Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What lingers below the surface

Somewhere in my childhood I learned the phrase, “It’s good for what ails ya.”  Those words likely accompanied some horrific tasting concoction of whiskey, honey, and lemon, or some other home remedy meant to cure the croup or a bad cough; almost as if knowing it would make me feel better made the stuff taste better. In any case, those words stuck with me and I have used them myself throughout the years when I tried to motivate myself to do, eat, or drink something that I didn’t want to, but knew would be good for me. You know what I’m talking about; physical things like drinking water, getting some exercise, taking medicine, or emotional/spiritual things like ‘turning the other cheek,’ forgiving, or biting your tongue. The words can be applied to many things, and in reality, they do ring true when we think of all the things, habits, practices, and thoughts that are somewhat difficult or unpleasant, but really are ‘good for what ails us.”

For the past couple of days it has been SUNSHINE that has been “good for what has been ailing me.”  After a long, cold winter, even temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s are welcome, especially when accompanied by the sunshine.  My spirits have been lifted as I walked around the yard, scouting for signs of spring and hoping to catch a glimpse of some of my perennials coming to life. It’s a bit early for that, but there are  some tulips and daffodils beginning to sprout, and I’m itching to finish up my college classes in a few weeks so I have more time to ‘play in the dirt” and get rid of the debris, leaves, and dead stuff that has accumulated in the yard. In the process of doing that, I will be mentally getting rid of the ‘emotional stuff’ that needs to be cleared away in order for new growth and life to happen.  Most of the time, when we want to change our reality and feel better about ourselves (however we define that for our own personal growth) the hardest part is getting rid of the ‘dead stuff or debris……also known as thoughts, hurts, un-forgiveness, lingering pain, bad habits, etc…   that are hindering new growth and keeping us from reaching our potential.

Many of you remember that last summer I put in a little pond in one of my perennial gardens. It’s just a small pond, and was a learning experience for me, but it sure brought me a lot of joy last summer. I was thrilled on Sunday to discover that it was completely thawed out and soon it will be time to clean it out and put the pump back in it, along with the silly goldfish that I had to bring in the house last winter. (if you’ve been around this group for a while, you may remember the story about those 22 cent goldfish that cost me a fortune to keep alive; if not, check out the old posts on my blog page:  You might also remember the stories of digging up cattails and pond ‘weeds’ from the ditch.  Just thinking of those kinds of crazy warm-weather experiences I get myself into made me smile a little.  Yes, gardening, friends, God, and remembering past moments of joy are “good for what ails me” and is helping me in the healing process.

I grew cattails in the pond last summer, but they are nothing but a clump of dead, brown, shriveled up leaves at the moment.  A friend and I were looking at the pond a couple of days ago and I told him that I was going to have to empty the water out and clean out all the leaves and dead stuff from the pond plants that were there last summer and then start over fresh.  At that point, I reached down and grabbed the shriveled up cattail clump and pulled it out of the pond, intending to toss it into the woods. However, when I pulled it out of the water, I was thrilled to discover that there was a green shoot growing out of the mangled mess of roots that had been submerged below the ice. I actually let out a squeal of excitement….and surprise….because I was certain that the plant was dead.  After all, it APPEARED dead….it appeared hopeless….there was no sign of life, growth, hope…..ABOVE the water.  Hmmm…. here we go again, “You’re speaking to me again, aren’t you, God?”

And so, you’ve guessed it, I’ve been thinking about dead….or not so dead….cattails for the past two days, as I reflected on that discovery and thought about how many times in my life; on my journey; in my relationships; in my spiritual life…..actually in all areas of life….when it appeared on the outside that NOTHING WAS HAPPENING; that there was no hope; no progress; no growth….but under the surface, there was new life brewing.  God often works ‘behind the scenes” and many times in life, it appears to us, and perhaps others as well, that we are just wasting our time and that will never reach our goals or make any progress.

Any of you that have encountered the dreaded plateau in your weight loss journey know exactly what I’m talking about.  You might go 2, 3, or 6 weeks, faithfully sticking to your eating plan, only to be disappointed when the scale doesn’t budge. You might be going to the gym every day and still not seeing muscle mass appear. You might feel discouraged and convince yourself that it is hopeless and that you are just doing the hard work for nothing. You might even want to give up because by all appearances, you are just wasting your time, and your plan is not working.  To you… I say…. “Hang in there, below the surface, new life is brewing.  Just because it APPEARS that you are not making progress, that your weight loss has fizzled out or died; that you’ll never each your goals….DOES NOT MEAN….that your journey is over and that you are not changing your life. It just might not be VISIBLE at the moment, but below the surface, you are doing great and in a little while, if you are patient and persistent, you will see tremendous growth and progress...likely all at once. Don’t GIVE UP!

If you are struggling with a relationship of any kind and you continually try to be the ‘bigger person’ and let things roll off your back; you are the first one to extend the olive branch; you are the one doing all the giving or making all the sacrifices only to be unappreciated; or you are the one who thinks that you will never be good enough; never be pretty or smart enough; never be….whatever it is that your teenager, your significant other, your boss, or your mother-in-law wants you to be…. take heart and don’t’ be discouraged because just because it APPEARS that you are not making any progress or the relationship is not improving on the surface, you never know how much your kindness and love is affecting that person underneath the surface. Your good works and efforts might be causing growth and making a difference in the heart of that person or situation but you just can’t see it YET.  You might be pleasantly surprised when that ‘impossible to please or make happy” person says, THANK YOU, or gives you a compliment or a hug. Keep being kind; loving; and forgiving….one day it will pay off….if not for someone else, at least for your own peace of mind!

You can apply this principle to just about anything in your life that appears to be stagnant or hopeless. Obviously you have to be ‘emotionally healthy” and realize that sometimes ‘throwing in the towel” is the best thing to do for your well-being, but I’m talking about something different and encouraging you to keep taking steps in the right direction, even when it appears that you are not moving. Keep working hard; keep on doing what you need to do; keep on thinking good thoughts and practicing good habits, and keep on believe that NO MATTER how hopeless it seems; no matter how many times you’ve failed; no matter how far you have to go or how hard it gets….that underneath the surface, THERE IS GROWTH AND PROGRESS taking place. You just might not be able to see it yet, but in time….you will see the results of your hard work. Don’t give up and don’t ever stop believing that you CAN and you WILL change your life with God’s help.

Finally….and perhaps most importantly….the cattails have taught me to be conscious of “what is happening below the surface” of my actions…and those of others around me.  When the cashier at the grocery story treats me rudely, instead of immediately thinking, ‘Gosh, what a crab,” I’m going to smile and ask her about her day because I have no idea what might be going on ‘below her surface.” She might have received bad news that day; her husband might have just left her or she might have received a shut-off notice for her electricity….any number of things lurking below the surface. This is true of every person we meet. People hide all sorts of worries, troubles, and anxieties behind the expression on their faces and things may not always be what they appear. Many times we hide our pain, fear, and depression behind a fake smile.

 Likewise, in my own life, I’m going to make a more conscious effort to be aware of the MOTIVES and EMOTIONS that are prompting my own thoughts and behavior.  When I reach for a protein bar or find myself wanting to eat a snack, I’m going to pause and try to identify what is going on in my mind and heart. Am I really hungry….or am I just sad, stressed, lonely, or tired? Am I reluctant do something new because I’m afraid or feeling unworthy?  When I’m tempted to lash out at someone or am impatient….is it because of THEM….or because of something I’m feeling inside ME?  Am I taking out my frustration, anger, or hurt about my own reality on someone else?  Am I being irritable or feeling stress because I procrastinated and put off doing my homework because I just didn’t feel liked doing it?  More often than not, we eat, drink, smoke…or exhibit negative behavior and thoughts….because of some emotion or thoughts….that are coming from within us and lurk beneath the surface.  Things are not always what they appear to be.

Goodness…..all of that from a weed I dug up from the ditch last summer! 
Have a good day everyone and be grateful for all things today. It is a gift.