you must forgive him.”  I tried to just say the words, “I forgive,” and I couldn’t do it. I felt I wasn’t ready to forgive him.  I somehow NEEDED to continue to be angry with this person. I felt my mood continue to darken, and realized that I had begun to scowl instead of smiling.

I continued to argue mentally with myself for a few more minutes, and grudgingly thought, “I forgive you.”  I continued to run/walk and soon I began to think of possible ways to not mend fences with this person (fences keep people out), but instead to build bridges.   I felt the bounce return to my step and the smile come back to my face.

I finished my run, got back home, and I got curious.  I pulled up the chart of today’s run and scrolled the bar to 1.27 miles.  While I was filled with anger, I was slower.  You can see it clearly. I went from “green” peaks to only “yellow” peaks as soon as I began harboring resentment. Stewing on old hurts slowed me down. I was 37 second slower on mile 2 than on mile 1.

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I couldn’t ask for a clearer demonstration of the power that negativity / anger has over me.  It kills our joy, saps our strength and robs us what we are working to achieve.

Thankfully, I feel much better.  It’s my turn to extend the olive branch.  I will never again underestimate the destructive power of internalized anger.

A Subtle Sunrise

Easters were special growing up.  We colored dozens of eggs.  Mom made homemade candies and molded bunnies.  I wore a new dress every year.  Some years Mom made the dress for me.  The white shoes came out of storage (forget Memorial Day!) and we posed for pictures in the back yard in our finest.

My Aunt would buy bags and bags of the left-over Easter candy and a week or so after Easter, we would have a big candy hunt with all of the cousins.  Life was simple.

We didn’t always attend sunrise service, but I remember being excited to go.  Some years, it would be very cold, and I would insist on wearing my thin Spring dress (often sleeveless) no matter how loudly my teeth chattered.  Although I can vividly remember some of those dresses (and the hand-crocheted shawls Mom made to go with them), I cannot remember the sunrises.  In my imagination, they were vivid  – as we sang hymns, the bright ball of the sun peeked over the horizon and the angels sang.  In my imagination, it was quite a spectacle – worthy of motion picture awards.

This morning, My dear sister-in-law and I decided to go to sunrise service.  It was cold (low 40s), and the service was being held on the shores of Lake Erie, where ice covered the water mere days ago.  I had no Easter dress, and as an adult, common sense ruled and I wore my heaviest wool pants, two sweaters, a winter jacket and woolen socks under my winter boots.  I carried a travel mug of steaming coffee.  I was prepared.

The rest of the early morning worshipers dressed like me.  Nary a light spring dress with bare arms was to be found.  In the pitch black darkness, we sat on rough wooden benches, our backs to the frigid lake.   As the service began at 6:45 a.m., the sky began to lighten just enough to read the prayer on the bulletins we were handed.

Our Pastor shared the scripture from Mark 16 – “…trembling and bewildered, the women found the empty tomb and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

This account lacks the drama from the Passion Play.   Mark doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ appearance to his followers.  There are no vivid beams of light streaming from the empty tomb.  No heavenly chorus – no trumpets – only frightened women fleeing.

As we said the closing prayer and sang the remaining hymns, the sky continued to brighten. There was no startling contrast, no brilliant colors.  The lake didn’t sparkle.  It was quite dreary (and still very cold).  Pastor told us how some evenings when vespers is held at the same location, the sunset is stunning.  Other times, like this morning’s sunrise, it is just a subtle transition from one day to another.

I wish that I had more time this morning to sit and contemplate that subtle sunrise.  Instead, I came home, downed a cup of coffee and cooked breakfast for seven.  After breakfast, I boiled eggs to color with one of the grandchildren who had spent the night. As my daughter helped him dye the eggs, I began preparation for the family celebration as we came together to enjoy fellowship (and food!)

After lunch, the children scampered through the yard looking for brightly-colored plastic eggs filled with candy.  While I was inside the house being busy, the day had transformed completely.  The cold had disappeared and the sun shone brightly. It was too nice to go back into the house, so we visited on the front porch.  It was a wonderful time.

With the last of the family guests gone, I took my opportunity for that quite contemplation that I missed earlier.  I donned my running tights and shoes and headed for the high school track.  I reflected on the cross, and the excruciating pain that would be involved in crucifixion.  I remembered Christ’s pleas for forgiveness for the people who were torturing and killing him.  I imagined the empty tomb, and this time my mental movie included this morning’s subtle sunrise, as the black night gave way to the soft gray of a cloudy morning.

My own life has changed a lot in the past year or so.  It’s been a slow process.  Some days I am disappointed that the changes aren’t mind-blowingly vibrant.  Other times, like today, I am grateful for the calm that fills me when I’m alone with the only sounds being those of nature around me and my feet striking the pavement.  As I took my final lap around the track, the sun began it’s gentle descent toward evening.  The bright ball in the sky was too bright for me to capture with my iPhone camera.  It was the kind of light that chases away any kind of sadness left in the corners of your mind.

I sat in the car and watched the light.  It was the kind of brightness that would be perfectly accompanied by angels’ voices and trumpets.  It filled me with awe, and calm.

Last week was difficult.  My mind was occupied with current events and political thoughts.  I spent energy uselessly pondering issues that are beyond my control and problems that aren’t even mine to solve.  While I was alone, in that moment, none of it mattered.

My subtle sunrise brought me calm.  The light that ensued brought me joy – and peace.sunset

The emotions today brought with it may be lost in translation, but the message for me came loud and clear – even a dreary, subtle sunrise can become a breathtaking day.

As the Easter hymns of my childhood echo in my mind, I am filled with joy.

He is risen [He is risen indeed!]

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I took back my life a little over a year ago.  I began exercising regularly, I improved my diet, I made a vow to try to focus on the positive instead of the negative, and my life has improved drastically as a result.  Although I am still quite overweight, my health and fitness have improved to the point that most of my limitations are gone.  It’s a great feeling.

As a part of the changes I joined a number of facebook groups filled with others who are facing or have faced similar challenges.  As a result, I see a lot of articles about “fat shaming,” “fit shaming,” and “fat acceptance.”

I’m not sure why we need all of these labels.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along?  No amount of fat shaming could make me lose weight.  It made me feel even worse about myself, which led to poor self esteem and misusing food as a comfort device.  fat acceptance isn’t terribly helpful either.  Someone telling me that they love me “just the way I am/was” still made me feel like a fat slob.  We don’t tell slim people “I love you despite your fitness.”

I’m encountering a new phenomenon online (not in my personal life yet) in which a once unhealthy individual is being shunned by friends after adopting a healthy lifestyle.  That’s “fit shaming.”  I don’t know whether the shunning is due to the individuals’ unpreparedness to face their own health issues or whether it’s because the newly fit person talks a lot about her new lifestyle (I know I’m certainly guilty) and the old friends can’t relate.

We’re all people.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  There are people in my life who are suffering from lifestyle-induced illnesses just as I was.  I accept them as people – not “fat” people.  There are people in my life who get tired of hearing about my runs and races and my new shoes, I’m sure.  I’m fortunate that they still talk to me anyway.

I feel accepted.  Most of the time I felt loved and accepted at 300+ pounds.  I don’t think people like me more or less because I’ve lost weight.  I’m not ashamed of where I am.  I’m not ashamed of where I was.  Every step of this journey teaches me more about myself and about others.

Fat or fit, gay or straight, black or white, we are worthy of love and acceptance.  Meet people where they’re at.  Leave the judgment for God.  Let’s all get along.

~Be~

A Clean Heart (and the Cone of Shame)

Once upon a time, I had a little cat and a little dog.  They were sworn enemies.  One day the little dog gave chase to the little cat and caught her.  Little dog created two tiny punctures in the little cat’s side.  We washed them and treated them with antibiotic.  They scabbed over and nearly healed, but they must have begun to itch.  Little cat ripped off the scabs and the little holes became a little bigger.

We cleaned them again and they began to heal.  They were looking great when little cat once again ripped the scabs off and the holes became even larger.  This happened once again, and the two holes became one large gaping wound.  There was still no infection, but it was a scary looking wound.  We took little cat to the vet and he said that he couldn’t stitch it because the risk of infection would be too great.  Instead, he fitted her with the cone of shame.

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The cone of shame worked its trick.  She stopped picking at her wound, and the wound got smaller and smaller until it healed once and for all.

Yesterday I spent a lot of mental energy dwelling on something someone said to someone else that wasn’t even directed at me. My child brought home an illustration from class that I thought was inappropriate.  I posted it on Facebook and garnered support from my friends and began to feel self-righteous.  I presented my point of view in an email to the person who originated the distasteful example and went to my “zen den” to try to let it go.

The joy of sitting in a darkened room lit only by candles, listening to soft sounds and wrapped in the warm embrace of a soft blanket is that in the stillness, God can speak to our busy minds.  Last night I had such an experience.  As I watched the thoughts drift in and out of my mind, a bit of scripture turned into song came into view and stayed long enough to stick.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.

-Psalm 51:10

I did not dwell on that thought last night, but the subtle experience made its impression.  My husband came to find me and we watched some television together and slept peacefully.

This morning I received an email in reply to my message.  The person who used the example that upset me failed to understand where I was coming from.  The peace I had found in my private sanctuary last night dissolved, and I experienced, once again, the sting of perceived rejection.

I got ready for work, leashed Jimi the Wonderdog and drove to the office.  My office is in disarray right now.  I’ve been trying to fit too many things into too little time while worrying about too many things.  I realized that no meaningful work could happen until I took care of the piles and restored proper order.

As I tidied piles and washed dirty mugs, the psalm/song came back into my mind.  Sometimes we need to take a moment to clean our heart so that we can get back to work, too.  Holding onto resentment allows us to go back to it time after time, picking and picking until the wound becomes larger and larger.   I asked God for help to forgive and forget and to renew a spirit of tolerance, kindness and forgiveness within my heart.

 I really don’t want to wear the Cone of Shame.

Love and Light,

*Be*

It isn’t all about you

It’s sometimes difficult to look at the big picture.  I’ve often been guilty of seeing only how something affects me and not how the same circumstance affects those around me.  It’s human nature.  I don’t wear the other person’s shoes, so it’s not always easy to know how they feel.  At the same time, not knowing what is plaguing others, it’s easy to misinterpret bad moods, scowls and just plain lack of friendliness as a personal assault when it’s quite possible that the person is actually distracted or consumed by events that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

Nearly two decades ago a very wise woman listened to my complaint of the day and said, “Betty, it’s not all about you.”  I was taken aback.  I felt attacked.  I was pouring out my heart to someone who was there to listen, and she had the NERVE to tell me that my pain wasn’t about me.  Seconds later, she said, again, “It’s not all about you...  and you can be so glad it isn’t.”

I learned all about “Jesus Christ Syndrome” from that wise woman.  She told me that I “take on the sins of the world.”  I really do tend to blame myself for a lot of things.  I say “I’m sorry” a lot.  My friend once challenged me to go an entire week without apologizing to anyone for anything (I didn’t make it).

This morning I had a reminder that “it’s not all about me.”

My husband and I go to the gym together.  I had a rough start last year.  Actually, I had a (couple of) false start(s) last year.  I was extremely obese, self conscious, and absolutely sure that everyone would be starting at me at the gym.  I invented errands to do on the way to the gym and the errands gave me opportunities to become very upset with my poor husband about something dumb and as a result, I had an excuse to demand that he take me back home without setting foot in the gym.

After two of those incident, I finally made it past the front desk.  The staff were smiling and the other members were not staring at me.  I had a good time and it soon became a habit.  I’ve been going regularly now for about 6 months, and until recently I’ve never had a negative experience.  Recently, though, things changed.

There is a male staff member at the gym whose actions today reminded me that it isn’t all about me.  I smile a lot and I say good morning to just about everyone.  It’s just how I am.  This guy never smiles back.  Sometimes, when I am walking my warm-up laps around the track, he stands in the middle of the track to watch Fox news.  He never smiles.  He rarely makes eye contact.  He exudes contempt.

I was really very happy this morning.  Think about Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and you’ll get a good idea of how bouncy I was feeling.  I was jamming out to Time Warp, Funky Town, and other favorite tunes as I walked around the track when I came upon Mr. Muscles directly in my path.  I gave him a big smile and said, “good morning!”  He looked right at me, locked eyes for an uncomfortable second or two and said NOTHING.

I checked my clothing for stains.  I sniffed to see if I smelled funny.  I ran my fingers through my hair, made sure that I was walking the correct direction around the track, checked my shoes for dog poop and concluded that I was okay, but that he either has a problem with women in general or just with fat women.  Whatever caused him to stare me down was obviously my fault.  I wondered what I did wrong.  I finished the workout avoiding all possibility of making eye contact with him.  I lost the bounce in my step, and felt my Tigger mood transition to Eeyore.

I finished my workout and dashed down the steps, collected my belongings from the locker room and got in the car.  Once we were in the safety of our car, I turned to my husband and asked him if he had noticed the tall blonde staff member wearing the Lifeguard shirt.  He said he knew who I was talking to.  I told him that I thought I must have irritated him because he wouldn’t even say “Good Morning.”  He chuckled and said, “it’s not about you – it’s him.”  Darling Hubby, too, had tried to engage Mr. Muscles.  He didn’t get as far as I did because Mr. Muscles wouldn’t even make eye contact.

Darling Hubby said, “It’s obvious that guy doesn’t like his job.  He doesn’t want to be here.  He doesn’t like the members.  He doesn’t like the work.  He probably won’t be here long.”

I don’t know if Darling Hubby is right on all accounts or not.  Mr. Muscles may work at the gym for a long time, but I do think he’s likely correct in stating that Mr. Muscles isn’t a happy guy.  It’s not all about me, and I’m so glad it isn’t!

Today was a good reminder that it’s not all about me.   Just as nobody else is responsible for my happiness, I’m not likely to single-handedly ruin someone else’s day very often – especially not a stranger.

One key to my happiness is to live my life trying to do the right thing.  The words below have often been attributed to Mother Teresa.  I don’t know if she actually said them, but  I love them.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

It’s not all about you, and aren’t you glad it isn’t?

Simple Gifts

Years ago I read a book called “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman.  Through Dr. Chapman’s book, I learned several valuable lessons about myself and about my relationships, both past and present.  I learned that my primary love language is gifts.  I love to give gifts.  It is one of the primary ways that I show others that I love them.  I love to receive gifts, too.  When someone takes the time to find and give me something that they feel I would enjoy, it makes me feel quite cared for.

My husband is not naturally a “gifts” person.  He is an “acts of service person,” meaning he expresses his love by doing for others.  (He makes me coffee every morning and does all of my laundry for me).  He feels loved when I make him dinner or do work that benefits his office.

We recently had a conversation about our love languages.  Somehow, I had failed previously to convey that a gift need not be expensive or complicated to make me feel loved.  I gave him the example of the french-milled “real” soaps that I love.  While they may be expensive for “just soap,” in the grand scheme of gifts, they are a BARGAIN at $3.00 – $5.00.  I had a new bar of soap in my hands moments later, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

A sales rep that I had not seen in many years learned from my secretary that I can’t eat gluten, so her usual gift of bagels was something that I could not consume.  She took the time to ask my secretary what I enjoy.  My secretary told her that I love tea, and gave her some examples of the types of tea that I enjoy.  The sales rep came to our appointment with a beautiful gift bag full of some of my favorite teas.  I felt cared for.  It cemented my relationship with her company.

Speaking of secretaries…I have the best.  Knowing my love for tea, she lovingly trots across the parking lot to the little coffee shop across the street on a regular basis to bring me back a hot cup of earl gray or English breakfast tea.  Although I have a huge stash of tea here at the office, she brings me a cup that someone else prepared.

As our family has grown, a large part of our family Christmas has become the exchange of homemade gifts.  I’ve enjoyed homemade cheesecake, homemade vanilla extract, gorgeous plates of cookies, gluten-free brownies, handcrafted wine, and lovingly crocheted doilies and afghans.

There is no greater way for me to relax than to sit in the “zen den” that my husband lovingly created just for me and wrap myself in the loving hug of an afghan crocheted by my mother while sipping a cup of tea brewed from a gift out of a teacup chosen just for me.

Thoughtful gifts are becoming a lost art as gift cards become a common place item.  I’ve been guilty many times of dashing to the store at the last minute for a fistful of plastic cards.  This year I’m going to remember to keep it simple and give thoughtful gifts that my loved ones can enjoy throughout the year.

While there’s nothing wrong with presenting an elaborate or expensive gift if your budget supports it, I love the simple gifts. Kids… you’re off the hook!