Undaunted in 2018: my word for the New Year

Definition of undaunted: undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort.

2017 was the worst year of my life.

Not all of it…some of it was normal, even joyful, fun, adventurous. There was travel, and there were milestones. There was love. There was a lot of work, with effort spent toward family needs, clinic responsibilities, and the daily stuff of life.

And there was shock, tragedy, and devastation.

2017 brought the loss of my son, and with him, something I can’t really define. I’ve written about his death on Facebook, and here on my blog…it’s pretty much all I’ve written about in recent months…talked about it with family and friends. But regardless of the words I use, or how much I say, I’m not satisfied. I can’t really explain the impact, or the sadness.

At 57, I don’t think it was loss of illusion, or naive expectation of life. I’ve been around the block, and I know about hard times, the reality that life hands out surprises, some of them fierce and awful. Some that take your breath.

But losing Alex…I just can’t describe it. It’s a reality I can’t deny. But I haven’t grasped it either.

I can’t fathom that 2018 will dawn, and the only imprint of him on the new year, and the years to come, will be from memories. How is that even possible?

We were supposed to be with him for New Years. Instead, we’re mourning him.

I replay, in my mind, talks we had when he was strong, and determined, and driving toward his goals with purpose. He was undaunted.

And I want to claim that for myself. Not in denial that Alex is gone, nor in expectation of getting over his loss. Some things you don’t get over.

But I ask myself, what would his words be? He’d be philosophical, and tell me that he made the choice he felt was right for him.

Though I can’t see that point of view, there’s no doubt he believed that.

And believing that, he would expect the people who love him to be accepting. We didn’t always agree, but now, there’s no opportunity for argument, or changing his mind. Now, the only option is to accept.

I think about the year ahead, and I know I want to approach it with grace and love, appreciation for what we had, and looking toward the future.

The future with Alex will be in another time and place. But the future with others is here and now, in 2018.

I have a responsibility to the ones I love, and the ones who loved Alex, to be here for them. And that means more than being just physically present. It means being engaged, and connected, not lost in a fog of grief.

It’s only been three months, and to be honest, some days I’m shocked I’m upright, and forming coherent sentences. And to be honest, not all my sentences are coherent.

Other days, I glimpse the future. The ache is in my heart, but I gather myself to do more than mourn. I gather myself to do, and to mourn.

Neither death, nor life, can be ignored.

When I was thinking about my word for 2018, I knew it had to be a word of strength, and determination. Like Alex, I want to be undaunted.

Some would view his final choice as anything but undaunted. Some would see defeat. Or loss of determination, even weakness. But I see someone who believed he had reached the end, and was undaunted by the decision he faced.

I wish I could talk him out of it…help him see a different path, and a different way to live undaunted. But I can’t. I believe he died that way. Undaunted, and making the choice he believed was best. Even if it was a choice that broke hearts.

My choice is to live undaunted. It’s easy to say, and so challenging to confront. What does that even mean? And how will that look, in the coming year, when I’m still raw and walking wounded?

I think it means learning to live with loss, and grief, in ways that both honor Alex, and honor the lives around me. It means being the best I can be, in the midst of mourning. That’s what I’m learning. I’m not just mourning. And I’m not resuming life as though this never happened. I’m combining these realities, and my responses to both.

Spending the last week with Riley and Jack shows me how important this is. We talked about Alex, cried over him, missed his laugh and presence, shared some stories. But we also opened gifts, and played games, and celebrated the here and now.

If I sound like I know what I’m doing, like I’ve figured this out…well, that’s just me telling myself this is what I have to do, rehearsing it out loud, and in print. This is my choice, based on Alex’s choice.

I wish I could continue living the life I had before October, but that’s not an option. So, my word for 2018 is undaunted, the only way forward.

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Alex Gibson, April 2017

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Last family vacation in Hawaii, April 2017

 

 

 

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January gift

The new year brings re-focus, shiny months stretching out before me, just waiting to be filled with accomplishment.

My list is long.

It’s good, on January 31, to be on the other side of holiday travel and time away, to be caught up with my back-log at work, ready to re-engage.

It’s a familiar process, one I repeat often in my digital life.

Now in my seventh year of blogging, I no longer feel defeated by the gaps in posting, by my lapses of creativity.

I’m just happy to be here, thinking, reading, writing, doing my bit.

This year I’m planning another book, looking forward to the energy and the push that comes from the writing, the burst of words spilling onto the screen.

That’s the gift of the beginning of the year, looking ahead, planning it out, putting dates on the calendar…deadline dates, vacation dates, family trips and events.

Time isn’t promised to anyone. But we expect it, we hope for it, we plan for it. We hunger for it.

I’m hungry, eager for the coming year…for the time I’ll spend with family, for the long days of work and fulfillment.

What about you? What have you planned for the coming year? Will this be your time to thrive, to fulfill a promise you made to yourself, or someone else? Will you stretch yourself and be a bigger, better version of you on December 31?

What gifts will the year bring to you? And what will you give in return?

~ Sheila

Launched!

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Happy Birthday! My new site is up, and it feels good to see it live, even knowing it’s a work in progress.

It’s been a joy to work on this project, sometimes diligently, always with a goal of creating a way to give back.

Some of the posts on the site have migrated over from Grace and Life, and after some soul searching, I’ve decided to keep this blog going as well as the new one. This one is more personal, and the place for Riley and Jack photos, recipes, the Sheila side of life.

Story Revisioned is about my story from a different perspective; but hopefully, it will not only be about my story. The vision is to have others posting, sharing, commenting: to create a space that is inviting and nurturing.

Please stop by! I’d love to have visitors, now that the lights are on and the door is open. I’d be honored if you join my email list, and even more thrilled if you share your story and leave feedback.

Last, the Kindle edition of Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life is up. It will be free from May 26-30. Please download if you’d like, and if you read, I’d be grateful for a review.

See you on the playground!

~ Sheila

Choose Your Purpose

My book posted on Amazon today. Big. Happy. Smile! Here’s the link:

Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life

The paperback is the only version up at the moment; the Kindle edition will be up in a few days. I printed the book through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand service. It was a little slower than I expected, but overall it was a relatively simple process. Every step was digital, first uploading my manuscript and cover design, then downloading digital proofs and various elements of the book…cover, back cover and text, blurbs for Amazon’s page, interior proof.

I was able to speak with representatives for CreateSpace a few times during the process, and I had a project manager from the point of committing to print the book. (There was an initial phone conversation as well, when I had an opportunity to ask questions and clarify pricing.) Throughout the steps to publishing, CreateSpace offers an email or phone option for support and questions, and they were very prompt to reply or call when I contacted support. I particularly appreciated the phone option. I’m usually comfortable emailing or using chat to address my questions, but there were a few times it was helpful to actually speak to someone.

The whole process cost a few hundred dollars. Yes, this is a self-publishing venture, which means I didn’t go the route of finding a publisher and all that involves. I did purchase editing services, and the book was professionally designed. The digital files will be converted to Kindle format, and that’s a nice add-on to going this route. I uploaded and converted my earlier two books to Kindle myself, and in general it was also a simple step-by-step experience. However, there were a few spacing issues I couldn’t resolve, and I hope going this route will result in a more professional Kindle product.

My only concern tonight is the pricing for the paperback is higher than I listed. My set price is $12.99, and when I looked at the Amazon page earlier tonight the book was priced at $16.14. Now how did that happen? Looks like I’ll be calling support in the morning!

My next adventure is marketing…I’m sure I’m doing this backward, because I read that I should be creating an amazing launch for the book, which I haven’t done. This is a real-time experiment, learning on the job, seeing what happens. I’ll be launching the new site in a few days, and offering the book there as well. If nothing else, anyone out there planning to do their own book can watch and learn from my trial and error.

Have I mentioned one of my life roles is to be a cautionary tale?!

So this is both an announcement for the book, and a bit of a review of CreateSpace. I’ll follow up to share the experience as I progress…how the Kindle conversion goes, the marketing efforts, what I learn. Maybe this can be an informal lab for self-publishing…look over my shoulder as I learn by doing.

Hope you’ll come along!

~ Sheila

 

 

 

Revise your story

I’ve written about finding myself in a hole, here, feeling the darkness, and climbing out, step by step. Some of the progress was circumstantial: my situation changed, and with those changes, my outlook looked up.

But it wasn’t all that tidy. Long before the big changes occurred, I began stepping toward righting myself. Why? Because at the time, I didn’t know how, or if, life would hand me the turnaround I wanted, needed.

And if not? Then what?

I couldn’t stay where I was. I began the trip back to normal without knowing what life would look like. I just knew I couldn’t stay in the hole, in the dark.

These are the next things I did, after recognizing I had to begin the climb on my own. If you find yourself in a similar hole, maybe some of these steps will help. Nothing here is magic, or ground-breaking. But when I’m struggling, it helps to have a path laid in front of me. That’s all I’m offering here…just outlining steps so you don’t have to do it yourself. No right, no wrong, just suggestions.

  • Make a plan, whether big or small. To come out of the darkest time, I had to have a plan. I couldn’t be sure what I would do eventually, but I had to start working toward next. And that’s what I would suggest for anyone trying to see daylight. Whether you’re between jobs, relationships, coming out of depression, trying to adjust to a new place or time in life…make a plan.

But be easy on yourself. Recognize that when you’re in flux, a lot of what you’re working with may change. Will change.

When I find myself in disarray, I need to rebuild structure and order in my life. I like to set goals for myself, targets that are reachable, but nothing that demands action tomorrow. Time pressure isn’t helpful in a vulnerable state.

There are reasons for this. Setting goals that are a few weeks, or even months, in the distance, gives me something to work toward and plan for. But if you’re in a fragile place, you don’t need the pressure of immediacy. I’ve found this type of medium-range goal planning is comforting.

By putting my goals a few weeks out…or even a little longer, if that’s feasible…I give myself something positive to work toward, without stressing myself in the moment.

This type of planning allows time for other events/forces to unfold.

The last time I found myself in limbo, I did exactly this. I put some targets on a calendar and made a tentative plan, based on what I would do if…

If certain things worked out this way, then….

If things worked out that way, then….

By thinking through options and possibilities, I worked through scenarios that helped me plan.

  • Share your plans with a person or two you trust. Ask for feedback. Having someone think with you is helpful…helps you see possibilities you may be missing, and can be a reality check. This is especially important if you’re in unfamiliar life territory.
  • Write your goals. Make lists, keep a journal. Writing is good therapy, and putting plans down on paper or on screen will help you focus. It’s also useful to be able to look back, to see progress, or to remind yourself of thoughts or plans you lose sight of.
  • Mark any significant dates for the next year on your calendar, and use those as sign posts for progress, for interaction, for incentive. When you see a date on your calendar a couple of months out for meeting family, for attending a special event, for something you can be excited about, the calendar gives you hope. Don’t discount this as reason to get through the day, week, or month. Let your calendar be a daily reminder that life is happening all around you, and you have a part to play.
  • Decide what you want to change, and what you can change. Is it location? Job? Habits? Name the goals, then put realistic dates on your calendar…when will you achieve your goals? Or what stages will you mark as advancements? Or achievements?
  • Learn a new skill. Nothing boosts the ego and wakes up the mind like a challenge. This is a great way, and a focused way, to work toward life goals. Learning a new skill can help you step toward your goals. Join a class if possible. Leaning with a group is a good way to connect with kindred spirits, and can give you new sources of support.
  • I am sold on the power of doing something for someone less fortunate, or for a good cause. Nothing makes you feel better than contributing. Again, this will work only if you’re healthy enough in mind and body to get out and connect with others. Take this slow. Don’t overcommit your time, money, or self. If you have healing/growing/recovering to do, you need to protect yourself.
  • Find outlets for creativity, and for physical activity. You need to nurture your body and your spirit. Don’t neglect your need to be active, and to exercise your creativity. Whether you’re inspired to create, or driven to release your energy, you’ll benefit from movement and stimulus. Nothing is more deadly than sitting still and drowning in despair.
  • Find someone to be accountable to. You could make this a mutual thing, or just ask someone to provide this for you. Knowing that you’ve committed to sharing your progress will give you another incentive to make progress. Decide how often you’ll connect, and any other parameters you want to set. Be serious about accountability; it can be a wonderful aid to get you through difficult tasks.
  • If you can afford it, work with a life coach. Life coaches are not therapists. The function of a life coach is to help you find your voice and motivation, and to hold you accountable to the goals you set. In my opinion, you want someone who will hold a mirror to your life, and be a voice of encouragement. I would stay away from the drill sergeant type. You want someone who will be honest and firm with you, but you don’t need someone who will use guilt or other negative styles of communication.

I didn’t suffer with clinical depression, and I can’t address that condition. Clearly, individuals with mental health issues need more than a list of helpful suggestions to right themselves. 

But you don’t have to be clinically depressed to struggle, to feel lost, to feel stuck, and sad, and down. That’s the mindset I’m addressing.

Even if you seek help from a coach or counselor, you have to begin with yourself. Recognizing you have to do something different, then taking the first small steps to begin…that’s the hardest part. Finding your resolve, getting off the sofa or out of the bed, beginning

You can do it. Only you can do it.

I’m not a counselor, but I’ve been there, in the hole. I know what it’s like to sleep poorly, waking up with thoughts racing every hour or two, to dread going to work or getting out of the house because you feel like you have to put on “the face” of normalcy. I know finding the desire to do anything can seem like a mountain.

It is a mountain. But you can climb it. If you can’t find the heart to do it for yourself, find someone else who inspires you, or choose someone you want to inspire. Do it for your spouse, your kids, your legacy, if you can’t do it for yourself.

Sooner or later, you will be doing it for yourself. You will be inspired, and inspiring. You’ll have a story to share, a success to celebrate, and a renewed life.

No one can predict your outcome. No one else can write your story. Find your brave, even if it scares you. Especially if it scares you. Open up to those you trust. Give others opportunity to help, to support and encourage you.

Hear my voice, if you can. That’s one of my goals…I want my voice to be an encouragement. Not because I have it all figured out, but because I know how hard this is. Eventually, you’ll know you can do it, because others have done it. You can be strong, you’ll find your way. And in turn, you will be a voice of encouragement.

Each of us has a place, each story has value. If your story has derailed, dig deep. Begin your revision. This is my time, and this is your time. ~ Sheila

Other people are going to find healing in your wounds. Your greatest life messages and your most effective ministry will come out of your deepest hurts. ~ Rick Warren

 

 

 

 

Cautionary Tale

Driving through the mountain west, sun shining on sparkling snow, white contrasting with the grays and reds of mountain rock, I’m captivated.

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I’m enchanted by beauty and nature, the privilege of seeing this land that’s so scarcely populated. The footprint of humanity is small here.

This is bliss, this cold December day a time of joy and sweetness.

A year ago I could not have imagined this day, full of light and companionship, easy silences punctuating quiet talk during the drive.

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I thought today: if I could have known, a year ago, this day was coming, would it have made a difference? It would have made it easier to work though a hard time of life.

But maybe working through the hard time, with no certainty of good to come, made today possible?

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I don’t know, can’t know, exactly what forces sculpted the days and weeks between last year and this. I know a little of the changes that occurred, that made a difference. But I don’t know all.

This is what I do know.

The hard times in life have purpose. Whatever the hardship is, working through it, surviving it, learning from it, gives rich color and depth to time that follows.

I haven’t experienced every sorrow life has to offer, thank God. But I’ve been through some of the fires. The fires taught me no life is immune or safe. Something touches each of us, either directly, or through someone we love.

The hard times taught me patience and perseverance. I learned to let time do some of the work for me.

I learned to face hard truths with honesty.

I learned to forgive myself and others for mistakes.

I learned to value the pain of others because of my pain. When you really understand the hurts and losses of life, your ability to empathize grows exponentially.

Last year was a year of loss, change, upheaval, conflict, depression, uncertainty.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve passed through such a season. Life has handed me other losses, taken my joy for a time.

And that is life. No one is immune.

I’m reminded, afresh, that we all weather seasons, and change.

Each time I’ve experienced a time of darkness, I’ve learned from it. It’s slow at first…whatever knocks you flat, takes you out, leaves you reeling…those forces don’t retreat easily.

Loss, death, illness, tragedy, conflict, displacement…there’s a continuum of pain, and ability to recover.

I couldn’t change the fact of my father’s death. I had to reach acceptance.

I was able to reclaim my marriage. I had to allow time for growth, and perspective, for healing.

This is my path, steps to return to joy.

  • Remember to breathe. It’s ok to grieve and to shut down for a time. But you must breathe, you must do a minimum to maintain your physical self, with rest, with food, with action.
  • As soon as you can, feed yourself hope. Since the beginning of people, hearts have broken, loss has devoured. You will likely recover, overcome whatever is hurting you. There are lives all around that testify to the power of the human spirit to survive, conquer, thrive. If others can do it, you can too. Tell yourself that. Say it even when you don’t believe it. Say it until you can believe it.
  • On days that you can’t do anything positive for yourself, at least do no harm. Don’t make big decisions, don’t rush into anything, don’t burn bridges today that you may need to cross next week.
  • Look for the unexpected. Each time I’ve experienced a trough of life, there’ve been good things come to me, unexpected lights to give me a path back to life. The unexpected may be a circumstance, an insight, a new friend…anything. But you have to be open enough to receive. Don’t block help or hope.
  • Forgive: yourself, others, mistakes, misunderstandings…get the negatives out. Holding it inside only hurts you. You don’t have to share with anyone else unless you choose. But even talking out loud, ranting in private, will give you release, and let you find the words you need to say. It gets easier with practice. If you can’t say the words, write them. Just get them out one way or another.
  • Be kind to yourself. Whatever you can do to soften and soothe and heal, do that. But, don’t take a positive and turn it to a negative…don’t comfort yourself with so much “comfort” food that you gain weight, or run up debt trying to buy your way to happiness. Keep your kindnesses positive.
  • Give yourself and the situation time. Lots of time, if you can. Time can’t heal everything. It can’t replace every loss, and it isn’t the cure for all illness. But it can do a lot, if you let it. Practice patience, with yourself, the circumstances, with others.
  • Make a promise to yourself. Promise you’ll learn from this, that you’ll be stronger and better for having this experience. Make sure you keep it.
  • Use your story. Your story will be a powerful way to connect with others going through a similar experience. And believe me, whatever you’re facing, someone else is facing too. You don’t have to share everything to share something. You’ll find solace and give it too, by opening up, when the time is right. Promise yourself that you’ll do what you can to add light, not dark, because you went through hardship.
  • Find something to be grateful for. Even the smallest thing you can name counts. Keep adding to your list. Find a beautiful image, a book, a song, a view, a friend, a pet, to focus on.
  • Don’t grow bitter. Bitterness poisons life, and nothing is worth that. If you’re mourning the loss of a loved one, honor them by returning to life. If you’re mourning something else in your life, honor yourself by refusing to give up. Know that one way or other, soon or later, you’ll sing again, be joyful again.
  • Seek professional help if you can’t find your way. It’s out there, and it will be worth it. Sometimes the best thing we do for ourselves is admit we can’t do it alone. That can be an act of bravery, and your first step away from the dark.

I had professional help this year, and it changed everything. You don’t have to commit to long term counseling or therapy to reap great reward. Sometimes you just need a jump start. Or if you need ongoing help, the sooner you begin, the better.

I’m thankful for the lessons learned and road traveled. And I look for ways to share, to give back. I’ve promised myself that good will come of my journey, and I mean to see that promise come true. It wasn’t my goal in life to be a cautionary tale, but it seems to be my fate.

Well, so be it. We give as we can, and from what we have. If I can help anyone by encouraging with my words, I’m content.

Earth in the soul

I’m drinking my coffee, looking out at morning sun over vineyard rows, the symmetry and orderliness calling to my soul.

What is there about farming that sings to me? I don’t have any real ambition to work the land, to tend crops or fret about the impact of weather on harvest. But there is something there.

I think it’s the heritage of my grandparents, farmers all, at one point or other in their lives: tied to the soil, to the rhythm of seasons and the cycle of labor, prepare, plant, nurture, harvest, rest.

My grandmothers were gardeners. They were primarily gardeners of vegetables, real food. One of them also raised chickens, and the other was an avid flower gardener, in addition to the plants she grew for food.

They worked hard. As a kid growing up, I had the luxury of helping on the fringe, shelling peas or some other child-friendly task. I wasn’t out doing the real manual labor.

I got to enjoy the bounty. My grandmothers’ tomatoes and corn, peas and butter beans, strawberries and cucumbers were all features of their summer tables, in fresh-from-the-field dishes. Canned and frozen versions appeared in the fall and winter months. Pickles, jams, and all things good lined their shelves and filled their freezers.

In my childhood home, gardening wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity.

I wish I could say I learned this skill from these women, but I didn’t. At the time, I was too young, and later, too busy, to value the knowledge and the work of putting food on the table the old-fashioned way. I thought, in some place in my younger-self brain, that growing your own food wasn’t glamorous. It was too lowly. It wasn’t where I would put my efforts. Give me a nice clean grocery store, vegetables and fruit clean and neatly arranged in artistic rows.

No sweat and dirt for me, thank you!

Now I look out over these rows and I’m wistful. I wish, sometimes, I could be still long enough to see a season through from the planting to the harvesting. I wish I could know the satisfaction of raising my own food. I look back at the women of my youth and I appreciate them in a different way. They were hard workers, and they were so knowledgeable. How did I miss that? How could I think that because they weren’t well educated in a formal sense that I couldn’t learn from them?

I don’t know that I ever really thought that. But I demonstrated it. I didn’t try to learn what they knew. I took it for granted, and shelved what I saw into the category of “nothing I’ll ever need to know.”

I wish I could go back and sit with them, appreciate them from an adult point of view. I wish I could tell them how proud I am of them, how inspired I feel by them. Knowing, as I know now, more about their lives, how hard they worked, how selflessly they gave.

I look out over the rows and I feel it, the call to my blood. Is it some sort of genetic memory? I don’t even know if such a thing exists, or if I believe in that. But something pulls. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for connection to the land that I used to have, through them.

Maybe it’s knowing I missed chances, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

My grandmothers knew I loved them. I said that, many times. But I don’t know if they knew I respected them. I’m not sure I did, as my younger self. I didn’t think of them in that way. But now…now, I wish I could tell them that.

I respect them for the love they showed, for their work, for who they were in their time of life. Their lives were so different from mine. But finally, looking out over the vineyard, I know that’s not important. IMG_0029

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What is important is that they lived their purpose, and planted a heritage.

And I thought they were just planting vegetables…