Paying It Forward

You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.

– Henry Drummond

This morning I went out for my usual longer Sunday run.  The weather was a frigid fifteen degrees but the wind was not up yet. It seemed down right balmy compared to the temperatures we have had these last few days when it was just a single degree! The sun was out-sitting low on the January horizon and I thought it would be a good day to work on my polar tan.

Sometimes on Sundays I feel rushed because I teach high school Sunday School each week. We have a committed crew of five teachers and work best when our lessons are shot from the hip. I had a feeling that our staff levels would be down this week so I could not give into temptation and skip out on my obligations to the youth of my community.  I arrived a bit late to find just a half-dozen teenagers waiting patiently in the chapel. I was followed quickly by another teacher and off we went on an enlightening Sunday morning discussion.

When I don’t want to show up and hang out at home (or even attend a full worship service), I remember the gifts that my faith community has given me. I forge ahead with the morning and I never have any regrets about going and giving my energy and time to others. Something wonderful and unexpected always happens as a result.

Lately I have gotten to thinking about those times when either others have helped me or when I have had a negative experience that could have easily ruined my day or week. It is easy to take another person’s good nature or generosity for granted. It is easy to be selfish- especially when you are undergoing a traumatic time that seems never-ending. I know I have been this way;  I have not been on my best behavior when things got really difficult. Luckily, I have had people in my life who were not afraid to call me out on my actions. I know that they did so because they saw me as a stronger and better woman than the one that was showing up.

Five years ago (nearly to the very day, in fact), I was in the middle of a graduate school program, going through a tempestuous separation process, working full time and trying to raise two teenage boys. Sunday mornings consistently found me at my big roll top desk writing a research paper. I would get up early, drink coffee and get down to business. My reward upon completion of my task would be a long run and a hot shower. On this particular Sunday, my estranged spouse unexpectedly showed up at the door under the auspices of seeing his sons. In fact, he only appeared to retrieve items from the house. When I would not allow him to do so and offered to get said items (he had a practice of taking other things that were not his), he immediately launched into a tirade ( The words were rated R). Well, needless to say, he was asked to leave. The moment was not pleasant; I knew that I needed to do something to alleviate my negative feelings. So, a run was in order. Running is the perfect vehicle for getting my head back on straight and it was on this jaunt that I decided to plan a celebration for the boys and me. I would graduate from my program in May, my youngest was to be confirmed that same month and my oldest was having a stellar athletic and academic junior year. I deemed the party “A Celebration of Threes.” We allowed for three of our friends to be invited (or a factor thereof) and the party was held at a favorite upscale pizza restaurant. Those present were people who loved and supported us through the years (including my high school track coach and his wife-he was now coaching my oldest!). My children’s father was even in attendance for a short while. The party was a success and is a moment in time that we remember as one of great fun in the midst of chaos.

Skipping ahead to present day, so much has changed for the better. There is a lightness in our lives and thoughts even with the challenges that growing up and growing old can bring. As I mentioned in my previous blog, my oldest recently purchased a car ( an old but very reliable SUV thanks to my cousin).  The asking price was a bit more than he had on hand. I told my son that I would figure out a way to come up with the rest. After a good night’s sleep, I went into town, passing by the jewelry store that I had re-sized my engagement ring. Then it dawned on me!!  When I brought my ring in to be sized, I also had brought in my old wedding band and engagement ring (don’t ask me why I had not gotten rid of them long ago when I really needed money). I would go in and ask the status of the appraisal.  Coincidentally ( or not), the rings were in the process of being priced and the owner told me to come back in 3 days-the rings would be ready. When I made the call on Tuesday, the price was the exact amount needed for the car plus a little bit more. We were thrilled and relieved. For me, it was the perfect way to symbolically let get of past hurts. I am so grateful that my son could benefit from this action. Possessing a car of his own at his age (22) is yet another step toward independence.

So, I guess you could say these two stories are a twist in paying it forward. For me, they are like bookends to the idea. Because my life has less trauma and chaos, I am freer to give to others who are in similar situations. I am able to give back in a variety of ways to the people and places that held me up. I can take pain and transform it into something healing and beneficial.

Staying Present

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~Buddha

My favorite part of the day is the morning. As I have gotten older, I have awkened earlier and earlier. At one time the reason for my pre-dawn rumblings was to get a jump start on the day-unload the dishwasher, start some laundry,etc. I also had to squeeze in a small bit of exercise since my post work obligations usually involved errands or my sons’ activities plus a nightly family meal. Since the days of staying ahead of my family’s messes  and other duties are over, my early mornings belong soley to me. During my training days for half-marathons, it was not unusual for me to get up at 4:30 am  in order to have time to drink a cup of coffee, get my lunch packed, stretch and head out the door by 6 am. Nowadays, I still set the alarm for the same time but linger in bed listening to the morning news or the sounds of the quiet outside.

What I have learned from my early rising is the importance of being in the moment. Staying observant-especially of Mother Nature. It has also allowed me to remember my sons’ morning awakenings as babies. They were thrilled to wake up and greet the brand new day and take in all its wonder. We all lose that feeling way too soon.  How many of us are guilty of just lying in bed when it is time to get up-dreading the day?  The reality is that not all of life is a joy ride. In my own life, I have had too many days that I had to spend embroiled in legal tussles due to my divorce and post divorce issues. My mother’s illness and death left me weighted down with grief that made it hard to get out of bed. But the other reality is that nothing bad lasts forever, either. The struggles and heartaches allow you for opportunities to experience true joy.

I guess this is why I have a hard time with others’ endless rants and complaints about getting up in the morning. How bad is it really?  Is it because you have allowed yourself to adopt and become coerced by the 21st century’s practice of overscheduling your life? Do you wake up waiting for the day or week to end? Why are you rushing time when you have no idea when your time will end here?

This attitude and practice makes a person their own time thief.  The miracles and joys and humor and comfort of even the most ordinary moments are lost when we don’t allow ourselves to be present wherever we are. I guess this is why we now feel the need to request that cell phones be shut off during church services, for example. It makes perfect sense to me that they are off during such a sacred time but I still witnessed a fellow parishioner stealthily using hers during a recent interfaith service. Besides the fact the it is down right rude to be texting or checking email during this time, it showed me that she was not fully embracing the experience.

And this is what we all need to do. I try not to miss a sunrise- a challenge in the winter northern climate because of the overabundance of gray days! Sometimes it is hard to capture the days moving moments so I have taken to writing them down in my pocket journal (thank you Jenn!). Here are couple of recent entries:

This morning I arose at my usual pre-dawn time to the light of the moon. My bed is situated as to allow me a view of my vast backyard and the woods that surround it. The whole yard was awash in moonlight and it was there that I saw the movement of a large animal figure-a coyote. Normally, I hear them howling in the middle of the night and at times I have seen one or two in distance as I go for my morning run. Today was different. A lone coyote just feet from my back door- an awesome sight!

This morning I awaken with the remants of the week-the start of a cold and a scheduled court appearance involving my former husband.  I decide to embrace the day anyway and ask the universe for an efficient process as I head out for a long run. It is still quite dark but so, so quiet. Not a soul in sight-not even the headlights of cars quite yet. The scent of an animal comes from the bushes-not a deer, maybe a fox? I remain alert as my body warms up to the cold and the movement of my still sleeping leg muscles. My new shoes are still being broken in-day two of a blister is a burning reminder of this fact! I love being in tune at this time of day. My only companions are the thoughts that I allow to move in and out of my head. Today I take a slight detour on my route because it looks as if the sunrise is going to be outrageous. I head for a place where the sky is big and I am not disappointed. The night slowly gives way to the day and its pale yellow beginnings.  Over the course of the next two miles the sky becomes golden, then deep orange and finally fiery red by the last mile. My day is set and I know it will be good!

I wrote the latter entry while waiting to be called by the judge. (I wanted to capture my day and my real life on paper.) It didn’t take long to be go before her and the appearance was over in less than five minutes. I spent the rest of the day with my oldest. We got him ready for his second and last semester of college and we enjoyed a lunch date at an old graduate school haunt of mine. Later that day, one of his best friends stopped in. Still later, my youngest came home from work filthy and hungry. His girlfriend showed up too. The noise in the house grew as did the sounds of food preparation. I was simulantaneously making mac and cheese, serving salsa and chips and my homemade chocolate cake. Then my cousin called saying that he secured a car purchase for my oldest son (he has been saving and saving money for this very moment!) While my youngest was in the shower, I enjoyed an enlightening and positive conversation with his girlfriend. Then my oldest son’s girlfriend arrived adding her own extraordinary energy and love to the fray.

Folks, this is life. Moments of being in tune with the world around you as well as those you love. Staying present allows us to give birth to everyday joy and helps us conserve energy for those trying times when we need to put our best self forward.

Zero is Not a Size

“By choosing healthy over skinny you are choosing self-love over self-judgment. You are beautiful!”
Steve Maraboli

Last week I  went to my doctor’s for my annual check up. As part of the routine, I, of course, had to get weighed. Of all the things that are done in the process of  a woman’s visit, I find this to be the most dreaded piece.  It is the one part where I wish that I could be totally naked in order to get the “most accurate” reading of my weight. Of course, this is impossible so the only part of my clothing that I can remove is my shoes.

Although I possess a scale, I never weigh myself. I feel that I will note any poundage fluctuations through how I fit into my clothes. So far this method has worked fairly well. After all, I am very fit; I exercise about 7 hours per week and I eat very healthy food. I am well aware of my body changes as I have entered my fifties and have come to accept these shifts. In fact, I really believe that middle age is called that because we all (male and female) get thicker in the middle!

Still,this number sort of freaks me out despite my doctor’s assurance that I am the right weight for my age and height (5′ 4″) and the amount of my body’s muscle mass. (I have been strength training 2-3 times per week for at least 17 years.) So what is the deal here?

I believe that some of it stems from the fact that my weight reached an all time low of 109 lbs just over four years ago. I had not weighed that little since my senior year in high school when I was a running maniac and just entering puberty. The weight loss had everything to do with the trauma of the divorce process followed by my mother’s fatal diagnosis and subsequent death. As a colleague of mine said to me recently, “It hurts to eat.” That was certainly true in my case.  There would be days that I would actually forget to give myself nourishment. Other times when I did eat, I would immediately get sick. I had to be carefully monitored by my therapist who eventually diagnosed me with borderline anorexia. As a result, I had to strategize ways in which to feed myself. Part of it, of course, was to keep a food diary of the items that I ate each day. Another- more unique way- was to ask my friends to feed me. There were times when I would literally call someone and ask them to stop at the store and buy me a meal ( my therapist encouraged me to give in to my cravings). This was especially helpful during those times when the legal matters of my divorce were especially intense. Other times, I would happen to stop by a friend’s house to drop off something and subsequently (upon taking a look at me) be invited in to share a family meal. As a part of the strategy, I also had to weigh myself in order to keep track of any more loss or perhaps some gain in weight. It is a strange feeling to watch the numbers descend when you are making (what you believe at least) your best effort not to lose, but to gain pounds.

Yet, underlying this so-called “effort” was the reality that I needed to buy new clothes in smaller and smaller sizes. No woman in her right mind would scoff at  clothes shopping of course! And shopping for clothes because of weight loss is usually a celebration and not a burden. So, I had lots of fun trying on clothes that were a size 2 and fit like a glove (especially the little black number that I got on without having to unzipper it). The piece de resistance, however, came when I was about to go on my first romantic date with my now finance’. The black lace skirt and deep pink one shoulder satine top were a size 0!

Truthfully and biologically, however, I was in the wrong state of mind. Anorexia (no matter how mild a case) changes your brain. What you view in the mirror and what others see could not be more different. And this is the image that has stuck with me even until this day. When you are caught in the anorexic vortex, weight gain is seen as a failure of control. It didn’t help that my body was at the same time undergoing its middle age changes. It was only through therapy, yoga and the love and concern of my sons and friends (as well as my beloved) that helped me get back on the road of normalcy.

Our culture celebrates ultra- thinness even while we as a nation have a severe obesity epidemic. What a paradox! In fact, being thin is part of white girl culture. Latinas and black women proudly display their beautiful curvaceous bodies and we should too. As Gloria Steinem says: “Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.”

The black lace skirt and pink top still sit in my closet. The photo of our romantic date sits atop the dresser. The romance lives on but I will never wear those clothes again. And I am not afraid to reveal my weight: a strong and healthy 130 pounds!

“…..this very body that we have, that’s sitting here right now…with its aches and its pleasures…is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.”                                                     ~Pema Chodron

A State of Grace

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”   Micah 6:8

I love my faith community. It is a place that has provided me comfort in times of great sorrow. It is a place that healed my broken spirit. Mostly, it is a place of great joy where everyone is happy to see you and accepts you for who you are. We are an open and affirming community that is intellectually and spiritually stimulating. We are an action orientated organization that continuously is performing service work in our local region as well as in our country.

My church and the people who belong to it have helped my sons and I become better people. For me specifically, it has helped me become a more prayerful and mindful person.

When I think about prayer or the act of praying, I think about it in two ways: first as a conversation with God and second as an intention. I have a vague memory of praying on my knees beside my bed when I was a little girl and also of reciting the Lord’s Prayer as I lay in bed before I went to sleep. I’d like to think of those times as a sort of  introductory training on getting familiar with God in a more private way.

Now that I am further along in my faith journey, my prayers are more eclectic in nature. Sometimes, I find a prayer in a song. Marc Cohn’s “One Safe Place” is especially meaningful to me.  Other times, I will enjoy a moving meditation with God while I am running. Usually, this involves an actual plea or praise that I recite out loud. I often ask for help for others, especially the boys. I always ask God to watch over those that I know that are going through a challenge in their life. When I pray like this, I feel centered and closer to the Great Mystery.

But I have also had some powerful prayerful experiences in moments of stillness. This usually happens during yoga and is more spontaneous. I have had divine experiences during some of my practices that need no words; it is like an energy flow that goes directly to God. When this happens I feel as if my soul has been cleansed and renewed.

It is through yoga that I learned to set an intention either for the moment, the day, or the week. Intentions help me to stay present. They ease my worries. They give me strength and help me stay positive and put good vibes into the universe. Intentions remind me that I need to live my life purposefully. They maintain my connection to the Light. Right now my intentions are to live my life with grace and to let go of reminders of past hurts. I believe that I may have been doing this for a while; but now-every day-I say it out loud. These intentions have helped me get through some uncomfortable encounters lately and have allowed me to come out of situations feeling like a better person.

I think prayer has allowed for some amazing things to happen in my life. And I thank God for that!

I won’t be made useless
I won’t be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear~Jewel