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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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past

Stay Present

I think it’s good to look forward to things, to have something on the horizon that is kind of out there but within our sight and reach. I think sometimes that’s why we plan vacations, not to necessarily escape our regular-every-day- lives but to fully live them.

Not only is it wise to do so, it is needed.

I realize now, all the big trips I’ve ever been on have been planned by someone otheer than myself. When I was in direct sales, I received the itinerary months prior to the departure date for the free trip I earned and just showed up wide-eyed and ready to adventure. As a family, we headed to Rehoboth Beach each summer with extended family, which was booked by my mother and basically was like winning the lottery because Grandma’s afford tired mothers the ability to sleep past the butt crack of dawn.

I truly have been a kept woman when it comes to vacation planning.

But as life does, life changed.

So a couple of weeks ago, after months of talking about it, I woke up and called my mother’s travel agent. “Hi Joyce. This is August. Cindy’s daughter. I want to book a cruise for myself and three kids. I want to go in July and I want to leave from Baltimore. What do you have?”

Within five-minutes I was booked and in July, the kids and I will make a five-night jaunt to Bermuda a reality. The experience of booking and subsequently paying (a sobering experience) has been incredibly empowering. I saw my horizon and I knew what I wanted and since I am not fond of details, I’m grateful that other people are and know how to get me where I want to go.

I feel like such an adult.

Besides learning how to be my age, I especially love to travel. I love to explore and make new discoveries. I enjoy meeting interesting people and having new experiences and through it, am able to see, hear and taste different cultures and ways of living. It broadens my horizon and my persepctive…which is an adult thing to do.

But every time I get away, no matter how far I go or how much fun I have, it’s always good to go Home.

I use the example of physically going to a destination as a metaphor of what many of us do in everyday life, but instead of traveling TO somewhere physically, we use our thought-life as the vehicle that whisks us away. We dream about that perfect destination and what life would be like if we could just get there…

We day-dream and jaunt in and out of our present day reality to places in our future. We do it with relationships, the jobs that we have, the houses we live in, the cars that we drive and the clothes that we wear. We attempt to escape our present day sufferings by longing to trade in our current life for another. We romanticize how if we could just inch towards…

Our life would be better. More complete. Somehow different. But often times, that little visit riddle’s us with anxiety, stress, worry and fear. “How in the hell am I going to get there?” That thought steals our current moment, propelling us to figure the future out. We get ahead of ourselves, trying to fix and manipulate situations that haven’t yet, or may ever happen.

We also have the propensity to travel backwards in time to our past, replaying certain experiences in our heads like we have front row seats to an old Shakespearean tragedy which never really gets us where we ultimately want to go. Often times, hanging out too long in those VIP seats makes us susceptible to bouts of depression, resentment, shame and emotions that are hurrid and spastic. We become unsteady and those thoughts and feelings fill us with dread. They make it difficult to roll out of bed, have an attitude of gratitude and take the necessary steps to live in the here and the now. It’s a vicious cycle of expectation, disappointment, reaction and guilt. Wounding and offense envelope us.

How can I speak of such things?

I’ve lived such things.

Our thought travel navigate our life choices. Our behavior is dictated by what we think on and where we dwell. If we want to keep rehashing our past, we will live there, most likely sounding like a broken and boring record to any unlucky soul within ear shot. Similarly, if we want to keep dreaming about all these great and wonderful things we will someday have or do, but never take steps in the here and the now…we diminsh our credibility as well as our voice.

Here’s a little life lesson I gleaned from 2018:

The counselor I’ve been seeing is just as important as the travel agent I booked my cruise through. Both are helping me go where I could not go on my own. Joyce is helping me get away with my kids so we can snorkel together, which is a dream of mine and my counselor is helping me to heal from the inside out by carefully looking at my life. She’s like my own personal organizing consultant Marie Condo who wrote the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” I sit with her for an hour every few weeks and pick something up in my hands (be it an old memory or a present day happening), and she helps me decide if there is purpose for it to remain in my current life. Does focusing on that memory help me move forward and upward or is it holding me back and stunting my growth? Does dwelling on that thought bring help or harm to myself and others in the here and now?

Those questions ultimately lead me to remember my purpose in the life.

It is not necessarily to DO things. I’ve chased after titles, accolades and attention. I have a shelf full of dusty trophies and article clippings but at the end of the day, they are just that, clutter. I have to continuously remind myself that I am not a human doing but a human being. Being is most important.

Being love.

Being kind.

Being forgiving.

Being brave.

Being all of this and more, but most importantly…

Being present.

I cannot be loving or kind to the person in front of me if I am stuck too far back in life or dreaming of a vacation that’s somewhere too far ahead. I cannot be forgiving . I cannot be brave. I cannot be myself if I am continuously chasing that “someday maybe” who is tethered to what she will do…I have to be present in this very moment and not get too far ahead of myself.

Likewise, regret serves little purpose. Yes it can be a great teacher if listened to in the moment but dwelling on the things I wish I could do over only brings angst and sorrow. Want a do over? I’ve got it. It’s called today. This very moment that I am in.

When I allow my mind to quiet itself, I imagine myself standing on the shore, a vast and beautiful ocean before me. The water is lapping at my feet, the foam tingling my toes, and then it’s gone and the weight of my body presses my being deeper into the sand. The water laps again. My toes tingle once more.

Through this image, I hear the Spirit of God whisper, “Let life come like waves to the shore.”

In and out. In and out.

YOU are the shore.”

I am Home with my feet buried deep in the sand that it is almost impossible to move. It dries quickly like cement and then fills in the gaps, again and again.

The water comes in and it goes back out. The moments come and they go, I don’t have to try to have another one because another one is already afforded to me. It is here. Standing before my eyes.

What’s most important in life is standing, with our feet buried deep, in the present moment. The mundane and regular where it appears that not much is happening or is all that exciting. It’s the laundry and the cooking, the endless routines and piles of work and conversations that never go quite like we planned. It’s the heartache and loss and learning continuously to let go and the joy of knowing what to keep. It’s letting our future rest unknown in the hands of a known God who continuously graces us with a revolving door of people whom we can somehow touch and opportunities to fulfill our purpose.

We miss them if we aren’t paying close enough attention. Our eyes glaze over the people and possibilities placed in our path if we are not careful.

The past and the future both teach us to love in the present. What other purpose would they have? They encourage us to look at life though a different lens, one clearer and not as smudged as our orginal experiences have taught us, to be kinder and somehow gentler than we ourselves have been handled. They teach us to look forward and upward, to have hope and to be full of anticipation and excitement for life. They encourage us to be courageous, even when we are unsure and scared so we can take steps toward something bigger and better than what we currently see…

The fullest life possible.

At the end of our days, if we loved well, we lived well.

Stay present.

 

 

 

 

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Make Room 

The perfect morning to me is a cup of coffee, the couch and a book and time void of hustle and rush. Slow. Slow makes it truly, truly perfect and as Chief Hopper says in the very first episode of Stranger Things

“MORNINGS ARE FOR COFFEE AND CONTEMPLATION.”

And this morning I found myself having it all. The coffee, the couch and book…with plenty of time to get lost in some thought or some conversation and they walk right past, stuck in their morning routine, just the same.

“Come sit with me for a bit,” I say and I make room on the couch. I want more than just the normal Sunday Morning. I want their presence.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about PEOPLE. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Isn’t that Christmas? I think of people in particular…their role in my life, my role in theirs and our influence on one another. I’ve been asking a lot of questions, gleaning a few answers and in between doing a lot of soul-searching.

There is more to life then living from here to there. There is a place in between.

In the past few days I’ve sat with people when it wasn’t convenient or easy and through it, I’ve realized once more how important it is to give each other our presence. We all want to be seen and heard and sometimes, most times, I liken all of humanity to the old stainless steel tea-pot that sits on my gas stove: We take time to warm up. We don’t want hurried along like we are an appointment on someone’s calendar or an errand they are running that can eventually be crossed off their list.

But sadly, most times, that is what we get.  Remnants of someone’s leftovers, their seconds, their hurry, their less than best.

Looking back now, I can see where that rush has caused more than a problem or two. Lack of presence places Constance where intact should be forged and before you know it, it’s easy to feel like distrusting strangers.

I think it’s the people in my every day crazy, when things aren’t calm and slow, that I’ve needed to pay closest attention to. The ones I’m most likely to whiz right by or take for granted have needed my solid and sturdy legs to remain strong yet bendy so I could ask simple and basic questions.

**Like**

“How are you?”

How many times do we dig our heels in and wade through the awkward silence for their answer? Their REAL answer.

Not many enough.

Conversely, last night as I was putting on my shoes, a random thought popped into my head. I thought of one person in particular, one I’ve been giving too much time and attention to though they havn’t been anywhere in my travels, no where in my circles but they indeed have been taking up space in the thoughts inside my head. As I laced up my last shoe, I didn’t think but more RESOLVED that they were a common denominator in too many of my here-and-now-life-problems. Too much of what I have rolling on the inside of me has their name attached and just like that… I made the decision to take them out of my equation.

And I realized I can do that.

Just. Like. That.

I’ve been giving them too much space through no fault of their own and in the big picture, it’s been frustrating. I’ve allowed their influence to tip some scale inside my life in a less than life-giving way and I refuse to carry them with me into the New Year.

I choose to no longer give them a seat on the couch that is housed in a room within my head. I stood tall after tying my shoes and within moments, showed them to the door. I don’t need to think about them or talk about them because to do so, places an unhealthy, unbalanced importance where it shouldn’t and afterwards, I’ve wondered WHY I’ve ever given away such a powerful choice.

And the sad but wonderful thing about this moment, in the midst of shoes and laces is this…

My resolve has nothing to do with an actual person as first assumed. Sure there’s a name but in the grand scheme of things, it could be a hundred names. They were merely just a representation of a festering wound and I think I needed someone, essentially anyone, to blame.

And since blaming does no good.

Here’s the door.

Be free.

What they represented to me has to go. I need to make room in my heart for vision and hope and joy and laughter and I don’t want to make time for the incessant chatter things past try to hold me to.

We need to free up space friends for real people. Not for the stupid things people do or our assumptions about them. Not for past hurts that keep replaying like a broken record. Not for our offenses or the sordid scenarios that we play and then rewind again and again in our head. Sometimes it IS as simple as refusing to give those thoughts an audience and if it means for a while that the name that’s attached goes unmentioned so you can quit your bad habit, then let it be so. Go cold turkey. Do whatever you can to think favorably again.

It’s not about cutting our losses. We need to look at the rooms within our homes and examine what is filling them. Sometimes it gets a little crowded with stuff and I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to have a full house, I’d rather have it packed with presence. People presence. Not poor thinking OF people presence because at the end of the day, negative attention is STILL attention and takes up space. An awful lot of it.

Friends I’m short on time and like you, I want to make my time count. I want my presence count. If I have any resolutions this year it is this:

want the person standing in front of me to walk away knowing they were heard and seen **THAT THEY WERE LOVED** and I want my thoughts to count.

I don’t have people to waste. I don’t have thoughts OF people to waste.

Neither do you.

Making Sense Out of Christmas 

I woke up early this morning and said good-bye to our son. His ninety-six hour leave would come to an end in a few hours and he has to report back for three days before he could venture home again. I hug him and his girlfriend tight and tell them to be safe and that I love them, all the things I’m growing accustomed to saying when we part ways and moments later I crawl back to bed. I don’t have any trouble falling asleep and I wonder if I had truly woken up because sleep comes quickly and the minutes spent saying good-bye now feels like a dream.

I wake up for real several hours later and take the dogs out. The thought of heading to the barn crosses my mind but the thought of hot coffee nags and wins. I resolve to feed my miniature pig Rosie the next time I’m out and walk through the front door. My brain scans the living room that houses an incredibly dead Christmas tree and I begin plotting out my day.

It’s time to make sense out of Christmas.

Needles lace the floor and I almost cannot see the carpet. I’m not really sure what happened because I never missed a beat and was faithful in watering but I apparently missed something somewhere because evidence points to the obvious. It is dead. The tree has got to go…today.

The dog quickly finds a candy cane and then shortly after, a forgotten toy, and I feel as if I never stopped raising toddlers and somewhere between the living room and the coffee pot, I remind myself to go slow and smile because smiling is important.

I get to work.

I start in the kitchen and eventually meander my way back to the living room; sorting, unpackaging…trying to find a place for everything that was recently brought into this home. “Christmas is more than this,” I remind myself. It is more than the gifting and the eating and the cleaning.

But today it feels just like that and I am done.

An hour later, my husband comes into the house and tells me he went out to feed the chickens and found Rosie. She had died sometime between when I fed her yesterday morning and today. At first I have no words. I really don’t even know what to say about a pig I wasn’t supposed to love.

But did.

I think of our barn and how it’s housed calves, chickens, 4-H pigs and now little Rosie. I think of the smell, the cobwebs, the mice and the dirt and I wonder if moving Rosie from our home to the barn a few years was a good move. Did we cut her life short in the transfer? My brain scrambles to make sense and it can’t. Was she old in miniature pigs years? Was I feeding her enough? She was social and here I stuck her in the barn, no longer having room for her in my house. I don’t have answers so I shake my head and resolve to let those thoughts go. It will do no good to sort that out because there is no sorting. My little pig is dead.

The most random of all pictures comes to my head; a feeding trough. It’s one of the dirtiest and foulest things in a barn if not kept clean and I instantly think of how Jesus was laid in one at His birth. I don’t know why I think of this at the same time I think of that little pig, laying cold on the barn floor but I do.

I think of the packages that fill my home and the needles from my dead tree that fill the floor and the list of all the things I want to get done and thoughts of my son still flutter through my head. I look around the kitchen at my husband and kids. They sit, both quiet and compassionate, waiting for me to respond terribly with tears, but I don’t. It would be awkward to cry over a little pig and I do awkward enough. 

This is what I tell myself.

I think in my trying to make sense out of Christmas, I was trying to package Christmas up so I could move forward and get back to life as normal. I wanted to move forward from the gifts. Move forward from the floor laced with needles. Move forward from the busy and the chaos and the goodbyes.

And here all along, Jesus was reaching into me from the barn, reminding me there is no normal to move on to. He was trying to show me what Christmas really is: Love comes in unexpected ways and in unexpected forms. Jesus, the baby in the manager who I now call my closest friend, reminds me to open my heart wide; unbiased and unrestricted. Hours later I give myself permission to cry, even if just for a little and I wonder if the Innkeeper had known who Jesus was if he would have given him more than just the barn, more than just a feeding trough, more than…

So I choose today to not put Christmas away. I choose to stay focused on my family as I walk around the clutter as needles cling to my feet. I choose to allow my heart to relentlessly love who and what it loves, to be surprised when the unexpected stranger knocks on its door and to embrace the unsuspecting.

One thing we should never have to do is apologize for our hearts.

 

 Upside Down

Rejection.

I think I’ve battled it since the womb and I’ve wondered if it’s the first thing people see when they looked at me. Has it been something I’ve hidden behind or has it been a shiny little pin I’ve worn on my lapel and I’ve used it as an excuse for the things I’ve done?

Probably both.

My parents dated in high school and my mother was a year older than my father which made him a Senior when she announced she was pregnant with me. He was honorable and gave her a little ring, which I store in a little wooden box in a chest in my room since their divorce, and I choose to believe they went in, full of hope, that a baby would save them.

But rejection was rooted deep in my family and everyone had their own baggage long before I was born. Unfortunately, as much as I love them both, their baggage became mine and sooner or later I had my own and before I knew it, everything was jumbled and it became very difficult to sort what was theirs, what was mine and what was ours.

I took it all.

Fast forward to my own marriage and here we are, all jumbled. Maybe we are normal. Maybe jumbling takes place in every marriage. Maybe every couple has their share of heart aches and breaks. Maybe it’s part of being human and being in human relationships. I am not really sure but one thing I am sure of is this:

I have continually allowed myself to feel rejected based off other people’s responses TO me. If it’s not what I had hoped for or what I had envisioned it would be…if their words did not match their actions and I found myself in the presence of a good talker rather than a good walker, I’d allow the perceived lack **of whatever** to pretty much obliterate my identity. I become worthless and not enough. Not valued. Not really liked or loved. I essentially allowed man to take the place of God and I’d worship the opinion and the approval of flesh and blood rather than The One who already says I am…

And I tell myself it’s easy. Too easy. “Anybody who has been through what I’ve been through within the span of my short life would be looking through the same clouded and muddled lens.” As soon as I have that thought, I realize I’m double-minded and rejection IS the shiny pin I wear on my lapel. I use it as an excuse. Rejection has been an old friend and as much as I loathe it, I don’t know how to live without it.

So over the last two weeks, I’ve been waking up each day choosing to intentionally posture myself to see how God sees.

How God sees me.

“Who am I?”

I need reminded because I’ve obviously forgotten.

I think of Jesus and I think of one of my favorite verses in scripture:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

This is WHO HE is. This is ME.

I read further and know I’ve been thinking like a child. I looked up the scripture “Do unto others and they do unto you,” and all I find is this: 

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” Luke 6:31

Damn.

I think again of Jesus. My thoughts always go back to Him and I realize that deep within me, what I’m really longing for is to become Love. Not just a little bit here or there. Not just in pieces and parts or to have characteristics of but to BE…

So I give up my childish ways and I show up and it hurts. It hurts more than I thought it would.  It makes me feel naked and exposed. It feels all upside down. It sears my flesh and feels like salt on an open wound and it is not always reciprocated and as much as I want to adjust myself and alter WHO I AM based off of how someone responds to me, I do not. I choose to believe I’m worth someone’s time and attention because I know that I am and that knowing allows me to give freely without strings.

Until I stop reacting to my circumstances and start responding to the love of Jesus, my circumstances will not change.

And I know it.

Don’t stop showing up and being you based off of how people respond to you. How you love anything is how you love everything for love is a quality of relationship more than a statement about the worthiness or deservedness of the object loved. -Richard Rohr

What is Forgiveness Anyway?

I sat around a table Saturday morning at our monthly woman’s group gathering and we were going around the table sharing when someone spoke up and asked a question that has been with me since.

“What is forgiveness anyway?” (or something to that effect).

We ping ponged back and forth sharing our experience of it and on we went.

But it hasn’t left me. No. Not one bit.

Last night the Hunger Games was on TV so while in the kitchen making dinner, I had it on. Katniss had just volunteered herself as tribute in her sisters place and Peeta had just walked up on the platform. They were encouraged to shake hands and Katniss flashes back to a memory of living in District 12. It was a memory where she was hungry, wet and cold and sitting outside a bakery that Peeta’s family owned. He comes out with burnt loaves of bread and feeds them to the pigs. He sees her sitting in the rain and throws her one haphazardly like she is an animal too.

Flash forward. She shakes his hand begrudgingly.

Katniss has not forgiven.

That memory is shown again on the train as they travel towards the Capital. The reality that her and Peeta are on the same “team” keeps her going back to that cold, wet day. It is the memory of him she has lodged in her brain, the very memory of him that remains in her heart and keeps them working against one another instead of WITH one another.

It makes me think about forgiveness and how often I too have been like Katniss Everdeen, stubbornly replaying a bad memory in my head and in my heart when it comes to a particular person. Like a broken movie reel, I play it and then hit rewind, again and again. The more the memory is replayed, the more I add to it. The more not good feelings and thoughts are attached to what now is a very twisted scenario and I get offended all over again. Each and every time.

Rita Mae Brown once said, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.”

I could agree more.

I know from experience there is not a clear-cut definition of what forgiveness is. My sharing with you probably only touches a single aspect of it because it is multi-faceted and probably looks different for all of us. For me, I know whenever I refuse to stop propping my feet up in the back of some old movie cinema watching bad memories replay over and over, I take steps towards healing and healing always opens me up again to loving.

Jesus implored the Father on the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” I really do think He was saying, “Father, LOVE them…”

And my heart opens up more easily when I am focused on moving forward. The past is the past. I can live there, in what happened or what was said but then I realize that I am not really living for one can only live in one moment at a time. If I choose to live THERE then I cannot live HERE. And here is where I want to live.

I am sure life has afforded you with opportunities to discover what forgiveness is to you. Probably as you read, someone has come to mind. Someone attached to a memory that constantly gets replayed in your head; a memory that holds you back from moving forward.  Perhaps that person is YOU. I can’t tell you what to do to forgive. I believe it is a process and looks different overtime and is an act of our choosing and not a feeling. I have found that the more I choose to intentionally keep my heart open to being searched, the more acutely aware of how much I truly am loved. Unconditionally. I always have been and always will be. And if I have been loved like that as in, “Father, LOVE her for she knows not what she does…”

Surely I can do the same.

Much Love,

August

 

Round Table Discussion:

*What is your initial reaction to the concept of forgiveness? How do you feel about the whole idea of forgiveness as a necessity?

*What does forgiveness look like to you? How have you given it and how have you received it?

*What characteristics in your life might indicate that you haven’t fully forgiven past hurts, even if you know in your head what you need to do?

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