I Must Go

Yesterday my church blessed our children and our teachers as they prepared to head back to school this week. I can’t imagine a more fitting response to the hatred and bigotry displayed over the weekend across our country, most egregiously in Charlottesville. We prayed that God would “grant that through their study, they may gain the tools to grow in love and faith and service all their days.” And, where better to start a movement of love than among our children and among the teachers and administrators and cafeteria workers and custodians and counselors and nurses and coaches and all those who will touch their lives and influence their learnings?

As Nelson Mandela so wisely stated,

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

I’ve been struggling all weekend with potent feelings – feelings of sadness and disgust, anger and outrage, powerlessness and shame. I’ve read comments and made comments and shared posts, all the while wondering what am I really doing to create change? Our pastor preached a sermon entitled, “Interrupted Prayers,” in which he talked about Peter walking on water. His interpretation was one I had not heard before, and it stuck with me. Peter’s desire to step out onto the water was propelled by his desire to be where Jesus was, to DO what Jesus was doing. Jesus went away to pray, but life (a boat full of disciples defeated by stormy seas) drew him out of solitude and into the fray.

I’ll admit that it’s easier and much more comfortable for me to pray for our persecutors than it is to call out bigoted language like a college friend did when she overheard a group of teenagers “joking” about chanting “white power” at a peace rally (thank you, Rolyn). It’s easier and much more comfortable for me to hide behind my computer than to stand in solidarity against symbols of hate with my brothers and sisters of color. It’s easier and much more comfortable to avoid conflict altogether and just to monitor my own actions and mind my own business.

But, the children we blessed yesterday, and those teenagers my friend encountered over the weekend are MY children too. They are OUR children. MY silence, MY hesitation to speak up, MY willingness to look the other way teaches them a lesson about life and about what’s ok. Our children are not born hating. WE were not born hating. We were born of love and made in the image of LOVE. And, for love to win in these horrifying days, we have to be willing to step out of the boat – to rise up out of our comfort zones and speak love to hate, to DO justice, to show our children, and our brothers and sisters of color that love does indeed come more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

I pray that my own discomfort in these times will actuate within me the courage to step out of the boat, to go where faith calls me to walk boldly toward Jesus. I pray that my words become actions and my prayers become movement, that the lessons I teach on a daily basis will reflect Love, Justice, Mercy, and Humility. Even as I struggle with my own biases and prejudices, I pray that my desire to love well will win.

These are terrifying times. It would be easy to succumb to defeat, to give up hope, to lose faith. But, Jesus bids us, “Come.” And, as a follower, I must go.

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Let Go and Remember

It’s January 1, and I’ve seen sooooo many posts hailing good riddance to 2016. I’ll admit, it hasn’t been our best year as a country, as a people, a human community. And, that’s precisely why we need to remember it. Yes, let’s let go of the anger and meanness and hurt and sadness and grief (if you’re ready) and prepare ourselves to move forward. Let’s let go of what held us back and kept us from being brave. We can let go of the shoulds and ought tos and the need to perfect and please. We can let go of so much about what made 2016 a contemptible year for so many.

But, please, please let’s remember. Let’s remember what we’ve learned: that we need to listen more, that we need to make space for struggle and extend grace in disagreement. Let’s remember that we are, NONE OF US, perfect or infallible. Let’s remember that the courageous choice is rarely the comfortable one. Let’s remember that we still have work to do, that reconciliation is born out of honest, engaged conversation, that there is more we share in common than that which separates us. Let’s please remember that all lives are sacred and all lives matter and that acknowledging the oppression of one people doesn’t negate the value of others. Let’s remember to pause and to take another’s perspective. Let’s remember that there are pockets of people in every community, every church, every school, every workplace, in both political parties who feel forgotten, betrayed, disappointed and alone. Let’s remember.

Let’s remember that magic happens in the midst of the ordinary everydayness of our lives, that good things happen when we least expect them. Let’s remember that we have the ability to make a difference, that our voices matter. Let’s remember that our words matter, and kindness matters. Let’s remember that we are enough, that gratitude is the antidote to scarcity, that we can be brave and afraid in the same moment. Let’s remember.

I’m all for the year in rearview – keep your eyes forward and aim yourself towards the journey ahead, but glance back every now and then, and remember…

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do the hustle

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What keeps you awake at night? For me, it’s a million things but most prevalently what haunts me during the nighttime hours are conversations – replayed over and over and over – word for word – did I say that right? I wonder if that made any sense. I didn’t communicate that very well. I think I may have hurt his feelings. I think she’s convinced that I’ve lost it. I never should have said that. Over and over and over. I acknowledge that this ruminating is mostly due to my perfectionism. I like to do things “the right way.” I like to say things well and in a manner that allows people to hear. I want to do things perfectly, perhaps even magically so as to meet and exceed everyone’s expectations. I work hard during conversations, then I work doubly hard after conversations worrying about how they really went.

Let me just go ahead and tell you, my life is exhausting. Not because I have small children who stand at my bedside at 3:00 a.m. staring me down until I manage to open an eye. Not because I live by a train track that rattles the bones of my home at all hours. Not because I work the graveyard shift then come home to rowdy neighbors. My life is exhausting because I’m constantly doing the hustle. (No, not the 1970s Van McCoy version.) Brené Brown calls it the hustle for worthiness. I honestly didn’t think of my personal exhaustion as being related to my sense of worthiness until very recently. Even being thoroughly indoctrinated by Brené’s work, I’ve never been willing to put it together. I have thoughts and ideas and dreams and challenges and hopes and worries and… And, I want people to love me through those things and to accept those pieces of me without needing to agree or convince otherwise or fix; but clearly, there is some voice inside that tells me it isn’t possible. I want to belong, and so I hustle to make sure all the plates keep spinning, people keep liking and sharing and following, and I feel safe and accepted. I want to believe that even when people really know who I am and the ways I struggle (or the ways I have it easy) that they will love me anyway. I want to believe that I can disagree and hold separate opinions with the benefit of still belonging. And, yet, there’s something deep inside that questions the reality of being loved in spite of my imperfections and messes and different opinions.

You see, my nighttime ruminating is directly linked to my desire to belong, and somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that to belong I have to say the right things and do the right things and be the right person – in everybody’s eyes – which, by the way IS IMPOSSIBLE. *Exhaustion*

Here’s the thing. Now I’m clued in to the hustle. It hit me like a ton of bricks, really, this weekend. I’ve declared being brave as an intention for my life. I’ve named courage as a north star value, a value by which I find my way when I’m flat on my face or feeling my way through the dark. I’ve been practicing courage in a number of ways recently, and I’m building a business on being brave and inspiring others to do the same. But, I was reminded the other day that courage and comfort don’t coexist. “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot have both,” Brené writes. It’s so true. I’ve shared this quote so many times but rarely thought about how it applied to my perfectionism and hustling (and subsequent exhaustion). Being brave means stepping out and letting my imperfect ideas and thoughts and messy dreams be seen. It means letting myself be seen, and that’s NOT comfortable. Being misunderstood is uncomfortable. Being judged is uncomfortable. Disappointing people I care about is uncomfortable. Not having the right answers is uncomfortable. Disapproval is uncomfortable. But, it’s really hard to be brave and avoid being misunderstood sometimes, judged sometimes, disappointing people and being disapproved of sometimes, and for sure being wrong sometimes…

It finally clicked for me that when I am most exhausted is when I am hustling – big time. I also realized that when I’m hustling and feeling insecure, my tendency is to retreat, to withdraw into my safe space and hide the holy mess that is my life. But, that’s not very courageous. It temporarily gives me a break from the hustle, but before long I’m isolated and right back where I started with a deep, deep desire to belong.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it usually leads me right back into the hustle. I really want it to be different this time. I’d like to live into my courage in new and healthier ways. Instead of trying to keep this person happy and that person safe and the other person justified, I’d like to stand my sacred ground and trust that it’ll be ok, that the people I’m hustling to please or avoid offending or disappointing will ultimately allow space for my imperfect yet authentic self. A girl can hope, right?!?

One of my favorite quotes from Brené’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, is this:

I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” It’s going to bed at night thinking, “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Oh, that we might all find that space and live into it. I am imperfect (I say the wrong things and have mixed up ideas and confused beliefs) and vulnerable (I have tender spots and very sensitive feelings) and sometimes afraid (I am often afraid and anxious and overwhelmed), but, BUT, that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.

Life is hard. Being brave is hard. Standing our sacred ground is hard, but hustling is exhausting and it robs us of our authenticity. Perhaps it’s time to find a new dance…

Adulting

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Adulting is hard. As I’ve seen all the “back to school” posts today, I’m aware that I really miss those days! Sometimes I wish I could go back to the carefree years when the most difficult decision I had to make was what to eat for breakfast. Today, when my friends’ kids were going back to school, I was checking off my to-do list: laundry, return phone calls, for the love – please finally clean up your office, pay bills… Seriously?!? I want to go back to school and receive notes like, “You obviously did not read the chapter assigned for review.” (Told you I was cleaning up my office). :-/

Nowadays, instead of being graded on music theory and sight reading, I’m being called upon to be an adult: to think, act, accept responsibility and believe as an adult, as one “who is fully grown or developed or of age” (according to dictionary.com). Some days I find this easier said than done. There are parts of this adult thing I get – I don’t necessarily like – but I get. Paying my own bills, making sure my dog and I have proper nutrition and health care, going to work on time, being a responsible citizen, paying taxes, etc. – these things I understand and can do without much consternation. But, the adult relationship stuff – hard. Being respectful of and willing to listen to opposite viewpoints – hard. Addressing conflict – hard. Owning my story (all of it: my privilege, my perfectionism, my heartbreak) – hard. Building bridges – hard. Allowing for what will be – hard.

Being an adult is hard, and yet, I am an adult. And I find myself in situations in which I am called upon to think, act, accept responsibility and believe as an adult who has been taught to love my neighbor, to reach out to those who are marginalized, to care for the vulnerable, to engage in dialogue and to look for ways to bridge the gaps in broken structures.

Hard – especially when the marginalized and vulnerable look so much like people I’ve learned to fear or judge. Hard – especially when my neighbor’s truck is covered with bumper stickers that make my stomach turn. Hard – when dialogue requires me to shut up and listen, really listen. Hard – when a structure seems so broken as not to have any hope of repair. Hard – when I have to examine my own part in perpetuating what is broken.

Adulting is hard because it often means choosing the hard thing: kindness over criticism, action over indifference, silence over insistence. Adulting means not always being right, making room for other viewpoints and perspectives, allowing the experiences of others to matter even when we don’t understand them. Ugh…

Being an adult is hard, but as adults functioning in community, we’re given the opportunity – no, the responsibility – to behave civilly and maturely with those whom we encounter. We’re called upon to work together to build community in places where opinions differ, where ideologies and platforms are as diverse as the number of people present. We’re called on to be community in the unlikeliest of places and in desperately troubling times.

I do miss the days when I didn’t think so much about what made people different. I miss innocently formed friendships based on chosen seats or alphabetically ordered desks. I miss relishing the excitement of learning and being stretched by new ideas and differing opinions. And, yet, I’m aware that with the right attitude and intention, I can “go back to school” too. I can approach life and relationships with an open mind and open heart, ready to learn, ready to hear, ready to explore.

Adulting is hard, but I am an adult. Good thing I get to choose what kind of adult I will be.

becoming real

 

 

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Exactly one year ago today, I was cleaning out my garage preparing to move. It was really hot. I mean: it was REALLY hot. I had set my alarm for noon – work 9:00 to noon – that was my commitment to myself. At noon I made my way into the kitchen, turned the toaster oven to preheat and grabbed a wet, cool paper towel. I was exhausted. I knew there was more work to do, but I had committed to working for 3 hours then giving myself a much deserved break. That’s when the phone rang. I barely heard it because I had forgotten it in the laundry room. I managed to grab it just before the voicemail picked up and noticed on the caller id it was my sister-in-law. A call from her was not exactly everyday occurrence but wasn’t really out of the ordinary enough to cause alarm. It wasn’t until I heard her voice – calm, steady, compassionate – that I knew.

I knew. She didn’t even have to tell me. I knew. My family had been talking about it for more than a year. Dad’s decline, his clear exhaustion had been more and more obvious. He was in the country and had collapsed, she said. He was at the hospital and they were trying to stabilize him enough for air transport. So many things were wrong about this picture. What was he doing in the country? Was he by himself? What had happened? How long? So many questions flooded through my mind, and all I could say to her was, “I have to take a shower.”

I don’t remember another time in my life when I felt more disoriented or disassociated from reality. I remembered to turn off the toaster oven. I called my oldest brother. I texted a friend to pick up a package from my front porch. I made contact with some of my tribe and walked around my house in dizzied circles for I don’t really know how long. I did need a shower. I was dripping sweat and needed something to jerk me out of my stupor. I literally stopped myself and said aloud, “Marjorie. You have to get in the shower. Now.”

I turned the hot water on and as I stepped in my body let go of a heart wrenching sob. The sounds I remember making were so foreign to me they were frightening. Never had I been so wrought with emotion that I had no control whatsoever. I had no. control.

A few weeks ago, I heard the recording of Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son wailing in the background as his mother spoke to news media. While the circumstances were clearly very different, I recognized his wail. I felt his wail like it was part of my muscle memory, and just like that, I was transported back in time.

I wrote in an earlier post about how the experience of losing my dad reconnected me with a part of myself I had really worked at suppressing. It’s still true. I feel things differently now. My emotions are looser and less controlled. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad or neither. I just know that it is.

Margery Williams, in The Velveteen Rabbit, writes “Once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” I think what happened to me the weekend my dad died was a kind of becoming “real.” Because I was unexpectedly stripped of all defenses and left vulnerable to the grief and pain of that experience, the real me was set free. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it, but in the sacredness of that moment: in the shower with hot water beating down, as my body let go of almost 40 years of turbulent emotion, I became real.

And, now as I try to live into this new reality and embrace this gift of unapologetically feeling my way through life, I’m aware that I’m not so afraid anymore. I’m tired. I get overwhelmed. I feel sad, angry, frustrated, guilty. I feel oh so many feels, but I’m not so afraid of the feelings anymore.

I think this is huge for me, and maybe for others, too. It seems many of us work really hard to suppress difficult emotions and to stuff them down into parts of us we think we can cut off. Then the fear builds. The harder we shove, the more we fear what we’ve crammed down and suddenly we’re afraid of everything that feels difficult.

Being in relationship with others is difficult. Engaging in honest, productive conversation is difficult and can be fraught with all number of emotions. But, if we are to be real – with ourselves and others – we have to be brave and vulnerable. If we are ever to see peace in our country and in our world, we must step out of our comfort zones and be prepared to listen and to feel the difficult feelings along with our brothers and sisters. It’s hard work, being real. It’s hard making space for others to be real, too, especially if those others are different and think and believe differently than we do. But, I’m convinced that when we are able to lean in to vulnerability and to make space for others to do the same, things change. Lives are changed.

Sometimes it takes something big, some awful experience to break our hearts (and, hopefully, as Parker Palmer writes, to break them open) before we are able to fully embrace our real selves – all of us – difficult emotions, painful experiences and all. And when it happens we have the opportunity either to be afraid and stuff it down again, or to embrace it and see where it takes us. If we are open, it can take us to the table where we can engage in dialogue and communion with those who are not like us and who need to be heard. If we are open, it can help us to break down walls and make room for peace in our hearts and in our world. If we are open.

My dad took his final, hard-won breath around 11:15 pm on Sunday, August 2, 2015. It was my brother’s 45th birthday. We had all been gathered around Dad’s bed for two days, taking turns talking or singing to him, praying for his peace. It was one of the most difficult and yet most sacred experiences of my life. I was not prepared for the grief I would feel, for the helplessness and uncontrolled emotion. I was not prepared for my tough, controlled, outer skin to be rubbed off in such fashion. But, now, even as tears live on the edges of my eyelids almost at all times, I’m so grateful to have been loved enough to become real.

I hope I can be brave enough to allow for others to be real as well – even when, especially when, it’s hard.

I must be brave

I’m a coward. Really. It’s taken me a long to time accept and admit that when it comes to saying hard things, I’m an honest to goodness coward. I keep seeing posts and articles from writers and activists and everyday ordinaries who are speaking difficult words into difficult and often hostile spaces. And I have remained silent. I’ve been reluctant even to click “share” for fear of … well, for fear of being rejected or mistreated or misunderstood. Even as I type the words, I’m making the connection between what I most fear about speaking out and what those on whose behalf I feel compelled to speak face every day – not necessarily because they’ve said or done or shared something of a controversial or provocative nature – but because of who they are: Black, Gay, Muslim, Different, Not Like Me.

No more. I can be silent and cowardly no more. I wear a necklace with the words “Be Brave” engraved on it. It’s an intention I’ve set for my life, and in theory it’s my intention for ALL of my life: my faith, my relationships, my vocation. But, when I named that intention for myself I didn’t think it through very well. I didn’t really consider the risk involved with being brave. I didn’t think about how being brave in one area would affect my life in another. I didn’t think about what being brave could cost.

This week my news feed has been flooded with so many words about so many things. The thought of adding my own words to the mix has felt a little pointless, intimidating. But then I was reminded today of how my silence speaks volumes to those I care about, those who face rejection, mistreatment and misunderstanding every. day.

And, so I write with all the bravery I can muster knowing that all the bravery in the world won’t protect me from the sting of pushback or criticism.

I write because I’m selfishly reminded of Martin Niemöller’s speech:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I write because I believe with every fiber of my being that the hatred and injustice in today’s world breaks the very heart of God.

I write because I believe that Black lives matter and that we must say it aloud, often, so our brothers and sisters of color know that their cries are not in vain.

I write because my LGBTQ friends and neighbors are, too, fearfully and wonderfully made and loved and deserve to hear it said aloud, often.

I write because I believe that when Jesus spoke of loving our neighbors, he meant to include not exclude, those who are Different, Not Like Me. When we find that Jesus always dislikes or disapproves of the same people we dislike or disapprove of, we might just want to check and see who has been made in the image of whom.

I write today because I want to be brave. I want to be brave on behalf of those whose bravery goes unnoticed or is so heavily criticized that their messages get ignored. I want to be brave and not fear awkward dinner conversations or comment section rants. The truth is I know I’ll face both. I know there are those who don’t believe that white privilege exists (or perhaps don’t care if it does). I know there are those who would rather die protecting the Bible than loving their neighbor. I know there are those who would volunteer to build Donald Trump’s wall and stand in line to petition for the exclusion of all Muslims from our country. I know there are those whose perceived rights outweigh the value of another human life. I know there are those who would rather not think about such unpleasantries at all.

The thing is, This – all of this – comes down to one thing for me. I choose to follow Jesus. And, the Jesus I know stripped away privilege (his own included), reached out to those who were marginalized and wounded, and commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love God, and love neighbor. There is no other commandment greater than these, he said. So, political orientation, interpretation of biblical text, and feelings about different religions aside – one thing is very clear to me: I cannot be silent any longer. I cannot stay safe in my cowardliness and betray my friends, my neighbors, with silence. I must be brave.

And so I write. I write because I think Jesus wants me to use my voice for good. I write because I believe in Imago Dei – we are, all of us, made in the image of God, and we, all of us, deserve to hear it said aloud and often. And we, all of us, deserve to be treated with common dignity and respect – valued as human beings.

I write because Black lives matter.

LGBTQ lives matter.

Muslim lives matter.

And, these are my neighbors.

 

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

May it be so.

Life is brutiful

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Oh the truth. One minute life is rolling along just fine, then the next you find yourself caught squarely in the crosshairs of grief and anxiety. Yesterday I shared a farewell dinner with some precious friends, friends whom I will miss terribly but whose next adventure I wholeheartedly support. I ate dinner with good friends while also knowing that another precious friend sat anxiously in an ER waiting room longing to hear word about her sweet dad who had fallen from a significant height. Brutiful.

Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 86th birthday. We were all together last year this time celebrating him, not knowing that we would lose him only 2 short months from that day. The celebration, the family time, honoring my dad – it was all beautiful and full of grace. Losing him so soon after… brutal.

This coming Monday would have been my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary – “would have been” being the key phrase. I can’t express the depth of my gratitude for the commitment they showed one another and my brothers and me. And, I am heartbroken that they will celebrate here together no more.

Seriously. Life is brutiful. The brutal is somehow tangled up in the beautiful, and just when we think we can’t take any more pain something or someone happens to shine light on the beauty that still exists, that seeps up through the difficult just long enough to offer a little hope, a little space for gratitude.

I can’t explain it. I can’t quantify it or even fully define it, but I think Glennon summed it up so nicely in that one word: brutiful.

So, I try to remember, when grief and anxiety loom near that somewhere in it all – some time – the beautiful will eventually peek through. Maybe not today or even tomorrow or next week, but I’ll recognize it eventually. And, it’ll keep me moving forward another day, with a little bit of hope and some space for gratitude. Thanks be to God.

OOC

When I was in college a friend of mine used the phrase “OOC” all the time (out of control for anyone needing interpretation as I usually do). This was before texting and social media, mind you. Of course, the context usually referred to someone’s behavior as in, “You’re OOC!” I know it sounds ridiculous, really, but I’ve been thinking about this phrase a lot these last few weeks. Do you ever feel like life is OOC? I certainly do.

I’m in the process of a renovation at my house. It isn’t a huge project, but it has meant moving things around and clearing out closets which has meant chaos in rooms that were once relatively orderly. It has also meant staying away while stuff is being done, which is a challenge for someone who works from home. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the progress and the chance to do the reno in the first place, but it has definitely meant that things feel out. of. control.

It’s interesting how we tend to believe that we can control so many things. Most of us can convince ourselves we have some control in our lives – until we don’t… Someone dies. You lose your job. Your roof leaks. You get rear-ended. Something or some things happen that are completely out of your control. Then what?

The problem is, when situations feel out of my control, I often resort to old habits and poor coping mechanisms (like binge eating Cheetos and ice cream). I have to remind myself that control is just an illusion to begin with. If I can remember this, then it’s less jarring in situations like the one in which I currently find myself. Why do I feel like I need so much control anyway? Yes, I am a little bit of a control freak. I like things orderly and in their place. I like to know what’s coming so I can attempt to prepare for it. I like to load my dishwasher a particular way. I appreciate controlled environments. Most of the time. Ok, so I appreciate controlled environments when I’m the one controlling them.

So, my challenge to myself during these days (and always really) is to trust the process. There is some amount of order in the happenings around me even if I can’t always see it. And, I’m not doing myself any favors by giving in to the stress of what feels out of control. The opposite, in fact, is true – I am doing harm to myself by allowing negative habits and coping practices to creep in. While that pint of Ben & Jerry’s might taste good going down, it won’t feel so good next time I have to step on the scale at the doctor’s office.

It definitely seems easier said than done – trusting the process – particularly when one’s world feels completely out of control. But, I do believe it’s better than the alternative (having to purchase an entirely new wardrobe all thanks to Ben and Jerry). So, I set my intention each day: Trust the Process. And, I remind myself throughout that it’s going to be ok, that I don’t have to control everything, that I CAN’T control everything, that this too shall pass. And one day I’ll have a beautiful new bathroom and order will be restored to my little sanctuary and the ice cream scoop will be returned to its drawer and life will be ok again. Until it isn’t…

Trust the process – even when, no, especially when – things feel completely OOC.

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Are You Happy?

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I was visiting with a friend the other day who was expressing some concern about her not very motivated kid. She said, “I can’t tell if he’s happy or not.” It got me to thinking about what it means to be happy and whether we have the courage to examine our own happiness. I know, I know. Happiness is fleeting and all that jazz… But, come on, you’re either happy or you’re not.

I remember growing up in a very conservative church world, the message was pretty clear that happiness was not important. Nobody promised us happy lives. We were to take up our crosses and be miserable, suffering for our faith. Joy, the more “spiritually correct” feeling, was appropriate and sought, but not so much happiness which was thought to be tied mostly to materialism.

Well, I take issue with this. I think happiness is important too. Sure, I acknowledge that we can’t be happy all the time. Sometimes life stinks and happiness seems like a foreign concept. But, I think our happiness is an important measure of how aligned our lives are with our values. I think our happiness (or, perhaps more often lack of happiness) can serve as an important indicator for the need for change.

Now, before anyone gets all upset with me, let me acknowledge that I do believe we can experience joy without being happy. Our joy is tied to our gratitude, and we always have something for which to be grateful – even in the worst circumstances. I believe a daily practice of gratitude is vital and is the birthplace of joy.

But, what I’m talking about here is giving attention to our general state of being. For example, on paper, my life might look to some like a bit of a mess. It isn’t all neat and wrapped up in a pretty package like one might expect of a highly educated almost 41 year old. However, in my heart, I can tell you that even on my worst days, I’m really happy. I’m really happy with my life right now. A few years ago, I was very not happy. In fact, I was pretty miserable, and I needed to make some changes. So, I did. Not all at once. And, not always in the most successful ways. I made some mistakes. I chose poorly on occasion. But, I began to work towards a happier life. And, in many ways, it’s the most important work I’ve ever done.

When was the last time you stopped and asked yourself, Am I happy? Am I really happy? And, if you’re not – why? Why aren’t you happy? Perhaps a shift in perspective is all you really need, but maybe it’s time to shake things up a bit. Maybe it’s time to explore other opportunities or to step out and be brave. What are the values you hold most important? How does where you spend your time and precious resources reflect those values? What small, or maybe big, changes could you make to align your life with your values? What would a happy life look like for you?

See where I’m going here? I believe we’re meant to be happy. I believe we’re called beyond mediocrity and mere existence to full, wholehearted, happy lives. And, I know that perpetual unhappiness has something to tell us.

So, let me ask you a question, Are you happy?

Comparison is the Thief of Happiness

TRUTH, y’all! I don’t know about you, but I can be going along just fine, feeling pretty good about where I am and what I’ve accomplished when WHAM – something comes across my news feed, or I get a phone call or read an article about how someone else has done it better or has accomplished more. Ugh. Instant deflation.

Brené Brown quotes her friend, Laura Williams, in The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s the first time I remember hearing or reading, “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I guess I never really gave it much thought. I realized, though, recently that we have ramped up the comparison culture just by the very nature of social media. Facebook is one of the worst. (sorry Facebook…) It’s where people put their stuff out there – their trophies, their beautiful lives, their skinny bodies, their successful businesses, their perfect children. And, even though I know most of us are super selective about what we choose to post, attempting to display our brightest and best, I STILL compare my “best” to others’.

I know I talk a lot about scarcity messages (not enough messages), and the truth is, they tend to pop up in all number of circumstances. But, I think they can be especially prevalent when we find ourselves in situations where we’re comparing ourselves, our work, our accomplishments to others’. The “I’m not as (smart, successful, attractive, whatever) as she/he is” messages are super powerful.

Comparison can suck the joy right out of our efforts and send us on a trail of self-doubt and criticism. “There goes that diet or new exercise regimen. What’s the point? I’ll never be as fit as ___.” Or, “why bother marketing a program somebody else has already done better?” Or, it can be as sly as messages that make life seem easier for some than for others. “___ always falls into the best situations/opportunities.” You get the point.

I’m working on a couple of projects right now that are testing both my commitment and my self-worth. I have moments where I feel totally motivated and in a groove, propelled forward and confident. Then I read or hear something that calls all of that into question. I feel the wheels start to loosen and my confidence get shaky. I look at what someone else has been able to do, something that feels more powerful and more productive than what I’ve accomplished, and I completely lose ground.

So, here’s the thing. I’m aware that I have to let go of comparison. My life is my life. Your life if yours. We’re all given the same 24 hours in a day, and while opportunity does sometimes strike more readily for some than for others, comparing how that happens or when it happens or trying to figure out why it happens is pointless. Comparing does nothing but trap us in a pattern of dissatisfaction and resentment. It really does steal the happiness right from us.

So, for me, one of the best antidotes for comparison is gratitude. When I find myself comparing my accomplishments to someone else’s, I have to stop and name something I’ve been able to accomplish and express gratitude for it. When I’m harsh on my body because I’ve seen one too many images of “perfection,” I have to stop and express gratitude to my imperfect yet supportive body. There’s something to be said for owning where and who we are and acknowledging with gratitude that which is ours alone, without holding it up against anyone or anything else. Therein lies our freedom – to create, to live, to work, to parent, to be – gratitude.

So, next time you’re tempted to compare yourself or your work or your parenting or whatever to that of someone else, remember to stop, and be grateful. Gratitude, I believe, is the pathway to joy and happiness.