Color the Sky

Many years ago, I entered a coloring contest.  I carefully outlined each space before meticulously filling in the area with the selected color. I stayed within the lines.  I colored the whole page.  Not an inch of uncolored page remained.  I was as proud of the result as any 8-year-old could be.  It was my masterpiece.

I lost the contest.

This was no ordinary coloring contest –  one of my older cousins had organized it to keep the younger cousins busy during meal preparation for some celebration.   As I recall there was a panel of older-cousin judges, but I might be wrong on that aspect.  It was, after all, more than 40 years ago…

I lost the contest.  The winner colored outside the lines.  I remember asking the “head judge” why I didn’t win.  My picture was better.  My coloring was spot on.

His response?

“You colored the sky.  You’re not supposed to color the sky.”

For years and years, I left the skies in my coloring books a boring white.  The skies in Never Never Land and Cinderella’s Kingdom were always an overcast, unhealthy beige without a hint of blue. Occasionally I would get brave and draw a sliver of sun in the uppermost corner, but never again did I dare to color the sky.

I looked out my bathroom window this morning and saw the brightest blue sky.  My iPhone camera simply didn’t do it justice.   The sight brought the memories of my blank white coloring page skies back to me.

Life is short.  Less than 3 months before Mom died, she told me that she planned to live to see age 90.  Before she died, she wanted to go to the beach.  She wanted to sit on my back deck and look at the flowers.  I looked forward to days together where we might look up and watch the clouds together.  The skies in my daydreams about what might have been are always blue, with a puffy cloud or two and a sliver of golden sunshine.

There are rules in place to keep us safe, like “you must stop at stop signs.”  Other rules  were just someone’s idea that caught on.  We follow those rules because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  Don’t eat dessert before dinner.  Follow the pattern as it is written.  Don’t wear white after Labor Day.  Cover the gray in your hair if you don’t want to look old.  Don’t put the good china in the dishwasher.  You get the idea.

I’ve spent more than 40 years believing you shouldn’t color the sky.  What a dumb rule.  Always color the sky.

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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 3 in the Life of a Motherless Mother – Being Present

When someone you love has a terminal illness, life necessarily revolves around their needs. When clothing gets lost in the nursing home laundry, new clothing must be purchased. Who’s visiting today? Do we need to change the hearing aid batteries? What little thing can we do to provide comfort or give her a glimpse of joy?

My mother took great pride in her grandchildren. She used to love going to concerts and plays, and when her health declined we began recording parts of performances to share with her. Last night our youngest son’s high school choir put on a performance of Carmina Burana. I took my seat and scanned the program and saw that my son, Matt, had a solo that he had neglected to tell me about.

As Matt made his way from his spot on the risers to his designated spot at the front of the stage, I started to grab for my phone to switch into video cam mode. I thought for a moment and stopped. There was no need for recording. Mom isn’t here now to share this moment later.

I was reminded of a trip to Disney World many years ago. We had purchased a new video camera, and I watched Fantasmic! through a 1.5 inch viewer screen. Instead of witnessing the Disney magic live and in person, I watched it on a tiny screen. I thought then that I would want to watch it again or to share it with my parents who were back home, but I never did. I missed out on the depth of that experience because I was trying to capture it for later – for someone else. It took me another 18 years to learn the lesson that life is for living right here, right now.

Last year my husband and I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. As I saw it for the first time, I looked at my husband and said, “I can’t photograph this. You have to see it to understand.” I lived that moment in full color, letting the canyon overwhelm my senses with the sheer magnitude of nature.

Last night at the concert, tears ran down my face as Matt sang the role of a dying swan lamenting that he was being roasted. There were tears of pride at the fine young man that he has become along with tears of sadness that I won’t be playing back his solo on my iPad in a few days and watching to see a smile on Mom’s face. Along with my tears, there was the realization that I was watching my son and his friends sing – not through a lens or on a screen. For the first time in years, my focus was on the performers and not on capturing the moment for someone else.

I didn’t record Matt’s performance last night. It exists only in my memory. What 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!

This one’s for you 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.