10 Things I’m learning this summer

SEveral things have reared their little heads this summer. literally.

By necessity, I’m learning a lot this summer.  That’s how most of us learn anything. We’re forced to. School requirements, work demands, financial motivation, relationship problems, exposed shame. We make dramatic changes when we realize that our worlds will collapse if we preserve our status quo.

For our family, our catalytic moment happened June 15 when my athlete-husband almost died from a heart attack to his widow-maker artery. He had been handling massive stress for a few years, but from a medical standpoint, everything looked good. High performance output. Low resting heart rate, low cholesterol, low blood pressure, good echocardiogram, good EKGs. Not a smoker. Not a drinker. Not overweight. Yet moments from death.

Decisions come after the shock, questions, and grief pass. What can we change? Then we set a new schedule and a new diet into motion. We would be ignorant and foolish to do anything else.

None of this “problem solved” nonsense because a heart catheterization cleaned out his artery. No. Life as we know it has changed forever.

I have become aware that I am, as always, in a state of change and growth.

I have decisions to make about who I will be after this point.

Heart attack or not, we all have important decisions to make because we are all still reeling from 2020. I’ll be frank because that’s who I am:

If you haven’t done serious spiritual and emotional work because of last year, you’re still living in denial of the toll it’s taking on you. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve lost faith in our government (if we had it). We’ve changed jobs, friends, neighborhoods, and churches. All of that is traumatic. All of that changes you, maybe for the worse.

Many of us, given that list, have made decisions during a crisis state (never a good idea) without realizing we were doing so. Others of us did emotional deep-dives before making decisions (always a good idea). I’d like to share the emotional surgery I’ve been doing this summer.

I’ve been working on some of these areas for a while. Others, like the heart attack, for instance, generated new shock and trauma over nearly being widowed, like my mother, and leaving my sons without a dad (like I was). Granted, they’re much older than I was. But everyone needs a father.

So back to my list.

Here’s what I’m learning this summer and what I plan to do about it.

  1. Be grateful for life. Period. When you look at having life or not having life—having a person or not having a person, your perspective changes. You really don’t care about anything else. I think that’s a great place to live. We were made for relationships; first, with God and then with each other. Without loving relationships, nothing else matters. So why do we spend so much time and energy other places?
  2. Bitterness is toxic. I hangs on, even if you hid it, until you root it out. The trick here is that we’re good at pretending we’re not bitter. We can always find someone to blame for what’s wrong. We can vent to friends to temporarily feel better. We can tweet and post and decry all that’s wrong with the world. But mostly what happens is that bitterness grows inside of us and desecrates our perspective and our motivations. We destroy ourselves with it. This has been a big one for me. I have a lot of work to do here.
  3. Forgive freely. This is the antidote to bitterness. Are people sorry for gossiping about you, judging you, or ignoring you? Mostly not. Do people confess their sins to you and ask for forgiveness? Rarely. But forgiveness frees you, even if it can’t free them. You can’t control the journey other people should take, but you can control yours. Just forgive. Every human is a mess. That’s why we need Jesus. Just have grace.
  4. Prioritize doing what brings life to you and others. In Dr. Richard Carlson’s words: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” There’s so much pressing for our time and attention. Do the thing you’re called to do and let the rest go. Perfectionism is a tyrant. I’m an Enneagram One, so I know a lot about this. Instead of deciding to do everything well, I should just let some things go.
  5. Get enough sleep. Since my husband has been focused on recovery and not going to work, we’ve been sleeping at least eight hours every night, often more. It’s incredible. I’ve been a historic insomniac, so I’m shocked by the difference of sleep on my outlook. I’m learning to let go of the guilt that comes from sleeping in. My advice: just sleep.
  6. Create something every day. This is a mantra of mine, but I believe it more every year. Even in crisis-recovery, you must stop to create. I’ve cranked out several book proposals this summer, cut flowers and arranged them, purged clothing, re-organized closets. All of that is creative, and it helps me breathe. Creativity always opens your emotional airways because you are a created being, made in the likeness of a Creator. You must make new things to feel fully alive.
  7. Handle little things before they become big things. I think Ben Franklin said “Little foxes spoil the vines.” It’s true. I’ve had a gap in the wall behind my stove (since a contractor cut corners, but that’s another story), and I’ve handled the occasional mouse with a good sticky trap and those sonic plug-ins that are supposed to keep mice away. Then last week, a copperhead followed a mouse into my kitchen. It literally raised its head and prepared to strike as one son sauntered across the kitchen floor. Another son beat it to death with a shoe. (Yay for having boys!) We’ve had a few snake encounters over the years (mostly outside), but this is the first venomous snake inside my house. Let me tell you, the hole behind the stove has been patched. The house is surrounded by snake repellent (I didn’t even know there was such a thing!). This cannot happen again. Ever. (I think this is a great response whenever we awake to a dangerous reality in our lives. Instant correction.)
  8. Read (or listen) to a variety of genres and perspectives. Too much of any one thing isn’t good for you (except the Bible). We can all get into a rut of reading/listening to a particular genre like romantic fiction or political commentary. Can I just say that’s not healthy? Diversify your intellectual and emotional intake, or you will lose all perspective on reality.
  9. Choose your inner circle carefully. Psychologists assert that we only have 1-3 close friends in our inner-most relational circles. That means 1-3 people we can tell anything to, 1-3 people who will challenge us on our crap, 1-3 people who will sit with us in our lowest moments without telling us what we did wrong or how to recover. Few people can give you life without sucking some life from you. That doesn’t make them bad friends or family. It just places them in an outer relationship ring. Choose to be in the 1-3 category for someone else and let them be that friend to you. Vulnerability in safety is a priceless gift, but when you spread the vulnerability too wide, you lose all safety to become the person you’re supposed to be.
  10. Resilience is a thoughtful choice and a life habit. So is avoidance. We all experience heartache, disappointment, betrayal, grief, and anguish. Build a strong spiritual and emotional psyche so you can push through hard times and grow stronger on the other side. Avoidance and denial are definitely coping mechanisms in a crisis, but they do not bring you healing. They make you weaker. They become habitual. Resilience and perseverance can become habitual, too, but they make you stronger.

The summer is half-over, and this is what I’m learning. This is what I’m doing. Reading, praying, processing, correcting, growing. Because the next coiled snake is surely around some corner, and I want to be ready to knock his head off.