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Life Lessons from Biking in Vermont

There is a favorite bicycle ride that I have in Vermont. The back roads are couched perfectly in the Champlain Valley. The Adirondacks and Lake Champlain are on one horizon and the Green Mountains on the other. Cows occasionally look up from feeding to give me a curious stare. Occasionally I talk to them, they are good listeners. Wildflowers line the sides of the roads until they meet fences keeping in (or out) hay, corn, and cows. During my most recent ride I learned three important lessons.

  1. Keep your mouth shut. I seem to get a refresher on this lesson each season both when biking and in “real” life. Biking is not like driving, there is no windshield to protect us from bugs. There is less safety, you’re more exposed. The faster I hurdle myself forward the more unpleasant it can become if I forget to keep my mouth shut. I won’t elaborate you can imagine. However simple this lesson is I need to remember it and implement it or I end up with consequences that leave me sputtering, frustrated, and even angry with myself that it’s such a simple concept. I must remember to learn to keep my mouth shut.
  2. Find a healthy rhythm – gain momentum and sustain it. Once I get up to a steady speed it’s much easier to maintain it. What the optimal speed is for me and how long can I go at a particular pace, in biking and in “real” life is another question. I don’t want to over-exert but I also don’t want to underperform. Underperforming becomes a danger zone in Vermont, moving so slow that I’m at risk for attack. As I biked up a sharp hill I was bit by a horse fly, quite common near so many farms. There was one, then two buzzing around me looking for an opportunity to take a chunk out of me. I felt as if they were taunting me and wondered at what point could I regain enough momentum to part company. Finding a health rhythm feels better, whether it be the pace of the ride, a morning routine that is refreshing, times to reflect, spending time with friends, etc. When I know that my rhythm and momentum are at a more optimal pace then the momentary hindrance of feeling like a pincushion for horse flies is just that, momentary.
  3. Keep enough in your tank – to outrun the surprise enemy. In this case it was 2 dogs. I was enjoying the view, recovering from a slight hill when the dogs sighted me. They attempted to greet me and I was thankful to move out of their reach before their teeth offered salutations. My takeaway is that too often we run at full tilt, all out, with little gas left. Thankfully I was prepared and was able to dig down and stay safe. There are times to “leave it all” on the court, field, game, meeting, etc. however it is essential we know when those times are. This was not one of them and I was glad I was prepared and had enough left in the tank to outrun the enemy because he was real.
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Ladies Choice

As I was trying to purge a closet today I ran across a gift I have kept sealed away for about 14 years. I had stowed it in a tin and I smiled as I saw what lay at the bottom. A series of memories arose aided by the aroma. Years ago, just out of college, I was the house manager at a home for individuals with persistent mental health challenges. Translated, I shared a house with 3 individuals with severe mental illness for over 4 years. I managed the home and loved many aspects of this job and living situation. Thinking about my housemates, the “clients”, makes me smile. The one man that lived in the home for at least a year I’ll call Anthony. He’s an intelligent man who began to experience psychosis while studying engineering in college. A ranked chess player and continuous student he was always looking for ways to stop the voices he experienced. When he learned a new medication received final approval to treat schizophrenia he stopped his medications in order to decline enough to be hospitalized and start the new medication. He would listen intently to his headphones to study new languages. His hope was that if he learned a new language he would no longer be able to hear the voices which he heard in English. He attempted to learn Spanish, French and numerous others including Esperanto. There were attempts at playing three dimensional chess which I believe he thought would give him a new perspective and unlock answers to him. We also had an adventure with spearmint schnapps which contrary to Anthony’s opinion at that time does not stop voices originating from schizophrenia.

From Anthony I learned one of the most crucial scrabble words to play when you get stuck with a Q. From Anthony I learned that a man should walk closest to the road to protect the woman they are walking with, as he would do so with me. From Anthony I learned how a soft boiled egg is cooked. From Anthony’s I received Ladies Choice. Anthony typically would not smoke cigarettes but for a period of time he felt that smoking pipes would help alleviate his schizophrenia. It was important to him that he smoke the correct mix of tobacco in a corn cob pipe. Anthony was also looking out for me. He came home one day with a gift, my very own corn cob pipe and Ladies Choice tobacco. Though my attempt was to purge I remember that day clearly as he was insistent I keep the gift, insisting it was “important.” Anthony worked in a local restaurant which was challenging for him as he regularly talked out loud, having conversations with the voices he experienced. Though he was working to find a way to stop the voices I never knew him to give up or be stuck in a depression because of them.

Anthony is someone I wish you could all meet. He’s a man who actively tries to live his life despite having diagnosis of schizophrenia. He made me laugh, looked out for me in a brotherly way, and I was glad that we were housemates. For two reasons I wish you could all meet Anthony. First because of who he is as an individual, he’s worth meeting. Secondly, because despite having diagnosis which comes with a host of images and opinions, he is not his diagnosis. He’s not scary or violent rather he’s intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate. He was my housemate who gave me an “important” gift that will always make me smile.

Great Souls at Prayer

Today my dear friend Gini is exhausted and uncomfortable she is 2 weeks away from reaching 96 and is ready to be with Jesus. She is a Great Soul. Today there was little she could focus on or receive comfort from. I read/prayed with her from “Great Souls at Prayer” a compilation of prayer by Mary W. Tileston. Her copy is well worn with personal notes and meaningful phrases underlined.

Today’s prayer:

December 12th: “Most Loving Lord, I offer my whole self unto Thee. Take, I pray Thee, into the hands of Thine unspeakable pity, both my soul and body, my senses words and actions; vouchsafe in all things so to direct and govern me, that I may ever flee every occasion of sin, and may so constantly cleave to Thee and to Thy commandments, that neither life nor death, nor anything which may befall me, may separate me from Thee – Amen” Treasury of Devotion, 1869

It’s a Wonderful Life

The work week came to a close and the to-do list for work and home over the weekend was long. Some was checked off but new items have appeared on the list. It is hard to take time to write and reflect on this stage in my life when I feel there is so much to do.

Downstairs is my dear neighbor who my mind wanders to continually. My focus is to help her finish well. She is receiving support from Hospice of the North Shore. The support and care is wonderful but when she is home the most they come is an hour a day. As I think of her it is clear that our friendship and the proximity of our apartments are not by accident.

Being single, and without kids at this time in my life, is not what I imagined, expected or planned. I don’t always handle this stage in my life with as much grace as I would like. Sometimes I wonder if I am doing the work that God had in mind for me. Yet over and over again I think of the coming weeks and there is no other place I would rather be. If I was married I would not be living here (a hope for someday). If I had adopted (a hope to do someday) I would not living here. If I had foster kids (again a hope) I would not be living here. If I had bought a house again of course I would not be living here. Would I be friends with my dear neighbor? Yes I expect I would be in some way. However if many of my dreams, goals, and expectations for my life had been realized at this time I would not have the depth of friendship with my neighbor, nor the proximity. So my journey has taken a twist I never imagined and I would not have written the story another way. One of my closest friends time here is coming to an end.

I went downstairs last night and Gini was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart would essentially be her contemporary. Though some years it seems to run continually on TV she had never watched the movie in its entirety. This weekend she watched it and it made me ponder what would the world be like without her. Who has she touched and how? How has she touched me? Gini’s depth of care and willingness to have hard conversations is amazing. Many times heartfelt words have been shared verbally and in notes. I wouldn’t be the same nor would many of the women she has taught for decades in Bible Classes nor would the students she walked alongside of in the L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. There would have been much less music in this world without Gini.

Don’t miss the story of It’s a Wonderful Life for yourself and for those you love this Advent season.

 

Giving a Last Letter

Back in April of 2011 I blogged about Writing Gini The post was a way to keep myself accountable about something I didn’t want to regret not following through with. Gini Andrews, my mentor and friend, is now 95 years old and 11 months. She has been a dear friend for 13 years and has played an integral part of my faith journey. Her life here on earth has been winding down with the support of a group of friends, friendship which is measured in decades rather than years. I am humbled that in a small way I am part of this group that is part of loving her into eternity. I have been thinking of this a lot for the past months. How do I express to her how much she means to me? How for my own process, journey, and eventual healing do I feel I have no regrets and enough been said? Though both of us have been generous with words I chose to write a letter. Yet for many months I didn’t feel the pressure of it. She seemed relatively healthy and I only wrote a bit. However in August there was a diagnosis of cancer and decision for hospice rather than treatment. The pressure moved to writing the letter and my desire to get it “perfect.” How I hate the part of my personality that puts pressure on myself to both overachieve and do things “perfectly.” So I worked on the letter in fits and starts. It was exhausting to write and to edit. Writing each section brought tears as did each edit. Yet finally I finished and it found its way downstairs and into her hands this week.

Having completed writing a letter of gratitude and thanks I leave you with some suggestions when writing and sending an important letter, especially for those leaning toward Type A.

  • It really is the thought that counts. As long as it is readable the receiver is not going to look at it with an editor’s eye. I have comma issues and Gini is a writer. Get over your grammar issues, finish and send it.
  • Allow yourself to use the process to work through your own feelings. Allow tears to flow thinking about saying goodbye whether goodbye is in months or years. Allow tears to flow about expressing things that someday you will not be able to. Assume you will not be able to easily identify all the emotions the process stirs up.
  • Express what you have learned from that person. We all want to know how our lives impact others and wonder if/how we will be missed.
  • Most relationships include humor and if you are able include this aspect of your relationship.
  • Consistent with your own beliefs, share your own source of peace, or if you share similar beliefs/faith this could be the most central source of comfort and strength you share with the person.
  • Get it done, put it on your list, and prioritize it with enough time to allow the emotional process of it.

Other posts referencing Gini and the gift of her friendship: A Childless Mother’s Day
Embracing a Space

Hospice is an agency that excels in helping individuals and their loved ones make end of life decisions with dignity and grace. Hospice of the North Shore

The Delicate Balance of Mist

Driving home today I ditched the idea of the gym. By the time I got home I was reconsidering my decision as I didn’t know if I could bring myself to go out into the gray day. I debated over running shoes or biking and opted to bike as I recently got a new jacket for biking. It was great and much needed today. The air was heavy almost as if it was deciding whether to rain or allow the sun to break through. The difference between rain and mist is a delicate balance I don’t fully understand. So I decided to bike an out and back ride to the entrance of the beach deciding if the rain started it wouldn’t be a miserable ride home. Though I didn’t go out onto the beach the beauty and quietness of the ride was overwhelming as it takes me by fields and salt marshes.

In ten miles of biking – I counted 7 cars that drove past me outside of town. As I biked there was quietness as if the mist had calmed the world down. It was peaceful, something I didn’t expect. I wasn’t focused on the miles or speed but amazed at how alone yet peaceful I felt. Just being outside and feeling the road, the views, the ocean marshes, it seemed as if it was all mine. I talked and prayed aloud which didn’t feel at all strange. It was perfect. The turkeys in the road… a total of 7 only made me chuckle. I talked to them as well. Three deer later I was even more thankful of the place I live right now. It’s not a forever living situation. The apartment is too small and it doesn’t line up with some other goals I have… YET… it is an amazing blessing right now. The opportunities outside my door keep me refreshed.

I work in an low-income city as a social worker. This week an email mentioned the knife one of “my kids” has been carrying around. Years ago a middle school girl I worked with needed to work through the fear of violence, a random bullet had lodged itself in her bedroom. Teenagers whose education slips through the cracks and they graduate as the teachers are overworked being teachers and social workers. Yet I do love my job many many days. It is essential though to refresh, renew, re-energize, restore, reflect, relax… all must be done with intention. Working in the city and living in what some might consider the country is the perfect balance right how. It is a delicate balance, like the mist. I don’t always understand it – days I don’t expect it rains just as other days the sun comes shining through. I don’t want to miss out on recognizing the need for balance in my life – sometimes I find it when I’m looking and sometimes it finds me.

 

Writing Gini

My neighbor and more importantly close friend and mentor is 95. Generally she has been in good health, but she’s 95! She’s an amazing woman who has a depth to her relationships, both with others and God, that is remarkable. I visited with her in the hospital yesterday as there has been concern with her blood pressure. When I arrived she was watching 60 Minutes and had books surrounding her to pass the time. Her well-worn Bible was on her bed tucked next to a book by Henri Nouwen on reflections of Life and Death. I should add there was a fiction book on Cleopatra as well which happens to be the name of her cat. Gini makes me smile. She emails, googles, writes, reads, studies, listens, asks great questions, and prays. I know she prays a great deal for me which is humbling. We have talked about death, her death, and how she is ready to spend eternity with Christ. She said to me one day that she would prefer not to live to 100. She’s ready for the next step in eternity, to have new surroundings.

Gini is a woman of incredible depth whose life has not been easy yet she has allowed it to deepen her understanding of God and how to reach out to others. Gini was an only child, and had a brief marriage but did not have any children. However her life is full of people and there is a loosely jointed group of friends who look after some of her needs. She’s had a full life living many places on the East Coast, then heading to Colorado, Switzerland, and London. When she visited Egypt I believe she was 92. There were 90 people at her 90th party and it was an honor to be invited. Each of us has had deep rich powerful conversations with Gini as she is thinks deeply about her faith and how to encourage others on their journeys. Though she didn’t have children she plays the role of mother, grandmother, and cherished friend to so many.

Yesterday before I left we prayed together as we often do. Tears come to my eyes even thinking of how tender it is each time we pray. From her hospital bed she prayed for me about the anxieties, joys, and hopes of my heart. We hadn’t talked about them last night yet she knows them from the years of our friendship. I can’t quite imagine living in this house without her. Our friendship has evolved to the point where I let myself in a couple of times a week to check on her and do my laundry. Yet it is her checking on my heart with care and concern and directing us both back to Christ. On my 40 for 40 list is writing a letter to Gini – I don’t want to miss writing that letter.

One last note… Gini asked me once how I came to live in this house, in the apartment above hers. I reminded her of what she had said to me previously. “I prayed for a single Christian woman to move in.” Your prayer was answered Gini and so was mine as I have consistently prayed to have amazing mentors in my life. How God weaves lives together is beyond comprehension.

Investing in myself

Recently I made a sign to make me smile. On my 40 for 40 list is “going to a great conference.” There are many trainings that are offered through my agency, sometimes they are interesting, help me develop new skills, and develop professionally. Yet I’ve been looking to be pushed and challenged in some different ways personally. I’ve been thinking more of my skills and responsibilities as a leader and how to grow in this area. Trainings offered through my work don’t particularly lend itself to this. So I’ve decided to invest in myself and my own growth and pick a conference to attend. Quite honestly it feels a bit indulgent. Whenever I buy new sports equipment, take a fun trip, get a new fun unnecessary piece of clothing, go to the movies…. I’m essentially treating myself. Sometimes the treats have long term gains such as new hiking shoes, if I use them for actually hiking. Other times they feel indulgent and I think occasionally about what else I could have done with the money – give it away or save it. I’m single and much of my spending is on myself. It feels that I am constantly treating or indulging. Let me give you my most indulgent example… every bit of grocery shopping I do is about what I want… every item I pick out is because I like it and each meal can be justified as a little personal treat. Reading this it may seem ridiculous but I’ve needed to be intentional about this trip and how I view it.

This conference is not about treating or indulging. Rather it is an investment in myself. An investment – in very specific growth – personal and spiritual growth. I want to learn from others… how they are leading, doing ministry, living out their faith, and what they have learned in the process. I’m excited to be around others who are leading, love Christ, want to grow, and are the next generation of leaders. I’m excited to worship with so many others! When I use my hiking shoes mile after mile they become an investment in my health and even my spiritual and emotional well-being. I could read the books by the authors that will be at the conference, listen to the interviews and talks but I know myself full well… the conference will do my heart good. It is an investment as important as my most newest piece of sports equipment – my new bike seat. The seat is simple but it will allow me to go further and become stronger and a better cyclist. That is what I am hoping for Catalyst Dallas. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to go to a great conference and invest in myself.

The following is the sign I was working on… to remind me (as work is good but exhausting lately) that something good is just around the corner and not to lose focus.  (please note I am not an artist… but I like gluing and cutting like a kindergarten kid)

I haven’t glued it together yet so it may change….. but thought I would share where I am off to….

www.catalystdallas.com

 

Emerging Spring

There is joy in the first true outing of nearly spring in New England. Today I ended work at 4pm, planning it before I learned it was aiming to be a day in the 60’s. How happy I was when I actually heard the weather report. Mid 60’s on March 18th is pure joy in New England. It’s tease of what is to come. I love the New England weather and the anticipation of what each season brings. Today it was the joy of the walk/jog/run around a local lake. It’s a lake that is often bustling with walkers, joggers, strollers, kids, dogs and their owners. There were those running that that made me wonder if they are training for the Boston Marathon. They look like they never stopped training or running… it’s about a month away now. Couples walk hand and hand and others have clearly set new goals for themselves for this emerging new season. Personally I go outside and “play” year round as much as possible and change my sports each season. Yet each new season also always has the “first.” The first bike ride, ski day, lake swim, hike, etc. So though I go outside and “play” regularly today felt different. As I ran today there was no jacket or long pants. Despite the last pieces of ice holding out on the edges of the lake it was shorts and t-shirt weather. It is this “first” outing each year that makes me smile and think of how there will soon be the smells of spring and the shades of green that can only be seen in the new spring. Today I don’t want to miss out on recognizing the spring season is trying to emerge.


Warrior Yoga

I tried yoga for the first time today. I don’t think my attempts at a couple of positions using Wii Fit counted. So today was the first time. Because it is also on my 40 for 40 list it can also be summed up as I don’t want to miss trying yoga. The class I chose, instructor and studio, seemed from the website to be focused on stretching, moving, and body awareness rather than on spiritual awareness. That was important to me because I didn’t want to be thinking in a class about whether I agreed with what the instructor was saying (spiritually speaking) when my goal is stretching, relaxing, balance, etc. Actually I didn’t know quite what to expect, though a friend told me the instructor was good and it would be an easy first class. My intrigue in yoga lies however more in the classes that friends will say “kicked my butt.” I sort of think that might be the type of yoga that I might also like to try. Yet today I spent $9, which was a donation to a local charity, stretched a lot and listened to my breathing. In no way did I do anything in the class that would make me sore later yet I liked it.

 I enjoyed learning the names of a few poses that have made it to popular culture (I have now done my first downward dog). My favorite was the “Warrior Pose.” Quite honestly I like the name, and the type of person it conjures up in my mind. It was a pose that we were up on our feet for and it felt strong and alert. However conversely near the end of the class I nearly fell asleep. As it was after so much stretching, and the instructor’s calm voice through the poses, I thought to myself… “somehow I don’t settle myself like this down at home, this is pretty good, I might come back, it was worth $9.” It seems that is what much of yoga is, settling down to listen to yourself and being still. It’s a practice that I have a very very hard time with. I’m often struck with a sense of frustration with myself when I am not “doing” of what I am doing appears to have little value. So yoga was good for me. I promptly went home, chilled out a bit more until I went for a run/walk and now I am sore as I haven’t run much, it’s been a long winter.