I am learning

I am learning to accept the feeling of unease that frequently settles in the pit of my stomach. I am learning to live with uncertainty, with fears, with doubt. I am learning this because in the last few years I’ve experienced:

~ living far, far from family

~ my son’s deployment to Iraq

~ my daughter’s miscarriage of her first pregnancy

~ my father’s battle, and loss, to cancer

~ the death of my grandmother

~ family torn by divorce

~ stress, stress, more stress

~ distress in my marriage

~ uncertainty about work and income

~ a house for sell that didn’t sell

~ the struggles of my adult children with jobs and life decisions

and life continues. This is my list since 2006. I’ve counted other losses and difficulties before. These are the major markers since we moved to Alaska.

And what do I say? What do I do? What can I do? I pray. I feed myself the sustaining, nurturing words of wisdom that encourage me when I need the spark of hope. I believe in belief. I believe that above all, there is goodness in the world, there is joy in the morning, there is comfort for the downcast. I count the ways I’m fortunate, and the joys that fill my life even when I’m anxious.

I tell myself that life works out. It will be all right, whatever “it” may be. Have faith. But sometimes, I falter a bit. What if it doesn’t work out? I see others whose stories don’t end well, whose lives have not worked out according to plan. What if I, or those I love, have the same experience? What if?

I face the fear, feel the physical sensation in my stomach. We’re old friends now, this sensation and me. I recognize it for what it is. It feels good to be stronger than this feeling. This isn’t a sign of bravery. It is a victory of strength, strength I didn’t know I had, strength I am growing day by day. It comes from recognition. I can only do so much, I can only do what I can do. I, who avoid conflict, am learning to confront.

Back to first principles. Do your best. Do your part. Don’t give up. Appreciate what you have. Share when you can. Believe.

Last weekend I found a site that expresses this eloquently. If you are looking for encouragement and a call to be thankful, grateful, joyful, this may speak to you.

A Holy Experience

I am learning to rest, to have peace, to keep my joy…I didn’t have to acquire it, I came here with joy ingrained in my being. But I’ve struggled to hold it, through some of life’s question marks. And even as I write this, I know that I’ll have to do this again tomorrow, and the next day, and next.

Saturday night, hearing the tsunami warning sirens, racing to throw a few things in the car before evacuating, some of these thoughts were flashing through my mind. I thought of family, plans, dreams, impacted by unseen force of earthquake. How do you plan for earthquake? For tsunami? The answer is, you really don’t. You can do so little. But you do what you can. You evacuate when you’re told to. You follow instructions. You hope, you pray. You thank God for the people, the good things, filling your life. And when the rush of the moment is over and you realize there’s no life threatening emergency after all, you promise yourself you’ll remember that flash of insight. I have so much.

I am blessed. I am grateful. And I am learning.


This is a problem money can solve

Tonight we came home from work, and I discovered an unpleasant surprise: the load of laundry I had left going this morning had been washed with a tube of lipstick, and several things were ruined…or at best will only be salvaged with a lot of effort on my part. I think there are a few things that will be total losses. Since we’re in an apartment (for this work stint) that is somewhat sparsely supplied, there were no stain treatments with the laundry supplies. I drove back to the small grocery to see what options were available. I bought four different products, hoping that something would help.

After an hour of rubbing, scrubbing, soaking and working, I had made some progress. Enough to let the things soak while we ate dinner. While we were eating, we talked about our day, Rob in the back of the clinic seeing patients, me in the front, dealing with forms, schedules…the admin side. As I’ve said, I don’t do blood.

The other staff members are great; some of them have worked here a long time. They know everyone, and everyone’s story. I hear bits and pieces, put a few names and faces together. The last time we were here, I got a little taste of clinic life, the up close and personal view you get of patients when you sit at the front desk. But when I was here before, I was primarily training staff. I had limited exposure to the patients coming and going. Not so this trip. I’m working at the front desk, filling in until the new hire starts. It was a convenient opportunity. Rob was already scheduled to work, and it was nice that I could come along, and be paid to be here.

The view is different from the front. For the past five years, I’ve worked in healthcare administrative offices, hospital settings that put me in the healthcare arena every day. But in my role, I’ve primarily been involved with the business of healthcare. I’ve had almost no patient connection. The past few months, working with document management, and now sitting in the front office seat, I am seeing the patient population for the first time.

Of course I’ve known they were out there, real people with real illnesses. I’ve witnessed the healthcare system in a limited way for myself and my family. But we’ve been fortunate, and healthy, by and large.

Now I’m seeing, from a perspective I haven’t had before. Patients come in for everything from colds to cancer, broken bones to pregnancy. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes. This is a primary care clinic. Some patients’ stories are poignant reminders that life is fragile. Some are working the system…what can they get for pain? What diagnosis will get them a trip to a specialist in Seattle, conveniently paid by Medicaid? It is unbelievable, the parade that passes on a daily basis.

There are happy patients, women in for prenatal visits, or young parents with little ones for routine checks. There are older folks who come to be monitored for some condition, but who are generally well.

And there are the others…the ones with serious issues that usually can’t be fixed, or cured, or healed. They have too many complications, too many barriers, and many people are their own worst enemies. I often see references to behaviors that are creating the reasons patients come to be seen. But regardless of cause, self-inflicted or just an act of nature, it is a sad thing to look at people who are broken.

This afternoon I saw a man who is obese, can only walk with a walker, who looked hopeless, almost lifeless. He has a heart condition, but I don’t know what brought him in today. Regardless, he’s in bad shape. Then I saw his wife, who had come to pick him up. She is a cancer patient who had part of her jaw removed. It is unsettling to look at her. I found myself looking away, uncomfortable to see someone who has been literally defaced by her disease.

I sat tonight, eating dinner, frustrated at my own innatention to detail that allowed me to wash a tube of lipstick with the laundry. If I had only checked my pockets! And of course, several things I had recently bought were in that load.

But as we ate and talked, perspective grew. My thoughts cleared, and I realized, in the words of a friend, “this is a problem money can solve.” Worst case, I spend a little money to replace what I can’t salvage. The truth is, I’m as irritated at myself for causing the mishap as I am over the ruined clothes. I get impatient when I do foolish things.

Well, there are enough bumps in life to keep me appreciative of days that run smoothly. But no ruined laundry, fender bender, burned dinner…name your pet peeve…can compete with the sadness of serious illness, life-threatning disease, chronic pain. And so far, I’m blessed to be free of any of those conditions. So with that perspective, a little ruined laundry doesn’t seem too bad. Hey, it’s all replaceable or fixable, and non-essential. I mean no disrespect toward the value of money…I know money, or the lack of it, creates hardship too. But that’s another post. And still, in the big picture, things are just things.

I wish I could say I won’t need to be reminded of this again. But that isn’t true. I’ll be frustrated at some other slice of life in a few days, or a week or a month from now. And I’ll have to remind myself what’s important. Who’s important. And that if money can solve the problem, it isn’t really a problem after all.

Intentional living

I’m thinking a lot about sustainability lately. What do I currently do, and what will I begin, that is sustainable? Not that everything in life should be sustained. Some things have a defined season, a limited time to be useful or even possible. But I’m growing more thoughtful about the habits and commitments I allow to take root in my life. Because, sometimes, even without intention, behaviors cling. Isn’t it funny how difficult it is to foster habits you want to acquire and nurture (think working out) and how easily you fall into habits that can sap your time and give little in return (endless internet browsing or channel surfing). Well, I’ve never had too much difficulty with TV, and can happily report that I rarely miss it since we cut the cable cord last summer.

But the internet…it just sucks me in. Sometimes I find things that are helpful, useful, inspirational. And sometimes I just drift among the sites that fascinate me. Pinterest, Houzz, Twitter, blogs…..where was I?

Yes, yes, intentional living. Well, to be more grounded in habits I want to foster in myself and encourage in others, I’m beginning a couple of journals…private, but intended to foster values that are important to me. First, I am beginning a gratitude journal. Hardly a new concept, and I think I already have a mindset of gratitude. But writing it down will make it clearer, and I hope will give visible proof that I am aware of the many good things and people that touch my life.

Second, I’m beginning a journal of kindness. I want to mark kindness and generosity from me to others, and from others to me. Why? Not to pat myself on the back, but to reinforce for myself that there is no limit to the ways we can spread thoughtfulness and a positive spirit. I hope by noting the acts and words of others toward me that I will be more aware of the ways people reach out to me.

I don’t want either of these journals/lists to be exhaustive. That would be exhausting, and would probably result in another couple of new year’s resolutions that would soon be abandoned. The point is to increase awareness, and I think noting even a few items I’m grateful for each day, or a few acts of kindness, will be enough to keep these things in the forefront of my thoughts.

A kindness journal, a gratitude journal…I think I can sustain these habits. I have a feeling adding these two brief to-dos to my daily routine will be inspiring and worth doing. And who knows what I’ll discover in the process?!

Clarabell, the Christmas Cow

For a heartwarming story that has the perfect elements of Christmas…a child, animals, Santa…check out this link to Clarabell, The Christmas Cow.

For many years, my father-in-law read this story at Christmas family gatherings. We are not always with extended family at this stage in our lives. Some years the most we can do is attempt to get together with our kids. So now Rob reads this story for our little group.

If you’ve never heard of Clarabell, take a few minutes and get to know her. She’s quite a character, and more importantly, she has character. This is a story that teaches the meaning of selfless giving, and the reward of doing the right thing.

Happy reading, and Merry Christmas!

Grace and space?

Someone asked me, recently, about the title of my blog. I gave an explanation of “Grace and Space” in my first blog post. But that’s long buried in my archives at this point. So to answer the question of what that phrase really means, here’s the story:

A few years ago, when my son was 21 and we were having difficulties transitioning through some young adult issues, I had an epiphany one day: he needed grace from me, and space to be allowed to work out his issues. And that phrase has continued to have a useful place in my life, as I often feel that I either need these gifts for myself (from others), or I need to extend these gifts. Like most catchy phrases, it’s easy to say, more difficult to do in the grip of the moment, whatever the issue, and whoever the others involved.

The point of this blog is recognizing that there are many grace notes in life…some come from and through others, some just seem to be gifts that come when needed, and bring a smile, comfort, hope…or perhaps understanding. As most people instinctively recognize good things, recording these experiences may seem unnecessary. But I believe that when I consciously mark joys in my life, I increase their power. If the experience is one of personal luxury, I can repeat it when possible. If grace comes from someone or something as a random kindness or event, I can appreciate it more fully by acknowledging and being grateful for the gift I’ve received.

These bring a smile to my face: my family, a good book, a moving quote, a phone call or email from a friend, comfort food, shopping in a favorite store, sunshine…grace is all around us, in many forms. We have only to open our eyes to see, and our spirits to receive.

Things I’ve learned

In the past few months, I’ve learned (or re-learned):

~ I’m not too old to be a risk-taker!

~ I have no interest in creating cake pops.

~ I’m a writer!

~ I like chalk board paint on lots of surfaces.

~ I am not into re-purposing T shirts for other garments or crafts.

~ I have a limited tolerance for drama.

~ I’m really good at recognizing a great idea and copying it.

~ I don’t have a big ego, I like to share credit.

~ I’m a mentor in the right settings.

~ Green onions really do grow when you put them root down in a glass of water. Who knew?!

~ I’m always on the hunt for the perfect brownie and the perfect bread recipe.

~ Never write the end of the story in your head before the real story ends…you never know how things will turn out, and frequently the real story will be very different from the version you thought was unfolding.

~ True grace is unfailing and doesn’t ask to be repaid.

~ You can’t have too much shrimp in your freezer!

~ Books that spoke to you once will speak to you again. Reread and see what new things you learn.

~ When you know you have freely chosen, you don’t resent or regret the work it takes to make your choice work out.

~ Doing the right thing reinforces every other right choice you make.

~ Love means saying you’re sorry whenever you need to say the words.

~ I am stronger than I see myself.

~ Winston said it best: Never give up!

A normal day

Today was typical. Weather for SE Alaska in November: rain, rain, more rain. Work: standard day. With all the changes on my horizon, still, my days are fairly predictable. (Update on this in January when I’ve turned things upside down by transitioning to a project-based work life and stream of income.) Family is well, relatively speaking; friends are well, as far as I know. Although some things in my life are ever-evolving, a never-ending work in progress, I’m able to recognize a measure of stability. And I’ve experienced enough roller coaster moments in life to appreciate the periods of relative calm.

Thank God for normal days. Not boring, not stressful, just normal.

This quote was in my email this morning:

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are… Let me not
pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. One day I
shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in my pillow, or
stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than
all the world, your return.

~ Mary Jean Iron