Monday, December 1, 2014

Arm in Arm

Negativity and cynicism pervade the world right now. There is a far greater focus on which side to choose, rather than how we can identify and walk with our brothers and sisters; even with those brothers and sisters with whom we disagree. 

Our bodies, skin color, abilities, cultures, religions, or politics all may differ, but what is common is our ability and desire to love and be loved. Our hearts are all the same.

Yesterday, I watched this father and son walk the entire path along the river, arm in arm. I noticed they kept one pace, regardless of the speed. I listened as they laughed, cried, discussed, and enjoyed moments of silence together while remaining in step and arm in arm with one another. They refused to allow their differences in speed and ability and age to invade their connection. Runners, bikers, and groups of other walkers all sped past them. They didn’t flinch or waiver. The father held on to his son. The son held on to his father. And together they continued to walk, arm in arm, sharing one stride, proving love really does exist. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I did it

As long as six months after my accident, I looked at the freezer, then the cupboards and panicked. I wanted a glass of ice water and lacked the necessary confidence and courage to perform such a straightforward task. My brain swirled with confusion as I attempted to concoct a plan. The mission seemed simple enough, but as with most previously simple undertakings, I froze. I questioned my skill to reach for a glass while sitting in a chair with wheels, transport the glass all the way over to the freezer, reach, again, this time for ice, carry the full glass of ice, and finally, fill it with water. I never fathomed the immense detail that lives in a glass of ice water. 

Eventually, after much repetition, I bravely defeated the ice water challenge and, now, as my mom teased the other day, I have glasses of water in every room. Occasionally, a full glass tumbles to the floor and ice and water spill in puddles all around me, but I pick up the glass, clean up the water, and try again. 

Over the years, I learned to attempt all of my new challenges with a similar approach. I assess the situation and formulate a plan. The tinge of fear still lingers and I learn to strive for my goal anyway. If the coffee beans are on the top shelf of the grocery store, I collect a hothouse cucumber and a roll of tinfoil to help slide the beans off of the shelf and catch them in the waiting basket that sits on my lap. Butterflies still flutter in my stomach each and every time and that is okay. And when I can’t, just can’t, reach or do something, I learn to gain the courage to ask. None of these things comes without practice and patience. 

Practice and patience. Practice and patience permeate my life now. Practice allows me to move ahead with fear because, after all, it’s just practice. And patience allows me to know I won’t always get it right the first time. Both of these build courage and confidence. I used to think courage and confidence were just born in people. Now I know, I must practice courage and confidence and exercise patience when I feel defeated. 

Last week, I joined Ashlea and her family for dinner at Ashlea’s house. Her mom came to town for a visit and invited me to join her family for dinner. The usual buzz of conversation and howling of laughter filled the air. Kate, Ashlea’s daughter, pulled out every school paper and drawing she ever created and Jack, Ashlea’s oldest son, gifted his grandma with a necklace that was really a dragon. Apparently, you can’t wear a necklace that is a dragon. We learned this very quickly when his grandma tried to wear the dragon, as a necklace, and Jack’s eyes welled up with tears, because it is a dragon, not a necklace. Amidst all of this beautiful chaos, I asked Ashlea what I could do to help. And she quickly responded, “Hold the baby.”

That I can do. Will, the baby, and I sat in my chair and played. He is teething and I made sure to keep his teething ring in his sore little mouth. After a few minutes, I heard a voice say, Will needs a diaper change. Without any hesitation, I said I will do it, and headed in the other room to change his diaper. Kyle brought in the basket of diaper supplies and I went to work.

I've changed many, many baby diapers. I have the routine down and never really think much about my rhythm. That is, until I had my accident. I was petrified the first time I changed a baby’s diaper after my accident. I religiously checked the brakes on my wheels just in case I slid backwards and pulled the baby to the ground. I held the baby with one hand and noticed my hand was shaking. I worried the entire time if my balance issues would cause me to slip and drag the baby to the ground and then roll over him. The horror film of everything that could go wrong ran on a constant reel in my mind. It was an utter disaster. I swore I would never try to change a baby’s diaper again, for about five minutes. And then I tried again, and again, and again. Each time progressively felt a bit easier, but I still felt the pangs of the what if everything goes wrong fear. 

Will and I were alone in the room next to the kitchen. I knew Kyle and Ashlea were just feet away from us, so I assume this is why I didn’t hesitate to change his diaper. I just started my routine. I talked to Will the whole way through and he tried to grab anything and everything with his cute little chubby baby hands and promptly put latest treasure grab into his aching mouth and chew on it. Consequently, I spent most of the time prying out ridiculous items from his mouth. The plastic from the wipes container and the edges of loose diapers were among his favorites. I tried to explain to him that babies don’t play with and chew on plastic, but my wisdom was lost on him. Finally, I snapped his tan, corduroy overalls back together again, put his little socks back on his tiny feet, and scooped him into my lap. And in the same moment I felt the perfect weight of his squishy Buddha baby body land in my lap, I also felt a jolt rise from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head. I did it. I sat with Will for a minute and whispered to him that I did it. I changed his diaper and I didn’t think about my wheels or my balance or his body position or his body crashing to the floor and my wheels running over him. Not even one time. I changed his diaper, just as I did a million times before. I made it. I hugged him and thanked him for his patience and distraction and we wheeled back into the kitchen together as a team. I did it.

After my accident I was so lost and so confused. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a glass of ice water. I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. Everyone around me was able bodied and seemed to think he or she had all of the answers. Suddenly, everyone knew how I should be doing things in a wheelchair. I felt like a big failure most of the time. And then one day I realized, all of these people handing out advice and you shoulds and don’t do this and don’t do thats were able bodied. They weren’t experts on living life in a wheelchair. I was. I was the only one who knew how to live in this chair. I was the only one who knew how it felt to rely on a chair with wheels. And even though it scared the light right out of me, I was going to have to figure out how to navigate through the dark, all on my own. And then I realized something else, I wasn’t a coward for trying and failing. I wasn’t a failure because I suddenly had to learn how to do things all over again. Yes, I was more vulnerable and exposed than I was comfortable with, but that also, somehow, made me brave. This feeling, of being so new to the world, gave me a sense of courage and confidence I never knew before. Life was a blank slate. I had the chance to start from scratch and learn my lessons my way. And the most wonderful thing about this new chance is that I get to experience new things every single day. Fourteen years later, I still get to plop a baby in my lap and feel the rush of, I did it.

I now live in a world where I just show up, even when it scares me. If I feel a bit of fear, I go ahead and exercise a little practice and patience anyway. I will figure it out someday. My life is now like that cup and that freezer. I may stare for a quite a long time trying to discover how I will navigate through the abyss, but I always, always try to forge may way out of its dark tunnel. And if I don’t make it out, well, I've learned the power of vulnerability. It’s absolutely okay to be all of me. Including the part that just can’t do some things and including the part that exceeds the goal of what she ever thought possible. I may fail, the ice may come crashing to the ground, and the babies may slide a little bit, but I try. I try in my own way, on my own time. I take the aching fear that says, I can’t, and I raise it a little learned courage and confidence and say I can. And every once in a while, I get to say, I did it. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I voted today

I voted today and while I wheeled up the long ramp leading into my polling location, the throngs of volunteers cheered and clapped for me. One man shared the reason behind the applause. Simply, the volunteers were happy to see me show up to vote. He said he knew it wasn’t easy for me to show up and they wanted me to know they were proud of me. Because the voting area lived in the basement of an old church and the church is under construction, another kind man escorted me through the construction area to the elevator. I noticed we entered through an emergency exit only door and, at the time, I didn’t really think much of it. After I voted, I made my way back through the construction zone and opened the emergency exit only door. A few seconds later, I saw a mom and her son walking down the flight of stairs. Nursery school ended for the day and they were on their way out, too. I was a few feet in front of them and heard the little boy begin to ask, “Hey mom why is she...”. And then his mom quieted him. I assumed he started to ask why was I in a wheelchair. Obviously, his mom and I shared the same assumption.  I know she reacted the way she did in case I was offended. I turned around to explain I didn’t mind the question and would be more than happy to answer his innocent question. But, before I was all the way around, the little boy, as three-year-olds often do, ignored his mom and shouted his question again. Only this time he finished it. He shouted, in his perfect three-year-old voice of authority, “Hey Mom, why is she allowed to use the emergency door, that’s a no, no, you know?” Not once did he ask about my wheelchair. I am not sure he even noticed my chair. I used a door that wasn’t allowed to be used. I am his equal and shouldn’t break the rules either. No special treatment for me, he and I are just the same. I wish we could all see through the eyes of this child and these adults. I think the world would be a much better place. Although, we might just all have to follow all of the rules. 

This quick adventure taught me a huge lesson. I saw both ends of the spectrum. I was honored by adults who know what hard is and I was honored by a child who sees me as his equal and I am honored to have witnessed both of them. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

She Dreams My Dreams

Life is not a competition. There is enough for everyone. We are here to live in service. We are here to lift up our sisters and our brothers. Our pain is her pain. Our loss is his loss. Our love is her love. Our dreams are his dreams. Most simply put, our only job is to see ourselves in another. We must see that innocent spirit that resides in all of us who longs for love and who begs for forgiveness. Because, in the end, in God's eyes or whatever you call it, we are all worthy, every single one of us. And our dreams, well they are all valid, each and every one of them.

First thing this morning, I received this text from Ashlea. I am lucky to call her friend. This is not a humble brag, this is an example of how to live. Ashlea is an example of how to live and the friend we should all be to each other. She dreams my dreams, literally. I will practice her example and dream for others as I sleep tonight. I hope this message encourages you do you the same. As the person on the receiving end of such a gift, I can only tell you, it lifts, it lights, and it only encourages the urge I have to dream and hope and extend love for others. 

Tonight, I dream your dreams. 

What you can't see, mostly because of space and auto correct is that Ashlea goes on to say this dream is the first thing she thought of when she awoke. Ashlea has a husband, three kids, a dog, and a plethora of other things to think about in the morning. But, what she thought about first, was the dream she had about her friend; the dream she had about another. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Get On With Your Bad Self

Last week I had a doozy of a day. The day wasn’t rough compared to most of my bad days, but it was a day where everything seemed to fall apart. A regular life, plain old bad day. My list of tasks to accomplish grew by the second. Instead of fewer check marks, I noticed a multitude of list transfers, unfinished to dos from old lists. I glanced at it in the morning and felt stifled by the overwhelming feeling, of god I have so much to do

This anxious, rushed feeling that feverishly tried to gnaw away my inner peace, fed an out of control energy that causes items to break and missed steps. Right away, I broke a glass dish. The dish slid right out of my hand, crashing onto the tile floor. The small, round dish promptly shattered and Belle’s pureed pumpkin splattered all over my kitchen. Orange muck speckled my back splash, cabinet fronts, the floor, and the window. I carefully dodged the jagged edges of the strewn pieces of glass because my wheelchair tires don’t respond well to glass shards. I swept the floor. I wiped down the pumpkin, attempted to feed the dog again, and started the day one more time. I decided be all zen and just start over, press play again, as if the day was fresh. This plan worked for about a minute. I unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned up the never ending trail of dishes that comes with cooking everything from scratch. After all of this cleaning, I was covered in pumpkin and dirty dish water. I thought I should just take a shower instead of trying to clean up all of the orange goo. And as if I was featured in a comedy of errors, I saw my shower bench was a bit askew, chose to ignore it, and paid for this lack of diligence. I lost control and started to inch closer and closer to the bottom of the hard porcelain tub. Luckily, I lifted my half limp, dead weight body to safety and continued the shower. I dropped the soap six or seven times because of course that's what happens when I'm in such a mood. The entire day continued this way, just one thing after the next. I lost my cool on several occasions, but remained determined not to let the hard stuff get to me. 

After the goofy morning, I, finally, hooked up Belle's leash and headed out of the door to the river. I needed to clear my head and exercise always feeds and increases my inner peace. This day was exceptionally hot for this time of year. My body doesn’t seem to do too well in the heat and this walk wasn’t any different. I almost fainted a few times, pushed forward to the end of the walk, and finally crossed the finish line of the long walk.  

The river walk helped my head as we continued on the trail, but once I returned to the car and started to drive home, my head noise started again. I felt anxiety creep back in and anxiety started taunting me with thoughts like, how will you every accomplish anything other than wheelchair care, you rely on so much equipment that you should forget trying to be so independent and what are you doing with your life. The bad thoughts chased me like a wild hyena. I worked to release the thoughts, but gave up, and turned on the radio instead. 

My favorite station was in the middle of a fund drive, so I flipped the channels and landed on a pop station. The music was the perfect medicine. And before I knew it, I was rocking out and singing at the top of my lungs and dancing while driving. We stopped at a light, sunroof wide open and windows all rolled down. I continued my dance party of one. And then, I looked around for some odd reason and quickly noticed this was not a dance party of one anymore. The three cars around me, with open windows and blaring music, had drivers and passengers dancing and rocking out right along with me. I turned bright red, but kept on dancing. The joyful noise and dancing hearts were the perfect remedy for a day gone awry. I escaped the struggles of the day and latched on to the joy. And in this blissful state, I pulled onto my street, Belle jumped into my lap, as she always does, and I drove up the hill to my house, temporarily unaware of the bad day I determined I just recently lived. My car rounded the edge of the driveway and my neighbor’s care giver was pulling up at the same time.

My neighbor, Gerttie, is over ninety years old. In the last few months, she has a care giver that comes in the evenings to sit with her. Bonnie, her caregiver, arrives at the same time every evening and that time coincides with the time I take Belle out before she eats dinner. Bonnie and I always chat for a few minutes before she heads in to Gerttie’s house and then I walk the dog. On this day, she looked at me with the most perplexed, yet excited face, ran to my car window and with her mouth hanging wide open she breathlessly shouted, “What are you doing, how on earth are you driving?”

I chuckled and explained to her that I drive with my hands and use hand controls. Instead of focusing on the why and how too much, she just said, “And with the dog on your lap?”

I laughed again and shared that Belle is unaware I am paralyzed and when she wants to look out the window, she looks. We shared another good laugh, she asked a few more questions, and I started to wave goodbye. And as we were saying our goodbyes, she stared right at me, with the world's largest grin and excitedly exclaimed, “You get on with your bad self.” 

I inched my car down the steep driveway and, admittedly, thought, well this driving thing is just about the easiest part of my day. You should have seen me earlier. I even had a moment, where I thought, you think this is a big deal, you think I am really doing something here, just driving and walking my dog. And then I caught myself, finally. I caught myself beating my spirit to a pulp. 

This spirit I have gets me up everyday, it fought through years of crap, much less one bad morning, and it continues to remind me to keep going. And how did I choose to respond to this one bad day. Well, with a bad attitude because things just weren’t going my way. Instead of honoring her, I started to beat this spirit up and tell her she was worthless and pathetic and would never amount to anything. And once again, as it always, always happens, a louder voice prevailed. This time, the voice wasn’t from above, it wasn’t in my head, it wasn't found in a deep meditation, it came with a huge and loving smile from sweet Bonnie who was completely unaware of her perfect timing. Get on with your bad self. Basically, go on, you are doing just fine, better than fine.

So, I made a promise. I added a new mantra to my ever growing list of mantras. Get on with your bad self. I break a glass dish, manage to clean it up without popping my wheels, get on with your bad self. I fall in the shower and get right back up, get on with your bad self. I attempt the pile of dishes, get on with your bad self. If I choose to rest because my body is tired, get on with your bad self. If a piece of equipment breaks, I get upset, and then I make the best of it, get on with your bad self. If I smile and am kind, instead of a crab, get on with your bad self. And if I just simply make it through the day, get on with your bad self. Bonnie taught me nothing is too mundane for a little encouragement and congratulations. 

Sometimes, the get on with your bad self will congratulate a huge accomplishment and, sometimes, it will be the phrase I use to return my thoughts to sanity. It doesn’t matter when it used, just that I use it and use it for everything. 

Peeling ourselves out of bed every morning to face a day of uncertainty and a life we know is hard is worth a get on with your bad self. We risk broken hearts as we love our friends and family and children and animals and this certainly, even though we know we can lose them at any minute, calls for a get on with your bad self. Showing kindness to every single person we meet, get on with your bad self. Stepping up and choosing to be that person who smiles and holds doors, get on with your bad self. And even when we have a day filled with junk that we just want to file in the garbage pile, we deserve a get on with your bad self. Life is hard. It breaks our hearts and our bodies, but we can’t let it break our spirits, no matter how long the to do list grows. Every moment we choose to be alive and awake and experience the wonder of this life, good and bad, deserves a get on with your bad self. We all are doing just fine, muck and all. So, go ahead and get on with your bad selves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Short, but Sweet

Just stopping by for a minute. I will be back tomorrow with a regular post. I shared this on Instagram and Facebook and wanted to share with all of you as well. Each of you contributes to the polishing of my love lens. Thank you.

When I pause and consciously choose to look at the world through the lens of love, I see it all around me. 
"The soul is healed by being with children."
-Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, September 15, 2014

Get Your Pajamas On and Get in Bed

Ron Johnston, one of my favorite people and father of the hens and sweet Kevin, has a famous line, well famous in the family, that he uses when he is frustrated and wants everyone to just calm down. It doesn’t matter if the girls just woke up and put on their uniforms or if Kevin was in the middle of his homework. When emotions swirl and tensions rise, Ron adopts his stern voice and demands, “Get your pajamas on and get in bed.”

Now that the kids are all adults, this line is a source of great hilarity. In fact, I just sent a text to Meghan to make sure I quoted Ron correctly and we ended up in a fit of laughter recounting a few of the get your pajamas on and get in bed moments. It just never gets old.

Ron, while goofy and sweet and fun and loving and kind, is also so very wise. Whether I am as stuck as a turtle in mud or caught in the vortex of my own emotional tornado, I eventually exhaust the you’ll get there, just keep going pep talk and hear a voice sternly telling me to get my pajamas on and get in bed. When I hear this voice, I know it is time to take a deep breath and step away from the situation.

And, yes, sometimes Ron did literally mean his words, but mostly it was a very wise call to calm down and regroup. He offered a second chance, a way to make a fresh start, even if the day had just begun. 

I hear this voice quite a bit lately as I try to add new things and push forward. My body is strong and able and rises to meet my refreshed and hopeful spirit every morning. I choose to flow with this strength and try to add or change bits and pieces of my routine and life. It’s time to create a life that better reflects my wellness, rather than my illness. 

As I grow into this different way of life, I frequently crash into the walls of defeat after I give into a lack of energy or fail to reach a self-imposed goal. I, then, am confronted with a choice. I can stall, collapse, and trash my determination or I can accept my mistake and move forward. Basically, I can choose to forgive myself and start anew, yet again. This renewal is available in every second of every moment of every day. And it doesn’t matter the reason for the crash, large or small, it can always be rectified. Just get your pajamas on and get in bed.

A few days ago, my day didn't start out so well. Instead of allowing the why me and it's not fair mantra win in my head, I reached for a fun and easy tool that usually changes my mood in an instant. I go to my nightstand or my bookshelf and choose a book, open to a random page, and listen to what the words tell me. So, on this not so great morning when I wanted to throw a wet blanket on the day, I went to my nightstand, picked up a book, The Alchemist, and closed my eyes and opened it to a page and this is right where it fell open. Part 2. One more reminder that a second chance is always available and a third and a fourth...the chances are limitless.

***All because I am all for new starts and new beginnings, you will notice a lot of new changes around here and there are many more to come. I hope to see you on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as well. My goal has always been to show that while my life might not be what I wanted or planned, and it may be quiet difficult, quite a bit, it is a good life and a life worth living. I also hope to prove we are far more alike that we are different...each and every one of us. Because when we finally take the step to notice and listen and learn about each other, we see our sameness, not our difference. We see pain and we see joy with these informed and enlightened eyes we understand just how universal and non discriminating these two experiences really are. And greater understanding leads to the true definition of love, to see ourselves in another, and isn’t that why we are all here anyway...

This is the message I hope to spread. Thank you from the bottom of my over flowing heart for your support thus far. Thank you. Thank you.