Happiness is an Inside Job

2020 was a strange one, eh? Difficult for some. Devastating for others. A year filled with pretty much everything. The near impeachment of a President, peaceful (and some not so peaceful) protests, the death of a Chief Justice, life-threatening storms, fires, and other natural disasters, an election filled with more political shenanigans than I could ever imagine (does anyone remember the days when we knew who was President close to 24-hrs. after the polls opened?? 🙋🏻‍♀️), oh yeah, did I forget to mention the global pandemic?

That's what I'd call the kitchen sink!

Certainly no one’s life went to plan in 2020. I can hardly believe that at this time last year I was enjoying frigid temps in sunny Florida, without a care in the world. Who knew that a mere 60 days later the country would be in lockdown, the least of my worries would be the cold weather in FL, and I would dedicate 77 straight days to caring for my parents, sans pickleball? Despite steering clear of mainstream media, unfollowing every annoying (read: politically obsessed) friend in my Facebook newsfeed, and the help returning in June to lessen the load, by December my exhaustion was complete. In utter disgust, on New Year’s Eve, I deactivated my Facebook account and this time I am not looking back. Gone are the inane, endless debates about whether or not a mask is effective (wait, is Covid-19 even real?!? 🤦🏻‍♀️). No more memes stating the obvious fact that Donald Trump will go down in history as the greatest embarrassment the United States has ever had for a President. And on January 6, I managed to wiggle back out of my hometown and into the open arms of my grandchildren. Whew!

Yeah, 2020 was hard on all of us, and some definitely more than me. RIP 🥀 Cousin John. Still, when December came, every time I heard something along the lines of, “Thank the stars 2020 is gone! It was horrible! I can’t wait for 2021 to get here!!

In 2021 (when the virus is contained, a vaccine is found, and the madman ousted) I can finally be happy again!!”

More times than I can count I had to bite back my reply:

If you did not find a way to be happy in 2020, rest assured that happiness will not find you in 2021.

Packing for move number 31 (or is it 34? clearly I’ve lost count), I was reminded that a change in location had never markedly improved my happiness factor. If anyone knew that, it was me. As far back as 1991 I learned (the hard way) that ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Turns out time is the same (read whenever in place of wherever). In truth, despite the global difficulties we all waded through last year, I managed to accumulate many beautiful amazing memories, gained a treasure-trove of relationships, achieved personal milestones, developed new skills, read life-changing books, learned all sorts of useful things, had fun, and discovered ways to take care of and appreciate myself and others on a whole new level.

As I look back on my life, it occurs to me that there have been even harder years in the past. I remember standing in my kitchen in 2014, having just ‘celebrated’ my first birthday without my sister, begging my was-band to let me join him for counseling in a last-ditch attempt to save a marriage that had died many years earlier; and when I asked my daughter if she knew the last time I had been happy, she answered without missing a beat: “Hawaii,” she said. Too bad I hadn’t lived in Hawaii since 2005!

Happiness is a fickle companion when we allow circumstances to dictate it.

I spent oh so many years doing that! Enough to teach me that happiness is a state of mind, one that I can find in the blink of an eye – completely apart from any outer circumstance.

Did you know that you become what you practice? There is an old saying among caregivers of the elderly:

When you grow old, you just become more.

More of what you were when you were young(er). I used to think it was due to the loss of impulse control. But having become more intimately acquainted with the elderly, I now believe it is simply a matter of habit.

They say that workers in nursing homes can tell the angry from the forbearing and the kind from the nasty in the first few minutes they spend with a resident. It is as if what we choose moment by moment when we are young eventually cements into a personality – a fixed way of being that is not easily altered. With age, some not only lose the desire or capacity to change, they become inured to their bad behavior altogether – or worse, they feel entitled to it.

AT MY AGE I CAN SAY WHATEVER THE EFF I WANT I'M A CRAZY OLD LADY - Keep  Calm and Posters Generator, Maker For Free - KeepCalmAndPosters.com

Having experienced first-hand the end result of people committed to a life of complaining and otherwise negative thoughts/behaviors – people who cannot enjoy the good in life without finding something to complain about – I cannot see a downside to seeking the kind of happiness that is not blown about by every wind of circumstance.

Sometime in late summer or very early fall of 2020 I asked a family member a question that I hope I never forget. They had spent several minutes lamenting how miserable Donald Trump had made their life, how unhappy they were because he was President, and how Trump had basically ruined their life. I had been listening to this diatribe in one form or another for close to a year at that point, and just couldn’t take it anymore without voicing the question that bubbled up inside me every time anyone of privilege complained about their quality of life under the regime of Donald Trump:

Give me one example of how your personal everyday life has been affected (for good or ill) since the day that he took office almost 4 years ago … … …

IF you never watched the news.

Perception really is everything. And perception is dictated by one thing and one thing only: Focus. Keep your attention on what is bad in the world and you will feel bad. Focus on what is good in the world and you will feel good. But when we realize that good, bad, and even great have always been and always will be present around us, maybe then we will finally turn inside to discover the divine spark that is able to bring forth the joy of being alive despite any outside circumstance. That, my friends, will be a great awakening. And it is one that each of us can choose to have at any point in time.

I will not look for happiness in 2021. Instead, I will focus my gaze on the one place that happiness is always available to me – inside my heart. Nothing can shake it loose – except my willingness to place my attention elsewhere.

Happiness is right here, right now. It is within me and within you. Do you have the courage to go within to find it? I warn you, it will demand that you drop everything else. The happiness inside will require you to let go of all the stories you tell about your past, and you will have to release all of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘how tos’ of your future. The past is a murky, half-remembered thing and the future does not – will not ever in fact – exist, apart from your dream of it. You and me, right here, right now. I choose to celebrate that.

Please don’t go looking for happiness in 2021. It is not there. Happiness is within you. All it will take to find it is a little bit of focus.

Much love, much light,

~C

All the Little Ways

The universe (God, goddess, angels, universal consciousness, whatever you want to call it) speaks to me in many different ways. I have had dreams, visions, heard a public speaker (complete stranger) reiterate in a talk the exact words of a private conversation I had with a friend earlier that day, seen repeating numbers, and on rare occasions, heard a voice inside my head. I cannot count the number of times I have thought of a friend only to have them call or email me soon after. So many serendipitous things have happened in my life that I no longer believe in coincidence. My family even coined the phrase co-inky-dink years ago in an attempt to make light of these strange occurrences.

I have been getting messages of one kind or another my whole life, but it has taken me some time to really learn to pay attention to them. Many were so subtle that they could have easily passed by unnoticed, yet they were the ones that spoke the loudest to my soul. We all hope that the universe will come through for us in the big stuff (the job, the healing, etc.), but when something small happens just to delight us. It is then that we truly experience the whole of the depth and breadth of the love available to us.

This is my favorite example of the universe speaking to me.

Circa 1996:

It was early, maybe six-thirty in the evening, and I was where I usually was at that time of day, in front of a sink full of dirty dishes. My wasband stood behind me in the doorway to our kitchen talking at me. Apparently he knew the script of our lives as well as I did. He was in his place as much as I was in mine. I could hear my two girls arguing over some perceived injustice that one had suffered at the other’s hand. I had grown so accustomed to the constant bickering that it was little more than background noise now. They knew I would not choose a victim and had been forced early on to learn to work out their squabbles on their own. The wasband was another story. He was always the victim. Me? I was the sounding board.

The townhouse the four of us shared was nothing to write home about. At least it was in a nicer area of Georgia than some I’d seen. God only knows how we paid for it. Life for the wife of a pastor-turned-construction handyman was no walk in the park. Wasn’t God supposed to take care of us? Then why was I never able to buy shoes for my children? Why did I have to choose between health insurance and groceries? I had learned one very useful thing over the course of those ten years: how to pack a kitchen in one hour or less. Since 1987 we had lived in seven different dwellings, three different states, and one foreign country. After almost ten years of moving, I was tired. Tired of jobs ending. Tired of every application being rejected. Tired of listening to the pie-in-the-sky delusions that comprised my wasband’s life story.

He was at it again – telling me his plans for the job he had applied for a week ago. Never mind that it could take up to a year to even hear back from a church. He had no interview scheduled, did not even know if anyone would ever look at the application. Still, he had plans for the money he was going to make, for the ministry he would do. He had already mapped out where we would live! He had a plan for everything – everything except another rejection. He assured me that this church would be the one, this time it would happen. I had listened to the same speech multiple times over the previous months – many, many more if you count all the years of training. Same song, umpteen millionth verse. And like the tune, the outcome never changed. Standing there in front of that soapy water, I could not have imagined two more failed internships, bankruptcy, a three-month separation, military service and deployment, another job loss, three more years of graduate school, 12 more moves, and finally divorce were all headed my way.

Yet even back then, I had run out of words.

I could not muster a response to his assurances. All I could do was bristle in silence against the barrage of pipe dreams. I remember rinsing the last of the dishes while staring at my reflection in the darkened window above the sink. My eyes looked hollow and empty – just like I felt. Whatever joy I had known was gone, trampled under the hardships of a life lived without enough of anything – money, stability, family ties, friends, or, most importantly, love. In my head I spoke to the only one I thought might be listening. “God,” I said, “I can’t dream anymore. It’s too painful.”

As the soapy water drained away, I turned and left the kitchen. He was likely still standing there talking as I plodded mechanically up the stairs. I went through the motions of my nightly routine with my own voice still echoing in my head, “It hurts too much to dream.” The truth was, I had never learned to dream about much of anything for myself. As a child I was told I had to marry because women needed to be taken care of by a man. The church told me I had to obey my husband, follow his dreams, and die to whatever it was I might desire. In my mind, there was no room for my dreams, even if I could muster any up. In my life, there had never been room for me.

Funny how the universe has a way of giving us back things we do not even realize we have lost.

It has long been my practice to read before falling asleep. In fact, since I was in middle school (maybe even earlier), I cannot remember my nightstand bereft of a book or six (yes, I am always in the middle of approximately six books at a time, don’t ask me why). That night I was reading He Still Moves Stones by Max Lucado. After flipping on the lamp, I climbed into bed, pulled the covers up, and opened the book to my mark. The entire page was nothing but the title of Chapter 5. It read:

It’s All Right to Dream Again

Suddenly I could not breathe. The words before me bled together like watercolors bathed in tears. The shock of such an immediate and crystal clear answer to my thoughts left me speechless. I smiled a small smile as I placed my bookmark where it had been, shut the cover, and set the book back onto the nightstand. Then I turned out the light and went to sleep. I did not need to see anything else. The universe had spoken.

Message in a book

Since that night twenty or more years ago, I have heard that voice speak again and again. Sometimes direct, like the title of Chapter 5. Other times more subtle and harder to perceive. Perhaps hearing the universe speak is a function of belief – I expect it to, so it does. I have learned to trust that what I am hearing is for me and that it is good. Now I work to hone my intuition, increase my attention span and ability to concentrate (through focused meditation), and develop exceptional listening skills. Meditation is helpful, though in my experience, the universe seems to wait until I am surrounded by noise just to show me that it will always be louder, truer, and more reliable than anything else. After all, what has the power to drown out the still small voice of love? Absolutely nothing.

Do you ever receive messages from the universe? How do the messages come to you? How do they make you feel and what do you do when you get them?

Much love and light,

~ Cindy

Share Your World

Yes, I still exist and (sort of) keep a blog.

I did not want you all to imagine that I fell off the face of the earth in the recent past, but truly, the blogs I am working on are not quite up to posting snuff as yet. You will have to content yourself with a short blog resuscitation question and answer session. (Apparently, this has become a thing on the Interwebs in my absence.)

List 2 things you have to be happy about?

  1. My grandson. In a few short days, the miracle born on my Birthday will be 6 months old! There are not enough adequate blogging words to convey my joy when I am with him. Happy is a poor weak word for it. Ecstatic, over-the-moon … these come a wee bit closer to the mark.
  2. I live less than 20 minutes from my parents. My mother graciously cooks me breakfast every Wednesday before work, and I sit and sip my coffee while listening to my father and brother talk politics (government or church, whichever is the choice of the week). On Wednesdays I come to work with a smile and a heart filled with love. I also live close enough to my daughter, my son-in-law, and my grandson to spend almost every other weekend with them! The presence of my family members in my life has served as a much-needed anchor through the turbulent seas of divorce. Perhaps now you will know why I have been conspicuously absent of late…

If you could take a photograph, paint a picture or write a story of any place in the world, what and where would it be?

The coasts of Ireland – the one place in the world I most want to visit. I often think of my novel as basically Irish, and I love everything Celtic, for one reason or another.

Should children be seen and not heard? 

Not hearing my grandson would be a tragedy in every sense of the word. His gurgles warm my heart; and although his squeals at times may pierce my ears, I eagerly await the day when his amazing words of wisdom pierce my soul.

List at least five of your favorite first names.

Collin, Aubrey, Ian, Desdemona (Desi for short), and Justine

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last week I created a gratitude wheel prior to finding out that my contract (job) would be renewed in September. I am grateful for the contract renewal, but even more-so that I have learned to be grateful without needing everything in life to go smoothly (did I mention that divorce is hell?).

I have another 3-day weekend coming up, during which time I plan to engage in deep discussions with my daughter and her husband. We like talking about parenthood, spirituality. money. education, and even politics. I will be cooking new GF foods making a mess in my daughter’s kitchen (not mine!), and rolling around on the floor taking pictures of the wonder of my world (yes, of course my grandson) gurgling, squealing, attempting to crawl, or all of the above. His bubbles remind me that all is right with the world.

My life simply could not be any better than this.

Gratitude Wheel
2016 Gratitude Wheel

So, what’s going on in YOUR world? Please share, then link back to your post in the comments below!

I got this idea from Anxious Mom. Be sure to stop by and give her a holler!

The Presence in her Absence

Most of the time I see my sister in waking moments. But on September 30, 2014, I was getting ready for work when the dream I had the night before rushed into my awareness. It was one of the most vivid dreams I have ever had, and although it is rare for me to remember even pieces of a dream, I recalled this one in its entirety.

I had wandered off the streets of downtown Nashville into a sparsely occupied coffee shop. I sat down at a small table to the right of the door and wondered what to order. When the door opened again, I looked up and in she walked. Her bell bottom jeans brushed softly against the wooden floorboards. She was wearing a loose-fitting plaid shirt, untucked at the waist. The long dark brown hair that hung limply from her head was tucked back behind the ears. Her face was troubled. I stared for several seconds. A double-take later, I realized I was looking at my sister, circa 1977. “You cannot be here,” I thought, “you’re dead!” She did not look in my direction as she sat down at the large table next to mine. Her back was to me.

More people trickled in. I did not recognize any of them, but I somehow knew they were friends of hers from college days. They filled up the empty seats around the table she had chosen, and soon an animated conversation about life and God ensued. I was mesmerized by her presence and could not take my eyes off of her. I sat, watched, and listened, resisting the urge to get up and join the group. I wanted to interrupt, to tell her how much I miss her. But I had the distinct impression that she would not have heard me anyway.

The veracity of the New Testament was the subject of the discussion. Of all people, my sister was patiently explaining the texts regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. The young man sitting nearest her commented, “You don’t really believe that stuff, do you?” She replied in a calm voice, “Of course I do.” I got the sense from her statement that she was talking about something more definitive than faith or belief, something more like knowing. It dawned on me that now she sees and knows clearly, even as she has always been seen and known. For her, there are no doubts or uncertainties, only truth and love – oh, so much love.

I wanted nothing more than to stay there in that room, watching her, listening to her voice. Having a dream like that helps heal the scar of loss. Waking from a dream like that leaves a brand new one.

IMG_1217
Sunset on New Year’s Eve, 2014.

On the drive home that night, I thought again about the movie, What Dreams May Come and Robin Williams’s dip in paint. My sister adored color. I have known since the day she left this world that she sees it now like never before. That sunset gave me a little preview. She has painted lots more sunsets for me since then – each of them a creative masterpiece. I know that one day we will swim in them together.

One time at the beach, I asked her to draw the ocean for me. She did it, but then kept insisting she had not gotten the waves or the light quite right. I always thought that the waves and the light in her beach drawing had been perfect, but in this life, my sister had never been able to appreciate her own brilliance. The splash of color across that twilit sky on New Year’s Eve told a different story, a story of artistic abandon transcending the need to get things ‘just right’.

~ ~ ~

For many years I have had a vision of a house sitting on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. A garden stretches out in front of it, filled with every kind of flower. Now that she is gone, I can see her there, tending to the plants, anticipating my arrival. I should have known all along it was her garden.

Tattoo March 3 2016
Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning. – Peter Pan

Hawks still visit me from time to time. Her way of watching over me, I suppose. Love you bunches & bunches and tons & tons, Ditty.

~ Your Little Sis

Blindsided

I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.

But, please, let me explain…

On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.

Car Radio (1)

Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.

Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.

Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.

It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.

Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!

LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

– Your Little Sis

Season for Remembering

It is the first week of November and I am finally getting around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. It seems kind of late in the year for that, but then, I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.

One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated keeping it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, the vest fits me now! 

Today I laid the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within five minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only two days since it came out of the box and already my cat has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but Ian managed to find his way back to the warmth of it. A bit surprising, actually, since he rarely climbs onto the couch to begin with. For him that vest is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on, but I cannot help but wonder if my connection to her – my grief – is somehow being communicated to him through this piece of clothing. 

Ian kneaded the vest before settling into its folds, and I spent a few moments trying to imagine what my sister would say if she saw it. Of my three felines, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest. No, my sister wasn’t perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all. A whole lot like my cat.

I hated removing Ian from the vest, but truth be told, I need it. Three weeks from yesterday marks the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I am not sure that I will ever believe that time heals all wounds. Somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I step into it often now. I talk to her there, like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I always feel her smile.

This month marks the beginning of a season to remember, yet the whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget. On the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad, to the plethora of shared experiences with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter will turn into one of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to appreciate the loved ones who remain, while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.

The windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day now. And whether it’s her visiting me or not is irrelevant. They remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy its warmth and the interesting fabric against your kneading paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings. A whole lot like my cat.