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Author Archives: caverns of my mind

The Blanket of Longing

In the state between sleep and awake, I let the blanket cover over my face, keeping out the threat of reality and a new day outside my bed, like blackout curtains keeping out the sun. I contemplated what may be waiting for me. It had not been good as of late, and I wanted to stay in bed and ignore it all. Then I heard the reminder that I was needed and my self pity would have to be closed into a tiny container and placed under the bed for another time.

My girl needed me. Not the human girl I had loved and was now forbidden to see, but the four-legged girl who stirred in the corner of the bedroom. The one who couldn’t understand why her little human girl no longer came to see her. The one who checked the empty pink bedroom every day, and her eyes always asked me if she would ever see her two-legged puppy again. I didn’t know how I could make my sick dog understand something I did not understand myself. But she felt my pain. She always did. And I needed that.

Almost a month had gone by since our relationship with the human girl had been severed, and just a few, excruciatingly long days had passed since we found out our fur baby had a cancer that could not be cured. Losing both my girls… well, getting out of bed each day now required me to muster all the strength I could. These girls loved each other and needed each other, and they might never see each other again.

But I needed to shower the girl I still had with as much love as I could during the time we had left together. So I lifted the blanket.

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I very recently read How Dogs Love: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns. There are so many reasons for me to recommend the book, but the following excerpt captured perfectly for me the essence of the entire book.

The defining trait of dogs, therefore, is their interspecies social intelligence, an ability to intuit what humans and other animals are thinking. Wolves do this to hunt prey. But dogs evolved their social intelligence into living with other species instead of eating them. Dogs’ great social intelligence means that they probably have a high capacity for empathy. More than intuiting what we think, dogs may also feel what we feel. Dogs have emotional intelligence. Just like people, if dogs can be happy, then surely they can be sad and lonely.

Throughout the Dog Project, I had been struck by how perfectly dogs and humans complemented each other. Humans, even with our powerful brains and capacity for abstract thought, are still slaves to our emotions, which dogs pick up on and resonate with. And the most powerful emotion of all is love. Despite the complexities of human relationships, the fundamental attribute of love is empathy. To love, and be loved, is to feel what another feels and have that returned. It really is that simple… People become intensely attached to their pets… This is why it hurts so much when we lose them.

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The Body is a Temple

Studies conducted by “they,” once upon a time, and probably in a galaxy far, far away, show that writing things down makes us very much more likely to do whatever it is we write down. I agree. At least I have found this to be true in my own case. So, whether or not the 12-13 of you who may stumble upon and read this blog post hold me accountable, I am hoping I will at least be more accountable to myself.

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Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

I truly hate getting caught up in the beginning of the year hype of resolutions and such, but I have been on a similar cycle the last few years, and this is where the pattern brings me. Every January or February my husband and I do a 21 day fat flush diet and then keep fairly decent habits for the rest of the year, or until the holidays roll around. It’s not some crazy diet where it’s all about cramming in weird chemicals that will “cleanse” our insides. It really is a diet plan that has us eating a lot more fruits, veggies, and fiber. Nature takes care of the rest. Good food, high in vitamins and minerals go in, and the bad stuff comes out. Our bodies do need a good internal deep clean once in a while. We use this as our kick start to better eating, though we don’t commit as hard core after that initial phase.

Then there’s the workout cycle. I usually set a race goal sometime early in the year to train for, and then I give it my all until I actually achieve it, or I injure myself, get depressed and give up. It’s good to have a goal, but I’m such a goal oriented person that this can actually be a huge stressor in my life, sort of canceling out any of the good I otherwise achieve. If the weather (which I cannot control anyway) is bad and I cannot get out to run, I panic. “Oh, no! I’m missing one workout. Now I’ll have to make it up. But when? Maybe I will just skip that fun thing I was going to do or get up another hour earlier…” Yeah, it’s not good. By the time I either injure myself or accomplish the goal, I’m a frazzled mess and so burned out that I just stop completely. Usually this is somewhere between my birthday and Thanksgiving.

So… between November and the next calendar year, I binge junk food and sit around not burning any more calories than necessary to breathe or walk slowly…to the fridge. This is an unhealthy cycle. I’m not doing it again.

There. I wrote it. It shall be as I say. I have reflected on my failures in food and fitness, and I will do better this year.

Tomorrow is the start of the 21 day fat flush. Every time I do this, I become more tolerable of foods that used to terrify me, like asparagus. I still refuse to eat broccoli though. The mushrooms are pushing it. But once I get started, things change quickly. I find I have more energy, my immune system gets stronger, and my clothes fit like they’re supposed to again. I even find I like some of the dishes, and my jaw gets stronger because I have to chew so much.

Last year my goal was to get back to my early 20’s weight, which I was certain would happen when I was in half marathon training. Thing is…I injured myself. Yep. I was doing 4-5 workouts a week, on top of the mileage I had to run each week. I was feeling great, and then all of the sudden, I just felt old. I overdid it. I know older people than I who are in way better shape than I’ve ever been, but my body had reached its limit, and I flailed after that. When this happens, I get depressed. Then I make excuses.

So this year, as I begin the fat flush, I am only going to start with 3-4 morning workouts per week, and not crazy hard ones either. When the flush ends, I’ll go full on P90X, lean or classic, I haven’t decided. We will continue on a basic 40-30-30 eating schedule (I found a great site to help us with meal planning, etc. FormulaZone), because that really does seem to be scientifically the best all-around plan for truly being healthy in food choices, rather than extreme diets that cut out one part or another that your body actually needs to function best. Once I get through the 12 week workout plan, I’ll incorporate running into my life again, but with a balance of strengthening and cardio. If it rains, I won’t stress. I live in Florida- it’s going to rain! If I want to sleep in one day, I will. I won’t beat myself up or run myself ragged.

My goal is not to train for anything other than enjoying being healthy and fit. I refuse to add the stress. This way, when my birthday rolls around this year, I will be a fit and happy 42 year old, still on track with my workouts and diet. I may never get down to my 20 year old weight, but then again, I was on the scrawny side then and not as strong. The Bible says my body should be a temple, and I need to treat mine better. Also, my life expectancy looks pretty high, so I might as well be healthy for all those years to come. There’s a lot of this beautiful planet I still want to see and so much I still want to do. When other 60 year olds are putting around Walmart on the electric carts, or shuffling around complaining about whatever ailment they have that was avoidable by lifestyle choice and diet, I want to be hiking an autumn trail, building houses in Guatemala, riding roller coasters, or any number of things I don’t even know about yet in places I’ve never been.

It’s super cliche, but true: If you take care of your body, it will take care of you. Oh, and I plan to keep my brain sharp too. People laugh at me because I read all the time. I also love puzzles, and thinking games. A good diet and exercise helps brain functionality. I want to be that person that is way older than anyone realizes.

The Morning After

20181207_200612As a kid, I remember making construction paper ring chains to count down the days until Christmas. It was such an exciting time of year. My sisters and I would skulk around the Christmas tree and shake the gifts with our names on them. My mom made  amazing sweets, and in great quantity. I remember the decorations and how warm the house felt.

We opened our gifts on Christmas Eve evening and got our stockings Christmas morning. My grandmother was usually staying with us for most of the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and on Christmas we usually went to one of my aunts’ houses or a few would come to ours for a day of feasting, games, and more presents. I was by far the youngest in the house, so was not always included in game playing, but I still enjoyed just being there in the chaos. The day after Christmas seemed so quiet and subdued after all the excitement that had lead up to and culminated on Christmas day. I had all my new stuff to play with (and if I was lucky enough to have been gifted a book I could read for hours), but somehow there was a sadness that the experience was over.

As I’ve gotten older, my Christmases have gotten smaller and we don’t generally have many gifts under our tree, but the warmth, the decorations, and the love are still precious to me.  And sometimes the day after Christmas still seems sad. Now that looks a little different to me, because I have realized the warm feeling at Christmastime wasn’t as much of a physical warmth as the feeling of love. People are generally kinder to one another, including strangers, during the holiday season. Somehow it is easier to put aside differences and see each other as fellow human beings. Charitable donations and acts of kindness are on the rise. The idea of “peace on earth” seems almost possible.

And then Christmas is over. Slowly, the kindness and warm feelings fade and we all go back to our normal lives and our routines, and many forget until somewhere around the end of the next November.

The thing is, Jesus was the greatest gift ever given, and a gift that is everlasting. Those feelings of love and joy are intended to be kept all year. We are commanded to love one another, and I doubt that was meant to be a part-time job. Love takes work sometimes, and we get frustrated and tired, and life happens, distracting us. But let’s try to show love and kindness, even if only in some small way, each day. Be on the lookout for those opportunities. When we bless others, we in turn are also blessed, and then it is easier to keep it going all year long.

How to Be Thankful

Three years ago, I should have been in a dark place. Maybe I was actually in a dark place, but there was a light in the darkness.  And light overcomes darkness. As long as I knew the light was there, even if it seemed dim, I knew I could go on.

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2015 started with a startling surprise that left me questioning my life and marriage and set us up financially to lose everything.  Only by God’s grace did we make it through that, and without once failing to pay a major bill or even damaging our credit. I won’t go into details, but none of it made any sense on paper. It was truly a miracle. Then as the year came to a close, we found out we would lose the little girl who had been the biggest part of the light we’d had through all that. The girl we had never known we needed, and now didn’t know how we could could live without, would be taken from us. And if we weren’t careful, we may never see her again.

I was living through a nightmare, so deep in stress and heartache I sometimes had trouble breathing, and I was on the verge of tears at all times. Nothing in my life had ever felt so difficult before. I can’t even remember all the details anymore- maybe I blocked them out- but I know we faced car issues, emergencies around the house, and any number of financial and emotional surprises during this time that made me feel like I was down and getting kicked in the ribs every time I struggled to get up.

But then I took a look at all we had made it through and all the people who had been there to love and support us. I began to actually see where God had been, even in the middle of the worst year of my life. I could not make it through this on my own. I knew that. I just wasn’t strong enough in my own power.

And that’s ok. I wasn’t supposed to be. God wasn’t bringing these things into my life and standing above me laughing. He was allowing them because He knew I would reach out to Him in this time and that He would be the strength I needed to make it through. Even as some new calamity would strike, it always seemed there was something equally good that would happen, often in unexpected ways. He was letting me know He was there, and though I could not see why I was experiencing these hurts or how they would turn out, He had the big picture and was making it all work for my good.  I even began laughing when disaster would strike. What else could I do?

I prayed so hard for our girl to stay with us, but in the middle of 2016, she had to leave. We had done all we could to prepare for that, but I had still been in denial. I thought God would come in with some crazy miracle at the last minute. He didn’t. I was angry about that at first. I couldn’t understand, and still often don’t, how her new situation was a better place for her. But maybe that’s not what it’s about. She loves God, and maybe she needs to learn how to trust Him in the difficult times too. Maybe this is the building of her character, because while I was praying for God to make a way for her to stay with us, I also prayed that if that was not part of His plan, that she would be given the strength she needed and it would make her a better person. It is also a reminder that though she had been placed with us for a time, and we cared for her as our own, ultimately, she is a child of God and He will care for her. I had to give her to Him in that time.

It has been hard. The blessing is that we do still get to be part of her life and she spends every other weekend, and some extra time here and there, with us. To others, she refers to us as her aunt and uncle, but when she’s with us, we are still Mommy and Daddy, and I think it will always be that way. She has been out of our direct care now longer than she was with us, but the bond remains. It’s hard having her less than part time. Our lives had to “go back to normal” to some extent, so weekends with her turn our routines and our “normal” upside down. The disruption can be difficult emotionally, because our lives are on hold at those times… but having that time is precious. She’s still a light. She is our sunshine.

If it had been up to me, I would have wanted to eventually adopt her and to never have experienced most of 2015 and 2016, but then I would not have been able to grow. Neither would she, or my husband. It was awful, and we are still in a constant state of recovery from all of it, but we were blessed through it too.

I’ve realized that bad things happen to everybody. Some people just dwell on the bad more than others. Perspective and optimism go a long way. Everything I went through in that time changed my overall perspective and helped me find HOPE. Sometimes I still have to react emotionally, and even cry it out. But then I remind myself to look to God and all that He has done to take care of us.

Romans 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  -FDR

And where does fear so often come from? In my life and my observations, I believe one of the leading causes of fear is listening to other people projecting their fears onto others. Fear is an infectious contagion that can lead to paralysis, frenzy, and irrational thoughts.

I am not a girl who will ever go skydiving. Nothing about leaping out of a plane and plummeting to the ground before pulling a cord you pray works to slow your fall by the aid of some silky fabric sounds fun to me. The fear of heights is a common and natural fear. It’s a fear that prompts people to use caution in certain situations, and I believe one can have a healthy amount of this particular fear.

Despite my fear of heights, I love roller coasters, prefer window seats on a plane, and enjoyed the observation deck at the Empire State Building. So when my team voted to go zip-lining on a mission trip to Costa Rica, it sounded like a fun adventure to me. Sometime before the trip I mentioned to a woman what we would be doing on our free day. I recognized that the sudden scowl on her face was not a good sign. And then she opened her mouth. “You shouldn’t do that. I heard recently on the news that a girl…” At that point I attempted to figuratively plug my ears and sing a song in my head that would drown her out. I didn’t need to hear the gruesome horror story of what happened to someone else. How many people have done it without getting hurt or killed? I tried to extricate that fear seed before it could grow in my brain. I already knew the heights were going to be a challenge. I didn’t need to worry about amputations and infections and such. I hadn’t even known to be afraid of this until that woman opened her mouth and planted her fear in me. I just wanted to be able to enjoy the sights above the canopy.

I survived my zip-lining experience, never visited the hospital because of it, and still have all my limbs and my nose. But some of that experience was tainted because I had to suppress a fear that had not even been my own to start with thanks to someone else’s fear.

Then what about the frenzy of mob mentality? It only takes one or two people to stir up a crowd and incite them to cause destruction or even death as it dehumanizes people with a fear that causes them to attack. Fear makes people irrational. Little seeds of fear are planted until they take root and grow unchecked like mutated cells, reaching from one person to the next.

We each have our own fears to deal with. In a way, it’s like we think we can get rid of them if we pass them on to others. Or maybe we at least won’t have to face them alone. But instead of dragging others into our nightmares, we should seek to find support in coping with them. Instead of attacking and tearing each other down with fear, we can pull together and be stronger.

 

Still Life

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Light.

A hand. A pink blanket. blackness. A smile. Family photo. Christmas tree. Backyard swing-set. blackness. Puppy kiss. Best friend necklace. Tree-house. blackness. Riverbank. Sun. Flowers. blackness. Ocean waves. Mountain mist. blackness. Banana splits. Picnic table. Fireworks. blackness. Lollipops. A bridge. Orange, yellow, and red leaves. Tear-stained reflection. blackness. Prom dress. Cap and gown. blackness. Skyscrapers. blackness. Two hands as one. blackness. A ring. blackness. Wedding photo. blackness. Car keys. blackness. blackness. Phone. blackness. blackness. Shattered glass. blackness. blackness. blackness. Flashing light. blackness.

Eyes blinking. blackness. Each time a new scene. Then blackness. Pieces of life…slipping away. blackness. Throbbing pain as blackness overtakes the still frames. All is blackness. 

Until there is light.

Be Something Better

There has been so much to tell over the last few years. I decided I would one day write a book and meant to be writing about all the details as they occurred, so I wouldn’t forget. The problem is that as one heartbreaking moment after the next took place, actually reliving it to write it down while it was still raw became increasingly difficult. Somehow, having a running tally of the wrongs my little girl suffered while I could only watch brought me heartache and suffering on her behalf (not to mention the mire I was wading through in other areas of my life). But it’s time to begin to use this and time to begin to tell the story.

Recently, I was told I couldn’t understand a hard life because I “came from a different world” from this other person… this person who has no idea where I’ve been or the life I’ve lived. That is a careless assumption. And coming from a hard place is no excuse to stay there and drag others along who could otherwise have a better life. How selfish!

This is not an excuse for a lack of humanity, ethics, or sense of responsibility.

Yes, I grew up blessed to always have what I needed, but I never took that for granted. Having what I wanted was usually a privilege I had to earn, and I thank God I was taught old fashioned values, responsibilities, the importance of hard work, and how to apply common courtesy in my everyday life. I was taught to appreciate what I had, to put others first, and to keep my word. I was taught that “things” are not what is important, but people and loving them are.

I have struggled. I have made mistakes I had to learn from. And I have been beaten down by others even when I didn’t deserve it. I never expected the whole world to pity me because of it or that anybody owed me because of it. I learned to look to God, prayed, and let Him pick me up and carry me through it.

I guess I do come from a different world than yours. In mine, I didn’t make myself a helpless victim. I didn’t make up excuses to not make an effort. And I will never let my girl see herself as a victim either, even though you have helped make her one, because I will teach her to be strong and to know her worth and value. I will teach her that “things” don’t matter, but people do. And I already marvel when I see how strong she has become. With this I also see that she can break your cycle, and that she can one day use this to grow and be a powerful woman who seeks justice for others. I pray she will not use this as an excuse, but instead as fuel. Her seeing both worlds will help her to see that she has a choice. We will continue to show her the better side because she is better, and she has a future.