Ever Feel Overwhelmed?

Have you ever had one of those days when you suddenly realize the safety-margins of your life are disappearing into a tangle of conflicting commitments or, worse yet, hiding out under piles of silent dust bunnies?

Well if you have, welcome to my day. As I write this, I am glancing at my hands and hoping I don’t have poison ivy. (Praying, actually, because I’m REALLY allergic to that stuff.) I have been working on the road most of this year and I have fallen way behind in my real life. (By real life, I mean the one that’s always lurking in the dark corners of the laundry room, tool shed or yard.)

The day started innocuously enough. I decided to have coffee on the deck. The birds were singing from every tree, a cool breeze was blowing, and I was having a perfect morning UNTIL I noticed that the fountain in my goldfish pond wasn’t working. So I took my coffee to the pond to investigate. I fed the fish and tried to decide if I wanted to tackle the pump. But while I was watching the goldfish feed with a spring frenzy I couldn’t help but notice the wild clematis, Virginia creeper, knee-high oak seedlings, AND poison ivy spilling from every corner of the day lily beds that surround the pond. Oh, and the pump still wasn’t working. It apparently doesn’t respond to the “Mommy Evil Eye.” Arrgh!

I tried to do meditative breaths and focus on the delightful little fish forms in front of me but I couldn’t! Because you see, just yesterday I had a similar realization while catching up on six weeks worth of journaling! Again, I have been trapped by that weird womanly need to be everything to everybody. You’ve been there, you know how this works: You do all the stuff you think you need to do for everyone else only to watch your personal life and goals disappear under dust bunnies and vines. Enough!

I stomped into the house and put on my armor: long-sleeved bug shirt (check), long pants (check), sunscreen (double-check), straw hat (check), and “Steel Lady” (It’s a long story.) yard gloves and got my rake, shears, and wheelbarrow from the shed, which I now know is also covered in vines. With a fury not seen since I fixed my vacuum cleaner, I pulled every last vine out from those lily beds, cleaned the filthy filter for the pond, restarted the pump, and made a brush pile five feet high at the curb.

Sweaty, dirty, wet and pretty proud of myself, I came back in the house, pulled the screen door behind me, took a deep breath and then… saw dust bunnies piled against the baseboard as far as the eye can see. Yes, it’s going to be one of THOSE days around here. So, how are you?

Happy Mother’s Day SuperMom!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner! You’re ready for your kids to bring you breakfast in bed. You’re pumped up! You are ready to be celebrated for a change, have someone else do the heavy lifting for a day. You’re longing for a rose on the breakfast tray, two blueberry pancakes with extra syrup, a slice of thick bacon, a rich cup of French roast coffee and a homemade card that says “I Love You Mom!” atop a flowered cloth napkin.

 

Haha! Dream on!

Click here to see a SuperMom’s Mother’s Day!

Beauty Rises from the Dark Places

On a beautiful spring day I found myself on a wildflower hike. It was one of those days when the temperature is like that last bed in the Goldilocks story: just right. It had rained earlier in the week and there was a cool, lingering dampness in the woods. A breeze teased my nose with the sweet scent of flowering locust trees.

I made my way along a narrow footpath that followed a creek as it rose up the mountain and suddenly there were flocks of dwarf iris tucked into every corner. Deep green leaf blades rose from the dank ground and the still-wet leaf mulch of winter formed the perfect backdrop for their shockingly purple blooms. The iris were the opening act for a true treasure: a showy orchis. A shy mountain native, its vibrant fuchsia blooms rose to meet the breeze from long, slender stems. What a privilege it was to see one. At the top of the mountain the soil turned loamy and pale pink shell azalea and mountain laurel bloomed on the rocky ridge.

I was lucky my rare day off fell into the wildflowers’ tiny crack of time. They arrive in between the last freeze and the greening of the forest canopy. In the life of a wildflower, timing is everything. They are literally there one day and gone the next. Spring is their midwife and they bloom from the dankest, most rotten soil on the mountain. They lift themselves from pools of melted snow and spring rain into shafts of sunlight that will soon disappear. They bloom from corners where the wild winds of winter blew the leaves of fall against ancient trunks and drink deeply of melting snow and spring rains. Wildflowers bloom when and where they can in the most unexpected of places.

Our moist, dark places give birth to beautiful things, too. All new life requires rich nutrients. You can’t grow a healthy plant from thin, exhausted soil. So, I think it’s kind of ridiculous that our society goes to such lengths to avoid hard times, grief and sorrow, skirt around it or pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s ridiculous because every trial we undergo, every grief we experience, every hardship we endure, and every tear we shed is a nutrient for new life. It’s not easy to sit with these dark things of life (I’ve done my share of sitting with dark stuff and watering it with tears.), but it’s just as important as the happy, bright times because when shafts of light finally pour down into the dark, moist, nutrient rich places of our souls, wildly beautiful things are born!

Life may seem dark now, but believe in nature’s promise – from moist, dark places comes new life!

Girls Fix Stuff

It all started when I invited some people over to my house for a meal. I’d been on the road for several weeks, eating food I really shouldn’t eat unless I want to weigh 600+ pounds. I’d been sleeping in hotels and bumping into furniture in the dark every night trying to find the bathroom (Why can’t OHSA step in and mandate that all hotel rooms have the bathroom in the same place? Seriously, how hard is that?). Anyway, I needed to nest, rest and bake something. Now that probably sounds crazy, but baking is very restorative for me, it’s one of my favorite ways to nurture myself. I get to eat a homemade food, plumped up with high-quality fat (like European butter, for instance), and my house smells fabulous!

I baked a quiche and cookies and then about a half-hour before people were to show up, I took in the state of my house and about fainted. My den was covered in dog hair. When I say covered, I literally mean covered. It was ankle deep in dog hair. Spring had sprung while I was away and the yearly shedding had begun.

So, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner and started vacuuming. My part Jack Russell, part Basenji (Mr. Pip – a.k.a. world’s most adorable dog) had busied himself during my absence with chewing up a stick (Which I pray isn’t from a piece of furniture like it was the last time.) and he’d strewn toothpick size pieces of it all over the room. By the time I got to the kitchen, the vacuum was overheating and then it growled at me and just ceased to function. I hadn’t even made it to living room, so I did what our elementary school janitor did, I pushed all the fur and dust bunnies into the corners of the room with a dust mop and left them there.

I really didn’t think anyone would notice. My guests arrived and commented on how wonderful the house smelled. I thought no one had noticed until one of my girlfriends (who is also a widow) said, “Why are there dust bunnies in the corner? Did you break your vacuum cleaner?” Busted!

Now, as a Mom, I’m used to everything being my fault, so no worries there. Never mind that the #*@& vacuum cleaner fell apart 2 days after the warranty expired or that most manufacturers make products under a “planned obsolescence” program these days (This is a huge pet peeve of mine but I won’t get into that now). Of course it was my fault. I mean, I know that and in fact, I’d already accepted that. But I couldn’t accept buying a new vacuum cleaner. I’d had a lot of big expenses that month and I just couldn’t afford a new one, not just yet…it wasn’t in the budget.

So I asked my friend Andy to look at it. Now Andy is a very practical, handy kind of guy and he looked that thing over top to bottom. He used a screwdriver and everything. No duct tape was involved, but tools were. (I learned a long time ago that half of fixing anything the way a man does is to: 1. Cuss it out and 2. Put duct tape on it.) A few minor issues were solved but the cleaner was still overheating within seconds of being turned on. Additionally, it was now emitting a dark aroma that smelled a bit like dead possum, so I decided not to risk a house fire and I took it out to the trash.

Trash day came and I pulled my bins to the street. Then I went back for the vacuum. As I was walking to the curb, a light shone through the clear tube at the bottom that connected the beater brushes to the debris container. (It would be more accurate to say that it shone through the sticks and hair that were clogging the once clear tube.) and in an “a-ha!” moment I spun on my heels and took it back inside. I put the vacuum on the floor and looked at how it went together. Hmmm. I cussed it out. (This is mandatory, otherwise said tool or equipment KNOWS you are a girl and refuses to cooperate.) When I determined that I needed a Philip’s head (I realize I learned a lot watching Perrin fix things…), I got the little black bag that held the tiny screwdrivers he used on his cameras and lenses out and then I put a roll of duct tape next to the vacuum cleaner, just to scare it. I unscrewed that tube, pulled Mr. Pip’s toothpicks out of there, along with about 2 cups of his hair, screwed that sucker back onto the vacuum and it works like a champ. And I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty dang proud of myself.

But the moral of this story is that we can all do things we think we can’t do with a little help from our stored memories and a roll of duct tape.

Waiting for Easter

The day my husband died, I gazed out the picture window in his hospice room and the lone tree in the labyrinth arched longingly toward the heavens, naked, before its creator. Gone were the blossoms and seed pods of spring. Gone were the full leaves blown about by the storms of summer, gone was the golden dress it wore when the harvest moon hosted her last ball. The dry leaves were snuggled up against its trunk like a blanket. Creation was waiting for winter. Inside that hospice hospital lay the mirror images of that tree. The once mischievous children who played in the mud on spring days, had become brides and grooms in summer, then moms and dads in autumn and, for the lucky ones, grandmas and grandpas. Now, they lay stripped of their cars and jobs and homes and roles and lifestyles. Now they lay silent, under blankets, bodies arched longingly toward the heavens, souls standing naked before their creator.

 

When they said my husband could die anytime, that the battle he’d fought so bravely was over, I’d gone to the mortuary. Thank goodness we’d discussed death and dying and burial and funerals on one of those long car trips that are so good for thinking and talking. My husband loved the outdoors. He was happiest in nature. He ran, he cycled, he swam, he camped. If you could do it outdoors, he did it. He wanted to enter the earth as dust, he said that day as we drove a mountain road, and he quoted that scripture passage from Genesis. The one where God kicked Adam out of Eden. From dust you came and to dust you shall return. Thank goodness, we’d had that conversation and I knew what he wanted. He wanted to be cremated and buried in the family plot, in South Carolina, next to his father and then have a big celebration of his life at our church. He was a man of faith, he believed in life after death.

 

A gaunt, solicitous young man greeted me at the crematorium. He was tall with pasty white skin and bulging eyes and a shaved head as bald as a cue ball. He was young but already very sanctimonious. He ushered me into a small office, with a metal desk and two pale green office chairs. He took out a long, legal sized form, in triplicate (one for me, one for him and one for the government) and murmured to me in hushed tones. “Now then, what kind of casket did you have in mind for your beloved?”

 

I could hear the sales pitch coming like a freight train in the dark and I wasn’t in the mood so I interrupted and said, “Actually I don’t need a casket – my husband wants to be cremated. All I need from you is the cremation and an urn.”

 

He checked the box that said, “Cremation,” and patted my hand. And then he put his pen down and he told me the sweetest story about how he’d been a paramedic in the military but given that up so he could do what he always wanted to do: embalm people. And then he assured me that I would want my husband prepared before the cremation so everyone could view his body and remember him the way he was, before he died. And he checked the box next to make up and hair styling.

 

Now my husband was born and reared in Alabama – roll Tide! His idea of gun control was not having a loaded one on my lap in the car. He was an Eagle Scout, an athlete and man’s man, okay? I knew, I knew my husband wouldn’t want some pasty faced man fluffing his hair and putting pancake makeup and lipstick on him so I grabbed the pen and scratched that out.

At which point, we proceeded to the display room to look at urns. This tour convinced me that the old adage is true: one man’s junk really is another man’s treasure. There was a cheap brass urn that I’m pretty sure was once a tobacco spittoon. There was an urn with a deer head and pine trees but I decided against that one because I didn’t think he’d want to be buried in camo. We walked under the wood cut sign that said, “Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” And I found my mind leaping into the scripture for safety. “Lo, thou art with me, they rod and they staff, they comfort me.” And then I saw a pale orange and yellow salt crystal urn. It looked just like the lamp my husband bought me at a craft fair for my birthday the year before. That lamp sits next to my computer and when I turn it on, the glow through the crystal is so warm and lovely. I picked it up and he said, “Now that is not an urn for a woman of your standing, for a Christian woman like yourself. That one is just salt and it will dissolve and spill your beloveds cremains right into the ground.”

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. “From dust you came,” the Lord God said to Adam, “and to dust you shall return.” And I held onto that urn with all my heart and said “I’ll take it.” And wrote the man a check.

My husband died before the day was out, and we buried him in South Carolina, in the red clay in the graveyard that sits next to the church his family founded before the civil war. A heavy frost sat on the ground and everything was gray. The only color was a bright red cardinal that flew to a bare branch near the open grave and sang to us. I swear to you it said, “believe, believe, believe.” I took the bag of tulips I’d bought for the yard and pushed them into the clay on top of the urn. Planted them in the shape of a heart, squeezing every last one in, and then I laid his ring in the middle. His siblings took turns shoveling the Carolina clay into the grave, we ate a meal at the farmhouse together, we had a celebration of his life and then…

Winter came… with all its “firsts.” My first wedding anniversary without him, our first Christmas without him, my son’s first birthday without him. The waves of grief came one after the other and like storm surge pulling the sand from a beach, there was a little less of us left each time the waves came.

But finally, spring came, My son and I decided to drive to the farm in S. C. just get out of the house for the weekend. And as the highway unfolded before us, the trees arched longingly toward the pale blue heavens, their graceful arms now covered in flowers and seed pods. The green of the wild grass along the road was so bright our eyes could barely take it in. We stopped at the church to visit the grave. Daffodils nodded from their neat lines along the walkway. Soft moss was growing into the cracks around the stone wall and the lusty mating songs of the birds burst in the air. Creation was birthing itself again.

We opened the wrought iron gate to the graveyard and what we saw there, took our breath away. A heart of tulips blooming on his grave. Red ones, pink ones, white ones, yellow ones, orange ones, encircling each other, entwining their leaves one to the other, like a family standing over him in prayer. And the cardinal flew to the branch now covered with fresh new leaves and sang “believe believe believe!”

What’s Your Story?

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you are a member of the sisterhood no woman wants to join. You’re on a journey to rebuild almost every aspect of your life. You don’t really have a choice about this. You will either rebuild or you will become the second victim of his death.

Each widow’s journey toward healing begins with the sacred sharing of her story. To have your story witnessed and held tenderly by another cracks open the dark recesses of your heart where you have kept your loss and pain hidden from view.

It can seem as though no one hears us when we are widowed. It can feel like no one is listening to you anymore. That simple sharing of life’s moments that you once took for granted is gone and a vast quiet takes over your life.

Yes, each widow has a story and I’d like to hear yours. But first, I want to tell you mine.

How many starfish try to be stingrays? Seriously, how much time does any given starfish, on any given coral reef, spend trying to be a stingray or a whale? Not much, right? Yet how many times a day do we try to be something we’re not? If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said to another woman, “Wow, I wish I had your hair!” I’d be a rich woman right now. I’d be a dang millionaire if I had a quarter for all the times I’ve envied another woman’s wardrobe, weight, lifestyle, or home décor. I’m not proud to tell you that, but it’s true.

Animals don’t do that. Animals just accept life for what it is. Wow. That’s a lot easier. So, the two wrens in my feeder today (that I’m pretty sure are about to become Mr. and Mrs.) are engaged in heavy courting. Right now, they’re feeding each other seeds and displaying their feathers. (She’s trying very hard to not be impressed.) But, it wouldn’t enter their minds to ask the crows nearby if one of them would like to make a nest. They’re wrens. They have tiny bodies and sharp beaks. They know what they’re about and they don’t waste any time trying to be a crow or a fox or a cat.

I think nature gives us a pretty good primer in self-ownership. If we try to be something we’re not, it probably isn’t going to work. No matter how hard we try, it just won’t work. (I can testify to this personally!) It won’t work because it’s not real. I’m a short, dark-haired Welsh woman with enough Cherokee to keep it interesting. I’m not a tall Nordic blond. I can wish that for myself, but I’ll never be that.

When we spend our time wishing things were different than they are, we’re wasting valuable self-time. And the fact of the matter is, God made us the way we are. We are enough, we are what we’re supposed to be. Until we accept what is, we will never grow into what truly can be. It’s only by accepting ourselves, all of ourselves (body type, IQ, innate gifts, life experiences, the whole shooting match!) that we live into who we are. And, who you are is actually pretty cool once you embrace it.

So, don’t waste another minute trying to be someone else. Become who you are and own that.

Are You Ready to be Healed

Jesus healed many people in his travels. But every now and then he asked them if they were ready to be healed. Now, as a child, this always puzzled me. Often these were people who were sitting near healing pools or at the city gates and they were obviously hurting. So, puzzlement was, “Why wouldn’t they want to be healed?” Seems simple enough, right?

But as I grew older and encountered my own demons and dis-eases the question returned to me again and again in my daily meditations. “Are YOU ready to be healed Donna Marie?” And one day I got it: We can become very addicted (literally) to our “dis-ease” and our wounded places and it’s hard to let them go.

We get a lot of attention when we’re sick (Remember how good that chicken soup and milk toast were when you got to eat them in bed?). Things really haven’t changed that much for most of us since childhood. When we trot out our hurt places, people tend to kiss our boo-boos. “He is always such a jerk now that we’re divorced! Why does he verbally abuse me like that?” Instead of, “Oh, you poor thing! Why does he do that?” maybe the question should be, “Why do you still allow him to do that? What are you getting from that?”

Now there’s a hard question to answer. And I’m not meaning to pick on divorced women here, since I’ve been one and done exactly that (And yes, he was a jerk.). But one day I realized that allowing him to engage with me that way let me hold onto the energy of our relationship a bit longer and dream of how things should have been different. When I finally accepted, sadly, that things had never been and would never be different, I stopped the next ugly conversation in its tracks and it never happened again. I didn’t need it anymore. I was ready to move forward into healing. It just took a while for me to get there.

At a certain point, holding onto our wounds is like walking on broken glass. My Dad used to say, “Don’t chew your cud, digest your life.” I mean, think about it this way: If you dropped a piece of china on a stone floor and it broke into twenty pieces, would you keep walking on the shards or sweep it up?

There is no way to avoid pain and sorrow in this life. It’s how we deal with, how we choose to heal or remain wounded, that determines how happy and productive we can be in spite of it. So, “Are you ready to be healed?” When the answer is yes, the healing begins!

 

Increase Your Personal Possibility!

I have spent this week at a lovely home on the Atlantic ocean on North Carolina’s Emerald Isle at a retreat for women retreat leaders. The setting is absolutely gorgeous (our week here is a gift to us from a patron of the religious arts) and we have an absolute blast! We cross-pollenate one another with inspiring ideas and art projects and mix our retreat sessions with long walks/talks on the beach before dinner each night. I wanted to share some of what we’ve done with you and invite you to try one of our retreat activities!

Our theme this year has been “possibility” and each of us leads a day of this retreat. The first day we created foil-lined “possibility hats” that offered us the chance to repel negative thoughts and influences and attract more of what we want in our lives.

Another day we explored what it means to be free and read the Declaration of Independence (wow!) and the original writings about the Statue of Liberty. We then drew our family trees and journaled about our family origins. (I have a bit of Cherokee, which explains my Asian-fold dark eyes, but mostly I’m Welsh by blood, so my “people” weren’t born here.)

We moved further into the turf of what it means to not only have corporate freedom but also personal freedom. Freedom from fear, anxiety, grief, destructive thoughts and behaviors, disease, and so on. Another retreat day focused on reframing negative self-language (exchanging “I can’t,” “I haven’t,” “We don’t” with “I can,” and “I will.”) THAT was really powerful process.

I don’t think anyone has more need of reframing language than widows do. Our lives change when our husbands die. To move forward as single women, we have to rebuild our ENTIRE lives. It’s challenging, it’s daunting at times, andmost of the time, it’s a lonely journey. And yet, we are still here. We have things to do with our lives and love to give to the world.

So, I want to invite you to try a really cool exercise in possibility from our retreat at the beach. Take a blank sheet of paper. On the left hand side, write down at least 5 things you think you can’t do or that you used to do or that you’d like to do but don’t think you can. (Use “I can’t, I won’t, I don’t know how to…” language.) Then, on the right hand side of the page, reframe your language about each of these things using proactive wording (I can, I will, I want to learn how to…). The more things you list, the more powerful the exercise becomes.

Just as we can strengthen our physical bodies and develop new muscle with exercise, we can increase our personal possibility by strengthening our minds and spirits. Changing (or reframing) the negative language we often use with ourselves to the positive language of “Yes, I can!” is a great way to just that!

 

Why Do Good People Suffer?

lentLent has begun. With an ashen cross smeared on my forehead, I have entered the time of contemplating suffering and sorrow and its role in our human condition as we remember the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

It’s not hard to find suffering and sorrow. You can walk to the nearest ICU and find it displayed against the white sheets , bright lights, and beeping monitors that are the company of those in twilight sleep. My best friend of all time is a critical care physician whose daily work takes place amidst the shock and pain. She speaks the language of suffering eloquently and tenderly, often delivering the hard news that no one is ever really prepared to hear.

There was an accident in my tiny town on Monday. The troopers were chasing a vehicle and the driver took our exit, blew past the sweet primary school where a few hours earlier kindergarteners with My Little Pony backpacks would have been waiting in line for their parents. The car erratically drove on, into the very heart of town and plowed into 5 vehicles before busting through the plate glass windows of the old-fashioned hardware store like a stunt driver in a B-grade movie.

T-boned in the melee was a young track coach at our local Christian college named Britten Olinger. A runner now turned paraplegic whose life is hanging by a thread. He has three dogs, a wife and a baby girl. “Lord! Where is the justice in life?” we cry out as the family takes crumpled naps on waiting room couches. I’ve slept on those same couches. It’s not any fun. Seconds take hours, hours take days, you eat from vending machines and keep your cell phone on. People call, but they don’t know what to say except, “I’m so sorry” and you don’t know what to say except, “Thank you.” The clocks in there are very loud.

Asking why good people suffer is an argument best left to the absurd. Understanding and giving thanks for each moment when we’re not suffering is where the lesson is.

So as the next 40 days unfold, sit in prayer with that family and all the others like them. Look for a way to do something helpful, think harder and then just do it. (You can use the link here to donate to help them make it through). And as you move through these next forty days, sit in utter gratitude that life includes both suffering and joy. The trick is to look for joy when and where you can because you never know what’s coming next, none of us do.