"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘balance’ Category

A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

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Erroneous First Impressions: A Subtle Reminder

assumptions

I was irritable.  I’m not sure if it was due to the oppressive heat, the stress of all that I needed to squeeze into the afternoon or that I was just plain hungry, but the crowded restaurant walls seemed to be closing in. Uncharacteristically I found myself thinking unkind thoughts about all the people sitting around me that were simply enjoying their lunch.

As Emily, Erin and I waited for our sandwiches at a cozy table for three, a uniformed paramedic came in.  After he ordered his lunch, he navigated towards the front counter near our table.  No sooner had he gotten there, than a young guy in his teens, dressed in long sweat pants and a hoodie with the hood pulled up over his head, approached him and told him he wanted to thank him for doing his job as a paramedic.  He went on to say that his brother had been saved from a fire by a paramedic with the Fire Department, and how much it meant to him.  The paramedic graciously thanked him, and it looked like he was truly flattered that this young man had taken a moment to come by and talk to him and show his gratitude.

I sat there with a mouthful of chicken salad sandwich and tried to swallow without letting tears escape.  I’m not sure why it touched my heart the way it did, but the kid was so sincere and his heart full of genuine gratitude.  My selfish mood was changed, and I felt ashamed of my previous outlook.  It also got me to thinking about how, had I not heard this exchange, I would have probably thought that kid was a wanna-be-hoodlum-type.  How wrong of an assumption that would have been!

Lesson learned.

Reset, Please!

Remember when the cure for “fixing” a computer was to re-boot by turning it off and restarting it?  It seems like my PC doesn’t do that quite as often anymore, but that’s still my go-to cure with anything that has an on/off button.  Note this does not work well with coffee makers—when the machine says to descale, it’s time to get out the vinegar and not keep unplugging it.  While my body doesn’t have a plug-in cord or an actual reset button, there are times when I mentally feel like a reset is in order.

Often it’s our circumstances that reset life for us.  It could be a move to a new school when you’re a kid, the death of a loved one or a new city when a job change occurs.  All can be daunting and attitude plays a huge role.  One thing I’ve found is that big changes don’t tend to happen in a singular fashion—it’s typically the accompanying little changes that piggy back one another that alter our life’s course.  It’s those little ones that make it hard to tell what the catalyst for inner change actually was.

Other times in our lives require that we orchestrate a reset to get out of a funk or a less than ideal situation.  For me, these can be harder to do, because they involve making a big decision to change something and following through.  It’s letting go of the comfortable and moving into unchartered territory.  Those types of difficult resets—the kind that make your whole hand shake as you press that little reset button—but can be extremely empowering.  As a person of faith, for me they involve soul searching and prayer.  Ultimately I feel when I’ve contemplated those resets with those two components I don’t make rash decisions I later regret.  However even then, very rarely does that mean they turn out how I expected.

Blame it on my Astrological sign (I’m a Gemini), but I enjoy coming up with various ways to renew life to feel refreshed.  Or maybe I have a little ADD.  Either way, as much as my kids might argue that I am stuck in my ways about some things (yes, I have to order cashew chicken with hot and sour soup every time I’m at Green China), I feel like mini resets are how to continue to grow as a person.  When life becomes too routine and comfortable, it becomes stagnant.  I try to keep that from happening, sometimes at the risk of failure.  Yeah, I tried to eat strictly Paleo—it lasted about three weeks.

Fortunately, when you’re raising a family, the natural progression of life keeps it from standing still in any one spot too long.  There’s no doubt that kids keep things fresh.  New interests, sport seasons, friends, and grade in school once a year ensure something’s just beginning or ending.  It keeps life interesting, but in truth it is their annual reset, that involve a few logistical tweaks for me.  At this point in time, our “life events”, as defined by insurance plans everywhere, usually revolve around the status of our children.  With all that craziness going on, my reset can be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.  And sometimes that’s as close to a PC re-boot I’m going to get—this week!

Life is Better When I’m Dirty

Life's a garden--dig it!  - Joe Dirt

Life’s a garden–dig it! – Joe Dirt

I glance at the reflection in the mirror and frown.   Hair escaping its ponytail—and not in the good way like it does in the movies—smeared eyeliner under the eyes from my earlier make up and a sweaty smudge of dirt across my cheek.  The woman in the mirror looking back at me looks old and tired.

The world has its natural beauties—those fortunate women who can get by with a touch of mascara and lip gloss.  And then there are women like me, a pretty outfit and an hour with some make up and styling tools and we can really glam it up when the occasion calls for it.

When it’s early in the morning and I’m going for a run or the gym, I’m lucky to even have on matching shoes if I don’t set them out the night before.  Of course it’s not until I get there (and of course the gym is full of wall to wall mirrors) that I see the extent of my messy appearance.  It’s not that I’m vain—it’s just a little disappointing when I realize I really do look my age and can’t pull off the I-didn’t-even-try-but-look-at-me look.

I’ll blame the movies and television for these high expectations of looking good no matter what the circumstances.  Remember Helen Hunt in the movie Twister?  They were in pounding rain storms and high winds—a tornado even—and she still had a clean white tank top on with her hair only mildly tousled.  Or in television shows when someone wakes up in the morning and they still have flawless skin, bright, lash-fringed eyes and only a stray hair out of place for effect.  No eye boogers or drool tracks at all unless they are supposed to be rousing from an all-night drinking session.  Ah, the willing suspension of disbelief we give to Hollywood!  Do you imagine the farmer’s daughter milking a cow at 4 in the morning completed her chores with her hair neatly braided?  Me neither.

I contemplate the notion of my aging appearance as I finish up the row I am digging out in the garden.  And later while I’m scrubbing the floor of the bathtub.  I’ve spent a lot of money these past few years on magic potions and creams to hide the sun damage spots on my cheeks and to prevent wrinkles.  But as much as I love getting dressed up and playing with make up, once I’ve gotten my hair and make up done and put on something nice, looking at me is about all I’m good for.

The truth is, life is better when I’m dirty.  When I haven’t taken the time to do hair and make up and put on halfway decent looking clothes, I don’t mind breaking a sweat or getting up to my elbows scrubbing toilet bowls.  Because when I’m streaked with dirt and grime, I’m not trying to please anyone.  Although it may involve cleaning or another chore I don’t particularly enjoy doing, the end result makes me happy—a well-kept yard, a clean house or a stronger body.  When I do put on that dress and spend an hour primping in the mirror, that person is a happy one from the inside out.

Standing back to admire my work, I catch a glimpse at the reflection in the window I’ve just cleaned. Sweat prominently streaks through the foundation I put on for work earlier and my shirt is covered in grime and dirt.  I take one more swipe at a missed smudge on the glass and smile.

We Could All Use a Snow Day

The view on Sunday evening

The view on Sunday evening

Unlike the northeastern part of the country, our winter here has not had as much snow as we have in the past few years. It’s been a cold one, but we haven’t had the kind of weather that keeps the kids home from school—much to Tyler’s dismay. Being a high school senior, he wouldn’t have to make up any snow days due to how graduation and finals are scheduled. I can’t say I blame him for being bummed, being that the past year the kids had so many make up snow days their last day of school ended up being nearly two weeks after it was originally scheduled.

Saturday we finally got a little snow—about 4 or 5 inches. Since the next day was not a school day, there wasn’t a snow day from school, of course, but I enjoyed my own kind of snow day—and it felt wonderful.

I haven’t been able to write for my blog lately because life has gotten way too busy. I hate saying that, because it sounds like an excuse. I also don’t like when people wear their “busy-ness” like a martyr. The truth is, I’m busy because I’ve gotten myself involved in more endeavors than what I probably should have, but for the most part, they’re all things I want to be doing. In short, my busy-ness is self-inflicted, so I shouldn’t complain. I only wish I did it with a little more graciousness!

A friend of mine told me a few years ago that “BUSY” is short for “Being Under Satan’s Yoke”, and I can see where that mindset comes from. Have you seen those “You’re-not-you-when-you’re-hungry” Snickers commercials where the person’s hunger transforms someone like Marsha Brady into Danny Trejo? That happens to me when I’m stressed out about being stretched too thin. (I’ll admit it’s me when I’m hungry too.)

Today’s snow day allowed me some time to happily decompress. I got some form design work done, did a little bit of laundry and straightening up…and threw in an hour or two of being a total bum. I read fluffy articles on the internet. I played Candy Crush on my phone. I leisurely drank my coffee and went and had another cup. I know that there were so many household tasks I could have done during that time, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do them, and I vowed to not feel guilty. This snow day was my mental health day.

The funny thing is, once I had that time just to goof off, I didn’t want to do that anymore. It’s like the end of the kids’ summer vacation—I love the lack of routine for a few weeks, but eventually I want to get back to doing the norm.

It’s March now, and although they’ve talked of freezing rain tonight, I’m not sure Tyler’s going to get his “no-make-up” senior snow day this school year. But I’m grateful for the snow day we did have.

“Perfect” Balance

It’s time for the holidays, a time of year that I both love and dread at the same time. I cherish my memories of cozy Christmases past and creating new memories with my family. I love the smells of Christmas and the excitement of the kids. I dread the hectic schedules, the feeling that there’s too much to do and the worry over buying loved ones that “perfect” gift. Such is Christmas in this modern world; no time left to reflect on the miracle of the birth of our Savior—I’ve got baking and shopping to do! Boy, am I ever guilty! While I don’t lack of a plan, I lack a mindset. The mindset of balance, moderation and contentedness.

In the book of Ecclesiates, “The Teacher” laments about the meaninglessness of life. If you’re experiencing a rough time in your life, it’s not going to be a pick-me-up to read, but it reads as if it could have been written in today’s world. The Teacher was wealthy and popular—and very unhappy. He feels that there is nothing in this world that has any meaning. His luxurious lifestyle has left him in despair. But he does make observations that are true, and you can certainly have empathy for the emptiness the guy goes through. One of the observations that he makes that I’d like to share with you is in 7:15-18, where he addresses balance in being both overwicked and overrighteous. His observation? “The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”

I wanted to find other examples where the concept of balance is put in a Biblical perspective. It overlaps with the areas of temperance (moderation) and self-control, but those passages didn’t address the times when balance is thrown off. The more I thought about it, the underlying cause of imbalance is a dissatisfaction of what we have and who we are. We are not content with where we are and what we have. Isn’t that when we try too much, and in the process reach too far? When we are trying to create the “perfect” Christmas, it is easy to move too far from Christ, who should be the center of the holiday.   If I had more time/money/creativity, Christmas would be perfect. Spreading ourselves too thin, we are out of balance, discontent, stressed and generally not enjoying the Spirit of the Season.

If that’s not you, I am happy for you. Because you have learned to be content. And there are several verses that advise us on being content. Hebrews 13:5 says “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have…” And Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-8 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I’m ashamed to admit it, but this time of year, I need to be reminded of that.

As we head full throttle into the Christmas season, remember how the extremes in the life of The Teacher didn’t bring him joy “under the sun”. Being content can be hard when we are bombarded daily with reminders of what we don’t have. It’s something we have to remind ourselves of. But we have something that The Teacher in Ecclesiastes didn’t have. We have, in the baby Jesus born in the manger, the antidote to that meaninglessness he described. The joy that can only be found “under the Son”.

Is It Empty…or Just Blank?

Blank checks. Blank stares. Blank slates. Blank computer screens.

Depending on your perspective, blank can represent the fresh possibility of unchartered territory or the frustration of having no direction or understanding.

Our family’s calendar this weekend, although not completely blank, does have some open time slots. A Saturday morning free from scheduled obligations provides for me a reprieve from the usual hustle and bustle of our household. As much as I love the things we do, sometimes I just want to stay home and catch up on laundry. Not many people’s picture of bliss, I know, but there’s something very therapeutic about having the luxury of getting those everyday tasks caught up all at once.

Yet, while these blank spaces on the calendar represent precious freedom to me, I realize that to others they represent something else entirely. I remember when I worked at a retirement home that the residents didn’t always look forward to the weekends for that very reason. During the week, we had classes and events full of social interaction most of the day, every day, but the on the weekends there would only be a few scheduled activities. For some of these folks living alone in their apartments, two days without something on the schedule brought up an unpleasant feeling of loneliness or worse—meaninglessness. These chunks of open time, are they blank or just empty? Apart from perspective, they are neutral.

Two of my favorite things are a brand-new, pretty notebook and a smooth gel pen. When they’re new, they’re blank—but they’re not empty. I just haven’t put anything in them yet. Because in writing, the empty kind of blank can be terrifying. The dreaded writer’s block for me always makes me question if every ounce of my creative juices has begun drying out. Confession: I have pretty, blank notebooks with cute gel pens fastened to them that are…well, empty. There’s a weird part of me that thinks that if something’s written in a gorgeous little notebook, it has to have some sort of worthiness to it. I know, I know, I should think of those notebooks as a stomping ground for my ideas, not museum paper. But if I only jot down one or two ideas, that spanking new blank notebook becomes a half-finished one—at least in my head. And completing or revamping a half-finished anything is a whole other blog post!

The difference in perspective between blank or empty can sometimes be boiled down to one word—fear. If I fear that marring a notebook with trivial or unfinished thoughts will forever curse its pages, I’ve already lost the battle. My attitude makes a huge difference as to what can be viewed as a challenge versus a burden. (Not that controlling your attitude is easy, but it is possible and a great place to start.)

How about you? Do you have a blank in your life that you’ve been seeing as an empty? Could the artist’s canvass before you be disguised as that stagnant, barren place holding you back? It’s definitely something to think about—whether it be time, notebooks or even that white wall in the dining room.

 

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