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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

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healing

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Is What It Is

You do a lot of praying. You cry and you lament and before you know it, one day turns into two and two in ten. You loose count of the week or the month or the year, but your heart reminds you of the loss and through it, the ache deepens. Your relationship hasn’t changed. Your health hasn’t. Your job is still the same. It is what it is.

Acceptance is a small quiet room. – Cheryl Strayed

One that is often padded.

Getting to the point of accepting what you wish or hoped would be different is a very hard and often lonely process. It’s a quiet resolve you make within yourself day after day to get up and show up. It doesn’t mean you’ve stopped praying or lamenting or crying, it just means you’ve begun living a new normal because the alternative is not an option. Acceptance is like having a wound hidden under the skin. You can’t see it and no one knows that it’s there and those that know, stop asking about it because they have their own wounds to attend to. It’s done its best to heal, but there’s a scar that’s naked to the eye so everything appears to be normal, but your not. When you are alone at night or the noise from the crowd dies down, your heart reminds you that you’re still longing for things to be different.

And with acceptance comes choices. You can choose do something or you can choose do nothing. Both have a cost. It is up to you and you alone to decide the course that you take with what you have so once more, you find yourself doing a lot of praying. You cry and you lament and one day turns into two and two into ten. No choice is easy and change doesn’t happen over night.

Changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use, takes a lot of energy, a lot of wisdom and an immense amount of courage. There are times when it goes so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize that being barely alive, but getting up every day and trying to do what is best, is better than living a bloated half-life in a situation that is not.

When your situation won’t change, you must. It may not seem fair but life does not take sides nor does it try to even out the scales. You need to remind yourself and allow yourself to be reminded by others that you are a powerful person. You get to choose to rise up out of the ashes. You can sit and wallow or you can stand up and shake off the debris and take a step. Both are choices that you get to make.

Because in the end, it’s not so much that you are changed but revealed. Grief is a double edge sword. You mourn not only your outside loss but your inside heartbreak that needs contended with.

If there are any words of advice I could give you, it is this. Let it happen. Let YOU happen. You are worth the process. I wish I could that it is easy. I wish I could say that I am through to the other side and living my best and most happiest life, but I’m not. I’m in the thick of things like most and the pain is as real as it was on day one.

But I will not sit back down and wallow, neither should you. There is more of us to be revealed. We have an entire world watching, waiting for us to happen. There is more to us than this.

Own It

A couple of weeks ago, I showed up at the vet for an appointment with two dogs only to be told, “I’m sorry. Your appointment isn’t until tomorrow.” But it was on my calendar. I vividly remember booking the appointment the week before and going over the date. Could I be wrong? Perhaps. Do I think I was? I truly don’t.

And tomorrow didn’t suit.

I have had happier moments. And apparently kinder ones.

And this week, another vet appointment. I walked into the reception area and was greeted with a smile from the vet tech, the same vet tech whom said several weeks ago, “I’m sorry. Your appointment isn’t until tomorrow.”

As soon as I saw her, I remembered that I wasn’t quite the kindest as I walked out the door with two dogs wrapped around my feet who were most likely wondering why the heck they were walking in and then quickly walking back out.

Silence and *possible* stomping speaks rather loudly.

Truth was, I was mad. Was it because I cleared my morning and loaded two excitable dogs into my Jeep and drove across town which is never easy or convenient during a work day? Was it because I didn’t want to be wrong and admit I may have made a mistake with the date? Was I expecting whomever made my appointment to be held to a higher standard, one of perfection, than I myself would be willing to held to?

Grace indeed is a crooked road.

But is a doable one.

As soon as I sat down, I apologized. I told the vet tech I was sorry for not being the kindest the last time I was there and I left it at that and made no excuses.

She accepted my apology and told me that my silence *and my stomping* didn’t quite seem like me and maybe I was just having a bad day. Perhaps other things were going on.

Boy were they ever.

I wish I could say that I *never* behave badly and that I am the poster child for good behavior but I obviously have my moments and some of those moments are rather large. I take my frustration out on innocent people after I allow it to build its home in me deep and wide. Through a series of unfortunate events, I’m learning that it’s important to recognize the WHY and then make amends with the HOW.

It’s important when you realize that you’ve stepped outside yourself to allow your heart to be searched so you can figure out what is REALLY going on in it. I wish I could say that I could do the figuring out all on my own but I can’t. I get snippets here and snippets there but if I really want to be the person I say I want to be, to be the person that God says I already am, then I need His help. And He gives it.

And when He gives it, there is always a small charge, a price to pay on my end. Recognizing my error or places of potential growth usually cost me the things that I often try to hold dear and close like pride, the very presentation of myself. It’s humbling to make the journey to the offering slab and lay my heart in front of another person and ask for forgiveness and admit I made a mistake.

It’s called vulnerability.

You cannot change without searching your heart and taking responsibility for your behavior. You are kidding yourself if you think you can maneuver around this process and negate this step. And if you are in a relationship with another person who refuses to take ownership of their actions and would rather place blame then take ownership, you are in a relationship with a stubborn-hearted person and the same pattern will most likely cycle back around again and repeat themselves. It’s the very definition of insanity.

If your heart gets checked and you realize that you’ve stepped outside yourself an inch or two…own it. Say you are sorry. Be sincere. Don’t make excuses. And if your heart is rarely checked…you are the author and perfector of your own faith and I wish you well.

It is very hard to be in a relationship with someone who is never wrong.

The Crooked Road

Be careful listening to anyone trying to “sell” you something that will “make” you something.

Happier.

Skinner.

More energized.

Whatever.

Doctors will prescribe pills. Friends will try to sell you their coffee or their wraps. Your pastor will point you to Jesus *and I’ll join Him to an extent*

But in the end…

It all comes down to YOU. Nothing is going to “fix” you or “make” you turn into the person you want to be except YOU.

Hard truth.

Pills can help *temporarily* but they are not a fix. Talking it through, looking at hard things, taking responsibility, establishing boundaries and extending continual forgiveness are pretty good helpers.

Coffee and wraps? Heck I don’t actually know anything about these things but I do know that eating real food, being consistent with exercising and getting good sleep are great helpers.

And Jesus? He is not your Genie and He does carry a magic wand. Rarely have I heard a prayer come to be that was not attached to someone’s intentional action post prayer; their willingness to be changed along with their fortitude and humility. He promises to walk with you but you’ve got to show up and do the work and the work is hard, especially when it comes to your heart. The good news is, the Spirit of Jesus is the most excellent Helper. He has my vote.

So if you are looking for a “fix”, you will most likely keep looking for a slew of them your whole life and may fall for whatever is out there that seems quick and easy. Take it from me, there is no quick and easy anything to change the “you” you want to be.

You can read all the self-help books you want but if you don’t consistently apply the authors principles to your life, all you’ve done is read a really good book that someone else wrote. Someone who actually took the crooked road to grace because change, especially lasting change, is hard and it’s ugly…

But it can be done.

Gather your troops and find your tribe.

Change rarely happens on your own.

Stay In Your Lane

A couple of months ago this commercial popped up on my television screen and I instantly fell in love.

Maybe I fell in love because I wanted to exude the attitude of the burly tattoo guy because I was tired of people pleasing. Maybe it was because I have tattoos and could empathize with the cautious and questioning young man in the seat getting one, is just “OK” was just that. Either way, these four little words have been in my head ever since and I’ve been trying to figure out what they mean because I know they are significant.

Sometimes what I think words are aren’t, especially when I try to manufacture their meaning. Especially when I give them a definition instead of allowing them to organically and naturally produce substance in my life.

I” was giving them definition.

I” was using them as a means to let myself off the hook from caring too much (so I wouldn’t get hurt) or from focusing on situations (and people) I could not control.

“Just stay in YOUR lane August. What they do is none of your business. What you do is none of theirs.”

Easy Peasy.

It sounded easy but every time I said those words inside my head and held on tight to that tattoo guy type-of-attitude, I found I was lonely and increasingly isolated from the rest of humanity thanks to the huge sound barriers I erected on my highway.

Perhaps the meaning I was giving my new mantra wasn’t the best. I turned words into worship, a religion of sorts like my forefathers before me and they carried strict  black and white standards to adhere to.

“Stay in YOUR lane” translated into “Mind your own *damn* business.”

And somewhere deep inside my heart, the meaning I was giving those four little words hurt my heart. What I needed was the Spirit of God to give them personal significance.

Because Jesus is simple and when He speaks, there really isn’t much to sort through because my heart agrees automatically by hearing the sound of His voice.

So one day, weeks after I left my figuring behind, Jesus interrupted my day while I was doing something incredibly random. He asked, “August, how’s your life going?”

I hesitated because quite honestly I was fixated somewhere else. Like on the dishes. My head was not on all things good or Holy and they certainly weren’t on talking with Jesus in the midst of cleaning out a sink full of dirty dishes that other people in my household could have helped with but didn’t. But that is how He works…

Jesus is *incredibly* random.

How’s my life going? Is this a trick question? My mind hurried to make sense.

Leaving no room for pause, He reworded the question, “August are you trying your best?”

I didn’t hesitate because I already knew the answer. “Yes. I believe I am trying my best.”

I wanted to follow that up with, “I could try harder and do better,” but that wasn’t necessary because I know enough to know He isn’t interested in my strides towards perfection. I knew trying my best was and always will be enough.

“So if YOU are trying your best, in the moment, in your lane, right where you are at…don’t you think that THEY are trying their best?”

“No. I don’t think they are trying their best. In fact, I don’t think they are trying at all.”

Because if they were actually trying, the results would look different.

It was an honest response because I no longer feel Jesus desires my pleasantries. My words and my heavy heart just hung in the air while I stood at the sink surrounded by a thick fog that had no where else to go but around me like some noose around my neck. Silence lodged itself in my throat and I swallowed hard.

The list where I kept track of others shortcomings lengthened and with my honesty, I made things personal. I swerved from my lane into theirs and sat in their seat.

I assumed I was God and made the assumption that I knew BETTER than Him.

I’ve realized over the last year that I have an *intense* need for control and the many ways in which I subtly disguised it revealed themselves. As much I’ve hated the path that I’ve been walking on, it’s brought me to the humbling realization that out of fear, my hands have often been on more steering wheels than what they should’ve been and because of my overactive imagination and assumption making, I’ve manufactured make-believe scenarios and brought them to life.

I think I have a propensity to do this because I’ve often felt backed into a corner, trying to make sense out of something senseless…trying to fix and ultimately, trying to save.

Though I would not necessarily classify myself as a micro-manager, I certainly haven’t been laissez fair when it comes to the affairs of others, especially with those closest to me. I’ve walked in expectation, held high standards with even the most realistic of ones and made assumptions that sadly painted other people poorly. Essentially, I’ve always given the actions or inactions of others meaning, I gave them definition, MINE. I presumed to know what they were thinking, how they were feeling and why they were doing *or not doing* what they were.

I tend to walk in the spirit of control when I ultimately feel that I don’t have any, don’t have a say, have little influence, and ultimately…don’t have the power to choose because I feel stuck between a rock and hard place.

Not true.

One of the best gifts we have been given is the power to choose because a choice is always present. Wether it be what we think about something or someone, how we respond to them…we have a say. Always.

My lane is my heart. It is a conduit, a freeway of sorts, where I process my thought life, how I’m feeling and the choices I make. I can’t possibly begin to manipulate or control someone else’s heart (even though I continuously try)…even when the choices they make steer their way haphazardly into my as if they were texting and driving.

I can only make choices on how my heart responds to their behaviorI can NOT presume to know their thoughts or how they feel. That is not my lane.

Truth is, I have my own thoughts and emotions and often times, even when I wrestle them to the ground, I don’t win. Like Paul said in the book of Romans, “For what I hate, I do.” Even on the days where I show up to the race and plant my feet squarely up against the starting line resolving to do my best…my best in someone else’s eyes might not be. Maybe they even say about me, “No. I don’t think they are trying their best. In fact, I don’t think they are trying at all.”

But they are not me. They have no idea what I’ve gone through or how I process life in my heart and head and in return, as empathetic as I can be, the same applies to me. I am not them.

Their heart is their own and they have their own lane of traffic to navigate.

So with that being said, I will keep my mantra and will stay in my own lane but it means a little bit nowadays. It is not all sharp and edgy nor does it cut people out from traveling along side me. I don’t want to be on the highway of life on my own because after a very long season of doing just that, I’m reminded I not only need others but want them. Because I have blind spots. I can’t possibly see every facade of my life on my own. Sometimes I am unaware how my words or my actions come across or make people feel and if I choose to keep unintentionally wounding people, I believe I’ll be accountable for my neglect. My relationship choices will either create a living Heaven or Hell here on Earth. Sadly I know where I am living from when I don’t believe the very best about others and presume to know what is going on inside of them.

Conversely, I don’t want to sit in someone else’s chair in some tattoo parlor just waiting to see what happens. Maybe OK is good for them but not OK with me. We are all going after different things. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We all need love, grace and understanding as we figure things out. Hopefully we are trying our best as we do so, but in the end, it is not up to others to make that determination.

The only lane we have to mind is our own.

“There’s great freedom in not compulsively interpreting other people, situations, and so on – not imposing all these judgements. ” Eckhart Tolle

 

The Pick-Up Artist

For years I hid and stuffed a large part of myself down deep. It wasn’t easy or ideal and it was exhausting but I didn’t know any different. It was what I grew up doing; not wanting to think or feel as some sort of self-protection mechanism. There was the me that I presented to the world; I was put together, talked and walked with poise and ease *in public* and then there was the me that hid and covered myself up *in private* because inwardly I was a gigantic mess. I was a consummate circus juggler and had too many balls in the air and was *worn thin* from trying to keep them afloat. 

Then I attended a life-changing conference in Nashville Tennessee. At the time, I was leading a local Mom’s group at my Church called MOPS (Mother’s Of Preschooler’s). Looking back now, I shouldn’t have been leading much of anything but I had a slew of preschoolers myself and was actually trying my best to be a good mother to them. Besides, God often goes hard after the lost and lonely and has been known to put those who don’t have it together in positions of leadership.

And I swear to God, the conference had me specially in mind from beginning to end when they picked the topic.

Masks: Why we put them on and how we take them off. 

It was a simple message with a profound punch. It didn’t make me feel like shit like it could have but instead, empowered me to emerge from the suffocating squalor I had been hiding in. When I returned home from Tennessee, I stood in front of my MOPS groups, in front of women whom I was convinced had it all together and whom I worked hard at convincing that I did and bared my soul. It was like I was auditioning for the movie “Bad Moms” where one of the moms stand in front of the PTA and admits to smoking the weed she finds in her sons bedroom. 

I share this moment in life with you because it was the first of many where I mustered the courage to be me *as is* I became increasingly brave and awake, even though I still morphed into some sorry rendition of who I thought I needed to be. I didn’t gravitate quickly *nor easily* to a mask. I walked the Earth uncovered and through it, the whole of my insides was unearthed. 

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

When you allow yourself to stand naked before the crowd, it invites others to do the same. Nakedness brings up all those things that you’ve tried to keep hidden. All your insecurities rise to the surface. Things like jealousy, anxiety, depression, bitterness…just to do some brain storming. They bring with them thoughts and feelings that are all out of sorts. And when they hit like tsunami waves, they make you believe that staying hidden and numb would have been best.

But it’s not. 

Thoughts and feelings are not bad things, in fact, they can be used for a lot of good when kept in check. It wasn’t long till I became aware that I had a deep understanding of what other people were going through…kind of like a sixth sense so to speak. I could “feel” what others were feeling, at least enough to bring me to the realization that I’m a highly empathic person. An empath.

The trademark of an empath is that we feel and absorb other people’s emotions and/or physical symptoms because of our high sensitivities. We filter the world through our intuition and have a difficult time intellectualizing our feelings. When overwhelmed with the impact of stressful emotions, empaths can have panic attacks, depression, chronic fatigue, food, sex and drug binges, and many physical symptoms that defy traditional medical diagnosis.

Here’s some nuggets of gold I’ve learned this past year:

1. Empaths are highly sensitive
Empaths are naturally giving, spiritually open, and good listeners. If you want heart, empaths have got it. Through thick and thin, we’re there for you, and are world-class nurturers. But we can easily have our feelings hurt. We are often told that we are “too sensitive” and need to toughen up.

2. Empaths absorb other people’s emotions
Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad. We feel everything, sometimes to an extreme. We take on others people’s negativity such as anger or anxiety and make it our own, which is confusing and exhausting. If we are around peace and love, our bodies take these on and flourish.

3. Many empaths are introverted
Empaths become overwhelmed in crowds, which can amplify their empathy. We tend to be introverted and prefer one to one contact or small groups. Even if an empath is more extroverted they prefer limiting how much time they can be in a crowd or at a party. This was one of the most important discoveries of myself this year.

4. Empaths are highly intuitive
Empaths experience the world through our intuition. It is important for us to develop our intuition and listen to our gut feelings about people. This will help empaths find positive relationships and avoid energy vampires *which is a thing* but we have to be careful. I find that if I don’t personally partner with the Spirit of God, I get pulled to make assumptions and judgements about people instead of initially thinking the very best of them.

5. Empaths need alone time
As super-responders, being around people can drain an empath so we periodically need alone time to recharge our batteries. Even a brief escape prevents emotional overload and is a great form of self-care.

6. Empaths can become overwhelmed in intimate relationships
Too much togetherness can be difficult for an empath so we may avoid intimate relationships. Deep down we are afraid of being engulfed and losing our identity. I’m still processing this one but I do realize I often go wide but not deep, even though I believe I walk the face of the Earth masks free. It’s easier for me to intimate with large groups of people rather than not…again, it’s something I’m looking at.

7. Empaths are targets for energy vampires
An empath’s sensitivity makes us particularly easy marks for energy vampires, whose fear or rage can sap our energy and peace of mind. Vampires do more than drain an empath’s physical energy. The especially dangerous ones such as narcissists (they lack empathy and are only concerned with themselves) can make us believe we are unworthy and unlovable. Other vampires include the chronic talker, the incessant complainer and the drama queen…just to name a few.

8. Empaths become replenished in nature
The busyness of ever day life can be too much for an empath. The natural world nourishes and restores us. It helps us release our burdens and we take refuge in every-day-ordinary places like mountains, oceans and my personal favorite…on a boat at my favorite lake. 

9. Empaths have highly tuned senses
An empath’s nerves can get frayed by too much excess

Too much details. Too much talking. Too much activity in general.

10. Empaths have huge hearts but sometimes give too much
Empaths are big-hearted people and try to relieve the pain of others *which often leads us to “fix” or “save”* A homeless person holding a cardboard sign, “I’m hungry” at a busy intersection; a hurt animal; a distraught friend. It’s natural to want to reach out to them and ease their pain but empaths don’t stop there. Instead, we take it on. Suddenly we are the one feeling drained or upset whereas we felt fine before and often leads us to feeling take advantage of.

One of lessons I’ve learned this past year is that it is essiential to have an aresenal of tools to protect my sensitivities such as praying, fierce time management, setting limits and boundaries *NO is a complete sentence* and staying in my lane by and being mindful of the traffic in MY own thought and feeling life. Being an empath is a gift, especially when I partner with the Spirit of God, but I’m learning to take care of myself.

Self-care is NOT selfish. 

And I’m learning to not take things personally. The thought life or emotional roller coaster ride that others are on is not because of ME. I am not the axle in which the world rotates itself around.

Friends, we don’t always have to DO something with what is before us. We can actually choose what we pickup and what we put down and when things are dumped on us, we can rise up out of the heap, dust ourselves off and walk out of the crazy.

Sometimes it is one of the kindest things we can do. 

Wish Them Well

At some point in our lives, we’ve all been hurt. Taken advantage of. Lied to. Disrespected. Not appreciated or treated with dignity, respect or any kind of love when things unravel at the end.

The thing is, none of us are ever immune from being on both sides of the equation. That’s just how life works. We unintentionally hurt people and we have been unintentionally hurt.

I genuinely believe people are doing the best they can in the moment, even when their best, quite frankly, sucks. That genuine belief can often make it challenging to reach deep inside ourselves when someone has hurt us to find an ounce of compassion or a genuine desire to wish them well as they move on in life.

My own struggle with this has been an ongoing, and by no means, linear path. I have always desired to wish those people who have hurt me well—to genuinely (and I mean genuinely) want them to be happy and at peace.

Why?

Because we ALL deserve this, no matter what mistakes and missteps we’ve made in the past. It’s the Golden Rule.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” – Matthew 7:12

But oftentimes we may find that we have a different inner dialogue going on inside our heads. We may want to do the right thing and wish them well, but instead we find ourselves thinking:

“You don’t deserve to be happy after the way you treated me. I hope someone treats you like you’ve treated me *or worse* so you know how it feels.”

 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. – Romans 15-20

Ever? Please for the love of God tell me that Paul and I are not alone.

If we are, so be it, but if not…cut yourself some slack. The struggle is real. You’re human.

When people hurt us, we want them to hurt back. Sometimes we want worse for them *like for them to die quietly in their sleep* It’s the inner child in us rearing its ugly little head.

Unfortunately, thinking that way is never going to get us what we actually want, which is real contentment and peace in our own lives. We can’t move forward from a relationship if we’re still looking backward, casting stones at the person or people who have hurt us.

Trust me on this one.

How can we expect ourselves to be truly happy *and I mean the no-bullshit-I’m-not-still-holding-grudges kind of happy* when we’re still exerting energy wishing someone from our past ill will?

Truth is, we can’t. We’re still giving the pain power over our life. By not choosing to forgive and letting go, hoping that they’re miserable, we’re allowing the pain to continue to cause us even more harm. And trust me, they don’t know or care that we’re still obsessing over them and losing sleep thinking of all the ways we’d like to see their life blow up in their face.

They’ve moved on—remember?

But us? We’re continuing staying stuck energetically and emotionally in an experience that already caused us enough pain. We become the poster child of what insanity looks like.

This is one of the most important and hardest (to practice) life lessons I’ve learned in 2018:

When somebody doesn’t want us to be in their life, they’ve done us a monumental favor by letting us go.

Even though we may secretly obsess over the details, it doesn’t matter HOW they hurt us and let us go. They may have done it in the most cowardly, selfish, manipulative and hurtful way…they did us a favor.

Point being, people either want to be in a relationship with you or they don’t. If they’ve hurt you, they will own their part, ask for forgiveness and make the changes needed on their end or they won’t.

Period. End of story.

We can’t convince other people who have hurt us that they have and we certainly can’t control how they handle things and process through. We can’t change the past and how things took place. We are powerful but not that powerful. What we can control is what we think about and how we treat people. We can shift our focus in wishing those people the highest, most genuine healing and happiness and love the universe can bring them, because those people *the ones who have little awareness or consciousness of the pain they’ve caused others* they need it the most.

Because the overused cliché is true: Hurt people hurt people.

We spend so much of our lives telling other people what they should feel and how they should do things, from loving us to letting us go. I’ve learned that the best way we can teach people to be better in these situations is to model what being better looks like with our actions and not our words.

It means modeling kindness and forgiveness and understanding, even when we feel they don’t deserve it and life is not fair. It means modeling taking the high road when every fiber of our being wants to take the lowest road possible.

It means having enough love for ourself that we want to be free of the past so that we can have a better future—one that doesn’t involve lugging around that old story of the person who brought us so much pain like a backpack full of jagged rocks.

So on your heavy days, envision yourself toting that jagged backpack around and ask yourself if it’s worth it. Trust me, it’s not. It will wear you thin like paper and you will topple down the mountain you are trying to scale.

Just put it down and let it go. Cycle. Repeat. A zillion times as needed because this type of thought process is like upside down thinking. Wish them love. Wish them happiness. Wish them a future filled with all of their own dreams coming true. Thank them for setting you free.

I promise, in the end, you’re the one who will feel a whole hell of a lot lighter.

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