I’m done wanting to be happy. Happy is a momentary, fleeting emotion that betrays at its first chance. Shifting like sand and slippery like ice, it doesn’t last. It’s awfully nice to experience but that’s where it ends- as an experience. No, I don’t even try to be happy anymore. If it happens, GREAT. But that’s not my end destination anymore.
What I have found far more reliable is peace. Deep-seeded peace like a baby- soft, cashmere blanket cocooning my being is what I earnestly seek. The peace of knowing who I am, what I choose to do and why I choose to do it far surpasses any momentary happiness. I know where I am going and feel grounded in what I believe. I don’t need others to validate or understand it either.
This is the best I’ve found. It’s finally quiet in my soul. (And yep, I know we all have one.) It doesn’t require money, beauty, possessions or other people. MY CIRCUMSTANCES CAN EVEN STINK. I have FINALLY determined how to be. Be! Did you get that? BE. I don’t need to perform, be liked, be successful or beautiful. I don’t need to be financially rich to have peace. Happiness? You possibly need some or all those to experience happiness- not peace- it’s free.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you.” I think I finally understand that’s what He wanted me to seek. He didn’t leave me happiness- He left me PEACE. It is mine and I’ll take it.
There is a small tree in my yard that has been my favorite for years. Each season I anticipate the magenta hues and fiery red leaves that spring forth from what looks like driftwood of a tree. From the drab grey, and lifeless comes a colorful explosion of life. The irony is not lost on me. For years this tree has brought me joy. I lacked words exactly why until recently.
As I shared previously, our property (along with thousands of others) was laid waste by a hurricane. We still have not completed necessary clearing. It is a monumental task dealing with hundred year old fallen trees and towering, aged shrubbery. One has to have patience recovering from storms (pun intended) and this person struggles with that.
The morning after the hurricane, the carnage was astounding. Many gigantic trees (some 90 feet tall) were snapped in half or either uprooted with their gnarly appendages pointing out of the earth. How could the invisible have the strength to uproot towering trees and pummel down fences yet not completely destroy everything? My home was miraculously spared and we suffered only minor damage. The major damage was the yard and it made me gasp. Nature’s storms can be terrifying.
The morning after the storm, I saw my precious little tree nearly leveled by another that was five times wider and taller. It seemed like a metaphor for the hurricane itself. Half its root system was splayed in the air and I groaned at the sight of it. It reflected how I felt inside.
In hope of salvaging our favorite tree, my husband and son used chainsaws to free it from under the other’s pressing weight. It remained almost on the ground but not completely knocked down. (More irony?) When we hired tree fellers to clear some of the unmanageable trees, they used a skidsteer to push the little tree back upright (sort of). We knew this was a futile attempt but had minuscule hope, nonetheless. With its shocked root system, we recognized it probably wouldn’t survive.
Months passed and the little, leaning tree was dormant. Was it dead? It was winter and everything was lifeless anyway. I tried to lower my expectations (of its survival amongst other things). In a few months, yellow-hued dust settled on my porch and carpenter bees started hovering about- signs of spring. Was life being breathed back into my bleak surroundings?
A few weeks later we noticed tiny buds, then full leaves. Life wasn’t over for our tilted Japanese Maple after all. Eventually, the entire tree was bathed in deep ruby and green. Against all odds, the tree survived and it’s beauty framed by my kitchen doors again. It was leaning, but it survived!
This little tree has paralleled my life. Difficult storms have come and gone. I have even been beaten down to the ground before, but my hope has remained. Skidsteers have been others who have pushed me back up and encouraged me onward. Sometimes things seemed dark and dreary but beauty and joy were to be had again. My beautiful, little tree just happened to define all that perfectly.
My spiritual devotionals have a recurrent theme lately. I read several different ones throughout the day and when the same message comes from different sources, I believe it’s the “Big Man” speaking.
“Fear not, for I have overcome the world,” Jesus says in John 16:33. I find tremendous relief in this verse. I don’t think I want to hear the words “Covid” or “Impeachment” anymore. It seems I cannot escape either topic for more than a few minutes. My husband and I were having lunch yesterday and I told him to please stop talking about the virus because I couldn’t bare one more minute thinking about it.
Having an insurrection prior to an inauguration with polarization causes agitation. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion and are convinced THEY ARE RIGHT! I read some comments on Facebook that make me nervous. That is why the verse above is such a comfort to me. If each person were 100% correct, we’d need to all live on different planets as we could not possibly coexist. So what do we do? How will we get through January 20th?
A heated political climate is not new. This has and will happen again. I’m just not sure how all this is going to turn out. When I allow my mind free reign, it tends to create scenarios so preposterous I have to reel it back in with truth like John 16:33. Jesus already overcame the world. The victory is complete. So what else is there to fear? The old adage is fear itself.
My sister reminded me of this embarassing incident yesterday. She says it’s one of her favorite triplet stories. It’s one of those recollections you wait several years to find humorous. Since almost a decade has passed, I suppose the statute of limitations has run out. I was MORTIFIED when it occured and projected the delinquency of my brood into adulthood. I saw them ruining their lives before they even began.
It started as a nice, peaceful evening at home. My husband took our 8th grade sons and a few friends swimming at the pool. He was being selfless to go with them, I thought. He took a book and planned to perch poolside and read while chaperoning. The pool would not allow those under 16 unattended. Unbeknownst to him, the group left the pool area and hit the nearby beach merely yards away. This is when the situation began to rapidly deteriorate.
There were rocks projecting into the bay and those were not to be climbed. That was a posted rule. Apparently, my sons saw others do it and decided they wanted to also. As usual, they got security’s attention. Security came over and asked them to get off the rocks. Several did, but one son, with some nearby fishermen egging him on, ended up the star of the show. He wasn’t even on any rocks but was IN THE WATER. He decided to act the fool and put a bucket on his head and play dumb. The security guard was not humored and must have felt disrespected. The only thing I can think is that my “water criminal” must have been performing for his audience. He wasn’t violating anything, just being annoying. The security guard decided to make him get out of the water so nearby fishermen threw my son the line, “These are international waters, he cannot make you get out.” So my brilliant son told the security guard he could not make him get out since he was “in international waters!” This was when the security guard called the local police.
My husband, still blissfully unaware, was reclining and reading close by without his cell phone. He had no clue that our shirtless, shoeless sons were slammed to the sand, cuffed, and shoved in a patrol car and “taken downtown.” Two of the group quietly made their unobserved exit away from the crime scene. And that was how only three culprits were detained. The police had no idea who did what. They just knew some people were disturbing the peace of this nice establishment. The security guard was no where to be found and neither was my husband, their dutiful chaperone.
I got the dreaded phone call from the police station. This set off panic swirling through my head, “What happened? Who’s hurt? WHAT DID THEY DO?” I frantically tried calling my husband but couldn’t reach him. The boys said I needed to come right away so I arrived eyeing three, barefoot, bathing suit- clad boys surrounding an officer’s cubicle. Feeling a mix of shock, embarassment, anger and bewilderment, I inquired what happened and the officer stated he got a call that “someone was possibly inebriated and disrupting the area.” He then took a solemn tone and told them he would be looking for them to mess up again. What I think thawed his tone was MY come apart. My intense, domineering, mega-mom freak came out. By the time I finished, he commented, “I see you will handle this.” No charges were brought, no recording of the crime, no delinquency was registered that day. The mom of their friend, however, stopped being mine.
A year ago we were celebrating Christmas in a foreign country. We were all well and didn’t think twice about air travel. I would have laughed at the thought of wearing a mask in public. I knew who my president was. I had reliable income from work. Protesting? What protesting? California and Colorado weren’t on fire. How on earth could things unravel so quickly (and at SO many seams!)?
In February, news of the novel virus was just appearing. My life long friends and I had a previously planned trip to New York City. They debated wearing masks on the plane. I told them I wouldn’t sit with them if they wore them. We visited Chinatown and went to many popular tourist sites. We went to plays on Broadway. Everything was bustling and busy and no one talked of Covid. We never discussed the election or politics at all for that matter. We went OUT. TO. EAT (deep sigh). That trip was absolutely amazing. It became even more amazing in the coming months.
My daughter came home early from her Fulbright Scholarship due to being sent home by the government. She ended up living with us many months before relocating cross country. She took a job in a city that was literally on fire (for months). Working remotely, she was at least safe physically but not from poor air quality. I couldn’t believe she actually got a job during lockdown- fortunate for sure.
Speaking of lockdown, I had never heard of one before unless it involved a school. Nor did I believe any entity would enforce something that bizarre. But, yes, they and we did. For a llllllllooooooonnnnnngggggg time. I couldn’t believe how much cleaning and organizing I did. Who would have dreamed our stores would run out of TOILET PAPER and PAPER TOWELS? I could have understood wine and beer but paper products became like gold. You got a full pack? You just won the lottery.
The hurricane season was beyond comprehension. There were more named storms than ever before. I never knew Greek alphabet could be used as names of storms. Iota, really?
A presidential election for the ages occurred just in time to top off the weirdest year ever. We haven’t fully decided who won and it’s been 5 weeks. Bizarrest of bizarre. The world has never before felt so small and I have been considering if this was the end? This year certainly has felt like AN end if not THE end. An end of life as we knew it.
My sister was headed to the local drug store and asked her adolescent what she needed. Her daughter flatly lamented, “Pick me up a case of disappointment and a box of despair.” How many identify with that feeling right now, I wonder? 2020 has been a year of reckoning, discomfort and loss for many. I’m trying to sort out my response and understanding of it all. It’s natural to want to understand but I’m realizing maybe that’s not the point?
I was at work today when a customer called crying. She had a destroyed yard and a totaled vehicle- all related to Hurricane Sally. She also was at the doctor’s office and had just been diagnosed with Strep. She said, “ I just can’t catch a break.” I felt terrible for her as I have had those exact feelings before myself. My circumstances may have been different but I knew too well the panic she felt. That understanding aided me in calming her. I could tell she got a modicum of relief from my validation alone.
I was chatting with my senior friend also today and she said, “One doesn’t know what the next day will bring.” She was referring to the health state of someone in their 80’s and 90’s. We had a mutual friend who moved to assisted living and were saying how she seemed fine recently. That made me realize also the same with everything now- ONE DOESN’T KNOW WHAT TOMORROW MAY BRING.
My husband and I were driving tonight and he said, “No one is guaranteed tomorrow. We need to be making healthy decisions for other reasons than just Covid. Sure we could die of it but we are more likely to die of a car crash or heart attack.” That brings me back to the minutiae of our daily decisions. Am I operating out of fear? Am I recognizing this moment I am here as a gift and maximizing it? Am I being a good coworker, parent, spouse, daughter, friend?
I admit I am not at all afraid of dying. Am I chasing it? No, definitely not- I feel owed the chance to meet my grandchildren. I plan to spoil, love and cherish each second I’m blessed with them. (I was an uptight, perfectionist mother and I WILL balance that with my plans to be super chill grandma.) I want to celebrate life and the years I have left. Why live terrified? Doesn’t make sense to me. And thinking I know the answers to everything also seems limiting. What I want to convey is that all that is forcing us out of our comfort zones in 2020 might be beneficial? 2020 could be “The Great Invitation” to get out of our ruts and make changes for the better.
Is there someone you need to reach out to? Are you happy at work or just getting through each day? Are you taking care of yourself? Do you need to improve your health/attitude/relationships? Is there a relationship you need to end? Are you living within your means? Now is the time to make meaningful changes. I don’t believe we will get back to “normal.” Normal is a setting on a dryer. We choose our values by how we live. Hopefully our living will reflect we’ve accepted the invitation to do better.
They were high school sweethearts and were deeply devoted to one another. To hear her tell their love story is to meander down beautiful roads of memories filled with spectacular views. I felt privileged to be invited to peek inside her heart to meet the love of her life.
She was younger and he older when they met. They went to the same, small high school and vowed to stay together even when he left for college. He was so loving, he urged her to attend dances with other young men in his absence. He didn’t want her to miss out on anything. Right when she graduated high school, however, he popped the question stating, “I’m not turning you loose on campus!” And so they were a married couple attending their state university together.
She got through a few years of studies before he took a professional job elsewhere. He was an engineer and she a homemaker. They went on to relocate for his employment and raise their family which included two sons and a daughter. She shared joyous memories of her young family and recounts his habit of coming home from work and immediately playing with his children in the yard, “Baseball, basketball, any kind of ball, he would play with the children first,” she sweetly said.
“He and I worked together. We were partners. He respected me and was good to me. We laughed a whole lot and were happy. He was the love of my life,” she reminisced. I could hear her voice trail off down a private path. Her wistful voice let me know she was in another place with her first love.
Things dramatically changed for her when he became ill. It took them out to MD Anderson to get the proper diagnosis. Cancer. He only had weeks left. Her world was shattered. She did not know how she could manage three young children, finances, and build a life without his presence. “That was a very hard time for me. I had to raise three children alone, go back to work and relocate my family,” her voice trailed off. She mentioned that his biggest concern was her raising the family by herself. Her young husband passed away at only 38 years old. Part of her heart got buried with him- a part no one would ever have again.
Being a devout Christian is what sustained her through relocating states away, joining the workforce, and watching over adolescents as a single parent. Her oldest son even waited a year to go off to college to help out at home, she proudly added.
It took her 10 years to even think of dating again. By then, her children were older and she felt more comfortable at the thought. Friends set her up and she ended up eventually marrying a wonderful man. They traveled and enjoyed life together until he fell ill years later and she became his caretaker until he passed away. She said he was a very good man and that they had a happy marriage. They were married many years.
Time passed and once again, she was asked on a date. She went and ended up eventually marrying this fun-loving man and had years of fun and travel with him as well. She told me she thoroughly enjoyed their travel clubs and they made fond memories. Theirs was a harmonious marriage for years until he became ill. She was also his caretaker until he passed away.
When I first met my new friend, she jokingly called herself “the Black Widow,” because she had three husbands that all passed away. I knew she was good through and through and that she was only making fun of her predicament. (For naysayers, she let me know she had signed prenuptial agreements with the final two husbands.) She said after three successful marriages, she was done in that department. I was dumbfounded she had experienced THREE successful marriages period! One seems to be too hard for many. It just goes to show how good of a person she is.
She was single, in her eighties, and relocating to a retirement community when we met. She was making a huge life transition like me. I was a motherless mother entering the empty nest phase. Our friendship grew into a group of friends that prayed, laughed and ate together biweekly. I’d call to check in on her and she’d end up chatting about her family or a favorite memory. That was how she conveyed her life story to me- over many conversations. Her reflections became mirrors for me. I began seeing my life in a bigger picture too. She taught me that it is family that is most important yet still, can be quite difficult at times. She also lovingly reminded me that my children are still growing up. I appreciate her more than she will ever know and feel by knowing her story, she has helped me write mine.
“Instead store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and robbers cannot break in and steal.” Matthew 6:20
One year ago, if someone told me the circumstances we would have in our country right now, I’d have thought they were insane. No way could that much possibly happen at one time! It would be incredulous to have protests all over, natural disasters of epic proportions, a global pandemic, a BIG recession, and ferociously feuding politicians during an election year! No way! Impossible! Nope. Possible. Actual.
I was in the eye of Hurricane Sally recently and got really, really scared. So much so that I went and slept in our old, cast iron bathtub. The damning winds, snapping trees, and rain pummeling us for hours had me in fervent prayer at 4am. I’d been through several hurricanes before and assumed same old, same old. Oh, how I was wrong! When we saw daylight, we saw new topography and landscape in our yard. Things had changed permanently. Yes, a few bad incidents happened like a boat and car got totaled but not one of 60 trees fell on or torpedoed through my home. Miraculous, truly miraculous.
I cannot complain one second that another hurricane is headed to the Gulf Coast or about lack of electricity, internet, AC, etc. of recent weeks. I cannot, will not, and SHOULD NOT because some people actually live in these conditions all the time. In America, we have had such prosperity for so long it seems an entitlement. This frightens me more than the actual hurricane did.
What has occurred to me is that I was not ready for 2020. I cannot imagine most people were ready for such intense, life altering circumstances all at once. I believe every single person breathing has been affected in one way or another. I will admit, it got to me last week when things had been so rough for so long that I indulged myself by throwing a mega, pity party. I cried, got angry, exploded at co-workers and felt absolutely horrible afterwards. That party stunk and I don’t believe I’ll ever host one again.
To indulge ourselves in emotional anger only fans the flame. Once burning, it’s destruction is swift and fast. It leaves charred remains and a blackness like none other. I quickly recognized I was getting no where and genuinely disliked myself. I sent her bye-bye and won’t invite that bitty over ever again.
Then, I started thinking what I could have done differently to avoid such idiocy in the first place? I consider myself a practicing Christian and believe I TRY to live by faith and God’s promises. Yet, what happened that flipped my switch off and turned me into the rage queen????
I have asked myself and God these questions. I think He has provided the answer. I allowed myself to get worn down by not prioritizing what I should have and instead spent precious time on frivolous pursuits. This robbed me of important energy. Second, I indulged myself in numbing activities that did nothing but make matters even worse. Third, I wasn’t seeking guidance through disciplined prayer and Bible reading. I also wasn’t exercising (picking up limbs wasn’t enough??). I know myself and what works to keep me healthy and on track. I was not practicing those things.
So, I went back to basics and made myself do what felt unnatural and inconvenient. Why? Because this I know- it has worked before and if I truly, really, honestly believe in Jesus and all He has done for me, I darn better live like it!! I’m not preaching at anyone but myself. This was my experience and I recognize we are all free to believe (or not), worship (or not), and live like we want because we are in the “Land of the Free.” I also believe God is big enough to understand our disbelief and human weaknesses. He just sits back waiting to be invited to whatever we have going on- the good, the bad and the ugly. All we have to do today is ask for help from Him. That’s it- pretty basic and clear.
Next, I got thinking about America compared to the early nation of Israel. Back in Moses and Joshua’s time, they were a stubborn bunch and it cost them dearly. Only the offspring were allowed to inherit the Promised Land. Then, that bunch got wild and indifferent and forgot too. It kept going until the fall of Judah- the last remnant. Our blessed country is not yet 300 years old and we are in a mess. I still believe we can work this out, however, and come together to improve things. I still have HOPE for a better tomorrow.
This gets me back to my last point. If we prepare properly for storms, negative circumstances, crises, and sickness by planning ahead and being ready, it won’t be as painful to weather whatever comes. (Here comes my self-preaching again.) I absolutely HAVE to practice spiritual discipline by filling up my spiritual warehouse EVERY SINGLE DAY, regardless what’s going on. It’s essential, less the rage queen comes back for a visit and she’s a terrible houseguest.
I woke to a puff of fur nuzzled against me warm and trusting. The contrast was palpable. Outside the bustling world with all its battle wounds was rearming for another round. I forced myself from my safe cocoon and triumphed over the act of making my bed- a tiny success. Breathing inaudible prayers, I reminded myself my family is well, we have a lot by world’s standards- and that “this too shall pass.” My husband flicked on the news and the anchor’s voice instantly grate on my nerves as she provided a litany of negative morsels for me to chew on or spit out. So much, too much, how much? I wondered silently. I decided to spit and turned off the tv.
Being 6 months into a pandemic and reading about another shooting last night during protests, I had to STOP. Stop digesting the ugly, stop absorbing the poison, stop believing it will always be this way. Yes, it is happening, yes, it is real, yes, I cannot stop it all. I don’t want to deny the truth of events, yet I don’t want them to harden or jade me either.
I read a devotional seeking spiritual asylum from my weary shell. I am reminded the only power I can exert is over my attitude. Attitude, blasted attitude! I have been sparring and wrestling with it for decades. By sheer will, I demand change yet slide right back into the muck of its dark puddle. Seems I am an old dog forgetting my hard learned tricks. I am like the man who keeps looking at his face in the mirror forgetting what he looks like.
Arriving at work, I reached for my belongings from the backseat of the car. WHAM! Right in the bullseye! I’m struck between the eyes by the contents of my bag- a heavy, wooden picture frame. I winced and got completely still. “Okay, okay,!” I cried to no one. Darkness flees and I am feeling Harry Potter “stupefied.” Yes, my face hurt but it was the knock to the head I needed. Yep, I am an old dog, but my tricks are still with me. I remembered it’s not HOW I feel but WHAT I tell myself: that God is for me, not against me; He asked me to be IN the world but not OF the world; We have gotten through much darker, personal storms already; He is ever present in good AND bad times; He promised a glorious future and all I have to do is hang on. Even if it requires a punch to the face. 🙂
Finally, all three sons in one room. It’s been months. The deep laughter and humorous barbs make me smile. How did we FINALLY get to the place I’d always pined for? When did the “Please, grow up!” statement become reality? When did the maturity hit? I’m perplexed because we didn’t change anything- we just kept on keeping on. And I prayed ceaselessly for years. I wanted so badly to be a good mother and see them to adulthood. I also wanted them to eventually be friends. Had God noticed my MENTAL LOAD?
Recently, a coworker introduced me to the term “mental load.” It’s when a person makes mental notes of things or people needing attention. This certainly captures the hurricane swirling inside my head at any given moment. It’s the “to dos” that are unrecognized by other members of the unit. It could be as small as future appointments to make, mental grocery lists, emotional concerns about another, upcoming birthdays/events, or repairs needed to a paint job. Apparently, I do too much of this. However, it is real and appears women carry this load most.
My husband says I worry too much and that I’m going to have a heart attack. Well, I haven’t had one yet! What he calls worry, I call concern. I’m hyper aware of others and their perceived needs. Perceived, of course, because I have yet to master mind reading. Maybe my personality type makes me overly empathetic. But, hey, I could be a sociopath and that’s not good either. And I’m the one noticing tiny details and nuances. Maybe we are a perfect match? I don’t know but I would love to shut off the perpetual “to dos” in my head.
Seeing all three sons sitting (!) at the table together today chatting is something that started occurring only recently. For some reason, they interacted in passing fragments for two decades or were in a pile on the floor. Now, three humans with albeit humorous words have taken over and I love, love it!
My mental load might ease up in one area with this newfound pleasure but takes over like a V8 engine when it comes to their relationships and future plans. Peace Corps, anyone? Cross country relocations? Can I get an amen? Mamas will always be concerned with details of their childrens’ lives no matter how many times we hear, “It’s really none of your business.” Haha, go ahead, try to make me disinterested. But please, for the love of God, do not stress me out!