The Wonder of An Imbalanced Life

I’m giving a speech in a few months entitled The Wonder of an Imbalanced Life.

Surely, that’s a typo.

Ellen DeGeneres knows the value of a balanced life: “…life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada.”

Ha. The ultimate goal we all want is to live a balanced life, right?

I don’t think so. Not anymore anyway. The deeper I study of the life of Jesus Christ, the more I realize He was an extremist. He overwhelmingly tipped the scales in favor of love. Other extremists I admire include: Mahatma Gandhi, Socrates, Maria Klawe, Father Abraham, Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Michelangelo, Nelson Mandela, and my friend Lisa, at least when it comes to her kids. I mean, injure one of hers and she’ll rip your head off your shoulders. I’m in awe of that kind of extreme devotion!

This past little while my tiniest g-baby has been in the hospital very, very sick. In order for the nurses or doctors to keep poking and testing the babe, they have to pry her from her mother’s arms. Literally. Taylor Lee won’t let go, not for a single second. She doesn’t leave that baby’s bedside. In those harrowing hours there is no balance in any of our lives. Every ounce of faith and every good wish we can muster goes to that child’s healing.

Does that mean someone or something else has to be neglected?

Maybe. Probably. Yes. Indeed. (Never fear…little Miss Adelaide is safe and spoiled with Grandma Sandy and Grandpa Bob).

Imbalance is part of life. I’ve got six kids and I tend to run to the one who is bleeding. I think that lets the others know I’d do the same for them. Anyway, it’s the best I can do in that moment, and I’m weary from piling guilt on my shoulders and carrying it around because I can’t be everything to everyone all at the same time.

So I’ve got a new take when it comes the theory of a balanced life—do it all, but not all at the same time. I mean love everyone you can. Travel everywhere you can. Learn everything you can. Be all you can be. But for heaven’s sake, from time to time pick something to go overboard about. Something or someone that makes you teeter to the edge and feel desperately alive!

My friend Sharlee has set our community on fire lately with her impassioned call for ethical government. She’s got people clawing to get on her life raft, sailing out into the high seas, rescuing refugees and causing mighty waves all the way to Washington D.C.

I live among a community of good souls who called, “Enough!” when they realized that over 60 percent of the gay kids here have attempted suicide. Now there’s a place for those kids to gather and feel safe and loved. All because someone went to an extreme.

I’m blessed with friends who taught me that going to an extreme in the wrong direction can be deadly. They’ve got me waking up before dawn to work out and to love the taste of kale and quinoa. That tells me how much we need each other to keep the balance.

Radical change requires radical action.

And yes, I understand the basics of balance. The majority of life is doing the mundane and working to pay bills and tending to the same chores again and again. Rote is a form of balance. Remember though, while everything and everyone has to be tended to, you can’t do it everything at once.

I also understand that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I know that a butterfly with just one wing never gets off the ground. I also know that everything is in perpetual motion. That means you’re always moving and changing. The foundational theory of quantum physics allows for particles to be in two states at the same time.  Guess what? You and I are made of particles. We are only beginning to glimpse our own existence, but we do know that we’re always in motion, even when we think we’re still. That means we’re always doing a balancing act.

I believe it’s how life was intended.

I met a woman named Gerda who is a high wire performer. She calls this balancing act rotational inertia. It means the wire beneath her feet is rotating all the time and only changes from the torque she applies to it as she moves forward.

Forward, friends. That’s our only direction.

If there are days you have to fall back, that’s okay too. Every good warrior knows when to advance and when to retreat. If someone has to be neglected while you tend to someone in need, that’s okay. If everyone has to set aside so you can tend to YOU, that’s more than okay. It’s only for a season. I know because the wisest mortal who ever lived, Solomon, said so: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Please, friends, if you’re feeling stressed and overloaded, know you’re living through a season. It’s only a season. If it’s a good one, savor every second. If people are upset with you because you’re unable to give them all they demand, let it go. You’re walking a tight rope. You’re balancing all that you can. Drop something if you have to. But keep moving forward when you can. I love you. I believe in you. And I think you should celebrate every step.

Thanks for letting me rant. Right now I’m in a season of recuperation and reflection. My next season might be high adventure. Who knows? But while I’m trying my best, and you’re trying your best, let’s let our personal balancing acts be one step at a time, doing our best to do it all—eventually—but knowing we’ll fall, and that’s okay, because we know Who is holding the safety net to catch us so we can climb back up and start all over.

Your Brain On Christmas Crack

A cherished friend of mine is battling cancer this holiday season. I hate cancer. So I’m done buying it snacks and showing up every day to hand feed it. And I’m going to repeat a story you’ve probably heard, hoping it will save you from the suffering my friend is enduring.

A wise Cherokee chief was teaching his son about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It’s a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil; He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
“The other is good: He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandfather looked into the eyes of his little grandson and said, “This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought for a minute and then asked, “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?”

The old chief said, “The one you feed.”

What does this have to do with cancer and Christmas? Cancer loves to eat two of the most popular things we produce during the holidays: sugary treats and stress.

“The other white powder” has a couple of things in common with crack cocaine: it’s deadly and addictive. Refined sugar shows up in over 80 percent of the foods we choose to eat, and yes, cancer cells gobble it up.

Lab rats that were fed a 30-day diet of Christmas cookies, candies, cakes, pies, and donuts (fructose fueled foods) not only showed cognitive impairment (they couldn’t remember how to get out of their maze), they became depressed and lethargic and sick. While you can’t grow cancer cells with sugar, or kill cancer cells with sugar deprivation, you can increase the risk of certain cancers, not to mention obesity and diabetes which both make you more cancer susceptible.

I’m on a campaign to change my own neglected life. I want to live to see my children raise my grandchildren, like little Nellie who is in this photo with my son Collin, as Santa. My health is now my priority. That’s a complete change in my life. I’m still fat as Santa Claus, but every day when I remember which wolf I’m feeding, it makes it easier to make the wisest choice.

So next time you’re craving something sweet, reach for nature’s treat—a piece of fruit with plenty of fiber to help balance your blood sugar.

And while you’re stressing about decorations, gifts, parties, money and relationships this holiday season, think about this—stress causes the over production and release of certain hormones and neurotransmitters that not only damage your neurons, they influence the development of cancer cells.

What starts in the brain ends up in the body. That’s why your thoughts can lead to illness and migraines…you can’ t think a thought without producing a chemical reaction. It’s a fact.

So relax and release stress. Release the right kind of chemicals by thinking peaceful, powerful thoughts. Focus on what matters and let go of what doesn’t. Choose healthy, whole foods over snacks made of sugar and flour. And please, in the true spirit of Christmas, gather the people you love most and cherish them fiercely—starting with that precious soul in the mirror. I want you to be around next year so we can celebrate when my Santa suit doesn’t fit quit snug.

LINKS:

Rock CL, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62:243.

 

Kushi LH, et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2012;62:30.

 

What you need to know about cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/overview/allpages. Accessed Dec. 3, 2013.

Some People You Might Want To Thank This Season

This is so incredibly cool. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the “spirit of Thanksgiving” before. I mean, it’s not really about food, is it? Crap. All these years I’ve missed the joy that I’m feeling this season. Oh sure, I know the 1621 story of the Colonists and the Wampanoag Native Americans (only because I looked it up). I stick a fake turkey on my entryway table. And every year at the dinner table we bow our heads and give thanks, then we circle around one-by-one citing something for which we are thankful—all before we dig into a feast of a million calories.

But I’m feeling something novel this season. I’m feeling thankful. And grateful. My heart’s a little tender because my mind has been dwelling on people who have blessed my life and the lives of my loved ones. The photo is of my son, Collin, when he was in elementary school. Creative teachers morphed him into a pilgrim. They taught him history. I’m grateful for teachers who care about kids.

Which leads me to this…a different type of gratitude list. Hopefully, this one will do for you what it did for me…conjure up some pretty terrific memories and instill a sense of debt deep within the soul. All for people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. All kinds of people.

Granted, some of the folks on my list are dead, so thanking them gets a little tricky. But not really. I carry the memories of my parents and grandparents. I share stories about them with my kids. Every year my daughter makes Grandma’s walnut pie. Tradition lives on.

You might have to dig into your past to link back up with some people like former teachers, mentors and benefactors. That’s okay. If you can’t reach them by phone, email or social media, you can drop a snail mail note, or just send them positive energy. It works. Good thoughts have connective power. Good thoughts have the power to turn a mundane holiday into a gratitude feast!

I wish I’d gotten into the festive spirit of Thanksgiving long ago. But Thanksgiving isn’t a time for regret…it’s a time for remembering and realizing that there is always, always someone for which to be grateful.

Here’s a possibility pool:

  1. The woman who gave birth to you
  2. The man you call Dad
  3. The one who taught you to pray
  4. A neighbor who loaned you what you lacked
  5. The person who taught you to ride a bike
  6. Someone who makes you laugh out loud
  7. Your best secret keeper
  8. The friend who forgets your darkest past
  9. A grandparent who nurtured you in any way
  10. Someone who cooked you a meal
  11. A reader who shared a great book with you
  12. Someone who pardoned your error and didn’t bring it up again
  13. Whoever once helped you clean your room
  14. Anyone who helps you feel safe and secure
  15. The person who gave you your first job
  16. A doctor or nurse who cared for you when you were hurt or sick
  17. The God who gives you everything
  18. An aunt or uncle who has been your advocate
  19. The person who introduced you to Shakespeare
  20. A dance partner
  21. The one who helped you mend a broken heart
  22. Someone who took you to a ballgame
  23. Whoever washed and ironed your clothes
  24. A cousin you love
  25. Whoever taught you to drive (or to drive a stick)
  26. Karaoke partner
  27. Whoever gave you a cherished pet
  28. Someone who cleaned up a mess you made
  29. The person you kissed in the rain
  30. Your typing teacher
  31. The one who held you when you cried
  32. A road tripping partner
  33. A hiking buddy
  34. Anyone who lightened your load
  35. Someone who held your hair back while you puked
  36. The person who pushed you highest on a swing
  37. Whoever taught you to whistle
  38. Your shenanigan partner
  39. Someone who chastened you because you deserved it
  40. Someone who loaned you money
  41. Whoever taught you to tie your shoes
  42. The person you call your best friend
  43. The person you consider your first friend
  44. A sibling you could be closer to
  45. A soldier
  46. A preacher
  47. Someone who helped you study for a test
  48. A music teacher
  49. A nemesis who teaches you about yourself
  50. The God to whom we all owe our all…He deserves a double mention!

 

A Wretched But True Poem About Twitter

I write a blog that few eyes see

So someone said, “If you Twitter, you’ll get as many followers as you please.”

Now I’m an old woman whose ears hear mutter

So I asked my grown daughter, “Can you help me to twutter?”

When that didn’t work I put it aside

Until a friend nudged, “Go on, give it another try.

My teenage son knows all about social fodder

So I smiled and said, “Teach your mama to twatter.”

Out through both nostrils spewed the milk he was drinking

“Mom! Shh. What the heck are you thinking?!?”

In time…and with help, I got the account

Am just now discovering  what Twitter’s really about

A chance to stalk Ellen, Oprah even Jay Z

And 140 measly characters to entice anyone to stalk me.

THIS Is What Will Matter Fifty Years From Now

You know it’s getting serious when you’re introduced to the family. That should tell you how I feel about those of you who invest 90 seconds of your day reading my ramblings. To thank you, let me introduce you to my mother’s mother.

But first some wisdom from Maya Angelou: “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I want people to feel welcome in my home. But like me, the house is old and tattered, and in need of serious repairs that I cannot afford at the moment, but I can buy a bucket of paint. So I’m going to re-paint the house and go with my second color choice—brain matter gray. (I’ll pause here and let you create a mental image of that inviting hue.)

I’d really like to paint every room white, install wide white wood planks and white kitchen cabinets. I’d like to buy only white towels and white bed sheets. And whitewash a picnic table big enough to accommodate my entire brood.

Not gonna happen. I can’t go all white because somebody once beat me to it. Grandma Madsen. She had this little country stone cottage with a completely white living room…a room that I was never, not once, permitted to enter. White carpet, couch, curtains, coffee table, pillows and even fake white flowers.

My memory is that her little house sat back from an acre of blooming flowers and grass she mowed herself. Grandma loved to garden and was known for her green thumb and her iron fist.

After she died, I spent a lot of time researching Grandma’s life. What I learned left me awestruck. But while she was alive the woman scared the beejeebers out of me. She was just over five feet tall, and by the time I knew her, she was widowed and had some girth around the waist. To me, she was bitter and mean and her tongue was as sharp as broken glass.

She had grandchildren whom she adored. I wasn’t one of them. She had grandchildren who were allowed to come inside and listen to her latest Charley Pride album. I had to sleep on a cot in the garage and got slapped for putting my ear against the door to hear Kaw-Liga.

Ah, it wasn’t as bad as I make it out. Grandma had wall-to-wall carpeting in her garage. It was essential. It’s where she parked her big pink, tail finned Caddy—the car that announced to the world that she was somebody.

At least thrice a week she’d wedge into her high heels, strap on her mink stole, and drive four minutes “into town,” where she’d become a one-woman Main Street parade.

“Grandma, why is there an old piece of yellow paper taped to your car’s back window?” I once asked, squinting to make out numbers the sun had faded.

“So people can see how much I paid,” she said with a nostril flare. “Ain’t many women who can afford a five thousand dollar Caddy.”

Rewind. Six decades before I was a kid, Grandma was born in Copenhagen. To an unwed mother. In a Catholic convent in a country where over ninety percent of Danes were Lutheran. If half the stories about her childhood are true, she had a hellish upbringing. At twelve, her stepfather put her on a ship and sailed her solo all the way to America where she found refuge working for a woman who ran, what we’d call today, an “escort service.”

Grandma learned the power of money early on. Groucho Marx, a contemporary of hers, said, “While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”

Grandma did a lot of things to earn a lot of money, but the images I have of her sitting alone in her all-white room or parading down Main Street behind the wheel of her big ol’ Cadillac, are pictures of misery.

I’m grateful that later on, when I was in college and able to visit her on weekends, Grandma and I grew closer, so close she asked me to give her eulogy.

As for that white couch that I was never allowed to sit on…it’s in my garage holding Christmas decoration bins. One day, when I have the money, I’ll get it recovered. But not in white. Not a good color for my g-babies who see white as a welcome canvas to paint with things they excrete from their own bodies.

Besides, life’s not about furniture, is it? It’s about feelings. What matters is how we make people feel when they are around us, right?

Ha. Time to cut the bull. What really matters is that how we make our families, our friends, all those people we claim to love, feel..will determine what they write about us—fifty years from now.

The Question Most of the World Can’t Answer…but now you can.

This morning I woke up at 4:57 a.m. with a song in my head demanding to know, “What Does The Fox Say?”

It’s pitch dark in my room at 4:57 a.m.

And deadly silent.

For a second I thought I was being punked.

But no. It was all me and my crazy brain.

So I did my morning yoga practice bobbing to that song playing in my head. Nothing tranquil about that, so I grabbed my tablet, and looked up Ylvis. You remember the Norwegian brothers Vegard and Bard Ylvisaker. No? Well, you’ll remember their 2013 song. To date, “What Does The Fox Say?” has a measly 628,999,032 views.

The photo is of our little Tennyson, being the fox.

Was it only three years ago? That catchy lil’ tune was on a constant loop playing on late night television, as background music in  grocery stores and blaring from cars idling at the stop light. It was everywhere. And then it wasn’t.

It had its moment.

That’s all any of us ever really get. A moment. A moment to be a child. A moment to be a teenager. A moment when love is new and tingly. A moment to hold that brand new, still-wrinkly-from-being-crammed-in-the-womb, baby. A moment to make a difference. A moment and no more.

Then everything changes. Everyone changes.

Carpe diem is the Latin aphorism meaning “to seize the day.” But what about seizing the moment?  That means living right now and not waiting for the right moment, but like they say, to make the moment right.

Since this blog asks questions and seeks answers, I asked a weird question. Nobody can call us dumb if we know something most of the world doesn’t know: HOW LONG IS A MOMENT?

Here’s the research paraphrased: A moment was actually a medieval time unit based on a solar hour—40 movements of a shadow on a sundial. An hour meant one twelfth of the period between sunrise and sunset, so the hour depended on the length of the day, which like today, varies with the season.

The short answer is 90 seconds. A moment equates to 90 seconds.

So now you know something most people don’t know. You also know that you don’t have a moment to waste, and you’ve got reason to have a stellar day because you’re smarter than you were a moment ago.

Yes, You’ve Had An Acorn Experience…remembering it will help you heal

It wasn’t the first time someone called me dumb.

But it was the first time I believed I was dumb.

Friday afternoon my kindergarten teacher, Miss Wagner (pronounced Vag-nur), reiterated to our class how vital it was that come Monday, each student must bring acorns for a class art project.

It made sense to me. It was October and mighty oak trees were littering the ground with acorns. Just not anywhere in the concrete city where I lived.

My mother, a single mom and a nurse that worked weekends, not to mention a very active alcoholic/addict, was my only hope of getting to the nearest canyon (an hour away).

That night I begged, “Please, Mom.”

“It’s too far.”

“Please, Mom,” I begged Saturday morning. “I have to have acorns.”

“I have to go to work.”

“Please, Mom,” I begged that night when she arrived home.

“Ask me later.”

Sunday morning I peered into her room to beg again. She was gone. I called the hospital. She wasn’t working which meant that she was out drinking. This wasn’t unusual and I did what I could to manipulate the situation for my benefit. I cleaned my room. I scrubbed the bathroom and vacuumed the living room. I refolded all the towels in the house the way Mom liked them folded. Then I waited. And waited. And watched the sun start to sink along with my heart.

That’s when I heard her Mustang lurch into our driveway.

I didn’t have to beg. Mom opened the door and hollered, “Come on, let’s go get some #%&!! acorns!”

“You’re drunk.”

“Do you want to go or not?”

My anxiety level accelerated with the Mustang’s speed. I puked twice on the windy drive up to where Mom was sure the mighty oaks grew. By the time we got there it was dark and she used the car’s headlights to shine into a shadowy grove of trees, their bare branches were goblin fingers reaching for the night sky.

“Stop your sniveling and get down here with me on your hands and knees,” she ordered. “Rake through the wet, rotting leaves with your fingers. Just be careful not to grab a deer turd or a snake.”

After an hour or so, we came away with a total of five acorns, plus two more we assumed were mutant cousins. Still, they counted and because Miss Wagner had not specified a number, I was thrilled with seven, though secretly afraid that my classmates would out-acorn me.

Silly me.

Seven was the top number of acorns anyone in the class brought.

Because when I walked in, exhausted but exhilarated, I was the only student with any acorns at all. Every other classmate had brought just what Miss Wagner had instructed—egg cartons.

That afternoon when I explained to Mom why I brought all seven acorns back home, her face went all puffer-fishy.

“How could you be so##*&@ dumb?”

“I misunderstood,” I sniveled. “Miss Wagner said it’s okay.”

“It’s not okay! Acorns and egg cartons don’t’ even sound alike!”

“Miss Wagner’s from Germany. She talks funny.”

The slap to my head made my eyes sting.

“What was that for?”

“I was seeing if you’ve even got a brain to rattle—you don’t.”

At this point in the story we come to a screeching halt to make one thing clarion—I’m not sharing anything to elicit sympathy. Not even close. I’m trying to rattle your brain back to your own defining moment when somebody called you dumb. Back to your own acorn experience when you believed that you weren’t smart enough or good enough or whatever enough.

As excruciating as it is, I want you to own the tears and snot, the fury and humiliation of that moment. Remember how you felt and say a forever goodbye to that feeling because you’re not dumb. You’ve never been dumb. And by all that’s true and holy, we’re going to prove just how not-dumb you are.