As I’ve shared with anyone who’ll listen, I’ve moved for the second time in a year and Monday was furniture moving day. Most of the boxes–and they are too numerous to count–were moved over the course of the last month since I settled on my condo.

I was really proud of myself; I was throwing out–on average–two 30-gallon trash bags of STUFF per week since I put the offer in on my new place in late January. I gave away–to Goodwill, to the kids, and to friends–a whole boatload of other STUFF including a king-size bed (and the bedding to go with it), lawn mower, snow blower, clothing galore, bar stools, etc., etc., etc. My new place only has two bedrooms, a loft, and NO basement so I knew I was going to need to be aggressive in my downsizing efforts.

So why then do I still have way too much STUFF and even more importantly, why can’t I seem to part with it?

Yesterday, as I sat facing the daunting task of unpacking all those boxes, I felt exhausted. Yes, I know, there is the natural exhaustion that comes with the move and yet another change. Yet, I found myself growing weary of the thought of not only unpacking the STUFF and finding places for all of it, but of taking care of the STUFF going forward. And placing so much energy on the STUFF leaves me very little in my fuel tank to take care or devote time to the true STUFF that matters– friends, family, this blog, and so on.

I think there’s a lesson in this. I just hope I am willing to transform enough to truly learn it–as soon as I come out from beneath this large box I’m under…

There are a number of things that have been percolating in my mind and I’m having trouble sorting through them.  So rather than wait to sort them all out and then write something, I’m going to jot down some thoughts and come back to them over future posts.

First, I had a friend mention today that reframing thoughts can lead to suppressing feelings.  Hmmm.  Interesting point.  I think that can be a danger if we don’t do something to recognize the feelings, how they’re manifesting themselves in our bodies, what thoughts are causing them, and if we don’t lean into them a bit.  I think the “leaning into the feelings” is what Alanis Morrissette talks about when she sings in her “You Live You Learn” song:

“Swallow it down (what a jagged little pill)
It feels so good (swimming in your stomach)” 

To me the thought reframing comes in when I realize that faulty thinking may be leading me down an unproductive path and causing me unnecessary distraction, worry or continued pain past a normal “expiration date.”  Let me see if I can give an example.

Let’s say I make a mistake.  I hate to make mistakes, but we all know they happen all the time. Doesn’t matter…I still hate to do it particularly if my mistake hurts someone or causes them inconvenience.  When I make a mistake and realize it I usually feel embarrassed.  My face gets hot, my heart sinks, my shoulders slump and I just generally feel bad all over.  As my friend pointed out, I need to allow myself to feel that pain–to observe how it’s manifesting itself in my body–to welcome the pain as a way of learning from it.  At some point, I need to acknowledge the mistake–own it, take responsibility for it, apologize for it.  But, rather than wallowing in guilt, self-pity, or worse yet, defensiveness I need to reframe the thoughts of, “You idiot!” to ones that are more gracious and forgiving of myself.  At some point, I need to let it go. 

Very simplistic example, but hopefully it gives you the idea my friend was projecting.

 Second train of thought on this subject is there’s a difference between typical day-to-day stuff like making relatively minor mistakes, running into difficulty with a co-worker, missing a friend’s birthday, dropping something and breaking it and major life events like losing a loved one to death, having a spouse leave you, suffering a miscarriage during pregnancy, etc.  There’s no quick and easy way of reframing thoughts after a spouse leaves you or a child dies.  There’s no magic pill you can take to accelerate the acceptance of those events.  Those types of events cause devastation.  They drop you to your knees and I don’t mean figuratively.  You go through the mourning process which includes disbelief, numbness, anger–no, let me rephrase that–RAGE, and somewhere….somewhere in the distance you come to some form of acceptance (if you’re lucky and have a lot of help).  You can do some thought reframing during these events, too and you can also “welcome” and accept the emotions you are experiencing.  But, it would be misleading of me to say that a bit of thought reframing is like, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”   Or just by singing, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…these are a few of my favorite things,” will magically make you feel better.  These events are devastating, and there is no healthy way to circumvent the pain.

All of the above examples, however, can build strength, character and grace depending on how we handle ourselves through them.   I suppose it’s all a part of the journey.

From Eat, Pray, Love:

In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call “The Physics of the Quest.” A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.


The Art of Forgiveness, also by Wilfred A. Peterson.

The art of forgiveness begins when you forgive someone.

It is having a humble spirit and being done with pride and self-pity.  It is taking a step toward the practice of forgiveness.  Hate is death, forgiveness is life.

Forgiveness works the miracle of change.  When Lincoln was asked why he did not destroy his enemies he replied:  “If I make my enemies my friends, don’t I then destroy them?”  When you forgive you change others and you change yourself.  You change discord to harmony.

Forgiveness should span the years.  You should first forgive yourself for the wrongs you’ve done to yourself and others, for the mistakes you’ve made.  Then you should forgive and bless all those who have wronged you during your lifetime.  Thus you release others and you release yourself.  You break the chains of regret and remorse that bind you.  You free your mind from the burdens of the past so you may walk victoriously into the future.

Forgiveness works two ways.  You must forgive to be forgiven.  “He who cannot forgive others,” wrote Edward Herbert, “breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass; for every man has the need to be forgiven.”

Forgiveness should become a habit.  When the Master was asked how often we should forgive, he answered:  “Until seventy time seven.”  He who forgives to infinity will never hate.

The Art of Living by Wilfred A. Peterson. “Happiness does not depend on what happens outside of you, but on what happens inside of you. It is measured by the spirit in which you meet the problems of life. Happiness is a state of mind. Lincoln once said, ‘We are happy as we make up our mind to be.’ Happiness doesn’t come from doing what we like to do, but from liking what we have to do. Happiness comes from putting our hearts in our work and doing it with joy and enthusiasm. Happiness grows out of harmonious relationships with others based on attitudes of goodwill, tolerance, understanding, and love. The master secret of happiness is to meet the challenge of each new day with the serene faith that all things work together for them that love God.”

From the beginning of “The Joe I Know” by 70 former players of Coach Joe Paterno.

I had one of those days today. It started early. I was just about ready to walk out the door and I noticed that one of my cats had emptied the contents of his stomach on an oriental rug. Next was my arrival with boxes & cleaning supplies (thank the dear Lord) at my condo only to greet the carpet installers scrambling around my flooded entry way because my powder room toilet overflowed. As I was trying to –gracefully–resolve that issue, my heel caught a curve & I fell. Next was ruining a relatively new pair of black pumps by scraping my toe on the sidewalk. The afternoon brought news that a dear friend of mine in his mid 60’s is ever closer to losing his battle with prostate cancer and last, but certainly not least, early this evening I ran into my ex-husband whom I haven’t seen in person to talk to in almost a year.

Hmmmmm. MAJOR opportunity for thought reframing. Major opportunity to test SWOG principles. We all have these days. Our situations are all unique but they come–sometimes in rapid succession to our lives. I had to push myself to think–our thoughts lead to our feelings which lead to our behaviors & choices which form our habits which determine our character. So, as I drove my thirty mile drive at 7:30 p.m. I focused on the horizon where the clouds were starting to break from a gray, rainy, overcast day. The sky was pink and blue and I came up over a hill and there was the sun–this big orange ball on the horizon. There was my reminder from God that the sun really does come out after the rain; that there is beauty after ugliness; that the hard stuff has as much benefit to me as the good stuff.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

I have not posted in several days because I’m under a large pile of boxes and I’m having difficulty reaching my keyboard.  As a result, I have just copied and pasted the following from an email I received today.  It was just way too funny not to pass along, and I decided my recent posts were way too serious.  Therefore, I hope you find these as enjoyable as I did (I’m still snickering at a couple of them…)

Winston Churchill loved them. They (Paraprosdokians) are figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.

1. Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on my list.

3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

4. If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

6. War does not determine who is right – only who is left..

7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

8. They begin the evening news with ‘Good Evening,’ then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a work station.

11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted pay checks.

12. In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify:’ I put ‘DOCTOR.’

13. I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

18. Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

19. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

20. I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.

21. You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

23. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

25. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

26. Where there’s a will, there are relatives.

By now you know I’m a movie junky.  And of course, being on this journey I’m on I could not help myself.  I HAD to read the book and watch the movie Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  One of my favorite scenes in that movie takes place when Elizabeth is in Italy and she’s touring the Augusteum.  These are excerpts from both the book and the movie:

On my way back home I take a little detour and stop at the address in Rome I find most strangely affecting- the Augusteum. The big, round, ruined pile of brick started life as a glorious mausoleum, built by Octavian Augustus to house his remains and the remains of his family for all of eternity. It must have been impossible for the Emperor to have imagined at the time that Rome would ever be anything but a mighty Augustus- worshipping empire. How could he have possibly forseen the collapse of the realm? Or known that, with all the aqueducts destroyed by barbarians and with the great roads left in ruin, the city would empty of citizens, and it would take almost twenty centuries before Rome ever recovered the population she had boasted during her height of glory?

…I look at the Augusteum, and I think that perhaps my life has not actually been so chaotic, after all. It is merely this world that is chaotic, bringing changes to us all that nobody could have anticipated. The Augusteum warns me never to get attached to any obsolete idea about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday, I may have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough- but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository (as the Augusteum once was). Even in the eternal city, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.

Ruin is a gift.  Ruin is the road to transformation. 

I’m sensing a repetitive theme here–how about you?

This is what a friend said to me one time when I wouldn’t “let something go.” If I remember correctly, the horse had not only died, but it was starting to smell and I was still holding the reins. Clinging to things can get in our way–clinging to the way things were, clinging to the same argument, clinging to old hurts or wounds, clinging to the same old worries, clinging to material things, clinging to your kids…you get the picture. We usually cling for a few different reasons–to prove an argument (insecurity); fear of change (insecurity); uncertainty of the alternative (insecurity); uncertainty about ourselves. You DO get the picture, don’t you?

Oh, those pesky thoughts again. We tell ourselves we can’t; we tell ourselves we’re right; we tell ourselves we can’t live in a different house; we tell ourselves we can’t live without this person; we tell ourselves our lives are going to end when our children grow up; we tell ourselves we can’t do our work differently; we tell ourselves that the current way is the only way; we deny we’re getting older and fight our bodies changing.  Letting go requires us to give up what we know about something for embracing something different. There’s a great quote in William Bridges book, Managing Transitions:  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another.” (Anatole France) 

I can still remember–like it was yesterday –my mother standing at the ironing board when I was packing to go off to college.  She broke down in tears–which was VERY unusual for her.  She said through her tears, “Things will never be the same again,” meaning that when I left for school all would be different.  She was right, of course, and she feared what life would be without a child to care for in the house.  “Every exit is an entry somewhere else” (Tom Stoppard), but she didn’t know what that new beginning looked like for her and she was scared and insecure.

I don’t have an easy answer for this one (but I welcome any comments or examples of successful transitions).  I think as usual we have to be honest with our feelings, our fears, our insecurities and honor those feelings.  We have to mourn the loss of what we knew to be true.  Once we’ve given ourselves that grace to mourn what we can’t have, we need to create our new beginning to look forward to.  Reframe those thoughts…we can’t take the house with us when we die; our role as parents is to push the birds out of the nest so they can fly on their own; the new job/role helps us to learn new skills; so my knees won’t let me run anymore, I’ll take long walks instead.

When the horse dies, mourn his loss and then get a new car.

Breakaway Kelly Clarkson

I know you’ve likely noticed how often I quote a song’s lyrics or reference a movie scene or line.  Artists like song composers, book authors, and screen play writers often draw on real life experiences or at least life’s tendencies when composing a song or a script.  Here’s another example of grace in the midst of unbelievable sorrow.

How many of you have seen the movie, Steel Magnolias?  I can think of no grief more riveting than the emotions surrounding the loss of a child.  Most of you who have children confess to me that’s where your worrying is at its finest when you are thinking about the welfare of your children.  In the movie, Sally Field’s character loses her daughter Shelby who is played by Julia Roberts.  Immediately after the funeral, M’Lynn (Sally Field) just loses her composure in a fit of rage in front of her close girlfriends played by Dolly Parton (Truvy), Olympia Dukakis (Clairee), Daryl Hannah (Annelle) and Shirley McLaine (Louisa or “Ouiser” pronounced “Weezer”).  She rails in the height of her rage about the injustice and unfairness of it all and she screams, “I’m so mad I don’t know what to do.  I want to know why…I want to know why Shelby’s life is over…..I want to know why, why…oh Lord I wish I could understand.  No, no, no.  It’s not supposed to happen this way….I just want to hit somebody until they feel as bad as I do.  I just want to hit something; I want to hit it hard!”  At that moment, when M’Lynn is just spent, Olympia (Clairee) grabs Shirley (“Ouiser”) and says, “Here.  Hit this!  Go ahead M’Lynn–slap her!”  Initially, they’re all stunned including M’Lynn.  And then they burst into belly shaking laughter (except for “Ouiser”).  Go ahead–watch it.  It’s the first time I can remember crying and laughing at the same time.  Just a note of caution, I have no control over the “advertisement” that may appear before the scene starts but I believe you can click on “skip ad” and it will go right to the scene:  Steel Magnolias Friends After Funeral Scene

As gut wrenching as it was, this was a moment of extreme grace.  This is the grace of four women surrounding their grieving friend and wrapping her in the love and protection only they could do.

During 2009–the same year I lost my mother–I had four friends/colleagues lose children.  I didn’t add that to my “About SWOG Blog” page because I didn’t think anyone would believe I had experienced all that in such a short period of time.  Jim and Mary lost Jesse in March–a beautiful and talented 30 year old young man.  Bill and Connie lost Parker in July–an accomplished 35 year old young man.  Kent and Jane lost Guy in September–a 40-something year old man with a beautiful spirit who suffered from Asperger Syndrome, and finally Rupe and Charlene lost their daughter Stephanie in October– a 35 year old mother of two.  I had the honor of spending time with each of these couples after their tragic losses and the grace they showed in the face of such pain was nothing short of inspirational.

“We live, we learn.  We lose, we learn.  We cry, we learn.”  It gives us strength that we can give to others.

Happy Easter Everyone!

I just got finished watching To Kill a Mockingbird; I read the book by Harper Lee through my book club about a year ago.  I think Atticus Finch is about as clear an example of strength with grace as I can think of right now.  I’m reflecting on the scene when the guilty-as-sin Bob Ewell spits on Atticus after the trial.  Even though I know the outcome, I’m really wanting Atticus (played by Gregory Peck) to cold cock the son-of-a—–gun.  But, instead–in front of his children–he slowly retrieves his handkerchief, wipes his face, walks around Bob to his car, gets in, and calmly drives away.  Wow.  Strength and Grace.

Think there wasn’t emotion?  There had to be emotion.  He got spit on in front of a whole group of people including his children after losing a controversial trial, defending a black man who was essentially proven innocent but an all white jury found him guilty in spite of the evidence to the contrary.  What a GREAT example of, “between stimulus and response there is a space; in that space lies the ability to choose our response; in our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Covey).  OK, OK…I know.  It’s only a movie.  But, I want to use it to demonstrate a point.  Getting spit on was the stimulus.  Atticus stands there for a good 15-20 seconds and does nothing–that was the space.  He slowly retrieves his handkerchief and wipes his face and then calmly walks around Bob to his car.  That’s his response.  In that space do you think he wasn’t wrestling with his emotions and contemplating his response?

Thank God for emotions.  What would we be without them?  And we can’t avoid the bad ones–hurt, anger, embarrassment, frustration, grief.  And we can’t always reframe thoughts in split seconds in order to make the bad emotions go away.  Death, abandonment, losing a job, having a child get in trouble…all these things cause POWERFUL emotions.  Most of these events trigger many different emotions that you process over time.  Most people have heard of the grief process you experience after the death of a loved one.  The process usually starts with disbelief, then acute pain, then numbness, then anger, and somewhere down the road if you’ve processed through all those emotions–acceptance.  You can’t just reframe thoughts and make the grief go away.  But, you can create space in almost any situation to minimize the regrets of a response born of the emotions you’re experiencing.

Let me illustrate using a more benign example of what I see women–particularly in my generation–do all too often.  We’re in a business setting and someone questions a decision we’ve made or an action we’ve taken.  We almost immediately become defensive and then spend time touting our resume of experience, education, awards, accomplishments and so forth.  That would be a great place to create some space.  In that space, we need to reframe thoughts like, “I can’t believe they’re questioning me” to “Let’s understand the question, listen to the concern, think about what I decided and explain the rationale.”  It seems so easy to believe the negative–that’s where our insecurity comes roaring to the forefront.  The space allows some time to talk yourself down from the ledge and deal with the question or situation in a grace-filled way.  The person asking the questions may indeed have impure motives–they may be trying to “catch you” or make you look bad.  The grace results by not allowing it to happen.  The strength comes from handling situations with grace on a regular basis.

Consider Atticus…what would you be thinking if some lying scum bag you just faced in court spit on you?  Now contemplate the strength and dignity in calmly walking away.  Who looks like the fool?

For those that are Christians–on this Easter Sunday consider how often Jesus demonstrated strength with grace.  Think about how many times He “let it go” and did not cling to pride or ego.

Happy Easter!