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Gratitude by Comparison

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gratitudeWorking in a law office for low-income individuals and families has put me in a position to see real poverty, real homelessness, and real need. I’ve listened and read the stories of folks who have suffered domestic violence, landlords who refuse to turn on the heat in freezing weather, and eviction to homelessness. Coming face-to-face with these stories and the people behind them is a humbling experience.

I’ll confess right here that the deep well of gratitude has often alluded me. I am grateful for the usual blessings of food, shelter, and clothing, but I have often felt I’m just skimming the surface of gratitude while the deeper well of those waters remain untapped. Instead, the desire for “more” has been the fountain from which I’ve been drinking. But, as I’ve worked through these two years of school, I haven’t had time to worry about “more.” I haven’t bought a new anything in over two years, and I haven’t missed it. As I’ve worked with and studied about populations that have so much less, I’m turning my attention to what I have, and I’m finding the well of desire for “more” isn’t near as attractive as it used to be.

However, I’m still disappointed in myself. I would hope at fifty-two (this week), I’d be able to reach deep into the waters of gratitude by simply recognizing the abundance I was born in to and the abundance I live every day. Instead, I’ve had to learn that lesson through some hard experiences and by comparing my circumstances to someone else’s. That’s a hard thing to admit, because experiencing gratitude through comparison is really just gratitude for beginners. We see what we have. We see others who have less, and only then do we recognize the paradise of our own lives. I would’ve hoped I was beyond that, but I guess I’m not.

This is one of the most important things I’ve learned in my two years at University of Washington, Tacoma. While I was taking Social Justice 404, I was also taking Gratitude 101.

I hope now, I’m ready to move on to a deeper understanding of gratitude; where I appreciate the abundance that makes up my life, not because someone else has less, but because I see that I don’t need more. That I have and I am enough, and that means, there’s enough to share.

The Chocolately Success of Marriage

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chocolate-high-4Like the post, “From Cocoa to Chocolate, I wrote this in 2013. So, even if the examples may not be brand new, in many ways they’re timeless.

As I’ve been writing about the similarities between the making of my marriage and the making of chocolate, I thought it might be a good idea to give some thoughts on what Larry and I learned during those bitter years, when we had been given cocoa in order to make chocolate. So, in this post, I’ve included five things Larry and I have figured out from the bitter years.

1.) Don’t get too attached to a specific outcome. Many years ago, Larry and I were painting the house. Okay, I was mostly painting the house. Larry hates to paint but that’s okay with me, because I love it. Anyway, I wanted one particular bedroom to be green. Unbeknownst to me, Larry hates green. But I wanted green. We went around and around. Green. Not green. Green. Not green. Finally, it dawned on both of us that there was probably another color on the wheel of colors on which we could probably agree. We found a nice soft yellow we both liked.

The bigger lesson: Be flexible. Larry and I both recognize that there are thousands, if not tens of thousands of colors to choose from when it comes to just about every issue we face. There’s very little in this life that has to be black or white unless we choose it to be so. Choose color. Choose to be flexible.

2.) Put it on the table. Larry and I both learned to put what we wanted and what we were feeling on the table, instead of sweeping it under the table. We talk about things, and we talk about things like the grown-ups we are and want to be. This means, no demands, but requests. Just the other day, I had an interview for a scholarship in Tacoma, and I wanted Larry to come with me. His first response was that he didn’t think it would be doable on such short notice. I asked him to please reconsider and make the extra effort because it was very important to me. He agreed to do so and ended up getting the day off to accompany me. We had a lovely afternoon.

There are so many ways this could’ve gone south if I would’ve held back that second request. But with that second request, Larry understood how important it was, and I knew Larry would do his utmost to make it work. If it didn’t work, I knew it wouldn’t be because he didn’t try, because sometimes, the answer to a request is “no.” That’s happened, too. The bigger lesson: Make your request known and either way, trust your partner is doing their very best.

Along the same line, if one of us is angry about something, we put that on the table, too. Anger is like any other emotion. It’s a signal, and Larry and I use it as such. If one of us is angry, we’ll speak to that anger, but we both try very hard not to act it out, meaning we often agree to walk away and come back to the table later when we can be clear-headed.

Another idea along this same line: Honesty with oneself and one’s spouse is the fundamental ingredient that can be both bitter and sweet. But even if something bitter needs to be said, it can be done with kindness. This is the sugar that helps it become more palatable.

3.) Say thank-you. When Larry managed to get the day off to accompany me to my scholarship interview, I was grateful and told him so.

The bigger lesson: Gratitude is also a fundamental element in making a marriage. It is the sweet milk that fosters love.

4.) Larry and I both always recognize that we could get another dose of bitter cocoa anytime. Marriages aren’t magic. They take hard work, vigilance, and tolerance. Lots and lots of tolerance. In fact, marriage can be one of the greatest teachers of tolerance. That’s an extremely sweet gift to give. So, we have to keep adding the sweet to the bitter in order to keep it palatable. In part, this means we try to remember and recognize the vulnerability of our relationship. All relationships require nurturing, time, and energy. Neither one of us gets a marriage time-out.

The bigger lesson: No coasting, because that usually means we’re heading down hill, and that’s a bad sign.

5.) I am not the food police. If Larry wants to drink a Dr. Pepper at 10:00a.m he can do that without any input from me. He knows how I feel about soda (I don’t drink the stuff) and morning sugar. He doesn’t need a lecture from me about that or anything else. Nor does he need my permission or approval to drink Dr. Pepper. This goes for deeper issues as well.

Several years ago, when we lived in Portland, I was heavily into riding and showing horses for hunter/ jumper. Larry doesn’t like horses and had no desire to ride or be around the barn. The whole horsey set didn’t sit well with him. He told me what he thought, and then he got out of the way. I learned a lot from both the people I was involved with and the animals I loved during this time. Just because it wasn’t Larry’s cup of tea, doesn’t mean it didn’t work for me. That experience offered me something important, and Larry accepted my desire to explore it, and I accepted his desire to stay away from it.

The bigger lesson: This is a BIG one, and it can sound a bit shocking, but I don’t have to approve of everything Larry does or wants, and Larry doesn’t have to approve of everything I do or want. We both make sure we know the other understands our position, and then we step out of the way.

The Great Big Lesson: Being “one” isn’t about agreeing on everything or about always having the stamp of approval of your spouse or needing that stamp of approval. It’s more about accepting each other. Larry and I have learned how to accept each other as we are. This includes the desire for Dr. Pepper (Larry) and worries about weight gain (me), or whatever shows up on the radar screen.

I’ve been through enough therapy to know this is the sign of a mature marriage. The number of years have very little to do with maturity, although it does take time to create this kind of space.

This is what Larry and I were learning to do in all those years we were taking bitter cocoa and making sweet chocolate. We were learning how create a space for ourselves and each other to be who we really are. Nothing makes us want to improve more than knowing someone knows our weaknesses and loves us anyway. That’s the sweetest gift of all.

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From Cocoa to Chocolate

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cocoaI love chocolate and all its many ways to be eaten. Chocolate can be a liquid or a solid. It can have a lot of sugar or a little. It can be made into a cold or hot beverage, and it can be whipped, cooked, and molded. Most of us prefer some degree of sweetness in our chocolate.

It’s hard to believe that the stuff I savor in my kitchen most likely started in a tropical jungle in another part of the world as a bitter seed or “bean.” It’s not very palatable. It needs the addition of sugar, some kind of fat (of course), and perhaps milk in order to make it the smooth, sweet concoction most of us enjoy.

Just as pure cocoa can be extremely bitter, many of our life situations come to us in the same way. They can be bitter and not very palatable. What we end up doing with the bitter ingredients of our situations is a big part of what makes up our life, just as bitter cocoa is a big part of what makes up chocolate. It is the raw ingredient for something divine.

Larry and I have been married for twenty-nine years this August. That’s quite a milestone in today’s world, but it hasn’t all been sweet, rich and smooth. Some of our earlier years were terribly bitter. Yes, I did say years. We’ve had every possible gap between us you can imagine, from generational to cultural to differences between men and women. First of all, we’re ten years apart. Second, he’s from the East, and I’m from the West. Third, in case you haven’t noticed, he’s from Mars, and I’m from Venus. When we did manage to meet in the middle of that gap, what we found was that each of us was already carrying enough baggage from our familial, cultural, and generational experiences to blow up any idea of a happy marriage. We had one therapist describe our marriage as a “mine field.” Neither Larry nor I took offense to this comment. It was the truth.

We were being given the purest chocolate around. It was dark and bitter. Many couples would’ve folded. But Larry and I had  one major thing that kept us grounded in the marriage. No, it wasn’t always love. It as respect. At no point during these awful years did I ever lose respect for Larry, and he never lost respect for me. This added a little bit of sugar to the dark and bitter circumstance, and it was enough. Stemming from that respect came the desire to continue to work on our marriage. If there was a shred of respect left, it was worth the effort.

Yes, we both got angry. We had some terrible fights where both of us doubted if we’d ever make it. But I’d always do a twenty-four hour check with myself and find that after things cooled a bit, I still respected him. Sometimes I respected his work as a pharmacist or his steadiness, but it was enough to stay. So, we both stayed and continued to work, and with time and some hard lessons for both of us, the sweet milk of love began to return. We added that to the mixture, and the bitterness we had been experiencing began to show signs of turning into the rich and sweet.

Today, fifteen years after all those things happened, we are enjoying the best chocolate there is. Is it perfect? Nope. We run across a lump every now and then, and sometimes we find that the bitter and sweet haven’t always been mixed thoroughly. But here’s the thing. Just as you can’t make chocolate without the bitter cocoa, we couldn’t have made our marriage without those bitter years. Those years helped us come to know ourselves and each other deep down. Both of us know the bitter ingredients that got us here, and we know the painful journey of adding the sweet in order to make ourselves more palatable and more tempered. It was that process that helped us both to change, becoming more confident in ourselves, each other, and the marriage. As much as our good times have forged our marriage, I would say our bitter experiences have bonded and molded us. I never take that for granted.

I know this sounds cliché, but making a marriage isn’t easy. But when it works it can be rich, smooth, and sweet. It can be the best dang chocolate you’ve ever tasted.

Next week, I’m going to post the five things I learned while turning bitter cocoa into sweet chocolate.
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Some Reasons Why Marriage Still Works

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Our wedding pictures are packed. This was taken about twenty years ago.

Our wedding pictures are packed. This was taken about twenty years ago.

A few days ago, I came across a column written by Mr. Anthony D’Ambrosio, a contributing author for app.com. His piece was titled, “5 Reasons We Can’t Handle Marriage Anymore.” There were some who were offended by Mr. D’Ambrosio’s words. But I chose to see his piece as a commentary on a society that has lost its way when it comes to what real love is and how marriage encourages and deepens that love. I found his word to be honest and sad, because underneath it all, I think what he’s really writing about is how we’ve allowed our views on love, sex, and communication in marriage to be determined by everything outside of ourselves, instead of learning how to come together to foster what comes from the inside.

After writing the rough draft of this piece, I ran it by my husband, Larry. When I write about any aspect of our personal life, I give him veto power. After all, it’s his story, too. He asked I not include the part I had written about sex. Sorry to disappoint. But, this whole scenario brings up an important aspect about what sex really means.

Sex doesn’t have to be about ripping each other’s clothes off. We’ve let the media fool us into thinking sex is about frequency and steam. What’s forgotten is that the core of sex is really about intimacy. And intimacy doesn’t start or end in the bedroom. It begins in the little things done out of consideration. It begins in the kitchen, making a meal and a conversation together. It begins in the office, where I ask Larry how he feels about me sharing a personal piece of our lives on my blog. It begins in the everyday small acts of courtesy, loyalty, thoughtfulness, and tenderness. For those expecting steamy bodice ripping passion three or four times a week, I guess this can appear pretty boring. But these things build on each other to create a desire that goes way beyond shower scenes, making sex a fulfilling and tender experience. This doesn’t happen in a day or even in three years. (Mr. D’Ambrosio was married for three years.) It happens over time, as couples commit to one another and their marriage “for better or worse.”

Because “worse” does and will happen. The history in any marriage isn’t always going to be happy or good. When I talk to young people about marriage, I tell them they will inevitably go through hard times. I’m not talking about a bad day or even a bad couple of months. I’m saying that it’s quite possible for marriage to suffer bad years. There will be cancer diagnoses, accidents, tears, mean words, and fights. This doesn’t mean we’re faking it when we choose to stay together. And it doesn’t mean we’re going to be “miserable” for the rest of our lives (D’Ambrosio, 2015). It means we understand that marriage is a work in progress, with “work” and “progress” being operative words. Marriage isn’t an amusement park, where we get to pick and choose the rides.

These experiences become parts of our history—surviving cancer together, working through changes that come with growth, so we grow together instead of away from one another and yes, even tackling financial hardships are all a part of the rich tapestry that creates a history of a marriage that enriches and bonds couples together. And as nice as it would be to avoid these life experiences, going through cancer, the growing pains, and the financial hardship can teach us to appreciate that $200,000 home when we can finally afford it, the romantic weekend at the beach, or the moments in life when our health is good, our finances are intact, and the laundry in the basket is folded.

But the main point Mr. D’Ambrosio makes is how we’ve come to a place where “our desire for attention outweighs our desire to be loved” (D’Ambrosio, 2015). Wow! What a stinging and honest thing to say. In this rebuke, he states that social media has taken over the lives of his generation. His connection between our infatuation with social media and our need for attention is a staggering commentary, but for many this could be an unhappy truth.

Attention is attractive. It rarely requires anything from us. And with social media, it’s almost instant in its gratification. However, when we replace attention for love, we’re treating marriage like something we pick up at the fast food restaurant and discard when our fries get cold. Love and marriage is more like a home cooked meal, made from scratch with ingredients that require a great deal of time and care with the gratification coming only after time spent in the creation of the food.

The ingredients for love and marriage are simple and time tested. Patience, thoughtfulness, loyalty, fidelity, and time—just plain old boring time, come together to create something more nourishing and satisfying than anything we could get from a drive-thru or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Love and marriage makes a place for us to lay down our burden in the care of another. It creates rest, nurturing, and depth of heart and life. It makes space for us to share our most honest selves with another soul. And that, my friends, is better than anything we can pick up at Burger King.

D’Ambrosio, A. (2015, April 9). 5 reasons we can’t handle marriage anymore. Retrieved from app.com: http://www.app.com/story/life/family/relationships/2015/04/06/reasons-marriage-just-work-anymore/25349495/

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Birds of A Feather

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Photo taken by Linda Masters (my friend)

Photo taken by Linda Masters (my friend)

If you’ve been following my blog, you know we own two homes, and we’re trying to sell one of them. The home we’re trying to sell is situated in a lovely spot overlooking Puget Sound, Whidbey Island, and the Cascade Mountains. Paradise by any definition. While living there, I was blessed to see Orca swimming in the waters off my back deck, although they’re rare visitors. The most common sight in that neighborhood is the bald eagle family living right down the road. They would pass my window several times a day. I even had the unique privilege of watching baby bald eagles learn how to fly. It’s hard to imagine laughing at these majestic birds, but baby bald eagles are not very majestic as they begin to spread their wings. Their learning curve brightened many of my days.

I lived in that home eight years and when I spotted an eagle, no matter what I was doing, I would stop and watch. If I was outside, I would also listen. Often, they were so close I could hear the brush of their wings in the air. It never got old.

I don’t see eagles where I live now. Eagles like wide open spaces where they can hunt unencumbered, and my current home is surrounded by trees. Instead, I have flocks of small song birds that hang out in the branches outside my bedroom window. They flit from twig to twig, visiting my little corner of the world several times a day. I stop whatever I’m doing when they make a visit and watch as they hop and chatter.

Picture taken by Linda Masters

Picture taken by Linda Masters

In the winter, they’re mostly silent, and I miss their conversations. But with spring slowly beginning to unfold, I’m already beginning to hear their melodic voices nearby.

These little feathered friends aren’t as grand as the eagles, but they entertain and inspire in their own way. The eagles offer grandeur and awe with their wing span, white heads and tails, and all searching eye. The sparrows, juncos, finches, chickadees, and hummingbirds offer cheer with their perseverance in cold weather and their flying acrobatics in all weather.

They are all birds.

I miss my bald eagle family, but I love my small songbird flock. In fact, I may love them more, because they’re sharing this moment in time with me.

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Investing in Pain: Not Exactly A Carnival Cruise

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carnival_hawaii1In my last post, I wrote that pain can be a red flag, informing us when something is wrong in our life and then motivating us to be proactive around the cause of the pain. However, most of us want to avoid pain. In the process of that avoidance, we cut ourselves off from one of our greatest life gifts: healing and the intimacy that can follow.

Many years ago, when Larry and I lived in Portland, I had a friend who was struggling in her marriage. I sat on the phone with her for hours over the space of a few weeks as she tearfully spilled out all of her unhappiness. Through the course of conversation, I told her it might be a good idea if she invested in both the issues behind this pain she was feeling and her marriage. I suggested marital therapy.

Her answer was quick and sharp. “We can’t afford that,” she said before changing the subject. She wanted to tell me about the 3,000.00 cruise she just booked.

I found her choice of investment interesting. She was willing to pay to be entertained on a Carnival Cruise, but she wasn’t willing to work through the devastating unhappiness she and her husband were experiencing. She hoped to literally cruise away from her pain and its messages, and she was willing to pay big bucks to do it. To take this one step further, she bought into the idea of romance, when what she was really looking for was intimacy. The pain in her life was trying to show her the way to the heart of intimacy, but because it didn’t look like romance, she turned away and invested in the cruise instead.

I’m not against cruises. Heck, I wish I could afford one! I’m not against romance, either. Romance is a wonderful. But when we’re unwilling to invest in our emotional pain and trade that work for recreation, our port of call will be nothing more than a carnival of distraction. In the end, that’s not very romantic.

Unhealed pain can lurk in the shadows of our lives for years beyond those distractions, sabotaging our most precious experiences, which more often than not involve our relationships. Even our most intimate and meaningful relationships can’t withstand the onslaught of unresolved pain for long without some consequence. And that consequence is often a loss of intimacy between us and those we love. It takes more than a cruise to sail through that unhappiness.

The brave work of investing in our emotional pain and any unhappiness we’re experiencing is a bit scary, and trying to decide how to go about that investment can be daunting. Here are some thoughts around investing in our emotional pain.

1.) There are thousands of self-help books written to address practically every painful issue facing us today. I’ve read several of these books (in fact, I’m reading one now) and a couple have actually changed my life. But choose wisely. For every problem we face, there are theories and methods of how to help, and many of them are helpful, but not all. Do some research. If you were booking a cruise, wouldn’t you check around to find the best one for you?

2.) Be careful when choosing to self-diagnose and then self-help. Often, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think. We can get ourselves into trouble when, for instance, we think we’re co-dependent, but we’ve really got something else going on. This can lead to ports of call that aren’t on any map, causing us to be lost at sea while we think we know exactly where we’re headed.

3.) If you’re dealing with pain or unhappiness, and you’re not sure why, or you know why and it feels really big, reach out to a therapist, group work, or some other kind of objective and professional intervention. But be careful when choosing a therapist or group. Don’t be afraid to shop around, and if after a couple of visits, the situation doesn’t feel right, then keep looking. Just like self-help books, there are lots of avenues a therapist can use to help a client work through pain. Some are more helpful than others.

4.) If you choose therapy, help your therapist help you. A good therapist is not there for validation or to make you feel good about yourself. A good therapist will help you work through your difficult and painful experiences. That means you won’t be leaving his/ her office feeling good after every visit. You may feel downright crummy sometimes. That’s okay. I’m suspicious of people who tell me they leave their therapist’s office feeling good after every visit. This stuff is hard work, and that difficulty should be reflected in your therapy. In other words, be honest and be willing to feel bad about everything from the poor choices you’ve made to the losses you’ve sustained or whatever it is that’s causing you to hurt. Get to the heart of the hurt, even if it’s a childhood hurt that may seem silly to your grownup self. That way, you won’t need your therapist’s validation. You’ll be able to cultivate a sense of self-worth which leads to self-validation, all of which aids in self-intimacy. That can help pave the way to intimacy with others.

5.) If you have chosen to see a therapist and you’ve found one who works for you, be willing to make a serious commitment. Therapy can be a novel experience for about the first six weeks. Then, things get tough. That’s when most folks drop out. So, if you can, try to commit to at least six months worth of work.

Our pain can take us through some emotionally difficult waters. That can be scary. But when we’re willing to spend the time and maybe even the money to sail those stormy seas, our destinations will be greater than any romantic Carnival Cruise could offer. Our oceans won’t always be smooth, but we will have tapped into the teacher of experience to manage those waters, and our reward can be an intimate healing for ourselves and those we love.

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Motivated By Pain

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falling from horseEvery ten years, since the age of seventeen, I’ve managed to find myself in some sort of accident. Car and deer. Me and horse. Car. Car. None of these have landed me in the hospital, but the accident with the horse probably should have. These crashes have caused a lot physical trauma. I’ve had so many serious whiplashes that my neck and shoulders will never be right. As you can imagine, I’m often in quite a bit of pain.

Pain is a curious thing. Whether we’re experiencing physical or emotional pain, it can be considered a red flag telling us something needs attention. In this post, I’ll be writing about some of the choices around the red flag of pain; mainly denial, complaining, and healing.

Most humans want to avoid pain. If someone pinches us, we pull away. In fact, we have the tendency to move in the opposite direction of anything that looks like it’s going to hurt. If we’re trying to avoid trauma that hasn’t happened yet, this can be considered self preservation. However, this avoidance isn’t helpful if we’re trying to avoid the feelings around trauma that’s already taken place.

There have been times when I haven’t acknowledged the pain in my neck and shoulders, but I always pay for that decision. It almost always comes back at the most inopportune time and it hurts worse than before.

When ignored, emotional pain also shows up in unexpected ways such as in an attitude or even in our identity. It colors how we see the world and how we think the world sees us. In turn, this changes us and in the long run, our relationships along with other things that matter, because pain left untended affects more than the one suffering from the original trauma.

If the pain in my neck and shoulders is denied for any length of time, it branches into other areas of my body, such as my hips and low back, causing more pain and imbalance. That seems weird until I recognize my spine connects all of it. If we don’t take care of our emotional pain, it will branch out to affect others. Just as my spine is connecting my shoulders to my low back, each of us is connected to one another. Whether we like or not, denied pain doesn’t go away. Instead, it can fuse with who we are. Then it travels.

Some folks think they’re relieving their pain if they complain about it. This may feel like a step up from denial, because at least there is an acknowledgment the pain exists. And although it’s okay to whine every now and then, we have to take stock of our complaints and see if they’re laced with blame. I could blame my pain on all sorts of things—stupid drivers, stupid horse, stupid deer, stupid weather. But complaining about these things won’t do a single thing about the pain I’m experiencing, even if it’s justified. After all, as hard as we may try to avoid crashing into one another, it still happens. But blaming the other won’t lead to healing. In fact, it can take us down the road to victimhood, and that’s a dodgy place to be.

All of this leads me to my first conclusion. That all kinds of pain is a red flag telling us something needs attention. When we view our painful experiences in this light, it can motivate us to find a way to heal. I’ve tried a lot of remedies for the pain I experience in my neck and shoulders, and I think I’ve found a routine that works. I see a masseuse twice a month. We work through deep tissue massage. I traction my neck every other night, and I do yoga several times a week. This effort doesn’t keep me entirely pain free, but it allows me to move through my life with as little discomfort as possible. It keeps the pain from branching out and allows me to pinpoint the origin of it, so I can focus on the areas that need the most work and where the therapy will do the most good. This is healing, and I hate to think of where I would be without it.

I’ve seen a therapist for my emotional pain, as well. Someone who helps me pinpoint the origin of the trauma I’ve experienced and helps me focus on the areas that need the most work and where therapy will do the most good. None of this is easy. It takes a great deal of time and work, and it hurts. Deep tissue massage can be painful. The stretching that takes place during the traction and yoga exercises pushes my body to reach for more flexibility, which can also hurt and heal at the same time.

Undoing physical trauma requires a willingness to face the origin of the pain and often that’s where it’s the most acute. Emotional therapy is the same. Deep heart therapy hurts and stretches me. In either case, it’s never lost on me that in order to heal pain I must go back through it. But here’s the thing. The pain is there, whether I treat it or not because the trauma happened. But if I allow it to motivate instead of denying it or complaining, it will still hurt, but it will also heal.

Four Little Words

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AAAE_Button_C1When I answer the phone at my practicum site, I greet the caller stating the name of our organization before asking four little words, “Can I help you?”

The person on the other end almost always answers with three little words of their own. “I hope so.”

Then I hear a piece someone’s life story. And that piece most likely is going to be sad and maybe even desperate. These conversations are often difficult, but they also offer me purpose. It’s also formed the opinion for me that one of the greatest purposes we have is helping one another.

When I’m at work and I ask if I can help someone, I try to settle into that moment and center myself, because I hear stories of exploitive landlords or worse, domestic abuse or violence. I’ve listened to desperate women sob out their narrative and when they are finished, they ask me their own four little words, “Can you help me?”

I do my best to answer with four new words, “Yes. I believe so.”

In my job, I often don’t know what needs to be done until someone calls me with their story, but if we’re really paying attention and showing up for life we don’t need a job in professional helping to be a professional helper. All it takes is seeing a need and trying to settle into the moment to listen to a story in order to help alleviate or at least help shoulder some of a burden. In these quiet offerings of self, we can find a greater purpose than ourselves. We can offer one another hope, cheer, and most of all love.

Is there someone who could use help today? It can start with four little words offered with sincerity. “Can I help you?”

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A Wish in Her Hand

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A_Wish_in_her_hand_1AI’m not much of a romance reader, but Amberlee Day, a friend of mine, wrote the cutest little gem of a romance novel. I discovered it after a day filled with reading mind numbing incredibly insightful and stimulating text books.  Amberlee’s ebook, “A Wish In Her Hand” was a welcome sigh at the end of a long day. You can find it on Amazon.

Happy reading!

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Quiet Anniversaries

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My dad and I at the Grand Canyon

My dad and I at the Grand Canyon

Last month was the sixth anniversary of my dad’s passing. Although his death wasn’t exactly sudden, it certainly was a surprise. Hearing about a cancer diagnosis of a loved on Christmas Eve is not a great way to spend a holiday. Within two months, he was gone.

This year, the anniversary of his death fell on a Sunday, which is the day of the week he actually passed away. On the day of this quiet anniversary, I got up early, worked through some centering yoga poses and went to church; nothing too different from the usual Sunday morning. But I saved the afternoon for my dad and spent that time watching our favorite movie, “Lonesome Dove.”

These quiet anniversaries of loss are important to remember. They’re not celebrated like birthdays or other milestones, but they are markers for the grieving heart or even the heart that is healed. These remembrances are important because whenever we experience loss of any kind, we just can’t ever be the same. We may heal from our loss, but it leaves us changed. Marking these quiet anniversaries honors both the loss and the change.

These losses can be varied as can be the changes they create. Often, when we think of loss, we think about the death of a loved one and rightly so. But there are many different loss experiences. Divorce is certainly a loss. It’s the death of a family. The world that family inhabited is irrevocably changed, and it’s passing can be marked with many quiet anniversaries. Other losses also qualify. The loss of a friend, a difficult illness, a miscarriage are just a few of the losses we all experience. A little quiet reflection around these sometimes devastating life and death experiences can help settle us, helping us learn to accept the loss.

Ritual can be an important part of marking this loss. For some, that might mean visiting a gravesite. Others may want to stay far away from the gravesite but would feel better gathering with family to remember. Still others may want to mark these quiet anniversaries alone by writing a journal entry, watching a sunrise or sunset, or as in the case of my father, watching a beloved movie.

As I sat through the last few scenes of “Lonesome Dove” and watched Captain Call quietly bury his friend and Texas Ranger partner, Gus McCrae, I contemplated my own loss and the changes that stemmed from it. Then, I bowed my head and offered a silent prayer, along with some tears, as I honored my own quiet anniversary. What will you do to honor yours?

Loneseom Dove