And so she wrote…

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I have engaged myself in writing a nonfiction piece, investigating some autobiographical avenues and peppering them with inspirational anecdotes, sharing biblical references that helped me stay grounded during times of severe adversity, all in an effort to join up with others who may be traveling similar paths through difficult valleys.

 

There are some friends and family that know my story, and I’ve had the opportunity to share parts of my story during a women’s breakfast as an encouraging devotional a few years back; however, I’ve never bore my heart and history in as much detail all at one time, or all in one place before… It’s a little intimidating!

During the brain-storming and initial outlining phases, I was blown away at the sheer amount of content that came to mind! I guess I have stopped looking in the rear-view mirror of my life… Some issues still affect my day-to-day living – even at eight years old – and I’ve learned to take those in stride, along with new trials and triumphs (yes, I’ll be celebrating victories and exciting events as well as discussing arduous challenges and how to find peace and foster joy despite surrounding circumstances).

Green calendar icon isolated on whiteMy job consists of many time-sensitive tasks, and I work best when given specific time parameters; therefore, I’m designing a strict timeline for this – I’m a “deadline-minded” individual. Am I prone to procrastination? Is the sun hot? Of course I am! Which is why I needed to set a timeline. I appreciate your patience as I take time to work on this project. I will do all I can to keep this blog page updated, and full of entertaining content. (I have found that I miss writing the content-rich blog posts that filled my page at its onset; I hope to return to that, sooner rather than later!

(I will admit that the first quarter of the year is incredibly laborious on the job front, and there are times when, by my arrival at home, I simply lack the physical stamina and emotional energy to compose decent content. I am however working on reaching a better work-life balance…)

I wanted to end this post with a question – something I haven’t really done in the past (outside of rhetorical questions, leaving you with thoughts to chew on and concepts to wrestle with). This is a question that I found as I pondered different writing topics. I may still use this question to spawn a book in the (not-too-distant) future; however, I am sincerely curious to hear what you think about this. Leave a comment!

***

You’ve been presented with the opportunity to throw five items into an incredibly powerful fire – a fire that will consume and destroy any item tossed into its flame. Upon hurling these five items into the fire, there will be no trace of them left anywhere – no memory, no recollection, no Internet shadow, nothing; it will be as if these items never existed! What would your five items be and why? Would there be consequences or ramifications to removing these items from existence? What would those be and how would you deal with that?

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***

Thanks!!

 

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AHOY!

I came across a fascinating deconstruction of the notorious nursery rhyme, Row, Row, Row Your Boat. I hadn’t given it much thought prior; however, I have to admit, it’s been eye-opening!

Before writing this, I did just a bit of supporting research – chalk it up to 18 and a half years of schooling and 3 college degrees – to help substantiate what I’m going to state. Please understand that I’m also going to use a little bit of poetic license, as this is just a wild theory, taking these sing-song lyrics and injecting new life into them, and hopefully lightening the mood for one or two of you, now and again, as your mind wanders “gently down the stream”…

Outside of this being what I’ve already mentioned is a simple nursery rhyme, new information – theory, basically – points to the song’s representation as a motivational mantra. Line by line, I’ll break down the song, and show how a new and unique perspective adds a deeper dimension.

Let’s start with the lyrics themselves (I’m sure I probably don’t need to do this, but humor me!):

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

 Life is but a dream.

 

 

Okay, let’s take this one line at a time:

Row, row, row your boat

A boat is a mode of transportation that is used when traversing a body of water, right?

What if that “body of water” is the boat itself? Revolutionary? Let me explain!

The human body is over 50% water, roughly. According to Dr. Jeffrey Utz of Allegheny University, humans, at birth, are 78% water, dropping to 65% at around age one. Adult men consist of approximately 60% water and adult females, 55%. (These percentages vary based on body fat mass, as well as other factors.) Water in the human body is necessary to facilitate digestion, it lubricates joints, it regulates body temperature, it helps deliver oxygen all over the body, it aids in the reproduction and survival of the body’s cells, and it acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord. As outlined by the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the skin contains 64% water, 79% of the kidneys are water, and the lungs are over 80% water. Surprisingly, even the bones consist of 31% water.

 

So, taking this idea that “the boat” is, in fact, your own body, this song starts off by suggesting that we move through life with a certain amount of ease, in an effort to ensure a level of self-preservation:

Gently down the stream.

Now that we’ve established that this transportation vessel (i.e. the “boat”) is something of immeasurable value (our own bodies), taking caution on the journey seems to be a no-brainer! And this “stream” – what is that, exactly?

The stream of consciousness, maybe?

The voyage through life? (The mid-Nineteenth Century artist, Thomas Cole, created a series of art pieces, depicting four stages of life: childhood, youth, manhood, and old age, all taking place in a boat on a river, “the River of Life”, accompanied by a guardian angel.)

 

 

How about the idea of ‘going with the flow’… Hmmm… Let that sink in for just a minute…

Don’t fight against the current (unless, of course, you’re a salmon…), drumming up adversity and difficulties for yourself, risking possible damage and/or jeopardizing the safety of your transportation vessel. Instead, go with the flow

…moving on…
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily

Cheerfully. Gleefully. Sweetly. Vivaciously.

More to the point, though, the converse:

Not maliciously. Not angrily. Not struggling. Not anxiously.

Chronic stress has been proven to damage the structure and connectivity of the brain. Neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have presented findings that suggest that young persons exposed to chronic stress are prone to mental problems including mood disorders later in life, as well as suffering from learning difficulties. Reduction in brain white matter has also been linked to continual exposure to prolonged stress, and such matter reduction results in a change of the flow of electrical signals between neurons and brain regions. The brain’s response to both excitement and stress can, physiologically-speaking, be very similar, some studies show that different subregions of the prefrontal cortex respond differently to negative versus positive stimuli. Furthermore, far too often, excitement stimuli appears to be acute whereas stress stimuli is more often chronic. Without the ability to fight or flee, the “fight or flight” response within the adrenal system becomes torment. I believe it was Shakespeare who said “A tragedy is a comedy misunderstood”. That’s not to say that any of life’s tragedies – the loss of a job, the passing of a family member, devastation due to a natural disaster, etc. – should be viewed as a misunderstood comedy; however, often we dwell more on tragedies than we do on comedies – mulling over the circumstances of a traumatic event long after it has occurred, but allowing a joyful and light-hearted moment to escape like a wave on the shore – and perhaps we should turn this behavior around… We all need to traverse this thing called LIFE more merrily, I think…

Life is but a dream.

This brings us back to the idea of consciousness (the stream of consciousness mentioned above)…

It’s time to wake up to the reality of things – this life is temporal! None of us is going to live forever! Regardless of how meticulous you maintain your transportation vessel – and I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; I’m just saying these human bodies of ours were not designed to last forever – or how gentle and pristine the stream you’re traversing happens to be, whether by careful manipulation or sheer luck, just about the only thing we have control over in this life is our attitude! Maybe that’s why “merrily” is repeated F.O.U.R. times – emphasizing the importance of adopting the right attitude as we travel down the stream of life.

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So, as you ponder these words in a new light, what will your response be?

“Good morning, God!”     or     “Good God… morning…”

Sunrise over river Val -d'Or region

Untold Story (30-word Thursday challenge)

I nearly stepped on this fragile egg shell in my haste to get off to work… It blended in with the gravel of the driveway, especially with the showers overnight bringing a uniform gloss to everything. It set my mind reeling for the entire drive (2016).

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~~~

So delicate and almost unnoticeable. Was this the start of a beautiful beginning, or a tragic demise? The untold story resting silently amid the shallow pools of the rocky driveway.

~~~

Unique Boutique

I inquisitively peered beyond the façade today, and for a moment, felt my heart sink. Despite a presentable (at least I have been under the impression it was pleasing) storefront, I was awakened to disturbing details. Statistics… purely unhuman and infallibly cold calculations that do not consider ever being considerate, and stare back at the consumer, stone-faced but seemingly without malice or weapon, shattering dreams, hopes, aspirations, and tender hearts.

Twenty blog posts over the course of roughly twenty-two weeks (not counting this one). Over thirty followers now (and a most humble and sincere “thank you” to you all!!). But, in looking at my readership ratings, a most obvious and truly disheartening steady decline… My posting average still remains about 4 new blog posts per month; however, interest in what I am writing seems to have waned drastically. And I ponder if such significant lack of interest should predicate the captain’s call to abandon ship.

1425_3Now, of course, I could invoke the trusty ostrich philosophy, and bury my head in the sand, choosing to ignore the deafening silence played out in the melodic realism of the statistical evidence, as crystal clear and undisputable as any such findings. Conversely, I can fabricate rationalizations that support the finite statistics while leaving a glimmer of hope, such as: people have been busy with the timeliness of the holidays and all the effort, planning, preparation, and participation they entail, and leave blog-reading by the wayside. Another possibility is that some folks out there in the blogosphere, and beyond, suffer from the same two syndromes I too am burdened with: a reading disability that makes reading both incredibly difficult and time consuming (and after 10- to 12-hour workdays, eyes that just don’t want to focus anymore!), and simply, lack of free time to devote to pleasure reading! (I’ve been told that throughout the far reaches of the world, both ‘free time’ and ‘reading for pleasure’ are true events, and not merely works of fiction. I myself remain a skeptic; however, there is always opportunity for growth and a broadening of our understanding, right?)

Or, I can very well dim the illuminated open beckoning call, roll up the awning, shake the dust off the “welcome” mat, drop the window shades, and latch the doors secure amid a darkened dwelling place. Close up shop and proceed forward, or at least onward whatever the direction…

detour

A possible detour (as is often the case in my life)? 

I’ve been visited time and again (translation: haunted) by this quickly-spoken inspirational gem of wisdom, thinking it merely a bobble of whimsy, refusing to consciously allow it to penetrate to the inner depths of my consciousness. Why? Because it tore at my desire to be a people-pleaser, confounded my need for justification, and dispelled fallacies that acknowledgment and edification from others were the only signs of success. I was raised to believe without the praises of others, the conjoined trumpeting of the masses, one was nothing short of invisible; I’ve spent my entire life being invisible, and I was hoping that through my writing, at least one wayward beam of light would rest upon me – not fame and fortune, per se, but a hiatus from utter invisibility.

Specialty stores. (Hang on; this is the same post – I didn’t get lost!) Specialty stores: those small retailers that cater to specific needs and individualistic clientele. A vendor that specializes in offering men a wonderful shaving experience. The clothier that caters to infants and toddlers. Proprietors of anime collectibles. Comic book stores. A vegan bakery and café. A boutique that celebrates the craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind handmade goods of local artisans near high-traffic tourist venues.

I think you’ve got the idea.

But, truly, what is the point, and how does it all relate? Good question. Excellent question!

Let me explain:
One thing that these specialty shops have in common is their disregard for total and complete domination. Yes, they may strive for market position priority (that’s the three business degrees talking…); however, they are intuitive enough to not waste time and resources entertaining the masses while facilitating focused niche markets and boutiques that cater to a select clientele. They, instead, revel in those customers that enter, admire, and welcome with genuine interest the findings that adorn the shelves, baskets, racks, and display cases behind unassuming doors, foregoing the over-commercialized, mass-marketed branding that befalls the majority of retail reality. And those proprietors, those purveyors of fine-found treasures treasure those that have found them! They greet their guests, not worried about those other hurried shoppers looking for items that simply don’t exist within their havens – the vegan baker really isn’t concerned with flagging down a brood of motley teens, snacking on corn dogs and soft pretzels, because she understands her energy is better utilized baking delectable treats for her clientele, and pleasing their palates, nor will the children’s clothier aspire to make those same teenagers frequent visitors to his shop, as they, without need for children’s clothing, will be more of a distraction for the shop owner, whose attention, and heart, are with those who have come to partake in the boutique’s uniqueness, with intent.

summer-sea-glass2Point being (listen, dear inner self!): understand that I am unique. Understand that what I offer is unique. Do not waste my energy and resources (translation: my emotions) trying to please the masses, when knowing full-well it is genuinely more rewarding to celebrate and treasure those that have found me to be a treasure without any benefit of over-commercialized, mass-marketed branding.

This is all a learning process – seeing myself as good enough, without outward confirmation – that is nowhere near its completion. I hope that by sharing my heart and my thoughts, some others may come to the same conclusion about themselves (even if it may only reach 30+ wonderful, caring individuals – nay, cherished guests! – gracious enough to be following this ‘specialty blog’).

Here’s to heart-satisfying and thought-provoking “retail therapy”!

Temporarily Permanent

Perspective.

What is it exactly?

By definition, perspective is “a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view”. (It can also be defined as “the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point”, and although it is arguable that life is art, I won’t be addressing artistic perspective, per se, today.)

I find it interesting – nay, intriguing! – how perspective influences our opinion. Much like experiences having leverage and significant impact on the dimension of our focus (see post Finding Humanity in Winter), one’s perspective in direct relation to a situation not only predicates the response given, it often monopolizes it, regardless of any previous experience to the contrary. Basically, if we’re in the dark and darkness is all we see, it is unfathomable to see anything more than darkness despite having experienced ‘light’ and ‘bright’ in the past.

Extreme? Perhaps. But nonetheless not necessarily untrue.

Illustration: Think back to the last time you had a severe cold, or the flu (or, if not yourself, a loved one that you helped care for during that time). Day Two or Day Three into the experience, the wretchedness of sinus pressure, the shredding pain of broken glass shards tumbling down your constricted, raw throat with each swallow, feverish chills forcing you deep under the tonnage of fleece and woven cotton only to be marred by the beads of sweat on your brow, and the ripping ache throughout your joints, restricting fluid movement, draining every ounce of energy out of your listless frame. Even to partake in a cup of lemon chamomile tea with honey or bowl of chicken noodle soup is a monumental chore. You lay there, tissue in hand, dabbing your swollen, chapped nose and expel the simple words illuminating your current perspective, “this flu is killing me!”

But, wait!

You’ve had the flu before. And you’ve, well, survived… And, despite that present position, deep within the recesses of snuggle blankets and menthol throat lozenge wrappers, the predominant prognostication is that you, indeed, will again escape the clutches of Death in a week or so – with plenty of rest and clear fluids – but you can’t see beyond the mounting pile of discarded tissues, drawing on faded memory, to know that you will see the light of another day. Your feet will touch ground again, gleefully participating in retail therapy. Your tongue will relish in fantastical feasts and roaring repartee. And yes, your heart will languish in the thought of wasting another breath in the living tomb which is your office cubicle… But you don’t see that; you see death. You see permanence in the temporary – darkness in the midst of residing in the dark, casting aside the lucid remembrance of healthier days…

Point made?

So, how is it that we shake off this “permanence in the temporary”, and realize things for what they are – or what they could be? How do we change our perspective even if our circumstance has not changed? If the physicality of something remains the same, how do we redefine it?

Several of my current circumstances can easily lend to melancholy and the ambiance of defeat. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when I succumb to these jesters and lose sight of things beyond the temporary; however, as the past chapter’s song floats away on the evening breeze and providence crashes upon a new calendar year (Hello, 2017! Let’s be friends, shall we?), I’m determined to remain aware of my perspective, adjusting it as one would a manual camera lens, allowing in light and clarity of focus, distilling shortsightedness, and capturing inspiration, catapulting me through – beyond! – the darkness and into the warmth of glowing hope, where once before I drew breath.

Finding Humanity in Winter

Have you ever had the pleasure of teaching a youngster the fine art of whistling? How about attempting to communicate with an individual who speaks a completely different language? How would you convey to a blind person the magnificence and splendor, contour and texture, beauty and awe of clouds? Seemingly impossible tasks, wouldn’t you say? It’s hard to fathom things beyond our own narrow scope of reality. Without having relatable experiences, we are left with vague interpretations, frustrating abstractions, and a plethora of misunderstandings.

Winter is definitely upon us here in the US.  As is common, there are certain areas (ahem, I’m talking to you:  the southern ends of California, Arizona, and Texas; Hawaii; and the Florida panhandle) who refuse to participate, but as I survey my purplish-pinkish-blue fingertips, I can’t say I blame you! And it’s not like I haven’t been through a winter or two up here in the north end (it’s no Alaska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Maine), but sometimes, I’m just taken aback a little by the biting cold and reminded of my own personal vulnerabilities. It’s because of this that I was drawn to a new opportunity to help serve in a little yet profound capacity. And when describing this new venture to a family member back home (in a non-winter-participating location), I became aware of our simple short-sightedness in light of lack of experience.

In most large metropolitan cities, there are men’s and women’s shelters that are run continuously throughout the year, day in and day out. These facilities provide lodging and meals for those who are without the means to provide for themselves the basic needs of food and shelter. Regardless of how one ends up in such a situation, it’s a beautiful thing to know there are those who are willing to step in and bridge the gap, whether through monetary donations to keep the shelters up and running, through donations of food and supplies, or through donations of time, serving and developing relationships with those who walk through the doors of the facilities in need of assistance, in need of a hand up, in need of hope for tomorrow, in need of a sense of humanness in their lives. In colder climates, even in the midst of full-time shelters, there are what are referred to as “emergency cold weather shelters” that open in the event that the weather is forecasted to drop below freezing overnight. These are temporary locations set up within churches, businesses, and other community outreach organizations, coordinated through bands of volunteers for the express purpose of providing safe, hospitable shelter during unsafe, inhospitable weather – further bridging the gap and reaching out to a segment of the community most in need of compassion and warmth (both figuratively and literally).

As I became more acclimated to “winter” – read: temperatures below 50 degrees F – I had heard from time to time the mention of these “emergency cold weather shelters”, but was rather unfamiliar with them. Just this season, however, I had the opportunity to invest whole-heartedly into my community’s outreach program, and become a volunteer! There are actually three participating facilities within the city where I live that coordinate to make sure each day of the week is covered, if need-be. My specific affiliation facility handles Thursday nights; however, since finishing up my studies, I didn’t see any harm in disseminating my name throughout each of the three facilities, to make sure I could be of benefit whenever needed! Each night is broken up into three shifts: 7pm – 11pm, 11pm – 3am, and 3am – 7am. There are always at least two volunteers during each shift, a dinner served at 7:30pm, doors locked and lights out at 10pm, rise with breakfast at 6am, and doors locked again at 7am (to allow for those who have jobs to attend to, time to get off and going). Granted, the “emergency cold weather shelters” are not open every night – only when the weather is forecasted to dip below freezing (32 degrees F), so there are days that go by when there is no need for the volunteers. There are, however, other times when the shelter is open for several days at a time. And because the shelter is hosted by different participating facilities on different nights, the supplies (mattresses, pillows, linens, toiletries, check-in paperwork, etc.) has to be picked up, packed up, transported, unloaded, re-disseminated time and time again – all through the hard work of the volunteers and coordinated effort of the outreach program.

I’ve had the pleasure of shaking hands, filling soup bowls, brewing coffee, and sitting down to engage in conversation with several of the guests of the cold weather shelter in my community. I know several guests by name, and while only a couple remember my name (which isn’t a big deal to me), quite a few recognize me and greet me tenderly. The humility, graciousness, and true gratefulness I’ve seen displayed by these guests is heartwarming.

Twenty years ago, I had never witnessed a snowflake falling from the sky. I’m not complaining; I was blessed to grow up without the fear of frozen pipes, black ice, or snow drifts (of course that also meant no snow days – ever!) Because of that, though, I also never would have known what an “emergency cold weather shelter” was, nor would I be able to explain how they functioned; my narrow scope of reality was dictated by my experiences. Even more so was my shielded view of those beautiful people who walk through the doors, thankful for a warm meal, a warm place to lay their head for the night, and a warm, friendly face, sharing with them the simple “hello” of humanity.

I am grateful for new relatable experiences that help to clarify vague interpretations, add definition to the abstractions of life, and sort out, slowly, the plethora of misunderstandings.