Accept What Is

acceptwhatisblogThe sign outside the Heartworks House this week reads ACCEPT WHAT IS

If I were a person driving past this sign on my way home from a 2 for 1 deal on Big Macs at McDonalds and was thinking about something I was struggling with, I would roll down the window, whip one of my Big Macs at the sign, and happily watch the two whole beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun dribble down the stupid sign. Keep in mind that this is a hypothetical situation. So I always eat Big Macs in hypothetical situations and since I am throwing one out the window, I had to be coming back from a 2 for 1 deal so that I would still have one left to eat.

Next, I would pull over and emotionally eat the other Big Mac in total irritation toward whoever wrote that ridiculous sign. The idea seems absurd and not well thought through at all. Why in God’s name would I “ACCEPT WHAT IS” when the thing I would have to accept totally sucks?

Well…I’ll tell you a story about why to consider practicing acceptance even when what you are being asked to accept something that totally sucks.

Ten years ago this June, I stood in the parking lot of the church I grew up going to. Thousands of Sundays were spent there with my family. Thousands of times we got out of our cars in the parking lot and walked toward the church for mass. On that particular day 10 years ago, Eddie pulled our car into a parking space and I was expected to get out of the car to attend my father’s funeral.

Instead, I sat in the car with my hand on the handle of the door and looked out the window filled with annoyance at all the people getting out of their cars, apparently in total acceptance of this idea that someone you love can be here one minute and gone the next…they seemed to be ACCEPTING my father’s death and that pissed me off. “How can they be doing this?? So…what…we are just going to get out of our cars and go into the church and have MY FATHER’S FUNERAL???? Three days ago I was standing in the kitchen with him.

He was leaning against the dishwasher and we were laughing and now people are getting out of their #%&*@ cars to go to his funeral??? I mean people were actually walking into the church!! Like they were just letting this whole “my father died” thing continue to happen!! I wanted to get out and punch my Aunt Agnes in the head and yell “STOP! STOP! STOP! I’m not doing this!! I’m not just accepting this death thing!!”

No thanks

Not doing it

Hate it

Hate you

Hate everything.

Damn it. I got myself out of the car but started walking in the opposite direction of the building. Maybe if I don’t go into the church this won’t be happening. Maybe if I ignore all of this, it won’t be true and my dad will get out of one of these cars and pull me into a hug and say something like “That was a weird couple of days Moo Moo, wasn’t it? It’s alright my sweetheart, its not really happening, I’m right here” and then we could just walk home together and get back to our week.

Nothing from my two masters degrees in counseling or my ten years as a therapist could have offered enough proof that this was not a plausible option. I walked a few more feet and then the realization hit me as if someone had punched me in the head. A conversation I had with a therapist friend a week ago flooded my mind. She had said that God is only accessible in the present moment, so if we deny what’s happening in the present moment we are keeping ourselves from God.

I had spent the next few days thinking about this and its implications. I had thought about the fact that the times we often feel furthest from God are when we are wishing things to be different than they actually are and that the one thing I knew in that moment, standing with my back to the church was that I needed every friggin’ thing a higher source could possibly offer me.

Crap. ACCEPTANCE was the way I would receive the things I needed. But ACCEPTING this was going against every single ounce of my being…to walk through those red arched doors and accept the bagpipes, the coffin, the crowd, the words of the priest. But it was abundantly clear that I needed God and I could only be with Him if I was present in this moment, and in this moment I was at my father’s funeral. And so I slowly turned myself around and walked through the doors and stood under the same crucifix I stood under for my communion day, wedding ceremony, and my daughter Caroline’s baptism, and I attended my father’s funeral.

Sitting in the pew, I came into the awareness that by accepting what I did not want; the filled pews, the words spoken on the alter, the songs and the traditions, that all of these things somehow created a coating of love over the desperation I was feeling. If I had walked home (or to the bar around the corner) I would have still felt the desperation, but piled on top of it would have been things like isolation, anxiety, and horror. The acceptance saved me from adding to the hell I was already in. The way I see it, whatever is taking place in our lives is happening whether we like it or not, want it or not and whether or not we are comfortable with it. Acceptance is the one thing that gives us a direct connection to the invisible presences, the only things that make surviving terrible experiences possible.

I am not suggesting we have to accept everything about everything all at once (though if you are up for it, go for it). I am suggesting that by committing to accepting one moment in whatever the suffering is, it will move us into the next moment and then the next and that in each moment that we choose to be in acceptance we will have increased access to God. This is what I discovered during the impossible month of June 2005 when one of my greatest loves left the earth. I have practiced acceptance ever since and it helps me tremendously and gets easier the more I make the choice to do it.

As soon as I open my eyes in the morning I pray to God to help me accept the parts of myself and my life that I would LOOOOOOVE to ignore, stuff down and ultimately deny. These prayers prevent me from pushing fear and worry to the back of mind where they will only reek more havoc in my life. The sign outside of the Heartworks House will be changing soon and I’m surprised that not one person has thrown a Big Mac at it…but then again I don’t think Mickey D’s is currently having a 2 for 1 offer and who would want to sacrifice a perfectly good Big Mac for the sake of acceptance?

Reflection: What areas of your life you are spending a lot of time wishing things were different than they are?

Consider practicing accepting one moment, one piece of what is actually happening and see what shifts for you.

What’s Your Wilson?

wilsonblogAnybody who has known me for a long time knows that I am not, or at least was not, a dog person. I have never understood why when I walk into people’s houses they think I like touching and being licked by their dog (among the other awesome dog greeting habits). When I have been “greeted” by someone’s dog I can still usually sit and have a turkey sandwich with its owner, talking about all sorts of things, but all I’m really thinking about is how to not contaminate my Diet Coke can and wanting to wash my hand.

I sit there, maintaining eye contact, nodding my head and using all of my super strength counseling skills, but I’m totally preoccupied with trying to figure out what the appropriate time frame is between the licking time and the washing my hands time without being rude. This was especially an issue when we lived in Boulder, CO because people REALLY REALLY love their dogs in Boulder, CO.

I walked into a friends house once and didn’t get down on the floor to role around with her dog before lunch and she was a bit confused and bewildered. She then told me how surprised she was that I don’t like dogs because, had I not noticed, dog spelled backwards is god. Hmmmmmm….give me a break. This concept definitely felt like a stretch, created by someone who had been breathing in the mountain air a little too long.

I tell you this because all of this changed last December when, after years and years

of my girls begging for a dog, a tri-colored King Charles Spaniel named Ralphie ran into the family room on Christmas morning and I fell completely head-over-heels in love with this dog spelled backwards is god-sweet-all loving-furry-beautiful baby boy. Ralphie sleeps in the bed with Eddie and I, sometimes Ralphie eats his own poop and then we kiss on the lips. When we are away on vacation, I Facetime him, but only for a short time because I get sad and it kills my vacation buzz.

Long story short…I love this dog. I do not understand why someone would not want his saliva all over them when they come over for lunch.

Last summer we were down at the Jersey Shore and Ralphie wanted to get off his leash as I walked him down to the beach one night. And since I lose all sense of rationale when that sweet face looks up at me, I took him off the leash. If you are a new dog owner, here’s a tip- do not let your dog off the leash the first time he sees the beach. I let Ralphie go and he darted up the beach like a bat out of hell. Now, anyone who knows me, also knows that physical exercise if not my strong point. Running is FER SURE not my strong point. But I started running my fat ass off, chasing my beloved down the beach. The gap between us grew and grew and I had visions of him being found two days later all the way down in Seaside Heights, under the boardwalk, unconscious from overdosing on funnel cake, chocolate covered Oreos and hot dogs. While I would have been found not far from where I was, unconscious in my own boob sweat.

And then…all of a sudden… my hero intervened. I saw up in the distance a man jump up from his chair, run straight to Ralphie and scoop him up out of nowhere.

HOLY CRAP was I relieved! I started to slow down (and let’s not kid ourselves, I wasn’t going very fast) and finally reached them, gasping and putting my hands down on my knees the way marathon runners do as the volunteers drape the silver sheet over them at the finish line- I could have used of those silver sheet thingies. Anyway, when I caught my breath, I started to thank the guy profusely and noticed the scene behind him. He and his wife were sitting there having a beer and watching the sunset. I said to him that he had just saved Ralphie from a lonely death under the boardwalk and I can’t believe he would interrupt his romantic moment to jump up, spill his beer and save my dog when he could have just as easily said “not my problem.”

He then pulled up his sleeve and exposed an enormous tattoo, from his armpit to his wrist which read, in beautiful script the name

“Ohhhhhh”, he said,” I could never let him keep running, I lost my tri-colored, Wilson last year and I miss him everyday. I know the pain of loosing a dog.” And he choked up and introduced himself as Jimmy, as he handed Ralphie over to me. It struck me in that moment that his response was actually directly in line with the main philosophy of Heartworks. So, I hugged Jimmy (of course) and told him about Heartworks. That I had founded an Acts of Kindness group based on this principal of using our own loses and struggles to help someone else. Jimmy could have taken his grief in any direction. Had my new bestie Jimmy never allowed himself to love Wilson in the first place, or had Jimmy shut down when Wilson died and swore to never be around another King Charles Spaniel because it was too sad, or had he wanted someone else to be sad because he was sad and life sucked and dogs die, then he would never have helped me that night.

So the question is “What is your Wilson?” What is an experience from your own life that you can use to help another human being? Too often we bare knuckle through our pain and then make a career (sometimes literally a career) of getting as far away from the issue as possible. This concept does not work as well as we think it would. I see lives transform everyday at Heartworks when we reflect back on our own losses and use them to help someone else walk (or crawl) along a similar path. Think of how different our experiences with illness and grief would be if every person who ever suffered or grieved used their experience to help someone else?? This is what Heartworks is about and the offering is two-fold, the healing takes place for the receiver as well as the giver. I see it all the time and it is a doorway out of the isolation and fear that loss creates.

That summer night, back at the house when I poured my glass of Pinot Grigio, I toasted a thank you to Wilson for opening Jimmy’s heart and to Jimmy, for the willingness to get up out of his chair and share this heart with Ralphie.

Reflection for the week:
What is your Wilson and how are you allowing the healing to continue (for yourself and others), even long after the event has taken place?

A Lesson From My Father on a Snowy Day

snowdayblogI love days that I know exactly what my father would be doing if he were still alive. Every year, I know that on the last weekend of April he would be sitting in the stands at Franklin Field in Philadelphia watching the Penn relays track meet. I know that on Easter morning he would for sure be at mass with us. On days that Caroline has a cross country meet I know that he would be yelling for her at the finish line, and I know that today, because it is 21 degrees, snowing and icy outside, he would be out for a long run. Maybe not that long of a run because he would be 82, but he would be out for some sort of a run.

Growing up, if it were a freezing, snowy, icy day outside we would be in the family room watching TV. The fire would be going and we would all be in warm sweatshirts and wool socks (ohhh…nothing beats a good old pair of Wigwam socks in January!) and my father would all of a sudden get up and leave the room.

He would return in shorts, a t-shirt and his running shoes and my mother would roll her eyes and tell him he was out of his mind. My Dad would respond by putting his fists in the air and yelling “WOOOOOOOOO!!” and head out the door for a run. He would sometimes be known to put a hat on, but I ‘m not sure of the determining factors that were involved in this decision. So off he went, in a t-shirt and shorts and sometimes hatless, out for a run on a freezing cold day while the rest of us sat by the fire and drank hot Campbell’s soup.

He would return sometime later, red faced and cringing, clearly in pain and my mother would simply shake her head. It was a regular routine for snowy days in Bernardsville that she had come to somewhat accept. My father would then run up the stairs, and jump in a COLD shower!! He would scream his head off for a few seconds until we heard the water stop. My mother, still under a blanket on the couch would lift her eyes from the paper for only a moment, glance upward and just continue with the head shake.

When my father came back into the room he would be in two pairs of plaid flannel pajamas and a long plaid flannel robe and slippers holding a steaming hot cup of coffee in his hand. He would sit back down in his leather chair and start watching the football game again and would say something like “Yup Meggy Meg! We got it pretty good here in B’Ville!” And this comment sums up exactly why he did things like this…because he believed so strongly about “how good we’ve got it here in Bernardsville.” The reason he didn’t (or couldn’t get himself to) sit and relax by the fire on a day like this was because he was so acutely grateful for our home, the warmth, the ease and luxuries that so many people around the world don’t have and that he was afraid, if he got too comfortable, he may forget how blessed he was. He would do things like this to help him remember and take nothing for granted. This is why early Heartworkers may remember me asking them on cold nights to leave their coats inside and join me outside for a few minutes to help us be grateful for the heat in our homes.

Some may think this practice is crazy (I get it) but it is something I do pretty much on a daily basis. I walk outside in winter in bare feet when I need a Diet Coke from my trunk to remind me to be grateful for shoes, hold off eating an hour after I am hungry to remind me to be grateful for the availability of food, not take an aspirin when I have a headache to remind me to be grateful for a pain free body. Not drink water when I am thirsty to remind me of the privilege of clean drinking water. There are a ton of ways to do this exercise and it keeps my perceptions in check.

My father never wanted to take anything for granted so he actively created ways to help him feel the gifts in his life. Imitating this practice helps me feel close to him, but I have to come clean…I did not go on a run today in shorts and a t-shirt and I did not take a cold shower, but I did write about it so maybe that counts for something…(I know…not really) .