Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Saints and Poets–Maybe They Do Some

A quick vlog before heading to bed tonight to capture a few of my thoughts after seeing a production of "Our Town." You'll have to suffer through my recollection of portraying Mrs. Gibbs in eleventh grade - but I'm not gonna apologize. They are wonderful memories (and I spared you most of them!).

Mark and I squeezed hands often tonight, taking in the magnitude of this piece as filtered through our middle-aged minds. At each intermission, Skye wanted to know where the conflict of the story was. By the end I think he understood that the conflict existed in the lives of the characters themselves as they dealt with the realities of their extraordinarily ordinary daily existence.

By the way, I knew I had the wrong native people living in Mesa Verde. I remembered the name began with an "A," and it's the Anasazi who were cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde not the Aztecs. The Aztecs lived in what's now central Mexico, and according to the internet search I just did, they lived in huts or shacks made of clay. So ... now we all can impress our friends.

Here's to all of us: saints and poets, every one. And here's to you, Thornton Wilder. Thank you for reminding us all of life's extraordinarily simple beauty.

BTW: Because some of you have asked: I got a B+ (88%) on my test. Now, if I hadn't changed around two of my matching, I'd have had the A- I was hoping for. And, if I hadn't over-thought two of the true and false questions, I have had an even more impressive showing. But you know what? I'm sorta glad I didn't get an A. The pressure is off now, somehow. Plus, I experienced my very first "words swimming on the page" as soon as the test was placed in front of me. I now know what students mean when they say they go blank when a test is placed in front of them. Of course, me being me, I was fascinated by the phenomenon, analyzed what was happening and then talked myself through it. I discovered once my pencil got moving, I was fine. But what a strange feeling. I have a class presentation next week. Now THAT I want an A on!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank you ...

Thank you to those who have been sending kind messages about the vlogs to me via Facebook or my joy@involuntaryjoy email. The stories or thoughts you've been sharing affirm our connected humanity. I'm honored to be sharing the richness of life with you.

May you have many beautiful moments today.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Change of Seasons, A Change in Life with Stross

I couldn't resist vlogging outside on Saturday, and I thought I had some free moments to do just that while Stross was inside doing what we call his "cares." At least six times each day (every four hours), he or, if it's in the middle of the night, we perform his intermittent catherization and attend to his ostomy. He's become fairly independent with this task, and Mark and I have decided to use the four years after high school that many parents think of as "the college years" to help Stross become as independent as possible during his version of college life.

Stross is taking colleges classes each day - either English 100 or Successful Study Strategies - and getting involved in some campus activities. Yet the rest of his day is spent practicing life skills as independently as possible. Things like meal preparation, a bit of cleaning or organizing and his cares.

On Saturday, Stross and I took time to get his bathroom even more organized. Now all the medical supplies he might need are on storage shelves within reach of his wheelchair so he has ready access regardless if Mark or I remember to restock the drawers he can reach from his dressing table.

As you'll see in this vlog, accommodating independence and realizing it are different things. We can get everything within reach and something still can go wrong. And we knew that. That's why we installed a phone by his dressing table and why we encourage him to always have his cell phone charged and ready. Each one of us - Mark, Skye, me - live life on the alert for Stross, which means we all keep our cell phones handy - except for Saturday, when I went to the tree house to vlog on a gorgeous fall afternoon and forgot to take mine with me. Ugh!

On the scale of emergencies, this wasn't a biggie at all. But it did serve as a reminder that our oldest son - a young adult in life years - will always need support within reach.

P.S. - I did remember to give you a tour of the tree house, but it would have made you seasick. I'll do it again sometime. Besides, I need to involve our number one tour guide, Stross.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ryan Daniel & Stepping on Mark's Ponytail

A great thing happened this morning: Ryan Daniel (class of 2000) walked into my office and lifted the fog of my sleepless night.

Part of what's carrying me forward right now is the conversation we had after this vlog while sitting on the interior entry steps of Thorson Hall - particularly the words he shared about what his time at Waldorf College has meant to him and how Mark and my contributions helped shape him. Bless you, Ryan, for your generosity of spirit. You didn't have to share those feelings but you did – and they were quite well-timed.

Perhaps someday I'll share the phrase he used that rang like a tuning fork. But I want to wait for the next notes of this mysterious life symphony to play first. I think I might know the melody that's playing right now – or I maybe I'll discover I'm learning a new tune.

It's probably safe to assume the tune isn't Caribbean hipster rap, as you'll see in this vlog. While I have the ability to talk too fast sometimes, I cannot match the quick-paced, rhythmic and smooth vocal stylings of Mr. Ryan Daniel. I absolutely love the lines he says (raps?) toward the end of our conversation about being who you are. It's preciously that concept that I've been passionately upholding as life provides opportunities.

Notice how I mess up on accepting a compliment. And, please ... the comment about Mark's ponytail - it truly IS about his ponytail people. Really, really.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stress, Psychosomatic Illness & Banana Bread

I've mentally outlined a written blog (maybe a book chapter) about my experiences recognizing how my body communicates stress. When I say "communicate," I don't mean externally, for I think it's terribly noticeable to those I interact with daily, making my external awareness - "Joy is stressed, people!" - easy to determine. The kind of communication I'm referring to occurs internally - between my physical body and the cognizant part of me that's most responsible for shaping my identity.

So tonight I've vlogged (is that a term?) thoughts I have mulled today related to a conversation with a student in my office. Talking about that and the banana bread I'm baking reminded me of my first nearly immobilizing anxiety attacks. They manifested about ten years ago in my kitchen, and I had to discover why that was. Until I identified what my kitchen had to do with my physical pain, I couldn't quiet what I'd been denying in my mind. That's what I hope to write more about someday.

Sorry about saying the words "so" and "anyway" a lot in this vlog. I'll get better. I promise. And check out my wording: "part of my plan." Ah, will I ever learn?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

To Video Blog or Not to Video Blog

Ta-da! I did it. I taught myself something new.

Had I decided to write rather than record a blog today, I'd have told you something only my hairdresser really knows (and it has nothing to do with hair color - but you know that from a previous blog). Or I may have written about spraying the dog doo off Stross' wheelchair tires and then riding his chair back into our house–things not many moms or dads have had the privilege of experiencing.

But I recorded my first video blog instead. Ahhhh! Accomplishment! (And likely better than my description of the dog doo incident.)

I am Joy, hear me roar! BTW: The word I almost used but stopped myself from using was "hyperbole." I didn't want to sound highfalutin. (Yes, "highfalutin" is really a word, and that's really how it's spelled. I looked it up just to be sure.)

Please, let me know what you think. Have a beautiful day!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Living Life Out Loud

Two nights ago I wasn't really able to fall asleep. Neither could Mark. That's not really a biggie, as one of us needs to stay awake to do Stross' midnight cares. Ninety-seven percent of the time that's Mark, because I simply cannot keep my eyes open much past 10:45 p.m. Also, we both recognized early in our relationship that I'm a downright, um ... witch, if I don't get enough uninterrupted sleep. So on nights when Mark is sick or out of town, I do my best to stay awake for Stross' midnight cares before allowing myself to fall into a long stretch of recuperative rest.

Well, two nights ago I was awake with Mark as he prepared for Stross' cares at 12:40 a.m. When he headed to the boys' bathroom, I headed upstairs only to lie awake minutes later–eyes wide open–wondering if I was suffering from insomnia or a loneliness only Mark could remove.

It was neither. It was restless anxiety - likely the reason I was able to stay awake as long as I had. My mind wasn't ready to turn off a day that I'd spent reliving events in weeks past.

I'm probably not the only person who believes that anxiety is a far worse reason to lie awake than insomnia. With insomnia, you want to sleep but simply can't. And if your insomnia's not gone by the next night or so, a doctor can prescribe medication to help. I've never needed such an aid, but I've felt glad knowing it's a possibility.

With restless anxiety, however, you don't really want to sleep because some part of you feels that solving your life's problems is far more important. Yet as you lie in the dark mulling over things you're unable to address until morning, you realize you must add sleep deprivation to your list of ails; and, without a good night's sleep, you can't begin to work on the solutions you've begun to map out anyway.

Anxiety - even a mild version - is viciously circular.

That night I absolutely did not want to add sleep deprivation to my list, and I certainly did not want my thoughts to circle back to any topic I'd already spent time on during the day. So, since Mark wasn't back from helping Stross yet, I turned on our radio, hoping an audio distraction could drown out my anxious thoughts. Something far better happened: I got a message, delivered in my spiritual language of music. It came through the words of Rob Thomas' "Someday," letting me know that Mark and I were somehow sharing the same mixed up, mid-life muddle. It also let me know that we'd be fine, despite the ugly experiences of this bizarre year, because we were staying true to our vow to live through our messes together.

The music offered a promise that - even after 23 years of marriage - we could still feel the freshness of a shared beginning; and that, maybe - someday - we'd even be able to figure out what we'd survived together. Best of all, the message said we'd be better off and, here's the best part: living our lives out loud.

I love that! Living life out loud. That resonates deep within me. I've always tried to let my life speak in a way that communicates clearly to others. What better way than to live out loud? I know exactly what that means, even if I can't express it any differently than that beautiful arrangement of words. And I love that too! Getting a perfectly worded message is how I know my life - just like every child of God's - is connected to something divine. The God of the Universe found a way to speak to me, delivering words I needed to hear, right when I needed to hear them. Thank you, God. (And thank you, Rob Thomas.)

The song had just begun when I turned the radio on, and it ended as Mark entered our bedroom. I reached over to turn off the radio as the last notes played, not wanting other sounds to pollute the delightful feeling that hung in the air. I didn't want to ruin the moment by telling Mark either - not then. He needed his sleep just as I needed mine. And I was ready to sleep - a restorative, restful night of sleep that would allow me to begin a new day.

Sleep. A way to start all over again every 24 hours, bringing new ways to live out loud and to live them together with Mark. What a wonderful message. What a peaceful thought. Good news from a good God. A good night.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Know the plans

In the face of disappointment, some either offer comfort or find comfort in the statement: “God has a plan for you.”

I wonder: Why?

Please note this is a big ‘why.’ A ‘why’ so big that it’s chock-full of other ‘whys’:

• Why would God divinely alter what I assume has been a previously endorsed plan? (Or, if a plan is being altered, does that mean a person has actually been on the wrong plan?)
• Why would God alter a plan without prior notice? (Is God really that spontaneous?)
• Why, if there is some form of prior notice, is it so easily missed? (Certainly God can grab a person’s attention in good and clear ways.)
• Why would God use disappointment as a way to move a child created in God's image toward a new plan? (Doesn’t that make God bad even if the plan is supposedly better?)
• Why can’t God just go with the plan currently in place and simply improve it if necessary? (After all, God IS God.)
• Why does someone else seem to know God’s plan for another person’s life while the one God’s working on seems rather oblivious? (Again, can’t God get someone’s attention whenever and wherever God wants?)

If I had to focus on only one of the whys, it would be this one: Why do we need assurance that God has a specific plan for our lives anyway?

When Mark and I married in May 1986, we chose Jeremiah 29:11 as the central verse for our marriage ceremony. It’s probably the most popular “plan” verse of the Bible: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (NIV)

Idealistic, young lovers with a lifetime of only good things in store, we vowed to share who we were with each other, facing any circumstance life threw our way. We clung to this promise, confident nothing could sidetrack the wonderful plan God had for us individually or as a couple. Believing in a providential plan provided reassurance that we could prevail regardless of what might come.

Then, five years into our marriage “what might” did come. And you know what? We were right about not being sidetracked or overtaken; we continued to prosper, although probably not in the way we understood the hope of prosperity then.

Truthfully, I can’t attest to what we understood then. Who were we in our 20s anyway? We certainly lacked the capacity to look into our future as we know it today. And if we could have seen or even gotten a glimpse of our future, it may have altered how we followed “the plan.” For whoever we were then, we had a much smaller concept of God. We believed there was only one correct plan, and if we missed our opportunity to stay on course, well, we didn’t want to find out what could go wrong.

God was in charge. We just needed to follow.

But you know what? In the process of trying not to misstep, we discovered a prosperity promise even more provocative regarding God’s capacity for hope and a future: The God of the universe is so expansive, it’s impossible to get lost. No matter which direction we step, God is already there. What a relief! That kind of providence is providential, indeed.

Moreover, God’s love is expansive, too, encompassing every child created in God’s image. This all-encompassing love renders God incapable of inflicting pain on those created to reflect the very image of God. This expansive, providential love is personified grace, or God in action.

After 25 years together (one courting, one engaged and 23 married), Mark and I now allow God to surprise us with displays of expansive grace – grace so huge we are able to see God in the midst of some pretty dire circumstances. It’s a grace that begs this question: “Why shy away from prosperity that can intangibly sustain even during times of want?”

Not capable of comprehending the anxiety and hopelessness of exile, we might find it easy to ignore the powerful context of Jeremiah’s words. He was writing to people banished to Babylon, encouraging them to settle down. “Go ahead and do things that might give you roots,” he told them, “Even if you are in a land that’s foreign to you, I’m right here.”

It’s truly a grow-where-you’re-planted message. So why not get comfortable with a more contemporary interpretation of this popular text: “Wherever you go, there you are. And, guess what? God is there too.”

Really. Go ahead. Enjoy life as it happens and wherever it might lead you, for God “knows the plans” not just “the plan.” God is one step ahead of you no matter the direction you’re headed.

Do you have a better plan?