Magical Places

I am fortunate. I have been to many magical places in my life. I have visited the hot thermal waters coming out of the ground at an ocean front setting in Greece. I have seen the birth of my grandson. I have sat on a hilltop in a field of flowers overlooking the Sierra mountains and watched magnificent sunset of reds, yellows ,and brilliant oranges. Yes, I have been blessed many times over to have experienced some truly exceptional moments in my life.

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Magical places for me provide opportunities to connect with myself and others. I realized that when I inventoried all those magical moments they have not been solitary. For me, they are shared moments/places in which we get a glimpse of our own awe reflected in the faces of those we love which serve to bond us tighter as we witness something truly spectacular. They are those moments which become shared stories in which the words, “Remember when…” are uttered for decades to come. They are the times, after you are gone, that your children tell their children about and their children do the same. Although they may not come often when they do that we really sit up and take notice and discover through them, what is important to our souls.

Magical moments are the heartbeats of the universe. We all experience them at one time or another and the sense of discovery and wonderment is what binds us together as human beings. They connect and transform. They provide a way to shared experience and give us a way to say, “I know what you mean” even amongst people half-way across the world from one another. We may not have even see the same thing but somehow the feelings brought about from what we have each observed can build a bridge over which we can both traverse. Magic indeed.

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Magical moments sometimes arrive on their own out of the blue. For me, they are the best because they are spontaneous and unplanned. But often, I think that we have to create these occasions ourselves. We have to be open to trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone to make them happen. We have to take a path untried. But mostly, we just have to open our eyes and recognize the beauty in what we are seeing and  celebrate it. And when we do this, somehow the magic just takes over. For its a choice we make to appreciate what is in front of us and to celebrate the beauty of those moments that forever imprint themselves on our lives.

 

 

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How You Handle Discord May Predict Future Illness

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A new study has just come out from UC Berkley  and Northwestern University that followed married couples for 20 years. This study looked at how couples behaved during conflict and the illness that they developed. What they found was this:

  • People who rage with frustration tend to develop high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.
  • Those who keep “a stiff upper lip,” shutting down, or “stonewalling” tend to develop musculoskeletal problems such as back problems or muscle stiffness.

 

The authors of the study believe that their research shows how emotions effect health and how long-term behaviors can negatively affect health. By looking at marital conflict conversations for just 15 minutes researchers could predict with amazing accuracy the development of health issues which would occur 20 years later.

 

What I would like to know is this: what about the couples who had deep meaningful respectful conversations when they fought? Or what about the people who for some reason or another changed their behaviors through meditation later in the study. Did this change of behavior result in a decreased risk of developing health problems?

As a person who has been a yeller most of her adult life but has now stopped, I would love to know if my change in behaviors will have a positive outcome for my health in the future. Will my daily meditation change the course of my life? Of course, we have no way of knowing that but I would like to think that by creating meaningful change in my life I am making a difference in my health and the health of my loved ones. I can already see changes…Paul is calmer and does not react our of anger like he used to. He is modeling his behavior after my new behaviors and I am thankful for that.

Studies like these are important. By connecting negative (and positive) emotions to positive or negative changes in our health it gives individuals a reason to change their behaviors. I would like to think that had I realized the damage I was doing to my health by yelling that I might have changed my ways of interacting much sooner than I did and I might have saved my family from a lot of unnecessary grief.

The Eagle Is About To Soar

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Yesterday my boys, Andre and Paul, received their Life rank in Boy Scouts. It is an amazing feat especially when one factors in all their challenges. Next up: Eagle Scout the final and highest rank. They are already busy deciding what their project will be. It has to be something that benefits the community. They have to plan it, fundraise for it, and organize volunteers to help complete it.

I have to admit I have been a lousy Scout mom. With all the other things I have done in the past or am doing I have rarely attended meetings and only occasional events. It is B who has done on a million hikes and campouts, attended every meeting, flipped pancakes for fundraisers, helped them earn merit badges and has taken a week off of work to make sure that the boys attended Boy Scout Camp. Without B, there would be no Eagles in the making. He has been there for years helping the boys to learn new skills and helping Andre when he falters. I am so proud of all of them.

As I watched Andre yesterday, his autism in full gear for whatever reason, walking in circles and shaking his head; I know that I have the Boy Scouts to thank for all he has accomplished. For all that both boys have. And while I have not always agreed with the policies put forth by the organization, I know that my kids have mastered skills that will benefit them in the future and may well save a life one day. In fact, Andre did earn a rarely given award, the Honor Medal, for saving a life.

So as they enter the final frontier of Scouting I want to congratulate my boys and thank all the adults who have mentored them and pushed them through. All those volunteers who have made Scouting fun and exciting. Because it is a joint effort by all involved and everyone involved are responsible for the fact that our soon-to-be Eagles are about to soar.

 

 

Love Is A Choice

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If there is something else of importance that I came away with from this weekend’s Marriage Encounter it is that LOVE IS A CHOICE.  It is a choice that you make again and again and again over the lifetime of your relationship. The choice to love begins when you wake up in the morning and think pleasant thoughts of your spouse while he lays there sleeping. It is present when you decide to take the time to really listen to what your partner is saying. And it renews itself when you chose to give your sweetie the benefit of the doubt and believing in the best instead of the worst.

I am not sure when B and I forgot this or if we ever viewed love in exactly this way. Letting resentments build up is not choosing to love. Foregoing intimacy is not choosing love. Escaping from each other by putting other things first is not choosing love and I know these things were happening in our relationship. No wonder our relationship became unsatisfying to both of us. Other things intruded and we did not recognize it nor stop it when we did. Making sure that our love for each other a priority just never got very high on the list.

I thought it might be difficult to make sure that B knew I was choosing love. But staying connected throughout the day via texting and dialoguing at night is helping us to see that putting our relationship first makes us feel good about the other. It makes us appreciate and celebrate what we have.

Sure, it has only been a few days and we have yet to be put to the test with schedules, poor behavior and a disagreement. But I have hope that as long as we both remember that LOVE IS A CHOICE and choose to honor the choice we have been blessed by; then loving each other as the unique individuals we each are will become as natural as a rose opening itself for all the world to appreciate and see.

 

Holes… Or When I Am Gone

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Me: I am going to miss you when I am gone (B and I are going to SLC this weekend)

Andre: I’ll miss you too

Me: Why will you miss me

Andre: You do my laundry, you cook for me, You make my lunch

Me: Is the only reason you’ll miss me is because of all the things I do for you

Andre: Well, to be honest it helps
Me: So what are you going to do when I am not able to do those things for you
Andre: Well, I guess I will get married

 

I love my son. Truly I do. But because of his autism everything to him is from a “what are you going to do for me” perspective and very rarely a “what can I do for you” thought even occurs to him. The one daily chore he is expected to do is often a battlefield and it doesn’t matter to him that everyone else is doing their part. This lack of reciprocal interaction or loving behavior on his part often makes me feel hollow inside.

With most children you have some sort of back and forth relationship. A relationship in which the child wants to please the adult in their life and vice versa. Usually it’s a fairly balanced equation. We get something and we give something back. Even if that something is just a touch or a smile. That just isn’t really important to Andre. He spends more time figuring out how to get his way at all costs than ever considering the fact that sometimes people need a hug or a kind word to keep them going. This “I give to you and you give to me” thought process never occurs to him and sometimes it gets very old. Sometimes it feels like I am doing all the giving and getting little to nothing in return. When this happens it feels like a day spent outdoors in the hot sun just digging hole after hole after hole.

For me, this is one of the hardest parts about autism; this “I don’t give a shit about anyone else but me” thought process. Give me a monster tantrum anytime. Give me nonsense talk too. Give me the messy room, the sneaking food upstairs and the snarky comments. I can take all those and more. But sometimes what I long for is just a genuine back and forth dialogue lasting over 5 minutes followed by an Andre initiated hug at the end of our time together.

If I could change how autism looks in regards to my son this is what I would change. And who knows maybe this will click into place for him someday. Until then, I will sit here and wait knowing in my heart of hearts that even though he rarely shows it that my son really does love me. For that is all I have to sustain me at the present time.

 

 

 

Doing Something For Someone Else

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For as long as I can remember I have found little satisfaction in cleaning the house. It is a job that involves a lot of hard work, very little appreciation, and with children who manage to undo what you spent hours doing in just 20 minutes, it has also been very discouraging. It’s a job that unless you announce that you cleaned around the toilet with an old toothbrush to get the “grime” not one soul is going to know about your sacrifice of digging into the yellow that has been left behind. It’s a job involving rubber gloves; a symbol of clean that sends shivers up my spine.

Now, this doesn’t mean my house looks like a pig sty…it doesn’t…but it also doesn’t look like something out of House Beautiful either. It looks like a family lives here only with a bass drum sitting in one corner of the living room and a set of bagpipes in the other.Our house looks like it is lived in by people of many ages with many different interests which is exactly who we are. Unfortunately, I am married to a man whose ideal life would be an immaculate house with a garage so clean that you could eat off the floor but he knows THATS never going to happen.

Because I am a stay at home mom, B expects some sort of order to this place we call home. Our ideas of clean are different. He does surface cleaning so that the house looks presentable, while when I clean, I go for the deep cleaning…hence the toothbrush mentioned above. This has led to problems over the years with both of us feeling resentful especially me when you tack on all the other things I do like shopping, paying bills, taking kids to the doctor and psychologist once a week, ferrying kids to lessons, gardening and a host of other things that appear out of no where and have to be done THAT day. I h.ated feeling like everyone’s maid and it showed.

But two months ago, after listening to B talk in therapy about the chaos he experienced as a child and how much his disorganized, dirty, and unkept house affected his psyche; I decided to try approaching cleaning with a new state of mind. Instead of cleaning out of an “I HAVE to do this” attitude, I decided to try and think about how happy B would be. I realized that for B, order and cleanliness makes him feel content, reduces his stress and makes him feel like he is loved. So I started trying to clean with him in mind knowing he would feel better about life if his life at home was organized and tidy. So while I am basically doing the same amount of work, with a new attitude it doesn’t seem quite so much like a thankless task or like complete drudgery. And I have noticed that this change has lightened B’s mood and he is now telling me on a daily basis how much he appreciates what I am doing.

Doing chores that I dislike really doesn’t provide a huge sense of accomplishment for me. But I have discovered that by doing something for someone else out of love elevates what I am doing to a new level. Knowing that B is comforted by a sense of order in our home is allowing me to put a positive spin on things that are more important to him than they are to me and to do them with a attitude that wasn’t there before. While I used to operate like that when we were first married, if I am honest, it has been a long time since I did things solely to please my husband just because he needed things a certain way for his own comfort. I am discovering to my own delight that doing something for someone just because you love them brings me immense satisfaction and I am reaping the benefits because of my change in attitude.  Just don’t ask me to put on the yellow gloves.

A Weekend Of Promise

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This weekend we traveled six hours to attend a World Wide Marriage Encounter. This program is put on by a segment of the Catholic Church and its aim to to strengthen and preserve marriages. Since we are not Catholic, I was a little worried but I decided from the get-go that I would take away what I needed and leave any discussion behind regarding ideas/values that I may disagree with. That was a good decision but in truth there was very little church doctrine thrown our way.

All I can say about the weekend is that it was very therapeutic and restorative. Programs were given in which the Marriage Encounter leaders shared powerful stories from their own lives and gave examples of how following the program renewed their relationships and made communication/intimacy easier. Listening to the hardships and disappointments of these couples really helped B to understand we were not alone. Seeing their relationships and the intimacy they shared made us want the same for our marriage too.

We spent the weekend writing and learning to dialogue with one another. For someone like B, who finds sharing and even discussing FEELINGS difficult, seeing other men who were in the same boat as he, but have learned how to share and behave differently was a huge break through. The most important things we learned were:

  1. Feelings are neither good nor bad. It is the actions that follow the feelings that can be good or bad.
  2. The difference between thoughts and feelings. Thoughts include judgements, beliefs, ideas, perceptions and opinions while feelings are spontaneous inner reactions.
  3. If you can replace “I feel” with “I think” then you have expressed a thought not a feeling.
  4. If you can replace “I feel” with “I think” and it doesn’t make sense or if you can replace “I feel” with “I am” then you are most likely expressing a feeling. For instance “I feel irritated about this” it doesn’t make sense if you say “I think irritated about this” so it is a feeling. You can also identify a feeling by saying “I feel irritated about this” and then replacing the “I feel” with “I am” “I am irritated about this” so it is also a feeling.

There was also a priest there who participated and shared about his journey and disappointments with his vocation. He was so honest and forthright about his life. It was refreshing. I think for some of the men hearing the struggles of a priest allowed them to really look at their own lives and to open up.

It was an INTENSE but amazing weekend full of hope and promise. The feelings and intimacy we shared was much needed and appreciated. We both felt like we came away with the tools to improve our marriage and make it be the type of relationship we both need and desire. And we both had felt a renewed commitment to our marriage and each other.

Yet, I think the thing that touched us the most was when we found out we had had two couples who had gone through Marriage Encounter praying for us and the healing of our relationship throughout the weekend. I have to admit that prayer is a iffy thing in my book and I have always felt uncomfortable with others praying or asking for things on others behalf. It has just never sat well with me. Yet, to know that people we didn’t know were wishing us well, encouraging us through prayer and rooting us on just amazed me and somehow it felt like a blessing rather than an intrusion. But what was even more amazing was that after the weekend was over and we were exiting the building there were those same couples who had prayed for us standing there welcoming us with their insight, love, the candles they burned for us and flowers…well, it caught us both off guard. We felt encouraged, joyful, honored and amazed that strangers would do all this for us with the hope that our marriage would come to a place of peace and harmony.

There are not many times in life where you truly get to feel uplifted and amazed while experiencing positive changes working within your own life. This weekend was one of those times and it leaves me hopeful and gives me the ability to dream again about our future together. It doesn’t mean that we will be free of troubles but we have some more tools in our tool belts and how they work make sense to both of us and we are both willing to take them out and use them to improve things between us.  I hope you will root us on too in whatever way you choose for one thing we learned this weekend is that we can use all the help we can get to take our relationship in the direction that we want it to go.

 

 

Suffering

When my therapist says, “Love doesn’t mean you won’t suffer,” I gulp. Hard. For this isn’t what love is suppose to be. I grew up with the promise of the movie Love Story…love until the end of time that went hand-in-hand with the often quoted  “Love Means…Never Having To Say You’re Sorry!” I find myself wondering where did the ideals of the 70’s go and how do we get them back?

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The definition of suffering is

suf·fer
ˈsəfər/
verb
1.
experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant).
“he’d suffered intense pain”

2. To tolerate, put up with, or endure

 

Frankly, I don’t remember saying any of those words in my wedding vows. I mean, who would willingly stand up and say “I promise to tolerate, put up with, and endure life with you throughout all of our days” in front of God and our loved ones? Seriously!
Instead, the vows we most often robotically repeat go something like this:
“I, ___, take you, ___, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”
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Frankly, when most of us marry we really do not have the experience in to understand what those vows really mean and how they will impact us at some point in our lives. Most likely we haven’t been through better or worse yet; we haven’t done the for richer thing yet; and hopefully the sickness and in health part is something we don’t truly know about until we are very, very old. It would appear that vows don’t have a lot of meaning unless you suffer. Really suffer and emerge intact.
So after 30 years our love/marriage is suffering. Greatly. The “for WORSE” part of our vows has kicked in and I’m not even sure how to return to “the BETTER” part. Where is the road map to re-negotiating your place in your marriage after a lifetime of habits and relating to one another in certain ways?
If I am honest, suffering has never seemed like a particularly noble thing to do. I had so many terminally ill patients whose families seemed to believe that keeping their loved ones alive, even though they were suffering tremendously, was somehow important and noble. Calling a CODE in which everything is done to save someone’s life when they are terminal is cruel. I see nothing noble in suffering and I am convinced that the lessons learned are not important enough to endure all the pain.
Therefore, if suffering is part of love I guess I am lucky not to have done much of it up until this point. Yet, I also realize at some point the suffering has to end. I am just hoping we can reach the “for BETTER” part before a CODE is called and our marriage has flat lined.
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Past Tense

I have trouble living in the present. I ruminate about the past and have difficulty letting it go. I also worry about the future endlessly. It does me no good and I know it but I continue to do these things to my own detriment.

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Recently I read something that resonated with me. It said something to the effect that if I hold on to the past with one hand and try to grasp the future with the other, I have nothing to grab onto with today.That got me thinking.

While I would often like to have missed many moments of this past “maybe divorce” year, the fact is that they have been important. They have taught me things about myself and my relationships. They have forced me to examine things that made me uncomfortable and given me the courage to change those things that were under my own control. I have had to learn to try and see things through a different lens and to operate through one too. There have been challenges I have overcome and heartbreak that I have never felt the likes of before but managed to survive and sometimes even thrive. And all of these experiences or “ah-ha” moments have happened when I have lived in the present, let go of the past, and stopped fearing the future.

I’ll be honest, living in the present has not been easy. It still is not and it doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet, I hope that by remembering all I have learned from being in the present, I can continue to rejoice and celebrate the wonders that happen to me everyday when I just let them happen. So now I am practicing giving myself permission to just be in the moment with my hand and head securely wrapped around the notion that to be present is to live fully. I think its something worth striving for.

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Love Letters

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Recently someone contacted me (after finding my family tree on a genealogy site) saying that they had found a box of letters from 1912 from my 2nd Great Aunt (I’ll call her Mary) to her then boyfriend who later became her husband. She had three boys from an earlier very bad marriage and in stepped (I’ll call him Ned) to love and cherish her and the boys. Not many men would have had the heart or the courage to take it all on but he did and I know that Mary and her sons were blessed to have Ned in their lives for another 51 years.

There are about 40 letters in all and they are courtship letters. Mary and Ned were separated at the time by two long train rides from one another and they were trying to find a way that they could be together as a family but things were hard and there was not a lot of work where my Aunt lived, so Ned went to the “Big City”  to look for work. One of the bonuses of these letters is that my Grandfather is mentioned in them twice. He was about seven at the time. In one her letters to Ned, Mary says that my grandfather said to her son, “Do you think that man is going to marry your mom?” He replies “I reckon they might.”

Throughout all the letters there are pronouncements of practical love and a few glimpses of passionate love too. In one letter my Aunt talks about what might happen if they were to work together and says, “But if we do you have to promise to keep your hands off of me while at work!”

These letters are nice reminders of how early in relationships we do our best to impress, to praise, encourage and to believe in the possibilities that lie ahead. I think that is often missing as marriages mature and the letters have reminded me of just how important those kinds of gestures are in everyday life. Mary and Ned’s belief in their love and their future together is strong and its an overriding theme throughout their writings. It was important to them to believe and celebrate what they had and what they had found in each other. It’s some thing I want to rediscover in my relationship too.

Ever since B brought up the”maybe divorce” I have had difficulty celebrating what we have had, what we do have, and what we might have. Yet, as Mary and Ned have shown me celebrating a relationship and each other if important. It is a must do and it serves a much needed purpose to foster love and a sense of connection. So I have decided that if I want B and I to be a couple, I have to live like we are a couple and act as if we will be together forever. I have to believe in the possibilities that still exist for our marriage if this relationship is to survive. I must:

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