Serenity is…

A way of life absorbed slowly and practiced one day at a time.

Perspective.

Becoming aware of and accepting my many characteristics and not judging what’s “bad” or “good” but what’s useful to keep and what to release.

A spiritual journey without a destination.

Letting go.

Honoring my feelings without aiming them at someone else or letting them run my life.

Accepting what is.

A gift I choose to give myself.

Knowing that what works for someone else may not work for me.

Understanding I may be powerless but I’m not helpless.

Realizing my Higher Power does for me what I cannot do for myself.

Minding my own business.

Balance.

Relief from black and white thinking.

Understanding that reacting to life and responding to life are not the same thing.

Feeling at peace with my past.

Having my body and mind in one place at the same time.

Published in: on February 7, 2017 at 8:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Poof! Gone.

I’ve never written about the day my sister died. Not in a journal, not in a workshop, not for this blog.

She jumped out of a small plane on June 10, 1972. Her parachute didn’t open. Neither did the reserve. She was almost 19. I was 20.

Her death played out in my mind over and over last week. I don’t know what triggered it. The retired man I live with said I moaned in my sleep a couple of nights. It was time to write and let go of something. What?

I decided to write it as the 1st chapter of a memoir. I opened a new blank Word document and started typing.

I never really learned to type and now my hands are damaged by my arthritis so I am a two-index-finger writer. The other fingers just sort of hang there. It works for me. Usually.

I typed 4 1/2 pages. I came back from going to the bathroom, sat down at the computer and looked at a blank page.

All my writing was gone. I felt sick, but didn’t panic. I figured one of my wandering fingers had hit something. Surely I could recapture it.

And I could have, had I saved any of it.

I DIDN’T SAVE. Any of it.

I write this blog on the WordPress website and it automatically saves every so often. I don’t have to remember to save. So I never thought to save while I dug deep into the narrative of my sister’s death.

I called my daughter who knows more computer than I do. I’d already done the things she suggested. I tried everything I could find in the Word Help menu.

It was gone. Poof. Out into the universe.

I sat and stared at the blank document.

And I laughed.

Last Saturday at my women’s AA meeting we discussed acceptance. AA’s Big Book includes this paragraph:

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

What if writing the story of when my sister died was enough?

What if the process mattered more than the product?

What if letting go and acceptance mattered the most?

 

 

Published in: on August 23, 2016 at 10:28 am  Comments (13)  
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What’s Inside My Hula Hoop?

I learned some things over Christmas this year. or I should probably say I re-learned some things.

  1. Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. My goal as a parent was to raise independent, self-sufficient women who could take care of themselves and also love well. I’ve succeeded.
  2. I control only what’s inside my hula hoop. (Think about the image…) I don’t like not being in control of stuff. I’m not proud of this–I’ve worked hard on this issue.
  3. I’m not needed like I used to be. I’m probably needed differently, but I haven’t figured that part out yet.
  4. Hurt lurks behind anger and manipulation.

Here’s the story.

Christmas vacation, for our family, for too many years, involved many hours on highways to get to my parents in Ohio and the mother of the retired man I live with (and his large extended family) in Pittsburgh. We’d be gone from whenever the kids finished school until the day before New Year’s Eve.

It was grueling, for different reasons at each place, and often involved driving in bad weather. We didn’t have Nabis or iPads or iPods or in-car DVD players. We played 20 questions, looked for license plates from different states and sang lots of Christmas carols. It got some easier when they became readers. (They didn’t get carsick reading in the backseat like I used to.)

We ended that craziness after my parents moved to NC and we drove over the WV mountains on ice coming home from Pittsburgh. We just flew his mom and sister to us after that. By then our girls were in high school and not so concerned about Santa finding us.

We were never at our own house during those traveling years for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. (Santa knew to come to our house early. He’s flexible like that.) So, at some point as marriage and grandchildren came into our kids’ lives, we (well, more that retired guy I live with than I) started suggesting the importance of Christmas morning in their own homes.

This year, sometime in December, our strong, independent daughters who have apparently learned to take care of themselves and their families told us they would be having Christmas Eve and morning in their own homes and then we would all gather for lunch and to give our gifts to the grandchildren at one of their homes.

I was the loving, supportive, mature, “good” mom I can sometimes be and said, “Well, okay, sure. That’s probably a good idea.”

I was not prepared.

I was alone.

On Christmas Eve.

The retired man I live with has a part-time retail job, so he worked until late-afternoon that day. We’d made no plans so we had a regular dinner, watched the news and some tv and then went to bed like any other evening. And had a quiet, boring Christmas morning. It all felt empty.

I woke up Christmas morning with a complete scheme to manipulate everyone next year back to the way I wanted things to be. It was a brilliant plan (I do have health issues, you know) and it would probably work. I shared it with that retired guy I live with. The shocked look on his face did make me a little self-conscious.

I still shared it over the next couple of days with a few friends who had the sense to listen, smile, and say nothing. Eventually I could hear the anger rumbling inside. I shared about it at a women’s AA meeting. I realized and admitted I was refusing to accept my powerlessness over other people. I was trying to fix things outside my hula hoop. And manipulation wouldn’t give me power. It made me wicked.

I’ve given up on my plan, even though I know it would work.

A new word came to me on Christmas Day. I have become “peripheral” (see below) to my children’s lives. I believe that is right and good and as it should be. It gives me hope that they will be okay when someday I’m not around.

I don’t have to like it.

I do have to accept it.

And now I will focus on my own life and what to do with this new year of 2016. I have more to do, within my hula hoop, I’m sure!

Maybe I’ll write a book.

(Scanners, printers, and speakers are peripheral devices for a computer because they aren’t central to the working of the computer itself.)

 

Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments (3)  
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Finding Hope Under the Blanket

The retired man I live with walked into the den recently and said, “Ten years ago you had cancer. Now you have 3 grandchildren. It’s all going to be okay.”

I was in a dark place that day, a place I called depression. A few weeks later, my therapist called it grief.

In the last 2 years, my brother (the last of my family of origin) died, and I had 6 surgeries, most complicated by very slow healing due to immune-suppressant drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. I had reason to be in a dark place. But I didn’t label it grief until my therapist did.

There’s a difference, for me, between depression and grief. Depression feels endless and hopeless. Grief, on the other hand, is a recognition of loss, a process that I can move through. There is hope in that.

My friend, Kim, a former Hospice grief counselor, said that grief and depression can feel the same. For me, both involve emotional and physical fatigue that makes any kind of movement challenging. Inertia settles over me like a blanket and I become comfortable there.

I don’t drink anymore and depression kills my appetite so I don’t stress-eat. I use reading as my numbing-agent, my drug of choice.  I can tune out any feelings or circumstances if I have something to read. Inertia looks okay if I’m reading, right?

My family valued good grades and achievement and emotional control. I need to feel competent. So, in my head, my physical limitations become defects, which makes me defective, not competent. And so I am grieving the loss of my competent self.

My therapist helped me see that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t tell myself the truth.

I’ve been dealt a hand of cards that includes physical limitations, but I can find competence within those limitations. I tell myself I have strengths and talents that are still available to me, no matter how well I walk or balance on one foot. Sometimes I believe that.

I’m not sure just when the window opened on my dark place and started letting some light in. I became willing to change, to move out of the comfortable, dark place under that warm blanket of inertia into a new place of acceptance and hope. I became willing to do the hard work of growth.

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference.

It’s rained here for a week and a half with a couple more days of showers to come. The temperature has dropped into the 50’s. A week ago, I had to stop one of my arthritis medications because of possible side effects. Between the no-medication and the weather, my whole body feels stiff and achy.

But I’m okay in that. A bit whiny at times, but not rooted in a chair with a book. In a bit, I’ll go to a recovery group at Higher Ground, the drop-in house for people who are HIV positive. This afternoon I’ll go sit with a Hospice patient for a couple of hours to give the caregiver a break. Tomorrow morning I’ll go to an AA meeting and then out to lunch with a woman I sponsor.

I’m grateful today for the energy to push through the remnants of grief and the physical challenges of the day. It helps to focus on the needs of others.

I look for balance between denial and being overwhelmed. Denial sends me back to my chair with a book. Overwhelmed takes all my energy and I care about nothing. Balance says, “Okay, today I hurt, but I can go sit in a chair and listen to others just as easily as I can take root in my lonely chair at home”.

Balance requires mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude and hard work paired with surrender to what is.

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Comments (15)  
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Bring It On! Here I Am. Let It Be. I Accept!

While I was procrastinating this morning about writing a blog post, I called one of my grown daughters. I thought I accepted a decision she and her husband made last week. I listened to myself, once again, begin to manipulate her into changing her mind.

I tried to stop.

Eventually I did.

I’m not proud of myself.

And she didn’t change her mind.

After that phone call, I got down to business. I looked back through some quotes/ideas I saved for non-inspired writing mornings. I found one after another about “acceptance.”

Halfway through copying and pasting them into this post, I made the connection between all these quotes and my earlier conversation with my daughter.

Oh.

Guess I’m the one who needs these. How humbling.

I thought I was doing this for you!

My friend, Lisa, picks a word for the year each January. Her word for last year was “accept”. She wrote this on her blog:

“Accept is one of those words that often gets a bad rap.  Sometimes it’s confused with giving-up.  On the contrary, accepting is about choice and power. It’s about recognizing what you can and can’t control and taking the next.right.step for yourself.

When life isn’t going as you’d prefer, accept that you can handle it.  You really can. Accept that you can simply say,”Bring it on! Here I am.  Let it be. I accept!”

One of Lisa’s heroes is Michael J Fox.  Here’s what he says about acceptance:

“I don’t look at life as a battle or as a fight. I don’t think I’m scrappy. I’m accepting. I say ‘living with’ or ‘working through’ Parkinson’s. Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through.”

Acceptance, for me, requires a gut-level faith that something bigger than me is watching over this world and that it all makes sense on some level above my pay-grade.

The Serenity Prayer

God,

Grant me

The serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Amen.

This next one is a challenge!

The Welcoming Prayer

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

Amen.

(For an explanation and some instruction in using The Welcoming Prayer, click here.)

Sometimes I forget that things can get better. I need to remember hope can be part of acceptance.

“Grounded hope is hope with acceptance. Acceptance is a tricky concept. Accepting your circumstances can sometimes be perceived as though you have resigned to your situation. Some see it as giving up. Submission. But on the contrary; acceptance is an active and dynamic process.

Acceptance is about moving forward despite your circumstances. It is moving forward and bringing your circumstances along with you. When your hope is grounded by accepting your reality, then you are able to transcend your past and begin to build your future…Pairing acceptance with hope…frees you to move forward through your situation and to a point where true healing can begin.”  (Danny Burgess, Ph.D.)

“Instead of making the world around us or our own selves into the image of what we think is good, we enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms (my italics).  We embrace what is given to us–people, spouse, children, forests, weather, city–just as they are given to us, and sit and stare, look and listen until we begin to see and hear the God-dimensions in each gift, and engage with what God has given, with what God is doing.”  (Eugene H. Peterson)

We enter the lifelong process of no longer arranging the world and the people on our terms.”

You mean this process is never going to end?

I’m never going to get it once and for all?

Bummer.

So, to my daughter–I’m sorry I pressured you again. It wasn’t fair and I will now re-read all these quotes on acceptance and hope that they will come to mind the next time I need them.

PS: Just as I finished this, hours after our conversation, my daughter called to say she and her husband changed their minds about doing what I hoped they would do. (But not because of anything I said.)

My God has a sense of humor!

Published in: on April 28, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (9)  
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Give Up or Surrender?

I just about ran out of pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

I’ve had 6 surgeries in the last year and a half, some bigger than others, but all required some rest and recovery time.  My muscles atrophied from all the sitting.  It’s harder for me to move around easily. Then I took a trip and came home worn out and sick with bronchitis.

After a long day of consciously feeling the fear of not getting better and staying weak and fragile, I realized I had a choice. I could give up or I could surrender to reality and begin the work to get better. Giving up looked easier.

Giving up means admitting defeat. It’s saying, “I have lost, there’s no sense in trying anymore.” Surrender means stopping the fight against forces you cannot control. Surrender allows you to reserve your energy for later. It’s the process of letting go. It does not mean giving up. (Teresa Bruni)

I surrendered. I asked–well, begged–God to help me find my pluck and gumption and grit again.

The difference between surrender and giving up is the difference between suffering (giving up) and being at peace (surrender). It is the difference between being lost and finding your way.  (Tim Custis)

I remembered what I hear in 12-step meetings:  Do the next right thing. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And from Anne Lamott:  Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

Giving up is resistance to what is. Surrender is acceptance of what is. Giving up says “No” to life (you curl up in a ball on the bed). Surrender says “Yes” to life (you hold your arms wide open ready to receive). Giving up moves you away from God. Surrender moves you closer to God.  (Tim Custis)

I exercise in the pool again. I ride the exercise bike in the basement. I lead with my weaker leg when I go up the stairs from the basement. I bought some new shoes (Hey, girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do) that work with my new orthotics so I can walk outside.

I’m not angry at God anymore. I had to feel the anger and tell God I was angry before I could let go of it.

There is no hope in giving up. It’s a dark, miserable place to be.

God and I are buddies again.

I have hope again.

And pluck.

And gumption.

And grit.

Thank God.

Published in: on April 21, 2015 at 12:03 pm  Comments (15)  
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Homer

My friend, Mark Cassity, is a good man who should share his writing more. He wrote this for the Triad Health Project (THP link) newsletter. He is the Director of Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.And, yes, he said I could put this on my blog.

Years ago, we were minding my neighbor’s dog, Homer, when he had what amounted to a stroke during the night. Homer was about 140 years old so no big surprises, and I carried him out to the yard so he could use the facilities before I took him to the vet. He made no complaint. He didn’t show signs of pain or even surprise; he simply stumbled about in ever-tightening circles, diving his head under one leg and then falling over before I would right him and he could try it again. Homer did not cry out that anything had gone terribly wrong with the world but rather simply carried on with what the world gave him that day. His eyes suggested, I suppose this is what today is like. At least every time I fall over I get to see the sky. And the grass smells so sweet. It was one of the noblest things I’ve ever seen.

Homer held up to me the times I’ve caught the flu or my car wouldn’t start or I got a crick in my neck or bleach spilled onto my favorite sweater and I’ve wanted the world to stop. I somehow think this just isn’t right, it’s not correct, something must be done to set the universe back in proper order because this-won’t-do! With Homer’s help, I hear God reminding me that nothing’s gone wrong in the least. Tuck and roll. Why not smell the good grass I made for you? What if you needed help to use the facilities one day? Growing old, getting sick, these are merely parts of life, too; and when you finally fall down, perhaps you will notice the sky like you used to. Perhaps someone will come by and pick you up and carry you home.

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Turtle Creates a Village

God, I offer myself to You–

to build with me and to do with me as You will.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Your will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.

May I do Your will always.

(3rd Step Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous)

I sat quietly with this prayer daily, starting in January, 2005.  It took the place of resolutions.

In late February, 2005, I found an odd lump in my groin.

On April 15, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer–non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I had 2 malignant lymph nodes, but no symptoms and I felt fine.  After tests, the treatment plan was “watch and wait.” That took a while to accept. God and the doctor and I have “watched and waited” for almost 10 years.  Still no symptoms and no treatments. Dr Sherrill says at each checkup, “It’s still in remission.”

Go back and read that prayer again.  I’ll wait.

I started writing emails to a group of spiritual friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I wanted people to pray for me and I felt compelled to share what happened and how I dealt with it, including my faith journey.

I’ve written before about being an introvert and a turtle.  When things get hard, I pull into my shell.  I’ve learned, though, that I can invite people in through my writing.  And I often feel pushed to write for this blog by a powerful and irresistible force.  I can resist for a while, but God starts writing in my head and it doesn’t go away.

This piece started forming in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I had cervical fusion surgery on December 2, 2014, to correct a place at the top of my spine that moved to a dangerous position because of damage from my rheumatoid arthritis.  A piece of my spine was impinging on my spinal column at the very top.  A fall or car accident could have ended my ability to breathe.

I’ve had several other surgeries, including a total knee, in the past 10 years, but nothing scared me like this one. It was “a big surgery,” Dr. Pool, the neurosurgeon told us. I asked the retired man I live with the morning of the surgery not to let them keep me alive on a ventilator if things went wrong.

The first couple of weeks after this surgery were very hard–lots of pain. I was grateful to be whole and breathing and alive.

Before the surgery, I started another email list of pray-ers.  And once again I could feel the power of the prayers. I don’t know how to explain that, but I know it’s real. I felt surrounded and encircled by God.

I try to tell God that I’ve fulfilled my 3rd Step Prayer obligations.  10 years is enough of this “take away my difficulties so I can show how God works in my life” stuff.  But more challenges come.

With each surgery, each setback, each test of patience and hope, I learn again that things will change.  And it’s all a bit easier when I remember God is with me. Not everything can be fixed completely. Sometimes it’s just different. Then I figure out how to live with it and keep going as best I can.

If I ever write a memoir, I think I’ll title it “Okay, God, Now What?”

 

 

 

A Buddhist Nun Told Me To Chill

Pain in my feet might help.

I had foot surgery a little over a week ago.  General anesthesia, both feet, outpatient surgery.  The hope was to repair or modify some of the damage from 26 years of rheumatoid arthritis so I can walk better.

The challenge is not walking on them now.  Since the first couple of days I’ve had no pain so I was up and moving around.  I saw drainage on one of the bandages four days after surgery, went to see the doctor and was told to stop walking on my feet so they could heal.  To the bathroom or to get something to eat is okay.  Sitting with feet up on the ottoman is good.  Lying on the couch is better.  For the next week and a half.

I started a 3-year-term on a non-profit’s board of directors this month.  Triad Health Project provides HIV/AIDS services, education and support to those infected and affected by the virus.  I got involved as a volunteer in the mid-90’s.  You know that Bucket List thing?  I always wanted to say, “I’m on a Board of Directors.”

Last month, I missed the social get-to-know-each-other gathering at a wine bar because I had horrible back spasms.  Now this month, the first for-real meeting, I have healing feet so I can’t go again.

With all my free time, I am reading Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun.  This morning I read about how we get caught up in 8 worldly concerns:  pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame.  While I was reading, the other track in my brain was struggling with whether/how to get to the 5:30 THP board meeting.  (It gets busy inside my head.)

I am used to being the good kid.  I generally follow through on commitments and am pleasant and helpful to have around.  My reputation matters to me.  A lot.

I do not like that my disease may shape others’ first impression of me.  I want to be seen as competent.  Not needy, not vulnerable, not disabled.

Pema Chodron says, “If we don’t act on our craving for pleasure or our fear of pain, we’re left in the wide-open, unpredictable middle.  The instruction is to rest in that vulnerable place, to rest in that in-between state, to not hunker down and stay fixed in our belief systems but to take a fresh look with a wider perspective.  The truth is we’re always in some kind of in-between state, always in process…When we’re present with the dynamic quality of our lives, we’re also present with impermanence, uncertainty and change.”

I think that means I’m not in control.

She describes three commitments or vows Buddhists take.  First, the commitment to cause no harm.  Second, the commitment to take care of one another.  Third, the commitment to embrace the world just as it is.

I emailed the THP director and told her I would not be at the meeting.  (Do no harm to myself.)  I want to be able to help with the big fundraiser in early Dec. If I let my feet heal, I’ll help more. (Take care of one another.)  As my brother used to say, “It is what it is.”  (Embrace the world just as it is.)

I will be present to the discomfort that washes over me every time I imagine my empty chair at the THP conference table.

Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel good.

Young…Middle-Aged…(??)….Old!

Stephanie:  “Mom, great outfit! (turquoise t-shirt, jeans, bright coral cardigan)  “You look so young!  You need to dye your hair.”

My hair is gray.  Different shades of gray.  Whitish in the front, darker in the back.  But all gray.  I like it.

Me:  “No, actually I don’t need to.  This is me.”

Comfortable, mildly stylish clothes. At 61, not so young, but also not old.  Cool, definitely cool.

She stared at me for a few seconds and said, “I still think you should dye your hair.”

She is 35.  And already talking about Botox for wrinkles.  I tell her to just buy really good moisturizer and use it faithfully.  Especially on the neck and chest.

“I believe we older people risk wasting the second half of our lives in unconscious compliance with a youth-obsessed culture.”  (Lynne Morgan Spreen)  We need an alternative to the belief that maintaining the appearance of youth is an antidote to aging.

We don’t even have name for this time of life, 55-70!  At 61, there is no question I’m beyond middle age, though I stretched it out through my fifties. I don’t know when “old” starts.  I think it depends on which birthday you last celebrated.

Every morning, I walk down the driveway (actually, the retired man I live with walks down more than I do), get the newspaper and come in to have a cup of tea while I read words printed on newsprint that I hold in my hands.  No matter how many times they redesign the website, I will not cancel my subscription to the printed version.  We older folks like to turn paper pages.  Most days I just read the front page, the obituaries, the editorials, the letters to the editor, the comics, and horoscopes for me and my family.

I started reading the obituaries years ago when I worked as a volunteer coordinator at Hospice.  I learned you don’t have to be old to die, but back then they were usually older than I was.  Most still are, but not all.  A lot are in their 60’s.  A good day is when everyone who died is older than me.  Is that weird?

So, fellow boomers,  what stage of life is 55-70?  We need a name.  Got any ideas?

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 3:59 am  Comments (22)  
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