Category Archives: Gratitude

25 years of marriage: Just getting to the good stuff

Sept-30-1989A quarter century ago on this date, I got married. 

As a child, when I heard that a couple had been married 20 or 25 years, it seemed a lifetime. 

Now that I’m there myself, it seems more like a first chapter. Now that I’m there myself, it feels like we’re just getting to the good stuff.

I pre-scheduled this post to run while my husband and I are away on an anniversary trip to London, England. That’s some of the good stuff: Freedom to travel.

When we planned our trip, we found it easy to choose destinations, knowing that some would be enjoyable to both of us, and others would be more fun for one of us than the other, and that would be okay. That’s some of the good stuff: Learning that, when we accommodate each other’s needs, there’s joy in that for both of us.

While we’re away, our teenagers are taking care of the house and living their independent lives. That’s some of the good stuff: Appreciating the fruits of our parental labour.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I wasn’t too sure about this whole marriage thing. I assumed that someday someone would wear me down. They’d propose and I’d resist until finally one day, reluctantly, I would say, “Oh, all right. I’ll marry you.” It didn’t quite work that way.

When I got engaged, some people asked me why I decided to get married. My answer was, “Because it’s as natural as breathing.” 

(I still recommend that as a marriage foundation. If you’re thinking of getting married, and it feels like it’s as natural as breathing, it bodes well for the long-term potential of the relationship. If you’re thinking of getting married, and it feels like choking, you might want to reconsider.)

Over 25 years there have been plenty of times when we have irritated each other. Over 25 years there have been stressful times. But over 25 years, even during those irritating times and stressful times, I have always known, at the root of it all, that the best choice I ever made was marrying my husband.

Boy, am I lucky. Or smart. I’m not sure which, but I’ll take it. 

 

 

 

 

 

From rosebud to rose hip: aging gracefully

“Perimenopausal women can be likened to the full-blown rose of the summer and fall, as it begins to transform itself into a bright, juicy rose hip—the part of the rose that contains the seeds from which hundreds of other potential roses can grow.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause

Photo by Raye Smith

Photo by Raye Smith

Today is my birthday, and the number attached to this birthday fits with the quote above. The rosebud stage of my life is long past; I am the full-blown rose of late summer.

Because our culture in the west tends to worship the “rosebud” stage of development—the lithe and agile, and the wrinkle-free—some people don’t like to celebrate birthdays at this stage of life. Out of fear, they deny the passing of the years.

Not I.

I shout to the mountain tops. I jump up and down. I smile and celebrate with joy the many gifts that my fifty-plus years have presented to me. I look to the future with curiosity. What other fun things are going to happen to me?

“. . .  any attempt to remain in the rosebud stage tends to look desperate and ridiculous. It’s like trying to reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree and them paint them green to simulate the spring. It simply doesn’t work. Instead, our task is to come to appreciate the beauty and power of the season we are in, instead of longing for what can no longer be.” —Christiane Northrup from The Wisdom of Menopause

When we worship only the beauty of youth, we miss the beauty found in later years. As Christiane Northrup points out, attempts to “reglue the autumn leaves back onto the tree” doesn’t work, and usually looks sad and ridiculous.

It is our task—my task—to own the beauty of the full-blown late summer rose and to nurture seeds of potential for others.

 

A fleeting world

In the coming week I will be celebrating (and blogging about) two events—a birthday and an anniversary.

These two events mark the passage of time and the coming and going of milestones. It puts me in mind of a quote I keep posted on my office bulletin board:

Regard this fleeting world like this:

Like stars fading and vanishing at dawn,

like bubbles on a fast-moving stream,

like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass,

like a candle flickering in a strong wind,

echoes, mirages, and phantoms, hallucinations,

and like a dream.

—Buddha

Do you find that quote depressing? Some people do.

I find it inspiring. It makes me sit up and pay attention. It makes me appreciate whatever is fleeting by me.

I will celebrate my milestones knowing they are mirages I can’t hold on to, so all the more to be enjoyed in the moment.

Dance like nobody is watching.

The difference between happy and glowing: Giving

This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”

Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.

I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.

After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.

I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?

The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.

The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?

Mud-splattered and glowing in Bolivia

Arlene – Mud-splattered and glowing on a Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia

 

 

Creating reality with purple cars

About a year ago I read a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout. The book appeals to my “I create my own happiness” philosophy.

Her book is a teaching manual of sorts, with simple “thought experiments” you can choose (or not) to try to see how the way you think affects what happens around you. The second experiment is called “The Volkswagen Jetta Principle.” It suggests that when we really look for something, we notice things we might overlook on your average day. For example, if you tell yourself that you’re having a bad day and look for bad things to happen, that is all you will see. Or, if you tell yourself how lucky you are, all you can see are all the fantastic things in your life.

Pam Grout suggest that, for a period of 24 hours, you look for a particular colour of vehicle. For an entire day, hold the intention of looking for, noticing and keeping track of the number of vehicles of that colour you find. In her book she suggests sunset beige cars.

When I read this book the first time, I followed her example, and I looked for sunset beige cars. Sometimes I had to debate if a particular colour fit the “sunset beige” criteria, but overall it was pretty easy. In 24 hours I counted 76 sunset beige cars.

This time around I thought “Sunset beige was too easy. I want something harder. How about purple?”

To increase my odds of finding purple vehicles, I decided it would be a good idea to leave my house. (I work from home, so this is not always required.) I ran errands around town, and in so doing, I drove by six car dealerships—none of which had a purple car or truck. Not even a bicycle.

I realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.

I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. After strolling down a busy road and past the parking lots of three shopping areas, I still had not seen a purple vehicle of any description.

I began to negotiate the colours. Was that deep red close enough? It was almost purple. Some of the blue cars were pretty close too. I was tempted to include them, but when I was honest with myself, I had to admit, they weren’t purple.

As the 24-hour period drew to a close, I began to doubt. Maybe I would never see a purple car? I started to scold myself. Why did I pick such a difficult colour? I could have picked something much easier.

But I was determined. I really wanted to make this happen. I went to my basement where there is a box of toy cars my kids used to play with. The first vehicle I saw was a Jolly Rancher truck, undoubtedly purple. The words on the side read “Long Lasting INTENSE Fruit Flavor.”

intense-flavour

From all of this, I learned:

  • We have the opportunity to choose our level of challenge. We can choose easy, difficult or almost impossible.
  • We can’t just look for something and expect it to walk up to our door and knock. We have to take action, look for it, work hard for it and never give up.
  • As we face difficult challenges, we will have moments of doubt about the outcome.
  • As we work hard to fulfill the goal, sometimes we will try to negotiate the completion of the task, and we will be tempted to settle for “close enough.”
  • The harder the challenge, the more intense and long-lasting the flavour of the reward.
  • Sometimes we set out on a quest and, after a long journey, we find the answer was right at home from the beginning.

Just for fun, give it a try. Pick a colour and look for all those vehicles and see how many you find.

I wouldn’t recommend purple though.

Listening as giving

Photo Credit: "I'm Listening" by Steve Johnson https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto/

Photo Credit: “I’m Listening” by Steve Johnson https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephoto/

On Sunday, my friend, Ellie, made me think about something in a different way.

During her church reflection entitled “When Forgiving Takes Three,” she spoke about how we sometimes need assistance from a third party to help us through conflict situations. What really made me think, though, was the idea of listening as a gift to others. Usually we think of listening as receiving. We sit back, someone tells us their thoughts or feelings, and we receive that from them. But the act of listening—really listening—is more about giving than receiving.

How many times have you felt tuned-out by someone when you are speaking with them? Frustrating, isn’t it? How many times have you shared thoughts or ideas with another but felt your concerns weren’t received in the way you intended?

We have the power to dissipate conflict early on simply by allowing another person to vent their frustrations and by giving that person the gift of really hearing them and working hard to understand.

I’ve got my ears on. Ready to listen.

___________

Rev. Ellie Barrington: “When Forgiving Takes Three” http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/reflections/when-forgiving-takes-three/

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