absolutely resolute

I am absolutely resolute. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Never. Ever.

Instead, I pick a theme, song or phrase that sums up what I’d like my year to resonate with. Last year, it was this song:

 

 

This week, as I sat in my new home, in a new city, not knowing a soul outside my family, I felt a tiny bit overwhelmed by it all- awed, really.

Then it hit me- we are far too easily awed -by things or people which/who should not capture our attention or affection for more than a passing moment.

We are awed by: someone’s musical talent, acting skills, fashion choices, strength, expertise, genius, inventiveness, parental success, beauty, wealth or persuasive talk.

We are awed by: nature, books, movies, structures, vehicle designs, art forms, inventions, etc.

We are even awed by intangibles like: bravery, knowledge, dedication, courage, heroism, tenacity, fame, or even evil and monstrosity.

Honestly, none of these are inherently bad to find ourselves overcome with a strong sense of respect, mixed with fear or wonder. This is good expression of human emotion. Yet, in this world of instant and constant media, we are barraged more than centuries before us and find ourselves too easily awestruck, star struck, selfie struck, et al.

So this year, my desire is to be awed first and best by the God of the universe. He deserves, even commands, my reverential fear, respect and awe. All else pales in comparison.

Yes, I will feel overwhelmed as I stare at the face of a rocky cliff or soak in the SoCal sunset. I will be moved to emotion by a piece of artwork, movie or song. On Sunday, I watched the Golden Globe awards and was struck with the beauty of the celebrities in their couture gowns. But all of this is because I see the creative artistry of the Creator and profoundly appreciate that same creativity He put in the hearts of human kind.

I am astonished by God’s peace, kindness, love and mercy and I will look ahead with pleasant and earnest expectation for more.

earthquake thoughts

As I stood waiting, for what seemed an extraordinarily long time, at Starbucks this week, I listened. I was privy to several personal exchanges between not only friends, but total strangers as well.

Everyone had a story to tell.

Each one was unique, yet the common theme was obvious: we had all experienced the trauma of the earth giving way beneath us. (Admittedly, I grew up in LA, so I’ve lived through worse earthquakes.)

Glass broke. Furniture splintered. TVs toppled.

The ear splitting sound was overwhelming. The unpleasant bouncing and jolting actually caused me to become motion sick. Each person searched for their loved ones in a frantic dash, urgent text or middle of the night phone call.

Most of us some how were safe- at least bodily. Yet our minds and emotions were far from “safe”.

We were numb, stressed, hysterical, frazzled, shocked, jolted, overwhelmed, distraught, grieved.

I’d say, the vast majority are still coming out of a “post afternoon nap” type haze.My recurring ambivalent thoughts are like: “I want to run away from this chaos” then, “I want to stay home, close to my family”. The world feels a bit scary. I keep imagining phantom aftershocks that I know are not really happening.

Then, last evening after my first venture out to the local banged up Target, I rounded my street corner to five police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck. Two doors down a young man took his life. I stood at the window and stared, not in a nosy gawking kind of way, but in an incredulous “why did he do this” kind of way.… I did not know the family. But as I watched the coroner enter the house, I was reminded of the power of human emotion.

What a paramount, driving force our fears or sadness can have over our bodies. Our heart and mind truly are command central for what motivates us or holds us captive in this life.

I am humbled as I look across the street at their house, wondering what they must be going through today- pain unutterable, vacuous loss, unanswerable confusion.

I remember the earth revolting under me six days ago, my broken dishes and table, my raw and shattered nerves. Those are nothing compared to the searing loss of a child.

My stuff can be replaced this week. This week, they will lay their son to rest.

 

Contrast This

This week, I wore the cloak of invisibility. But here’s the weird thing: I didn’t even know I had it on. Allow me to explain.

I was at coffee with a friend and in walks a mutual friend and his teenaged son. They stop and greet my friend by name and proceed to chat for the next five minutes. I sat and stared. INCREDULOUSLY. At first I think they don’t recognize me (I’m sans makeup). Then I look right into the eyes of the man talking and he avoids my gaze, as does his son.

They leave our table without ever even breathing a word to me. I was invisible. Not even good enough to make eye contact with or be greeted by name… I must confess I thought of some bad names for them after they left.

Contrast the following day. I meet up with a friend who is taking my youngest to a theme park for the day. While we wait for the others to arrive, I jokingly say I wish we had time for an espresso. Out comes her peculator and beans, and she’s apologizing that she doesn’t have her “regular” beans imported from Italy. She bids me sit down and rest my leg (still recovering from a recent surgery). Within minutes, we are sipping from dainty mugs and chatting about life.

There at her table, I find comfort. I find love. I find hospitality.

Then I mull over each scenario. In true metacognitive fashion, I rack my brain for answers to the first situation: maybe they didn’t recognize me, maybe they were having a bad day, or maybe I offended them at some point and they just can’t stand the sight of me. WHAT?! Stop it, I say to myself. Or maybe they are just rude, judgmental jerks that think too highly of themselves. Yep, I’m gonna go with that one.

In contrast, I feel hospitality with this other person. She exudes it from the very core of her being, a definitive kindness and empathizing love. She signs her texts to me “xo”. But is this just a personality thing, a temperament difference, or even a gender thing? NO, NO and NO.

It’s a perspective thing. Exhibit A lives life in a conservative, narrow-minded, (and I’m just going to use strong oxymoron here)- a Christian bigot kind of way. Exhibit B lives life in a big-hearted, broad thinking, Jesus kind of way. She embodies the definition of hospitality: the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

Having had these experiences back to back, I want to, more than ever, exhibit the grace of Jesus. May it ooze from my pores, flow freely from my mouth and display itself at my table. May it be given in generous unvarying amounts to everyone- known and unknown.

And God help me forgive exhibit A.

30 Days Without

 

sugarspoon-5ee1d9cf2615c976d34480051e0cba6762f7cf81-s6-c30I did IT! I really did not believe I could, but I did AND I LIVED to tell about it :).

For a variety of health related issues, I decided to do something radical (for me):

Cut out all forms of sugar- yes, even honey, agave, stevia, et al. Cut out all white things- rice, flour (wheat and white). Cut out all dairy- my beloved cheese and even butter. Cut out all alcohol- yes, I live in NAPA after all.

Here are my take aways from 30 Days Without:

~ Week One… was pure torture- genuine bona fide food withdrawal hell. I went sulking around, feeling sorry for myself, questioning why on earth I would decide to do such an absurd thing!! I wasn’t trying to get in touch with my Neanderthal relatives by eating paleo (as if I could even do that- I choke most meat down as it is). I drug myself around with zero energy and a hungry tummy. My family shook their heads at me. Opening the pantry, I’m pretty sure the chocolate chips would whisper my name sometimes.

~ The second week was better. I went to Peet’s Coffee and ordered an almond milk latte’ and it was delicious. (NO, I refused to give up my beloved cup of coffee.) I began to notice how sweet ordinary things tasted- lettuce, peas, carrots. I felt less deprived, but still craved a piece of bread- just one little whole grain piece with just a wee bit of butter perhaps. SIGH… I finally figured out how to feed myself alternatives and I cannot tell you how copious my almond and cashew intake was. Raw almond butter was my everyday rave.

~ Week three- I kind of hate to say it out loud, but I felt good and pretty darn proud of myself (although you can’t know how many times I wanted to just grab a spoon, pour some honey in it, and savor the pure ecstasy). The big test came- baking chocolate chip cookies for my dad, who had come for a visit. I solemnly do swear that I did not have a granule of the dough or cookies. (I might have snuck a lick from the spatula of the peanut butter pie I made though- SHHHH.)

~ At the beginning of the fourth week, I finally discovered there are alternatives for “baking”. After a run to Trader Joes for coconut flour and flaxseed meal, I whipped up my own banana bars, using NO sugar. Although the texture was not a satisfying buttery baked goodie, the taste was surprisingly sweet. Even my oldest son partook and thought it was decent. This week found me resolved and steadfast- and UBER SICK OF SALADS WITH VEGAN DRESSING. Ok, but truth be told, I was not missing the cheese, or wine or butter any longer.

I was an addict going through a sort of detox. After the initial feeling like I might die, and the looking longingly into the bag of chocolate chips, I dug in mentally (See, stubbornness IS good for something!)

Then, the 30 days was over and I ate my first chocolate chip cookie. I wasn’t that impressed. In fact, I kind of thought, “What’s the big deal?”

And I thought of a parable for life: We often think we want something. Maybe do this one thing or get this other thing because we think we deserve it or it makes our lives better. It turns out to be not that great after all. It takes our focus away from something much, much better.

Do I intend to eat this way forever? Heck, no. But I learned a thing or two about will power and the bewitching affect something like sugar can have in the mind and body.

I’m actually looking forward to baking up some healthy vegan muffins AND sinking my teeth into a decadent chocolate brownie topped with sea salted caramel from time to time!

Mantras to Live By

I grew up in a house of idioms. No, not IDIOTS! Idioms- catchy, sometimes pithy sayings meant to convey life application, but sometimes equally as baffling, crass and just plain ol’ unhelpful.

You see, I’m not quite sure if was a generational thing or a cultural thing (or perhaps my parents just had a way with words), but they were adept at throwing an idiom at any situation. It is said that there are 25,000 such expressions in the English language. I easily heard at least 5,000 growing up.

So maybe this scarred me. I can only retain short one-liners because frankly, I spent much longer than I should have trying to decipher what these words ACTUALLY meant. Or maybe this helped me become the lover of words that I am today; these deeply, meaningful brain-twisters made me dig under the surface for meaning (which I’m pretty certain only left weird mental pictures).

At any rate, I do currently subscribe to living by mantras, not in a Buddhist meditative kind of way, but as a simple implementation tool for my mind. The truth of its strong message can hold sway over the negative thoughts that come too easily. Here’s my list of favorites:

La Vita e Bella– or Life is Beautiful (in Italian)- When I saw the 1998 movie with this name, I was struck with profound emotion. (If you have not seen the movie, do and watch it in Italian with English subtitles.) This was also the year my mom passed away, which compounded the message home to me that: each day is a gift, life is too short to be lived in the doldrums, and if I live it beautifully, I can rise above the ugly.

God is everything. I am nothing. – Now before you get your feathers ruffled, let me say that I know this is contra to what our Western culture espouses. And this is the very thing I fight against every day. After years of misguided expectations for myself and unrealistic “putting on a pedestal” of people or things, I realized that humbling myself was the very place I would find true happiness. By acknowledging that God is the pinnacle from which all else is divinely appointed in my life, I finally have rest. This does NOT mean that I sit emo-ishly in a corner with a self-abasing razor strap held to my back. It does mean that I submit myself wholly to the GREAT POWER that is God, not from a needy weakness but from a willful whole-minded humility that admits my utter ineptness to be the master of my own destiny.

Everyone has a story- none of which you know and most of which you wouldn’t understand. This mantra came on the heels of the previous one- to be humble and to recognize that humanity in general is a beautifully messy business. This means every aggressive driver that flips you the bird, every grumpy waiter or waitress, every cross cashier, every holier than thou church member, every overly hormonal know it all young adult, every cantankerous older person- they all have a story, written over decades by every person and circumstance that has been part of their cosmos. Give that person grace & mercy because you know what they say- “Humans are like snowflakes- no two are alike.” 🙂 Your story isn’t theirs.

Words mean something. – You are probably saying, “Duh” and making a face while reading this. Shame on you!  This mantra, though simple, is one I tell my children and myself over and over and over again. I have this little problem of being, oh, let’s say, slightly venomous with my words. I let my emotion bubble and foam up over the very essence of what I should have said and boy does it make a mess- (think boiled over sugar mixture on a hot stove). Our words really DO have powerful sway, they really can’t be retracted and they showcase what’s in our heart. The book of James says it best:  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

These are my “basic mantras”- the simple profound truths I repeat everyday because they MEAN SOMETHING.

What mantras do you live by?

Windows

We spend our lives looking in and out of windows.

Upon waking every day, the first thing I do is go turn on the coffee pot and open up my kitchen window’s blind. I look out and determine what kind of day it is: grey and foggy, cool or warm, bright and sunny. In that moment, I also assess the view in a purely metaphysical way. What kind of day lies ahead? Happy, melancholy, worrisome, carefree, over scheduled, relaxed, burdened, peaceful?

Windows are like snap shots- just a portion of a bigger picture.

If we look in the window of someone else’s life, it may appear picturesque- almost perfect. Envy arises because perhaps this view is so wholly unlike our own. But remember this: don’t be deceived. Just like the display widows at a department store, it shows the best, the prettiest, the coolest, the most alluring, the trendiest, the slickest, the most put together items to be found. It is a living mirage that doesn’t look like that outside the large plate glass.

It’s funny how, even looking out our own window, shows only a sliver what’s beyond. It may appear to be a beautiful day, but what I don’t know is that just a few houses down, an ambulance has arrived to take someone away in it.

Maybe it is time to change perspective, to remind yourself that the view from a window is just a snap shot, a still frame in the bigger picture of life and yours is never going to be just like anyone else’s. Or maybe your window has been far too long covered with filth, making the view of even a lovely day impossible to see.

Look Here

Perspective.

In light of this recent cold snap, I was reminded that so much of life truly is perspective. The word, as defined by good ol’ Webster means:

~the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

or

~the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed

You see, I say, “I’m freezing. It’s so cold outside”, then I hear that the town we used to live in in Idaho is exactly 0 degrees and I stop complaining. Later I read about parts of Montana that have a wind chill of 50 below zero and I think that you might have to be part crazy to live there!!!!! I’ll take my 27 degrees any day!

I remember the first time I really grasped the meaning of this concept (although at 17, it would be years until I was able to really apply it to life). It was my first semester of college and I was FORCED (note that word) to take an art appreciation class. While attending a field trip to the L.A. art museum, we were instructed to write observations on all kinds of paintings. There was one that I’ll never forget. It was an idyllic fall scene of a sleepy town. The rich golds, crimsons and oranges still stand sharp in my mind, but it was how the light morphed that really struck me. I had to view the painting from a variety of angles and distances and as I did, the canvas evolved before me. It was as if light was coming alive inside the painting. As my perspective changed, so did the scene before me.

Throughout my life this has happened time and time again. I have been sitting around, wallowing in a large vat of self-pity filled with stinky stuff like: financial woes, child-rearing woes, health woes etc. then BAM, I hear about a friend’s problem or a natural disaster that trumps my vat o’ crap by 10,000 stink points. I immediately admit that things could be much worse. Conversely, I’ve been sitting prettily atop my high horse thinking “I’M ALL THAT”, when BAM, someone rides by on an even higher horse. All at once I get knocked flat on my derriere, taken down by pride. I am forced to look straight up from my new perspective lying on the ground.

You see, no matter where you are, in the valley or on the mountain, you know by now that things can and DO change in a heart beat. Not only that, there is, in the wide world over invariably someone out there better or worse off than YOU! (The nerve of some people that seem to continually fall into the “better off” category!)

So here’s my challenge for you and myself:  Change your perspective. Shift your focus. Embrace where you’re at. Try to change where you’re at. Step back. Step forward.  If you get knocked down, lie there a little while and take in the view. If you are at a pinnacle moment type of place, look out into the distance and realize where you came from. See the bigger picture, the sum of the parts. Find the beauty in the broken, the meaning in the muck, the purpose in the plight. Recognize and appreciate the fractal light features that appear as you shift your perspective.