Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

Happy New Year 2015!

January 1, and we’re off! Turning the page, starting a new round of resolutions, finding hope all over again. That’s the plan, isn’t it? A new year to motivate and sort out all the things that didn’t go as planned in 2014. Didn’t go right, didn’t go well, didn’t go at all.

Hope is my one word for 2015.

Hope is broad and generic…it covers anything and everything.

Hope is specific…detailed as my smallest dream, my simplest goal.

Hope is the secret ingredient in life that brings a smile to my face, even when reality isn’t yet the stuff of my dreams.

Hope tells me: I can change the future by how I approach today.

Hope reminds me: You never know how life will work itself out. Expect the unexpected.

Hope reassures me: There are always forces at work in life that I don’t see and can’t control, forces that result in good things that I couldn’t have forecast. Control doesn’t equal a good outcome, and lack of control doesn’t equal a bad outcome.

Hope sings its song to me, a song that only I can hear. I can hear it in the dark, and in times of storm.

I can see hope at work when nothing is visible to anyone else.

I can feel hope carrying me when I need the boost of encouragement.

Hope is as big as life, as strong as my challenges, as bright as the stars, as personal as my heart’s desires, and my word for 2015.

May each of you find your word for the coming year, and may you find the inspiration to carry you all the way to next December 31. Here’s hope for your year, your success, and the meaning that comes from life well lived!  ~ Sheila

Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

Hard days

It’s December 4th and I’ve not been able to raise any Christmas spirit to welcome the month. Too much disruption of life, too many unanswered questions fill my thoughts.

These are hard days.

I’ve had some of these in the past, but mostly I’ve lived a life of joy and simplicity, and I’ve been grateful for what I’ve had.

But I’m learning…still, or again, I’m never sure which it is…I’m learning that hard days have a way of making life worthwhile when you let them do their work.

The hard days make you stop, help you know what is important and what is irrelevant.

I just want to go shopping for presents under the tree, stop for a coffee and enjoy the Christmas lights, sing the old favorites, and snap photos of everyone. I want that, but that isn’t the rhythm for this year.

This is a year of digging deep. I ask myself every morning: what good thing will happen today? What’s already happened that I didn’t notice because I was too busy feeling anxious?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the anxieties of life took the month off, and just let us have the holidays in peace?

But there’s something important happening, even when it doesn’t feel fun, doesn’t feel right.

I am growing, and changing, not because I’m focused on myself, but because the time is right, the student is ready, and the teacher has appeared. The teacher is experience, and the knowledge that comes from hard days.

Something tells me I needed to get to this place…a place without the noise of decorating a house or getting caught up in the usual round of holiday traditions…I needed to stand without my props around me. I need to face my challenges, and without the distractions, it’s easier to do that.

Meditation teaches me to be still, to find balance, to accept. Experience teaches me that life will sort itself, right itself, and that there will be richness I can’t begin to imagine that will come from my uncertainty.

Uncertainty is where the answers of tomorrow are forged. When you’re in the in between, the options are all before you. You can’t see the way things will work out, but you know they will.

Like an adventurer, I try to tell myself…I’m like an adventurer, wondering what amazing thing is around the corner.

I’m learning that uncertainty can be a fuel to help me look for possibilities. If I knew the answers, I wouldn’t be searching. And if I didn’t search, I would accept life just as it’s been…no opportunity for the new, the exciting, the beautiful that will come out of the questions.

If this seems like a philosophy to comfort myself…it is that. But I’ve seen it work in the past, so I know that it will work in the future.

This is a time to trust: life will work itself out. I have a role to play in that, but for now, my role is to be open, to be a student of the process, to be expectant, and to keep faith.

Aahh, I feel better already. I feed myself the words of hope, the words of expectation, and those little seeds flower as soon as they touch.

Yes, it will be a quiet season this year…family and a few traditions. But this is not a year for all my usual festivities. It will be a season of quiet, and a season of gracious expectation. And that is a good place to find myself.

“Come out of your miseries!”

“Come out of your miseries!” This is the calling of the meditation retreat I attended.

Did it work? Did it help? Yes. I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

First, let me say that it was an amazing experience. To keep silence for nine days, and sit still for many hours of each day in a group effort was unique, of course. The things I thought I would struggle with were easy, and the things that I expected to be easy were surprisingly difficult.

The retreat was held in a rural camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a short distance from Yosemite Park. Imagine a kid’s summer camp, only one with no swimming, no arts and crafts, no team competitions. The men and women attending the event were housed separately, ate separately, and only saw each other at group sittings, three times a day, and during the evening program. The silence began on the first evening and lasted until mid-way through the ninth day. Then the silence was lifted so we could discuss joint clean up efforts and end-of-event logistics.

The silence was easy. The sitting was hard.

When I thought about group silence, I thought about it in the context of how it is to be silent in normal life. When you’re silent in a crowd, you either feel anti-social, or a sense of loneliness. But in this setting, because we had all agreed to be silent and to maintain that at all times…no chatting except to ask questions, very softly, of the staff…it didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, on the ninth day when we could speak and the atmosphere was full of voices, I missed the quiet. It felt like something precious had been lost.

The schedule was rigorous, up at 4:00 am and meditating by 4:30. Breakfast break at 6:30, with the first group sitting from 8:00 to 9:00. There were additional meditation hours when you could choose to meditate in your room or in the hall, and a lunch break, then a rest time between noon and 1:00.

At 1:00 there was another period of private meditation, followed by another group sitting from 2:30 to 3:30. We had a simple tea at 5:00, just fruit and hot tea or beverage of choice (no carbonation though). The evening sitting began at 6:00, followed by an evening “discourse” on the techniques and the philosophy behind them. There was another short sitting after the discourse, and then lights out by 9:30.

I can’t do justice to the whole event in a blog post, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to write a book about it, sharing the details of the days and some of my personal struggles that prompted me to attend.

It was powerful. I can’t claim to have perfected the meditation technique, and I’ll also be honest to say that I think the silence and being disconnected from the electronic world (another thing I thought would be hard, but was surprisingly easy) were as important as the actual meditation for me.

The sitting was hard. We sat in rows, eight across and eight deep, everyone sitting on large foam cushions, piled with more cushions, bean bags, some using special little wooden stools, or even stadium chairs to give better back support. It was still hard. For the group sittings we were asked to maintain our positions without movement if at all possible: these were called “Sittings of Strong Determination.” The first few minutes of sitting still were not difficult, but it’s amazing how you begin to stiffen even in a short period of time, or how you begin to feel an itch or tickle or some other distraction of sensation.

The whole point was that we were learning to observe our respiration and physical sensations and to recognize: this too shall pass. The idea is that you retrain your mind to not react to the sensations you feel…you keep a calm and balanced mind as you sit and ignore the impulse to move or scratch a tickle. I sneezed twice and had to wipe my nose…couldn’t help those movements.

We used no mantras, no visualization…just silence and our bodies. As the hours of group sittings went by, you could hear soft creaking noises as people tried to shift ever so slightly to relieve their positions, without a real motion of movement. You would hear coughs or throat clearings, and occasionally someone would get up and leave…you could hear footsteps and then the door to the entry area open and close.

But for the most part we sat. We sat and sat and sat.

And between sittings, (sittings themselves were not supposed to be a time to think about your miseries, or your life issues, or the big questions, just focus on your breathing and sensations). Between sittings and the times of private meditation, I did think.

The process is supposed to help you master your mind and purify your mind. The whole program is based on a universal code of morality and goodwill and compassion toward everyone. If it sounds hokey, it wasn’t. If it sounds simple, it certainly wasn’t.

But neither was it difficult.

It was a rich experience of clarity and creativity, and I found that surprising, though I’m not sure why. I think it is that I had no idea silence and sitting could be so powerful.

Am I glad I participated? Yes! I don’t know if I would do that same event again, but it has made me curious about other events of this nature. I learned that there are many different styles of meditation, so I assume there are other resources for learning and experiencing.

One of the things I came away with was the realization that although I regularly read and have a quiet time of reflection, I have never had a set time or a disciplined approach to my quiet time. Meditation is not something you do between reading emails or getting a second cup of coffee. This made me want to be more intentional and deliberate about my quiet time, choosing a time of day to sit and focus, and creating a goal of being disciplined about keeping that routine.

I’ll have more to say I’m sure…after nine days of silence, I feel words pouring out of me! But for now, that’s the quick version. I need to have some time to sort out some of what I learned, some of what I thought, and some of what I hope to gain.

And hey…even though I didn’t work out once during that time, missing my cream in my daily coffee and eating only fruit at night was a pretty good diet! Though the scheduling was pure coincidence, I think I’m in pretty good shape to head into Thanksgiving. Well, that’s one immediate benefit, to say nothing of the ones to come as I make sense of the whole experience.

More to come!

~ Sheila

Wisdom in Silence

I’m attending a meditation retreat for the next 10 days, beginning this afternoon, and it’s likely to stretch me in unknown ways.

Nine of the 10 days will be spent in silent meditation. As I understand it, there is some instruction on technique…focus on breathing and other aspects of the art of meditation to help participants fully engage. You can also ask questions of staff, but there’s no chit-chat, no between sessions getting to know the group, no morning coffee warm-up and sharing of life stories.

The daily routine begins with a 4:00 am wake up call, and the first session starts at 4:30. The day is divided into group and individual meetings, with lights out at 9:30.The 10th day there is a return to speaking to prepare participants to ease back into their normal lives.

The setting is a rural northern California community, and as best I can tell from the website information, I assume this is a type of camp environment, so I’m expecting very basic accommodations. You bring your own bedding, leave behind your cell phone and other technology, no books or journals, and come prepared to sit and think.

I’ve been doing some reading on the subject, but to be honest, I’m not sure I can articulate the differences between meditation, contemplation, and deep thought. Although I believe they are closely related, meditation also incorporates a focus on physical processes like breathing, over a prolonged period, to go to a deep internal state, shutting out the surroundings of place and other people.

I’m alternately curious and eager, nervous and intimidated. I’ll be honest to say that though I see myself more on the introvert side of the aisle, I enjoy talking one-on-one or in small groups. I’m not shy, particularly. I can be quiet and self-contained in a large group, but I don’t know how it will be to keep silent for nine days. I hope I can do it…I certainly plan to follow the guidelines that are laid out for the retreat, and that are clearly spelled out…no surprises, they do a very good job of listing expectations. The question is: will I be surprised at how easy it is, or how difficult?

Closely connected, giving up my phone and internet access is challenging as well. This one is less about an absolute need to be online, and more about feeling cut off from family. There is a phone number for emergency contact, and I’ve shared that. But still…

One small irony, the food is vegetarian and styled as “simple.” Not sure what that will mean, but the contrast between 10 days of eating in this style, back to back with the week of Thanksgiving and all the traditional festive dishes, will be interesting, I’m sure. I’m not much of a meat eater, so I don’t anticipate the food will be the hard part.

In spite of my nervousness about all this, after several months of topsy-turvy living, major upheaval, and to-do lists that seem never-ending, I’m looking forward to a time of stillness, quiet, and reflection.

And maybe as I experience the art of meditation in person, as opposed to reading about it, I’ll be able to answer the questions more clearly…what is the difference between this art and other types of deep thought?

I’ll share what I’ve learned when I’m back, if indeed I can find the words. Nine days of silence may be an experience that defies expression, at least in the usual ways. I hope to gain some wisdom, insight, and come out on the other side with clarity and balance.

Until then! ~ Sheila

My truth

Truth

Are you a truth-teller? A truth-seeker? I like to think I am. But while there are “real” truths…facts like 2 + 2 = 4, and forces like gravity, that will not be denied, at work in every moment…so much of what we believe to be true is shaded by perception, or intention, or seeing a chain of events unfold from beginning to end.

Is truth in the eye of the beholder? To a certain degree, yes. Though I don’t believe in a relative morality, things are not always what they seem at first glance. Context and understanding are critical factors in determining truth.

I’ve known some people who use truth as a weapon, a kind of battering ram to be fearlessly used and proudly claimed. Honesty and truth are closely interwoven. And sometimes truth hurts. But I’ll admit I’m always on guard when I sense this is happening. Someone who uses truth as a way to plow through life and over people needs to ask some questions about motive.

And that begs the question: who determines truth? All of us do, at least so far as we are able. Isn’t that what just happened this week in the election? Voters evaluated candidates, the economy, national security, healthcare, etc., etc., etc., and judged the truth of the candidates’ claims for themselves.

There’s another way we determine our truth, and that is by the words we feed ourselves.

Oh, I don’t mean that we change objective truths…telling myself I live in Florida when I live in Alaska is not going to take me very far. I’m not going to wake up in Disney World tomorrow.

But our version of truth in matters of the heart, in opinion, in assumptions about others, their motives, their intentions, their efforts…our version of the truth is dependent on our specific view of life, and how we interpret it.

This is the “glass half full” meme, or the optimist/pessimist struggle.

Only it’s bigger than that.

Words and thoughts are so powerful. They can literally change the world. They change the way people view themselves, each other, family…words are critical to truth.

I read words that build me up, inspire me, help me reach to become, and I do become. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can work the other way too.

And if it works for me, or against me, when the words are my own, the impact is even stronger when it comes to the things I allow myself to believe about others.

Why?

Because I’m the only person in the world that I can get into. I know my motivations, my intentions. I know when I make a mistake that I tried my best. That allows me to see my truth…I did the best I could. My heart was in the right place.

It’s not always so easy to see that truth from the outside. I don’t want to feel suspicious, or doubtful, or assume the worst about someone just because I can’t know the whole truth about them. Because when I do that, I create my version of their truth. Whether it is really “true” or not.

So why do we do it? Why do we let our assumptions get the better of us? Why do we let them color our views?

Drama is more entertaining than unvarnished reality. Sometimes prettier too.

I’m trying to be an honest person, trying to pay attention to those moments when I rush the story, mistake perception for reality.

It’s not easy, because I get in my own way. It’s a conscious battle, every day, to let truth come out without my assistance. It’s really tough.

Truth is universal. But it’s also personal…at least the version we tell ourselves. Finding the real thing…now that’s priceless.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ Anonymous

 

 

Spirit of gratitude

“Gratitude precedes the miracle.”

The first time I read that I thought the words implied some sort of magic formula: if you live a life of gratitude, more good things will come your way. And while I agree with that interpretation on one level…living with a spirit of gratitude does open my heart to more good things, to seeing more good in life…there’s another, deeper meaning.

Living with gratitude precedes the miracle that occurs within me. Maybe “miracle” is too strong a word, on some days. On others, it’s the perfect term to describe what happens to a spirit filled with thankfulness.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with gratitude for whatever is happening in your life, you literally can’t feel anger?

There are things that deserve anger…injustices and wrongs that need to be addressed. And I’m not addressing those here.

I’m talking about life on a very personal level, and I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t experienced tragedy to the degree that some people live with. But gratitude doesn’t erase the negatives from my life. Instead it helps me see beyond those, to focus on what I want to emphasize.

No one is unscarred, unscathed by the hurts of living, growing, suffering, dying, and waking up each day to start all over again.

I’ve loved and lost. I find the best way to acknowledge those I’ve lost is to remember the best of them, all the good. I celebrate that.

I’ve been amazed and I’ve been disappointed. I’ve lost some battles and I’ve had success.

I’ve learned when I have setbacks, low points, it helps to reframe. And that brings me back to gratitude. What can I pull out of each situation that feeds a spirit of thankfulness?

Let me tell you, it’s not always easy. I’m the optimistic sort, and more likely to be up than down. But even so, some days are hard. Some days grace and gratitude are not my default settings. That just means I’m human, normal, susceptible to the blows of life. Who isn’t?

I’ll admit: I wonder if I could rise to this challenge if I faced the burdens some people face? I hope I could. And though the externals of my life look good, it is far from perfect, far from easy.

Sometimes I have to stomp around and talk out loud, pace and rant a bit before I can right myself. That’s healthy and even necessary. You have to acknowledge the hole you’re in before you can begin to climb out. When you’re wounded, you have to stop the bleeding before you can begin to heal.

But after…after…I can reflect, and look for the rays of light.

And when I can see, even on the most basic level, that I’m blessed, I’m fortunate, how can I be anything but thankful?

And thankfulness brings me to joy.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with joy for the blessings in your life, you literally can’t feel fear?

Joy quiets the fear that comes from the question. “What if…?” It’s so easy to find the negatives, when I’m afraid of the outcome.

And joy leads me outside myself, inspires me to reach out, be generous, look for ways to share with others.

At the deepest level, a spirit of gratitude doesn’t lead me to compare myself with others and feel smug when my situation seems better. A spirit of gratitude leads me to help in a literal way, to have a gracious and humble attitude toward those who struggle with greater challenges than any I face.

It’s a full circle miracle. When life gets me down, I’m moody, easily hurt, feel sorry for myself.

But then, gratitude creeps in, soothes my heart, eases my hurt, shines a light on my complaints. It’s a life cycle that I see on a regular basis.

The spirit of gratitude…it really does precede the miracle. And that has made all the difference.

“If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and all perfection,
he must tell you to
make a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything
that happens to you.

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it,
you turn it into a blessing.

If you could work miracles,
therefore, you could not do more for yourself
than by this thankful spirit.

It heals and turns all that it touches into happiness.”

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Bare necessities

I’m wandering around in the little apartment that is a temporary home, looking for things I know I brought over, wondering how anything could be lost in this small space.

There’s nothing like a move to put me in perpetual hide and seek mode. Why is it I can see exactly where the thing I want was stored in the house? And I have no idea where it landed when I unpacked boxes two weeks ago. But I knew to expect this…I’ve been through all the games before. My favorite is the one when I begin to question…could I have left something behind? Or did a box really get lost between the last address and the new one? Even though I did the last walk through the house and know there was nothing there, not one thing…still, inevitably, I’ll wonder.

You know the feeling when you’ve looked everywhere twice, and you know you put it in…some item that wasn’t even that important, until it’s nowhere to be found. And now it’s an obsession. Must.find.IT!

I once lost some little collectibles for about a decade, didn’t find them for two moves. They had been so carefully wrapped and stored in a little cedar chest that they lived, quite safe, but totally lost to me, until I was doing a sort for a third move. Well that was a mystery solved! I had long ago thought they fell off the moving truck and given up looking for them.

Another thing I find happens with a move…I almost immediately begin to forget what I own. Not the big stuff…I can certainly remember the big items. And some of the little things…sentimental stuff, or sometimes just random odds and ends. One good thing about storing most of the things from the house…it will feel like Christmas when I open the boxes.

I’m always surprised when it comes to unpacking, how out of sight is quickly out of mind. In some ways I feel good…maybe I’m not too attached to the stuff if I don’t carry a mental imprint around, waiting till I see the real things again. On the other hand…maybe I’m not as attentive as I like to think…if I could forget about half of what I own so easily, maybe I’m not paying enough attention to the details of life?

Well, that hardly seems right. In fact, sometimes I feel consumed by detail. That’s the effect of a move…I feel reduced to lists and to-dos, to the tedious chores of the day-to-day.

I’m ready to live simply for a while. Good thing, because it will be a while before I unpack the bulk of the boxes, make a new nest.

For now, I’m a minimalist, and I think I’m enjoying it.

This apartment is furnished with a hodge-podge of furniture…bits and pieces that are functional and practical, but not gathered into a cohesive look or style. The kitchen is basic too. With a variety of folks coming through to work at the clinic, and this apartment being one of the landing spots for the temporary help, the kitchen is outfitted to work camp standards but little more. There’s a crock pot, a toaster, a basic cook top and oven, a basic fridge and microwave. No dishwasher. The cookware is a combination of left-behinds and inexpensive non-stick pieces. The times I’ve been in this apartment in the past have been for a few days or a weekend here and there. No ongoing need to cook or make the kitchen functional beyond a few meals.

But since I may be here for months, I needed to do a little better than that. So I brought a few things.

I chose some favorite sheets and a quilt for the bed, and my own pillows. Nothing sleeps like good linens that are just the right weight. A few other homey touches made the list…scented candles for the coffee table, some favorite books, my Rowenta iron, some glasses and plates.

I brought a few of my cast iron pans to see me through.

The cast iron pieces, and my Kitchen Aid mixer…yes, I hauled it over, and it will drive out with me eventually. I brought favorite utensils, a couple of good knives, a sharpener, my coffee maker, a small blender. I brought my herbs and spices…well, what good would they do me to in storage? NO food items can go to storage.

I must admit, I likely won’t need a lot of them. But I figured I could leave those behind for someone else to use. (This is an apartment that benefits from past users’ leftovers, and I’ve been fortunate to find a just-opened bottle of olive oil or other pantry item I freely used because I didn’t have my own jar of whatever…a convenience of sharing a community space. The rules? If it’s yours, put your name on it. If you’re not coming back, or you don’t mind sharing, just leave it in a common space.)

Moving creates these crazy conversations in my head…keep or get rid of, what to do, what to do, what to do?!

So now I have a ton of spices on the shelf here, just in case I’m inspired to whip up anything exotic, and this week I had to buy a hook to hang on the bathroom door…one of the things that I can’t find, even though we had several at the house, and I thought they were in one of the boxes I hauled over.

Silly, really, but when I’m feeling a bit displaced, it’s the little things that begin to irritate…like not having an easy place in the bathroom to hang a robe, or drape a towel.

I hung my plastic hook on the door last night and put my morning robe on it, and felt a little better. It was a familiar sight, and that feels good. However small, a sight of home is still a sight of home.

In the past when we’ve stayed here, I’d fall back on a combination of soup and sandwich meals, simple warm-up dishes, even stocked up on some of the more upscale frozen pizzas. But now I’m doing my style of cooking, making real food that satisfies more than the quick and easy stuff of call weekends.

That’s not to say I’m whipping up gourmet fare. No, this kitchen isn’t inspiring heights of creativity. But a few familiar dishes, along with the other little touches that add comfort, and I find myself relaxing, de-stressing, catching my breath.

I find myself feeling grateful for an easy place to transition, never mind that the look won’t be featured on Pinterest.

It’s not a forever home. But even a temporary spot can be a shelter from the storm, and in the mornings, drinking hot coffee and wrapped in a cozy robe, I know it will do for the in-between time.

And maybe, before I’m done here, I’ll find what I’m looking for.