Monthly Archives: December 2014

Another One Bites the Dust

And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been – Rainer Maria Rilke

There are always flowers for those who want to see them ~ Henri Matisse

Given that I grew up in the ‘70’s and was a teenager of the ‘80’s, Queen’s hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” has been the “Auld Lang Syne” of my New Year’s Eves for some time.

I realize Queen’s song is about murder on the streets, yet, somehow I feel like I’ve often destroyed the 365 days of the departing year.

It’s difficult for me to not emotionally self-flagellate over failed goals. These fanciful goals have included maintaining a gluten-free, organic, unprocessed diet…sustaining the perfect fitness plan for my specific physical brokenness…preserving the organization of work spaces as they were when there was no work happening.

I could go on about all the failed New Year’s resolutions – but that’s not fruitful and only perseverates the flogging.

Instead, I’ll share what I have done well.  Something I didn’t set as a New Year’s goal but something I have been intentionally working on for several years – gratitude.

What’s is amazing in the here and now?  What do I have to be grateful for today?  Instead of picking apart what I’m not doing well and nit-picking myself into a deep blue funk, why don’t I pause and recognize what I am conquering and the successes I have had?

Many days a victory for me is merely not letting my tongue split in half and jet evil venom on my family if the door is locked as I try to come in with arms full of bags from work, the grocery, the dry cleaners.

That’s a little thing, but trust me, I’ve hissed and squealed over that door and I've appeared as the disrespectful adolescent heading to the principal’s office.  I’m fairly quick to observe my own behavior nowadays.  So, after a couple of ‘door incidents,’ I knew I had to approach entering our home differently.

I went back to gratitude.  What am I grateful for as I approach our home? I’m grateful to actually have a home.

I’m grateful that when The Engineer and I got married, we both owned homes.

I’m grateful we have a solid brick home with such strong materials that they aren’t even available anymore.

I’m grateful only one family before us – the family, who built the home in 1947, loved our home.

I am grateful the doors lock.

I am grateful not only for all the furnishings inside our home, but for the hearts and minds awaiting me…not to mention a wagging tail and jumping short furry legs.

When I begin to break down my initial gratitude for our home, it helps me see how blessed and fortunate I truly am.  And the ugly words and negative attitude that were quick to appear, disintegrate in the presence of gratitude.

How can you begin this journey of gratitude?  You could reflect on the previous year by recalling the times and/or things which brought you and loved ones smiles and laughter.

Or do a calendar review and pick one awesome thing from each month. Even in a really bad month, there was surely a delicious meal or a surprise find.  If you can’t recall what happened in your life in February 2014, perhaps that’s something you should be intentional with in 2015…writing down amazing days on your calendar that may note small victories, large celebrations and perhaps even daily gratitudes.

When we focus on what is going well – what we love and appreciate about our lives – the little inconveniences, well, they will remain small.

I’m curious what shift we would see and feel in our world if even half of us focused on gratitude and goodness.

Would you like to join me with the intention of giving, granting and gathering gratitude and goodness in your own life and the lives of your loved ones?  That intention could make 2015 an amazing year for everyone in your life.

Happy New Year!

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend

Christmas: The Birth of a Step-Family

Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." ~ Matthew 1: 19-20 (NIV)

The last couple of years, I’ve allowed myself time on Christmas Eve to sit quietly and reflect on the story of Mary. It is difficult to imagine the social scorn she and Joseph must have endured during the pregnancy of Jesus. When I really start to think about the depth of their faith…their conviction and belief in God…it truly takes my breath away.

I am sure they were rejected and ridiculed by people they believed to be their allies and confidants. They must have had felt as deserted as Tom Hanks in Castaway – even though they were together.

While Mary was likely mocked and taunted by her peers, Joseph must have had several of his friends trying to talk some sense into him.

“Joseph – you need to get away from her…she’s going to drag you down. It’s not even your kid. Run, man – fast! You have no obligation to her – she’s broken the relationship. You’re crazy if you marry her.”

What deep love and loyalty Joseph must have had for Mary. Otherwise, how could he have had confidence in Mary’s story of an angel coming to tell her that she’ll be impregnated with God’s only Son?

Joseph did not listen to the naysayers. He stayed true to his heart, his faith and his love for Mary and the unborn child she was carrying. God confirmed Joseph’s heart and sent an angel to him to reassure him of the Immaculate Conception. And Joseph became a step-father to Jesus.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a step-family.

For those of us who are a step-family, it always gives me strength to realize there were probably times when they experienced tension at the dinner table or discord amongst Mary and Joseph about what consequences Jesus should have for separating from the group to hang out in the temple.

As a step-mom, I’d be lying if I said that when I look across the dinner table at my step-sons chewing with their mouths open and their elbows on the table that I saw young Jesuses. In those moments of trying to instill life-long skills for the 900th time in the last five years, I feel like Cruella de Vil rather than the patient and loving step-parent as I envision Joseph to have been.

Surely, step-parenting for Joseph had to be easier than it is now. I mean they didn’t really have to co-parent with other people…well, unless you count the Almighty God. But shouldn’t that be whom we are all co-parenting with?

They didn’t have to split time with another set of parents…Well, actually, they did. When Jesus was 12, he disappeared from the large group his family was traveling with on their return trip to Nazareth from the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem.

Mary and Joseph had been frantically searching for Jesus for three days. If I lost one of my step-sons for three days…oh my goodness, I cannot even imagine the panic, the guilt, and the shame…not to mention the anger from my husband and the boys’ mom – and rightfully so.

But, it was in that story when Jesus made it clear that there was a change in custody. That is when co-parenting, shared custody, moving between houses became the reality of this step-family.

When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, Mary confronts Jesus.

I find it interesting that Mary is the one to confront Jesus. In a step-family, it is often a function of biological parents to discipline their children before a step-parent does. But in nuclear, biological families of origin, the father is typically the one to confront and implement the discipline for large infractions.

Perhaps this tells us that Joseph was functioning as many of us step-parents do – back-up coverage, the quiet position, or the support role.

Exasperated, and I’m sure a bit perturbed, Mary says something along the lines of, “What were you thinking? Why would you do this to us? We have been worried sick looking for you!” Apparently, all parents take the behaviors and choices of their children personally.

Jesus responded, apparently surprised they didn’t know where he was, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus’ time in His Father’s house, doing the work His Father sent Him to do would mean less time with Joseph, who had raised Jesus as his own.

Biblical scholars have noted that following the incident of Jesus in the temple, Joseph is not mentioned any further in the Bible. It is not clear when Joseph died.

I wonder if he died with a broken heart. After raising Jesus with the love, passion and integrity, as he would have his own biological children, it must have been painful for him to accept the new co-parenting arrangement with God.

Sometimes, step-parents will suffer silently. We are reminded often, through media, legal red tape, and unfortunately by some biological parents that as a step-parent we are merely an accouterment, an accessory, in the lives of our step-children.

Christmas Step-FamilyMaybe step-families should view the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus with hope and optimism. Rather than accepting the status as a faux family, step-families may wish to view Christmas as a reminder that faith, love and hope can create miracles in any situation…even those that may have a social stigma attached.

Believe. Hope. Love.
© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend

Happy Holler-Days

Like all the best families, we have our share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters and of family disagreements

~ Queen Elizabeth II

The sidewalks are lit with bright candy canes, sparkling snowflakes and big red bows.  You see petite red berries under the blanket of frost and there seems to be smells of the season everywhere.  Gingerbread, pine, cinnamon – all tickling your nose and prompting memories to dart through your mind.

As magical as the holidays can be, they can also feel tumultuous, chaotic and draining.  Emotionally. Physically.  Financially.

So, why we chose to remodel our kitchen and family room between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year may forever remain a mystery.

Perhaps, my core has been missing the delight of my childhood dysfunction.  I grew up in a very loving, caring, and screaming home.  One to six of us would communicate loudly – with either cheer or complaint – every day.

The yelling wasn’t abusive.  Though it probably wasn’t necessary in most scenarios.  But, it was the norm in my family…and so, it became comfortable and expected.

At the age of 22, I came home from graduate school for Christmas break. It had been the first time I had lived completely alone.  Not in a dorm and not with a roommate.  I had been surprised by how much I enjoyed the solitude.  The quiet.

However, it didn’t take me long – 15 minutes would be a generous estimate – to revert to the pattern that seemingly ran so deeply in my family of origin.

I suddenly stopped myself between deep breaths (to gather more oxygen for a more boisterous response).  The thought hit me.

“We don’t have Happy Holidays here, we celebrate Happy Holler-Days!”  I said with a chuckle that quickly turned to a veil of guilt.  There was an immediate silence, surely to be followed with the biggest holiday hollering yet.

The stillness did not become censorship.  Instead, a snicker verified the lone observation I had made.  It was my dad’s giggle and grin confirming we were probably not the only family to celebrate the Holler-Days…but we may be one of the few to embrace the Holler-Days.

Since we’ve come ‘clean’ as a family and our ‘secret’ communication style is discussed openly, it’s allowed us to become aware of the pattern we have.

Once I identified my default mode of communication during stressful times, I was able to make some conscious and deliberate changes.  I may not be successful 100% of the time…and I’ve found other – unhealthy -  means of ‘hollering’ – sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness.  However, I know my triggers and my patterns, so I have the ability to pause and reframe the situation.  When I step out of the deeply rooted habits, it encourages others to challenge their own patterns.

remodel pic - 2014Although, I’ll admit a major remodeling during the holidays has pushed me closer to a rendition of my childhood Holler-days than I’ve been in 20 years…that’s not really my core’s default anymore.  I’ve almost spent as much time mastering a new means of communicating as I had invested in the holler-days!

I’m taking in deep breaths (of construction dust) and exhaling lots of love and gratitude…and sending holiday happiness to everyone!

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend

Rest In Peace, Sweet Grechen

No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog.  Few human beings give of themselves to another as a dog gives of itself

~ Dean Koontz

I had no business saying, ‘YES.’  We already had two canine kids – a boxer we rescued and a seven-year-old dachshund who was still angry we had disrupted her life with a large and hyper giant.

But, I couldn’t leave this 6-week-old injured puppy at the veterinarian’s office after they called me to see if I could offer her a safe home.

When I first met the dapple dachshund, she had two drainage tubes, multiple stitches and a tail that was broken in 2 places.  She was nothing less than pitiful – yet, adorable as little creatures with pink paws and puppy breath are.

While being raised in a puppy mill, she had ended up in the middle of two adult dogs fighting over food.  The breeder abandoned her at the vet’s office after being told she would never be able to have puppies.

I’m not sure I had even left the premises before I was calling my then-husband to plea the case for a third dog.  It was a petition that needed no more evidence than a hand to paw meeting.

But, my little Gretchen had a three-week stay at the animal hospital before she could come to her new home.  I visited her almost every day and the innocent puppy, once betrayed, gradually allowed herself to experience devotion, dedication and loyalty.

Her allegiance was with me, when four months later, I was separated and divorced.  I kept Gertie Mae and Gretchen, the dachshunds, and the boxer left with the husband.  It was a sad parting for us all.

Those pups were my healing when I didn’t see the possibility of restoration.  They sat with me through the tears, angst, and doubts of my loneliness.  They unknowingly mended my brokenness with their faithfulness.

Occasionally, I would meet someone who understood the saving grace Gertie and Gretchen extended to me.  The girls were a good test of character – better than any psychological evaluation I could complete.

After almost five of years of living single, I met and married The Engineer.  He was dachshund-approved even though we agreed on a ‘no-kid, no-dog in our bed’ policy.

Gretchen was spunky and sneaky.  She would be the one to find – and taste – things in our 60-year-old home that had gone unnoticed for decades.  A couple of after-hours vet calls taught me that hydrogen-peroxide ingested via a syringe would quickly produce evidence of what “treasures” she had found.

She chewed through plenty of cloth bags and plastic containers for items most would consider inedible.  Gretchen seemed to have a stomach of steel and a determination of survival, which she had learned as that helpless young pup in the midst of an adult dog brawl she almost lost.

Gretchen seemed to age quickly following Gertie Mae’s tragic and unexpected death in 2010.  She was obviously depressed and who isn’t cheered up with a new puppy?  We adopted a five-month-old long-haired male dachshund and named him Hansel.

Gretchen was not amused.

To ensure Gretchen felt loved, appreciated and remained Queen of her domain – The Engineer established a morning ritual.  Gretchen would be delivered with my coffee for snuggles.

She became my writing partner.  Gretchen was more patient with my writer’s block than I was.  I often had to coax her out of the burrow she created beside me every morning.

Gretchen was constant and persistent in her love and protection of me. She snapped at The Engineer more than once when would try to pick her up if the writing and snuggles were not completed.

Hansel adored his older sister and would dote on her and engage her in play as much as possible.  The love was obviously mutual – most of the time.

Gretchen would occasionally vie for our attention with a limp or refusal to eat.  We would obediently take her to the vet, rarely coming home with any diagnosis.  The prescribed remedy typically included more intentional attention from these busy humans.  It was always a good reminder for us to slow down.

Last week, when Gretchen turned her nose up to the gourmet, grain-free, gluten-free beef-stew canine meals, we assumed it was due to the true chaos in our home as we began a huge demolition and renovation project in our home’s main living area.

When she decided to stay in her crate one day, we thought maybe she was experiencing some pain from assumed arthritis.  We couldn’t seem to convince Gretchen that jumping from the back of the couch onto hardwood flooring to greet us was not necessary nor good for her back.

However, by Friday, it was obvious that Gretchen was truly not feeling well and a visit to the vet was warranted.  Kidney failure was not the diagnosis we expected.  And 48 hours of obvious suffering was heartbreaking to see.

Our family rules were broken and Gretchen was beside me every waking and sleeping moment…just as she had been by my side 11 years earlier through my emotional suffering.

We allowed Gretchen to join Gertie Mae in that amazing Dog Heaven on Monday morning.  We know and believe Gretchen is running, chasing squirrels and eating whatever she finds with no belly aches to follow.

Thank you, sweet Gretchen for your unconditional love.  I didn't rescue you - you rescued me.

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend