"Who the hell are you?"

"Do I know you?"  more frequently phrased as "Have we met before?" is a question my mother asks nearly everyday as the faces from her past now blend with those of the present.  It is always entertaining to watch the ensuing polite but persistent argument between mom and her acquaintance. "No I don't think we have."  ..."Yes. Yes, I am sure we have. I just am not sure where - what is your name?" After returning their name and a polite, "No, I don't think we know each other, but I am pleased meet you." My mother again assures them that they definitely have previously met.  Now how long this dialogue continues is completely dependant upon how important it is to the unsuspecting new comer to convince my mother of her err. Never one to admit defeat, mom always gets the last word as she comforts them with  "Well, it's ok if you can't remember, I don't remember most things these days." 

I have been engaged in a very similar dialogue with myself as of late.  Well, to be completely honest it might be more accurately phrased "Who the hell are you?" as I look in the mirror after a particularly "bad mom day" or "bad wife day" or simply a "bad day - day".  I know that even though I may not speak the phrase (most of the time) I certainly think it when my husband or teenage children have a personality morph right before my eyes.

As I had obviously spent some time considering this the past couple of weeks I decided to inquire of my family and friends as to their own dialogue along these lines. I found that all of them could relate to my conversations with myself and that they also had some other great insights.  For instance, those in the twenty-something category all agreed that others offering their unsolicited and unappreciated advice and opinions received the mental "and who the hell are you?"  My children were certain that it was actually my own personality morph not theirs hence a "who the hell are you? right back at you" look.

It was my husband who brought up another more "peaceful" side of this universal exchange.  The concept of approachability. He has also watched my mother completely confound new acquaintances with her insistence that they have previously met.  However, he also noticed that they were people that were "approachable", people who she associated with a past positive experience in her life. 

Shortly after this conversation we experienced the following exchange at a restaurant.  In the middle of dinner a man who had been sitting at a table across the room the from us walked over and placed his hand on my husband's shoulder and asked, "Are you a Johnson?" responding with a smile "Actually, No. No, I'm not." My husband then put the man at ease with a brief conversation that ended with the realization that it was actually one of our daughter's he had met a couple of years previous at a church activity.  Small world.  That daughter was sitting with us at the table - he didn't recognize her at all. there a lesson here to be learned?  I have been told that I can be unapproachable.  Really??  Is that why the my mental query is "Who the hell are you?" versus the much more approachable, "Have we met before?"  Have we met before's come when you don't just pass by those around you. They require a closer look - just to be certain.  Have we met before's are actually all about connection. 

It is my mother's desire for connection with others - a personal connection - that draws her to them in inquiry.  It brings joy to her and I can see it in the eyes of those willing to engage. Many days it is a foggy path my family travels with my mom.  Often I think that I must take the lead, and yet, again and again she is the teacher.  She is the one who shows us where Peace can be found along the wayside. 

I  decided I needed to on work on converting my "Who the hell are you's" into "Have we met before's" That very same day I recieved this text from my daughter away at school:

I smiled as I considered how appropriate "Have we met before?" seemed. 

And again a few days later as she returned from the local Rainbow Festival with her friends I recieved this picture text.  If you ran into this trio on the street what would you ask?  Believe me you'd be missing out if it wasn't "Have we met before?"

My husband I continued to consider the many opportuities we have for connection with those around us each day - and how many of them we let simply pass us by.  I remembered how frequently complete strangers would rub my belly in the grocery store check out line.  (Having been pregnant six times, this was a considerable amount of unsolicited connection).  Then as if on cue I received this picture text from another daughter:

Once again "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Was it possible that my baby was actually having her baby number two?  It was then Peace whispered to me "Remember?" and I recalled the joy of being witness to her as a big sister connecting with an as of yet unborn sibling.  Was she thinking "Have we met before?"

Evidently puppies don't understand the concept of "Who the hell are you?" at all.Scout, our newest family member, meets each person who crosses his path throughout the day with an enthusiastic "Have we met before?"  He is a "Connection Magnet."  Spending his days with me at the office, our walks take us through an area with a fair amount of street people.  It seems the more down and out they are the more likely they are to connect with my furry companion. They are always kind, and friendly, and more than willing to share their pet memories. I can see that this "Have we met before?" moment takes them back to a better place and time in their lives.

My oldest son, Taylor, served his mission for our church in New York City.  He spent his days serving the people on the streets of that massive city.  People from all over the world.  Walking without fear in those inner city buildings where even the police would tell them that they were not safe. What was he thinking - a white boy in those neighborhoods?  And yet, he knew he was perfectly safe.  He was their to connect, to serve, to love and that transformed every "Who the hell are you?" into "Have we met before?"  My son wanted us to meet these people who had become his extended family.  

It was Mother's Day in 2009 when my husband and I came to pick him up and bring him home. We rode the Subway from Manhattan to East Brooklyn.  When we arrived at the platform Taylor wasn't there yet.  I called his cell phone and asked him if we should walk and meet him.  His reply was brief.  "Absolutely not.  Stay there I'm half a block away."  We stayed and looked out over the streets through a small window near the stairs.  Then in the distance I saw him. "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Wasn't it a mere boy just out of high school we left at the airport?  Wait, had two years passed so quickly?   

We were to walk a few blocks to the church for a dinner his New York family had prepared in celebration of our arrival.  As we traveled the short distance I kept looking ahead for the church.  It was then Taylor stopped and said "Here we are."  It was an old brick building, no different than those all around us, except for the absence of grafitti.  A simple sign on the exterior was the only evidence that behind the aged door to our left was a church.  As the door closed behind us our surroundings were no longer foreign.  Indeed, a beautiful church was awaiting us inside.  In the kitchen food had been kept warm awaiting our arrival.  

The metal folding chairs we sat in that evening were truly seats of honor.  The meal was simple with the flare of the diverse ethic backgrounds of those in attendance.  They were giving us their very best. It was Mother's Day - would I have made the same sacrafice for someone else's son?  It was one of the children's birthday - that dinner was his party.  A service dog sat at my feet, his owner next to me a vietnam veteran, who told me my son had saved his life. There was laughter and tears and stories all around.  I was grateful for this "family" who had loved my son so well.  "Have we met before?" was in my heart that night.  Peace in it's most humble form was at the table with us for dinner.

The next day Taylor took us to the apartment of a homebound elderly woman he had grown to love deeply.  She wasn't there.  He couldn't understand why she would be gone.  We left and visited a few others.  On our way back he asked if we would mind stopping by the local hospital.  It was the only place he could think of where she might be.  Taylor went to the information desk and his fear was confirmed - she was there.  We rode the eleveator up to her floor.  My words can not express the joy on this woman's face when she saw my son in the doorway.  She was all alone there.  She told us God had brought her an angel that day. My son gently slid her over in the hospital bed and climbed up next to her to say goodbye.  They both knew it would be the last time they would connect on this earth.  As I reflect upon this moment I can still hear the distant whisper, "Have we met before?" 

I don't have the answers to many of the questions I find myself considering.  However, I know for sure that the question "Have we met before?" is a much more generous way to approach life.  It is a question Peace often will ask of you.  Always approachable and yet requiring a review of past interactions before you can make the determination that "Yes. Yes, I'm certain that we have.  I'm just not sure where - what is your name?" 

And therein lies the beginning of a great conversation.



Hello Misery, I'm home...

"Hello Misery, I'm home..." 

I was ironing this past weekend and listening to the cartoons my grand daughter was watching when I heard Squidward, the pessimistic neighbor and co-worker of Spongebob, utter this phrase with a sigh of relief. 

You see, Spongebob had discovered that Squidward did not have a "happiest memory" and was determined that he would create one for him.  One that would bring Squidward joy every time he remembered it.  Of course, Squidward refused Spongebob's offer at first, but after some consideration he decided that maybe it would be nice to have a happiest memory of his own.  What he did not understand was that it would require much more than simply attending a memory making event. 

As with all Spongebob episodes, their quest would be wrought with challenges.  Each time their attempt for a "perfect" memory was thwarted by circumstance Spongebob seemed unphased and ready to try again.  Squidward...well, let's just say he was less than enthusiatic.

And so it goes with the Squidward in each of us.  Misery can become our comfort zone, our "home" companion, the place we are most familiar with, the blanket we wrap up in after a long day.  It is much easier in life to remain miserable than to seek out a better place.  I have had many express frustration at me when I point out that perhaps they are most comfortable in their miserable situation.  "What?!"  "Are you crazy? Why would you ever think that I'm comfortable here?!" The answer is easy - I have a Squidward in me too.  I completely understand how difficult it is to step out of your comfort zone. 

As a result I am in awe of those who are courageous enough to take that step and go for it in life. 

Those brave souls surround you and I.  Just this past month I was priveledged to watch one of my daughters head off to College -- two States away.  It has only been 30 days and she has a new job, new roommates, new classes, new budget, new climate (it was 106 when I dropped her off).  Is she homesick? Of course.  Why so far away?  Because she knew it was where she was supposed to go.

Another daughter quit her job with the 1:30 a.m. wake up call.  Not because she hated it.  She actually liked what she did and was working towards a good management position. She didn't even have another job lined up.  Why leave then?  She left because she knew it was what was best for her family.  30 days later she is starting a new job.  One with better pay, better hours, and the potential to work at home a couple of days a week.

My mother-in-law lost her companion of over 50 years to cancer in March.  She had hip replacement in June.  I am sure that most days have been difficult at best these past six months. In the beginning it required all she had in her just to get dressed in the mornings - physically and emotionally.  And yet she did just that -  every morning - day after day.  Why make the effort?  Because no matter how difficult the current day was she knew that it was required if tomorrow was going to be any better.  And each tomorrow has been just a bit better as a result.

Washington rain recently created a sink hole on a local highway.  This immediately required a detour if locals where going to get from point A to point B the next day.  It simply was not possible to take the same road they had traveled for years.  To add to their frustration the road had just completed construction work which made it appear that it was going to be better than ever for travel. 

Life comes with sink holes.  They create change.  They also give our life depth. They most often require a detour if you are going to keep moving.  It is possible to sit on the edge of the sinkholes in your life and stay there.  Dangle you feet over the edge.  Walk around them peering into the depth.  You could even try some "Spelunking" and examine them from within.

We can develop a sense of pride for our craters.  "Have you ever experienced such a devasting sinkhole?" "Why this hole in my life is so vast no one could venture around it." "Can you imagine - I survived this?"  "Who else knows such misery?"  There is no doubt - we all become familiar with the holes in our lives.

Sinkholes are the result of a natural process.  They are inevetible.  They can bring beauty and new life.  They can also create havoc and devistation.  This is true in nature and in life.

Is there a "comfortable" place you must leave?  A job, a lifestyle, a relationship, a way of thinking, an age....  It can be done. Why must it be done? How about this for an answer...

It doesn't have to be done.  You can stay right where you are and be miserable. It definately is going to be easier to stay right where you're at.  Misery loves company - right?

No one else can make your "happiest memory" for you.  Stay where you're at and be miserable. 

This could be as good as it gets.

But it doesn't have to be. 



Goats in the Airport and Vomit in the Backseat - What's in your Toolbox?

"That's quite the skill set you have."

I heard the comment but ignored it, assuming it was directed towards someone else in the airport waiting area near me.

We had arrived at the airport at 5:00 a.m., that meant leaving the house at 4:00 a.m. and that meant no sleep for mom and potentially half of the kids who were going to just "sleep on the plane" to Hawaii. However, our flight had been delayed an hour. Back then you were still served in-flight meals as a part of your ticket price, but now the wait for the flight was too long and with our early departure time the kids were starving. My husband left to try to find food for the kids. I felt like I was wrangling a herd of those cute little goats you see at the local fairs. So it was no surprise that we may have drawn the attention of those seated around us.

When I would simply take all six of them to the grocery store total strangers would feel the compulsion to comment..."You actually take all of them shopping with you?!" Like I was completely out of my mind. (I may have been) So I can only imagine what people would think when we were traveling with all of them.

Again a few moments later, "That's quite the skill set you have."

This time I looked up from the child's backpack I was rummaging through. A middle-aged man sat across from me, apparently watching my interactions with the kids. I smiled and managed to say something nice in return I'm sure. But that wasn't the end of it.

"Seriously - what did you do before this?" he said nodding towards the children. As if simply being a parent didn't provide every opportunity to develop such skills. "I have managers working for me now I wish had your capabilities." He made several other very nice comments. I'm sure he meant every one of them as a compliment. I took them as such, even though I found them slightly offensive. Then I told him, "I was in medical group management for a good number of years." That seemed to satisfy him. I knew it would. (I was actually rolling my eyes in my mind) He nodded his head (better than shaking it I guess) and returned to his newspaper. I returned to the backpack rummaging.

I reflected upon that interaction at the airport during my flight and in the coming days while vacationing with my family and many more times over the ensuing years. I am certain that what that man really was asking was "What prepared you for this?" His inquiry of course referred to mothering six children. But there are many "this" substitutions throughout life that we face. A new job, the death of someone we love, leaving home for college (or kindergarten), marriage, divorce, addiction, parenthood, natural disasters, road trips, acceptance letters, rejection letters, an unexpected opportunity, the list is endless because each day something is added to it.

I did not have an answer to that question at the time. In fact, had he asked the question out right, I'm sure I would have responded, "Absolutely Nothing". It was the term skill set that kept going over and over in my mind. What was my skill set now that I was "only a mom"? I knew I had one and I knew that on some subconscious level I was utilizing it. Rather than continue to be irritated by his comment I began to be enlightened by it. Maybe there was a different answer. What would happen if I consciously began to take inventory and utilize not only the skill set I had from my work world life, but also my every day life, my experiences as a kid, my own family, my spiritual experiences and even those I had borrowed over the years from others I admired as well? There on the beach I began to lay out for examination my personal skill set.

There in front of me lay the answer to the question "What prepared you for this?"

Absolutely Everything.

So what's in your tool box? Do you ever open it up and sort through it?

Do it. Take an inventory. Write it down. It is easy to forget the older items laying on the bottom covered with years of neglect. And we don't always recognize the new ones as anything beneficial. The tools you let your friends borrow on a regular basis are likely the ones you consider most common place when actually they may be your most valuable. I know I am being annoyingly vague here. But each skill set is so varied that I hate to put labels on anything specific that may be found there. One thing I know for sure is that as you begin to lay out your skill set in front of you Peace will be found there. You will remember having utilized its calm strength on other life projects you felt inadequately equipped for. Look for it.

Now that you have laid out everything in front of you place the tools you need today in a separate box labeled "current project". You most likely won't have everything you need. My husband had to make no less that three trips to Home Depot one day last week to finish his repair work on our pool pump. My point being that he made the trips. Our pool pump is running smoothly. Once you know what you have chances are you will know what you need. Don't fear a trip to the "Home Depots" of life. There are many ways to find what you need in it's isles. Maybe all you need is the duct tape of life...Perseverance.

Finally, a tool left on the shelf does you no good. Use them. The right tool can give you the confidence to tackle the task at hand. To quote my mother - "Everything's easy...once you know how."

Take my experience a couple of weeks ago as an unexpected example.

My son and I were driving home from his Middle School Honors night when we heard a gurgle/gag arise from the back seat. Looking back over my shoulder I could see the flow of light brown chunky goo erupting from my three year old grand daughter. "Hold on honey...Grandma has to drive to the top of the hill to pull over!" Three more eruptions and we are finally over to the side of the road. Believe it or not the vomit (not a small amount) somehow all managed to land in her lap. As I quickly assessed the situation (something a mother of six becomes an expert at) I determined that is was quite possible I may be able to lift my grand daughter out in one movement avoiding spill over if I could accomplish two things

1. Convince my grand daughter to hold completely still while covered in vomit.

2. Convince my 13 year old son to hold the vomit covered seatbelt extended to avoid it sliding back in and splattering the residue.

I must employ two very different command styles to accomplish this end.

1. Soft and loving.

"Don't move honey, Grandma is going to lift you out of the car seat and take off your yucky clothes"

2. Firm and commanding.

"Don't you dare let go of that seatbelt!" I don't care how bad it stinks!!"

From there things went smoothly. Never mind the trio of skateboarders who decided to go "through" and not "around" the event and thanks to the friends who pulled over on their way home from the same school activity to offer aid. Soon we were back on the road home marveling at our technique for removal and clean up, and laughing at our circumstance. Then quietly from the backseat came a small voice, "Grandma, I threw up in the car and it was way gross." "It sure was" "Grandma...I love you. "

Ahh yes. The benefits of the skill set.


The other side of the fence

As I watched my grand daughter run ahead of us on the paved path that runs along the hillside near our home I cautioned her, "slow down...make sure we can see you."  She was so excited to see what may lie just ahead.  Perhaps it would be another little grey bunny like we saw last week, or a frog near the retention pond, maybe some rare wild flower is waiting to be picked and cherished for its beauty - whatever the adventure she was running towards it as fast as her little legs could take her.  It was up to us to keep up or be left behind. 

The scene gave me cause to reflect upon a statement my mother had recently made.  With the curtain of dementia closing upon the window through which she now observes life her minds eye often takes her back in time.  I was driving her home after a family dinner and she said, "My dad used to ask me 'Why do you always have to see what's on the other side of the fence?'  I've lived a lot of life, I've seen a lot of beautiful places..."  It was a poignant moment for me as I considered  her life of "fence climbing" and her current view of the other side of the fence.

For my mother the other side of the fence never referred to the grass being greener that was growing over there, but rather, to the fact that there was no obstacle that would keep her from the destination she was headed for beyond.  It was up to those she traveled with through life to keep up or be left behind.  She never required that other's come along and she encouraged those around her to pursue passionately their personal distant destination desires. 

I recall vividly the day she told me, "I can't stay here and be only Brenda's mom and the kids grandmother.  I need to be somewhere that I can be Joy.  I will always be your mom and a grandma but there is more to me than just that."   Ouch.  Those words stung. Then she added, "You will thank me some day." She sold everything she had in Washington and headed for the sunshine in Southern Utah.  I supported her in her decision absolutely certain I would never "thank her some day".  How could she miss out on the everyday of my life, the joys of my children's lives and be happy just being Joy?  I was envious of my friends whose mothers sat on the bleachers at every little league game and had dates with their moms for pedicures and lunch.

Back then I wasn't aware that I was watching my mom climb a "fence" and head across the field towards the next 15 years of her life.  It would have made the first few years without her as my neighbor (we had lived across the street from each other) so much easier if I had.  Of course she never stopped being my mom or the kids grandma.  She maintained her relationships with all of us, never forgetting the beautiful place she had been, and at the same time arrived some place anew where we could come visit "Joy".  I'm not going to pretend that I have agreed with every decision my mother has made through life.  And there were definitely times I longed to walk across the street and sit down at her table for conversation and a great meal. She rarely ever cooked again after leaving Washington at 72 years old.  Imagine that...I can say now with a smile.

Fence climbing can often appear self centered.  In many respects it is - no one else can climb it for you! However, there is nothing keeping you from reaching down and giving a helping hand to those headed in your direction or stopping along the way to give someone a boost up over a fence along side the road. Leaving where you are to pursue a path on the other side of the fence many times requires turning to wave goodbye to those who have chosen to stay where they are - where you were.  It takes courage, determination, and a good dose of faith to be a fence climber. 

"Sour grapes" my mom would say when someone was unhappy with another's good fortune.  "So many sour grapes."  I'm not even sure what that really means, but I find myself saying it to my children.  The only ones with sour grapes are those who are unhappy staying where they are while they watch you go.  Sounds to me like they should be climbing a fence or two of their own.  Too much fence sitting tends to make your butt sore.

God often opens a gate on the other side of our life fences.  We see it in the distance, we hear the whisper "Go...", we may even feel a nudge which would lift us up and over.  Yet, there we sit, straddling the fence looking at where we desire to be, even should be, and unable to make the decision to jump down and simply "go".  There have been times when the fences I have sat upon way too long have been the ones that I built myself.  I had put a lot of time and effort into their structure - a sturdy fence.  I felt safe there - able to see the other side but secure in my own little space. 

There are other times when I have wished I was on the other side of the fence and yet knew that I was actually exactly where I belonged. I could hear that longing for adventure in my mother's words. At the same time I see her seek the peace a familiar fence can provide on difficult days.  She was right.  I would thank her some day. Watching an expert fence climber gives me the courage to look for an open gate across the fields of my own life and the faith to walk towards them.  There are adventures to be had and beautiful places to see.  Grey bunnies, frogs, and wild flowers... 


Lightening Strikes - Thunder Rolls

No one is immune to the weather patterns of life.   Life's storms will come and go each passing year in much the same way as they occur in nature.  There are times when we can predict with some accuracy their arrival....perhaps certain events or seasons of the year bring with them strong winds, or we see a loved one's choices leading them towards dark skys. Often we are aware a storm is brewing just beyond our view.  There are subtle signs that we recognize in ourselves and our loved ones that whisper, "you may need an umbrella tomorrow." Here in Washington on the most beautiful of days, if I see the tree leaves turned upward by the breeze or the mountains so clearly that their detail appears to be painted against a blue canvas - I know that a change in the weather is fast approaching.  I can't change the course of the weather but at least I am aware of it's unpredictable predictability.

In Western Washington something unusual happened this year.  I would more accurately state that something usual happened with unusual endurance.  It is a weather phenomenon called an Inversion.  An Inversion pattern is not uncommon in the Pacific NW but our most recent one lasted longer than the normal day or two.  As a result an eery fog settled in, absolute stillness no wind no rain and the temperature dropped into the teens bringing with it freezing fog and black ice. 

There was a quite grey hush to the city  as visibility was reduced to less than a quarter mile for several days in a row.  Even the trees were forced to conform to the new color standard as the frozen fog clung to every barren limb. It is easy for this day after day grey cold to create a heaviness of heart as you literally live within a cloud you have no power to lift.






That being said, there is another side to an inversion pattern...the clear blue sky and sun that exists just beyond the the clouds.  For instance my daughter's high school sits up on a hill just beyond town.  During this same period of time she spent her days under those blue skies and sunshine.  Of course it was still biting cold, but not a cloud to be seen. Our home sits on this same hill but a bit lower than the school and out of the reach of the Sun. The rest of the family honestly didn't believe my daughter when she told us at dinner one night of her beautiful sunny day...and it was only about three blocks above us!

After a week turned into two my family decided to take a drive to a gorgeous location known as Deception Pass on Whidbey Island.  It is the gateway to the San Juan Islands and a deep breath there can bring peace to those who venture out on even the worst winter day.  To our surprise as we entered the Skagit Valley about 20 miles North of us we simply drove out of the cloud that had enveloped us for days on end.  We could see it in our rear view mirror as we continued forward with fresh hope in the day's potential.

We were not disappointed.  It was absolutely gorgeous on the beach that day. The winter moss that clung to the tree limbs would not be there when the daily summer sun arrived.  I reflected upon the fact that this place was within my reach each day during the past two weeks.  I had felt so entrenched where I was at in the dismal fog that I was sure we would need to travel to some distant destination to find this kind of day. Perhaps exactly like our inversion pattern here this year a life storm may begin as something usual that has unusual endurance this time around.  It may seem that there is no escaping the heaviness of a particular burden; that being engulfed in the grey is inescapable.  When you actually only need to walk a few blocks up the hill to find the sun light you seek.  

It takes a strong wind and often a rumbling thunder storm to break through a dense inversion.  Storms - the ones within us and those around us - can be fierce.  In many cases they are devastating.  One thing they always facilitate is change.  The storm never cares if you welcome the change. Life's thunder moves us forward.  I have felt that turbulence as it has rolled through my own life.  I have witnessed it in the lives of many through the years.  I know that some storms take those we love from us. They can dramatically change our individual landscape.  I also know that we can not bring an end to someone else's storm for them.  We can offer them comfort from the elements, we can help them catch a glimpse of the sun's rays just beyond their current sight, but they alone must see the storm through to it's conclusion.  Each of us must decide how the clouds in our life will affect our future. 

I have learned (although I still need to remind myself) that I need not fear life's storms.  When I have chosen to push forward through the pelting storms of life I have discovered the joy of dancing in those same rains.  It is true a storm at times requires some clean up work.  Perhaps navigating the new landscape is difficult at best.  Peace is also found amid life's storms holding an umbrella to share.  We need only be willing move in close enough so that we don't get wet.  Many a night I would comfort one of my children during a thunder storm that woke them stating, "Don't be afraid...that thunder means the sun will shine tomorrow.  Let's count how long it takes until we hear it's rumble again..."