Take five…day four

As a retired public educator, the unwritten rule to the start of class was always how the first five minutes could make or break the outcome for all involved.  While we never knew what occurred before a child entered the building or classroom, it was our job as educators to create a safe, nurturing, encouraging, and supportive learning community.  As the final morning bell rang, my voice enthusiastically welcomed one and all to another day of learning with Morning Message.  Whether in my own classroom or as the building principal, those first five minutes of the day created a unique opportunity allowing us to share brief moments together as we began the important work of learning.  From a funny story or joke to quotes, poems, and cheers, it was a special time to engage our attitude and effort (the two things we all control) in a positive, can-do mindset for the day.  Breathing deeply, moving body and mind, and making a commitment to be our personal best were the focus.  And as my educator Mom reminded me before my first day of student teaching, “Children are a living message we send to a future time we may not see; be mindful of the messages you share with them, especially during the first five minutes of each school day.”

Case-in-point…I recently visited with a former student who successfully completed three years with me as his teacher in three different grade levels. (I know; three years with me.  WHEW!)  He talked and laughed with me at length about the lessons he remembered most.  You know what?  Not one of the examples he mentioned involved subject matter, tests, or presentations.  More to the point, he marveled at how we worked together during each of those three years to create a class family, a supportive and safe community for all while learning the required curriculum.  He specifically mentioned Morning Message and how it continued to impact the start of his day, even with his own children.

Reflect on the first five minutes of your day today.  What do you wish they looked like?

Morning Message remains my personal reflection and quiet mindset time.  Passages, verses, prayers, poetry, and more help my mind focus and celebrate the abundance of my gratefulness as the day begins.  It’s a positive launching pad into the day by inviting gratefulness inside right away!  🙂

Journey or destination…day three

No matter the weather, St. M and I love a strong, solid walk each day.  Living in an area with four complete seasons, stunning trails, and more, it’s truly a breath of fresh air we both crave daily.  In fact, he often teases me with “it’s time to walk you now.”  This is one way we stop to gratefully process, release, and regenerate ourselves.

Many of you know St. M spent years running full marathons; 49 of them in fact.  While his overall health doesn’t lend itself well to this type of strenuous daily training now, his mindset of pacing and endurance are drilled into his being.  Years of cultivated habits are deeply ingrained (but, y’all know, though, if you see me running, you should run too because something is chasing both of us!).

You may have heard the phrase, “It’s the journey, not the destination.”  St. M says it this way: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”  They mean the same to me…let me explain.

His sporty-sentiment is directly related to gracefulness, gratitude, and thankfulness.  Picture both of us on the same walking course with the finish line being our successful return home.  Our walk time together is important, even if St. M’s natural competitiveness is to always be a step or so ahead.  As he walks, he focuses on the road or path, the next marker on the trail, the next mile, which giant hills to tackle, and such.  He is efficient and purposeful in his walking; he has a plan he must complete.  Me?  I walk with purpose while focusing on the brilliant blue sky, the trees, the flowering plants, the breeze in my face, waving at someone arriving or leaving, bird songs, SQUIRRELS!, and before I know it, we’ve completed our walking journey for the day.  We both are present, thankful, and grateful to be walking even if we’re focused on different incentives.  So…  Which walker do you relate to the most and why? 

Neither is right or wrong.  The real point is to gratefully be present and experience the opportunity.  We may have a destination/sprint in mind, but what a JOY it is to experience the walking journey/marathon along the way…even if St. M has to win by a step most of the time.  🙂

Show up…day two

When you’re traveling the path of Alzheimer’s with a parent 24/7, you can expect daily kinks in the routine.  Some days are relatively smooth and fall easily into the “I got this” category while others…well, I can’t say it very nicely so I won’t say it all (but you get the idea).  For example, most mornings dad verbally grumbles about getting up even though I present him bedside with a hot cup of amazing coffee, a smile, and cheerful greeting.  I remind him to shower, help lay out his clothing (because he will choose a sweater on a hot day or a light t-shirt on a cold one), and leave him to his personal hygiene rituals. Once he presents himself in the main part of our home, he usually smiles and notes, “I’m here; I’m  ready.”  We all clap and get his day going; it’s the same each day.

Dad requires lots of assistance with specific daily tasks, especially those involving medications, inhalers, etc.  He easily confuses things or chooses to just skip them.  Some days while gently reminding or assisting him through a specific task, he looks at me as though I’m 12 once again and “bossing” him into submission.  Sidebar:  Yes, I’m a natural red-headed benevolent overlord; always have been and always will be (those of you who’ve known and loved me most of my life, including St. M, will verify this fact, huh?!).  To dad though, I’m 12 again and by golly, no daughter of his will tell him what to do.  The second St. M opens his mouth to repeat what I just said, dad immediately complies.  WHAT?!?  It’s the power of what I call “show up.”

St. M carries compassion in abundance and uses the super power of show up to his advantage with dad.  In his easy-going way, he coaxes daddy to do what’s in dad’s best interest–drink the entire glass of water with the medication, take the inhaler because of non-stop wheezing, wear the jacket because it’s cold outside, etc.  It may incense me inside at times because I failed to produce results in that moment, but in reality, it’ a grateful outcome because someone other than me took the time to show up.

So, on day two:  What’s a super power you gratefully use to help others?

Some dear friends gently remind me on this journey of these powerful words:  show up…pay attention…let go…speak your truth…don’t be wedded to the outcome…”  This is my morning mantra and sets my mind as I choose to once again show up in gratefulness for the opportunity to start another day with dad.

Grateful to reboot…day one

Yes, it’s been a few weeks since the last post. So much life, yet we all know everything will work again if it’s unplugged for just a bit…

While I missed my usual 40 days before my personal favorite holiday of the year, the next 30 days until Thanksgiving will certainly suffice.  In an effort to jump start this focused season of thanks and giving, these next 30 days are once again about GRATEFULNESS.  As a way to express appreciation, share kindness, and reflectively narrate on the gratitudes of gratefulness, there will once again be one question posted each day, and your participation is encouraged as we reflect together during the Grateful Game.

Personally, being grateful is a feeling of appreciation for a kindness, a welcome experience of gratitude and of thankfulness.  Being authentically grateful brings pleasure and contentment on a level everyone could genuinely use in daily life.  The word itself comes from the Latin derivative, gratus, “showing grace, blessing, and JOY…” Just like daily physical exercise, we must create and cultivate mindful ways to powerfully practice daily gratitude in an effort to recharge and reboot mind, body, and soul.

Day One:   What is ONE thing you are grateful for today, only today?

Me?  REBOOT.  Waking up to a beautifully blue, crystal crisp fall morn following the torrential rains and high winds from the storms of last night, the air is quiet and clean.  The woods have regenerated to start a new day, a new beginning.  My personal battery is recharged and the multitude of worries from yesterday are gone because the blank page in the journal of life is clean, crisp, and ready to unfold a fresh story!

More patience, forgiveness, kindness, understanding, and generosity are the focus.  Perhaps we work to right wrongs, learn from yesterday’s mistakes, listen more, talk less, or put down our phones.  Hope is not lost and mercies are abundant.  Gratefully, another day comes and reboots my sagging spirit, as many times as needed!  And as my favorite Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau observed, “I am grateful for what I am and have…my Thanksgiving is perpetual.”   Go ahead; what’s your ONE grateful thing for just today?  🙂

Peaks and Valleys…

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings; nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn…”  ~John Muir~

Ahhh…the mountains.  As many times as my sis and I have hiked various pathways throughout the majesty of various mountain ranges, our most recent and brief trip into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park strongly illustrated Mr. Muir’s point.  Inclining to the top of Clingman’s Dome was my first solid hike since my heart episode in March.  The altitude and the steep climb were a test of my slow but steady determination to move forward in my journey.  While Pop happily sat below with his coffee, snacks, and people-watching in the early morning mist, we trudged straight up to the view.  Although covered mostly in clouds and smoky mist (as expected in the GSMNP), this was the start to a glorious day and what a way to begin!

There were other paths we explored along our meandering drive throughout the Park.  We took roads less traveled (momma would have loved it); stopped along any place catching our eye, and gleefully explored.  One particular surprise was a glorious chapel in the middle of a secluded section of dense trees; we literally stumbled upon it.  Going inside, I captured a view through the original glass window.  Wilderness through a window…WOW!  If you’ve been in the mountains long enough, you’ve likely experienced the same overwhelming moment while looking out upon nature, smiling, at peace; sublime in the stillness of the soul.  Nothing more is needed.

As the seasons begin to shift and 2019 descends into various holidays and celebrations, may we all take precious moments to simply savor the lessons of mountain peaks and valleys:  expand horizons, reach new heights, keep a sense of wonder, inspire, cherish, and seek the beauty in this journey called life… because it’s true, the best view always comes after a challenging climb.


Tears and tissues…

There’s a powerful quote that unexpectedly surfaced this morning as I quietly sobbed about the news of two more mass shootings within hours of each other: “There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not a mark of weakness, but of power.  They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.  They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love…”  ~Washington Irving~

While tears are literally a body fluid serving to cleanse and lubricate our eyes, more importantly, they are often formed by the crying associated with strong internal emotional responses.  Modern culture is more forgiving of crying because of the known health and mental well-being benefits, but many cultures still consider crying undignified or even unacceptable forms of response.  So why tears and tissues?  Beyond the tragic news this morning, several recent situations have shed powerful personal light on the sacredness of tears.

We often joke in our family about the emotional responses evoked from advertising.  Take those Hallmark commercials (“when you care enough to send the very best”) and most of their movies; they get us every single time.  There are a couple of TV shows stimulating emotional responses because the characters are somehow living out our lives on the little screen.  Daily news events, poetry, short stories, novels, magazine articles, cards, letters, emails, social media, and more…all can awaken and summon unexpected emotional responses through shared human connection.

These days, it’s quite unusual to see my dad cry anytime.  His emotions and responses are fairly stagnant due to his advancing Alzheimer’s.  He’s not easily moved to great JOY or deep sorrow because he takes most news and situations with little-to-no reaction (this is how I know he’s not really processing all life throws his way). Gratefully, his witty sense of humor and teasing are still intact, thus we can “spar” with one another on his good days.  A couple of weeks ago, though, he had an emotional meltdown when the reality of my leaving on a short trip came to pass.  I talked him through the plan with his white board, handed him tissues, hugged him up tight, and did my best to reassure him his “team” would be with him every step of the way in my absence.  His favorite caregiver took over and I gingerly climbed into my vehicle to leave for the airport.  It completely broke my heart to experience this surprising response from him, thus I quietly cried clear across the country on the plane until I fell asleep exhausted (sorry, lady in the seat next to me).

My family knows, in an ironic twist quite outside my comfort zone, I cry more now than ever before in my life.  It’s not unusual for me to wipe tears of JOY or sadness on a daily basis.  This new phenom entered my world exactly three weeks to the day after mom’s passing three years ago, when the reality of losing her physical being (long after losing her mental and emotional being from Alzheimer’s) finally surfaced in a powerful delayed response.  I was quietly participating in the Anglican Evensong service at York Minster Cathedral in York, England.  Our little group was sitting in the beautiful choral loft on the opposite side of the chorus and vicar leading worship.  The dam of emotions suddenly broke and a profound flood of quiet but ugly, messy crying ensued.  My traveling companions vividly recall the bizarre scene of continuing to sing the liturgical responses and helplessly scrambling to find just one tissue, a scarf, or anything to help me stop the continuous flow of fluids.  Once the service ended and I managed to somewhat reign in my quiet sobs, the vicar approached our little group.  He quietly handed me his personal handkerchief along with the invitation to walk with him.  The two of us strolled leisurely along the magnificent handcrafted stone structure with its stunning collection of medieval stained glass, talking about loss and hope in this journey we call life.  The vicar ended our conversation by gently reminding me how “shedding tears as Jesus did is a powerful emotional release when dealing with all this season of your life evokes; simply embrace and celebrate the process in all its forms…” 

During a recent lunch with a friend of mine, we commented on the fact we’ve both cried enough tears in the past year to possibly resolve a saltwater shortage.  (Fun fact:  Research shows humans make 15 to 30 gallons of tears each year on a normal basis).  Often times, and in both our cases, the physical aspect of our tears clears the way and helps us gracefully move forward in hope.

I have a wonderful friend who enthusiastically collects and carries bandannas with him each day.  Because of him, I’m always on the lookout for unique designs to gift to him, knowing if I needed one at any time, he would have one for me.  Yes; you guessed it; he recently gifted me with one, thus starting my own collection by emotional default.

So here’s hoping my friends, we remember to embrace the sacredness of our tears on our journeys…and please find a little comfort in knowing I’m making it a mission to have a tissue or bandanna ready to give you when your flood of tears flows.  🙂

Let it be; yesterday, today, and tomorrow…

“Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh, I believe in yesterday…”

“There are places I’ll remember, All my life, though some have changed; some forever, not for better; some have gone, and some remain…in my life, I’ve loved them all…”

“All you need is love; all you need is love; all you need is love, love; love is all you need…”

“Hear comes the sun (doo doo doo doo); here comes the sun, and I say; it’s all right…”

“The long and winding road that leads to your door; will never disappear.  I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here; lead me to your door…”

For all her classical voice training, opera, choral work, and more, Momma loved the music, and most especially the lyrics, of the Beatles.  A powerful early memory of mine is sitting next to her on the piano bench after she practiced some aria or solo piece while she picked her way through the latest Beatles’ tunes.  Though we never had much conversation about the group or their massive body of work, she made it clear her respect and admiration ran fathoms deep.

Once I began formal piano training, my reward for required daily practicing was mom sitting next to me on the bench teaching me how to play and sing a Beatles’ tune.  As my younger sis beat on pots and pans (she liked percussion after all), mom gingerly chorded notes on the piano with me, never missing a word of the lyrics, and often reminding me how glorious it was to “whisper words of wisdom…let it be.” 

Sitting in the dark cinema quietly humming my way through the Yesterday movie this afternoon, her abiding admiration and powerful respect was felt anew for their profound musical contribution.  If she were here, she would have sung her way through the entire film, reminiscing and reflecting through each song.

So, on what would have been your 77th birthday today, thanks Momma, for embracing so many amazing musical genres and avenues while doing your best to always encourage me to “whisper words of wisdom; let it be…”