What’s Up, Doc?

I know I am not Bugs Bunny. I doubt if I have much in common with the Looney Tunes character who munched on his carrot with such insouciance. And yet, as Lent draws its mantle around me, something within looks forward with nearly the same cavalier abandon.

For some reason, many of the major transitions in my life have occurred at this time of year.  In 1998, after months of nagging phone calls from someone who did not have my best interests at heart, from someone who imagined — fool that she was — that I could be manipulated like a marionette, I acquiesced and accepted a job I did not want. I — fool that I was — imagined I could balance the job with my dream as I had done with other positions.

Seventeen years later, I still have not recovered from that error in judgment. The art career I had built through hard work and sacrifice while working (sometimes two jobs) and raising two children without a dime of child support is just a halcyon memory. The joy of walking into an exhibit space and being surrounded by the work of my hands — gone. The pleasure of hugs from and animated conversation with other artists at opening receptions — gone.

In 2006, Lent brought another leave-taking. With my art career in ashes, I rose like a phoenix to become a respected journalist, winning awards, watching my stories cross the wire, enjoying every day of work as though I had been created for that life. And then, in 2004, a short leave of absence from the newspaper became a resignation when the board of a nonprofit I sought to help irresponsibly failed to fulfill their part in the verbal agreement we had made. I could have walked away and let them deal with the mess they had made, but I did not. I shouldered the burden right up to the day that same board decided to relieve me of it — during Holy Week.

That experience cost me my home. I was so deeply wounded by the board’s betrayal and that breach of trust, that I had a difficult time getting on my feet again. I tried to retreat back into the profession which had given me so much pleasure, but we can’t go home again. With no local jobs, I was forced to move in order to find work — to move away from the river which was the subject of so many acrylic sketches, to move away from the view out my window that filled me with joy in all seasons, to move away from the friends and life I had built for myself.

I have turned over that sequence of events so many times the edges have become smooth. Thy will be done, I learned to pray. Thy will be done. Over and over. Over and over. Thy will be done. The prayer and the desire to submit myself to the will of our Father in Heaven led me into an ever deepening prayer life and an ever deepening trust in God. So, when the newspaper for which I worked experienced financial difficulties, and the publisher decided, during Lent in 2011, to save money by replacing me with someone less experienced — God bless those employment-at-will states which are an employer’s delight — I was shocked, but not unduly disheartened.

This year, I go into Lent feeling change is imminent. At the very least, my status with the nonprofit where I have been in training will change. But it’s possible other change may come as well. To prepare, I have given up fiction for Lent. (I have also given up sweets and snacks, but giving up fiction is the more difficult fast.) Usually, when I walk to work or take care of chores around the apartment, I listen to an audio book. And when I crawl into bed at night, I grab a mystery to distract me from the concerns of the day.

While this habit of escaping into fiction is not nearly as destructive as drinking myself into oblivion or drugging myself to the gills, the effect isn’t terribly different. Instead of embracing the gift of the day, instead being open to the blessings and challenges that make life rich with experience, I’m turning away. That’s no way to prepare for change. Change should be met with an open heart and an open mind. Change should be met with joy as a resurrection experience. Change should be cherished as a gift and grace.

I know this. I know it in my head. Now I cultivate the ground of my heart with prayer and reflection to receive whatever comes, using mindfully the time previously given over to fiction with plots, endings and closure. It’s an adventure, which today took an unexpected twist. For some odd reason, a phrase popped into my head when I grabbed a carrot for lunch, a phrase I haven’t heard in more than 40 years. “What’s up, Doc?”

I laughed with confusion, but couldn’t put it out of my mind. I begin to suspect that whatever comes, I’ll face it with grace and resilience. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even have a little of that rabbit’s arrogant confidence.



Routine and Flexibility

I confess, I’m a creature of habit. I like having a daily routine. I’m not exactly a slave to any routine I establish. It’s just that routine provides structure, a motif I can embellish.

And that is the challenge of living in limbo, in that place between jobs. Apart from sitting behind a computer for hours on end, wading through lists of job openings and completing on-line applications, what am I supposed to do with myself? How am I supposed to know when I get to the end of the day that it was a well-lived day.

That’s important to me, living each day well. Once upon a time, I was focused on the future, on getting an education and starting a professional career. Then, I ran smack dab up against a reality check. I had two children in elementary school, was working full-time and trying to complete a Master’s degree when my gynecologist used the “C” word during a consultation. My menstrual cycle had gone wacky, but I thought a few fancy pills would solve the problem. I wasn’t prepared for anything more serious; I was wrong.

I knew how quickly cancer could decimate not only the person whose body became the battleground between abnormal cell growth and modern medicine, but also that person’s whole family. My mother went into the hospital shortly after I started my senior year in high school and died less than three months later. The experience shattered our family and created in my life a void I tried to fill for nearly a decade with behaviors that were unintentionally self-destructive.

I wasn’t ready to revisit that kind of tragedy. I wasn’t ready to introduce my children to that kind of tragedy. I did not intend to leave my children motherless. Period. Non-negotiable.

For a year, I battled the condition my gynecologist warned was a precursor to cancer. He had recommended surgery, a hysterectomy, but I was a single parent with neither family nor friends to care for my children while I was hospitalized and recovering from surgery. I asked if I had any other options, and he outlined an experimental approach. I opted for that.

Medication intensified hormonal mood swings to the point that I was suicidal during the low points. My gynecologist brought in another specialist — a psychiatrist — to deal with that side effect. More medication was prescribed. Through it all, I had to continue supporting my family and provide my children with a modicum of stability at home. The medication and responsibity and uncertainty tied me in knots. I turned to the counselor who had supported and guided me when I had left an abusive marriage a decade earlier, and she helped me once again to traverse a difficult passage in life.

Eventually, the gynecologist was satisfied with the test results and treatment ceased, but during that long year, I had to decide what was important and focus on that. I didn’t have the energy to deal with more, but I also didn’t want to waste any of the time I had left. I knew that if the therapy I had chosen didn’t work, I could still have a hysterectomy, but I also knew that by the time we recognized the need, the cancer could have spread.

The Master’s degree fell by the wayside. If I died, I did not want my children to remember — if they remembered anything at all — a mother who was too busy to spend time with them.

The dreams of a professional career fell by the wayside, too. Growing up in an abusive home. Losing my mother when I was young. Being sexually violated on more than one occasion. Being so confused about relationships I couldn’t tell the difference between a good man and a jackass. Cancer. It was too much for one person to bear.

So, I shifted the measure of my life. Instead of striving for dreams, I was going too strive to live each day well. Instead of sacrificing the present in order to achieve a future goal, I was going to make choices that resulted in rich days. And while I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful in living within the paradigm I choose for myself — I’m by nature a workaholic — I think on the whole I’ve lived a good life.

I somehow managed not to botch parenting too badly; both of my daughters have grown into young women I can appreciate and admire. I have managed to develop a few skills — like painting and scrapbooking — that have provided me with enormous personal satisfaction. My spiritual life has deepened with each passing year so that now I can live authentically only by living the gospels. And, every so often, God has given me a glimpse of the way in which he has used me to help someone else on their journey, and that has been a special blessing, a gift of grace.

But, now I’m embarking on a new phase in my life. It’s so new, I’m a little disoriented. I have tried to bring some normalcy to it by establishing a few routines. In the morning, I shower, kiss my daughter and grandgirls good-bye, and then spend some time in prayer. After this, I paint for about an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, before sitting down behind the computer by 10 a.m. to find jobs in the area which interest me and for which I’m qualified. Late in the afternoon, after putting in several applications, I put it all away so I can enjoy a little family time with my daughter’s family.

But, sometimes I have to be flexible. Today, I edited an article for a friend before starting my search and my grandgirls arrived home early with my son-in-law. Oddly enough, this variation in the pattern of my life feels good.

Maybe that’s enough right now — that I have brought my penchant for organizing things to the uncertainty of the situation by establishing an arbitrary routine, but that, when necessary, I can let go and flow with the currents of life. Yes, maybe that’s enough. But, that being said, a job would be nice!

True Self

St. Anthony received a strange request this morning — from me.

For those who don’t know, who aren’t Catholic, St. Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese priest born at the end of the 12th Century. Inspired by the example of five Franciscan martyrs in Morocco, he sought to go there, but ended up, as a result of a storm at sea and of illness, in Italy. Several years and adventures later, he was called upon to preach at an ordination, which indirectly led to an encounter with St. Francis of Assisi, who had founded the Franciscans. St. Francis entrusted him with training young men seeking ordination. St. Anthony’s life, obviously, was richer and more full than that, but this is not intended to be a full biography of the beloved saint. Rather, I just want to provide a cursory introduction to explain my prayer at Mass this morning.

For some odd reason, St. Anthony is the one Catholics — who are notorious among other Christians for seeking the intercesson of those we believe are God’s friends — call upon for assistance in finding lost items. There’s even a catchy little prayer often used: “Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost and must be found.” I didn’t use it.

Having relocated to California, primarily to be near my granddaughters though a dearth of jobs in South Dakota which actually pay a living wage was also a contributing factor, I decided to risk the roads this morning. I located the closest Catholic church, asked an app on my smart phone to get me there, and left for Mass 30 minutes early. Surprisingly, the app was correct; it only took me 13 minutes. As I sat in the historic structure, with its arches soaring overhead, my eyes were drawn to a stained glass window of St. Anthony. Without consciously deciding to do so, I found myself asking St. Anthony to help me find my true self.

I have to admit the idea of the true self was foreign to me when I stumbled across it by accident while looking for a book by James Martin, S.J., to read. I’d just finished MY LIFE WITH SAINTS, and was impressed with Father Martin’s style. He used his spiritual journey as a teaching tool, blending anecdote with information. BECOMING WHO YOU ARE: INSIGHTS ON THE TRUE SELF FROM THOMAS MERTON AND OTHER SAINTS appealed to me for two reasons. First, what I know of Thomas Merton and his writing impressed me enormously. Second, I was feeling dissatisfied in my life and kept thinking, “There’s got to be something more than this.”

I knew that Merton was an influential figure in Father Martin’s life. As a young man with a degree and career in business, he had felt his life had no real meaning. Channel surfing one night, he ended up watching a documentary on public television about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk whose writing continues to inspire more than 40 years after his untimely death. Before long, inspired by Merton, Father Martin was abandoning the life he’d worked to build and embarking upon an entirely different path; he entered the Society of Jesus and was eventually ordained to the priesthood. I suspected that if anyone could provide a bit of guidance on finding the “true self,” it would be a man who had himself embarked upon such a journey.

Unfortunately, at this point, the book is packed among others in a storage unit as I seek employment and a place of my own. I can’t quote any of the inspiring passages, but I do remember the book’s impact on me as though I had read it yesterday instead of five years ago. For the first time, I began to consider the possibility that in using the gifts God gave me, I was actually serving him. Because I tend, by nature, to be rather literal, I had been stuck in a rut — believing that only by doing what was specifically mentioned in Scripture could I serve God. That tended to limit my options and made me feel, at times, a little schizophrenic. I did, after all, have bills to pay.

The whole idea that maybe God gave me the desire to to create art, and a modicum of talent, because he wanted me to be an artist was radical. I can’t say I abandoned all and started painting with the (unrealistic) expectation of supporting myself in that way. Rather, the idea simmered in my unconscious for several years. Then, on impulse, I signed up for a prayerful painting retreat and suddenly, I was on fire. I needed to paint. I could not abandon the activity. I painted even when I was bone weary from standing on my feet for hours on end at a convenience store. I painted right up until the morning I packed the final odds and ends in preparation for my move to California. I painted this morning after Mass, pulling canvas and supplies out of a tote packed for convenient access.

An odd thing has happened as I’ve become more comfortable with claiming the artist within. I’ve also begun to feel more at home with the idea that I might have other gifts, and that by using those gifts, I might also be serving God. I am actually hoping that using those gifts may provide me with a living wage, and that’s really what I was asking St. Anthony this morning, for assistance in finding a job that uses gifts God gave me. I can’t imagine what it will be, but coming so far without taking the step which will take me beyond what I’ve known is equally unimaginable. At the same time, stepping out of my comfort zone will be a challenge. I’ll need all the help I can get.

And so, on impulse, I turned to a friend with an odd request. Somehow, I feel hopeful that with the twists and turns of his own life, St. Anthony will recognize the pattern in mine and help me find my way so that with each day I will come closer to knowing, embracing and living my true self, one that was — now that I think of it, created in God’s image.

Manna in the Desert

There’s a name for it — bait and switch.

An employer hires an individual for a desirable position and then puts the individual in a less desirable position without their consent. I learned about this the hard way — through experience.

Four months ago I accepted a position that appealed to me enormously. I would be working for people a friend admired. I would be working with professionals who did first class work. Best of all, I could focus on what I enjoy and do well — write.

While the job wasn’t quite what I had anticipated, it was good. I appreciated the people I worked with and got enough positive feedback to make going to work satisfying. If it didn’t challenge me quite as much as my all time favorite job — working for Dana at the Capital Journal — it also didn’t bore me as much as wading through invoices with more than 3,000 separate items listed or stress me as much as telemarketing. I was content.

Then, two weeks ago, in a staff meeting, I learned I would no longer be doing the job for which I was hired. I learned I was expected to do a job for which I am temperamentally unsuited, one which would require me to work in an office by myself on top of what would have been — for me — a stressful daily commute.

I left the office that day and cried. I sat in my truck — not even bothering to drive home — and cried. I couldn’t do the job to which I had been assigned and I had no idea what I would do.

Depression is a demon that has plagued me for years, since Mom died, in fact. In my early 20s, I attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital. In my 30s, I was on antidepressants under a psychiatrist’s supervision. However, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on drugs, so I learned to use cognitive and behavioral therapy techniques to manage the depression.

For the most part, I’ve been successful. I have gone through a couple rough spots since then — in the late 90s, when I couldn’t get out of bed for days on end and didn’t eat anything other than chocolate or cheese curls if I bothered to eat at all, and again in 2006 when I suffered a devastating series of losses right on top of one another. However, for the most part, I think I have managed my life in such a way as to prevent debilitating bouts of depression.

That involves knowing my triggers and knowing what I need to remain healthy. I need adequate sleep. I need time to be creative. I need to avoid alcoholic beverages. I need to be involved in faith-based activities. I need to avoid unnecessary daily stress. I need to be around other people — especially in the work place where I spend most of my waking hours. These — and a few other things — are all non-negotiable when it comes to maintaining my mental health.

And so, I was faced with a decision. I needed to decide whether I would sacrifice my mental health to draw a paycheck, or whether I would act to preserve my mental health. Staying in the position for which I was hired, I was told, was not an option.

I did the only thing that actually works for me in those situations. I put it in God’s hands. Too often in the past, I have weighed the pros and cons, done what seemed logical — even though there was a knot in the pit of my stomach — and lived to regret it. I am learning I need to weigh the pros and cons, but I also need to listen for the whisper that is either psychosis or the voice of God attempting to guide me.

In this situation, I would imagine trying the new job, giving it my best, and would end up physically ill. (That reminds me, I’m out of ibuprofen.) Then, I would explore the radical idea of just saying, “no,” of being unemployed if necessary to protect my mental health, and I would hear a whisper like the wind in the trees that said, “Trust me.”

I questioned this. What if it was just wishful thinking? What if I just wanted that to be the answer?

I sent an email to my prayer warriors, letting them know the situation, and asking them to pray for me. My plan was to continue praying about this for several days and then to make a decision. However, the timing was taken out of my hands.

When forced to make a decision, I opted to trust the intuition that said protecting my mental health had to be of paramount importance. If I didn’t, I would probably end up unemployed anyhow because my job neither offered health insurance (which made the meds affordable in the past) nor paid a salary which would have enabled me to purchase them out of pocket. At that point, I would not only have been unemployed, I would also have been unemployable.

What now? I’ve decided to appropriate the story of the Exodus. After being led out of Egypt, the Israelites had no choice but to rely on God, and he cared for them by sending them manna in the desert. Similarly, I have no choice but to rely on God, and to allow him to care for me one day at a time.

Something tells me, this will be an awesome adventure.

A future and a hope

The last days are always the most difficult.

Not the last days of summer, when fall moves in slowly with balmy days that just hint at the harsher weather to come. Those are actually among my favorite each year.

I still wake in the morning to light of approaching dawn rather than winter’s darkness. I don’t need a coat, though I may throw on a shawl that my daughter purchased for me in Qatar while she was deployed. And, as the earth’s relationship to the sun begins to shift, changing the angle at which the light touches our environment, there’s a new richness in the colors.

I like all of that, which is why I usually spend more time painting in the fall than at any other time of the year. I gather together a tool chest which I’ve converted to hold my paint and brushes, a bucket of water to clean my brushes since I paint with acrylics, and some kind of surface to work on – maybe oriental paper, maybe a canvas panel, maybe a wooden panel covered with oriental paper – and head off in my pickup to some scene I’ve been watching all year in preparation for the perfect day.

When I arrive, I pull my easel out of the truck where I keep it, put on some music – mixed tapes that a friend made for me nearly a decade ago – and take a deep breath while I gaze around me. I don’t know why I need to breathe in the world I see before I can paint it, but that’s my modus operandi. Since it works, I don’t question it. Finally, I put together my palette and start with bold strokes.

When starting something new, there are two approaches – be bold or be cautious. In life, I tend to be cautious, feeling out a situation before I begin to show my colors. However, in art, I’ve found boldness suits me best. I lay out wide strokes of color and then begin to work with those strokes to shape the work into something that reflects my feel for the place. The whole process fills me with joy. I am – in those minutes – united with my creator and it is good.

But not all endings have silver linings like that. My brother and I were talking last night about Dad’s long good-bye. The first hints of what was to come came when he was 79. He needed quadruple bypass surgery, which my brothers and I were told went well. Unfortunately, a nurse read his chart wrong and got him up to walk just hours after he’d come out of surgery. He had a massive heart attack.

The doctors worked for 40 minutes, but were able to revive and stabilize him. He was in the ICU for weeks and then the coronary care unit for an even longer period of time. We were given the worst possible prognosis – possible brain damage, no possibility of a full recovery.

However, two months after surgery, he left the hospital and went back to his small apartment. He continued to work, when he wasn’t hospitalized for one thing or another. Of course, his job wasn’t terribly demanding. Dad was a barber and spent as much time reading magazines in the barber chair as he spent cutting hair. Bit by bit, age and declining health took its toll.

When he had his stroke, I was in favor of care and comfort rather than extreme measures. But my brothers recalled the way he recovered following heart surgery and weren’t as wiling to give up as I was. The next six months were incredibly difficult as we watched Dad fight everything which might have aided his recovery, and watched his health decline as a result. Eventually, my brothers agreed with me. Care and comfort.

One morning I woke and knew I needed to go to my Dad. I just knew. I called my supervisor and said I wouldn’t be at work that day. That morning, I made what was to be my last drive to see my dad while he was living. When I arrived, the nursing staff was putting him back in bed, having decided he was not strong enough to be in a wheelchair.

I don’t know that he knew me, but he knew I would pray with him. He would grab my wrist and say, “Our Father, our Father,” and I would pray the rosary loud enough for him to hear. I would pause, get something to drink, and he would grab me again. “Our Father, our Father.”

That’s how I spent my last day with my dad. Then, in late afternoon, he grabbed me with his one good arm, pulled my cheek next to his and said,” Love you, Ma.” At that moment, he was holding my mother who had died more than 30 years earlier. I said what he needed to hear. “Love you, too.”

When my brother came, he wanted to keep vigil alone. He and dad were close, so I honored that request. Dad never spoke another word, though. A morning later, I woke early again. Before I had even ground the beans for my morning coffee, the call came. Dad had died.

Life is full of so many good-byes. Some, like the seasons and rites of passage, are anticipated and welcomed. Others, like death or the loss of a job, come unexpectedly and we simply have to navigate them by taking one day at at time. At those times, the best approach is to remember, first, that we are created in the image of God and cope with as much dignity as is humanly possible for us at that moment; and second, that we are the beloved of God.

Yesterday, I stopped by the library to print off a few things, and shared with the librarian the news about the change in life I am currently navigating. Our conversation reminded me of that love which God reveals through his people. She printed off for me one of her favorite Bible verses.

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Yes, I knew as I walked out the door, I will have a future and a hope. God is good.

Do you remember?

Sometimes the major stories of the day are hard to ignore – not that I try to ignore the news, but I’m not a news junkie either. I just prefer to focus on people and stories close to home.

Yesterday, though, I found myself confronted by two anniversaries – the accident which killed Diana, the Princess of Wales, in Paris 14 years ago, which is significant because she would have turned 50 this year, and the terrorists attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Articles related to both asked readers to remember what they were doing when they heard the news.

I was painting when the breaking news of Diana’s accident hit the airwaves, working on one of the blue pieces in my Inside/Out series. Back in those days, I still believed my life would be wasted if I didn’t pursue an art career. Either an epiphany or museum fatigue can be credited with planting the seeds which grew into a drive that shaped my life for nearly 10 years.

I was looking at Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Sky Above Clouds IV” about seven hours after entering the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989 and found myself thinking, “I could do that.” At first, I meant, “That’s such a simple piece, anyone could do it.” Then, I felt an internal shift and meant something else altogether. I meant,”O’Keeffe’s life was dedicated to creating art, and mine could be as well – if I were willing to make the commitment.”

I went home, and went to work. After seven years of painting as a hobby, I started treating it like a job, blocking out time to paint around a full-time job and family responsibilities. It paid off. Within two years, I was regularly exhibiting my work, winning awards and selling a few pieces. By the time Diana died, my work was being acquisitioned into museum collections. I was well on my way to realizing my dream.

A few years later, my art career came to a screeching halt. I allowed myself to become distracted by something which really was not my responsibility by someone who persuaded me it was. By the time I realized I had unwittingly sacrificed my dream, it was too late. I was beaten and battered by circumstances beyond my control, and burned out by the fight to protect and preserve what could not – by that point – be saved.

Although I continued to pick up a paint brush from time to time, it was a couple years before I began to paint again, and then only for personal pleasure. Occasionally, I’d still sell a piece, but I didn’t even try to exhibit my work. I just made pretty pictures. I no longer had anything to say.

That loss has haunted me for more than a decade.

I’ve wrestled to make peace in my heart with the individual who was so incredibly influential that she changed the course of my life. I’ve also found a shadow of the dream darkens other endeavors, prevents them from taking root in my life, from growing with hope, blossoming and bearing fruit. They wither. They die.

Lately, I’ve been challenged to look at the losses in my life, the dry bones scattered over the plain. (Yes, those of you who know your Bible, I’m alluding to Ezekiel 37.) But, I’m also being challenged to open myself in a new way to the possibility that loss isn’t the end.

That’s not a new lesson. I am Christian, after all. We believe in not only the death of Christ, but also his resurrection.

Most of us, see this as a metaphor for our own lives as well. Doors open. Doors close. These renewals undergird our faith in God’s loving care.

I know and have experienced all of this in my life. I have determinedly acted with faith, putting one foot in front of the other, trusting that God was at work, even when my heart was breaking, and holding tightly to the staff which supported me as I made the journey, holding tightly to the sure knowledge that I was being shaped with love.

But we can’t force healing. When we are wounded by the betrayals in life, by the disappointments and disillusionments, by the tragedies and injustices, we can’t simply move on – no matter how hard we try. We need to mourn. We need to grieve. We need to acknowledge what we have lost.

After Jesus died, Mary Magdalen was consumed by grief. She wept at the tomb, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” (John 20:13).

I do not know. That’s how we feel when we suffer losses. Consumed by unanswered questions. Consumed by unanswerable questions. Consumed by the knowledge that our lives have been irrevocably changed and nothing can change this. No matter how much we believe in God and his love, we feel this way. It’s inescapable.

So, how do we prevent our losses from casting a long shadow over our lives? How do we prevent them from killing new endeavors with their chilling presence?

We must allow them to be transformed. We must realize that loss involves more than one door closing and another opening, a metaphor which suggests our lives can be compartmentalized into little boxes and parts can be safely packed away when an ending occurs. That’s not true.

We must remain whole and must allow the suffering to transmute our lives.

Jesus says to Mary Magdalen when she sees him, “Don’t cling to me.” (John 20:17). In the same way, I must not cling to the old dream. I must not continue to tell myself that if I am not the artist I once dreamed of becoming, I am not an artist. God did not take the gift away.

But first, I must mourn. I must stop hating myself for being so abysmally gullible that I would give up my dream rather than fight to protect it. And I must mourn, because that is the way which leads to healing and transformation.

Do I remember? Yes, I remember, but it’s time to grieve and let go.

Putting the Pieces Together

Piecing a quilt is easier when a pattern is the starting point.

I know. That’s a no-brainer, but every so often I try something without fully considering the ramifications, and making Sara’s new quilt falls into that category.

I realized she needed one when I visited last summer while she was expecting my grandgirls. The one I made when she started college, which has since traveled around the world with her, was more than a little frayed. The threadbare fabric was starting to split. I embroidered hearts over many of the small tears, but the more I patched, the more tears I found.

Before beginning the new quilt, I decided I wanted it to match the ones I made for Paige and Avery. My mom used to dress us in matching mother-daughter outfits. (I have the pictures to prove this.) I occasionally made matching outfits for Sara and me when she was small. I could not imagine my fashionista dressing to match her girls, but I could imagine her appreciating that private symbol of their bond.

I also decided, before beginning, that I wanted the quilt to have a hearts and butterfly theme. As my girls could tell you, those symbolize one of the guiding principles of my parenting style – roots and wings.

I believe parents give their children roots when they provide stability and love them unconditionally. I believe we give our children wings when we cultivate self-confidence so they can pursue their dreams. That is what I wanted for my girls – roots and wings. No matter where their dreams carried them, I wanted them to go boldly, knowing they went with my blessing and love.

I did not think it would be difficult to find a quilt pattern incorporating hearts and butterflies. Both are popular. I was wrong. I spent hours looking through magazines and searching the Internet. Yes, I could find butterfly patterns. Yes, I could find heart patterns. No, I could not find a single pattern that incorporated both.

Sometimes I can be stubborn. (Don’t tell anyone, OK?) I was not going to give up simply because I didn’t have a pattern. I decided to design one myself.

I’d adapted patterns before and seen others do it as well. I was sure I could blend elements from heart and butterfly patterns I liked. I pulled out some grid paper and went to work. After several (dozen) tries, I came up with a design I found visually appealing and developed a pattern from it.

Unfortunately, after making the blocks, I discovered they didn’t go together quite as I had imagined. Instead of a visually striking medley of butterflies and hearts, I had — well, a bland mess. I decided to put it away for a while. Sometimes I can be overly critical of my own work. On those occasions, I need to allow time to separate my expectations from the finished product.

That approach didn’t work this time. When I pulled the quilt top out of the trunk after three months, it still looked like a bland mess, so I decided to take it apart. Once I’d separated the blocks, I started playing with them. What would happen if I did this? What would happen if I did that? Eventually, I realized I just needed to incorporate some jewel-toned strips.

Such a small change, but what a difference! It doesn’t even look like the same quilt!

Life is like that sometimes. It’s just not working. Parts of it are OK, but as a whole, it leaves us feeling dissatisfied.

When I was young, I used to think that inchoate feeling of restlessness required a dramatic change of some sort. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to appreciate what small changes can do.

Several years ago, I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages after noon. As a result, I started sleeping better. Once I was sleeping better, it was easier for me to get up in the morning. When I didn’t have to rush around before work, I was less stressed starting my day, which in turn affected my attitude.

Small change, big difference. Other small changes have had similarly dramatic results. The tough part is figuring out what small change is needed. However, it is possible with a little trial and error, and with a little patience. At least, that’s been my experience.