Inviting Joy…

21 Dec

JoyI have been working on this particular post for the past few months. 2015 has not been an easy year for me.  Since August 4th, I have lost four very dear friends. Our dear friend Jim passed away on August 4th from liver cancer, leaving a hole in our hearts. A week after Jim passed away my friend Ross, whom I was friends with for 20 years, died of pancreatic cancer. Naomi passed away yesterday and I will miss her terribly. Another significant loss was on December 3 when Beth died of liver cancer. Beth and I had been friends for over 30 years. She was my college girl friend. She would have been 52 yesterday. At times, it is all I can do just to get up in the morning. Throughout the day, it feels as though I have been punched in the stomach. Sadly, it also puts me back in touch with the loss of Bonnie, who was like my twin sister. This much loss is so unsettling that I am working exceedingly hard at staving off depression.

I have been watching and observing friends of mine and my husband and am in awe of their resiliency. These observations have led me to question how do I — how do we all —  invite and make space for joy. For me, this is a task that at times escapes me and seems to grow increasingly difficult.

Being aware of the embarrassing pustule on humanity known as the current Republican party (GOP) only adds to my sense of loss — the loss of common decency in our discourse.  It is exceedingly easy for me to give way to a misanthropic abyss when I think about how the discourse from EVERY Republican presidential candidate participates in and perpetuates racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, and all of the intersections therein. Let us not forget, this is not just the nefarious Donald Trump, since every candidate believes as Trump does. They may not be quite as vociferous, but they share the same racist, homophobic and misogynistic beliefs. Sadly, even those Republicans who condemn the horrific rhetoric by these presidential hopefuls, still maintain that they will still support the Republican nominee. Yes, even while Paul Ryan slams Trump for  his racist, even Nazi like approach to this race, Ryan will still vote for him. This is more than just a little nonplussing.

So how do you, how do I invite hope, not just hope but how do I invite joy? Here I will share things that actually do bring me joy and I invite all of you readers, how do you invite joy? I want to learn from all of you!

Being in my classrooms teaching MSW students brings me great joy, such joy that I don’t have language to fully articulate how giddy I feel when I watch these students and how they reflect and leverage their privilege for equity. I am in awe of these people and they bring me joy and give me hope.

Spending time with my friends’ children next door brings me joy. Hank (who is only six years old) who grabs onto me and most insistently tells me stories brings me joy. Spending time with my amazing colleagues and friends as we are vulnerable with each other and support one another brings me great joy. Spending time with my husband as we talk, listen, drink wine, and support one another, and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race brings me joy!

My failing seems to be how do I hold on to all of this? How can I keep in contact with all of this joy and sustain my gratitude?

How do all of you do it?

19 Responses to “Inviting Joy…”

  1. Central Oregon Coast NOW December 21, 2015 at 7:28 am #

    What an excellent question, Michael. I have been blessed with a wonderful resiliency (and, I say “blessed”, not in the biblical sense because I am not religious, but in the sense that I managed to get the resilience genes, and I think some of us have been fortunate to get more than our fair share, and I think I’m one of those, which is truly a “blessing” and nothing I “earned”). That being said it doesn’t mean that I have not suffered from situational depression; I have, and it is really difficult. What it means is that I bounce back quicker than many, which I think makes it easier.

    What do I do when I suffer an overwhelming loss (I lost a son in a car accident when he was only 18, my closest and longest friend to a grueling cancer only a few years ago, both of my parents, etc)? I let my friends comfort me. Some people don’t know how to do that, and it can be very hard because you want to crawl into your shell and hide. Force yourself to let them help you. I remember when my son died a friend, only two weeks later, called and said he was taking me to the symphony; I didn’t want to leave the house, but I did, and it helped even though I cried through much of it. Other friends would call and ask me to go to dinner and let me cry in the middle of the restaurant, then would actually invite me again within a couple of weeks. I always went, not matter how hard it was. I think it is friends who are there for you who help the most. And, as you said, children – they can make you smile and laugh, even in your deepest times of despair. Also, helping others; get back into your volunteer activities quickly – it always feels good to do something for somebody else. Exercise also helps; take a hike, ride a bike. And, make yourself smile.

    Michael, my hope for you is a 2016 without any difficult losses. Four is too many in such a short period of time.

    Sending you love and hugs. Nancy

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 21, 2015 at 7:37 am #

      Nancy, I feel so honored that you shared this part of your narrative. You are someone I have admired for a long time now. You are quite resilient and you inspire many. I am so sorry about the loss of your son. Please know how much I appreciate how you invite joy into your life. Love and Peace, Michael.

  2. Central Oregon Coast NOW December 21, 2015 at 7:29 am #

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW.

  3. Stephen December 21, 2015 at 7:48 am #

    I am sending love, hugs, tears, and smiles your way, Michael. Thank you for sharing your heart – one of the most beautiful and most generous hearts I’ve ever experienced (even though only through your words). I’m aching with you and for you, dear one…and I’m sorry for the painful holes caused by such extraordinary loss…

    I’ve had a bizarrely painful year and have found joy in my most “ordinary” relationships and the most ordinary moments and things that matter to me. I found joy as much in the shared tears as the shared laughter. I found joy in the most surprising and unexpected moments. They were often lone sparks of light in what felt like a dark cave. But they were real, and they matter. I find greater joy in the small – even tiny – things than the grand. I’m trying to let them sink in rather than bounce off me: a smile, a kindness, a gentle word, a gracious gesture, an effort on the part of a friend or stranger. You and I are surrounded by glimpses and hints of just what we need. (Does that make sense??)

    You are loved and respected for the beautiful man you are! I will be cheering for you, praying for you, hoping for you, believing in you…that light and life and true joy will all find their way home to your heart!

    Much love then, now, and always, hero mine…xoxo

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 21, 2015 at 7:58 am #

      Stephen, you are always so very eloquent. I’m terribly sorry that you have had “a bizarrely painful year,” but I thank you for sharing how you make space for joy–how you invite it! Reading your words here is a great comfort and reminder to stay in touch with our shared humanity. Love and Peace, Michael.

      • Stephen December 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

        I don’t want you just to be touched with joy…I want you drenched in it, Michael!🙂 You bring so much good to the world…thank you for being you…

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 21, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

        Thank you, Stephen! You are far too kind and too generous!

  4. Valeria Jones December 21, 2015 at 5:36 pm #

    Dearest Michael,
    So sorry to read how hard this past few months have been for you! My heart goes out to you! I can see through your beautiful words how your gentle heart pierced with huge losses.
    The question at the end is so important. Being conscious about moving forward when it feels impossible is crucial. How do we find joy in the darkest times?
    I’m one of those souls who can drop to such a place like a deep hole without a dim of light. When my sweet mother took her last breath and left, I was in that place. I was paralyzed from living. I couldn’t bring myself to talk with people, go places, read, listen to music. It wasn’t only painful to do any of those, I felt tremendous guilt that I was alive and my mother wasn’t. I stayed quietly alone. It felt comforting to put my head on my dog when I cried. Often fell asleep like that. Somewhere in my sorrow, I remembered that I planned to sew a quilt for my mother that I never did. I cried about that too. Thinking of my mother sitting at her sewing machine, the many beautiful dresses she made for me, and the time when she taught me to sew. Eventually I sat down to the sewing machine and started working on her quilt. I felt gratitude for my mother that she gave me the gift of this craft. It felt calming to sew, touch the fabric, and see the pretty colors. I was with my mother in a constructive way. In three weeks I had created my first ever quilt, colorful squares with heart in the middle of each. Gifted it to my daughter who needed comfort being far away form family. It made her happy which gave me the first smile since loosing my mother. Right away I started the next quilt, the third, and the fourth. Three months went by and I began answering the telephone and started walking my dogs in the neighborhood.
    After the sewing the next step was reading a Buddhist book by Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear. I was finally able to comprehend the content. His writing made sense and was truly comforting. I started seeing and feeling my mother’s presents all around me that offered joy.
    I’m so glad you are teaching first of all for you to find it joyful, secondly for the students. You are such a brilliant professor with so much zest, wisdom, enthusiasm, and humanity. I’m such lucky person to be one of your students. In one class I learned more from you than in many other classes for months.
    Hope the holidays will bring you some comfort and much deserved love into your life. Thousand hugs, Valeria

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 21, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

      Valeria, thank you commenting here. I feel so honored that you shared a small part of the story about your mom. I am so sorry for your loss! I would feel so honored to see the quilt you did create. Thank you also for sharing how you invite joy. You are such a gentle soul that provides so much strength and comfort to others. I am very grateful for you! Much love, Michael.

  5. Susie Snyder December 21, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    Michael, I am so sorry to hear about all the profound losses you have faced this year and in the past. I love hearing about the sources of Joy that you have found most reliable. I also find joy in my time with loved ones, in my opportunities to engage with the free spirited vitality of children and with playful and uninhibited adults. I would add that I find the wide world of nature is a very reliable source of joy. However, when my heart is heavy with a loss or struggle, these sparkling and colorful parts of my world can seem obscured or faded. I think at those moments what helps most is to touch my own pain with some self-compassion (to put my hand on my own heart and say I care about this suffering). Or better yet, to find a loving other who can help me hold it with the tenderness for which it longs.

    One of the ideas that has been most helpful at these times is the notion that grief and love are very connected. We feel the most pain when we are separated from what is most precious to us. Sometimes when I am feeling grief it helps me to think, “Oh, I am remembering how precious Jim was to me” or when I feel homesick to think “Right now I am overwhelmed by how dear my family is to me”. Something about this way of thinking always ends up filling me up with the warmth of what I love and what is precious instead of the empty pain of loss. A practice like this seems especially helpful for someone like you who has an exceptionally huge capacity to love.

    I am so grateful that the there are exquisitely sensitive and loving people like you in the world.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 22, 2015 at 7:10 am #

      Susie, thank you so very much for sharing what brings you joy. Yes, “the wide world of nature” is most certainly a reliable source of job. You have reminded me to to take more hikes and get outside more. I must say just reading this brought me joy, for your prose is really quite poetic! Thank you for also reminding me that grief and love are connected! What a lovely framing.

      Susie, I am so very grateful for you! You are always so very dear to me and a you are a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be with people like you who share an overwhelmingly generous heart. With great love, Michael.

  6. Mandy December 22, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    Dear Michael,

    When you left your response on my blog this morning, saying you had needed what I chose to share today, I took a step back. I only know you in blog land, but I’ve always aspired to make a difference because of people like you, who I hold in such high esteem because of the amazing spirit that jumps out of the words you write, the passion you have for all humanity, and for the teacher I know you are in both the classroom and outside of it.

    I wasn’t expecting you to be moved by something I might post, so now, in coming over and reading your post, I am reminded how, in our humanness, none of us get to escape what sometimes feels debilitating loss at times in our lives; It doesn’t matter where we are on the playing field of society, this is where we are all equal. Sadly you have had more than your share this year and my heart hurts at reading this.

    My post today followed posts this week remembering my brother’s suicide. In the past, I nearly couldn’t make it through this week myself, but now, I allow myself to be human, as you have just done writing this post today. You ask, how do we hang on to what we know are the small things that bring joy to our lives, even though the pain keeps trying to smother out the memory? I do what I am doing right now. I put it down on paper, I share it with you and my blog friends, and I am able to remind myself.

    You have a a wonderful list of joys in your life, Michael, especially a wonderful husband that shares your grief, and he also has knowledge of those joys. It take time to shepherd those joys back into the corral so we can once again embrace them. That’s what I’m banking on🙂

    Take good care, Michael. Let all those who love you do just that. ~Mandy

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 22, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

      Mandy, I always take inspiration from you. You always manage to humble me. I love your words: “…take time to shepherd those joys back into the corral so we can once again embrace them.” I am committed to doing that! Again, I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. Much love and peace, Michael.

  7. Tamara Stephas December 24, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    Dear Michael,

    I am so very sorry for your losses and all your pain! What a terrible year for you, of course you are finding it hard! Hugs and love to you.

    When you’re in the middle of the storm remember that it will get better. It does get better.

    My comment looks like a shopping list next to the inspiring poetry others have left here, but these are the things that I find make the bad times bearable and the good times better:

    The love and support of my partner
    Keeping perspective
    Being in the moment

    If I were smart I’d line them up to make some sort of clever anagram, but this is the order in which I thought of them.

    Exercise –
    The #1 natural antidepressant. I don’t train to race. I race because it keeps me training. When I’m not in training, I have a rule for myself: Be active every day. Doesn’t matter how – walking, running, biking, yoga – anything. My Michael can tell when I haven’t been exercising. It’s usually when I’ve been grumpy that he’ll remind me “Just go ride your bike.”

    A loving partner –
    ‘Nuff said. You know all about that. You are a lucky man.

    Friendships –
    What Nancy said above was wonderful. I was amazed after my mom died how many people took the time to reach out, and how much it helped to know that they cared. It is hard work to leave the house, to do things with friends, to find the time, to follow up on those relationships in meatspace instead of virtual space. Yet I find as time goes by friendships are increasingly more important.

    Sunlight –
    Your mileage may vary, and PDX is better than Seattle, but personally I find it’s even harder to stay positive in the dark of the winter. I finally talked about this with my doctor, and she says she prescribes a lot of antidepressants from November through March. So far a sun lamp, exercise, and occasional field trip to somewhere without clouds have been enough for me. Simply being aware of it also helps.

    Nature –
    When I am grieving, I also feel sensitized to the beauty around me. It’s like an insulating blanket has been ripped off my emotions, good as well as bad. I think it’s especially important in these times to surround oneself with beauty. Some of the most poignant images I hold in my head are from times when I was grieving, and looked out instead of inward.
    Despite my vocation, I neglect to do this enough, but it is precious healing: Get out into the woods or a big big park. Do a local hike. Hear birds instead of traffic. Be amazed at the beauty of plants and clouds. Feel small.
    On a smaller scale, I make a point of enjoying the backyard daily. I go outside when the sun comes out, and just stand there and look at a flower, or a leaf, or a patch of moss. Yes, the neighbors think I’m nuts. On nice days, I take at least 20 minutes from work to walk a loop around the neighborhood.

    This also helps with:

    Perspective –
    It is so easy to get swallowed up in our own problems, fears and regrets. I feel less fear, anger and frustration when I look outward. The universe is vast and elegant. Nothing we do can mess it up. Nature is smaller and awkwardly elegant. We are messing it up, yet it is resilient and still beautiful. It will persist, and blossom in different ways. Humanity is full of great selfishness but also great generosity.
    It is easy to forget this when immersed in a 24/7 feed of ugliness. Unfortunately network news focuses on the negative, because that’s what sells. I find the less intimately I let national and international news into my life, the happier I am, and the better able to stay in the moments of joy that our everydays lives offer us.
    That means NO TV news.
    I don’t invite Trump, Cruz, or their ilk into my home. Reading about them is much less emotionally activating than letting their faces into my house.
    I find the NYT a better way to stay informed without emotional obsession. TV news exists to play on our emotions. It always sounds like things are getting worse, and always has, because news of things getting better doesn’t sell.
    I find it odd and perhaps telling that the largest paragraph of your article is not about the people you are missing, but a rant about the GOP. Can I suggest that you really, really would benefit from a news vacation while you heal?

    Facebook is a tough conundrum. I’ve read several analyses that say Facebook actually depresses people. Too many selective “perfect life” pictures, too much clickbait and ranting, too much news of the stupid. Yet I also find it a way to keep in touch with friends like you – and, maybe because I am friends with many artists, I see a lot of beauty posted there too. And cat videos. Never underestimate the value of cat videos.
    I’m still on it, but I try to limit my time and my clicks. And I am ruthless about using the “I don’t want to see this” dropdown.

    Work –
    You have already said this. Treasure your work and the young people you teach.
    I have found that in times of crisis it is very helpful to have a place I can go where: I have a purpose; I can concentrate on doing something I do well; I don’t need to worry about what else is going on because that is not my job in this place. Which segues to:

    Being in the moment –
    It’s trendy to talk about – but there’s a reason. I fail to notice the small joys and beauty in my life if I am worrying about that email I sent, or twelve things I mean to do today (but am not in a position to do now), or the latest awful news. I think it goes hand-in-hand with some of the other headings I’ve tossed out here, because being with friends, being in nature, even taking a walk, can be a healing joy; or can just be a time to simmer over woes and fears.
    One of the reasons I like track cycling and mountain biking better than road biking, is that they require full attention. On the road, I have time to get distracted and start replaying negative things. Things that require all my attention (like being in a pack at 30 mph, or trail riding without biffing), or that draw all my attention (like riding with friends, or walking in a park) keep me in a better head space.
    I have just started doing yoga more regularly, and the focus on breathing and attention is hugely helpful. It’s like a gateway drug to meditation.
    I am working on this. I will probably always be working on this.

    Gratitude –
    As you observed, this is key, and not always easy. Indications though are that it is simply a habit that can be learned. Some religious services set aside time for it. But those of us who eschew established religion may need to set aside our own time. One of my yoga instructors makes space for it at the beginning and end of practice.
    Maybe a daily pause over a cup of tea, looking out over the garden? A recent article which I have lost suggested starting each day by sending notes of thanks to one or two friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. (No, I don’t do this, though I try to be better with thanks and acknowledgements than I used to be. But both at home and in the flow of my work in the studio, I try to make time for the pause with tea.)

    Oh, and this doesn’t belong here, but I had to throw in this random observation from the NYT:

    Hugs and love,
    – Tamara

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 24, 2015 at 9:17 am #


      You have no idea how much I love and treasure you! This feels like such a huge warm hug–exactly what I needed. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend these past almost 17 years now.

      Yes, I need to exercise!!!!! One of my New Year’s resolutions.

      Thank you for sharing the ways in which you invite (and inspire) joy!

      I continue to learn how much I have to be grateful for on my journey on earth.

      With great love and affection,

  8. Anne Karsian December 24, 2015 at 8:41 am #


    Our sweet daughter Eva was an artist. She painted in big bold colors like oranges, reds and purples. Soon after her death (two years ago now) we started noticing the amazing, enormous, colorful sunrises and sunsets full of oranges, reds and purples in Central Oregon. From the very first sunrise, I chose to thank Eva for the gorgeous display in the sky and cried with joy. Every time I see those colorful skies, I acknowledge Eva– sometimes I say hey, or thank you, or I love you— it keeps me connected with her through the natural world. Many others have told me they too see the painted skies and think of Eva.

    I have also found joy in talking to Eva– nothing particularly profound, but perhaps as a form of prayer? I also find great joy in talking about Eva others. She had an enormous influence on me and she naturally comes out in conversations.

    Like others have said, I find comfort and joy in my family and friends. To that I would add my dogs (I think I remember you said you have cats?). Animals can provide a tremendous amount of peace and joy.

    Lastly Michael, please know that you have given me a great deal of joy through your teaching and particularly through your compassion as I have been navigating the loss of Eva (and her dog Maddie). You make a difference every day.

    I plan on visiting you during Winter Term!

    Peace and JOY! Anne

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 24, 2015 at 9:21 am #

      You are so very dear! Thank you for sharing the ways in which you invite joy. Thank you also for sharing part of Eva’s narrative and how you still talk with her. I have noticed I do talk with Jim, Bonnie, and Beth. You and others are evidence of how much joy nature can provide.

      Honestly, Anne, you are a gift to me and I am exceedingly grateful to have you in my life! I look forward to your visit next term.

      Love, Peace, and Joy, Michael.

  9. Jennifer December 28, 2015 at 11:44 am #


    Oh Michael, from across the country I send heartfelt huge sympathy for yours and Robert’s losses. What a terrible time – and so much together – to lose those so dear to you and while also in the sea of grief for Bonnie.

    I wish you strength and light — profound moments of joy that you can feel and recognize. Your questions throw into a vast cosmos the complexity of our lives, … how we get up, move through terrible time and then through wonderful times while keeping ourselves upright and brave for the next moments that we can’t know the category they will they will be in. So I would add this: I don’t think we are meant to hold on to the joy. It is not a failing of yours, or mine, or anyone’s. I think we are built to move through moments, like a ship through the waters. Sometimes at the crest of the wave and sometimes in the trough. Sometimes on smooth waters, sparkling azure and luminous, and other times clinging to the deck rail while dark waters rage around us. It is not the seeking and keeping of a constant state of joy or gratitude, for me, but an acceptance and optimism about being available to the joy when it comes — and seeing it in the moment for the joy that it is. It’s about the attempt, the process, the seeking of it. It’s about being resilient, strong, and optimistic when the moments of darkness come, too.

    Countries have had terrible leaders (and I really shall move to Canada or perhaps England if Trump is elected) and emerged with real revolution and enlightenment afterwards. Perhaps it will be for us, too. Or the ugly, divisive discourse will force people to choose that for which they will stand up for and defend as their beliefs — in a country with such low voter turnout, we could use a clear choice between good and evil to motivate more involvement. (That’s my optimism speaking.) But either way, it is the life we are given and one we make choices about every day.

    So, I wish for a 2016 with much, much less loss and more moments of joy for you. And I wish for a 2016 where we all can seek — with optimism and hope — for joy, gratitude, beauty, generosity and understanding. Where we will participate, successfully, in finding out what brings joy for ourselves and what joy we can give others. And, I wish for more room to make mistakes, try again, and feel lifted up by the effort rather than dispirited by being “less than” able. I wish for moments for the tears to come and and both acknowledge the loss (which is huge grief reflecting huge love — and how lucky we are to love like that!) and also wash away the last moments and cleanse us for the next.

    And a shorter answer to one of your questions: What brings me joy is knowing there are people like you in my life and in the world.

    Your friend,


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt December 29, 2015 at 6:48 am #

      Jennifer, what a lovely gift you have given me here! Reading this made me reflect on the enormous joy I had when driving to work with you in your silver Ford Taurus and we would talk about school, politics, what we wanted and hoped for a generation of girls we would impact.

      Yes, you make such a lovely point about not being in a constant state of joy, but being able to recognize it and be in the moment when joy is present. I fear that is not something I have been good at this past year and I hope to get better at it as I navigate the future.

      Reading this also made me long for our time together and how much I miss you! You are a gift to me and I know you are a gift to so many others.

      With great love and affection,

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