Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Just Playing

"Close your eyes. Pretend you're ten years old again. Just playin'. You're just playing. I want to play football."
-Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights

I think living with intention and purpose is one of the hardest things, ever, despite what all of the self-help authors and super successful people in this world may think and tell us. Living this way, filled with intention and purpose, requires a kind of resolve that not much of us adults know because we are trying so hard to just keep it all together, to just keep the game of life moving forward. 

When I was sick, I had a purpose and an intention. My job was to get well. And while I, still, will always have medical issues - when half your body doesn’t work like it's supposed to, that's just the way life is - I hope and plan to live a life full of a purpose and intention. A purpose and intention that exists other than just achieving physical wellness. I want my heart and spirit to heal as much as my body heals. I want my soul to dance. And, more importantly, I want to serve my fellow seekers of the light.

I don’t really know how to get to this place of a purpose filled life, but I am willing to keep trying. We all want to anesthetize pain with what feels so good. Although, I believe, the grown up version of what feels good, isn’t always the catalyst to purpose. 

But, what I do know, though, when i was ten, I played house and I drew fake roads, with chalk, on my parents’ driveway so I could run pretend errands and rush my fake kids to pretend soccer practice. I was totally enveloped in my chalk drawing purpose. I know I danced with joy at the McGing Irish Dancers' studio. I know I played school in my basement. I know I was super into clothes and fashion and my mom always says, when she was nine months pregnant with my sister, I insisted she tuck her shirt in, despite her huge belly. I still love to play house and cook and clean and run errands and dance and teach and pick out the perfect clothes and mother everyone I know. Just like, when I was ten years old. 

Mary Oliver writes, Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

We knew our plan. We knew when we were young. We knew this plan when we made forts out of blankets and played house in the woods and pretended sticks were forks. We just played. We didn’t have an agenda; we didn’t require perfection. We didn’t judge our play. We just played.

As hard as it is to live from this place, especially, in a world so filled with hurt and isolation and illness and heartbreak and bills to be paid and babies to be fed and who is right and who isn’t - we must still be brave enough to insist we live from this sacred and innocent place. We must find that child in our own lives so that we may see that innocent child in others' lives. We all just need to learn to play and believe and trust and most of all, just love. Just love the child. Loving, ultimately, is the way we live from the truest of all intention.

This plan, to just play and live from our ten-year-old-selves, may not be the answer, I have no idea. But, for all of the millions of dollars spent on therapy, wars, protection, politics, and perfection, self-help books, lectures, and all avenues to feel well again, it’s worth a try. Please, this holiday season, if you are grateful for nothing else, be grateful for the ten-year-old who lives inside of you. For she knows the answer because she is just playin'. "

Sunday, November 22, 2015

High Expectations

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

-Albert Einstein

A few days ago someone told me my expectations of life were just too high and I have an all or nothing attitude sometimes.

I said, “Yup, I have high expectations and I do want it all or at least the possibility of it all.”

Because here’s the thing...I almost died a few times, and I learned this thing called life only comes around once. And when I woke up, on several occasions, from near death, I didn’t lie there and think my expectations were too high. I thought of all the times I soared. I thought of all the people that made my heart soar. I thought of all of the moments I reached for and grabbed my expectations. I have one shot to do all the things I want to do. I have one shot to be all the things I want to be. One shot. One time.

So, yeah, my expectations are high. I like them up there. There is where they should be. I learn to live from my imagination, just like some guy named Albert Einstein did. I am sure he, too, had some pretty high expectations.

To all of you dreamers and high expectationers - please keep it up. We ALL deserve it ALL. Every single one of us. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

You Are Amazing and Unamazing

I have a friend who often says, “You are an amazing person, Sarah.” 

I often reply, “Well that’s nice, but it’s not quite the whole story.”

Then he will list what he thinks is amazing about me. Like how I am very girly, but my hands are rough from pushing my wheelchair and cooking and doing dishes so much. He thinks I am amazing because I cook and eat so many vegetables. He notices and thinks it’s amazing I keep my house so clean. And how I light candles and make truffle popcorn while we watch TV, because these little things create a cozy atmosphere. I like hearing this list and I like feeling amazing for a minute. I am all for positive thinking and affirmations. Focus on the good parts and allow them to grow and all of that stuff. I am a big fan of and, constantly, practice building myself up and feeling worthy. I am also a big fan of building up others and making them feel worthy. I am all for the amazing.

However, I also feel pretty unamazing, sometimes. I do pretty unamazing things, too. I cuss like a sailor. So much so, Ashlea warns me not to drop certain words as she drives through preschool car line. I am sad, a lot. Like, really, really sad. I am happy to eat salt and vinegar chips and truffle popcorn for dinner, even though I know it is not healthy and is a pretty unamazing dinner. My depression can take over and make me feel withdrawn and lonely and disposable and abandoned and I find solace in too much TV. I can have an incredible and spectacularly unamazing emotional breakdown that involves gut-wrenching cries and a wrath of anger so unamazing I struggle to forgive the moment. And in that moment, I can say words I don’t mean. Words that tear down and make others feel unworthy. I feel pretty unamazing and like a failure in these moments. And all I can muster up to say is, what is wrong with me?

Nothing. Nothing is really wrong with me. I am a person. A person who struggles. A person who gets it right sometimes. A person who is both, amazing and unamazing. And just as much as I celebrate and water the amazing parts, I can work to take tender care of and forgive the not so amazing parts - except the bad words, I lost the use of my legs, I get bad words. Most of these unamazing parts are our wounds. These are the parts that need just as much care and nurturing as the other parts. Anger isn’t as much as an attack, as it is a cry for help. Even Jesus got a little angry. Feeling lonely or depressed or abandoned aren’t unlovable qualities - they are symptoms of our hurt and places where we need more understanding and compassion. This is the crux of this whole love thing. We must forgive what is worst in us, and in another, to truly love. We don’t have to love the bad stuff, we just have to forgive it, and love anyway, in addition to, and because the wounds even exist. 

No one is amazing all of the time. We each possess a true story that lives inside of us. This recognition that the truth - the amazing and unamazing - is the best version of the story is scary to face. It’s hard to recognize that the hurt is still there, yet choose to keep living and healing anyway. We must understand this balance of, hurt yet still living, can get out of whack sometimes. It takes time to see the hurt and mistakes and transform them into moments of forgiveness and calls for more love. This kind of understanding is hard to offer a friend, but it is hardest to offer to ourselves. But, we can’t give away what we don’t have. 

So, yes, l still look in the mirror and tell the person looking back she is worthy and lovable. But, I am not worthy and lovable because I am amazing. I am worthy and lovable because of all of my parts, just as I am - amazing and unamazing. And so are you. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Hayden Charles

ACT II: The middle space. The part of the story where the main character is lost and struggling. S/he tries to find the way forward by taking every path except the ones that require VULNERABILITY. The struggle continues until s/he finally realizes that the only way home is through uncertainty and total vulnerability. Into the dark. I hate ACT II. I love ACT II. The middle is messy. But it’s where the magic happens. We live in the rumble. 
-Brene Brown

Hayden Charles entered this world. Ashlea had her fourth and final baby, naturally. Like, no drugs at all. Afterwards, she said, “It was amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Giving birth hurts. Ashlea said it’s like a burning sensation that takes over the entire body and you aren’t sure if you will vomit or pass out or die from so much pain. She said you hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream. And then the baby is born. The messiness isn’t over, but there is a peace that fills the room. He is alive and well and resting on his mother’s chest. She is exhausted, hands to her side, head tilted, and eyes slightly closed. He is born.

This is the magic of ACT II that Brene Brown writes about. That feeling when we think we just can’t take it anymore and we can’t see a single light or even lighthouse, but, instead of giving up, we clutch the side of the boat and enter the darkness of the night, trusting we will be guided. And it is in this trust, this vulnerability, that we find our way. 

Babies remind us of new beginnings and total forgiveness. They are vulnerable and trusting. They are open to love and they embody hope. We comfort and forgive their cries. We don't see their needs as weakness. They represent a fresh start. Magic is alive in their impending arrival, their actual breakthrough into this world, and this same magic breathes through their tiny bodies. This kind of magic, though, doesn’t come from certainty. There isn’t a guarantee with babies or with life. We just hold on to the guard rails for dear life and scream and hope, against all odds, that all will be well. And just like Ashlea said about birth, we say about life, “It’s amazing to feel it, but it hurts like a bitch.”

Welcome to the world, Hayden Charles. You give us so much light and hope and you've only been here for a moment. Thank you for blessing us with your presence. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

My Happy Place

I used to believe happy places are defined as such, because of the place. And, then, I learned happiness comes from within; the place we are in on the inside. Happiness does not grow from outside places, people, or things. Ultimately, happiness is a state of mind. 

We make places happy. We make our relationships happy. We make things happy. The energy and support we offer - undying faith in a person or place or thing are what makes it happy - whatever it may be.

Lately, I notice, I find a lot more happiness living inside of me and around me. I noticed this happiness after I committed to paying attention to the happy brewing in my heart and fluttering in my tummy. Now, I see my happy places multiply, instead of divide. Today, as I wheeled along the river path with my sweet, happy walker, Belle, my mind was clear and filled with ease. My joy, palpable, and my awe, immeasurable. I only saw, Beauty, living and breathing around me. Beauty in the brightly colored leaves and sparkling river water. Beauty makes me happy every, single time. A few days ago, I reveled in chopping vegetables, using good knife form, and recounted the countless hours I watched Ina Garten chop on Food Network and, better yet, remembered the knife skills class Kelly gifted me. Dinners I cook or eat out, with the very best of friends, rapidly increase my laugh lines and I don’t mind these well-earned lines one bit. My morning cup of coffee is a reason to awake and peel my body out of my bed. I, all but cheered the other night, as I hit play on my DVR because TV, my dog, and salt and vinegar chips are such a happy space for me. I watch, as my dad takes care of my lawn and flowers and Hydrangea bushes, and can’t help but feel joy. I sit, with my mom, at my kitchen table and just yack; exactly like we did when I was a teenager and I can’t stop smiling. I go to Ashlea’s and spend time with her family and feel a bubbling over of goodness. I sit, write to you and for me, and tears of gratitude and faith and love and hope fill my eyes. Because, I realize, we are all in this life thing together. We are all working to find our happy places, together.

Yes, it is true, a place or a thing or a person can bring us a momentary happiness. But, what brings us the truest and most undeniable, unflappable joy is what we bring to the situation. It is what we offer, what we seek to find, and what we choose to expand that makes the given experience what it is. If our inner peace is a fortress, the outside muck doesn’t have a chance. We create these happy spaces and moments when we are willing to visit our happy - these feelings of joy - again and again and again. Go find your happy place; it already lives inside of you. I was trapped inside my house and inside my mind for a long, long time. There isn't any shame in this kind of entrapment. The sadness is just as much a part of life as the happiness. The only way out, though, is to do what you love. Always do what you love and makes your heart sing...even if it is for five minutes. The rest of life will catch up with you, I promise. 

Doing what I love most. Sharing a meal I love, with a person I love, and in a place I love. And, Mary, I have two drinks because Kelly knows the bartender. And the bartender says we make her happy. See, happiness breeds more happiness. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fight Song

And all those things I didn't say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

-Rachel Platten, Fight Song

I have this habit of listening to the same songs over and over. I fill up a play list with my favorite songs of the moment. I listen, until even I can’t bear to hear the same songs on repeat one more time. Currently, one of the songs on my repetitive play list of favorites is, Fight Song, by Rachel Platten. Every time I hear this song, I can’t help but stop whatever I am doing and sing at the top of my lungs. I also will stop when Watch Me comes on and do my own version of the Whip/Nae Nae, using my arms for the Stanky Legg and Break Your Legs part. I am extremely grateful I only live with a dog most of the time. 

A few days ago, my friend was here with me. He constructed a few fantastic improvements to my home, planted a tree, and, naturally, I turned on my fantastic play list to help with morale. Well, to be perfectly truthful, I turned on the same play list several times...all in one day. Anyway, as he was sawing wood for a little ramp so I could finally get out to my deck, he asked, very nicely, if I had any other songs because he heard Fight Song just one too many times that day. And because I live alone and really have grown accustomed to having things my own way, I just added a few more songs to my famous play list; instead of deleting any of them

Later that night, this friend and I prepared a quick dinner together. While we were heating up leftover Garlic Potato soup and steaming an artichoke, we also talked about some pretty hard stuff. Stuff like my situation and circumstances and where I am now and where I was when I was first paralyzed. One simple statement led to the next, and as I do, I started hysterically and unreasonably crying. And because my friend is so sweet, he immediately sat on the floor and pulled my chair over to him forcing me to stop what I was doing and look right at him and just cry and talk through the tears. But, I wasn’t able to talk. I kept crying and crying and trying to talk. Not even wiping my nose with the rough paper towels could stop me. 

And for the record, I have no idea what he said or what I said that actually triggered the tears and hysterics. The words and uncontrollable emotion just poured out of me. However, what I do remember is that I started listing the methods and avenues and moments of strength I seized over the last fifteen years. I told him I was so alone and kept fighting anyway. I told him I was so sick and kept fighting anyway. I told him I wanted to give up every single day and kept fighting anyway. I shared the time I went to a doctor who told me I was better off dead and instead of leaving the office defeated, I continued to fight for a doctor who would keep me alive. I cried and listed my moments of strength, not my moments of weakness.

And when this crying fit was over, I realized, for the first time, I listed my strengths and only my strengths. I wrote my very own Fight Song. Maybe it is because I hear the song over and over in my house as I fold laundry or do the dishes or clean the bathroom. I don’t know. All I know, is out of no where, I chose to see all of the times I showed up for me, instead of all of the times I failed me

After I calmed down and we finally ate dinner and I went to bed, I fell asleep strong. I knew I still had weakness to overcome; weakness that may never go away. But, I wrote my Fight Song. I proved I was alright song

What if we all wrote a Fight Song. I don’t mean in a corny way; I mean in a real way. What if we all wrote down the moments we were brave and strong and scared and did it anyway. What if we just focused on this part of ourselves, the strong part, instead of all of the times we fell or disappointed or ran from something out of fear and shame. Just what if. We all have a Fight Song in us. We all have a take back my life song and we are all sending big waves into motion. It doesn’t matter our story or our weight class. We all showed up for a fight and chose to be strong. I suggest we focus on that part of ourselves a little bit more. So when the nay sayer part of us shows up, the part that feels she has fallen just one to many times to recover, we can sing our own Fight Song and belt it out and the top of our lungs. And, the best part is, we have the freedom to play our song on repeat as many times as we like...it’s our song.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Window Boxes

About ten days ago, we built three of these window boxes. By we, I mean a really, really old friend and I. And by we built, I mean, he built them and I styled them. I went to the nursery, all on my own, picked out the plants, and directed the, nice and helpful, nursery man to load them into the trunk. Oh, and I did measure some boards even though numbers aren’t really my thing. But, my friend, he did most of the work. As my friend worked and I delivered coffee and water, he made sure to remind me he was diligent in honoring my request - show the knots and cracks and most weathered and uneven parts of the boards.

After a day of carpentry and planting and drink bringing and lunch making, we finally finished. I wheeled all the way out to the sidewalk and looked at these beautiful window boxes and started to cry. I didn’t cry because I was so tired from measuring and math, nor did I continue to cry because I am such a sap and things like window boxes make me sob. No, I cried because these once discarded and weathered pallet boards were, now, stunning window boxes that would make Joanna Gaines proud. 

These tears recalled so many hard years when I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was doing. So many hard years when I struggled to believe I was still the same person in this broken body. So many years when I thought the only way to power through this new challenge was to assume I was a bad person before and needed a jolt in order to become a new and good person. But, this way of thinking, this idea that we were once bad and need to see a tragedy as a gift is just wrong. Just so wrong.

Bad things happen to good people all of the time. And I am not saying I was the pillar of a good person. But, I was a real person. A twenty-one year old person with all kinds of knots and flaws and cracks. I don’t need to twist and turn my accident into some magical change of life; it just happened. Accidents and losses and tragedies are just part of the human experience. The good thing, though, is - this human experience - celebrates all of these crashes and burns. The human experience teaches us we are most beautiful when we are pieced back together and aren’t afraid to show off our knots and cracks and bruises and scars. 

We are all weathered. We are all pieced back together again. We are all beautiful. And if you water us, we will grow. Just like these plants in these window boxes - we will grow out of the garbaged and the forgotten, weathered wood. We will grow.