2014 word of the year

I have worked the 12 steps of recovery for six years, and the meditation part of the 11th step has never been easy for me.

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out”

Serious yogi, 2010

Serious yogi, 2010

I’ve sat through guided meditations and struggled to resist the urge to giggle and to wiggle away the ants in my pants. I’ve tried focusing on my breathing (with varying levels of success in achieving something like relaxation). I’ve done yoga, too, and while I’ve improved my flexibility, I haven’t found my mind floating on a cloud.

Even though my husband has never participated in a 12-step recovery program, he has the annoying and enviable ability to achieve what looks like nirvana after just a few minutes of lying down with his eyes closed, breathing. Being. Ugh.

I finally asked him one night, when I felt beyond frustrated with insomnia, how he manages to meditate so easily.

“Simple,” he said. “I focus on something that I like. I go to a place in my mind. When I start thinking about other things, I turn back to that place.”

Well, that might occur naturally for Mr. Smarty Pants, but it hasn’t proved simple for me—probably because I’ve taken a simple idea and contorted it into a complicated process—a terrible talent I have.

The past few months, I’ve given my husband’s method a try.

December 2012

December 2012

I’ve found some virtual places of rest. I’ve gone hiking behind my old house, snapped twigs and sat on thick tree branches, gathered firewood, and overlooked the ridge at the top of the hill with my trusty companion, my black cat Shao Hou, following closely behind, silently. I’ve walked up past our barn on a moonlit night, the light casting contrasting shadows through trees, reflecting off dirt and rocks coated in quiet snow. I’ve traced my own steps and watched Shao Hou’s paw prints step in the hollowed places left behind by my Muck boots.

Last month, after one of the most beautiful snowstorms I’ve seen (and I haven’t seen many since I live in the South), our entire property was blanketed in stark white stillness. The neighbors with noisy trucks were nowhere to be found. Even the 14 dogs owned by the animal lover living a quarter-mile away bedded down and shut their traps.

Nothing moved. No one spoke.

But God did.

My feathered friends, December 2013

My feathered friends, December 2013

That morning, dozens of birds found their way to a patch of grass outside my bedroom window and pecked through the ice in search of sunflower seeds scattered by my husband the day before. While my daughter napped, I sat in front of the open window and snapped photo after photo of bright wings and orange beaks and puffy feathers perched on thin frozen branches. Aside from clicking the camera’s buttons, I didn’t move for 30 minutes.

I’d found a place to go, a place to be still. A place to be with God.

Each year, I choose a word to reflect on, a virtue to behold and to strive to attain. This year, my word is still. Ironically, there’s nothing to strive for since stillness is the absence of striving.

This year, I’ll seek out places of rest. I’ll let myself be silent. I’ll seek to be free of turbulence, waves, or currents. I will listen to the absence of voices and absorb the hush.

God is in the hush.

 

100_4467The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

–1 Kings 19

 

Better

It’s a good thing we live in the middle of absolutely nowhere, wild-looking woods surrounding our home; otherwise, I might have worried that I’d be seen circling an invisible platform in the middle of our road, doing the Rocky victory dance after jogging 1/4 of a mile non-stop a few days ago.

My too-skinny self a few years ago

My too-skinny self a few years ago

Yes, I said 1/4 of a mile. I understand that the real runners and athletes reading this may scoff at my milestone. But I’m not a real runner. I haven’t even attempted to run–except to chase after my dogs or to catch my husband as he backs out of the driveway to tell him to pick up a gallon of milk–in about five or six years. Back in the day, I somehow mustered up motivation to train for and run a 5K with an athletic trainer/friend of mine. I met my goal, and then all of my running skills slowly atrophied. I began running two miles at a time instead of three. Then one. Then none. Then I sold my treadmill. Then I discovered the divorce/cigarettes/beer-and-wine/stress/migraine medication/worst-job-in-the-world diet, I lost 30 pounds in about six months, and I didn’t have it to lose.

But don’t worry–I gained most of it back after regaining joy, meeting the man of my dreams, and finding a much less stressful job. When we moved into our small old farmhouse in the woods, I decided I’d be a fool to forgo the opportunity to get fit by hiking on the trails behind our house. So I forged ahead and got back into great shape and made my two dogs pretty happy along the way, taking them with me on daily hikes.

Pregnant at about 32 weeks. I stopped taking pictures after that--it got too gross.

Pregnant at about 32 weeks. I stopped taking pictures after that–it got too gross.

Then I came down with the worst flu ever, and it lasted for five months. By “flu,” I’m referring to what others sweetly term “morning sickness,” which is the greatest misnomer since it occurred without fail all day long every day for five months. Needless to say, my love for hitting the trails was derailed. I tried walking on the road instead and kept that up halfheartedly throughout my pregnancy, but after gaining 60 pounds, and suffering from pretty serious edema and other hellacious symptoms, I found myself in the worst shape of my life after bringing our lovely daughter into the world.

I have read all the advice-laden books, and I know my body won’t immediately snap back into shape like a taut rubber band. I don’t expect it to. But I don’t want to sit on my laurels and pray for the fat to dissolve, either. So while my husband holds Maggie and plays his harmonica for her, I haul myself out of the recliner and hit the trails, huffing and puffing like the little engine that could, barely topping the highest hill before beginning the breath-catching trek downward.

A few days ago, after my hike, I decided to jog. I don’t know why. I honestly hate running, and I’m not good at it and never have been. I did run a 5K once, but it was hard and hardly worth the effort. I never experienced runners’ high, and I’m not sure I want to drop that experience into my bucket of accomplishments, either. But I jogged, nonetheless.

Me two days ago. Good enough for today :).

Me two days ago. Good enough for today :).

I wanted to stop after traversing roughly 50 feet. But I told myself to stop being a weenie and to keep going, even though my pace was perhaps slower than a brisk stroll. Somehow, I managed to jog 1/4 of a mile without stopping and without feeling completely miserable. So I celebrated, did the Rocky dance, and walked back home.

As my heart rate returned to its normal number, I wondered why it felt so much easier than it had in the past. It definitely wasn’t because I was in great shape–I already confessed that I’m in the worst shape of my life, hands down. The weather was a bit chilly, which always makes breathing while running a little challenging for me. And I was wearing my old Adidas running shoes–and by old, I mean old enough to be relegated to the shoe rack by the back door and repurposed as lawn-mowing shoes.

So what was my fabulous secret to success?

My guess is that I ran more easily because I wasn’t trying too hard. I wasn’t thinking about reaching a goal. I wasn’t setting impossibly high expectations for myself as I’ve done countless times in the past. And I wasn’t paying attention to the pain, either. I was just putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

And that was enough.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been somewhat–okay, truthfully–a complete and utter perfectionist about most things most of my life. Whether obvious to others on the outside or not, I have always struggled to accept my best as good enough. I have punished myself mercilessly for the same screw-ups I’d pardoned others for. I have pitied myself for making poor choices rather than picking myself up, dusting myself off, and starting all over again.

About five years ago, I started turning that sad wagon around. With the help of the greatest 12-step recovery program and my fellow fabulous members and sponsor, I learned to be easier on myself. I dropped my expectations and just let God surprise me. I began forgiving myself for the list of sins haunting me and began making better choices.

I learned to pat myself on the back for progress, not perfection.

As I rounded the last curve in the road a few days ago after joyously celebrating my mini-jog moment, I remembered sitting in my bathtub about three years ago after ending a relationship that was tearing me apart for sundry reasons. My tears swirled amidst the bath water as I replayed my mistakes in my head and mentally beat myself up with a pretty big stick.

Then I heard God’s silent whisper in my heart.

“You did better today.”

And that was good enough.

It still is. I’ve got to be easy on myself and easy on the people I love. We’re all just doing the best that we can with what we have right now.

And I think that makes Him smile.

2013 word of the year

ImageIn 2011, I was inspired by my friend Denise Felton to select a word of the year. In 2011, my word was “freedom.” I knew freedom was a goal–I didn’t know that God had gone ahead, planned in love, and laid plans to free me from incredibly heavy chains of the past, enabling me to truly enjoy the love of my life and to later experience sweet reconciliation and redemption related to my deepest, darkest secret.

In two short years, I found freedom from my past, freedom to live in the present, freedom to love and trust, and freedom to dare to dream about the future.

This year, another friend of mine who was inspired by my “word of the year” journey toward freedom decided to select a word of the year herself. Call it peer pressure, but knowing that she’s already receiving blessings and insights related to the word she selected for 2013 really motivated me to start contemplating my own word for 2013.

Choosing a word of the year might be a random, quick process for some people. For me, it takes time. It’s simple–I pray and ask God to make it very clear to me which word to focus on–but it takes time. Yesterday, I prayed that God would reveal the word to me and that He’d make it clearer than usual because my brain lacks the ability to perform its typical functions lately due to lack of sleep (as a result of adjusting to life with my beautiful infant daughter).

“Lord,” I prayed, “I’d like to know if there’s a word you want to give me this year, something to focus on. But You might have to stick it right in front of my face, or I may miss it.”

ImageAfter finishing my prayer while sitting at my desk, attempting to alert myself with a cup of coffee, I opened my eyes and saw my word stuck right in front of my face. Literally.

A few years ago, I attended a conference for women in particular 12-step recovery programs. At the conference, we participated in a group meditation called a “whisper walk.” I’d participated in whisper walks a few times before, and each time, the phrases given to me to recite were precise messages from God that pierced my heart (and always produced tears, of course). One of the messages from the whisper walk was tacked to my bulletin board directly in front of my laptop.

“God’s light shines through you.”

Light.

A proverbial electrical switch flipped and illuminated my mind (perhaps the coffee kicked in at that exact moment as well). Of course, light.

My daughter was born in November. As we duked it out over the name selection process, we finally agreed to select two family names since we both prefer traditional names and wanted to honor our families as well. Our daughter’s first name, Margaret, means “daughter of light.”

ImageAs I spent many hours sitting, praying, and reading due to excessive swelling during pregnancy, I rediscovered a verse which I dubbed “Maggie’s verse,” Isaiah 60:1. Many years ago, when I was in my early 20’s, I spent a weekend at a women’s retreat for my local church. One of the women, who happened to be my accountability partner at the time, woke me up Saturday morning by whispering the most gentle, wonderful words to me:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord rises upon you.”

Ahhh. I remember turning my grumpy, typical morning frown upward and thinking, “Now that’s a great way to wake up in the morning.”

Each morning, since my daughter came home from the hospital, I have whispered those wonderful words to her as I gently rouse her. I sing the words to her in a made-up song multiple times a day.

Yesterday, after settling on “light” as my word of the year, I attached a leash to my overjoyed beagle and hiked into the woods behind our home. As my boots carried me down the well-worn paths I’ve walked many times before, the sunlight penetrated my body and warmed me. I began to realize that the word “light” was not just for my daughter; it is for me, too. God wants to be a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). He is willing to be my light and my salvation, giving me no reason to fear the darkness (Psalm 27:1). He has broken the chains of my past that kept me focused on dark shadows, and He invited me out of the spiritual cave I dwelt in, revealing a lighter world. He repeatedly reminds me that if I focus on the problem, it increases, yet if I focus on the solution, it increases.

This year, may I close my eyes to the darkness, look to the Light, and see more clearly than ever before.

 

Bucket list update

If you haven’t read my original 2012 bucket list, you might want to check it out before reading this post.

For those of you who regularly follow my blog, I thought I’d provide an update to the list so you’d all know that I’m working on it; I really am!

1)      Unfortunately, I have not been able to convince any cement mixer drivers or owners to allow me to operate the truck or even pull the lever releasing the concrete. However, I did convince James to let me pull the level on his friend’s cement mixer when they pour the foundation for the parking pad and sun room we’ll be adding on in the future. So I don’t know when, but it seems that this one’s going to happen!

2)      I’m halfway through my first semester of graduate school, and I currently have all A’s and am fully enjoying my educational endeavor.

3)      I’ve met with the Director of the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project (whom I’d like to volunteer for), and we’ve brainstormed about some fundraising ideas. I’m also planning to officially join the organization as a member this week.

4)      I have focused on building a few friendships with “elevator people,” including two people I work with, an old friend (who is truly my soul sister) who I had neglected to keep in close contact with until the past six months, and an old high school friend (AKA “Bubbles”) who I lost touch with but recently reconnected with thanks to Facebook and my new church. I don’t have much time to invest in hanging out anymore, but I’m still managing to fit friends into my schedule because it matters to me.

5)      I started the Daily Dose of Gratitude blog in February. This was something I’d contemplated before, but I thought I would never find time to post daily. However, I felt that forcing myself to daily chew on the topic of gratitude might really benefit others, and I knew it’d benefit me. And it has. I log in to WordPress every morning, coffee brewing, and hammer something out. If I’m lucky enough to have a guest writer that day, I post the guest writer’s content. In addition to giving me a little break from blogging, the guest writers have given me yet another thing to be grateful for—good people, wonderful mentors, and excellent writers who I’m blessed to call friends. The response to the blog has been encouraging, and if nothing else, it’s starting all my days out on a wonderful, positive, and thankful note.

6)      In order to take better advantage of the beauty of the great outdoors, I’ve taken my dogs on a hike almost every single day since creating my bucket list. Not only are they loving the exploration time (and chance to turn every tree into a urination station), but I’m also getting into better shape slowly but surely. I still have yet to go hiking in three brand new places, but I’ll keep working on that.

7)      I’m thankful to say that I’m still on my streak of spending plenty of time with God reading, praying, and meditating on Scripture. I’m sure my half-pot of coffee habit each morning really does have something to do with the consistency and voracity I’ve managed to maintain.

8)      No word on marrying James Wallace yet. Stay tuned for future announcements.

9)      Because I determined to keep my heart and hands open to God, and because I’ve become willing to let go of so many heavy heart-weights, I’ve never felt lighter in my life. I am completely free. No one has anything over me any longer. It feels good. I’m sleeping better. I rarely worry at all. I’ve let go of old habits that were holding onto me. I’ve found a church that feels like home. I’m living the life I always wanted.

Tonight, James and I had the pleasure of visiting with an elderly couple from our church at their home for a few hours. They loaned me some books to aid in my research for a class I’m taking, and after running the gamut of anecdotes, from hilarious stories to family histories to heartbreaking recounting of losses, the man said to us, “You know, even if I died tonight, I can say I’ve had a great life and a real fun time. And a lot of that is thanks to her.” And he pointed to his wife across the room in her recliner.

“Thumbs’ up to that,” she said.

It seems premature to say, but I feel the same way. If this was the last night I curled up under my warm blankets and fell asleep while thanking God for today’s little miracles and big triumphs, it would be more than enough.

Now that He’s given me this deep peace, every day is a bonus.

My bucket is pretty full.