Word for the year, 2017

It’s that time again. Time to decide what word will define and guide the coming year. I started this practice in 2012, and to date these have been my choices:

  • 2012 – Revision
  • 2013 – Momentum
  • 2014 – Consistent
  • 2015 – Hope
  • 2016 – Thrive

I like choosing a word that’s both positive and implies growth. Growth is a good thing…whether I’m learning something new, stretching my abilities to share with others, or just improving a skill I already have, growth is always my goal.

But desire for growth doesn’t exclude times of stillness, moments of contentment to look around and just be. 

In fact, I believe movement and stillness, growth and contentment, are essential to a happy life.

The happiest moments in my life have been the times I was still and reflective enough to realize, right in the moment, that I was happy…content with what was happening at that very moment.

Growth takes work, requires planning, thought, organizing, time.

Stillness allows me to evaluate and take stock of where I am, what I’ve learned, and what’s occurring in the moment.

Being intentional in my life is a way to express these two distinct states of being…growth-seeking, and being still.

By being intentional, I set the tone. I make the plan, I choose when to say yes, and when to say no.

I take responsibility for growth, and for times of stillness.

Being intentional means living thoughtfully, and that’s sometimes difficult to do. In a culture that moves at the speed of social media, and gets caught up in trends and likes, gadgets and the pursuit of “more,” it’s easy to live in reactionary mode, instead of choosing how my life will look.

I’ve not always done a good job of choosing direction…I’ve been far too passive, far too willing to let other things and other people set my priorities.

This year, I commit to living with intention, to choose how I want to grow, how I’ll serve others, and how I’ll take time to be still and reflect.

The easiest thing in the world is to live in the flow of whatever life we’ve found ourselves in, and the hardest thing is to stand in the middle of that flow and try to control it. Understand, this isn’t about a power struggle with anyone…in fact, to others, my life may look much the same as before.

Or not.

The desire to live with intention is about having an internal monitor, about being self-directed rather than being passive.

So, my word for 2017 is “intentional.”

What about you? Do you have a word to define your coming year?

~ Sheila

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Sit with the broken, don’t add to the hate

I’m not interested in whether you’ve stood with the great. I’m interested in whether you’ve sat with the broken.

Social media makes it easy to know the difficult stories, the tragedies, that rain down on all of us through the 24-hour cycle, the never-ending barrage of updates and breaking news.

And somehow, everyone feels empowered to speak out, to assess and comment on what’s happening, to add their two cents.

Have you read comment threads on some of the posts that circulate? I don’t frequent extreme sites, but even articles that show up in my Facebook or Twitter feed are full of opinions as to what should happen to people viewed as the latest enemies of humanity.

Not that I’m defending enemies of humanity.

But do the rest of us need to become monsters, in response to monstrosities?

This is not about enemies of humanity. It’s about the rest of us, and who we become, in response, to terrible things that happen in the world.

I try not to get caught up in the negative. But it’s frightening what people wish on others, and what extreme things people are willing to say, in the context of judging a situation they have no involvement with.

Are horrible things happening that demand righteous indignation and calls for justice? Yes, without doubt. And I hope justice is served.

But in the process of looking for justice, I hear voices calling for barbarity, for inhumanity, for extreme punishment.

One crime does not merit another. I don’t want to see torture or extreme punishment inflicted in the name of justice. We recognize that some humans do terrible things to others. We should be able to acknowledge that and look for answers, without becoming hate-filled.

There are surely ways to punish, to imprison or require restitution, if humanly possible, that are yet humane.

I’m not suggesting that all wrongs can be righted with imprisonment, and I’m not attempting to weigh in on a discussion of death penalty crimes.

I am saying…whatever punishments society hands out, we shouldn’t devolve to the same level as the criminals and terrorists we abhor.

Or if we do…how are we any better?

I can’t imagine losing someone to a terrorist attack…my heart bleeds for anyone who knows that anguish.

I can’t imagine being a victim of a hate crime, or a vicious personal attack, and I can’t speak for people who’ve experienced that damage.

But for those of us who are onlookers, who comment from the sidelines of social media platforms…even if there is a need to call for justice, surely we can make those calls without hatred and without desire for inhumane retribution.

I want to live in a society that defends victims and holds the guilty accountable.

I do not want to live in a society that occupies itself with meting out inhumane responses to the guilty. That makes us no better than the ones we accuse of hate and terror, of criminal acts and inhumanity.

Can we find a way to uphold the broken, the victims, the injured, demand swift and just retribution, without going to some dark and frightening place with our on-line comments, thoughts, speech?

For myself, I’ve learned to mostly tune out…I don’t watch news online, I rarely click-through to follow headlines, and I seldom read comments on posts that appear to be stoking the fires of divisiveness.

Everyone who reads and posts can make choices…to be part of healing, or to up the ante to extremes…violence, rhetoric, retribution.

I am not saying that crimes do not require punishment, nor am I saying we should be passive in the face of terrorism. I am saying, we should be careful. We should be thoughtful. We should ask if we’re fanning flames, or trying to put them out.

These are difficult times, and answers are often not clear cut…as a person of Christian faith, I often struggle with when to turn the other cheek, and when to voice righteous indignation at wrongs done to defenseless people.

The answer I can consistently find is this: I want to support the weak, sit with the broken,  seek justice for the guilty, and promote respect for humanity and life. There are many doing just this, encouraging justice, love, and reason in the face of horror.

Justice…not vengeance.

There are also those who say terrible things, in response to terrible things. And I just don’t see…how does that help anyone?

No one should become a monster, in the name of defeating monsters.

 

Be. Do. Have.

Priorities. Do you know yours?

Think about it.
It’s easy to live life turned upside down, to focus on the wrong things.

Culture tells us to have, have, have.
Or maybe the message that resonates is do, do, do.

Have the biggest and best, the most, the most talked about, the most envied.

Do the most exciting, the most unusual, the most adventurous, the most noteworthy.

It’s all about who is the most popular. We took the old competition from the playground to Instagram and Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest followers.

Do and have focus on the externals.
But it’s the internal that’s important.

Who are you? What are you? Do you know? Are you living in integrity with your values? Are you living up to your aspirations?

Have you done the work to BE?

Being is harder to do well than doing or having. You can experience (do) and accumulate things (have). But to really BE… aaahh…that’s inside work. You have to grow from within, and you have to do the work for yourself.

Of course you’re going to do and have as you develop, as you move through life. Impossible not to.

But I’m talking about priorities..where’s your focus? I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

On the adult path, it’s easy to get caught up in doing, and having.

You want to nurture a career, or you’re trying to be a successful entrepreneur. Maybe you’re busy with a family, or some other personal calling. It’s so easy to be enticed by having…having a nice home, a great car, all the things that say you’re successful, that you’re living the life you deserve.

The crazy thing is, it can take so much work to keep life going, when it’s consumed by the externals. You get lost in trying to get ahead, and staying current with the latest trends is often just a merry-go-round of keeping up.

Latest styles, newest apps, hot new phone, social media followings, kids in all the right groups, moving ahead with the job.

Exhausting.
Stop. Be still and listen.

Listen to yourself. Are you in there? We are human beings, not human doings.

Did you forget to be? Just be.
When I think of being, I sense stillness. I hear quiet.

There is self-talk. Reading. Growing.

When I let myself be, I sit with a cup of tea and nothing else. No phone. No laptop.

No distraction.

I am being.

When you give yourself time to be, you order your life from the inside out.

I can hear you now…all the busyness of living is crowding your thoughts. You’re thinking, even as you read, how impossible to carve out time for self, for quiet, for being.

My friend, I’ve been there.

Been so weary at night that just going to bed felt like winning the lottery, a prize to savor at the end of a long day of mothering. A long day of giving. A long day of othering.

I know what it’s like to need every last-minute of sleep, because there just aren’t enough to begin with, and getting up early to nurture self seems too hard, too much to face at the beginning of another day of living outside of self.

I know what it’s like to run so long and so hard that you finally feel like a shell, given out, needing to replenish but hardly knowing where to begin. Because there’s always more you need to give, even when you don’t have it yourself.

When I began to run dry, early in my years of mothering…it wasn’t a lack of love, but a lack of time to be…I had to learn the old wisdom.

You can’t give what you don’t have. You have to feed yourself first, in order to have strength to care for anyone else.

When I began to know this…not just intellectually, but deep within my spirit…I made some changes.

I started taking time to read again. How had I let that slip away?

I found time to write, a simple journal of thought, intention, hopes, and dreams.

I found time to play. I got intentional about saying yes to things that would take me out, would give me a change of pace.

It was slow at first.
But at last, I had a sense of being me again. I wasn’t just doing, or having.
I was being.

Rushing through life at the speed of busy, overwhelmed, always thinking of what’s next…that’s no way to live.

It’s counterintuitive to do less in order to be more.

But that’s what I needed to do…what I had to do.

Now, years later, I know the lesson well.

When I feel myself slipping back…getting caught up in the doing, and especially in the having, I reach for being.

Being quiet. Being still. Being myself.

There’s only so much of me to go around, and if I deplete my store of me, I won’t be able to be the wife I want to be, the mom, the daughter, friend, writer, doer.

When I overdo, I am undone.

The art of being doesn’t require lavish amounts of time or money.

It does require regular time. Sometimes money.

But mostly, being requires planning. Some thought, intentionality.

When my priorities are in order, life flows smoothly. I can do for others without losing myself.

I don’t need to have more stuff in my life to make up for not having a life.

Be. Do. Have.

In the right order, it all flows. As it should.

It’s great to do, and wonderful to have. But you need to be, first. You need your foundation…clarity of thought, rested spirit, values and priorities in order; enough reserve of yourself that you have something to give to others.

It’s a hard lesson to keep hold of. I have to right myself on a regular basis, reset, retrace my steps. But having done it now… oh, a few thousand times, over the years… I know when I’m off balance again, and how to restore order.

You can apply the same formula to many things. My new site, for instance, follows Be. Do. Have.

First, the mission of Story Revisioned is to be a resource and a lighthouse to others. (BE)

Second, the goal is to offer products that are valuable for anyone who wants to go beyond the wealth of free resources available for the taking. (DO)

Third, the dream is to create a community of readers and followers who share their stories of ups and downs, failures and successes, the how-tos and the nitty-gritty; and to build a platform that is transformative for participants. (HAVE)

The goal is to help: one person, a hundred, a thousand, or a million. And if that’s possible, it will grow out of being, before doing or having.

The Book…

Kindle Ready Front Cover JPEG_6122666

 

Like many, I struggled with questions of purpose for a long time. My epiphany…that I am in charge of choosing my purpose…was profoundly meaningful. Crafting a statement of purpose is rewarding and fulfilling. It can provide direction and insight for many life choices, and help us see ourselves more clearly.

As I worked through my process to find answers, I made notes, and from those notes, wrote a book, Choose Your Purpose, Love Your Life http://amzn.to/1sv2Wa3

You’ll find questions, answers, tools, stories, and more in the book. I invite you to read, and to choose purpose for yourself. You’ll never look back, I promise!

Design your life plan. Using the guidance and formula I share, you’ll be more than successful; you’ll be satisfied. And that’s a very fine thing, indeed.

Slow learner, late bloomer

I often refer to myself as “a slow learner and a late bloomer.” I say it a bit tongue in cheek, with self-deprecating humor.

It’s not completely true. But sadly, it’s more true than not.

I like to see myself as thoughtful, cautious, mindful.

How is it then, that some of my past decisions I look back on with the familiar, “what was I thinking?!” question?

Just this week I had a chance to make a choice, a big choice, about direction in life.

There was a need, and I could be part of the solution.

It was tempting, so tempting, to say yes. To rise to the occasion.

But the opportunity wasn’t one I wanted, not the direction I wanted to head in, not by a long shot.

But I also couldn’t completely walk away. I have some commitment to this work already, and it’s not really possible to break it off cold. Nor do I think that would be the ethical choice.

Instead of accepting the opportunity offered, taking the all or nothing approach, I found a third way. I found a way to honor myself, and the need that is before me.

The specifics of the situation aren’t relevant to anyone else. What is important is that I’ve learned to listen to myself, to recognize that giving in to a need on someone else’s part, even if the task is something I could do, isn’t the right answer, if everything inside me says that “yes” is the wrong answer.

I’ve finally realized an honest “no” is better than a grudging “yes.”

For someone like me, programmed, it seems, with a “yes” policy, this is big.

I was brought up to put others before myself, and to do what I can to contribute, to help, to do my best.

Somewhere along the way, I let those attitudes become a default for better judgment, at times, and quieted the voice in my head that I should have listened to, more than once, when I’ve been at a life crossroads. I defaulted to saying “yes,” when “no” was the real answer.

Opportunities aren’t necessarily right for your life, just because they appear in front of you, because they’re the path of least resistance at the moment. Or because someone else thinks you’d be perfect for the job.

It’s taken years to ask the question, “what do I really want?” and not see that as a selfish position, in the face of the needs of others. I’m speaking mostly of professional life choices here, but in any context, I think it’s important to honestly confront personal desires. I can’t make a real choice if I don’t even recognize the options.

This self-blindness hurt me, my marriage, and created a lot of angst, as I tried to whole-heartedly honor commitments my heart was never in, in the first place.

So finally, I see…being honest with myself, first, is the best way to be honest with others. If I’ve committed to work because I feel pressured, rather than inspired; if I feel on the spot to be the solution, rather than feeling a desire to rise to the occasion, I need to heed those feelings. I am not the right person for the job.

I’ve tried to honor the commitments I’ve made, as I moved through life. But some I shouldn’t have made, and it took me a long time to acknowledge that reality. I owe it to myself, to my marriage, and to others I interact with to be honest rather than hiding behind a veil of being nice.

The word “no” doesn’t make me a bad person. How did I confuse the two…”no” and “nice?” This sounds like I’m just spineless, but really I’m not…I just haven’t recognized my patterns in this area until recently.

Hindsight is 20/20, and finally, finally, I can bring that clarity of vision to the present. I can say “no” when that’s the right answer, and know I made the right choice.

 

 

Stories I tell myself

Funny how pride can trip you up. Funny how it can blind you to reality, especially when part of what you’re proud of is that you always live in reality.

Well, does anyone? I like to think I do, and sometimes that’s true, at least as clearly as I perceive reality.

But not always.

Lately I’ve been looking at the ways I interpret my life, and choices, and I’ve realized: I haven’t always lived in reality. Oh, it looked that way. But it wasn’t true.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

From another life, years and years ago, when I was a 20-something and doing all I could to keep my head above water, holding life together with two little ones and weathering the challenges of life with a medical student husband, and then a resident husband, living 1200 miles from family, I told myself how strong I was, how mature I was. I was doing my part. I was brave.

No.

The reality was, I was foolish.

Why did I think I had to do what I did, largely without help, and trying to make it look easy? Who told me that was a mature choice?

No one told me. I just assumed that’s what adults did.

It would have been more brave to have admitted I needed help, I was in over my head. But I was so busy being strong, being mature, I didn’t let my guard down long enough to admit those needs to myself, much less to anyone else. I was so busy being mommy, being adult, I let go of being Sheila, and I certainly let go of being wife.

The reality is, I made it through those years. We made it. We survived. We even appeared to thrive.

But there was a toll, some of which I feel to this day. The coping skills I learned during that time of life weren’t always healthy. I learned to do a lot on my own, to shut out a lot. It’s not behavior that encourages partnership, and our partnership has suffered through the years because of habits formed when we were very young.

Oh, we moved on. We moved beyond. We didn’t stay totally stuck in that time. But we brought along some of the damage, some of the baggage, without really recognizing it.

So now, I see. I reflect, I think back to those babies, those 20-somethings raising babies, and keeping up with the challenges, because we didn’t know it was ok to show weakness, to ask for help. We thought it was brave to do it on our own.

Is it brave to stand without help? Maybe. Sometimes. It depends on how healthy you are, and what it takes out of you to do it. Some of the damage we created then we couldn’t see at the time. We were too busy being strong to recognize how weak we really were.

Some of these patterns I’ve seen, so many years later, and I look back and wish I could do over. I don’t exactly know how I would do it differently. But some things would change.

We ran a marathon that almost killed a marriage, left us shells of people who only knew how to keep going, keep being brave and strong and adult.

I realize, I told myself a story about what life would look like, about what adulthood meant, about what marriage meant. I didn’t know I was making it up, out of a lot of assumptions and vague beliefs. I thought I was living in reality.

One of the ironies of life is that in a time I thought I saw so clearly, I was blind. In a time I thought I had a lot on the ball, I was just juggling balls, not seeing how close I was to dropping many things.

In hindsight, and with clarity, I see so much that was hidden from me then.

I wonder what I’m missing now?

Life is a process, and each choice brings us to the next choice. I’m more thoughtful now about the stories I tell myself, the certainty I feel when I assess. I’ve learned that just because I can handle a situation on my own, that isn’t always the best decision. Sometimes the best choice is to invite others to join, to help, to help me see clearly. To help me live in reality.

Stories are fun, sometimes funny. They should teach us too, help us know the traps to avoid and the joys to embrace.

I don’t know what my story will do for others. Will it be a cautionary tale? Or a story of life reinvented, mistakes recovered, joy restored?

I hope it will be all those things. Let me caution you, don’t be like me. Don’t tell yourself you’re brave, when you’re only short-sighted. Don’t do without help when you really need it.

I’ve been given a great gift. I can’t turn back the clock, but the lessons of those days, and others, are living with me now, helping me see and right things that need to be righted.

I’m telling myself a new story these days. It is one of partnership, one of strength. But not strength from doing everything myself. It is strength from shared vision, shared goals, shared life.

Aaahhh…I think I’m finally living in reality.