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Gaining Perspective Through the Eye of a Storm

Everyone enduring the last two weeks here in central FL with Hurricane Irma have stories, situations and scenarios. Though specifics may differ most of us are simply fatigued with decisions, disruptions and distress. We are spent, so to speak. That is, our budgets, our sleeplessness, our patience. Though we understand ‘it could be worse’, there is no denying we our uncomfortable and exhausted. Thousands are still without power (including Michael and I) Some are temporarily relocating and others have found themselves unemployed. Last night after working late, I stopped at the store for our elderly neighbors. The bread and water aisles are bare (still) again. Store clerks look tired. Freezer cases have thawed and ‘slippery when wet’ cones border their aisles.
Young parents are scrambling to find sitters since day-cares and schools are flooded or without power. Some are searching for lost pets. Today, a woman roamed our generator-deafening neighborhood calling for “Mocha”, her half blind, lost kitty. Yesterday, two of our neighbors crashed their cars short-cutting through a nearby development since our street was impassable. Mobile homes are unlivable. Cars have been crushed by fallen trees. Bodies are hot, sore and tired from raking, hauling and clearing debris. Simply sitting here typing, I feel the sweat beading up on my skin and the thought of our cold (only) shower is somewhat appealing.
Inconveniences challenge our ‘normal’. It’s one thing to be uncomfortable and quite another to endure greater suffering. Those facing life-threatening illness, hospital stays, incurable disease wish their only struggle was tree clean-up and power outages. I read daily reports of a friend battling serious post-surgery infections. I watch our neighbor endure pain knowing his cancer has returned. I’ve seen the tears in my co-worker’s eyes grieving the loss of her newborn. Perspective gives us the ability to gracefully endure the uncomfortable. It gives us the motivation to come alongside those hurting – to share supplies, cook a meal, watch their children or simply listen with compassion. I’ve heard some say how guilty they feel for not having suffered loss. Those who have need you. They need relief. They need to know they haven’t been forgotten. They need to know someone cares. Simple acts of kindness especially in troubled times makes a wilting heart bloom again, for both the giver and the receiver. Gain perspective whatever your situation so that your life and the lives of others in your sphere of influence can be blessed.

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I’m Not Emotional. It’s Not Hormonal. It’s …Hurricane-al!

It’s simply out of my control …the hurricane, the empty shelves, the gas shortage. I can’t control frantic drivers, rude shoppers or panicky procrastinators. I can’t prevent fallen trees, power outages or damaged property. And when the storm has finally passed, I am at the mercy of the power company, the roadway crews and clean-up management.

 
I can’t force neighbors to be neighborly, landlords to care or employers to understand. I can’t predict the safest place to park my car, the best room to hunker down or whether my sleeplessness will exaggerate irrational fears. I don’t know which trees will remain rooted, which might topple on the house or which might dive into the above ground pool creating a tidal wave our sliding glass doors could never contain. I can’t predict what might happen to ‘our’ feral cat or the elderly and sickly couple next door or those we dearly love in more dangerous and flood-prone areas.

 
The forecast is obvious, the scenario is typical, the possibilities are predictable but the exact outcome is unknown. The individual damage is still a mystery. The recovery time questionable. So much is out of my control, (and your control) and perhaps that is part of our stress (at least my stress) — the extent of unknown damage and the lack of ability to control it.
When uncertainty lingers; when warnings alarm; when darkness surrounds, I shall try to control the one and only thing I have control over – and that is the atmosphere of my mind.

Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

 

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Happy Birthday Michael

I haven’t lived through it all with him but I know enough about him. He is a collection of risky and rebellious, coupled with sincerity and gratitude. He’s had ups and downs, highs and lows, success and uncertainty. He’s enjoyed riches and survived penniless. He’s seen rock-bottom, made some mistakes, took the hard road for a while but climbed out of life’s valley on the steps of mercy and lessons learned. He’s been positive and protective, generous and thoughtful, patient and determined.
He has wandered, returned, loved and lost. There were beginnings, endings, closed chapters and fresh starts. There was sorrow, uncertainty, grief and desperation, yet through it all, the years were punctuated with glorious hope, renewed strength, family blessings and a teachable heart. He is a result of everything that has transpired over the years and without regret gives thanks for it all for it has led him to become the man he is today.
Michael celebrates his 60th birthday August 23rd and many things about him make up the reasons why I love him . . . There is never any hesitation when it comes to his selfless giving. Rarely, do I hear a negative word from his lips about any thing or any one. He finds strength in solitude, beauty in nature and energy on barefooted trails. He has taught me by his own example to take care of myself and challenge my limits in order to survive and thrive each day.
He will endure just about anything for the sake of others except drama and negativity. The intolerance of such things reveals one way he protects, respects and cares for himself, for us, and the healthy, happy atmosphere he is determined to maintain. He welcomes fresh starts and clean slates without accusation, judgement or blame because he is all about celebrating today not wallowing in the past or casting shadows on the future.
He continues to learn new things, make new plans and go new places. His calm, no-worries outlook continues to challenge my fears and tame my wild imaginations. He reads, watches webinars, tries new recipes and seeks better habits, continually, leaving no time for TV in over ten years.
He cooks, bakes, washes dishes and laundry, mows, cleans the pool, gardens, fixes just about everything, shops for groceries and irons (yes, he irons).
He feeds the backyard birds and squirrels, keeps the neighborhood kitty coming back for breakfast and talks to reptiles like most people speak to adorable puppies. He gathers pine cones from his trail running for the pre-schooler’s arts and crafts. He keeps the favorite foods and drinks of others in the pantry just in case they come to visit. He’s territorial about ‘his’ kitchen and wishes there were two ovens for those ultra-eve baking marathons. (Then volunteers for those races, cheering others on for hours).
He wakes much earlier than I and though I’ve never seen it with my own eyes, I think he’s doing Yoga on that mat in his office. He drinks green tea and smoothies but brings me coffee, in bed, every single morning. He happens to be a pretty good listener, too, though I don’t talk much (HA HA).
Michael is a kid at heart, which is the reason why little ones love to be around him. He’s found his passion and purpose working with the families and children society calls the poorest of the poor. He serves on a local board to advance early childhood reading and supports another community endeavor helping the homeless get back on their feet. He boasts about nothing, absolutely nothing. He knows a great deal more than he speaks and when he does he articulates well and communicates with sincerity.
He is not a perfect man (and will admit it). Just like everyone of us, he has degrees of tolerance, days of tiredness and occasional forgetfulness. But the man he is today, though imperfect, is genuine. What you see is who he is and who he is is a result of life’s experiences, lessons and choices. The man he is today is welcoming, fun, thoughtful and kind. He loves life and wakes each morning thankful for another sunrise and grateful to be alive.
For those of you who truly know him, you understand why he is so easy to love. Happy “60th” Birthday Michael. The world is a better place (and I am a better person) because of you.

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An Ultra Marathon, A Paint Ball Tournament & A Lesson Remembered

As teenagers, my two sons and their friend entered a paintball tournament hosted by a local business. Their only experience consisted of backyard woods-ball with their friends, a few paintball party events and some random targeting just for fun. They named their ‘team’, paid a fee, wore matching camo and packed their gear in beat up duffle bags and worn out backpacks.

 
Tournament day arrived and so did we. We walked from the car to the field through an intimidating midway of canopy tents filled with teams dressed in professional, colorful, matching jerseys. They were unloading some of the most expensive air-ball guns the kids had ever seen. Under their canopies were numerous parts, accessories and tools mostly housed in multi-drawer tool carts you’d find in a well-organized garage. Many had coolers and a few had table-top grills. As we walked, we overheard conversations of their past experiences and victories as well as their boastful confidence for the day’s competition.

 
There were a few realizations that occurred as we observed everything and everyone. For one, the boys had woods-ball not air-ball guns -which have the advantage of firing faster. They were dressed in camo because that’s what you wear where to hide behind trees and bushes. But this field had no trees. Most of the obstacles were inflated and bright colored. The boys had no canopy tent and their tool kit was a simple assortment of Allen wrenches. We hadn’t thought to bring a cooler but they had some granola bars, Gatorade and money for hotdogs at the snack bar.

 
Though this tournament took place more than 15 years ago, the memory and the feelings associated with it rolled through my mind last weekend as I challenged myself to participate in a 12 hour ultra-marathon event. My boyfriend, Michael and I tent camped at the event the night before. When daylight broke, I walked from our campsite toward the start/finish area. Runners and their family and friends were already arriving and I found myself walking through another midway of intimidating canopies. I overheard conversations and reminiscing of previous, popular and hard-to-qualify-for races among runners. They spoke of ultra’s of one-hundred miles or more, ultra’s with 7000 feet of elevation, ultra’s in other countries, in deserts, up mountains, through flooded trails, in the dark and among wild night-creatures. I had run a few local 50k’s (rather slowly) but experienced nothing like what I had overheard.

 
My J.C. Penny running shorts happen to match a hand-me-down shirt from a friend and I felt pretty comfortable though I admit I was a little envious of some of the other runner’s clothing. I carried my Publix shopping bag with extra socks, my older trail shoes I planned to rotate with the newer ones I had on, a bag of pretzels, some Swedish fish and a pair of flip- flops for post race. I had rehearsed a few mantras to help me persevere through the day but the only thing I could think of now was “what the %#@! are you doing here, Polly?” And an overwhelming sense of insignificance and inferiority momentarily stole my hope along with whatever confidence I thought I had.

 

I made it to the aid-station where Michael was volunteering and an enthusiastic friend asked me how I was feeling. I couldn’t stop my bottom lip from quivering but I managed to stifle the tears and making close eye contact with her I admitted my overwhelming sense of insignificance. I don’t think she was expecting that answer. She admitted her own anxiousness and reassured my heart with some kind words I obviously needed at the time and wish I could remember now.

 
The paintball tournament lasted most of the day. The boys were actually holding their own for much of the competition but eventually the process of elimination caught up with them. They had fun, made some great memories and most importantly, persevered without allowing the trap of comparison hinder their confidence.

 

It’s interesting how certain experiences, memories and lessons will surface when confronted with similar situations. When the air horn was fired and the race began I deliberately made a choice. Instead of allowing insignificant feelings dominate my thoughts, I decided to be thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to be a participant, thankful for a healthy body, for my best friend, Michael, being there with me, for the beauty of the trail, for the friends I’ve made in the running community and how privileged I was to actually mingle with runners who’ve experienced amazing races all over the world. Twelve hours later I finished what I had started with 43.2 miles behind me.

 

 

The boys had dreams of winning the tournament. I had a dream of 50 miles. Neither came true. Though the lesson is simple, it bears repeating. That is, success is not necessarily measured in dreams fulfilled, rather in the journey attempting to reach them.

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Campsite Insight

An organized load doesn’t necessarily mean a lesser load.
Friendly raccoons by day are fear-instilling monsters by night.
Roof racks, straps and kayaks have the power to summon curse words.
Hot Florida nights plus mid-life warmth gives new meaning to  “bare” in the tent.
Nocturnal birds swooping, flapping and catching their squealing prey before daybreak happens. And when it does, it’s right outside your tent ‘door’.
Ants like cough-drops and sweet beverages, especially the ones zipped inside your tent.
The huge dumpster, only giants could reach …has doors.
Identifying raccoon footprints is a cinch, especially when they’re on your tablecloth.
Hiking through a national forest changes perspective and humbles the ego.
Kayak wheels are helpful, except when turning corners.
Informative people work at information booths. Friendly people should work at the welcoming station.
Most swimmers like rafts. Many like tubes. Some like noodles. And a few prefer rainbow-colored unicorns.
Waving at the nosy neighbor may not be as neighborly as it seems.
Bikes still work without chain guards; the best toast requires no toaster and some mosquitoes are immune to citronella.
You can still get kicked out of the ‘kitchen’ even at a campsite.
Conditioning shampoo is also a good body wash.
Yahtzee by candlelight does not diminish a competitive spirit.
Just because you wake up feeling the ground doesn’t mean the air mattress needs patched.
Pans hot off the grill melt the coating on the picnic table and the two become one.
A real friend has your back …and removes the tick you cannot reach.
60 pounds of ice after 3 days creates cooler “pools.” Use Ziplocs.
The creepy feeling you’re being watched may apply to raccoons on the branches above you.
Coffee “tea bags” are possible with filters and plain dental floss …not mint.
Wild imaginations are more debilitating than wildlife.
Jobs are necessary but experiences make the loss of hours well worth it.
The beginning of courage is facing fear. The conquering of it may take repetition.
“Thank-you for not being a wuss” outweighs all other compliments -especially from the one who’s witnessed your history of cowardice.

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A Penny for My Thoughts? Yes, please!

The average person processes between 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day (according to the National Science Foundation). That’s 35 to 48 thoughts per minute. Unfortunately, for most, those thoughts may not be focused on what’s truly important. Many of our thoughts involve worry, negativity, doubt, criticism, guilt, pride, complaint, comparison and just plain nonsense.

Thoughts are not isolated to our mind alone. Attached to each of our thoughts are feelings. Anxiety. Anger. Worry. Hopelessness. Judgement. Gratitude. Anticipation. Fear. Resentment. Love. Happiness. Etc. Fifty-thousand positive or negative, productive or useless, creative or logical, exciting or disappointing thoughts are filling your mind, per day, while a tsunami of feelings are flooding your heart right along with them.

You have the ability to choose your thoughts and in doing so, steer your emotions which eventually, lead to decisions that ultimately direct your life’s path. When your thoughts are thankful, you feel blessed. When you feel blessed, you are more likely to bless others. When your outlook is positive you feel hopeful and that hopefulness trickles over to others in the form of encouragement and kindness. When you are willing to release anger, guilt, pride and judgement you feel a sense of freedom and relief. That freedom allows growth, risk, teach-ability and possibility. Your thoughts and feelings guide your decision making. Your decisions determine the direction of your life.

Even the authors of ancient scripture knew the value of positive thinking when they wrote, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. (And to) think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Ephesians 4:8) For mental and emotional peace, we must think on the good stuff because filtering the mind’s thoughts also guards the heart’s emotions which ultimately determine our life’s general direction.

Toxic thoughts, critical judgements, suspicious attitudes, negative outlooks, selfish pity, presumptuous entitlement and vain imaginations poison a pure heart and contaminate the atmosphere of your mind. Rethink your thoughts. Choose what you dwell on. View negativity like a disease trying to infiltrate your life, having the potential to slowly deteriorate the quality of your mental and emotional health. Avoid negativity like you would any cancer causing habit or contagious flu-like germ which holds the power to take your life through undesirable detours.

Change the critical self-talk your inner voice echoes. Recognize your mind’s default pattern. Release the thoughts that make you (or your view of others) feel unworthy, incapable, fearful, angry, inferior or rejected. Replace them with a teachable, humble, open-minded and thankful spirit.

Joyful and gracious living begins with sincere positive thinking, deeply rooted in gratitude, praise and purpose. Pay attention to your mind’s traffic. Bumper to bumper negativity leads to frustration and unhappiness. Always remember that you are in control of the atmosphere of your mind, the direction of your outlook and the measure of lighthearted living you experience, regardless of outer circumstances. Your positive thinking may not have the power to bring about world peace, but your personal peace-of-mind is a valuable treasure in the midst of whatever this world delivers.

Replace your negative thoughts and you’ll rejuvenate your emotions. That positive combination of thoughts and feelings, leads to better decision-making, which ultimately fills your own life, and the lives of those around you, with greater hope and happiness.

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500 Words

It’s just five-hundred words. Write five-hundred words each day consistently. That seems simple enough, especially for someone who usually enjoys writing. Without a doubt I can speak five-hundred words a day. Producing five-hundred words a day beats producing five-hundred dollars per day or five-hundred homemade cookies per day. So, why, then do I sit here not knowing  where to begin?  Why do the backspace and delete buttons win more often than the save and print keys?

Consistently write your daily word quota. This is the advice given to the amateur, to the unpublished, to the aspiring writer, by the knowing, successful, seasoned and published authors who suggest I write when  I feel inspired and more importantly, when I don’t.  Eventually, they claim, when I look back and re-read my work, the difference will be unnoticeable anyway.

So, the disciplined writer persists whether they feel eager or indifferent, optimistic or doubtful, insightful or clueless. I  know how to persist. Persevering is nothing new to me. I persevered in a difficult marriage for decades, raising two boys. I cared for my needy, unhappy, elderly in-laws who lived with me for nine years. Over the past five years, I’ve trained for and completed several long-distance races including ultra-marathons.  I understand what it feels like to continue when you want to quit. But (my) writing has been more of an emotional and inspirational outcome.  It has been a source of relief, clarity, sanity and freedom. The idea of writing something meaningful without feeling hopeless, angry or lonely, challenges me.  Raw desperation defined my best work.  To believe I can successfully write each day when life is (now) good, happy, loving, even fun, is a vast difference from the reflections of my past experiences. It’s a new chapter (pardon the pun) in my real life as well as in my writing life.

If I had a story to tell, a dramatic novel with characters longing to be discovered,  a thickening plot with climactic surprises then, perhaps a consistent, daily word quota would be easier. But this non-fictional writer has only experiences, observations and a little insight to share.  Doubt and dismissal often barge through my door of creativity and plunder my thoughts, scattering them like a thief turning a room of treasured belongings upside down and casting them away as insignificant rubbish.

Regardless of those thieves, I am still compelled to write.  Admittedly, my writing has been inconsistent, which is the reason I’m reading and seeking advice from those who share this passion.  My desire to succeed requires this first step of just doing it.  So whether I believe it is possible for me to produce five-hundred credible words per day,  I shall at least listen to the experts and give it a try.  Like the seasoned runners who helped me cross the finish line with their knowing advice, I will trust this simple (yet challenging) suggestion to write consistently and perhaps in the days ahead, I will not feel the need to click the ‘word count’ tool button as often to see if I’ve met my quota.

 

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