The Mid-Decade Waltz

This fall I will turn 55, an event that marks a point of sure change in my life. After all, I have evidence–50 years worth–that the mid-decades of my life are far more momentous than any ‘ott’ decade change has ever been.

The rundown? In my first mid-decade of life, my mother died. Mondo change, as you might imagine. In my second, at 15, my teenage life was upended by a forced move from small town Missouri to “big” Tulsa and from living with my aunt to living with my dad plus one jealous stepmother. At 25, the hard work of counseling and sheer will led me to find a long-pursued self-esteem and happiness, and at 34, I answered a surprising call into ministry. At 44, I was ordained and eventually placed in a senior position in a church–again, not where I saw myself–and at 53, as a new empty nester, I embarked on a new set of major changes with a move, sabbatical, and change in career focus.

The last two and half years have been another slow-mo evolution. Even as my life has slowed down, the changes have been moving like a good float on a lazy river. Since moving to Fayetteville, a small college town, I’ve changed jobs and moved a couple of times and now find myself settling in, again, and finding the rhythm of what this decade is going to be. The so-called ‘big’ birthdays–30, 40, 50, 60–don’t mean that much to me. It’s the mid-decade birthdays which portend the most.

As 55 edges closer, I find myself working as a hospice chaplain, with the daily privilege of witnessing the most intimate time of a person’s life. I’m building new friendships while keeping others kindled, not quite sure I’ve found my ‘forever’ community but trying to live as though I have.  I revel in seeing my adult children live the lives they choose, with the expected challenges and joys of the 20-somethings they are.   As I think back to that first mid-decade challenge of my life, the death of my mother, I can see that with each ten years, my life–improved, happier, more rewarding–has been on that steady lazy river, easing every slowly toward the decades to come.


Deja Vu (all over again)

Cosmo the wonder dog

Two years ago I became an empty-nester…or so I thought. For the past twenty-four months, I’ve thought of myself and described myself as an empty-nester, but I realize now that the description has not been exactly true.  The house which seemed so suddenly quiet in the spring of 2009 was not completely void of life. I still had Cosmo, our then twelve year old dog, who then moved with me when I relocated from Kansas City to Fayetteville that summer. I soon realized that Cosmo was suddenly getting far more attention from me than he had received–all together–during the years when I juggled three kids, single parenting, grad school and a demanding vocation.

My new home didn’t have the big yard he had been used to, but he always aspired to be a house dog anyway. He reveled in the upgraded change in his worldly status. Although he now had a small yard to hang out in, he much preferred to be in the house. To Cosmo’s delight, we began taking twice-daily walks around the mountain-top where I live. Occasionally, he would have the supreme treat–a ride in the car. I realized one day just how much his place in my world had changed when I took him for a drive not because I had anywhere to go but just because I knew it would make him happy. It finally became evident to me that my mothering instincts were desperately seeking an outlet and he was the thrilled recipient of same.

Cosmo turned fourteen in December and still had the spirit of a puppy. Bright eyes, a plume-like tail quick to wag, jaunty walk…he belied the image of an “old dog” except for his white whiskers. Until he didn’t. And after a short period of decline, on Wednesday I let my sweet old pup go.

Now the nest is really and truly empty. I realize, again, that this empty nest “thing”–for me, anyway–comes with a combination of sadness, gratitude and relief. As was the case with my children, when they came of age, it was time for them to make a natural evolution from home. I was happy for them, immensely proud of them and grateful for what I had learned from them. I also had a sense of relief that came from dramatically lessened responsibilities. While I don’t equate my pet–as beloved as he was–with my children, I am already feeling some very familiar emotions. I am grateful that he hung in there with me even when I wasn’t the best mom; I am slightly relieved that my days will not be quite so structured so that he had plenty of ‘mom-time’; and most of all, I will be eternally grateful that for the past two years, I have had his constant, unconditional companionship as I grieved and celebrated my status as an empty-nest mom.

Now, I get to do it again. Deja vu, as they say, all over again.

Quote of the Day

Like countless others, I have been snow-bound all week due to the lack of snow removal on my dead-end street, which can only be entered by traversing a steep hill. After venturing out to get much-needed groceries, I parked my car at the bottom of the hill and trudged up with the first armloads. On my way back down for the second round, I passed a man walking a bicycle up the slick road. Actually, it was more like shoving it step by step through a mess of snow and slush. I said hello; he grinned at me and simply said, “It was a lot more fun on the way down.” I smiled in return and thought, “ain’t that the truth!”

There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew on the way down he’d be pushing that bike on the way up, just as I knew when I finally got my car out to get to the store that I would not be getting the car back up the hill anytime soon. But having groceries in the house made it worth the effort.  It made perfect sense to venture out so the dog and I wouldn’t starve through the next storm scheduled to come through on Sunday (and the one after that, mid-week.)

There was something about this guy’s buoyant spirit that conveyed that he just rode down the hill because. Because he could. Because it would be fun…just because. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the push back up–in fact, he seemed pretty ecstatic.

Is that what enjoying the ride gets you? Happiness? A buoyant spirit? Sparkling eyes and a big grin? I think my cyclist friend has already answered that for me.

Of Chin Hairs and Revelations

I admit it: I look at every hair I tweeze. Eyebrow hairs, hardy mustache stragglers, and the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. And if that grosses you out, stop reading now, because it only gets worse from here. (But I do promise there is a point in all this…)

My biggest fear of aging is that I’m going to walk around with one of those really long chin hairs–those wild ones that grow overnight–and no one will tell me and my eyesight will be so bad I don’t see it. In my old age, all I want from my loved ones is to come at me with some tweezers once in awhile. But I digress. I had a dream last night about tweezing a chin hair, which was weird enough…but this started as just tweezing a short stubble of a hair, and it just kept coming and coming. You know, if you are as fascinated with hair as I am, that it’s rather amazing how deep the hair is under the surface of one’s skin. In the dream, I tweeze this unbelievably long hair, several inches, from my chin and just look at it. That’s it–the whole dream.

As soon as I remembered the dream, I knew what it symbolized–as weird as it all was. The process I’m going through is very much like seeing a little something on the surface that needs to be dealt with, and it turns out that there is sooooo much more under the surface that just has to come out, too. And that once you start dealing with the beginning, you just have to stay with it until it all ‘comes out.’

I once had a therapist who thought I had the ‘best dreams’ of any client he’d ever had. John, this one’s for you…and for me.




Signs and Symbols

This week I organized my office. Simple sentence, monumental task. I cleaned, organized, moved furniture, installed a dry erase board, and snagged a bigger desk. That last item might be the most monumental of all.

I primarily use a computer desk that has no additional workspace; my previous desk–a fairly small antique writing table–was usually piled high with folders and books and usually had virtually no space left to work at. Even when it was completely clean, it had little workspace. So I hauled it to the storage area of the retreat center where I work, and traded it for what is essentially a scaled down type of harvest table–it would comfortably seat six people if it were used for its original intent.

With help, I got it back to my office and placed my lamp, etc. on it. I stretched out my arms and couldn’t reach the ends (granted, I have short arms, but…). And I thought, now this is a desk. This is a workspace. Then I realized that it is also a symbol, a sign if you will, that I am honoring my work and making space for my work in a new way. In the same way that it is a significantly sized table, and one with a great history as well, I am signifying with the use of this desk that my work is important, too–not to be confined to a dinky little desk, but opened up, expanded, ready to increase, already increasing.

I am learning to watch for the signs and symbols that my use of affirmations–what I am calling my “affirmation expedition”–is taking hold and taking me to new places. Some signs are small and subtle, others are more substantial and easier to recognize. For all of them, I am grateful!


Critter lessons

Today I captured a pack rat who has been living under my house. A friend loaned me a cage trap and he now has both the trap and the rather cute rat, who kind of looks like a hamster, whom he will keep or find a safe place for it to live. The little critter has been a little bothersome with his noise but more problematic are the potential problems he could do to wiring, insulation and so forth. So it seemed wise to kindly find him another locale in which to ‘pack.’

He seems a good metaphor for what is happening in my life. I am not only ‘unpacking’ the pack rat from my domain, but have been cleaning like mad, eating healthfully (with  the amazing result of losing six pounds), exercising again (beyond walking the dog, that is) and generally just kicking ass on getting my life together. I’ve been using daily affirmations to what feels like rather incredible effects on my focus and attitude as well as a newly compassionate view of myself.  It is the relative ease of this effort that is most surprising to me. I have long felt the support of the divine, the universe, or whatever it is that supports our lives, but perhaps I have not been as cooperative with the universe as I am now.

Like the pack rat, I feel I’ve been compassionately transported to a new place–not one which will substantially change who I am, but how I live. And that’s a good thing.

searching for peace

In one of my two jobs, I am a hospital chaplain. Today I began a new responsibility of leading spiritual awareness groups, with the first group being on a mental health ward. My primary desire was that it wouldn’t be a train wreck and thankfully, it wasn’t. Well, that was a desire, but not the primary one. My real desire was that it would be meaningful to at least some, if not all, of the participants.

We talked about the concept of finding peace in our personal lives. One man said he had not felt peace since the day in September of 1959 that he boarded a plane to Vietnam. That’s a damn long time not to feel peace in your life. Others had equally moving things to say–and just as touching to me were the two persons who couldn’t speak at all about what was on their mind. They sat in silence, one engaged to the point of paying attention to what was said, and one with his back to the group.

Searching for individual peace is a lonely pursuit, and perhaps it’s futile. Maybe it is only with the support of others that we truly find our peace.