Rest In Peace

When I turned 42, Fear took hold of me in the form of death premonitions. It demanded my attention.  I’m eternally grateful that it did.

Prior to A Year of Thank Yous, my sense of gratitude was limited at best.  Being grateful only for the things I deemed positive likened me to a spoiled child sitting amongst a pile of gifts, saying thank you only for the ones I wanted.  This occurred to me one night in a dream.

I was standing at the gates of Heaven where God waited in anticipation.  As I approached, His first question was, “Well, did you like it?”

“Like what?” I asked.

Disappointed in my ignorance, God replied, “My gift.  The life I gave you.  Did you enjoy it?”

Hanging my head in shame, I admitted, “Oh.  I didn’t know it was a gift.  There were so many things that scared me.  So many things I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.  I thought it was a test, maybe even a punishment, but not a gift.  I’m sorry.”

God turned, crestfallen, leaving me to wonder which of us was more disappointed.  Eager to correct my mistake, I pledged to re-visit my life with new eyes.

Determined to set things right with God, I marched toward Fear ready for a showdown.  Grabbing Fear by the throat, I unleashed my intention.   Never again would I let Fear rule me or lead me or cloud my judgment.  Fear had one role – to protect me from real harm – not imagined threats.  It was not meant to ruin my enjoyment of God’s gift.

Defying me with the strength I had given it over many years, Fear laughed meniacally and said, “Choose your weapon.”  Looking at my arsenal of choices, I quickly decided on my best defense – Gratitude.  Like a master admitting defeat before a fight, Fear bowed, smiled  a knowing smile, and acknowledged my wise choice.

This Year of Thank Yous has woven a tale of the battle between Fear and Gratitude.  Each side has scored its share of points.  There are days when Fear overcame me, opening the door for depression, worry, and all their friends.  At first I would drop my weapon and fall to the ground in surrender. With practice, though, I learned to use Gratitude more effectively.  Eventually, it became not just a tool, but an extension of myself.  These days, it is a rare occurrence when Fear shows up for a fight.  My black belt in Gratitude keeps it at bay.

As I give thanks on this, my 43rd birthday, I reflect on the difference a year makes.  At the outset of the Gratitude Project I wouldn’t have predicted that my premonitions of death would lead me to life.  I thought I would die physically and that my family would suffer a great loss.  As Divine Paradox would have it, part of me did die, but in a way that brought me immeasurable gain.  The fear of death brought the death of fear.

One could say I was already dead – dead to the beauty of a full-contact life.  Unappreciative of the big picture.  Unaware that the life I was living was a mere fraction of the potential gifted to me at birth.  Fear, the perceived enemy, turned out to be a blessing, merely a sheep in wolve’s clothings.

Fear lit the match that was needed to spark my appreciation of life as it is.  It lit the fire that illuminated the darkness of my thoughts.  It helped me see my life, with its surprises and uncertainties, its joys and sorrows, as the gift it was meant to be.

I am no longer interested in living life with a footnote.  There are no conditions to my gratitude, no blame, no wishful thinking.  I love life as it is.

Today, I am 43.  Today I rest in peace.  For this, I am thankful.

Deb

“I’m not afraid to die.  I’m afraid to be alive without knowing it.”   -Epica in the song Sensorium

Thank You For This

With my 43rd birthday in sight, I feel like I’m approaching a finish line.  As I gaze at the month ahead of me, the home stretch, I realize that I am no more immune to death now than I was when I first experienced my premonitions of death at age 42.  I am acutely aware that if Heaven wants me, it can grab me off the race track of life whether I’m thirty years from the ‘finish line’ or thirty days.  There are no rules, no fair and square, where death is concerned.

So although I’m not falsely consoled by the fact that I’ve almost made it to my next birthday, I am feeling quite lighthearted about the matter.   The overwhelming fear of death that plagued me just months ago, has all but vanished.  Thanks to the Gratitude Smackdown.

At first, Death was chasing me like a dog nipping at my heels.  So I ran as fast as I could into my life.  I seized days and moments and opportunities like a greedy thief.  Intent on living life to the fullest and not missing one moment, I became paranoid and anxious.  MUST BE PRESENT.  MUST NOT WASTE TIME.  The threat of death hammered away in my head.

Eventually, I had to stop running.  It’s exhausting, and foolish, to try to outrun Death.  Instead, I turned to face Death square-on, defying it to ruin whatever time I had left.  I focused on embracing the whole of it – the times I am in synch with the rhythm of love and life as well as the times when I slip into unconscious, mindless, moment-wasting oblivion.  When I stopped fretting over which of these states had more value,  gratitude found its stride.

Gratitude revealed its magic in transforming each moment, each thought, each action into a cause for celebration.  A fit of anger, I learned, deserves an equal amount of gratitude as a spontaneous expression of love.  When I dared to be grateful to anger, I saw how it has been my voice when I needed to stand my ground.  It’s hard to see the light side of the shadow, but I am convinced that it’s there even when it escapes me.  So I throw gratitude at it with a disclaimer, “I don’t know why, God, but thank you for this.”

A question was posed to me recently.  ‘What would your ideal life look like?’  At first, old practiced images of ease and decadence flashed through my mind.  But quickly, because of the Gratitude Project, the scene transformed against a different backdrop.  The lovely images I conjured looked empty save for the balance of life.  The chaos and doubt and denial loomed close and completed the image with perfection.

Like the cat who ate the canary, a smile crossed my face.  What would my ideal life look like, you ask?  This.  As is.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  I’ve been proven wrong too many times this year to discount any single part of life as other than a gift.  Though I may not at first see it or say it, there is nothing I can’t be grateful for.

Joy, Where Are You?

Joy, where are you?  You were right here a minute ago.  I turned to talk to the Complaint Family and when I looked back, you were gone.  I know your hiding places.  We’ve played this game before.  I’ll find you eventually.

Ah, there you are.  Why are you hiding?  You look scared.  Yes, the Complaint Family is loud, I agree.  They brought so many relatives to visit this time – Stress and Depression and Frustration.  Oh and Jealousy – haven’t seen her in a while.

They always seem to visit when I’m tired.  How can I turn them away when they show up at my doorstep?  No, I don’t love when they visit either, but they’re old friends.     Well, that’s true, you’ve known me for longer.  Yes, Joy, you were my first and only friend for a long time.  But I had to grow up and meet others.

Now, don’t do that.  No fair bringing up the teenage years when I abandoned you, Joy.  I didn’t know better.  I excluded you and I’m sorry for that.  I know you were hurt when I chose Depression as my new best friend.  It hurt me, too, to be without you.  I’m so glad you didn’t give up on me.

I’m still not perfect you know.  I get caught up with Stress sometimes, and Responsibility – they’re hard to handle.  Yes, you could help me deal with them.  Your presence would quiet them.  I should try to remember that.

Look, I promise I will pay more attention to you.  Now, will you come out from that hiding spot?  Come and give me a hug.  I love you, Joy.  I need you. What’s that?  On one condition?  You want me to invite Gratitude to live with us?  Sure, why not?  I like Gratitude.  She’s a good friend to you.  I notice that when Gratitude stays with us you seem strong.  And when she’s here, the Complaint Family doesn’t come around.  I think that’s a splendid idea, Joy.  We’ll invite Gratitude to live with us.

. . . . .

And so it was.  Gratitude moved in.  Joy grew stronger.  And we all lived happily ever after.  Sure, we’ve had visitors occasionally.  But the Complaint Family stopped coming around as much.  And when they did, they weren’t invited to stay.

Courage

Courage

 

It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

 

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

 

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

 

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

~ Anne Sexton ~

(The Awful Rowing Toward God)

Thank You, Button

Sometimes the world is so beautiful I can’t stand it.  More accurately, the world is always beautiful, and sometimes I see just how mignificnet it is and it blows my mind.

I conducted an experiment one day, challenging myself to find the smallest, most insignificant thing I could feel grateful for.  My attention shifted to the buttons on my shirt.  Boring, commonplace, underappreciated buttons.  As I focused on them, I saw how simple they were, a no-brainer as far as inventions go.  Yet buttons didn’t always exist.  Imagine the first person to discover buttons.  He/she was probably elated at this newfound convenience.  A decorative one to boot! 

Then I pictured my shirt missing a button.  Gee, I’m glad I’m not missing a button.  You know, I actually have hundreds of buttons, and they’re all different!  So I went to look at those buttons too.  In my closet, I ran into belts and zippers and all sorts of fabrics and colors and designs.  Then I notcied the light above my head and the simple switch that turned on this amazing technology.  And I was grateful for Thomas Edison and…..

Like a runaway train, gratitude gathered momentum within me.  It sped down the track of my mind out of control.  I couldn’t stop seeing everything as amazing.  I actually had to look away – turn my brain off – for fear that it would crash.

There are days that I repeat this experiment just for the trhill – like a hyped-up child who gets off a rollercoaster and runs right back into the line to ride again.  I’m addicted to gratitude high.

The irony is, the more I see that everything matters, the more I realize that nothing does.  In gratitude-speak, the fact that I have a chair to sit on is magnificent.  The loss of that chair would be grand, too, because the floor would be there for me to sit on.    And if I didn’t have the floor, well, the ground would support me and I would be grateful for that.  And there it goes again – gratitude taking off with me in tow until I start crying because I can’t fathom the abundance in front of me, and below me, and beside me.

Mark Haddon’s autistic character in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime observes, “I think there are so many things in just one house that it would take years to think about all of them properly.  And also, a thing is interesting because of thinking about it and not because of it being new.”

It sounds silly, but I am grateful to gratitude for showing me how to think about things ‘properly.’ And for coloring my world with so much overwhelming beauty.

Life Is Not the Greatest Boon of Existence

I was struck by a quote from a 34 year old man who was facing his potential death, ‘Life is not the highest boon of existence.  There are ideals that are superhuman, interests greater than life itself, for which it is worthwhile dying.’  Facing my own awareness of the possibility of early death, I feel quite the opposite.  I’ve been clinging to life.  Consciously savoring every moment.  Hoping and praying that I will live longer than 42 years.  The threat of life being taken from me makes it all the more precious and difficult to release. 

Yet I am well aware that my life is not my own.  I didn’t give myself life and I won’t intentionally take it away.  Nor can I prevent it being taken away beyond what common sense and self-care can accomplish in that regard. 

The funny part is, I’m not actually afraid of death.  I believe in Heaven and my place there.  I believe in God and angels and the protection they provide.  I don’t think that life itself is the ‘greatest boon’. My resistance to death boils down to one Great Fear – the fear of leaving my children motherless.  I can’t think of a more cruel blow to childhood than losing a parent.  Who would be their biggest fan?  Who would love them the way I do?  Nurture them the way I do?

Yet my faith tells me that all things happen for a reason.  That everything works out for the best.  Who am I to say that my children wouldn’t be better off without me?  No, really.  Maybe there are life lessons they need to learn that don’t involve a mother.  Again, it’s not my plan.  I didn’t design this thing called life.  I want to stop pretending that I know what’s best.  I want to have faith in ‘interests greater than life itself, for which it is worthwhile dying.’  I want to remain focused on what today brings, and be thankful for it without trying to hold onto it.

So here it is.  Thankfulness.  For life AND death.  For Divine plans I know nothing of.  For the gift of being a mother – for 14 years and counting.

 

Thank You 2011

Thank You 2011!  For all that you gave and took away.  For the triumphs and tragedies – both equally important to my growth.  Thank you for the lessons in patience and fortitude and doing the right thing.  Thank you for sparing me the challenge of losing anyone I love and for teaching me how to love them better.  Thank you for giving me choices and for not judging the choices I made.  Thank you for second chances and forgiveness. Thank you for generosity and selfishness and the ability to put both into perspective.  Most of all, thank you for the peace in my heart and the gift of a life that continues into 2012.

We’re All Dying – It’s No Excuse

My husband unabashedly shared his disapproval of a man we all knew.  A friend in the group pointed out, “You know he’s dying,” as if that fact excused the indiscretion of the man in question.  My husband matter-of-factly replied, “We’re all dying.  Some of just have a better idea of when.”  Good point.

Does the presence of a terminal medical diagnosis give a person the right to behave badly?  Shouldn’t we all be held to our highest code of conduct?  Or do certain people get a free pass?    In truth, we all have a death sentence.   Does it follow, then, that we all should be excused from accountability on the basis of our guaranteed death?

What if, instead of using death, or suffering, or loss as an excuse for bad behavior, we used life as a reason for good behavior?  A reason to be nice, to seize the day, to forgive, to love, to be thankful. 

As Billy Graham said, “Our days are numbered.  One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day.  The legacy we leave is…in the quality of our lives.”

First Quarter Report: Fear

I’ve been 42 years old for three months now and I’m still alive.  Whew.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t worry about death every day.  But, like a nation reacting to a remote terrorist threat, I do operate at a heightened level of security.   With a fear of imminent death looming in the background, I’m more apt to act cautiously – as if I could avert a tragic accident - ha!

It’s funny, really.  If my time is up, I’m certain there’s nothing I can do to stop the ending event.  It’s not like I can hide from God.  Still, fear has me peaking around dark corners expecting the Grim Reaper to appear and planning my escape if he does.

From my previous experiences with gratitude, I thought a Year of Thank Yous would suspend the fear of death by shifting my focus.  Instead, my heightened attitude of gratitude has, if anything, increased my reluctance to move from this life.  Every day I find new reasons to want to live.  Reasons that previously existed only as grudges.  If in the past I wished for a newer car, I now give thanks that I have a car.  Where I became impatient with another person, I now feel gratitude for the opportunity to grow in tolerance and compassion.  In short, I am loving life.  All of it.  The good, the bad, and the ugly as they say. 

Loving life makes it harder to accept death.  Perhaps in the second quarter of a Year of Thank Yous my goal could be to appreciate fear.  If I throw enough gratitude at its feet maybe it will soften.  Everything else has.  Gratitude has power like I’ve never seen.  Surely it can take on fear.

Prayers

As I tucked my little one into bed, I said, “Do you have anything you want to ask God for help with?”  She replied with conviction, “Nope.  I have everything I need: good family, good friends, and I’m smart!”

Warm feelings washed over me.   I felt at once comforted by the truth of my daughter’s words and also remorseful.  She was content with life as it was laid out.  I, on the other hand, had a list of wishes for God to fulfill that night.  

The innocence of children allows them to see only what is important in life and elicits pure gratitude.  I suppose one could argue that children are sheltered from ‘real’ problems and that it’s easy for them to see through rose-colored glasses.  But when I borrow those glasses from a child, I realize that I, too, can see the beauty in front of me – just as it is.

So I offer this prayer today:

For all that I am,

For all that I will become,

For all that I’ll never be,

I am thankful.