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I try to view my parents as eccentric – not weird. You know, unique individuals. The beautiful part is they couldn’t care less what their children or the neighbors think. Maybe they are free spirits (or perhaps they are just denture refusing old hippies).

My husband says my folks moving into the high class, country club-esque retirement center is like a geriatric episode of the Beverly Hillbillies!

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Yes, it’s true, but I love them. I can’t help it Dad turned his room into an airplane hanger – he adores his model planes so let him play! And the real deal hobby shop he convinced admin to approve (complete with drill presses, band saws, a kiln, welding gear, and a full size weaving loom) has helped the residents build crafts a bit more compelling than cutting up old greeting cards.

And so what if Mom won’t get her hair done because she thinks the devil resides in the beauty shop. The natural look is in! She’s full of love and smiles, especially when she cleans up at Bingo and wins all the candy bars. And she’s no slouch at Scrabble either.

Let them be themselves – they always have been, so who am I to judge? Live and let live.

If Dad tears around the halls in his noisy, souped up scooter, tricked out with a swap meet snowmobile engine, that’s his business. He’s not one to ride off into the sunset quietly.

And if those bureaucrats running the place get perturbed by his rabble rousing ways – what can I do?

He has discovered a terrible injustice to his elderly comrades in that this fancy pants place has doors too heavy for the residents to push open. So, he has researched the MN state regulations for nursing home doors and this expensive place is WAY out of compliance!

He knows because he tested every door in the facility with his fishing scale. He even had to buy a bigger one because the 15 pound scale was insufficient for some of these mammoth doors. Then he threatened to call in the inspectors if they didn’t fix the problem. It makes my social worker heart proud (and only slightly embarrassed).

I refuse to expect my parents to be anything they are not. I will not be ashamed! As their 49 year old daughter I only regret that I have been so slow to learn this lesson.

At 86, haven’t they earned the right to be themselves – even if that is something far outside of the norm? I am a McGillivray. We are a strange but winsome clan. For all you normals I have three words: Deal with it.

Author’s note: This trip home to Minnesota has brought me further along my journey toward “Becoming Wholehearted.” As T.S. Elliot wrote, “After all of our wandering we will arrive where we started and know it for the first time.”

Gardening Picture

Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.

Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.

Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.

I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.

Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.

First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.

That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.

I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.

I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.

The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.

I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.

Then came the planting.

The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.

I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.

The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.

Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.

My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.

Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.

Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.

Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.

 

 

Heart2, Hands

The holiday season is over, the last decoration is packed away, and my officially “adult” children have gone off to faraway places. The house is quiet. At the moment, this suits me.

I have some thinking to do – envisioning the year that is well underway, and reflecting on the last one.

My thoughts hover around a noble idea – to become more wholehearted.

Webster defines wholehearted as “completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic” and “marked by complete earnest commitment; free from all reserve or hesitation.”

In this confusing and ephemeral world – so filled with ambiguity and uncertainty – it seems to me that wholeheartedness is something to strive for. To put my best effort into all that I do – in work, marriage, parenting, friendship, faith, wellness, writing, sports, learning … all of my pursuits.

The biggest challenge I faced last year shows me that I have a terrific capacity for wholeheartedness, but I also can be woefully self-limited by its opposite: half-heartedness. The latter functions rather like a skeptical older sibling, always whispering some seemingly prudent words of caution: Watch out! Be careful. Prepare for the worst. Don’t let yourself get hurt. Don’t expect too much.

Here is the situation: I applied for a job. A really big job. One that requires a great deal of experience, talent, and leadership ability. One with an opportunity to have a broad impact on a large community. One that is far more complex and difficult than the program director job I have enjoyed for nearly ten years. One that pays a lot of money! Spoiler alert: I didn’t get it.

But looking back over the process I went through as I prepared for the challenge and waited for the outcome, I recognize that there is a valuable lesson for me. It is about the importance of maximizing my strength of wholeheartedness, and managing my tendency to become half-hearted and self-doubting.

When I was first encouraged to apply, I dismissed the idea as ridiculous. But as I learned more about the position and began to consider what I may have to offer, I changed my mind. I began getting energized and excited about the possibilities. I was determined to give it my absolute best effort, even though I admitted that it was a long shot.

I was filled with love.

As I studied and practiced for the interview I felt entirely focused and bolstered by vision and courage. I even called upon my “Scottish Warrior” (that part of myself that can fight a great battle and prevail). I pictured my past, present, and future and began to detect a red ribbon that was woven through it. Therein I found a spiritual meaning and direction – an essential purpose for so much of what had happened in my life, both joys and sorrows. I saw it all leading up to this imminent challenge. I prayed that God would equip me and trusted that he would.

And he did. I got through the interview with confidence and grace. I quickly recovered from what was a grueling but pretty decent interview. I waited weeks for an answer. A litany of questions soon surrounded my mind.

Then the fear crept in.

No longer full of love, I was full of fear. This was unsettling and unpleasant. It left me feeling uninspired and riddled with self-doubt. I began asking: Who am I to think I can take this on? How grandiose and reckless of me. I allowed the tedium of waiting to generate troubling questions like: What if? What if I get a second interview and it is a flop? What if I get the job and I am not smart enough? What if it is too hard? What if it is too stressful? What if I fail miserably? What if it sends me over the edge? I pictured the jeers of my critics. Of course this left me feeling less capable, less courageous, and more cynical.

I decided I needed to block out that negative energy. I needed to “guard my gates” and not invite in self-limiting messages. But they came so innocently – masquerading as armor and self-protection.

The deception goes like this: I can’t set myself up for a fall. Don’t invest too much. I must regulate my enthusiasm. It makes me too vulnerable. I won’t let myself be disappointed.

Yet this defensive stance becomes incredibly self-limiting. It prevents me from applying my best energy and chokes out what might otherwise be one of my greatest strengths – my wholeheartedness.

I decided to reject the fear-based mentality of self-protection. It causes me to hold back, be too cautious, and ultimately makes me half-hearted.

The logic goes like this: If I give my whole heart and lose, it will be too devastating. I must prepare myself for the big NO or I will be caught off guard when it comes. Don’t invest too much or expect too much and I won’t be disappointed.

But in doing this, I became smaller. Passion was replaced with protectionism. Love was replaced by fear. I trudged through my days barely able to lead myself through my next task much less lead others to inspired work.

ENOUGH! I said to myself. That self-protective instinct is not serving me well. It only resulted in diminished energy, limited joy, and an absence of vision for my life’s possibilities.

I recalled the advice of my dear friend and mentor Yvette. She said, “Lisa, you need to let it go and let it flow. Do not sell yourself short.”

As I remembered her loving words I decided that I would prevail. Regardless of the outcome, I would win the battle. I would be wholehearted.

Guess what? I didn’t get a second interview. But as far as the battle went, I triumphed.

 

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
― T.S. Eliot