Thursday, November 16, 2017

Humble hospitality

From Thanksgiving until the finish of the Christmas season and  into the new year, we all have a laundry list of places to go, people to see, and food to bake (and eat) in preparation for the holiday season to commence.  November and December are busy months that can drain us rather quickly.  It is a never-ending cycle of self-imposed stress and expectations which can take down a person’s body, mind, and spirit quicker than you can shout,” Santa Claus”!  Yikes!  “This year will be different” we all may say, but alas, it usually never is.  Sigh. 

Do we really enjoy those eight consecutive weeks or so of hyperventilating and catching colds and other viral infections due to pure exhaustion?  I know I DO NOT.   The gift we can all count on that “ keeps giving” is the nasty Holiday Cold.  Ugh. Then, unfortunately, all the places we want to go, people we want to see, and food we want to bake becomes a little less doable and enjoyable.   
Upon reflection, I would like to offer a different perspective. The past seven years have taught me what it is like to NOT be in control of those “to do” lists  and expectations.  I am grateful for the opportunity to adjust and adapt accordingly without feelings of undue pressure or guilt.  I want to enjoy with my whole being what the true meaning of each Season has to offer.   For me, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and Epihany are all worth slowing down and sharing with others.  For you, it might be different traditions that are expressed and shared with your loved ones.  These celebrations can be meaningful only if we are fully present with one another and focusing on what is important.   

I truly enjoy having family and friends  popping in and out of our home all through those two months.  I accept that my home may look neat and tidy one day and rather messy the next.   Yep, it is!   It means more to me to sit down and share coffee, tea, hot chocolate and other treats (freshly baked or not) around our sticky kitchen table because this is our reality.  And more often than not, our reality is a messy one both exteriorly and interiorly. We are who we are.   I want our home to ALWAYS be a place of welcome to others.  To me, this looks like humble hospitality.   We, at times, have a full house when all of our family visits. Bedrooms are eschew, and we play musical chairs looking for places to sit. Lol!  When my sons and their high school friends come back to visit, and the house is full of laughter and cheer, my heart melts a thousand  times over.  Even if my body is not feeling too well, my soul is certainly uplifted.   Offering hospitality to others, in turn, heals me. 

I love decorating and baking, but I give myself permission to do it only when I have some energy and not in much pain.  Otherwise it becomes a burden, and emotionally I become irritable and even resentful.   The same reasoning can go for anyone.   If you aren’t up for the task for one reason or another, then no worries.  You can find another time that will help you focus better.  Save your energy for being with your loved ones even if that means store bought treats and paper plates.  If your sharing is done with love, that is all that matters.  

“Entertaining”evokes perfection and stress, at least to me.  It seems to feel formal and fussy.   Not that there is anything wrong with formal parties and fancy gatherings, but they lack spontaneity and simplicity.  It is not a “come as you are” type of thing—- it is finding that right little black dress!  Ugh! Talk about stress.  Lol!  Entertaining involves detailed menu planning, gourmet cooking or catering, and meticulous decorating.   That also stresses me out because we never seem to have ALL the lights lit simultaneously throughout the season.  It just never happens.  So,we laugh and go on.  

Humble hospitality invites intentional connection.   The end goal is certainly not perfection.   Loved ones and even new guests come around to just “be” with each other.  You can come in your reindeer pajamas if you wish!  Heck, just come.  Sitting, talking, smiling, eating, and laughing are some of the greatest gifts we can give one another.  They don’t need to be bought and wrapped in fancy paper.  

I am greatly anticipating this most Holy Season of Promise, Love, Redemption, and Joy.  It is my favorite time of year in which to share and celebrate the Good News.  In order to keep my heart and body in balance, I won’t be formerly entertaining, but I will open our door and warmly invite all who wish to come to gather for conversation, connection, and communion.    Come.  

Have a blessed Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The road to freedom

As I walk out my front door on a daily basis (well, almost), I feel nothing but deep gratitude within my soul.  I take a few cleansing breaths in and out and start on my way. Sometimes I feel pretty strong and ready to tackle my neighborhood full of hills, but other times I don’t have much energy, so I take the shorter paths which are a bit easier to walk.  Each day is a new normal for me, and I must allow myself space and patience to adjust and adapt. There is no longer getting out of bed quickly and running out the door in a hurry without hesitation or being lead by wild abandon—sometimes I secretly miss those days because they felt like freedom to me.  Instead, I no longer take for granted the healing that comes from planting one’s feet solidly on the ground and intentionally stepping forth.  

It does not matter how far I go nor the pace of which I travel.  I could care less.  No, I do not clock my daily steps with a Fitbit or some other device.  To me, this is a hinderance to my own progress.  I walk quietly and purposefully without the noise of music or podcasts straining my ears.  Why?  Because each step matters.  My story matters.  My freedom matters. There are days when I am struggling with a lot of pain and fatigue so I might only jaunt briefly around the yard.  I call this a success.   Dropping my competitive yearn as in years ago gives me the freedom from comparison which does not serve me well. It is refreshing to just walk, observe, ponder, and pray.   I call this my “gratitude walk”.   It is a sacred time to commune with God and feel His peace wash over me. 

Sometimes my path might be an evening stroll on our boardwalk at the beach with my hubby.  We walk hand in hand and just talk about our day while connecting with one another. If we are lucky, we run into friends who are walking as well and we stop and chat and share some laughter.  This brings some levity into our souls which is appreciated after dealing with the stressors of the day. What a blessing for me to continue to gain strength to physically walk more than I have in several years.  Michael reminds me of how far I have come and to celebrate what I can do on any given day and not focus on what I can’t.  Once again, freedom. 

There were many days and weeks over the past years that I was so completely debilitated that I was unable to walk outside.  I could only manage shuffling around the inside first floor of my home. Sometimes I couldn’t even manage that alone.  I had to have help from my caring family or my dear sweet friends.  What blessings they were!  God was certainly caring for me in those times when I felt the most vulnerable.  Those were dark, depressing days that definitely did NOT feel like freedom.     

This year I am celebrating more milestones of actually putting one foot in front of the other and finally getting somewhere!  WooHoo!  My strength and hope are renewed, and my Heavenly Father is paving the way before me.   I continue to walk in His Love and Light.  When I surrender to His will, I know His perfect plan will be worked out in and through me.   Not my way,  but His.   Freedom. 

The road to healing is not a straight one.   I am sure you are well aware of this yourselves, no matter your circumstances.   I veer off to the side of my road many times and end up in a ditch.  Presently the ditch isn’t so deep , so I am able to get out and find my path which leads to freedom once again.  It seems to be a continual process of our lives.  

Can you think of areas of your life that you might have fallen off the road and into a ditch?  Is it possible to regain your strength and reset your GPS to guide you to your destination?   My hopes and prayers are with you on your road to freedom, and may you discover sweet joy in your journey as well. 

As Henri Nouwen says,
      “ In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey.  Keep returning to the road to freedom.”  

Monday, October 9, 2017

To breathe or not to breathe

‘‘Tis the season of smellies and artificial scents all over the place.  Ugh!!  I dread just stepping out of my scent free zone and into the not so subtle aromas of candles, poupori, sprayed cinnamon sticks and pine cones, smelly floral arrangements of Fall.  Sadly, on top of the everyday bombardment of artificial smells, I am now dealing with the worse two seasons of all—Fall and Winter.  I am tired of being polite or politically correct on this issue, so bear with me while I make my voice (and nose) heard. 

I suffer from extreme chemical sensitivity which is only one of the many annoying symptoms of chronic M.  This symptom is difficult to manage due to the fact I must live in the world and not stay contained in a bubble which is fragrance free.  Unfortunately, if I just wouldn’t have to breathe, I might be better off.   Lol.   All kidding aside, breathing in toxic chemicals which are so offensive is not healthy for anyone.  This is the truth. What ever happened to “natural scents”?  Why do we attach artificial scents to the air filter systems, cleaning products, room deodorizers, etc etc?  Most are completely unnecessary.  The smell of real baked apple and pumpkin pies is sure better than a yankee candle.  Simply placing fresh citrus in bowls works well to add a fresh odor to any environment.  

It seems like I can’t go into stores, office buildings(medical included), public restrooms without potentially entering a mine field.  I find that most store changing rooms smell so badly that I can’t even try on the clothes. I must take them home for that process. Those scents not only trigger an awful M, but I physically get respiratory distress which is another whole level of sick.  And yes, I carry scarves with pure peppermint oil or apply Vick’s vapor rub to my nose.  I certainly do everything to help myself, but sometimes it isn’t enough.  I not only speak for myself, but I am advocating for my fellow sufferers as well.  

If I visit someone’s home I need to ask them ahead of time to please “de-scent” their place.  For my dear friends and family I don’t feel embarrassed but for people whom I do not know, I don’t say anything and then just “hope for the best”.   If their house doesn’t waft with artificial smells, someone undoubtedly will be bathed in strong perfume!  I can’t win.  Even staying for a short time is not really a viable option for me.  It is not that simple. Church can be a disaster zone—- perfumes and incense will send me running for the door.  I can walk in feeling pretty well and leave feeling pretty sick.   

Since chronic M is mostly an invisible illness, how I may look is not a true indicator of how I may actually feel.  Dressing up nicely to appear in public with a smile on my face doesn’t mean I am not bothered by my surroundings and ready to head straight on ino a sick attack.   I do my ever-lovin’ best to participate in every way I can to enjoy life and all its blessings, but my overly sensitive nervous system has different ideas.  If you happen to see me with a strange look on my face with eyes glazed over, you will know I am headed to go down soon.  So, get out of my way!!!  

I kindly ask consideration, tolerance, and understanding of my heightened chemical sensitivity even though it may seem awkward or strange.  Please don’t be offended if I ask you to not wear perfume or give me lotions and soaps for gifts.  It is nothing personal against you. Not at all.  It helps me to navigate my surroundings a bit easier so that I can enjoy stepping outside of my comfort zone.   It would be much appreciated. 
So this year at the Thanksgiving table, please pass the turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, but not the artificial cinnamon pine cones around the centerpiece.   Thank you. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

A leaf of faith

Autumn is upon us, and fairly soon here in New England, our trees and fire bushes will turn glorious colors---golden yellow, crimson red, burnt orange, and finally brown.  As fun as it is to witness and enjoy the ever changing landscape, this means that there is positively no more holding onto summer.  My flip flops definitely give way to my favorite boots, and time marches forward.  Ready or not. 

As with nature's seasons, our personal life seasons are similar.   Some bring unwanted and untimely sadness and suffering, and we tend to want that time to pass over us as quickly as possible.   The hurt and pain and darkness can become very burdensome to bear.   Other seasons fill us with immense joy and ease to breathe.  The light seems to certainly overshadow the dark.  It is only natural that we desire to stay connected and soak up all the gifts of this season.  

I am always learning that whatever season I may currently be walking through at the present, God has in store for me great gIfts of His love and mercy to continue down my path set before me.  I may not understand the "why", but I want to respond with a "yes" to His will.  This isn't always easy by any means.  Currently, God is asking me to really take a "leaf" of faith to trust Him in the waiting.  Patience.  More patience.  

There is always interior growth during any season but certainly more in the difficult ones.  With ease comes a bit of relaxed comfort, but with the cold, dark trying times, sprouts of faith are rooting below the surface.  We just can't see those "fruits" in the waiting from our human perspective.  Only God can. 

My particular seasons of living with chronic M are helping me embrace my faith ever more fervently.  Somehow I go in and out of them like a flowing river, and sometimes I go kicking and screaming like a maniac.   (Ask my hubby and kids)!   

How about you?  What season are you currently traversing?  Are you fumbling and bumbling along your thorny path, or are your feet planted firmly on the ground moving forward with confidence?  

Maybe you are finding it hard to hang on just one more day because the pain seems overwhelming.  I understand, my friend.  I' ve been there.  Don't give up.  Another season of light and beauty is around the corner.  Believe this to be true.  

Let's all take a "leaf" of faith in the Autumn of our lives.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September skies

As the school buses roar up the streets once again, and I hear the giggling of children's voices, I know that Fall has arrrived in some sense of the word.  While the yearly calendar may not officially state its arrival until September 22, the lazy hazy days of summer routines are now replaced with the mad rush of back to school nights, football games, and band performances on the field.  In our particular area since we are a shoreline community, we are bidding farewell to most of the tourists and hello to lots of school activities and getting stuck behind school buses--- especially when it comes to having a time crunch to get to my needed appointments.  Ugh!  It seems we are trading one delay for another.  That's ok.  It is good to take a pause every now and again.

 However, time moves on whether I am ready or not.  

Watching and listening to the younger families go here and there with "concerned" looks on their faces remind me of my younger years toting my own boys around from practically sunrise to sunset.  I was involved in carpools, after school activities, volunteering for what seemed like everything, and prepping for dinner mid afternoon just so a good, hot meal would be ready at different times of the day according to the schedules.  Whew!  Just writing about this tires me!  Some days it is actually hard to imagine that we all survived those challenging but rewarding years.  

This is the time of year that I feel the most in between of sorts.  Living in a beach area is so much fun and has a more "let's stick with summer feel".  I am still enjoying the boardwalk strolls and putting my toes in the cool sand.  There is definitely less sunlight now, so it is quite noticeable that the days are growing shorter.  I feel that all so gentle nudge to eat dinner a little earlier on the porch so that we can quickly clean up and head down to the beach to catch the GORGEOUS September sunsets.  They are magnificent.  God's masterpieces on display.  No other explanations needed.  

During the day the September sky has a unique glow all of its own.  The color is azure with nary a white cloud.  In the late afternoon, the tilt of the setting sun shines at a different angle in my family room. By 4:00pm, it is quite noticeable. 

 Also, the squirrels are scampering about collecting their food stash for the winter.  They are hysterical at times, but when they dig into my potted plants, I am none to happy. I am fascinated at the signs given in nature to help us prepare for the seasonal changes ahead.  

My body is trying to prepare for the upcoming season of Autumn.   However, since I am currently undergoing new treatments for managing my chronic M, I will step forward with more confidence and Hope than in past years.   

How are you facing Fall?  Are you ready for pumpkins, mums, and apple cider donuts?  Do you like the refreshing cool, crisp air? Sweaters and boots? Fading daylight?

For me, I have one foot with a flip flop on firmly planted in summer sand while the other foot is inside my favorite boot firmly planted on Fall leaves.  

Whatever season, just enjoy its gift.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lean in, listen closely, and linger longer

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."  
                  John Lubbock,  The Use of Life

While summertime has a rhythm and flow all of its own which tends towards a lot of "doing"---going on vacations, celebrating friendships over backyard  picnics, entertaining the kids out of school, and maybe attending local baseball games, it is still important to make space for some rest.   Holy Rest.  Slowing down and fully embracing the quieter moments that summertime has to offer can be full of soul refreshment.  It is like sipping a cool, tall glass of fresh iced tea or lemonade while siting on a neighbor's porch and being fully present without an agenda or expectation.   No rushing allowed.  Practicing leaning in and listening closely as if time stands still for a brief, few moments are  cherished.  A spiritual thirst is quenched.  

It always seem like I can hardly wait for the arrival of summer especially after a long, cold and dreary spring up here in New England.  I have my ideas and agendas which are only loosely set in soft sand.  I absolutely love the break in routine and just go with the flow.  That's how we fly at our home currently.  Lots of comings and goings and activity balanced with the need for rest and quiet.  But then before I know it, August is upon us!  Where did the time go?!!  

I still wish for daylight to last past 8:00pm!  Now after we eat dinner, we hurry to clean up the dishes to get to our boardwalk before dark.  That little bit of rushing can sometimes make me feel anxious.  However, I guess that is preparing me for the fall routine.  Wow.  The sunsets this summer have been magnificent.  I want to see every one of them so as not to ever take for granted God's grandeur of His glorious gifts.  His beauty shines forth upon this dark and messy world.  God is in control.  

Looking over the past seven years of living with chronic M, I must say that this summer has brought me the greatest joy of participating in my life once again.  I still journey through the ups and downs wth this disease and the unpredictability of what the next hour will bring, but I am learning better how to manage and cope.  I care for my body differently now and realize the importance of balancing the doing with the being. 

I would love to hear of some of your highlights and adventures you experienced this summer.  I also am happy to listen to your struggles as well.  This is life no matter what season we are in at the moment.  

Maybe in the next few weeks we have left of summer, we could slow down from the frantic pace of preparing for fall and lean into the wonders of nature.  Let's stop and listen more closely to someone in need and offer some encouragement.   How about we linger longer in the unhurried moments that are left of this bright and sunny season.  Meet me on my deck, and we can sip some fresh iced tea and smile.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A revolving door, a basket of big shoes, and a house full of happy

My blog title pretty much sums of the theme of my summer. It is one of much coming and going of friends and family.  No, we haven't offered our home as a summer air B&B, officially yet!  Lol!  But I must say, it kind of feels like it.  Believe me, this is a good thing.   Truly, this is the first summer in six years since not being well that I am able to experience the pure joy of the crazy chaos of my surroundings.  Sometimes I am an active participant of the silliness, and sometimes I am a passive one.  No matter the case, I am savoring each moment of living, not just surviving. 

Mike and I tease about our B&B because we up front tell people that it really is a "make your own bed and cook your own breakfast" for the most part. It takes me hours before I really function well in the mornings while so many "normal" folks have already been up and at it for the day. However, there is always food in the fridge and a grocery store around the corner.  Most importantly, hot coffee can be offered at all times of the day. Win win!!  Our guest bedroom and our man cave in the basement are frequently occupied.  Between my own guys as well as their many friends, I actually can't keep up with who is where most of the time! Crazy!  Sounds of laughter and joy fill our home which certainly lift our spirits.  

The silly shenanigans of board and video games being played, movies runnng as if the basement were a theater, cooking and baking at all hours of the day and night, and basketball bouncing in the driveway---make our home a place where all are welcome for sure.  I truly treasure every moment as I know the young men and women are growing up, moving away, and settling into their new lives.  This is bittersweet. 

Watching our own sons and their beautiful friends interact and share life together makes my heart very happy.  Over the years our house has always been a full one, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.  Parenting young adults and journeying with them as they step into this uncertain world full of daunting challenges is not an easy thing.  Who knew?  We try our best to guide with lots of love and understanding and then step aside and allow God to fully watch over and care for them.   

This summer our family bid farewell to some dear friends of many years.  Obviously this was not easy to do, but saying goodbye was a necessary part of the process for them to move on to new midlife adventures.  For that, we are happy for them.  We celebrated with small parties and picnics to help give them send offs they will hopefully remember for years to come.  I know we will.  

I am not saying that the Aleo summer has been devoid of conflict and sick days and suffering. This is certainly not the case.  As a family we are always working on relationship issues which entail much prayer and sacrifice and sometimes keeping our "big mouths shut"!!  However, it is in the deep mystery of receiving God's mercy and grace that we gather the strength to press onward together.  

So, amidst the work and play schedules, the sick and painful days, the sitting with others who are hurting and suffering, the celebrations of important life events, and gathering around the big kitchen table for many meals of the loaves and fishes, our house is full of happy.  Praise God.