Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Move Forward: Build Habits for the Future

Yesterday evening, stuck at a long traffic light in a construction zone, I amused myself, as I often do, by pointing my camera out the window and snapping pictures. I loved the textures and patterns of the emerging overpass against the blue sky. There's a flyover coming to relieve some of this intersection's traffic congestion! In a couple of years... Yay for then. Boo for now.

This morning, as I lay in bed willing myself to wake up, I amused myself, as I often do, by thinking philosophically. About the traffic flyover. There must be some symbolic significance, some life lesson for me.

Of course.

They are building for the future. Looking ahead. Trying to make life - or at least traffic - run more smoothly for the whole community. But right now there is a lot of expense. Lots of work. Lots of messy looking stuff. Lots of inconvenience for drivers.

How does this apply to me and mine?

I am trying to look ahead to the future. I am trying to build the strong foundations of good habits in my children so their lives will run more smoothly in the future. I went them to go big places to do big things - and not get stuck over and over again like their mama did.

I want them to cultivate the habits of diligence, responsibility, respect, kindness, integrity, and so much more.

But right now? It costs me. Lots of work. Lots of push back. Lots of falling down and getting back up again. Lots of realizing that the example of my own life just isn't cutting it sometimes in each of these areas. Like the overpass constructions, it's a llloooonnnggg process!

I'm working on the example part. As I mentioned in my previous posts, Move Forward in 2015 and Move Forward by Letting Go, I'm trying to get my own life more in order. Yesterday, I decided to try again using the TraxItAll habit tracking app to keep me accountable on several daily health and homemaking habits.

As far as mothering, I also signed up for a 10 day e-mail series from the Teach Through Love web site. It's called Chaos to Cooperation , and it's about effective parenting with connection, respect, and empathy rather than a punitive approach. I've been moving in this direction for years, though I'm not all the way there yet. I haven't seen the whole program and may not agree with everything, but I'm sure there is plenty of good stuff to consider. Join me? It's only day 2! I don't see a spot on her web site where you can still sign up and some of you may eventually read this after the series is all over, but if you send me your e-mail address, I'll be glad to forward each of the daily messages to you. There is also a private FB group that you can request to join. And there is already plenty of information on her blog to keep you busy reading! Here's the graphic that a friend posted on FB that got me to her site in the first place.

The Teach Through Love program is not written from a faith perspective. For that, you might also like to read my blog posts:

What's my motivation for cultivating good habits in myself and for my family?

This spunky little girl right here, her nine older sisters and brothers, and my sweet grandchildren.

I'm building for the future.

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Move Forward Within a Loss

Move Forward Within a Loss

When my mom died in 2013, I naturally wanted to preserve her memory. I brought home many of her lovely bird figurines, and already had a collection of vintage photos and books from her side of the family. Dozens of beautiful sympathy cards had arrived in my mailbox. With all of these poignant mementos of her life, I decided to dedicate a bookcase in my bedroom as a memorial to her. I did eventually tuck away the cards into a basket, but then filled that space with vintage glassware that I brought home from her house the following summer.  

After Christmas last month, I thought about where to put some of the pretty gifts I had received from my children. 

To make room and to signify a shift in focus from old to new, I decided to pack away much of what was on the top three shelves of the bookcase. 
Bittersweet, for sure, but it was time. There are still so many beautiful memories of her around my home. She will not be forgotten, visually or otherwise.

As I wrapped the fragile items and put them into boxes, I started thinking of the concept of moving forward within a loss. Why do I say “within” instead of “after”? The initial loss or stress might be the death of a loved one, a divorce or other intimate relationship breakup, an empty nest after years of child raising, a downward career change, a move from a familiar home, a health setback, a betrayed friendship, a cataclysmic change of lifestyle or worldview, loss of status or reputation, traumatic abuse from others (emotional, physical, sexual, etc.), or whatever else. While this may at first be seen as a single event, we continue to live with the repercussions for far longer. So the loss may actually be a long process that we live within.

As I thought about this, I realized that there are several healthy ways that we can move forward.

Be aware of your feelings and be kind to yourself.

Loss often brings out fear, sadness, anxiety, insecurity, guilt, and other troubling emotions. How are you processing these? 

If you have faced multiple losses or serious disappointments in a short period of time, this can get quite complicated. I've been known to lump all of my assorted griefs from many areas of life into one pile and try to deal with them as a pack. That can paralyze the soul. I realize now that I need to face each one individually for what it is. This is actually more manageable and productive. My soul is beginning to shine again.

Are you taking care of yourself through nutrition, sleep, exercise, fresh air, the beauty of nature and art, music, fun times, friendship, and other life-enhancing practices? 

Have you drifted into any harmful attitudes or practices that will drag you farther down into a spiral of despair? A bit of solitude can be a balm to the soul, but isolation can be deadly. So can addiction, bitterness, and giving up on the basics of life. If you find yourself sliding into a pit, ask for help!

Many people just try to slog on through life and ignore the pain. Have you given yourself permission and time to grieve, even when it is inconvenient?

My friend Abigail moved to Japan last spring. She and her husband had lived there for several years a while back, but this latest move has been a tough transition, especially with two young children. She recently wrote on Facebook: Most of the time I'm okey-dokey with our adventuring. It took me a good long while to come round to this particular Japan move, but when God opened my heart to the prospect of joy in it, I jumped in. Again. Both feet. And brain. And heart. And all the rest. So I'm not regretting. I'm not saying a forceful no. Or even a polite no thanks. But my heart hurts sometimes. I think this is normal for every nomadic person. Maybe. Or maybe not. I can really only speak for myself, but after reading others' blogs and thoughts on this lifestyle, it seems as if you really do need to give yourself room to breathe and grieve and to find peace for the moment and to give thanks for each snowflake.”

Surround yourself with caring people.

Family members and friends can be a real healing balm in a time of crisis. I am so thankful for the people who have gathered around our family in our many times of crisis. However, not everyone will understand your pain. Some will not know what to say. Some may say something that comes across wrong. I get that. They might need a little help from you to know what you need them to say and do. 

I don't expect everyone to rally around with quite the same skill or intensity. I know they are there, and that if I ask them specifically for something I need, they will usually come through with compassion as they are able. 

Unfortunately, there are also toxic people out there who don't really care at all, and who may even take advantage of a griever's vulnerability. Some people can be just plain cruel, either intentionally inflicting additional pain, or just being so self-centered that they create unreasonable demands because they are jealous of your diverted attention. You are under no obligation to listen to them or even spend time around adults who continue do this. Children are another matter, of course, especially when it comes to feeling left out. They need special care of their own, especially if they too are grieving, as well as a bit of gentle explanation about what is going on with you.

You may wish to meet with a pastor and/or a professional therapist to help you through the grieving and transitioning process. Both kinds have been helpful to me, though some have been better suited for my needs than others. 

You don't have to stick with one if it isn't working. Ask around for recommendations. You are the one who knows what is working or not, and you have choices.

Lisa Grace Byrne of Well Grounded Life quotes a woman in Rwanda about her experience after the horrible genocide of 1994 when 800,000 people (10% of the population) were slaughtered:

"We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgment of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave."

I have also found support on-line with forums and blogs for those who are facing similar issues as I am. I have an e-mail group list of trusted family and friends I can contact if I need extra emotional support or prayers. I value their input and I've gotten a lot of great advice. I call them my caring circle. 

Understand the different ways that people process loss at different times.

The morning after my mother died, I flew up home. Everyone was in shock, but there was much to be done to prepare for the funeral. I was in the best emotional shape to concentrate on that, partly because of my personality and partly because I had lived far away from home for so long and was not quite as tightly connected to my mother's daily presence. My priority was to stay calm and focused, and do what the others couldn't. I assured my family, “I know it doesn't look like I am really grieving right now, but I am. I just want to get through this, and when I get home, I will take the time to fully process this.” We were able to respect each other for our different ways of grieving. One who had spent weeks diligently caring for my mother cried a lot. One walked the dogs and ran errands. One cooked up a storm of delicious comfort food for everyone. I contacted relatives, planned the funeral (with input from the others), wrote obituaries, and practiced my eulogy

Grief hit me later on, as I knew it would, and it still grips me from time to time. I am aware that sometimes I won't think as much about it, and I've learned to not feel guilty about that. It doesn't mean that I love her less, just that time is healing me. I also get very choked up or melancholy at other times, and have learned not to be alarmed. It comes and goes, and that is entirely normal.

I had a miscarriage in 1988. At first I felt just fine. I could handle it. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” I quoted. A friend warned me that in a week or so, a wave of hormones might hit and send me into emotional upheaval. She was right, and I'm glad I was prepared. Was it sinful for me to be angry, unsettled, and weepy for several days? Not at all! I had just lost a baby! Good grief! It would, however, be disturbing if I was still reacting like this decades later. I still feel twinges, but not the full measure of grief. You can read more here: 25 Years Later, Looking Back on a Miscarriage

Processing a loss usually comes in phases. Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross is famous for her work On Death and Dying, in which she outlines the five stages of grieving: denial & isolation, anger, bargaining, depression (sadness), acceptance. You can read more about these here: The Five Stages of Loss and Grief. These stages can certainly overlap, and even if you have gone through one, it's not uncommon to go back to an earlier one. You may need extra help and intervention if you get completely stuck and can't move forward at all.

Honor memories in a way that helps you.

For me, beyond the visual reminders that I mentioned earlier, this meant thinking about things that I admired about my mother and trying to weave those into my own life. She was sacrificially kind and hospitable to her children (and everyone else), and I try to emulate that. She was an excellent gardener, and I find that planting and caring for flowers, especially those that attract butterflies, reminds me of her and makes me happy. I created several photographic tributes to her on my blogs. I wear some of her clothes. I talk to my sister about her. Again, some of these will change as time goes on. I don't have to keep doing something just because it reminds me of her. I can come back to it later on if I want. There are no rules here. So much of grieving is intuitive.

Those who have gone through divorces face a special challenge in honoring memories. Some have found it uplifting to recall the happier times and the admirable qualities of their former spouses, while also acknowledging the challenges. This makes it easier to forgive, heal, and co-parent.

Honoring memories is also a positive practice for those who have lost cherished friendships. There may still be a way to salvage a remnant of the relationship with relaxed expectations, but if not, you can still think happy thoughts and learn to let go.

If you have lost a job, you may be overwhelmed with a feeling of personal failure, and you may fear trying again. Think about what you did well, and the skills you gained. Make plans for how you can enhance those strengths and skills so you can do better in your next opportunity. Remember the people who helped you in some way, and let them know that you noticed.

Let your faith bring you comfort, courage, and guidance. 

God cares, and he has a plan for our lives, even within our losses. I ask him to heal me, to lead me, and to enable me to love others well. We read Psalm 23 at the bedside of my husband's grandfather the day before he passed away. These familiar words have often comforted me. See my photographic essay on Psalm 23 here: Beside the Still Waters.

I know that God is big enough and kind enough to handle my emotions, even my anger and doubt and fear. He helps me to forgive, to trust, and to step out in confidence. I am grateful for that.

I can see ways that, with God's grace and strength, I have grown up through the many losses and challenges I have faced in life. Think about what you have learned so far, and how much more insight and compassion you have. You can use this in the future to help other people.


What has helped you to process the losses and disappointments in life? Please share in the comment section!

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

You may also like to read:


Poems of Comfort and Courage:

Hymns with Reflections on Grieving:
Move Forward Series

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Chalkboard Art for Creative Communication

Dear friends,

One of the goals I wrote for this year might seem a little trivial. On my Personal Development page, under the subheading "Cultivate Creativity through Communication" I wrote:
  • Learn to create chalkboard designs to inspire my family.
I've been admiring chalkboard art on blogs and at stores for a long time. I figured it isn't as time consuming as the oil painting that I did in college, and I can change it up at whim.

Why not give it a try? I found two inexpensive boards and Walmart and bought them for myself as a Christmas present. Then I purchased several colors of chalk at Michael's Crafts.

I just now got around to trying it out today!

I had already looked up several web sites (listed at the bottom of this post) to get tips and to see possible fonts to copy. Today I thought about what I wanted to communicate to my family. These are small boards, so I had to keep it succinct and not embellish it much with pictures. I chose the phrases "kindness always" and "work well" because compassion and diligence are two character qualities that I most want to encourage.

The picture at the top of this post and the one below are my results today. I've got a long way to go to make it the way I will really like it, but this is good enough for now.

The font for the "work well" board is Pea Ellie Bellie, and the font for "KINDNESS ALWAYS" started out as Mad Beef but then I made my letters a lot thicker and used two colors. Now it doesn't look anything like the original font. I think it's too clunky. I may just redo the whole thing. I will at least move the heart. That's the beauty of chalk art, of course. It's easy to change. I use either a wet cotton swab or a baby wipe as an eraser.

I was a bit disappointed that my colors weren't as vibrant as in the board below, which I photographed last fall at the Spice and Tea Exchange in Winter Park. I'll have to see if I can get brighter chalk and a bigger board for the future, after I've had a little more chance to practice with what I have. (Note on February 28: Check out my latest art at my new post Blessed Are the Peacemakers.)

OK, so I know you are going to want advice with more expertise than I can give, so here are some of the sites I found.  Many of the fonts on these sites are not just for chalkboards. You can also download them to use in documents.

If you have any other suggestions for chalkboard art, leave a comment!

In what ways are you working to grow in your creativity and communication skills?

Virginia Knowles

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Move Forward by Letting Go

Dear friends,

I wrote Move Forward in 2015 about setting goals and
making progress in the new year. Yet at times, the way we move forward is to let go of what is holding us back.

I think of this often as I pinch off the dead blossoms on my marigold plants. Pruning allows new blooms to flourish.

I also think of it as I see the small stump in my flower beds. I can't remember why we cut down the holly tree so long ago, but the old stump has its own gray swirly charm and beauty right there in my garden. It's a reminder that we had to let something go, and that's just part of life.

I think also of the pioneers. We've all heard tales about piles of household goods left alongside the trail. Travelers had to make tough choices about what to haul along for future use or what to lay aside so they could even arrive at their destination at all. They had already had to let go of their old lives to prepare for their new adventures, but there was often more laying aside to do along the way. They had to let go to move forward. So do we.

I realize that letting go is not an "all or nothing" deal. We can start by letting go of a little, and see what happens. Then we can let go of more as necessary. That's the approach I am taking, and it seems to work for me.

I'm letting go of a lot of clutter - books, papers, clothes, stuff. The less I have, the less I need to shuffle, dust, reorganize, store... I'll have more time and space to LIVE. Not only that, but other people can really use many of the items I don't need anymore. I sold several books to a used bookstore for store credit, passed along a bunch of them to my adult daughters (only what they could use), bagged up a huge pile of clothes for Father's Closet (a free clothing source at a local church), and have started boxing up excess household items. I've just plain dumped a lot of other clutter like old papers and clothes with stains. The trash can and the giveaway box are my friends.  I need to repeat one of my new mantras, "I will not curate clutter!" Maybe you can't bear to part with a memory. You can take a photo of a sentimental item that you otherwise don't need - and then give it away. Sometimes I tell myself, "This was part of the old me. I don't identify with this anymore, and I don't need the reminder. Time to clear out, start fresh, and move along!" Let it go!

I'm letting go of bad habits. One of my bad habits is not making the best use of my time. When I think of adding an activity, I need to ask, "What is this going to add to my life? Is it going to make me a better person or is it going to distract me from more important priorities? If I still need to do it, how can I minimize any negative impact on my schedule?" I also need to look at my current activities, even "little" ones that distract me. I installed StayFocusd on my laptop to set a limit on daily time spent on computer games. I like it because I can still play a reasonable amount to relieve stress, but I don't get sucked into it, so it's easier to get my work done and get to bed on time. Another of my bad habits has been not paying enough attention to what foods I eat. I can choose to stop eating unhealthy foods and start eating life-giving ones. Cutting out sugar wasn't as hard as I expected, and now I've got my sights set on some other reductions and eliminations. Hopefully, I'll be letting go of even more pounds than I already have! Let's move along to health and productivity one step at a time!

I've been letting go of my role in unhealthy relationships and influences. For some people this means cutting someone out of their lives entirely. That's not always possible or necessary, but I can still stop enabling toxic behavior. I can step back, set boundaries, limit time, guard the level of emotional intimacy, change the dynamics. I can let go of the need to fix every situation, and instead let people face their own consequences. I can let go of placating those who are trying to manipulate me. If I can't completely shut out the voices, I mentally reach for my emotional volume dial and tune it way down. Then I can think, "What would this message mean if it was properly expressed? Is it valid? Does it apply to me?" That way, I can let go of knee-jerk reactions and learn to respond thoughtfully and kindly. I also don't need to expose myself to toxic spew or read things that completely stress me out. I can choose the music I listen to, the videos I watch on YouTube, the blogs and books I read. I can ask myself, "Does this message empower me for progress - or does it take me back where I don't need to go?" I want to live wisely in who and what I allow to affect my life. Sometimes that means letting go.

I want to be a strong and healthy woman: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Like a pioneer, I need to move forward by letting go.

(Watch Pioneer by Honeytree for a great encouragement on moving forward in God's strength.)

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

Do you like to take pictures? Check out Sweet Shot Tuesday. My entry this week will be one of the stump pictures. 

P52 Sweet Shot Tuesday Photography Post Up each Tuesday

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rumpled Comfort, Sunsets, and Sweet Shot Tuesday (SST #1)

I spent three days straight in this bed with these blankets, this pillow, and vitally, this box of tissues and water cup.  Even after the worst of it, I've been back to crash more times than I can count.  

When you are sick, you hope and pray it will pass soon, and you take the comforts where you can get them. When I finally got the oomph to check in on Facebook, I tapped this status on my little iPod screen: "Today I am thankful for Puffs Plus tissues, Halls cough drops, ibuprofen, a huge cup of water, my comfy blankets, and my iPod. Fourth day of the flu. I think my fever finally broke, but still feeling cruddy."

The blankets - these blankets in particular - are more than physical comfort to me. My sister gave me the quilt this summer when we were up on vacation and she was cleaning out her home.  I love the dark but vibrant colors, the log cabin pattern, everything about it. Mostly I think of her when I see it. It's like getting wrapped in a hug. The pink thermal blanket came down with my dad, wrapped around a favorite painting from my mom's side of the family that I had requested after she passed away. I know the blanket was mom's, too, and that means a lot to me. I am sentimental like that, especially when I'm sick and need to feel wrapped in love. A bit of rumpled comfort was as welcome as any.

When I was starting to get better, I saw the way the light hit the blankets and I had to take a picture. It captured a moment and an emotion for me; that's why I take so many of my pictures. One of my goals this year is to post a picture a week at Sweet Shot Tuesday, a photography challenge. This is my first one for 2015.

Because I was so sick, I really didn't take many photos at all the first several days of January. This is the only other one I found on my "real" camera card, from the first day I was out and about and had to make a 50 mile round trip to borrow an orthopedic boot for my son. I found myself in a beautiful area of town where I rarely go (Lake Nona), and I always try to be "open to wonder" in situations like that, to see what I can see while I can see it. When we stopped at a light, I was struck by the tree.  No, it didn't fall on my van. Not that kind of "struck by the tree." I was struck by it visually, the pattern of the bare branches against the sky on the first day I had even been outside in a while. I did pull up the contrast and color saturation when I edited it in Picasa to match my own eyes' recollection of the evening.

My son took this sunset photo out the other car window a few minutes before that. I did not adjust the color at all. It was quite glorious.

In 2015, in the midst of everything going on around me and in me, I'll take the beauty and the comfort where I can get it - even if it is in simple things like blankets and sunsets and my camera.

Do you like to take pictures? Check out Sweet Shot Tuesday.

P52 Sweet Shot Tuesday Photography Post Up each Tuesday