Little by little – A nice place to be (Sat, Jun 15)

While dressing after my shower, I pondered what I might like to read for my morning reflection time. The number “473” came to mind. Thinking of the various daily readers from my Al Anon and OA programs, I knew there would be no page 473. I considered the possibility of reading only pages with those numbers in them – 3, 4, 7, 33, 34, 37, and so on. A possibility.

When I pulled out my copy of Courage to Change, it was more than an hour later. Although my usual morning routine is to shower, then fix breakfast and do my reflection and journaling time, before doing anything else, this morning I felt led to go through the two small (but expanding) stacks of mail and papers on my desk. Surprisingly unsurprisingly, I found myself opening up virtually every piece of mail and putting it in the appropriate pile, “shredding” it, or simply tossing it in my recycle wastebasket. I have avoided opening mail from creditors because it’s depressing to be reminded of how much I owe. There’s also the vague fear that one of the letters might finally be demanding something I can’t do. Yet none of those fears were with me today. I opened these envelopes without fear, curious to see if they held any surprises. The one that might have didn’t, since I had taken a call from them the week before and didn’t need to respond to the letter. It felt good. And it felt good to take this small – yet big – step in lightening my burden of paper piles.

By the time I sat down to do my reflections, I was truly hungry (for my breakfast, that is) and truly ready to appreciate what I read. I began with page 3 in Courage to Change (CtC) – and didn’t go any further. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Some of the lines that jumped out at me (sometimes loosely quoted here):

I can do nothing to change the past except to stop repeating it.

I am already breaking out of unhealthy and unsatisfying patterns of the past and making wiser choices.

My life is built upon layers of little everyday accomplishments.

When I think this way, setting goals and taking small risks becomes nothing more than a daily striving to make my life better.

Taking some tiny action each day can be much more effective than a frenzied attempt to make radical changes overnight.

When I face a new challenge, I can take my beginning wherever it may be and start from there.

It takes only a slight shift in direction to begin to change my life.

With my Step 9 work, I am really getting, on deep levels, the meaning (and perhaps even the gift) of not being able to change the past. I’m noticing the fears that arise are fears around repeating past behaviors. The reading from CtC reminds me of the progress I’ve already made. I’m learning to respond in different ways.

As for the part about “frenzied attempts to make radical changes overnight” – that was the story of my life for decades. And it was a lesson slowly learned to discover that small daily actions, even tiny steps were far more effective. At some point in my life, quite some time before Al Anon even, I realized that small shifts in direction can make huge changes down the road. It’s like changing the trajectory of an arrow: the tiniest shift and it lands in a wholly different place.

It’s taking time for me to become the person I glimpse in my mind’s eye every now and then. She’s bold and confident, unafraid to be fully herself, yet approaching the world with a serenity and wisdom that allows that boldness to be a blessing and a help rather than a threat. Little by little I’m coming to know her and little by little she’s freeing herself of the burdens and snares that have held her captive for far too long.

May you be blessed this day with small steps of progress and moments of serenity and joy. 🙂

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Rest for the Weary?

Virtually every morning I write in my reflection journal, usually in response to a devotional reading or some snippet I’ve read from my Bible. I say “virtually” because, as rich and nourishing as this practice has become, I have learned to hold even this with an open hand. My early schedule has challenged me to rethink what I have time for each morning. I used to take half an hour or so to read and reflect, often gaining insights along the way. Anymore, I’m often sleepy and simply don’t have the energy or inclination to spend my mornings rushing about to get everything – including some reflection writing – done before leaving for work.HPIM1992 T back

When I read the passage that starts, “Come to me, all you who are weary…and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28), I thought of how often I feel the need for more sleep these days. Then I read the verses that followed and began to think beyond my yearning for restful sleep. I still need the rest that sleep brings – don’t get me wrong. But I’m noticing other things, other ways these words speak to me.

“Rest” can be the recovery I experience as I continue to work my program, as in rest from the insanity of compulsive behaviors like overeating. “Rest” could even be letting go and taking a break from staying so focused on my recovery work that I miss the rest of what life has to offer. Sometimes I feel as if all my attention is focused on my recovery work, especially, specifically actually, around wanting to begin making progress in my newly restarted OA journey. I’m in this ‘learning about the nature of this illness’ and ‘how to work the program’ state where reading and thinking – and sometimes writing – about it are helping me understand myself and giving me a glimpse into what recovery might look like for me.

It’s different than my Al Anon challenges, in that it involves reactions to foods, as well as triggers and compulsive behaviors that I don’t fully understand and am powerless to control without the help of a program and my Higher Power.  Yet it is also like my Al Anon/ACA challenges for these very reasons. The primary difference is that my OA issues directly impact my physical well-being, as well as my emotional and spiritual well-being.

I’ve long been aware that I have what I would call an ‘addictive-type’ personality. Even in high school, I knew that if I took up smoking or drinking, I would probably become a chain smoker and an alcoholic. (Fortunately I never liked either.) But the notion of compulsively eating is a new concept to me and I’m still – and gratefully – taking in what I’m learning about it in the OA literature.

The need for humility...

The need for humility…

Today, I’m grateful to have read beyond verse 28 in the passage from Matthew, for I noticed something. Jesus says that he is “gentle” and “humble in heart.” As I wrote out the verses, it occurred to me that Jesus is not only “gentle” with us, he is also gentle with himself when he needs to be – as when he goes off by himself to pray and perhaps rest from the burdens he carries. And he’s humble – a characteristic needed in 12-Step work. The need for humility is also something I noticed as lying behind several of my character weaknesses.

I had to review the Steps because I was sure one of the first three steps used this word. It turns out it’s Step Seven: “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.” Yet even beginning this program requires learning to be humble. It takes humility to recognize, acknowledge and accept that we are powerless over alcohol or compulsive eating or debting or whatever it is that leads us into these rooms.

Humility speaks to me of the willingness to admit our powerlessness. And that, for me, means I also have to be gentle with myself as I find the humility to fully accept my own powerlessness and as I learn to turn to God for help every step of the way.

Rest? I suspect it comes when we give up the struggle and find the humility and the willingness to let go and let God do that which we cannot do for ourselves. Maybe that’s when sleep truly becomes “rest.” It’s 8:43 p.m. now. It’s so-o-o past my bedtime. Zzzzzzzzzzz…

2 Days – Holding Still for the Chocolate Pot (Sun – Mar 10)

It’s hard to believe it has already been almost 60 days since I started another journey within the journey. There has been so much going on – most of it an inner journey of discovery and letting go of barriers I hadn’t even realized were there.

What, you may ask, is the “Chocolate Pot”? I’ve explained where the term arose for me in a tab now at the top of this page. The short version is that the “chocolate pot” is a delicious and wonderful place to be – and that’s where I’ve landed!HPIM0796

After months of being challenged on a daily basis to let go and let things unfold, I went through a crisis moment. Actually, it was more like a crisis day with a bleed through to a couple of days preceding and following that one incredibly rough day. I wrote about it in my last post. It wasn’t long before I had my 60th birthday, which may have contributed to the intensity of it all. For some reason, “60” was a significant birthday for me. In fact, it feels like 60 is a significant year for me – and it’s barely begun!

Whatever the basis for my fears around finding a place to live, ultimately I had to hold still, to let go and let God do the work that only God can do. And amazingly enough, that opened the door. A little more than two weeks ago, someone responded to my online ad looking for a place to live. He said he liked what I said in my ad and sent me the link to his ad. A couple of phone calls and a few text messages later and I came to see the place. It was a bit farther away from both my places of work than I’d hoped, but I knew within the first few moments that I would enjoy having him as a housemate.

It's how I feel!

It’s how I feel!

We talked for half an hour to an hour. He showed me all around the house, including the garage and the back yard area, and told me about himself, his partner, and the woman who rents the third bedroom from them. The house was lovely and clean and full of the little amenities that most of us take for granted until we no longer have them. In fact, I’m appreciating those amenities on a daily basis. It was a delight and a joy, for example, to be able to make a sandwich simply because the refrigerator (which is one of two and practically all mine!) is only a couple of feet from the beautiful granite counter top. Instead of having to go outside to a dingy little garage, get my sandwich fixings out of the tiny fridge, go back inside the house, make my sandwich in a cluttered and often not-too-clean kitchen, then return all the fixings to the tiny fridge in the dingy garage, I now have the luxury of simply opening a refrigerator door, grabbing what I need, turning around and placing it on the counter to prepare my food. Have you ever stopped to appreciate such a delightful convenience? I take very little for granted these days. It’s one of the gifts of the rough road.

The real “chocolate pot” for me, though, is in the combination of both lovely home and lovely roommates. The Asian couple who owns the place (two gay men) have made me feel comfortable and welcome. In fact, Tony (the housemate I met when I saw the place) greeted me with “Welcome!” and gave me a hug when I arrived with my first load of things to move in last weekend. What a wonderful beginning!

It *does* feel serene...

It *does* feel serene…

I had fun with the possibilities before coming to see the place, drawing on my (positive) stereotypical images of gay men and Buddhists. I posted on my social media site: ‘Two gay men! Three Buddhists! You know what that means? The house will not only be beautiful, it will be spotless! And it will be like a year-round Serenity Retreat!’ The funny thing is, the house is beautiful and clean, if not quite spotless. And our schedules are so different, we each can enjoy quiet time in the house alone, so serenity is easily accessible on a daily basis.

I have no illusions that my new home (love that it feels like a home) will be an endlessly serene and perfectly harmonious experience. What I do know, that I didn’t know just a short time ago, is that I can choose how I want to respond to anything that isn’t quite as I’d prefer. I can communicate about it, if it’s something that can be changed or negotiated. I can let it go if it’s not very changeable. Even my commute-times, one of which is on a very congested freeway that takes significantly longer to get to work now, provides an opportunity to let go and simply enjoy the time for reflection.

Yesterday, I met with my sponsor. As I was sharing about the recent move, about how I was managing things financially, and about how I have been experiencing the transition, she remarked at the difference she sees in me. As she put it, I’m a completely different person than I was not that long ago. I knew what she meant. Even two months ago, I would not have been ready for this wonderful new place to live.

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So nice to have new friends!

Holding still..So worth it! 🙂

23 Days – Leaps and Stumbles (Sun – Feb 17)

May I always remember that growth happens even in the rocky places

May I always remember that growth happens even in the rocky places

I’m finding myself challenged – yet again – in this 60-day journey to a new beginning. This is my birthday month and I have come to think of myself as being “birthed” into the “third trimester” of my life – and it is coming with “labor pains”!

There’s something going on here that I don’t yet fully understand. Even though I “get” that recovery and progress are not consistently even and straight lines of progression, I seem to be ricocheting from serenity to fear and back again in varied and repeating cycles. And it isn’t fun at all!!!

Mostly the fear is around finding a place to live. For the past several years I have moved a ridiculous number of times. Sometimes I’ve been house-sitting, sometimes renting, sometimes living on grace with family. Now, I’m two weeks away from the date my landlady (and I) would like me out of here. A week and a half ago, I spent a day gripped by fear that I couldn’t shake, worrying about the situation. The more I fought against the fear, the more it stuck with me (of course).

Since that particularly difficult day, I have gradually moved back toward serenity and peace with the situation. Last weekend, I had some delightful time with a couple of different friends and appreciated a bit of help moving a few things into a storage unit. It felt good to take those preliminary steps that will make the actual move a bit easier.

This evening, I posted another ad on a popular free-“classifieds” website, as my earlier post had expired a few days ago. What I find puzzling is that editing and re-posting my ad served to trigger anxiety rather than to bring me some peace of mind for again being pro-active. What is up with that?

What keeps rolling around in my mind is that this may somehow be tied not only to the frequent changes in where I’m living in recent years, but also to a somewhat similar early childhood experience. I do not remember this, but my (younger) sister has told me that our mom let go our apartment every summer and took us to live with her parents. Our mom was a single-mom trying to raise two young girls on a teacher’s salary. It wasn’t easy for her and saving rent for the summer evidently helped.

What I remember is spending lots of time at my grandparents’ home and at my cousins’ home, which was conveniently nearby. I remember having fun, playing, feeling very much part of a big, loving family. There were five kids in their family and it was a place where I felt safe, accepted and loved.HPIM2039

Yet, as I continue to think about it, I suspect that the constant moving, which probably meant we could keep much, in terms of possessions, were more of stressful than memory indicates for me. When I imagine what it might have been like for me – leaving our current apartment every summer and whatever else was familiar, then returning to different apartment in the fall (though they were almost always in the same complex) – I can’t help but imagine it must have felt terribly insecure. Having fun visiting cousins you like is great fun; having to start all over in a new apartment with few possessions every year probably wasn’t.

When we finally did move into an apartment where we stayed year round, my sister and I lost all our toys one day when the charity truck took all the toy boxes on the porch, instead of the ones my mother intended them to have. My sister and I were crushed! And mom didn’t do anything to see about getting them back. Another loss. Another incident that left me with a need to hang on tightly to what I have.

I don’t know that these early childhood experiences of repeated loss were traumatic, but I do suspect they are at the heart of my deep-seated yearning for a consistent, reliable place in which to live and perhaps even at the heart of my ridiculous accumulation of the stuff that makes it so hard to keep changing living spaces.

I don’t quite know how I feel at the moment, but it does feel a little better to share about this here. Hanging onto the serenity is rather like trying to grasp mercury. It doesn’t work. I can only keep my hands open and let myself experience the surrender of trusting in a God who loves me and wants my happiness even more than I do.

As my sponsor has told me often, trust the process. For now, that means I will continue with my nightly practice of writing my thank-you note to God, jotting down the things I’ve done or noticed in the day that are affirming, and reviewing my “Dream Book” (which is growing) before I turn in for the evening. Whatever has happened that day, I appreciate the opportunity to remember where to place my faith.

Let me come with open hands...

Let me come with open hands…

42 Days: A Hair Trigger? Finding the smooth lane on a bumpy road (Tue – Jan 29)

HPIM0541 CroppedI had no idea how much a roommate website could trigger fear, followed quickly by anxiety and anger brought on by the fear. Talk about a “hair trigger” Al-Anon reaction! Oy!

In an effort to be pro-active in finding a place to live, I registered on one of those roommate-matching websites. It sounded like a good idea…sort of. First, I encountered very limited space allowed for what should be a field to let someone know a little about you. Then came fields like your favorite movie/TV show/music/etc. – which, of course, would certainly be my primary criteria for finding a compatible roommate. Not! Although I suppose it might help me eliminate some.

A couple of days later, when I had a few moments to log on and add a bit more to my profile, there was a message in my inbox. Sadly, the person must not be good at reading what I wrote, for she lives in the wrong direction from where I’d said I’d like to be. Perhaps she’s as geographically challenged as I often feel…

This afternoon, I decided to add more to my profile, disliking the way it was feeling more and more like a poorly designed dating site. I did a quick search and was discouraged by what popped up. I live in an area where there are a number of educational institutions and the proliferation of people looking for someone to share their room – not apartment – for what should be rent for one place or a shared apartment boggles my mind. I keep wondering, who gets the side of the bed closest to the bathroom?

I suspect the very reason it was triggering me so much is because it does come across like a dating website. It suggests that competition is steep and your questions better be cleverer than everyone else’s or you won’t get far. To make matters more challenging, the rent I can pay is on the low end of the scale around here. But it’s what I can manage for now.

HPIM1810Ironically? Poetically? Perhaps perfectly appropriately, this morning I turned to a devotion reading in my Daily Guideposts 2012 that must have foreseen my afternoon. The verse with it went something like, No one can discern their own errors. The reflection with it was about a woman who filled in for her rabbi one Saturday morning. She knew well the words she would be reading and reciting; what she failed to consider were the logistics of moving from point A to point B during the service. She encountered one after another of mishaps – a locked cabinet that she should have unlocked, a piece she was supposed to remove but wasn’t tall enough to reach, and so on. Yet after the service, people kept thanking her for making it inspiring.

She was baffled! How could such a klutzy performance be “inspiring”?! When she asked a friend who was there about people’s surprising response, her friend told her that because it had not gone perfectly, but had still been done, others saw it as something doable. It didn’t have to go professionally and perfectly, as they were used to seeing with their rabbi. (Glad I caught the “rabbit” vs. “rabbi” typos! ;-))

The message of this woman’s experience hit home for me in a profound way. I hope I will be able to apply it to my attempt to use a roommate-finding website. As I left the office, with the fear escalating into anger, I struggled to find my rational mind. I recognized that I was being triggered and I began to sort out the reasons why. Or at least, I got a start on it. There are probably lots of reasons really. But being able to recognize what’s happening, even if I feel like I can’t control it, helps. It reminds me that I have a program, I have tools, and I don’t have to do it perfectly.

It’s not about my answers, the details of my profile or anything else on my listing being “perfect.” It’s about taking a first step toward what I want – which is a place to live.

I’m grateful that just writing this here reminds me that this is about taking a first step and about letting God meet me wherever I am, however far I do or do not get. At my meeting Saturday, there were four slogans in a sequence that caught my attention: This Too Shall Pass, Let It Begin With Me, Let Go and Let God, and Keep It Simple. I want to remember these slogans and appreciate how they can remind me that this really is about taking it one day, one step at a time.HPIM0822

New Beginnings, Tiny Transformations (Tue, Jan 1st)

An affirmation for the new year!

An affirmation for the new year!

In the past two weeks, it feels like there are new beginnings in my life. So many things keep arising for me. Little things. Tiny shifts in my thinking that give me a new perspective. Sometimes it’s even tiny shifts in how I do things.

For instance, the other day I put my washcloth on the other faucet handle in the shower. Since I keep a cloth for wiping the counter on one handle, it dawned on me that it made more sense to keep the cloth I use frequently within closer reach. Yet it had never occurred to me to switch the two. Indeed, I had never given it any thought.

It makes me wonder, how many other little – or not so little – things do I do in my life that could be done a little more easily, conveniently, even efficiently if I thought about them for a few moments?

I certainly don’t intend to scrutinize everything I do, but it’s interesting to notice that many of these shifts are happening as a sort of chain reaction to small changes. There’s something about being open to new possibilities, about being willing to change, that clears a path for change to simply happen – unexpectedly, gracefully, with an ease that wouldn’t have been available if I hadn’t first let go.

HPIM1909Each time I become willing to make a change in one thing, I find myself willing to make other changes. With that willingness – and the changes that accompany it – creative new possibilities spring forth. Okay, so switching which washrag hangs where isn’t all that creative. Still, I’m noticing that my willingness and openness to change and be changed is trans­forming bits and pieces of my experience that I never thought about doing differently.

With the end of 2012, today seems like a day to reflect on my dreams and my desires for my life. The word “goals,” I confess, feels intimidating. “Goals” feel like targets and targets require being hit or you’ve missed or, worse, failed. Goals are places to be reached, rather than a journey to be taken. Dreams and desires continue to expand and transform as my circumstances and, more importantly, my thinking change. Things I couldn’t conceive of including in my dreams become new, exciting additions to my dreams, sometimes replacing former, limited versions of themselves. Even the way I imagine possibilities is changing.

Saturday I shared my fledgling “Dream Book” with my sponsor. Inspired by the “Possibilities Book” Georgia (played by Queen Latifa) has created in Last Holiday, combined with an annual collage party I’ve enjoyed attending for the past few years, I decided to create a “scrapbook” of dreams and desires. It’s not technically a scrapbook. It’s actually a large binder (purple, of course) with pages filled with images I’ve cut or torn out of magazines and catalogs. For the time being, I’m most interested in images of the kind of place I’d like to live – welcoming, comfortable, spacious, although I continue to clip any and all images that reflect my dreams.

Changing my thinking

Changing my thinking

So far, I have only a few pages in the book, but the pile of images from which to choose keeps growing. Right now I’m searching for images of kitchens, since I feel limited in my freedom to enjoy using the kitchen where I live right now. Among the images I’ve selected is one with a friendly-looking woman. It conveys both the notion of a kitchen to enjoy and a roommate who invites me to enjoy and share it with her.

My sponsor was so pleased to see what I’ve started. After she looked through the book (all 6 pages of it), she returned to a card I had tucked into one of the front pockets of the binder. It’s a list I created when I began my 7th Step. It has six of my character weaknesses, along with their positive counterparts, written with colored markers and in such a way as to create its own visual image of what I want to release and what I want to expand in my life. The last one on the list is “Deprivation Thinking”; the positive counterpart, “Expectations of Abundance.” She pointed to that and said, “You’re already doing this.”

Today I wanted to spend some time considering and affirming my dreams and desires for this year and for my life, perhaps by adding more pages to my dream book. Yet without realizing it, I let my Higher Power lead me and I soon found myself organizing some paperwork for a meeting I attend. The funny thing is, I didn’t even start out intending to do that. I simply wanted to update my notes for the last month. But one thing led to another and I was gifted with an unexpectedly productive afternoon!

I’m not quite finished, but now I know I don’t have to be finish today. I can continue it another time. What a change from old patterns of thinking that led me to believe that it would never get done if I didn’t complete it now! It’s surprisingly freeing to discover I can see so many things differently.

I’m still hoping to work a little on my “scrapbook” this evening, but I’m going to let those plans unfold as well.

It's a beginning!

It’s a beginning!

Reflecting on the journey – Day 366 (Mon – Dec 3)

HPIM1935I’m starting this post, not knowing if it will actually become a post. My internet connection is teasingly inconsistent. In the cone shaped icon that reflects the signal on my computer, there are four “arcs,” rather like the bars of a cell phone. The signal swings, at times, between one or two tiny arcs and the full cone of four arcs. And my computer is old and slow in general. But this is the last day of my one-year journey. I need to honor this day in some small way. It’s been a long and challenging twelve months.

It has been a year since I began this journey of facing my fears, testing myself, as it were, to see if I have the courage to change. When I consider my first posts and my seemingly worthy goals of clearing the tangible clutter from my life – or my room, to be more realistic – it doesn’t look like I’ve made a lot of progress. But when I look at the changes in how I respond to things, I am amazed at the difference. My sponsor commented on this when we met this past weekend and I mentioned that it had been almost a full year since I started my blog. Her observation was that the changes in me have been “huge.” A very nice thing to hear – and to have affirmed.

HPIM1937

I began this blog because I was tired of being ridiculously burdened by too much clutter that makes every move (and there have been lots) difficult and exhausting and highly stressful. I had come to realize that the reason I have clung to so much stuff and acquired even more is fear. I have been afraid to let things go because I thought I might need them and I knew I might not have the resources to replace them. One of the most annoying things someone can say to me is, “If you haven’t used it for over a year, you don’t need it!” Argh!!! The retort that leaps to mind when anyone is thoughtless enough to say that isn’t worth repeating.

The problem is that anytime someone would say something in this direction, a part of me would wilt in defeat, feeling the shame of being afraid to let go of my stuff and the deeper shame of being unable to afford a place that would allow me to get all my stuff out where I could actually use and enjoy it – and, yes, clear some of it out. I really don’t need everything I have in storage – I just don’t have the energy and time to plow through it when there’s nowhere to put any of it.

But I’m ranting. Forgive me.

HPIM1938As I was saying, I began this blog with an idealistic intention of clearing the physical clutter out of my life. Yet what I’ve actually been doing is learning to respond differently to the things that used to leave me paralyzed or quaking in fear. And I suspect there is a direct cause and effect going on.

When I began clearing the clutter not long after I wrote my first post, I started with the small things, the easy-to-discard things. At least, they had become easy to discard by that time. Without realizing it, I soon found myself letting go of somewhat (emotionally) “bigger” things.

HPIM1942Somewhere along the way, I began to let go my tendency to overreact in various situations. That was a more subtle process that began with small shifts and progressed until I found it easier and easier to let go of something I wished would have happened differently. That in itself has felt like a miracle!

As I consider the timing of this blog, it occurs to me that the idea for it began forming a few weeks before I had to move out of an apartment I’d shared with a friend, a few weeks after I’d begun my 7th Step – asking my Higher Power to remove my shortcomings. Actually, the approach I took was to look at my shortcomings and imagine the positive flip side of them. That’s what I asked my Higher Power to do, I asked for these character weaknesses to be transformed – and that’s what’s been happening.

I have to wonder if we sometimes underestimate the power of opening even a tiny door of willingness, a small window of trust. If I clench my hand into a fist, nothing can get in. But if I simply relax my fingers a little, before I even open my hand to become a receptacle, a space forms between the fingers and the palm – a space into which something else may come. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing this past year – learning first to simply relax my hand and my fingers, then gradually, little by little, letting my fingers unfold.

The willingness to change does bear fruit

The willingness to change does bear fruit

Gracefully(?) Weathering an Al-Anon Moment – Day 354 cont. (Thu – Nov 22)

My preferred spot

I don’t know how many times I find myself grateful for the many tools of the Al Anon program. Today I’m especially grateful for the reminder to HALT. Whenever something catches me off guard, something to which my first response is to resist, I try to notice whether I’m feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. If I am, I try to stop or at least pause before putting my foot in my mouth and biting down.

Today is Thanksgiving Day and my landlady – let’s call her Lulu (for the alliteration in landlady) – is expecting a number of family members (and possibly a friend or two) for the meal. I have no idea how many are coming or what time they’re eating. Lulu feels no need to inform her tenants of her plans (even when we’re affected by them). Indeed, I only had a heads up about today’s influx of people because my other housemate overheard her on the phone (which is easy to do – she has a loud voice).

When I emerged from my room to get something for lunch, Lulu told me she was expecting more company and they drive SUVs. This is a neighborhood where parking is limited to one side of the street and the spaces fill up quickly with so many driveways sprinkled along the way. Plus it’s hilly and narrow. Lulu has her own small garage that opens into the alley for her car and she has a 2-car open “garage” that opens onto the street. She asked me to move my car into the open garage because the SUVs will not fit in there.

Last night, all the spaces that were reasonably close to the house were full, so I backed into the garage. It’s a painted cinderblock affair that has two very narrow carports. The thing is you have to make a choice. Either you drive head first into the right space or you back into the left space. Neither space is wide enough to be able to open both driver and passenger car doors. In fact, if one car is already in one of the spots, you have to be careful not to hit their car door while opening your own car door.

It’s a one-sided affair!

When Lulu asked me if I could move my car into the garage, all the while justifying her reasons for needing the space I was (happily) occupying on the street, I felt myself simmering. In fact, I was getting ticked off at her – not because it was such an unreasonable request, but because she has often been unconcerned, even dismissive, when I have expressed a desire for something or even simply expressed my feelings. Once I mentioned that the “garage” was kind of creepy in the dark because it has no lights. She said she couldn’t do anything about it and essentially told me, “Too bad!”

Thus, her request for me to move into a space I had intentionally moved out of earlier in the day (there were no close spaces yesterday when I got home) was not well received. I grumbled a little, barely resisting the urge to say, “Why the heck should I?!”

Fortunately, I recognized that I was not only hungry, I was starting to get to the shaky, need-food-now!!! stage. So I told her I just needed to get my lunch and that I’d think about it.

Yep, they’re all taken…

I tried to relax and enjoy a few minutes of my movie while I ate, but I found myself wrestling with my anger. I considered the facts. One: it literally took me almost ten minutes to back into the garage yesterday as I tried to angle my car in from what must have been a very awkward angle. (Cinderblock posts and walls are not kind to paint jobs.) Two: I didn’t want to give up my favorite parking spot. Three: It will be dark when I leave in the morning and it’s very dark in that parking garage – the street lamp doesn’t quite get in there. (Creepy!) Four: I didn’t want to have my day interrupted later to move my car back onto the street – I would have been “waiting” for that interruption and been unable to relax and enjoy my day.

Then I thought about the flipside of the coin and went out to see just what the parking situation was. The truth is, there was no parking anywhere near the house. Then I thought about backing in again so I could at least drive out nose first in the morning. And if I didn’t pull back too far – just far enough to be able to open my door – then maybe it wouldn’t be too awfully dark. And maybe, just maybe, it would be a kind thing to do.

Yep, full that way too. (But notice the smart guy parked facing downhill. That’s my preference on this silly hill!)

So I moved my car and, in doing so, discovered that if you drive almost into the driveway across the street, it is much easier to back in.

It’s still not a place I care to park. I tend to schlep a lot of stuff with me, so I truly prefer to be able to put things in the passenger seat from the passenger side of the car. (My back seat’s otherwise occupied.) And the street curves, so you can’t really tell if anyone’s coming till you’re out there. Yet once I’d decided to move my car and leave it there, it was actually pretty easy to do it with (mental) ease – and physical ease, as it turned out!

It occurred to me later that choosing to say “I’ll think about it” was actually the best possible response I could have given Lulu. It was a way to “halt” when I felt very hungry and increasingly angry. Plus it gave me some space to do just that – think about it. It gave me time to recognize and have my feelings (which were mostly angry) without directing them toward her. And it gave me time to consider my options.

Judging by the sudden increase in volume and number of voices I’m hearing in the kitchen, it sounds like the additional guests found parking. I’m glad I was able to help. 🙂

26 Days Until…the Beginning? – Day 340 (Thu – Nov 8)

In what was a radical reversal of yesterday morning’s driving experience, today there were so few cars on the freeway when I drove onto it that I wondered how I could have missed the traffic during what should have been an expanding rush hour. Then I noticed a “herd” of cars a little ways ahead of me and a “herd” of cars further behind me. A moment of grace, “merging” onto a freeway when there are no cars nearby with which to merge.

As I drove by the location of yesterday’s accident, there were several large mounds huddled together, covered in black plastic. The battered cars? Other wreckage? It made the contrast between yesterday’s virtually non-moving clog and today’s spacious openness all the more apparent.

I arrived at work peacefully, which was a pleasant way to begin a day that became wildly busy for me. It occurs to me now that I was too busy to experience the vague depression I felt earlier this week – even just yesterday. The contrast between the weekend with my trans friends and its many conversations about things that are deeply meaningful to me leaves my work at my contract job feeling inadequate, disappointingly focused on a sort of bottom line of wanting to “better serve” their customers in order to boost the net profit. It’s quite a different mindset than my other job with a wonderful and small non-profit organization whose purpose is to nourish people. Although my hourly income is better at my temp job, it doesn’t feel purposeful the way my other job does.

Tuesday night, shortly before bed, I was searching for something to read. I wasn’t in the mood for a fiction book and I didn’t feel drawn to any of my Al Anon literature. Then one book caught my attention. I found it this summer in one of the boxes of discards outside the library: The Courage to Be Rich, by Suze Orman. I felt drawn to this book, in part because finances are an ongoing concern of mine. I never suspected how timely this book would be for me right now. I’ve often heard, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I must be ready.

The second paragraph in the book talks about courage being the most important quality one needs in order to change one’s life. Orman talks about her own experience and the point at which she asked herself if she could find the courage to change. I had an O-M-G experience when I encountered that particular phrase – especially because she’s talking about changing how we think and how we see ourselves in many ways, not just around our financial affairs.

One of the many places I have highlighted already reads, “It takes courage to ask for what you want. And it takes courage to live honestly, wisely; true to yourself—and true to your desire for more” (from the “Introduction: The Soul of Courage,” p 4). She goes on to say that there isn’t anything wrong with wanting more and that we shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting more.

In the first chapter she dives head first into those areas with which I’m already familiar in many areas of my life: fear, shame, and anger. I don’t think I’ve noticed before just how much fear and shame, and even anger I suspect, I have around money and my financial situation. But the questions she poses started helping me to see that I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s helpful that she classifies how we feel about money as a reflection of our “current truths” about it. If these are only “current truths,” that means I can begin to change them as I delve into this work.

I’m still taking all this in – there’s so much to digest. And I’m only on page 14! It dawns on me just now that this also speaks to one of my identified character weaknesses from my Step 6 inventory: deprivation thinking. My whole life I have never felt I deserved more than what I had at any particular moment. I never felt worthy. This book is challenging me to examine those beliefs and to get to the heart of how I see myself. I can tell this will not be a quick read and that it will get me digging deeper than I expected into this area of my life.

The grace I experienced this morning going to work seems like a reflection of the way God works in our lives. It leaves me wondering what God has in store for me around finances and housing, around work and ministry, around having someone with whom to share my life. Changing my beliefs about myself seems like a good way to open my side of the ‘door.’

I wonder how far I’ll be able to get in 26 days…

The door to grace? Day 337 – 29 days left (Mon – Nov 5)

Last night I experienced a moment of unexpected grace.

I am the “speaker seeker” for the Saturday Al Anon meeting I regularly attend and next weekend is our speaker weekend. There was, as yet, no one scheduled to speak. I had talked to a few people about a month ago to see if any were willing to be the speaker for this month or for December, but hadn’t gotten any firm commitments.

I had started leaving myself reminders to make some calls, but just couldn’t seem to get there. Interestingly, I wasn’t particularly anxious about it. I was almost more curious than anything else, wondering what was up.

During the meeting I attended last night, I felt serene – or perhaps just sleepy (or both). I wondered if there was someone there I might ask to be our speaker. I had already let go and accepted the possibility that I might not find anyone. I wasn’t particularly concerned, though it would be nice to have a speaker.

During announcements, I didn’t mention the upcoming speaker meeting (which I would normally have done). Then, after the meeting, the woman who had given me a tentative ‘yes’ for December came to tell me that December wasn’t going to work for her. She then asked me if I had found anyone for this month (which she had thought wouldn’t work for her when we spoke a few weeks ago). When I said ‘no,’ she told me she would be glad to be our speaker!

I was struck by the fact that I had followed the leading I had been given – which had actually been to do nothing. I kept thinking I should make calls, but I would forget or simply be too tired. Yet, through it all, I didn’t feel particularly anxious. I just kept wondering how things would work out and kept listening for those nudges to lead me in a particular direction.

So many times it’s tempting to get busy and “make” something happen when, in fact, what I need to do is to “be still.” I know now that the reason I never felt an urge to make a call was because God already knew that I wouldn’t need to find someone to speak. She was already on her way to me, even though neither of us knew it till last night.

As I drove home from work today, I was thinking about this experience. It occurred to me that this was no different than a lot of other things I’d like to have happen in my life – like finding a new place to live or a more sustaining work situation. Those kinds of changes usually require patience and more waiting than I’d like. Rushing about in a frantic search usually leaves me exhausted and no further ahead than before I started.

The next time I’m tempted to push myself to try to “make” something happen, I hope I can remember this tangible experience of waiting and leaving space for God’s grace. Perhaps it’s the waiting that allows the door to open…

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