Monday, August 30, 2010

Cleaning Out

You know those reality shows - the ones where a team of "experts" go into a house and help people who've managed to bury themselves alive in STUFF?? It's a guilty pleasure and I'm a bit ambivalent about watching. On the one hand it's downright irritating that those slobs get all these free renovations, but I also itch to help the experts clean out all that junk!

We hang on to the stuff in our lives for lots of reasons. Sometimes we don't even KNOW the reasons. And sometimes we need an outside party to arbitrarily sift through the mess and force our hand.

I've felt, for some time, as though I’m slowly being emptied…or perhaps being scoured clean would be a better way of putting it. I feel as though I’ve lost so much in the last couple of years – not necessarily possessions…not “things" so much, but relationships and bonds…and ties that bind. Some, I admit, I'm responsible for and I'm blaming myself for those a lot...but there is also another Hand that seems to be doing much of the scouring.

It feels like there are rooms in my heart that are closing their doors forever.

One loss is very recent and has been hard to accept. My dear friend Vicki succumbed to her cancer two months and one week ago today. I still cannot believe that she is gone, that I won’t pick up a phone and hear “It’s VICKI!!” ever again. That we won’t share any more laughter or adventures.

Other losses are more difficult to put an end date to. But it seems they ended just the same. And the grieving process doesn’t change.

There are major changes on the horizon – losses again…that I’m trying to come to terms with, but it’s difficult when I'm still dealing with these recent changes and the sense of bereavement. It requires a shift in perception and in operation.

My Dad is currently in a nursing/rehab facility, recovering from a fall he had almost a month ago. He’s doing fine now, but I’m trying to figure out how we’ll deal with things when he comes home. I hadn’t expected him to ever be able to do that…but he’s progressed well, and at nearly 93 amazes everyone who works with him. (My assistant director calls him “the energizer bunny.”)

My main concern is his safety and well-being. I'm gone ten hours a day and he'll be alone. And our house has four levels, with three stairways…his bedroom is at the top, next down is the kitchen and another level down is the family room – where his big-screen TV and recliner are…and the fireplace. So I’m thinking of turning the living room into a bedroom and bringing the TV and chair upstairs. That means, of course, moving lots of furniture (and getting rid of some) and wiring the living room for cable…and that means more shifts in perception and operation.

While he’s been gone I’ve been deep-cleaning his bedroom and the office upstairs. And since it has involved organizing files and cleaning out drawers and closets, I’ve been seized with the desire to go through the entire house and de-clutter our lives. Perhaps, in keeping with my own personal losses, I need to lose some of the temporal things that have begun to feel overwhelming and burdensome.

When I find myself alone - even more alone than I feel now (and I will) - I will also find myself in a smaller space, with no room for all the combined collection of furniture, books, kitchenware, clothes, knick-knacks…etc, etc, etc (BIG ET CETERA!) that I (we) have managed to accumulate over the years.

Perhaps the Lord has slowly been preparing me for the solitary life I will be leading soon. And this desire to de-clutter is just an extension of the scouring out…the cleaning out...of ME.

Friday, February 26, 2010

365 Days

I had lunch today with one of my best friends. I’ve known Vicki all my life, she’s two years younger than me…and while that made a difference when we were in high school (different circles, you know), it became less and less of an issue as we got older. Vicki was practically my opposite, in high school she was short and very petite, quite popular and a majorette…I was…well, nevermind…

She married a boy from a fine, well-to-do family and had four children. Very opposite from me and my life circumstances. But we’ve found, over the years, how much common ground we do have. We’re both avid readers, we both love movies (especially musicals), symphonies and ballets, we enjoy crafts, we love to travel (and have gone on a couple of trips together) and we both live with and care for ailing, infirmed men (her husband, my elderly father)…and in this, especially, we are able to share our experiences in common – bad and worse (there are relatively few good!) and we’re able to laugh with each other about things that are normally incredibly stressful, very emotional and highly frustrating…things that other people (non-caregivers) just can’t understand.

Recently Vicki was given some very bad news – the worst news that a person can receive. After her cancer went into remission, Vicki changed her lifestyle and eating habits…she went Vegan…because she did not want to have to endure the horror of chemotherapy again. Unfortunately that choice was taken out of her hands and the cancer came back. However, this time the cancer did not respond to treatment and the doctors made the decision to stop the chemo. The prognosis is flat-out BAD. And she’s looking at about a year, at the most.

She spent two days in bed, crying, then pulled herself up by her bootstraps (so to speak) and decided that was counter-productive and she needed to just get over herself. She decided to take all of her retirement money and spend it in one year – by taking her children and their spouses, individually, on trips all over the world. I can’t think of a better use of her money.

Vicki is a very special kind of person. Years ago she taught the senior high school girls in church. Two of the girls in her class had jobs that required Sunday work, so every Sunday evening Vicki would visit each girl and give them an abridged version of the lesson, with handouts, etc. Her professional life has reflected the same dedication and tenacity – even though she planned on teaching physical education, she spent a lot of years teaching English to middle school students in a low-income area – students who didn’t particularly want to learn English – or anything else. Education, while a noble calling to be sure, can be one of the hardest, most demanding and frustrating vocations in the world…and it takes the special kind of person that Vicki is to do it, and do it well.

One year…three-hundred and sixty-five days…

Time is relative…and often elastic. It seems that weekends just fly by, while work weeks drag on. Boring lectures or classes seem unendurable, and yet the same period of time spent…oh…say reading a thrilling novel or watching a favorite TV show is over too quickly. It seems a long time to wait for Spring when you’ve just started a bleak November month…but suddenly August is over and the leaves are turning and the Holidays are looming (again!?! Didn’t I just take down the Christmas decorations??!!??).

I’m due (perhaps even today) to sit down with my boss at work and go over my annual performance review and development plan. (I swear we just did that!) My boss is an amazing woman and I’m lucky to be working for her…but I can’t figure out – for the life of me – what I’ve done to keep getting good reviews from her. (??) The really onerous part of the review process is my coming up with new goals and objectives (that’s the development part). I’m 58, I’m no longer a fire-brand of ambition, I basically just want to keep coming to work and doing my job until they have to pull me off my office chair and body-bag me (financially there’s not much chance of early retirement in my future…so I’m planning on working as long as they’ll let me – it’s not something I want to do, there are lots of things I’d love to be doing even now…papercrafting, those exciting novels, lunch with friends, travel…but Oh Well…)

The development plan is very akin to New Year’s Resolutions, which I’ve hated for years – because every year I’d invariably broken them all before the end of January… I’ve never been great on goal-setting, and therefore have not been an accomplisher of great things. (I understand that you have to do the one to get the other.)

Today, though, I’m looking at the coming year differently, and asking myself what I would do if I only had three-hundred and sixty-five days left on earth. And perhaps setting a goal or two…

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's a Monday-Tuesday

Here at the university I work for we have weekly Devotionals or Forums for all students, staff and faculty in the basketball arena. They are held on Tuesdays at 11:00 - no classes are scheduled, and most offices are closed - including the student union building. (This is to encourage everyone to attend.)

So...on three day weekends they have to make up for the missed classes, and every other Tuesday after a holiday weekend becomes a "Monday Tuesday" where Monday classes are held and there is no scheduled Campus Forum or Devotional.

But today's Monday-Tuesday has been a really good day.

Today I'm grateful for Time and Tenderness.

I'm grateful for time because I had a certificate of deposit mature on February 16th. (That's today, of course.) I got it in my head that I would just go in on Monday and take care of it and it would be done with. However, Saturday morning in the shower it hit me - MONDAY IS A HOLIDAY! I nearly had an aneurysm and/or coronary thinking I might have really screwed up. I need that money to pay off credit cards and put a down payment on a car loan...I was thinking I was TOAST!

So thank goodness I had time today to make things right. I am grateful for a whole day, in which to accomplish something good.

Then at lunch I went to Michael's to look for a picture frame for a baby gift. On my way in, a lady coming out with a cart full of purchases stopped me and asked me if I was going in to Michael's. When I told her I was she said, "Here, I have an extra coupon. Please take it." It was like being handed a flower! Or a whole handful of flowers!

How grateful I was for that tender-hearted lady's random act of kindness. It really made my day!

We're each given a whole day, every day, in which to accomplish something. Once gone, it's gone forever. Had I waited one more day on the CD, it would have automatically renewed for two years...and my opportunity to free myself from the bondage of credit card interest would have been gone. Had that unknown woman ignored the prompting to offer a stranger her extra coupon, no random act of kindness would have been given and received.

It just reminds me that each new day presents an opportunity, a clean slate upon which to write a record of our actions. Do we take advantage of this opportunity and accomplish something good? Kindness costs nothing to give, but the return on investment is great. The good feeling that I've carried since lunch is I'm paying it forward.

Have a nice day!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What is Spice?

Well, dictionarially (new word) speaking, spice is an additive used to bring flavor or color to a recipe…or used as a preservative for food.

Is it necessary?

I’d say YES! Not only necessary but REQUIRED! I can’t imagine pizza without oregano, or tacos without chili powder, poultry stuffing without tons and tons of sage, snickerdoodles without cinnamon…or even oatmeal without salt! (Okay, salt is technically a “seasoning,” but I think you get my general drift.)

But why am I looking for the spice in “life?”

Well, unfortunately I was a card-carrying member of the “The Glass is Half-Empty Club” for a long time. (In fact, it’s often not only empty, but dirty and cracked as well!) And then for a while I resigned my membership…but it seems I’ve been staying in the Clubhouse again a lot lately. It’s not that I have a blah life (well, sometimes I do), I often careen from one crisis to another…but do I have enough “spice” in my life???

If life is a journey, I think I’ve been sitting in a corner of the train station…either asleep or distracted and not realizing that trains have come and gone and I might have had many more adventures and seen many more places and met many more people than I have.

In other words, I have not been experiencing the flavor and color of life as I should. I have not been living an abundant life. And it’s not just a matter of having a lot of money or a lot of THINGS, the poet John Petit-Senn said:

“Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.”

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore…I’ve broken too many of them. But I try to make little changes in my life instead, through a change in mindset. This year I would like to organize and simplify more. I started on that over the holidays, and will be sharing some of that soon. But I’d also like to experience more joy this year…and give more gratitude for what I have, for every blessing no matter how large or small.

I’m going to taste more flavor, see more color and hop on more trains! And even though it’s halfway through February already, I don’t think it’s ever too late to start!