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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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life

Fail Better

“Try again, fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett

I struggle with sleep and have lost a lot of it over the last few years lamenting over the past and worrying about the future. It’s been an issue I’ve talked in great lengths with to professionals, like my therapist and medical doctors. Despite their advice, I’ve still caught myself awake in the middle of the night, in that god-awful place, worn-out and exhausted from staring at the ceiling like it’s a flat screen thats playing life’s reruns as if they are a binge-worthy Netflix series. If this is not the very definition of insanity, I don’t know what is BECAUSE WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND LIKES TO LOSE THEIR PRECIOUS ABILITY TO SHUT DOWN THEIR BRAIN FOR HOURS AT A TIME?

Jesus help me.

When it comes to my past, Samuel Beckett’s words have recently entered my brain and are helping me take a deep breath during my bouts with anxiety so I can unclench my fist and get some sleep. The premise: I CANNOT CHANGE PAST THINGS.

As far as the future goes, I’ve been reminding myself that worrying about it is asinine and basically is like praying for my worst fears to happen. That thought instantly makes me feel RIDICULOUS because I know better and helps snaps me back to reality, to the present moment, in which I take a deep breath and remind myself to simply (though it’s not always that simple) take the next step and then the next and so forth and so on.

I often feel alone in this struggle, however again, I know better.

Because here’s the thing: Taking the next step will REQUIRE FAILURE. I will not take the next step perfectly and besides, is perfection the ultimate goal? I’ve had to ask myself that hard question a multitude of times and NO is always my honest answer. So why in the hell am I scared of the future? I’m not. So bring it life.

Deep breath.

The good news is: I’m sleeping better. Welcome to the vicious cycle within my brain. If you are there too, you’re not alone.

Life is made up of a serious of moments. You and I both know this. In any one day, we each have 24 hours made up of 1,440 minutes. Why are we giving them up mulling over things we cannot do all that much about? Instead, let’s use that time being consummate practicers of TRYING AGAIN, FAILING AGAIN. FAILING BETTER.

My past, your past, is what it is. Let it be what it was. Better yet, just let it be.

Learn from it.

Forgive it.

Forgive others.

Forgive YOU.

Move on.

The future will run its jagged, little edges in you and either have its way with you or you’ll have your way with it if you’ve gleaned from the thrashing floor what you could to best navigate your next steps.

Breathe. Sleep and fail better. I am.

Write A New Story

If you take the time to honestly look at your life, you’ll discover that most of the stories you could tell have a similar theme. They sound about the same. You could sit and talk about your different experiences and/or people and they’ll most likely have a familiar undertone attached. A lot of those stories are probably really good and have been incredibly life-giving and impactful and if that’s the case, carry on as you were. Teach others what you know.

But if those stories are centered around a cyclical struggle; ie money, health, relationships…it’s time to change your story. But here’s the thing, change is hard. We get get used to the stories we tell ourselves and others. We have a love/hate relationship with them. We become accustomed to their sound and before we know it, they’ve lulled us to sleep and we become tired and complacent and don’t do the hard work to create a new story for our lives.

Since we are creatures of habit, in order for change to take place, we need to shift the way we think which in turn, shifts the way we act and directs our decisions differently. Maybe we need to learn some new skills or maybe our brains are already filled with an arsenal of information that we are choosing not to use.

Why not?

For me, the root of most of my life theme’s has been a lack of establishing healthy boundaries, which goes back to seeing myself as a person of value, someone worthy enough of creating a healthy guideline for my life. Being honest with that root has been hard, but I’m trying to intentionally shift my thought process to create new habits, and in the end, a new story…one that is inspiring, meaningful and produces the life I know I’m meant to live.

So do yourself a favor today and sit down and have a honest conversation with yourself and then sit down and have that same conversation with someone in your life that you trust, a truth-teller that you KNOW loves you unconditionally and won’t feed you any shit. Ask them what they hear when your life tells it’s story and then go from there. It’s sobering but if you can swallow a bitter pill, it will do you good. I promise.

Tackle one theme at a time and go easy with yourself as you go. But stick with it. Your well-wishes will only go so far and talk is cheap. Only your consistent intentionality will create new habits which in turn, will write a new story for your life. It’s possible. I wouldn’t be encouraging you to pursue this type of undertaking if I wasn’t currently doing it myself.

It’s never ever too late to write a new story for your life and go in another direction. This is your year. I’m cheering you on.

Wait It Out

I woke up on New Years morning and told my kids this story:

I laid in bed a few hour’s after the ball dropped only to discover that a bat was flying around my room. It was about 2:00 AM and the only thing I could think to do was pull the covers up over top my head because my Golden Retriever laid beside me oblivious and was obviously of no help. As I listened to it fly above my head, hitting the walls with its wings, I thought of what I should do and nothing was all I could think of. Eventually it would settle and find its way somewhere else or it would make a nest in my hair in the middle of the night. Whatever. I was done figuring things out for the day and wasn’t interested in creating a household pandemonium in the early morning hours. I decided to wait it out. After a few minutes, I no longer heard it so I came out of hiding too exhausted to care. Hours later I got up to use the bathroom only to discover the bat had drowned itself in my toilet.

I will forever be scarred and I’m sure you will understand why.

I don’t ever remember having a bat in this old house, but there I was, heading into the New Year with a bat overhead while laying beside the most unaware dog on the planet. I gave up looking for signs and wonders from God a few years ago, but I still pay attention. I listen differently than I used to and am slower and more hesitant for attach His name to random things, but all day, the story I told the kids, the very one I just told you, kept getting whispered back to me from a voice inside myself that was known and familiar and trusted.

2020 is about as big of a year as they come in my book as I’m on the cusp of major transition and change. Most days, I wake up worried and wondering. Fear has become my friend because there is much yet I do not know, more than that that I cannot fix.

The bat experience was a representation of how my year is most likely going to go. It’s going to scare the hell out of me. It’s loud and whipping wings are going to lap vivaciously around my head making feel as if I will be eaten alive, but it’s going to be ok. I don’t need to do much but stay the course and rest. I’ll keep trusting and hiding myself in God and if anything or anyone wants to find me, they’ll have to go through Him to get to me. In the end, everything’s going to come together and my worst fears will end up drowning themselves in the toilet, much like that bat.

I can’t tell you how much I needed that visual, but I can tell you that I didn’t ask for a sign or some supernatural experience. To be honest, I’ve kind of given up on that type of encounter because my belief system is a little shaken. I am thankful I have a God who chooses for see me, even the me who puts her faith on the back burner most days.

He is good.

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.

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.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The other night I was standing in the yard when my youngest wrapped her arms around my waist and whispered, “Mom, I want you to be happy.” I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes realizing she had intentionally sought me out. The longing in her own heart broke mine and I could do nothing to mend it but exhale.

Happiness. I don’t long for it.

It seems that many of us have been pursuing the Wall Street version of happiness with a vengeance, like the 2006 blockbuster “Pursuit of Happyness,” in which Will Smith and his real-life son become best buddies in an epic journey from rags to riches. It’s no wonder that, in the minds of many of us today, the “pursuit of happiness” is unconsciously equated with the pursuit of wealth and security.

Conventional history and popular wisdom attribute the phrase to the genius of Thomas Jefferson when in an imaginative leap, he replaced the third term of John Locke’s trinity “Life, Liberty and Property” to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in the Declaration of Independence. However in 1776, the definition of happiness evoked a different meaning than it does today. The term happiness comes from the Old Norse term happ meaning “luck” or “chance.” Given the culture the term was penned in, it made sense to say “the pursuit of” because earning a living and gathering property in one’s own self interest was not a freedom given to all men at that time. Times were changing.

And in today’s world, we have taken the term quite literally and have run with it. We believe the notion that the “pursuit of” and eventually the “having” will make us happy without realizing that often the pursuit of happiness leads us to crossroads where we get to make hard choices, many that bring unfortunate compromises. The “pursuit of” is a complicated and often convoluted path where we start putting our own *and often selfish* interest first. The very things and people we say are most important to us, often get pushed aside for the sake of obtaining something we think will make us happy. We make harmful and often dangerous choices in the name of being happy and temporarily swooned however, I find when you step outside of yourself to go after the things you think will make you happy, the anti gets upped and the happiness you once sought after ends up never being enough and on and on you go.

Don’t get me wrong, being happy is important, but happy times pass because time passes. The pursuit of happiness is elusive; it is life-long and it is not goal-centered. I believe deeply we all long to pursue a meaningful life but often take short-cuts that are not healthy and sadly, in the long run, our choices only harm those we love and wreck our future hopes of a “meaningful” life.

Happiness indeed is an inside job.

Healthiness on the other hand brings happiness, in my good opinion. It is definitely the slower, less scenic and more crooked path. In Scripture, Jesus went from town to town healing unhealthy people. Chronic illness, demon-possession…Jesus was in the healing business. Not once have I read of Jesus laying his hands on someone and making them “happy” but He did heal their sight by reminding them of WHO they were and WHO He was. It was in their healing that Life, Liberty, but most importantly, Love was found because they had encountered Jesus first hand.

If you are in pursuit of happiness, I encourage you to take a step back and shift your focus and pursue healthiness instead. Avoid short cuts, distractions and the momentarily feel goods. Remember WHO you are and walk with integrity and honor because it’s in your DNA. Guard your heart and your thoughts and be mindful and intentional about what you allow into both. If you don’t, you may be pursuing happiness when it is healthiness you are seeking most.

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.

The Price of Peace

I remember sitting at a conference once and the speaker said something profoundly simple. They said, “You are a human being NOT a human doing.” This came on the heels of year’s worth of people prophetically speaking “rest” over me.

And they were not talking about a nap.

What I’ve realized about myself is two-fold. I’m an incredibly high achiever 1). because I have a large amount of can-do in me and I think walking in excellence is huge part of who I am. 2). I’ve taken a large part of my identity as an achiever out of my insecurity of not feeling like being myself was enough.

BAM!

It’s often easy to confuse what is YOU with the things you add TO you for pomp and circumstance. I personally wanted to be THE person other people could count on to show up and…

Being THAT person has overshadowed my ability to truly show up and BE me.

So, I’ve been learning to say NO and let some of my “doings” go. It’s felt like I’ve been thrown into a roaring fire, I will not lie, but I’ve needed to know what has needed burned off to see what’s remained. What has been ME all along.

For example, I’ve said NO to three really big and wonderful things within the last week. One was time with a dear friend, one was work related and the other was involvement in a community organization.

Because I know my NO was right for me, whatever the reason at the time was. When life feels large and my are days crammed full and tight, my cup becomes empty and drained dry and THAT eats at my joy and steals my peace.

In fact, it’s not largeness that makes me overwhelmed because I often pause and reevaluate my what and my who. It’s my lack of reevaluating that often ties my hands and feet with a corse rope as I’m dropped to the bottom of the sea.

So if you are like me and tend to feel pulled here and there with expectations, real or imaginary, that you cannot fulfill…I encourage you to take a step back and reevaluate what you are saying yes to and why.

Because you cannot do it all. NO is a completely good and needed sentence. What you DO does not determine your value, your worth and most importantly of all, your identity. You have nothing to prove or compensate for. Being is enough and in that, choose wisely where you allocate your time and your energy.

It is a holy and precious act to do so.

 

Hidden

2018 marked the beginning of the worst year of my life. Could it have been worse? Indeed. That perspective and that perspective alone was a rope tethered to a deeply rooted tree that kept me from jumping off the edge when things looked bleak.

Month by month, looking back now, I watched an entire year of my existence become completely overshadowed by a grief so heavy and so dark that sometimes it felt completely impossible to bear its weight. But I did and I am here, emerging from the other side grateful, not for the experience but for the life lessons I learned from the experience.

And the experience itself is not what I want to share with you. In actuality, the experience serves no purpose and to revisit the events that led to me the very end of myself is mute. They only drudge up feelings in me that I have recently rendered unnecessary. They do not help me move forward or stay focused on where I am going. Note: I am not ignoring them, because believe me when I say they are still fully present, but I will not give them the power I did for thirteen longs months of my life.

As a writer, I kept writing through it. If you’d revisit some of my older blog postings from a year ago, I was more honest than some would have liked. I got the message loud and clear, though not said in these exact words, that if it’s not pretty, than it should not be public. So I created a secret blog and bore my heart there. It was in that secret, safe place, void of opinions that I wrote only for me and allowed myself to be raw and real, tattered and torn. But here, on Life’s Little Lessons…not so much.

And here is what I learned from it: When somebody hurts you, they do not have a say in how you walk it out.

My last post was July 7, 2018.

I checked myself into the hospital seven days later.

Afterwards, I danced around things that I wrote on Facebook to stay safe but those who could read between the lines did. I just stopped being direct and blatantly obvious by calling the kettle black because that’s what you do when you’ve been hurt. You cover up your bleeding wounds but here’s the thing, wounds still seep and ooze. They always find a way to escape the body because wounds don’t want to be concealed but healed. I realize now I was trying to find all these different angles to heal and process my pain instead of just being honest and allowing myself to be exactly where I was.

People pleasing…that’s another blog post I’ll save for later.

I was like a corpse trying to drag itself continually out of its grave instead of simply letting dead things lie so new things could be born.

So I could be.

I stayed in that grave for the entirety of 2018. Yep. Twelve long months, thirteen to be exact. I hid there because it was safe. It was miserable and lonely but I was growing attached to my pain, it was becoming familiar and known in a season filled and overflowing with confusion and change. I no longer wanted to place my feet on the path of uncertainty.

So I didn’t.

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore let alone write about. I only showed up when life mandated it and basically withdrew from my friends and family. The fact I have any left proves that God is Divine. I grew tired of questions like, “Hey. How are you doing?” because all I wanted to say was, “How the hell do you think I am doing?” 

But I had to put my game face on and run a business and feed people dinner so that answer never seemed appropriate because amidst my grief, the very death of what was and what could be, I needed to be appropriate. Always.

All around me, everyone’s lives kept on going. I envied their every-day-normalness and I hated my envy. So I stopped. I stopped engaging. I withdrew and hid because if I could not be found, I did not feel tempted to place the rotting corpse of my old life up against theirs and compare the two.

Looking back now, this is what I learned:

Grief is a bitch. It doesn’t care who you are or what you’ve lost. It is non-discriminatory and unsympathetic. There is no way around it. You must go through it.

There are days that I still hide. Fact. There are days that are hard even though I am growing comfortable with hard days. They are what they are, mere moments in time that no longer stay but there are days I cannot talk my mind into believing that. 

I looked death in the face this past year. Literally. From it, I learned to say “Have at it” because if my circumstances were not going to change, then I would. I would be reborn. At times that choice didn’t seem fair, but then I realized choosing not to learn and grow was also a choice. I have more to go but with awareness and increasing fortitude, I’m emerging from the pit. It was never a place to loathe but to embrace.

Because truth is, there were things in me that needed to die and for years I wondered what it would take for their death to become reality. Now I know.

Loss.

And with loss comes letting go.

I got what I secretly been wondering for.

So even though remnants remain, my slate is clean. I actually had a thought the other day that randomly popped into my head, a thought that went like this, “I love my life.”  It made me smile the moment I recognized that I had thought it. Love my life? Like this? Yes. I choose to keep evolving and learning better so I can do better. There are days that are messy because old mindsets reemerge because the scars are still tender but I’m able to identify them for what they are, call them by name, and tell them where to go, more so than I was ever able to before.

I’m learning to own my shit. To be accountable and say I am sorry for what I am responsible for. It keeps me out in the open, my heart beating, so I don’t retreat and hide under mounds of guilt or shame for long periods of time.

So long story short, hiding is needed friends. Do not be ashamed or afraid of it. It is a place that you cannot help but visit. There is no detour. Your wounds are painful, like a bad burn that leaves sores which are raw to the touch. They leave you gun-shy as you grapple with trust and faith but I can assure, if you make the time to heal, you do. And no one but you knows the timing of that process. You need to heal from the inside out and only you know what that is to look like.

What I do know is that the Spirit of God is good. He can handle your questions. He can take on your anger and pursues your apathetic and wounded heart. He walks towards you when you walk away and at night when you cry yourself to sleep, He is kind, gentle and embraces you with tender care. In the morning, He whispers “Arise. Come out come out because I know where you are,” and His faithfulness will overwhelm you because He is patient on the days where you think you want to try but just aren’t quite ready to.

He knows that tomorrow is another day to try again.

Hiding was never meant to be a place that you call Home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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