Posts Tagged ‘difficult times’

Worst Case Scenario

Monday, March 14th, 2011

How many times have you caught yourself saying,”Well, with my luck (fill in the blank with the worst case scenario for what you are dealing with)”? I find myself doing this more than I like to admit. Several weeks ago, during a particularly trying time in our lives, my husband and I were driving home from a very scary visit to our vet’s office. We had taken both our dogs in for their yearly routine exams having no clue anything could seriously be wrong with them. When the vet found a large, very suspicious mass on one of the dog’s chests, he soberly told us he didn’t like what he saw and would let us know the pathology results in 5-7 days. On the car ride home, I burst into tears and told my husband, “We just can’t catch a break these days.” My husband was very calm and told me to just keep my emotions in check until we knew what we were dealing with.

That was the longest week of my life. My stomach was in knots, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t find joy in anything, and basically just wanted to curl up in the fetal position. My dogs are brothers and extremely close. All the worst case scenarios of how the other dog would go on without his brother kept running through my mind. It was horrible. The test results finally came back and showed that the mass was large and in a very bad spot, but was benign. A great deal of money, a quick surgery and recovery later, and our pup is back to normal.

This whole incident made me take a serious look at why I am always ready to jump to the worst case conclusion. Am I trying to protect myself? Get my armor up and ready for battle even though it might not be needed? Why can’t I be more positive and optimistic? Does it always have to be the darkest day in my brain?

I think a lot of us do this. We expect the worst and the worst hardly ever happens (thank goodness!). But when it does happen, it rocks our world, and we decide to not be caught unprotected again. So, next crisis, our minds go into overdrive and we imagine what it will be like when the world falls on our heads so we can be “ready.”

While this is just human nature for some of us, starting now I am going to make a real effort to temper this impulse. Spending those 7 days imagining life without my beloved dog was in no way good for me or my family. And, of course, as it turns out, totally unnecessary. I am going to try to put my imagination in a lower gear, be realistic when things come up, but not panic and freak out. I know this will be harder than I think, but in the long run, it will balance my life, allowing me to be a more positive presence for myself and a more positive force in the world.

My Tumultuous Teens

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Living with teenagers can be a tricky and trying experience at times. They can be happy and carefree one minute, then, without warning, the storm clouds roll in, and they turn into surly, withdrawn creatures, barely making eye contact and communicating only with grunts and monosyllabic words. Then for no apparent  reason, the universe shifts once again, and they cheerfully ask, ‘What’s for dinner?’ It’s enough to make your head spin. There are moments when I long for what now seem like much simpler times: bubble baths and shampoo mohawks, seemingly endless bedtime stories, sticky fingers and faces, hugs, and little boy voices saying,  ‘I love you, Mommy.’ Now, instead of giggly bubble baths, there are never-ending showers that use up all the hot water. Instead of my putting the boys to sleep with a bedtime story (or two, or three), my boys wake me up late at night  to let me know they made it home safe and sound. The hugs have morphed into a kind of one-shoulder lean with no arms involved, over in an instant no matter how I try to hang on to them.

But of all the changes that have occurred through the years, the one that causes me to wonder what  I could have done differently as a parent is the response I get when I say, ‘I love you.’ Instead of a resounding ‘I love you too, Mommy!’ what I hear is ‘um hmm’ or ‘ok.’ I could let this strike me prostrate with grief, but instead I think back to my own teenage years and my surliness and mood swings with my own parents, and I realize it has nothing to do with me. It is all about my boys and the changes they are going through as they find their own way in the world. High school graduation, college, career choices, social pressures, and the occasional bad hair cut are all reasons to cause uncertainty and aggravation. Throw in some crazy woman clinging to their arms as they try to leave the house, and it’s no wonder all they can do is grunt. So, thank you Mom and Dad for your  patience, guidance, and unfailing love during my tumultuous teens, and for keeping your  snickers to a minimum as I bemoan my own trials as a parent of teenagers. I will continue to call out, ‘I love you, Buddy’ when my sons head out the door, and I’m doing a pretty good job.

Break Away From the Herd

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Leave it to my dad to find enlightenment from a herd of one-track rabbits. Eons ago when he drove one of those open-car, hand-cranked railcars for the Milwaukee Railroad (Hello, Elmer Fudd?!), he said that rabbits would get on the track in front of him, and once they started running, they couldn’t seem to figure out that all they had to do was jump off the track to avoid their demise. I don’t know if my dad realized what a powerful life lesson he imparted with this story, but it’s about the best metaphor for life a dad could share with his daughter.

Just as life never pans out for rabbits running from trains, it doesn’t fare too well for us when we’ve got railcars of pettiness, negativity, and — well, you fill in the blanks — heading our way. I don’t know what motivates rabbits to continue in their folly, but I have an inkling of what compels us as people. Long before wheels and railcars were invented, group survival was where it was at, and I still fall prey to its siren song of ‘there’s safety in numbers’ as well as that strong desire to be ‘included’ and the fear to change.

In that sense, it takes a brave bunny to break away from the herd (especially when that herd is its family of origin!). But I’ve found life is so much sweeter when we take a daily look at the track we’re on, our traveling companions, and what we have stuffed in our brain’s baggage compartment. Over the years, I’ve learned that if it looks like a train, sounds like a train, and smells like a train, it’s my cue to take the nearest exit. There’s no need to hurl insults at the rabbits who choose to remain, or throw rotten eggs on the railcar, track, or conductor. Just get yourself off the track now. Refuse to spend one more minute of your precious life huffing and puffing in order to stay out of harm’s way. You’ll never out-run a moving locomotive, and it’s no fun trying.

Truly, life is too short to settle for being steamrollered by anyone or anything. It’s a new year. The next time someone in your life wants to engage in drama, trauma, or just plain petty meanness, choose to get off the track! You can do it. A beautiful world of unlimited possibilities awaits you. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and Happy Trails!

Tammy’s Story of Gratitude

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

The following is from an email that Tammy B. sent to her Chinaberry coworkers on 06/22/10. She also wanted to share it with the larger Chinaberry community. We are so happy to have Tammy back at work. We sure missed her when she wasn’t here.


It amazes me sometimes the level of love that exudes from my coworkers at Chinaberry.

Some background information for those of you that may not know… I have worked here for 15 years and in October 2009, I was diagnosed with a pre-cancer condition and was told that I had one week to prepare for surgery and an absence from work that would last for 6 to 8 weeks. That surgery led to a diagnosis of a rare cancer and yet another surgery that would continue my disability for another 6 weeks and that surgery led to radiation and chemotherapy. All in all, I was out of work for 5 months. It was exhausting and horribly painful… not just the medical procedures but being away from my Chinaberry family for so long.

Since my extended family lives about two hours away, they could not offer the daily support I needed after my surgery. During my absence, many of my coworkers brought dinners for me and donated their vacation hours so that I could maintain my financial stability while receiving disability pay. It was above and beyond anything I could have imagined.

My mom was so impressed by the love and support that she has offered… actually insisted… to provide a special lunch for the entire company.

She wishes to express her love for Chinaberry and wants everyone to know how much she appreciates Chinaberry and what we stand for.

You’re Not Alone

Friday, September 11th, 2009

It has been a year since I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads getting. Our phone rang early on a Saturday morning when my husband was out of the country and I was home alone. On the other end of the phone was someone I didn’t know telling me that one of our closest friends had been killed the night before in a horrible plane crash.

I have heard that when your system receives a shock, time seems to switch into slow motion. That was true for me. While trying to breathe through my own grief, I had to figure out how to contact my husband and break the news to him. Since we were literally half a world apart, it was impossible to really hold and comfort one another. We each had to deal with the disbelief, the sadness, and the pain alone, as I imagine many people have to do.

Over the past year, I have watched our friend’s widow and daughter deal with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, his birthday, and Father’s Day all without their husband and father. So many times I thought to myself, “How do they get through this pain? How do they get out of bed each morning?” But somehow they did and continue to do so.

Every single one of us will have to deal with death and grieving at some point in our lives. No one is immune - it will touch all of our lives. The holidays are some of the worst days for those who are mourning. Some will have to mourn alone; others will have family members to help ease the pain. Maybe you know someone who needs a little extra attention this holiday season - someone who has recently lost a loved one. Or maybe you, yourself, are grieving the loss of someone you love.

May we all take the time to reach out to those who are hurting and let them know that even though they might feel alone, they really aren’t. While this is a season of joy for most of us, we will experience more of it if we reach out to someone who is hurting, lonely, facing a life-changing illness, or just needs a little extra love. This holiday, I wish peace of mind, love, and comfort to all.

“Searching” for Peace

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Maybe this is common knowledge, but did you know that it’s possible for a website with a “search” feature to keep track of all of the words typed into the “search” box? When you think about it, it’s an amazing tool that can be used to find out just what people are interested in, eager to know about, or are looking to buy.

I tell you this because during the start of the Iraq War, we noticed a huge surge in the number of searches on our website for the word “peace.” The conflict was on all of our minds, no matter where we stood politically. We were worried, scared, and not at all comfortable with the fact that our country was at war. So a lot of us were searching for anything that said “peace” — whether it was the word, itself, the peace symbol, a dove, or anything, really, that communicated hope for a sense of harmony in the world. But now, with the war headlines much smaller, the number of searches for “peace”? Not so many.

I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that the absence of war does not equal peace. And I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that just because we no longer hear daily war casualty numbers doesn’t mean that peace resides in the Middle East. One could say that what has replaced the war headlines — the world economic crisis — is certainly a situation riddled with anguish, fear, and despair — many of the traits of war, itself. So, I’m wondering if, judging from the decrease in the number of “peace” searches on our website, many of us believe that we now have less need to think about and work for peace. I hope not.

Because — and we’ve heard this a million times — peace comes from within. It needs to begin very close to home. It might begin with finding something to be grateful for and for sharing your gratitude with a smile for those you meet. It might begin by picking up an extra bouquet at the farmers’ market for your neighbor who doesn’t get out much. It might begin with taking a deep breath and waiting a moment before you open your mouth to vent to someone. Or maybe by volunteering your time to an effort that makes the earth a gentler place. I guess what I’m saying is that for there to be greater peace in the world, there needs to be greater peace in our own, personal worlds. Internet searches for the word “peace” are fine, but the real search begins within.

The Mug of Peace(available at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com) At first, it was the irrepressibly cheery colors of this hand-painted ceramic mug that caught my eye. What really sold me, though, was the small peace sign embossed into its side. I just love starting my day with this optimistic mug. Whether paired with tea, coffee, or hot chocolate, it’s the perfect gift for all your peace-loving friends. Microwave and dishwasher safe. [Review by Janet Kelly]

Celebrating a Girl’s Rite of Passage

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Frankly, I’m not big on a lot of the pomp that often surrounds birthdays. I like to keep our celebrations intimate and un-hyped. But Elizabeth’s thirteenth is coming up and this passage is one I want to acknowledge with a true ritual — one that helps her with a new self-identity in the adult world. And I want to do this with a sense of the sacred and an element of the mysterious. So I’ve written to the women she respects and loves the most (they’re scattered all over the country) to ask them to send her some piece of advice that they wish THEY would have gotten from an older woman friend when THEY were thirteen. I also asked them to send something small and special — a beautiful rock?, a poem?, an extraordinary bookmark? — something that she can tuck away and pull out when the going gets rough to remind her of the women who have weathered their lives’ storms and hopefully give her a boost of support to see her through her own life’s challenges. Finally, I asked all of them to tell Elizabeth what she means to them — her essence, I guess. As their gifts arrive, I will collect them into a handmade basket or wooden box and give them to her at a special moment when she and I are together.

For other ideas about coming-of-age and rites of passage, consider purchasing the Chinaberry book, The Joy of Family Traditions by Jennifer Trainer Thompson

Keeping an Open Heart in the Presence of Pain

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I can remember my father sitting at a restaurant table, years ago, quizzing my husband and me about current events and voting issues. We were young and absorbed in our new life together, and keeping up with the news was the last thing on our minds. More accurately, we’d made a somewhat conscious decision to not keep up with the news because it all seemed to be bad and what’s the use and how could our votes really count, anyway? Much to my poor father’s horror, we actually articulated this opinion to him, sending this very politically knowledgeable man into a tailspin of incredulity and, I would guess, disgust.

Since then, in fits and starts, I have become more politically aware and attentive to the news. I know enough of what’s going on to be conscious of the fact that there’s a lot more going on than what we’re being told. I don’ t think anyone would argue that unless a sensational spin can be applied to the latest current event, it’s generally not considered to be newsworthy. It ’s that ratings thing, you know. For some weird reason, the bad news, not the good, tends to get our attention and so we’re dished up even more and more of it. A twenty-minute dose of current events is sometimes enough to make you want to crawl into a hole and wait out whatever it is we, as humans, are collectively going through right now. Or would it be saner to just opt to remain ignorant of these happenings over which we have no direct influence?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that lately I don’t have to turn on the news to hear of sadness. It seems as if there are tragedies hitting closer to home and to loved ones than ever before. And I know that I’m not alone in my opinion. Friend after friend expresses the same sentiment. There is just a lot of grief not only “out there,” but “here” as well. It’s strange. And I often find myself struggling to stay balanced enough to keep on keeping on. If I allow myself to linger under whatever dark cloud is floating above me, I somehow find myself merged with that dark cloud, which then, I believe, in some way gets bigger because I am now part of it.

In the midst of what seems like a steady barrage of stories that could break my heart or make me angry, I have found that being active is so much more helpful than being passive. The bottom line is that I must make a conscious decision every day - sometimes every few minutes - to soften my heart and refuse to partake in judgment and hate. I’ve always known - but have to remind myself more often now, it seems - that I have a choice. I can just dwell on what is horrible. Or, I can be aware that there indeed are unspeakable tragedies going on even at the other end of the block (not to mention on the other side of the world) and keep my heart open and light and always ready to find joy, no matter how small that joy may seem.

I don’t know why I’ve changed. Maybe it’s because my children are older now and I have seen some of the ways life has challenged them, and I’ve seen how strong they are when they stand up to face these challenges. Or maybe it’s because life has changed me through trials of my own, honing me, polishing me, and gentling me in the process. It’s hard to tell. But what I do know now is that when all else falls away, one thing remains: the fundamental human need we all have to be connected to each other. And through consciously seeking this connection, I am learning to make space in my heart to hold the pain I meet in life and to embrace every ounce of joy that comes my way. My goal is now to enlarge my cup, so I can hold all that the world has to offer and greet each experience with compassion. The larger my heart gets, the more I can experience. It puts me at risk (for the world does hold tremendous pain), but without that risk my ability to seek and choose joy is severely limited. And without joy in my heart, how can I face the day?

A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam is an inspiring book/DVD about young people who teamed up with Nobel Laureates to create projects of real change and healing for the world.

Moving Through Grief at Your Own Pace

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Have you ever noticed that when someone is dealing with a bitter, life-changing blow, others want to “hurry” them through the grieving, sadness, and the loss stages and get them right back to “normal” as soon as possible? There is tremendous pressure from family and friends to “get over it,” “move on,” or “find closure.”

People think that by urging a loved one along, moving them toward happy days again, they are actually doing that person a favor. But I don’t think so.

We all need to move through the stages of grief or loss at our own pace, a pace that feels right and works for us. Time and time again, I encounter people who have been rushed through a process that they needed to take their time with, and they still have never really recovered.

This manifests itself in all sorts of ways — turning to food to fill a void left in your heart, “medicating” yourself with alcohol to get through the night, holing up in the house and slowly cutting off contact with others, or simply closing down and not letting anyone get close to you again.

During these scary economic times, people are experiencing losses in ways that they ordinarily might not. Losing a job that you love and have done for years is a very painful kind of loss. Losing most of your retirement savings is also a brutal blow to a family.

This summer, if someone you care about is trying to cope with a loss — be it a job, money, relationship, or a death — try to resist the urge to make them feel better before they are ready. Be there for them; listen to them when they need a sounding board, offer advice only when asked, and let them move through their stages at their own pace. It might be the best support you can offer them in this crazy “get over it” kind of world.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Buy at our sister site, IsabellaCatalog.com

The Show Must Go On?

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

‘Never let ‘em see you sweat!’ was something I heard every day when I was in acting school. This phrase was so embedded in my psyche that when a heavy wooden ladder fell on my foot during a premature blackout on stage last year, I stifled a scream and ‘acted’ as if I wasn’t in the searing pain that made it very difficult to scurry offstage for the next scene change. After all, ‘the show must go on!’

Thinking the pain would go away on its own, I lived with an aching foot for months. Instead of getting better, though, the pain progressed to the point where I began developing a slight limp. After finally seeing an M.D., I learned that I had fractured my foot that night on stage, and because I never had it treated, I now have post-traumatic arthritis that will most likely be with me the rest of my life. Hey, I always thought ‘time heals all wounds.’ No?

I have a friend whose father abandoned her when she was 5. In the 25 years I’ve known her, she’s only mentioned it once, and when she brought it up, she acted as if it was no biggee. Nobody ever sees her sweat, by golly. Yet while her ’show’ goes on, I can’t help but visualize the emotional arthritis and stiffness setting in like protective walls around her heart. While the results of my untreated ‘wound’ can be seen in my walk, hers are seen in troubled relationships and compromised health.

When it comes to wounds both physical and emotional, oh, how we want that quick fix, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that the ’show’ doesn’t go on just because we stifle our screams and act like everything’s okay. Conversely, it seems that if we don’t grieve and don’t seek help when we’re hurting, we end up carrying around an unhealed wound that can be just as crippling as any fracture in our physical body, oftentimes leading to secondary complications down the road.

My hope is that each of us can identify what we’re truly feeling and express it–that we’ll uncover what needs to be uncovered, grieve what needs to be grieved, heal what needs to be healed, and move on to a new day! While we don’t need to let everybody see us ’sweat,’ may we all be blessed with those certain dear souls with whom we can share our pain. Wishing us all a year of deep healing and better times!

Let someone who needs comforting know how much you care with this lovely heart-shaped pillow designed to bring comfort and healing.

When you’re grieving a great loss, it can be such an isolating time. You’re too exhausted to read, you feel as if you’re too much of a killjoy to be around friends, and even the thought of leaving the house drains you. Still, you crave comfort and long to feel that someone knows what you’re going through.

That’s the beauty of giving or receiving one of these Healing Hearts, which are designed to bring emotional comfort and healing. The weight of the heart when placed on the chest is comforting, like the hand of a loved one placed on the heart to soothe or encourage. Made of sumptuously soft fabric with a delicately lavender-scented stuffing, they’re just as soothing to hold as to look at.

Years ago when we carried these, we heard from so many of you. One was the mother of a young man who died of AIDS who told us that her son kept the Heart with him to the end. His mother now has the Heart with her. Women have carried their hearts into surgery; sisters have mailed the heart back and forth across country whenever one needed it the most. I can’t think of a more comforting or tasteful gift to let a loved one know you care. (Semi-sheer crushed polyester with a lustrous sheen.)