Saturday, July 12, 2014

Learning To Pace

I have never wanted to admit that I might actually have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, even when I could barely drag myself out of bed or when my days were filled with literally crawling from one place to the next.

Admission felt like giving up.

And if I gave up, I might as well give up on life itself.

However, for the last few weeks, I have been in an unending cycle of pain, more, pain, fatigue, more fatigue followed by yet more pain and more fatigue. I finally understood why people contemplated suicide.

So I have had to do something drastic.


I have had to pace myself.

Now I'll admit that I'm not very good at it.  I have always believed that if you start a project you see it through from beginning to end, including all the clean-up afterwards. None of this half-hearted crap. All or nothing, baby.

But that is no longer possible. Sometimes, by the time I get everything ready for a project, I'm too tired to start. And when I've done some of it, I'm too exhausted to totally clean it all up and put it away for the next time.

Which, of course, means I rarely start anything because All or Nothing!

However, I have been editing a series of unrelated books lately--unrelated except that all of them seem to have a message directly for me contained within the run-on sentences and dangling participles that I fix almost on auto-pilot.

The message hasn't been subtle: You aren't living the life you created to live.

So naturally I began whining..."How can I do what I want to do when I don't even have the energy to do what I have to do?"

The answer came back: PACE

So I've been trying to do that. Like today.  I had a burst of energy so I got out the hose and Windex Outdoor and sprayed/cleaned four windows.  I have 30 or more windows in the house, so four is like nothing.  But I did the four, felt the exhaustion swallow me, so I turned off the water, coiled the hose, left the Windex Outdoor right beside the hose and came in the house.

I wasn't very happy about not completing the entire project, but then I looked out my office window--one of the four--and realized that I could see so much more clearly that it really was worth it.

Maybe later today I'll have the energy to do four more windows.  Or maybe not.  But at least there are four that are now clean that weren't yesterday.


Not a lesson I'm enjoying but apparently the one I need to learn right now.

Anyone else learning this same lesson?

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Punishment vs Accountability

Do you know the difference between punishment and accountability consequences?

I didn't. At least not until recently.

I was taught that if you did something "wrong," you were punished. It's a lesson I think most of us learn as kids. Misbehave and you'll be punished. When we become adults, that ingrained lesson lingers. We think of our boss "punishing" us when we are late or sometimes even our spouse "punishing" us when we fail to do something.  The consequence of our less than ideal behavior is a punishment. In fact, we even "punish" ourselves. How many times have you blown a diet, only to punish yourself by saying you will never eat sugar again?

Consequence equals punishment.

The old lesson dies hard. Very hard.

But thanks to Dov Baron, my mentor and friend, I began to reframe my thoughts.

I've come to realize that a punishment is something imposed on us from the outside. It may--or may not--have anything to do directly with whatever it is we have failed to do. This stems from our earliest training. If you ran into the street, your mother might have yanked you back and given you a swat on the bottom. You were punished for running in the street, but being swatted and running in the street really don't have anything to do with each other per se. It's just that's how your mother decided to impart a certain lesson.

Or think about a child who won't eat dinner and is sent to the corner. Sitting in a corner and refusing to eat peas aren't absolutely linked. Again, it's just how your parents decided to teach a lesson about food and eating.

As we get older, the mantra becomes "Let the punishment fit the crime," so missing a curfew means getting grounded, for example. But still and all, punishments rarely address the subject of accountability. They simply are negative consequences imposed on us by an authority. If punishment were truly effective, there would be no repeat offenders. And our jails give lie to that.

Which brings me to accountability and consequences. Accountability means that I take full responsiblity for my actions--all of my actions, good or bad, right or wrong, foolish or wise. I and I alone am responsible for them.

Now I can hear the objections already:  What about things outside my control? What if, as happened to me today, I said I would send a file to someone and my email server went down. How can I be accountable for that?

Well, I'm not accountable for the failure of the email server. But I am accountable for the fact that the file didn't get where it was supposed to be at the time it was supposed to be there.

And here's where the idea of consequences comes to play. I am still accountable for the file transfer, regardless of the email situation. I am must hold myself accountable with consequences for my failure to do so on time even though it was "impossible" because of circumstances outside my control.

I realize this is a challenging concept...and not a particularly fun one because it eliminates every possible excuse and requires a consequence for every failure.

I can hear you again--this is crazy.  If I can't do something, I can't do something so why should I punish myself for something I couldn't do?

And that's where the difference between punishment and accountability consequences comes in. If I were simply going to punish myself for not having sent the file on time because the server was down, I might make myself drink my coffee black for a week, or work out for an extra hour or any number of unpleasant things designed to be a punishment. But none of those would show accountability--merely masochism.

Instead, and this is what I did do, when the file finally was able to transfer, I told the recipient that because the email server was down and because I wasn't able to deliver on time, I would be at his disposal for the next 24 hours to immediately make any changes that he would like--at no extra charge.

The reason I did this was because I was accountable for my action and inaction. I wasn't "punishing" myself. I was simply telling him--and me--that I have the moral integrity to be responsible at all times for all the things I do.

There's a bit more to it than that, but I've reached the word limit that the gurus tell me is optimal for a blog, so I'll leave the rest for the next post.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Last Responsibility

The security guard passed me, close enough to touch, as I exited the courtroom. For a moment I was tempted, like Lot's wife, to turn around and watch as the defendant was handcuffed and taken into custody, but I didn't. I spilled through the doors to Courtroom 306 into the hallway with the rest of the observers and witnesses to stand for a few minutes in stunned silence before we went into the rest of our lives.

I walked the two blocks from the courtroom to the parking structure. Across the street, a small farmers' market offered fresh spring produce. The early afternoon sunshine warmed the sidewalk, causing little wisps of steam to rise from the wet spots in the gutter. My heels clicked as I walked. I normally wear flats, but today I wore heels.

As I entered the glass-fronted elevator and pushed the button to the third floor, I thought, "My mother always wore heels."

My mother had died two years and five months before, almost to the day. Today marked the end of a betrayal, the end of seemingly endless time spent in criminal investigations and the justice system but most of all, it marked the end of my responsibilities toward my mother. 

(Read the story behind the story here.)

It began when I quit my full-time job to work as a free-lancer and become her caregiver.  I was her only child and there was no one else to care for her. Her health was poor, she was in her late 80s and was not expected to live too long.

She had some money from the sale of her house in a savings account that she wanted to keep “in case of an emergency.” As paying for her care, including numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, got more and more difficult, I finally made the decision to ask her loved and trusted financial advisor to invest that money in something that would give her a modest return so I could have some help in paying the bills.

He took the money--and that's when the nightmare began. For four more years, I struggled to give her the quality of end of life we all deserve, all the while the quality of my own life was spiraling downward. She declined slowly, inexorably, spending nearly one year on hospice--meaning that every night for months on end I went to bed expecting to receive a call telling me she was gone.

During these months, her financial planner continued to tell me that things would turn out okay in the end, even though the "nest egg" that I had given him had been lost in bad investments. I trusted him, because I was too exhausted and grief-ridden to question.

Then one night in January 2012, after I had been assured by hospice that she still had some time left, the phone rang at 3 am. She was gone and for once I was not there.  I was devastated and racked with guilt.

Her advisor attended her funeral and came to my home afterwards and met with my closest friends and family. A few days later, I got a call from a detective who came to my home and helped me realize that my mother’s money had not been invested, but stolen. The investor had put half into his personal checking account, which was overdrawn at the time, and used it to make payments on his Porsche, pay his children’s private school tuition, and pay on a personal credit card. The other half he used to shore up a failing business he owned to get others to invest in it.

For the next two years, through a series of legal manuervers and wrangling, he managed to avoid trial and remain free. I ran into him once at Costco and slipped behind the tv display to avoid a confrontation. I had begun to think he would never be accountable for his crimes--which included stealing nearly one million dollars from nine clients, including my mother, and much more in security fraud from others. 
But the end finally came. When the judge passed the sentence, one of the first things she said was "How could anyone have to gall to attend a funeral when he knew he had stolen her money?" I have no answer to that, other than to recognize that once you start down the path to deceit and crime, the slope rapidly becomes steeper and more slippery. His actions affected, not just me and the others he robbed, but our families--and his family as well. Like ripples in a lake, the evil spread and spread, creating waves of pain and sorrow on far distant shores. 

These past two years have been the hardest ime of my life,  not just because of the financial stress, which has been considerable, but because I could never come to true closure about my mother's death because this, my last responsibility to see that justice was done in her name, was with me every single day.

I was tempted to watch as he was handcuffed, but that would have meant continuing to look backwards. 

Now it's time to move forward.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

De Profundis

Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication.
If You, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord, who can stand?
But with You is forgiveness, that You may be revered.
I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in His word.
My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord,
For with the Lord is kindness and with Him is plenteous redemption;
And He will redeem Israel from all their iniquities.--Psalm 130

It's been half a year since I blogged and I truly feel like I am coming "out of the depths." Today, as Lent begins, I felt like it was an opportune time to write again, to think again, to share again.

These past half year I've been looking at myself, especially at the role of forgiveness in our lives. During the next weeks, I want to share some of the insights I've gained and some of the ideas that have and are changing my life.

But for today, the ancient words of the Ash Wednesday service will suffice:  
Remember, woman, that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Sometimes only a song can express what one is feeling.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Change and Pain in the Brain

I am not tidy.
I'd like to be, but I'm tidy-challenged. Clutter enters my life at light-speed.

I try.  I really do.

But I find it very difficult to get rid of things.

I have friends who say things like, "Doesn't it feel LIBERATING!!! and FREEING!! and WONDERFUL!! to get rid of all things? Don't you just LOVE the feeling of tossing out things?"

Um, no.  No, I don't.

I find it difficult, painful and I often end up regretting having let go of something. Letting go hurts...and so I find it difficult to toss out things like a favorite dress that no longer fits or a card from a friend from five years ago.

Now I know why. A new study at Yale indicates that in some people the same areas of the brain that register physical pain light up when people are faced with getting rid of a possession: the anterior cingulate cortex and the insula. Which means that no, I don't feel great when I get rid of things; I experience anxiety and pain.

However, some people, with different brain chemisty, have the opposite reaction. They get a high every time they get rid of something. So they get rid of as many things as they can, as often as they can because their brain registers the activity as pure pleasure.

Now, the two really big questions are:
1. Why people who experience pain with letting go of things so often enter into relationship with people who experience pleasure from it?
2. And why do the tossers of life seem to think that they are completely and utterly morally superior to the keepers when it all is just brain chemistry?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

An Ice Cream Shop and Papal Style

 There seems to be a divide between people who find Pope Francis's style of dress and liturgy to be inspiring and those who find it distressing. The ones who are upset miss the high style and what they see as the "beauty" of the Church (which others dismiss as "smells and bells.")

I think part of the reason for the divide is what people, especially relatively new (since the middle to end of the JPII pontificate) converts expect of the Church and what those who have been around for a lifetime expect.

Maybe an illustration that came to mind as I tried to get to sleep last night will help.

Imagine an ice cream shop that has opened under new management. This shop sells many flavors of premium ice cream including a few unusual ones like lavender and  honey. People who have been coming to the shop for many years are used to changes of ownership on a fairly regular basis. So they come in, check out the new selections, and get back to their lives. People who have never been to this shop before are thrilled and return daily to see what new delights have appeared. They get so used to premium ice cream they can't imagine a time when there wouldn't be this special ice cream shop or their favorite owner. They write blogs about the wonders of the shop and bring all their friends in for samples.

One day the old owner dies and a new owner takes over the shop. The people who loved the old shop are a little nervous, but instead of premium ice cream, the new owner now serves even richer, more decadent flavors including some recipes from the past like butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts. The ice cream lovers are over the moon. Many line up for hours just to see what special flavor has been created. Those people who prefer plain vanilla and chocolate still come by, but they aren't enamored with the new treats. However, since they can still find vanilla and chocolate in the far back containers, they are okay with the new management. They know that there will be another new owner sooner or later.

Just when the people who recently came to love the shop are completely comfortable, reassured that they will have wonderful rich ice cream available for the rest of their lives, the new owner suddenly sells the shop. Much to the ice cream lovers' dismay, the shop now sells--gasp--frozen yogurt! No more butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts.  Just yogurt plus a few plain flavors of ice cream.

The new ice cream lovers are horrified. They have been betrayed. They had come to expect premium ice cream whenever they wanted it and now all they can get is frozen yogurt (and a few plain flavors of ice cream.) This is NOT what they signed up for when they started coming to the ice cream shop. It is an outrage, a travesty! They are angry, hurt and frustrated.

However, there are many people who are now coming to the shop who haven't been in years. They happily sample the yogurt. They never really liked the fancy flavors anyway. And those who always did like the plain flavors of ice cream are now very happy that they can get their scoops without having to drag out a carton from the back freezer.

As the fancy ice cream lovers mourn the loss of their favorite shop, the one they had expected to be able to go to for the rest of the lives, the new owner points out that it never really was an ice cream shop to begin with.

He shows them a sign that has been on the door since the very beginning--it's a frozen dairy product store.  Just because the recent owners had decided that meant ice cream didn't make it so. Yogurt is just as much a frozen dairy product as the most premium ice cream, the new owner explains. It has the same general ingredients, even the same calorie count (more or less) as ice cream. It meets all the requirements for the shop.

And the new owner adds that he hasn't forbidden anyone from having butter pecan salted caramel with toasted nuts; he just isn't serving it right now. After many years of focusing on customers with refined palates, the shop is now going for a the health-conscious, yogurt-preferring, plain vanilla crowd who have been hard pressed to find their preferences for many years.

The ice cream lovers may not be happy, but no one owns the shop forever, the new owner adds.  And who knows...the next owner might decide to serve gelato, he chuckles.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sacred Space

 From my book in progress: Every Day Holy Day

Standing at the edge of Sacred Cenote at the ancient Mayan temple city of Chichen-Itza, I stared at the vibrant green water nearly 30 meters beneath me.  I knew that archaeologists had recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery and human sacrifice from this alarmingly placid sinkhole, where Mayan priests, hoping to court the favor of the gods, had tossed their helpless victims who often included children.  Just a few steps away, I could hear the cacophony of tourists buying cheap souvenirs and bottled water, but at the rim of the well, silence prevailed.

I understood why. The very rocks and cliffs seemed to have absorbed the fear and terror of those who had died and now, centuries later, their feelings reverberated, forcing even the most oblivious sightseer to silence.

Because of the horrors committed there, the place wasn’t holy, in the way that a great Cathedral is, but it was still sacred. It was a location where the veil between now and eternity was stretched so thin I could almost reach through it.

For me that is one definition of sacred.

I’ve felt that same sense at San Clemente in Rome, as I climbed down layers of excavation from the 12th century basilica where St. Clement is buried, through a fourth century church, to an altar to the Roman cult god Mithras and finally to the spring where the pre-Romans worshipped unknown deities.

I’ve also had that feeling at the oldest church in my town, where Mass has been offered every day for nearly 100 years.  When I enter the soft darkness, broken only by rainbow shafts from the stained glass windows, I know that I am in a place where the human and the divine intersect.

Reflecting on the sacred places I’ve visited, I think I understand that a location becomes sacred, not by declaration, but through honest and sincere prayer, even when, because of lack of knowledge, that prayer isn’t directed to the Triune God.

The Cenote at Chichen-Itza isn’t sacred because the Mayan priests declared it to be so, nor because of the sacrifices that took place there, nor because of the gods that were worshipped there, but because, at the moment of their deaths, individual souls cried out to their Creator, seeking mercy, salvation and hope and, at the moment of those deaths, their Creator answered.

San Clement is sacred because for thousands of years, people have been coming to that spot, seeking to do the will of God as they understood him, even when they believed that will involved slitting the throat of a bull and washing its blood way with spring water.

St. Mary’s in my town is sacred, certainly because the Sacrifice of the Mass is and has been offered there so many times, but also because countless prayers from countless pilgrims on life’s spiritual journey have been said in its pews, giving an ordinary city block a sacred dimension.
This power to transform the ordinary into the sacred isn’t the prerogative of priests and saints.  It’s something we all possess.  By the way we focus our attention on the divine, we can turn our homes, yards, even our cars into sacred spaces.

Summer is a wonderful time to work on this transformation because during this season, doors and windows are left open, meals are eaten on porches, and evenings are spent under the stars.  We experience a fluidity between in and out which can become a living example of how the mundane can become sacred by our actions, intentions and our prayers.

This day, I urge you to infuse your own physical spaces with the intention of allowing the divine to permeate.  Using the example of Brother Lawrence who says, “It is a great delusion to think our times of prayer ought to differ from other times. We are as strictly obliged to cleave to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer,” we can gradually alter our environment so that when someone enters it, they immediately know they are stepping into sacred space.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Gratitude

I'm trying to pack and do all the things I think need to be done before going to the Catholic Media Convention, like leave notes about the cats for the house sitter, water the plants etc.

I wonder why it is that I feel compelled to do things that I would normally put off for days just before a trip...maybe it's the same principle as wearing clean underwear in case you get in an accident.  Want the house to look better than it normally does just in case...

Since I have the vestiges of a sore throat and feel less than wonderful, this time the house will just have to be its normal not ready for staging self.

This Sunday I am grateful for:

1. A cell phone.  I really love my cell phone and I wonder how we ever survived without them?  I remember the first person who got one and how impressed I was with the giant brick that made calls almost anywhere.

2. Chocolate.  It really is a miracle drug.
3. Good friends. I am so grateful for the people in my life who make me better than I would be on my own.
(No know who you are.) 

4. Nefer and Basti.  They sometimes drive me crazy, but their joie de vivre helps me remember that all of creation is a song of praise to the Creator.

 5. My bed.  Dorothy might have said there's no place like home, but there's really no place like your own bed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Summer Daze

Is there anything more splendid than the first days of summer!

I'm relishing the beauty of pots on my deck and laughing as the cats fight over a basket to sleep in. You see, they always fought over the basket so I put up a second one and now they fight over who gets the new one.  Just like kids!

On Monday I head to Denver to the Catholic Media Convention where I hope to see many old friends and perhaps make a few new ones. I'm hoping to try out some of my new-found almost skills with my iPhone camera as I visit a couple of places, including the Augustine Institute and their fabulous programs.

I probably should go pack!