Tag Archives: Distractions

Garden


I pulled up the last prolific pepper plant this Thanksgiving week, after the second hard freeze finally took it out. The freezer is jammed with this year’s haul; they should last us all winter. The last tomato plants came out the week before, but we still have a few green ones to enjoy before the long wait for next year’s crop.

It’s always sad to see the garden go, and I think about the next one I’ll plant all winter long. My absolute favorite is the tomatoes. Everything’s better with home-grown tomatoes:  hamburgers, salad, BLT’s, even tacos. I’m now down to growing only peppers and tomatoes, after years of growing lots of things. After all of that practice, my garden is down to a science:  3 hours of ground prep and planting in the spring, then just 30 minutes a month of maintenance through the summer, after a friend’s painfully obvious recommendation of black fabric to keep the weeds down. More tomatoes than we can eat and peppers all winter for very limited effort and cost–it’s a great return on investment.

I garden now just like I live:  increasingly stripped down to the bare essentials, with years of experience to guide me as to what matters and what can be put aside. I don’t need more zucchini or cucumbers than my whole block can eat, and I sure don’t need the work it takes to grow them. Just like I don’t need a lot of the junk that I chased for too much of my life. In the same way that I’ve honed my gardening to minimal effort for optimum gain, I’ve also honed the way that I spend my precious, limited time. I now spend more time investing in people…it’s the only thing I’ve found that makes this long, hard life worth living. I find time for family, for friends, for coaching others. I spend far less time than I once did on housework, on watching TV, and at work. There’s limited meaning in those. My house will be too clean…and too quiet…someday soon. And for the first time in my life, I am spending a little time trying to make the world a better place, even if it’s only a tiny drop in the bucket. My stripped-down life means I now have a bit of time to be a voice for the voiceless, to support the targeted, to add one more voice for tolerance. I may no longer grow a big garden, but I’m eager to see what my new harvest will bring.

“A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good attentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.”  –Liberty Hyde Bailey

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Rest


Why does it feel so good to lay your head on your pillow at the end of a long day? I understand the biological need to recharge, but why would God have made us so that we need rest in the first place? The Bible says on the seventh day, after He completed His creation, that even God Himself rested. Clearly, rest is good.

I’m fascinated with the concept of rest, probably because I’ve never been good at it. I’ve always been restless, feeling like I have to be doing something. Even when I was just sitting, I was reading. Or paying the bills. Or organizing something. That is until recently. Since Megan’s illness, I’ve slowed down. It was understandable when we were in full stress mode, but it’s lasted. It would be easy to assume that it’s the result of a fundamental change in perspective, which did happen. But that’s not it. Somehow, I’m more tired. I still want to get up and organize the pantry and weed the garden and clean out the garage. But for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like it. I’ve lost something permanent, some reservoir of resilience.

I’m learning that life doesn’t get any easier…it’s been a mild surprise. I somehow had the illusion that one day it would. That once I got through school or established in my career or some money saved that I could relax. But the challenges just mature as we do. And if you’re a parent, then you suffer others’ challenges on top of your own. Yet I’m surprisingly not discouraged by this revelation. In a strangely comforting way, it’s almost a relief. I’d hate to get too comfortable with this hard life. I’m pretty sure that by the time it’s done with me, I’ll be ready to let it go.

“Any fool can face a crisis–it’s the day to day living that wears you out.” –Anton Chekov


Impatient


I’ve been fighting the motion sensor light in the women’s restroom at my new company since I started. It’s always the same:  it’s dark as I walk in, so I hit the switch just as the light flips on, immediately flipping it back off. By then I’ve usually advanced a few steps and must backtrack to hit it back on. (And yes, I’ve been giving it a little slap in frustration). Then recently on my way in, I was deep in thought over something, so much that I didn’t notice the pitch blackness when I walked in. And something amazing happened:  the darn thing kicked on by itself as it sensed my movement, just as it was supposed to. Wow. For two months, every workday, I’ve been fighting that stupid light multiple times a day, only to find out that it was me all along. I’d been too impatient to wait for it to kick on. Every day for two months. Since then, I’ve noticed that it works pretty much every time. I’m finally trained.

It struck me with this experience, and not for the first time, how impatient, how always in a hurry I’ve always been. I’ve never understood why, it’s just always been part of who I am. I’m always barely in time for everything, trying to cram more productivity into every few minutes. I’ve always taken a lot on. I struggle to relax. I had thought I had gotten better over the last few years, finding more moderation and working far less. But here was a tangible reminder that I may not have progressed as much as I’d hoped. I now get this reminder to slow down and be patient several times a day, every day I’m at work. It makes me smile a little now to wait for the light to click on by itself. Except when it still doesn’t. Dang, that makes me impatient.

“When someone says they’re impatient and ‘I haven’t got all day’, I always wonder, How can that be? How can you not have all day?”  –George Carlin


Dream


I’ve only ever had three recurring dreams in my life.  Twenty-five years after graduating college, I’ve finally shaken the classic “end of the semester, and I just remembered I haven’t ever gone to one of my classes” dream. Growing up in Kansas, I also had tornado dreams for years, though I’ve never seen one, and I’m not particularly afraid of them. But there’s one dream that I’ve never stopped having–that of rushing to catch a plane.

I don’t understand why this one keeps coming back. I’ve only ever missed a couple of connections, and they were pretty routine. It can’t be a tangible fear, certainly not in the same way a tornado is. I think it must be a metaphor, a symbol for something deeper.

I hate these dreams, even more than the tornado ones, because in them, I’m stressed. I usually don’t know where I’m going, and there’s often a line slowing me down. I know I have barely enough time to make it, if everything goes right. It usually doesn’t. Normally, I get just stressed enough to wake before I see if I’m going to make it. It’s unpleasant.

As I’ve reflected on these vivid experiences, I realize that they describe my work life almost perfectly. I’m generally slogging my way through an unclear path, with plenty of obstacles and not enough time, at risk of not getting where I’m going. It’s difficult to believe that this similarity is a coincidence. I’ve always been high energy, in a hurry to prove I don’t know what, to I don’t know who. I’ve struggled all my life for peace and rest with the status quo. I’ve made progress, but I have as far to go as I’ve come. It’s dawning on me that I may not get there before my journey ends. I don’t know the implications of that fact, but it’s a sobering one that I better figure out…before it’s too late.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal:  it is the courage to continue that counts.”  –Winston Churchill


Marathon


The older I get, the more I realize just how much life is a marathon. The miles, the wear and tear, the exhaustion. I’ve never run a real marathon, but I think before it’s over, we all have.

Every year I’ve lived has been different, but patterns of sameness have emerged. The years of grief or overwork or stress become familiar. With time and repetition, we learn that we will survive this, too. Sometimes the discomfort is enough to make us change our circumstances, but mostly we just learn to endure.

Endure. That’s the key to a marathon and to life. The silver lining to it all is the love and the beauty which we encounter along the way. There is never enough of either, but their powers are so great that only small glimpses along our path – a lone daffodil, the silvered outline of a cloud, the warm smile of a familiar face – are generally enough to sustain us. Without them, it would be only a long and brutal journey.

I have learned that I need to continue to hone my ability to notice these blessings, as I find it far too easy to focus on the exhaustion and the stress. But the beauty and love are there, if we only remember to look for them and remember that we, too, have the amazing power of bringing them to others on their own, long journeys.

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”  –Walter Elliott


Happiness

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I’ve believed for years that my happiness is driven primarily from within. I’ve known it just as firmly as I know that eating broccoli is good for me. Except that I don’t eat broccoli. I’ve known it, but I haven’t lived it.

This relearned lesson has hit me particularly squarely these last few weeks, as we’ve been returning to normal following Megan’s illness. Amazingly, I’d been able to find an unexpected peace in the middle of the nearly overwhelming fear and stress, a peace I’d never known except during times of great happiness. When your life is stripped down to the bare essentials–faith, and an intense focus on the here and now with those you love–the small daily stresses fall away, and joy can be found in nearly any moment. In fact, the strongest sign that I was emotionally recovering was, ironically, that the daily frustrations were back. I was not happy with their return.

As I’ve resettled into my life, I’ve marveled at how I lost this daily stress during the toughest period of my life. It is no great mystery how: I was focused on what truly mattered, and so much of what makes us miserable simply doesn’t. I think we all know this on some level, but it’s so easy to forget. Well, I don’t ever want to forget again. What a huge loss it would be to lose this hard-won lesson and be less happy now that we’re all home…together, healthy…than when we were living in the hospital. My family deserves better. I deserve better. I will let go of the small stuff. I will seize happiness from the jaws of distress.

“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” –Agnes Repplier


Rest

We recently took a long weekend in a beautiful resort area nearby. While we did some fun activities, there was also time for just sitting. I spent hours sitting on the screened-in porch overlooking the Ozark mountains. It was heaven. Sitting there in the quiet doing nothing reminded me of a week spent similarly many years ago. I was working for a company under a destructive chief executive; it was taking a toll. The hours were long, the requests were meaningless, and the decisions were flawed. In addition, I was scheduled to testify in defense of my company in federal court in Washington, as they had been accused of wrongdoing. I was totally burned out.

I took a week of vacation that summer, and in that pre-cell phone era, refused to tell anyone where I was going to be. I spent the entire week in my backyard. I mean the entire week. Every day I got up at 8:00 and went out to a lawn chair under a shady tree. All day I watched my young son play outside with the neighbor kids, going inside only for food. When it got dark, I went inside to sleep, only to head out the next morning to the lawn chair. I had never done so little for so long in my life. I needed that much rest and went back to work somewhat refreshed.

Things didn’t get better. A few weeks later, my mother was scheduled for major surgery the same week I flew to Washington to testify. Our attorney asked for permission for me to leave before the trial was over; blessedly the judge agreed. My company lost and appealed…in the following round of document discovery, an internal document surfaced confirming our guilt beyond doubt. They settled. I decided to leave.

That week of doing nothing, my first, showed me what likely seems obvious to almost everyone else…that we all need rest. The challenge for high-energy people like me is that our brains can’t absorb this simple concept. I have been on a decades-long journey to learn to rest and recharge. I’m still not good at it, but I’m better than I was. A good boss jolted me along on that journey, pointing out I was a terrible role model for my team. He wisely knew he would have more impact appealing to how much I cared for my team vs. myself. But I’m working on that, too. I am trying to be selfish now with at least some of my time, doing things just for me. There still aren’t enough hours in the day for all of it, though, and working mothers always feel guilt about, well, everything. I’m working on the guilt, too. I’ll get there, probably later than I should, but I’ll get there.

“Silence

It has a sound, a fullness.
It’s heavy with sigh of tree,
and space between breaths.
It’s ripe with pause between birdsong
and crash of surf.
It’s golden they say.
But no one tells us it’s addictive.”

–Angela Long