Photo Credit: Christina Bynum-Breaux, Simply Black and White Photography, Keller, Texas
When my boys were little, I worked hard to teach them how to resolve their differences without hitting one another or seeking out parental support for their cause against the other. If they fought, I would place them both in time out and ask them to think about a solution to their issue that could make them both happy. My goal was to forge a stronger relationship between the two of them and to teach them positive resolution skills.
I think of this today as all of humanity is facing the single biggest threat to our lives, both literally and figuratively. This COVID-19 virus is pulling the rug out from under every foundation that has held us up, and we are quickly finding that those foundations have been built on sand. Our jobs have disappeared overnight. Our health is threatened by sharing the air we breathe with the person standing next to us. We are fighting among ourselves for food, toilet tissue, sanitizers, and more.
Like my boys when they tussled, we have a choice to continue divided or to find common ground. At this moment in time, we’re all in time out together – rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, black, white, or brown. Whether we want to accept it or not yet, we are on the same team. And teams don’t successfully make their way down the court or the field without a unified effort. Our very survival depends more upon our ability to support one another and work out solutions than on winning or losing as individuals.
Our world and the human beings that inhabit it have become so broken, and I can’t help but wonder if a crisis like this isn’t nature’s way of correcting our path – of shining a light on the fact that our selfishness and the divisions we’ve created with our unyielding stances are killing our bodies, our souls, and our planet. We have to stop waiting on someone else to fix it and take responsibility for making a conscious contribution to healing by taking the small step, every time we are faced with a me versus you choice, to choose us.
My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action. 1 John 3:18
Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives you by means of the peace that binds you together. Ephesians 4:2-3
I’m not getting any younger . . . I hate to admit it, but I’ve learned that I have a need to begin employing some defensive dog-walking measures if I’m going to survive my dog responsibilities going forward.
We moved to temporary quarters in a townhouse late last year when our house sold a little more quickly than we’d planned. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we quickly had second thoughts when our college-age son and his dog, Daisy, showed up for Thanksgiving. Oops! We no longer had a yard. So, you know what that means – taking care of business means walking the dog about four times a day. Rain or shine. Sweltering or freezing. Yep.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking. If she belongs to your son, why isn’t he walking her? My husband asks the same question all the time. All I can say is that when I look around for someone to whom I might delegate responsibility, I’m usually the last one in line – my son is out, working, or sleeping. I’m pretty sure my husband would let her potty in the house before he would take her out for a walk. Besides, walking her also gets me out of the house and moving – something I don’t do often enough these days. At the end of the day, maybe I’m just a sucker for a cute face.
Whatever the reason, it’s me and Daisy hitting the trails most often, and I’m no match for her youth, curiosity, and 75-pounds of power when a squirrel crosses our path or a tea-cup Yorkie attacks us in our own driveway. So, I’ve come up with a list of recommendations that I find helpful in the prevention of busting my sacroiliac or dislocating my shoulder when emergencies arise. In the interest of mankind, I thought it best to share them.
Prepare with the Proper Equipment & Supplies
Prior to departure, make an inventory of your supplies – harness or collar, leash, id tags (for when they run away from you), poop bags, etc. Wear proper shoes and prepare for inclement weather. If you don’t have enough hands, consider a jacket or pants with pockets or a fanny pack (don’t laugh) to hold your gear. Always carry your phone in the event you’re faced with calling for backup – assuming anyone in your household is within helping distance. If you must, call animal control. It also comes in handy if you ever have to take photos or video to prove whose dog started a fight.
Assessing Danger Upon Exiting the Home
Always make a quick assessment of the potential dangers when exiting the house. Any number of possible distractions, including but not limited to, lizards, rabbits, and birds, may be startled by your exit thereby causing quick movement that will send your dog into a hunting frenzy as your attention is on locking the door. An unsuspecting walker risks grave injury from sudden jerking of the leash. Oh, and it takes the dog two weeks to forget that one of those distractions was once there. Daisy leaps out in anticipation every time we open the door.
Hone Your Observation Skills on the Trail
Once on the path, remain alert at all times, scanning ahead for any potential danger – ducks, birds, frogs, lizards, rabbits, etc. – and remaining prepared to divert the dog in a new direction to avoid distraction and the possibility of sudden jerking and injury. This will include keeping an eye out for the folks that exercise and potty their dogs off leash. There is always someone that thinks the rules don’t apply to them.
Clean Up After Your Dog
Always walk with a supply of two or more bags for cleaning up your dog’s “business”. As sure as you don’t, they go three times, usually in someone’s front yard, usually with that someone peering through the window ready to pounce on you and report you to the neighborhood association for the infraction. Never mind that their dog’s “business” is still fermenting nearby in another neighbor’s front yard. Our HOA has recently designated pooping stations throughout the neighborhood. The thought of that made me giggle. I assume people without dogs came up with that idea. It’s like establishing doggy restrooms and expecting that owners are able to coerce their pet to poop on command exactly in that spot. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’m skeptical. My dog always goes in a stranger’s front yard. Just saying.
Know the Danger Zones
Repeated experience on the trail will educate you to areas of potential danger – habitats for rabbits, nesting ducks, yapping dogs, etc. Prepare ahead by securing the dog leash by wrapping any slack around the hand and looping through the opposite hand in the event that your brute strength is required to restrain your pet. I often imagine myself unconscious on the sidewalk for hours while Daisy sits protectively by my side after being the cause of taking my feet out from under me to begin with. I like to think I’m taking the extra measure of prevention – prepared for anything – and avoiding the outcomes of my imagination.
Biking with Your Dog
I’ve only done this twice, and it is my intention to stay to the path on my own two feet in the foreseeable future. I strongly recommend training your dog to run on the bike before you head too far from home – and maybe consider adding training wheels for stability. I have two scarred knees and one elbow from forgetting to let go of the leash when the dog crossed over in front of me or took off after wildlife. The effect is something like when you forget to let go of the rope when skiing on the lake. Nothing good comes out of it, and you wonder how you’re still in one piece when it’s all over. Daisy and I were victims of the Great Skunk Escapade while biking last year. I’ll save that story for another time.
Always Leash Your Dog
I’m guilty of trying to sneak Daisy out to an open area just across the alley from our garage for a quick potty. Going for a walk every time nature calls gets old. I’m not always in the mood to sweat or get rained on or freeze. Sometimes, I ‘m just not in the mood. Anyway, I pay for it almost every time I trust her to potty and come straight back inside. More than once, she’s bolted into the underbrush in pursuit of something I never see or hear. I fear the worst – an encounter with another skunk, contact with poison ivy, or having to explain to my son that she’s gone missing. All of it makes my stomach flip and churn with stress. On top of all that, she’s returned every time covered in these tiny burrs that result in anywhere from five minutes to an hour of grooming to free them from her coat. It just makes sense to save myself the heartache and put her on the leash. Last year, my bright idea to let her off leash led to the Great Swimming-in-the-Pond-for-Two-Hours Escapade. I’ll save that story for another day also . . .
Always Dress, Wear Shoes and Have Your Eyes Handy
You never know when you’ll be up in the wee hours of the morning for a potty call. I rarely escape unseen by one of my neighbors when this happens. It’s like they wait out for the entertainment of seeing what I’ll be sporting as an excuse for clothes in those silent hours of the day. I’m sure I’m quite a sight – hair all over the place, glasses (when I can find them), mismatched sandals, and my nightgown.
Walk in the Dark at Your Own Risk
If you choose to walk your dog at night or in the early morning hours, most of the precautions you might take in the light of day are wasted efforts. Short of donning a pair of night-vision goggles, you’re at the mercy of your quick reflexes when a surprise arises. Add to it the unlikely, but still possible, chance of encountering suburban wildcats and coyotes or running head on into the man-size webs of the spiders that drop from the trees after dark, and you’re just asking for trouble. I can tell you for sure that I’m going to do more damage to myself than the dog could ever do (and probably lose the dog) if the spider scenario presents.
Photo Credit: Simply Black & White Photography, Keller, Texas
Some days you just feel like you’ve pulled the arm on a coin slot machine and silver dollars are pouring all over your feet! That’s how Mother’s Day was for me yesterday, and I wasn’t even in town to spend it with my boys.
Instead, I’m away enjoying the generosity of my husband and anticipating a photography workshop several hours away from home. Since my youngest couldn’t be home from college in time for the big day, we had already decided to consolidate our Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations in June, so I skipped out of town a couple of days early to visit a close friend that lives near my destination. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting much to happen. Mother’s Day was on pause as far as I was concerned.
Maybe that’s why the flowers and text from my youngest son, phone call from my oldest son, and text from one of my shared sons lit up my sky like the 4th of July. (Isn’t that a line in a song?) It’s hard to express how blessed and overflowing your heart can feel at all the goodness in your life sometimes – just like those coins pouring from the slot machine. It just keeps flowing out in a stream that puddles at your feet and grows into mounds the longer it goes.
It’s the next day, and I still feel the glow of the gratitude to have such loving and giving young men call me mom. I’m grateful for their love and their appreciation for all I’ve given them over the years. In return, I am grateful to them for being one of the most significant sources of refinement that I have ever had. I doubt they will ever know the many gifts that they have given me that have molded me into a far better person than I ever was when I held them (or met them-I’ve been blessed with an extra helping of shared sons) for the first time.
For me, the true blessing in motherhood is in understanding that the experience will forever change me in ways that I never could have anticipated. I am a better human being thanks to the joys and challenges of being a mother.
I know – I’m stealing the title of a very famous book (Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, 1946) as the header for this post, but it’s the one that fits. I haven’t yet read it to know if I’m stealing his ideas, so I’ll risk being repetitive. All I know is that we all look for it at one time or another – that sense of purpose that makes life on this Earth mean something.
I ran across a quote from an old blog post by Terri Savelle Foy today that really made me think about purpose and about how many of us may have missed the boat on our own purpose by buying into the belief that our contributions only matter if we’ve done them on a large scale – you know, been famous for saving a corner of the world in some way that makes newspaper headlines. It made me wonder how many days I’ve wasted and left no positive footprint. I asked myself a big what-if question – what if our most important purpose is in the day-in and day-out kindness we offer to loved ones and strangers?
The more I think about it, the more right that option feels, and it helps me to see how we can all have so much more influence than we are led to believe. What if we helped that frazzled mom quiet her crying baby instead of scowling at her in anger for failing to control it? What if we smiled at people and looked them in the eye, acknowledging their presence, instead of passing them by as if they are invisible? What if we held the door for the person behind us? What if we told them they had the most beautiful color of blue eyes we’d ever seen?
We don’t have to be rich or have lots of free time. We don’t have to have any extra resources except for being present and being mindful that we have a choice to be kind or a choice to be hurtful in that split second of our encounter. What if our choice to be kind changes the whole trajectory of someone else’s day? I think of the times that I’ve been the recipient of someone else’s kindness, and my heart kind of swells at the realization of how often I have the opportunity to make a difference in another person’s life with one small act, word or expression. I don’t want to waste any more days being caught up in things that won’t matter when I’m gone. I want the time I have left on Earth to count, so before I run out of it, I’m making a commitment to look up and to participate in a positive way. I get more clarity all the time – we only have one chance to make a difference in the right now. Just do it! (Yes, I’m stealing again – this time from Nike, but it fits.)
Your life is precious. Every single day you live is a day recorded in history never to be relived again.
Several years ago, I began making more road trips than I ever have – visits to my parents, moving kids to and from college, weddings, funerals, and girl trips with my friends. Most of my travel is getting to some place for a specific purpose and then turning around for home – definitely nothing to get too excited about! But this last couple of years, I’ve started to wonder more about the places I visit as well as the stops along the way. I find the lure of the billboard advertising “the best thumbprint cookies in Texas” almost too much to pass up, and I find myself veering off the highway more and more often to indulge those little wonderings.
Over time, I’ve come to appreciate taking the road less traveled when opportunity allows. My excursions tack a little extra time on to my trips, but I take a lot of pleasure in finding the occasional treasure along the brick-paved streets of long-abandoned downtowns, the beautiful detail of historic buildings, and the faded paint of advertisements on the brick walls of buildings. If I’m lucky, I find a local cafe, a bakery or a cute little place to shop to help break up the drive. I figure I may as well see what there is to see while I’m in the neighborhood.
In the back of my mind, I hear the words to an old Seals and Crofts song, We May Never Pass This Way Again. I am reminded that life is short and that I must make a conscious choice to seek joy in each day lest I get lost in the monotony of my routines. For me, this means taking everything in and avoiding the temptation to take it all for granted as I speed through life. It means stopping to feed my curiosity on the road and at home – by seeing what is around me and enjoying something every day that I’ve never noticed before.
I’ve got to admit that I’m a big chicken about a lot of things, but nothing as much as putting myself out there in the world. Like a beta in a fish bowl, I feel like ducking into the floating ivy and disappearing when anyone stops to take a closer look at me or what I’m doing. That’s exactly why I decided to start this blog a couple of years ago. There’s no better way to get over your fears than to just plop yourself out in front of the whole world where even perfect strangers have the opportunity to take jabs at you that make you want to run away!
If you’ve read more than this post, you’ll see that my initital efforts have been half-hearted – okay, maybe invisible – but lately I hear life whispering in my ear to “just do it” and see what happens. Maybe I’m a little naive, but when I ask myself, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen,’ my best answer is that someone might be mean to me and say hateful things. The one thing I know is that I won’t die, and in the process I might just connect with someone out there that experiences the same things in life that I do. It’s always nice to know that you aren’t completely alone in your craziness, right?
There’s something about the latter stages of mid-life that really challenges me to move through my fears and experience life in a more raw state of uncensored feelings. Add to this that I’m supremely exhausted from all the stimulus that incites unnecessary fear in my life, and I feel like I’m ready to jump from the cliff and trust that it will take me to far more interesting internal places and joy than I’ve ever experienced. If not, there’s nothing lost, and I’ll have chalked up a new experience. Works for me!
It’s kind of embarrassing when you start to realize just how much stuff one family can have when there’s so much lack and suffering in the lives of others. I’m pretty sure now that this exercise in downsizing was as much for me to learn something about myself as it was to diminish our possessions and have a greater appreciation of what is really necessary to be happy in this life.
Don’t get me wrong, I understood all this in my head. I’ve always considered my family to be generous with our resources, but it’s different when you begin to really get it on what I call a soul level. It’s like the light going on and understanding that you don’t need all the stuff you have just because you can have it – and also understanding that somewhere along the way all that stuff we have becomes a burden of maintenance, storage, etc.
Needless to say, I’m not out of the clearing stages just yet. With each new day, I get a little more clarity and I shed a little more of the stuff I thought I really needed to move with me this time. Sometimes it’s painful to acknowledge that a hobby I had for years just doesn’t interest me anymore. I gaze at the hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars of stuff I have to enjoy that hobby, and something in me begins to wheedle and bargain to make a case for keeping it. It tells me that I have so much money and time invested. What if I need it again? The tape rolls over and over in my brain until one of us wins.
I’m happy to say that six months into our temporary home, we are really beginning to own what makes us happy and rid ourselves of what doesn’t. We’ve found that it is seldom our stuff that brings us joy – unless it’s our memorabilia like photos, old baseball jerseys, and yearbooks. But even so, I’m seeing that those things are of no use to us unless we can enjoy them, which doesn’t happen buried in a box and lost in the hidden spaces of our home.
I’m condensing the boys’ things down to the things I really think will matter. Ticket stubs to every game they ever played have made it to the recycling bin along with a heap of other questionable treasures. What remains are the things that I know hold special memories for them, and the rest are those that hold special memories for me in relation to them (along with a little note telling them why I kept it). I figure when I’m dead and gone, they will find it, look through it fondly, trash what is meaningless, and save their own treasures.
I am finding a great lifting of my spirits as we lighten the load of stuff around our home. I find I laugh more and enjoy life more. Perhaps clearing our physical stuff is just a metaphor for something greater. Whatever it is, I’ll continue sorting and letting go. I like the end result, and I know my kids will appreciate that I’ve already done most of the dirty work one day when we kick the bucket and it becomes their job to clean out what remains!
About this time last year, my husband and I set a plan in motion to downsize and simplify our life. It seemed simple in theory – just get rid of everything we don’t want or need, list the house, move somewhere new, and live happily ever after in our new, neat-as-a-pin, cozy digs.
I suppose life works that way to get us moving – a sort of unintended blinder like most of us have when we decide to have kids. If someone told us the whole truth and nothing but the truth of how it’s really going to be, we might just hit the NO button and stay snug in our comfort zone or move on to the next bright idea. One thing’s for sure, change is seldom what we think it’s going to be – at least in the beginning.
Let me paint you a picture. For eight years, we lived in a 3,100 square foot home with two young sons, a dog, and all of the stuff that comes with that. Believing the boys needed more space, we moved up in the world to a 6,000 square foot home. I had so much storage space that about half of it was empty, and I had good intentions of keeping it that way. It was nice to have a little wiggle room and space for entertaining our large family at the holidays. I never imagined we could actually fill it up. After all, I prided myself on being neat and free of hoarding tendencies. Eight years later, we were full up!
What’s that they say about about pride? Oh yeah – it comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). And fall I did!
Once the decision to downsize was etched in stone, it became clear that strangers would now be browsing through our home while we weren’t looking. They would be opening closets, drawers, attics and garages in an attempt to decide if our place was the answer to their prayers. I was horrified to see that we were indeed occupying a large territory of our home with STUFF. Even worse, the stuff was stuffed anywhere it would fit. I had even gone so far as to neatly organize all the stuff in pretty boxes, but I’d long ago forgetten what was even in them.
And so the process of clearing the cobwebs and uncluttering began. From April until August, I dived headfirst into the task of letting go so that my house would be suitable for showing once it debuted on the MLS. I greeted each day in workout clothes and flip flops, no makeup, and with lots of determination. With the exception of the friends that would drop in to make sure I was still alive and eating, I was for all intents and purposes AWOL from the world.
I tossed trash, donated clothes and household goods, and sold a lot of items to bank for the new things I would need in the next home. I felt great about my work and was all set to make a smooth, painless move when the time came. I felt gloriously unfettered, but I would soon learn that the freedom I felt was only temporary.
Lacking a place to go when your house sells earlier than expected introduces all kinds of new panic. We weren’t ready. Our new dream home had yet to materialize. It was a bit of a shock after so many years of home ownership to finally conclude that our best choice was to lease rather than to rush into a purchase of something we didn’t love. We firmly established that we would not store anything except for holiday decorations and the contents of our garage, so we sold our large-scale furniture and filled the bed of a large junk removal truck before finally moving into our new 2,500 square foot townhouse bungalow with our boxes of keeper stuff and a U-Haul truck containing our remaining furniture.
I seriously felt like we’d come over with little more than the clothes on our back, so it was another shock when the boxes piled in and filled up more than two-thirds of new place. Clearly, all of this stuff that we couldn’t live without was not going to fit in the dozen or so cabinets and handful of drawers that the new place offered. There was no attic, two less spaces in the garage, two less bedrooms, no office. I’m pretty sure I wanted to sit in the floor and have a good cry. How could I have so significantly missed the mark?
Round three of divesting began with a renewed commitment to succeed…
My friend, Barbie Armenta, and I have had regular discussions lately about our struggle to uncover our authentic selves from the facade that we have somehow constructed over the course of our lives. She’s recently launched a personal coaching business (you can check her out at rightcombination.net), and I’ve helped her with a project. Lucky me – I’m getting the benefit of her training in casual conversation, but it’s really made me think.
I can’t say I’ve been aware that I wasn’t being true to myself all this time. I mean there was no conscious effort to become an imposter. It was a slow and silent concession I made that was likely the result of striving to survive in a world of perceived perfection where I unwittingly tried to be who I thought I was supposed to be. Add the need to protect myself from the criticism that might come my way should I let my true self shine, and you have the perfect recipe for “posing”! True selves are quirky and prone to fall outside the mainstream and threaten a humiliating lack of “likes” on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. Keeping it between the lines and blending in is just so much easier – at least for a while.
With maturity, flying under the radar and blending in become unsatisfying and at some point feel like a flat-out lie. It’s exhausting to pretend when everything in you is busting out to just be real. It’s like wearing your Spanx too long. Sooner or later, your muffin top wants to spill over the top and gasp for breath.
So, I’m taking a stand. In 2016, I’m on a mission to get over myself and the fear of being rejected for living out loud and just being who I am. At 55, I’ve already wasted so much time, and I’m worried that it’s running out! With an average life expectancy of a little over 81 years, if I started today (and made it to 81), I would only have a little over 25 years left to pack in all the things the real me has wanted to do and be for all this time! I’d better hurry.
The decision feels like I’ve stripped down and am preparing to run through the world naked. I’m petrified, but I can hardly wait to discover what is on the other side. No doubt portions of the journey will be painful, but overall I am hoping for the liberating joy of being the person that God created me to be in the first place.
Here’s to skinned knees, bruises, and a full heart! I’ll let you know how it goes.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are