Be Still & Know

For some people, relaxing & renewing comes in the form of a day at the spa, being pampered.  I enjoy a good massage, a mani/pedi, etc. just as much as the next gal but the relaxation always feels short-lived – as soon as I’m back in the routine of “real” life, it goes away far too quickly.

After taking on what can be a rather depleting volunteer gig in addition to endeavoring to change some things in my life, I’ve been tasked with focusing more on boundaries and self-care.

These are NOT things that come naturally to me, not by a long shot.

I’m coming to realize that that is in part because I’ve taken on a caretaker role in many of my relationships throughout my life.  I’m always the planner, the helper, the clean up crew (literally and figuratively).  I’ve always abided by the “rule” that if you make a commitment, you stand by it unless you are literally sick in bed or trapped under something heavy.

This hasn’t always served me well.

In fact, it has led me to a lot of frustration, exhaustion, irritability, and sometimes just downright distress.  It’s just not healthy but old patterns are hard to break…yet they can be broken through time, self-awareness, and focus.  Lots and lots of it, I’m guessing, because I am still a long way away.

When I was first asked what I do to take care of myself, my honest answer was,”Um, I don’t know.  I like to read.  Hang out with my pets?  Keep my house clean?”  I truly and honestly didn’t have a clue.  And I’m pretty sure many of you are in the same boat.  We keep on keeping on, doing what needs to be done, and flop down in front of the tv or fall into bed exhausted at the end of a long list of to dos for the day.  We make cupcakes for the bake sale, we stuff goodie bags for the party, we serve in the nursery on Sunday morning, we remember to check on a friend who had a doctor’s appointment, we take the cat to the vet.  All good things.  Yet what in that list is for us?  What helps us relax and renew?  What helps keep us firmly planted and engaged in life with those we love instead of teetering on the edge?

It’s more than just healthy eating and exercise.  It’s taking time for yourself when you need it.  Even if it is five minutes to breathe and regroup.  Or pray.  Or stretch, take a walk, move yourself physically out of the space and state in which you’ve found yourself.  Or to create in whatever way best suits you – cooking, writing, crafting, experimenting, coloring.

But sometimes all you can do is simply be still and observe the beauty in the world around you.  Even in the midst of a terribly stressful day, you can find one thing of beauty, one positive thought to take with you.  I try to surround myself with such things, especially at work where stress reigns supreme.  Here’s a glimpse around my office:

There is beauty, to me, in each of these things…in the memory, in the color, in brightness when a day or a situation feels dark…and they help me to remember to take a breath and start again.  

About Being Different

IIf there is one thing that has been reinforced to me time and time again during this season of change in my life, it’s this:

I am different.

Look, it’s not a shocking revelation to me or anything.  I was the tallest girl in my class throughout elementary school (by a lot).  I grew up in a trailer court.  I wore a back brace from the time I was 11 until I was 15, when I had back surgery that made me TWO INCHES taller.  (Thank heavens everyone else was catching up by then!)

I like Nascar.

Honestly, the list could go on and on.  I learned early on how to adapt, react, and respond to make myself seem less different, less “other”.  I’m sure there are friends reading this post and wondering how they never knew these few things and I can tell you: it’s hard work.  But I became really, really good at it.

When I first started going to church in my late 20s, there was a Bible verse that hit home hard:

Do not conform to the pattern of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  (Romans 12:2)

Around that time, I started serving in my church’s youth group.  And I realized very quickly that kids can spot a phony from a mile away.  Slowly but surely, I started to come into myself and learned to be more willing to speak my mind and from my heart.  I started to value authenticity above almost everything else in my relationships.  And I realized that there were things I really, deeply, truly cared about in the world, things where I felt I could make a difference, no matter how small.  And that there were a whole lot of things that the majority of other folks seemed to be angry about or get worked up about that didn’t make a lick of difference to me – especially those things I don’t have the power or, better stated, the inclination to take on. I wholeheartedly believe that we have the power to be the change we want to see in the world but that it takes intention and small steps, steps taken in love and compassion for others.  Sometimes it’s a process of figuring out what those steps should or could be; sometimes it’s moving forward one step, to take two back.  But it’s action and that is where change comes from.

This viewpoint colors my opinions.  It fuels my debates. And it can really piss people off when they don’t get it, they feel attacked (rarely my intention) or they are simply looking for a sounding board for complaints without action. Frankly, it’s hard to live out “being different” a lot of the time.  It pervades my relationships, my workplace, my interactions with new and old friends.

Funny thing about that, though:  I’ve begun to realize that all the ways I am different from other people aren’t bad – they just are.  They’ve made me who I am today and they are shaping who I’ll be tomorrow.  And from my vantage point, that’s not so bad.

About Discomfort

I was struck this week by the reaction of many to last Sunday’s episode of Downton Abbey (SPOILER ALERT!)  One of my favorite characters, Anna, Lady Mary’s maid was attacked and raped the valet of a guest at Downton.  While decidedly not graphic in nature, it was clear what had occurred and it was simply devastating.  I was so sad that this happened to such a good and pure character and that she decided to bear the burden virtually alone made it even moreso.

Many of my friends reacted similarly but some were more outraged and promised to swear off the show entirely.  To each his or her own, of course.  Yes, it was devastating. Yes, it was heartbreakingly sad.  It was wildly uncomfortable for us to witness.  And I think that is the issue, more than anything else.  

It’s been a rough week of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for me.  And frankly, I don’t care for weeks like that. Who does? They make me want to step back from the stressors, throw my hands up, and say, “Forget it. I’m done.” Wouldn’t that be grand?  To just walk away from that which bugs us, challenges us, confronts us; that which causes us pain and discomfort?  It’s possible, of course, but certainly not easy and often not the right course, either.  

Because not everything that causes us discomfort is bad.

One of my goals for this year is to improve my overall health and wellness.  I’m part of an online group and each week, the moderator posts a challenge:  drink more water, get more sleep, stretch…this week was eliminate something from your diet, such as sugar.  

I was aghast.  

Ok, honestly, I’ve been working to cut down on my sugar intake for a bit now, so it didn’t really send me into THAT much of a tailspin.  But the thought of not being able to have my favorite comfort foods (chocolate, ice cream, more chocolate) made me very uncomfortable. Enter a craptastic week on many fronts and my discomfort is elevated to an extreme.  (I’m not proud;  at least I’m honest.)  But I’m making it through, with only 2.5 more days to go.

Similarly, as part of the same goal, I’ve been trying some new classes and workouts at the gym.  Last week, it was Sweating to the Oldies – which, for those who are familiar with the old Richard Simmons version – this ain’t your old Sweating to the Oldies!  Circuit training, push ups, jump rope, the whole nine.  

I am decidedly out of shape.  Plus, I have a rod in my spine. Exercise was simply something I tried to get out of in school (and often succeeded);  I’ve never been one to “workout” with any kind of regularity until I trained for the 4 Miler in town last summer.  Since then, I’ve been a bit off the exercise wagon again for various reasons but I wanted to try it and tried my best.  There were several parts where I was terribly uncomfortable and just felt like a complete doofus.  I can’t even jump rope, y’all.  Who can’t JUMP ROPE?  But I pushed through my mental and physical discomfort and made it through the class.  

This week, I took a yoga class. I’ve tried yoga before because every single soul on the earth seems to think it is the magic bean I need to shed my Tin Man-ness and increase my flexibility.  It was a 60 minute class.  The ENTIRE FIRST 40 MINUTES, I was writing Facebook statuses in my head about how much I loathed yoga, that it wasn’t for me, about how being the Tin Man probably wasn’t that bad…I mean, he got a heart in the end and that’s pretty good stuff.  

The last 20 minutes wasn’t too bad.  I got past all the thoughts in my head about how it hurt and I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that and I just did what I could.  I didn’t do any of it well, that’s for sure.  And I probably did a lot of it wrong.  And some of it still hurt.  But I stuck with it and got through it and the instructor praised me for doing so, which went a long way…I may even try it again.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of instances where I do just throw up my hands and walk away rather than deal with something uncomfortable.  I’ve got a neighbor upstairs bouncing a basketball in the living room every night.  Seriously.  And as far as I’ve gotten in dealing with it is complaining on Facebook about it and CONSIDERING scenarios in which I would go up there and tell them to knock it off.

But many of the times when I push through something I don’t want to do or I’m scared to do?  The times when I feel so awkward and out of place and out of sync that I feel physically uncomfortable but I keep on going?  

Pure gold.

What’s Your Inside Out Contact Lens?

I spent four hours today with an inside out contact in my eye.

Sometimes when that happens, I know right away.  I’m able to take it out and flip it around before I even leave the bathroom.  Other times, I realize it before I leave the house and rectify it.

But today was a bit different.  Something felt a little off.  It was a little bit scratchy.  It was kind of irritating but I was in a hurry to get to work for a busy day ahead.  Throughout the day, it got more bothersome but I WAS BUSY.  My eye grew a little red.  The irritation grew and grew but I DIDN’T HAVE TIME to stop and go to the ladies room, saline solution in hand, to flip the doggone thing around.

As I dashed to my next meeting, I jokingly posted on Facebook, “My contact has been inside out all day but I’m too busy and probably lazy to flip it.”  The response was instant:

“I couldn’t stand it!”
“I could never do that.  It hurts!”
“How can you stand it?”

It DID hurt.  How COULD I stand it?

I was busy;  I had back-to-back meetings all morning and folks breathing down my neck for things they wished I’d done yesterday.  And I hate having to hike down the hall with my saline and try not to infect my eye with any of the ick that resides in a public restroom.

It was easier to suffer than make a change.

Isn’t that always the way?  We struggle, we suffer, we abide with the pain because we feel like that’s easier, safer, less frightening than taking action.  

What’s your inside out contact lens?  I can promise you you’ve got one – we all do.  Is it your finances? Your weight?  Lack of sleep?  Dealing with that person at work?  Or in your neighborhood or apartment complex?  Addressing that ongoing issue with a friend or family member?  Your job?  Or lack of one?  Maybe it’s a medical test or doctor’s visit you’ve been putting off.  Maybe it’s stepping out in faith on a dream you’ve had for a while but you’ve been too afraid to move.

All of a sudden, I simply couldn’t take it anymore.  I ran back to my office between meetings, grabbed the saline and took care of the issue. Relief was immediate…and I wondered what had taken me so long.

About Excuses

I am the queen of justification.

You want an excuse not to workout?  I’m your girl.  I can even convince you to go get ice cream with me instead.

You want to buy that top but it’s not really in the budget?  I’ll tell you the 87 places you can wear it (especially to work because who DOESN’T need new clothes for work?!?)

You want to go to Five Guys when you specifically have told me 65 times in the past week that you are on a strict diet?  Of course we should have Five Guys.  If we don’t, your body will think you’ve lost your head and all this hard work will go down the drain.  It’s good to treat yourself now and again.

You don’t want to meet up with a friend who is bugging you?  I can tell you the nicest way to skirt the truth and bail.  

I am a master at my craft.

But my art of justifying things for others (and often myself), also swings in a different direction:  I can make excuses for people and their bad behavior, thoughtlessness, and even idiocy until the cows come home. (How is that a thing, by the way?  Where are these cows?  What are they doing?  The only cows I ever see are hanging out, eating grass and exerting very little energy otherwise.  But I digress.)  It’s true that I’m a people pleaser through and through and that’s something I’ve been working on.  Part of my personality, or so says Myers-Briggs, is to desire harmony in all situations.  So even when my feelings are hurt, I will excuse away:

“I know she is struggling right now, so it’s ok that she didn’t respond.”
“He’s really busy with work and the kids and stuff, so it’s ok that I didn’t hear from him during the holidays.”
“He’s a terrible planner;  even though it’s the last minute, I’ll just rearrange things so I can make it.”
“She’s being really snippy; I must have done something. How can I fix this?”
“I’m a planner so it’s just natural that I organize things all the time.”

I excuse, I forgive, I rearrange, I arrange, I bend.  

But you know what?  I’m tired.

The past year has been hard on me.  And hard on my relationships.  But what I’ve been reminded is that the best relationships are a give and take, not just a give…or perhaps rather, not just a take…and take…and take.  Friendships, by their very nature, are meant to be a two-way street – and isn’t that how we balance one another?  A friendship, to me, means being there for one another during the ups and downs, through the crazy rotten times and the celebrations…not simply when it is convenient or easy or fun.  Relationships are messy.  And sometimes difficult.  They take time;  they take effort.  But doesn’t everything that’s truly worth it in life? And I guess that’s what’s up to each of one of us to decide: who and what is truly worth it.  

The Book Club Abides

This time last year, fed up and tired from all the things I’d been trying to meet people, I decided to start a book club.  I’ve always loved to read and I had to guess that there were other people like me in this town;  I just hadn’t found them yet. I chose a popular forum that I’d been using in my own pursuit (primarily because they offered me half off to start my own group) and a new book club was born.

I’d never attended a book club in real life, let alone run one.  But I figured what the heck;  if you build it, they will come, right?  And come they did.

I still remember that first book club meeting last February.  I had chosen a Thai restaurant in town that I knew I liked and as I sat outside, I sent a frantic text to my friends at home, posted a squirrely status on Facebook, and sent up prayers that people would show up.  And that they’d be nice.  And that the conversation and discussion would flow…and that it would grow and continue.

And so it did.  We’ve had folks come and go but there is a strong core group that has stayed.  Many months, our conversations are more about our lives and what ELSE we are reading than the book at hand – and that’s ok, too.  Life is all about relationships and that is what I had hoped would be built through the book club, forged on a common love of the written word.

As the months passed, my organizer discount for the site expired and I realized that this was a much more costly proposition than I’d originally thought.  I know that some book clubs have dues but I didn’t want to require that; we already have the cost of books to consider and the fact that we meet at a restaurant so that (1) no one has to host and (2) new people can feel comfortable – coming to the home of someone you’ve never met in this day and age can be a BIT of a deterrent.   I looked at various other options but it seemed that setting up a Facebook group was our best bet.

I set it up seven months ago, planning to close the group on January 1 on the original site.  (Seven months! How’s that for planning?)

I’ve tossed and turned and flipped and flopped about the whole thing much more than is reasonable.  The bottom line is that I can’t afford the monthly cost and I don’t want others footing the bill, either, especially when there are free options available. And for those who use Facebook, it’s actually easier to navigate than the prior site.  It allows for more discussion and discourse on other topics beyond our next book/meeting.

In each correspondence though the original site, I’ve asked people to move over to the group.  I’ve mentioned it at book club meetings, in emails, and on the discussion board.  I have at least two regular attenders who don’t/won’t use Facebook and I’ve made arrangements to correspond with them via email to keep them in the loop. And some of the 70+ folks on our roster moved over but as of today, less than half had.

Then why did I feel so guilty this morning as I closed the original group for good?   It feels like an ending, instead of just a change.  Maybe I’ve had so many of both in the last 15 months that it’s become a default. More likely, it’s my old need to please rearing its head.  Nothing has changed, beyond it’s locale.  The core will likely remain, regardless of the means of communication.  And we keep on, keeping on.

So here’s my reminder to myself:

The book club, just like the Dude, abides.

About Abundance

Welcome, 2014!

I’m thankful to have 2013 behind me.  It was a year filled with ups and downs, and last night was a definite low…but in a way, it directly ties in with my word for the year.

The past two years, two friends and I have chosen a focus word for the year, instead of setting the usual New Year’s resolutions.  My first word was purpose, as I strove to figure out what my personal purpose was, along with the reasons behind some situations and struggles I faced.  Last year, I chose fit as I worked to not only fit in to my new town and life but also to create a healthier me.

As we approached the end of the year, I started tossing around ideas of what my new word should be.  Love?  Perhaps.  Patience?  Hmm.  Focus?  That one had promise.  But one what would I focus?  As usual, I felt torn in many directions…finances, writing, health, what?  All?  Then it really wouldn’t be focus – it’d be whatever it is I have going on in my head all the time anyway.

Then it came to me:  abundance.

But it’s not what you think.

The definition of abundance is:

A great and plentiful amount
Fullness to overflowing
Affluence; wealth

It is all those things but it is also the opposite of something I struggle with:  negativity and scarcity.  It’s so easy to feel like you don’t have enough, aren’t enough, the list goes on and on, even when that is clearly not true in all aspects of your life.  It takes conscious effort to remind yourself that you are enough, you have enough, but that is the point of focusing on abundance in the coming year.

There will be very real struggles in the year ahead.  I can see some on the horizon even today; some will come as a complete surprise.  There will be more highs and lows.  But focusing on abundance doesn’t mean pursuing more (or better) all the time.  Instead, it’s about focusing on the fact that I have enough – money, love, happiness;  the list could go on and on – even when I have less than I’d like.  It’s about balance.  It’s about moving away from the negativity, the feeling of lack to gratitude for all with which I am blessed.

Let’s do this thing.