Thursday, January 31, 2008

Gratitude Journal: January 2008

It's easy to express thanks for the "big things" in our lives - a new job, a new partner or spouse, a raise, a baby or a new car. It's harder to remember that it's just as important to express our gratitude for the smaller things, the things that we often take for granted.

An attitude of gratitude is crucial to our emotional and spiritual well-being for a number of reasons: (1) it reminds us of how blessed we are - always and in all ways; (2) it helps us maintain perspective on our lives by focusing on our "haves" rather than our "have nots"; (3) it supports the universal Law of Attraction that says that we create what we think about, whether it's abundance or lack; and (4) and last but not least, spiritually, it's simply the right thing to do - a grateful heart pleases God.

I've already started a gratitude/abundance journal for 2008. In it, I'm keeping track of the things - both big and small - that I am grateful for on a daily basis. I am trying to pay particular attention to those things that remind me that I'm living a life of simple abundance. I finally realize that abundance is not measured by the size of my bank account or the square footage of my house. It's measured by the peace, joy, contentment and love that exists in my life on a daily basis. It's evidenced when I find a great sale on an item I really needed or wanted, or when I'm invited to a friend's for dinner or when I resist the urge to buy something that I don't need for all the wrong reasons.

The more I focus on living abudantly, and being grateful for that, the more abundance I find in my life. For example, in 2007 I earned less than I've made in years, yet I had more disposable income than I've had in years. I can honestly say that there isn't a single thing last year that I really needed that I didn't have the resources to purchase. In fact, I was even able to buy a few things that I didn't need, but really wanted. And what's even nicer is that I did not use a credit card or take money from my savings account to do it. Now THAT'S something to be thankful for!

So, starting now, at the end of each month I'll post a partial list of the simply abundant things that I'm thankful for that manifested during the month:

  1. Saved hundreds at the eye doctor (switched from special daily contacts to much less expensive contacts that I can sleep in and use for a month, eliminating the need for another expensive pair of glasses!)

  2. Able to exchange 2 boxes of contact lenses that I'd bought before my Rx changed for more of the newer, less expensive lenses, even though I was well past the return period.

  3. Purchased the $70 set of circular knitting needles that I've been looking at for months for only $6 after catching a 30% off sale AND using a $45 gift card from the students in my knitting class at work.

  4. Got a sound machine (ocean noises to help me sleep) for $0.02 after returning 2 boxes of coffee pods that my mother had purchased, which were for the wrong machine.

  5. Got the correct coffee pods for my new coffee maker from an online liquidator - instead of $4.99 for a box of 18, I got 162 coffee and tea bods for only $19.99!

  6. Found a beautiful black leather coat in perfect condition at the local thrift store for $24.99.

  7. Celebrated the best New Year's Eve ever at home, dancing by candlelight with my new man.

  8. Found the perfect Christmas gift for my knitting friend (a page-a-day knitting calendar) at half-price because I bought it the day after Christmas.

  9. Found out that my new favorite artist, Kem, is going to be performing in my town on Valentine's Day!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm not mad at 'em

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to share good news. I have a friend who insists on setting me up each time we get together. I made the mistake once of telling her about how painfully my last relationship ended and in doing so, I opened a door that I haven't been able to close. She has a very low opinion of men, and collects anecdotes about men behaving badly like stamp collectors collect stamps.

Every time we talk, she asks how things are going with my new guy. Despite the fact that I always joyfully say that things are great (because they are), she warns me to "be careful", "watch my back", "remember that men only want one thing", "don't believe anything they say because they all lie," blah... blah...blah. I know she means well, she doesn't want me to be hurt again - again. But asking me about my relationship only to then tear it down would be hurtful too if I were inclined to allow her comments to steal my joy.

Yes, I've been hurt. A lot. But over time I've come to understand that no situation, and no relationship, is without purpose. People are brought into our lives to teach us things, and for us to teach them things, and because some of us learn some things slower than others, lessons sometimes have to be repeated over and over until we figure it out.

There is an exercise called "clarity through contrast" that I read about in a book on the Law of Attraction. It involves reflecting on past relationships, specifically the things that we do not want, in order to become clearer on what we do want. Once I was able to release the anger and the embarrassment of my failed relationships, I was able to see the value in them. Just as cold, dreary days make me appreciate the warmth of the sun, all those relationships with Mr. Wrong have helped me be clear about Mr. Right.

So, if I were to write an open letter to my exes, the theme would be one of gratitude. I'd simply say "thank you" to each of them.

Thank you for teaching me about the power of forgiveness when I was able to forgive my best friend in college for sleeping with you.

Thank you for realizing that you "weren't man enough" to stay and watch me die when I was diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. That was 15 years ago. I was misdiagnosed, but you clearly weren't ready for a real relationship.

Thank you for not adopting my daughter, even though I wanted you to at the time. She's better off without a father at all, than a father in name only.

Thank you for making me realize that there isn't enough love, compassion or patience to heal a heart that isn't ready or willing to be healed. The more I tried to heal your heart, the more I broke my own.

Thank you for being so impossible to please. The more I tried to change myself to be the person I thought you wanted me to be, the less I liked the person I'd become. Apparently you didn't like her either, so what was the point?

Thank you for breaking up with me so ruthlessly. It was a clean break so there were no jagged edges to get in the way of my healing. Had you not ended things so completely, I might not have been over you when someone new came into my life.

Where did we get the notion that our hearts were never to be broken? Why are we so afraid of being hurt that we're afraid to open our hearts and souls to another? If all of the painful lessons of the past are practice to prepare me for the blessings that God has in store for me, then they were worth it.

So, yes, I've been hurt by men before. Many times, but you know what? I'm not mad at 'em.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Bucket List

I wrote recently that I was going to post my Bucket List. Now that WillThink4Wine says that I inspired her to post hers, it's only fitting that I should follow through with mine. We've already decided that we must be kindred spirits, but I think that was confirmed today when I saw several items from my mental bucket list that made it onto her posted one.

So here goes...
  1. Fall in love with the man I've waited my entire life to meet and live as close to happily-ever-after as possible.

  2. Vacation at Grace Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands, exploring the beauty of what has consistently been rated one of the world's most beautiful beaches.

  3. Publish and successfully sell at least 6 books.

  4. Tour the Greek Islands.

  5. Spend an entire night salsa dancing.

  6. Help plan a hugely successful black-tie silent auction for a worthy cause.
  7. Serve on the Board of Directors for a charitable organization.

  8. Make love under the stars on a tropical beach.

  9. Own a home with a water view (debt-free, of course).

  10. Play the piano again, well.

  11. Visit at least 5 of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the United States.

  12. Visit at least 5 of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.

  13. Own a piece of silver jewelry designed by John Hardy.

  14. Visit the Grand Canyon.

  15. See a movie being filmed.

  16. Custom design and decorate a home.

  17. Win an award.

  18. Help plan my daughter's wedding.

  19. Witness the birth of my grandchildren.

  20. Find a church and church family that I love and become an active member.

  21. Truly make a difference in someone's life.

  22. Find a job that I love.

  23. Allow people to see the light and the grace of God through me.

  24. Become more confident at public speaking, and perhaps do a series of motivational speaking engagements.

  25. Host a fabulous party for friends.

  26. Visit at least a dozen different islands in the Caribbean.

  27. Have a library in my home filled with books I love.
  28. Host a photography exhibit at a small art gallery.

  29. Go on an Alaskan cruise and wear sweaters that I've knit the entire time.

  30. Drive through Skyline Drive at the height of the fall leaf color season.

  31. Rent a villa in the Caribbean for at least a week.

  32. Save at least 6 months' income in a "rainy day" fund.

  33. Go to an exclusive spa for at least 3 days.

  34. Visit my favorite e-mail pals, regardless of where they live.

  35. Take 3 girlfriends on a cruise - all expenses paid.

  36. Attend a Jonathan Butler concert in South Africa.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Change is good

I've written a lot about how much I've changed in the past year or so, probably more so than any other period during my entire adult life. But only recently have I truly begun to comprehend the magnitude of the change and it's spiritual significance.

In the message at church yesterday morning, the pastor talked about caterpillars, those slinky, furry little creatures who crawl around just below the radar, serving no particular purpose other than eating every leaf in sight. They have very poor vision and I'm guessing that everything looks pretty much the same. Day in and day out, life must seem boring at best and utterly hopeless at worst. I know a lot of people who live life like that. In fact, I used to be one of them.

But, unlike a lot of humans, caterpillars somehow know that they have an appointment with destiny. They carry on, day after day, and when the time is right, they crawl inside a cocoon to begin the hard work of transformation.

I don't know how long they stay in there, but I can only imagine how dark, lonely, painful and scary it must be. They are isolated and singularly focused on the internal and external struggle that they were born to embrace. Yet, we all know how this story ends, the struggle was worth it, because what crawled into that cocoon as a yucky little caterpillar emerged victoriously as an entirely new creature, a beautiful butterfly with wings to soar and beauty to behold.

While listening to the message, I realized that the pastor was describing another metamorphisis - my own. I'd been praying for spiritual and emotional growth for years, and while I did grow in spurts, my life wasn't changing in any substantive ways. Although there were bright days, I was circling the same mountain again and again. But in the past several months, I've been blessed with some new friends. And as part of the process of getting to know them and allowing myself to be known by them, I've sensed a strange disconnect between the person that I describe when I talk truthfully about my past and the person that they've come to know and care about.

It wasn't until yesterday that I realized that the reason I feel, and they sense, a disconnect is because I'm not talking about the same person. Yes, I look the same (other than the obvious signs of aging), but in God's infinite wisdom, He gave me more than I prayed for. He didn't enable me to grow, He empowered me to change. I too started out as a caterpillar, and I spent years in the cocoon. It was dark, it was frightening, and despite the support that I had from loving family and friends, when it came down to it, I had to do the hard work alone.

But I'm here to tell you, there is life on the other side... and the view is absolutely spectactular!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My Zen of Praise

Music has always been an important part of my life. When it was younger, I enjoyed music purely for it's entertainment value. But over the years I've learned that it's so much more. Music lifts me up, calms me down, energizes me, brings back memories and helps me visualize making new ones.

While all those things are great, though, the most important way that music moves me is spiritually. Now matter how sad or depressed I may be feeling, listening to praise and worship music is a healing balm for my soul. And, it's one of the most effective ways that I communicate with God and that He communicates with me.

This week, I purchased an MP3 player, a Zen by Creative Media Source. It doesn't look like much, and cost much less than the popular iPod (less than $40 at WalMart), but after just a few days, I can't imagine how I lived with out it. The night I bought it, I spent a few hours downloading my favorite jazz/latin/contemporary praise and worship songs. So far, I have 98 songs by artists such as Donnie McClurkin, Salvador, Jonathan Butler, Ramsey Lewis, Yolanda Adams and many more.

My BOSE stereo system in my car died a horrible death nearly a year ago and the cost to replace it is more than my car is worth, but that was probably a blessing because now when I'm in the car, I'm listening to my new playlist. Now when I'm walking, my Zen and my camera inspiring to find God in unexpected places on my travels and try to capture some of that with film. This morning I realized that I could copy the same playlist to my PC, so I'm listening to it as I blog. Some may consider this the "lazy woman's way to pray", and perhaps they're right. But for me, it works. I can't help my thank God and praise Him when I'm listening to this music.

My daughter is coming on for 2 weeks next month for my birthday - she's stationed in Iraq. We decided to wait and exchange Christmas presents when she comes. She doesn't need much, and certainly can't drag around a lot of stuff given where she is. When I created my Zen of Praise, I realized that it would be the PERFECT gift for her. It's much smaller than a credit card and easily fits in the palm of a hand. My version (the least expensive one) holds approximately 250 songs, and will play for 10 hours on a built-in battery that recharges in 2 hrs from a PC. And thankfully for me, I introduced her to all these artists when she was growing up so I know she's love my playist. So, for Christmas in March, she's getting a Zen of Praise of her very own, complete with her Mom's playlist. Just listening to it as she sits on lonely guard duty for 4 hours each evening will uplift her, encourage her, reminder her that her mother loves her, and most importantly, remind her that God loves her even more.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

100 things about me

I did this about 2 years ago when I first started blogging (on another blog), and I've thought many times about updating it, especially since Marja has given up on asking me to post more about myself. So today when I realized how much I enjoyed reading a list like this one at WillThink4Wine, I decided to go for it:

  1. I was born in 1959 and grew up in Washington, DC.
  2. I'm now an only child. My brother died in 1989 when he was 22 years old.

  3. I adopted my daughter when she was 8 months old. She's now 19 and proudly serving in the US Armed Forces. I'm so proud of her.

  4. I took classical piano lessons for 12 years, but stopped playing when I left for college.

  5. I bought a piano a few years ago, but haven't started playing again yet.

  6. I love to write and will be publishing my first book very soon.

  7. I love to knit.

  8. I graduated from high school a year early in 1976.

  9. I went to Ga Tech for grad school and got a Masters degree in 1982.

  10. I've owned my own business since 2001. I have a great boss.

  11. I love to be near the water, particularly if the weather is warm.

  12. I love to vacation in the Caribbean.

  13. My most fun vacation (so far) was 10 days in Jamaica in 1995. I hope to break that record this year.

  14. I wish I could sing, but I can't.

  15. I learned to dance salsa in 2007. I'm not great at it, but I LOVE it!

  16. I voted for Clinton twice and Bush twice. Thank Heaven for term limits.

  17. I love country music, partly because I can understand the words, but also because they actually tell a story.

  18. Beautiful music often makes me cry.

  19. My favorite TV shows of all time are: 24, The Carol Burnett Show, and La Femme Nikita. My favorite new shows are Grey's Anatomy and Cane.

  20. I used to be a die-hard Redskin fan, but football doesn't excite me any more the way it used to.

  21. Not including college, I've lived in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ontario Canada. St. Petersburg, FL was my absolute favorite.

  22. I've been married and divorced more than once and recently realized that I'd never truly been *in love*, but I haven't given up home that it'll happen.

  23. I'm an eternal optimist and a hopeless romantic. (see #23) :)

  24. I'm still in contact with my best friend from middle school, after more than 30 years.

  25. I hate watching local news but am addicted to cable news - particularly political news... go figure!

  26. I love fresh cut flowers. I want my home to be full of them.

  27. I have dozens of books that I've been "dying to read" for years, but I keep buying more before I can get to them.

  28. I never really believed in "soul mates", but if they exist, I think I may have found mine. I hope so!

  29. My first car was a yellow and white '75 Chevy Monza.

  30. My current car, a '96 Nissan Maxima has been paid for since 2003. It has 173,000 miles and I hope to get to at least 250,000.

  31. Sometimes TV commercials make me cry.

  32. I used to suffer from a severe case of CHAOS (Can't Have Anybody Over Syndrome), but now I only need 15 minutes advance notice and I'm ready to throw a party!

  33. One of my best investments was paying to have personal organizers re-do my home office. I was so inspired that I did the rest of my home!

  34. I've had chronic insomnia since 1994. It sucks, except when I'm hypomanic!

  35. I had a boyfriend break up with me because I'd been diagnosed with lupus and he thought I was going to die soon. That was almost 15 years ago - I was misdiagnosed.

  36. I'm terribly afraid of heights. Driving through the mountains causes me to have panic attacks.

  37. I once was hospitalized for IV sedation because my insomnia was so bad. I spent the first night pacing the halls pushing my IV pole.

  38. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea in 2006. I hate sleeping with my mask, but it sure beats dying in my sleep.

  39. I agree completely with WillThink4Wine, who said "I have a love/hate relationship with flying; I hate it, but I love that it can transport me so quickly to someone that I wish to spend time with."

  40. I believe that everything happens for a reason, even the bad stuff, and that it's up to us to learn the lesson and move forward.

  41. I believe in the Law of Attraction. and have experienced it in my own life.

  42. I don't like large crowds, they make me nervous.

  43. I hate rude drivers, especially ones that don't wave "thank you" when I let them into traffic.

  44. I love Twizzlers.

  45. I'm mesmerized by fireworks, especially over the water.

  46. My dream is to retire to an island in the Caribbean and spend the rest of my days enjoying the scenery and the rest of my nights dancing under the stars with the man I love.

  47. With the exception of my daughter, my mother and my aunt, I'm not close to my family, although they live in denial about why that is.

  48. I've taught dozens of women how to knit.

  49. I love to watch good movies, although my definition of "good" depends on the mood I'm in.

  50. I've ridden muleback (not to be confused with horseback) through a foot of snow in the Poconos Mountains

  51. I LOVED being pregnant, but my daughter was born prematurely and died. She would have been 26 this year and I still miss her.

  52. I believe that love is a choice.

  53. I am so thankful to be a Christian.

  54. I do my best praying when I'm listening to Christian music.

  55. As painful as divorce was for me, it was a wonderful opportunity to reinvent myself.

  56. I love to laugh.

  57. One of the best things in the world is the laughter of a child.

  58. I love to see professional photographs of childrens' feet (I know, that sounds weird).

  59. I love a man with a beautiful smile who's not afraid to use it.

  60. The older I get, the sexier I feel.

  61. Having a hysterectomy was the best medical decision I've ever made. I just wish I'd done it 10 years earlier.

  62. I hope I never have to fake another orgasm.

  63. I enjoy going on a scavenger hunt in a nearby thrift store looking for designer clothes that still have the original store tags. I've found some incredible deals there.

  64. I recently bought the perfect black ball gown. I have no idea where I'm going to where it, but I'm going to wear it.

  65. I love to play Scrabble, but only with someone who's at least as good at is as I am.

  66. I detest rude drivers.

  67. I once played the piano with the D.C. Youth Orchestra at The Kennedy Center.

  68. I've never served on jury duty and I don't know why. I think I'd like to.

  69. If I could chose my career again knowing what I do now, I'd either be a pediatric nurse or an architect.

  70. I bought a new camera in 2007 and I love taking pictures. I hope to become a good photographer.

  71. I spent a summer in Spain between 7th and 8th grade.

  72. My first boyfriend was a cute as could be, but he was the ganster-child from hell. I wonder what ever happened to him.

  73. If I ever get married again, I want to be barefoot on the beach on a tropical island.

  74. I've always wanted to be a stepmother.

  75. I'm looking forward to being a grandmother, but no time soon.

  76. For a while I had a housekeeper come once a month to clean and do laundry. I loved it, except for when I cleaned up the night before I knew she was coming to clean up.

  77. I'd love to have a housekeeper again. I love a clean house but I hate cleaning it. I hate doing laundry even more.

  78. I once got to meet a real-life bush doctor in Jamaica.

  79. I lived in a small town in Ontario Canada for 6 months. I hate cold weather.

  80. I'm not at all anxious about turning 50 next year. I believe that 50 is the new 40 and people never guess my age correctly (thanks Mom for great genes).

  81. If I could have chosen my mother, I would have picked the same one that God chose for me.

  82. I wish all my exes could see me now. Happiness is the best revenge!

  83. I wonder if any of my exes ever think about me, and if so, what they think.

  84. If I can ask God three questions when I get to Heaven, one of them will be why black girls didn't get wash-and-wear hair like white girls.

  85. I'm addicted to romance but I hate reading romance novels.

  86. I prefer making gifts for the people I care most about, rather than giving store-bought gifts.

  87. I legally changed my name in 2006 when my divorce was final... not just my last name, my ENTIRE name and I'm so glad I did.

  88. I reached the District finals of the National Spelling Bee when I was in the 5th grade.

  89. I regret that I wasn't wiser with my money when I was earning a lot of it.

  90. I wish my father and I had been closer. I always wanted to be "Daddy's Girl".

  91. I hate paperwork, especially having to file it.

  92. I'm a morning person. When I'm feeling well, I usually get more done by 10 on Saturday mornings that most people do all day. But after mid-day, my energy level drops like a lead balloon.

  93. I love hot weather. Give me 90 degrees in the shade and I'd be perfectly happy.

  94. I truly appreicate the fine art of kissing.

  95. "Pretty Woman" is my favorite fairy tale.

  96. My comfort foods are Breyer's ice cream, shrimp fried rice and blackberry cobbler.

  97. I have a pretty bad memory. The bad news is that I can't lie even if I want to because I wouldn't remember what I said. The good news is that a secret is safe with me because I'll forget it.

  98. When I die, I don't want a funeral. I want my closest friends to eat, drink and be merry and share what I hope will be lots of happy memories of times we shared. Then I want my ashes to be spread at sea.

  99. I'm going to make a Bucket List and post it here.

  100. This was actually a lot of fun.

Old stigmas die hard

Last week was the end of the clinical research trial that I started in April for a new-and-improved antidepressant that my doctor affectionately refers to as "the son of Effexor". I believe the brand name is Pristiq (from Wyeth), but I'm not sure. Whatever it is, it worked wonders, both in significantly reducing my depressive symptoms and in improving my sleep (I have sleep apnea, fibromyalgia and chronic insomnia, which my doctors and I believe are the biggest contributing factor to the depression).

Despite the horror stories I've heard and read about Effexor, I didn't have any side effects from the medication, either tapering on, or tapering off. Actually, I take that back - there was one very surprising, and very welcomed side effect that I noticed while I was on the drug - for me, it was a very effective appetite suppressant. During the first 6 weeks at my maintenance dose, I lost 10 lbs and kept it off for the balance of the study (over 6 months). In the past month since I started weaning off of the medication, I've gained back 4 lbs.

Last week I went to see the study doctor last week, who is going to be my private brain doctor now that the study is over. After we discussed how effective the medication had been and how smooth the withdrawal process had been for me, he started to explain how we would taper back onto Effexor XR until the new drug is approved by the FDA, at which point I can switch. Or, alternatively, I suggested that since I was now off and feeling great, that I wanted to stay off for a while just to "see what would happen."

At that point my doctor politely told me that my idea was a terrible one. Bless his heart, he took the time to very thoroughly and patiently explain to me the many reasons why he thought it was important that I continue to take the medication, particularly since it was working. As he was explaining his rationale, I remembered the discussions that I had with the hospital doctors and nurses both before and after my hysterectomy about using the morphine pump. They continually reminded me that it's much easier and more effective to manage pain by taking pain medication before the pain becomes unbearable, than to try to reduce the pain after it's become severe. I am obviously not a medical professional so forgive me for over-simplifying, but even with a headache, I find that it's much easier to ease the pain if I take something at the first signs of an approaching headache rather than trying to tough it out. If I wait too long, it takes much longer, and much more medication, to get rid of the headache once it's taken hold. And if I really wait too long, medication won't work at all and I simply have to go to bed and try to sleep until the headache goes away on it's own.

I know that there are as many perspectives on medications for mental pain as there are people who experience it, but after thinking about my conversation with my doctor for a while, I realized that he was right, and that deep down inside, I knew he was right (at least for me) before I told him that I wanted to stop taking the medication. So why then was this even an issue for me? Because without realizing it, I'd fallen back into the same stigma trap that frustrates me so much when others do it. In my mind, there was something inherently "weak" about resigning myself to a potentially lifelong "maintenance dose" of medication to ease the symptoms of depression and insomnia that I've lived with for years. Rather than being elated that I'd finally found something that works, my natural reaction was to downplay the significance of this blessing.

I have very high cholesterol, and so does practically every woman on my mother's side of the family. I didn't think twice when my doctor reminded me of the long-term health risks of high cholesterol levels and suggested that since diet and exercise weren't doing enough, that I needed to be on cholesterol-lowering medication. Yet when my doctor reminded me of the long-term health risks of depression and insomnia (not to mention the existing symptoms of which I am very well aware), and suggested that since thinking my way through it or pretending that it wasn't a problem weren't doing enough, that I needed to be on an antidepressant, I had difficulty with that. How are the situations different? They aren't. This is why I hate the term "mental illness". In addition to the fact that I simply don't think it applies to me, that term makes it too easy for me and for others to forget that there is no fundamental difference between treating the biochemical imbalances in my brain and treating the imbalances in other bodily organs that cause me to have high cholesterol, low blood sugar or fibromyalgia.

So, today was my last day of no medications, signalling the end-end of the clinical trial. And tomorrow morning, I start taking Effexor again, and finally tomorrow night I'll start taking Lunesta too (I can't wait to see those butterflies). Of course I'm looking forward to losing those pesky 4 lbs again, but more importantly, I'm looking forward to knowing that I'm taking control of my pain management in a way that works for me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Life lessons I learned from my dog

Every now and then someone sends me one of those e-mails with Frequent Flyer miles that really resonates with me. Today, one came that was so beautiful that I feel compelled to share it it.

All my life I've been a cat-person, but for one brief period, when I needed her the most, God brought a beautiful shepherd-collie-chow into my life. I adopted her from the local animual rescue league, so according to conventional wisdom, most would say that I saved her life, but Gracie and I know that in truth, she saved mine. Gracie loved me unconditionally whether I was having a good day or a bad one. She could sense how I was feeling and always knew what to do. She protected me with her life and she trusted me with hers. We were a pretty formidable team, Gracie and I, and although our time together was short, she will always hold a special place in my heart.

Here's the part of today's e-mail that rang so true for me:
Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of freshair and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.


"Life isn't about how to survive the storm, but how to dance in the rain."

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak gently.

Thank you, Gracie.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Less is more

I've been thinking a lot today about the phrase "Less is more." It's a simple phrase, but there's a lot packed into those three little words. Now that I'm focusing on simplifying my life, I'm beginning to see how the theory is relevant in so many ways.

From a purely practical point, I'm discovering that the less clutter I have in my home, the more time and energy I have to enjoy other things. The less time I spend watching television or playing online games, the more time I have to do things that are truly relaxing and uplifting to me, like blogging, reading, listening to music and knitting. The less "stuff" I have on my mind, the more I'm able to enjoy each day. The less I talk, the more I listen, and the more I listen, the more I learn.

These are all pretty obvious things, but the theory applies in more subtle ways that seem to defy the laws common thought too. For example, the less I *plan* to do on the weekends, the more I'm able to get done. When I resist my natural temptation to create a to-do-list on Saturday mornings with 50 things I *need* to get done before the weekend is over, I never get anywhere near close to completing the list and I'm always exhausted and frustrated by Sunday night. Yet, when I force myself to slow down, focus on those few things that I truly need/want to do that weekend, and plan for down time, it's as if the weekend passes in slow-motion. Not only do I get everything done that I needed to, but I feel well-rested and ready to tackle another week at work by the time the weekend is over.

And then there's the spiritual law of tithing that never ceases to amaze me. The less I try to cling to every penny, and joyfully give tithes and offerings, the more money I seem to have. I used to live from pay check to pay check - literally. I'm making a lot less now than I have in the past, yet now because I'm willing to give more freely of the little I have (responsibly, of course), the always seems to be more than enough in my bank account. I can't begin to explain it, but I can't explain how the Internet works either, but there's no doubt that it does.

So, I think the lesson is simply to let go and let God. It's a shame it took me so long to figure that out, but now that I know, there's no going back to the way life was before.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The politics of hope

I know this is going to sound corny, but I was so excited about what happened in the Iowa caucuses last night that I couldn't sleep. And here I am this morning, still riding the wave of optimism that appears to be taking hold across this country.

I am proud to be a supporter of Mike Huckabee, and as my family, friends and co-workers know all too well, I've been supporting him since last spring when none of them even knew who he was. As an African-American, converted Republican who hails from a long line of die-hard Democrats, my early support of Huckabee was considered by many who know me as yet another example of my being out in left (or in this case, right) field, bucking conventional wisdom, marching to a totally different drummer, and perhaps being just plain rebellious. Yet I've been pleasantly surprised by how many of those nay-sayers actually started listening, first to me, and then to Mike Huckabee, and have begun to see what I saw.

Now, I must also be honest and admit that while I could not in good conscious vote for Obama because he is African-American (or Hillary because she's a woman), and while my values are much more closely aligned with conservative Republican values, I was almost as delighted about Obama's win in Iowa last night as I was for Huckabee. I'm excited that last night sent a message around the country, and around the world perhaps, that integrity and values trump money and "establishment". Honor and character trump pandering to the audience and telling them what they want to hear, even if it's different from what the last group was told. And that as a country, we may finally be ready to move beyond the trappings of race. The pundits can pontificate and speculate until the cows come home, but at the end of the day, it's not what they say that truly matters, as last night's election results proved.

But to me, what happened last night hits home on a personal level as well. The startling, against all odds, "they said it couldn't be done" results last night provide an important lesson to each of us on a much more personal level. So many people living with depression and/or bipolar disorder are told constantly, by well meaning but often misinformed people (including many in the medical community), that this diagnosis is a death sentence of sorts. It symbolizes the death of dreams, of hopes, of possibilities. Both directly and by implication, we are seduced into focusing on all that we supposedly can not do, rather than encouraged to focus on all that we can be. We're told to set "realistic" expectations, settle for less than we dare to dream for and to focus on simply making it through the day - one day at a time. We are constantly reminded of all of the negatives of bipolar/depression, but rarely about the positives.

Well, I'm here to tell you that's a load of BS. Is it easy to live with moods that sometimes take us places we don't want to go? Of course not. Is it comforting to know that we may have to rely on medication to help smooth out the rough edges, maybe even for the rest of our lives? Absolutely not. But if given the choice, who among us would really chose to give up our ability to "feel" life so intensely, to see the world in all of its brilliant technicolors, to intuit things on a level that not many "normal" people can? I certainly wouldn't. So, the choice is ours. We can chose to limit ourselves by allowing others to limit us, or we can take a page from Mike Huckabee's and Barack Obama's playbooks and decide that what we're put here to do is more important than what anybody else tells us we can't do.

History, both past and recent, is full of examples of people who have overcome tremendous odds, many that are much more challenging than ours, to achieve incredible things. Do you doubt that? Search the Internet and read about incredible artists who are blind, or who hold their paintbrushes with their teeth or their feet because they have no arms, or about athletes who complete entire marthons on crutches. Read about children who are born so severely disabled that they were never expected to read or write, yet who're graduating from college. Learn more about the Special Olympics. If you do, I bet you'll start to realize that life is too short, there's way too much to see and do, to waste time at the pity party.
It's time for us to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and believing the lies about what we can and cannot do. It's time to prove the pundits wrong. It's time to figure out why we're here, what our purpose in life is, what gifts we have to offer, what it is we're meant to do, and then, in the words of that simple yet profoundly powerful Nike ad... JUST DO IT!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Rethinking simple abundance

Living a life of simple abundance is one of my major goals for this year. Interestingly, as I was thinking about what I wanted to write about the concept today, I remembered a post I'd written a while ago on simple abundance at another blog. Imagine my surprise when I found that post and realized it was published exactly one year ago today! How's that for synchronicity? defines these two words as follows:

simple: not elaborate or artificial; unassuming; not complicated or complex.

abundance: an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply; an overflowing fullness; wealth.

Sarah Ban Breathnacht, author of one of my favorite books, Simple Abundance, defines simple abundance as "an inner journey, a spiritual and practical course in creative living, a tapestry of contentment." That simple definition contains so much insight. It's an inner journey, meaning that it is ours and ours alone, a journey of our choosing, it comes from within us and is not predicated on external events. We can embark on this inner journey regardless of our external circumstances. We don't need to wait until the bills are paid, the kids are grown, we get married (or divorced), we get that new job. We can embark on this journey NOW.

It's both spiritual and practical. It's interesting that both words are included here. So often people focus on spirituality, but they forget that it's faith and love in action that matters. We're talking about a lifestyle, not a concept here.

I love the word creative. As a self-proclained artist (in the very broadest sense of the word), anything that involves creativity definitely has my attention. But what's great about that word in this context is that not only does it inspire me to live my dream of filling my life and home with "art", made by me and by others, but it also reminds me that God and I together are the artists of my life as well. God has given me the opportunity, the resources, and the desire to create a life that is pleasing both to Him and to me.

Here's what Sarah has to say about Simple Abundance:

At the heart of Simple Abundance is an authentic awakening, one that resonates within your soul; you already possess all you need to be genuinely happy. The way you reach that awareness is through an inner journey that brings about an emotional, psychological, and spiritual transformation. A deep inner shift in your reality occurs, aligning you with the creative energy of the Universe. Such change is possible when you invite Spirit to open up the eyes of your awareness to the abundance that is already yours.
... [There are] six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security. First there is gratitude. When we do a mental and spiritual inventory of all that we have, we realize that we are very rich indeed. Gratitude gives way to simplicity - the desire to clear out, pare down, and realize the essentials of what we need to live truly well. Simplicity brings with it order, both internally and externally. A sense of order in our life brings us harmony. Harmony provides us with the inner peace we need to appreicate the beauty that surrounds us each day, and beauty opens us to joy. But just as with any beautiful needlepoint tapestry, it is difficult to see where one stitch ends and another begins. So it is with Simple Abundance.

Pick up the needle with me and make the first stitch on the canvas of your life. Invite Spirit to open up the eyes of your inner awareness. Be still and wait expectantly, knowing that in the warp and woof of your daily life as it exists today are the golden threads of a simply abundant tomorrow.

Yesterday provided a great example of what simple abundance means to me on a practical level. I went to see a new doctor for a long-overdue eye exam. I'd put off the appointment for so long because in addition to paying for the exam, I expected to have to order new contact lenses and spend a few hundred dollars for new glasses. As it turned out, things turned out quite differently:
  • the doctor discovered that I really didn't need the expensive, special-order daily-wear contacts that I'd been wearing for astigmatisms, so instead she prescribed "regular" extended wear contact lenses which are much less expensive, and commonly stocked in stores that sell lenses. Instead of having to wait a week to 10 days to get my new contacts, she was able to give me a pair on the spot (included in the cost of the eye exam).

  • instead of having to change contacts every two weeks, I can wear the new lenses for 30 days before changing to a new pair, effectively doubling the length of time that a box of 6 lenses will last.

  • since I can now sleep in the new lenses, the doctor reminded me that there was no need to purchase a new pair of (very expensive) glasses to wear when I take my contact lenses out.

  • because I technically need progressive bifocal lenses but am not ready to do that with lenses, I sometimes wear reading glasses over my contacts if the text is small. The last time an eye doctor prescrived "reading glasses", they cost me over $100. This doctor, bless her heart, told me that there was no need to pay for prescription reading glasses, that instead I could get a pair of readers from Wal-Mart, or better still, from the Dollar Store!

  • I had 2 extra boxes of the old special-order contact lenses that I'd purchased a few months ago from Wal-Mart. When I got home, I called and explained the situation and although I know that I was well beyond the exchange period, the optical dept manager told me that she was exchange the special-order lenses that I'd already purchased, and exchange them for the newer, less expensive lenses - that are on sale - meaning that I'll probably be able to get an extra box or two. As a result, I'll have the first 6+ months worth of lenses without spending another dime. And, after that, my new insurance will pay for the next set of lenses that I've had to purchase out of pocket for the last several years.

If I were narrowly focused on abundance as a measure of the amount of money I earn, the beauty of yesterday's trip to the eye doctor would have been lost. I don't have any more money in my pocket tonight than I had the night before last, but that doctor's visit saved me hundreds of dollars. Now, THAT'S something to be grateful for!

I challenge you to expand your definition of abundance. If you do, I'm certain that you'll realize that you are much more richly blessed than you realized.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thoughts for the New Year

It's another New Year - a time of new opportunities and new possibilities... a time when many of us are pledging to ourselves, and perhaps even to others, that we're going to let go of unhealthy habits and replace them with more positive and uplifting ones. I go through this process each year, some with more successful results than others. But this morning, I saw something in the newspaper that crystallized the idea of New Year's resolutions brilliantly for me.

This is apparently a frequently reprinted post from Dear Abby that I'm guessing appeared in syndicated papers across the country today. But just in case you missed it, here it is:
JUST FOR TODAY: I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I will not set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once. I know that I can do something for 24 hours that would overwhelm me if I had to keep it up for a lifetime.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will be happy. I will not dwell on thoughts that depress me. If my mind fills with clouds, I will chase them away and fill it with sunshine.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will accept what is. I will face reality. I will correct those things I can correct and accept those I cannot.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will improve my mind. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration. I will not be a mental loafer.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will make a conscious effort to be agreeable. I will be kind and courteous to those who cross my path, and I'll not speak ill of others. I will improve my appearance, speak softly and not interrupt when someone else is talking. Just for today, I will refrain from improving anybody but myself.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will do something positive to improve my health. If I'm a smoker, I'll quit. If I am overweight, I will eat healthfully — if only just for today. And not only that, I will get off the couch and take a brisk walk, even if it's only around the block.

JUST FOR TODAY: I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my own actions.

And so, Dear Readers, may this New Year bring with it peace and joy. — LOVE, ABBY

I'm printing a copy of this for my refrigerator and another copy for my planner. If I can do these things just one day at a time, I know that this is going to be an awesome year!

More on the year in review

As I often do on New Year's Eve, I spent the early part of last night reflecting on 2007. All in all, it was a fruitful year and I have much to be thankful for. Here's my list of the top 10 accomplishments and the top 10 things for which I'm grateful for in 2007 (in no particular order):
2007 Accomplishments
  1. I learned to dance salsa.
  2. I found a new job in a different field and have met lots of new people and gained new skills.
  3. I got health insurance and took care of some long-standing medical issues.
  4. I've become more self-accepting and self-nurturing and am well on my way to forgiving myself for my past.
  5. I decorated my home in a way that reflects who I am.
  6. I've let go of a lot of material possessions that no longer suit the person I am now.
  7. I ended a relationship with as much class and grace as I started it.
  8. I started this blog and have found that writing is very therapeutic for me.
  9. I've donated generously to churches and charities, even though my income is less than it has been in recent years.
  10. I purchased a digital camera and have started exploring photography.

Things for which I am grateful:

  1. My friendship with Susan.
  2. Reconnecting with old friends who refused to give up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself.
  3. A job that pays a decent salary and medical benefits and that on many days is actually fun.
  4. My daughter is safe in Iraq.
  5. I've finally learned to enjoy my own company.
  6. I haven't had to go without anything that I needed, and was even able to get many of the things I wanted.
  7. I've learned to be happy with what I have.
  8. That I've finally learned some painful life lessons and can now move on instead of repeating the same cycle over and over again.
  9. That I'm physically and emotionally healthy.
  10. That I've met a wonderful man that I'm enjoying spending time with in the moment, without being overly obsessed or committed to a specific outcome.