Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Breaking a Pattern

The act of courage that I anticipated was unfamiliar to each fiber of my being, but I knew my only choice was to accept this invitation to grow and change. On my tree of life I wanted to be a vibrant component, rather than a withering portion of the whole. Is it possible to be alive with possibilities and consumed by fear at the same moment? I certainly hope so, because that is exactly how I felt as I headed off on this new adventure.

Remember me? I'm the one who had created my own version of Pandora's Box for the explicit reason of avoidance. Rather than confront an uncomfortable conversation, occurrence, or feeling, I would simply make a deposit into the box and move forward in my life, or so I thought. I realized much later that I wasn't truly moving forward. How could I have been moving forward when in truth, I was stuck in a pattern of boldly familiar avoidance? It was finally time to free myself from that old established fear, and break the evasion pattern! As a classroom teacher, I was accustomed to formulating a lesson plan, but when I tried to create a plan to accomplish this goal, I had no idea where to begin. Too bad that Nike had not yet invented their now famous slogan, "Just Do It," because I could certainly have gained wisdom from that advice. In fact, after experimenting with a variety of unsuccessful attempts using other ideas, this was exactly what I discovered...just do it, inch by inch, step by step. Such a simple concept with many convoluted predecessors. The power of those three words was almost lost on me due to the sheer simplicity of its message.

I spent days crafting a my talk, speech, presentation or whatever you want to call it. All I know for sure is that I had never put so much time and energy into writing. Throughout my college years I would certainly put quality effort into the assigned papers, but those were education centered, not personal accounts of a relationship. It felt as though the more I wrote, the deeper I connected to my years spent with Jon, giving me new insight into our time together. It gave me a more profound understanding as to why our relationship had little chance of survival unless I had been willing to deny my core value system. Reflecting back all these years later, I was grateful for having the courage to face this task because it allowed me a much needed clarity concerning the demise of our marriage. Now if only I could get a stand-in to present my
material to the high school students. Since that was not an option, I wanted to create a daily mantra that would keep me focused on a positive message. Eventually I chose, " I know I can do this, I know I can do this..."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Facing a Fear

Ever so gradually my life became more lighthearted, which meant the scary overcast shadow that had been a daily visitor no longer arrived at the dawn of each day. I was able to slowly begin to focus on living instead of merely surviving, as simple pleasures returned along with some unexpected carefree moments. A new level of gratitude also entered my existence due to a richer depth of appreciation I faced now that I was able to understand the precious experience that a joy-filled life provides. I was then able to view my life as a prized gift to be valued, treasure and loved. I was honored to greet the improved version of myself...what an unusual but beautiful moment! I wasn't yet aware that my improved self was about to be put to the test, and soon.

Do you recall the kitchen duty I had very willingly volunteered to perform? Well that safe plan blew into many tiny pieces on the day I received a letter from Suzanne offering me an opportunity to give one of the speeches at the retreat. What?! What?! Me give a talk in front of a group of high school students? She should have known me well enough by then to understand that there would be absolutely no possibility of me accepting her invitation! The letter asked if I would write and present to the group my story of the effect of love vs. infatuation in my own personal relationship. After the initial shock subsided and my heartbeat returned to normal, the first coherent thought was that I would immediately need to call Suzanne and gently explain to her that I was not prepared to openly share the experience of my private relationship, marriage and divorce from Jon, and definitely not in front of Jessica and her peers. I was sure she would understand my reluctance and put me back on kitchen duty where I would feel safe and secure.

It didn't take me long into my conversation with Suzanne to realize that my negative response to her request was not going to be an easy sell...for every apprehension I shared, she had a reasonable argument for me to reconsider. My unconvincing facade of inadequacy was quickly falling to pieces under my close scrutiny of the courageous trust that Suzanne presented for me to process and consider. I was left with an unmistakable truth that I finally had to confess to myself. It was challenging for me to own this fact, much less declare it out loud, even though I was only admitting this reality to myself. The only obstacle in my way was fear, fear, fear...that nasty, ugly shadow that I had done almost anything to avoid, yet there it was, staring me in the face. I knew there was only one way for me to handle this, I needed to face the fear and walk through it with dignity and courage! How does a truly frightened person accomplish this feat? I think I was about to find out!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brighter Shades of Possibilities

Having walked with depression as a daily companion, I became tired of trying to put my one foot in front of the other. I became tired of forcibly choosing to bring my body someplace so that my mind would follow. I became tired of viewing my days through a lens of varying shades of gray. I wanted to wake up one morning and find the cloudy haze of depression lifted, but that day just never seemed to arrive. Exhaustion, sadness and pain were not my choice of escorts, but they each remained so felt as though I was just about to lose the last flicker of hope that this depression would ever loosen its grip. My doctor and therapist had both explained that it would take time for the medication and therapy to work together before I would notice an improvement, but the reality of rising each morning with another day of struggle ahead of me was beginning to make me wonder if there was any more "fight" left in me. Then one day without any warning I felt my first sense of lightness as I awoke without the thick sense of dread that for months had greeted me as I opened my eyes. It was this small momentary taste of natural energy that had been missing for so long, a taste that invigorated every cell of my body with HOPE. It may have been a slight taste, but it was enough to feed that flicker and keep it alive long enough to endure the slow steps toward regaining the colors back into my days.

All the hours of carefully opening and examining the rancid contents of Pandora's Box with my trusted therapist was beginning to help me understand the profound price I had paid for my avoidance of facing conflicts and my fear of sharing honest emotions. I was deeply into the process of clearing the air surrounding me by identifying and working through the years and years of dead stagnant energy, unfulfilled dreams and insincerity that had kept the exterior of many relationships superficially connected. I was well aware that in order to continue making positive steps forward I would need to step into an authentic world of communication, a world where I would most definitely be an awkward novice. I was open to walking through this new form of communicating because it felt like this would be my way to rediscover the brighter shades of possibilities.

What happened next was serendipitous. Don't you love when life gifts you with someone or something totally unexpected and yet deeply needed? It all happened so innocently. You see, it was time for Jessica to be confirmed, so it was natural that I would I attend the first meeting with all the students and their parents. Each family was given a questionnaire asking what type of volunteering opportunities parents would be willing to participate in throughout the year. I quickly signed up to help during the weekend retreat that would take place later in the year. I offered to help prepare the food, serve the meals, clean-up and assorted other kitchen duties throughout the entire weekend. It felt like that would be a safe yet useful way for me to help. Suzanne was the pastoral minister in charge of running this retreat experience each year for the teenagers. I had met her briefly during church related events and I was immediately drawn to her positive energy and authentic interactions with the adults and students. She was a role model for how I would love to be able to communicate with the people in my life. Not only that, but she was bright, funny, creative and very loving. Yes, she was the gift that was delivered to me at exactly the right time and place for where I was on my journey. I gave many prayers of sincere gratitude for her arrival, but little did I know that she was also going to offer me invitations to grow and change in ways that both excited me and scared the shit out of me!!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photo Gallery #2

Sit back and enjoy another addition of photos. I had to look through boxes and boxes of old family pictures in order to assemble this assortment, and I ended up organizing and sorting as I went through the process. It took me weeks to accomplish this task, or I should say partially accomplish this task, as Jim informed me yesterday that there are still a few more boxes...

Jessica is only four months old, and we're out on an early spring day soaking up the fresh air and abundance of nature. How do you like my long hair? Remember, these were in my hippy days of making candles in our basement to sell on the UW Library Mall. Jessica would come with us and we'd throw out some blankets on the ground in the mall and sell our homemade candles. Looking back, I wonder what made me comfortable with living day to day with little sense of the responsibility involved in being a parent and a lack of focus on future income potential. Maybe that's the definition of hippy.

Who needed fancy toys when you could play with your mom's hair? Our needs may have been quite simple, but we did share an abundance of love.

Good-bye to my hippy days and hello to the more responsible side of my life. I got this new haircut a short time after my divorce from just felt like the logical time to manifest outwardly the changes that were occurring inwardly.

This picture brings a big smile to my face because it captures the glowing essence of Jessica's true, honest, alive with wonder and curiosity as she confidently shares her thoughts, feelings, questions and beliefs.

Can you see how the camera was able to capture the intensity and deep interest in the story I was reading to her? She has always been a voracious reader and learner...and so easy to love.

Kindergarten in Chanhassen, Minnesota. This was the year Jessica questioned me about getting back together with Jon. We have certainly shared a rich history of love, growth and trust.

Another family photo that makes me giggle because Kathie and I have so much extra fabric in our pant legs, probably enough to make a new pair of pants for Mary. It must have been tricky to walk and not trip...oh, the price of fashion.

Our wedding day! I was nervous, but Jim was so calm that he and his best man stopped to get a quarter pounder on the way to church. I love that not much flusters him.

This school picture shows the mole that was malignant. Look closely on the side of my neck...I think it looks harmless. The picture was taken about three months before my surgery.

We were on our yearly family vacation when Jim took this picture. I had recently stopped wearing turtlenecks, so I wasn't sure about having a photo taken, but Jim can be persistent. I think I was still trying to talk him out of it when I heard the click of the camera. What was I so worried about?

This was taken in front of our Christmas tree the year Jim demonstrated how to put the tree lights deep into the branches. That's all I needed to hear...the following year I doubled the size of our tree and had to buy hundreds of new lights. I slowly became a true tree nut! I was out to show that bigger is always better, only I didn't know when to stop. I will definitely discuss this in a future chapter, but know that I am cured of my insatiable need to please and impress people.

Jim secretly saved money from each of our monthly paychecks for a belated honeymoon to Hawaii. He started talking about us going to Hawaii for two weeks and I said it would be hard for us to afford such an extravagant adventure, and with that he pulled out a savings book with more than enough for the trip. I was thrilled with such an unexpected surprise!

Jessica and I have always shared a profound bond. I think all of our years together as a two person family helped solidify our deeply rooted love.

Wow! We looked so young and innocent. Jim and I packed food, beverages and the grill so we could head out on a Sunday afternoon excursion in my new Jeep. Can you see it in the parking lot in the background? That was one fine car. The top lifted off (not a one person job) and miraculously I would be in my very own convertible. Jessica and I have fond memories of the day I was doing a bit of showing off while heading down Cottage Grove Road in my spiffy new convertible, when I was suddenly pulled over by one of Madison's finest. Oops! Luckily I was only going a few miles over the speed limit, so I only received a warning. No more showing off for me.

Mom and I are sitting at a favorite outdoor restaurant during my life-giving trip to Florida. It's obvious that I was heeding my dad's wisdom...bring your body and your mind will follow. Also, knowing Mom and Dad, I'm almost certain that we were partaking in the Early Bird Special.

Do you remember the joy-filled family Christmas mornings I wrote about? Well, here one is in all its chaos, mess and love. You can't see me, but I was sitting next to my brother-in-law, Greg, about two feet away from Jessica and out of the shot. Those of you who know our family will notice that there is indeed an interloper in our midst...maybe because he/she wanted to bask in the obvious love we shared. Who is able to spot and name our uninvited guest? A little aside to my friend Susie...does the bookcase in the background look at all familiar?

Jim was always a willing participant whenever I had to set up my classroom. He would take care of the heavy boxes as well as the high reaching decorating jobs. His friendly attitude and total willingness were above and beyond the call of duty as a husband, and for that I was grateful. He understood how important it was for me to create a welcoming environment for the students, so he'd roll up his sleeves and get busy. Thanks Bud.

Here's a little known fact about me...I do not like wearing skirts or dresses. Therefore, when you see me dressed in one of them, you should immediately know it's for a special occasion. Jessica saw this picture and wondered why her bangs took up over half of the top of her head, and I wondered why we look so stiff, serious and formal. Maybe it's because I never feel comfortable being all dressed up.

We gathered for the fiftieth anniversary of my parents, and that's the special occasion for which I wore a skirt. We celebrated for the entire, love, love was omnipresent. I truly treasure the love I share with my brothers and sisters, and the foundation of our connection was grounded in the relationship my parents modeled for us.

It's always fun to see a picture of the five of us because time goes by so quickly, with each of us looking different with our hairstyles and fashion choices...the changes make me smile. Do you notice how our dogs are an integral part of our life? These are Tyler and Muffles, our very first dogs who brought unconditional love to our lives for many years...such a gift.

Here's our whole family. Jim, being the official photographer, would casually arrange all of us, set the timer on the camera, and then quickly jump into the shot. Do you notice that this is the same living room from the photo taken many years earlier when I was quite young? Look, no more yellow rose-filled wallpaper.

Having my school picture taken each year was a bit of a challenge because photographers never let me look straight ahead...I always thought back to what Dr. Reese had told me years earlier. Then I would smile and hope for the best. This photo definitely makes me look like a friendly looking teacher, which I like, but what's with those gigantic glasses?

Mary has consistently been a major presence in our family, and she loves the dogs we've had throughout the years. Whenever the camera come out she requests a picture, so we oblige. This is a photo filled with love and joy, even though she looks quite serious...she believes it's best to stand at attention when she knows the flash will be going off.

This was a great year because it would be the first time I would be able to "loop" with my class, which meant I would be with the same students for first and then second grade.

Would you trust your child with this silly looking teacher? This picture was taken when we were allowed to have a Halloween parade and party in our school. Now it's more politically correct in our school district to not celebrate this holiday in school, but back in the day, we sure had fun. My fellow teacher and friend, Judy, went through the drive-up at MacDonald's with me in our matching witch costumes during our lunch break. Needless to say, we had fun ordering with our best witchy voices and watching the thrills.

I never wanted to take myself too seriously in the classroom, so I always tried to find a place to have a bit of fun.