How I’m Finding Hope for 2021

What a year 2020 was. And 2021 isn’t looking a whole lot better. It’s been a shit show, and it appears the shit show isn’t stopping anytime soon. In the midst of that, I have been the recipient of important lessons and incredible gestures of kindness, love and support. I thought I’d share some highlights, if you’re interested. And I would love to hear what has been helpful for you.

Lately I haven’t felt much energy to write. (Lately, as in the last four years.) Some of that was because I felt my writing didn’t matter much and so I found myself feeling less and less inspired. My writing may not be my next budding profession, but I recently learned of someone who reads what I write and she encouraged me to keep it up. Her words brought tears to my eyes as she thoughtfully articulated what my writing meant to her. I tear up now as I think about her text. Two lessons for me:

  • Do not underestimate the impact of your actions on another, positively or negatively. Remember that with your words and deeds.
  • When someone does something that inspires or encourages you, say something. That affirmation might be exactly what he/she needs to keep it up.

These last four years have continually and painfully revealed our differences. We have felt them in this country on a collective scale. But we have also felt them in very personal ways, within friendships and our own families. Some differences I’ve encountered: the importance of character; political solutions; religious priorities; how we define “Love they neighbor”; who we see as the marginalized; what we define as true; which sources are reliable and maybe more importantly, which ones are unreliable… These differences have robbed joy, hope, community, connectedness. I know that these differences didn’t just appear, but they seem to be deepening. What continually pulls me through the awfulness and renews some semblance of hope is this:

  • Remember the humanity of the other. When I lose sight of your humanity, I lose a bit of my humanity in the process. When I remember your humanity, no matter how different you are from me, there is common ground to be found. And it is there that we might be able to build something, if you are also willing.

Convictions matter. What you believe should drive who you are and the legacy you build. But convictions have been at the heart of much of what we have seen in our divisions. And our divisions seem to be becoming increasingly toxic. Shouldn’t our convictions be making this world a better place, not worse? As I consider the work I have done and continue to do, I can see how I have contributed helpfully. But I can also see, when I take the time to be honest with myself, how I have contributed to the toxicity as well. There have been many times, exhausted or frustrated or a combination of the two, that I have deferred to behavior that ended dialogue rather than contributed to it. I can also see examples of my own arrogance and self-righteousness. Not an enjoyable picture, but an important one to see and examine. My next lesson:

  • Convictions have positive impacts and have negative impacts as well. A positive is that they provide clarity of meaning and purpose. A negative is that they create blindspots. We must continually seek to understand how we are contributing positively, and how we are part of the problem. If you can’t see both, you are more likely contributing negatively than positively.

My goal was to end 2020 with 11 days off AND two weeks of accumulated vacation time as a cushion moving forward. That cushion would provide me with a safety net if something unexpected happened. In a year of quarantine, the goal felt particularly important. In order to reach my goal, I went almost a year and a half without taking one full week off. I would take long weekends here and there, but that’s it. July 2019 was my last full week away from work. For those who don’t know, I work as a chaplain at a hospital that primarily cares for pregnant women and newborns. Note that they don’t call the chaplain for cases that go well. The grief I regularly companion others in is deep and difficult. Self-care, including time away, is essential to doing my work well and staying in my role longterm.

By September of 2020, I was on course for achieving but seriously doubting my goal. I stayed the course while finding ways to practice self-care, though noticeably limping along as I did so. Part of what prevented me from changing my plans was the fact that many of my colleagues also seemed to be limping along. It didn’t feel fair to take more time off because they needed it as much if not more than me. So I kept my eyes on the prize and I finally reached my vacation. I finished 2020 with 11 days off IN A ROW and more than two weeks in my bank of vacation hours accumulated.

The day I returned, I was welcomed with a heavy and full caseload. I noticed I not only had energy for the needs of that day, I finished the day tired, but not depleted. My time off had accomplished what I had hoped. I was not only rested, but my reserves had been refilled. Lesson learned:

  • Self-care is essential to being one’s best self. Take time in small ways and big ways to care for oneself. Self-care is about knowing oneself, tending to oneself, healing and restoring oneself.

None of these lessons were new, though they have taken on new meaning. And they proved to be helpful in navigating these last few years. Each one has also helped make space to see and experience God in all of this, something that has been downright challenging these last four years. Too often the focus on faith has been about victory or blessing. I gave that up when I began to take seriously what Jesus had to say in the Gospels. But to learn what it means to love God with all of my being, to set aside what I want, to love especially when I don’t want to, to care for the marginalized – the lessons of faith, the point of faith – have been much richer in the darkness.

My hope in recounting what has helped thus far is that it might inspire you to explore what has been helpful for you. With how 2021 has started, I’m guessing we’re going to need all the help we can get. In spite of what the year brings, I hope that we can all finish 2021 saying:

  • I did my best.
  • I learned some things.
  • I honored and protected the dignity of others.

Feel free to let me know how I did. Godspeed.

Go!

For too long, stop signs permeated my faith. “Don’t believe this.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t go there.” “Don’t listen to that.” And I grew up in a relatively comfortable home. I can’t imagine what a legalistic faith would feel like. These stop signs were sometimes fear-based. They were often a warning to prevent me from going where God didn’t want me to go. People who disregarded these stop signs weren’t serious about their faith. They didn’t trust that the stop signs were meant to keep them safe.

As I got older, the problem I increasingly grappled with was that the stop signs weren’t producing healthier individuals. People who followed these rules were just as screwed up, though perhaps in different ways. I began to question some of the stop signs and eventually cautiously move past them. To stay compliant to the stop signs would have been to become stagnant in my faith and eventually have it die altogether, like repeating freshman year over and over and over. There is only so much of that one can take, especially freshman year.

My Christian faith had taught me this idea that there is the letter of the law, or the rules one is meant to follow; and then there is the spirit of the law, understanding the greater intent of the law. Jesus was often cited as the example of one moving from the law to the spirit of the law. Did he break a rule by healing on the Sabbath? Yes. Was it wrong? Jesus said it wasn’t. Interestingly Christians would use Jesus as an example to shame Jews for getting it wrong. And yet this is exactly what I experienced from Christians.

When I began to venture beyond some of the stop signs, I encountered a number of people who cautioned me, who judged me, who bullied me, who shamed me. There is a lot of negativity in some religious systems. And it’s hard to not be impacted by it. It’s hard to not have one’s faith hardened by other people’s negativity. It’s hard not to have one’s faith soiled by constantly being told what’s wrong with you, with what believe or who you are reading or what you find inspiring.

I have had to learn how to be fueled by what is working. I now listen for the “Go!” moments in my life. I am still learning to quiet the voices yelling at me to stop. I try to relish the inspiration and I do my best to move past what would otherwise shut me down. It’s not that there isn’t a periodic “no” or “not yet.” Sometimes it comes in the form of “What about this?” or “Are you sure?” The difference is that the stop sign was put there by someone else. The “no” or “not yet” or “slow down” or “are you sure?” requires on ongoing engagement with my faith.

I get the purpose of stop signs. They aren’t inherently bad. But if those stop signs are the point of your driving experience, you aren’t really focused on the experience of driving. I trust my acquired skills to navigate and stay safe. Feel free to disagree. We can even have a great conversation about that. But if all you are going to do is to yell at me to stop, to tell me I don’t understand, to point out how you know much more than me, then I’m going to have to keep on going.

Redefining “Living Well”

Part of living life well requires a definition of what “living well” means. What do you want from your life? What do you want to contribute to this world? What will your legacy be? What is important to you and how will you incorporate that into your daily life? These things don’t happen naturally. They require intentionality, sacrifice and decisions that reflect what you want.

In my 20s, “living well” included as many adventures as I could fit into my life and afford. The adventures were not just about enjoyment, but learning about the world and myself. Between the ages of 18 and 27, I lived in seven states. (I would add four more states to the list in the years that followed.) I lived on each coast and a few states in between. It was exciting to experience so many different parts of the country. Moving, settling, moving again were ways to learn and grow and be challenged and make decisions about who I would be as an adult. I met and married young. We were aware at the time of how atypical our lives were, but it felt right for us and we did our best to be faithful to our definition of “living well.”

In my mid 20s through my 30s, “living well” meant quality time with my kids. One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was this bit of advice, “Jen, when you have children of your own, make sure you really take the time to enjoy them. I regret not having done that more with you and your brother.” I could see she meant her words and I was compelled to take them seriously. When I had children, I knew I would soak up everything I could in the time I would have with them. My husband and I sacrificed many things to live on one income. It was hard. But when I think back on that time, I can’t tell you how rich I feel. The time we had together is priceless. It would become the foundation of the deep and rewarding relationship I now have with both of them as adults.

In my 40s, my time as mom was beginning to wane and so I began to focus on what would come next. “Living well” shifted to include significant internal work on my well being. I had a lot of therapy, examined patterns and healed old wounds. At first I thought maybe I had failed in my 20s with the work I had done. But I don’t think I could do the work that was needed until my 40s. It took courage, time and patience. Being adventurous is not the same as being brave. It makes sense that the deeper work had to wait. It was painful. And it was freeing. It was scary. It was riddled with missteps. “Living well” broadened to include all of these descriptors, and maybe more importantly, my willingness to embrace them.

I now find myself at the start of another decade. Children are grown and my next career is well underway. As I think about what “living well” means now, I feel like I am somewhat returning to the beginning and the relationship with my spouse. I am deeply grateful for the companionship he has provided and the life we have built together. I am not an easy person to live with. (Neither is he, for the record.) As our lives simplify, we have more time for each other. Again, as we did in the beginning, but now with a rich history and the legacy of our two kids. The marriage could have broken a number of times because it can be so hard. But we did a lot of work to maintain as much health in our relationship as two dysfunctional people could muster. We are now enjoying the fruits of our labor. We still want similar things and we still make each other laugh. Wanting to come home, to lie next to him at night, to grow old together, all of this bleeds good things into every other area in my life.

My quest to define what “living well” means has been rewarding. It has helped sooth the hurts and mend the mistakes. (I could write a book on the ways I have messed up.) It has brought clarity, conviction and purpose. The point isn’t how I defined “living well.” This can vary from life stage to life stage, sometimes even day to day, and certainly from person to person. What is important is that I continued to redefine “living well.” The fluidity was forgiving and adapted more easily. The flexibility enabled each day to truly be a new day. I could incorporate my mistakes and the consequences into my new definition. Shame didn’t have a place or purpose in my framework.

I hope my reflections have sparked some thoughts of your own, and what “living well” has meant to you. Don’t get caught in the trap of comparing your definitions with mine. And if you have difficulty identifying how you have defined it in the past, that is okay. Reflection can be beneficial, but we don’t want to stay in the past. My question to you is:

How do you want to define what “living well” means today?

Bone-Tired Tired

I guess I’m fortunate that I haven’t had too many seasons in life that were so chaotic I was stripped of nearly all my reserves. And if I had any reserves right now, I’d be grateful for that. It’s not just been an awful year. It’s been a slow building depletion of the last few years. Thank God I’m good with self-care because I can usually get the energy I need on most days to stay relatively healthy and well. But I recently realized that the reserve tank is empty. On the days I don’t have quite what I need, I simply stall and sometimes putter out.

This is helpful to realize. To name and sit with.

I’m not sure if I can build up reserves right now. That feels too lofty and I don’t have energy for lofty goals. It’s time to be practical and focus on what is right in front of me. So if you are at all with me, I thought maybe it might be helpful to share how I am doing that.

  1. Take care of my physical self. Eat well and get enough sleep. Don’t drink too much alcohol, as tempting as that is. Move and strengthen my body. (Having a very active dog with adorably pleading eyes helps.) I didn’t make huge changes to my physical self-care. But I found small ways to improve how I care for my body. I might not be able to change what I am going through, but my body can help me to better endure the stress and strain.
  2. Know what has to be done and what can wait. Bills need to get paid. Garbage needs to be taken out. House does not need to be spotless. Animals need to be fed. Projects do not need to be started. Plans can be postponed. Annoying friend can wait. Being clear on my non-negotiables vs. negotiables helps me adjust my schedule as needed.
  3. Always make time for what feeds my soul, even if it’s just for five minutes here and there, and do it multiple times throughout the day. Earlier I spent a few minutes sitting on my porch, eyes closed, listening to the rain fall. It was cathartic. I use my breathing app to remind me to take deep breaths, one minute at a time. I fill my bird feeders and watch them be used as I drink my morning coffee. I stare at the dusk sky. I listen to music that gives me hope. I read poems that name my heartache. I knit because it’s meditative. I write. These moments do many things: help me to recalibrate, remind me of who I am, ground me. Collectively the moments make a big difference.
  4. Be accountable. It’s easy to fall off the path on a good day. When life is chaotic, it’s nearly impossible to stay on the path unless I track what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I set small, attainable goals (I’ve already mentioned most) and track my progress. I don’t beat myself up when I fall short. But I experience much more success when I set goals and track my progress than if I were to just try to do my best.
  5. Practice love and gratitude. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to divide. It’s easy to be entitled. Love and gratitude require intentionality. I have people who are easy to love and things that are easy to be thankful for. I challenge myself to love those who are not easy to love and be thankful for tasks I’d rather not be thankful for. My experience is that while energy gets depleted, there is something magical about it too. I’m not exactly sure what happens – more energy or better use of energy or what – but it’s the equivalent of physical self-care for my mind and heart. Love and gratitude do something wonderful. And when I am depleted, there can’t be enough wonderfulness in my life.

Maybe there are other things but I feel like those five are the primary ways I have avoided getting consumed by what is going on. So far.

Now I need a nap. I guess that should’ve been number six – nap often.

The Problem with Love

The problem with love is that it’s hard work.

Movies make it seem like the hard work happens until love shows up. But life isn’t like that. At least my life isn’t like that. Life is hard work. Love shows up. Life continues to be hard work. And now you’ve got the work of relationships too. So in fact, love makes the hard work harder.

I don’t just mean romantic love. All love is hard work. There are wonderful perks to love – companionship, friendship, affection, camaraderie, fun… lots of things that make the work more than worthwhile. But make no mistake, love is work. Lots of work.

Wouldn’t it be great if love were easy? If love solved our problems, not caused more problems?

I’m not down on love. I’m just feeling the need to be clear about the reality of love. While I look at those I am closest to and couldn’t be more grateful for those relationships, I also see the effort we have put into those relationships to make them work as well as they do. The relationships that have grown and strengthened and lasted aren’t the ones that have been the easiest. They are the ones that have been mutually worked on.

Certainly in the case with my kids, I did most of the work through their childhood. But I also sought to teach them their responsibilities in a relationship and eventually expected that to occur in our relationship as well. I would not have the relationship I have with my adult kids if they did not at some point start participating in and contributing to it.

Is that to say the relationship with my kids is perfect? Hell no. They’d be just as quick to say that as me. We get annoyed or frustrated with each other. We need breaks every now and then from each other. But I would say (and I hope they would to) that the relationship we do have with each other is deep, reliable, helpful and often enjoyable. And that no matter what, we will always show up for the other when truly needed. We might show up late. We definitely show up imperfectly. But we always, eventually, show up. That is why, while love is hard work, it is worth the work.

The reason I found myself thinking about love today is as I continue to figure out how to survive this awful year, I was reminded that at the center of my faith is love. It is the center of all the commandments according to the Christian faith. It is the most important responsibility. And it’s hard, especially when there are people who are hard to love. But I know that there are always people who are hard to love, including or maybe I should say, especially me.

There are days I don’t feel very loving, and days I don’t feel very lovable. I try to figure out how to love anyway. For those I’d rather dismiss, those who annoy me, those who don’t seem very deserving, those I’d rather not hang out with, I try to love anyway. It’s hard to keep showing up. I fail regularly, which gives me the opportunity to practice self-love as I learn to do better. We know that we can’t be very good at offering love if we aren’t good at receiving love.

I wish the point of faith was to be right. Or to be rich. Or to be protected. Or to be blessed. Those sound so much easier. But since it is not, at least not for me, I am thankful for what my loving relationships have taught me and give me in order to learn to love others, to keep showing up for others. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I can say I love all. But that’s the goal.

Ugh. I grimace as I write that last part. Because the problem with love is that it’s hard work.

What I See

What I could see is my hair turning white,

Or fine lines becoming more pronounced each year.

I could see the way my face and body are changing shape.

I could see that I still don’t really know how to style my hair, even at 51 years old.

If I look closely, I could see the evidence of battle scars from a life lived, including the hurts, betrayals, and failures.

But that’s not what I see. Not today.

What I see are my eyes that still manage to convey compassion and hope.

I see signs that I smile and laugh regularly.

I see life lessons learned well and applied.

I see joy.

I see peace.

I see love.

I see contentment.

I see me.

Today

Today I didn’t worry about my children being targeted, harassed, beaten or killed because of the color of their skin.

Today I didn’t remind my children what they should or shouldn’t say to police out of fear that their words could bring them physical harm.

Today I didn’t pray that God would protect the vulnerable bodies of my children.

Today I didn’t scold my children for forgetting there are many people who view them suspiciously or callously.

Today I didn’t explain that no matter what the form of protest, my children’s cause will not be taken seriously by many.

Today I didn’t mourn the death of one of my children because someone else viewed him or her as expendable.

But that is not true for all. In fact that is not true for many.

Today, many worried, reminded, prayed, scolded, explained, and mourned simply because of the color of their skin. And that is not okay, today or ever.

Violence begets violence. And while I am not condoning any violence, I understand why violence is sometimes the response. I especially understand it when one has been the victim of violence again and again. The violence must end, and first it must end with me.

Today I am angry.

Today I am heartbroken.

Today I will not be silent.

May today be a new day.

What I’m Learning in the Midst of a Pandemic Situation

  1. Toilet paper is what Americans covet the most. This surprised me. I would’ve thought the answer would be money or unlimited data or selfie filters. But it turns out that we can’t live with the thought of not having toilet paper. When all of this madness subsides, I’m going to make, produce and sell Pandemic Bidets. I think it’s a million dollar idea.
  2. Empty nesting is overrated during a world crisis. I couldn’t be happier to have my kids home with me right now.
  3. The second refrigerator that seemed unnecessary once we became empty nesters would be very helpful during the pandemic crisis. (See #2.)
  4. I have great job security as a hospital chaplain. I don’t love this one because it is the hardest parts of life that ensure my work is valued. But it has been interesting to navigate the crisis without worrying about whether or not I have a job. My heart is heavy for the many people who can’t work or won’t have a job to go back to once this ends.
  5. More information is not necessarily going to make a difference. For weeks we were preparing for the inevitable Stay-At-Home order and learning why it was so important to practice. And yet some (or perhaps many) ignored that information and act like it is time to catch up with neighbors and friends. Hey folks, IT’S NOT SUMMER VACATION!
  6. Spend time not thinking about the worldwide pandemic. Nature is an essential stabilizer. To see the birds go on as if it is any other day reminds me that life is moving forward; that summer will come; that people will rise to the occasion; that we (collectively) will get through this. I watch those who are oblivious to COVID-19 because they remind me of life beyond COVID-19.
  7. Self-care is essential in maintaining my sanity. I learned during my stay-at-home parent days that no one was going to take care of me so I damn well better learn how to do that for myself. My mind and body tell me when I need to amp up taking care of me. Lack of motivation, fatigue regardless of how much sleep I got, excessive negativity are all indicators that I am depleted and need to be refilled. I have learned that what I need to do is do something, anything, to remind myself of who I am. Weeding the garden, making a delicious meal, organizing a closet, going for a long walk in the woods, playing with my dog, zooming with great friends are all things that help recalibrate my mind and body when the work has become too much. And these days, the work is a lot. Self-care isn’t a luxury. Self-care is a necessity.
  8. Financial health is like any other aspect of health. Sometimes a person’s decisions contribute to his or her overall health. Other times it has nothing to do with decisions made and has everything to do with things out of that person’s control. Most of the time it is some combination of the two. I’ve been learning this lesson for awhile, awakening out of my white-middle-class-fog. The lesson began as I better understood the complexities of poverty (FYI It’s not just a matter of working harder). But I see this now more than ever as we learn in the current crisis who is most vulnerable and asking myself how can I help.
  9. Laughter is still the best medicine. Practice it daily.
  10. The purpose of faith in my life isn’t to provide answers but to help hold the tough, important questions. The faith of my past would have told me what God is and isn’t doing right now, but I have become quite skeptical of that kind of belief. Instead I find faith as sort of a book binding. The pages move back and forth, can be bent and even torn. And yet there is something that prevents the pages from flying apart in all different directions. The movement of the pages, the creases and tears all remind me that life is fragile. It is important to take that reality seriously. The binding provides hope that the fragility may overwhelm but does not have to prevail. The binding is the presence of the Collective Good, of God.

Maybe there are more lessons I have learned. I am sure there are more to be learned. But that feels like enough for today. The rest of today will be my own restorative work so that tomorrow I can do the hospital work of how to provide the best possible care under our current circumstances. Godspeed, friends.

Responding to a Pandemic Situation

It’s been a weird month as I’ve watched COVID-19 draw closer to our area. I work for a hospital so information has been ongoing and helpful. It’s been much easier to sort through what my hospital tells me than navigating our news cycles. While it took time to understand this new virus, I have always felt more threatened by the reaction of people than the virus itself.

Some move into panic prematurely. Others ignore good information and common sense. My hope is that most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes. I was encouraged to see most of my fellow grocery shoppers to have 10-20 items in their carts at checkout. They were calm and good-natured. There was the occasional cart filled to the point of overflowing, often with items that seemed more dangerous to one’s health than the virus itself. But that was the exception.

Difficulty reveals aspects of who we truly are. I have been reminded lately that I am impatient with what feels like hysteria. I loathe a lack of common sense. While those aren’t bad things, my responses can sometimes feel unkind. I’m thinking about that as I practice some social distancing. I’m considering what would be helpful to those feeling frightened or being dismissive, or at least better understand what is not helpful in those situations.

I also realize how important it is to have that circle of people who don’t need you to be careful, who allow you to be who you are. They don’t expect me to be perfect and can say to me what they are thinking and feeling. This is particularly helpful in times of stress and strain.

In my job, I am reminded daily of the fragility of life. Most people deny that and I understand why. But knowledge of that reality does help in times like these. I don’t try to convince myself that if I try hard enough, I can prevent a bad outcome. I know that bad things happen even when everything right had been done. Instead of being paralyzed, I try to embrace the moment I am in and the opportunities it presents. I try to practice gratitude. These actions really do make a big difference in my ability to stay informed but not be overwhelmed; to prepare without falling into a deep sense of dread.

I know the alarmists and the deniers are the noisiest at the moment. It can be hard to turn the volume down. Those of us working to stay calm are simply trying to do our part rather than be heard. Yesterday I spent time helping a friend then planting some flowers. Today I will take a hike. Tomorrow I will go back to work and help my healthcare system continue its important work. It’s a balancing act of doing for others and taking care of myself. Both are important, especially now.

This pandemic virus will pass, just like ones before it. The cost may be high, but does not need to be at the expense of our humanity or the care of our community. Be smart. Stay informed. Wash your hands regularly for a good 20 seconds each time and don’t touch your face. Be kind and patient. Take good care of you and those around you. Make sure those who are vulnerable have what they need. Stay home if you’re sick. Help those whose jobs are being impacted by closures or don’t have sick pay.

Isn’t this what we should be doing all the time anyway?

A Daisy Forever

I like tattoos. I’ve seen some really cool ones. But I never found an image that I thought I would want on my body for the rest of my life… until my daughter announced that she was getting a tattoo of a daisy. Not just any daisy, but one that was designed by my friend who had died unexpectedly a few years ago. Six years ago, to be exact. I knew immediately that I, too, wanted that same image forever placed on my body.

I sat with the idea for a few months. I don’t make big decisions impulsively. Time turned the idea into something that felt so right I didn’t even feel like I had to decide anymore. I reached out to my friend who has some beautiful tattoos and asked him who I should see. He sent me to a local artist and I booked my appointment.

I chose March 5th, the anniversary of my friend’s death, to get the tattoo. It’s been a shitty day since 2014. And while nothing can make the day not be terrible, I wanted something good to go with the awfulness. I wanted to make a new memory, a good memory that I could hold with the painful ones.

I invited her sons and my daughter to accompany me. I normally like to do things on my own. But not this. I wanted these three by my side. We each have had to figure out how to do life without Catherine’s physical presence. And we have leaned on one another as we’ve done that work. I wanted to share this moment of homage with them. They understood its sacredness. They would be able to grieve her and honor her by my side without effort or explanation.

Did getting the tattoo hurt?

Yes. Yes it did. It felt like a needle was being inserted into my skin and dragged. I guess that’s because a needle was being inserted into my skin and dragged. But eventually I got used to the sensation and it felt more uncomfortable than painful. The white knuckling subsided.

And I love the result.

For you, Catherine.