No box for me!

Another march this week. Another round of demonstrations, and people holding signs with angry words to get their message across.

What if we held people in our arms, instead of signs in our hands?

We’re a divided culture, in so many ways. Identity politics are everywhere, and personally, I’m just weary of it all.

We’re so flooded with messaging to stand up for this group, stand with that group, to self-identify by race, gender, nationality, cultural heritage, faith, political party, etc., etc., etc.

Can I just be human?

I’m a woman, a wife, a mom, a grandmother, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, an employee, a writer, a Christian, a voter.

I’m all of these things, and more. I’m subtle. I’m nuanced.

I don’t like being pigeonholed, put neatly into any box.

Because I don’t fit neatly into any box.

I don’t want to compete with any group, or feel myself in opposition to anyone. I don’t see myself in a woman vs man world, in an “I win, you lose” life model. I hope we all win. The reality is, though the ideal is to make everyone equal, the words and attitudes displayed by militants in movements reflect more hate than hope. I hear angry demands and harsh rhetoric.

There was a time in this country, and in the western world, when marching for rights was important. Raising awareness was important. Workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, children’s rights…there was an era when all those groups had to fight to be seen, to be heard, to be represented at the table of democracy, citizenship, and human rights.

And there are still many countries and cultures throughout the world that need to change, need to see all humans as people of value, of worth, and show that care of the most vulnerable in society is a mark of the strongest society. Because when we care for the weakest among us, we show how brave we really are. We show our integrity, as a whole, as a society, as a culture.

I don’t believe we in the United States of America, or in any western country, have it all figured out. We’ll never get it all right; we’re human, and we’re flawed. But can I just say, rather than encouraging people to march, can we encourage people to work?

If you want to make a difference for any group, do something more powerful than taking a day to march for your cause. Show up at a school that needs volunteers, show up at a retirement home that needs people to sit with residents, at a homeless shelter that needs help cleaning or doing of anything useful, at a park that needs cleaning up…you pick your place, choose your gift.

But show up to work.

Every time I see a group marching, I wonder what all that energy and those hours could do if the time was given to productive work? Volunteer work that didn’t charge for service?

What couldn’t we do? What couldn’t we change?

Or better than a one-day commitment, what about showing up every week?

You know, I never valued teachers more than when I subbed in school systems during our early years in Alaska. I saw for myself, first-hand, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on the teaching community. I saw their world in a whole new way.

I never understood the world of health care, until I began to work in primary care clinics, and got to see, up close, the struggles, the shortages, the responsibilities we put on health care professionals. I saw their world in a whole new way.

What I’ve learned is this…you don’t march your way to understanding injustice and need.

You work your way to understanding.

You have to see to understand. You have to show up, get involved. You can read about all sorts of issues and problems, you can watch documentaries on TV. But until you see for yourself, you won’t really get it.

Want to understand the plight of immigrants? Find a way to work with immigrants. Want to understand the impact of illegal drugs on our society? Work with people struggling to overcome their addiction, and with families trying to survive the blows to their homes, to the children of addicts.

Want to understand the nightmare of the sex slave industry? Connect with organizations who are working to free people caught in that trap.

The point is, awareness grows when you get out in the community and see, for yourself, the hurts, the losses, the weak, and the vulnerable, the gaps in community and government.

Want to understand how building healthy families strengthens the whole society? Work with children bounced from foster home to foster home. Want to understand the health care crisis? Spend some time in under-funded, under-staffed clinics.

When statistics become faces and names, you’re beginning to understand.

I wish we were color-blind, gender-blind, status-blind, and kind.

I wish we were all just willing to be kind: to give a cup of cold water, to lend a hand; to understand that life is hard, and we’re here to make it easier. If we do that much, we’ve done so much.

Know what I love to see in my FB feed? I love to see positive, to see people doing good, to see people being the change. I love to see people sharing their time, their faith, their talents, their money, their energy.

I challenge you to work rather than to march; to act rather than falling back on mere words; to contribute, rather than criticize.

There’s a story I love. Maybe you’ve heard it?

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer and called out ‘Good morning! May I ask what you’re doing?’

The young man looked up and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean.’

‘Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled man.

The young man replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

The wise man was stunned. ‘But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said, ‘It made a difference to that one.’

Adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)

The other thing you can do? Look for root causes. See what you can do that gets to the source of the problem. It’s great to throw star fish back into the ocean, or to help people with their most basic needs. But what if you took the time to understand cause and effect, to look for ways to make a lasting impact? That’s how you create real change.

I don’t do heroic things…I’m not saving lives, or teaching children who’ll be the leaders of tomorrow. I bloom where I’m planted, and for me, that means making a difference in small rural communities by helping with health care staffing, helping with loan applications, helping with grants, helping new people transition into the community. I encourage, I feed, I build up. And I write. I try to make a difference by planting seeds, and ideas, and by saying: I will not be put into a box, be made to feel guilty that I don’t embrace identity politics or focus on pieces of myself, as though I can be neatly sectioned.

I beg you, celebrate your life, and the lives around you, by working, not marching. By doing, not just speaking out. By seeing for yourself, first-hand, the issues and causes, before you judge what should be, or should not be. Open your eyes to the needs around you. They’re everywhere, and you don’t have to be a hero to make a difference. You don’t even have to risk much. You just have to be willing to work, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

And please, don’t put yourself, or anyone else, in an identity box. That’s not who we are. We’re all so much more than “just” gender, race, ideology, profession, economic status, nationality.

We’re human. And humans don’t belong in boxes.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Fighting fear

Fear is the great paralyzing force of life. For me that’s certainly been true.

Let me count the ways I fear:

I fear death, illness, or injury to people I love.

I fear catastrophe…the unforeseen and unstoppable forces that assault life.

I fear loss…loss of relationships, loss of security, loss of order.

I fear uncertainty. I fear choosing poorly.

I fear my own inadequacies and failings.

Out of all of these, what do I control?

The reality is: not much.

I can do my best to be prepared, to be the person I want to be in any given circumstance.

But so much is beyond me, beyond my reach.

When I accept that, the next step is to look at what I can control.

Fear is never going to completely go away. But I can divide fear into the category of “what can I do about it?” and “I can’t do anything about it.”

Thinking about fear this way helps. Helps me focus on what I can manage, prepare for, guard against. One thing I’ve learned to do: I ask what’s behind the obvious fear. For example, if I’m afraid of losing my job, what’s that really about? The job, or what the job represents? Is it the specific job I want to hold, or the security for my family that the job provides?

If I can break fear down, know what’s really behind it, I know what’s critical. I can plan for the possible loss I see on the horizon, do what I can to brace myself.

The other kind of fear? Well, that I have to set aside. No worrying or planning can prevent natural disasters, accidents, life-threatening disease. I don’t want to lose the best of life worrying about the worst of life. That would be a tragedy in every way.

Fear can be a good thing, a motivating thing, when I know how to manage it. It can be a cautionary response to something dangerous.

I won’t say fear is a friend. But it doesn’t have to be the enemy either.

Fear is just an emotion that can give me information. ~ Ed McClune

When I think of it this way, it’s manageable. Fear no longer controls me. I won’t say I control fear. But at least I’m no longer paralyzed by it.

And that’s a good beginning.

When I’m not paralyzed, I can move, and when I move, I progress.

It’s never going to be easy to beat back fear. It is doable. But you have to be fierce about it…fight it. Grow strong. Become resolved. That only happens with time, and proving to yourself that it’s actually possible to outlive your fears.

Yes, sometimes the worst happens. This is life, and there’s no escaping the realities that cause fear. But somehow, somehow, survival may be possible. And if you can survive, you can find your way through fear. One baby step at a time.

What information is fear giving you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Standards

“Get caught doing something right.”

I started working in the field of health care in 2006. I had a side-door entry, coming in through an administrative role. My experience of health care is from largely from the business perspective. Still, though I have no clinical skill myself, there’s a lot of overlap with the clinical world, specifically with staff.

I spend a lot of time working to recruit providers and nurses, to coordinate meetings, trainings, and arrange for temporary provider coverage. I write newsletters and policies and the occasional grant.

I swim in corporate email.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming…all the technology, regulation, terminology, bureaucracy, acronyms, staff changes, opinions, personalities…and that’s before patients are added to the mix…the world of the modern family practice clinic.

There are so many patient needs that this community addresses every day, with a shared commitment to ethical care and a standard of best practices.

In the midst of this busyness, there are lessons to be learned, lessons worth observing and passing on. In the whirlwind that envelopes the day-to-day of the clinic, these are the practices I believe in.

This list isn’t a standard for the delivery of health care; it’s a standard, period. You don’t have to be a health care worker to treat someone with dignity, and you can be a leader with great vision and skill even if you were first trained as a provider. These attributes are not incompatible. I’ve known people who exemplify the wonderful blend of compassionate care giver with a head for business and leadership.

These worlds, the often competing worlds of business and health care, overlap so much: they intermingle, and there is no separating them. Sometimes it is to the detriment of each. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can all learn, and perhaps remove some of the cynicism in the process.

I have to believe it’s possible to bring out the best in each other. And with all the meaningless and trivial, there is actual good accomplished.

Here’s how you do it, pure and simple. Turns out, good business and good medicine have a lot in common.

  • People rise to their potential when they have clearly defined structure and expectations, and work in an environment of trust, integrity, and transparency.
  • Right makes might! Doing the right thing commands respect and gives moral authority. Leaders are most effective when they are respected. Respect is a product of living with character and integrity. (If you’re unsure about a decision you’re making, visualize yourself explaining your choice to someone you respect. If you can’t feel good about sharing your decision, you should probably reconsider.)
  • The greatest deficit in most organizations is at the leadership level. Leaders need to set the tone, remove barriers to success, then get out of the way.
  • Principles are timeless, process is not.
  • Promote an environment of creativity and thinking outside the box. When an idea has merit, it deserves recognition and promotion. But don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because a decision or method has been accepted, it is set in stone. Leaders understand innovation is the balancing tool of structure. Great organizations regularly evaluate and adjust process.
  • Do one thing at a time. Focus! Concentrating on one thing at a time is actually more productive than multi-tasking.
  • Define the problem. When something is not working, take the time to get to the bottom of the issue. Sometimes the most obvious difficulty is only a symptom of a greater problem.
  • When you’re problem solving, listen and then ask questions. Survey everyone involved. The perspective of an entry-level employee may be just as valid as the opinion of a department head. People with different roles in an organization have very different insights into how things work, and every point of view is important.
  • Separate noise from the real issues. Sometimes people are just focused on the drama, rather than the root cause. If you correct root causes, the noise will usually go away.
  • Change is inevitable. No individual, position, or process will last forever. Change can be unsettling, but it can also be refreshing.
  • Acknowledge mistakes. Apologize when necessary. Be gracious when someone apologizes to you. Set the example.
  • Express ideas as simply as you can. Be direct. Don’t use “corporate speak.” Simple is best, and people know when they’re being patronized with a lot of flowery words.
  • Promote an atmosphere of calm. Chaos is unsettling and leads to loss of productivity. People do not thrive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.
  • Promote a positive environment. Discourage gossip. Catch people doing something right. Reward that. Honor that.
  • Give honest value and treat people fairly, and both you and your organization will reap the rewards. Perhaps not every time, but in time. Plus, doing the right thing has an impact on the doer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad.”
  • What you reward, you repeat. What you permit, you promote. Set the tone, and most people will rise to the expectation.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being idealistic. Well, I’ll take that. I would rather have high hopes and expectations than weary cynicism.

Find your brave.

Go forth and slay dragons. Get caught doing the right thing.

Love is

Love is perhaps the most over-used and least understood word in any language.

And today, Valentine’s Day, it is especially overworked. Love is the key word in all the cards and messages that go out across the world.

But what is its essence?

To love without condition means selfless reaching out, a giving up, putting the other person first.

Love forgives, and doesn’t look back.

Love holds on, and doesn’t give up.

Love doesn’t measure past faults.

Love stands up and braces against the challenges of life.

Love is strong.

Love is soft.

Love is amazing when you feel it flowing out, and overpowering when it comes in like a tide.

The greatest love is not found in a season of new. It can only be fully discovered and revered in maturity. How can we know what we have without comparison, without recognizing we’ve weathered and grown? And how can we know how strong love is unless it has been through the fire?

We can only know we love unconditionally when we’ve confronted conditions.

The beautiful moments make the photos, the Facebook page, the Twitter feed.

The hard times make the love. 

It is the hard times that tell you if you have the real thing or the pretty thing, the last-a-lifetime connection or the last-as-long-as-it-feels-good relationship. There are plenty of those around, and yes, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Who doesn’t like it when it feels good?

No one has the answers, a formula worked out neat and predictable, least of all me.

But I know it when I see it.

And I know it is worth having, worth working for.

On a day of icons, roses and chocolates and pretty cards, if you’re receiving or giving, I hope you’ll enjoy the moment.

Just know…the real thing is likely to show up on a Tuesday, disguised as something not glamorous, not photo-worthy, even unexpected.

And I guarantee…the Tuesday moment when love is demonstrated, not with beauty and ceremony, but in a flash of nitty-gritty, real life, and inconvenience…look there for the meaning, for the stamp of belonging.

Look to those moments to see love in all its power, showing up without the disguise of romance, standing in the gap and holding firm when you need it most and maybe deserve it least.

We can all be pretty and sweet on date night. But on a Tuesday…that’s when the real thing happens, and the bonds are forged.

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all the romantic souls who dress up today and celebrate the moment.

And may your Tuesdays be beautiful too, full of opportunity to give and receive real love, without condition, with all your heart.

Love is Blind

Too busy to choose?

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.   ~ Old Zen saying

I find it easy to be busy. Easy to let the tasks of life fill the days and create a sense of pressure. And though I’ve streamlined my holiday plans, December is not a month that lends itself to a slower pace.

Well, let’s be honest…is there any month that slows down? Not on my calendar.

And if I’m already busy, how am I supposed to carve out extra time to sit and meditate? Or find the quiet for reading and reflection?

It’s like so many other paradoxes in life:

The more love you give away, the more you have.

Without darkness there can be no light.

The pursuit of happiness makes people unhappy.

What is this strange logic that works in spite of itself?

The way I make sense of it is to understand the power of deliberate choice.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve lost doing useful things that were unplanned. I sidetrack myself when I sit down to online work and before I begin I have to check email, my bank balance, my credit card charges, my this, my that, my other….All helpful, but not necessarily helping me to the end point, the goal of why I sat down with my computer in the first place.

Other times it’s errands. I have something that I need to do, but I tack on other stops since I’m out. Sometimes I lose whole afternoons to things that didn’t have to be, just because I was out and about anyway.

That may sound like good planning, batching running around and being efficient.

But the busyness also gives me a false sense of accomplishment. It’s easy to get to the end of one of those days and kid myself that I’ve done a lot, when in fact I’ve done very little that I needed to do, or wanted to do.

I’ve done what was in front of me to do, just following the line of busyness right into exhaustion.

But when I choose and stick to my choices, I control the game. When I set aside an hour to meditate, or an hour to read something powerful, I know I won’t have time to check all my favorite sites, or watch a casual hour of TV. I’ve chosen, I’ve committed myself. The decision is made up front, and I’m not even tempted to the things that nickel and dime my hours.

I’m still working on the discipline to set a specific time to read, and a time to meditate. I’ve been traveling, and that’s never a time to create a new routine.

But the paradox is also…if I put off until it’s convenient, it will never happen.

When I tell myself I’m too busy, I’m not always truthful. I may be filling my time, but I’ll acknowledge there’s a big difference between busy and productive.

Not that I think there’s no room for down time in life. Of course I need the down time, the lazy afternoons or slow mornings when I feel the luxury of a change of pace or the joy of the unexpected.

I try to get around this with lists. Yes, I’ve written about the power of lists before, and how as a list maker I’m compelled to check off things as they’re done. But here’s the thing…if I’m deliberate about sticking to my list, I’m better about avoiding the time-suckers. Because you know what never makes it on my list?

Funny, I never list browsing on Pinterest.

I never schedule time for catching up on Facebook.

I never set aside time to aimlessly wander the internet.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, she hastened to add!

But you know what I mean. It’s ok to do it now and then. But too many of those side trips and I’ve eaten up my hour to sit, or my time to read something inspiring, given away all my opportunity for real, and substituted illusion.

Do you ever catch yourself doing that? Give up real for illusion?

One of the words I heard over and over again at the meditation retreat was “balance.” The need for balance is a struggle for most people, and that’s pretty well acknowledged. There are whole book store aisles devoted to time management and work/life balance, personal/family balance, etc., etc., etc.

However you manage it, here’s my tip: Choose, and choose wisely. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Be picky. Be focused. Be honest with yourself and with your time.

And maybe, just maybe, the next time you’re really busy? You’ll find yourself sitting for an hour, and you’ll know it was just what you needed to do.

Hope overcomes doubt.

No guilt, no telling yourself you don’t have time.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.  ~ Frank Herbert

My truth

Truth

Are you a truth-teller? A truth-seeker? I like to think I am. But while there are “real” truths…facts like 2 + 2 = 4, and forces like gravity, that will not be denied, at work in every moment…so much of what we believe to be true is shaded by perception, or intention, or seeing a chain of events unfold from beginning to end.

Is truth in the eye of the beholder? To a certain degree, yes. Though I don’t believe in a relative morality, things are not always what they seem at first glance. Context and understanding are critical factors in determining truth.

I’ve known some people who use truth as a weapon, a kind of battering ram to be fearlessly used and proudly claimed. Honesty and truth are closely interwoven. And sometimes truth hurts. But I’ll admit I’m always on guard when I sense this is happening. Someone who uses truth as a way to plow through life and over people needs to ask some questions about motive.

And that begs the question: who determines truth? All of us do, at least so far as we are able. Isn’t that what just happened this week in the election? Voters evaluated candidates, the economy, national security, healthcare, etc., etc., etc., and judged the truth of the candidates’ claims for themselves.

There’s another way we determine our truth, and that is by the words we feed ourselves.

Oh, I don’t mean that we change objective truths…telling myself I live in Florida when I live in Alaska is not going to take me very far. I’m not going to wake up in Disney World tomorrow.

But our version of truth in matters of the heart, in opinion, in assumptions about others, their motives, their intentions, their efforts…our version of the truth is dependent on our specific view of life, and how we interpret it.

This is the “glass half full” meme, or the optimist/pessimist struggle.

Only it’s bigger than that.

Words and thoughts are so powerful. They can literally change the world. They change the way people view themselves, each other, family…words are critical to truth.

I read words that build me up, inspire me, help me reach to become, and I do become. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can work the other way too.

And if it works for me, or against me, when the words are my own, the impact is even stronger when it comes to the things I allow myself to believe about others.

Why?

Because I’m the only person in the world that I can get into. I know my motivations, my intentions. I know when I make a mistake that I tried my best. That allows me to see my truth…I did the best I could. My heart was in the right place.

It’s not always so easy to see that truth from the outside. I don’t want to feel suspicious, or doubtful, or assume the worst about someone just because I can’t know the whole truth about them. Because when I do that, I create my version of their truth. Whether it is really “true” or not.

So why do we do it? Why do we let our assumptions get the better of us? Why do we let them color our views?

Drama is more entertaining than unvarnished reality. Sometimes prettier too.

I’m trying to be an honest person, trying to pay attention to those moments when I rush the story, mistake perception for reality.

It’s not easy, because I get in my own way. It’s a conscious battle, every day, to let truth come out without my assistance. It’s really tough.

Truth is universal. But it’s also personal…at least the version we tell ourselves. Finding the real thing…now that’s priceless.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ Anonymous