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close up photo of water lily flowerIn these days of social distancing and self-quarantine, it’s a good time to shore each other up — virtually, of course — and offer the human nutrients of encouragement and inspiration. We can’t see each other in person, but we can still check in. So, how are you?

For those of you who are sick at home with the Coronavirus (COVID-19), our prayers are with you. For the rest of us, hearing about states shutting down and shoppers fighting over toilet paper, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed right now. 

I could tell you not to get stressed, but that doesn’t even seem reasonable. What I will offer is this suggestion: Gather all the facts you can from reputable sources. Do all your due diligence, then take your mind off everything virulent and volatile. That includes viruses, of course, but also people who are trying to amp you up, make you anxious, or otherwise just get on your nerves.

This is a good time to protect all that is precious to you, and remember: The order to shelter in place extends to your soul. Do all the things you can to stay sheltered in a place of peace. Take your mind off the catastrophe as a whole and focus on one thing at a time.

Remind yourself that you’re doing everything you can at this moment. You’re safe at home. Everything is okay where you are. Let it be okay. Don’t go back and check the stats every ten minutes. How many cases are there in my town today? What’s the latest terrifying news? 

Step away from the stress. Sit down and decompress. All will be well and life will go on. We’ll get through this together, and before you know it, the “new normal” will just be “normal” again. 

dog rescue in middle of lake

Credit: Matt Babbitt / Mlive.com

We’ve all had moments in which we felt as if we were adrift in the middle of nowhere, like this dog found floating on an ice patch on a freezing lake one night. Luckily, just when it seemed all was lost, help arrived and the dog was rescued.

It seems as if the ideal life would be one with no challenges, but what we learn on the hard road instills resilience and resourcefulness. All of the things you’ve gone through have built up your own adversity-acumen, and now you know how to lend a hand to someone else when they need it.

Don’t give yourself a hard time for going through hard times. It’s not a sign that God has left you behind, or that you don’t deserve abundance and accolades. It means you’re storing up skills for the next river you’ve got to cross. And once you get to the other side, you’ll find that, now, you’ve become a guide. 

And as you lay down to rest at night you’ll realize that, even though you’d been on a hard road, it was still a good day. It’s not the easy life that fulfills us as human beings, but a purposeful, positive life in which you do your best, and find that your best gets better every day.

Even when you end up in a difficult situation like that poor pup, stranded on an icy lake, just remember: you’re stockpiling survival skills from the inside. And since Providence is perpetual, you’re never really alone.

Forgiveness is one of the main tenets of most religions, but for me, it’s a work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m able to forgive those who trespass against me instantly, and, at other times, only incrementally.

I realized the other day that I’m also guilty of “forgiveness head-fake;” that is to say, I start out full of compassion, intending to let go of an infraction, but then I get to mulling. Once I start really thinking about it, I start to smolder. Mulling and smoldering might be a good recipe for cider and fondue by the fire, but it’s not so good for the soul.

That Mull and Smolder Syndrome came into effect recently when I realized my mailbox had been run over, yet again. It really had me riled up, because the perpetrator was the grocery delivery driver. He’d brought my food into the house and never mentioned that he’d just demolished my mailbox.  I even gave him a tip and a granola bar! 

This irked me so much that I couldn’t let go of my anger, even after the grocery company paid to repair my mailbox. Then I came across the viral video about a young man who ran over a mailbox in icy conditions and apologized sincerely to the homeowner, even coming back a few days later with cookies. That’s how it should be done! I could forgive that young man in a heartbeat. If I could forgive him, I can find it in my heart to forgive the truck driver.

Sometimes, it’s important to forgive — even when the offender hasn’t apologized — to protect your own mental health. When you’ve done all you can do, let go, let God and leave the past behind you.

brown wooden ship's wheelWhat happens if one day God decides to process all the paperwork on your prayers and suddenly, you’re sitting on top of a big pile of money? You look out at the driveway and see that there are suddenly several new cars! In the backyard, there’s an in-ground pool and a sculptured-stone fire pit. You notice a small chalet in the corner of the yard. You ask, Is that the place where we store the gold-plated rider mower? No, you’re told. That’s the servants’ quarters!

Okay, you need to sit down and take a breath. What happens now? 

Once you get the resources you’ve been asking for, sure, there will be more money, but also more drama to deal with. More tasks to keep track of. More appliances in need of repair. More bureaucracy to navigate. More taxes to pay. 

Dealing with problems, lack of money, and doing without is ground-floor training for the good times. This is the time to develop a system by which you get important tasks done. To learn how to stay on budget. To prioritize what is screaming for attention and what is really just a squeaky door hinge.

If you hadn’t gone through the boot camp of making do and scraping by, you might never know how to manage abundance when it comes. Challenges aren’t punishment or penance. Trials aren’t tests, but training. So with that wherewithal-workout under your belt, when your ship comes in, you’ll already be wearing your captain’s hat, ready to take the wheel. 

Meeting new people at a party or other gathering can be intimidating. Maybe there should be a “Skip Intro” button to bypass those awkward introductions, like they have when you’re binge-streaming shows on Netflix.

The only problem is that we might just end up “auto-populating” — making assumptions based on where people are from or what kind of accent they have. 

This is what crossed my mind as I was driven home from an appointment by a ride-share driver who spoke no English. When I opened the door to get into the car, he hurried out of the driver’s seat and held my door for me. He nodded toward my bags, indicating that he would put them into the car for me. I smiled back in thanks.

No translation was necessary. This was just a kind young man doing his best in a world that’s new to him. Just trying to make a living.

We rode together in silence, and I remembered that I had taken Spanish in high school, so maybe I’d try to say something pleasant to him in Spanish as I got out of the car. Then I realized that it’s been so long since I was in high school, it’s entirely possible the language has evolved and now I’d be speaking gibberish! 

I decided to take the plunge in a spirit of goodwill and said, “Buen fin de semana,” hoping I’d actually said, “Have a good weekend.” He smiled broadly and tried his hand at cross-cultural communication. “Happy Valenteem’s Day,” he said. “Oh, thank you, son!  You’re the first one to tell me that today!” He didn’t understand me, but knew I’d said something positive in return.

It was a gentle reminder that, even if you “Skip the Intro” with people, there’s always a story there, and it’s one worth hearing.

Every month, a huge truck pulls up in front of my neighbor’s house to supply her with oil to heat her house. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple to get your own energy percolating again? Just pull up to a tank and restore your zhoosh. Perhaps you could even order it online for same-day delivery.

I’ve had some ups and downs recently: I was under the weather and over-extended (physically, financially, and emotionally). Some days I felt underappreciated. Other times, overwrought. I felt off-balance and on-edge.

It seemed as if I was running in place, and prayed to find a map to help me move forward.

As I woke up this morning, I still felt this way, but as I got out of bed, I inadvertently played an old video of my cat (God rest) as he sat in his spot on the bed, calmly grooming and just basically existing. He was happy just to be with me. Normally, that video would make me sad, since he’s no longer here, but today, it was a reminder of pawsitive things (sorry, had to): love, comfort, sitting in stillness, a peaceful home, warmth, a furry friend you can count on, blessings. All the things that comprise zhoosh restoration are gifts from God that you may take for granted. Focus on the things that lift you up today, and you’ll find that they bring you back to life.

Image result for british tea kettleOne of my go-to “happy place” programs is the Great British Baking Show (the original version, with Mary, Paul, Sue and Mel). Now, mind you, I’m not much of a baker, but I love to eat a nice scone in the kitchen while watching this show. Does that count as baking? I mean, I am sitting next to the stove, which I use often…to…uh…light candles 🕯 and such. 🙂 I’ll have to check my unimpeachable yet unidentified sources on Google Search and the Dark Web, but I believe that watching this show counts as surrogate baking. 

Often, I’ve had to look up British terms used on the show, such as “scrummy” (it means “scrumptious”) and “Bob’s your uncle” (that’s “you’re all set”), but the culinary creations and genteel charm of the show have won me over. It seems so civilized as the bakers compete politely to impress the judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (incredibly, his real name). Even the judges’ criticism seems less caustic than you’d see on an American cooking competition. After I watch the show, I find that I walk around calling my son and his friends “guv’nah” and using big words erroneously and randomly. Am I being subliminally influenced? Indubitably.😉

The bakers’ “soggy bottoms” are scrutinized scrupulously (that’s the underside of their cakes, not the bakers), and it’s actually the ultimate compliment when judge Paul says of one of the bakers (some of whom are lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc.), “Scientist? No. That guy’s a baker.”

Watching this pleasant show is how I take a break when life gets hectic. I put the kettle on, have a warm cuppa, and escape to a kinder, gentler world. You can’t take care of others if you’re running on fumes and faith alone, so put your own well-being at the top of your to-do list today.

Sophia Grace LeBlanc is recognized for her heroism by Premier Stephen McNeil at a Medal of Bravery Award ceremony. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Congratulations! You’ve won an award. For your efforts, you’ll receive:

  • A pat on the back
  • A piece of paper, and,
  • An uncomfortably close, cringe-worthy photo op with an elected official you’ve never met before!

Did I mention that the “you” in question is six years old? Sophia Grace LeBlanc, who bravely climbed from the wreckage of her family’s crashed car to get help for her injured mother and siblings, received an award for heroism. When she learned that the “award” was just a piece of paper, she spoke her mind.

“I thought because I was so brave, I thought I would get something a little better,” said Sophia.

She had done a wonderful, brave thing, and probably would have liked to receive some toys, or to be taken out for pizza with her friends. A piece of paper? A hug from some random (presumably unintentionally) handsy man? No thanks!

When do we unlearn honesty? Should kids be taught to be quiet, be polite, and tolerate the strange man huddling in for a cuddle? Is it rude to say, “Thanks, but no thanks”?

Setting boundaries is humane. That way, the person who is offending you won’t have to apologize later, and will be educated since they didn’t know they were crossing a line.

Saying what you mean is compassionate. That way, everyone knows where you stand and eventually, the people around you will re-calibrate and reciprocate.

Saying it right at the moment of impact, when someone commits an infraction, is an act of kindness in every direction. That way, you won’t have to bear the weight of that grudge you would have been holding, and your relationships will become more meaningful.

Not that I was Rasputin or anything, but I have to say that I was someone else prior to losing the vision in my right eye. Looking back, I did a lot of…looking back. I could make myself feel guilty about a mistake I’d made decades earlier. 

Even in the car, I found myself looking back, keeping that eye trained nervously on the rearview mirror. God had to get my attention somehow, I suppose, and decided to poke me in the eye with a sharp stick. A surgery meant to correct a macular hole ended up leaving me without vision in that eye. In a way, it was a metaphor for the larger theme in my life up to that point: You can’t drive your car down the road in reverse.

If I could have full vision again, I would do it in a minute, but having visual impairments has been — wait for it — eye-opening. For one thing, I’ve learned that the world was designed for the elusive “normal” person: someone with perfect vision, hearing and speech capabilities, no medical issues and a perfectly balanced psyche. 

There are various “disability” communities, and each has its own lexicon. In the autism community, for instance, those without autism are called “neuro-typicals.” 

But even within those communities, there are differing points of view. For example, in the Deaf community, for some, a cochlear implant is a godsend. Others take exception to the idea that they need to be “fixed” and refuse the procedure. 

Just as I used to drive down the road worrying about how close the cars behind me were, I also spent time on what-ifs and why-mes that didn’t change my situation. When I got out of that roundabout of regret and let Providence take the wheel, the ride became a lot easier. 

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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