Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Come Home

I recently heard a sermon series entitled "Home."  One of the things that has continued to resonate with me about the concept of home is that it's a series of events related to peace and chaos ultimately landing back on peace. I have experienced lots of that in my life as a whole, but more so in recent years. It was mostly out of the view of people, because I'm not particularly fond of vulnerability.

When you're experiencing your darkest days, you don't necessarily want witnesses. I'm exactly that way. I am a very private person. I keep lots of things close to my chest. I cry often and mostly alone, it's one of the things I do for me. (Tears are healthy and there are scientifically proven therapeutic benefits.)  I don't have pity parties, and when I do they don't last a long time. I say what I need to say, I cry about it ahead of time and/or after the fact, and I take a step forward. Change is hard, y'all.

I am often accused of trying to handle "all the things" on my own. I have people in my life who know me well and hold me accountable for that. I have a few really close friends, but only a handful of people that I hang out with regularly. I value my quiet time. I have been known to go an entire week without turning on the tv. I have music playing almost constantly.

I have also experienced my share of big life changes. I recently accepted a new job that has a LOT of autonomy and a lot more responsibility. It requires a lot of personal study at this point to learn the material I will eventually be teaching. In the past year, I've gone back into paid church work, on a very part time basis, after a several years break. I also changed the physical location of home. That change of address led to a tweaking of my definition of home. Home for me is a safe space where I can be unapologetically me. 

Several events in my life have shaped my outlook. They shook me to the very core and have required a lot of energy in order to make the adjustments necessary to survive them with my sanity mostly intact. My divorce was probably one of the most pivotal moments in recent years with regards to my definition of home. I was married for just over 21 years. We were high school sweethearts, and we signed up for forever. Life threw all the curveballs and eventually we made the decision to go our separate ways. It was mostly amicable and completely gut-wrenching.  There's still a great deal of love and respect present even though our relationship has changed.  We still talk a few times per month and we bounce ideas off of one another when there's some big "something" nagging at one of us. I still have to work through things from time to time, but overall I'm happy with the level of respect we managed during that transition.

I'm also an empty-nester. I'm a Cici to three really cool kiddos, even though I'm WAY too young to have little people that claim me as a grandparent. I'm still learning how to sit in silence, especially when the music isn't playing or my thoughts are screaming at me. My definition of home no longer focuses on things I've accumulated. It's about stronger relationships and extending grace. It's about love. It's about knowing myself well enough to be okay with the chaos in order to relish the peace.  It's about knowing my reasons for the decisions I've made without needing to explain myself to others.

It was in the times of chaos that I redefined myself. I have had to reinvent my personal identity a lot. After my brother died, I felt like I lost the title of sister. Through my mom's illness and later her death, my definition of daughter shifted. After my divorce, I was no longer someone's wife.  While I may now be an ex-wife, I don't handle myself as one. My reality changed, and it wasn't always pretty and neat. 

All of this is to say, we have a choice in how we deal with change. We could easily let negativity take root and break us down. We can also find the lesson in the struggle, meet chaos head on, and savor the peace that follows. We can't be idly complacent and expect peace to find us though. We have to be active participants in the process.

People struggle. We also have the capacity to pick ourselves up, and dust off the mess that feels chaotic, in order to work through the challenges and move toward peace. Home doesn't have to be just a physical location. My prayer is that in the midst of whatever chaos we experience, we manage to also find peace in a way that allows us to come home.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

This One is for Me

You will look back on this time in your life and realize that the storms you struggled through really did bring you to the other side. Every obstacle in your path is a moment to strengthen your character. Every irritation presents the opportunity to extend mercy. Every disappointment needs to be carefully handled with grace. You are not the sum of all the things that have "gone wrong" in your life. So don't be afraid to live.

Stop allowing yourself to build walls; they don't serve a purpose other than to alienate you from all the good that exists.

Take special care of those relationships that bring discord. Don't let yourself become a doormat, but don't be so quick to write someone off just because the situation isn't to your liking.

Stop talking to yourself in the mirror unless you are going to use those words to build something beautiful. The words that other people say are painful; the words you say to yourself leave permanent scars.

Make sure in the living, you take time to count the blessings that have been brought to you in the form of relationships -- with family and friends, with friends who became family, with people you had the good privilege to meet on a certain day of your journey. These are the things that define you.

Don't expect an apology to live up to your expectation. "I'm sorry.” has to be good enough. Don't settle for "I'm sorry, but...” that isn't an apology, it's an excuse. Feel free to rip off the band-aid and end relationships that no longer suit you. Don't be careless in that endeavor, but don't keep someone close just because you are afraid.

Your job is just that, a job. It allows you the resources to live. It allows you to make a difference in your corner of the world. There are only so many hours in the day, and so many workdays in a year. You are entitled to enjoy your vacation and not feel guilty.

Take better care of yourself. Drink more water. Eat your vegetables. Go for a run. Read for enjoyment. Spend as much time with you, as you do with your electronics. Be still. Don't be afraid of the silence. Sleep.

Get more involved in something. Take a photography class. Write more, it's cleansing. Sing more. Create something with your hands. Pray, but keep in mind the answer you want may not be the answer you need.

You are really great at loving people, sometimes to your own detriment. Don't be so focused on loving someone else that you forget to love yourself even more. You only get back what you have to give. Sometimes you get more because life is funny that way, sometimes less because people are selfish. It's okay to be mad in those situations.

Watch your words. They bite. You don't intend for them to be sharp, but sometimes they leave a mark and cause unintentional pain. Do not take your anger with yourself out on other people; they don't deserve that. Don't call someone by a name unless it is his or her ACTUAL name. Imagine that every word you say is a permanent presence in the world. It leaves a visible reminder. Create something beautiful with your words.

Own your mistakes. Say, "I'm sorry.” and mean it. You are not perfect, neither is the person reading this and silently judging you. (They aren't really judging you, or maybe they are, it doesn't matter. Let it go.)

Get out more. Spend time in situations that make you uncomfortable. You don't have to be an extrovert, but you also can't be a hermit. Take advantage of the people who said they would be there, and let them be there for you on the days you can't be there for yourself.

Crying is okay. It's healthy and cleansing. Don't be so afraid of your tears. And don't be so intimidated when they sneak up on you at some less than convenient time. You don't have to be strong all the time.

You can't change the past, so stop trying. Plan for the future, but don't live there. Be present.

Nurture relationships, don't expect someone to stick around and wait while you are busy being self-absorbed.

Don't gossip. If someone is willing to say something to you about someone else, they are likely saying the same things about you. "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

Control your stress. Every situation in life involves stress; some of it is good, some of it is downright ugly. Try to maintain balance. The bad stress keeps you on your toes and makes you appreciate the good that much more. Learn to relax and breathe. Repeat as necessary.

Downsize. Don't let your stuff, or lack thereof, define you -- it is just stuff. If you're going to collect something, collect photographs and memories. Those are better anyway. Be content with what you have and quit wishing for what everyone else has. (Their stuff might be cooler, and it just might also come with a lot of baggage.) More stuff does not equal happiness. You know a lot of unhappy people with lots of stuff.

Laugh more. You have an infectious laugh. Learn to use it more often. Humor is never a bad thing unless you use it to tear someone else down, and that is just plain mean.

Smile. Being sad is okay. Staying in a place of sadness serves no purpose; there are resources for that kind of sadness. Your skin will wrinkle whether you smile or frown, so make those tiny lines a byproduct of something you enjoyed.

Be yourself. You're smart, funny, intelligent, and beautiful. No one else possesses the same characteristics and talents. You are good enough. You are good.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

It's kind of a funny story

I had a call from a doctor yesterday. He was giving me the results of a recent scan because my PCP is on Maternity leave and everyone in the clinic is picking up her slack and communicating with patients about tests/results that have come in since her departure. (I'm fine, nothing major, just following up on a sketchy test result from several months ago, and the problem has resolved on its own.)

That call went something like this:

"Ms. Bentley, I'm doctor Mark Jansen with UAMS Family Medical Clinic. Blah, blah, blah. Someone in the clinic will be seeing you at your next follow-up appointment in March. Again, my name is Mark Jansen, J-A-N-S-E-N. If you need anything in the meantime, don't hesitate to call our office."

The fact that he said his name no less than 5 times, and spelled it the last time, perked my ears up a bit. I know a Mark Jansen from when I lived in southern Arkansas for a time. He was actually my physician during that time. He was also the senior partner at the clinic where my mom worked until she entered hospice. (I should add, she had an INCREDIBLE work ethic. She never missed a single day during 5 weeks of radiation and 6 months of chemo therapy. She would go in early and stay late to make up her hours.)

So, me and my perky ears started processing everything that just happened. I do a quick doctor search on the UAMS website which yielded zero results. I turn to my friend google, and find an article mentioning a Dr. Mark Jansen joining the staff/faculty at UAMS. He was in private practice in Arkadelphis for 30 years prior to coming here. I shoot him an email.

"Dr. Jansen, you just called me about an U/S I had yesterday. Are you the same Mark Jansen that was at Arkadelphia Medical Clinic? I'm Terri's daughter. sheri"

His response came back about an hour later. "Yes! The same one. I LOVED!!!! your mother. She was so gracious in all situations. I was just thinking about her the other day. I recently moved to Little Rock to take care of my 88 y/o mother in poor health (you understand) and am working at UAMS 60% teaching and 40% administration. Small state, huh? Mark"

I will admit, that after the week I've had, and the fact that my mother has been on my mind pretty much constantly since my last blog, that connection made me a little teary. Of all the doctors on this enourmous campus, 17-20 that work at FMC, not counting residents and fellows, he pulled my chart from a stack that needed follow-up attention. I think in some way, it was a sign that my mother is still very much looking out for me. Believe what you will, but I choose to believe she's still very much here.

Happy day before Friday, y'all.


Friday, January 24, 2014


Seven years ago, I kissed my best friend on the forehead as I was heading to bed. Before going to the guest room, I leaned close and whispered in her ear, "I love you, momma, now rest."  She took my advice a few hours later and my life has never been the same.  

Not a single day goes by when I don't think of her.  Although some days, it's at the very end of a busy day when she creeps into my mind.  Yesterday I was writing a note at work and instead of writing yesterday's date, I wrote her birthday. dd/mm/yy. It made me smile and shake my head all at the same time. I think she knew I needed her.  I need her a lot lately. 

She had a smile that could light up any room. She was quiet and reserved, but had an infectious laugh. She could scold you without raising her voice.  She loved with the biggest heart imaginable. (I think I inherited that from her.)  I've never really thought I looked much like her, until recently when I caught a glimpse of her in my bathroom mirror. 

I wish she could see Caity and Kenzie as adults. I wish she could meet Sophia. I wish I could introduce her to some of my friends. I wish I could get a cherry limeade with her at Sonic.  I wish I could hear her sing along to the radio. I guess I will just strive to live in a way that continues her legacy of love. You were a good one, momma. One of the best. I love you. 


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Be Present

Most of my mornings start out exactly the same. I wake up a few minutes before the alarm at 0545. I determine how many minutes I need to get ready so I can leave for work on time, because staying in my nice warm bed is WAY better than getting out of it at o'dark forty-five. Eventually, being a grown-up takes over, and I usually make it to work with time to spare.

At some point in the morning's routine, I check Facebook to see what I might have missed. Since I don't drink coffee, it's the equivalent of my morning wake-up. One day last week, that didn't go so well for me. The very first thing I paid attention to in my newsfeed, involved a friend whose mother-in-law is dying. His post was simple. "Morning report from Doc is she is going downhill. Pray for God to provide strength, comfort, and guidance for our family through these difficult days." Every single emotion I felt when my mom was in hospice hit me like a ton of bricks. My eyes filled with tears. I was completely powerless to stop them. I was caught off-guard, and my "awesome" leaked out from the corners of each eye.

The thing I have come to understand about grief is that it is a process. There is an ebb and flow. After the initial shock wears off, it cycles. I've also learned that grief about a particular event in life, isn't isolated from every other event that may come up. I am an emotional person by nature, which is odd to me since neither of my parents were/are particularly emotional. Being emotional can be quite overwhelming when you aren't prepared for it. I have spent the better part of the past few years in a state of flux. Life happens, and then when you're dealing with one thing, something else comes out of left field and kicks you when you're down.

I joke sometimes that there is a little black cloud following me around since September 2001. In reality, I know that isn't the case, although some days it certainly feels like it. I have to remind myself on those days when I can't see the positives in a certain situation, that every situation is working on who I will be tomorrow, or next year, or ten years down the road. Every tear, every joy, every heartache, every struggle, every celebration is preparing me for the future. How I choose to deal with those situations is building my character. I didn't just reach adulthood and stop growing. I am constantly being challenged and molded and shaped into the person I will be when I'm a grown up.

For now, I find solace in that fact. I remind myself daily that I can't control my past or my future, only the way I act in the present. I am not done with grief, nor am I done with figuring out how to live the life I desire.  I'm a work in progress, and I sometimes feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark.  In the midst of awesome  leakage mornings, and realizations about the way I want to be remembered 20 years from now, I'm learning valuable lessons about the fragile balance of life. Lessons about patience, trust, hope, love, and grace.  I'm not perfect, but I'm trying to be better than I was yesterday.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Be Still...2014 version

Eight days into the new year, and I still haven't made a resolution. I don't plan to make a resolution. I rarely stick to them anyway. Besides, it's exhausting to feel like I've failed before I've even started. That doesn't mean I didn't set goals. I am constantly setting goals for myself, in order to push myself to be the very best version of me. One of my goals was to read more books -- any kind of book.

I can read for knowledge or read for pleasure. It doesn't matter if the reason I read is to escape from reality for a bit, or to learn a little bit more about me. So last night, I picked up a book. I thought, "I'll give it one chapter. If it doesn't grab me, I will pick up a different book." It grabbed me. It isn't a book I would normally read. It's much more "christian" than I normally read. Don't get me wrong, I've taken part in several small group studies. I own 10 different Bibles, including my well-worn and tattered study Bible.

One of my goals for this year involves being still. That is not to be confused with wearing pajamas all day and laying around watching tv. Being still, at least for me, involves actively listening to my thoughts. It's very difficult to do, if you've never tried it. Sometimes I don't like where my mind takes me. Sometimes, I don't like what my thoughts say to and about me. I was fortunate because my book selection has a study component in the back. So as I was reading, I would peruse the notes in the back, just to see what kinds of questions or comments the author felt were necessary to explore deeper.

There, in the back of the book, in print -- a resource for being still. I haven't tried it yet, but I plan to do just that. It likely will take several attempts, because the first two questions might take a while for me to get past. (Ironically, the author anticipated as much.) If you have the same goal, or need the same goal, you're welcome to join me.


Write your answers to the following questions:

1.) What is frustrating me right now?

2.) What am I angry about?

No, don't go to the next question, go back. Listen. Reflect. Be honest. Give yourself time.

3.) What am I scared of?

4.) What am I dreading?

5.) What makes me anxious?

6.) What concerns me?

7.) What is stressing me right now, the smallest thing that I don't want to write down because it seems dumb that it is actually stressing me?

8.) What am I looking forward to?

9.) Today, tomorrow, this year?

It's a solo exercise, but there is an added component of community if you're interested in that sort of thing. You can email me at sheri underscore bentley 1027 at yahoo dot com for that piece of the puzzle. May 2014 be your best year ever.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Standing on the Promises

It's Aug 1, 2012. It's been the third hottest summer on record since they started keeping records. It's CFA (eat more chikin') appreciation day. I'm eating chicken (from the cafeteria at UAMS) and having a conversation about all the hoopla surrounding CFA. Another coworker walks in, hearing only a snippet of our lengthy conversation, and politely (with head shaking and gumption) says, "I'm just standing on the promises of God. Ain't never seen no gay man that didn't choose the path of sin.".

My first thought was to quietly exit the room without confrontation, because I do not believe being gay is a matter of free will. I also don't think you can "pray the gay away" because I have a friend, Josh, who prayed and cried for years, begging God to just make him "normal". I know how hard his personal struggle was, and the "cost" of finally accepting himself as a gay man.

My second thought was, "I wonder if she knows just how far God's promises stretch.". From my own personal experience and lessons I've been taught in and through people of faith, it's much farther than palm-to-palm. It's much larger than the ark built by Noah. It's even bigger than a rainbow, and if you've ever tried to find the pot of gold at the end, you know that's pretty big.

I also know the depths of human love. Just when I think I can't possibly love anymore than I already do, I am surprised that I really can love more. Love isn't even the right word. It's so overused in our society. We use the same word for our feelings about our favorite ice cream, a new pair of shoes, a haircut, for a newborn baby placed in our arms, and that special someone who makes us want to be the very best version of ourselves.

I'm not the sharpest crayon, but I believe a God who is capable of creating the earth, the oceans, and the animals of the land, air, and sea -- and is also capable of allowing His very creation to crucify a man on a cross to prove his love, is also capable of a love beyond understanding. A truly unconditional love. A love we humans are only capable of if we dare put ourselves last in every single relationship.

So then I started thinking about the various promises given to us by God. I look to Jeremiah 29: 11, Romans 8: 37-39, Matthew 11: 28-29, Isaiah 40: 29-31, John 15: 27. I believe in the God of the Old and New Testaments. I believe in a God who is capable of loving all of his creation. I also believe in a God that is WAY bigger than the teeny tiny box that creation places around him.

I agree. I too, will stand on the promises -- the promises of grace, hope, mercy and love.