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Life's Little Lessons

"If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud." – Emile Zola

The Power of Presence

The other night I was sick, as in violently ill. I’m pretty confident I had food poisoning, but whatever. I am better now so it doesn’t matter, but what does is this:

Most times when I am sick *read ALL times* I just want to be left alone. I just want my tired and worn body to heave intermittently and sporadically on its own, without an audience. Because who really needs to see all that and really, what can anyone do? If I am going to suffer, I don’t want it being a show.

The ticket booth is closed for business.

But this dog. This dog took a front row seat and actually bought out the house. She held diligent watch over me all night long. Each time I got up from my bed and hightailed it to the bathroom, she quickly paced behind me and laid on the floor with me. The Golden Retriever on the other hand, didn’t move. She was like “Godspeed woman. Get well so you can feed me in the morning.”

Asshole.

The point is, I was shown the power of presence. It’s what I call withness. Just being WITH someone wherever they are at, whatever they are in. It’s the place where you don’t need someone to FIX you or SAY anything magical or fluffy. You just need them to BE, right where you are at.

This dog was God in fur form. It’s an odd likening but it’s what I believe because I know His ways are not mine and I don’t always have to have it or Him all figured out. I just need to accept that is how He works. He shows up in tangible ways I’d understand or accept in the moment and says, “Hey. I’m here. You are not alone. No matter what you are going through right now, I’m present and I am with you.

So if someday you find yourself on the floor withering in pain or in a puddle of your own tears, He will be there for you too. It’s what He does and who He is. He might show up and look like someone you’d least expect, but it is His good nature to always be present.

And if like me, you needed a reminder of His faithfulness, this is it.

Don’t Bite

People will try to bait you and then get mad when you don’t bite.

What do that mean?

It means there’s an expectation about how you are going to respond to what they just said or did and when it doesn’t go the way they envisioned, well…

We’ve all been on the receiving end of passive-aggressive or often volatile feedback.

How do I know?

Takes one to know one.

It would piss me off to no end when there wasn’t a response or the response wasn’t the one that I had wanted.

To. No. End.

And usually, when I took the time and asked myself WHY I was getting so upset at their response, it was because my motives were usually in the wrong place to begin with and my snide little comments or actions were a sad attempt at begging for something that I thought I needed. And to be honest, if my motives weren’t great, why would anyone with one ounce of conscious awareness throw me a bone? They shouldn’t.

Some things are about you. If you don’t respond well…it’s best practice to look at the hard things that have to do with you so next time you can do better. It doesn’t matter how small you want your circle to be, no one likes to stand beside someone whom continually places blame on another and refuses to look at their own motives and take responsibility for their actions.

But if you’re on the other end and choose not to engage in other people’s behavior because you refuse to get wrapped up in their crazy…walk away. You don’t owe them an explanation. Most times, all an explanation does is feed their need for a certain type of response from you. Don’t engage their insecurities. Wish them well, keep your heart open and tarry on.

You are not a fish. Don’t bite.

End Well

It’s hard to know sometimes when you are at the end of something. Most times, our intuition knows something is over long before our heart accepts it and our head wraps itself around it. But deep down, we know.

And still we hold on till the death.

Because it’s hard to let go. I don’t care what it is. Letting go is a terribly tragic process.

I was reminded this morning that I am near an end and for all intensive purposes, what I’m at the end of doesn’t matter. Be it this ending today, another ending will be in my future a thousand more times. Letting go is cyclical and is not the point of this writing…ending well is.

Usually when we are at the end, we are tired. We are worn out or worn through and are exhausted with all the keeping up that hanging on entails. I think about all the races I’ve ran and how when I was a few miles from the finish line, my legs began to feel like slabs of jello and my chest felt as if it was filled with fire balls which made just about everything at the last half of the race fall apart. I certainly didn’t end with the same form as when I began…maybe that happens to us all.

Who really likes their finish line photo? I certainly don’t.

Ragged and tattered, every single one of us.

I think ending well has more to do with the things the naked eye cannot see. Things that aren’t felt. Things that are buried deep within us and are a part of our DNA that sometimes needs called to the surface with the intensity of a drill instructor at boot camp whom gets up in your face and spits in it. Things like:

Love. Endurance. Forgiveness. Honesty. Faithfulness. Courage. Humility. Integrity.

Because sometimes being tired takes over and those things slip. The flesh seethes and oozes in pain and the core gets sore from carrying the weight of your suffering because it’s easier to be consumed with the stitch in your side or the thoughts about how you can’t possibly feel your legs or take one more step…

So if you are like me and are nearing the end of your race, end well. Your form may be all shot to hell but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything left in you to give.

Take a deep breath and and listen to the voice of God whisper: “It’s not so much about getting to the finish line that matters. Everyone finishes. Choose HOW you finish. And then end well.”

Solid Footing

Last night I was talking with a friend about direction. I told them I saw myself in a stream and was trying to make my way in the flow of it. I realized sometimes I feel like I’m being carried by the current and other times, I’m fighting it, but I know the best course of action is to continue along by either swimming or stepping through.

And right now, I need to take a step.

The truth is, taking steps are hard. I’d say almost as hard as going with the currents flow and trusting it’s going to take you where you need to go. Stepping requires intentionality. It involves wisdom laced with cautious and slow moves. One wrong step when you think you’re securing your footing can take you under when you’re preparing yourself to stand.

So I told my friend that my left foot has found something sturdy to stand on, something I know is good and secure, however my right foot is still feeling it’s way along the bottom looking for something to rest itself upon; something that is solid and steady that will help me get where I need to go.

It’s the place in-between one step and the other and if I hurry it along, I’ll sink rather than swim.

And the great and wonderful thing about this process is that I’m learning to rest in the in-between places rather than stepping haphazardly because I want to rush the journey along. It’s a life lesson in building trust, listening to myself and most importantly, listening to what I feel I hear God saying in and around me.

I’m learning to trust His sound, not necessarily my feelings because when God tells me to step, my feet find security that wasn’t necessarily there before when I scoured the depths below in search of it.

So left foot, I’ll place my weight solely on you. You’ll bear the brunt of my incessant wondering when, not if, the right foot will find its next place to land. Timing is everything. Until then, I’m going to rest and trust that you’ll hold me up when the current gets too strong and tries to whisk me away.

And if you lose your footing oh-strong-and-brave-left-foot-of-mine, it’s ok. If you get tired or scared from holding me up and the right foot never finds a solid place to land to help even out the weight or if I’m not even sure which way to do something next, we’ll do it both ways and see which works best.  We can sink or swim or step because I’ve realized for the first time in my life, wherever the stream of life takes me, I’m going to be just fine. We will all be. We can start again tomorrow if we need to.

The Intentional Pause

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days about motives, about mine, and had been saving talking things through with my counselor today at my appointment, but as counseling appointments go, she found other topics we needed to discuss.

**If you don’t have someone that you pay to see past your bullshit, I highly recommend you find one**

Anyway.

I recognize a lot of my motives have been rooted in fear. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Fear of making the same mistake another zillion times. That fear has twisted my motives for WHY I do and say what I do into a jumbled ball of knots. What was once so incredibly simple has become utterly complex. Especially when it has come to other people.

Self-protection has been a strong motivator and I have allowed it to strip away at my desire and ability to be vulnerable because experience has taught me that people make bad choices and hurt one another. Protecting myself has seemed like the only viable option because pain and has demotivated me in stepping into new relationships or even maintaining existing ones.

And though we did not talk about my motives today, we talked about the complexity of how I’ve been feeling. The simultaneous process of both healing and hurting at the same time. It made me realize that fear isn’t such a bad thing. There is a reason it is there. It has a purpose. What I need to remember is that it is ok on one hand to be afraid just as it is ok on the other to be courageous.

It is ok to heal.

And it is ok to hurt.

Both at the same time.

So today I’m choosing to replace fear as my motivator with awareness. I’m aware that I’m both healing and hurting and out of that, I just need to remember to ask myself WHY am I doing or saying what I am and WHERE is it it coming from.

I heard a talk on the radio the other day about kids who act out for attention. It made sense until the speaker said that seeking attention is not WHY kids act out. Attention is not what unruly children crave…connection is.

And we are no different.

Connection is a legitimate motive, at least it is for me. Sometimes my actions speak otherwise, especially when I hole myself up in a thin and flimsy shell and tuck myself far, far out of reach, but it doesn’t negate what’s truth: I ultimately crave it. Though many days I feel like a kid acting out and seeking attention, I know it’s because I’m afraid and have equated fear as a negative. Today I remembered that’s its ok to be right where I’m at so hopefully tomorrow, I will intentionally pause and ask myself if I’m going to allow fear of being hurt keep me from something or someone needed and good.

I pray the answer is no.

Talk Is Cheap

The beginning of the school year is always a stressful time for me and I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s that way for most who work in my industry. This year however has proven to be especially rough, which I expected but somehow didn’t. Some things you simply cannot prepare for.

I’ve felt for the last few weeks like I’ve had the center seat in a dunking tank, you know the kind you see at Summer fairs where the target is pelted by worn leather baseballs that hit squarely on the bullseye and then drops the poor unfortunate soul on the seat into the water. Let me tell you this: Whoever is throwing the balls hitting the target not only has my number, but has aim and a strong arm and they’re not allowing me time to come up, grab a seat and catch my breath before the next go.

Damn them.

And through it, I may or may not have handled that stress well. I may have wielded a complaint or two about it, as in screaming not such sweet nothings into the air as I walk the dogs in the field behind my house. And while doing dishes. Talking to a friend. Sitting at my desk. In the end, venue doesn’t matter. Point being, I’ve morphed into a complainer and I know it.

And the thing about complaining is that it disguises itself. It makes you think you are releasing the weight of what you’ve been carrying, like it’s some sort of helper, but in actually reality, it’s not a helper at all. Complaining is a play ground bully and a instigator that tries to make problems seem bigger than solutions and I fell for it. Hook. Line. Sinker. In the end, I’ve become my own worst enemy…at least my continuous bouts of negativity have been.

The critical inner voice is the language of this enemy of mine and it’s universal. It is an internal dialogue that drives rumination, self-blame and self-loathing. It mocks us, shames us, scares us and lures us into self-limiting or self-destructive behavior. It tells us not to trust the people we love. It points fingers and places blame. It influences us to not try to reach a goal. It advises us and subdues us, keeping us seemingly safe inside a miserable, albeit familiar, shell.

As a result, the most important battle we may fight is the one going on inside ourselves – the real us versus our critical inner voice.

And I’ve allowed my critical inner voice to take charge.

How are you doing August?

Oh…let me tell you.”

And one day last week, I met my quota. I woke up and felt heavy and worn, not out but through. I realized I was tired, but not from my circumstances, but FROM how I’ve been responding TO my circumstances. I recognized that I’m a better responder than what I have been and an overall better person than what I’ve presented so I’ve decided to make a shift in my thinking and have *mostly* been keeping my mouth shut because when my mouth is shut during stressful times, the words inside my head lose their audience, get bored and find more constructive things to do.

This is a true story.

If you find yourself in a negative rut, stop digging. Stop whining, complaining and ranting. Stop breathing not so sweet nothings into the air for anyone or anything to hear. Once can be freeing, but doing so on a frequent basis becomes an addictive habit that just buries everyone and everything alive with your dirt.

Take it from me, talk is cheap. Some things aren’t worth being said.

Create Space

Today is the last day of our cruise so needless to say, I woke up at 8:45 AM with a vision of how the day was going to go and in my mind, it was going start with coffee and some breakfast.

My kids, not so much. All the lights may have been turned on and all the words may have been said and for a brief moment in time, visions collided and our togetherness became separateness in a very small cabin on the seventh deck. Sadly, division oozed from the four corners of the room of minutes.

Truth was, I was trying to do what I thought was best. I was up at what I thought was a very reasonable hour and to be honest, could no longer lay in bed in a dark cabin and pretend to be asleep for the sake of three other people. And as their Mother (and yes I began playing the Mother card) I didn’t WANT them to be asleep any longer either. I didn’t want them laying in their beds, thumbing through their phones.

As their Mother, I wanted them to squander their day as I had planned…which was having breakfast together and doing nothing but lay by the pool.

As their Mother…I had an expectation. I was the boss. I was steering the ship of the vacation that I had paid for.

As their Mother, I can be an asshole.

Long story short, I left the cabin agitated but told the kids that I wasn’t when I clearly was and marched off to have breakfast on my own. Looking back now, I needed that hour by myself. I needed to sit in silence and think things through and figure why I was getting all bent out of shape over such non-important things.

The answer of course, was easy to spot. My vision was all good and such and was perfectly perfect but it was MY vision for the day and mine alone. My kids on the other day, though birthed from my body, had their own that were separate that I forgot to consult. As their mother, I often get what I think is best entangled with what is right and what was right on this day, in that moment, was to allow them to have their own day just as I wanted to have mine. We are all so very different.

So I came back to the room and told them what I’d like to do today and let it at that. I listened and was open to suggestion but more so, had extended them each an invitation to do somethings together. The last thing I wanted was to be likened to a tyrant whom told them this was this and that was that when deep down, all I was really wanting was quality time with my children. You can’t really have that when you force a HAVE TO on the people you want to spend time with. Sometimes you just need to put it out there and hope their WANT TO (and not yours) brings them back into the center of life’s hub.

I think if you create room for people to step into that space on their own rather than bullying, guilting or coercing them into what you think is best or right, they will meet you in the middle and your relationship can remain intact and strengthened. And if they choose not to take that step, it’s not you. It is them.

Unless of course you’ve made it about you, just like I was trying to do this morning all about me.

When you take people’s freedom to choose away from them, even if you feel like you have earned the right to pull some special card at the table, you better be prepared to have more than just a choice or two taken away from the mix.

It might cost you the very relationship you say is most important to you.

Be Brave

A couple weeks ago, I was bartending and as bartending goes, I was privy to hearing things. Two friends were talking about a friend they had in common whom had been struggling with depression and had recently been hospitalized for it. I heard “nut house” amongst other not nice things and it made me kind of grumpy as I finished my work. Sometimes you can’t unhear what you’ve heard despite all your best attempts to forget that you had.

Obviously, it wasn’t the kindest conversation. In fact, I felt they were rather brutal in talking about their so-called “friend” who had obviously been struggling and they appeared to have little to no sympathy for him. It broke my heart and made me think on the subject here weeks later. Here’s why.

All of us have probably received the news that someone that we loved, someone that we knew or someone that we knew of committed suicide. In my short forty-five years, I have had several acquaintances succumb to the depths of depression and lost their will to fight. And every time I hear of it, my thoughts are always the same: “I had no idea because they seemed like they had perfectly “normal” life. I wonder if they reached out for help. Did anyone know they were struggling?” Trying to wrap my head around such tragedies always throws me off-kilter, as it should.

And here I was again off-kilter as I listened to these friends make fun of and belittle someone for checking themselves into the hospital. It was taken lightly and ridiculed. I’m sure I would have been privy to a different conversation had their brave friend chosen not to get help. This needs to change.

There’s a stigma attached to reaching out for help, especially when it comes to mental health. No one should struggle. No one should have such thoughts or reach such depths. No one should fall a part and reach that level of vulnerability because when they do, they tend to be looked upon negatively in many different ways.

Weak.

Incompetent.

Crazy.

A danger not only to themselves but to others.

How do I know these things? I’ve been told these things by good and well-meaning people.

Personally.

A year ago today I got up on a Saturday morning and cleaned the house. I did the laundry and folded the towels. I made meals for my family and lined them into neat and tidy rows in the fridge and then I drove myself to the hospital, went straight to the ER and told the check-in nurse I needed to speak to someone in crisis.

Because I was in one.

I hadn’t harmed myself or anyone else but I was severely depressed, had stopped eating the week before and my thought life was a spiraling mess. I kept thinking I would get better on my own but the reality was I was scared that one day, in just one moment, I wouldn’t be able to fight the thoughts I had been having off any longer.

Looking back now, it was, without a doubt, one of the bravest decisions I’ve ever made and it showed me a lot about who I am. In all the right ways.

Since that day a year ago today, I’ve fought a hard battle but have persevered thanks to the love and support of my family and friends, particularly my children. I found a good therapist who helped me understand how and why I got to where I was and a good psychiatrist who did not think I was crazy or needed labeled with a permanent diagnosis, but rather realized how present day circumstances and our environment contributes to one’s mental health state. It’s been a year of hard work, taking ownership, assigning responsibility, establishing boundaries, accepting what is, letting go and looking to the future, but I’ve kicked some major ass and made it through. At the end of this week, I will be released from my doctors care. I did not take the chicken exit and am making it through to the other side. Happy Anniversary to me indeed.

But I have more to do.

God has been faithful and ever-present and for that, I am incredibly thankful. It’s been a humbling journey and I have learned a great deal about God, myself and others. If you ever find yourself sitting with a friend on the other side of the bar at a Beer Stube, remember your words and that everyone you meet is fighting a battle of some sort and sometimes, those battles are incredibly painful and hard. Once more, we need to do better. We have to. The ones that reach out for help are not weak, but brave. They need encouraged and supported. Not dismissed or jeered.

And if you’re like me and ever find yourself in a position where you need help of any kind, don’t go it alone. Don’t wake up day in and day out scared of your thoughts. I don’t care who you are or what you do. I don’t care of the title you hold or your position in the community, get the help you need. Don’t listen to the lies telling you you’ve failed or that’s it’s all your fault or if you were stronger or more this and less that, you would be better. Don’t listen to your Churches stance on medication and mental health. Pay no mind to what other people think or what they might say.

There is never ever shame in being brave and asking for help. Ever. I am with you.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Tapped Out

Last weekend I came home from a two-week trip; one week to California to celebrate my daughter’s graduation and the other to South Carolina to visit my grandson and his parents (in that order). Since both my daughter and son are in the military, intentional time with them is not only necessary, it is precious. It was a fantastic two-weeks packed full of new adventures and good memories and I’m grateful I was able to set the time and money aside. If you ever want to know why I have a part-time job at a Beer Stube…this.

But here a week later, I find myself waking up already tired for the day. Already behind. Already done. I realize I’ve been going non-stop since I got home. Life is good, but a busy life can be a draining life and I am drained.

So yesterday I said no to something I really wanted to say yes to and reset my life. I went slow, took a nap, was intentional with my conversations, did the dishes and ended up in bed on time. It was a conflicting decision to make but one that needed made because when you are tapped out mentally and physically, chances are it’s because you haven’t been taking the best care of yourself.

And I haven’t.

In the last three weeks, I’ve traveled thousands of miles in theory and in reality. I sat on seven different airplanes and heard the same speech seven different times. When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why is this an important rule for ensuring survival, you may ask? Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else with their oxygen mask.

Looking back now, I probably didn’t have my own oxygen mask on this past week, maybe the past three. The over-achiever in me has died a gruelingly painful death over last few years and I no longer have the desire to collect the accolades and trophies that I did in my 20’s and 30’s, but I do feel the pressure to pack my life full of activity and maximize my time by doing all I can and making the next 45 years better than the last. And the last couple weeks have been packed full and then some.

And I know I am not alone. Many of us have homes we rarely live in, tables we rarely eat at and dogs we rarely walk. We are busy for all sorts of different reasons both intentional and precious, but if we are not careful, we get distracted by our busyness while little foxes sneak in and steal our time and our energy, leaving us waging battles on foreign grounds.

If life in the slow lane appeals to you, as it does me, here are some things I’ve found helpful to escape the rat race and enjoy a simpler, healthier life (even in the midst of a very large and crazy one):

  • Choose 3 things to accomplish each day. I know, you could probably come up with a list of 100 things, but don’t. You don’t need to prove anything so keep this number manageable and small. Keeping the list this size will force you to decide what’s really important day to day. Trust me. When you finish the list, the rest of the day is yours to do whatever you want to, not have With this approach you’ll be completing 21 important tasks a week. Seriously, I feel like I am winning at life when I go low and slow. If you do your three things and still feel like you’re drowning or being hit by a train repeatedly, reevaluate your commitments.
  • Learn to say “no.” Stop taking on more responsibility. Again, you will not win a prize for being the most stressed-out overachiever in your circle of friends. Volunteering is a noble way to spend your time, but stretching yourself too thin can rob you of what and who you say is important to you.
  • Be unproductive.Even if you can only manage 20 minutes a day at first, do it. Don’t read anything to further your career or impress your friends. Do something useless like walking into the yard in your bare feet just to feel the earth between your toes. Pick the honeysuckles that grace the farmers field and then try to get the “honey” out of suckle. Sit on the floor with your dog and get all covered in their hair. Dig back into your memory bank, because most of this stuff are things you probably did as a kid when your gusto for living a simpler life was the real deal.
  • Only check your email twice a day. This includes twitter, Facebook, stocks, sports scores, blog stats – anything. Checking these sites can become an addictive habit which steals time you could spend doing stuff that actually brings you joy.
  • Embrace quality over quantity. Listen to your Knower. Know what you need in the season of life that you are in and then hone in on it. Become a Specialist in that particular area. Listen to those Podcasts, read those books, go to those places, with those You don’t have to do or know it all, but what you do and what you do know, show up and give it your best.
  • Find a hobby. This is YOUR oxygen mask. Most times, we are too busy doing for others that we forget to do for ourselves. If you’ve been fed the lie that taking time for yourself is selfish, let me be your truth teller. You are essential personnel. The end. Find an oxygen mask and then regularly use it.
  • Spend time with people you love. Have you ever stopped and thought about WHY you are doing what you are doing? WHY is your life going 100 MPH? WHY are you working all the time? WHY are you ragged and worn out? Is your answer bringing you closer to or further from your inner circle of people? Relationships form the backbone of life. Sharing who you are, your hopes and your fears with another human is the surest way to slow down and enjoy life. Without close contact with other people, we grow into cold, lonely doings instead of human beings. I don’t want that and neither do you. Make time single.day to spend with the people in your life that you love. Nothing else is worth doing.

The truth is, you can do all these things; you can say no all day long and be as unproductive as you want while your feet are buried in your backyard’s dirt but if you are not intentionally being present in the moment that you are in, slowing it down won’t matter. You need to figure out, why you’re tapped out because sometimes, a day at home won’t make things better. They won’t make YOU better.

Put yourself at the top of your to-do list every single day and the rest will fall into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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