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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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selfdiscovery

Listen

I don’t always do it, but when I’m intentionally listening, my body tells me what it needs and my inner compass tells me which way to go. I’d say it’s usually spot on, but I’ll leave room for error because sometimes *read MOST times* I have my own agenda.

For example, the other morning I wanted nothing but coffee and something quick and sweet, but my body told me I needed water and chicken. Yes, chicken. So there I was at 7:30 AM, sitting on my couch with a plate of grilled chicken and a large glass of water. It wasn’t what I pictured, but my body was right. I’m stressed out and substance is something I am craving.

Nothing quick. No empty calories.
No shallow relationships.

I read an article this past year about the top five most stressful life events and it made me feel somewhat better in regards to my current state of inner chaos. They are:

  • Death of a loved one.
  • Divorce.
  • Moving.
  • Major illness or injury.
  • Job loss.

After reading the complete article, I felt like an over-achiever. 3/5 in one year. I can do hard things.

Truth is, we all have particularly great seasons of life and conversely, particularly not great seasons. When it’s your turn to get chewed up and spit out, you’re left feeling understandably disheveled and out of sorts (and for someone who struggles with control, it’s even more of blow when you feel you have none).

Resetting your life is both physically and mentally taxing and I’m not sharing my journey looking for sympathy because you and I both know how quickly the tables can turn. I share because there’s a difference between living “in theory” vs living “in reality”. We THINK things are going to go one way. We THINK we’ll handle things differently when they don’t. As much as I’d like to show up all pretty and pressed, real life is kind of rumply and it shows. No one is exempt. Life doesn’t have any qualms with randomly placing a bitter cocktail in front of us and telling us to drink up.

And to that, I say, “Hell to the no.”

We do not need to drink up, but we do need to listen. Just like how our bodies can’t function well for too long on only caffeine and cookies, our hearts can’t heal if we are out looking for the next quick fix. Listening to what we really need is important. I realize only now how much I filled my life with a lot of empty moments because I did not want to stay uncomfortable. My longing for ease created a bunch of short cuts that only delayed an inevitable process IN me. And all processes have their day. And their way.

Friends…please sit quietly in your heartbreak and listen. Sit quietly in your anger. In your longing. In your confusion. In it all. Listen.

Listen to what YOU need. There’s a time and a space for other people’s good opinions of what you should or shouldn’t do, but only you can choose how and when you get up and shake the dust off your feet.

Learn to trust the voice that is whispering inside of you. Learn to trust yourself.

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 Power of Presence

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

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

The ticket booth is closed for business.

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

Asshole.

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

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

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

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

Solid Footing

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

And right now, I need to take a step.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk Is Cheap

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

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

Damn them.

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

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

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

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

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

How are you doing August?

Oh…let me tell you.”

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

This is a true story.

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

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

Be Brave

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

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

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

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

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

Weak.

Incompetent.

Crazy.

A danger not only to themselves but to others.

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

Personally.

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

Because I was in one.

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

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

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

But I have more to do.

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

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

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

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Tapped Out

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

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

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

And I haven’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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