Month: December 2016

Happy People Hum

According to Psychology Today, humming can have positive effects on us. Are you sad right now? Feeling a little bit of those post-Christmas blues? Hum your favorite song for about 20 seconds… go ahead… I’ll wait.

Feeling better? 

Here’s the thing. While studies have shown that humming does make us happier, and some say physically healthier, the reverse is true as well. Happy people hum… and whistle, and sing. Humming also makes us feel safer. Ever hum your way to your car in a dark parking garage? Me, too.

This coming February will make a year that my Aunt Jean has been here in Birmingham at an assisted living facility. Her husband died a couple of years ago, and she was not able to live on her own due to her progressing dementia. 

My dad and I went to Virginia last February when the arrangements that had been made for her care were not all they were supposed to be. What I found when we arrived was a shell of the woman I had known growing up. She was weak, frail, confused and disoriented. Down to about 85 pounds, she was so fragile.

It was hard for me to see her in that state. I had always known her to be a strong woman, full of life and faith, and mentally strong. It took me a few days to come to grips with the woman I saw before me. The aunt I had known loved to laugh and make jokes. She loved to talk about Jesus and teach others about Him. 

Her life had been one with many challenges and hardships, but she trusted fully in the Lord to take care of her. I looked forward to talking with her again about Him, but I couldn’t seem to get her to do that. All the knowledge of scriptures, and of her relationship with Him, seemed to be locked away in there somewhere. What wasn’t locked away was her humor. She still made jokes, even if they didn’t quite make sense to anyone but her.

And she still winked. Winking has always been her thing, too. As far back as I can remember, my aunt would wink at me, and I would wink back. Even at large family gatherings, she would look at me from across the room, catch my eye, and wink at me. It always made me feel special. Standing at the foot of her hospital bed last year, she looked up at me, smiled at me, and winked. I almost cried.

My dad insisted that we bring Aunt Jean to his house this year for Christmas. I was skeptical. Taking her out of her routine at the assisted living residence always seems to mess with her mind a bit. I wasn’t sure the benefit of bringing her would outweigh the consequences for her. I was wrong. It happens sometimes.

I went early to help her get ready for the day. When I arrived, I wheeled her into the bathroom, and began to work on her hair… while she directed me. Jean was a long time beautician, and apparently still knows a thing or two about styling hair. I used to love to watch her fix hair… and listen to her fix it. You see, Jean was always a hummer. Always. She hummed when she fixed hair, cooked food, shopped, cleaned house… all the time. She never hummed any real song, at least not that I could tell. It was her own tune. I realized as I finished her hair, I had not heard her hum since moving her here.

When we arrived at my parent’s house, she was shocked to “meet” my husband and children. She had forgotten I was married, and even more surprised to see I have four grown kids. It surprises me, too, sometimes!

We fully expected Jean to tire out quickly, and had planned to take her back to the residence right after lunch. But when dad asked her if she was ready to go home, she said, “No. I’m not ready!” She was having a blast and enjoying all the noise and laughter.

When things started winding down, I asked my son, Ryan, to help my dad take Jean home. When he got back, I asked how it went. He said she kept thanking him for taking her home. 

When they got her safely back into her room, she said to them, “I wish I wasn’t missin’ you, I wish I was see’n you instead. But it’ll happen again.” Dementia has stolen so much from her mind, but not from her heart.

And then he said this, “And she hummed the whole way back. Like, the whole way.” He said it was not a song he could identify, but it lasted the whole way there.

He had no idea what a gift that was to me.


If You Do What You’ve Always Done

Henry Ford once said, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” Or was it Tony Robbins, or Mark Twain? I’m not sure exactly who said it. Maybe they all did. And now I have, too. The point is solid no matter who said it.

So many of us want to see real change in our lives, but we don’t seem to get the point that if we are ever going to see that change, we have to actually make changes to our lives. How often do we sit around, bemoaning our lives, wishing everyone else would change? If he would just do this… If she would just stop saying that… If they would only be different… THEN my life would be better.

I think we say those things or think those thoughts far more often than we consider the changes we could make in our own lives. We want different, we just don’t want to do the work of achieving that difference. We want other people to do it for us. We want to do what we have always done, and let others do all the changing.

I am beyond ready for this New Year to roll around. It’s a myth, and I know it is, but the New Year always seems to hold new and different possibilities. I mean it’s not like each new day isn’t the exact same thing, but there just seems to be something special about the newness of a new calendar year. We can wipe the slate clean, throw out the old, and bring in the new. We can say goodbye to stale, harmful habits, and work on new, healthier ones.

But here’s the problem with making change. As much as we gripe about the things we don’t like about our lives, there is a certain familiarity that breeds a sense of security from those things. New patterns, new habits, will shake things up. We might not be able to predict how things will go if we make changes. We’d almost rather continue living in our despair than risk everything for the uncertainty that change brings. How completely ridiculous is that? Pretty ridiculous.

As we learn and experience life, our brain makes physical neural thought pathways. I think that’s pretty interesting. Our repeated thoughts, and their subsequent actions, make those pathways wider and stronger. It makes sense, the roads we habitually travel the most are usually the easiest to navigate. But if we stopped going the same way we always go, that well-worn path would begin to break up, and eventually, getting down that old road would not be as easy as it once was, and the more times we decide to go down the new pathway the easier that would become. It’s the same with our brains.

Our brains, at any age, have the ability to make new pathways. We can actually rewire our own brains. I love the idea of that. Yes, old habits die hard. The patterns are literally, physically, ingrained in our brains. But with minimal effort, new pathways can form leading to new ways of thinking and behaving. We just have to be willing to go a different way. Initially, the going will be slow. As a daughter of a road builder, I know that new roadways are not built overnight. But they can be built.

Some of my old thought patterns are holding me hostage. There is more, different, and better out there for me. I’m going to leave behind some of my old pathways and I am going to build new ones this next year. I’m not going to continue to live like I have always lived. I’m not going to do what I have always done, and get what I’ve always gotten. My God wants to do more in me and through me this next year, and the only thing standing in the way is me. How about you?

“…assuming that you have heard about him and we’re taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:21-24