How to move

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI woke up humming a tune.

“Whippoorwills in the willows…” I love that little song. It takes me back to a sweet time in my life when I had fewer cares and responsibilities, a time when love enveloped me like the warm comforter I nestled in as I awoke with the June sunshine streaming in through my bedroom window.

I have always heard “be where your hands are.” My mentor wrote this line to me this week, “Let your head be where your hands and feet are.”

Same essential meaning, but it hit me differently. Yesterday morning, I found myself nearly paralyzed in bed. This inability to move (and unwillingness to get up–it was half inability and half desire) only lasted for about five minutes, thankfully, but it was long enough for me to pause and reflect on the cause. I was unable to get up and make my daughter a cup of strawberry milk and to make my coffee for five minutes because I was humming a little sad tune from a movie I watched during a beautiful time in my life. I was reminiscing. And I was grieving.

When my head and thoughts are reflecting on the past and meditating on memories, I am completely incapable of being in the present. I’m unable to move. I’m unable to go forward. I’m unable to take actions. I’m unable to do stuff. I’m unable to have fun with my kid. The entire time I was floating through the memories of hearing that song then—and humming it again 18 years later—my daughter tugged on my arm, jumped in my bed, and even told me jokes. I half-listened, half-smiled, and half-replied to her. I was half-there. But I’ve been taught that half measures avail me nothing. And living a half life isn’t really living my life, either.

If I’m grateful for the RIGHT NOW, I’m capable of getting up, getting out of bed, and making strawberry milk and coffee in the morning without any problem, without any hesitation. I can do that when I switch my thoughts and focus from back then to right now.

Sometimes I do that easily, as I did yesterday morning, by simply making a mental choice to stop thinking about the past. Sometimes it’s not as simple, quick, or easy. I need to reach deep into my toolbox for help. I pray and work through the Steps of recovery, admitting I’m powerless over my desire to live in the past. I admit that I’m incapable of being where my hands are and ask for God to restore me to sanity. That’s expressing willingness. I say, “Help me, God!” I’ve never known a time when I’ve asked God desperately for help, and He’s pooh-poohed my genuine, unselfish request to make a change.

Another practical way I focus on what I’m grateful for—which switches my focus from then to now—is by paying attention to what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. And I give thanks to God for those things right away, and usually aloud. Does that make me seem like a weirdo? Maybe, but usually I’m home with my daughter, so who really cares? I’ll thank God for the smell of hot coffee as it’s brewing, for the warm sunshine on my blanket, and for the sparkle in Maggie’s eyes every morning. When I’m thanking God with my mouth, my mind doesn’t have as much control over me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m then capable of reading, praying, and meditating and putting first things first. I can make homemade muffins for the cutest four and a half year-old girl in the world. When my head is where my hands are, I’m grateful for where my hands are. When my head is living in 60-second snapshots from the past, I’m not able to see our gray kitten’s fur standing up on end, chasing a bird. I’m unable to hear Maggie giggling while chasing him across the yard. I can’t laugh in response. I choke down fresh farm eggs and homemade chocolate cake; food is bland when I’m in a time warp, either reliving something sad and beautiful or wishing I’d made different choices.

Thankfully, I’ve been taught how to live here. I’ve been taught how to live HERE, where my hands are, where I exist, in reality, where the clock is ticking on the table next to me.

Mighty kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Kindness is the mightiest force in the world,” according to One Day at a Time (299).

In the past, I didn’t feel kind. I didn’t even feel like being kind. I felt like stabbing my ex-husband’s eyeballs with a handful of forks. If you know me now, you may be laughing and trying to imagine me doing this. You may be thinking, “Now Bethany… surely you’re exaggerating!” No. I am not.

That anger and resentment masked my disappointment, bitterness, depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear. I was in pretty sad emotional shape a decade ago (and in the preceding years as well). Thankfully I chose to reach out, get help, and get better.

I have learned I have a choice in every situation. The truth of this notion made me sigh (or gag) for a few years. Martyrdom had become a way of life. I couldn’t see the efficacy in changing my ways because it was tough to take actions and let feelings follow, and I was afraid to admit my part in problems, particularly in relationships. It was much easier to let men, bosses, or relatives take the blame, allow all of you to feel very sorry for me, and go on with life.

I didn’t just omit the truth of my mean part in situations. I also behaved in mean ways. Just ask one of my exes. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me… I’ve been cruel, cold, and calculating.

I haven’t just struggled with being kind in intimate relationships. I still find it tough to be kind—even courteous—to family members who don’t live life the way I do. When someone interrupts me repeatedly, or when a relative tells racist jokes in front of me, I absolutely do not feel motivated to treat them as God’s precious children or want to pinch their adorable cheeks and bless their little hearts. It’s really my problem because “when I am disturbed, it is because I find… some fact of my life… unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 417).

Kindness blooms from acceptance.

Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.

Another root of kindness is gratitude. “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day” (Big Book, 419). Three long years of creating detailed, original gratitude lists helped instill this principle in my heart, but it’s still easier when I feel disgruntled to focus on the problem rather than the solution. When I choose to focus on the solution, I feel better. Many times the quickest way out of a grump is to create a gratitude list. Sometimes I write the items on paper. Many times I pray aloud and say, “Thank you, God, for the chance to stay home and spend time with Maggie right now. Thank you that she cared enough about my reaction that she asked me to quit writing and to come see her new space heater. Thank you for the 30 minutes to write this morning before James left for work.” Hearing myself express gratitude verbally brings me back to where my hands are; the present is where I find the solution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I am thankful, I treat people around me with kindness and compassion. When I am thankful, I am more likely to accept others as they are. And lastly, when I am thankful, mindful, present, and accepting, I like myself. This is something I struggle with but am willing to grow toward today. In moments when I like myself, I’m kind to myself. I don’t lash out in my head with judgmental and critical statements. I smile more often. I relax. I listen well. I laugh. And when I love myself, I love others well.

And kindness and love really do cover a multitude of sins.

I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

Any other way

Today’s post is written by Jessica Nicol, a former student of mine, who has truly had her fair share of traumatic experiences this semester. In the midst of them, she has managed to maintain her composure and serenity to the best of her ability, and I think she’s become a stronger person as a result. I’ve always heard that the situations and problems we face in life either make us better or bitter–the choice is ours. Thankfully, Jessica seems to be making the better choice.

February 12th, 2015:

“But you’re not. You’re not selfish, you hit the nail on the head, you’re human. Plus, your life is way more put together than mine. At least you have a job. At least you know what you want to do with your life. I don’t have a clue. My goals in life right now are 1) Not die and 2) Love Jessica with all that I have.”

“I love you.”

February 13th, 2015:

“I didn’t see Taken 3 playing at this theater online.”

“Checked Searcy, too, and not playing there either.”

“Are you ever going to answer me? We have plans tonight. You do remember, right? :/”

About this time, I got a call from my boyfriend’s mom asking me what I was doing and if someone was there with me that she could talk to. I knew in that moment that something was terribly wrong. You see, my parents and his parents have not yet met; yes I know, we have been dating over a year now, and our parents haven’t met. Anyway, I knew when she wanted to speak to one of them that something had happened. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched my mother’s facial expressions change with every word that his mother had uttered. “Mom, Mom, what’s wrong?” As she hung up my cellphone, she told me that Nick had been in an accident and that he was medflighted to UAMS and was in surgery as we spoke. I felt nothing just completely and utterly numb. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t move. I could do nothing. I just stared into space. At one point my mom told me I could cry, but I really couldn’t.

The night before, I had been upset with him because he hadn’t told me that he was going to be in South Carolina helping his sister move for five days and that he was leaving that Sunday. I had only learned that night, and I yelled at him and asked him if he’d forgotten to tell me something. He was almost in tears. He tried to apologize and said he had forgotten. Of course, I didn’t understand because how can someone forget to tell their girlfriend that they were going to be 12 hours away for a week? Was he going to just up and leave and I was supposed to find out after he left? We had plans the thirteenth to go to dinner and see a movie because we didn’t get to have date nights often since I had taken a full-time key holder position at work. I missed being able to see him when I wanted to. Of course, plans changed.

Once I learned of this news, I was scared. We didn’t know his condition or whether he was going to make it through. All I wanted was for him to live. Before the accident, I had not been completely certain of this relationship. I had loved him, but I was reluctant to give it my all. I had a lot of pain in my younger years of living, especially with men, and I just wasn’t completely trusting. When I heard he was in critical condition, all of that washed away. I wanted to be able to feel the touch of his hand on my face again and hear him tell me he loved me again. Everything was all a blur. I had finally known that this relationship was the one I wanted to be in for the rest of my life. He may have been struggling to find a job and get his life together, but that was only temporary. That was not going to be forever. How dare I let someone who loves me so much and would never hurt me for anything go? How could I even want someone else to have my happy ending?

On Valentine’s Day, I was able to go to UAMS and spend some time with Nick. I was given orders the day of the accident to stay home until his parents knew if he was going to be okay or not. I understood that they were trying to protect me. I was so relieved to arrive at the hospital and walk into that hospital room and see Nick again. I sucked in my tears and tried to be strong for him. I knew he was in an enormous amount of pain because of all of the injuries he had sustained in the collision. I won’t go into all of his injuries, but the one that is the most pressing right now is his hip. His right hip was shattered in the accident and had to be put back together. Because of this, his sciatic nerve was bruised. That nerve and his hip are healing well, but he feels flares of pain in his toes, and his hip hurts often. I hate to see him hurting as much as he is. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes involuntarily.

I’ve been so afraid that he is going to become tired of me or not want to be in a relationship with me anymore that it’s unreal. I’m sick of feeling insecure all of the time, but it’s always been a problem for me. I do know that Nick wants nothing more than for me to be happy, and I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him. I have sat next to him nearly every day since he has been home from the hospital and taken care of him as best I can. His parents leave me with him sometimes when they need to go out for church or something. It’s nice to feel like I’m needed and useful. In some way I’m thankful for this incident because it has made us closer and stronger. It’s hard, yes, but I think it was God’s way of giving me a wake up call. I was told that if I had been with him that morning, I would have been killed. So, in a way, both of our lives were spared. I guess that means we both have awesome things that are going to happen in our lives. I hope one of those things is for us to be together. I’m so happy we found each other. I wouldn’t have my life any other way.

The ticking of the clock

Today’s post is by Debra Dickey, my friend and frequent contributor. 

Lately, I’ve begun to experience an unusual development of emotions that is difficult to describe.  When I tried to put a finger on it, the only thing I could come up with was the ticking of my ‘biological clock’, only in reverse.

With children who are now grown-ups, on their own for the most part, and in their first stages of getting established in jobs and careers and with lives of their own, a healthy marginalization has been aptly carved out.   Yet much more than classic separation has invaded my heart – a sudden perception of inevitable mortality has begun to creep its way into my psyche, lending itself to the reality that my time on earth, and therefore, with my children, is day by day, becoming more limited.

Clock 1The truth is, no matter how long I have, it will never be enough time to spend with my children.  From the very first moments of their lives, I have wanted to be a part of who they are and share in the known quantity of their lives. Because of the extraordinary people they both are, not just my children, our journey together has been one of joy and appreciation.

With the challenges and harsh trajectory that our lives have taken, the three of us had to become a unit.  Knowing what was at stake, I intentionally created a mindful environment to foster family connections that would ultimately lead to the homogenous family nucleus that, hopefully, will endure for the rest of our lives.  I was on the right track — it’s working!   So well that I cannot imagine it any other way and, never want to let it go!

Although I whole-heartedly loved my children the first 20 years of their lives, we were all so busy being  pretty overwhelmed and mostly in survival mode, our relationships were less symbiotic and more parent/child, as they only could have been.  But grown up children are real people–and mine are really wonderful people–people I absolutely love spending time with, am inspired having conversations with, thrill at sharing moments with, have trustingly created equality and affinity with, and simply enjoy laughing and planning and being with.

Petulant, my clock is on a nostalgic countdown.   How many more years can I possibly have with them?  Ten, fifteen??  That is not nearly enough!  Not nearly enough to cram all the love and fun and delight and heart songs that they bring, into my life.  Not nearly enough to make them understand how much they mean to me and how indelibly they have impacted everything that has ever had meaning.  Not nearly enough to see them smile, hear their voices and their laughter, to celebrate their successes, and to know them as they develop all their talents and become even more incredible people than they already are.  I don’t want to miss a thing!

Sentimental that it is, the ticking of the clock is the beating of my heart, with the message to make every minute count and to focus on the things that matter most – don’t ever take these two amazing gifts for granted.   I won’t.  I just hope that the Good Lord gives me exactly the right amount of time, perfectly synched, full of Grace, for all three of us.

The mind’s freedom of movement

Today’s post is written by my lifelong friend Mark Egan. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this thoughtful reflection on the deeper meaning of life and love as much as I do.

Nothing in life progresses on some linear path. Everything–happiness, health, love, achievement, motivation, self-worth–ebbs and flows throughout life. The valleys are labeled their respective peaks’ opposites.

11008850_936616623055175_297026962_nAchievement’s path is not confined by some imaginary X-axis with moments below the axis. Failures are viewed as separate and distinct points when our memory calls on them. That’s how we often view progress.

Love is viewed no differently in time. Should love fail us and recede below the X-axis like an unstoppable morning tide, we pick up the pen, tracing love’s progress, and we forever view the experience as a distinct point. That we instinctively view and recall in this manner can lead to tragedy.

Above this imaginary line, we ebb and flow. Below it, a single point or points hover. Our mind, just like a pen, is free to move above the axis. Below, our minds are stuck. We lift the pen to fill in a little black circle to indicate our “points of intersection.” There is no flow or movement. We are stuck, forced to abide by the laws of our own memories and how experiences are viewed. Movement simply makes the point bigger and darker on the page until we stop, lift the pen, and begin a new path above the axis, or until tragically, the intensity of our own efforts wears the paper-thin and the pen rips through the exhausted and unrecognizable fibers.

The answer, of course, is to allow the pen to move freely through experiences regardless of the emotions and label we assign them, without the pressure of an imaginary, self-determined X-axis. The key to success, love, and joy is not the absence of failure, hate, and misery. The key is the mind’s freedom of movement.

Maybe our X-axis exists because of the way our minds remember and recall events. We arbitrarily set our own X-axis based on experience. The diversity in outcomes for all of us has more to do with location, not intensity or duration of the struggle or memory. Rather than aiming to temporarily get someone unstuck and hope for fewer negative events to impact someone’s life, the goal should be to slowly lower the axis line so that fewer of the same number of negative events are viewed as singular events at all.

Or maybe, for some of us, the lines on our graphs transcend the page. Perhaps we reach a point in life when the points and specific dots and moments matter much less, and we begin living life in real time—again, free to remember the points on the X-axis when they benefit us but free to transcend them as well.

And perhaps when that happens, we have the freedom to live life off the page, removed from this restrictive two-dimensional Cartesian plane, on a spiritual plane, in which case explaining the past or the points on the X-axis becomes less crucial. Because after all, life—and certainly love—are gifts. And when given a beautiful gift, the best option is to accept it—hold out your hands, bow your head, and cherish it.

–Mark D. Egan

Think Laurel and Hardy

*Today’s post is written by regular contributor (and good friend) Debra Dickey. Thank you, Debra, for sharing your wit, insight, and life with us!*

Gratefully, sometimes my life turns into a comedy routine. Not that kitty antics are not laughable in their own right – but sometimes it gets even better!

Laurel & HardyLast night, my two young nephews provided a comedy skit worthy of a Laurel and Hardy routine. And because my phone reception is not always reliable, they ended up drawing my ready-for-bed, ain’t-walkin’-across-the-yard-in-the-dark, so-drove-his-truck-700-yards-down-the-road-to-my-house, to-deliver-a-crazy message -that -didn’t-even-begin-to-make-sense–nor-could-he-understand, Dad into their crazy comedy routine at 8:30 at night as well.

This was the message: (Dad)  My brother called and said I needed to go to the house to do something for Randy…. ‘cause Cody has his key….and I needed to tell Randy….. but I needed to go the house  . . . . .he REALLY didn’t understand what they were talking about…. so I’d be better off to call somebody and find out what they were talking about…..’cause he really didn’t know.”

I’m cracking up!

So I called Cody, and he tells me I need to go let Randy in the house, and tell him he has his keys and he’s on his way home.  Okay, none of this is still making sense, right.  True to typical comedy, only after it’s all over do I finally learn the actual story — think Laurel and Hardy:  Cody had gone to get his truck, but his keys weren’t there, so he called Randy at his girlfriend’s house, to go home and get his other keys and bring them to him, but Randy has lost his house key, so I am supposed to go let Randy in the house so he can get Cody’s keys and take them to him, except by the time I got the message, the other person had brought Cody’s keys, so Cody has his keys and now I am supposed to let Randy in the house, but tell him that Cody has his keys and is on his way home, but by the time I drive over and get to the end of the road, Cody has already gotten in touch with Randy, at which point Randy is waiting for me, because everything’s fine, and nobody needs nothin’!  = two nutty boys!    ( :   You just can’t make this stuff up!

I love my family, and my nephews and my niece, and would do anything for them – they are what make the world go ‘round!  They bring hilarity and a healthy dose of character to all of us with their unique personalities and their attempts to navigate life in their own way that nobody can deny. You gotta love ‘em…..and I do.