Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Windows of Opportunity

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It's ten o'clock in the morning. You realize that pain is low, energy is up, your mind feels bright and lively and you know that you have a chunk of time available where you could do anything.

This is what I call a "window of opportunity".  It's a glimpse of normal. You get to remember what life was like before your disease arrived, or before your knee surgery, or before you aged a little more than you wanted to. It is a gift.

I'd like to offer 10 insights that I've learned through my mistakes and good advice from other people about how to use these 'windows'.

1. Enjoy this moment, in the moment. Thank God for it - right then.

2. Choose wisely. I have a 'fun' list and a 'to do' list and a 'calendar'. I look at all three and decide the best for this moment. (For instance, I can choose to go for a long walk (fun) and get home and realize that I had told my son I would take him driving. Oops.) My 'window of opportunity' is not an excuse to abandon responsibilities. That can nurture a 'poor-me' attitude. So, choose a good activity wisely.

3. Notice. Be present in your mind and notice how easy things can be during this time. If you're gardening, notice how easy it is to lean over or work for longer periods of time. Notice that you're quite willing to visit with the neighbors who wander over - and enjoy it. Notice that you're humming while you work. Allow yourself to really enjoy all the senses of the moment and let it really impact you so that you remember. It also helps put a pain-day into perspective.

4. Relax. It is easy to try to maximize your productivity. You may want to squeeze every last moment out of this 'window' and in doing so, it loses its joy. Keep in mind, that these moments will come again. This is a glimpse, not a new lifestyle. It is a gift to be enjoyed and cherished, not a race or a competition or a prove-something moment. Relax.

5. Be Thankful. Thank God for this moment. Thank God for everything you see and hear and smell and feel and taste. Allow gratefulness to be the theme of this time and let it change you as you are thankful for it. See God as the giver of good things and for this moment, don't ask him for anything. Just thank him.

6. Create. Sometimes, although I tempted to take on a big project, I make a cup of coffee, sit in the shade outside, and using fresh paper on a clipboard, I allow my mind to be as creative as it wants. I sketch out plans for the backyard. I plan my next blog entry. I think through challenges in my life and look for creative solutions. I fix things that I see around the yard, on paper. Then I either start on a project in a way that it can be slowly finished as I am able, or I stick this full paper of ideas on my shelf and refer to it when I have my next 'window'. Or, I show it to my husband and sons and see if they want to do any of the ideas. It usually gets sifted down to a few priorities, but the exercise of exploring all avenues on paper is refreshing! Or paint, bake, build, write, play music, write music . . . whatever  - just allow your creative side to come alive!

7. Refresh. This can be a good time to wash bedding, add a fresh pillow to your bed, change a lightbulb, figure out a better system for reaching something that is difficult to reach or order a new book from the library. Sometimes using this time to make the painful times easier is the best choice of activity for me. I bring up a fan from the basement, I restock pain medication, I organize a section in the kitchen that is just for my special needs, food, travel mug etc. I put music on and prepare things for the not-so-good times. This can be strangely refreshing and so beneficial when pain hits again. I often feel quite thankful for the self-control to do something on a good day, to prepare for a bad day. When the bad day comes, I feel strangely thankful. It is a nice relationship.

8. Give without Guilt. Most of our neighbors are over 80 years old. I have all kinds of ideas of ways to bring the neighborhood together for morning coffee etc. But, that can't be my role. I can't follow through with consistency for those kinds of ideas. Instead, I offer one thing, in the moment, that is free with no strings attached, no pressure involved, no hero-complex and no over-committing issues. For example, if I hear my neighbors are in their back yard, I'll walk over with my puppy (whom they love) and drop in for a visit (which they love). I stay for about 15 minutes and then continue on to take my dog for a walk.  That's all. It is good for my soul to give a little more on a good day - but within reason for what is appropriate for the moment.

9. Receive. When you get a gift, the best thing to do is say "thank you", open the package and see what is inside. In this 'window of opportunity' be willing to receive. If you choose to sit in the backyard and read a book, feel the sunshine on your face and realize that is a gift. If a friend calls right during this time and invites you to go see a movie, that is a gift. If you choose to stay home and catch up on paperwork and accomplish some tasks in your pain-free moment, realize that this productivity is a gift and be as thorough and as excellent at the job as you can. Receive the pain-free moment. Receive the joy and the laughter you get watching a movie without pain. Receive how easy it is to attend your kids' basketball game and visit with other parents. Let the moment be what it is and just receive it.

10. Reflect. One of my favorite, life-giving activities is to write in a journal every morning. It is sometimes written as a prayer, sometimes a three-page venting of thoughts or worries and sometimes just a one paragraph thought. If I had a window of opportunity the day before, I love to write about how it went. It is important to me that I don't waste these times with worry or with anxiety. It is important that I reflect on what I gained during those hours. Reflect and remember so that when you are alone, in pain or ill, missing out on a fun activity or on an important event, you have these memories stored in your mind and heart - in such a way that the moment itself changed you, grounded you, and gave you fresh energy for the difficult days ahead.