Silver-Linings

“You’re playing the Polyanna Glad Game again, Honey. There doesn’t always have to be a silver lining,” she smiled her sad, sweet smile as she looked through the rearview mirror back to me, seated in back of our old Honda Civic.

I half-laughed, half-sighed at her silliness. “But, Mama!” I exclaimed. “It doesn’t matter if it has to be or not. It’s just that there IS always a silver lining!”

It was that day I realized how sweet and sensitive my mama was. I worried she was too beautiful and too fragile for this world. To me, she was practically perfect, in the way a delicate work of blown glass might be. Dainty and delightful, her laugh tinkled, her bright blue eyes danced, her freckles played across her face, and her arms were always outstretched ready to give or receive a hug. But she was also sad. If only she could see all the good!

I thought of that scene in the musical Peter Pan when Tinkerbell’s light was fading, she was dying, because not enough children believed in fairies. That’s how my mama seemed to me at my brash, bold ten years of age. Mama even looked like the Disney version of Tinkerbell with her short strawberry hair and tiny figure. At just under five feet tall with pixie-like humor and a child-like voice, the cartoon could actually have been based on her.

She was going through a rough time, I knew that. And her heart was hurting. So much in her life had changed and she was questioning how to move forward. She was also worried about me. I never really understood that, but I do now.

I was always sick. I missed so much school. Something was always wrong with me and I had to see specialist after specialist to try to decipher the genetic code destroying my immune system. But in my mind, I was strong. I was amazing. God was good. Life was a gift. And no matter how bad things got, somehow, it seemed, they always worked out for me and I was okay. There was always a silver lining.

As we drove to the doctor’s office, yet again, I know my mama was worried that someday I wouldn’t be able to find a silver lining and I wouldn’t know how to deal with that. And I was worried my mama would miss out on the joy life had to offer.

Fast forward thirty-some-odd years, and not much has really changed. My world view is still informed by the search for a silver lining. And Mama is still trying to remind me that life is more complicated than that.

As we debriefed my last appointment with my new neurologist tasked with caring for the MS trying to take over my nervous system, I cried as I admitted this disease did not have a silver lining and I didn’t think I got it to learn some sort of cosmic lesson.

“MS just sucks. And that’s the way it is” I gulped between sobs. She took my hand and held me, no words needed.

But, true to form, I moved on and found silver linings. I found the lesson to live life to its fullest. I found motivation to get stronger and eat better and achieve my goals. I realized how healthy and fortunate I was compared to so many. Somehow, I’ve been able to make the glad game not just an appreciative process of gratitude, but a way to get through the hard times–even ignore them.

A few years later, Mama sat across the table from me and held my hands again. This time she asked, “When are you going to stop playing the glad game, sweetie?”

I broke down in tears. I’d been listing all the evidence I could that everyone in my life was doing their best, the evidence that things were good enough, that I needed to be thankful. But I wasn’t just focusing on the good.  I was deluding myself into thinking everything was “just fine.”

A silver lining doesn’t mean there isn’t a cloud. I was ignoring the clouds. And I was in the middle of a storm.

My mama, the sweet, sensitive soul I once worried was too fragile for this life showed me what real strength is that day as she let me cry. Real strength is acknowledging what is and moving on with a smile through the good and the bad. I can still find a silver lining but I cannot pretend the clouds aren’t there.

This will be my work this year. I will seek joy and love and light and all the silver linings I can. But I also deserve some sunny days. So instead of pretending the clouds aren’t there, I’ll seek cover, even bluer skies. Because there isn’t always a silver lining, but there don’t always have to be clouds overhead either. silver-lining2

 

 

My Soul Songs #4: Sunlight on Snow

Sunlight on snow has always been one of my favorite scenes. Cool, sunny skies invigorate me. But it’s deeper than that. It’s not just that this girl from the northwest still gets excited at the sight of snow. There’s something almost spiritual about the way the light dances on blankets of snow, the way a gentle wind picks up the crystals to create swirling patterns of glitter in my path.

It’s the balance of energies, fire and water that inspires me. We tend to think of these as opposites and as opponents. Water quenches fire. Heat evaporates moisture. But with sunlight and snow we can see how the two energies can exist in a complementary harmony.

Snow reflects sunlight. Sunshine amplifies the beauty of the crystalline water. The cold helps us appreciate the heat. And the heat slowly supports the shift from snow pack to life-giving water.

This is not a passive relationship. The balance is not static, but dynamic, and the catalyst of needed change. And the fact that we are blessed with this scene and its symbolic reminder each new year is a gift. We can enter the new year inspired to seek and create such balance in the energies of our own lives.

In my yoga, I remind myself that my soul craves and creates both power and peace. In my relationships, I remind myself that I exist to both give and receive. In my prayers, I request and I praise. I seek to create balance where it is lacking and to embrace the balance that exists.

In 2016, I learned the kind of life I want to live and the kind of love I want to have. I learned better the kind of contribution I want to make and the kind of legacy I hope to leave. I learned that I need others and that I have much to offer as well.

I carry these lessons with me into 2017 with a new appreciation of how they can be balanced in my life. I enter the year with a new perspective and the acknowledgement that I do not control the elements, but the elements are my allies. I will not fear the heat, for it brings the light that I need. I will not fear the storm for it brings new life. I will live in harmony as the sunlight on snow.

sunlight-on-snow

 

 

My Soul Songs #6:

Living My Yoga

When I say I’m living my yoga, I mean I’m living true to my core being. I am honoring my soul. In yoga, I start by setting my intention. Why would my days, my life, be any different, I wonder. Yet they have been–and more often than not.

When I say I’m living my yoga, I do not mean I am as flexible or strong or dedicated as I can be. I mean I am practicing. Yoga is a practice.

I am practicing honoring who I am at my core every day.  I am practicing how to take deep cleansing breaths when I least want to. I am practicing my balance. I am practicing get up after each fall. I am practicing how to listen to that soft voice from my soul.

I want to be the person my yoga mat sees, someone once said.

Exactly, I say. This is my soul song.

I am living my yoga.

Namaste.

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Living My Yoga

Meditation for a New Year

The scent of lavender oil and sandalwood incense intermingle as they waft about the small, dimly lit room.  I breathe it in and let the healing begin. I offer a silent prayer and set my intention for the day. As the sun begins to peak over the mountains in the distance I begin my meditation, my role in receiving the answers to all my heartfelt prayers.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.” I repeat the mantra as I meditate. I’ve never been able to sustain meditation without a mantra.  I go to this particular mantra often. It focuses me.

A gift from a dear friend one birthday many moons ago, I have kept this little saying in my office for more than a decade, and in my heart and mind always. It is one of my Soul Songs that reverberates with each breath and vibration my existences sends out into the universe and its pure light, my tiny ripple in the waters of life.

I am only one, but I am one. I am all that I am, nothing more, nothing less and that is enough.

Breathe in, breathe out. A deep, healing, falling out breath. I release all the negativity and fear. I let it go.

“I am enough. I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

None of us know what the future holds and that’s okay. What we are capable of is ever-changing and often far greater than we ever give ourselves credit. I take another deep breath and I remind myself of this.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I breathe in and out along each chakra as I visualize my core and every place of strength and weakness along the way, scanning my body in my mind’s eye. I send love and light to each crack and fill ache each with gratitude for doing their best to hold together the strength needed for me to continue each day with a smile. I am so thankful.

These mortal vessels we’ve been given to carry us through this life experience are amazing, delicate and strong. I am in awe of all I can do and all I continue to become. So I give thanks.

I refuse to believe that our bodies become diseased or weakened for a reason or lesson to learn, but I do insist on learning something from every experience. The succumbing of my nervous system to MS didn’t bring any great lessons; I have chosen, however, to take it as an opportunity to focus my efforts, my purpose. My purpose is gratitude and joy.

I breathe in gratitude and prepare myself to give and receive greatness. I want to live a full and fulfilling life.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

I have learned from MS and from each of the challenges, lessons, and gifts along my life’s journey. I have learned that I want to live a life full of laughter, smiles, hugs, music, memories, and those who feed my soul. Such a life aligns my purpose to my actions and empowers me to remember the difference we each make. I can make a difference.

E.B. White is said to have proclaimed “I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” This is how I choose to live and create a life of my choosing.

“I will do as much as I can for as  many as I can for as long as I can” and I am one of those. I am fulfilled and energized by interacting with and giving to others. I have a contribution to make.

I can only fully make that contribution, though, if I honor myself and my needs. I will rest and restore and refresh. I will seek support and assistance too–from all sources, temporal and spiritual, for these gifts are for me to use along my journey so I stay strong and accomplish all the good I can do. It is with joy in my heart that I make the biggest difference. And the source of my joy is that “hell of a good time” I have. So, I will have a great time. And I will change the world. Today.

The incense is nearly extinguished. The sun is aloft. The world is aglow with daylight sparkling on snow. The meditation chimes hum.

Another deep breath and I am ready for the first day of this new year. It’s going to be a good one.

“I will do as much as I can for as many as I can for as long as I can.”

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

From the Ice

Glistening, gleaming,
Glinting white,
Guiding Godlight.
Help me find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.*

Slipping, sliding,img_0007
Seeking strength and
Scared to fall.
Help me find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.

Hurting, hoping,
Hearing songs of
Healing angels.
Help me find the way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside me.

Glistening, gleaming,
Seeking strength from
Healing angels.
I find my way.

Lead me, guide me, walk beside. Help me find the way.

 

 

 

*These words are taken from a song that got me through every childhood fear and comforts me still, “I Am a Child of God” from the Latter Day Saints Children’s Songbook and Hymnal (Randall, N.W., 1957)

My Soul Songs #3

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. So I am a woman on the move.

I get up. I give thanks. I go all in.

I might fall. I might tire. But I won’t give up and I won’t give in. I’ll just keep getting back up–and with a smile at my triumph.

I know who I am, my best self.

I am active, grateful, and ever growing as I move forward on my journey.

This is my soul song. MS won’t win.

Angels Among Us

The snow was falling steadily and the temperature had dropped drastically. Winter was upon us. I pulled carefully into the steep drive to park at the newly opened diner. I was too tired to cook and I needed some comfort food in the worst way. It had been one of those days, one of those years really. I could not wait for 2016 to conclude and 2017 to usher in a fresh start.

I had learned so much throughout the year, but not all of the lessons had been wanted. I had grown along the way, but I was a weary from the journey. I wanted nothing more than to know I was on the right path and that joy would unfold.

Deep in thought, I hadn’t even spoken to my companion. I just stared at the menu. Then an unfamiliar voice jolted me to awareness. “Be present, Sarah” my mind prompted in response.

“Hey! You taught choir, right? You did!” His smile was broad. His words not a question, but a clear, satisfied declaration. “You were my choir teacher and you took us to perform at the amphitheater one Christmas.”

I was stunned. I mentally calculated that it must have been my last year at the school before transferring. And he must have been no more than eight years old at the time–nearly 15 years ago!

“That’s one of my best memories,” he continued. “You were so proud of us and you got us all hot chocolate afterward.” He seemed to sigh and look off into the distance as if visualizing that cold winter’s night during “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

“Man, I think about that all the time.”

“Really?!”

“Oh, yeah. And Christmas songs are still my favorite. Look at me! I’m running my own business and I’ve got Christmas music playing. Obviously I’m not doing drugs or in a gang. You made a difference. You have to know that.”

“But you were only in third grade,” I laughed. “You might be giving me more credit than I deserve. Clearly, you’re a pretty amazing person and that’s all you’re choosing.”

“Ha! I forgot how you talked like that,” he chuckled. So did my dinner date. I do get a bit didactic.

“Just know that you touched our lives. What you do matters.” He went on and my heart warmed. It was one of those surreal moments, those gifts from the universe.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of those lately, even during this challenging season in my life. Well, especially during this challenging season of my life.

I’ve been taught to watch for signs that my guardian angels are near. And these signs have always warmed my heart and lightened my step. I do not know what form my angels take. I do not know what I have done to deserve them. But I cannot shake the feeling that I am guided, prompted, loved, and uplifted throughout my days.

I know some might think such beliefs are just fanciful, magical thinking, the kind that can be dangerous and delusional. Sometimes I even wish I could agree and set aside the promptings and guidance, suppress the feelings that I am part of something greater than a mere biological existence. How easy it would be think my impact on others is only temporary or that I have so much control that I can force my life and others’ to fit into my egocentric vision for each day. I’m great at being in control, after all. I’ve made a career of it. But I’ve also made a career of listening. And the more I listen, truly listen, the more promptings and support I receive.

Whether through energy patterns or ethereal presence I know–yes, that’s a pretty definitive declaration–that something far beyond my comprehension is at work and it unites each of us and, if we let go of our feeble illusions of complete control, this unifying force will lead us to a divine state of grace and guide us to a place where we can be the best version of ourselves.

 

The phone was ringing as I walked in, the office still dark. I was too late to pick up, so I tried calling her right back. I left a message and hung up. A few minutes later a familiar chime let me know I had new voicemail. I put it on speaker phone as I continued to get situated for another busy day.

“Sarah, I just wanted to let you know that you’re loved. I know how much Heavenly Father loves you and he told me again last night.” I stopped in my tracks. This was not a typical Friday morning message on my office line.

“I had a dream about you last night and you were sitting by me, softly touching my hand with a sad smile in your eyes and you told me that you loved everyone and this world so much…. ” she paused, her breath thick with emotion. “But you said you were sad and wondered if anyone really loved you.” I dropped to my chair, stunned, and immediately tearful.

“So I need you to know, Sarah, what I told you in my dream. You are loved. You are just beautiful and God has a special place for you in his loving arms.” By this time tears were flowing. Where was this coming from, I wondered. What was I putting out into the universe. Do I seem sad? Ungrateful? Lonely? What did this sweet woman know that I wasn’t acknowledging about my own life?

“Sarah, I’m so sorry that I haven’t told you this before. I want you to know we all love you and think of you. You deserve so much love. I just needed you to know that before the weekend, okay?” There was another pause. “You need to know that. I hope you think about that this weekend. And remember that no matter what, God loves you.”

Completely out of character, I cried for a good ten minutes. Tears of sadness, tears of joy, and tears of love. I said a prayer of thanks for the unsolicited and beautiful reminder of all the love in my life, and I felt a weight lifted that I’d not known was there. I had been given another gift that morning.

I knew I was loved. My thankful-fors in my prayers are extensive. But I had been struggling with how to be my best self and how to fully give and accept love as relationships and roles changed at home and work. And the pure light of love had just let me know through my dear, sweet colleague, that I was doing just fine and that I only needed to ask for and accept all the love available. How simple and wonderful and unexpected.

 

“Hey, Roberts, I’m graduating.” He didn’t beam or exude his usual charm. But he was proud, no doubt about it. His eyelids grew heavy and his chocolatey eyes glistened briefly as he put his head down, almost embarrassed.

I threw my arms around him and squeezed his broad shoulders. He’d grown so much over the last four years. And he was graduating!!

He’d been one of those students I struggled to connect with. I fought to find ways to motivate him and how to keep him out of trouble. I’d tried separating him from certain influences. I’d chased him through the neighborhood to drag him back to school. I’d cried with his mom when he wouldn’t stay clean.

But this resilient young man just kept coming back to school. That, in and of itself, was reason to hope. It took him an extra six months, but he’d done it.

“I want you to come, hear my speech.” He looked up now, eyes almost hopeful, but far too cool to completely emote any nerves.

“I will be there, no matter what.”

And as he spoke, behind the podium, he began with a story of my “eagle eyes” and how I’d chased after him all of sophomore year, and how he’d needed that. He spoke of teachers who never gave up. He spoke of the examples of strength and dedication that uplifted him. And he cried. We all did.

There are times in our lives when we want to give up. I’d thought about it with this student. Would he make it? Could he? What could I really do?

And, in the moment that he shared his story, I knew why we could never give up–on anyone. It’s not for us to decide the future, only to decide to act, with love.

 

 

I’m so thankful for reminders like these. They’re all around for each of us. And when we stop to take stock, to compile our list of thankful-fors, we realize they are all around.

There’s the student from my first class as a teacher in public ed who’s shown up at every shift in my life, seemingly at random, at the supermarket, the car dealer, the hockey game, to just hug and love me and give me her supermodel smile. There’s the good friend who sends a text that just says “I thought you might need a hug today.” There’s the friend who just helps you laugh, no matter what. The dinner invite when you’re down, the little note left on your desk saying thank you, the inspirational message left on your Facebook timeline, the healing energy of smiles and hugs every day.

So I believe in angels. They don’t all have visible wings. But they are sent by a higher power I still can’t comprehend. And they make the world a better place, they guide us and keep us safe. They remind us that love is all around, and it’s available to each of us.

My heart is full. I’m so thankful.

Now, as the sun slowly rises above the snow-capped peaks before me, I say a silent prayer. I pray with gratitude. I pray with hope that you too might see the angels among us this season and always.

 

 

 

 

Reaching for the Sun

It appeared out of nowhere, like something from a modern fairy tale. As the sun began to rise it caught my eye. Well, how could I have missed it, really? Coffee in hand, I pulled open the heavy drapes to begin my morning meditation and there it was.

The stalk was more than four feet high and the golden petals circled a seed-pod large enough to drop a garden’s worth of seeds to spring to life in the coming year. It’s massive leaves, unfolded, sparkled a bit in the early light reflecting off the morning dew. I stood in awe, mug poised, paused, just before my parted lips.

Somehow, a stunning sunflower had sprung up in the middle of my roses–my carefully cultivated rose bushes. For years I have cared for and photographed my 24 rose bushes. Their fragrant layered petals and prickly stems have kept me company since we moved in more than a decade ago. I had dealt with the random stray weed, the circling bees, and cobwebs from friend and foe. But I had never had anything like this surprise sunflower.

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of roses. They had been planted before my time but I cared for them. I loved their scent and their bright colors outside my window, surrounding my porch as I sat and studied. I would have planted wild flowers though, free, untamed, varying heights and colors and needs. But I live within the boundaries of my HOA and knew roses were manageable for this chronic allergy sufferer to care for with limited time and effort, and huge reward.

Roses had always seemed too predictable though, too typical. And those thorns! So uninviting to the photographer stepping in, leaning in for the zoom on a perfectly poised honey be in the center of the bunch when–“ow!” If roses were people, they would be the admired and cooly popular girl who didn’t want a hug or offer a smile to those she didn’t know. Not the type I would be friends with!

But this morning, in the midst of those cold beautiful roses, stood this reminder of not only the kind of person I would befriend, but the kind of person I want to be. This singularly strong and vibrant sunflower in a bed of roses, not looking down on them but looking up to the rising sun, turning to face it’s golden god-light breaking through early morning clouds. “Wow.” That was all I could say.

I don’t know for a fact that this sunflower was sent as a message to me, but that’s how I chose to take it. I sat and meditated on love, light, and the strength to grow into the fullness of who I am meant to be even amongst those who might prefer something more typical or traditionally beautiful, or something that seemed less out of place. I gave thanks as I watched the rays of light unfold from behind pale clouds. I felt a little taller, a little bolder.

I will never be traditionally beautiful or sweet but I have my own appeal. I am so strong. I am so full of life. And I refuse to stop growing, no matter where I find myself. I just keep reaching for the sun. sunflower-closeup-480x294

 

In Training for Something Great

 

I almost lost it yesterday. The tears had welled up. My throat was tight. My breathing had shortened and my body tensed.

The narrator recounted the years of violence and abuse, the pain of poverty and putting up with pain and suffering in order to pay the bills and feed the family. He was the oldest, like me, and assumed the burden of both growing up and deciding who he would be and who could never let himself be, but too, he assumed the burden of protector and advocate. This is a noble response to struggle but it can be overwhelming.

He was just a few years older than I am. And here we both were, somewhere near midlife, taking a moment to assess if we have become who we need to be and how we can continue our healing so we can do our part to make this world a better place for those experiencing their own pain.

As  he spoke, I saw his story unfold in my mind. My own story played out in a parallel space. His horrors were not mine, but they were connected. And our present desire to keep learning from our past to become who we truly are at our core … that struggle is inexplicably connected.

I couldn’t speak for some time. As one gasping breath escaped with the first few tears, I was finally able to acknowledge “I’m struggling.”

I realize today the strength in being able to announce my pain–and my work at processing and overcoming that pain. Again, his struggles were not mine. This inspirational man experienced things I can only imagine. And I think he would say the same thing about my story.

The point is that we all have immeasurable strength. And that strength can see us through just about anything. We need only acknowledge it.

So, in the middle of this sunny day, late summer, 2016, as my diseased body flowed through its movements and my mind raced through its thoughts I took a moment to acknowledge that I’m struggling. So this is the time to draw on my strength.

I have been challenged. I have been hurt. I still hurt, in fact. But I am so strong. I have overcome so much. I have overcome by taking the time to place one foot in front of another and finding one reason to smile after another.

If I can now flow through vinyasas and hold challenging asanas in yoga that previously eluded me–and do this with the stiffness and fear my MS brings, then what can’t I do?

If I can overcome abuse and still love life, of course I can love myself. If I can raise an amazing young man with love and passion in his heart, of course I can set cycles of positivity in motion. If I can earn graduate degrees and shape policy, of course I can influence my community for the better.

I have what it takes to make my world a better place. In fact, I can scarcely believe what I’ve already accomplished and overcome.FullSizeRender

I am a beautiful work in progress. I am in training for something great–and I have the strength to get there.