On Grief…with Thanks

Grief leaves you with puffy red eyes that you cannot hide.

Grief makes you hear and see things that aren’t there.

Grief weighs you down like a lead-lined blanket.

Grief makes you endlessly tired but unable to sleep.

Grief takes away your ability to answer questions, to think straight.

Grief pokes at you day in and day out; and just when you think it might have finally given you room to breathe it looms large again.

Grief makes your emotions change randomly and frequently.

Grief dehydrates you.

Grief is lonely.

Grief is work.

But I’m thankful to those who gave me so many kind words on Facebook. To the one who called to ask if I needed help with final arrangements. To the ones who dropped everything to be there for me in that moment and gave me a safe place to fall. To the one who sat with me and made sure I ate something and told me I was doing really well through everything. To the one who kept reaching out when I pulled away, until we worked through this. To the one whose words shortened the distance between us and provided great comfort. To the one who called long-distance to be here with me. To the one who let me cry on her shoulder and told me sometimes dogs are just better than people. To everyone who understands that you really can grieve over a dog as deeply as you can a person…I just wanted to say thank you.

Posted in Christian, pets | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Losing Kobe

It’s 4:30am as I sit here and write this. My head still hurts from crying all day yesterday, and much of last night. I knew this was coming. In some ways it helped, but only in some. I just didn’t think it would be so soon.

Over fourteen years ago I went through some major health stuff. When I finally made it back to work, I was weak; but managing. They had me training someone for our job. Over the course of three days, the person I was training had learned of my health challenges and it turned out many of them were in common with ones she had survived. She didn’t like that I lived alone while I was going through everything. “You should at least have a dog.”

I had looked into getting a dog, I told her, but between the pet deposit on my apartment and the cost of the dog I just couldn’t afford it, especially with all my medical expenses. I don’t do puppy mill dogs. If I went to the pound I’d want them all. I found a gal in my office who had one, but she wanted $300 for it because it was an AKC papered-Lhasa Apso she had bought for her daughter who was moving and didn’t want to keep him.

The next day I came into the office and the lady I was training handed me a check for my pet deposit and told me I could pick up my Lhasa Apso from the lady in the office whenever I was ready. She had paid the entire amount for me. Needless to say I was floored. No one had ever done anything so kind for me, especially someone I had known for only three days.

When I first met Kobe he was a tangled, overgrown ball of matted fur. Because the daughter hadn’t wanted him, he was left outside on his own most of the time, not cared for. It didn’t matter. It was love at first sight. He was mine. His actual name was Colby III (yes, “the third”); but his owners called him Kobe and I didn’t want to confuse him. He was only a year old. A black, course-haired Lhasa with a white patch at his chest.

If you’ve ever rescued a dog you know how grateful they are to you. They know when they aren’t wanted. They know when they’ve found someone who loves them. He laid on my feet while I sat at my desk. He laid on my feet when I used the toilet. He followed me everywhere. Once he pulled away from me when I was walking him and he ran away…disappearing around the corner to the parking lot. I ran, praying a car wouldn’t hit him. Suddenly he was running back straight at me with the look of a terrified toddler, his eyes screaming, “Where did you go???”

I soon taught him to sit, lay down, shake (with both paws), roll over, beg, and give kisses. His kisses. There were times I thought I was his salt-lick. He loved to lick my legs when I laid down to sleep. Drove me nuts sometimes. When I was sick he would lay down next to me and lick my throat. When I tried to sleep in he’d sit on my hair so I couldn’t move and lick in my ear! Sometimes, for no reason I can think of, he’d walk over to me, touch his tongue lightly on my leg, and then turn and walk away. It always cracked me up. I know a lot of people hate dog lick. I never have. It was always sweet to me.

Kobe was small, about 18 pounds; but from the other side of the door his bark sounded like he was Rottweiler-sized, which made him perfect for life in a small studio apartment. He was also formidable and protective.

Once my back went out at 2 in the morning. I tried to force myself up to use the bathroom but ended up passing out, hitting my head on the bathtub. It took me almost 3 hours to crawl to the phone to call for help. Kobe was next to me the entire way. He whimpered and circled me as I tried to move; and when I stopped moving he’d lick my face. When the firemen came to help me, he had all FIVE of the big guys backed up against the wall. He wouldn’t let them near me. I had to explain to them that he knew something was wrong and was just trying to protect me from strangers. One of them got down on his knees and started speaking kindly to him. Only then did he calm down enough to let the fireman move him into my kitchen.

Most nights he slept snuggled up at my feet. If I turned away from him he’d move up behind my knees or my back. I called him my furry hot water bottle. Even in the 117 degree heat in the summer with the a/c broken, he still wanted nearness.

He still did at the end. He’d had a congested lung for nearly a year. The vets disagreed on what was causing it; one thinking cancer or valley fever and the other thinking merely an infection. Four rounds of antibiotics and steroids did nothing. He didn’t seem bothered by it, aside from the occasional cough. He was perky as ever. Eating and doing everything else normally. He’d loved moving in here. Renting a room from a friend with two dogs gave him an instant pack. He wasn’t sure what to make of it at first; but soon he was following around the largest (and youngest) dog, watching her every move. We joked that he wanted to be like her when he grew up. She put up with him walking under her (he could actually walk under her belly, because of the size difference).

The day before yesterday his breathing changed. It became rattling and wheezy. It was much more labored. They had already told me there was nothing more they could do beyond extreme measures I couldn’t afford. He was fine when he was laying down, but when he’d move he’d erupt into prolonged coughing/choking. Even still he wanted to be near me. Sitting at my feet while I worked. Forcing himself to follow me if I left the room. But he was changed. He seemed confused. I had to pick him up to put him outside and then he just stood there instead of going into the grass of the backyard. He had stopped eating, uninterested in even his favorite treat. I had to lift up the bowl of water for him to drink. I laid him on my bed so his head could be elevated as he laid down; but as I turned around to work he’d breath harder, more urgently. He didn’t want me to leave him.

During my first break of the morning I laid down beside him. Almost immediately his breathing became desperate. His head raised up and back until he could see me and then he went limp. He stopped breathing and his heart stopped. I screamed for my friend to come. We said our goodbyes. Then he moved. Incredulously we watched as his breathing started again, only seriously labored. Again his head raised up and back until he could see me. I told him it was ok. I was with him. He wasn’t alone. Again he went limp. Again, what seemed like minutes later he moved and breathed again. I was nearly hysterical. I was ready to rush him to the vet. I didn’t want him to suffer; but he HATED the vet. I didn’t want his last moments to be full of fear. This time his breathing gently slowed, and stopped. I felt his heart stop. We waited. No movement. No more. The alarm signaling my break had ended went off. It took just over 15 minutes.

A friend came and I wrapped him in his blanket and we took him to the vet for them to confirm he was gone. I couldn’t bear the thought of burying him if he was only in a coma. They came out to the parking lot to check him so I didn’t have to come in. They confirmed. He was gone.

I’m so thankful I had him. I’m thankful I didn’t have to make the choice to put him down. He was fifteen years old. Fourteen of those we spent together. My friend told me the fact he wanted to be with me, to stay with me when he died, spoke of our closeness as many dogs seem to go off to be alone when they die. I hope that was true. I hope that he loved being my companion as much as I’d loved him.

I have a furry water-bottle-shaped hole in my life now. I keep thinking I hear his paw move on the floor. I worry about stepping on him when I put my feet down from the bed. I think for a second I left him outside.

When you live alone for 14 years, there are many challenges in that. He was my only companion for most of that. He made my life so much better. I’m so thankful.
Kobe

Posted in dog, pets | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lucy Died Today

It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be like. I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t tell it had happened, at least not right away.

I was working when from the other room came a terrible cry. I ran in but couldn’t figure out which dog made the noise. There are three dogs in the house. One was with me. I knew it wasn’t him. One was running outside. The other was sleeping, breathing normally. I went back to work.

The next “scream” was longer. I ran into the other room again. This time I saw it coming from the sleeping dog. I assumed it was a dream. Her feet were moving. She was breathing like she was running. I tried to rouse her, but seconds after her head lifted she’d lay it back down and start snoring. It must just be a dream. I went back to work.

There was another yelp. This one short. I ran back to the room. I tried to rouse her again but she wouldn’t wake up. She was breathing hard. There was a bad smell. She had vacated under her chair (her favorite sleeping spot). I tried to lift her and she yelped. I called her owner (my friend who rents me a room here). I told Lucy to hold on. I petted her and talked to her and told her that her momma was coming.

Before my friend could get home, Lucy stopped breathing. I watched my friend touch her and confirm she was gone. She handled it far better than I did. Talking sweetly to her. Saying it was probably the best way for her to go. I’m still crying.

She was old. A 12-13 year old cream-colored cocker spaniel who looked like a sheep when she needed a haircut (seriously, kids who saw her would point and say, “Look mom, a sheep!”). She was blind. She would often walking straight at my dog and get into a tussle because my much smaller dog thought she was picking a fight. She was sweet. We called her the ninja dog because of the way she would sidle up to the coffee table when there was food on it, her nose going the whole time; then, when she sensed no one was looking, she’d move quick as lightening to snatch whatever she could.

She would be sound asleep and as soon as you pulled out food (cold, hot, didn’t matter) you’d see her nose start wiggling back and forth and soon her big, sleepy head would raise and lead her toward the smell.

It was the first time any living thing that I’ve loved had ever died in my arms.

I’ll miss her.

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Daily goals/Daily needs

There’s an animated prehistoric squirrel with which you may be familiar. He finds an acorn (the Holy Grail of squirrels, prehistoric and otherwise). From there it becomes an epic undertaking for the squirrel to get his hands (or teeth) on the acorn. Every time he does, something happens. The acorn gets catapulted to a dangerous height or plunged to a dangerous depth. The squirrel exerts every ounce of furry determination in his power to reach his goal, only to have it snatched away when he thought he had finally triumphed.

Ever had a day like that? Or a week? Or a year?

We all have goals. Some little, daily goals…others bigger life goals. Sometimes they seem just within our reach when something catastrophic happens: a car accident, a house fire, cancer. Our life goals often get pushed farther and farther away by inescapable events.
life goals

For me, though, it’s harder to deal with those little daily goals and the ump-teen daily setbacks. Most of us view our life goals as dreams. Things we wish for when we are conversing with friends about winning the lottery. Things we fantasize about when we are standing in line at the grocery store or at the DMV.

Our daily goals are the post-it notes on the computer or the to-do list on the fridge that need doing; yet somehow it feels like the entire universe is conspiring against us completing them, at least on our time table. That thing that should have been easy to fit in before work gets way-laid by oversleeping, discovering a grease-stain on the top you wanted to wear, and demanding pets or children or spouses. The thing that absolutely needed doing during your lunch break gets set aside by the four phone calls, one after another, that all came in unexpectedly. Your frustration builds and in your haste to accomplish one or more things even if it kills you, you end up making a giant mess, creating more chaos and sabotaging your to-do list for that day, the next day, and likely the entire weekend.
to do list

I have days like that on a regular basis. Days when I go out into the garage to let out a tension-breaking scream and go back inside to a couple sets of canine eyes full of concern, worrying that they did something wrong (or worrying that “she’s finally lost it”). Oftentimes it just takes a few moments of peace and a few glimpses of something beautiful to reclaim my sanity. The irony being that I’m the one who deprived myself of that peace and beauty in the first place.

Why do I skip the most important part of my morning assuming that it is the easiest thing to do without? The older I have become the more I see the need for my time in the Word, my time with God. The more I see its direct impact on my day. Yet I still sabotage myself by ignoring it in lieu of getting things done. And I suffer the consequences. I need the Lord the way some people need their morning coffee. If I don’t have my morning meeting with Him, I spend the rest of the day grouchy, frustrated, and impatient. When I spend that time with Him, regardless of the circumstances of the rest of the day, I have a reservoir of peace and beauty from which to draw. My natural pessimistic attitude can be overcome by positive thought choices. I have more energy, can think more clearly, and get more done. But most of all, I am a much more pleasant person. This manic squirrel needs to stop thinking of my goals as the acorn, and realize that my God is my never-ending supply.

I hope that lesson sinks into my head so deeply that it can never come out. I need Him. Daily.

Beloved Brews Linkup

Posted in Christian | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Financial Clutter

In the continuing quest to remove clutter from my life, I’ve been putting a lot of thought as to how to apply this to my finances. What exactly constitutes financial clutter? My first thought is an obvious one…credit cards. These little con-artists hide in your wallet or purse, trying to convince you that you can afford that thing in front of you, or that unbudgeted meal out, or that vacation you really “need”. This leads to a greater accumulation of things along with a greater accumulation of debt. Clutter abounds and peace disappears. You end up awake at night under the great weight of “how did it get this bad?” When I operate on a cash-only basis (pay all my bills the day I get my paycheck, then remove my budgeted money for groceries in cash) I know exactly what I have on hand to spend. Either I have it in my purse or I don’t. No conning myself into charging it. I dwell in peace. credit cards The next financial clutter-fighter is to re-examine your definition of “wants” vs “needs”. If your finances need de-cluttering…focus on needs only. When you get in a habit of overspending, it so easily snowballs. You start off buying extra things at the grocery store, then you are eating out when you can’t afford to, followed by pedis you “need” (when you have all the stuff to do it at home except the fancy massage chair); the next thing you know you are charging a week’s vacation because you really needed a break. What you don’t seem to remember is how you will feel when those bills roll in. There’s no vacation that will make those go away. Putting “wants” on a credit card is a great way to remain in debt forever. wants vs need Another side to that coin is putting “needs” on a credit card. If you are in the position where you are going into debt for basics like food and fuel for your car, you are not in a good place. Going into debt over necessities is a sign of the need for drastic change. Yes, you may have to spend some time eating cheaply and missing out on time with friends because you can’t afford it; but you have to regain the discipline of living within your means. No, it’s generally not fun; but it is WORTH it. Yes, there are instances of people who can handle credit cards…people who can pay them off every month or only use them for things like renting a car. If you can do this, fantastic. You already dwell in peace with your finances. If you find yourself in a cycle of maxing out your credit cards and then struggling to pay them off, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you hold your breath when you hand over your credit card at the check out because you aren’t sure you have enough room on there to buy bread, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you can’t look at amazon.com without making a purchase and then realize your purchase was never sent to you because your card was rejected, you need to de-clutter your finances. If you can’t remember the last time you paid your bills where it didn’t come with a panic attack and a need for an antacid, you need to de-clutter your finances. savings Savings. You may find what I’m about to say about savings surprising, but hear me out. Savings can either be a source of peace, or a source of stress. Seriously. When your savings account is a source of peace you view it as an emergency back up. It’s there for expected issues, like car repairs, that don’t fit into your monthly budget but hopefully don’t occur often enough that you can’t replenish your savings before the next one hits. But that’s the thing, most of us seem to get hit with one thing after another. Your almost 20 year old car needs new tires, then a new a/c switch, then a new timing belt; and the same week your 7 year old laptop decides its on its last legs. Your dog needs multiple trips to the vet in a month where everyone you know seems to have their birthday. There’s always something.

Yes, it is good to have money in savings; but we cannot depend on our savings to save us. We have a Savior. He has unlimited resources. We need to be responsible with our money; but ultimately we need to remember that He is the One who is taking care of us. We cannot lose our sense of peace because our savings are depleted and we don’t have room on our credit card. We must find our constant and consistent peace in Christ. He doesn’t waiver. He doesn’t ebb and flow with our need. He is our peace, even when we don’t know how we will get through. Sometimes it isn’t pretty. Sometimes it’s a long, hard haul; but we get there, if we stay diligent and dwell on what we have and not on what we don’t. The one thing we will always have is Jesus.

Beloved Brews Linkup

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Being

In 1976, Erich Fromm wrote a book called, “To Have or To Be?” It describes how true happiness can only be experienced if you live life focused on being (valuing experiences) instead of having (valuing things). Our society is focused on having, and therefore works constantly against us. If we lose sight of being, then we get caught up in acquiring and lose ourselves.

I tend to be an all or nothing person. Some describe behaviors as pendulums, swinging back and forth from one extreme to another. Mine seems to exist only at the two end points. My struggle tends to be finding a middle ground on which to land.

girl and grandfather clock

In this newness of developing and dwelling in a clutter-free existence, I am finding I have to work hard to carve out space. I’ll be doing well one week, a place for everything and everything in its place; but then I turn around and piles of junk mail and laundry seem to have taken back over my room. I set things down, intending to get to them later, and never do. It takes work. It takes a structured, scheduled time to perform the maintenance required to keep things clutter-free. Constancy and consistency.

This doesn’t apply only to the physical realm of my room. I need to apply the same scheduling and effort to my spiritual life. The looming expenses of life focus me back on the having. Just being with the Lord, hearing and meditating, gets lost in the clutter of my mind. To maintain the space to hear from God, to listen, to dwell in peace, I have to carve it out and keep it protected. The joy I find from creating is there waiting, but it never seems to take the priority when other things pop up. Circumstance conspires against me; I give in too easily. An extra 1/2 hour of sleep seems more needful until….

tea and view
…until I realize I’m awake all night with thoughts swirling around because I haven’t given myself that time to process things in the still and quiet. I became lost, once again, in my to-do list instead of guarding my quiet time to listen and to create and to be with my Jesus.

Then suddenly everything seems harder. Frustration makes dropping a pencil a catastrophic event.

Not all is lost. I know that. I’ve done well sticking to my 7 foods only meal plan. Another 11 lbs gone.

But I want the peace back. I don’t want that creative space I just found to slip away so soon. So I’m back with my figurative pick-axe, carving out some more time for thoughts and considerations…for listening and artistry. To focus on being and experiencing.

I need to find that dwelling place. The middle ground. And land firmly with both feet, planted.

Beloved Brews Linkup

Posted in Christian | Tagged | 2 Comments

De-Clutter Your Food

The last year of my life has been about improving the livability of my life. I have worked to improve myself at my job and at home. I have worked to organize and simplify. I have stepped up into things that God has led me to, and opened my hand to release my plans to Him…and I have waited. I am still waiting on some things.

As I have waited I have tried to focus on doing everything I can to make the most of the lessons I am learning. I have seen the benefits of removing clutter and how it soothes my soul. I have reaped the benefits of spending time researching and teaching things I used to expect others to do for me. I am focusing on including creativity regularly in my life. While this is definitely still a work in progress, I know I am in the right place, doing the right thing.

Removing the clutter from my life has been of so much benefit, I wondered where I might benefit from applying this lesson that I hadn’t yet thought of. Sure, the garage and my room/office are obvious places to de-clutter; but there are other areas of my life that need work…areas that seem to always need work.

So I decided to see if I might apply this lesson of removing the clutter and creating space to my area of greatest weakness…food. My part of the refrigerator and pantry. My shopping list. My daily meals. Have you ever thought of such things as being cluttered? I hadn’t, until recently. Now it seems like a revelation.

cluttered pantry

My pantry shelf is a mess, filled with bits and pieces of items that have been in there for ages. Things I purchased because I had a coupon or it was on sale and I thought I might use them for for small group snacks or tea with friends or Christmas cookie projects with my sister’s kids; but that never happened. I have “just in case” items that are there for if I am sick or if I run short on groceries unexpectedly. A poor woman’s stockpile. If I look at them with my new, healthier, de-cluttering eyes…I see the stuff of distrust and unhealth. I have gluten-free thai noodle packs in case I get sick and there’s no one to help me. The stuff I bought with no real need for them are there because I’m afraid I won’t have the money at some point in the future to buy what I might need. The way that clutter in a garage or room points to the fact you don’t trust you will have what you need when you need it, my pantry items were saying the same thing. I gathered and held onto things that I might need because I feared. I feared they wouldn’t be there when I did need them.

My grocery list often spoke of the same thing. Everything on sale with a coupon that I could get the most of (not what I needed to meet my needs). I didn’t trust I would have enough.

So I have spent time decluttering this part of my life. I went through and threw out all the expired items. I gave away things that weren’t expired that I didn’t have any immediate plans for. And I de-cluttered my grocery list. I went back to the “7” plan, buying only the dietician approved chicken, eggs, whole grain bread (gluten free), sweet potatoes, spinach, apples, and avocados.

It sure simplifies things. I know exactly what I need and how much it will cost me every week. I am eating healthy foods without having to stress over counting calories or worrying about portions. I save money and eliminate waste because I only buy what I know I will eat by the end of the week. Nothing goes bad. (Except sometimes the avocados, because they have a sneaky way of being hard one day and overly ripe the next; but even that I’m getting better at determining!)

organized refrigerator

I also include a Sabbath break with my eating. During the week, I often face cravings (don’t we all?) but they are easier to deal with when I tell myself that if I’m still craving it on Sunday I can have that thing. I allow myself a Sabbath meal to be free to eat what I want, no guilt. (Just one meal, not a day of eating poorly or a weekend…as that tends to be much harder to walk away from when Monday comes around). One meal is easy. Half the time my cravings don’t last until the weekend, which gives me a better sense of self-control. The boundaries of the healthy groceries allow me to lose weight without focusing on what I can’t have (only on what I do have). My Sabbath meal reminds me that I am free to eat what I want, within boundaries…and that boundaries are for my own good. I see how negatively sugar affects me with so much more ease when I rarely have it. It makes it easier to choose to avoid it.

I find that I enjoy the food I do have. I enjoy my Sabbath meal more than I would if it were a frequent occurrence. And I enjoy trusting that God will provide for my needs. It’s no longer about me scraping by to take care of myself. It’s about being thankful for what I have and resting in the provision of God’s plan.

I wonder what other ways I can apply this?

Beloved Brews Linkup

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Journey from Clutter to Creativity

The last few months I feel I’ve been on a quest. In an attempt to write a Bible study on how to live life with intent (to make and keep goals, to manage clutter and stay organized, to prioritize, to rest) I have been forced to walk out what I am learning and will soon teach.

For the most part, it has been good. I mean really good. I set goals for myself (those nagging things that have needed doing for the last year but I found every possible excuse to put them off). No more excuses. I had to reprioritize when I realized outside factors (namely the weather heating up earlier than I had hoped) were going to be a problem. I persevered through frustration and difficulty and not only completed the organization of the garage, but also of my room/office. I get a goofy grin on my face as I pass through the garage now and see the neatly stacked and numbered boxes. I re-enter my bedroom/office and the clutter that now is tucked away in decorative boxes has given way to space. This space acts like a balm to my soul, beckoning me in to peace.

decorative boxes

This space allows me the ease to enter into a time of quiet. It allows me to spend time in the Word. It allows me time to be creative. It seems suddenly easier to paint or sketch or write. As the clutter around me comes under control, the clutter in my mind follows suit. I can think. I can rest. I can dwell in the quiet and wait without the eerie feeling something I have forgotten is about to come crashing down on me.

I have had this week off. The first few days were filled with enjoyable outings intermixed with room maintenance and necessary shopping. I like productive days. I like feeling I have crossed things off my list. Today, however, I caught myself feeling stressed out about not getting enough done and then laughed at myself when I realized that this is my vacation time. I didn’t HAVE to get anything done. I didn’t have anything on my list that couldn’t wait. They were all “want to’s” not “have to’s.” I could rest. I decided to take a little break in the middle of my week to maintain it as a stress-free zone. Peace returned.

I still got a lot done, I just managed to enjoy the day while doing it. I’m learning to do this more effectively. Enjoy the days, vacation or not, busy or not. I’m learning to build in rest and to protect it. When I do this, I hear from Him so much better. My creativity flows freely. Instead of feeling like I need resuscitating, I feel alive. I feel options instead of feeling doom.

creativity

I realize I cannot allow myself to stifle the creative parts of me any more. They are there for a reason. They are a part of who I am. They need nurturing and protecting. Just as much as I need a good night’s sleep to be the best of who I am, I need to consistently create. It motivates me to get through a work day or a chore day so that I can settle in and let creativity flow. It brings peace and restoration to me in a deeper way. It gives me purpose.

I don’t know why I never saw it before. If you were imbued with a creative streak (whether it’s cooking or computing or painting or dancing or gardening) you were meant to do that thing. We were meant to find a way to use that thing to bring glory to the One who created us. It wasn’t meant to be squelched by others’ opinions or rationalizations. We are at our most purposeful when we use every gift we were given.

I’m still walking this out. I still have a long way to go. But now I am excited. I am anticipating amazing things. I have expectations of peace and connection and genuineness in a deeper-than-ever way in my life. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Beloved Brews Linkup

Posted in Christian, creativity | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

At Ease

Some time back, a friend of mine went on a mission’s trip to Haiti. She was a part of Friendships, an organization that brings aid around the world by cargo ship to wherever it is needed most. Joining them on that trip was a group of young men who acted as security. They had para-military training and went, in uniform, with the missionaries and aid-workers to protect them.

As in many other parts of the world, church services in Haiti tended to run for four hours or more. These young men had to stand, “at ease” for the entire service, at their assigned positions. When my friend had the opportunity to talk to one of the young men during a lunch break, she commented, “At least you can stand ‘at ease’ all that time and you don’t have to stand at ‘attention’.” The young man lowered his head and smiled and said, “Actually, it’s much harder to stand ‘at ease’ for that long than it is to stand at attention.”

He went on to explain that the hardest part of standing at “attention” was that sometimes your hands might cramp but you could easily and unnoticeably straighten them out. When you stand “at ease” with your hands behind your back, your shoulders and upper back and arms get sore pretty fast. Trying to stretch them would be very obvious and would not be acceptable.

at ease

I was thinking about that and how it relates to some life lessons I’ve been learning recently. I’ve been working on writing a study about setting goals and keeping them, learning to prioritize effectively, and the importance of balance in our lives. I’ve noticed that “at ease” is deceptive in our daily lives too. We tend to idealize the concept…that a “life of ease” is something to aspire to, and if you plan effectively you can achieve it in your retirement. Most of us settle for a little “at ease” once a week; and if we are really lucky, an occasional week of ease for vacation once or twice a year.

To us, ease means comfort. Comfort means a lack of strife, a lack of effort. The problem is that if we allow this to become our mentality, it saps us of our momentum and we languish. We grow weak and feeble. We cannot tolerate hard work and all around us becomes clutter and chaos. In the same way a steady diet of comfort food packs on the pounds and leaves us non-functional blobs, a steady diet of ease leaves us unprepared for the challenges of life. When they hit, like they inevitably do, they will hit us harder and more easily defeat us that if we are lean, mean, functioning machines.

comfort food 1

In contrast to ease is rest. While ease is about facing nothing but what requires no effort, rest is about choosing to dwell in a place of tranquility. While ease creates weakness, rest restores strength. In the past couple of months I have worked very hard. I cleaned out and organized my part of the garage. It was hard work; but now if I need something, I know exactly where to go to find it. Whenever I go out to the laundry room I glimpse the fruits of my labor and I smile, contentedly. I’ve finally reached that place in my room. Clutter has been removed and necessaries are contained in beautiful decorative boxes or baskets. Space has been created. I walk into the room and I feel peace, like a salve, come over my soul. This peace, however, not only required effort to achieve, it requires effort to maintain. Should I slip back into “ease” mode, my room will quickly spiral back into clutter and chaos and peace will disappear. Sure, I might still be able to function, but at the cost of peace. I know from personal experience I can only function like that for so long before I become one stressed out, deeply unpleasant person.

I have learned the difference between ease and peace. I want peace. I’m willing to work for it. It’s worth it.

Posted in Christian | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Life-by-numbers

A couple weeks ago I bought a paint-by-number. You can stop laughing now. I had a week off but couldn’t afford to go anywhere. I knew I had a goal to organize my garage that week, but that was something so NOT enjoyable that I would need frequent breaks doing something I DID enjoy to maintain my motivation. (Ok, I confess. I do enjoy organizing things and I have received many “What were you thinking?” looks or comments about spending my vacation having gone through 91 secretary boxes of stuff being stored while I’m renting a room at a friend’s house. I was tired of having to go through a dozen boxes every time I needed to find something, so I went through them each with a voice recorder next to me, speaking out what was in each box as I numbered them; then I went inside and wrote each number and list of items on an index card. Very satisfying when you are done, not so fun when you are in process.)

As I would take a break, I’d allow myself a half hour or so of time to work on the paint-by-number. It’s pretty large. An authorized copy of a much larger work by a recognizable artist. While it’s not in my preferred palette of colors it’s a beautiful Parisian street scene set in the 1940s. I found it enchanting….
paint by number box
and frustrating. As I began to work on it, I enjoyed not having to think about what I wanted to do or accomplish or did it look enough like what I wanted it to look like that people knew what it was…like I do when I do my own artwork. I focused on finding clusters of the number that corresponded to the tiny tub of paint in my hand. I ended up having to buy “cheaters” (reading glasses) from the local drugstore as I was going cross-eyed trying to read the small, detail patches. I became increasingly frustrated with being able to see the numbers through the paint. I became more frustrated by the way you had to try to lay the strokes of paint alongside each other perfectly, so the lines didn’t show and so the shape of the color didn’t overlap onto the territories meant for a different hue. I lost track of the times I mistakenly covered up the number for an adjacent space because the brush they gave me was too big, and the smallest one I had among my own supplies was still too big.

As I held the painting up close enough to read the numbers, all I saw was the mistakes. The bleed throughs, the overlaps, the ugly brushstrokes that had been forced into play by trying to cover up the numbers. My jaw was tensing up every time I sat down to work at it. About halfway through I was ready to quit, it just wasn’t turning out like I had hoped.

Then, one night, after a few days of ignoring the painting, I glimpsed it from across the room and realized it actually looked pretty good. The distance, both in time from my last sit down with it, and from across the room, made all those flaws imperceptible. All I could see is what the original artist had captured (-ish).

I had been caught up in all the tiny little details, frustrated by all the tiny little problems. I missed the intention of beauty. I literally missed the bigger picture.
paint by number van gogh
I do this a lot. In life, especially when my emotions are swinging like a pendulum, I tend to let the little problems become big ones. They add up, one on top of the other, until something as small as dropping my pencil becomes the dam-breaker and I end up in tears, convinced that it was the worst day ever. It’s something I’ve always done, and likely will continue to have to keep in check the rest of my life.

But the bigger picture is that I’m getting better at it. Now, instead of a year of gloom and doom, trying to glimpse any ray of light at the end of the tunnel (and likely shooting it down as an oncoming train) within half an hour I am reminded of the bigger picture. I look for the truth of the matter, like that my focus is in the wrong place or that I’m looking for something where I shouldn’t. Once I recognize that truth, I am almost instantly comforted and at peace. Granted, this has been an exercise I’ve been working on for over 20 years now…I’m just glad that as I’m getting older, the battles in this war last far less time. I guess that proves that point. That I am improving. That I am becoming stronger, more adept at fighting lies and finding truth. At least I hope so. I know I still have far to go, but I’m getting there.

Posted in Christian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment