Stories I tell myself

Funny how pride can trip you up. Funny how it can blind you to reality, especially when part of what you’re proud of is that you always live in reality.

Well, does anyone? I like to think I do, and sometimes that’s true, at least as clearly as I perceive reality.

But not always.

Lately I’ve been looking at the ways I interpret my life, and choices, and I’ve realized: I haven’t always lived in reality. Oh, it looked that way. But it wasn’t true.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

From another life, years and years ago, when I was a 20-something and doing all I could to keep my head above water, holding life together with two little ones and weathering the challenges of life with a medical student husband, and then a resident husband, living 1200 miles from family, I told myself how strong I was, how mature I was. I was doing my part. I was brave.

No.

The reality was, I was foolish.

Why did I think I had to do what I did, largely without help, and trying to make it look easy? Who told me that was a mature choice?

No one told me. I just assumed that’s what adults did.

It would have been more brave to have admitted I needed help, I was in over my head. But I was so busy being strong, being mature, I didn’t let my guard down long enough to admit those needs to myself, much less to anyone else. I was so busy being mommy, being adult, I let go of being Sheila, and I certainly let go of being wife.

The reality is, I made it through those years. We made it. We survived. We even appeared to thrive.

But there was a toll, some of which I feel to this day. The coping skills I learned during that time of life weren’t always healthy. I learned to do a lot on my own, to shut out a lot. It’s not behavior that encourages partnership, and our partnership has suffered through the years because of habits formed when we were very young.

Oh, we moved on. We moved beyond. We didn’t stay totally stuck in that time. But we brought along some of the damage, some of the baggage, without really recognizing it.

So now, I see. I reflect, I think back to those babies, those 20-somethings raising babies, and keeping up with the challenges, because we didn’t know it was ok to show weakness, to ask for help. We thought it was brave to do it on our own.

Is it brave to stand without help? Maybe. Sometimes. It depends on how healthy you are, and what it takes out of you to do it. Some of the damage we created then we couldn’t see at the time. We were too busy being strong to recognize how weak we really were.

Some of these patterns I’ve seen, so many years later, and I look back and wish I could do over. I don’t exactly know how I would do it differently. But some things would change.

We ran a marathon that almost killed a marriage, left us shells of people who only knew how to keep going, keep being brave and strong and adult.

I realize, I told myself a story about what life would look like, about what adulthood meant, about what marriage meant. I didn’t know I was making it up, out of a lot of assumptions and vague beliefs. I thought I was living in reality.

One of the ironies of life is that in a time I thought I saw so clearly, I was blind. In a time I thought I had a lot on the ball, I was just juggling balls, not seeing how close I was to dropping many things.

In hindsight, and with clarity, I see so much that was hidden from me then.

I wonder what I’m missing now?

Life is a process, and each choice brings us to the next choice. I’m more thoughtful now about the stories I tell myself, the certainty I feel when I assess. I’ve learned that just because I can handle a situation on my own, that isn’t always the best decision. Sometimes the best choice is to invite others to join, to help, to help me see clearly. To help me live in reality.

Stories are fun, sometimes funny. They should teach us too, help us know the traps to avoid and the joys to embrace.

I don’t know what my story will do for others. Will it be a cautionary tale? Or a story of life reinvented, mistakes recovered, joy restored?

I hope it will be all those things. Let me caution you, don’t be like me. Don’t tell yourself you’re brave, when you’re only short-sighted. Don’t do without help when you really need it.

I’ve been given a great gift. I can’t turn back the clock, but the lessons of those days, and others, are living with me now, helping me see and right things that need to be righted.

I’m telling myself a new story these days. It is one of partnership, one of strength. But not strength from doing everything myself. It is strength from shared vision, shared goals, shared life.

Aaahhh…I think I’m finally living in reality.

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My new Kindle book is done!

I posted about attending a Vipassana meditation retreat last November, and it was such an amazing experience I decided to write about it. Life has been full of ups and downs, starts and stops, and it took a while to get it done. But I finally posted it to Kindle today, and tomorrow and Monday it is free as an introductory promotion. If you’re interested in grabbing a copy, please do so, and it would be even better if you’re able to leave a review. It’s an overview of the experience, designed to share insight into what it was like to sit and meditate for 10 days, the things that were good, the things that were hard, and my personal point of view as a practicing Christian, attending a retreat inspired by Buddhist philosophy.

I also share some of my relationship struggles and the story that prompted me to attend.

My bottom line? It was very worthwhile, and a surprise that I didn’t expect…I had no plan to attend a meditation retreat at the beginning of last November, yet a few days into the month I was on my way. If you’ve ever wondered about taking a time out to do something like this, maybe this read would encourage you to put it on your bucket list.

I hope you’ll check it out!

Here’s the link: Vipassana Meditation and the Sound of Silence

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Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Us

Happy today, doing the nothings of life,
Chores and errands feed me.
Who would have guessed that the simplest work
or the mundane round of the grocery store
could light up my face and warm my soul?
It is not the task that holds the magic,
but the companion.
And with you, boring is transformed to joy,
and simple becomes interesting.
With you, I am part of us,
And that is enough adventure
For me,
Wherever I am,
Whatever I am doing.

Stories

Sunlight

I feel the whisper of your kiss on my shoulder.

The early morning light creeps in

And finds we two,

Curled in summer sheets,

Warm and secure.

How long did it take us to get here?

Through decades of life and living,

we struggled to find

the slow unhurried pace

of this moment.

We face each other and smile.

This was worth the wait,

and all the days of busy.

Kids and work, hustle-bustle,

life in the fast lane.

But now we have time.

And we have each other

in the morning light

Curled warm in summer sheets.

Half-hearted

I wake up slow

And remember fast.

That instant when I know

I’m alone in the bed, in the room, in the house.

But worse than that,

I’m alone in heart.

This is not the absence of a trip away

Or a few days’ separation.

This is forever.

And I don’t know how to think of that.

I don’t know how to imagine forever

Without you, without us.

We were a matched set,

And I don’t think I come as a single item.

I see myself sitting on the store shelf,

Someone wandering by

and looking at me curiously,

Only to put me back when it’s apparent:

Half of me is missing.

Chooser

I often write about the challenges of life at my stage: empty-nester, part-time worker, full-time budding entrepreneur, wife, mom to young adults, grandparent, daughter, friend. The intent is to share the struggles and epiphanies I’m having with the hope of helping someone else who’s struggling too. I haven’t got it sorted out! Life is a work in progress, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I’m a slow learner, and a late bloomer. But here’s what I know today…

It’s good to be home! I know, it’s a common theme with me. Two weeks out of town for vacation and a family visit, and then two weeks working at the Metlakatla clinic, and I’m done. At least for the next three weeks. These are mine to enjoy at home.

Home is complicated right now. We have a house in Ketchikan, which I love, but we’re spending limited time here these days. Between time working in Metlakatla, and time out and about for personal reasons, days to putter around in my own little nest are hard to come by. It hasn’t always been that way. In fact, most of my life has fit the norm…parenting, working, raising children, and though the location changed a few times throughout the years, the basic pattern was set.

A couple of years ago, Rob backed out of full-time practice with the promise to himself that he was done with that lifestyle. Too stressed, burned out, and exhausted to do full-time medicine any more. So now he works part-time, and for the moment, that’s in three different clinics in SE Alaska.

We tried the arrangement of me working in a full-time position and staying with the house, and him out and about, working, coming home, leaving again to work, coming home, leaving again…it was wearing, and lonely, and not what either of us signed up for. But for Rob, the variety is good. He enjoys moving about a bit. The change-up of the routine is good. And I’ll be honest, he’s not wedded to home and stuff as I am.

I like my stuff. I’ve spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money accumulating what I have. I love to putter about in the kitchen, using the gadgets and tools I have to try new dishes. I love pretty linens on the bed, comfy furnishing that have a look of warmth and tradition. I love the books on my shelves and the art on the walls. It all speaks to me, of people I love or a mood I want to evoke.

But that isn’t what comforts Rob. He’s a wanderer, and a nomad. Through much of our marriage he lived life in the traditional way, because that was the model we knew, and we were raising kids. But that’s changed, and with the empty nest has come new freedom. Freedom for both of us, in different ways. It has freed us financially, to some extent, and it has removed the need to keep a stable home base for growing children.

So now what? I’ve written about making the choice to leave my full-time work. It was two years ago in January. I’ve already lived a semi-nomadic life two years. Some of it has been amazing. Some of it has been fun. And there have been moments of weariness, times when I said, over and over in my mind, like a litany, “I just want my life back. I just want to go home.” Those moments have been few. But they have been part of the tapestry.

This week I said, as we sat over a late breakfast, looking out on the Tongass Narrows from our front windows, that it was good to be home. That I miss my things, that right now, I live a crazy life that keeps me on the run, and often somewhat adrift. Rob looked at me and asked, “Why is that?” I was in the process of answering when I got interrupted, and we never really finished the conversation. But I can finish it. I can give the answer.

I’m living a crazy life right now because I made a choice. I made a choice to match my lifestyle to what was working for my husband. He didn’t demand that I do it. He didn’t make it a requirement of the relationship in any way. I made the choice, and I’m committed to the choice because I realized, after trying to do it differently, it was all or nothing. I couldn’t keep a foot in both camps…happily married and living alone for weeks at a time. It wasn’t good for the relationship, and to be honest, I got almost no pleasure out of my things when I had them all to myself. Things do not replace people. And though I knew it in my head, it wasn’t until I found myself living that reality, that I knew it by heart.

If I learned anything about myself during the time that we lived mostly apart, it was that a lot of my pleasure in homekeeping and cooking comes from the relationships around me. If I’m cooking dinner for the two of us, or for a crowd, I enjoy every piece of it: planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, eating. Even the cleanup is a validation of time well spent, and spent with loved ones. If I’m by myself, I have little-to-no interest in any of it. My enthusiasm dries up. I lost weight when we were living apart. I hated to go to the grocery store, because it wasn’t for anything fun…it was just for food. And what’s the fun in that? And pretty rooms? They just don’t mean much when you wander through them by yourself, trying to enjoy the never-disturbed perfection because there’s no one around to move anything out of its place.

Why am I saying all of this? Because it’s important for me to acknowledge…this crazy life I lead is by choice. I could be home every night, in my bed, eating at my own table. But that’s not the priority of my life. In a few weeks I’ll be in a different setting, camping in the RV again. I’ll have time to write; work on my baby business that’s slowly coming to life; I’ll do some work for the Met clinic via phone and email; and all of that will fit between the plans of the day that Rob and I make together. Because that is my priority. And how can I be ungrateful for that freedom in my life? If this time looks chaotic…if it seems like we’re always on the move…well, we are. It won’t last forever, I’m sure of that. There will be a time when we make different plans…when we move nearer family, and we settle again.

But for now, this is my choice, and claiming it, owning it, helps me avoid the victim mentality when I have one of those moments of just wanting to be home. I am not a victim or a martyr to Rob’s choices. I have made my own. It feels good to recognize: if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, I wouldn’t have some of the opportunities that are on the horizon. I wouldn’t be in the process of developing a design for a logo and business card and a new web site. I wouldn’t be a budding entrepreneur at the ripe age of 53. I wouldn’t have the freedom to work from home, or from the RV. I wouldn’t have the flexibility to make my own commitments. And the reality is, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity and the financial stability to step out on this ledge.

And if I hadn’t jumped off the corporate ship, and into my crazy life, I wouldn’t have the joy of seeing and doing the things that I seen and done in the past years, with the man I chose.

Life is complicated. But it helps if you know that you’re where you are by choice. So I’m a chooser. I’ve learned to choose love over things, experience over money, and freedom over security. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be traditional to be normal; that you can walk a different path and still get where you need to go. And I’ve learned that although head knowledge is good, there’s no replacement for understanding something from the heart. Because the heart gets final say; and if my choice has passed the heart test, I’m on the right path.

Dinner for two…

Happy day

Today is a happy day. This is our 32nd anniversary. Not a particularly noteworthy number; but though the number itself isn’t special, this year had its own markers that make it unique in our shared history.

The past year took us through big events: Jack’s birth, Alex’s divorce and move, our nephew’s wedding; trips with family, trips to family, family coming to us. We’ve cycled through months of work and weeks of RV time; we celebrated holidays and slug days, weathered stress and counted joys. As we continue to redefine this time in our lives…empty nest, part-time workers, full-time adventurers, finding our joint and separate passions, I learn all over again. The lessons of life, always the same, but presented with new context each time, can be summed up in a few words:

True love isn’t found. It’s built.

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

Being happy doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys. ~ Rita Schiano

Pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right. ~ Ezra T. Benson

There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.

Once in a while, right in the middle of ordinary life, love gives us a fairy tale.

Our fairy tale is an unlikely one. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the story is comedy or drama, or if it will end happily ever after. But there is something that keeps us connected, keeps us together. I like to think we’ve weathered enough storms that the future will be all sunshine. That’s unlikely to be true. Life has a way of mixing it up, good and bad all together, sometimes so intertwined that you can’t be sure where one ends and the other begins. But in the thick of it, I know I will look at him, and he will look at me. And we know, we two, what that look means. We know, without words, even without touch, what is passing between us.

So number 32…nothing really remarkable. Except that we made it. And with each passing year, this relationship, with its joys, flaws, sorrows, routines and surprises, grows more rooted in my heart. And through it, I learn, all over again, the lessons of life.

Happy anniversary to my one and only: R.

Nomads on the road

R & S

Mo betta with two

Rob is coming home this morning. After a week apart, my heart is singing to see him again. I tell him, “It’s mo betta with two,” a silly phrase left over from a vacation a while back.

I’m astonished to recognize, after thirty years together, that I feel stronger about him now than when we were young and “in love.” You would think we would be worn out with each other. We are in love now, but without quotation marks. We have been through nitty and gritty, through thick and thin. And truly, what relationship of any depth doesn’t weather the ups and downs? We are hardly unique.

But what I see now is that we are finally in a place to appreciate each other, to be together, without all the noise. Without the daily stress of family raising, career building, without the need to protect or reserve part of self. We are free to be ourselves, and to be together. If that sounds trite, so be it. I can’t explain it better.

These moments don’t come all at once. They build over time, and recognition is slow for me. I’ve known all this for a while. But separation makes it fresh, brings it home again. My partner is coming home. And while we are not always right for each other, we are always good for each other. We are perfect together. It’s mo betta with two.

Thirty years today

We’re celebrating our 30th(!) anniversary today. Where did all that time go? It’s the never-ending question humans pose to themselves, to each other. I don’t have the answer, anymore than the next person. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago that we two babies (20 year-olds) got married.

We’ve been fortunate to do some amazing things in our time together. We’ve traveled, had wonderful vacations and experiences. We’ve shared time with family and with friends. We’ve celebrated in some memorable ways. Our most recent celebratory event was our sky-diving experience to mark Rob’s 50th birthday in June. (I blogged about it here.)

And what are we doing for this major milestone? Well, it may seem tame, a little quiet. We’re doing an RV trip, just us two. Spending a few days in Sedona, AZ. Biking and shopping, enjoying quiet dinners and a movie or two.

But the magic is that it will be just us two celebrating. The scenery, shopping, restaurants…it’s all fun. But the main event is all about one word: together. Believe me, spending the majority of the past two years in a commuter lifestyle has made me appreciate together like never before. Doesn’t have to be fancy or exciting to make me happy…I just want together.

Happy Anniversary to my one and only Rob ~ Sheila

Here comes the bride!

The Fairytale

It’s summer, the bridal season: the most popular time of year for weddings. I was looking through a Bride magazine a few days ago, waiting in the check-out line in the grocery, and a beautiful dress caught my eye. No, I’m not in the market for a wedding dress. I got married almost 30 years ago. My daughter got married five years ago, and she had a beautiful gown. She doesn’t need another. Hopefully the marriage she’s in will last her.

But though I’m not shopping for a dress, I couldn’t resist looking closer at the classic and elegant fairytale image on the magazine rack. And why is that? Does the dress make the event? Is it really the show-stopper? Yes. We all want the fairytale, and the dress, the big wedding, the traditions, the special touches all combine to convince us: this will last. This is true love.

I’ve had a plethora of relationship issues swirling about me in the past few months. Multiple couples in my life, at various ages and stages of relationships, are in trouble. I don’t want to oversimplify, and there’s no one fix for all. But as I was venting about one of these situations last weekend with Rob, he suddenly smiled and said that it would be more appropriate if couples got married in construction work clothes rather than fancy dress; more true to life if the bride and groom carried tools to symbolize the never-ceasing work required to build a marriage, rather than the classic bouquet and boutonniere.

I had to smile at the thought too. Imagine, instead of the fairytale scene of an outdoor wedding on a June day, or the symbolism of ancient traditions in a church, imagine you attended a wedding all dressed up in your finest Saturday paint clothes, or the outfit you choose for yard work? What if you and the others who attend the wedding to show support and love for the couple came armed with all sorts of items to help with the daily chores of life and marriage? Cleaning supplies, budget programs, self-help books, counseling resources, babysitters? What if each couple standing up to share their vows faced a sea of people visibly committed to supporting the marriage in good times and bad, with practical, emotional, spiritual and physical assistance?

Well, it would be symbolic, that’s for sure. I understand that in fact, many couples do receive support from family and friends, and many enter marriage at an older age and with more life experience under their belts. I know that wearing one costume or another doesn’t guarantee the degree of sincerity or the ability to stick with a hard situation, through difficult times. But I think that it might make a striking impression on everyone involved if there was a visual demonstration of the work a couple commits to with their exchange of vows.

I thought about the reality of that scene for a few moments…no, it would never fly. Most brides, or mothers of brides, want the photos, the memories, the big event. And I understand that. That’s what I had, what I wanted. So I came up with a compromise concept.

Here’s my proposal: Just like the work of preparing for a party comes before the actual party, so the symbolic work of getting married should come before the celebration of getting married. The wedding would be a two-part event: the couple invites guests to join them for the ceremony and the dress code is work clothes, the grubbier, the better. Each guest is invited to bring something to symbolize a part of marriage and family. The couple shares their vows, and then there is a short break for guests and the bridal party to move on to the second stage of the wedding: the fairy tale. This re-staging of the marriage vows, complete with bridal pomp and circumstance, is the celebration and the photo-op that is the wedding portrait.

Yes, a bit cumbersome to go through a double event to commemorate a marriage. But after all, if it’s really supposed to last a lifetime, surely an extra hour or two is worth it? And what better way to impress upon bride and groom, as well as family and friends, that the foundation of marriage takes work and effort, from the very beginning? The fairytale is important too, because it symbolizes the part we all hope for: the happily-ever-after, the beautiful bride, the handsome groom, the perfect scene.

I don’t mean to imply that anyone going through relationship difficulties hasn’t tried hard enough or worked at making things work. I know a lot of people do their very best, but that doesn’t always equal happiness or the ability to last. No relationship is fail-proof. I’ve had experience of that myself: my relationship has had it’s ups and downs, some of them severe. I know a bit about difficulties, and about overcoming.

Well, this probably won’t be the new cutting edge in weddings…too involved. But maybe the next time you’re invited to a wedding, along with the traditional gift of china or crystal, linens or kitchen appliance, you can add a practical tool or two to send the message: it’s work. It’s hard work. But don’t be afraid of it. Like most things that require hard work, making a marriage out of a wedding takes energy, creativity, passion, determination, selfless giving, and a lot of luck. But the result will be worth it. So worth it.

Photo from here