cynthyb


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Untangled

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This is me, when I had those pesky snarls and tangles to deal with.

Blog Post #47

I have curly hair. When I was young, it was even curlier, and prone to tangles. My mother would comb and brush the snarls out, but the process was sometimes painful, and I didn’t like it!

Now that I’m older, my hair no longer snarls. As with many laws of science, such as laws of displacement, or the migratory habits of birds, when a snarl is combed out of one’s hair, it has to go somewhere else.  My migrating snarls have displaced vacant spaces in my brain and heart, which have resulted from a year of dramatic change, leaving some gaping holes and empty places—perfect for snarls to settle into.

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A tangled brain is not a good beginning to the New Year.

Let me explain what I mean by a tangled brain. A tangled brain is when a variety of commitments, desires, plans, thoughts, and scheduled parts of life seem to all land on the freeway of my mind at precisely the same moment causing a bottleneck-traffic jam of major proportions in my neural networking. Anyone who has experienced a bottleneck on the highway knows that traffic reduces to a crawl, or even a dead standstill, until a lane opens up ahead or there’s a reduction in the number of cars.

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Bottleneck  traffic jam

It’s the same with a tangled brain. An onslaught of stress or confusion results from too much input coming together at once, and too little capacity to deal with it efficiently.

Like combing out snarls, it may be a painful process trying to sort out the effects of major changes while also dealing with unexpected responsibilities mixed with everyday routines.

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It’s an interesting fact that, just when I see the approach of a free-flying chunk of “time” making its way toward me like a fly ball I’m straining to catch, some all-absorbed outfielder named Opportunity comes at me from one side, a focused short stop named Commitment comes at me from the other, and both slam into me with such force, the ball pops out of my groping mitt, and falls out of play with a thud. It’s happened to me so many times, I can’t even begin to count.

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It’s my own doing; I have the freedom to choose. Yes or no. Accept, or reject. I can decide. Mostly, I choose to accept. Accept is, perhaps, too passive a word.  Invite is more appropriate. I invite these kinds of fly ball responsibilities because I believe in the principle of service. The kind of service I’m speaking of doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “convenient.” I suspect that most true acts of service—the kinds that cause you to put someone or something else ahead of your own selfish desires—are rarely, if ever, convenient. I seriously doubt the Samaritan found it convenient to care for the man he found on the road during his travels.

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The Good Samaritan – Luke 10:25-37

I wish I could say that I always invite, or accept these opportunities with a willing and cheerful attitude, but that would be a lie. I have kicked against some of the opportunities I’ve had to serve, I’ve whined and I’ve complained. The result has always been the same. In the end, I have felt so grateful that I didn’t say no, even though I wanted to.  And not only did I feel grateful, I benefited. I benefited – and in every case, I probably benefited more than the person or organization I was serving. I stretched, I grew, I learned, I became more aware, I became more skilled. I found balm for my soul—my soul. I benefited. So in the end, who was really served? And was the sacrifice I thought I was making at the time really a sacrifice? The unequivocal answer is NO! It was not a sacrifice because of what I gained. Even though I used a portion of my time to do something I had not planned on doing, it really was not a sacrifice, because I was one of the beneficiaries.

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Dr. Seuss’s Grinch 

The best benefit of all is a changed heart. Like the Grinch, when I choose service over the selfish hording of my time, my hard and shriveled little heart softens and grows. I become a little bit better in my heart, a little less selfish, a little more generous.

Many years ago, I heard Camilla Kimball quoted as saying, “Never suppress a generous thought.”  That thought surfaces every time I contemplate any act of kindness, large or small. It has encouraged me in making the choice to serve over indulging in selfish desires. 4dcbbd7950dada094bcc65f827bbd178

So, here it is, the New Year. My brain is tangled up with a conglomeration of anticipated, as well as unexpected events, responsibilities, needs, desires, and opportunities for service that all seem to be converging on the same bottleneck portion of the calendar without regard for the fact that I also have regular, routine things to attend to during that same time slot. The (not so) strange thing (when you consider the explanation about the free-flying chunk of “time” I thought I saw heading my way) is that I had, at least for a moment, anticipated a nicely ironed out length in the fabric of time to do some of the things I have been setting aside for just such a vacant space. That sudden jam-up in my space-time continuum is threatening to create stress that I, frankly, don’t need or want.

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The thing is, I have something to say about that, too.

Looking at my history, a pattern is revealed, which is this.

  • I think I have a chunk of time.
  • It gets filled.
  • It clogs.
  • I stress.
  • It all gets done, (and usually with enough time to spare for a lot of other things).
  • I look back and wonder why I got so stressed.
  • Repeat from the beginning

That’s the pattern.

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(1)Think I have time                              (2) It fills and clogs 

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(3) I stress                                  (4) It all gets done

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(5) I look back and wonder why I was so stressed

Here’s an example of that pattern from my own experience. I’m lying awake in bed at night fretting over a checklist of responsibilities I will face during the course of the next busy day. The list is long. It is demanding. Each item on the list requires a chunk of time. Because the list has so many items, my brain, immediately, becomes tangled. That cluttered, tangled brain reacts with “It’s too much! I don’t have enough time! I’ll never get it all done!” Then that same brain begins to dwell on the first item on the list until it appears to have a dark cloud looming over it in a threatening way, causing it to take on unrealistic proportions. A small puffy cloud grows into a roiling thunderstorm. The more I think about it, the more it grows in my mind into a task requiring super-human effort and hours of time (which is usually a falsehood my brain imagines—not based on reality—like unloading the dishwasher when I was a kid. I thought it would take an hour of my precious playtime, when in reality, it only took about eight minutes.)

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The next day, I get up, and with anxiety, I begin my list. Right away, if I don’t dawdle about beginning because of the stress I’m feeling, I attack the first item, and discover that it only took fifteen minutes, not two hours. I recalculate the remainder of the day’s list based on this new discovery, and my stress level goes down a notch. Because my motivation increased with the time I gained, I complete the second item in a fraction of the time I imagined. My stress level drops another notch. And this continues with the rest of the list, until noon arrives, and my list is completed. I eat a leisurely lunch, while marveling at the weight lifted from my shoulders, the brightness of my mood, and the lightness of my heart as I contemplate how quickly that dark cloud dissipated.

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I know this pattern. I’ve lived it time and again. So for my current brain-tangle, I have made a decision. I am going to work backwards. I am going to look ahead, knowing the outcome, and forewarn myself that there will be time to do ALL of what is required with enough extra time to do many of the other things I have been saving up for, and want to do. I will paint a bright, light vision for my brain to focus on, so I will approach upcoming events and challenges with a bright and cheerful forbearance. I will weigh real-time, instead of tipping the scales with dark presentiments and false anticipation. I will cheerfully, willingly accept and invite these converging opportunities with the absolute understanding that I will be a beneficiary. But more importantly, I will be motivated and inspired by the hope and desire that someone else will benefit at least as much, and hopefully, even more than I do.

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The truth is, and it’s been proven conclusively, that when my heart is right, and I’ve placed my trust in He who is the Author of all Goodness and Service, I am strengthened, guided, and blessed. I can manage and untangle any snarls that come my way, while maintaining a proper perspective about time and my use of it.

Suddenly, my bottleneck is opening up! The snarls in my brain are beginning to untangle because in a very real way I can envision chunks of space in time, and chunks of time in my space.

I will enjoy the moment I’m in and the privilege I have of being alive to live it.

End Piece

© January 10, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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"As You Sow…"

Blog Post #17

Jean-François Millet, The Sower
My mother-in-law had her own twist on the old proverb “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap,” (Galatians 6:7). With delight, she often showed me pieces of fabric she planned to use for new dresses. One fabric she particularly liked had a small print of little cowboy boots, horses, and spurs on a navy blue field. She liked this fabric because it suggested something dear to her—her late husband, who had passed away a year or two earlier.  Horses and cowboy boots were synonymous with Dad.

The cowboy print looked something like this

Dad with his horse Smokey
She used the same dress pattern many times, changing the print of the fabric for variety.  Soon after she showed me the cowboy print, it became a dress much like the one she’s wearing in the picture below.
My mother-in-law wearing a
typical dress of her own making

One day, not long after my husband and I had married, his mom emerged from her sewing room and laughingly shared with me the truism she had just thought of as she began to repair a mistake in her sewing: 

Whatsoever a woman seweth, that shall she also rip!” 


This became shortened  to, “As you sew, so shall you rip,” which is how I always think of it. Her witticism seemed to make up for any error in sewing she had made. She knew she had struck on a profound play on words. Always chuckling at her wit, she repeated this phrase to me whenever I found her sewing.


The notorious seam ripper

It was simply brilliant. And so true. I have thought of it plenty of times since as I’ve sat at my own sewing machine frantically rushing to repair a mistake by wielding my trusty seam ripper. I have never been a patient seamstress. I like sewing. I do. But mostly the thing I like about sewing is being done. I like the finished product—wearing, displaying, or using it. Sewing is a means to an end.


My daughter Caity sews for a living. Her business keeps her extremely busy, with deadlines that often require additional help, (which I am pleased to provide). We sit together sewing for hours at a time, or I do odd jobs to expedite the orders she has to fill.
“Young Mother Sewing” by Mary Cassatt

Caity does impeccable work. Running her business online via an *Etsy shop means her clients must take their own measurements. This can create problems if done incorrectly. Sometimes, items are returned for adjustments. Fortunately, this is the exception, not the rule. Making adjustments is time-consuming and generally without remuneration.

At times, she asks me to remove a bodice (the top portion of a dress) from the skirt. Recently, I had two such dresses to take apart. On one of the dresses, the length of both sleeves and skirt had been miss-measured by the customer, and the dress returned for adjustments. The fully lined mutton sleeves—having two parts—also needed to be dissected and refinished.

Dresses with mutton sleeves.
Not the dresses Caity makes.

Looking at one of the sleeves, I saw a possible shortcut to repairing the hem of the lower sleeve without having to rip the sleeve apart. But I was strictly instructed that no shortcuts were allowed. Caity, having already attempted a shortcut in refinishing the sleeve at the proper length in a thoroughly acceptable way, received word from the customer that she preferred the sleeves refinished the original way.  The fabric would need re-cutting, and the sleeve, re-made from scratch. It had to measure up to a high level of quality and workmanship, and it did. Her customers are happy, and she feels peace and confidence in her product, and, truthfully, in herself. 

I balked at the thought of this, knowing the extra time and effort it would take. But Caity was adamant. I tore out the stitches, while reciting to myself the slightly altered form of the already misrepresented adage, “As you sew, so shall I rip.” True. So true. We reaped as she sowed (and as she sewed).



I’ve watched Caity in her preparations to sew her custom designs. Because she does work with a handicap—the customer’s measurements—she takes precautions to help insure a perfect fit (and achieves this feat at least 95 % of the time). I’ve watched her measure, and re-measure, two and three times before cutting.  She carefully lays-out, and pins pieces together, instead of doing it her mother’s less exacting and speedier way. In doing so, she saves the time I waste picking out mistakes. Because she makes costumes that multiple people may wear, she allows for discrepancies and variances in size by including an expandable panel in her designs. I’ve watched the great care she takes in her craft and marvel at how few mistakes she makes. It is truly remarkable, considering the queen of “just get it done as fast as possible” was her first (and only) sewing instructor. (Yes, I speak of myself. I grimace as I admit this. But it is true.)

“…Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” True of everything, not just sewing. This summer is full of illustrations: I neglected to deadhead my roses, and have had few to any blooms. The basil, too, I’ve neglected, and have nothing but sad and scraggly plants gone to seed with which not to make pesto. I have giant “thistles” instead of artichokes, because I failed to harvest. We have a sad little avocado tree that was sown in what must be a cursed bit of soil, for the tree, (and its earlier counterpart, which we uprooted because it also fared poorly) has turned into a skinny, leafless stem. I have reaped as I have sown. No doubt about it.


There are many ways to sow. Sowing faithful and true relationships is paramount if you wish to reap a harvest of love and harmony. Sowing good works brings joy and fulfillment. Sowing things of the spirit brings a harvest of knowledge, truth, and peace. Of course, it’s possible to sow things that reap a poor harvest. Sowing seeds of laziness, self-indulgence, pride, and deceit all reap thriving harvests, but who wants grubs and sewage in their horn of plenty?  


For me, it was a particularly hot and humid summer—a particularly busy one, as well. We were busy sowing other than in our vegetable garden. One of our daughters and her family came to stay after being pruned and uprooted from the bit of soil where they had been planted for several years. Their former house sold, they stayed with us during the summer until they found a fruitful spot of ground in a happy situation less than an hour away. Transplanted and thriving–is this not a worthwhile harvest?


Add to that, the sowing and the reaping (or more apropos, the sewing and the ripping) with Caity, we’ve had a fruitful summer.
In sowing and reaping, time does not allow for shortcuts. It just doesn’t. If you plant a seed, it doesn’t matter how much you water it, or expose it to the proper sunlight and nourishment, it will always take a certain amount of time before it will produce. A mighty oak isn’t grown in a day. You cannot rush the harvest. You might be able to encourage it, to make it more plentiful. You might even discourage it, and never reap at all.


Our daughter’s family reaped a nice, quiet, home in exactly the area they had hoped to live, but there were no shortcuts getting there. They reaped as they sowed. They might have settled for something less adequate, but there would have been a price to pay. The safe environment they were seeking, the proximity to schools, work, church, family, and access to the community would have, to a degree, been sacrificed, and with that a certain measure of peace and comfort. Patience in sowing reaps added benefits during harvest.



Brad planted tomatoes. With great care, he watched over them. He nourished and cared for them because he wanted that plentiful harvest. He reaped a lot of tomatoes—many beautiful, red, ripe and delicious. Enough to bottle and to share. He thought he might be able to extend the season further into fall by pruning back the old plants, and planting a couple new plants mid-summer. He was disappointed that his efforts really didn’t produce the desired effect. The season has run its course. The tomatoes have run their cycle—all ending at about the same time. There are things we can change, and things we cannot. I suppose he could build a greenhouse, and have tomatoes year-round, but he hasn’t chosen to do that. Everything comes with a price. Shortcuts must follow the law of the harvest. No matter what, you always reap what you sow.  
 

Jean-François Millet – “Gleaners”


Looking back on the summer, it is evident that I did not sow some of the things that I might have sown. I didn’t even sew things that I planned to sew. I’ve been talking about making a new dress since March. I still haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter. The old ones are still wearable as they hang, limp and lifeless in my closet, like vintage remnants from a garage sale. Instead, I sowed a summer with my daughter, sewing and talking, and being together. It was, and continues to be, worth the harvest, for she is precious to me.



I spent the summer with my other daughter’s family, with treasured grandchildren, laughing, talking, playing games, and building relationships that reek with happiness.
Surely these, and other important things sown over the course of the summer, were worth any displaced activities I might have harvested. Instead of basil, what have I gleaned? Much, much more—and of greater worth. An eternal harvest.

One of our daughters, and some of our grandchildren on a summer outing

One of my grandsons with me

There’s always next year for basil and artichokes. But some things you may only sow once in a lifetime. They are worth every part of the time invested, and the harvest reaped is eternal.
  

*Caity’s Etsy shop is called Cait’s Boutique.  You might find it fun to take a look!

© September 6, 2014