Gentle to the max…

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A few years ago, I had a rescue dog named Max. He did not have the best life for his first 5 years, having been owned by an alcoholic and kept tethered outside. He was sometimes beaten, and his body bore the scars.

He would invariably figure out a way to slip through his collar and make a run for it but also invariably be picked up and taken back to his owner.

Except for the last time.

In the fall of 2009, he found himself at a rescue shelter, where he was adopted out and brought back… three times in short order. The note on the door to his enclosure simply said ‘too much to handle’.

Out of chances, he was scheduled to be put down the first week of January 2010. I came to the shelter the last week of December 2009.

I hadn’t planned to adopt a dog that Christmas. But, when I set eyes on Max, he was sitting quietly against the back wall of his enclosure with his ears back and a green stuffed toy in his mouth. I could sense his anxiety. I could also sense a kind and gentle soul. I could feel my heart tugging in his direction.

I decided to think about it for a couple of days. But, as I walked back to the car, a dog appeared and ran to the end of the fenced-in area to quietly but expectantly wait for me. Realizing it was Max, I bent down and put a couple of fingers through the fence. He immediately dropped to the ground and started gently licking my fingers.

Within the hour, I left the shelter with my new dog.

I can’t claim that it was an easy transition. He not only had to adjust to being an indoor dog, he had never been walked on a leash before, and he was a husky lab shepherd mix who needed a ton of exercise. He also had anxiety issues. Complicating matters was the fact that his previous owner was French, and so Max didn’t even understand English (something I didn’t find out for over a year… and it explained a lot!!). He was also seriously underweight, at only 45 pounds.

But, slowly but surely, we both adjusted. His anxiety lessened, his weight increased (to 78 pounds), and we fell into a routine of 3 one hour walks each day. His kind, funny and quirky nature overshadowed his occasional displays of stubbornness.

The one thing that consistently impressed me was his gentleness. In the beginning, he was so hungry that he would go crazy at the mere thought of food. But, even then, he would always take any treat ever so gently between his teeth, always being careful never to bite down on my fingers.

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The best illustration of his gentleness had to do with boiled eggs, his absolute favorite treat. He would gently take the egg into his mouth and then run down to the mat in front of the patio doors. Sometimes he would come and sit beside me, and we would both consider the egg as it lay there on the mat. Other times, he would just lay beside it, as if standing guard.

When he was finally ready, he would take the egg into his mouth and roll it gently around until, seconds later, he would deposit the yolk – fully intact – back onto the mat. He always made sure that I noticed and then, and only then, would he eat it.

Personally, I think he liked to prolong the experience. Savor the moment. Save the best for last.

I called it his party trick. He never got tired of doing it, and I never got tired of watching.

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Just over 2 years after adopting him, Max suddenly took very ill on Good Friday. By Easter Monday, he was gone. A massive intestinal tumor. Ironically, he’d been given a clean bill of health not even three months before. Just before he was put down, they brought him into a private room where he climbed into my lap and started gently licking my fingers as I wept.

He was gentle in life, gentle in illness, and gentle in death.

I marvel that a dog who had experienced so much hardship could be so gentle. It’s a lesson to us all that, no matter what we’ve experienced in life, it’s up to us what kind of person we will become. We can choose to rise above our circumstances and write a different ending.

Be better instead of bitter. Be gentle instead of harsh.

The moral of the story?

Gently, please…

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Patiently waiting…

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I’m convinced our ability to navigate ‘waiting’ is pivotal to patience.

Just consider all the things we could be waiting for at any given minute…

Waiting for something to start, waiting for something to end, waiting for something to happen, waiting for answers, waiting for healing, waiting for results, waiting for justice. Or small things like waiting in traffic, waiting in line, and waiting in waiting rooms. (I find it humorous that they’re actually called waiting rooms, pretty much giving you the heads up that waiting will happen).

I’m famous for standing in a line and then switching to a different line, that seems like it’s progressing faster… only to discover that the line I’d abandoned was the quickest. The same goes for waiting in traffic. And yet I still persist in changing lines and lanes. Although, while it used to regularly drive me crazy, I’ve come to pretty much expect it. My ability to patiently wait has improved over time. And, when I find impatience creeping in, it’s often a measured response.

But, trust me, patience doesn’t come easily. Or perfectly. I’ve worked on patience probably more than any other attribute in my life. And I know better than to ever think I’ve mastered it because that’s precisely when circumstances show me how far I still have to go.

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Our 21 month purebreed British bulldog, Charlie, is a dog who’s always waiting.

Waiting for water.

His need is insatiable to the point of fixation. According to the vet, it’s psychological. But, to Charlie, the need is very real.

He will drink to the bottom of his dish, no matter how much water is in it. He’ll drink until he gets sick (which history has shown us repeatedly). To him, water is the equivalent of a t-bone steak. So we have to be keepers of the water dish.

And so, Charlie is a dog who waits.

Some days, his entire day is spent waiting for water. He’ll lay by his food dish for hours. If water should appear, he doesn’t want to miss it. But, regardless of how often he gets water, as soon as he’s finished drinking, he starts the waiting process all over again. Sometimes, he’ll break it up with naps but, trust me, a whole of waiting goes on.

Charlie has become a very patient dog. But, even then, occasionally the waiting gets to be too much, and he’ll bark once as if to say, ‘Hurry up, people!’. But, we just say no, and he goes back to waiting… because he’s learned that he’s most apt to get what he’s waiting for when he’s being patient.

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That’s a valuable lesson for people. Our patience might not always achieve the results we’re hoping for but it will always do far more than our impatience will. At the very least, being patient changes us.  We become kinder, more tolerant, more tolerable, and self-controlled people. Happier people… because impatience never made anyone happier. Or more popular.

So… need patience?

Just wait for it…

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Creativity chip…

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All my life, I’ve believed I don’t have a creativity chip because I can’t draw, paint, sew, knit, or do crafts of any kind.  If it involves anything with my hands, I lack the natural ability to do it.

But, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I’ve been way too hard on myself.  Just because I lack ability in the most commonly recognized types of creativity, it doesn’t mean I don’t have creativity in other respects.

After all, creativity takes many forms.

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Writing involves creativity.  Baking involves creativity.  I can do both.  I’ve also always been able to think outside the box, which is creativity in a different sense.  Maybe I do have some creativity, after all!

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I think the biggest enemy to creativity is believing that you’re creative only if you can do certain things.

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I was one of three kids in my family.  One brother created elaborate things with Lego, the other brother drew elaborate drawings –  mostly of Snoopy – and I wrote elaborate stories – primarily mystery.  Three different expressions of creativity but I somehow convinced myself that my brothers were creative and I was not.

I was wrong.

blog 10Everyone is creative in their own way… some more than others but all are creative nonetheless.

Creativity is imagination… self-expression… something we all possess.  I lost sight of mine for awhile but it’s back in focus now.

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There are things I wish I had a talent for that I don’t.  But, rather than dwell on what I don’t have, I’d rather embrace what I do have.

I’m free to be uniquely and creatively me.

So are you.

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Getting to know me…

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One of the blogs I follow recently posted questions and answers designed to help the readers get to know her.  I admire her honesty and transparency in doing such an exercise – http://jennadee222.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/getting-to-know-you/, and thought I would follow in her footsteps by answering the same questions here.

What is your real name and where do you live?

My real name is Joy.  When I was born, I was given the name Alda Joy, with Alda being my maternal grandmothers first name.  I was called Joy from birth but, after 9/11, the province I was living in wanted everyone to officially use their first name, for security purposes.  Rather than be forced to start using my first name, I chose to legally drop it.  So, my birth certificate simply reads “Joy”.  As for where I live, I’m a Canadian who currently lives in Calgary, Alberta.

What makes you sad?

Insensitivity. Suffering. Unkindness.

What are your major mistakes?

I’ve made some epic mistakes in my life – enough to fill a book – but my major mistake in recent history was my last marriage. I knew it was a terrible mistake just two days in but I stuck with it for 11 years and 3 weeks, hoping it would change for the better.

But, the thing about mistakes is that we all make them.  I am a different person – much stronger and wiser – for having made my mistakes.  Instead of being defeated by them, I have chosen to use them as stepping stones.

When was the last time you cried?

Yesterday.  I am an emotional person, and things like kindness and happiness can bring tears as much as sadness and disappointment.  But, the saddest I’ve been in a very long time was Easter Monday 2012 when my beloved dog, Max, had to be put down just 3 days after getting terribly sick (the tests showed he had a massive intestinal tumor).  He was only 7 years old.  For a number of reasons, he was my guardian angel and will always have a very special place in my heart.

What makes you angry?

I’m more apt to get upset than angry.  But, something relatively simple like people driving erratically, impatiently, or dangerously in traffic has the ability to get to me like few other things.  I’m working on it though!

What is your most recent happiest memory?

It happened just last Friday when I was offered THE ultimate job.  It was the culmination of several years of job uncertainty interspersed with bouts of unemployment.  To say I am thankful is an understatement!!!

When were you most scared?

Many years ago, my youngest brother, my son, and I climbed Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine (U.S.) at 5,269 feet.  I have a strong fear of heights so it took an act of will to make this climb, which involved not only going up and down the mountain but across ‘Knife’s Edge’ at the top of the mountain.  Mount Katahdin has claimed 19 lives since 1963, with a number of those being from falls from ‘Knife’s  Edge’, which narrows to 3 feet wide for about 3/10 of a mile.

It’s worthwhile mentioning that the climb was done without ropes or any special gear, just using handholds and footholds, with blue paint strategically spattered on the rocks to guide us.  It’s also worthwhile mentioning that overcoming my fear of heights in such a dramatic fashion inspired elation afterward like no other.  It was a life changing accomplishment.

When were you most brave?

I could answer this by saying climbing Mount Katahdin but I think I was most brave the day I fled my marriage with only what I could fit in my small car, and drove 3 provinces to start a new life in a new city with no place to live, no job, and knowing only 2 people.  The journey from then to today has not been easy but I have never regretted taking that leap of faith.

What haven’t you done that you wished you had done?

My goal is to see more of the world.  I am relatively well travelled but the majority of my experiences are more than 20 years ago so I would like to pick up where I left off.

What makes you different from most people?

I have experienced the lowest of the lows in many aspects of my life, and my life has also not followed any kind of predictable course.  But, we all have a different story of our lives, and that’s what makes us unique and interesting.  I hope others will appreciate my differences as much as I try to appreciate theirs.

Who has influenced your life?

My relationship with Jesus Christ is the single greatest influence of my life since 1996.  My grandparents were also tremendous influences in my life… my maternal grandfather, in particular.  I learned invaluable lessons like kindness, giving, doing the right thing, humor, wisdom, staying young at heart, and being an inspiration to others just from watching how he lived his life.  I still miss him.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned?

I’ve learned that no mistake is an end, in and of itself, as long as you resolve not to let it be.  And, that doing the right thing, staying true to what you believe, and being a person of character and integrity is always, always, always worth it.  Even and especially when it means taking the tougher road (which it usually does…).

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I think they meant it…

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I’ve been struggling lately with mean people.  One person pretends they’re my friend but then says and does things that are less than kind fairly often. Other people have been hostile or outright mean for seemingly no reason.

The problem with meanness is that you can’t always predict it, expect it, avoid it or reason with it.  That leaves having to deal with it… which, at least for me, is easier said than done.

When people are mean, I think our default reaction runs the gamut from surprised to defensive to hurt to angry.  Our instinctive feelings aren’t necessarily wrong – in and of themselves – but how we respond can be, if we’re not careful.

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One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  I really like what one of the characters had to say about mean people.  “Because they are mean is no reason why I should be. I hate such things, and though I think I’ve a right to be hurt, I don’t intend to show it.”

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When confronted with meanness, sometimes it’s best to just distance ourselves from the person or situation but sometimes that’s not possible or practical.  Sometimes it’s wisest to remain silent, or to be kind, or to be diplomatic.  Sometimes it’s necessary to be firm.

Every situation calls for a potentially different reaction but the one reaction that’s never right is meanness.  The Bible doesn’t say that it’s wrong to be angry but it does say, “in your anger, do not sin.”

The only thing worse than dealing with mean is being mean.  It says something about someone if they’re mean to us but it’s says volumes about us if we’re mean in return.

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I’m still working on handling mean people.  I would like to be wiser in the moment.  My current strategy is to do my best to be slow to respond or react.  I would much rather ask God for permission about what to say and when to say it than to have to ask for forgiveness for speaking in haste and regretting it.

I would rather be a Charlie Brown than a Lucy.

I mean that sincerely…

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20 questions…

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When I was growing up, I loved playing 20 questions.  After being recently nominated for the Liebster Award by francesgabriel75.wordpress.com (thank you!) – and seeing the questions that go along with it – I decided to expand the list to 20 questions, for old times sake.  I’ve always loved Q&A (as long as it’s not a test), and I’ve often thought it would be cool to be interviewed for that very reason.  So… game on…

  1. What are your reasons for writing a blog?  Self-expression is the short answer.  I’m not artistic or creative so words are what I have.
  2. What is the best thing (for you) about writing a blog?  The people that I’ve met who either stumbled on my blog or I stumbled onto theirs.
  3. What is your best quality?  Compassion.  I have the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes.
  4. What is the quality you want God to work on the most?  Oh goodness… it’s hard to narrow it down to one.  Patience is always on the list.  I think most of us could use more patience.  The main thing I pray for though is that God will make me better – whatever that is and however He sees fit for it to happen.
  5. What is your favourite place in the world and why?  My favorite place in the world is Paris, France – even though I’ve never been there.  It has history, architecture, romance, cuisine, fashion, the Eiffel Tower, and a temperate climate.  What’s not to love?
  6. How would you spend an ideal day?  For me, it’s more about who you spend it with than what you do.  Anything can be an ideal day if it’s with the right person/people.
  7. What’s the most encouraging thing you’ve ever been told?  That I’m the strongest person they know.
  8. What do you do to relax?  Take a walk, read, blog, watch TV/movies, spend time with friends/family, play word games.
  9. If you were able to meet one person (alive or dead, real or fictional) who would it be and what would you ask them?  I would like to meet Billy Graham.  I would ask him what lessons he’s learned and what, if anything, he would do differently if he had it to do over.
  10. What’s the first question you would like to ask God when you meet Him?  I’m pretty sure any questions I have will cease to matter the moment I first meet Him face to face.
  11. What makes you smile?  dogs; humour (particularly situational humour); kindness; the people I love.
  12. What makes you sad?  unkindness; tragedies; hatred; insensitivity.
  13. What motivates you?  a desire to live life to the fullest; a determination to persevere/overcome; my faith in God.
  14. How would you describe your personality?  I’m an introvert with extrovert qualities.  I can be funny and outgoing but I can also be shy and quiet.  Depends on the circumstances.  I’m loyal, caring, kind, giving, logical, smart, quirky, beat to my own drum, hard worker, peacemaker, unique, capable.  
  15. What do you least enjoy doing in life?  Dealing with conflict, doing things alone, and being late are the first 3 that came to mind.
  16. What is your favorite song?  My favorite song routinely changes but, for the past few months, I would have to say, “Redeemed” by Big Daddy Weave.  It has an amazing message of hope and redemption.  Lifts me up every time I hear it – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDAGCow3dsg.  I also pretty much love any song of Toby Mac’s.  “Steal my Show” is a fav right now – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KA_HoEC9ixc.
  17. What is your favorite quote and why?  My favorite quote routinely changes too but I think this one is epic… “If you found a man at the top of a mountain, he did not fall there”.  I know firsthand how true that is.  Love it!
  18. What is your favourite Bible verse and why?  The verse that speaks to me the most lately is “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” – Psalm 91:1.  It encourages me.
  19. What are some of your favourite things?  The people I love, books, good food, sushi (I’m hooked!), sunshine/heat/warmth, walking, cars, hockey, roller coasters, facts/trivia, words, humour, Snoopy, travel.
  20. What has life taught you?  I’ve learned that I can’t change the past so I shouldn’t live there.  Learn from the bad, embrace the good, be the change I want to see in the world, be an overcomer, persevere no matter what, love relentlessly, hope always, live life to the fullest, age is only a number, attitude is everything, life is hard but God is good.

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No excuses…

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This past week, I found an envelope in the mail with the return address of Calgary Police Services.  I had a hunch they weren’t sending me fan mail, and I was right.  It was a ‘violation ticket’, stating that on the 1st day of May, 2013, I was recorded driving 44 km/h in a 30 km/h zone.  I had been nabbed in one of the city’s playground zones which, along with school zones in the province of Alberta, have a maximum speed limit of 30 km/h.

My first reaction to seeing the ticket was denial, followed closely by excuses.

Some of the dialogue that ran through my head went like this…

  • there must be some mistake (even though photo radar caught not only the speed, location, and time but also a very good shot of the back of my car and rear license plate)
  • it couldn’t have been me (even though the driver was too short to be seen even a bit over the back of the seat.  So, unless the driver was 12… well… it had to be me)
  • there has to be some way out of it
  • maybe I can get the fine knocked down (since it was only my second speeding ticket in 30 years of driving)
  • my insurance (which is up for renewal next month) is going to go up
  • I always obey those zones… I just had an especially rough day that day

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What initially eluded me was this fundamental truth…

I was guilty…

no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.

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I had to come to grips with the fact that I had disobeyed the law, no matter how unintentionally, and that there was no excuse for it.

There might have been an explanation but it didn’t excuse me.

Once I accepted the cold, hard, facts, I knew I was just going to pay the ticket.  The consequences were mine, and trying to talk myself out of them – or into less of them – would only involve more excuses.  I needed to take full responsibility for my actions.

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There’s a saying that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.

Nowhere have I found a saying that you can’t change what you don’t excuse.

And for good reason.  The world is full of people who continually make excuses for their words, actions, behaviour, and reactions, and nothing ever changes.

What the world needs are people who will stand up, be accountable for their actions, accept the consequences, and learn from their mistakes.  The people who are willing to do that have the potential to change their world.

I want to be one of those people.

I’m not going to claim that I’ve always taken responsibility for my actions because that would be a ridiculous lie.  I can’t even claim that I took responsibility for my first speeding ticket four years ago because I made excuses to the officer who stopped me and got the fine knocked back, something I’m still not proud of.

But, I am going to say quite honestly that I have taken full responsibility for my actions behind the wheel on the 1st day of May, 2013.  The truth is…

I was wrong.

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The funny thing is that, since my mindset has changed, my thoughts have run more along the lines of…

  • thank goodness I was only going 44 km/h, and not 45 km/h or more, or the consequences would have been way more severe
  • I’m thankful the fine was only $87.00.  It could have easily been over $100.00
  • thank goodness it was only a speeding ticket, and not a way more serious infraction like hitting a child with my car because I was going too fast in a restricted zone
  • if my insurance goes up because of the ticket, it goes up… I earned it with my actions
  • the next time I have a rough day, I’m going to make sure I’m even more intentional about watching and obeying the road signs when I’m behind the wheel

So, how do I know I won’t have a change of heart and try to excuse away some or all of my ticket?

Well, as the saying goes… the cheque is in the mail.

Except the cheque really is in the mail.

And, now I’ll make a proper excuse, and excuse myself to go eat a little humble pie.

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Hear, hear…

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Several years ago, I had a hearing test done after noticing I needed to have things repeated a lot, and that I also wasn’t hearing much of what was being said on television.  It turned out that I had below normal hearing for lower tones.  Usually when someone’s hearing starts to go, it’s with women and children’s voices first but I was just the opposite.  Since I was working for four men at the time, it explained why I wasn’t hearing a whole lot.

My immediate response was that I wanted a hearing aid.  Fix the problem with modern science.  It seemed like the obvious solution.  But, to my surprise, the audiologist advised against it, saying a hearing aid was a double edged sword.  It was true it would help me hear men’s voices better but it would also magnify all the other sounds I could already hear without difficulty.  Since I’m sensitive to background noise at the best of times, it was enough rationale to give me pause.

I could never understand why my grandmother had the sometimes maddening habit of turning off her hearing aid, but now I knew.  And she was as deaf as a post.  I was only half that deaf.

I asked the audiologist what other options I had to improve my hearing, and her answer was that I needed to improve my listening.

Huh?!

That sounded like work.

Well, it was work.  I had to start paying attention way more than before just to hear the same things, and especially so if I wasn’t facing the other person so I could partially read their lips.  The more people and/or background noise, the harder it is for me to hear what one person is saying, so I’ve had to learn to listen better in those situations too.  But, as hard as it is in person, hearing and listening effectively on a cellphone are by far the most difficult.  At least with the television, I can use closed captioning.

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I wish I could say it’s gotten easier to listen better over time but it’s still hard work.  Hard enough that I had my hearing test repeated a couple years later in the hopes I had gotten deaf enough for a hearing aid.

I hadn’t.

I’m still not.

But, in some ways, I’m glad I have to work harder at listening because, if I didn’t find hearing to be such a challenge, I’d probably talk way more than I do now.  And, heaven only knows I still talk more than enough.

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The truth is…

  • When we talk, we’re only repeating what we already know.  But, if we listen, we’re apt to learn something new.
  • No one’s ears ever got them into trouble.
  • Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand but with the intent to reply.
  • The quieter we become, the more we can hear.
  • The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent.

If we want to be listened to, we really should put in more time listening.  The nicest thing we can do for others is to make them feel understood.  It’s what we hope for ourselves.

We’re always saying we want to be heard.  But virtually no one says they want to hear.  And, if we do say we want to hear, how many times do we actually follow through?  Speaking for myself, not nearly enough.

So, people…

Listen up!

Even I heard that…

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Bouncing back…

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I’m supposed to get an answer today about something that’s relatively important to me.  I’m hoping it’ll be positive but I’m also aware the odds are against me.  I’m hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.  And preparing to handle the worst the best possible way, should it happen.

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Bouncing back.  The art of being resilient.

Life isn’t easy.  Problems come, difficulties happen, disappointments pile up.  It can be overwhelming.  Some people are beaten down or defeated by relatively minor difficulties while others bounce back after having experienced terrible tragedies or being knocked back by overwhelming odds.

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I read an article this morning about resiliency in athletics.  Resiliency and athleticism seem to go hand in hand.  I’ve watched countless movies, based on real life stories, about how individual athletes or teams refused to be beaten down by their losses or setbacks, ultimately bouncing back despite the odds.

Principles that work for athletes can work for all of us.

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The article spoke of three resiliency techniques… assessing personal assumptions, disputing, and de-catastrophizing.

In resilience training, assessing personal assumptions is the first step.  It’s used an an exercise to teach people, including athletes, the chronology from their initial setbacks to their initial thoughts, emotions, and resulting behaviors.

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The second step is developing disputing strategies.  Simply stated, disputing is gathering positive arguments to counter the negative thoughts that end in reduced effort.  Through its five stages, potential inaccuracies in the athlete’s evaluation are identified, from which they move on to consider a more positive thought process.

The third and last step is de-catastrophizing.  The worst case scenarios and their likelihood are first considered, followed by best case scenarios that hold some possibility of materializing.  Then, the athlete identifies a most-likely scenario, which generally falls somewhere between the most positive and negative of outcomes.

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By walking through these steps, the athlete learns to alter his or her thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, while developing a mental skills package complete with coping strategies for increased resilience and broadened possibilities.

To me, it sounds like balance is restored.  Extremes are de-bunked and put to rest.  The achievable is identified.  Perspective is regained.  Hope is renewed.  The ball that stopped bouncing gets some air.

Resiliency doesn’t happen naturally.  It doesn’t happen easily.  It’s a process.  A process much like the one identified and used for athletes.

We all need resiliency training in life, and for life.

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We can’t control what happens to us but we can control what we will do with it.  Difficulties expose our elasticity or lack thereof.  The choice to be resilient is 100% up to us.  It doesn’t mean we’ll do it perfectly (after all, who does?!).  All that matters is that we just do it.  Whatever it takes.  However long it takes.

All this talk of resiliency is putting a little bounce into my step.

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(This is just as true for guys!)