Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chronic unhappiness

"7 Habits of Chronically Unhappy People" by Tamara Star. When I saw this headline on Huffington Post this morning I just had to click it! (to read the article click here.)  Tamara goes into more detail on the site but here are the 7 habits she describes:

1) Your default belief is that life is hard.
2) You believe most people can't be trusted.
3)  You focus on what's wrong with the world vs. what's right.
4)  You compare yourself to others and harbor jealousy.
5)  You strive to control your life.
6)  You consider your future with worry and fear.
7)  You fill your conversation with gossip and complaints.

Know anyone who fits all 7?  how about 5?  3?  how about yourself?  I see several that I know quite intimately. And even if none of these apply to you, being around someone who lives these mantras can be draining and exhausting.

One of the things I've learned working as a hospice chaplain is that even though someone may have spent a large portion of their life viewing the world through several pairs of these skewed glasses, by the time they receive a hospice referral and we have had an opportunity to talk about their impending death, most of these beliefs have been allowed to fade into the background, seen to be not as important to keep holding onto, or even viewed with some humor. When faced with death, many begin to see more clearly or at least get a new prescription for their glasses.  Let's not wait until then to change our unhappiness habits.

unhappy sunflower taken from

Thursday, July 24, 2014

72 Labors of Perpetual Care

So my CPE experience ended two months ago and I've been waiting to see how all that I learned (or unlearned) while at Evergreen will play out in my life.  I'm not quite ready to talk about it in detail.  I'm just letting it seep into the cracks and crevices of my very being.  But I will share the meditation I penned for our biweekly IDG meeting at hospice as it grew as a result of my CPE experience. 

One of the books that our CPE supervisor taught from in weekly Didactic sessions was "How Then Shall We Live" by Wayne Muller.  It's a great book.  We're reading through it in our Lectio Group.  Everyone is enjoying it immensely.  Thanks Delmas!

The following writing is my response/interpretation of a reading from the “How Shall I Live, Knowing I Shall Die” section of Wayne Muller’s 1996 book, “How Then Shall we Live.”  Names in the story have been changed for privacy.

The 72 labors of perpetual care
July 23, 2014

There is an old Buddhist prayer that monks recite before meals that begins with this line: "First 72 labors brought us this food.  We should know how it comes to us.”  Their point being that we should become more aware of all the connections in our life.  Do you ever think about such labors in regards to your own food?  In light of this prayer let’s consider my morning latte which is something I take for granted on a daily basis.  How many people did it take for it to get to me?  I’m not exactly sure but here goes: the Farmer who prepared the field, the planter, the picker, processor, roaster, miller, exporter, importer, dock workers, ship workers, truckers, packagers, grinders, brewers, cup manufacturers, coffee machine makers, the coffee stand owner and of course, the Baristas.  That’s just 18 labors that I know of and that’s without even discussing the milk!
What would my life be like if I remembered all these connections?  How much more grateful would I be for this latte that sits in front of me? And how much more would I enjoy the latte knowing how much I have received?  Did you know that gratefulness slows time down?
Over the past 2 weeks I’ve had several conversations with people in which the idea of giving and receiving was mentioned. Everyone agreed that giving was a lot easier than receiving.   For all of us here at this table today, we know how to give.  It’s probably why we went into hospice work.  We love to give.  But many of us struggle with receiving.  We almost bristle at the idea of receiving.  Why is that?  I think it’s because we easily forget reality.  And that reality is that we constantly rely on others for our well-being (and for our lattes.) 

This was made very evident this week at the office when our co-worker, Lina, quite suddenly became very ill.  How frightening that was.  And yet she was not alone.  Her experience did not occur in a vacuum.  Everyone gathered around her.  Everyone felt her pain and her fear.  And just as those 18 labors connected me to my morning latte how much more were we all connected to Lina and one another?  911 was called.  EMT’s arrived.  Rhonda took blood pressure & monitored vitals.  Kristen lay on the floor with her. Doug managed the phones and Julie rode to the hospital with her.  Doctors and nurses cared for her.  Maggie kept us posted as to her status.  Her family gathered around her.  Technicians took x-rays and MRI’s and CAT scans.  All those connections.  All that love. 
You could feel the tension amongst those of us waiting here in the office as we continued working while wondering how Lina was doing. I was thrilled when Julie called looking for a ride back to the office from the hospital for then I too became one of the 72 labors!   We were connected in our humanity.  And it served as a good reminder of what our patients experience from us as caregivers.

What we forget to remember is that “we are in the perpetual care of others.”[1] I looked up the definition of “perpetual.”  It means “never ending or changing, occurring repeatedly, so frequent as to seem endless and uninterrupted.”   We are not independent. We are in the perpetual care of one another.  We are interdependent.  We are givers and we are receivers.  We can’t be one without the other.  Perhaps in giving we heal ourselves and in receiving we heal others. Or maybe it’s the other way around?  

I invite you to pause today to think through the 72 or 32 or 18 labors of something or someone you take for granted.  Maybe it’s the water coming out of your tap, or the road you drove into work on today or the medication that keeps a loved one well.  Whatever it is, remember that we have much to be grateful for within all of our daily connections, no matter how mundane they may appear.  Let us give thanks for the opportunity to give to one another and to receive from one another.  May we continue to offer perpetual care for one another, for ourselves, and for our patients.  And may Lina recover completely from her vertigo.   Amen

[1] How Then Shall We Live, Muller, p. 227


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Overcoming fear

Tomorrow is the start of a new adventure - Clinical Pastoral Education at Evergreen Health in Kirkland.  I've worked as a hospice chaplain for almost a year and a half now and  I see the need for more education, more self-awareness, and more diversity, all of which I know I will encounter in the next 12 weeks.  My major concern right now is getting to the hospital from my daughter's house in Snohomish.  You see, I have a fear of heights and freeway overpasses.  You might think, what's the big deal?  But if you are one of the countless people who walk around with any sort of anxiety issue, you know this is no small matter.

Over 10 years ago I hit my head and suffered major inner ear damage which brought on long term vertigo.  Tasks I had taken for granted suddenly turned into impossibilities.  Driving was at the top of the list.  For weeks I refused to drive but I had responsibilities and finally got behind the wheel.  I was beyond terrified as I feared losing control of my car.  At one point while crossing the Tacoma Narrows bridge I experienced my first panic attack.  My breathing became shallow, my heart rate raised and I involuntarily removed my foot from the gas pedal and came to a stop.  I would not recommend doing this.  It makes other drivers extremely irritated. 

After that incident I began limiting my life.  I came up with all sorts of rules about what I could not do.  No driving on bridges, no driving over water, no driving at night, no driving in the rain.  The list was endless. 

But my doctor told me that my inner ear would eventually compensate for the damage from the fall.  It would take years but he was right.  Unfortunately my brain didn't get the message regarding all my rules.  I accepted the fears as reality.

Over the last two years I've made remarkable progress thanks to my spiritual director.  I now drive on freeways, drive at night in rain and can cross a bridge, as long as it's on the water.  However, two fears remain that I have not faced yet.  Heights and overpasses. 

So what does this have to do with CPE?  Well, the easiest route to take is over a very tall freeway overpass that connects the 522 to the 405. Am I going to tackle it on my first day?  No, as I have other fears to contend with such as the fear of sleeping in and being late.  So I am leaving earlier and taking another route.  But in the midst of all this I have come up with some strategies to use when I decide to take the quickest route. 

I found this quote that says "The only thing standing between where you are and where you want to be is your fear."  I replaced "fear" with the "fear of overpasses" as I need to literally cross that bridge to get to the hospital!  So I decided to do The Work on my fears.

Here's words to say as I approach my fear (bridge): 
I look forward to crossing this overpass.  Each time will be easier than the last.
I am thankful that my body wants to protect me from harm.  It's doing it's job, but I'm not in Danger, I'm in Discomfort!
I know that this panic attack will end.

Here's to overcoming this fear which will allow me to concentrate on my yet undiscovered fears of CPE!!!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

one small thing

A friend sent the following poem to me today.  It lists many of the labels we use to introduce ourselves. I began listing mine but stopped counting at around twenty.  The poet asks us to consider suspending usage of the labels in order to focus on the beauty of the present moment.
And just now, looking out the window I saw my son-in-law and grandson digging for worms in the vegetable patch.  As I watched the father and child feed worms to the chickens I knew that this was what Susan Glassmeyer is guiding me toward as the  "one small thing that cost us nothing but our attention."  
The photos capture the "something simple that nourished my soul"  today. 
Fredrick showing me the worm his dad  has unearthed.
Let's not say our names
or what we do for a living.
If we are married
and how many times.
Single, gay, or vegan.
Let's not mention
how far we got in school.
Who we know,
what we're good at
or no good at, at all.
Let's not hint at
how much money we have
or how little.
  Where we go to church
or that we don't.
What our Sun Sign is
our Enneagram number
our personality type according to Jung
or whether we've ever been
Rolfed, arrested, psychoanalyzed,
or artificially suntanned.
Let's refrain, too, from stating any ills.
What meds we're on
including probiotics.
How many surgeries we've survived
or our children’s children's problems.
And, please—
let's not mention
who we voted for
in the last election.
Let's do this instead:
Let's start by telling
just one small thing
that costs us nothing
but our attention.
Something simple
that nourishes
the soul of our bones.
How it was this morning
stooping to pet the sleeping dog's muzzle
before going off to work.
walking in the woods
spotting that fungus on the stump
of a maple
so astonishingly orange
it glowed like a lamp.
Or just now,
the sound
of your
own breath
or sinking
at the end
of this

-- Susan Glassmeyer

action shot of Fredrick offering the worm.
Chickens and small boys move fast!
happy chickens

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Forgive More

Have you ever attended a seminar or conference and been inundated with information to the point that by the time you leave you can’t remember much of anything that you heard, even though you took copious notes?  That is a common occurrence and one that I had this past weekend at this year's Seattle University’s "Search for Meaning" book fair.  This event brings together authors whose works focus on our never-ending search for meaning in such arenas as spirituality, diversity, and social justice. After spending the day listening to amazing speakers I walked away struck by just 2 words that I heard in one of the sessions.  These 2 words weren’t an integral part of the presentation but they wouldn't leave me.

The two words that stayed with me?  Forgive More…I don’t know why but they resonated somewhere deep inside.  I struggle with forgiveness – of others and of myself.  I know the importance of forgiveness but more forgiveness?  I’m pretty happy with Forgive Just Enough.   

Many years ago I was walking thru a grocery store and said hello to a woman I knew from church.  She looked surprised and said, “Oh, so you’re talking to me now?”  I was confused.  “What do you mean by that? Why wouldn’t I be talking to you?” “Well Roberta,” she replied, “You've been ignoring me for awhile now, but I'm not surprised because everyone knows that you can hold a grudge for a very long time.”  Ouch….I felt defensive and my ego’s first response was “No I don’t do that, it’s just not true!” but after really thinking about it I realized there was truth in what she had said.  It doesn’t help that holding grudges is part of my DNA.  I come from Northern Ireland, a country that has raised the level of holding grudges into an art form.  It was common in my family of origin to cut people off for years after an offense or a perceived offense.  But that is no excuse.  Good grief, I wasn’t even aware that I wasn’t talking to this woman!  And there are those two words again:  Forgive More.

In my work as a hospice chaplain one of the prayers that people love to hear and recite is The Lord’s Prayer.  You know how it starts:  "Our Father, who does art in Heaven, Harold be your name."  Are you familiar with that version?  No?  Well children are! Probably because they haven’t learned all the rules about the “right way” to pray and they have the wonderful ability to hear and interpret words they don't understand in their own way.

There is another line in that prayer that is my favorite interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. It was written by a 4 year old – and we all know how wise a 4 year old can be. In Jesus’ version the line says “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  What is a trespass?  An offense, sin, wrong, transgression, or debt.  Here’s the 4 year old version of that verse:  “Forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”

Forgive more.  Maybe it means to empty my trash basket.  Maybe it means to think about what trash I'm putting in others’ baskets.   And maybe it means to just Forgive More. 
photo from here

Monday, February 10, 2014

Letter from the Wise Ones

Greetings Dear Landlady,

We have had yet another delightful Epiphany season. We knew you would want to know that we arrived safely (though Herod tried to fool us yet again.)  The toddler is a wonder to behold and I think he loved his gifts - though his mother took them away from him for safekeeping -  but we completely understand.  We hope he can use them later in life. 

We are heading back now but are taking our time as we've met so many other wise ones on our journey . Tell the leprechaun that we will probably miss him this year as we probably won't return before his big day in March.

Please enjoy the photos we've enclosed of our compadres.  What a joy to travel!

Epiphany Blessings!

The Wise Men

P.S.  The camel is doing splendidly...what a help he has been!

Toddler Christ: A Collect
"Toddler Christ,
before whom Wise Men knelt,
after they had foolishly aided a tyrant
who wanted to destroy you:
Make us, in the face of dangerous power,
as crafty as snakes and as harmless as doves,
so that we know when to be silent,
when and how to speak,
and when to take another road,
in your name.  Amen"
from Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany:
Liturgies and Prayers for Public Worship
by Brian A. Wren
p. 199


Monday, January 6, 2014


It's the Wisemen's big day. 
They are off on another adventure to find the Christ Child. 

Me:  Are you excited?

Wise1:  Oh yes dear landlady.   We are very excited to start our pilgrimage. 

Me:  But aren't you supposed to be there today?

Wise1:  It's all about the journey my dear, not the destination.

Me:  Oh...I see....So....I gotta ask....where did the camel come from?

Wise2:  A gift from one of the Magi we visited last year...

Me:  Aha...Well, I must say you did a great job of packing all your gifts upon your camel!

Wise2:  Was that yet another insult about our immovable arms?

Me:  Heavens no!  I was just curious about how you did that?

Wise3:  Never you mind....

Me:  Any wise words before you leave?

Wise1:  Yes indeed.  Do not rest on what you believe to be true. 
Wise2:  Keep searching for the divine in all you do and in all you meet and you will have cause to rejoice.

Me:  So you're saying that we are all called to celebrate Epiphany?

Wise3:  Every day in every situation.  Here's a wonderful quote to ponder while we are gone:
"Without the quest, there can be no epiphany."  Constantine Scaros

Me:  Got it...keep the quest alive! See the beauty of Christ in all that you meet.

Wise3:  And give thanks for every glimpse of that child's light.

Wise1: You will be delightfully surprised by all the light that surrounds you, and by the light you emit.

Me:  Sigh...I miss you guys already....Safe Travels