Springtime is in full force. The past week brought rain nearly every day, sometimes for endless hours. The grass in the backyard feels like a wet sponge. Lucy comes inside with muddy paws and is learning again that at this time of year, she needs to stop and sit on the rug by the patio door before continuing through the house. She’s not fond of it, but waits patiently enough as someone towels off all four of her soppy, grimy feet. It’s so good to see the sun again today.
The lilies and irises that I split and transplanted a couple of weeks ago are thriving, and the flowering crabapple tree in the front yard is bursting with buds. It won’t be long before it explodes into full pink bloom. It’ll be gorgeous for a few days before all of those tiny flower petals fall off and litter the black asphalt driveway.
Spring is having a positive effect on me too. It always does, but the impact feels more significant this year than ever before. The events of the past winter weighed so heavily on all of us. Lately, I feel as if a sludge is finally draining from my spirit. I’m beginning to find more balance and enthusiasm. Instead of every other day, or even less as had become my habit during the darkest days of the past few months, I’ve been to the gym daily the last two weeks, and add mid-day walks whenever I can fit them in. It’s good for the body, but maybe more importantly right now, puts my head in a much brighter place.
It’s always amazing to me to realize that no matter how old I get, I can always change and improve, not just my habits, but the way I view the world, my circumstances, and whether I’ll rise to meet them, or let them drag me down.
Although, I’m apparently a slow learner. I hate to think how many years I spent maintaining feelings of bitterness and unforgiveness in the face of difficulties. How often I was willing to believe that some things would never change. Too many. And honestly, those feelings are probably still my first reaction. Every time I hear my mom’s shortness of breath because she had to walk from another room to answer my phone call, or when I see her drooping with exhaustion after a walk from the handicap parking spot into her church, I think how unfair it is that a woman who never touched a cigarette in her life has been saddled with such a debilitating lung condition. She makes remarks now and then about how she probably won’t be around all that much longer. Just typing those words makes me want to cry. I think about all of the years we didn’t “get” each other, all of the time wasted not appreciating one another. And only now, since my dad is gone, have I realized just how very precious my parents are and should have always been to me. I’m not proud to say that I spent too much time feeling put-upon to take care of their needs when I didn’t feel I even had enough time to keep my own life together.
Still, this is usually the way it goes with parents and their children. We go through phases, the joy of the early years, the frustrations of the middle years, and finally reaching appreciation later on. We can only forgive ourselves for the past and move forward as best we can. I’m beginning to realize this more every day.
I think my dad would be proud today.
Back in the day, I was the kid who fought him on all things church-related. Church was boring. And I hated having to dress up for mass. Besides, my friends’ parents didn’t make them go to church every single weekend, every holy day, and every holiday. Why couldn’t I skip it now and then? Our family’s weekly attendance at mass made for the longest hours of my life.
When I began to have children of my own, we decided it was important to make religion a part of their lives. But our reasons were more about family tradition than anything. I was mostly just going through the motions, hoping for something bigger, but rarely finding it long enough to hold on to it. As our kids grew older and busier with activities, and as I became the bad guy, making everyone stop what they were doing to go to weekend mass, I wondered why I bothered. And I stopped. We all just stopped.
For a while I felt guilty, then eventually, relieved. It was pretty easy to give up religion. When we were regulars at church, I always felt like I was falling short on all the rules about attendance, tithing, attitude, and forgiveness, to name just a few. There was a kind of peace that came with not having anyone breathing down my neck about all the ways I was falling short.
Still, I’m grateful for a nagging feeling that remained in the back of my mind all of the years I was drifting. It’s the thing that eventually taught me that I’d missed the memo at some point, that I’d never really understood who God was and what He could be and do in my life.
These days, it is that very faith that keeps me going. It feels all new to me. Like I’m finally starting to get it, and every day my eyes are opened more and more. I have found healing in a relationship I didn’t think could ever be salvaged. I have experienced calm when I might otherwise have gone off the deep end. I have understood joy amidst the deepest feelings of grief. I have found acceptance at times when I might have railed at the world in anger and frustration. Not always, but often enough to know I can face with confidence whatever life throws at me, instead of living in fear. I guess you could say I’ve learned to believe in miracles.
I still experience bouts of anxiety over any number of things. My kids’ happiness, safety and well-being. My mom’s health and how long she’ll be here with us. The cancer that plagues my best friend. A host of other worries about the people I know and love. The difference now is knowing that no difficulty has to leave a permanent black mark on my soul. I’m learning to say thank you for challenges – not because I believe there’s some magic trick that turns every act of thankfulness into a happy ending, but because I choose to believe these experiences can take me in positive directions. And choosing to believe anything is half the battle toward making it reality.
I’ve broken outside of that shell that would have me believe you must participate and believe in only one specific segment of Christianity. Or even Christianity. It is my choice, but if someone else finds peace in a different way, more power to ’em.
While I’m back in regular attendance at the Catholic church, and while that would please Dad, it’s mostly because that’s where my mom wants to be. And since I am usually the one who takes her to church, that’s where we’ll go. Realistically, I find the teachings of other denominations to be mind-blowing at times. And thank God for the internet because I can hear from other churches at home while doing other things. And some of these people are so COOL! And “cool” is not something I ever thought I’d believe church could be. Listening to the word in unfamiliar settings, outside of the years of routine and repetition have helped me to really hear. I have to laugh at myself sometimes because I’m just hungry to know so much more. And it wasn’t that long ago that I could easily have just throw it all away.
I’m finally getting comfortable with prayer. It’s no longer just the reciting of age-old verses known by heart, but conversations in my head and heart, picturing God on the receiving end, acknowledging all of my fears, asking favor for my specific needs and those of others, and most importantly, expressing thankfulness for all things that make my life as good as it is. It all helps me recognize that my life is remarkably more blessed than I’ve often acknowledged.
I’m reading the Bible, willingly, for the first time ever. (Hey, Dad! Did you catch that? I’m reading the Bible!) My dad wanted all of this for me while he was here. I didn’t even begin to grasp it until he was on the downhill slide of his life. And the big boom of it came with and after his passing. Better late than never, I guess.
I understand now why so many people need and have faith in God, or any other belief system or practice that helps them get through each day. Life is hard sometimes. So many of us go through the days all knotted up, worried, fearful, or angry. I’m guilty. Every happy thought used to be dampened by another worrisome thought. I think we’re all just looking for peace. And now that I’ve discovered how I might find it, it gets easier each day. And when you find something that works, you just want to share it. I’m really grateful to have so many people in my life who never gave up on sharing their stories. I guess it’s my job now to share mine whenever the opportunity arises.