Summer Lovin' (and an Amazon Gift Card Giveaway!)

Well, Hello Summer!  It is so good to see you!  So many images and thoughts come to mind when you think of summer.  Whether it’s Ella smoothly crooning about livin’ easy or Will Smith reminding us it’s time to sit back and unwind, for most of us summer is our time to slow down, relax, and reset ourselves. There are so many sights, sounds, and even smells that go along with summer.  Waves rolling into the beach.  Orange and pink sunsets.  Lightening bugs.  Crickets chirping.  The crack of the bat and the cheer of the crowd.  Citronella wafting through the night air. Yes, summer has a way of tickling all our senses.

This is the season of the year where it is okay to stay up a little later, have one more cookie because hey it’s summer, or linger a little longer over your al fresco dinner.  It is almost as if Summer means doing the things you don’t have time to do or don’t give yourself permission to do the rest of the year.   Here is what summer means to me and why I am looking forward to this summer in particular!

 

  1. My Nike shortsNike-Womens-Race-Shorts You know the game stranded island where you list the things you would want to have with you if you were stranded on an island?  If I were stranded on an island, I would want to have my Nike shorts.  I love them.  No, I mean I LOVE them.  They are literally the most comfortable item of clothing I have ever put on my body.  No, I'm not a runner, and yes, I am that person who wears athletic gear without being the least bit athletic.  But whatever because summer means I get to wear my Nike shorts as often as possible!
  2. My Happy Placelake This is my happy place.  This view.  Now picture this view with the breeze slightly blowing, the soft hum of boats in the distance, and wind chimes creating the perfect background music. Perfection.  Summer means I get to enjoy my happy place.
  1. Read, Read, Readphoto I love to read, and I love to read in the summer.  In the winter and spring, I even start thinking about all the books I want to read in the summer.  And yes, the picture is my stack for this summer.   I can’t wait.  There are a couple of others I would like to get but I'm trying to have self control.  What can I say?  I’m a therapy nerd.  I love to read about what I do. :)  (BTW, I started Jesus Feminist last weekend... very good!)
  1. Slowing Downslow sign with turtle silhouette I try to limit commitments in the summer so this time can be an intentionally slower season.   I’ll admit I’m not the best at staying balanced 24/7, but summer is my finish line, so to speak.  It is my time to slow down.  Summer means resetting so that I am ready to dive into fall.
  1. My Loved Oneswomen-laughing For me, summer is about seeing my loved ones.  Whether that is dinner with friends, going to visit family, or family coming in town, this season just always seems to be synonymous with connection.  Let the laughter and storytelling commence!

 

So here’s to summer!  In honor of this season, I thought I would do another giveaway (plus it has been forever since my last giveaway!).   Comment below with what summer means to you or why you are looking forward to this summer in particular, and I will do a drawing at the end of this week for two $15 Amazon gift cards!  I would love to hear from you!  Have a fabulous and fantastic summer!

Thoughts for Thursday... Climbing Mountains and Gaining Wisdom

Last week we discussed the curious truth about pain. Pain tells us something. It tells something has happened and something needs to change. Even though we understand pain and even though we know our pain will not last forever, pain is still… painful. Which leads to the bigger question- how do we survive our pain?

I am a super visual person. I constantly think in images. Years ago when I was going through a particularly painful period of life this is the image that played in my mind over and over like a song on repeat.

You are standing at the bottom of a mountain in the pouring rain. The rain is coming down so hard that the mountain has turned into a mountain of mud. Your eyes can barely cut through the sheets of rain and dense fog. You start to climb. You climb a few feet finding a rock for footing here and a branch to grab onto there. Your legs push you; your arms pull you. Then your foot slips, your tired hands loosen their grip, and you slide back to the bottom.

You start climbing again and this time you know which rock can steady your foot and which branch can bear your tug. You climb a little higher this time, grab another branch, reach for another tree root. And then you slide down again. You’re drenched. You’re covered in mud. Your knees are skinned and your hands are blistered.

But you keep getting up and you keep climbing. You crawl through the mud. You grab the branches and rocks that you know will hold you because they have been tested in your previous attempts. You learn your way rock by rock, branch by branch, and slide by slide. Each time you make it a little quicker to the point where you lost it previously because you know what worked and what didn’t.

You crawl and climb, climb and slide, and repeat that cycle as many times as you have to until you reach the mountain top... that safe haven. The slides down the mountain weren’t mistakes or failures or setbacks. They were lessons in knowing where to put your trust and where to place your footing.

Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.  Yes, indeed.  How do we gain the wisdom and heal the pain?  We climb the mountain.  We keep climbing the mountain.   Are you ready to start climbing?

The Truth About Pain

Sometimes when I scan my bookshelves I have to chuckle because I’m rather sure Amazon must think I am a pretty troubled soul.  My bookshelves and my Amazon Wish List are filled with titles about loss, disappointment, and pain.  I suppose it is a liability of my profession, but even before I became a therapist, I was drawn to reading and understanding how we deal with and overcome pain in our lives.  I realized a couple of years ago that I think one of the reasons I keep reading about the darker side of life is that I keep searching for new answers.  I think deep down I’m holding out hope that maybe someone has found a new take on heartache or new research that shows how we can avoid pain or make pain stop once it starts.  I think I secretly hope that when I click on those articles on Yahoo that promise 5 Easy Steps to Let Go of Resentment and Disappointment that there really will be five easy steps that I haven’t heard before. Sadly, that is never the case.

Several years ago, though, I did read something that changed how I saw pain and the purpose of pain in our lives.  Yes, I said the purpose of pain.

In Philip Yancey’s Where is God When it Hurts, he talks about the work of Dr. Paul Brand. Dr. Brand worked primarily with leprosy patients.  Probably like most people, my understanding of leprosy has been shaped by what I learned in Sunday School as a child.  In my mind, leprosy was this horrible skin disease from back in “Jesus times”, and lepers had scabby skin, open wounds, and had to shout “Unclean, unclean” if anyone came near.

I was surprised to learn that leprosy is not a skin disease.  Leprosy affects the nervous system, and it takes away a person’s ability to feel pain.  It makes a person completely numb to pain.  Consequently, when they injure themselves they may not realize how significant the injury, which leads to further harm, infections, gaping wounds, and eventual lost limbs.

Their inability to feel pain actually makes their life and health worse.

Interesting.

To aid his patients, Dr. Brand and his engineers developed a type of glove with sensors that signaled a warning when the patient was unknowingly hurting himself.  Initially the signal was a loud alarm, but Dr. Brand found that despite the loud noise signaling the patients to stop what they were doing, they would continue in their activity even though they knew they were hurting themselves.

Dr. Brand then tried using a flashing light and eventually resorted to using a slight electric shock to get the patients to stop their unintentionally self destructive behavior.  He discovered, though, that patients started switching off the shock feature when they really wanted to do something that they knew would trigger the warning.  Self-will proved stronger than self-care.  He eventually gave up on the project because it proved too costly and completely ineffective.

Philip Yancey said in conclusion, “By definition, pain is unpleasant, enough so to force us to withdraw our fingers from a stove.  Yet that very quality saves us from destruction.  Unless the warning signal demands response, we might not heed it.

Pain forces us to stop.  Pain forces us to listen.

Physical pain is the body’s alarm system. If you sprain your ankle running, pain tells you something wrong has occurred and gets you to pay attention to the wounded area so you don’t keep hurting yourself.  Pain tells us something very important.  It tells us that something has happened and that something is wrong.

Emotional pain is our heart’s alarm system telling us something is wrong and that something has (or has not) happened.  Heartache and disappointment, the forms of pain we wish to avoid most in life, force us to stop and re-evaluate.   Emotional pain signals to us that we need to do something differently.  Maybe the signal is telling us to try something new.  Maybe it’s telling us to pause and wait for more information.  Maybe it’s telling us to move on entirely.

Pain can serve a purpose.  Sadness, disappointment, discouragement can serve a purpose.  These difficult experiences force us to pay attention and to re-evaluate our actions, our choices, and our decisions.

Pain is the siren of our heart and the validator of our life experience.  It signals when something has happened and it validates that, yes, it was a big deal.  Pain says Stop. Mourn. Grieve. Rage. Weap.  What happened to you mattered.  What is happening IS a big deal.  Don’t minimize it.  Don’t brush it under the rug.  Don’t numb it.  Don’t avoid it.

Without pain- without heartbreak, loneliness, disappointment- we sometimes would not know when to stop and we may end up doing ourselves more harm.  We wouldn’t know when to get out of the relationship.  We wouldn’t know when to leave the job.  We wouldn’t know when to say no and set boundaries.  Pain can actually be a great teacher and instigator of change, if we let it.  Yes, we may convince ourselves that numbing, ignoring, and avoiding are the better options, but they are not.  Being emotionally numb does not lead to NOT being hurt; it just leads to NOT knowing when the hurt is being done.

But pain is never pleasant.  As much as I have read and heard “Rejoice in your suffering,” that is often a hard pill for me to swallow because pain hurts, and my survival instinct says avoid pain, numb pain, reject pain.  My survival instinct says all those things, but the seeds of truth and wisdom that try to take root in my mind remind me that pain can have meaning, it is not eternal, and every wound can be bound up and healed.

What is the truth about pain?  The truth about pain is that it always hurts and it is never comfortable, but pain can tell us something.  It can tell us something we need to hear and that just might save us from our own destruction.

What is your pain telling you today? What has your pain told you in the past? How can you embrace your heartache so that it shapes your life rather than stops your life?

But There Was Meat in Egypt!! (Lessons on Letting Go)

Are you good at letting go of things? I’ll be honest; I’m not. A few weeks ago I shared that I have been trying to make a conscious effort to let go of fear and control.  But letting go of fear and control are really just two smaller parts of the greater challenge of letting go.  I’m not good at letting go of anything really.  This is a constant area of growth for me.

Instead of letting go, here’s what I do.  I ruminate.  I obsess.  I glorify things from the past that do not necessarily need to be glorified.  I replay conversations.  Not only do I replay conversations, but also I rehearse conversations I would like to have where I tell that person exactly what I think.  I’ve got several scripts all written and ready to go in my head.

Like I said, this is a part of my personality I really don’t care for because nothing good grows out of it.  This struggle to let go only brings forth more angst and anxiety into my life.  I would love to be that super peaceful-at-one-with-the-earth-wearing-long-skirts type of person who is all, “Go. Fly away worries, hurts, and resentments. I am releasing you.”  But instead, I’m more of the going-to-sit-and-spin-like-a-tornado-on-a-scratched-record type of person who is all, “Why? Why?  How could this happen? It’s not fair! What if, what if???”

Last week, I had a five-hour car ride to get in some good ruminating, and as I was moving into hour three it hit me- you’re glorifying Egypt.

Egypt?  Let me explain…

One of my favorite Biblical figures/stories is that of Moses and the Israelites.   The entire account of Moses and the Israelites starting with Moses being called to go to Egypt and set the Israelites free to the great exodus to the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years really resonates with me.  No, I’ve neither been enslaved nor led a nation of people to freedom. And no, I’ve never wandered in the desert for 40 years, but I love the accounts of Moses and the Israelites because I am an Israelite.

I think we like to judge the Israelites. We like use the Israelites wandering in the wilderness as poster children for complaint-filled doubt.  We like to wag our finger in disapproval at their repeated lack of faith and frequent grumblings about their circumstances.   But come on, if we’re honest, haven’t we all been like the Israelites at some time or another?

Oh sure, I would love to think that after I had seen the ten plagues I would have walked up to the Red Sea and instantly thought God’s got this.  I would love to think I would have been in grateful awe of the daily provision of manna and water in the desert.  But the truth is I’m sure at some point I would have resented the manna and found it to be bitter.  I’m sure I would have complained that the pillar of fire guiding me by night was keeping me up because it was too bright and that the cloud by day was blocking my view of the sun.  I am sure I would have joined in dancing around the golden calf because my memory is short and my fears are mighty.   And I am absolutely positive I would have joined in the mass moaning about how life was better in Egypt and how at least in Egypt there was meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

Forget freedom.  Forget reaching the Promised Land.  Forget seeing the impossible become possible.  In Egypt, there were cucumbers and onions and fish!

At some point along our journey, aren’t we all guilty of glorifying the Egypt of our past?

I’ve found that sometimes when we have a hard time letting go of the past it is because we are glorifying the past.  We remember the cucumbers and forget the slavery, so to speak.

Yes, I know the relationship was bad and it kept my heart broken and anxious, but we had a connection and what if I never find a connection like that again. 

Yes, the job was soul crushing and mind numbing, but I had all those vacation days and now pursuing what I really want to do means starting at the bottom of the ladder again.

Somehow in the midst of the pain of change (and change is painful… that’s why so many people choose not to change), we forget how unhappy, unfulfilled, unhealthy we were in our “Egypt”.  Instead, we remember some distorted version of the past where our “slavery” wasn’t that bad.  We convince ourselves there were some good moments and maybe if we could just go back it would be different this time.  Or we think that it will not be that good in the future.  Oh the lies we are susceptible to when we are in the midst of change.

Discomfort clouds our vision.  It is hard to leave our past behind, especially when we are struggling in the present.  Occasionally when we are confused and feel like we are wandering it is because we are truly lost, but sometimes when we feel like we are wandering it is really because we are being prepared for our future.  When we revere our Egypt, we don’t see the healing and freedom that is happening all around us.  But mind you, there is always a price for freedom and health.  And sometimes the cost of health is the pain of letting go of those unhealthy habits, relationships, and parts of yourself that are keeping you enslaved in the past.

Do you have an “Egypt” in your life that you sometimes glorify because the present is challenging?  What do you need to remember about your “Egypt” that will help you let go?

Choosing to Dance

Earlier this week I wrote about how it is easier not to.  It’s easier not to try.  It’s easier not to think before your lash out.  It’s easier not to connect and let people really know you.  But as I said in the earlier post, when we choose not to, we miss out on the blessing.  We miss out on seeing what our life can be about and what we can do.  We miss out when we choose not to.  As it would happen, Monday night I saw something on TV that beautifully illustrated this point. Before we go on, I should tell you that I am a huge Dancing with the Stars fan.  Huge.  I usually cry at least once during an episode.  I vote weekly.  I may or may not have tried to do the quick step around my house.  I often say the only reason I would want to be famous is so I can be just famous enough that I can be on Dancing with the Stars.   The show strikes a chord with me because quite frankly I think it is amazing that these people, who usually have little to zero dance background, learn these beautiful dances.  I love seeing people try hard, and I just love seeing these people totally step outside their comfort zones and dance.  After all, dancing is the very definition of vulnerability. (And I like the sparkly outfits too. :) )

This season, though, is like none other.  This season paralympian Amy Purdy is competing.  At 19 years old, Amy contracted bacterial meningitis and both of her legs were amputated at the knees and she lost one of her kidneys.  In this week’s episode, Amy talks about learning to walk again and her father’s gift of life twice in that he gave her one of his kidneys.  Amy shares how painful it was learning to walk with her new prosthetic legs and how one night, upon hearing a song on the radio, and she got up and danced with her dad.  She said she thought, “If I can dance, then I can walk.  And if I can walk, then I can snowboard.  And I can live a great life.” A great life indeed.  (Click here to watch Amy share her story.)

Amy and Derek’s dance this week depicts the story of her learning to walk again.  It is one of the most moving two minutes and thirty seconds I have seen on television.  This young woman who was given a less than 2% chance of even surviving the meningitis and who lost both of her legs below the knee is… dancing!  It literally takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes as you see such an amazing display of courage dance across that stage.

No one would have faulted Amy for choosing not to.  Out of her control and without her say so, her life was forever changed fifteen years ago.  But Amy Purdy did not choose not to.  Amy Purdy chose I can and I will.

Friends, it is easier not to.  It is soo much easier.   And yes, the alternative is hard and sometimes hard is scary.  But when you choose not to, you miss out.  You miss the chance to dance.   I hope we all start choosing to dance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjb3u1IqhAw#aid=P7YuYtLOmRg

It's Easier Not To

Several months ago I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by some work related responsibilities and deadlines.  The to-do list kept growing and growing and my energy reserves kept shrinking and shrinking.  One day I thought, “It would just be easier not to.” Isn’t that so true?

It’s easier not to.

It’s easier not to try.  It’s easier not to change.  It’s easier not to put yourself out there, not to speak up.  It’s easier not to be vulnerable, not to take the risk of uncertainty and exposure.  It’s easier not to unpack the baggage that keeps tripping you up.  It’s easier to quit when it gets hard.  It's easier to believe you can't.  It’s easier to keep doing the things you’ve always done even though you know they are bad for you.  It’s easier not to choose health.

Or is it?

I’ve thought about this phrase a lot since that day.  I’ve thought about how true it feels, yet how dangerous this belief is.  Yes, it is easier… in the short term.

In the short term.

That’s the key.

It’s easier not to in the short term.  But in the long term, that easy path turns into a pothole filled road.  Choosing not to rarely leads us to where we want to be or who we were created to be.  Choosing not to leaves us outside the arena looking in.  And when we are on the outside looking in that is when we are most likely to be judgmental and critical of those who are on the inside.

Isn’t that the kicker?  We choose not to, but then we resent those who choose YES over NO.  When we choose not to, we end up staring through the window and watching as people pursue new adventures and opportunities, as they unload their cumbersome past, as they make healthy changes that bear sweet fruit.  We end up staring through that window as we wrestle with the most uncomfortable of emotions- resentment, regret, fear, and frustration.

No, it’s not easier not to.  It feels like it in the short term.  It feels like it, but although our feelings are valid, they are not always true.

Everybody has those days when it feels easier not to.  That’s normal.  The challenge is how do you keep picking yourself up and dusting yourself off.  How do you keep going?

We keep going by learning when we need to sit and be still and when we need to move.  Sometimes the very thing we need is rest.  Stepping away from the problem and doing something totally unrelated might be the very thing that gives you the perspective you need.  Giving yourself compassion and validation that this is a tough mountain to climb is often just what the doctor ordered.  More often than not, sharing your frustration, concern, and anxiety with a trusted loved one gives you the ounce of energy you need to keep moving forward.  We keep going by refocusing on why is this so important to us anyway.  Why does this matter to us?  What do we feel called to do?  When you push through the temptation to choose not to over I’m going to, you move closer to your unique purpose and farther away from your fears.  Yeah it may feel easier not to.  But when you choose not to, you miss the blessing.

I hope this week you give yourself the rest or compassion or time with loved ones you need to continue in your journey.  Choose long term over short term.  Choose purpose over fear.  Choose the blessing.

Do you ever have those days when you think, “It would just be easier not to”?  How are you learning to choose “I’m going to” over “not to”?  Which path are you choosing today?

Spring Always Comes

I turned the page of my calendar earlier this week and noticed that Spring officially starts on Thursday.  The back and forth of our weather lately certainly has most of us anxious for consistently warmer temps and sunnier days.  I love Spring, and I love Spring in Atlanta.  It is really quite breathtaking.  One of the reasons I love Spring is because  with this changing of the seasonal guard, we literally witness in nature one of life's most important lessons. Just when we think there is no way life and beauty could emerge out of the cold, dreariness of our lives, Spring always comes.  

 

After witnessing the magnificent reds, yellows, and oranges of Fall, Winter begins to set in. The lingering signs of Fall's grandeur appear on trees here and there, and sometimes those leaves trick you into believing that maybe winter will not come this year.   Like those leaves hanging despite being whipped around by wind and rain, you hang onto the remnants of your Summer dreams and Fall glory days.  You hang onto the relationship hoping the other person will change.  You hang onto the hope that your job won't be cut.  You hang onto the hope that this time, this time, things will be different.

IMG_9361

 

But Winter does come.   One day you get the call or the text or the email, and you realize it's done.  You've been given your answer, and it is not the one you wanted.  There's nothing left to hang onto.  The relationship, the dream, the plan is gone... dead.   You're not sure what to do next or where to turn .

tumblr_lu4c7omf0c1qhjfdso1_1280

 

And you start to wonder where is this road going and when will it end.   All you know is that your winter of discontent feels extremely isolating.  The loneliness of this journey simultaneously fills you and drains you.

Road to Wegrow

 

 

But one day, you lift your head and you see it... you see signs of life.

spring shots 002

You sees signs of life, signs of hope.  You discover buds of new found hope, of new found energy.  You start thinking of a new plan.  You start putting yourself out there again.  You come out of hibernation and you start slowly living again.

 

With each step forward, that cold, dark endless road turns into a beautiful, lush path.

beautiful spring path

 

With each step forward, you feel more alive and more like yourself... except not your old self, but a new, reborn self.  Your reborn self is stronger, livelier, and bolder.  You learn your Winter was not the end; it was just the end of that season.  Your Spring means another chance to fulfill that dream and a new opportunity to reach that goal.

spring-blooms-longwood-gardens-680uw

No matter how cold or dark or lonely your winter was, Spring always comes.  Light always follows darkness.  Each year, Spring teaches us that gardens do emerge out of deserts, life does emerge out of loss, and sometimes letting something die is the only way that it can be reborn into a beautiful, vibrant, life-giving  creation.

Are you ready for Spring?  What is being reborn in your life right now?

What Do You Need To Give Up?

I was raised Southern Baptist.  This means a few things:  I grew up going to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, I have been to a tent revival (white tent, funeral home fan, folding chairs… the whole nine yards), and I really only celebrated two religious holidays, Christmas and Easter. It was only when I started teaching at a Catholic high school and attending a Presbyterian church that I discovered anything about an Ash Wednesday service or the season of Lent.  My first Ash Wednesday teaching school I walked in and saw one of my co-workers with ash on his forehead.  I leaned in, so as not to embarrass him, to tell him that he had something on his forehead.  He smiled and said, “Dear, it’s Ash Wednesday.”  I nodded like I knew what he was talking about and went about my merry way.

I quickly learned about the traditions of an Ash Wednesday service, and it is now my favorite church service of the year.   There is something so moving about the service- the idea of preparing your spirit for the gift of Easter, the hope in surrendering your “ashes” for healing, and the beauty in the gentle touch of someone drawing the cross on your forehead.

Ash Wednesday marks the 40 days prior to Easter and is the official start of the season of Lent.  As tradition goes, individuals either give up something that is deemed bad or a hindrance in their life or they start doing something that is beneficial.  I always find it interesting to hear what people give up or what they add.  You often hear of people giving up sweets or alcohol or something like that.  The latest trend seems to be giving up Facebook.   (I thought about giving up Facebook, but who am I kidding?  I’m an avid Facebooker- they’ll have to pry Facebook out of my cold, dead hands.  J)  The idea behind giving up something is meant to be an act of purging and cleansing so as to refocus your spirit.   Letting go helps us open our hearts and minds.  Surrendering something, even if it is only for 40 days, helps clarify what has power in our lives.

I like the idea of Lent.  I think it is good for us to practice intentional surrender.  Surrendering and letting go are really quite the opposite of what we naturally want to do as humans.  We naturally want to control.  We naturally want to be in charge of our own fate.  So often, we want to hold on rather than let go.  We want to hold on even if we know the holding on is killing us.

What do you need to surrender?  Whether you observe Lent or not, where in your life do you need to let go?  What are you holding onto that is holding you back?  What do you need to give up?

What if you gave up shame?  What if you gave up fear or anger or caring about the number on the scale?  What if you let go of second-guessing your decisions?   What if you let go of the grudge and the resentment?

This Lenten season I want to give up fear and control.  There are some things in my life that I want to control because I am afraid.  I am afraid of losing them, of these things being taken from me.  I realized recently that when we start holding on so tightly because we are afraid of something being taken from us, then we are in danger of that thing, even if it is a good thing, becoming an idol in our lives.  We’re in danger of sacrificing our peace of mind and values on the altar of that idol.

When we start making those sacrifices, what we don’t realize is that we’re really not in control because that thing or that person is now controlling us.  We like to think we are in control and that this decision or that decision will bring the outcome we want, but that isn’t the case at all.  The relationship we love, yet we fear losing, ends up controlling the peace in our hearts.  The dream job we worked so hard to achieve, yet feel there’s no rest in because we’re compelled to continue climbing the ladder, ends up controlling our schedule.  The lifestyle choices we put into place to make us feel better, yet we still don’t think we’re pretty or thin enough, end up controlling our confidence and sense of worth.  We end up controlled by the thing we are trying to control.

I want to give up fear, and I want to give up control.  I want to hold loosely the things that could so easily become idols in my life.  I want my hands to be open to receive, rather than closed in white-knuckled fear.  I want to really embrace the posture of surrender because this is what I know about surrender…

Surrender is not weakness.  Surrender is not defeat; it’s not quitting.  Surrender is acknowledging where you end and the Power greater than you begins.  It is letting go of the idol.  Surrender is freedom.

What do you need to give up?  Where do you need to let go in your life?  Where would you like to experience the freedom of surrender?

Loving Well

Years ago, I noticed people started using the phrase “loving well/love well” to describe how they wanted to love or be loved in a relationship.  I just want to love him well.  I just want to be loved well.  I’ll confess I found the phrase a little self-righteous like now we have even put our love on the good, better, best grading scale.  I always wondered if people even knew what they meant when they tried to make a distinction between loving someone and loving him well.  So I wrote off the phrase as yet another example of a buzzword that bugged me. About a month ago, I had an experience that changed my opinion on the phrase “loving well.”  In early January, my father’s best friend of 50 years passed away.  I cannot remember a time when I did not know Dr. Hugh, and his funeral was a true celebration of a life well lived.  As I listened to his children deliver one of the most honoring and beautiful eulogies I’ve ever heard, I kept thinking, “He loved well.  This… this is what it means to love well.”  Dr. Hugh loved with every fiber of his being.  He loved with a dedicated, actions-speak-louder-than words type of love.  It seemed that so much of his life flowed out of love- his active engagement with his family, his business activities, and his mentoring countless young professionals.

On the way home from the funeral, the Mumford & Sons song, Awake My Soul, came on the radio and the line “Where you invest your love, you invest your life” seemed to be shouting from the speakers.  Where you invest your love, you invest your life.  For the rest of the afternoon I kept thinking about the truth of those words. Where you invest your time, talents, energy, soul, it is there you invest your life.  Dr. Hugh invested well.  He invested very well.

Are you investing well?

Are you investing your love in the things and relationships that are worthy of your love?  Are you investing your time in the things that will matter 10, 20, 30 years from now?  Or are you investing your time in short-term pleasure, or rather short-term pain avoidance?  Are you investing your energy in relationships that are healthy, reciprocal, and life giving?  Or are you investing your energy in relationships that are one-sided and incite worry and anxiety.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear…

To love and be loved are innate human desires.  We are born into this world seeking a finger to grasp, and we leave this world yearning for that same connection.  In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware noted that in her work with the dying one of the most common regrets she heard expressed was that people wished they had stayed in better touch with their loved ones.  In the end, it’s love and connection that matter.  Not success.  Not accolades.  Not being on time or having everything perfect.  It’s where we invest our love that matters in the end.

But there are two sides to the love coin.  There is the side of loving others, but there is also the side of letting others love you.  Too many of us spend our lives wanting to be loved, yet not knowing how to let down our walls so that people can actually get their arms around us.  We live like emotional porcupines and then wonder why no one gets too close.  If we want to let love fully into our lives, we must believe we are lovable and worthy of love.  We first must learn to love ourselves well.  If we ever want someone else to love us well or if we want to love others well, we must treat ourselves with love and compassion.

I was wrong.  There is a difference between love and loving well.   I think loving well has to do with investment.  Are you investing wisely?  Are you depositing your love in the things and relationships that will last?  At the same time, do you believe you are lovable and worthy of love?   May today serve as a reminder to love others and yourself well.  It’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

You Learn Courage by Couraging

A year ago today, I sent an email that set in motion a series of events I never could have predicted.  Here’s the backstory… In the Fall of 2012, I started reading and thinking more about what it means to live brave and be courageous.  I’ll admit when I think of courage the name Mazi Robinson does not immediately come to mind.  I am still afraid of the dark.  I don’t see scary movies.  I still have weird fears about attics, crawl spaces, and storage rooms and will not go in them by myself. (It is a hard and fast rule… much like my no fruit policy.)  I have no desire to jump out of a plane, bungee jump, or do anything that is remotely adrenaline rushing.  So when I started thinking about courage and living brave, my instant thought was I am not a brave person.  And my next thought was I want to be.

Over the next several months, I learned that living brave was not just jumping out of airplanes, but living brave had a deeper meaning to it.  Living brave means letting others really see you.   It means letting yourself be vulnerable and leaning into that vulnerability rather than running from it.  Vulnerability and courage go hand in hand-  anytime time you are being courageous, you are being vulnerable.   So I got honest about all the things I avoided and ways that I hid.  I started challenging my justifications for why I didn’t do or try certain things.  I started to identify and peel back all of my armor that I thought was protecting me but was really keeping me small and hidden.

How do you build courage?  You learn courage my couraging.  You stop hiding.  You stop avoiding and justifying.  You start doing.

 Slide1

As I began to make little changes here and there, I noticed a shift within myself.  As I stopped doing some things and started doing others, as I tried new things and let go of old, I started wanting more.  I wanted to try more new things and let go of more old habits.  You learn courage by couraging.  I still felt some intimidation and second guessing- should I do that, say that, try that- but I learned to navigate through that dialogue in my head because I knew it was coming from my shame self, not my true self.  I was on a nice little personal growth journey, and then… and then I spent a weekend in January with a wonderful group of women.

Last January, I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat for a local church.  Let me say that it is not unusual for me to cry on the way home from a speaking engagement.  I usually feel so grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach that crying seems to be the only way to let that emotion out.   But on the way home from this retreat, I cried out of sheer awe.  Later that week a friend asked me how the retreat went, and I told her it had been the single most powerful experience of my professional life.  Because you see these women… these women asked for prayer.  They didn’t ask for prayer for their aunt or their neighbor’s cousin or their co-worker’s niece.  They asked for prayer… for themselves.  They said I’m lonely, I’m lost, I’m hurting.  With tears streaming down their faces they boldly admitted that they were tired and struggling to connect with God, with their husband, with their family.  And they didn’t write it on a notecard or say it sitting down with their head hung.  They stood up with heads held high and were vulnerable.  I have never seen such cut open, let-yourself-be-seen courage in all my life.  I was in pure awe of the vulnerability expressed and the courage lived out.

Brené Brown says that courage is contagious.  It certainly is.  These courageous women moved me, and I wanted to be brave and vulnerable.  I wanted to stop giving into my fears of I can’t and what will people think.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, what I had been avoiding doing for a year.  A year prior to this I had the idea for this blog.  I spent all of 2012 trying to convince myself not to do the blog, but the idea stayed with me.  I realize that for a lot of people starting a blog does not seem like that courageous of a step, but for me it was, and continues to be, the definition of vulnerability.    You see, I don’t consider myself a writer.  I have always been incredibly insecure about my writing.   (I am well aware that comma splices and other punctuation crimes litter these pages and am deeply appreciative that no one ever corrects me.  My deep issues with grammar are for another post…) Yes, I speak and teach all the time, but for some reason having people read my words, rather than hear them, feels much more exposing for me.  But the idea of this blog, and other changes I wanted to make in my  life, just would not go away.

February 5th, 2013, I emailed my friend, Kristen, and told her all that I said above.  I told her that this felt like a big step into the arena for me and that I believed she was the one that could bring my ideas to life.  Kristen has this amazing ability to infuse grace and beauty into everything she touches.  I wanted her fingerprints on my daydreams.  I knew that I could entrust my little brainstorms and hopes to her and that she would get it.  From that email, she began designing this blog and events started to unfold that I never could have imagined.  All of my little daydreams that I had silenced with thoughts of you can’t do it and what if you fail finally came to life when I started my own counseling practice in June and a whole new world of experiences and opportunities opened before me.

You learn courage by couraging.

You learn courage by being around courageous people.  I think of all the things I learned in this past year, the most important lesson was that you never enter the arena alone.  You never take your leap of faith alone. You enter the arena with the people in your life that have modeled courage for you.  You enter the arena with the encouragement of friends’ words ringing in your ears.  You enter the arena with the One who will never leave you alone or ill-equipped.

Have you been thinking about making a change recently?  Do you have a dream you would love to bring to life?  Do you want to start facing your fears and living more courageously?  Are you ready to step into the arena?  Do it.  Do. It.  Life inside the arena is riskier; it is more exposing.  Life is messier in the arena, but it is better than sitting in the stands watching others live bravely and boldly.  The stakes do get higher when you put yourself out there.  But let me tell you, it is so worth it.  Maybe it doesn’t feel like it in those first 30 minutes or hours or days when you are still wrestling with doubt and uncertainty.  But one day you will wake up, and you will realize I did it… I survived the uncertainty and I now taste the sweetness of being brave!  

You learn courage by couraging.

You never take your leap of faith or step into your arena alone.  The models of courage precede you, and the speakers of truth and encouragement walk beside you.  And maybe, if you are lucky, God will send you a special friend who can make it beautiful. :)

To those wonderful women last January… thank you.  To Kristen… Happy Anniversary.  Thank you for bringing this past year to life.  Here’s to more daydreams becoming reality.

Are You Ready to Break Free and Live Brave? (The Daring Way™ is coming to Atlanta!)

DW_FlyerHeader  

This month I've been talking about looking ahead into this wild, unknown that is the start of 2014.  We are about to wrap our first month of the year and hopefully you have spent some time in over these weeks thinking about what you want this year to look like for you. What are your hopes for this year?  Would you like to stop living under the yoke of perfection?  Would you like to stop second guessing yourself and instead start living brave?  Would you finally like to separate your sense of worth from what you do and what you think others think of you?  If so, I believe 2014 is your year to do it!

As you know, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown, bestselling author and TED sensation.  Her research and writing on shame and vulnerability have been life changing for me personally and professionally.  Last June, I started the process of becoming certified to facilitate her newest workshop, The Daring Way™ and am thrilled to announce I am offering my first  Daring Way™ retreat: Daring Women:  Show Up, Be Seen, Live Brave™!
 
What is The Daring Way™?  It is a highly experiential methodology based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown. The material was developed to help men, women, and adolescents learn how to show up, be seen, and live braver lives. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills and developing a courage practice that transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead.  If you are tired of wrestling with feelings of not being good enough, if you would like to let down your guard and let people really know you, if you would like to discover, or maybe rediscover, your true voice that has gotten silenced and covered up, you do not want to miss this opportunity.   
 
DW_LightQuoteImages2
The two-day retreat will be held in Atlanta on Saturday, March 1st- Sunday, March 2nd (9:30AM-4:30PM both days) with plans to add dates in April and/or May.  These upcoming retreats are specifically for women, but I will be holding Daring Way™ retreats in the future for men and women, moms, couples, and individuals in the helping professions (clergy and mental health counselors).  The retreat consists of teaching, discussion, individual reflection time, and small group processing.  Over the course of these two days, we will discuss:
 
- What is the arena in your life you want to show up and be seen
- Vulnerability, vulnerability myths, and the connection between courage and vulnerability 
- How to practice empathy and self compassion
- The armor we use to "protect" ourselves from being vulnerable
- How to identify and change our thoughts of unworthiness and feeling not good enough
- How to create a life of courage as we embrace our story and step into the arena
 
The Daring Way™ is a cost-efficient, personal growth experience.  If you have thought about beginning a personal growth journey or you are feeling stuck in your life, The Daring Way™ consolidates weeks of therapy and can jumpstart and accelerate your personal development.  Having gone through the material myself, I can tell you that the content and exercises help you discover the keys to living the life you were created to live.  This retreat is a great opportunity for individuals or girlfriends or even your small group to set aside time to uncover the things that are holding you back as you look ahead to the future you want and deserve.  
 
Seating is very limited (8-12 participants)and the Super Early Bird Registration rate is $325 and the deadline is this Friday, January 31st.  The Early Bird Registration ($375) deadline is February 14th and Regular Registration rates ($425) apply after that.     Included in the cost of registration is a personalized notebook, a Daring Way™ workbook,  a journal, a copy of one of Brené's books of your choosing, and two catered lunches , snacks, and beverages.
 

For more information about The Daring Way™, go to http://mazirobinson.com/the-daring-way/

For information on the specifics of this upcoming retreat and future retreats (such as dates, times, location, cost), go to http://mazirobinson.com/upcoming-workshops/

For more information on what is included in the cost of the retreat, the retreat format, and other frequently asked questions, go to http://mazirobinson.com/workshop-faqs/

 
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like more information.  I look forward to daring greatly with you!

Thoughts for Thursday- What are you willing to give up?

In January 2012, I read Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet.  I. Loved. It.  As I combed through the pages, daring anyone to interrupt me, I was in awe of how this woman so beautifully described almost every thought and emotion I had wrestled with over the past several years.  I dog-eared and underlined basically the entire book, but there was one chapter, in particular, that challenged and spoke to me. In the chapter entitled “Things I Don’t Do,” she starts the chapter off by relaying a piece of advice her mentor gave her years ago:

 Slide1

From there she discusses her own struggle with the “do everything better” mindset and how she lives under this constant expectation of “do everything better.” She then shares two lists: “Things I do” and “Things I Don’t Do.”  She lists things such as her faith, working on her marriage, motherhood, becoming a better writer, living in community, cooking/entertaining on her “Things I Do” list. She puts gardening, DIY home improvement, baking, scrapbooking, and spending time with negative people on her “Things I Don’t Do” list.

Reading this was huge for me.  It was like a revelation…

Hold the phone… are you telling me I can declare there are things I don’t do and let that be it?  I can decide there are things I am no longer going to force myself to do because I think I “should” so I can really invest my time and energy into the things I believe in and am passionate about??  You mean I can finally stop feeling guilty that I have never planted one flower in our yard??

This was huge for me and resulted in a complete shift of how I allocate my time and energy.  You see my problem isn’t that I can’t figure out what I want my life to be about.  I have all sorts of ideas of what I want my life to be about.  I have all sorts of ideas of what I would like to do with my time.  If someone tells me about something I should do or see or read, before you know it I have hopped on that bandwagon and I am looking into it.   The problem with hopping onto bandwagons is you can only hop onto so many of them before you are exhausted from traveling around with no clear goal or vision of where you want to end up.  You end up feeling lost and scattered.  My problem is that I want to say yes to so many things (both big and small) that I lose sight of what is truly important in my life.

There was something about the way she wrote that phrase that it finally clicked for me.  Mazi, you must decide what you are no longer going to do so you can really do the things you want and feel called to do!  Sometimes we can hear something 100 times, but there is just something about the 101st time that it just clicks for us and it feels life changing.

For example, sometime back I was thinking to myself that I wished there were 36 hours in the day because then I could get more things done.  My follow up thought was that perhaps the problem wasn’t that there were only 24 hours in a day.  Perhaps the problem was that I 1.) committed to do too much and 2.) had an unrealistic expectation of what I should accomplish in a day and how long it takes to do certain things.  Again, it felt like a revelation.   I am trying to do too much in a day!!  It’s so incredibly obvious it’s like looking in the sky for the sun and wondering what that bright orb is that is blinding you.  I’m slow, but I do get there.

It can feel like a risk to say here are the things I do, here are the things I don’t do, and I’m no longer going to feel guilty, make excuses, or beat myself up for not doing them.  At the time, it felt like a risk to begin applying this piece of wisdom to my professional and personal life.   I identified what the clear priority in my personal life was - my family - and recognized that everything else had to play second.  I clarified what I wanted my counseling practice to look like and what populations I wanted to serve.  I also identified the things I needed give up; things that either drained my energy, that I had no interest in doing but did out of guilt, or just did not align with my values and sense of calling.  Two years later and I still use this little quote as a tool to keep me from chasing after every idea that pops into my head.

Giving yourself permission to say no to some things so you can give a more resounding yes to other things is the pathway to more freedom and sense of purpose in your life.  You will always struggle to know the purpose and direction for your life if you are saying yes to everything for fear of saying no and missing out.  You will never experience freedom in your life if you live under the yoke of fear of disappointing someone or of failing or of being criticized.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about what is the one thing you want to work on or work towards in your 2014.   To dedicate yourself to your one thing- whether that be investing more in your marriage and family, taking risks professionally, healing some old heart wounds- you will have to give yourself permission to let go of some other things.  You will have to give yourself permission to say, “Here are the things I don’t do.”  There is freedom and purpose at the end of that permission slip.

So what are the things you do?  What are the things you don’t do?  This may be the exact permission your overscheduled, scattered, exhausted spirit is looking for right now.

Your One Thing in 2014

We are a week in… a week into 2014.  How’s it going so far? The holidays are over.  Christmas decorations have been taken down (or at least there are plans to take them down).   New calendars have been purchased and filled with upcoming events.  Children have returned to school, and adults have returned to the daily grind of emails, meetings, and carpool while visions of the next vacation dance in their heads.

Last week we discussed how to wrap up one year before leaping into another.    We looked at ten questions designed to help us reflect on 2013.  In keeping with that theme, here are a few questions to ponder as you start 2014.

What are some things you would like to do differently this year? What are some things you would like to repeat from last year? What relationships would you like to cultivate or invest more heavily in? What would you like to learn in 2014? But here’s the big question…

What do you want your 2014 to be about? 

This is your 2014.  You only get one.  You only get one 2014.  What do you want to do with your 2014?

As we all know, the start of a new year often means all sorts of plans for turning over new leaves.  I’m going to go the gym ___ days a week.  I’m going to stop ________.  I’m going to start ________.  I’m finally going to take up that hobby.  Resolutions, goals, plans.  Our minds and journals are filled with them.

But what do you really want your year to be about?  If you set a goal because you think you should do it, chances are pretty slim that you are going to actually accomplish the goal.  If you are really going to “cut back” or “ramp up” or “start anew”, then you have to have something much deeper motivating you than the self-imposed yoke of should thinking.

Not sure how to discern what you want to make of your 2014?  Try this… Fast-forward eleven months and a few weeks.  It’s the end of December 2014.  You are trying to figure your New Year’s Eve plans and your cursing the person who decided New Year’s Eve should be a big social occasion.  You realize, once again, you are only days away from the turning of yet another year, and you start looking back on what you have done in 2014.

When you put yourself in that picture, what is the one thing you want to be able to say you did?  What is the one thing you will regret not doing or working on in 2014?

I think there are a lot of things we can say we want to work on or try or accomplish this year.  But, in truth, there are only one or two things that are so significant to us that we will feel regret or disappointment if they go untouched.  Regret leaves a terrible aftertaste and can be an interesting motivator.  So what are your one or two things that you want to be able to say you did, or at least worked on, in 2014?  What are the steps you need to take to insure against regret?

Is it surrendering a self-destructive habit or letting go of an unhealthy relationship?  Is it repairing a broken relationship?  Is it repairing your broken spirit?  Is it facing old fears and insecurities and finally going after that dream or goal?

My hunch is that we all know the one thing we need to work on that will have positive ripple effects in other areas of our lives.  It is hard to ignore unhappiness, conflict, and dissatisfaction- the telltale signs that always point us to the one thing starving for our love, time, energy, or courage.

So how do you start this journey once you’ve identified your one thing?  You know what needs to change so that you will stop kicking yourself at the end of each year.  You know what you want your year to be about.  You start on your journey by answering these two questions:

What has kept you from this goal in the past?

What is presently keeping your from this goal?

We have to know two things to move forward-  we have to know where we want to end up and we have to know where we were.  The first step is identifying what you want to be different in your life.  The second step is figuring out why you are there in the first place and what is keeping you stuck. 

Last week on Facebook I kept seeing this quote: 

Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book.  Write a good one.

So true.

You get one 2014, and you play a significant role in making it a good one.  What do you want your 2014 to be about?  What is your one thing?

Here’s to 2014, friends!  May you have joy in your heart, peace in your mind, and courage in all your endeavors!

Your Year In Review

As someone who likes to over-process, over-analyze, and over-reflect on life’s major and minor transitions, New Year’s is  my kind of holiday.  This annual celebrating of the end of one year and the start of another brings with it the inevitable assessing of the past and planning for the future.  A whole period in the calendar set aside for reflection- could there be anything better?  Not for this girl!

And don’t get me started on the anthem that is synonymous with New Year’s- Auld Lang Syne.  It could be 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity in the middle of July and those opening strains can still bring tears to my eyes.  I don’t know all the words and (confession) I have to Google what the words actually mean each year (the song is about friendship and the passing of time, by the way), but Auld Lang Syne, does it to me every time!

So with New Year’s, we have a holiday based around the idea of marking time and it has a theme song that makes me cry- well, I’d say that is just about perfection in my book!

I recognize, however, not everyone relishes this final holiday of the year.  The pressure to have a memorable rockin’ New Year’s Eve saps most people’s enjoyment of the holiday, and not everyone jumps at the opportunity for life reflection and pondering.  Some years, we are so thankful to see the year finally pass that reflecting is the last thing on our minds.  We are just holding our breath until 12:01 AM January 1st   when we can officially exhale and turn our backs on the year that we thought just might be our undoing.

It is in that exhale that lies the other reason I love New Year’s.   It is an opportunity for second chances.  You get another January 1st.  You get another chance to face your fears and defeat your insecurities.  You get another try at being the person you would like to be.  At 11:59 PM, December 31st there is all the hope and anticipation of a better year, a fresh start, a do over.  I’m a sucker for a good comeback.

But before we start planning the next year, we do benefit from stopping and looking back on the previous year.  Even if this was an extraordinarily tough year for you, just take a few moments and reflect.  After all, it is hard to know where we want to go if we are not clear on where we have been. Here are some questions to get those reflective juices flowing.

What are you the most proud of from this past year?

What was your greatest challenge this year?

What was the most fun or exciting or memorable thing you did?

What were some of your happiest moments?

What do you regret or wish you had done differently?

What relationships were life giving, reciprocal, and encouraging?

With whom do you wish you had spent more time? 

What relationships caused you hurt or disappointment or were in some way unfulfilling? 

What are you grateful for from this past year?

What was something your learned that was interesting or helpful?

In reviewing the past 12 months, what would you say was the theme of your 2013? Whether your year was terrific or one of your most challenging, I hope you will give yourself a moment to pause and reflect on where you’ve been and what you’ve done.  We will plan and set goals and make resolutions in the days to come.  But for now, let’s look back.  Let’s unpack the suitcase so we know what to leave behind and what to bring with us.

Happy New Year, friends!  May the experiences and lessons of this past year turn to the blessings of of your new year. P.S.  If you want a little tear jerking music to go along with your reflecting…

http://youtu.be/C7TdfiHlc0Q

Are You in Exile this Christmas?

When I was little, my favorite Christmas carol to play on the piano was O Come, Come Emmanuel.  I loved the contrasting textures in the music, and when it came time to play those glorious chords of Rejoice, Rejoice, I tickled those ivories with all the passion my little fingers could muster.  A few weeks ago, I was singing this same hymn in church and the words of the first verse struck me in a way they never had before. O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.  Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. 

Mourns in lonely exile…

Exile…

Waiting to get out of Exile…

Emmanuel shall come to thee…

 

What does it mean to be in exile?  To be in exile means to be away from one’s home, to be in foreign territory.  Although political and physical exiles are still realities throughout the world today, I am going to venture to guess none of us have ever experienced that type of exile.

Instead, our experience with exile is less obvious and a little harder to explain.  What does Exile look like in our lives today?  It looks like feeling far from “home”- far from where you would like to be, or thought you would be, in this stage of life.  It looks like struggling in relational exile where there is broken fellowship and no clear path on how to forgive and rebuild trust.  It looks like wrestling in spiritual exile where you wonder why and how long and what is the meaning of all of this.  You feel far from God. You question more and more and soon your questions give way to silence.

We feel our Exiles much more keenly during the Christmas season.  It’s unfortunate, but true.  Just ask anyone in Exile.  Christmas seems to shine a big, blinding spotlight on our Exile.  Maybe it is the marking of another year and the evaluation that inevitably comes alongside.  Where am I compared to where I was a year ago?  Did I do this?  Did I accomplish that?

Or maybe it is because we all have in our minds the picture of what our lives and relationships are supposed to look like at Christmas.  When your “Christmas Card” doesn’t look like everyone else’s it can feel like nails screeching down the chalkboard of your heart.

Or maybe this is your first, or fifteenth, Christmas without your loved one or that someone special or the answer to your heart’s prayer for a child.  It’s hard to feel the wonder of Christmas when we keep tripping over the gaping void of an absent parent, spouse, or child.

We don’t choose our Exiles.  We don’t choose the timing or the circumstances, and we really don’t get to choose when they end.  We can choose, though, how we move through them.  Your Exile can make you bitter or it can make you better.  That’s the part you do get to determine.  So if you are in Exile this Christmas, here are two things to ponder.

Keep living.  Keep showing up in your life. When we are in Exile our temptation is to either passively wait or find a shortcut.  Passively waiting keeps you from growing, and searching for a shortcut keeps you running in circles.  Keep living.  Don’t delay some decisions or choices in your life because you are waiting for other things to happen.  Waiting for your Exile to be over before you start living your “real life” is not always the smartest choice.  Keep showing up in your life and taking care of one day at a time.  The Israelites had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, but they kept walking!  You have to keep climbing the mountain no matter how many times you slide to the bottom.  The slides to the bottom are not losses- they are opportunities to climb again. Only this time you know the paths that will and will not work.

Know what you KNOW When you are in Exile you have to remember what you KNOW- not what you feel or what you’re presently telling yourself, but what you KNOW.  What do you KNOW?  What is your hope based on?  I KNOW I cannot always see the big picture.  I KNOW that I am not alone.  I KNOW that everything can be redeemed.  I don’t always feel these things, but I KNOW them.  Some days what you KNOW feels like a great comfort that lifts you high above the clouds, and other days it is just the mustard seed of courage you need to keep moving forward an inch at a time.  Do you know what you KNOW?

 

Are you in Exile this Christmas?  Yes, whether it is your first or fifteenth year without your loved one, your realized dream, your restored relationship, or your answered prayer, this year may feel especially difficult.  In years like this it may feel challenging to rest in the Good News of Christmas.

What is the Good News of Christmas?  The Good News of Christmas is that we do not stay in Exile.  It does end.  There is freedom. There will be big, banging chords of Rejoicing.

So Fear not, my dear friends, I bring you Good News of Great Joy, which shall be to all people…. There are plans for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future… for this holy night the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

That’s the Good News.  May you have a blessed Christmas.

Have You Ever Heard from Your Younger Self?

I recently heard from my 20 something self and what she had to say was quite interesting… When I was in my 20’s, I taught high school at a wonderful Catholic school.  Marist changed my life, and perhaps on another day I will go into all the details of exactly what I mean by that statement.  But to put it succinctly, I loved my time at Marist… I loved teaching there, I loved the students, and I loved the community.  One of the wonderful things about the Marist experience is that students have the opportunity to go on spiritual retreats each year of high school.  Juniors and Seniors go on a particularly moving retreat that is led by students and one of the school’s priests.  The retreat is filled with opportunities for spiritual growth and reflection and some endearing traditions.  One of those traditions is that the student leaders ask teachers to write letters that are then read to the group over the course of the weekend.  Ten years ago I was asked to write one of those letters.  It was this letter that I discovered a few weeks ago.

I forgot I had even written the letter.  The letter was comprised of a list of 15 things I had learned up to that point in my life that I thought would be beneficial to share with this group of individuals who were only a short time away from leaving the nest and entering into the next chapter of their lives.  Re-reading the list was both interesting and amusing.  It’s interesting to recall what your 20-something-self thought was important or humorous or worth passing on.   Here’s the list:

  1. On the first really beautiful day of spring, go eat somewhere with a porch.  My suggestion would be a Mexican restaurant with a porch.
  2. At least once in your life, go on a completely random and pointless road trip. Don’t plan it - just get some friends and go.
  3. Develop a weird, yet interesting, talent.  Mine:  gargling the theme to Jeopardy.
  4. The people you meet within the first three weeks of college will most likely be your closest friends for the remainder of your four years.  Example:  I met three of my bridesmaids during my first four days at college.
  5. This one is for the ladies:  Treat yourself and buy at least one bottle of Chanel nail polish.  You will feel so special when you wear it!
  6. Although TV is apparently corrupting society, I have found that watching Friends usually makes me feel better and, contrary to popular belief, Beverly Hills 90210 can answer some of life’s most puzzling questions.  If you are unfamiliar with Beverly Hills 90210 you can catch reruns on Saturdays and Sundays at 9 AM on FX.
  7. Stay up all night with your friends the first time it snows when you're in college.  It sounds cheesy, but in a cheesy way it is truly magical.  If you don’t go to a college in which there is snow, this life lesson will be hard to follow.
  8. It is more important to have a few CLOSE friends than many acquaintances.
  9. Life is not fun.  It will kick you in the gut and when you fall it may continue to kick you, but you WILL make it through.  YOU WILL.  It is those gut-kicking moments that make and mold you.
  10. Don’t date someone because you think you can change or help him or her.  Chances are you won’t be able to permanently help them, and you may do real damage to yourself in the process.
  11. Always bring extra money to the Waffle House for the jukebox.  Their jukeboxes are the best!
  12. Memorize your social security number.  It is the only piece of information you will need to know for the rest of your life.
  13. No matter how much you change once you leave Marist, stay in touch with at least one person from Marist.  It will help you remember where you came from.
  14. Memorize a quote or scripture verse or song that you can recite in your mind that will give you strength and encouragement when you are down.

And lastly…

  1. Nothing you can ever do will separate you from God’s love.  You may not feel His presence, you may fail at everything you do, and you may consider yourself a complete disappointment, but God will NEVER give up on you.  All you have to do is reach out to Him.

 

Yes, it is fascinating to hear from your younger self.  It is fascinating to notice the things that have stayed the same and the things that are different.  For instance, I’d completely forgotten I could gargle the theme song to Jeopardy.  I don’t know how one forgets such a factoid, but I guess that little talent has gotten buried over the years.  I can’t remember the last time I splurged on a bottle of Chanel nail polish, and I haven’t been to a Waffle House in ages.  (That being said, those two points are still true- you really do feel fancy wearing Chanel and the Waffle House does have an awesome juke box. Some things never change.)

The item that really stumped me was #2- go on a pointless and random road trip.  I stared at that sentence for a while racking my brain trying to remember why I would put something on there which seemed totally out of character for me.  And then I remembered… oh I was young then!  I did spontaneous, non-purposed filled things! Alas, my current self is anything but spontaneous.   The most spontaneous thing I have done recently is deciding to go to Target by myself for two hours last Friday night.  Oh dear, we are a far cry away from road trips these days.

Nowadays, my list would probably include such practical items as it’s okay to leave a job and it’s more than okay to change careers.  Deciding that you want to do something else or making a change because something is not a good fit is a sign of courage, not failure.  Don’t give into the pressure of “timeline living.” Meaning, if your adult life does not unfold according to the socially acceptable timeline, it’s okay.  You are not behind.

There were certain items, though, I was pleasantly pleased to see are as much a part of my life as they were a decade ago.

Episodes of FRIENDS really do make you feel better.

Yes, a few close friends are better than many acquaintances.  They know you better. This can be both a comforting and scary reality.

Life is NOT always fun and sometimes you may be shocked at how low it can spiral before it starts looking up. The trick is letting life mold and make you, not damage and defeat you.

Scriptures, quotes, songs, mantras- these are the walking sticks that help you keep climbing the mountain.  They are the tools we lean on when we feel like falling to the ground.  Your attitude and motivation are determined by what you tell yourself.  Since that is the case, you better make it good.

And lastly, I believe more than ever we are not alone and nothing can separate us from God’s love.  You are never beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love and grace.

Have you ever had the experience of “hearing” from your younger self?  What did she have to say?  Did it surprise you?  We collect life lessons and little nuggets of advice along every step of the way.  It is interesting to see the ones that stick and the ones that fall by the way side.

If you created a list of the things you have learned to this point in life, what would be on it?  How would today’s list be different from a list penned ten, twenty years ago?  Are there elements of your younger self that you might benefit from bringing into the present?  (A little true spontaneity never hurt anyone, right? J )  What beliefs have remained and grown throughout the ups and downs of adulthood?   I would love to hear your words of wisdom!

Ungrateful

We’ve eaten turkey, we’ve said our thanks, and now we are headed full force into the Christmas season. November seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, and it’s hard to believe Christmas is less than a month away.  Although Thanksgiving struggles not to be engulfed by the ever extending Christmas season, I like that both of these holidays mark a period of intentional gratitude. Gratitude.  Great thinkers, philosophers, researchers,  and spiritual leaders alike will tell you that the key to peace and joy in your life is a practice of gratitude.  It makes sense… if we spend time pondering what we are grateful for, it cultivates contentment rather than discontentment, and we are less likely to ruminate over life’s shortcomings.  It is an obvious and practical life lesson.  Recently, I started keeping a gratitude journal, and I am sincerely amazed at the difference in my spirit after I sit and write for a few minutes.  This gratitude stuff is no joke.

But let’s be honest.  Sometimes- often times- we aren’t that successful in maintaining a practice of gratitude.  The annual holiday marker of intentional thankfulness comes and goes.  We make resolutions about how we are going to practice more gratitude and concentrate on all we do have rather than focusing on what we we don’t have.  We know having a thankful spirit is good for the soul, and what is good for the soul is good for the body.  We know this.  But let’s be honest… sometimes our ingratitude swallows any sliver of gratitude.

Are you ungrateful?

What are you not grateful for?

What are the memories in your life that you wish you could squeeze your eyes shut and make go away?  Who are the people in your life that you wish you could snap your fingers and they would vanish?  What are the experiences in your life that make you want to shake your fist and cry out in sadness and despair, “Why, God?  Why?”

Sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful, and I don’t think that is necessarily a shortcoming on our part.  I think it’s because sometimes life is unfair and difficult.

A few years ago, my little family was going through a particularly difficult season with no end in sight.  I remember feeling as if there was a battle going on inside my mind as I tried to practice gratitude for all we did have while at the same time wanting to scream, “Someone take this cup from me!  I do not want it and I did not ask for it!”  I became exhausted by the clash of voices.  Then a third voice entered the frey which told me that life wasn’t so bad and a lot of people have it worse and what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just be grateful.  Why couldn’t I just be grateful?  The guilt I felt over my seeming ingratitude felt more oppressive than the trying circumstances I was facing. I felt painfully stuck.

Gratitude is the pathway to joy, indeed.  But comparative suffering and self shaming are not the pathways to gratitude.  Shaming yourself into gratitude is not healing.  Using gratitude to silence and bypass your sincere grief and pain is not helpful.  Sometimes- often times- the healthiest thing we can do is to admit I’m unthankful for this.  I don’t want this.

Yes, we are called to be grateful, and, yes, gratitude fosters contentment and joy.  But we cannot use gratitude as a tool to silence our despair.  That is not the purpose of gratitude.  Admitting you are not thankful for the diagnosis, the unemployment, the loss, the failed relationship is the first step in surrendering those burdens you were never intended to solely bear.  You cannot surrender something you insist upon denying exists.    It is important to acknowledge and speak your sadness and anger because it is only then that you can let go of them.  It is only then that you can be free of them.  It is only then you can cultivate true and honest gratitude.  We can feel grateful for the healing and still not feel grateful for the hurt.

During this holiday season you may have so much to be grateful for, but you also may have some true heartache that occupies every thought and moment.  What are you ungrateful for today?  What life event are you unthankful for?  Silenced hurt metastasizes; shared hurt heals.  Speak the heartache.  Surrendering your hurt by admitting and sharing it with someone begins the healing process and opens the door to freedom and thanksgiving.

Having trouble feeling grateful?  Ask yourself, “What do I need to surrender?”  What do you need to acknowledge today so that healing can begin? 

Gumball Lessons: Learning to Embrace the Good and Bad in Your Story

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking on the power of embracing our story.  What does it mean to embrace our story?  What are the obstacles we face in trying to embrace our story? Embracing your story means that you understand how the twists and turns, the expected and unexpected, the good and the bad work together to create your unique purpose and life direction.  To embrace your story, you have to face your story.  Facing your story means dealing with the tough parts rather than trying to deny or ignore them.

But what if you don’t want to deal with the past?  What if you don’t know how to deal with the past?  How do you make sense of the past when there have been so many ups and downs? 

How do we wrap our minds around this thing called life that can be so breathtakingly beautiful and heart wrenchingly painful?

I think this dilemma is one of the biggest obstacles we face in embracing our story.  We run from the past because we don’t know how to reconcile the good and bad.  We don’t know how to hold onto the good and still call out and address the bad.

Maybe most of your story is really good- good friends, good life experiences, good memories- but there are a couple of chapters, or maybe even some characters, that have been really difficult.  These chapters or characters have created some true hurt in your life.  You don’t know how to include them in your story because you feel if you spend time talking about those painful scenes then you are discounting, or aren’t grateful for, all the good in your life.  And so you ignore or deny the impact of the chaotic home life, the addicted loved one, or the neglectful parent because you simply do not know how to reconcile the good and the bad.

Or maybe you are on the other end of the spectrum.  Life has been very hard.  From start to present, life has been one challenge after another.  And because life has beaten you up so, it is hard to hold on to the good.  It is hard to let yourself feel excitement and joy.  It is hard to believe that joy and good things really do, and will, happen to you.  So you live ever protective of your battered heart, constantly preparing for the worst and never letting yourself rest in joy.  It’s the same problem. You don’t know how to reconcile the good and the bad.  You don’t know how to hold them both.

The challenge in life is learning to accept the good and bad and give them each the credit they are due and the healing they deserve.  We must learn to hold the prickly and the smooth parts of life.  We must learn that sometimes life is like holding two gumballs.

This gumball is smooth, full of color, and if you bit into it, it would be sweet.

IMG_2784

This gumball is prickly and lackluster in color.

IMG_2783

Both are round. Both are gumballs.  But they are very different experiences. The sweetness of the one gumball does not cancel out the prickliness of the other.

Life is colorful and smooth and sometimes very sweet.  Life is also prickly and dark and a pain to deal with.

Sometimes, out of self-protection, we want our lives to be either all good or all bad because the back and forth, up and down can feel exhausting.  We want to know what we can count on because we want to feel in control of our fate.  So we decide that life is going to be all good, and we force a smile to hide any bad.  Or we decided that life is going to be all bad, and we lash out or reject anything that tries to convince us otherwise.

We struggle to embrace our stories when we want them to always make sense, follow a pattern, and not have any unexpected plot developments.  We struggle to embrace our story when we only want to hold onto one gumball.

The challenge is to learn to hold them both.

IMG_2786

The painful and difficult and negative events of your life do not cancel out all the good in your life.  Equally, the good in your life does not wash over and erase the hurts, abuse, or loss you have experienced.  Just because you’ve tasted the sweetness of life, does not mean you can’t still call out the bad.  Just because you know the prickliness of life, does not mean that is all there is to life.

It takes courage to have joy and hope, and it takes courage to grieve.  It takes courage to hold both gumballs.  Embracing your story means you accept the hard, prickly incidences just as you accept the sweet, colorful ones.  You accept that both experiences contribute to your unique story and life calling.  You learn to hold them both.

Do you struggle to reconcile the good and bad in your story? Does it ever feel like the bad overshadows the good in your life?  Do you stay quiet about the dark moments because you are afraid they will tarnish the bright ones?  Take the courageous step and start giving voice to all the parts of your unique and powerful story.

 

 

Coffee Talk presents... Embracing Your Story

As I have shared in earlier posts, over the past several months I have been studying and thinking  a great deal about the power of  personal stories.  What can you learn from your story?  How do the ups and downs and twists and turns create a greater theme for your life?  Why is it important we embrace our stories? We each were given a story to live, and there are parts we love and parts we try to ignore.  Embracing our story means accepting the beautiful and painful parts.  It means we choose to show up and be seen in our lives rather than hide and stay quiet.  How do you discover your unique purpose for this life?  It's in your story!  Your purpose, your calling is woven into the fabric of your unique story.  You need only learn the story, and as you learn your story, you will see that nothing is wasted.  The pain that plagues you, the disappointment that troubles you, the regret that haunts... none of it is a waste.  The pain heals, the disappointment subsides , the regret is redeemed, and it all comes together to create direction and purpose for your life.

Over the coming weeks, I will share more about the power of owning and sharing our stories.  If you are in the Atlanta area, I invite you to join us at Coffee Talk hosted by Peachtree Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, November 12th at 7:30 PM in The Lodge.   I will be speaking on embracing your story and living a life filled with courage and purpose.  Would love to see you there!  Have a great weekend!

 

FacebookAds403x403.CoffeeTalk

 

Thoughts for Thursday- Are You Brave Enough?

In honor of  my earlier post, What's Your Theme Song, I thought our Thoughts for Thursday post should be a song rather than a quote.   Yesterday a friend of mine, knowing how much I love the song “Brave” right now, sent me a link to this amazing video created by the patients and staff at University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital. Do me a favor- stop reading and watch the video.  It is truly  a must see.  You won't regret it.  (Click on the picture below for the video.)

 

8c9379083-tdy-brave-video-131014-01.TdyHorz3

 

Pretty incredible, right?

There are so many things you could say about what makes this video moving, but what stands out to me is how truly BRAVE those children, nurses, and doctors are.  We are never more courageous than when we choose to have hope and joy in the midst of pain and fear.

Joy and happiness are two different things, and I think we often confuse the two.  Happiness is temporary, momentary, fleeting.  It is like hunger- it’s going to come and go.  I can be happy when I buy a new pair of pants, but by the time I get home I can be completely angry about something.  But joy… joy is deeper.  It is more foundational.  Joy has to do with our spirit.  Happiness has to do with our circumstances.  Joy has to do with how we view the world and ourselves.

Joy is an interesting emotion.  Most would say they want to experience joy; they want to feel it.  But in truth, I think letting ourselves really experience joy and hope is actually a very scary prospect.  What if?  What if it doesn’t work out?  What if it is taken away from me?  What if it doesn’t happen? What if she don’t get better?  What if…  Joy leaves us feeling exposed, and whenever we feel exposed, our instinct is to protect.  We “protect” ourselves from the uncertainty of joy by throwing it away with worst case scenarios and cynicism.  We give it away before it can be taken away.  We think we’re protecting ourselves, but really we are depriving ourselves.

But what if you let yourself have hope?  What if you let yourself get excited about that thing on the horizon?  What if you danced in the midst of your fear and anxiety?  We are our bravest when we give ourselves permission to have hope and joy when all signs in our life point in a different direction.  We're not talking about a “smile and never let ’em see you sweat” philosophy.  That is denial.  That is self-protection run amuck.  That is dangerous.  We're talking about acknowledging your fear and your pain- not denying it- and giving yourself permission to feel  joy.  We're talking about letting yourself exhale.

What we see in the video is that in the midst of real fear and pain and uncertainty, those patients gave themselves permission to dance, to laugh, and to be silly.   That is courageous.  And what we can readily assume is that when the camera stopped rolling those same patients gave themselves permission to cry and rage and pound their fists when they needed to.  That is brave.   It's the type of brave that takes your breath away.

Whenever you allow yourself to have hope when you know the possible reality, you are being brave.  Whenever you allow yourself to feel joy when your instinct is to throw it away out of protection, you are being courageous.

Are you brave enough to hope?  Are you courageous enough to feel joy?