To Live Gratitude is to Touch Heaven (Gaertner)
October 30, 2009

It has been a long and strange week.  An odd assortment of happenings and circumstances have occurred and my emotions are all mixed up and jumbled.  Kenneth had a bleed this week – always sparking worry for me.  Not because of the medical issue – I have dealt with hemophilia and hemorrhages all my life.  I just never know how Kenneth is going to do with it.  He hates needles and doctors and doesn’t handle pain very well at all.  He actually cooperated quite well with keeping ice and an ace-wrap on it Monday night.  He was still sleeping when I left for work on Tuesday and I was a little stressed because I had a mandatory meeting in the middle of the day.  Of course, he calls me just as the meeting starts.  I texted and learned that his knee was worse and was going to need an infusion.  If you are not familiar with hemophilia, or what an infusion is – a quick overview.  His blood is missing a factor that causes it to clot when there has been trauma to the body.  So, where most of us might bump into something and maybe have a red mark or scrape, Kenneth will have a massive bruise.  The more serious the trauma to soft tissue or organs, the more significant the “bleed”.  A minor bleed can be treated with cold and compression.  Moderate to severe hemorrhages require Kenneth to have concentrated Factor IX infused intraveneously – usually once or twice a day for 1 – 4 days.  So, the kid is already in pain, then has to be jabbed, not just into his arm or soft tissue, but directly into his vein.  He happens to have the misfortune to have small, mobile veins.  So, if the nurse is not exceptionally skilled, he is hard to “hit”.  I once watched as a veteran nurse stick him 6 times and still was never able to succeed.

So, one can’t really blame him for doing everything in his power to avoid an infusion.  Luckily, over the last year he has matured, learned to trust the nurses at clinic, and been more responsible about managing his disorder.  So, even though I had to take off work and bring him to clinic, he was not only cooperative, but told me he drank 4 glasss of orange juice to help hydrate himself and make his veins an easier target.  It was a bit nerve wracking balancing work and clinic, preparing the concentrate, getting Kenneth in and out of the house on crutches in the rain.  Not the worse case scenario, and I was still very tired at the end of the day.

That evening, I received a phone call from my ex.  He wanted to let me know that the mother of a friend of ours had passed away.  I know, it seems a rather benign situation – yet it put me into a bit of an emotional tail-spin.  Having experienced the deaths of 3 siblings and both parents – I am highly empathetic to others’ losses.  It can also bring a lot of my own grief to the surface.  The thing that caught me off guard though, was a wave – no more of a surge – of emotions  surrounding the loss of friends that occurred after the divorce.  This friend in particular, and his wife, were people I would spend time with nearly every weekend and sometimes during the week.  We would gather for baseball games, Mizzou basketball games, political debates.  We had dinner and went to parties and movies together regularly.  They were with me during the illnesses and deaths of most of my family members.  My dad passed away on New Years Eve and this friend joined my family that night as we pulled together and toasted the passing of a complex man and a difficult year.  I believed I was as close to this person as friends could be.  Yes, I met him through my ex – and they had been friends for a long time before I met them.  I thought, though, that we had a friendship that extended beyond the confined of mine and my exes relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not the only friendship and relationship I have lost in the chaos of divorce, death and raising 4 traumatized children.  It’s just this was probably the closest and the event of his mom passing away brought all of this crashing in on me.  I was overwhelmed by sadness for his loss, missing this friendship more than I had realized I did, and a high level of awareness of the many others that have disappeared from my life.  It is hard to say if these relationships have dissapated because of choosing which of us to stay with in the aftermath of the divorce, or because of the drastic change in lifestyle I under went when the kids came into my life.

This is by no means meant to place blame.  It just is.  And it happened to hit hard this week how much I miss some of these friends.

Wednesday was parent-teacher conferences with Megan’s teachers.  School is always a hot-button for all of my kids.  I have described in earlier posts how Kenneth has struggled with the authoritarian environment common to all schools.  The girls, also having Attachment Disorder, have issues as well.  They manifest a bit differently, but the end result is the same – unhappy kids, unhappy teachers, unhappy mom.  If Megan likes a teacher, or if there are minimal requirements (art, music) – she is typically a star performer.  Subjects that require her to put forth effort, do homework and pay attention – not so much.  She starts high school next year, and in order for her to get into one that is safe and will provide her with what she needs to go to college, she needs to really kick into gear.  So, I was absolutely dismayed to see that she had C’s and a D in most of her core subjects.  The good new is, so was she.  She actually teared up – where in the past she would just brush it off and make a joke about it.  She sat with me and participated in discussions with the teachers about what she can do to bring her grades up.  The teachers were great – reinforcing the difference they see in the effort she is puting forth and encouraging her that if she follows through with their suggestions she will easily be an A-B student.  So, another night of emotional ups and downs.  In the end, I felt good ab0ut the conferences and Megan’s performance.  And, I was exhausted when I got home.

Then, yesterday, after work, I brought my 18 year old cat to the vet to be put to sleep.  I have had her for 17 years – she was given to me by my ex when we first started dating.  I named her Shadow – as in Me and My Shadow – she used to follow me everywhere.  We had to put our dog down just a couple of months ago and every death dredges up the kids’ fears and unresolved issues.  Patsy, who has been on rocky emotional terrain already took it especially hard.  She wanted to be with Shadow when the procedure was administered.  Once Shad went to sleep, Pasty began howling and bawling.  Now mind you, she had not interacted with this cat for weeks, maybe months – and she was often mean to her.  I found myself feeling so angry and resentful toward Patsy that I could hardly bear it.

This morning I was so tired and emotionally drained that I considered taking the day off of work – but since the kids were off school I realized it would actually be less stressful to go to the office.  Luckily I had no meetings and it was a quiet day.  After work I finally made it to the gym – the first time all week.  Thankfully that did wonders for my state of mind – along with the fact that it is finally Friday and I now have the weekend to recuperate. 

I have been working to be aware of all of life as a gift and to live in gratitude.  It is an interesting exercise to open up to sadness, resentment, aggrevation and emotional fatigue AND do so in gratitude.  It feels counter-intuitive and contradictory.  I am sure it will feel more natural as I do it more often.  Even now, though, it is a much less desparaging experience than to lamblast myself with guilt, shame, and self reproach.

It is a new and wonderful experience to treat myself with the same compassion, patience and gentleness as I do with the kids.  I highly recommend everyone give it a try.

copyrighted 10/30/09

Slug-A-Bug, Love Bug!
September 22, 2009

Have you ever played the driving game “Slug-a-bug”?  I remember playing it as a kid with my brothers and sister.  My kids and I love to play it whenever we are out and about in the car.  It is amazing, it can seem like there are hundreds of volkswagen beetles on the road.  In fact, we often see so many that we include the color of the particular “bug” we are slugging – “slug-a-bug, yellow bug!”  Sometimes we switch it up and play “Cruiser-bruiser” or “twin car” – finding other Chrysler Pacifica’s.  If you aren’t really looking, or paying attention, it just seems like the road is filled with lots of generic cars.  But when you pay attention, and start looking, it is amazing how many Bugs, PT Cruisers and/or Pacifica’s are out there.

I have come to believe that life is like that.  If we are focused on everything that is wrong with the world, or our family or ourselves – that is what we will see.  And we will point to overwhelming evidence that the world is a frightening, unloving, evil, place filled with cruel, unfeeling, narcissistic beings.  It can seem like even people who act in kind ways are only doing so for purely selfish reasons.  Interestingly, when I have found my perspective to be skewed in this direction, I have also been in a most selfish, egocentric, fearful, angry state.  I actually began taking on the characteristics and behaviors of the environment and people I judged as maliscious and wicked.  I was so fearful of the dark, that I refused to open my eyes to face it.  I got so used to the dark, that I adapted to it and to some extent became a part of the darkness.

I cannot pinpoint any one person, incident, or statement that lead to my metamorphasis – I believe a vast number of miracles, loving acts, and fateful experiences were involved.  What was amazing, is that when I did open my eyes, I realized that it was only the act of keeping them closed that kept me in the dark. 

When I began to look for the light, it was everywhere.  When I started focusing on the kindness, love and beauty in me, in my life and in the world, I noticed these things existed in an overwhelmingly higher proportion than any of the things of which I was afraid. 

Just like when we play “slug-a-bug”, it seems that these cute little cars appear on roads, streets and highways more frequently than any other make and model.

The real miracle here is that I now fully understand that I have complete control over whether I live in a fear-ridden, cruel, vile world; or a safe, loving, peaceful world.  I get to choose. 

When I choose to focus on love instead of fear, I actually create my reality.  I begin attracting peaceful environments to me.  I manifest devoted, passionate people into my life who further support my  joy and gratitude for life.

The gift I most want to give to my loved ones is this perspective of abundant love.  I have learned that this is a gift that cannot be given away.  The only way I could ever hope to pass it on is by holding it close to my heart and living it completely.  Then, my kids, family, friends, and the world at large have the opportunity to experience the safety and c0mfort they need to open their eyes and see.

copyrighted 9/22/09

In Praise of Obstacles
August 31, 2009

I read two statements this week that have stayed with me: from the Deepak Chopra website – “Obstacles are opportunities  in disguise.”, and from the Facebook application On This Day God Wants You to Know – “Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you become quiet and listen to God. You’ve learned how to talk and ask well. Time to learn how to listen and hear, because God has been answering you.”.

At first blush these two statements don’t seem connected.  What I have learned is that they are directly related.

It seems that for most of us, when we encounter an obstacle, or things aren’t playing out the way we want them to, we pray for the discomfort or unpleasantry to be removed or to cease.  What might happen if instead we meditated?  What if we thanked God for bringing the issue to our attention?  Then took time to ask what opportunity is being presented to us?

It is easy to be grateful for the “good” things.  For happy times.  How often are we appreciative to be “stuck” in traffic, delayed at the airport, or receive a speeding ticket?  A recent article by John Vanderbilt, In Praise of Traffic Tickets, indicates that a recent study in New York City found when speeding citation reduced by 11%, traffic fatalities increased by the exact same percentage.  How many of us, after having received a ticket, begin, at least for a while, to pay more attention to our speed and generally take traffic laws more seriously?  What if that extra degree of care and attention actually prevented us from a serious accident that we otherwise would have been in?  Just the possibility that this could be true is enough to make me rethink my reactions to circumstances and events that I typically consider to be obstacles.

Thinking about this has made me very aware of how I judge the world around me, as if on autopilot.  I get impatient as the person in front of me at the self-check out talks on the phone while she is scanning her purchases.  I snarl at the person who passes me on the shoulder in traffic.  I have let an obnixious remark from my15 year old spoil my mood for the entire day.

I been working to catch myself in these moments and ask where the opportunity might be in these obstacles.  Maybe if I had used the longer wait in the checkout line to review my list of needed items, I would have remembered to buy the dish detergent.  If I had been paying more attention to the driver behind me, I might have noticed he was in a hurry and I could have moved over to let him pass.  If I was looking for Gods gift in Kenneth’s response, I might have gone to give Kenneth a hug (that his resistance indicates he really needs) and we both would have felt loved, respected and grateful.

It will take vigilance to monitor my thoughts and to consciously decide how to react to the large and the small, the “good” and the “bad” life experiences that I am so blessed to be granted.  I think this may be the best way to hear Gods answers.  I believe that it will be worth the effort. 

copyrighted 8/31/09

Happy Anniversary, Mom
August 26, 2009

August 24th is mom’s anniversary.  I used to say that it was the anniversary of her death.  I used to mark the occasion by bringing flowers to the grave.  I always expected it to make me feel better.  But it didn’t really.  I just resulted in dead flowers at the site where her shell of a body is buried.  It usually just left me feeling more alone and empty.

Missing my mom hit an all-time high about 2 years ago when I shattered my ankle.  I had to have it surgically repaired with a metal plate and a total of 10 pins.  I was not able to bear weight on it for two and a half months.    For as long as I can remember I was “The Caretaker” – making sure others’ needs were met.  Suddenly, I  became totally dependent on others.  I could not transfer to or from the wheelchair without help.  I couldn’t bathe myself or wash my hair.  I even needed someone to bring me cups and water so I could brush my teeth.  Not a role I was use to having or that I accepted gracefully.  I was constantly frustrated and developed separation anxiety – sobbing everytime Tom had to leave to go to work and being furious at my mom for not being here to take care of me.  At first I could just use the pain killers to knock myself out thereby avoiding my emotions.  It was when I eliminated the pain killers that I started becoming depressed.

I berated myself for being weak, for wanting my mom, for being stupid enough to walk down a grassy hill in high-heeled sandals (ok, I admit, I deserve to be scolded for that).

After being in this dark and foul mood for 8 weeks, even I got sick of myself.  I was tired of being so unhappy.  One night, after taking 20 minutes to get upstairs to my bedroom by scooting on my bottom, I crawled into bed and cried.  But this time I didn’t just cry.  I prayed too.  I prayed for happiness – more than happiness – for joy.  I wanted to remember what joy felt like.  It had been so long since I felt that tingle in my heart, butterflies in my tummy, glee just for the sake of being alive.  I asked God to help me find joy in my life again.  To no longer live in the darkness I was in, to find light.

I woke the next morning to my phone ringing.  I was still in bed, snuggling tightly with Self Pity, and didn’t feel like talking to anyone, so I ignored the call.  Later that morning, I listened to the voicemail.  My friend Judy had called to invite me to a workshop she was going to attend.  I swear to you that this is the truth – the title of the workshop was Finding the Light in your Life. 

Of course, recognizing this as my prayer being answered, I signed up for the workshop.

My life changed that day.  The workshop was facilitated by Blair Knies.  One of the most radiant souls I have ever met.  I learned more because of that day spent with her and the other amazing people who attended than I could have imagned was possible.  There was one key concept, though, that lead to everything else I have come to learn in these last two years.  The concept is both simple and mind-blowing.

Joy is not “out there” – it is within.

In fact, joy is our pure essence.  It is the Spirit that is our true self.

Blair helped me to find my way back to Me.  I was able to glimpse my Joy that very day.  It took patience, practice and time and now I am fully engaged with and connected to my Joy, my Spirit.  There are still plenty of distractions, and times that I lose my focus – but I have not lost my way to the Light – I can’t because it is always and has always been within me.

One of the issues that was preventing me from fully connecting with my Light, with Joy, was my grief over the loved ones I had lost.  I missed them.  I missed them terribly. 

As continued my focus on finding Joy, I kept coming back to this grief.  After many conversations and much reading and reflecting I finally found the answer.  Just as my Spirit is my true self, so must theres be.  Whenever I tried to connect with them, I usually would focus in on their face.  But that is a part of them that belongs to the physical world.  That is not a part of what they are now.  If our Spirit is our true essence, then that is was remains when we leave the physical world.

I started by remembering each person’s energy – then I focused on that.  It didn’t take long to feel it.  It’s not a matter of if they are around, it is whether we are tuning into them.  I actually feel more connected to Mom, Dad, Jim, Jeff and Mary than I was when we all lived in the physical plane.

So, August 24th is not the anniversary of Mom’s death.  It is the anniversary of her transition.  Of her new life without physical limitations.  The day she left her shell and expanded into her Pure Joy.  And that is why I celebrate.

copyrighted 8/26/09

Rainy Days and Sundays
August 16, 2009

My last post was about the perfection of life.  I touched a bit on how there is perfection even in those things we typically label as “sad”, “difficult”, “unfair”, “tragic”, “overwhelming”, etc.  Evidently, to let me know it’s there and listening, the Universe and Its Creator provided me with a week to help me practice what I preach.

It is a rainy Sunday afternoon and I feel like I have run a marathon.  I wrote last week about the exciting adventures of Kenneth and his educational trials.  In addition to Kenneth, we have Patsy and her evil twin Opposite Girl, who apparently both detest school.  Patsy inherited her grandmother’s pace which is somewhere between snail and maple syrup and frequently insists she needs help on simple tasks – both of which get expressed to the extreme when she is anxious or stressed.  When Patsy gets too overwhelmed, Opposite Girl comes to her rescue.   Opposite Girl was on an absolute rampage this week – refusing to do daily chores, wishing the other family members dead, throwing things, slamming doors, and running away from home.  Seriously, packing her bags and leaving.  I wasn’t aware of this plan until she was on her way out the door.  She is 10 years old.  We live in the city and there is a suspected drug house and at least 5 sexual offenders who live within a mile of our home.  I love the city and feel safe, and honestly, no matter where I live, a 10 year old out on the streets alone is not safe these days.

My husband, Tom, and I were deciding whether we should take the car out and look for her or call the police – when the phone rang.  Patsy had already walked (or probably ran) a half mile down to her sister’s friend’s house.  She asked them if she could use the phone – her plan being to call her friend’s parents and ask them to pick her up – they live about 2 miles away and Patsy is not one to exert any more energy than is absolutely required!  Luckily, Megan’s friend called us and her mom offered to walk with Patsy and in the process helped her realize she needed to come home.

As anyone who is a parent knows, we were furious and relieved.

Here is where things are different that with most kids.  By the time Patsy was 4 years old she had been being sexually abused nearly her entire life, had to leave her home and the man who is her biological father that she was made to believe was showing his love for her, then lost her mom who was in a fatal car accident.  Patsy learned at an extraordinarily early age that adults are not trust worthy, they won’t necessarily take care of you when you need them to, and they abandon you without warning.  Patsy has developed 2 coping strategies to deal with her fear that the past will repeat itself – one is to run “fire drills”.  She insists she needs help with tasks she knows she can do if she needs to, just to test the adults in her life to see if they are really there for her if she would need it.  Whenever that doesn’t work, or if she gets too stressed, then she calls on Opposite Girl.  The purpose of Opposite Girl is to reject the adult before the adult abandons her and to assert that she is in control and can take care of herself.

Even with 2 therapy sessions, we still had fire-drills multiple times a day and many, many visits from Opposite Girl.  It was exhausting for Patsy and for us.

About the hardest thing for me is to keep remembering that this is not about me.  To calm my own Ego down and remind her that we are not facing a serious threat and there is nothing to fear.  When I am successful in doing that, I can remember this is about a very frightened little girl who is just trying to keep herself safe and her own ego reassured.  An incredibly simple concept and an extremely high level of awarness that is required to implement it.  Everyday I pray for the patience, insight and faith to be better at it.

So, just what is so perfect about all of this, you may ask.  I must be honest and say that at this point I don’t know.  And I know that it is and I will see the perfection when I am ready and the time is right.  Even though I feel exhausted and lethargic and am not entirely sure where I will find the energy to get through the coming week, I know that this too is part of the beauty of life and trust I have everything I need when I need it.

copyrighted 8/16/09