Tag Archives: stress

A Quick Breath

I am eating a bowl of cereal, standing at the counter watching the sink fill with soapy water. The dishwasher I have just loaded is humming, and the ingredients for my son’s birthday cake await at my elbow. There is an article waiting to be written, company to prepare for, and all my “wanna-do’s” (paint my toenails, push through to the next step on the novel, play with my art & craft arsenal) whispering “pick me! pick me!” I don’t even realize how tight my breath has become until I glance up from the sink and see the maple trees outside my window, leaves dancing in the sun. A hundred shades of green flicker and lift in the light. A deep breath of appreciation slips in deactivating the taut muscles holding me at attention. Right, breathe. As easy and as difficult as that. Lift your eyes up and out. Breathe.
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Beautiful Dancers

A week and a half ago, some cloudiness on my annual mammogram triggered two more mammograms, an ultrasound and a core needle biopsy. With our recent and plentiful family history of breast cancer, this was worrisome. However, my time-honored strategy of dealing with problems on a strictly intellectual level and forcing my emotions into a long but fitful nap served me well. Really, what had changed? Except for some bruising from the biopsy I was exactly the same as I had been the blissfully ignorant week before. Being aware of a potential problem without verification is really, bottom line, an exercise in stress management. Try to save the panic for later, focus on breathing now.

Over the weekend after the biopsy (but before the results) I packed for a trip to my younger sister’s to help look after her boys (with our other sister) for a couple of days, prepared my house as well as I could for a bunch of impending company (Mr. Wordtabulous’ cousin was getting married the following weekend and we would need place for five additional beloved people to sleep,) and rode that mental teeter-totter that goes, “I am in trouble; I am absolutely fine.” Regardless of what the results turned out to be, I knew that I was fine. I have everything I need and I was (and am) grateful for that. Still, it was wearing. Due to a technological black hole and some phone battery issues, it took the nurse two days and eight tries to reach me (they don’t leave messages,) to tell me all is well, which (even though I knew I was fine,) was still a relief to hear.

My time with the nephews was wonderful, and spending time this past weekend with Mr. W’s family was just as much so. At the dance after Becky and Brandon’s wedding I watched people gather, hug, eat and laugh. But not everything was awesome. Beneath the celebration there was heartache: for the passage of time, for loved ones departed, for one of our shining stars who is waging war on cancer. I felt the surge of  emotional riptides.  Out on the dance floor tiny girls in party dresses spun and hopped with mommies and daddies, next to luminous young women I first knew as tiny girls twenty years ago, next to teenage youth surrounded by people who have loved them their whole lives. Aunts and uncles and parents, new loves and long-time marrieds were out there. People facing crumbling marriages, homesickness, illness, disappointment and loss abandoned their cares and joined in. Survivors of those very same challenges turned and stepped in rhythm and in joy, reminding us that the dance isn’t just for the one moment, celebrating the vows we had witnessed a few hours before. The dance is the celebration of the enduring hope and love that makes us powerful in the face of pain, love that extends generations into the past and into the future.

Thank you, all of you made beautiful in your love and struggle, for the dance.

Miss Perfect

My friend Kelly is not what you would call churchy, but she and I do have interesting conversations which sometimes provoke spiritual insight. I have been troubled that Sunday morning church activities often leave me wrung out rather than strengthened and enlightened. She suggested maybe I am overly focused on others (teaching, helping, managing, welcoming, all as if my life depended on it.) It took a few hours to soak in, but she makes a valid point. On a plane, when the oxygen masks drop down, you put yours on first and then help the others around you. The woman drawing water at the well might die of dehydration if she serves everyone else before taking a drink herself. Mary as opposed to Martha.

I grew up reading and watching a lot of those “Moment of Truth” stories, where the hero’s actions at one decisive point make the difference between triumph and tragedy, possibly for the entire planet. Top that with “The Horseshoe Nail” ditty, the one that informs us that one never knows what tiny detail will be critical. Impressionistic and dramatic, I came to believe that I needed to be perfect in all things, or else. No one ever told me that, I picked it up all by myself. It is a terrible strain, being personally responsible for saving the world through good behavior. Ironically, striving desperately for perfection results in some pretty imperfect qualities. Fear of the fatal misstep winds me up tight and leaves little room for joy. It would be too embarrassing to reveal all the ways this unfortunate default thinking affects my personality, but suffice it to say if you met me during a fit of perfection stress you might wonder if I was nuts.

My thought is that, to varying degrees, a lot of people (especially women) have this same thinking. We take responsibility for our families, our communities, our fellow human beings. Many of us are acutely sensitive to perceived judgment from fellow human beings and from God. If we do everything perfectly, if everyone admires what we have accomplished and how fabulous we are, surely we won’t be judged wanting? But that is so wrong. Whenever I realize I am losing it, I remind myself of the Big Two: Love God, Love Others. Loving God has nothing to do with performance. Also, God’s goodness isn’t like a plate of cupcakes where you want to make sure everyone else gets served first in case there isn’t enough to go around. The well is bottomless and full and we need to draw on it. Loving others is second, because if you are full from loving God, you have plenty left over to share.

You prepare a table before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5