"In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy." Brother David Steindl-Rast

Monday, September 30, 2013

About those Miracles

Today I am grateful for my husband Darcy and our marriage as it grows and evolves. I am also grateful for the unique individual our son Sam is becoming.

Yesterday I ended my post with this quote: "Don't quit before the miracle happens."

I first heard those words from someone working on recovery from alcoholism. They weren't talking about a big miracle. They weren't talking about being cured. They were talking about miracles like not taking a drink today. Miracles like picking up the phone and reaching out instead of isolating. Miracles like being able to look in the mirror and not turn away in disgust.

Miracles like quitting smoking after praying for the strength to do so for a full year. Miracles like being comfortable in my own skin. Miracles.

Quick fixes don't often happen and if they do, they don't often last. I work daily on my daily disease of alcoholism. I have many tools to use and I try to keep them in good working order. I also rely on others and faith to help me in this daily work.

But this quote is applicable in many situations, including gratitude practice like I mentioned yesterday. It was a miracle when my first thoughts started being less about "poor Lisa" and more about "blessed Lisa." Blessed to be alive. Blessed to get another chance at all this. Blessed to feel a little better about myself.

Is there an area in your life that could use a miracle? Start working on it. Start facing it straight-on. Stop the paralyzing fear and take action. That is where miracles start.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Try A Little Gratitude"

Today I am grateful for a good training run yesterday morning and the "pleasure" of nature's power as we watched my son's football game in a wind-driven, cold rain. (Actually, what I really appreciated was getting back home, into dry clothes and warm again.)

I am also grateful for the poetry I have written and the healing and growth it has brought. But I so appreciate the poetry of others, especially my sister Aileen. She has a knack for taking an idea and putting it to poetry in a way that is often pointed and stark, but also alive in a way that only she can create. She is my kind of a poet. Recently she was pondering "has anyone ever been injured practicing gratitude?" 

Here is a little jewel of a poem that came out of that musing:

Try A Little Gratitude

It couldn't hurt
could it?
No one has been injured
practicing gratitude,
have never heard
"I tore my anterior
appreciation muscle
from overuse."

Thank you Aileen! You helped validate an important truth for me. I benefit greatly from my daily gratitude practice. I have never experienced gratitude "burnout." Sure, there are days when I may be less focused in my pursuit of gratitude and more "going through the motions," but I find that those days are few and far between. It's like a runner training for a marathon. A rest day here and there rejuvenates me for the long run.

There's more exercise analogies here too. Muscles that are used and stretched regularly are much less likely to tear or pull. Gratitude that is practiced regularly is much less likely to be taken for granted. And a known fact among those who exercise regularly (at least I can confirm it) is that routine exercise doesn't exhaust us, it gives us more energy. Ditto with routine gratitude practice.

And one final analogy. It's best to train for things like a marathon over a period of months. It's not recommended to go from no running to trying a 5K. It takes time to make progress and notice the benefits. You will likely be sore and struggle at times as you get into shape.

Gratitude practice takes time. You may want big results quickly. Most things worth having and working for don't play out that way. Gratitude is no different. But like exercise will start giving you free endorphins right away, habitual gratitude practice brings immediate results in terms of less self-pity and more staying present in the moment. Some of the longer-term rewards, like a better perception of self and surrounding world, won't happen overnight, but each gratitude workout will take you a step closer.

Try it. Give that anterior appreciation muscle a workout. Keep trying it. And when you feel like giving up, consider this quote: "Don't quit before the miracle happens."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Collection of Scars

Today I am grateful for good music and working ears to listen to it. I am also grateful for time with recovery friends yesterday and good reminders to keep working on faith and growth.

It may sound a little strange, but I am grateful for my scars too. They are a part of me. The scar from my most recent surgery is healing nicely. It is the latest addition to my collection of scars, some gained through accidents and fun, some gained through tough times and tough decisions.

One of the accident/fun ones includes the scar across the bridge of my nose, gained when I was a sophomore in high school, playing basketball. I went for a loose ball and collided with an opponent doing the same thing. Others include the several on my knees, gained from bike falls on gravel or from not quite knowing how to slide properly in softball. They have mostly faded now. But they are still noticeable and the memories still appreciated.

This latest scar is only about 3 inches long and is in my lower right abdomen/groin area. It is still relatively new and will no doubt evolve over the next weeks and months. I will pay attention, but only a reasonable amount of attention. This was an easy chapter in my medical history. Me and my 48-year-old cancer patient body have been through far tougher times.

I don't say that lightly. My scars, particularly my mastectomy scars and the much smaller ones from the accompanying drain tubes, are a significant part of my story, including my arrival at self-acceptance of a body I always considered flawed and less than attractive. Oddly enough, I have a better acceptance of my body now, after having parts removed, than I did for most of my life. You may or may not understand that, but for me it has to do with respecting my body for bringing me here, respecting it for the strength and determination it showed in the midst of cancer treatment and surgeries and continues to show as I train for marathon #11.

A collection of scars. A collection of memories to go with them. And a collection of gratitude to be able to reflect on both pleasant and painful times and keep them all in perspective.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Next: The Great Outdoors

Today I am grateful for a comfortable bed and my husband Darcy to wake up next to. I am also grateful for the changing seasons.

Yesterday I talked about the great people I was surrounded by Monday through Wednesday on an environmental field trip with 7th graders. We were also surrounded by great weather and natural beauty that I just soaked up and kept soaking up.

The first thing I appreciated was, as we moved north, seeing fewer and fewer structures, billboards and on-off ramps. Those gave way to more trees and open spaces.

The view shown on the Deep Portage website here is from the top of a 55-foot tower that we got to climb to the top of near dusk. The fall colors haven't arrived yet, and will be
short-lived when they do, so our view was more green, but it was still stunning. You can see for over 20 miles and each direction you turn gives you a different view. Even though I get a little nervous with heights, I knew it would be worth it to get to the top, and it was.

That tower view was one of the highlights, but here are some more:

*canoeing at dusk
*seeing the unique physical features of a bog
*being outside at both dusk and dawn as the light and colors change
*getting fresh air, and then getting some more
*walking trails amidst the trees and seeing and hearing the birds and other wildlife
*being with young students in a true outdoor classroom, facilitated by
knowledgeable teachers
*star-gazing away from city lights
*the early morning sounds in the country versus a suburban area, especially minus the traffic noise
*simply being surrounded by the awe of nature and being reminded of a
Higher Power at work

I appreciated this opportunity and I tried to soak up my surroundings. I hope the students I was chaperoning had a similar appreciation as we loaded our bus and headed home.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

First: The Great People

Today I am grateful for safe travels with the 7th grade students from my school, to and from Deep Portage in northern Minnesota, and for a good experience for the students from start to finish.

I am also grateful to be back home with my own family.

I had the opportunity to work with and get to know some great people in the last few days. Their greatness comes simply from their genuineness, individual diversity, and enthusiasm.

The first group would be those seventh graders. I am just getting to know these students and their personalities, their strengths and their difficulties. A trip like this, three days and two nights, gives them the opportunity to see one another and the adults around them in ways different from what they see in school. These young people were spirited and curious, but they were well-behaved and they reminded me what it is that I like about working with middle school students.

We got plenty of fresh air and exercise together, shared several meals, and got to share in many fun and educational activities. It's always interesting observing the social dynamics of this age group as well. When I got tired or a little impatient, I reminded myself that these are other people's children. How do I want other adults to treat my son? I appreciate gaining a comfort level with students that I will have the pleasure to work with over the next two years.

The second group of great people were the staff at Deep Portage. (Check out more about Deep Portage here.) From the environmental educators who worked most closely with the kids, to the kitchen staff, and the administrative personnel, they helped us have a good experience from the time we arrived until the time we left. The group facilitators shared their passion for nature, respecting it and conserving it, but they also shared their idea of a good time. Their energy and their knowledge base kept the kids interested and engaged, and that says a lot when you are working with 12-year-olds. The food was delicious and healthy and the facilities were clean and useful.

The third group of great people was a small group; my school colleagues and fellow chaperones Mary and Tim. We have worked together for years, and Mary and I have done trips like this together many times. It is nice to have colleagues that I can feel comfortable with and know that between the three of us we taking care of the kids and the little details. We got to share in the activities and have some of our own conversations too. We also shared the duties, some coffee, and some secret chocolate.

I am feeling tired this morning, but appreciative of the experience and the great people I came in contact with.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Keeping Record

Today I am grateful for a chance to see my stepdaughter Emily and for fresh produce from a local garden stand.
 
I was happy to put away the two items in the picture below the other day. The green notebook includes information about my cancer diagnosis and pretty much all of the appointments I have had since that journey began over five years ago. Early on, I wrote many questions and I also wrote some of the answers I was hearing because I knew I wouldn't be able to retain it all myself. Today, I still have a few questions for my oncologist every time I see her. I am grateful for this green notebook because I am the kind of person who likes to keep important information accessible. I had the notebook out to reference some things as I went through my recent month of health-related happenings.
 
 
 
 
The lighter green folder is the latest addition to my personal approach to keeping medical records. It's all the stuff that came out of my Aug. 12-Sept. 12 month-long medical odyssey. You can read about that here.   
 
It was capped off by my post-op appointment with my surgeon last Thursday. The pathology report from surgery is the last thing I put in the folder. I am grateful to put this stretch behind me, and grateful to be well on the road to recovery. I keep my records in a safe place and I always know where to find them. I hope they can sit there for a few months now. The only thing on the horizon is a 6-month check with my oncologist in January. I hope it stays that way.
 
I am reminded of how much gratitude comes in to play here. I am grateful to have a life and a body that deserve being tracked and recorded. I am grateful my health issues have been manageable and that I continue to live life fully.
 
I am set for a blog break for the next couple of days, out for more fresh air with some students on an environmental and team-building field trip. Let's see what I have to report back on by Thursday.  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Just Plain Pleasant

Today I am grateful for my family and friends, and the ways we stay connected, big and small. I am also grateful for the other blogs that I follow, on a variety of topics.

Yesterday was one of those days that was just plain pleasant. After that nice morning run with Darcy, my sister and her boyfriend and my brother, his wife and their son came to visit and watch Sam play football. I appreciated that they made the trip and it was perfect football-viewing weather. Sam's team won, so we all got to see a victory and, let's face it, that makes it a little more pleasant.

After the game, we had a nice lunch at a local restaurant. We sat outside on their patio, overlooking the Mississippi River, in plain view of our old bridge, soon to be gone, and our new bridge, soon to be completed. The food and the conversation were pleasant.

My sister and her boyfriend hit the road, and the rest of us headed back to our house. The boys had time to hang out and the adults enjoyed sitting on our back patio, continuing to soak up the fresh air of a beautiful day. I was telling my brother and his wife that I appreciated their visit because it also helped me do something like simply sit in a chair on our patio and chat. If they hadn't been visiting, I would have probably been finding work of one kind or another to do.

Darcy and I rounded out the evening with some coffee and apple pie on our front porch.

I appreciated all of our visitors, the time we had together, the beautiful weather, the slower pace of a day to enjoy. It was just plain pleasant from beginning to end.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Random Gratitude

Today I am grateful for blankets and snuggling. I am also grateful for a chance to share gratitude at work.

This morning I am tired, but not tapped out, just feeling sort of random.

So here are some random points of gratitude for today:

*I appreciate the cooler weather, the need for sweatshirts, and a nice walk with
Darcy last evening.
*I am grateful that fall is showing itself. It is my favorite season.
*I am grateful for a long-standing job and co-workers I have known for many years. It's nice to have a comfort level like that with people you work with.
*I am grateful for the recliner in our living room and the relaxing mode it tends to put me in.
*I appreciate going to our local grocery store, running into a few people I know, being excited about saving $40 with coupons, and being physically able to bag and load/unload my own groceries.
*I am so grateful to be back running and that this morning I could start increasing my mileage again.
*I always feel fortunate when I can be outside as daylight arrives, as I was this morning.
*I appreciate seeing my son Sam's face for the first time each day.

Random gratitude. Always possible. Simply keep your senses tuned in to your surroundings.

Have a good day!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Look with Favor on Reality

Today I am grateful for sweat and endorphins. I am also grateful for phones and texting which make it easy for me to connect with people I care about.

I gained another great gratitude phrase earlier this week. I was at a training with some students and our trainer shared a story and these words:  "Look with favor on reality."  The story is his, so I won't go into too much of it, but he heard those words from two WWII veterans. That is telling. They are powerful words indeed.

Look with favor on reality. Denying reality doesn't work. It's still there, with all of the positives and challenges that any of us living life have. Some days are diamonds, some days are stones, but they are all gifts.

Look with favor on reality. When doing so, a person tends to automatically start honing in on what is going well, rather than the "yeah, buts" and "if onlys." The former energizes us, the latter zaps our strength and our spirit.

Look with favor on reality. My reality this morning includes an itchy mosquito bite. Our weather took a turn from warm to cool last evening and it is quite pleasant now. The mosquitos knew it was coming. I'll take a mosquito bite if I can have the coolness too. Not to mention, I can easily reach down with my fingers to itch the bite on my leg. Not everyone can do that. I can put some rubbing alcohol on it to help. Not everyone has access to such basic supplies.

That's a minor example, I know. But that's really what's it is all about. Reality is full of little things that can either lift us up or drag us down. Which will I choose to look for?

Today I will look with favor on reality. I am deeply blessed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back on the Run

Today I am grateful for our dog Oliver and how he reminds me to lighten up. I am also grateful for a working computer.

Yesterday was a good day. I got to do two of my favorite things. After not running for two weeks, I took my first post-surgery run yesterday morning. It felt great to be out there. I only went for twenty minutes and kept it at an easy pace, but I sure enjoyed it and I appreciated that everything felt okay. It is a challenge for me when I can't run. I rely on the release, the endorphins, the time outside, and the time to myself that running gives me. It is in my blood and I don't like to go without this physical nourishment.

As I ran down the first half-mile of trail after leaving our house, I recalled other times when I have taken memorable "recovery" runs.  Five years ago right now, I was between my first and second rounds of chemo. I always kept walking during chemo, but would have to take days off from running. When I did run, it not only helped me physically deal with all things cancer and chemo, it helped me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually deal with it too.

After my bilateral mastectomies in December of 2008, I remember taking that first flat-chested, single-layered run down the same stretch of trail the following spring when the weather got warmer. I had gotten used to running flat, but usually with layers, to protect me from the elements and from my own level of vulnerabilty. When the layers came off, I fully came to accept my revised body and today I appreciate the ease of running "free." (Free of vulnerability and free of constricting bras.)

Speaking of recovery, my other favorite thing yesterday was spending time with some of my recovery friends. They share the wisdom and hope I need to hear, and we laugh and commiserate.I can't speak for them, but I leave our time together feeling better equipped to face the next 24 hours.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tapped Out

Today I am grateful for a nice venue to watch a football game in last night and for some more rain overnight.

I am groggy and tired this morning. I was tossing around a few ideas for blog posts, but frankly, some of them required more energy and time than I can muster this morning. That's okay. We all feel tapped out at times. I need to honor that and respect my own resources.

Tapped out. Life has a way of doing that to us. Watching the news can tap me out. Flooding victims returning to wrecked homes. D.C. shooting victims identified. Heavy news.

Tapped out. Care and concern for others can drain me too. Illness, addiction, upcoming appointments, and other "stuff."

My own expectations of myself can exhaust me at times. My sister calls it excessive responsibility. I call it bad for my health and peace of mind.

This morning, I am recognizing that I am uninspired. It happens. I'm human.

But I'm still grateful for this blog, for this day. I am grateful I can pause to ponder my own state of mind long enough to decide that just for today, a short and simple post is enough.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hummingbirds

Today I am grateful for the parents and students I work with. I am also grateful for birds, especially hummingbirds today.

Hummingbirds are very intriguing to me. Sometimes we are treated to sightings on our front porch. They are usually such fleeting moments, but each is a blessing. The other night I was sitting outside on one of our first cooler evenings. A hummingbird showed up to feed on the flowering plant that wasn't more than two feet from me. I marveled at the little creature. Before it flew off again, it came a little bit closer to me, as if to say hello. Okay, I get it. You want your own blog post. Here you go.

Hummingbirds are fascinating.They are the smallest species of bird.They can fly forward, backwards, and sideways, and they can stop in mid-air. Their wings beat 60-200 times a second, creating the humming sound that gave them their name. They can fly as fast as 60 mph. They have a very high metabolism and need to eat almost constantly when they are in flight. It's when they are feeding that we are treated to some of those close encounters.

They are also the subject of one of my favorite Seals and Crofts songs, aptly titled "Hummingbird." Listen to it here. I have always liked the song because of the way it flows and the emotions I feel in it. I did a little research and found out that the song includes scripture quotes from the Baha'i Faith. Upon further research, I learned that the religion was founded in the mid-1800's and today has over 5 million followers, making it one of the fastest growing religions in the world. The key message of it's founder was "unity." We could sure use more of that these days, couldn't we? If you want to read more about the faith, read here

Maybe that's why I have liked the song over the years. It pulls me together personally.

What can I do today to spread gratitude and unity?

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Words and Music of Linda Ronstadt

Today I am grateful for the energy and leadership of focused teens and an effective trainer. I am also grateful for the brisk morning air and a brisk walk to go with it.

Last Friday, Linda Ronstadt was the "Person of the Week" on ABC Nightly News, interviewed by Diane Sawyer. I grew up listening to her music on albums, playing them on the turntable in our console stereo. (Albums and console stereos--anyone under the age of thirty probably can't conjure up an image of either.) 

Linda Ronstadt was a huge music star in the 1970's. She had eight consecutive platinum-selling albums and won 11 Grammy awards over the course of her career. The album I listened to over and over was her "Greatest Hits" album from 1976. One of my favorite songs was "Love is a Rose." Listen to the song and see the album cover here.

Some of her final words in the interview with Sawyer were these:
"I can walk and I can talk. It's a good day."

Ronstadt, age 67, revealed recently that she has Parkinson's disease. She is no longer able to sing. A great voice is gone. Her symptoms impact her and slow her down in other ways as well.But she seems to keep it in perspective with the words above.

Those words embody the power of gratitude. Instead of looking on the dark side, Ronstadt chooses to focus on the bright side. I think I will try to do the same today.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Socks and Self-Pity

Today I am grateful for much-needed rain overnight and for old songs that I can listen to whenever I want, thanks to YouTube.

Yesterday I slipped into a little self-pity. It was likely a combination of being tired, not getting my usual endorphin fix over the last few days, and possibly being premenstrual. I will occasionally take a foray back to territory that used to be so familiar to me. The slippery slope of self-pity. It's like trading in the good pair of glasses that gratitude gives me for an old pair with smudges and cracks and an outdated prescription. I don't see very well and I start to lament on my poor set of circumstances-I'm not getting what I want. I've had to deal with things other people haven't. I'm not getting the attention I think I should. Why doesn't anybody care? What's the use? Why work so hard all the time?

I start comparing my insides to other people's outsides. Never a good idea. I always come up way short. (And wrong of course, but don't try to tell me that when I am sliding down the slippery slope.)The good news is that I catch myself fairly quickly and recognize the pity party unfolding. I can usually pinpoint a trigger, such as the aforementioned tiredness, lack of endorphins, or PMS and start to turn things around before I have slid down the slope right into quicksand. I used to live on that slope and in that quicksand. Drinking to excess was my only escape, and it was temporary and came with its own set of problems.

Gratitude practice began putting me on firmer footing over eighteen years ago. The territory I reside in is no longer so treacherous and full of traps. Even if I slip into self-pity mode from time to time, that slip doesn't lead to a major fall or alcohol consumption.

The reference to socks? They helped pull me out of the quicksand. I was folding clothes yesterday afternoon, ready to curse both my husband and son for having their socks inside out AGAIN! Instead, I employed a little gratitude trick I thought of years ago. Rather than cursing them for not doing things my way (just a little ego issue of mine) and making more work for me, I instead lovingly turned those socks right-side out and said thanks for that husband, that son, their socks, our home, our lives together . . . you get the idea.

Gratitude works.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Of Floods and Fires

Today I am grateful that my family in Colorado is safe. I am also grateful that people have faith and courage and a willingness to help others.

I have been watching news footage of the terrible flooding in Colorado, including this on YouTube.I have visited Colorado many times over the last thirty years, and I have been through the Big Thompson Canyon numerous times. Those trips were usually on sunny days with blue skies, and the Big Thompson River was picturesque and sedate. Nothing like the video footage we are seeing on the news. We were usually on our way to Estes Park or Rocky Mountain National Park, which I consider some of the most beautiful scenery I have been blessed to set eyes on.

Two of my sisters moved out to Colorado in 1981. At one time, four of my sisters lived there. Three still do. Though they didn't take a direct hit from the flooding themselves, it is still impacting them, the communities they live in and many people they know. One of my sisters and I talked last night. Judging by the reports of roads washed away, it will be a long time before they make the trip through Big Thompson again. It saddened her to say it. It saddened me to hear it. My mind's eye recalls the splendor of the view when you get closer to Estes Park and start getting a real view of the mountains. I love the mountains. I appreciate that I have been able to enjoy that view often enough to store it in memory.

My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost loved ones, those still waiting to hear that their loved ones are accounted for, those who lost property, possessions, keepsakes, livelihoods. I appreciate the efforts of so many rescue personnel who have saved lives and brought people to safety and to the many volunteers and others who are helping the thousands that have been displaced.

Across the country, on New Jersey's Atlantic Coast, my heart goes out to the communities of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park as they cope with the devastating fire that damaged eight blocks of boardwalk and businesses, with as many as 50 businesses being damaged or destroyed. This less than a year since the area was heavily damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Some of the boardwalk that burned had just been rebuilt. It seems like an especially uncalled for one-two punch for this area and the people who live and work there. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie summed it up for many with these words, as he first surveyed the damage "I feel like I want to throw up."

For people most directly touched by the flooding or this fire, I hope you find strength to move forward. And I hope you find the gratitude that is always possible. The first place I look for it is how I witness people helping other people. Onward!

Friday, September 13, 2013

What a Month!

Today I am grateful for the perspective that my life experience offers me. I am also grateful for a clean pathology report from surgery.

One month ago yesterday, August 12, I had my annual physical. That started a string of appointments and procedures over the next three weeks. Read about that here. One week ago yesterday I had exploratory surgery in my lower right abdomen. What was potentially a hernia ended up being a lymphocele.

I am recovering well from surgery and my energy is returning to a more typical level for me. I see my surgeon for a follow-up appointment next week. Running will have to wait awhile yet, but I am walking and moving well.

Along the way, two different areas of my body were being looked at. One of the procedures I had was a biopsy. It ended up showing no concerns. The wait was brief then, and I wasn't too concerned. But it was a relief to get the word that area #1 of my body was fine and wouldn't need to be further addressed. Clearly something was going on with area #2, so we proceeded with surgery. Because it wasn't a hernia, where they repair and put mesh in but remove nothing, they did end up removing some tissue. When anything is removed, it is always sent to pathology to be checked over. The CT scan I had didn't show anything "suspicious" and the surgeon said things didn't look "suspicious" after surgery. "Suspicious" brings fear of cancer.

So I recovered from surgery and then by mid-week this week waited to hear about pathology results. Again, my mind would flash back to my cancer diagnosis five years ago. I wasn't freaking out. I wasn't thinking the worst, but that little area in the back of my mind from time to time would say "What if it is something? What if this is just the beginning?"

I am happy to say it is the end. Yesterday, September 12,  I heard the news I had been waiting for. The pathology report was normal. Whew! It was nice to have what they suspected as no concern be confirmed as no concern. I still may have to deal with this issue and some post-surgery effects, but I'll take this. It is the end of a month that came out of nowhere and threw me for a bit of a loop.

I am left feeling grateful for things like:
*a good recovery from surgery
*a clean pathology report
*family and friends who care
*prayers and positive thoughts that were sent my way
*relief and a sense of "onward!"
*all the appointments and surgery being a distraction from my job
*my job being a good distraction from all the health stuff
*the care given me by medical professionals
*my husband Darcy's consistent support and understanding

And I end by thinking about and offering a prayer for those who didn't get good news on pathology reports this week. Those who are struggling post-surgery. Those who have lost mobility or range of motion. Those who don't have the support of others to help them through life's challenges, big and small.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Turtle, a Butterfly, and "Live with Joy"

Today I am grateful for a clean house and some time to write. I am also grateful for my friend Jill.

Jill gave me a gift last week that is not only cute, it is loaded with reminders that I need. It's a little turtle about an inch long. In the turtle's shell, small but visible, is a butterfly and the words "Live with joy."

The turtle reminds me to slow down. Slower and steadier is a better approach than "running around like a chicken with it's head cut off" or "spinning off the face of the earth." These last two quotes accurately describe me when I start to overthink and overdo. It's not a pretty sight. I need the turtle. I need to slow down, breathe, just breathe.

The butterfly symbolizes any number of things. To me it means transformation, change, renewal, rebirth. There are so many ways this has applied to my life in big and small ways. Over all 48 years of my life. There's a reason the butterfly is on the turtle though. Change and transformation take time. Our culture and excessive marketing would like us to buy into quick fixes, overnight transformations. It sounds so convincing. Buy this. Take this. Do this. This will happen, and soon. Really? Are we that easily hooked and suckered?

The transformations that have been most meaningful to me had nothing to do with buying something and everything to do with being honest with myself and others and painstakingly changing behavior and routines until better behavior comes more naturally. That takes patience and discipline. It doesn't take the stuff advertising is trying to sell us at every turn these days.

Okay. I'll get off my soapbox and wrap up with "Live with joy." Gratitude helps me live with joy because it helps me recognize that the sources of joy for me-family, friends, recovery, running, writing, nature to name a few-are always available to me. I just need to pay attention. To live with joy is simply to be awake to the world around me.

Thanks for all the reminders Jill!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moving Meditation

Today I am grateful for rest and for a nice evening to watch a football game last night. (Go White Knights!)

Moving meditation. Prayer and mindfulness on the move. I recommend giving it a try if you haven't. Taking a gratitude walk is a form of moving meditation; tuning in to the sights and sounds, the footfalls, the air, the world around you. In other words, the stuff we miss when our heads are too full.

I grew up Catholic and had plenty of prayer time on my knees with folded hands. I balked at that some as I grew older. And today I believe you can pray anywhere, at anytime, in any fashion you choose. The keys are an open heart and mind, and an intent to connect with a power beyond yourself. But I came back to my knees for prayer because I found out it helped me gain some humility, which tends to be a crucial component of productive prayer and meditation.

So most mornings, I do some praying on my knees. Today, I took my prayers to the trail as I walked our dog. I am an active person and being mobile is something I try not to take for granted. Moving meditation allows me to be grateful, to say thanks as I move along. I was thinking of others facing challenging times right now, and I matched my footfalls with thoughts of them. I felt the connection.I felt positive energy.

If this sounds a little "out there" to you, I would just encourage you to try your own form of moving meditation. Maybe you like to garden. Pull a weed, say a prayer. Maybe you like to fish. Listen to the silence as you wait for a pull on your line.

I am so grateful for the many others who have taught me about prayer and meditation over the years. I am grateful for the strategies and actions that I try to put in to practice. They work if I work them.

Meditation, moving or not, brings me back to this moment. Just like gratitude practice does. Both remind me that all I need to do is take this day one step at a time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pain in Perspective

Today I am grateful for my job and my co-workers. I am also grateful for my son Sam's teachers and the energy they put into what they do.

As I recover from surgery, I have been thinking about pain. I have actually had limited pain with this surgery and the days since. I am walking comfortably. The incision area is healing, and though I can feel it, I wouldn't call it painful. It itches and twinges, but to me those are signs of healing. I only needed pain medication for a day. I have been able to sleep fairly comfortably. For all of this, I am truly grateful.

I am not at my usual activity level and I miss running, but I am mobile and pretty much
pain-free. I try to keep it in perspective. There are people who deal with chronic pain who have far more physical challenges than what I face now. How difficult and draining it must be to deal with significant physical symptoms day after day. I have nothing to complain about.

But there's also painful thinking. I probably suffer from that more than physical pain. Fear, worry, anger, exhaustion, impatience, hurt pride, and lack of acceptance can plague me. Sometimes all at once. That means self-pity is kicking in and I need a dose of gratitude.

Thankfully, practicing habitual gratitude keeps a steady dosage on hand. Gratitude helps me keep physical pain in perspective and painful thoughts at bay.

Monday, September 9, 2013

TGIF

Today I am grateful for time to sit on our patio earlier in the day yesterday, and then in our recliners later in the day, enjoying a cool breeze and the company of my husband. I am also grateful for recovery wisdom shared by others.

You may be wondering about today's post title: TGIF. No, I'm not confused about what day of the week it is. I know it's Monday. I don't mind Mondays. They are one-seventh of our lives, so we shouldn't be so tough on them. I do like Fridays, but that's not what this TGIF is about.

This TGIF was seen on a sign outside a church in my area. TGIF: Thank God I'm forgiven. I am grateful for the role of forgiveness in my life. Others have forgiven me and continue to forgive me. My husband Darcy tops that list because I need his forgiveness more than anyone else's. Other than myself, I am toughest on him.

It reminds me of this little prayer: "Lord, make no one's life worse off for having crossed my path today." If I keep that in mind, less forgiveness is needed.

Then there's self-forgiveness. I was my own worst enemy through my teen years and my active drinking. I made mistakes. I felt shame and guilt. I knew better, but I couldn't seem to do better. In early sobriety, I continued to be tough on myself. I still can be today, but it doesn't last as long. I accept myself and my humannness much better than I used to. That means I also accept others and their humanness better too. I have fewer expectations, more acceptance, and I try to remember to be kind and gentle.

I appreciate that forgiveness allows for fresh starts. TGIF.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Early Morning 3 x 3

Today I am grateful for habitual gratitude practice. It allows me to wake up looking for things to be grateful for, even when troubled thoughts occupy my mind.

In fact, gratitude helps crowd out troubled thoughts, or at the least shrink them down to a manageable size. I woke up with work and health concerns on my mind. I would rather they didn't invade my day today, so this morning I am doing a 3 x 3. It's a gratitude strategy that anyone can use at anytime. Read more about it here or here.  You can write it, say it, think it, share it, or any combination thereof.

Here's mine. Today I am grateful for:

*my five senses
-I felt the cool breeze this morning
-I heard the rustling of leaves in the trees
-I saw the daylight arrive

* our dog Oliver
-the way he stretches his body each morning before our walk
-his excitement to head out the door with me
-his way of walking/prancing/trotting down the trail

*mobility
-getting out of bed without pain
-walking further than I did yesterday as I recover from surgery
-being able to do some minor stretching

Such focus on gratitude tends to bring me back to the present, to help me be mindfully aware that this is the moment to cherish.

Have a good day. Pay attention to the gifts in your life.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Note to Self: My Amazing Body

Today I am grateful for rest and healing and that I was able to go off pain medication last evening. I prefer to not stay on it long, for a variety of reasons.

I literally did write a note to myself titled "Amazing." I wrote it as a pep talk in anticipation of my surgery. I have always been one to put in writing what is on my mind. Then, I can carry it with me and continue to revisit the words. "My amazing body" was the recurring line throughout these few paragraphs. I carried the note with me in the days leading up to surgery and read the words several times a day.

My body truly is amazing. Not because it is slim, trim, and perfectly shaped; rather because it isn't. It's mine and it has served me well for over 48 years. It has carried me through pregnancy and giving birth to Sam, breastfeeding him, 10 full marathons so far, three cancer surgeries, four rounds of chemo. It has basically given me far more good days than tough ones. We have a good relationship today, my body and I. It wasn't always that way, but all of the things listed above helped me accept and respect my body all the more.

The opening paragraph of my pep talk goes like this:
"My body is amazing. It has served me well for over 48 years. I have tried to treat it well-quitting smoking, quitting drinking, regular exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, sun protection, rest."

The closing paragraph wraps up with this:
"My body is amazing and has much unfinished business it wants to work toward. Thank you God for my amazing body."

The paragraphs in between remind me of the strength, resiliency and healing power my body has shown. My body is perfectly flawed, like the rest of me. I believe in my body and I believe in healing and recovering from this latest surgery. The pep talk, in writing, helps me focus positive thoughts and energy on the tasks ahead. (Like marathon #11.)

I believe those positive thoughts and energy make all the difference. Previous experience has proven it. Ongoing gratitude keeps it in the forefront of my mind.

Thank you God. My amazing body is on the road to recovery.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Patience

Today I am grateful that my surgery went well, and for the anesthesia option that has me feeling better post-surgery than I would be feeling if I had had general anesthesia.

I am also grateful for the medical personnel who helped me from the time I arrived at the surgery center until I left the center about 6 hours later.

Patience is on my mind today. It was on my mind yesterday as I waited for surgery. Memories of my previous surgeries came back to me, with gratitude for the healing that took place then and the health I have enjoyed in the last five years. But some of the memories I could do without. The IV going in. The surgical gowns. The OR. That helpless feeling of being a patient, definitely not in charge of your day.

Patience is needed over the next few days and weeks as I heal and get my energy back. Patience to slow down and take it easy. Something that doesn't come too naturally for this active, always-on-the-go-doing-something person. But if I learned anything as a cancer patient, I learned that rest is so important to recovery, and that baby steps of improvement and progress are to be celebrated.

Patience, or lack thereof, is something I can always be working on in many areas of my life. Today, I will appreciate the lessons of patience that come my way.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Running Into Surgery

Today I am grateful for people who care and reach out. I am also grateful, in advance, for the medical team that will be helping me today before, during, and after my surgery.

Yesterday it was celebration. Today it is a bit of trepidation. Hernia surgery awaits later this morning.I am ready, feeling positive and strong, but there's always some fear for me in such circumstan-ces. First, I want to wake up from the anesthesia. Second, I want to hear that everything was taken care of and went smoothly. Face fear with faith. That's my plan. And prayers are appreciated.

The last time I had surgery was my bilateral mastectomies almost five years ago. With that surgery, I knew months in advance what was coming. This time around, surgery came along in a short time frame. Both time frames have their advantages and disadvantages.

It's like running into surgery compared to walking in. Speaking of running, yesterday morning there were three runners I met/passed as I walked Oliver. Three reminders that I am a runner and that I will need to be wise and patient in my surgery recovery so I can return to running feeling good. I ran four of the last five days. That's not entirely unusual, but I usually throw in some cross-training. I didn't this week because I wanted to get as many runs in as I could before surgery.

It's hard to know for sure how long I won't be able to run, but suffice it to say that it will be longer than I would like. That will be a challenge for me, but I will apply gratitude to help. I will appreciate the healing process, take care of myself, follow directions, and be grateful that I can walk when I can't run.

As I head into surgery, I believe in myself and my body, I believe in the medical team that will be helping me. I believe in gratitude in all circumstances. It gives me a proper perspective.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

24 Years of 24 Hours at a Time

Today I am grateful for my son Sam as he begins 6th grade and I am grateful for traditions like chocolate chip waffles.

I am also grateful for daily recovery from alcoholism and the many wonderful people I have gotten to know as part of this journey.

Today marks 24 years of sobriety for me. Twenty-four years of trying to take life twenty-four hours at a time. To throw in another 24, I began this recovery journey at age 24. I feel so deeply blessed and fortunate to be on this path. I didn't get on the right track by myself and I don't stay on the right track alone. I have many people who teach me, encourage me, show me the way. A heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you, regardless of how many twenty-four hours we have known one another.

Here's the secret that isn't a secret. Alcoholism or not. Addiction or not. Living life one day at a time is the way to serenity, to presence, to mindfulness. Here and now is all any of us truly have. Are you paying attention? Are you focusing your energy the only place it really matters? In today.

In keeping with the 24 theme, here's a list of reflections:

Things I don't miss in recovery:
1. hangovers
2. blackouts
3. wasted money
4. spinning beds
5. lost respect
6. guilt
7. self-hatred

Things I am learning more about or experiencing more of in recovery:
8. surrender
9. faith
10. serenity
11. acceptance
12. patience
13. grace
14. discipline
15. physical health
16. mental health
17. emotional health
18. spiritual health
19. my true self
20. God/Higher Power

Things I am forever grateful for in recovery:
21. my husband Darcy's support
22. fellow recovering people to light the way
23. my spiritual advisors who are also truth tellers
24. the promise of each new day

Twenty-four years ago, I had a hard time looking in the mirror. I did not care for the person looking back at me, in more ways than one. Today, I am comfortable in my own skin, comfortable with my reflection in the mirror. That is amazing in and of itself. It didn't happen overnight. It happened in 24-hour segments, with the help of many. One day at a time, my thought processes and choices changed. Then my perception of the world changed. Gratitude has been a significant part of that change.

But it still comes down to daily work for a daily disease. It still comes down to putting productive energy in this day, not losing energy on yesterday's regrets or tomorrow's fears.

And as a wise person said: "Don't get so many years that you forget the days." This anniversary is worth noting, but what really matters is giving myself to recovery each new day. What really matters is being grateful for the gift of today, this 24 hours. I will strive to make the most of it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Clotheslined

Today I am grateful for a couple nights of sleeping with the windows open, after a stretch of oppressive heat. I am also grateful for phone conversations and perspective.

When I think of clotheslined, I think of my childhood clotheslines and literally being clotheslined. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt, but my siblings and I all probably had a run-in with our clotheslines at least a few times. Most people think of sports now when they hear "clotheslined" and think of cheap shots to the neck area that take someone down.

But how about being clotheslined in the figurative sense; caught off guard and being knocked down by circumstances? In a recent 3-week stretch I had 9 medical-related appointments and procedures. Two different areas were being looked at. One checked out fine. The other has me scheduled for surgery. I will spare you the details and also mention that I feel very fortunate that what I am dealing with is manageable. It's a setback, but hopefully a temporary one. I think about people with far more challenging and threatening health concerns and it helps keep my situation in perspective.

It evokes memories of my cancer diagnosis, surgeries, and treatment. And it makes me so grateful for the nearly five healthy years I have had since then. Sure I had some frustration and anger about all of this. It was short-lived though. I am saving my energy for surgery, recovery, and healing.

What started with my yearly physical now has me looking at hernia surgery later this week. I am also grateful that I have not had painful symptoms with my hernia. And I do appreciate my doctor and the fact that she pointed out the obvious. Read more about her here. It's been a curve ball though, and of course there is always some fear and worry with surgery and recovery. I am trying to go in feeling strong and prepared, and with a mindset that I will need to take it easy and be kind and gentle with myself in my recovery.

For a time, I won't be able to do some of the things I take for granted. Like running, like lifting boxes to move them, like laundry and vacuuming. Hopefully, it will be short-term, but it will still be a challenge for an active person like me. Apply gratitude liberally Lisa. That will help.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Clotheslines

Today I am grateful for safe travels to and from Iowa, time with family, that my stepdaughter Emily is off to a good start at college, and I am grateful for memories of clotheslines.

I was thinking about clotheslines this weekend when I was at my mom's. She still uses outdoor clotheslines, and had hung a few things out to dry. I sometimes help out with that when I am there. I visited the farm I grew up on this weekend too, and though the clotheslines of my childhood are gone, I can still see the memories.

No fabric softener can beat the authentic fresh smell of clothes and laundry dried in the outdoor air. If you have ever laid down to sleep on sheets dried on the line, you know what I am talking about. With a large family, we were always doing laundry when I was growing up and hung the wash outside almost year-round. I remember frozen clothes being brought in to finish drying on the lines we had in the basement, or in the dryer.

We did laundry on M-W-F and took turns doing sheets from each bedroom throughout the week. You can imagine that many people (I am one of 13 children) and dirty farm work creating a fair amount of laundry. I recall not minding the chore of helping hang out the clothes or helping get them off the line and back to their beds or drawers or closets. I'm sure I balked at times, but to this day I don't mind doing the laundry. I appreciate tasks that have a beginning and an end and laundry fits that bill. There is satisfaction in putting clean clothes and towels away. We don't have outdoor clotheslines at our home, but we do air dry things in the basement.

When I think about laundry, I think about my mom and the hundreds and thousands of loads of laundry she did using a wringer washer. But this is a woman who didn't have running water in the house she grew up in until she was 18. A wringer washer was a step up. And now the automatic is the only one she uses. Mom has always impressed me with her housekeeping. Even with that many children, the house was clean, the floors swept, the dishes washed, and dirty clothes didn't stay dirty for long. She had plenty of help, but it was still impressive. I appreciate that and have tried to maintain a clean house myself in adulthood.

Those clotheslines not only bring memories of laundry, but also memories of games. A clothesline became a "net" for volleyball and badminton. They also became hazards when we would play ball or night games like "hide and seek" or "no bears out tonight." We knew to look out for those clotheslines. It's good to know your surroundings and be cautious of danger. From time to time, someone would get clotheslined, but no serious injuries resulted.

I recently got clotheslined, figuratively speaking. More on that tomorrow.