peace

Help Me To Embrace This Vulnerable Season

*Background info: In the past 8 months, there have been many changes in my life. I became an empty-nester. My husband got a new job. Actually, he got one job, then was promoted to another. I sold our home where we had lived for 13 years. I moved away from the Pacific NW, where I have lived all of my life, to Louisville, Kentucky, 2300 miles away. I quit my job as a hospice nurse. I became unemployed (by choice, but still, unemployed). We moved to a new part of the country, a new city, a new house, a new church. 

I’m so absent-minded lately, my husband is afraid I have early on-set Alzheimer’s. I lose my way when I drive to the health club. I leave for an errand and come back without the item I was supposed to get. I ask my husband repeatedly about the dates he is going out-of-town. I leave eggs boiling on the stove until they almost blow up (it’s not as cool as it sounds). I remember once my kids were convinced that I had early dementia. I was so scattered, I was almost convinced, too. So I made and appointment with a doctor friend of mine who is an expert in the area, and after some testing, she assured me that what I was dealing with was just stress. She told me that if you are stressed or sleep deprived, you can exhibit similar symptoms. However, this was the best test – If you forget where you put your keys, that is normal. If you forget what your keys are used for, that is not normal.

And on top of that, I have become a wishy-washy mass of insecurity. I have little to no sense of self or where I belong, and I have lost my sense of purpose. An acquaintance recently asked me, “What do you do?” I am currently not working, so she asked me “Well, what do you like to do? Do you have any hobbies?” I started blankly at her.

“Well, I like to write.” I seriously couldn’t think of anything else to say. I write, but I have a little blog and it’s probably not what you would be interested. I longed to say something interesting, to have a fabulous answer as to what I am doing with all of my free time. I stammered and stuttered and finally looked at my husband and said, “What do I like to do?”

WHAT? WHO is this person? What made me become this shaky leaf of insecurity?

THIS IS NOT ME.

And I miss the old me. I miss being able to have dinner with my kids. I miss the woman who worked hard as a hospice nurse liaison to make sure her patients were well-informed and well cared for. I miss supporting my colleagues, working shoulder to shoulder to advocate for our patients. I miss being an expert in my field. I miss my tribe of women, whom I purposely gathered over the years – women with whom I could share my heart, who would pray for me, cook with me, or just come sit and talk to me while I did my dishes. I miss feeling like what I was doing on a daily basis was purposeful. I miss the structure. I miss familiarity.

I don’t like feeling so uncertain all of the time. I don’t like having all of this time to fill, but I also don’t want it to be filled. I’m tired and feeling lost and out-of-place all of the time. I’m tired of feeling lonely. I’m tired of having one small incident – like getting looked over for a job, or having someone not return a text – shape my whole day.

And honestly, I tire of hearing myself whine about it. (You are probably tired of hearing about it, too). As a matter of fact, I hate even writing about this, but it was one of those times I just have to vent or go crazy. So I’m not going to post this blog on social media. I am just writing for me. So if you have somehow stumbled upon this, you were meant to be here. This is one of the few times I will leave open the comment section, so if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to leave a comment. 

It’s coming up on one year in just a few months. I thought things would be settled by now, figured out. I thought I would have a sense of community, a structure, a sense of purpose. I just want everything to feel okay. Some days it does, but honestly, most days it just doesn’t.

And to be really honest, not all of this has to do with the changes that have happened in my life. I could just as easily be feeling this way back in the Northwest. I would just have work and friends to distract me. In any setting, I am a seasonal person. And I know this is simply a season.

As always, the thing that helps me get centered is to get back to the basics:

Mindful breathing when I first wake up.

Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising.

Looking at what I am feeling, discerning what is a lie and what is the truth, and being thankful for what I have.

And I am finding what I am lacking the most, and what I am in deepest need of – time with God and remembering who I am in Him. Being okay with where I am because he has brought me here for a reason.

I find that I am often drifting down the stream and entering into a spinning whirlpool before I remember that I have had a lifeline all along. 

Lord, I need help. I know that as I look back on my life, I’ve learned the most from times of struggle, when I am pushed out of my comfort zone and am learning to rely on you, to love you in a new way, and to let you love me. Those times are what has made me life so much richer. Be with me, give me peace and strength and joy. Help me to reach out and be your loving touch to those around me. Help me to embrace this vulnerable season.

“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that  are right with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity, to name a few.”  Brene Brown

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I Really Want to Love Advent

*Disclaimer: Writing about how sometimes I don’t love Advent does not mean that I don’t love Christmas. Just as writing about my longings for changing the church does not mean that I don’t love Jesus. Just as writing about how my marriage could improve does not mean that I don’t love my husband. Just as writing about my hopes and dreams for my children does not mean that I don’t love them. You get the idea.

I want to love Advent. Really I do. It is not something we practiced growing up. In fact, I had never heard of Advent until I was a young mother, and heard a talk about it at a MOMS group as a meaningful alternative to the commercialization and Santa-frenzy of the Christmas season. It sounded good. Taking time out of the chaos of the holiday season to focus your heart each week to prepare for the spiritual reason for the season – the coming of Christ.

Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun.

What is Advent?

It is part of the liturgical church calendar, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas (this usually falls the Sunday after Thanksgiving). The season focuses on the expectation and the anticipation of the coming of Jesus. Often there are four candles placed around an Advent wreath, with one candle being lit each week on Sunday, representing hope, love, joy, and peace. There is sometimes a candle placed in the center to represent Christ, and that is lit on Christmas Day. As each candle is lit, there are readings, hymns or songs, and scriptures for each week, often meant to be read together as a family.There are variations of the practice of advent, but those are the basics.

It sounds lovely, and it can be. There are times that I really appreciated being reminded to push pause and reflect. I particularly loved getting up early Christmas morning and lighting the center candle and just spending some quiet time praying and reflecting before everyone else got up and the busy day began.

But honestly, it often felt like one more thing to do during the Christmas season. And three little boys weren’t particularly keen to sit quietly and participate in readings (unless it was their turn to light the candle). Most of the time I was unprepared when that first Sunday of Advent rolled around, because not only did it mean putting away my fall decorations, it meant finding and putting out my Christmas decorations, or at least my Advent wreath. To add to this pressure, two of my boys have birthdays the first week of December, so we often put off decorating for Christmas until after we celebrated their birthdays. And when I finally got my act together and had everything set up, it often felt like a forced ritual, rather than a meaningful time of reflection. And if I’m truly honest, it was sometimes a source of pride and self-righteousness that I was practicing Advent and down-playing Santa. Yes, that is the ugly truth of it.

O come, O come, Emmanuel : and ransom captive Israel

So as I’ve started my search for the sacred, I am trying to look at Advent with new eyes. And evenso, I was not ready for the first Sunday of Advent. We moved across the country this summer, and I had to find my Christmas boxes among the piles of boxes up on the third floor. (And also, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was on). Ummmm. Yeah, so there it is.

But by the first of the week I had found my advent wreath and bought my candles and started reading each day. In my journey to discover the meaningfulness behind the church calendar, I have been reading Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, and I am trying to rid my life of some of the distractions so that I can learn to focus on what is important.

Praise to you who lift up the poor : and fill the hungry with good things.

Which is truly difficult for me – I am strongly ADD and my life is centered around distractions. I thrive on them. So this learning to be still and focus and remove distractions and have discipline is scary, uncomfortable, and very, very difficult at times. It does not come easily for me, but I am slowly learning.

There are many readings that go along with Advent – some are quite formal, others a little more laid back. If you have never practiced Advent, or like me, sometimes just went through the motions, I encourage you to look at Advent with fresh eyes and an open heart. There is something truly sacred about pausing and reflecting, not as a duty, but out of a sense of wonder. This year, along with the readings from Common Prayer, I am following Sarah Bessey’s writings for Advent. I love her writing  because she speaks hard truths with a sweetness and gentleness that draws me in. So if you’re a late starter, like me, you can begin here:

Week One:  Hope

Week Two: Peace

You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face” : your face, Lord, will I seek.

Lord, help me to learn to turn from the many distractions that, although they may be good, serve to distract me from the best. 

Lord, help me learn to be still and quiet, so that I can hear your voice. 

Lord, give me open eyes to see truth, and a mouth that can speak truth in love as well as hold its tongue for the sake of grace and peace.

Somedays You Just Show Up: Or Why I Haven’t Been Writing

On October 1 I started a 31 day writing challenge. It was exhilarating. I had my most popular post ever. I was participating in a great blogging community, and learning new things about blogging and writing every day. I knew that I had some busy days coming up – traveling, going out of town, and I had already granted myself grace that I would not be able to write every day. Things got busy, and I was able to write one post in the middle of things. And then I hit a wall. I wasn’t only finding myself too busy to write, I was AVOIDING writing.

Today, I told my husband that I’ve been rebelling against myself. I know I need to start writing again, and the best way I know to sort through all of the thoughts swirling in my head is to write about it. My heart is in turmoil, life continues to happen, and rather than dealing with things, I am just letting them swirl in my head and heart, which does nothing to help. So here, in no particular order, are the things that are on my heart.

I’m showing up, and that is about the best I can do today.

1. I loved the writing challenge, but it was a lot of pressure. Especially because as I was writing about finding balance, challenging myself to write every day was actually pushing things out of balance because:

a) time on Facebook takes away from my quiet and contemplative time, and one of the things I had been looking forward to was getting off of Facebook for a while. However, one of the best parts of the challenge was connecting with others on the FB site, and publicizing my blog on FB

b) I started a series and didn’t want to finish it. I have one more part to the series, and then I can move on to what is really on my heart. My last part of “Finding Community” was about the importance of fun in friendship, and I was finding the whole thing boring, and not fun at all to write about.

b) I had my most viewed post ever. Going from about 20-50 views a day to over 600 in one day was encouraging, but then I started watching stats – which is something I did NOT want to do. I don’t want to have to analyze and over-edit every post. I don’t want to care about word counts. I don’t want to watch new views and visitors. I just want to write to myself and anyone who happens to decide to walk with me. (Like I said, I have an issue with balance – I’m a recovering all-or-nothing type of person.)

2. I was out of town having fun with friends at Disneyland, and then at a hospice and palliative care conference. Not excuses, just my truth. I did not want to take time out of having fun with my friends, or take time away from learning OR from the beautiful solitude and relaxation of Lake Chelan, where the conference was held.

Campbell Resort at Lake Chelan, Washington by Kristin Meador

Campbell Resort at Lake Chelan, Washington by Kristin Meador

3. I really wanted to watch Doctor Who and the season premiere of the Walking Dead. No apologies. So there.

4. There are some possible changes coming up in my life – and the changes could be major. (Jobs, homes, kids, finances – a lot of possibilities brewing)

5. I miss my kids. My oldest moved into his own home this fall, my youngest is 3,000 miles away, and my middle son is home but never here. It’s all good – they’re supposed to fly, right? But my nest is feeling big and empty. And my sweet young friend who lives with us is getting married in less than a month, and I am going to miss her desperately.

6. I spent this afternoon watching a funeral on live stream. A friend of the family died this week. She was 37 years old.  She had fought this amazing fight against a brain tumor for ten years. TEN YEARS. This was the kind of story I used to encourage others who were fighting cancer, and the kind of story that encouraged me as a hospice nurse. She had a positive attitude, researched alternative treatments, and loved and trusted Jesus all throughout this journey. This week her story changed, and she finished her race valiantly.

I think that the grief for her loss, for her husband and two young sons who are left behind, and for her brother and mama and papa who walked this path with her has hit me more than I anticipated. My heart is broken for all of them.

And I am reminded (which I know as a hospice nurse) that grief is cumulative. I wrote about this on my hospice blog, The H Word, in an essay called “Vicarious Trauma: When Your Heart Can’t Hold Any More Stories“.

I think about my own sister, who was killed in a car accident at the age of 19 almost 27 years ago. I think about the babies I lost years ago through miscarriage. I think about all of the patients I have lost over the past ten years. I have had three close friends diagnosed with cancer in three years. Grief upon grief, story upon story, they never leave you.

And sometimes the grief leaks out and takes me by surprise.

Photo credit: sethoscope creative commons

Photo credit: sethoscope creative commons

7. Another thing I am grieving is a broken relationship that needs mending. My heart is struggling between being healthy and forgiving and loving and setting boundaries versus feeling unsafe or allowing myself to continue to be victimized. What is the most loving thing? As I listened to the funeral today, one of the young woman’s friends spoke about the importance, even during the worst of times, of remaining “soft and obedient”. I don’t remember the exact words, but my prayer today is this:

How can I be a loving, soft, brave, and obedient warrior?

Palms Up

One of my favorite humans on this planet is a lawyer, speaker, author, and humanitarian named Bob Goff. To me, he is Jesus with skin on, a guy who really lives the philosophy of loving others, and doesn’t just talk about it. He wrote a book that has greatly influenced my life, Love Does. In this book he describes a practice he does with his clients. When they are meeting, he asks them to sit with their hands on their knees, their palms open and facing up. His theory is that it’s impossible to be defensive with your palms up. You have nothing to hide with palms up. You are strong enough to be vulnerable. A similar principle is present in the theory behind lamaze classes. The theory is if your hands are clenched, you’re not relaxed. If you are truly relaxed and better able to deal with the pain, your hands will also be relaxed and not clenched. Along that line, symbolically, if our palms are open, we are better able to release anger and stress.

So I’ve tried this a few times. I’ve tried this at work during difficult conversations. I’ve tried this on the phone with an aggravating sales person. And I’ve tried it during my journaling, when I’m getting worked up about something that I’m writing. There really is a release in the simple act of opening your palms, and physically releasing whatever it is you may be holding in a tight grasp.

Try it yourself. You can even try it right now, while you’re reading this. Sit quietly and place your hands on top of your legs, palms up. Be still for a bit. Do you notice anything? 

Learning to live with palms up, to relax instead of being stressed, and to breathe and get centered rather than living in internal chaos does not come easy for me. Like any new skill, it takes education or knowledge, practice, and repetition. I’m often surprised at couples or parents who have decided “I’m not going to make the same mistakes in my next marriage” or say “I’m not going to do things the same way my parents did” but fail to take the necessary steps to actively learn a new way of doing things. Just because we know what we don’t want to do, does not mean that we magically acquire the skills to do things differently. Unless we’ve had a role model to show you a different way of doing things, we only have what we know. We only have the pictures and taped messages of our past, and it takes effort to replace these with new, healthy behaviors.

For me, as of today, these steps include:
•counseling – to have someone guide me as I look at why I do the things I do, and to also help me make the healthy transition from survivor to WARRIOR
•learning relaxation techniques like breathing and ‘palms up’ to help quell the inner noise so I am better able to be still before God
•learning to be healthy physically as well as spiritually, which for today means cutting out sugar, caffeine, and beer (but that’s a story for another day).

There are many other steps I need to take in my search for balance, and we’ll look at those in future posts. That’s enough vulnerability for today.

But for now – one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time, with palms up.

Me and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14

Kristin and Bob Goff at the Storyline Conference 2/14

 

The Day I Forgot To Breathe

photo credit: WikiMedia Commons by Toni Frissell

photo credit: WikiMedia Commons by Toni Frissel

This morning I forgot to breathe. I slept through my alarm, and rushed to a meeting. I spent the afternoon working on numerous projects, and when a colleague called to give me a report to follow-up on tomorrow, I noticed a tension headache beginning. That’s when I realized I had forgotten to breathe. Bear with me while I explain.

While looking for balance in life, it can be helpful to identify the biggest obstacle – or what’s in your face the most?  As I identified my longing for a quiet, peaceful place to sort this all out, I jumped right ahead to list all the distractions that I’m chasing. However, I skipped over one of the most important parts of this journey so far –

Finding a place of peace amidst the chaos.

In my intense, passionate, and distractable psyche and spirit, how do I learn to be still? How do I learn to sit with feelings that are uncomfortable? How does the person who keeps the television 0n for background noise at all times learn to quiet my racing thoughts? How do I stop that physical reaction to conflict, or shame, or disappointment?

When I returned to counseling a few months ago, my counselor suggested a book called the The Healing Power of the Breath: Simple Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety, Enhance Concentration, and Balance Your Emotions. I wasn’t opposed to the practice of deep breathing, but to be honest, sitting still for any length of time has never been my strong point. I get bored, my mind wanders. I start making a grocery list. But I have found that as I get older, and particularly as I am attempting to sift through some of the chaos in my heart and mind, I am developing a love and even a longing for times of quiet. Still, empty quiet. 

This may sound wonderful and lovely and normal to you, but for me – this is nowhere near my normal. But things are changing. I know that part of it is my decreased ability to multi-task as I age. I also believe that the chaos has sometimes served as a coping mechanism – if I am too busy, too distracted, too chaotic, if there is always noise, I don’t have to deal with whatever may be sitting there in the dark shadows of the quiet. In my search for balance, I am realizing the value of sitting in the quiet, and bringing to light what is in the dark shadows.

One tool I’m finding helpful to fight the distractions is mindful, or coherent breathing. I’m just learning, and I’m not consistent, but I have to admit, when I start my day with deep breathing, there seems to be a difference. I haven’t read much of the book – I mean, it’s a book about breathing – but the book came with a CD which I keep in my car and practice on the way to work. It’s not ideal, because you’re supposed to be seated comfortably with your eyes closed. I have tried the deep breathing exercises in the mornings (when I remember) and it may be a placebo effect, but I am beginning to notice a difference. Or should I say, I noticed a difference today when I did NOT start my day with deep breathing. I find myself using it while I drive and when I am beginning to feel stress or anxiety. When I practice deep breathing, it is easier to not react to stressful situations, and it seems easier to remain calm and not have such  an intense emotional reaction. It can also be really helpful to relax and clear your mind when you’re trying to go to sleep.

A few years ago NPR did a story on the biological changes that occur when we practice deep breathing, the body’s ‘built-in stress reliever’:

“Research has shown that breathing exercises like these can have immediate effects by altering the pH of the blood, or changing blood pressure. But more importantly, they can be used as a method to train the body’s reaction to stressful situations and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. . . Rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the “fight or flight” response — the part activated by stress. In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction — the one that calms us down.” (Just Breathe: Body Has A Built-In Stress Reliever by Gretchen Cuda)

I’m just starting with 3-5 minutes, in the morning, and sometimes at night. I try to set my phone alarm, and pratice coherent breathing before i ever get out of bed. I even found an app to keep track of the time for me.

Why don’t you try it with me for a few weeks, and then report back?

 

deep-breath

This begins at your natural breath rate and very gradually slows your breathing down.

Beginning Steps for Coherent Breathing

• Breathe through your nose with your eyes closed.

• Taking your time, count slowly and silently in your mind: As you breathe in, . . . two . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . repeat this for two breaths.

• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . as you breathe out, . . . two . . . three . . . repeat this for three breaths.

• Taking your time, count slowly: As you breathe in . . . two . . .three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.

• Taking your time, count a little more slowly: As you breathe in . . .two . . . three . . . four . . . as you breathe out . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . repeat this for four breaths.

Once you learn to breathe at five breaths per minute, you will not need to use these learning steps. You will be able to just start and within a few breaths you will be in the correct rhythm.