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Well There You Have It!

I took a personality test today. In fifteen minutes I answered a series of questions and the tiny, little analyzer internet minions spit out pure truth.

When looking at Personal Motivators, “Aesthetic” was my highest score.

The test said:

  • Katie enjoys the beauty of her surroundings and would like others to share
    her passion.
  • She will enjoy the more traditional form of beauty as compared to the
    abstract.
  • She is in tune with her inner feelings and likes surroundings that compliment these feelings.
  • Katie seeks self-realization and fulfillment.
  • Katie needs a sense of harmony and balance in her surroundings and relationships.
  • Being recognized for creativity is the highest form of achievement for her.
  • Katie is interested in studying and appreciating the totality of a situation.
  • Creativity is only limited by external, not internal boundaries.

How do they do it? Completely GET you after a series of 12 questions! I am amazed and delighted that this analysis confirms what I sometimes deny to be true about myself.

These truths have trickled into my internet space and affirmed, yet again, that I believe in the pursuit of beauty. I believe in it ever so much!

Writing about feelings and surroundings and harmony and balance makes sense because these building blocks make up my core. I believe that creativity is worth achieving and equals accomplishment. The pursuit of beautiful things being more important to me than money or fast cars or fancy jewelry (although if this blog brings me money or fancy jewelry I wouldn’t say no.) I believe in being honest about feelings – fear, doubt, happiness, joy, confusion, grief. Bring them all on!

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

 

So I raise my arms in praise to the Universe for sending a confirming message that I’m on the right track. In writing, in the pursuit of beauty, in the privilege it is to just be myself.

Let’s keep at it eh?

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The Office Phone Rang

The office phone rang yesterday. Once. Twice. Glance at the caller ID.

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Photo by Davidson Luna

I picked up the black office phone, untangled the snaggled cord, and tucked the receiver (oh dear, that is what it’s called right) between my raised shoulder and my left ear.

“American Family Insurance, this is Katie how can I help you?”

How many times have I repeated that phrase? I started when I was sixteen, working in my Dad’s office. And now, after his death, have spent over 365 days living out his legacy, still with the company, working for a different agent.

“Hi, this is …… and I’m calling to let you know that my husband died this past weekend.”

I paused. Death sucks your breath out of your bones, even when you don’t know the person who has passed.

“Oh no, ” I am sure I said “I am so sorry.”

I didn’t know this customer and I didn’t know her husband. I do know just how jolting death can be for the living. The ones left behind.

We continued the conversation.

I began to notice, in this customer call, there lived signs of personal progress.

My stomach didn’t drop. Huh. That’s different.

For the last year anytime someone told me another person left this planet my stomach would crumple. My body would sweat, my heart would drop deep into my already aching gut. Empathetic wavelengths would extend like squid, squeezing remnants of emotional energy I didn’t have to spare out to other people.

This didn’t happen yesterday.

We proceeded to talk logistics and I was shocked by this woman’s resolve. Her ability to speak coherently, to share her concern. “He used to handle these things,” she said, “how am I supposed to now know what’s best?”

I hmm’d along empathetically, flashing back to many conversations with my own mom who instantly acquired the title ‘widow’. We spent a better part of a year rebuilding, coaching, working together on learning again to know what’s best. You certainly can’t know in the first few days. Sure you can take action, make decisions, pick a song for a funeral. But what’s best? Baby, that takes a really long time.

I clicked through our computer system and managed to rework this woman’s policies. New options saved her money on her monthly premium. Changing coverage, that’s easy.

I gracefully offered to remove her husband’s name from her policies. Erasing a person from a policy, that’s harder.

Robotically, I clicked an “x” into the Deceased box next to her husbands name, and changed her marital status to widowed.

How quickly our society allows you to mark a box, change a status, erase a name on a billing account. The process of grief is no where near this simple. I still hate this word – deceased. I hate knowing that my dad falls into that category. One simply does not erase a loved one from your own being.

I never once mentioned my own loss in that conversation. I learned quickly that saying, ‘Oh yes, I lost someone too’ doesn’t bring comfort. Instead it brings awkwardness and an urgency to change the subject. I listened and asked if she had someone nearby to help her with these decisions. Support remains vital.

As I hung up that black office phone I felt strong and empowered. For the first time, I noticed how Dad’s death had purpose in changing ME. I was empathetic, calm, and collected when absorbing other people’s stories. I could offer support, problem solve, listen and see, just for ten minutes, her situation and perspective. Her pain was separate from my pain.

This is new. This is healing.

We keep saying in our household just how true it is that people die. People die. This doesn’t remove emotion, downplay trauma, or remove loving connection. These words just make it easier for me to live with the truth of death.

This phone call brought beautiful awareness. A gift from my job that can bring comfort and pain at the same time. A deeper understanding of how Dad once worked with customers. The realization that my approach to the world has forever changed with this pulsing absence of Dad. An American Family insurance agent for almost twenty years.

 

ps. Do you know hard it is to find stock photos of office phones? Ha! No one takes pictures of these anymore. Maybe the use of an old office phone is also a beautiful thing.

 

 

“Grace always bats last.”

*Vulnerability alert – choosing to share my sticky emotions because they too have a place for beauty. Continue reading if you so desire.*

 

I am getting ready to celebrate my birthday this week. We went to a play with my mom and my brother on Friday evening. It was a lovely performance full of live music and dancing and emotion. Pure passion put on stage with a mixture of honesty, struggle, heart. Just what art should do for us. My dad was not with us, just as he won’t be with us for the rest of my life. And friends, it makes my heart ache.

We are getting closer to the year anniversary of his death, and they say that as you move through all of the monumental dates in the first year without your loved one, a weight can be lifted. I hope what they say is true.

I am taking time to honor the beautiful tears that come when you acknowledge loss, the waves of deep sadness that come right along side the desire to celebrate, to move on, to be cheerful.

I am scared to turn another year older without him.

And then, just today, I came across this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott and remembered that ‘oh yes, I am so very far from being alone.’ I’m cheating a little and sharing the words of another. Beautiful, beautiful words.

Anne Lamott writes,

When people we can’t live without die, everyone likes to quote John Donne, “Death be not proud.” Yeah yeah yeah, thank you for sharing. My father died of brain cancer when he was seven years younger than I am now. He was my closest person. I did not love it. My best friend died years ago, leaving behind an 18 month old daughter. She was my closest person. I did not love it, or agree to it, and just barely survived it.

My darling friend Ann Brebner passed away early Friday. (You were so incredibly generous to donate to the fund for her home-care. Your generosity has given me such huge abiding hope in Goodness and miracles. We were down to almost no money. She accidentally spent her life creating and directing plays, loving us crazily, laughing and listening to music, giving to charity, instead of investing.)

Maybe this passing seems less death-y, as she was 93. But believe me, she had done the dying part, the closing-up-shop part, the leaving-us part, just like everyone has to do. It’s death 101 for everyone here on the incarnational side of things: we do it with no owner’s manual (Death for Dummies?) , and at the end, alone. If I were God’s West Coast representative, I would have a different system in place, i.e. less mysterioso Ouija board enigma. More grok-able My grandson stood nearby her at church as she sometimes painstakingly got out of our car. He always called her Ann Brevner, one word. “Hi, Annbrevner!” I told him Friday night that she had passed, and his mouth dropped open. “AnnBREVNER died?” he asked. Then, “I wonder what that’s like? Dying?”

So I thought I would tell you what I know, because this thing, this aspect of reality, this weird scary aspect of life, can just wreck everything if you don’t figure out at some point that it is what makes life so profound, meaningful, rich, complex, wild. If you try to outrun this existential truth, with manic achievement and people-pleasing and exotic distractions, it begins to argue a wasted life. Everyone we love–and I am just going to add, in a whisper, even our children and nieces and nephews–will die. They will no longer be here, on this side of eternity. We Christians see death as just being a fairly significant change of address, but still, our most cherished people will no longer be here, to have and to hold, or reach by phone.

This can kind of ruin everything. When my son was little, he asked if we would die at the exact same moment. When I said, No, probably not, he wept, and then said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.”

Do you want to have instant meaning and incentive and almost heartbreaking appreciation in your life? Live, starting now–as if you have three months left. At some point, this will true. Tick tock.

But won’t death be scary? Annbrevner’s wasn’t. Just weird. Her death, like every passing I have witnessed, was beautiful, gentle, sometimes hard and confusing, and completely doable. At some point, for almost everyone, it is like being in labor. Especially if, like me, dilated 7 centimeters after 24 hours of labor, you realized you didn’t like children. But in both cases, birth and death, something beautiful is coming. Ram Dass said death would be like FINALLY getting to take off the too-small shoes we had been wearing our entire lives. Think of that. Getting to rub those sore arches and wiggle those baby toes, after all these year feeling cramped, like Chinese foot bound women, tiptoeing to minimize the pain.

But back to my grandson’s question, of what dying will be like, and why, I don’t think you need to be afraid:

So many people will surround you, your dearest family and friends, both the quick and the death–Ann’s father, who died fifty years ago was with her; her son who died last year was with her. And we were with her, encouraging and allowing her to be real, to share her deepest thoughts and and fears about what was happening to her, and how annoying liFe (and we) could be. The most important you can do if someone is dying? Show up; listen; nod.

And maybe even more important, we shared with each other our worries, memories, sorrow, impatience, and anxiety about the process, how much more, and much sooner, we could have done this or that. We showed up, we listened to each other, we told others how much we hated everything, and how much we loved each other, we listened some more, we nodded, and put the kettle on for tea.

We let each other complain and not know what we were doing. We tried to remember what we DID know: that the great cosmic Something had always been there before. That the Divine It had brought us and our beloved ones through ghastly loss, disappointment, and failure, against all odds. That crying and grieving heal us, cleanse us, baptize us, moisturize us, water the seeds hidden deep in the ground at our feet.

Our pastor came to anoint her the day before she died, not knowing if Ann’s home-going was an hour or a month away. Hospice was on hand to help with the pain. (If you know your person is dying, call Hospice. Once Hospice is on board, almost everything will sort itself out, I promise you–everything. Secret of life.

Every single person I have loved and lost had us around–their most beloved–and had Hospice, had the richest most astonishing love and sense of safety at the end. They had peace, like a river. Even if their death was sudden, Grace always bats last. They got to take off the tight shoes. They got their Get Out of Jail Free card.

Death? Be as proud as you want: bore me later, because Love is sovereign here. Life never ends. Joy comes in the morning. Glory hallelujah. And let it be so.

 

joy

Yes, even grief can be beautiful. And people who show up to wipe your tears and honor your loss are beautiful as well. Joy comes in the morning. The sun will still rise, God will still be present, we can still choose to get to living. After all, this thing called death is a part of it.

Psalms 34:18 is also beautiful too.

Dropping the Ball

Yup. I know it. Starting a blog post with a definition of a word is unoriginal and cliche. No hook to be found. So here I am, instead starting a blog post with a disclaimer about starting a blog post with a definition of a word. For therein lies the permission giving difference – I know what I am doing tonight here with these words, and I am ok with it.

Miriam Webster defines tonight’s word as such:

Grace 1a :  unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

And here is my interpretation of the word.

Grace 1a : The idea that we need to access forgiveness and get space from the divine for regeneration and revival.

2a: Room for putting down burdens and picking up rest.

3a: The idea that our efforts matter even when the end destination seems to be lost from sight.

This week I am trying to rest in the beauty of grace – in the unfinished business, our gentle work in-progress selves.

And so, I share with you here, my list of unfinished items and the beauty found in the dropped balls. The projects left unfinished, the things dropped when juggling priorities becomes a little bit overwhelming. Here are a few balls that have been rolling around on my spiritual floor.

  • Laundry – three piles sit on our guest bed waiting to be folded, hung up in closets. Instead I will pick casually out of the piles each morning, until once again, the clothes need to be washed.
  • It’s Tuesday – I usually write on Mondays, I missed last week, and I’m a day late for this week’s post.
  • I still haven’t finished our honeymoon scrapbook – our 2 year anniversary is looming closer.
  • I’ve taken a new job that is in a different industry that is slightly outside of my passion zone. I remind myself that the choice to provide for our family is ok – not all of my work needs to align with a passion. Still, at times, feels like a mysterious detour that doesn’t quite yet make sense.
  • I need a haircut and my eyebrows need waxing. My mother never nags me about anything – never a ‘What are you doing with your life?’ or a ‘Pick up your room.’ Instead, she just reminds me, ‘your eyebrows need waxing’. And right now, they do.
  • I’m out of stamps.
  • Dog toys cover our carpet and the puppy has figured out how to perch upon our hot tub. My arms are covered in claw marks and she needs her toenails cut.

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I list these shortcomings as if to say, “I see you. I accept you. I am working on you. You roll around on the floor there where I can see you – dropped ball of yet to finish tasks.” To remember that despite the unfinished to-do lists, and the feelings of continued uncertainty, things continue to be moving along ok.

There is beauty found when I tap into grace – whether from a divine source or the gentle push away from my perfectionist self that is striving, perhaps too much right now, to get it all right. Help me regenerate and beautifully revive, in the mysterious process of dropping some ‘frickin balls.