January gift

The new year brings re-focus, shiny months stretching out before me, just waiting to be filled with accomplishment.

My list is long.

It’s good, on January 31, to be on the other side of holiday travel and time away, to be caught up with my back-log at work, ready to re-engage.

It’s a familiar process, one I repeat often in my digital life.

Now in my seventh year of blogging, I no longer feel defeated by the gaps in posting, by my lapses of creativity.

I’m just happy to be here, thinking, reading, writing, doing my bit.

This year I’m planning another book, looking forward to the energy and the push that comes from the writing, the burst of words spilling onto the screen.

That’s the gift of the beginning of the year, looking ahead, planning it out, putting dates on the calendar…deadline dates, vacation dates, family trips and events.

Time isn’t promised to anyone. But we expect it, we hope for it, we plan for it. We hunger for it.

I’m hungry, eager for the coming year…for the time I’ll spend with family, for the long days of work and fulfillment.

What about you? What have you planned for the coming year? Will this be your time to thrive, to fulfill a promise you made to yourself, or someone else? Will you stretch yourself and be a bigger, better version of you on December 31?

What gifts will the year bring to you? And what will you give in return?

~ Sheila

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Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

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

“Come out of your miseries!”

“Come out of your miseries!” This is the calling of the meditation retreat I attended.

Did it work? Did it help? Yes. I don’t know. Yes. I don’t know.

First, let me say that it was an amazing experience. To keep silence for nine days, and sit still for many hours of each day in a group effort was unique, of course. The things I thought I would struggle with were easy, and the things that I expected to be easy were surprisingly difficult.

The retreat was held in a rural camp in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a short distance from Yosemite Park. Imagine a kid’s summer camp, only one with no swimming, no arts and crafts, no team competitions. The men and women attending the event were housed separately, ate separately, and only saw each other at group sittings, three times a day, and during the evening program. The silence began on the first evening and lasted until mid-way through the ninth day. Then the silence was lifted so we could discuss joint clean up efforts and end-of-event logistics.

The silence was easy. The sitting was hard.

When I thought about group silence, I thought about it in the context of how it is to be silent in normal life. When you’re silent in a crowd, you either feel anti-social, or a sense of loneliness. But in this setting, because we had all agreed to be silent and to maintain that at all times…no chatting except to ask questions, very softly, of the staff…it didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, on the ninth day when we could speak and the atmosphere was full of voices, I missed the quiet. It felt like something precious had been lost.

The schedule was rigorous, up at 4:00 am and meditating by 4:30. Breakfast break at 6:30, with the first group sitting from 8:00 to 9:00. There were additional meditation hours when you could choose to meditate in your room or in the hall, and a lunch break, then a rest time between noon and 1:00.

At 1:00 there was another period of private meditation, followed by another group sitting from 2:30 to 3:30. We had a simple tea at 5:00, just fruit and hot tea or beverage of choice (no carbonation though). The evening sitting began at 6:00, followed by an evening “discourse” on the techniques and the philosophy behind them. There was another short sitting after the discourse, and then lights out by 9:30.

I can’t do justice to the whole event in a blog post, so I’m not going to try. I’m going to write a book about it, sharing the details of the days and some of my personal struggles that prompted me to attend.

It was powerful. I can’t claim to have perfected the meditation technique, and I’ll also be honest to say that I think the silence and being disconnected from the electronic world (another thing I thought would be hard, but was surprisingly easy) were as important as the actual meditation for me.

The sitting was hard. We sat in rows, eight across and eight deep, everyone sitting on large foam cushions, piled with more cushions, bean bags, some using special little wooden stools, or even stadium chairs to give better back support. It was still hard. For the group sittings we were asked to maintain our positions without movement if at all possible: these were called “Sittings of Strong Determination.” The first few minutes of sitting still were not difficult, but it’s amazing how you begin to stiffen even in a short period of time, or how you begin to feel an itch or tickle or some other distraction of sensation.

The whole point was that we were learning to observe our respiration and physical sensations and to recognize: this too shall pass. The idea is that you retrain your mind to not react to the sensations you feel…you keep a calm and balanced mind as you sit and ignore the impulse to move or scratch a tickle. I sneezed twice and had to wipe my nose…couldn’t help those movements.

We used no mantras, no visualization…just silence and our bodies. As the hours of group sittings went by, you could hear soft creaking noises as people tried to shift ever so slightly to relieve their positions, without a real motion of movement. You would hear coughs or throat clearings, and occasionally someone would get up and leave…you could hear footsteps and then the door to the entry area open and close.

But for the most part we sat. We sat and sat and sat.

And between sittings, (sittings themselves were not supposed to be a time to think about your miseries, or your life issues, or the big questions, just focus on your breathing and sensations). Between sittings and the times of private meditation, I did think.

The process is supposed to help you master your mind and purify your mind. The whole program is based on a universal code of morality and goodwill and compassion toward everyone. If it sounds hokey, it wasn’t. If it sounds simple, it certainly wasn’t.

But neither was it difficult.

It was a rich experience of clarity and creativity, and I found that surprising, though I’m not sure why. I think it is that I had no idea silence and sitting could be so powerful.

Am I glad I participated? Yes! I don’t know if I would do that same event again, but it has made me curious about other events of this nature. I learned that there are many different styles of meditation, so I assume there are other resources for learning and experiencing.

One of the things I came away with was the realization that although I regularly read and have a quiet time of reflection, I have never had a set time or a disciplined approach to my quiet time. Meditation is not something you do between reading emails or getting a second cup of coffee. This made me want to be more intentional and deliberate about my quiet time, choosing a time of day to sit and focus, and creating a goal of being disciplined about keeping that routine.

I’ll have more to say I’m sure…after nine days of silence, I feel words pouring out of me! But for now, that’s the quick version. I need to have some time to sort out some of what I learned, some of what I thought, and some of what I hope to gain.

And hey…even though I didn’t work out once during that time, missing my cream in my daily coffee and eating only fruit at night was a pretty good diet! Though the scheduling was pure coincidence, I think I’m in pretty good shape to head into Thanksgiving. Well, that’s one immediate benefit, to say nothing of the ones to come as I make sense of the whole experience.

More to come!

~ Sheila

Monster in my head

I’m fighting a battle right now, and I don’t know how it will end. It isn’t a battle for health, but it is a battle that rages within me. It’s one of heart, one of spirit.

There are choices I face, struggles I face, that need answers. And I have to do the sort…what is my true nature, and my true desire?

Am I strong, or am I weak? Am I brave, or am I scared?

Yes, I’m scared to death…but can I overcome that?

When life is changing around you, it’s easy to get a little sea-sick with the waves of uncertainty and doubt that wash over every decision. Did I set a good price for the house? What will life look like if I move away? Will I know a good decision when I meet it? I’ve sometimes thought I was getting just what I wanted, only to realize later…uh… that was a mistake.

Though I’ve loved this house, now I think it was a mistake to buy here. And yet, when we bought it, I was so sure. Funny how time has a way of changing your view. And what you want so desperately, so badly, one year…why, a few years later, I would go back and change that if I could. I would actually give a lot to do that.

But mistakes can turn out to be blessings in disguise, if you learn the lessons they teach, and I’ve learned more about life from some of the choices that I deemed “mistakes” than other decisions that looked perfect and seemed to work out just as expected.

I have to admit though…when I hear people say “trust your gut”…well, I must not have a very smart gut. Mine has misguided me on more than a few occasions.

But each time I’ve come to feel that a particular decision was a mistake…you know, the sort of “what was I thinking??!!” variety…just when I’ve reached a point of despair, or disgust, or some feeling of helplessness, suddenly, an amazing thing happens.

The light breaks through, in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Couldn’t have dreamed, or hoped.

I’m not saying I’ve always gotten the answer I wanted. I’m saying I got what I needed.

Is this God working in my life? Is this life just working itself out? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. I am a woman of faith. But I don’t see faith as a magic pass to give me all the things I ask for. Maybe it’s just more complicated than that…I tend to have a simplistic and linear view…”if this, then that.” But there’s always a longer trajectory of events at work in life, and certainly that’s the case with major decisions.

I know there’s no magic formula…and I can’t say that I trust it will always work this way. And there are sorrows in life that can’t be fixed, or reversed. But those are of a different nature anyway…my dad’s death from cancer, for instance. At some point, each of us face things that can’t be solved, or made right, ever again.

But the twists of life I’m talking about…those are not the life and death issues. Though it may feel like it at the moment, they are not of that nature. I’m talking about choices that are in our control. And in an odd way, the decisions that we control…well, don’t they haunt us more than the ones we see as fate? I can mourn the deaths of loved ones, but I couldn’t stop it, and I certainly don’t blame myself for their loss.

But when I choose a path that leads to unhappiness…how can I feel anything but responsible for my predicament?

And so I wonder, and I try to listen to my heart. I’ve given up listening to my gut, that doesn’t work for me.

But my heart….now that’s a different story.

My heart has sometimes led me to make choices that look foolish, seem unwise. But you know, when I’ve listened to my heart, I’m usually rewarded. I’ve learned that just because something seems smart, or obvious, or even right…it may be none of those things. Sometimes the road less taken really is the right one.

I’m mixing metaphors and breaking all sorts of rules of grammar…but you know what I mean. Don’t you?

So this is my monster. It looks like indecision, but that’s just the disguise. What’s underneath is the root of the thing. Fear and uncertainty, paralysis and anxiety…all facets of the monster, the thing that holds me hostage when I need to step up.

I have flashes of brilliance, confidence, even power. But why, oh why, can’t the certainty that I feel at 8:00 in the morning be with me at 3:00 in the morning when I can’t sleep and everything I was sure of a few hours earlier seems foolish, or risky, or just plain wrong?

This is another part of the cycle of life, another pattern that repeats. When you make a decision, whether you believe it is a good one, or you come to feel it was a mistake…give time a chance to work its miracle, let the story write itself. That flies in the face of my instincts. I want to take action if I’ve messed up…and shouldn’t I? Well, it depends on the situation. There are obvious mistakes that are simple, and easily fixed.

But I’m talking about the times when I’m in over my head….can’t rescue myself, can’t be my own knight in shining armor. For those, I’ve learned…sometimes it is best to stand still, and watch, and let events unfold.

If action took me to a bad place, maybe inaction will take me where I want to go. Seems so contradictory, and hard for my impatient spirit.

Await the unfolding of events, breathe. Control what you can manage, but recognize: there are always going to be forces at work in any situation other than ones immediately obvious to you. And often, you have no idea what is happening outside the realm of your own vision.

So the house? In the realtors’ hands, and beyond my control, for today. And the nexts of life? Location, and work, the big questions? Also beyond me for now. But today, I can meet my commitments, go out of my way to do the right thing, look stronger than I am. I can be patient and hold on. The monster hasn’t defeated me yet.

And it won’t. It won’t.

The Valley of Indecision

So I have an offer on the house…lower than I wanted, so I’ve countered. And now I wait to hear. The prospective buyers have until Wednesday at 5:00. I doubt it will take that long to hear the decision, but still, the wait is hard to endure. And will they counter again? I hate these games. I wish we could just sit down and talk to each other. But that’s not the way it’s done.

The hard thing is I’ve loved this house. It’s been a nest I would enjoy anywhere, but unfortunately I can’t barge it down to a new location in the lower 48. So part of the process of resetting life is making the choice to move. It’s the first step of many, and at that, my anxiety may be premature. I may just get a rejection and be back to square one.

What do homes say about us? What do they mean? I’ve been a life-long nester, and my home is my refuge in many ways. But I have to say, the older I get, the more I realize…the physical structure, and the furnishings, while they’re important, only go so far.

When you need a real refuge, you need heart, and soul, love and strength. You need character and integrity, loyalty and grace. And none of these things are dependent on the structure of a home, no matter how beautiful or how comfortable it may be.

I’ve faced some challenging moments in my life, and I’m sure there are more to come…life has a way of doing that, testing you, sending a lot of the same lessons over and over again. And each time I realize I learn something new…insights about what I really value, who I want to be in the good times, but more importantly, in the bad.

I’ve learned to feed myself the messages that I want to live, to project what I want to be until it becomes real. Some of the transformation has been slow, but it is happening. And selling a home is just another filter…another lens to look through, to see what I’m really made of.

There have been plenty of times I’ve been disappointed in myself…haven’t been strong enough, or brave enough, or creative enough. But one thing I do know: I have heart, and I don’t give up. So using the filter, the lens, of the success of selling the house, if it happens, I’m going to be thrilled, and celebrate, and find a way to make it positive.

And if it doesn’t happen this time, I’m still going to find a way to make it positive. That’s my life lesson, to take the experiences that seem like defeats and turn them into victories. And believe me, some of the defeats take a lot of work to reframe. Some of the defeats have nearly killed me. But I think most people have to absorb this teaching if they survive, and thrive, in spite of the darts of life.

Sounds pretty philosophical…maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously. But tonight, waiting on a decision that has the power to impact my life in such a big way, it doesn’t feel like I’m blowing it out of proportion.

I’m not in control of life, but I can be in control of myself. So whatever happens, I’ll find my smile, and I’ll put on my heels the next morning and go out and try again. Because anything else is the true defeat, the true loss.

The house will sell when the time is right, and I know that in my heart, even if my head has a hard time believing that.

Wish me luck!

And to my blogging friends out there…I haven’t abandoned you…just a little pre-occupied right now. But soon, I’ll be catching up, and reading about all you’ve been up to this summer.  See you soon!

My house!

~ Sheila

June promise

June 2nd and another month presents itself. Already half through this year, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the tasks I listed for 2014.

I really wanted to improve my blog this year, and I’ve done that in fits and starts. Like all my rhythms, writing often takes a back seat to travel and routine, or lack of one. But I’ll admit that’s often just the excuse. The root of what I’m missing is not a better grasp of technology, it’s the discipline to sit down, even when I’m time-zone challenged, and power on my lap-top, put words on the screen instead of reading them off.

I signed up for Writing 101 to put some structure around my goals, and this is my beginning. I’m sitting surrounded by the stacks of packing, getting ready to go back to Ketchikan tomorrow, back to work, away from days of sun and camping. But I stopped my sorting, sat down to gather my thoughts. Packing is just another distraction, and it will wait.

Today we ran errands out in the hot California sun, the little red pick-up we keep for getting around down here feeling oven-like until the blast of the air-conditioner cooled us down. I’m going back to Ketchikan with specialty cheeses and my favorite pasta sauce and Panzanella crackers. I stocked up on some farm stand corn, the first of the season down here. Got a burger at In-N-Out, satisfied the fast food craving with crispy fries and animal style.

I drive around and wonder if I could ever live here, back in the hustle-bustle after years of small town life. I don’t know. I toy with the idea. Some days I think I could, then the traffic gets to me, or the big box stores seem too big, and I’m happy to find myself out on the rural roads that lead back to the campground. The slow speed of a winding road suits me better than interstates and freeways.

Driving here is a lot like the life I’m living: it’s either the fast lane and overwhelming, or it slows down to a pace I enjoy, and I find myself daydreaming, mesmerized by the scenery.

It’s easy to get lost in your own life, so caught up in the details of living that you forget — you forget you had a plan, and goals, and a timeline. I call it the “where am I?” — you know, that dazed look that says you’re trying to catch up… what state am I in?  what space I’m in (house, trailer, apartment?) and the commitments I’ve got the next day…which clinic am I in? What food do I have in the fridge, and is the bed made, and what season of clothes do I need for tomorrow?

I’m making it sound worse than it is, but at that I’m often disjointed enough. I don’t know how people who travel every week manage. And while I love it, I’m also weary of it. Ready to stand still for a while, find my feet on solid ground. Ready to put the details of life on auto-pilot and give my attention to the things that matter. Still, or again, finding my focus. The funny thing is, I read over these words and it sounds like I’m self-absorbed. But I think the opposite is true. I’m not paying enough attention to the life I’m living. I’m largely floating on the current of events that carry me along. And that’s not what I want. I don’t want to be driftwood in the current of life.

What’s the secret formula? I already know. I just have to reclaim it for myself. The secret is service, and giving, and living with such purpose, such intention, that my busyness finds meaning again, and my work is a labor of love, not just a labor.

And so I promise anew. I promise to make life matter, not just mark the days off the calendar. I promise to notice the details that are worthy, and let the insignificant be just that: insignificant. I promise to love, to cherish, to fill each day with some task that is meaningful and powerful.

Thank you Writing 101! Thanks for the reset, thanks for the reminder. Maybe that’s the power of a blog…the self-reminder that each life matters, and if so, then my life, my contribution, matters too. I just have to find the way, and at the same time, promise not to take it all too seriously. Wouldn’t want to do that. 🙂

The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately.

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California burger

 

 

Summer corn

Summer corn

California rambling

Seaside

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Pacific blues

The travel trailer

The travel trailer

 

Good things come

A couple of years ago I wrote this:

I struggle to patiently await the unfolding of events. I have a lot of ability to be patient with people, but not with circumstances. It is especially difficult to wait through something that seems to be holding up my life…like selling a house…have I mentioned that I have a house on the market? Just a few times?

While I am waiting, I think about one of my favorite phrases. I remind myself that many things happen “not at once, but at last.” Often I see this at work in life circumstances. Other times it defines a personal journey. I am not able to understand something at once, but at last, I get it. I am not able to forgive something at once, but at last, I am able to find that spirit in my heart.

I need soak time, time to mull things over, time to absorb. I don’t know if that makes me a slow thinker, or a deliberate one. Maybe it comes to the same thing. But I do know that when I’m faced with choice, conflict, decisions, I need time to reach a conclusion. And that’s frequently the way life is, at least in matters I would like to be quickly resolved. There is a process, or a chain of events, or a natural unfolding of the story that must be accommodated, must be honored. To try to rush an answer, in my experience, generally leads to a bad outcome. Or a different outcome than I want.

And so I wait. I wait for life to sort itself out, for forces to align. While I’m waiting, I’m doing what I can to make myself ready. And while I’m waiting, I see things happening that give me hope, bolster my faith, help me to know that when the time is right, I’ll have the answers I need. Not at once. But at last.

No, I haven’t sold my house, and it isn’t even listed right now. That story is still in the making.

But there’s another story unfolding, another example of “not at once, but at last.”

My son is going to college. He’s planning to get a degree.

He’s almost 27, spent five years in the army, has worked the last three years. He has a commercial driver’s license, and has supported himself with driving the last couple of years. He’s doing well and advancing in his job. But finally, finally, he wants to pursue education.

It’s been a long time coming. When he was in high school we expected him to go straight to college, and he almost did. But ultimately he chose the army instead. That was an education in itself, and a decision he’s proud of, one we supported. After five years, he finished his army contract, and we talked school again.

No, that’s not correct.

I badgered him to go to school, and he dug in his heels. He just wasn’t interested, and nothing I said made a difference.

Last week, out of the blue, he told me he’s going to enroll this fall. He wants to get a degree in engineering. He got bored, and he’s ready for a change.

Let’s just say I was…surprised. And then I remembered my line.

Not at once. But at last.

Tonight he called to tell me he’s rearranging his work to accommodate a new schedule. He’s going to use the GI Bill. He’s working out the details, with no prompting from me, no coaching. I know he’s just in the early stage, and there’s a long road between the first semester of a degree program and the last. And I know he might not get there. He might get derailed. I know all that. But it’s a beginning, and he’s taking the initiative.

I also know that a degree is no guarantee of success. Life can be rewarding and wonderful without higher education; a degree is only worth something if it leads somewhere. I know people who went to college, but didn’t really benefit from the experience. Somehow though, I don’t think that will be the story here. I want this for him so he can discover his potential, and that’s really what education is about.

So again I absorb the lesson life has to teach. Be patient. Let the story unfold, let it write itself. Don’t assume you know how it will end because you’ve seen the beginning.

This time the lesson is sweet. It’s very sweet. Not at once. But at last.

Get moving

So, I took my own advice and decided to quit wandering in the valley of technology and self-education. I’ve found a small design firm that I’ll be working with in the coming months to help me move to the next level with a business website and integrated design plan.

Aaaahhh…that’s the sound of my brain cells relaxing, thanking me, and getting ready to focus.

Actually, I think focus is one of the biggest challenges of our era. There’s so much coming at you, every waking moment. I like technology, gadgets, and all the positives.

But I finally had to admit: I’m just not able to absorb everything I need to learn, keep my current work going, keep up with my travel schedule, manage my day to day, and kid myself that I have energy left to launch a digital business. Just not possible.

I was reading a post a few days ago about outsourcing things to virtual assistants to free time for creative thinking and higher productivity. And I realized…why am I trying to learn how to set up a business website? I don’t have that expertise, and in the time it takes me to create a site, I could pay someone else to do it for me, and be working on building a client base.

I read so much about how easy it is to set up a website…well, WordPress made it easy enough to create a blog. And if I put 40 hours a week on this project, I might be able to do it for myself. But that’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen.

As I often say…I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer. But I think this will give me the boost I need to move forward. And that’s a good thing, because frankly, doing it the other way…trying to be a team of one…has been exhausting. I see so many people on line who look like they’ve created an amazing blog/business/website that’s an overnight success. Maybe that’s true for some, and maybe it isn’t. Maybe the sites I see that look like the lone entrepreneur is the only one behind the work…maybe there’s really a team effort going on. Whatever. The reality is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is finding a way to pursue my goals. I don’t think there’s a special medal for doing it all on my own.

I’m looking forward to focusing on the things I can do…creating content and looking at ways to add value to service and product…and getting out of the way of professionals who can give me a beautifully designed site.

And yesterday I picked up some more work for the summer, so my costs for this boost will be covered.

Just seemed like a little message from the universe. 🙂

“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past. Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it.”   Steve Maraboli

A Vision for my Blog

 On my way!

Today’s assignment: consider what you want to accomplish with your blog. Write down three concrete goals you want to achieve. 

I started blogging because I was intrigued with the ability to have a place (even a place among millions) in the digital world. It was an outlet for creativity, for connecting, for self-expression. I was surprised at the community that grew out of blogging. Almost overnight I found kindred spirits I had never known, and re-established connection with friends and family who found their way to my site. Blogging has challenged me and grown an interest in technology and writing that I didn’t have before. It’s turned on the light for me in so many ways I didn’t expect.

So now, a little over three years in, where do I go from here? What’s the point?

My site has and will be free. It’s meant to be a little ray of light and optimism (most days I hope that’s what it is!) Some of my posts are personal, some more philosophical; sometimes I share good things I’ve stumbled across, or recipes I’ve tried. I’ve considered trying to narrow the focus, and maybe that needs to happen. But for today’s assignment, I’ll stick to answering the question. What am I trying to accomplish?

  1. I want to grow my readership. It’s fun to enlarge my circle, and as my readership grows, in turn, that introduces me to other bloggers. So it’s a mutual thing in many ways. I’d like to increase my followers by 50% by the end of the year. I think if I post more regularly that will help. I’ve also tried to keep up with visiting the blogs I follow, because turn about is fair play. So consistent give and take is important as well.
  2. I want to improve my photography skills. I love beautiful photos…well, who doesn’t? And whether the photo is a portrait of one of my grandchildren, or a delicious dish I just pulled out of the oven, or a landscape shot from a floatplane, photos are enticing, they tell their own story, and they make the written word more interesting. I bought a Canon DSLR a few months ago, and I’ve played with it a bit. But I need to own it, claim it, capture the amazing shots it can give me.
  3. I want to improve my titles to make them more interesting. Sometimes I see blog titles that are quirky, or obscure, or draw me in because they sound so curious. I need to find a way to title my posts with more imagination.
  4. And just for a little extra, I’ll go one more. I don’t understand SEO. I understand the concept, but I’m not sure how to translate what I think I know into functional changes for my blog. So that’s on the list too!

I’m sure this isn’t all I need to do, or want to do. But it’s a beginning, and that feels good!

~ Sheila