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..." 




Give yourself a gift this Christmas...Be Kind.

To find some shelter from the rain and cold he had spent the day sitting under the eaves of an empty video store near the entrance to our local grocery.  He held a simple sign which read "Need food for my family please help."   It wasn't the best location for an answer to his plea.  Even though everyone would see him as they were driving in to get their last minute Christmas Eve dinner items.  It would require that they make an effort to return and stop their car on the way out before hurrying home to their families and various holiday festivities. 

Now I have no doubt that the majority of people (just like me) who noticed this man sitting there considered his plight and even had the thought to do something - they simply never acted upon it.  What I didn't realized was that the Christmas Peace I was looking for that morning was sitting next to him waiting for me to reach out my hand in Kindness. 

I saw this man at 8 a.m. that Christmas Eve three years ago.  I had no idea at the time the events that would unfold in the coming hours.  I honestly didn't even think about him as I left the store and parking lot from a different exit.  The phone rang at about 2 p.m.  It was my father-in-law asking us to arrive at his home an hour early for Christmas Eve...he had something he needed all of us to do.  With grumbles all the way around and questions as to what he could possibly need us to do on Christmas Eve I let all my children know the new time of arrival. 

When we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's home that afternoon they had two boxes for each of their children's families waiting for them with a turkey and some food items for a meal.  At the time they were working at the local food bank and they knew first hand the needs of local families at this time of year.  They simply gave us the boxes with instructions to go to the store and supplement any items we felt might be needed in the boxes and then deliver them to two families of our choosing within the next hour.  When we returned we would have our family dinner and evening festivities. 

We were in shock.  An hour? We had already participated in the Giving Tree at our Church - wasn't that enough?  Two families? We didn't even know one family that we could think of that needed a meal that day...or did we?  We took a deep breath loaded our family (ten of us that night) back into our vehicles and headed towards the grocery store. 

As we added fresh vegetables and a few non-essential Christmas goodies we discussed our options for delivery.  It was then that my daughter mentioned seeing a man in this very parking lot at noon when she came in to pick something up.  My son too remember seeing the same  man at about two when he came through the parking lot.  I then had to admit that I too had seen the same man at the beginning of my day.  Was it possible that he could still be sitting in front of that empty video store at 5 p.m.?  We didn't think it was. 

Out of the store and across the the parking lot to the far entrance.  Sure enough there he sat with the same sign in the same pouring rain eight hours after I had first seen him.  I imagine he wondered what was going on when ten of us piled out of two cars to approach him.  I hadn't previously noticed that he had an old bicycle leaning against the brick wall near him.  We offered him the items in our box and wondered if he a way to prepare it.  He said yes that his family lived in a small apartment nearby and that he hadn't had the heart to return home for Christmas Eve empty handed so he had remained there late into the afternoon.  We exchanged our box for several sacks he could manage on his bike (something to be considered in our future giving adventures) and after thanking us multiple times he headed home with a Christmas meal for his family. 

Success! Our first meal was delivered but we still had one more box left.  There were no other people out on the street that night, it was already dark out, and very cold.  My son then thought of the clerk at the local gas station we all got deli food and sodas from each week. (I am sure that Peace had jumped into the car with us and sat right down next him...) We all said awkward...we see her all the time.  But he insisted.  At the time he was working delivering pizzas at night.  Almost every evening he would stop at the store for a popand for a few minutes he would talk with the woman behind the counter.  He knew she would be working that night and more importantly he also knew that she could use the Christmas meal the next day.

We were out of anonymous delivery options  - this one would be personal.  And all the sweeter we would soon discover.  As we walked into the store she was happy to see all of us.  "What are you all doing here?  Are you heading to your family Christmas party?" We told her we were but that our son had suggested that we stop by here first for a pop and to wish her a Merry Christmas.  "Merry Christmas!" she returned with a smile.  Then we showed her the box with the Christmas dinner items.  "What's this?" she asked.  "Christmas dinner...or the day after Christmas if you already have other plans!  Merry Christmas!"  This was the moment I had been nervous about...would she be angry or embarrassed?  Would she be too proud to accept our gift?  (or was I actually envisioning my own reaction if I was in a similar circumstances?)

With tears in her eyes she stepped out from behind the counter to give us each a hug and a thank you.   An extra moment was spent looking into my sons eyes as his were welled with tears and then a hug for him too.  She knew he was her friend and not just a customer any more.  Three years later she still works at the same store.  My son no longer delivers pizzas so their evening talks are much less frequent.  However, anytime when we do happen in on an evening our connection and friendship is revalidated as we update each other on our lives and families.

Recent news headlines out of New York City tell the story of a random act of kindness extended towards a man sitting on the busy sidewalk without any shoes and the police officer who saw a need a decided to act upon it.  (See NY Times article)  For a day or two the response was one of admiration for the police officers actions caught on a cell phone camera by a tourist. However, it was only a matter of a few days before naysayers began to try to take away from the kind act by putting forth evidence that the unsolicited gift did not change the circumstances of the receiver and that perhaps the man should not have ever received the gift in the first place. (See NY Times article)

I am going to go out a limb here and suggest that a random act of kindness will never benefit the person on the receiving end of the act more than the person who delivers the kindness. I am certain that our box of food left with the  man in the grocery store parking lot did nothing more than feed them for a day or two. It did not change his circumstances for any length of time and quite frankly I have no idea how "deserving" he was of our kindness.  My point here is that those things simply do not matter.  It was my life and perspective that was transformed in that exchange.  I discovered where Peace could instantly be found - resting on the extended hand of Kindness

I have also come to believe that there really is no "random" act of kindness.  I believe that Kindness is one of the choice and consequences sticks I have previously posted about.  Throughout each day we are given (and I personally believe we are literally given) opportunities to be kind.  Very frequently profound circumstances will bring to pass those opportunities in a manner which will leave you asking - was this really random?  When I was discussing this post with the lovely woman who does my hair she told me her recent experience with kindness.

She had been trying for months to sell a set of tires that her father had left for them at her home.  Various attempts at selling the tires had not been successful.  Then one day she had the thought that she was just going to load them up and take them to a nearby used tire dealer.  She wanted them out of the back yard and would take whatever he offered.  She left the store with $100.  She and her family then went to dinner at a local family owned restaurant they frequently dined at. (Why not?  They had some extra cash.)  A conversation with her waitress revealed that it was her child's birthday the next day.  The same conversation also revealed that the waitress was more than willing to go without her cell phone in order to make sure the birthday would not be without a gift.  As they left their $100 tip that night it included a note on a napkin which thanked her for the great service each time they came in telling her to enjoy the birthday party and keep her cell phone on too. 

It was then she hestitated in her story and said she really felt like she had the thought to go to that specific tire place on that very day just so that she would have the extra money when they went to dinner that night.  I could tell she was wondering if I would validate that belief or brush it off as a random act on her part. 

My past experiences with Kindess allowed me to validate her own.  She knew it was no random act and so did I. 

It is not always easy to to be kind.  I have found this often to be most true within the walls of my own home.  And yet, is that not where we want Peace to reside on a daily basis?  Opportunities for kindness abound.  Look for them and you will find Peace in the process.  So forget the notion that your acts of kindness are all about the other guy - they are really all about you! (That right there makes my next kind act easier!)

When an opportunity for Kindness comes your way  - reach out. 

You will hear Peace whisper - "You're right...I knew you would pass my way today."