Monday, November 2, 2020

The Trouble with Dogs

The gift of connection is fraught with the grief of separation.

Simply put, we outlive our dogs, and it’s just not fair.

When I met my dog for the first time and knew she would become my companion, there was an element of loss in the joyful mix; I did not feel it, could not have identified it at the time. But there was a wiggly layer of sadness inside our first meeting, and that niggling thread would follow us through the five years I had her.

The grief would grow more insistent the day the vet told me my girl had Canine Degenerative Myelopathy, a condition which would cause some pain and possible paralysis in her hindquarters.

The sting of losing her this way, in slow dribbles, tracked us like a cold shadow. Our walks became shorter. She accepted my help getting into the car, out of the car, up the steps, into the apartment.

Many things were the same, but even the familiar rituals felt short-lived, more precious.

Brief walks along the lakeshore, lurching along like a couple of mellowed oldsters, just sniffing the breeze and hoping for polished beach glass along the way.

Lots of treats. More than necessary.

Head pats, ear scratches, belly rubs. Little luxuries to ease the pain.

Small affirmations whispered into a world of

gifts and goodbyes,

homecomings and heartaches,

rescuing and relinquishing,

mending and mourning.

I lost her in February.

In March, the world shut down.

The emptiness in my apartment became a thundering silence; a constant reminder of she’s-not-here-anymore.

The sequester was deeply solitary for me.

It’s been good to return to the office. The place is far from “normal days”, but still there are ripples of laughter. There is kindness. A sense of endurance, of pulling together.

It’s been a strange journey this year. I’m doubly sorry I’ve had to traverse it without my sweet girl, Reina.


“Reina”

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rx for Rest

 


Harvests are mostly gathered and stored for winter by now. Unbelievably, Thanksgiving will be here soon.

We will celebrate Abundance and gather in the fruits of our farming community’s labors.

Our tables will stagger under the weight of Plenty; traditions will keep us grounded during the niggling uncertainty that is Covid.

What gets lost in the thrill of costumes, bags of sweets, traditions, then the whipping of Thanksgiving spuds and cranberry sauce, is the season of rest to follow.

I didn’t really want to mention it, but Winter is coming – this season of slumbering bears and soft flannel; an interval of climbing in and hunkering down.

Dormant crops will pause beneath the frozen earth.

It’s a time for rest, a well-deserved respite for planters, reapers and gatherers.

Symbolically, we’re all in the business of planting, reaping and gathering.


Seems logical, then, that we should plan for rest, and lean into it like a comfy quilt.

But we don’t.

Rest, in our industrious, git ‘er done culture, is the Last Stop on a Fast Track.

In some ways, the year 2020 has forced many of us to rest from something, open our hands, wear some masks, separate from all the parties and associations of labor, and receive something very new. Some new growth.

 New perspective.

New value.

New understanding.

Rest is too often frowned upon, equated with “lazy”.

That’s just sad. I know a woman who never tells her mother that she has been reading for hours, or drawing, or quietly designing something.  This would be frowned upon.

What’s worse is, we often feel guilty for getting some downtime when there’s so much yet to cross off the daunting To-Do List.

People who own their own company rarely get to just shut down and go to the beach for a week. Others feel their vacation time must be spent with family when they would rather explore a mountain retreat alone. Is that kind of vacation commitment more productive?

Give yourself permission to relax. Schedule downtime and honor that impulse to shut all the clamoring needs out. As a colleague is fond of saying, “You’re not lazy – you’re spent!”

She’s right — we’re operating on two cylinders and still hoping to put more miles on before bedtime.

We.

Are.

Spent.

No judgement here.

You can’t serve from an empty vessel.


This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn celebrates the robust season of fall and Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers throws a memory quilt over your grateful shoulders!




Sunday, October 4, 2020

Buddy and the Last Great Chase

"I think I'm dying," I confided to my editor.

"What?! Why?" she wanted to know.

"Because I'm having a really productive writing season. This might be my last gasp."

She wasn't having it. Not any of it. 

"Please let me explain," I said. 

And I told her about Buddy the cat.

Buddy, an orange tabby, became my parents' house cat after a hardscrabble start in a litter behind the barn. 

Buddy grew into a well-fed member of the household, but he kept his hunting prowess intact, occasionally depositing a dead chipmunk at the back door for all to admire.

For the most part, though, Buddy was domesticated. Pampered. Neither affectionate nor mean, Buddy just blended in. Other than a chin scratch now and then, he kept to himself, alternately sleeping and staring out the front window.

He did develop a fondness for Morgan, my great-niece, and the two of them were pals through all the years and seasons.

When Buddy grew quite elderly and thin, Morgan began to grieve. 

That's when he surprised us all with a final hunting tour that netted dozens of chipmunks.

Buddy would hunker down in the back yard and wait patiently, pouncing with precision and skill. Those critters thought they could outsmart Buddy, but they didn't stand a chance.

Not that summer.

His last summer.

One day he stopped eating. He became weaker. My folks noticed he would drink water, but he was not interested in food. His singular mission, day after day, was to vanquish the chipmunk population in the entire county. Hell bent and spring-loaded, Buddy piled up the chippies like little trophies, there on the back porch.

It was weird; that cat was enjoying his most productive season as a hunter. He was wasting away physically, but he had the stamina of a young feline on the prowl. 

It was a good run. Another chippie, another victory lap.

This went on for most of that summer.

And then he died.

Morgan was beside herself - it was hard to watch her mourn, after seeing the two of them grow up together.

"So this is why I think maybe I'm dying," I explained, after I told the story of Buddy the cat.

"I'm somehow cranking out a blog a day for my work."

"Basically I'm bringing chipmunks to the back door and it's been a really good run.

I must be at the end," I lamented.

There was laughter on the other end of the phone line.

Laughter!

She thought the analogy was a real stretch. When she came up for air, she said, "When you write something, it should not be viewed as an ending. It's an arrival. Just keep going on that journey."

I'm not at the end, I'm at the threshold.

I'm not Buddy-the-chipmunk-slayer. 

I'm Kathy, the word-chaser.

I chase after words and I carry them to the door, hoping upon hope I can write them down and give them to a reader who needs them.

Poor sweet old Buddy. He had a job to do and he did it like a champion. Even at an age when nobody thought he had it in him.

I think I'll learn from his blazing exit, and from my editor's sage advice: Keep showing up. Find the words; wait for them and pounce with precision and skill.

Write them down.

Wake up tomorrow. And do it all over again.



Kathy Joy, wordsmith, event speaker

https://booksforbondinghearts.com/



Monday, August 31, 2020

Why Am I So Angry?

Has anybody else noticed it? The anger?

I thought I had my emotions in check until some guy cut me off in traffic. That did it. Within minutes, along the same road, a grown adult bicyclist swerved into my lane. I swung wide to avoid hitting him. Has everybody on wheels lost their driving skills? What is happening!

There’s an edge of irritation creeping into our voices.

There’s a thinner layer between civility and rage.

But why now – after all these months of adapting, merging, learning, accepting and forging ahead?

                              Unsplash photo by Katie Moum

Maybe that’s just it: we’ve been twisting ourselves into the uncomfortable seasons of Covid and it feels like a long road into an uncertain future.

 

Profound Uncertainty

There’s a new term floating around these days: Profound Uncertainty.

          We are trying to plan our days, yet we are measuring what we don’t know.

It’s annoying.

We try to be nice.

Being kind, doing good, is usually not that hard – but it’s really difficult in a hostile world.

I had a meltdown in the Aldi’s parking lot, when I realized my container of fresh mozzarella cheese was sliced open. Water was dripping everywhere, onto my flip-flopped feet, into my car.

I became angry at everything. The normal way of exchanging a product was now complicated further by putting on the mask, going back in and waiting in a line dotted by 6-foot gaps.

But really, the anger didn’t come from a broken package of cheese – it sprung up and erupted from the sleeping volcano inside – the hot lava had reached the out-spout and out-it-spouted.

Thing is…

the

world

was

uncertain

before Covid.

Still, what we’re now experiencing is deeper and more ambiguous, with no visible end.


Photo by Mark Timberlake

Is there a way to manage our irritation?

“Think of the positive things,” my mom is always saying. This helps, but only until we spill the cheese-water.

Maybe, just maybe -- we need to stop pushing down the negative emotions. Start running toward our feelings, not away from them. Quit pretending we have it all together. Start accepting that we feel messed up.

It’s time to be REAL. In those scary, uncovered moments, we can sit in a huddle and say, “me too!” and float each other lots of grace.

“You get a free pass!” the mechanic said to me, after my inspection sticker had long-since expired. It was as though he’d handed me a gift: a free pass for procrastination, for forgetfulness, for being stuck in a weird time-loop; he floated me some grace.

Let’s be authentic and let the hot lava gush out.

Once released, there’s more room for joy; for adapting; for doing the next uncomfortable thing.

“It’s good to do uncomfortable thingsIt’s weight training for life.” >>Anne Lamott


This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Ah, Autumn celebrates the robust season of fall.

 


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Death By Despair

 

It’s the thing we don’t like to talk about: Despair

https://breakpoint.org/breakpoint-the-so-called-deaths-of-despair/

America, by most accounts, is a loneliness-producing machine. We seem to have a deeply rooted sense of individualism.

When help is offered, we often detach. We detach, even when everything inside us is screaming for rescue.

“I’m fine,” we quickly say, when asked how we’re doing.

“I’m fine” is a reflex; a fa├žade over our brokenness; a get-out-of-jail-free card for those of us who don’t want to be trapped inside a bubble of compassion.

Because it’s scary to reveal our broken bits – we might be judged or categorized. Examined. 

Minimalized. 

Misunderstood. 

Excluded.

It’s just too risky to go there.

Detachment, then, is our Go-To mechanism. Mix in Covid-19, and you have Detachment-plus-Isolation.

Add Depression to that equation, and you have the perfect storm.

Why am I bringing this up? Why today?

Because 12 years ago today, a loved one died.

The coroner said it was his heart. I think it was Despair that took him.

Silently, he endured hardships and disappointments.

Bravely, he soldiered forward under the burden of family betrayal, misplaced anger, being marginalized by the people he loved.

He did not take his life, but Despair claimed him.

He was my husband.

His name is Roger and his memory is a daily gift to my heart.


Roger’s life is an affirmation of my own life, and his easy laughter lingers when I’m really listening, leaning into a zephyr breeze.

His voice is waiting inside little emotional pockets of surprise and discovery.

His mannerisms will often materialize in a family member or even a stranger – the way he would stand out back and survey the farm property, jamming his thumbs into his belt loops.

If I see a package of red Twizzlers, I think of him.

When I hear a guy whistling … I remember Roger’s full-bodied, vigorous whistling.

When I see a hay wagon staggering under the weight of stacked bales, I think of him; when a newly-mown hayfield lifts its potent aroma to my nostrils, I want to cry.

And tractors. Especially tractors. His favorite mode of transportation, his getaway car, his chariot. When I see a tractor, a red one, I time-travel to our wooded acreage on top of a hill in the middle of Nowhere.

He loved Twizzlers and salted cashews. He ate mounds of mashed potatoes and he could make the best burritos on the planet; to this day, the girls and I cannot duplicate them.

Memories are the two-sided coin of warmth and chill, of comfort and alarm, of strength and instability.

Memories both tether and detach, all in one salty heave.

A loose thread has been hanging from my memories during his aching, gaping absence, and this year – the 12th anniversary of his Abrupt Departure – is the year I have finally untangled that thread.

And the answer is Despair. It’s been quietly revealing itself to me over the past decade in soft, elusive waves.

This year, the veil has lifted, and I am peering into the Truth, the raw certainty of it.

Roger was of German descent, and the stoicism was strongly rooted in him; he kept quiet about the things that bothered him. He had the appearance of a giant who could carry any burden with ease.

But then.

A growing Pile of Disappointments crushed his heart.

A thundering Echo of Indifference bounced back from his own siblings, and it just wore him out, trying to fathom the shrugs.

Some political maneuvering resulted in misunderstandings, costing him a job he loved.

That day, the day he resigned, I watched the air go out of him; his resolve collapsing.

I watched it all unfolding. I saw, as he whistled less, laughed rarely.

The thing is, you can’t just rush to the scene and rescue someone in the grip of Despair. It creeps into a person with artful, crooked maneuvers. It whispers inside a person’s head so faintly, we hardly notice.

Despair claims a life in small bits, and these bits gather momentum while we go about our daily business.

But I noticed the shades, the hints, the shadows of letting go. After 23 years inside the sanctity of marriage, a spouse knows.

We had recently talked, long and deep, about our family, our dreams.

Both Roger and I had just gotten new jobs, and there was a flutter of optimism there.

Inside of a summer twilight, the two of us had heaved hay bales onto a wagon, rushing under the fading daylight. We lingered in the orange-pink glow of a hilltop sunset.

I now see all these singular moments as treasures: little gems sparkling in the midst of our everyday living and paying the bills and picking up the girls from school.

These moments are my beach glass, my time-worn, wave-tossed fragments.

I couldn’t save him.

He didn’t want to leave us.

Despair finally ran out of storage space in his great big heart, and it just stopped beating.

The death certificate says “acute aortic occlusion” – the clinical term for “massive heart attack”.

I was the one who found him, awkwardly slumped over on the sofa, the TV remote still in his hand; he’d been watching Gunsmoke.

It seems fitting that Roger, a career Peace Officer, should be watching Matt Dillon, U.S. Marshall, preserving law and order in the western frontier.

Sergeant Hoffner and Marshall Dillon were cut from the same cloth: decent men, larger-than-life, lovers of justice, loyal to the very end.



Sunday, July 19, 2020

Ordinary Today



Everyone’s talking about the “New Normal”.

It’s important, though, to remember the former elements of “normal” are still with us, if we will only take a minute to notice.

There’s a quote that’s traveled with me for a long time. It’s on my fridge:

Normal Day,
Do not let me pass you by in search of some Rare and Perfect Tomorrow.”
>Mary Jean Iron

This power-packed memento has been a mainstay through all of life’s seasons. With every move, every new fridge, this little saying is a visual reminder of the splendor in ordinary moments.

The little moments are ever-present while we sigh and long for:

Brighter tomorrows, 
better sleep, 
happier children, 
perfectly manicured lawns, 
stronger connections, 
brighter lighting, 
exotic destinations,  
flawless skin, 
shinier memories…

Here’s the thing. When we are off chasing after a happier reality, the one we’re IN is quietly passing us by.

I’m not asking you to embrace The Summer of Covid, but I am suggesting you uncover the good stuff inside this odd interval.

Your “normal” will look different than mine.

Here’s mine:

The texture of my kiddo’s voice on the phone; it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – the sound of her voice is life-affirming.

The smell of towels that have been line-dried in fresh air and sunshine.



Summer kids riding by my window on their bikes and skate boards.

Dandelions gone to seed.




Old Glory rippling in the breeze.


That first sip of coffee, waking to sunlight, the hypnotic hum of a lawnmower, a real letter in the mail, curbside pickup, silence, my music 
jam, fireflies.

The whisper of dusk

Not everything is a joy-bringer; some things are a slog through scary passages.

But still – not everything is skewed into some narrow margin of “the New Normal”.

We can always count on the ordinary things to fill our hearts.

And those will sustain us.

This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Simply Summer is a favorite lounge & browse this time of year.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Rain Washed Air



Don’t you just love the smell of rain?



Rain when it’s being held in the air – that pungent whiff of earth and sky mingled.

Rain after it has drenched the ground and started laughing rivulets in drain pipes, streams and driveways.

Rain as it pulls itself upward, trailing the skies to the next cloudburst party.

Rain in all its delirious, delightful forms: sprinkles, dribbles, droplets, exclamation points, sloppy blobs of hydration on our faces, our skin, our grateful noggins.

Rain.


After a pretty nice stretch of sunny days, we got some rain this week.

I did a Google search on the smell of rain, and it turns out the scent that fills the air before a rainfall is called “petrichor”.

This distinct smell, petrichor, is described as earthy, musky and fresh, and tends to be stronger after a lengthy period of no rainfall.

The storm’s downdrafts carry the smell from high altitudes to nose level. 

Isn’t that great! 

Rain-washed air is delivered from the heights, 

           down
                  down
                         down 

to your nose – a fresh and fragrant party for your olfactory nerves.



“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.”
(Ashley Smith)


This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Simply Summer is a favorite lounge & browse this time of year.

(Image - Umbrella by Unsplash Photographer Aline de Nadai)
(Image - Child Splashes in Puddle by Unsplash Photographer Jordan Whiff)






Tuesday, May 19, 2020

House Plants & People

Do you ever feel like a neglected house plant?

I do.

I do, right now. Having worked for two months from home now, I'm in a surreal void, enduring a lack of light and attention, pushed to a smaller world with no human touch, no texture of voices, no ribbons of laughter festooning the hallways.

Many are saying they enjoy working from home, but being a social butterfly, I like to share a space with my co workers, grabbing a coffee at break time, taking the stairs, replenishing my motivation in the physical surroundings of a workplace.

But, like a sad little house plant, my leaves are yellowing; I'm feeling a bit droopy around the edges, and terribly parched.

There's this Dracaena (pronounced "Driss-seen-nuh") plant quietly occupying a table in my spare room. Even during this shelter-at-home season, in a state of being hyper alert about everything, I'd forgotten it.

The poor thing was so brittle, so needy - like us.

I wondered if it could be restored.

Setting to work, I couldn't help thinking we all need a bit of re-potting, some fresh water … lots of TLC.

Like a house plant, we need some tending-to these days.

Especially these days.

Our root system is aching for community.

Our leaves are yellow - we need a careful touch to pull them away.

Our soil is dry - we need an organic compost of compassion.

Nutrients should be mixed in. Things like good humor, a phone call, a letter, a song.

It might be nice to have an aeration to help our roots grow deep; to enable a stronger, more vigorous life.

Leaves that no longer serve us should be thoughtfully pruned. Cut away dry petals of anger, bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness.

Like the little struggling plant, we need recovery time. When we have lacked the light and regularity of "normal days", it will take time and patience to reach upward and to trust once more.

Take care of your plants, yes.

Take care of yourself, too: hunker down in a larger pot, giving yourself extra space to expand and thrive.

Break up the old soil; infuse it with good nutrients.

Take away all that is no longer serving you.

Add water.

Drink, absorb life, and drink some more.

Place yourself in the environment you need, one with plenty of light and love.

I'm pleased to tell you my house plant is coming along nicely, showing some gumption, reaching toward the light. I've named her "Endurance" because she is making a comeback after a drought of neglect.

There's always hope.

This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Singing Spring is a favorite this time of year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A Hope Deferred - Hanging On and Letting Go

This week I'm supposed to be in Colorado.

But I'm not.
Because of COVID-19.

My daughter's wedding plans got reconfigured to a different venue with fewer guests.
Because of COVID-19.

Your plans, too, have been sidetracked, cancelled, postponed and redefined.
Because of COVID-19.

Graduates are capped and gowned and smiling from their front yards instead of walking with their class.

Birthdays are celebrated with car parades, honking horns and waving well-wishers from a safe distance.

Food is delivered curbside or picked up or sought out like a scavenger hunt as supplies dwindle and then replenish.

Zoom knows no demographics -- families now gather on the screen, a 2020 version of the Brady Bunch.

All because of COVID-19.

A good chunk of our time is spent consulting our calendars: rescheduling, cancelling, speculating … hoping.

Hoping

A long time ago I read a little book titled, "A Hope Deferred", which is no longer in print. It's a bittersweet story about a young bride who discovers she cannot bear children; the world as she dreamed it is forever altered. Reluctantly, she learns to make peace with that reality.

If the virus has taught us anything, it is how to grapple with deferred hopes -- suspended plans, stolen benchmarks, cancelled flights.

It's not that we aren't adaptable, it's just that we're weary of all the adapting.

It's not that we aren't willing to stay safe for the sake of others' health -- it's just that we've been connecting via high tech when we'd rather fall into a warm substantial hug.

We're not necessarily afraid of the endless news stream; we're simply tapped out.

Some of us are surprised we can be so exhausted after a full day of couch time - it's the laptop that's sucking out every fiber of energy.

We are spent.


A hope deferred is also an invitation - an offer to sit tight and wait for the light of day. It always shows up, spilling onto our weary bodies and gently asking us to get out of bed and move toward possibility.

And, somehow, we do.

We show up, help out, begin the next task, fix the meal, feel the disappointment and hang onto hope.

Hope

It may be muted just now, but it's always here.

When this is over, Hope will spread its wings and carry us into new possibilities.

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Proverbs 13:12

This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Singing Spring is a favorite this time of year.



Thursday, May 7, 2020

Beautiful Feet

"How beautiful are the feet of the messenger who brings good news!" Romans 10:15

One thing we’re not using much of these days, is shoes. I don’t know about you, but I’m mostly going barefoot around the house. 

Shoe wear is optional while we remain sequestered in our homes.

A comfy pair of sneakers stays parked at the door for the walk to the mailbox, or a walk around the block; other than that, my work shoes are lying dormant in the hall closet.

There's an artist in Fort Myers, Florida, who is busy painting sandals with messages of love and hope, decorating them with jewelry and then stringing them onto a line. Her name is Annette Brown, and her message is simple: "I think everybody needs to reach inside themselves and create something because we are all artists in whatever form."

Annette's neighbors are stepping up, decorating sneakers and pumps and sandals, creating visual reminders of creativity and survival. 

It has become an outdoor gallery of curated shoe art. People are out walking, and they are looking up.



Life-giving messages are written, painted and glued onto the shoes to spread cheer for all passers by.

Shoes are a pretty accurate reflection of our personalities – much like your own hand written signature, they are a unique identifier.

On a walk recently I came across an old, worn out pair of men’s work boots on a neighbor’s front porch. The leather was cracked, their soles were split and their laces tattered.

Even so, they looked amazing. 

Because inside of them, some creative person had planted a bright bunch of impatiens.

The flowers nodded in the breeze as if to say, “Look! We can re-purpose anything, even this old pair of shoes!”

New life inside of worn out containers.

No longer serviceable for feet, yet perfectly whimsical to hold a cluster of perennials.

We’re kind of like that: our bodies feel worn out at times, like a pair of old shoes.

Tired, achy, holding the shape of a hug from six feet away.

If we think of our weary souls as conduits for beauty, then maybe we can feel a new infusion of love, peace, kindness and growth. With good soil, water, sunshine and God's provision, a worn out soul can be rejuvenated.

We, like that shabby pair of work shoes, are quietly being re-purposed for the future.

Things are being planted in us that will declare our resilience and delight others when we are all back together.


Wiggle your toes and step into that.

"Good Shoes Take You To Good Places"
Seo Min Hyun

Jodi Jensen, watercolor artist
This blog supports www.booksforbondinghearts.com/shop, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my seasonal books, the "Breath of Joy! series. Breath of Joy! Singing Spring is a favorite this time of year.