LIFE’s TERMS and WTF?

Life is good, most of the time, damn good in fact. Sometimes however, things happen that call that goodness into question; things that make me almost forget that the sun is sure to shine bright again; that it will come back in time with all of its glory, not just for me, but those I love and care for.

Over the past six months, our family has experienced steady doses of irony. Joy and sorrow arrived so disproportionately that polarity was actually tangible. At times, exhilaration and excruciation jumbled together so rapidly there was no time to truly feel or process any of it.

As this year began, we were beyond excited; we would welcome not one, but two daughter-in-laws; A nephew’s marriage out west would be coupled with a siblings trek through Olympia Forest; there were travel plans up north and to California; I would begin graduate school and best of all, our extended family would be together more than once.

It is now October (dear blog I have missed you) and yes, all of these things took place. The weddings in particular were each spectacular in their own right. They were beautiful, blessed and sacred events. Thankfully, in my heart my memories of both are intact and will always be. They are stored away as perfect days and for that, I am truly grateful.

Yet, through all of these events, the amount and level of emotional tugs went so far past my ability to comprehend that in retrospect I can only stand awestruck at the grace of the grooms and their brides throughout. At times, the challenges and grief that life presented to our children and our extended family was so excruciating, there was nothing to do but choose joy and light in the midst.

A bridesmaid died tragically and a fluke accident left an uncle on life support until his passing on wedding’s eve. Another bridesmaid caused a different kind of grief and concern; a guest’s TSA challenge put a damper on things; an elderly relative was rushed to the ER…and on and on it went. I remember trying to carry all of it like a load on my back, not for me but for the kids; I wanted their sacramental days to be perfect and tried to stand ready to take on whatever necessary to shield them. I have come to realize that perfect is relative, not absolute and that the people I love are incredibly resilient.

For months, the challenges kept wanting to pile up, but with faith as a guide all of us, everyone in this amazing extended family absolutely refused to let them overstep bounds to the brides or grooms happiness. Yes, we honored every sad and difficult moment as they came, but we then chose to shelve what could be, while keeping at hand the rest so as to push forward to celebrate and honor two very special couples and all the family members who showed up for them.

Family wedding planning is stressful under the best of circumstances; two in one year makes for double the stress. There are scads of decisions and logistics needing ironing out, budgets to determine, family dynamics stuff and perhaps a tad too much control from one direction whilst not enough from another. On top of these things, the multiple life stressors coming down the pike could have yielded quite different results, because at times there was no way to know exactly what to feel; this even in the midst of feeling excited and happy.

Grief stung like a bee time and again, though each time the only choice was to bravely pull out the stingers and dismiss the pain in order to process what kept inevitably coming around the bend. What keeps coming to mind is, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”

As everything unfolded, and as real and justified tears interspersed with elation, the weddings were spectacular. Of course, a multitude of family photos hit Facebook walls and Snapchat and in unison and connection, relatives sighed with gratitude that the Joy we chose through both instances won out over any grief and the special days were just that – very, very special.

And then, after some weeks, just when we were sure we could now breathe easily, when we just knew that any family stress had to be behind us and we all, along with the newlyweds were headed back on track to happily ever after, another life thing happened.

In the midst of planning travel for the third family wedding this year, my nephew’s out west, something happened making the trip, the plans, and the world stand still. Another nephew, a beloved young man who had recently rocked the dance floor and smiled big in family photos was gone; he died ever so senselessly. So totally were we caught off guard by this loss, that the only choice we had, my family and I, was to brace for this new crash and hope that we could somehow help our little sister put the pieces back together later.

Once again, this year, in the midst of planning for something wonderful, there appeared a very dark shadow. Once again, we would eventually push through to the best of our abilities, because we would, we knew deep in our hearts, actually have no choice. We also know now however, now that the funeral services are over, that we are different on the other side. Life will never be the same, especially for my baby sister and her girls.

The first time I read the words, “Life is difficult,” I thought they were ridiculous; “there was no need to think that way now was there?” Now, I know differently. Sometimes life is hard, very hard and I am not sure whether knowing this is half the battle or not. However, it hit me this year that knowing it is a necessary part of surviving.

An old mentor, Mary Mac, once told me, “in order to be happy you have to accept ’life on life’s terms.’” I had not a clue what “terms” were when she said it, and had no idea what she was talking about, but today I know exactly what she meant. Over many years, terms have presented themselves in the form of challenges and joys as birthdays have come and gone by the wayside. The only thing to do through all of them has been to find a level of acceptance and although it has not always been easy, it has been the only way.

The acceptance part must inevitably find its way; it will, once we decide it must. Sometimes it only comes after true struggle and amidst shattering heartache, but it comes. It comes with a willingness to remember that life is not happening TO me or TO anyone else I love and care about, even though it sometimes feels that way. Instead, life forms as a direct result of what we do with what happens, whatever happens. This is not a simple statement, particularly after a year like this last one for our family. Sometimes life’s events pile so that it seems there is a personal attack from the universe going on; comfort or anything resembling it seems impossible. The key I have learned is even at these times, to seek acceptance and to push through with everything you have to get to it.

This, because it turns out that Life is just that, life, and no matter what, it will go on; it will continue no matter what. It’s not a simple science; even with a substantial amount of spiritual tools amassed, I can still shake to my core when working to accept what feels unacceptable, particularly things dramatically affecting those I love, but I have learned that even then, even amidst the trembles, I have no choice.

This most recent loss, my nephew’s death, was so very painful and utterly senseless and now that some weeks have past and life is trying to get caught up to life, I can only pray that our family, my sister in particular, will find some true peace in our hearts and at least some tiny measure of acceptance as a beginning.

I will never understand the why’s of these last few months and frankly, I don’t have energy left even to try, but within every 24 hour every period, with every walk towards the light there seemed to be something else behind a solution, some challenge behind a joy. Some next circumstance came up so fast that processing any of it felt almost, yet not quite, impossible. Even though the horizon line almost got lost, there it always was again, in the form of a fresh new day.

No, I may never be able to fully process this year. I might not be able beyond that to figure out why, even now, even after all these months of stress mixed with joy mixed with turmoil mixed with awe, why my current “life on life’s terms,” things going on yesterday and today, are carrying yet new challenges to my family in the form of medical issues and injury. However, I will remember to keep these current small things just that, small. The Grace comes in the perspective that compared to what they could be, compared to what they might be, compared to what they have been, these new things are absolutely, positively, no problema.

Although in the midst of our day to days challenges, it is sometimes hard to see, the light is always there behind the shadows, waiting, waiting, waiting to shine. I hope it will shine bright on my family. I hope it beams down on my sister and her girls very, very soon and when it does, I hope they will be able to recognize it. I pray that they, we, will remember always, even after forgetting, to reach up and out to the source of All good things, the One shining that light for us to find.

No, I may never understand many of the “terms” of this past year, but even though I will likely not understand, I still must accept. I must accept and then move out and beyond the explanations, remembering that we will not always know why … but always, always, we are meant to remember How. We are meant to keep looking for the light. We simply have to.

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Relationships and Decisions and Choices

Over the last few days, it seems the theme around me has been relationships. Within conversation, one friend was processing some sadness about her former partner while another, her present one. Both turned to me for advice:  “How do you know when the person you are with is the right one for you?” “How do you know when he’s wrong and the time has come to move on?“How do you stand the feelings while you figure it all out?”

First, let me say that I am by no means an expert on relationships! However, because my peeps and I seek one another out for solution, I was compelled to give the best answer I could in both situations, “It’s not that simple. What I have learned from experience is that you know simply because you decide to and then you work within and towards that decision every day.”

 

My friends’ questions provoked powerful emotions within me, mostly ones of gratitude but also of sorrow and regret. They prompted a hope that once they make their choice they will know that whatever unfolds from that point on, will be right and true and good because that is who they are inside and because they will decide to work at making it so.

All my life, I stood in terror of making decisions. I was afraid to go right and find out later that left had been the way for me. Because of this, I lived always positioned for a move, ready to turn, as if waiting for a tennis shot; poised for either a forehand or back, but never too firmly planted on my feet; just ready, always ready. With this type of stance, it was difficult for any relationship to seed, take root, grow strong and flourish. The garden that was my life was one filled with annuals, never perennials, and I could not understand why flowers were not re-blooming year after year. Instead of planting new ones, knowing that the former’s gift had come and gone, I thought I must have picked the wrong patch of earth. Sure, I watered sometimes, but there was so much more critical work required. There were weeds to pull, soil to turn over and fertilizer to spread. Because I thought once I planted, pretty colors would be forevermore, when things went bare and brown I panicked. I did not understand.

Today, I can only wonder at how it was I believed I should always know, know Who and What and Where and When. How I thought I should be sure and certain in whatever I picked or chose. I wonder how it was that I so naively thought we all were supposed to find our custom designs out there, so easily, so surely. Did I think there were memos to help or sky-written messages from above to guide the way? Did I remain so afraid in my decisions, because I never got those memos, those messages? Was it because I felt abandoned somewhere, by what or whom I am not sure, but forgotten and left to pick my way through life on my own? It is laughable today, but laughable in the most gentle sort of way, to think about how terrified I was of getting it all wrong; the big IT of life; the guy I should be with, the career path to travel, the neighborhood to live in and the bestie to trust.

This morning, I have decided to smile with gentle kindness at all of it, appreciate the similarities between all of us fellow travelers and pass along what I have learned. I have opted to use the feelings stirred up from relationship conversations this week and remember to reach upward towards the blessed prayer of St. Francis of Assisi and its words that will guide me for the future. I choose today to head in the direction before me and to believe that help will come as I go, not in memo form, but in daily dialogue with God and His Angels.

Right here, right now, I choose to be one of the brave and decisive ones as I step out, one of the courageous ones, one unafraid to choose left with both feet on the ground or go right with everything I have inside of me. I commit to a willingness to make today’s choices gracefully and while doing so, believe that whatever they are will be good and true; because no matter what unfolds, the gifts will come in the lessons therein.

The most important choice I will make today will be once again to believe with all my heart, with absolute certainty that there is no right way and no wrong, but ever so perfectly, there is simply the way I will choose.

Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain

Almost two decades ago, my first spiritual mentor came into my life. A beautiful soul, she crossed my path suddenly and very coincidentally. In retrospect, I am sure our meeting was God’s handiwork, because it happened soon after I began seeking Grace.

At the onset of my quest, although I could almost taste what I sought, I did not yet fully understand what Grace even meant. As it turns out, it is so much more than I had thought. Yes, it is a relationship with God, as I believed it was; salvation even. Beyond that, it is all that you are; it is personal freedom, strength in vulnerability and the capacity to stand true and unwavering as your very best self at a given time. It is also “all that you simply cannot manage to be, even though you might like to, at a said given time.” Some might express the last sentence as “all that you are not,” but I prefer my own understanding.

One of the first things I remember discussing with this spiritual guide was that, “Ideally we want to get to a place in our lives where we don’t feel a need either to Explain or Complain.” The “Not having to explain” part, because if we stay true to trying to do the next right thing in our lives, we won’t have to prove anything to anyone. The “not complaining,” because doing so will just keep us stuck in our ego and that, as I have learned through very painful life lessons, will simply never do.

Whilst traveling a route towards God’s favor, I have done my best to honor many along the way with friendship. In learning to do so, as often as I have been able to remember, I’ve used this “Don’t Explain, Don’t Complain” mantra and it has been priceless. In the midst, I have received precious gifts of time and loving kindness and have offered the same in return. However, it is at times impossible to fulfill the needs of others or even to communicate fully why we are unable to. Work stuff takes a little longer than usual or the car has to go into the shop. The cat gets out or a neighbor distracts with a request to borrow sugar. Someone asks for help, or my husband wants to spend time; a writing deadline looms or a migraine hits.

When these things happen, these tugs, these ways that take me away from what I might really want to be doing in order to do what needs to be done, life can start to feel awfully lifey. Through it all though, I still need never explain nor complain. What I must do, is simply that which is immediately pressing in front of me in the very best way I can.

When living in this simple “Don’t complain, don’t explain” mantra, life has the potential to be grand. No, it’s not as simple as it sounds, not exactly, but it really does work as long as it’s basis is on trusting those you have relationships with to know who you are at your core; to know that you would never intentionally hurt them with what they perceive as your wrong.

When I find myself tempted to give a lengthy dissertation of why I didn’t or couldn’t or can’t, I have to stop and remind myself that getting fearfully embroiled in having to explain what is sometimes unexplainable is unnecessary, especially if my connection to God is intact. Those sometimes pulls, the yanks towards the need to be absolutely certain that others understand the why’s and what’s of my decisions can be let go if I remember that those why’s and what’s don’t really matter as long as God and I know the reasons.

In the big picture of life, what others think about my actions or inactions need have no bearing on my reality. Just as others have no idea what fully goes on in my total day to day, I have no idea what goes on in theirs. There are so many tugs, twists and turns in one twenty-four hour period that to try to be all that we desire to or to explain every situation encountered is a daunting and sometimes seemingly impossible task.

And so, as that long ago mentor also told me, I must trust that when I ask God each morning to guide me to His will, that what he puts in front of me is right and true, even when it changes or deviates from what I had planned. I can be firm in my choices, including re-choosing, even when those choices feel slightly uncomfortable, and do my very best to remember that He alone can judge; though he never even will, because He loves me so. How cool is that!

…Writing…

For the past several months I have been writing…and writing…and writing.

Clutching moments from wherever I can, I must work it into my day, because although I am paid for what I write, I still don’t call it my “real” job. I find myself grabbing snippets of time to devote to pulling together letters that are not my letters but that belong to everyone. The letters that are readily available for anyone who chooses to make words, then sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, then chapters, then books.

Sometimes I worry that there will not be enough time to catch the words and thoughts I want to catch. I fear that others out in writers land may get there first. To those sentences that should have been mine, the ones I am truly thinking but can’t get to type fast enough. The ones scads of others are putting into blogs or posts or pages before I have time.

Today, I don’t click the mouse to see what’s out there before I write, because it will stop me. It will allow me to go to a place that won’t serve. A place of why bother? Why try? Because have you SEEN all those words out there in internet land??

A simple hit on a cursor would afford me writings on anything. Already put together passages are there for the taking on everything I could ever need. Inspiration beyond any I could muster. Information that goes beyond what I could ever gather first, but I don’t want to see it. I just want to trust my typing. And type…and type…and type.

Often I’ve set aside an hour only to find that I am still at the keyboard four or five or six later. When this happens, I have no recollection of time passing. And even though I’ve spent too much already, I think, “Just one more paragraph.”

It’s a trance like state, this place I arrive at soon after the first words hit the page. At the same time, it is both escape and arrival. The sentences form like paint on canvas, but I am no painter, although I’ve always wanted to be. Or wait, perhaps I am. The ink on paper my black paint on white canvas? Are the pages my canvas? Yes, I think so.

My art. It is everyone else’s and no one else’s. If you read it, is it honored? Does it even have to be? No, even if the words are never read, they form art the moment they hit the page. Their editing is no different than a sculptor re-shaping a piece of clay, a painter adding a bit more color or a sketch artist gently erasing. So, yes it is art.

That is why I think I am so drawn, pulled to the keyboard as if it calls my name. I am called to the flow of the letters that swirl together to make artistic statements that are mine. To pull together words that form pictures that wordies like me can understand. Art that feels good and true and whole.

Perhaps what satisfies me is following the structure of a sentence, but only to a point. Maybe it’s taking liberty with the rules learned back in grade school that calls to me. The simple, complex, compound guides to follow that I don’t always heed. Or maybe the underlines on grammar check are what excite me. The grammatical musts and shoulds calling me to keep the color inside the lines, even as I disregard them, provoke me. This breaking the rules while following them is electrifying. It is artistic prowess.

It is a game. One of finding the right way to say something with only twenty six letters shaped and re-shaped over and over. Going at it from angle after angle until you find it and then find it again.

Yes, I am writing. I am writing. I am writing. And for today, there is a big stack of thin white canvasses about to go into the printer. I wonder what will be created today.