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Blessing Adversity

Affirmation:  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and being stronger makes life easier and richer.  
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, stronger” so goes the saying and the now popular song by Kelly Clarkson.  I wonder would I want to be tested to the point of dying to become stronger?  I have been tested by breast cancer.  I wouldn’t have chosen it but it has made me stronger.  It seems like a given that most people believe becoming stronger is a good thing.

I do work at being physically strong.  I fully recognize the advantages of having a strong body.  Besides practicing Yoga regularly, twice a week I participate in a class called Rep-Reebok.  It’s weight lifting to music and since I began it, I do feel I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle.  I’m not so concerned about how it affects my shape but I know the stronger I  am, the less likely I am to injure myself.  Having physical strength makes my daily activities easier.  I also work at having mental and spiritual fortitude. It makes my whole existence easier.

Sherri Shepherd recently released a book entitled Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes.  Presently she’s one of the talk show hostesses on The View.  She’s very funny and she’s always been a very large lady, actually the word is obese.  She was interviewed by Doctor Oz this week and shared the diabetic history of her family.  She said they called it “the sugar” and no one took any steps to deal with it, regardless of how much the disease had progressed.  She too was guilty of the same behavior.  Denial is the term for the way some people deal with situations they don’t want to face.  She was in denial until someone asked her in so many words if she was ready to die one amputation at a time.  She changed her life.  She took charge.  She changed her diet and began exercising.  She changed a lIfe threatening situation into a life enhancing practice.  She shared some of her new healthy eating techniques and said she now works out at a gym and has turned her home into a gym, not a fancy room with all the bells and whistles. The stairs are her “stair-master.”  Her kitchen sink is her “ballet bare” and she never rests her bottom on the toilette.  That’s her opportunity to do squats!  Diabetes changed her life, for the better.   

The conversation I had with a woman I had recently met revolved around her brother’s recovery from drug abuse.  He too had a devastating disease.  He too had taken steps to become healthy.  When speaking about his life, she shared that he had become a wonderful father.  He was raising his son by himself.  The mother was also an addict and had given up her son.  He had shared with his sister that the challenge of being a single parent was his greatest blessing.  His life was as good as it was because his son needed him and helped him rise to the challenge of creating a healthy, loving life.  
It’s an old saying, “We can choose to make lemons into lemonade.”  Life is full of adversity, all different levels.  Diseases of the mind, body and spirit are faced by all of us at sometime or another.  Where do we find the resources to lift ourselves from the darkness back into the light?  For many, it’s their faith but not everyone has that gift.  It is a gift to believe in a loving, beneficent God or at least to believe that our pain is serving some higher purpose. We all have pain. Others must find another way to rise above their adversity.  For most help comes in the form of others: family, friends and community.  

This second of week of May, 2013 the media has been full of news about Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.  It’s not an unusual story.  It’s a decision thousands of women have faced and many of whom have chosen the same path.  Angelia’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when her mother was in her forties.  She died at 55.  She decided to undergo the gene test to see if it was indeed a hereditary condition and it came back positive.  She had an 87% chance of dying of breast cancer.   She chose not to wait for fate to decide her future.  She chose to take radical steps to insure that she would not have the words “breast cancer” on her death certificate.  Her popularity, perhaps we could even say notoriety, propelled her decision to the front of the news.  I personally commend her for making her decision public.  It opens the avenue for important discussions.  It’s similar to when Betty Ford stepped forward as First Lady and shared she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  We sometimes need celebrities to she’d light on issues that might otherwise go unexamined.  

How can one see a prophylactic double mastectomy as a blessing?  How easy it would be to perceive oneself as a victim.  How easy it would be to wallow in self pity.  Brad Pitt, Angelina’s fiancé told the media they didn’t view her surgery as a loss.  They viewed it as a gain; they had gained years of life. They believed his wife and the mother of their children would now be a part of their lives for many years to come.

When we are in the middle of some challenge, it’s almost impossible to see it as beneficial.  I believe we need to move away and outside of it before we can begin to see ways it may and can bless our lives.  It’s all about the whole package, all of life’s lessons are valuable.  We are all going to be faced with adversity.  Most of us will come through it; there’s no going around it.  How we perceive our experience will be determined by how we view our lives.  Do we wake each morning and see the blessings the day may bestow upon us or do we rise in fear and dread? What are we focusing on?   How do you view the glass, half empty or half full?  I’m not talking about not recognizing your sadness and fear.  We must acknowledge all our emotions but once we’ve done that and walked through the “valley of death” do we want to continue to suffer (maybe some do.)  I, however, would prefer to let the experience teach me whatever lesson I needed to know and then take that knowledge and use it to make me “stronger! stronger! stand a little taller!” as Kelly sings and to enjoy a tall cool glass of that lemonade.

Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation:  Being a mother is my greatest joy.
As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings.  The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer.  Behind us was another walker and her dog.  The mother goose didn’t hesitate.  She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies.  
I’ve been a mother for over 40 years now.  Now, I’m also a grandmother.  My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings.  I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children.  I have an even stronger reaction when I see them holding out their arms for the child to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I’m nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I’m simply an appreciative observer.  

One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out.  She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship.  The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.  Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents.  The research reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage.  I don’t remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses.  It’s pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects that on which we consider to be the important and I’d rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.
Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it’s a “short long journey.”  I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it.  Motherhood is work.  It’s painful and it’s challenging.  It’s demanding and it’s tiring.  It’s frustrating and it’s confusing.  It’s also an amazing journey.  

As a young mother I was never around family.  Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three.  I never had a support system.  Every time we moved, I was completely on my own.  I didn’t have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it truly was.  Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system.  It was easier sometimes than others.  It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely.  Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 26 years go.  We began again.  Now, I live close to most of my family.   

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away.  My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close.  My mom lives nearby and I’m blessed to still have my husband of 45 years in my life.  My youngest is in London but I’m optimistic about her future.

My years of motherhood are not over.  Once a mother, always a mother but this stage, being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing.  While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment.  I can relax in their company.  When I was doing my MSW I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother.  Truly, this has been my life’s work.  I wondered how they felt I did.  When I look back I remember each of their births.  I remember all the times they were sick and needed care.  I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes.  I remembered making dinner almost every night.  I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible.  I remember helping with homework and visiting schools.  I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies.  I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses.  I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way.  I hadn’t had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn’t had any family around to guide me but it appeared I’d done alright.  What did they think?  I was curious and I was brave.  
Yes, it’s been a “long short journey.”  If I could do it again what would I change?  I wouldn’t change much.  If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently.  I’d not clean the house so often.  Occasionally I’d have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening.  I’d read even more stories, hold hands even more often.  I’d sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something.  I’d know this moment will soon be gone and I’d treasure it for the gift it was.  
They were kind to me when they answered my question.  That response alone was an answer in itself.  I’d done OK.  I must have done OK.  They’re still hanging out with me.  In fact as I write this today, Mother’s Day the family is on their way over.  All except Ellen.  She’ll be here next week.  We’ll celebrate then.  Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn’t change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people.  I’ve been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them. 

Golf & Lessons Learned

Affirmation: 
Every
life experience leads to wisdom and knowledge.

On
June 19th, 2011 Rory McIlroy won the US Open in golf.  I am married to a golfer and my adult son,
Joey, has given up sky diving and taken up golf.  (Thank You, Lord!)  Considering Sandy and I have been married for
almost 45 years, I have learned a lot about the sport.  I have never considered myself a golfer but I
have played golf for over forty years, ever since I married.  Sandy is an amazing golfer.  Truly, his game is superb and it’s such fun
to watch him play.     

I
use to resent his dedication to this past time. When I had three young
children, the time away from the family required by golf and desired by my
husband was onerous for me.  But, now with
the children grown and on their own, I can see the sport in a different
light.  Actually, over the last few
summers, I might even occasionally refer to myself as a “golfer.” 

Many
years ago I read James Dobson’s, Final Rounds.  It completely changed the way I saw the
sport.  It truly was a life changing
read.  It helped too that my children
were older and I had a little more free time. 
But, when I read the memories that he and his dad had collected
together, I better understood the appeal of the game.  Golf wasn’t just “a good walk spoiled” as
Mark Twain said; it was about so much more. 
It was about relationships and adventures and shared experiences.  I took it to heart and started focusing on
those aspects and not how many times I was hitting (or swinging) at that little
ball.  Yes, something changed. I started
having more fun and truly valuing the time I spent with Sandy and now with my
son.  Sometimes my daughter-in-law, Belen,
joins us on the course as Joey’s chauffeur. 
It can be a delightful day and I really have learned to value the
experience.

Part
of our shared interest lies in occasionally watching the major tournaments with
my family.  The US Open is one of
them.  The 2011 US Open was especially
exciting.  Rory McIlroy (22 years) won.
He’s from Northern Island.  Not only did
he win but he broke all sorts of records. 
He shot 65-66-68-68.  He was as
much as 17 under par at one point.  He
went into the tournament winning by 8 strokes. 
These are unheard of accomplishments. 

That’s
all wonderful and exciting but for me it was the story behind his win that
touched my heart.  His father was there;
it was his Father’s Day present.  The
story that emerged was of a family of very hard working people.  His dad had worked as a janitor and when his
son showed an interest in golf, he became the bar tender at the golf club so
that they could afford his lessons.  When
he accepted his award, he didn’t’ leave out his “mum” either.  He said it was because of their hard work and
sacrifice that he was there today. 

The
media spent a great deal of time talking about this young man’s loss at the
2010 Masters in Augusta.  They kept
talking about how he was winning by 4 strokes when the final round began, and
then he “fell apart.”  Everyone was
amazed that he had pulled himself together so quickly and was doing so
well.  Some thought he might never
recover from such a devastating loss.  It
was one of the questions presented to him several minutes after accepting the
US Open trophy.  The announcer asked him
to speak about losing the Masters and what that had been like.  Ready? 
“The Masters was a very valuable experience for me.  I learned a few things about myself and my
game.” 

One
day I went to play golf with the “big girls.” 
These are the ladies who play golf often and for the most part, quite
well.  I was way outside of my comfort
zone.

Golf, yoga, and tennis are the three main physical
activities in which I’ve participated.  I
think there’s so much to learn about myself and sometimes others from watching
the behavior that is exhibited during the event, the match.  Concentration, perseverance, balance,
forgiveness, humor, humility and graciousness are required of the civil player
and many times, more than one aspect at a time is required.

The psychology of 18 holes of golf is again a microcosm
of our lives.  How do we interact with
others?  Are we kind, considerate,
deferential, polite, encouraging?  And,
how do we treat ourselves?  Do we berate
ourselves when we hit a bad shot?  Are we
annoyed when someone else does better? 
Can we focus regardless of what else is going on?  What are we thinking about; is it lunch or
dinner, or are we present to the experience? 
Do we notice not only the condition of the course but the topography,
the fresh air and the beautiful vistas?

Whatever we are doing on the golf course, we are
repeating in our daily lives.  Our
behavior both towards others, ourselves and the experience reflects our
behavior through our lives.
Yes, it’s the same in many sports.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see all your
faults surface but keep watching, be aware and you’ll be able to notice your
strengths too.  Perhaps, it will be as
simple as being able to share time with your loved ones, your buddies, a kind
partner and when asked how you played, even if the game didn’t go as you had
hoped, even though you didn’t feel you played your best game, you answer,
“Wow!  I had a great time!” 
Rory
McIlroy was much wiser than his 22 years. 
It takes some of us a lifetime to discover that every life experience leads
to wisdom and knowledge.  It’s all up to
us how we perceive it and whether or not we value every single one of them,
both the accomplishments and the disappointments.  Like Rory, it can lead us to championship
skills, the skills of leading a rewarding, fulfilling life. 

And, just in case you’re curious, I played ok on that
outing with the “big girls.”  I would
even say, on that day, I was really and truly a “golfer.”

Owning My Own Behavior

Affirmation:  I am only responsible for my own behavior.

In 2000 my
husband and I attended a workshop at Canyon Ranch called Sex, Body and
Soul.  It was the year after I was
treated for breast cancer and I asked him to go with me.  I had been there several months earlier and
heard Dr. Lana Holstein speak and decided it would be a good thing for us in
which to participate.  We’d been married
more than 20 years by then and it seemed to me we could use a little more
knowledge other than what we’d brought to the relationship when we were in our
early 20’s.  My husband Sandy is a kind
and gracious man and he has spent most of our married life doing his best to
make sure I’m happy.  I am a lucky woman
and I know it.  In the case of accepting
this invitation, it took a lot of courage and humility to go along with me and
I was very grateful when he accepted. 
Dr. Holstein and her husband, Dr. David Taylor led the group and set up
some ground rules right away and I never felt uncomfortable.  Yes, we learned a great deal but as with many
learning experiences the most important lesson had very little to do with the
curriculum.

It was obvious
from the beginning that one of the couples, there were about 15 in attendance,
was a strange match.  She was all bubbly and
floaty and he was just plain grumpy.  He
did not want to be there and he told us right away but, he said, he was there
because he loved her and this was what she wanted.  We were there for four days and he complained
the entire time.  Watching her was my
greatest learning experience at the workshop. 
She never paid any attention to his moaning.  She just let him be himself and did whatever
she wanted to do.  She never grimaced or
cringed when he would speak.  She never,
ever apologized for his behavior.  After
a short time, it was obvious she didn’t hold herself responsible for his
behavior and because of her detachment no one in the group held her responsible
for his behavior.  For me, it was pure
enlightenment. 

I’d like to tell
you that after that experience I never again acted embarrassed because someone
I was with acted inappropriately, or acted in a way I judged reflected poor judgment.  But, while I could grasp this lesson
mentally, it will probably take me a lifetime to absorb it emotionally. 

In the Al-Anon
book One Day at a Time one of the readings tells a story about a woman
who had just begun the program and after a short time decided the best way to
deal with her alcoholic husband was to ignore him.  Up until that time, she would find him after
falling out of bed, asleep on the floor. 
She’d help him up, put him back in bed and then cover him up.  Then she’d go to bed.  After a couple of Al-Anon meetings, she
decided she needed to take better care of herself.  So, she decided she wouldn’t help him.  She’d leave him on the floor, step over him
and just go to bed.  She shared this at
one of the meetings.  Members explained
that wasn’t exactly what the program promoted. 
She then came up with a happy medium. 
She decided to cover him with a blanket and then step over him and go to
bed. 

One time my
husband and I found ourselves having dinner with a couple we had just met.  As the dinner progressed, the fellow kept
ordering drinks.  By the end of the
dinner it was quite obvious that he was very drunk.  I kept waiting for his wife to try to stop
him from ordering.  When that didn’t
happen, I began to wait for her to correct him. 
When that didn’t happen, I thought maybe she’d get him away from the
dinner and take him home.  When that
didn’t happen, I thought she’d begin to look embarrassed.  You guessed it.  She never responded in any way.  Once again, I saw myself completely absolve
her of her husband’s behavior.  She
simply allowed him to be responsible for himself.  She was sober and elegant and classy and I
was in awe. 

I had a friend
tell me once that if her husband ever fell asleep in church, she would be
furious.  I wondered why?  Maybe he snored?  Would his being asleep embarrass her?  Why should it?  She would still be awake.  Would someone look over, or maybe the preacher
looks out and sees him sleeping and says, “Look at that woman next to the
sleeping man.  I bet that’s his
wife.  She must be a terrible person to
allow him to sleep during the service.”? 
If someone is judging you because of your companion’s behavior, is that
someone you care about?  Is that someone
who you even want to know?

I wonder if we
learn this kind of reaction from being a parent.  I think most people would agree that a parent
is judged by their children’s behavior. 
How many times have you been in a situation when a child behaved poorly
and you just wanted the parent to “do something” to correct the
problem?  In Steven Covey’s book Seven
Habits of Highly Successful People
he tells the story of a man on the
subway with a couple of poorly behaved children.  People were obviously annoyed.  Finally, the father looked up and said,
“My wife just died and I don’t know what I should do.”  People were no longer annoyed but why did he
have to share that?  Why were people judging
in the first place?  Why, if they were,
didn’t they give him the benefit of the doubt? 

Is this a control
issue?  Do we feel we should be able to
shape the atmosphere and therefore influence the behavior of those to whom we
are close?  Once we recognize that we
can’t change anyone else; we can only change ourselves, perhaps then we can
learn to just let go and let people be whoever they are, even if they’re
complete jerks. 

Another story in
the One Day at a Time Al-Anon book refers to a tombstone that reads,
“Here lies ‘Morty Mort’ he’s finally minding his own business.”  I hope by the time I’m laid to rest, I have
finally absorbed the lesson that I am only responsible for my own behavior
into not only my mind, but my heart and my spirit.