Peace

Death’s doorstep

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May and June 2013 042It was the most surreal conversation I have had, ever. Our dear friend and mentor from our college days, Doug Burck, called a few weeks ago to tell us personally that he has his ticket punched to go to heaven and should be heading there in a month or so. With his unique candor and contagious laugh he announced that his kidneys have failed and he only wants to do dialysis for a short time. This is our Doug that keeps us laughing with his stories and jokes, guides us to find God in everything, and has adopted us as his own kids.

So Doug gets to decide when he wants to pull his own plug and board the train to Heaven. And get this. He’s excited about his next adventure. Sure, he’s sad to leave his wife of 30 years behind and all of us who can’t really imagine life without him but he’s so Heavenly minded that he, albeit a bit nervously, looks forward to what’s ahead.

Not many of us get to know that we have 2 weeks left but Doug has been given this gift and with it he’s connecting with every dear friend he has to say goodbye, he’s making things right with others, and he’s savoring every minute with his wife.

He and his wife were our bridge to independence during those fragile college years where you are simultaneously letting go of parents with one hand while reaching towards the unknown of independence with the other. He prided himself in being the pebble in Cory’s shoe, forever challenging him yet he was the gentle salve my troubled heart needed.  He knew how to love each of us, right where we were at. And they continue to bless the next generation as they have poured into our kids as well with yearly reunions that highlight our year.

Tonight we had one of our last conversations (man that’s difficult to type) in which he challenged our son Cade to “be better than me”.  He said, “take what I’ve taught you and go further. If you don’t push to be better than I am than I will feel I failed.” He went on to tell Cade that he sees wisdom in him and he wants him to use that for God’s glory (little did he know that Cade’s name means, “Wise warrior”). He said, “If it’s possible I will greet you at heaven’s door and I want to see that you’re bruised and bloodied from your battles for God and when I ask you if you strived to be better than me, I hope to hear you say ‘yes’.” Big words for a 16-year-old to digest to which Cade tenderly responded, ” I will never forget you. You mean so much to me.”

Such a legacy. He poured into us. He poured into our kids. Open arms. Open heart. Unconditionally accepting. Feisty yet tender. Prodding us ahead to be better, stronger, and to live with integrity.

I know he’s excited but I am not ready to say good-bye. These are the relationships that forever change us, they become part of who we are and live on through us. I am a better person because of him and as we say good-bye I promise, Doug, I will keep striving to love others completely, fully, and tenderly as you do. If only I could master your feisty and rambunctious laugh.

 

Peace Amidst Striving For The Elusive “Simple” Holiday

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As a writer and blogger, I surf around, peeking into people’s homes through my screen (that sounds creepy doesn’t it!). This week, all this peeping and snooping has left me feeling a bit less than. I don’t create all the pinteresty glamour in my home that it appears, 99% of America is creating.

It’s nearly thanksgiving and thousands and thousands of voices are sounding about how to savor the seasons, not get overwhelmed in the process, and not feel pressure to climb that mountain of performance. They say well-,meaning things like, “Simply drape lovely greenery in clusters around the banister to create a harmonious and peaceful…”

They lost me at simply.

Life is full and complete and busy without baking extra loaves of bread, draping greenery and redecorating an entire home, or purchasing or making a gift for every person on the list (didn’t I just do this less than a year ago?!).

As all these “simply” do this and this and that and that and you can have a relaxing and peaceful holiday season ideas start to bounce around, the weight on my shoulder from all these simple ideas got really heavy this week. So what did I do?

I made a speech to my husband, clarifying that I am not the crafty wife that makes a perfect holiday season, I am not a baker, I am not a decorator, I am not…I am not… I am not. He listened, smiled, and said, “I know. So what?”

Four words that infuriated and liberated me all at once.

To prove him wrong (no, to prove myself wrong!) I cooked up a storm tonight. On my counter right now are four loaves of bread, rising and proofing to be perfected in the oven tomorrow morning. Their neighbor on my counter is two gallons of freshly bottled Kombucha and their cousins in the fridge, are two Mexican chocolate cakes. All the fruit of my labor from one, furiously focused rampage in my kitchen in one afternoon.Image

It was fun! Liberating! I felt like I was connecting to all the great women all over the world buzzing around in their kitchens getting ready for a “peaceful and beautiful” Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. I cut in the butter and thought, “How many women are doing this very thing, right now!” I am part of the greater womanhood too, I screamed in my mind.

My kids came through the kitchen off and on during my five hour cooking mania, wide-eyed and saying comments like, “You’re amazing mama! Is that really a chocolate cake?” (I liked that one!) and”Wow Mama! What got into you!?”

And really, I am not too sure. Usually I just want to be outside and it’s hard to be domestic, outside, far away from my home. I settle on and am comfortable being an athletic mom, that likes to sweat and run and hike and do some yoga. I cook for health, not for aesthetics or even flavor. If it tastes good, that’s a bonus! But, we will eat our kale and swiss chard every week…

Today I mixed it up. Surprised my family and surprised myself, connected with the women of the world, and did a power climb up that mountain of performance for this holiday season. I will show up next week to our holiday gatherings with four loaves of fresh Rosemary/Gruyere cheese bread, two Mexican Chocolate cakes, sprouted almond crusted cranberry and pear torte, and even a smile but in my suitcase, my running shoes will be waiting for me.

My husband said it well. Who cares if I’m not Martha Stewart. I am me. He married Julie. The way we do holidays is our own special brand of the season and really, each of us can just rest in letting go of the competition of the holidays and  instead, rest in doing the holidays our own way. 

Let these four weeks reflect you – not Martha, not Paula Deen, not Southern Comfort Magazine…

You! Glorious You!

Happy holidays!

Julie

What Septic systems, Yoga, and Shavasana taught me

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Also another excerpt from my upcoming book: Life Without Walls

I met Ron, the kind owner of Honey Bee Septic Plumbing. when he appeared on my doorstep for a service call I had made to have our septic system pumped last spring. He had kind eyes that smiled when he did, but those eyes looked quite tired, despite their twinkle. When he finished his septic duties, he took a needed break from his long day and chatted about the ups and downs of his business. He told me, as he tiredly leaned on his truck, “ We are heading to the lake next weekend for our first vacation in years. I haven’t had a day off in seven years. Once those three days are done, I am booked solid until January.” He said this to me in April. He owned hundreds of port-a-potties that were needed at dozens of local events happening all summer. In between loading and unloading those highly necessary items, he pumped septic systems.

My heart felt for him. Granted, there is a never ending amount of work for an owner of port-a-potties and septic pumpers (we all do, afterall, keep eating), but there is a point when he will need to just say no to a job, pack up his truck, put on his hiking boots, and just get away from it all or someday, he will have no choice. Stress is killing our nation. According to the American Institute of Stress (2002), 43 percent of U.S. adults experience adverse health conditions due to acute or chronic stress. Moreover, an estimated 75 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints and disorders. People with high stress levels are more at risk for the common cold, heart attack, and cancer. Stress has also been linked to obesity, high systolic blood pressure, and elevated heart rates. Migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, receptiveness to allergies, and other maladies are also related to chronic stress. Stress may both suppress the body’s immune system and lead to hormonal imbalances that increase production of abnormal cells.

As un-fun as that is to read, it’s also alarming. We are stressed as a culture and it’s making us sick. “We all need”, as John Muir penned in his journal, “…places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

We really all do need this. The years I missed backpacking weakened my body and soul. I limped through the year until I had time to pause, pray, and be healed the next summer. Athletes know that a good workout slightly damages the muscles. A good run up a steep hill will leave my legs sore for a few days. I like this type of soreness because during the rest, I know that my body is repairing those muscles, making me stronger.

Besides backpacking, nothing has taught me more about the power of resting and repairing than yoga. My relationship with yoga has been a love-hate one over the years that has finally landed on the love side.  It wasn’t an easy love as I am a hard core, push hard athlete. The most challenging moments during the hour of yoga were the moments when we appeared to be doing nothing at all —or at least they used to be. My yoga instructors call it the most important minutes of the practice and often scatter long minutes of it throughout the session, telling us to lay flat on our backs, motionless. My first thoughts as I laid on my mat, being told to remain motionless, went something like this: I spent $15 on this session and can go home and lay down for free. Why are we wasting class time doing this?  I was used to my runs and  my powercut weight lifting class that went hard from the first moment to the last one. In the last five minutes of a powercut class we power through biceps, chest, calves and even stay a few minutes late to crunch out an ab workout. With music blaring loudly, we stretch for about forty-five seconds and then pack up and head out. Now that’s your money’s worth. Or is it?

So as I laid on my mat in a yoga class, motionless as commanded, I wondered what good it could possibly do. The informative instructor beamed with enthusiasm as she said, “This motionless pose is called shavasana”.

 Laying here, doing nothing has a name?, I thought.

Shavasana is the pose of restoration”, she said. One would think that all those deep stretching poses would be the most important part of a yoga practice, because it’s then that it feels like you are actually doing something—and you are. But shavasana is heralded as the most important moments of the session. It’s during these quiet moments that the body has a chance to regroup and reset itself. All the work done during the yoga practice is incorporated into the body’s tissues, ligaments, muscles, and organs during this rest. Without this rest, the work done during the yoga session is not as beneficial, my yoga instructor tells me as I lay there, listening, and not moving.

Over the hour we have many moments where we are instructed to stop, drop, and freeze on our mats giving our yoga guide many minutes to teach us. She informs us that psychologically shavasana allows for a reduction in general anxiety, an increase in energy levels and productivity, an increase in concentration and memory, and an increase in focus and self-confidence. Sleep is improved and fatigue is decreased. It all sounds amazing. Like something we’d expect from a health drink or the latest natural supplement. But surprisingly, all of these benefits come from these pauses that will allow the nervous system to finally have its chance to integrate all that the body has done over the yoga session.

Years of practicing yoga has taught me this: to really rest and renew requires intention. I struggled with accepting the pauses of a good yoga practice in the beginning but now I passionately know that everyone needs to build shavasana into their routines and into their calendars. A sabbath. A time to let the fields lay fallow.

We really all do need places where we can stop so that we can restore. As the distance from my jailhouse of fear increased, I began to taste a bit of the resting and playing and ultimately healing that comes in the beauty of being in nature—because I finally could. Holding on to fear has its own body language. Shoulders are scrunched up, brows are furrowed, the gut is tight—and these break the rules of a motionless shavasana. You can’t truly rest when your shoulders are isometrically reaching for your ears and your gut is clenched in a wrestling match with your emotions. Letting go means releasing these muscles. Resting.  It means releasing the brain to stop fretting, also pausing. The further I walked from my carefully constructed courtyard of fear the more my very tense muscles relaxed and the closer I came to shavasana. Nature was, and God in nature was, wowing me and filling me up, giving me perspective and replacing fear with awe. This is what rest feels like. What restoration feels like. What playing feels like!

John Muir was so right. If the people of the late 1800s needed it and more than ever then the wired culture of the 21st century needs it even more—shavasana—a complete disconnect from the stimuli of this world as one immerses in nature. Time outside provides a brief pause for the body and soul before we are forced, once again, to deal with all the usual stresses of daily life.

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courtesy of: http://www.coryjoneillphotography.com

The other side of humanity

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A little excerpt from the book I am working on:

Some mornings back at home, as I scanned over different news sites I wanted to either pound my fists in angry disbelief or shed a few tears. After the school shootings in Connecticut and the bombings at the Boston marathon, I actually did both. Only in our modern era have we been able to know so much about what is happening with so many, all at the same time. In a quick scan over Yahoo news we can read about starving orphans in South America, wars in Syria, killings in New York, and terrorism in Afghanistan. Were we really created to be able to deal with that kind of onslaught? God can peer down upon the good and evil of our human race and make sense of it and sort it out. But what can I do? I can vote. I can send aid money for heart-wrenching causes. I can help my neighbor build a fence. I can hug a sad child. But, the news keeps rolling in. So if the wilderness is good for anything, it’s good for giving our poor, tired, and weary minds a break from the CNN news blitz every day.

The campsite we woke up to offered up the other side of life: the beautiful and the serene. These mountain lake campsites attract  the part of humanity that finds meaning in that. The revenge and hatred embodied in global news stories has no part on the wilderness stage. I needed some time to dance on that stage.