Encouragement

No Picking at Your Past

3863_1140532066489_4079474_nNight before last, I slept in a bed for the second time in two weeks. My son, Cub, whose leukemia is currently in remission, has been in the hospital for 13 days with a fever caused by a random spore that “thrives in the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.”

When I woke up, I felt refreshed, and hopeful. We had finally, after more than a week of spiking fevers, discovered the cause, and were applying the cure. Cub will get to come home soon, and things will get back to our new normal. But, something didn’t seem quite right with my idyllic musings. My face hurt. More accurately, my chin hurt.

My gingerly exploring fingertips were met with an angry hot protrusion. A blemish. A big blemish.

I groaned. What am I? Fourteen again? Sigh.

Before I even got out of bed, my mind was flooded with memories – awkward memories of braces and boys, misery and missed opportunities, layers of embarrassment over family secrets and a negative-on-the-number-line low self-esteem. Blemishes.

Have you noticed that your past seems to pick the most vulnerable times to pop up in your life? Like, when your child is sick, or you have money problems, or relationship issues?

God’s Word says, “Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

When your past rises up and tries to drag you back to places you’ve outgrown and overcome, don’t go. Turn instead toward the new path. God promises to make your direction clear in the confusion of the wilderness, and to refresh and sustain you in the draining isolation of the desert.

Your now and your future need your full attention. Leave your past in the past. You don’t need it anymore, dear hearts. ❤

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Breaking the procrastination cycle one day, or moment, at time.

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There was a time when, if you looked up procrastination in the dictionary, you’d find my picture right next to its phonetic spelling. Even now, I succeed in accomplishing my goals in spurts, like a sprinter. But, I want to be more like a marathoner because, after all, this is a long race we’re running.

In my younger years, I would often wait until the midnight hour, literally and figuratively, to do things like laundry or that 40 page term paper on the redemption cycle as represented by earth elements in King Lear. True story.

Then, as it so often does, life caught up with me and my mercurial ways. Certain things just didn’t flex into my creative scheduling. Bills, work, grown up chores, and the eventual realization that, whatever I wanted to accomplish in life, I was responsible for putting into play. I have an expiration date, and contrary to what most of us so-called visionaries were taught to believe by other so-called visionaries, so do our dreams and aspirations.

After a few (okay, MANY) unladylike stumbles and outright epic failures, I realized that my goals were more important than my perceived freedom of spirit. I began to prioritize, whittle down, and focus. None of these actions come easily to me. I can’t even call them habits yet because, even as a 40-something, I still struggle. Daily.

I make to-do lists, lose them, and start over with a new piece of paper (sorry, trees). Between my full-time job, being a mom and (trying) to be a homemaker, sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in freelance work before 9pm. Then, there are my working manuscripts: my memoir, my novel, and my fantasy trilogy. Oh, and those short stories. . . *sigh*

It’s unrealistic to think I can do it all, and yet, I feel like a failure for not being able to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, etc. etc. (If you’re under 40, you probably won’t get that reference. Sorry.) After beating myself up for not living up to my own expectations (or delirium, maybe?), I usually come back to reality with a clearer vision. I count my blessings and remember to be thankful. I remember that, yes, tomorrow IS another day and sometimes I remember that the rest of the day – the afternoon or even this next hour is fresh and unspoilt.

Then, instead of making the day’s to-do list on paper, I email it to myself. Instead of attempting to write 3 chapters between the hours of 9 and 11pm, I tell myself to do one page. One page is good. One page is great. One page is freaking FANTASTIC!

Can I bake 3 dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale this Thursday? No, but I can take home some reading pull out pages and collate them over the weekend. Can I clean out the car, weed the garden, and make a batch of cookies between getting off work and taking my son to his piano lesson? No, but I can grab a few things as I get out of the car, water the mums, and look through the cookbooks quickly with him to pick a recipe to bake together on Saturday afternoon.

Can I say no? Yes.

Can I compromise? Yes.

Can I be patient and forgiving, with myself? Yes.

And so can you.

There are many reasons we procrastinate. Only you can look inside yourself for your unique answer. For me, my reasons vary. I’m tired. I’m afraid it won’t turn out the way I want. I think I’ll have more time later. But, I challenge each of us to look at our lives and realize we’re on a one-way trip. What do we really want to accomplish while we’re here? What will bring us joy? What on our list is worth making a priority? What can we let go?

When you decide what’s important to you, revisit it daily. Spend time with your goals if you want to make them realities. You might stumble and fall, but keep getting back up. Move forward a little or a lot everyday, and you’ll make it.

 

 

Closed doors, sailed ships, and other myths…

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     For most of my life, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with process. It took me a long time to realize that process doesn’t equal failure. I used to think that if something didn’t come easily to me, as many things did when I was younger, then I must not be good at it. I didn’t understand the difference between having a natural aptitude for something and having the ability to acquire and cultivate a skill. As a result, for many years, I saw failure as a finite thing, and I also began to equate missed opportunities with failure, because I thought opportunity, also, was a finite thing. “The chance only comes around once in a lifetime.” “That ship has sailed,” etc. etc.

     I would look back on my life and see certain moments where an open door had been slammed shut, and I would wonder, what if it hadn’t? Would my life have been better if…?

     For instance, when I was in 4th grade, my family lived in Southern California. My dad was ill, and my parents were planning on returning to our former home in the mid-west to save money. It just so happened that I scored well on my school intelligence and achievement tests. I scored extremely well — so well, in fact, that my teacher called a private meeting with my mother. At the time, California had a few advanced education programs reserved for kids who were “gifted.” The particular program I had been chosen for involved an all expenses paid private school, accelerated classes, and the probability of entering college at an early age. They normally didn’t accept students until they were entering 6th grade, but they wanted to make an exception for me. I would be allowed to enter their program as a 5th grader in the coming year.

     As my teacher described the learning atmosphere, I was completely unaware of the magnitude of the offer. I was too busy falling in love with the idea of guided learning – following a mystery of the mind down the rabbit hole until I had consumed it. The idea, to me, was magical. I wanted to go there more than anything.

     My teacher’s expression of incredulity was lost on me as my mother started explaining why I couldn’t go. We had to move back to Missouri. Back to a small town without a library or a pharmacy, let alone an accelerated scholastic program of any kind. My teacher didn’t seem to understand a family not being deeply honored and moving heaven and earth to accept the offer, and explained again. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Couldn’t any other arrangements be made?

     No, there couldn’t.

     I never blamed my mother. I understood that sacrifices have to be made for family. But, I took on a bit of melancholy over the whole ordeal as I had a hard time fitting in at school. I started “dumbing myself down” and partitioning off a bit of myself that I felt I couldn’t satisfy, and found myself feeling somewhat intimidated at the idea of unleashing.

     In 6th grade, I found myself missing one word on my spelling test every few weeks because I thought if I consistently got perfect scores, I might not have as many friends. I remember looking at my practice list and reasoning out what word seemed tricky so that my teacher would think it more likely that I could get it wrong. I didn’t study because I could get good grades without studying. If I DID study, I ran the risk of standing out and possibly alienating myself. Silly, no? Tell that to the 12 year old me with off-the-chart reading comprehension scores from a dysfunctional family who just wanted to have friends. Amazingly enough, I still graduated a Congressional Honor Student.

     The thing is, for a long, long time, I thought that since I had MISSED the opportunity of a lifetime, I had to live down to my expectations. I didn’t understand that, just because that door had closed, nothing was keeping me from opening another door, punching out a window, or creating a brand new door of my own fashion and design.

     I had put limitations on myself, and I hadn’t even realized it.

     Of course, I’ve had many opportunities throughout my lifetime that I’ve pursued, ignored, or that I’ve run from. I have tasted success and failure.

     As a professional writer, I’ve had to grow a thicker skin. I’ve had to learn to respect the power of the rewrite. Sometimes my best work has been born out of what seemed like a failed first or second attempt. I’ve learned that I must be true to myself. Sometimes all I need to create an opportunity is to be me – to let the world see me.

     Just today, I tasted a bitter disappointment. But, in the hours before and after, new opportunities opened up to me, and I let myself see them because, for the first time in years, I didn’t get bogged down in blaming myself or bemoaning my fate. I didn’t sit in the hallway, refusing to keep walking toward new doors and windows (at least, not for more than an hour or so ;).

     Sometimes a ship that’s sailed is just a ship that’s sailed. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and look for a new ship. Or change course and go over the mountain. Or, if you just really, really want to be on the water, build your own ship.

     Fly, climb, sail, or take a nap if you want to. Just know that you have a lot more control over your life than you might realize. And no matter how many doors close or ships sail, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

    Be brave, friends, and embrace who you are and who you want to be. Fly high and sail hard. Just don’t give up.

The Perks of Persistence

My five-year-old son is a Skylanders rock star. We bought him the system when he was 4, even though it’s recommended for ages 6 and up. I was skeptical. My husband was hopeful. My son was ecstatic.

In a single Saturday, he had mastered the controller, XP’d multiple levels-up, and knew his characters’ full bios and credit histories. Okay, that last part is a joke. But seriously, he threw himself into it, taking my “we never give up!” mantra to heart as his characters fell off the ledge or into the lava. Again. And again.

That was quite a while back, and in the last few months, my heart and my family have taken a few blows. We’ve known need. We’ve known loss. And, we’ve known grief. That last part needs to be put into present tense, doesn’t it? We know grief. Grief is the unwelcome guest with a one way ticket to your innermost being. You don’t outgrow your grief. You learn to bear it; to live with it. Over time, it becomes a companion, and the relationship you share is the one you make it into. I learned this once. And now, I find myself retracing my steps as I walk the path once more.

The days and weeks and now, months, since my mother’s passing have been exhausting. In an ideal world, we would be allowed to be alone in our grief, to wrestle it out in our hearts and minds. But, that’s not realistic. We’re given 3 days, or 5, filled with planning a party you don’t want to have to give, sorting through baubles and valuables while you have a chance to do it  with family, cleaning, packing, visiting her favorite restaurant one more time, then it’s back to work. Back to the routines of the life that carried on while you were out with a shattered heart. As many of you know, it’s not easy.

Ten weeks after my mother passed, my brother and I locked the door on her house for the last time, finally done with the sorting and packing and cleaning. I remember closing my eyes and sucking in a deep breath, hoping to capture any stray memories that lingered, wanting to take everything with me.

The next Saturday, I spent home with my son, greedily soaking him in. “Mommy, will you play Skylanders with me?” His blue eyes, so much like hers, shining at me.

We sat side by side, and played, laughed, and laughed some more. Then we got to a hard part. Like, a really hard part that challenged even my coordination. Our characters had to jump onto a series of rotating gears that were spinning in orbit around our destination, which held the switch that when flipped, would defeat our enemy and reward us with treasure.

It just so happened that my character was the only one of our two that was equipped with the special ability required to take this challenge to task. So, I went for it, and failed, plunging off the third gear or so. (There were a lot of gears.) Each time I tried, I fell off. Sometimes it was early on, and sometimes I would be sooo close, and fail. I was tempted to give up, but that’s not something I wanted to do in front of my son. I tell him that we never, ever give up. So, I kept trying.

I was frustrated. I felt like a dork. This is a kids’ game. Why is it so hard?

Somewhere around my 19th attempt, I made it. At first, I didn’t realize it, but my son started jumping up and down, and screaming, “Mommy is AWESOME!” and it sunk in. I did it!

“Wow!” I said. “That was really hard! I had to do it so many times!”

“Yeah,” my wise-beyond-his-years son replied. “But, the last time was easy!”

Boom.

It’s easy to give up. We’re tempted to every day, aren’t we? We’re tempted to give up on our dreams, on our futures, on keeping up with, well, everything. Oh, and we have good reasons, don’t we? We’re tired. The world is cruel. Our dreams don’t seem to come true. We hurt. We grieve. When we fall of the gear, we don’t want to try again, and again. Experience has taught us that we can try, but we’ll fail. Epically.

But, what if?

What if we’re not done? What if the lesson Experience is trying to teach us isn’t a one-time lecture. What if our professor is more complicated and intellectual than that? What if he is trying to get our attention with an object lesson, and if we skip out of class before he’s done, what will we have learned?

Never give up. Persevere. Our challenges don’t go away. Life is full of them. But, as long as we keep trying to navigate, seeking a path that will get us through, we’ll make it. The journey won’t always be easy, but the victory will be sweet.

James 1:2-4 “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

Hang in there. We’re all in this together.

Walk it one step at a time. Just keep walking.

Worthy; recovering from emotional abuse, January 10, 2014

Image Most of us step into marriage with the greatest expectations of a lifetime spent loving and being loved. Sure, we’ll have our ups and downs, just like everyone else, but we’ll work through whatever comes our way, together, because that’s what people who love each other do, right?

I married my second boyfriend. Throughout high school and college, I can count on one hand the different guys I went out with, so it’s safe to say I didn’t date a lot. I was that other girl, you know, everyone’s “little sister.” I had a herd of “big brother” friends and protectors, but few expressed any romantic interest.

When I married “Don” (not his real name), I was just finishing nursing my wounds from the “big breakup” with my college sweetheart. It had been two years, and “Don” seemed the antithesis of my first boyfriend. He was a few years older, reserved, cerebral, in the ministry, and an east-coaster. My first boyfriend was from Chicago, so dating someone with a completely different philosophy on pizza might be a good idea, right? Word to the wise, don’t base your dating decisions on hand tossed versus deep dish. Just sayin’ ;p

“Don” and I took a lot of walks. He was a great conversationalist and offered a lot of deep thoughts and clever phrases. He was fun in a dark, droll kind of way – Mr. Rochester to my Jane. The romantic in me thought it was a match made in Victorian literature. Ahem.

The first few months of our marriage were nice. Peaceful, quiet, normal, until that morning – the morning “Don” wasn’t waking up for church. He was going to be teaching, and I was supposed to lead worship, but I decided to let him rest a few more minutes since he obviously was tired. When I still couldn’t rouse him, I became worried. He seemed totally unresponsive. I remember sitting down next to him on the edge of the bed, my hand on his shoulder. “Don?” I asked with a gentle shake. Nothing. “Don?” A little louder, a little more urgent. Then, he awoke, but the man who lunged from the bed was no one I recognized.

He was raging, and I was dumbfounded, confused and silent, just watching at first, trying to wrap my head around what was happening in front of me. Words spewed from him like venom. Harsh, unfounded accusations, cruel curses, and anger. Still, the only thing I understood was that I needed to keep out of his way.

I watched what seemed like slow motion as he flew his fist against the hallway wall, leaving a crooked imprint. I remember thinking he seemed so calm and focused on his movements. Elbow back, fist tucked under chin, then a deep breath and BAM, another hit, this time splintering a hole in the coat closet door.

The energy rolled off of him, and he suddenly seemed exhausted. He walked to the bathroom and locked himself inside. Quiet.

I sat on the couch, feet tucked under my knees, nightgown pulled down tight, like a little girl watching a scary movie. The phone sat on the coffee table. I stared at it, weighing my options, my future. All I had to do was make one call. My brother would come and get me, and that would be that. But…

If I made that call, there would be no hope of saving my marriage. No hope of rescuing that happily ever after. My family would lock me in a closet before ever letting me come back, and there would be no vouching for “Don’s” safety. I am the baby of five, and let’s face it, big brothers are big brothers.

That’s when I heard him crying, from the other side of the bathroom door. Obviously, “Don” must be sick. He had never acted that way before. Maybe he needs some medicine, and some counseling. Something must be wrong, and it was my place to help him, wasn’t it?

And so it began. Friends, finding yourself in an emotionally abusive relationship is as easy as a Sunday morning gone wrong. If you find yourself in a situation where you need help, or you see that someone you love needs help, please, be brave. Make the call.

Love you, lovelies.

The Journey, January 8, 2014 “What do you crave?”

ImageIt happens every day, more than once and, usually, more often than necessary. It starts innocently enough. Maybe you begin to feel a bit fidgety. Your toes start wiggling, and your mind becomes a bit distracted. Could you be…hungry?

Yes, of course, that must be it. It’s been at least an hour or two since you’ve eaten, and now you’re starving, famished even, and on the verge of dramatic interpretation as you stumble toward the vending machine in what you assume can only be a low-blood-sugar induced stupor. The oxymoronic vacuum of feelings sucking at you from the inside out must be a craving for something sweet. Or something salty. Something substantial, or just a little something to tide you over. Peanuts or pizza? A diet Coke and Doritos, or a handful of mini-marshmallows (don’t ask)?

I won’t pretend to be the first person to point out the differences between craving and hunger, but I’ll be happy to be the millionth person to bring it up again because I make it no secret that I’m an emotional eater.  🙂 I wear my insecurities, heartbreaks, and suppressed feelings on the outside, for everyone to see. So much for that magical cloak of invisibility, eh?

Just last night I found myself craving something. My day had been lacking in certain ways, and I was feeling unsatisfied because there are some things that I want to be different, but I just don’t know how to change them. Turning my thoughts away from the seemingly impossible, I stood up and began wandering. I wandered into the kitchen, put an errant cup into the sink and looked around at a whole lot of nothing. The last of the good Christmas treats had either been consumed or pitched, and all that remained were a few random hard candies. Bah, kids’ stuff. I leave the kitchen, disappointed and dull.

I know I should focus through this hunger and spend the energy on something useful, like writing, but I find myself standing in front of my dresser, instead, dolefully rummaging through my sock drawer (don’t ask). Nope. Nothing exciting there, unless you count the walk down memory lane courtesy of my favorite pair of socks – black with a vine of little red roses that I’ve saved since high school. (Yes, I have hosiery with history. Please don’t judge.)

And so, the walk through my house is fruitless, turning up not one bit of chocolate or chips or anything to feed my craving. So, I did the next best thing — I went to bed a little early and found myself having a good cry. Was I crying because we were out of chocolate? No. Was I crying because I was hungry? No. My tears were cathartic, calorie-free, and maybe, just maybe, what I had needed in the first place. Maybe I wasn’t hungry. Maybe I was sad, lonely and disappointed. Maybe what I craved had nothing at all to do with food. Maybe instead of chocolate chunk cookies, I had craved cleansing. Instead of shoveling something in to push down the hurt, I just needed to let it out.

As we walk this journey together, you and I, please let me challenge you as I challenge myself. Be true to yourself. But, before you can be true to yourself, you have to be honest with yourself. Come to terms with the terms of your life. If there’s something you don’t like, do your best to change it, at least the parts that you can. Cheer up and do something positive. Resist the temptations and get rid of the tasty goodies. Save your sock drawer for socks 🙂 Look for the value in the emotions you are trying to ignore. Acknowledge them, work through them, and then let them go.

Live true. Live free. We’ve got this :0)

 

The Journey, December 21, 2013

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Many years ago, when I was overweight the first time, a dear family friend offered to pay for a few counseling sessions for me. The counseling was a gift of guidance through some rough waters I was navigating at the time – college, boyfriend, my father’s deteriorating mental health. I met with the counselor for my first session. She and her husband shared a counseling practice in a detached office space behind their Chicago-land residence. She was middle aged, blonde, and petite. We talked briefly about a few things at first. I call it the “getting to know you” stage. Then, she said something that took me by surprise.

“You’re really tiny, aren’t you?”

Confession – I was VERY overweight at the time, considerably more  than I am now. Her words stunned me.  And, they frightened me. My obesity failed to hide my 5’2″, small-boned frame from this woman. Somewhere inside, I was tiny, and the realization that she noticed was terrifying, even though I didn’t know why. And, at the time, I wasn’t willing to find out. My first visit to that counselor was my last – I didn’t go back.

Over the years, I have occasionally thought about that day, about her words and my reaction.  As miserable as being overweight can be, it can serve as a great excuse to get you out of all kinds of situations, both passively and actively. It provides a protective barrier of insulation, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, it’s not very versatile. There is a price to pay for trying to make yourself invisible to the world. The price? Success. For every bad thing you think you’ve protected yourself from, there is a multitude of positive experiences that you deny yourself, and the people around you.

Invisibility doesn’t equal immunity.

Whatever any of us thinks we’re saving ourselves from by hiding behind weight isn’t worth it. There is suffering even in the so-called invisibility. Trust me, being overweight doesn’t make you invisible. It makes you misrepresented. You don’t take as many chances. You deny yourself opportunities. You don’t let your talents shine. You don’t contribute as fully as you might otherwise. You can’t fulfill your true earthly purpose when you’re not being true to yourself. And, you know what? That’s really sad.

It came as a surprise.

Until that day in the counselor’s office, sitting in a plush, overstuffed chair, I had no idea that I was invisible. I wasn’t consciously trying to hide who I was from the world. What’s more, I had forgotten that I really was, well, tiny. Could it have been that, instead of hiding myself from the world, or at least, in addition to hiding myself from the world,  I was attempting to hide myself from myself?

Why would I do that?

I don’t know if I have the answer to that question. When I consider it, I think of words like self-preservation, denial, fear, lack of confidence. That’s probably a good start. I think that when we are in situations we feel we have no control over and we need comfort that we can’t seem to satisfy, we turn to alternatives. Some of those alternatives are healthy, and some are not. I don’t think any of us do it on purpose. Who would want to be unhealthy? Who would want to be overweight? Who would want to be invisible?

Breaking true.

So, I’ve lost around 15 pounds now. I probably have around 80 to go, at least. And, that’s okay because I’m moving in the right direction. I’m more comfortable with who I am than I have ever been. I’m looking forward to moving forward in this journey, and to learning more about myself and the world and my place in it. The exciting thing is that the ride is so much more fun with my eyes open 🙂 Because I am willing and able to look at myself and the truth of my situation – the truth of my health, my priorities, my options, my dreams, my environment, my family and friends, my job, my past, my now, and my future, I have all the tools I need to break through to my next goal, and the next, and the next.

I hope that, as you move forward in your journey, whatever it may be, that you choose to be bold. Be willing to open your eyes to yourself and the world around you. You deserve to live and walk in the truth of who you are. Brave is as brave does 😉