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Friday, May 28, 2010

My left side

“Kick the board,” my instructor demanded. A side kick. What I had seen in Kung Fu movies was now my real life reality. An exciting, yet frightening reality.  

“You can do it!”, my instructor, the Sensei shouted. I heard encouragement in his voice, but my own inner voice questioned, “What if I hurt my foot?” I would be embarrassed if I failed. There were too many people around, watching me. Their watchful eyes made me worry more about my performance, than my own personal success in executing the technique.  

I took a deep breath, and echoed the Sensei’s words in my mind: “You can do it!” I kicked the board, snapping it crisply. I felt empowered by hearing the snap and the crack of the board yielding to my bear foot. 

The exercise was part of my Tae Kwon Do practice a few years ago. I was testing for my green belt. The broken board on the floor was testament that I had passed. I was proud of myself. In my hesitation to risk splintering my foot, and hearing the Sensei’s encouragement,  I learned that my potential is greater than what I would have normally believed. I believe we all often under estimate our capacities and strengths.  

As a young girl, I wasn’t very motivated in participating in physical activities and cared less about engaging in competitive sports. I occasionally played basketball, but I was usually afraid of getting hurt

Training in martial arts revealed to me how wrong I was.  

I practiced Judo while in college. I did so only because a sport unit was a degree 
requirement. I elected a martial art course more out of curiosity than for any serious 
commitment or interest.  
As a new Judoka I was shy, fearful. Again, I was afraid of getting hurt
My first surprise was to learn that Judo means “gentle way” or “flexible way”   

Who would associate martial arts with gentleness?  That wasn’t what I had seen in the movies, or what I had heard from people.  

My Sensei taught his students a very interesting concept: A Martial Art is not just a sport; it is also a philosophy.  Successfully practicing a martial art demands self-discipline and respect for others. Advancement in this practice requires self-confidence and self-control. Balance of the body and mind.  After that comes the learning of techniques.

There was one particular discovery in my martial arts journey.  It happened when practicing Judo. It seems that students tend to favor one side of their body than the other, and that side is typically associated whether they are right or left-handed. In fact, most of the students are right-handed. I am right-handed but my Sensei noticed a strength that only an instructor could identify: he saw that the left side of my body, which I’d considered my “weak side”, was actually as powerful as my right side.  And I became quite successful with left-handed techniques.
 “A good Judoka will have both right and left-handed throws in their arsenal,” another Sensei had said.
My martial arts experience has been very useful in my personal life. I am no longer 
afraid of getting hurt. I don’t want to be hurt, but I am not hesitant to strive for 
triumphs merely due to fear of being hurt. 

I’ve also learned that those we believed are our “weaknesses” may be only misconceptions, and can actually turn into strengths. 
Now, when it comes to challenges, I like to remember:   

I can break the board. 
I can use my left side.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wisdom In My Apron Pocket

“Where’s my apron?” -my 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sydney, asked after the church meeting. I looked at her, pondering her question.
Early that morning, my two stepdaughters and I were to attend a ladies luncheon at our church. The theme was “Wisdom In My Apron Pocket.” Ladies were encouraged to wear their aprons. There would be an Apron Fashion Show.  

I had found a plain apron and on the day of the event I started to decorate it. I asked Sydney and her 12 year-old sister Claire if they wanted to help decorating my apron. I thought it might be a fun activity for the three of us.  

And, it certainly was.  

Our minds connected in our singular world to decorate the apron. Creativity splashed out with ideas as our hands crafted what our minds envisioned. Vibrant colors and shapes, blending magically on the canvas of the plain apron. No doubt, we were having a great time.

I asked the girls if they would like to have their own aprons to wear at the luncheon, but the girls declined. “Do they think aprons are only for older ladies?”--I wondered. 

The idea of the apron was so unique. The church ladies couldn’t have come up with any better theme for the occasion. Viewing my apron was like going back in time to some of my most beautiful memories in life: time with my mother and grandmother. I still can picture them in my mind, wearing their own aprons while cooking our meals, taking care of our home, and even while bathing us. 
The apron revived memories of my mom and grandma sewing.  I felt as if I could hear the sewing machine churning as my grandma pedaled it, with a rhythm that synched with my heart beats of happiness, while I watched her create from a pile of cut cloth a new summer dress I would  wear on Sunday to church, and later to the park for a walk. 

Their aprons symbolized coziness, protection, modesty. There was always something in their pockets. I often hoped for them to dig in their apron pockets, and find one or two coins: my reward for behaving, and the key to the treats in the candy store down the street.  

I too had an apron. My grandma made one for me. I had worn it proudly. But I think I forgot about my apron in my pre-adolescent years. I can understand Claire and Sydney not wanting to wear aprons. Aprons are vintage fashion after all, aren’t they? 

But just as my memories had come to the present from the past, once my stepdaughters and I had finished decorating the apron, we all three became excited. We shared a feeling of pride and satisfaction, praising ourselves for our creation.  We had crafted little dresses and sewed on the apron.

They resembled the ones my mom and grandmother had sewn for me, those many years ago.  

The apron fashion show at the church was wonderful. A lot of beautiful and meaningful aprons were modeled and explained. A few aprons were given away as prizes. Claire won one. She put it on. I had mine on, too. 

So, when the event was over, and as we were leaving, I looked at Sydney.  I could see in here eyes that she was still wondering, “Where’s my apron?”  I took my apron off and knelt next to her.  I hung the apron over her neck and said,  “Sydney, this is your apron.”  She yelped,  “Yeah! Can I keep it?” with wide eyes and a grin. 

Of course,” I said, "I made it for you. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's a new dawn, it's a new day.

Another day. Nothing special planned. As usual, random thoughts of what I needed to get accomplished at work. I parked my car and walked toward the nursing home while immersed in my thoughts. I looked at the sky. My thoughts were abruptly interrupted as I noticed the clouds, big, billowing clouds. 

The clouds are as dark as my life felt in the past two weeks, I mused. 
The dark clouds in the sky reminded me of the dark pain of grief floating around me. No sunshine. Chance of, really likely, emotional storms. I felt empty with my mother’s passing, and the celebration of last Sunday’s Mother’s Day ended up being just another gloomy, dark day for me.  That evening, I shed a torrent of tears that would have completely emptied an ocean.  

As I lamented, a soothing breeze suddenly gently swirled about my body. A pleasant air caressed my face. I noticed  the color of the green trees and the facility’s gardens looked more vibrant. I wondered why I didn’t notice it the day before. 
I started to have a good feeling.  

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day...” Michael Buble’s song --one of my favorite songs-- started to play in my head. As if my prayers for the gloom to end had been answered, I started to feel peace. I couldn’t understand much why or how. It was just happening right there, at that moment. My heart turned to the Lord to thank Him for that good feeling.  

After the breeze lifted my gloom, I viewed the day from a different perspective. I became joyful, and I wanted to help others feel good. Wonderful occurrences happened that day. I received a couple of sympathy cards in the mail. One from my church, and the other from a the medical social work department of a local hospital. Both cards contained beautiful messages, signed by several people. I viewed the signatures as if they were Angel’s fingerprints.  

It was a productive day. I received a positive response from a local University about hosting students. I had new residents admitted to the facility. I met new family members. One particular family member was tearful, voicing distress at the situation of his loved one. When I began to talk to him, I noticed how strange the words flowed from my mouth, like a river of comfort and compassion. I don’t even know how much I said, but I noticed that by the end of our conversation, he was calmed. I was certain he left the facility with the confidence that his loved one was in caring hands.

That day became a special day. I wanted to share with others that peace and contentment that I felt in my heart, brought to me by the gentle breeze in the parking lot that morning. I sent flowers to my husband, to thank him for being there for me when I felt like succumbing to sadness. I had lunch with my friend Barbie, and let her know how much I appreciated her, and I gave her a gift, a stone engraved with words of wisdom. I spent time with my son, talking about his college finals and grades. I went with my husband to my step daughter’s school concert where she played the viola. I let her know how great she performed.  

I also thought of my mother. I recalled the most wonderful times we had together. I reflected on her likes and dislikes, praised her talents and skills, and contemplated the challenges and frustrations I know she faced. I have asked God to let my mother know that she was very much appreciated and that she will be loved forever.   

It was a great day: God has given me inspiration and guidance. He has given me peace of mind. 

I feel blessed because He has comforted me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Healing heart

I wish I could rewind a day in my life as if it were recorded on tape. If I could, I would rewind it back one particular day. 

That one day only. 

If I could rewind that day, I would call my mother and tell her how much she meant to me; and how much I loved her. That was all I could think after my brother called, telling me that our mother had died that morning.  

Wednesday a week ago my mother suffered a heart attack. The news of her unexpected death was shocking and devastating. She had called me the Sunday before, leaving a voice message and asking me to call her at my convenience.  She was very much alive and vibrant when she left the message. I decided to return her phone call sometime later in the week when I wasn’t busy with work and chores. “She can wait,” I convinced myself. 

In her message, she also mentioned that she was devoted to God, and that she was at peace.   

Unlike my mother, I am not at peace.  

I have regretted a thousand times not calling her right back. All I can feel is tremendous guilt.  My heart is broken.

This is not the first time I’ve lost a loved one or have grieved.  Death is no stranger to me. I often see my nursing home residents dying. Also, I have been a social worker for Hospice. As a professional, I believe I understand end of life and grieving matters. 

However, as a daughter, losing my mother, I am not sure I completely understand the loss, or my loss. The inner pain is overbearing. The helplessness is embracing. And the inevitable question arises: “why did she have to die”? 

In time of sorrow, nothing is more comforting than the caring thoughts and words of family and friends, and the power of prayer. Despite my sadness, I feel in my heart that my mother was prepared to meet our Lord. I have listened to her voice message a few more times, wanting to hear again that she was at peace. I believe that she was. That’s a blessing for my healing heart.  

In my mother’s passing I realize that I will focus on my family. Indeed, family will be my priority. Work can wait. Laundry can wait. Grocery shopping can wait. If my loved ones need me, I’ll be there right away. 

I’ll be there even if they don’t need me. 

I will always make them know how much they mean to me.  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted  Matthew 5:4