Love Purposefully

I got married yesterday…!

It was nothing fancy – kinda spur of the moment, actually. It was early morning, and we stood at a fountain just outside our local library. (People were still sleeping in the gazebo and I didn’t want to disturb them. Truth.)

The people who had been sleeping on the benches woke up and watched.

Our wedding party consisted of two teenagers and a dog. Yes, our little maltese was clutched in my step-son’s arms because he’s our third child. Deal with it.

The Justice of the Peace who married us just happened to be a guy I went to school with and hadn’t seen in 25 years. He wanted to catch up and connect on Facebook when we just wanted to go to IHOP and eat breakfast.

Some people would gasp, wag their tongues, and swear that we had to be crazy to get married that way. But, I wouldn’t change a thing.

It’s funny how life experiences change your perspective on things.

Our bench-sitters smiled as we exchanged vows, one woman wiping tears from her eyes. I can only hope she was remembering / feeling something beautiful as she awoke to a surprise ceremony.

A gazebo-sleeper woke, too, and scooted his sleeping bag to the edge where he could watch. He laughed with us as we struggled to exchange rings (swollen fingers, ya’ll).

Perspective.

These were people who had nothing invested in what they were witnessing. Yet, they were moved anyway. Did I feel like our moment was being intruded upon? Absolutely not.

I saw humanity in a way that I hadn’t before.

A grandmother had brought her grandson to the library too early, and I watched as they perched on a bench alongside the homeless. I could hear her explaining to him what, exactly, was happening. She smiled as he giggled and covered his mouth with a tiny hand.

More than my last name was changed yesterday. My heart was moved in an unexpected direction. I am compelled to do something. I don’t know what. Yet.

As you go about your day today, be aware. Be conscious. Be open.

Even a passive act of love can bring a smile. Just imagine what would happen if we did it on purpose.

 

 

 

Keeping it Simple

It has been a little over one month since I walked away from a “normal” life.

It has been a beautiful awakening.

What I’m about to say may sound like I’ve taken refuge in a hippy-commune (which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing – peace, love, and happiness ya’ll). I’ve come to a place where I totally understand why people choose to walk away from lucrative careers and live off-the-grid.

I won’t lie: this place is a bit scary because of the sheer amount of introspection that occurs. But, it is also an eye-opening experience that I welcome with open arms and zero regrets.

We purchased a cozy little camper, just big enough for the four of us, and spent the first two weeks of my freedom camping. It was just the two of us for week one. It rained off-and-on for four days of that week, the pitter-patter of rain-drops only adding to our contentment. We would wake at dawn, share the quiet mornings with a cup of coffee, and simply be.

We had nowhere to rush to, nothing urgent that needed to be addressed. There were no outside pressures to clog my brain or my spirit. We did alot of walking, sometimes talking to one another and other times just enjoying our surroundings as no words were needed. A peace settled over us both in that first week.

Surrounded by the song of cicadas and the scent of forgotten camp-fires mingling with the mossy aroma of damp earth, I found myself again. That wasn’t my intention, but my soul began to feel as I filled a spiral notebook with descriptions of what I was seeing, hearing, and smelling.

I cried alot as my emotions became words on the page, a sweet release of tension and pressure that had surreptitiously taken root over the last several years. I bled out, getting rid of infection that was full of societal expectations and perceived responsibilities.

The kids joined us shortly after that, the second week being their last hoorah before going back to school. It all clicked into place as I watched my step-son head off to fish, looking like a teen-aged Opie Taylor (from The Andy Griffith Show) with his pole slung over one shoulder and a tackle-box clutched in his other hand.

My heart’s desire is a simple life. Uncomplicated, uncluttered, unfettered by what is currently considered “the American dream”.

 

Before anyone explodes, let me explain. By definition, the American dream is freedom for all to pursue prosperity and success. You may ask, what’s wrong with that? Nothing – not on the surface, anyway. Let’s dig a little deeper.

What is the definition of prosperity and success? Most would say wealth, or financial freedom. Financial freedom, in my humble opinion, is an oxymoron. We are all slaves to our bank accounts, regardless of how much or how little is in them.

Now, my idea of the American dream is the freedom to take risks, to follow our hearts and chase our dreams. It is the freedom to fail, and to fail fabulously. But, it is also the freedom to get back up, dust ourselves off, and march on.

So, now when I’m asked what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a writer. My answer is often met with raised eyebrows, which makes me smile. I already know the questions that are flying through the minds of the askers. One simple sentence should answer all of their inquiries, though: Because I can.

I’m a writer. That lone statement is the creation of my future, my American dream.

 

No Regrets

Last week I did the unthinkable, the unimaginable. To some, it may seem irresponsible, irrational, and every other ‘un’ and ‘ir’ word.

I’m told I did it with dramatic flair, even though I didn’t mean to. I made a few people cry, and made a few others angry.

I quit my job. Cue the shock and awe.

I submitted an eloquent, yet brutally honest, resignation letter. Hence, the drama, I suppose. Yep, I burned more than a few bridges with that one.

For me, it was about survival. It was about being true to myself, and creating my own future rather than continuing to struggle in a current that was moving way too fast.

I’ll be 43 this year, and time does not go backward. I’ve missed out on so many things with my family because of that job, and I’ll never get that time back. Never.

With each passing year, time seems to speed up, reduce, and condense itself into this infinitesimal speck. I don’t know how many years I have left on this earth, but I want them to be fruitful ones, happy ones. I don’t want to spend them at a job that I am passionless about, working long drudge-filled hours just to collect a paycheck.

Naturally, I was met with the expected “What are you going to do?” and “How will you survive?”.

Well, I’m going to live. And, I’m going to do more than just survive.

I’m going to THRIVE.

My Daddy worked himself right into a hospital bed, where he spent a month before passing. His last piece of advice was to not finish our lives with regrets. I’m taking that nugget and running with it.

No more 18-hour days on four hours of sleep. No more phone calls in the middle of the grocery store or during dinner. No more interruptions while spending time with my family.

I’m not going to lie – I’m nervous. But, I’m laughing more and so are my kids. That’s enough to tell me that I made the right decision.

So, here’s to the future. Here’s to sacrifice and chasing dreams. Here’s to letting go of the almighty dollar and joyfully embracing what’s real and right in front of me.

Here’s to the struggle of choosing the road less traveled. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                            -Robert Frost

 

I choose.

There are times, like this morning, that I wish I wasn’t jaded by experience. I wish I hadn’t felt a need to build walls, a fortress to protect myself from the deceptions of others. I wish that I could be open again, ready with a kind smile and free laughter.

I haven’t been that person for quite some time now. I’m older and wiser, but I’m also harsher and more cautious with that smile and laughter.

I used to be a “glass half full” kind of person. I used to look for the best in everyone. I used to enjoy every nuance of everything.

I am so guarded, now. I carry an immense amount of baggage, if I’m honest. And I have to be honest in this moment. I have to realize that those hurts are in the past, and that I’ve spent more than enough time analyzing them, tearing them apart, reliving them. It is time to let them go.

To truly live is to experience disappointment and, yes, even pain.

I exhale now, thoughts to the future. Facing forward, I need to be excited for what is to come. I need to work on myself, still, but this is a start. This release. This unloading. This letting go.

Today is not yesterday, and tomorrow is not yet here. This day is what I have been given, and it will be what I make of it. My life is my choice, my doing, my decisions. My thoughts direct my path, not the actions of some specter from my past.

As the sun rises, so I do, too. I am creating my tomorrow, today. I choose to be proactive in my own life. It is up to me to create it, my future.

I choose happiness, I choose freedom from those chains, I choose life-loving energy.

I choose to not wait anymore. I choose to not be passive in my own life. I choose to love and appreciate all that I have been given. I choose to find the good in everything, letting go of negativity.

I choose.

I choose to release the negative energy that others bring into my life. I choose to release those people, and the power I’ve allowed them to have over me.

I choose to surround myself with like-minded people, people who have already chosen happiness and positivity.

I choose.

I choose to be thankful, every day, for everything around me. I choose wonder and amazement. I choose love. I choose life.

I choose.

I choose to support those around me who are also working on themselves. I choose to be a light in the darkness. I choose to be a beacon to a better destination.

I choose.

I choose imperfection. I choose ebb and flow. I choose the unexpected and the unplanned.

I choose to be life uninterrupted.

I choose.

Opioid Addiction

I want to talk about opioid addiction. It has become a national epidemic, fostered by the numerous “pain management clinics” that have sprung up across the country.

According to American RSDHope,  “A pain clinic is a health care facility that focuses on the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. Some specialize in specific diagnoses or in pain related to a specific region of the body. Also called pain management clinics, pain clinics often use a multidisciplinary approach to help people take an active role in managing their pain and regaining control of their life. These programs are focused on the total person, not just the pain.”

My family is one of millions who have been affected by the over-prescribing of opioids, so yeah, this is a hot-button issue for me. Chronic back-pain due to degenerative disc disease. Fifteen years of “pain management”. Multiple surgeries, injections, etc. I’ve seen the results first-hand, and I call B.S. on the above statement.

Giving patients an “active role”? That’s actually laughable. The only action that the patient takes is having the prescription filled. “Regaining control of their life”? Seriously? Do these people watch the news? Does it sound like people have control?

And, let’s not forget that they are “focused on the total person, not just the pain”. Sure, they do pill counts and urine tests. But trust me, an addict will make sure they pass both in order to obtain what they crave. As long as those two hurdles are jumped, another prescription is written.

Pain getting worse? They’ll increase your milligram in an effort to get the pain under control again. Eventual surgery? Absolutely, and they’ll give you more pain meds to control the pain from that. Believe it or not, addicts will go under the knife just to continue getting their fix.

But here’s the kicker: opioids can prolong and intensify pain. Meaning, patients receiving opioids aren’t really getting any pain relief at all. Thus begins a deadly spiral. I dare you to Google it, but I’ll give you a link to make it quicker:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201605/unexpected-double-whammy-opioids-prolong-and-intensify-pain

This, my friends, is how addicts are created. And, this is how the so-called “pain management clinics” stay in business – they’re basically  gathering guaranteed repeat customers.

These clinics are prolific in my area. In response to the fast-growing rate of opioid addicts, methadone clinics have sprung up everywhere, too. Our unemployment rate has skyrocketed, with people receiving disability checks due to their addictions. The poverty level has increased, more children are living in shelters, and families are being destroyed.

We, as a society, know that there’s a problem. Our government knows that there’s a problem. Research proves that there’s a problem.

So why the hell isn’t anybody doing anything about it? I’m so frustrated by the lack of action on this front.

Now, having said all of that, I realize that these clinics are a God-send for some people. Those people may not have an addictive personality (yes, that’s a real thing) and may never have an issue with addiction. Each person is different, and each set of circumstances is unique. I understand that.

But, I can almost guarantee you that no one walks into one of those clinics thinking, “Gee, I want to become addicted to opioids.” For those people who do become addicted, that clinic is nothing more than a dressed-up drug dealer, doing business legally and getting a large paycheck for it.

It’s the availability that makes me angry. It’s the ease of getting a script that makes me angry. Fifteen years of taking a highly-addictive pain med. Fifteen years of increasing pain levels, due primarily to the extended use of this pain med.

All the while, there are non-narcotic pain-control alternatives. I realize those may not work for everyone, but are people even being given that option? Are they being educated on the choices that are available, or are the highly-addictive opioids simply being prescribed without discussion?

I’m now off to educate myself on the subject of addiction versus dependence. Apparently, dependence leads to addiction, and there is a fine distinction between the two. Sounds like splitting hairs to me, but I want to understand as much as I possibly can.

 

Pets

This is my ever-present (and persistent) writing assistant, Henry. He struck this pose just this morning, and I was compelled to write about him.

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What? I’m helping you….

Henry is a rescue, found a little over two years ago, half-starved in a machine at the plant where I work. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for cats. The phone at my desk rang at 6 a.m.- the guys on the production floor couldn’t get near him and asked if I’d come get him.

He was covered in grease and fleas. I carried him to my office, where he immediately made himself at home on my desk or in my lap, whichever was available. The then-President of my company was an animal lover, so I called him and he brought cat food and a small litterbox so that I could keep him with me that day.

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Day One – I’ve been rescued!

I pretty much accosted everyone who entered my office that day. Didn’t they want to take this sweet baby home? I sent emails, text messages, put up pictures on bulletin boards. There were no takers, so he went home with me that night, much to my fiance’s chagrin because we already had two cats (one being a bottle-fed foster).

Over the next three months, I continued to try to find Henry a home to no avail. By then, though, we had all already fallen in love with the goofball, including our oldest cat, Charlie. Needless to say, we kept him. He’s been a member of our family for two years now.

Charlie is an excellent big brother. Talk about unconditional love. He grooms, loves, protects, and helps raise the foster babies we (aka me) bring home. He’s awesome. Camera-shy, but awesome.

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I have found the best hiding spot EVAH!

A trip to the vet told us that Henry was part Maine Coon, and that he was going to be a whopper of a cat. They weren’t lying.

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Treat time! Charlie (the small one) is five years old. Henry (the big one) is almost three years old.

I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m writing this. I just couldn’t help but share a little joy this morning, after a few too-hard head-butts from Henry as he sat on my desk. He likes to aim for the nose, make a person see stars. Truly.

Animals can be a perfect representation of unconditional love. I know that my two boys remind me every day that love can bring a smile even on the worst of days.

We could learn so much from them.

We all need to be rescued from something. We all struggle with something. Some struggles are bigger than others, but we all have them.

Be kind to others. Be a reflection of God’s unconditional love. Make an effort to put a smile on someone’s face today. Let someone know that they’re loved. Even the smallest act of kindness can have a huge and lasting impact on someone’s life.

My cats are great teachers. I get to begin every day with a smile.

 

Working for the Weekend

I’m showing my age here, but does anybody remember a mind-bogglingly (is that a word?) fascinating band called Loverboy? They had a song called “Working for the Weekend” back in the eighties, I think.

Anyhoo, that song earwormed its way into my head this week as I sat as my desk (dayjob desk) thinking “it’ll be over soon, it’ll be over soon, it’ll be over soon”.

By the way, clicking my heels as I repeated that mantra did nothing. Massive disappointment.

Back to the point. I had a glaringly obvious realization this week that I am doing precisely that: working for the weekend. And it made me start thinking about why my perspective changed, because I used to like my job.

My daddy passed away almost three years ago. He was our rock. He taught us everything we know about earning what we want through hard work.

He was an aluminum siding man, working long hours outdoors no matter the weather. He worked all of the time. And, he never complained.

He was an incredible story-teller. We would gather around him, in the floor of the living-room, while he played his guitar for us. Mom would bring a huge Tupperware bowl of popcorn and cups of Kool-aid to us. He would sing a little, talk a little, sing a little more.

That sums up how I knew my daddy, until he passed.

Like him, I’m an avid reader, so I got his books. His many, many, many books. To say he loved history is an understatement. He studied history. He underscored, high-lighted, cross-referenced, notated. I have spiral notebooks full of things he’d found interesting, written in his neat script.

He was brilliant.

But I didn’t know that about him. I had no idea he was so passionate about something, other than being our daddy.

He never got to visit the places he studied up on, wrote about. He was only there in his beloved books, his mind leaving the confines of our tiny crowded home to take him on journeys to battlefields and historic buildings. I imagine he thought about those things as he climbed ladders, hammered nails, and burnt up in the sun or got soaked by rain.

On his last good day, he talked to us of regrets. He didn’t want us to have any. He wanted us to chase our dreams, fulfill what we felt we were put here for.

He wanted us to live, fully and abundantly. He was proud of the adults we had become.

Yeah, he had a huge hand in that. Mega huge.

My life changed after my daddy passed away. His words changed me. His books and his writings changed me. I cried as I perused his notes, laying my hands on pages of books he’d worn thin.

That’s when I became dissatisfied with my path. Not with my life, just with my path. It made me really think about where I was going. I was at the half-way point of my journey here, so I made a conscious decision to change direction.

It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Daddy really did know best.

He would’ve turned 79 this week. I suppose that’s why my mind has lingered here all week. His quiet influence still plays a role in my life, gently urging me to continue on, whispering encouragement to me.

I’m crying now, missing my daddy. I have his picture beside my desk, a constant reminder of how much I’m loved. He was pretty darn awesome.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you.