Take back your life

A friend of mine is in trouble. Her marriage is in ruins, and she is in the midst of a dysfunctional divorce process. She’s uprooted, disheartened, lost. And I can only begin to imagine the effort it costs her to get out of bed each day and get her kids going.

I’m sad for her, and I’m at a loss. This has been going on for almost two years, and the path seems to be a downward spiral. She can’t seem to break free, to reset.

I know something about sadness, and life not working out the way I thought it would. I don’t have visible tragedy in my life;  I have the drip, drip, drip of missed opportunities, lost dreams, or no dream at all…just a kind of wandering in the wilderness, wondering, even as the externals of life look pretty and orderly: “is this all there is?”

My husband and I have had it all, and at times we’ve known that, and celebrated it. And we’ve had it all, and at times, thrown it away with both hands…couldn’t grasp the goodness that was in front of us for looking at what was wrong. That’s an easy trap to fall into, one that I think most people are guilty of sliding into on a regular basis. Isn’t that what movies like “It’s a Wonderful Life” are all about? The reminder that with all the negatives, life is still pretty sweet…well, we know it. But how hard it is to live that reality day by day! No matter how often I re-learn that lesson, I find it waiting around the corner again. And each time, I have to internalize it like it’s new knowledge. Some things take an eternity, apparently, to really sink in.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think this is one of the most common failings of modern life, modern Americans. Maybe people in general… I don’t know…is this just a common human trait?

This morning I was thinking about my friend. She doesn’t have a job, because bringing in her own income impacts the settlement she is able to get from the divorce. She’s depressed, understandably so. She’s lost in regret for the past, and regret for the future. She’s mourning the loss of life as she knew it, and life as her kids knew it.

No one can change any of that, and what’s done is done. No going back. But I want to tell her there is still an option to go forward. I’m not sure she can hear this. But this is what I want to say to her:

Get up! I know you’ve been paralyzed by everything that’s happened. But you can’t live in that state. You have to begin. Begin today, this morning. Set the smallest of goals, and mark it off your list. Then set another. Keep setting them until you’re really moving. It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is that you see what you do as accomplishment, movement, and an act of will…your will. Energy and accomplishment produce more energy and accomplishment.

Look for a job. I know that may be against the advice of attorneys, but having your own income is liberating, and will give you renewed self respect. What if you eventually don’t need alimony? What if you could stand on your own? How sweet that would be! Going back to the work force when you’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for many years is challenging and intimidating…and invigorating. It will bring new people, new experiences, new thoughts to your life. It will broaden your horizons. It will give you a goal, and foster ambition. And it will give you money in your account.

Start a gratitude journal. This may seem like salt in the wound, to even suggest this. But I believe so strongly in the power of attitude and the healing that a thankful heart can experience…I don’t think a wounded soul can move forward without this step. Yes, life is unfair. Yes, life is hard. But we don’t complain when we are “unfairly” gifted. We just accept it as a natural thing, that we should be healthy, have food, have a roof, have healthy kids. Open your eyes, open your heart!

Finally…and again, this may seem like salt in the wound…I would suggest connecting with a women’s shelter…volunteer for an hour or two, or more, each week. This is not about building one person up by looking down on the misfortune of others…this is about recognizing that we all have something to give, even when it seems we have very little. And giving is the best cure for our own heartaches. Yes, there is a need to receive, and to cocoon, and to lick our own wounds. But that works better when we’re also giving, reaching out, making ourselves go beyond the comfort zone.

My route to work in Ketchikan takes me past a women’s safe house. When I’m distressed, I often think about the women who seek haven there. My problems become much more manageable when I recognize: no one beat me up, or threatened my kids, or blew money for this month’s bills. Does that mean I don’t have legitimate issues? No. And certainly my friend has sorrows that are real, and wounds that will take years to heal. But I’m reminded that things could be worse. You have to begin somewhere. I choose to begin with acknowledging: even when I’m struggling, I have people in my life, things in my life, that bless me. I have a place to start. And so does she…she just can’t see it yet.

I want to infuse my friend with determination, and to say: don’t let this sorrow, the end of your marriage, and the way you’ve been treated, don’t let it rob you of what you can do for yourself, for your children. Starting over is hard, and I understand the paralysis that comes with depression. So get help for depression if you need that. But act! Move! Get up! Do it for your kids, if not for yourself. One of these days, you’ll realize you are doing it for yourself as well, and you’ll all benefit in the end.

Even as I write this, there’s a little voice inside my head that says it’s never as easy as it reads. No. But what’s the alternative? She’s already lost two years of her life, and her kids’ lives, to turmoil and anger and sadness. How much more will she give? Eventually, it is counterproductive to mourn. It becomes a way of life; but not a healthy way to live. I’ve learned this for myself, and I know how hard it is to make that shift in thinking. I’ve done it. My circumstances were different, but in their own way, no less debilitating. But I don’t know how to jump start someone else. Sending her a to-do list, or a book to read, or listening to her, or suggesting that she see a doctor and go on anti-depressants…are these just band aids? I can’t put my hands around what she most needs. I’m at a loss for her. I keep coming back to the same thing. She has to reach down inside herself and want to take her life back. She has to want control enough that she pushes through the barriers. She has to want it. Others around her have wanted it for her. We’ve been sad, and seen the legitimate distress of her life. But now it’s down to her. Really, rock bottom, down to her will, and her strength.

I  choose to live by choice, not by chance; to make changes, not excuses; to be motivated, not manipulated; to be useful, not used; to excel, not compete. I choose self-esteem, not self-pity.  I choose to listen to my inner voice, not the random opinion of others.

 

Wise words

I am a seeker. I seek inspiration for my day, motivation for the work at hand, and wisdom to guide my steps. Sometimes I find these things in the actions and character of people. Often inspiration comes through words. These are some of the words that encourage me today:

Keep trying!

How I want to see myself as successful! I admit, the first illustration is what I expect. The second seems more realistic!           

Happy Saturday, and may you find wisdom, courage, and hope for the day!

(All images from Pinterest)

New and Improved

I’ve made a few changes to my routines this year. These are deliberate choices, mind you, things I am attempting to improve.

I’ve given up my Franklin-Covey planner, which I’ve kept for 20+ years, and transitioned to a digital calendar. THIS WAS NOT EASY! As a list maker, and someone who loves to record my to-dos, I don’t get quite the same satisfaction from digital planning as I did from my paper version. But I finally made myself do it. I finally faced the reality that I was duplicating my efforts, and continuing to lug around a physical planner every day, when I could list everything once in my phone calendar and be done with it. And wagging my phone around is not optional. I know I’m always going to have my phone along for the daily parade of adventures.

I’m wearing a pedometer. I tried this once before, a few years ago, but didn’t stick with it. I’m trying to be more conscious of how many steps I walk each day. This handy guide comes from http://walking.about.com/cs/measure/a/locke122004.htm

1) Under 5000 steps/day may be used as a “sedentary lifestyle index”

2) 5,000-7,499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered “low active.”3) 7,500-9,999 likely includes some exercise or walking (and/or a job that requires more walking) and might be considered “somewhat active.”

4) 10,000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as “active”.

5) Individuals who take more than 12,500 steps/day are likely to be classified as “highly active”.

It helps to get a more accurate picture of how much I’m moving on days I’m not working out. So far I’ve remembered to wear it more than not, and haven’t lost or washed it (yet).

I’m taking more nutritional supplements. I’ve been really good about taking a couple of specific supplements for years, but have been really bad about adding others that are beneficial. Mostly, I don’t want to choke down a lot of horse pills every day. Now I take flax seed oil in a capsule, Osteo Bi-Flex (my mom assures me this is a good one!); calcium (Rob warns me that my bones will be fragile one of these days), baby aspirin (thrown in as a precautionary measure), and I’ve added Vitamin D and coconut oil. I’m not on prescription medication, but surely I take enough pills every day to count for something?? Maybe I won’t have to add a lot more to my regimen.

Rob and I are trying to be more thoughtful about our phone use. No answering calls while we’re eating, or watching a movie at home, or whenever we determine that we are “off.” I’m so programmed to answer if I’m within earshot this has been really difficult for me. I really want to take control of the phone. But it pulls at me. What if someone needs me? Or has something exciting to tell me? What if, what if? Well, I’m trying. Most of my difficulty lies in the fact that I only get calls from family, at least on a regular basis. A couple of times a year my dentist’s office calls me to remind me of a cleaning, and about every six weeks I get a reminder call from the salon where I get my hair cut. That’s pretty much it. So you can imagine how difficult it is for me to miss out on a Riley update, or hearing from my son, or catching up with my mom. But as I said, I’m trying. I am slightly bigger than my iPhone, so being the one in control should be quite manageable. Most of the time. Those phones are demanding little things!

I am choosing contemplative writings or how-to guides for more of my reading. Oh, I still read my favorite blogs, and I take a peek at some other sites. But I’m trying to be more selective about what I give my time to when I can really read. When I was younger I loved novels, and although I still have several favorite authors, I find that fiction doesn’t hold my attention like it used to.

I’m continuing with the great clean out. Just when I think I’m done, I find some other pocket of stuff that needs a little sorting out. I think what’s really happening is that I’m ever more willing to let go of things that I’ve kept for a long time. And that feels good! I can’t deny that a new possession or two creeps in now and then. I’m impulsive, on occasion, and I’ve been known to be overcome with the need for a new kitchen gadget. But I’m better than I used to be. I was never a true shopaholic, but I’ll admit I’ve had my moments. I consider myself to be in recovery-mode now, trying to be less materialistic and more frugal and thoughtful about buying in general, and whether I possess things, or they posses me. That is sometimes that is a difficult distinction to make, I’m sorry to say.

Upward and onward!

Reality check

I went for a little ride yesterday. No, I wasn’t at Disneyland or driving some stretch of highway. I was lying on a table in the ultrasound room of the Women’s Imaging Center, waiting for the results of a breast exam. It was a long half hour.

I had a mammogram a few weeks ago, just a routine screening. I got a call on my cell from my gynecologist’s office while I was in Arizona for Riley’s birthday. I needed to come back for a follow up. The radiologist had requested “more views.”

“This happens all the time,” the woman on the phone said. “They just like to be sure they haven’t missed anything.” Well, I was in baby mode, birthday mode, and it was comforting to accept that opinion. I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I did make an appointment to have the second screening when I got back to Ketchikan.

I went downstairs for the second mammogram yesterday morning. Fortunately for my peace of mind, the radiologist read the images right away. She was still not quite satisfied, and recommended the next step, a breast ultrasound. I agreed; better to be safe than sorry. Since I work in the hospital, I asked the person scheduling to work me in whenever she had an opening. It might be a few days, but she assured me she would do that.

Two hours later I got a call. Could I come down at 2:30? Yes, I was happy to get this done, get it out of the way. A little voice in my head wondered if this was really just a sudden opening, or if there was something the radiologist had seen that pushed me up in the urgent queue? I hadn’t picked up on any concern. But isn’t that the job of professionals? Don’t alarm the patient. Remain calm. And after all, they do this every day. I’m the novice. I can still count on one hand the number of mammograms I’ve had.

The staff in the imaging clinic is extremely nice. I am polite and calm as I check in. The gowns are warmed. The lighting is soft.  No one is excited here, we all know this is just routine. If they don’t seem alarmed, why should I? I could have taken a nap during the ultrasound, except that it’s a bit difficult to relax with gel on your breasts and questions going through your mind every time the tech lingers over a specific spot. What does she see? Why is she slowing down? I know it’s not appropriate to ask the technician to tell me what she thinks. Although I’m sure anyone in that role has enough knowledge to recognize an abnormal tissue mass, it is not the tech’s responsibility to discuss findings with the patient. So I resist the urge to pepper her with questions. I’m a model patient, shifting and adjusting as she completes the test.

Again, the radiologist will read the views right away. And again I wonder: is that normal, or do they seem something that requires urgency? The tech steps out of the room to confer with the doctor, and I’m left to stare at the ceiling and question.

I think the things that I assume most women think: this will be fine. Nothing to see here. I comfort myself. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. I feel fine. I’m only 50! (Cliché alert: as they say, it looks younger every day!)

Then, for just a moment, I allow myself to imagine. This is how it starts sometimes. Just a routine exam, a little question, another test. And then, something definite. A diagnosis is made. Suddenly the lists are not about errands or chores, they are about appointments, tests, surgery, follow up, treatment. I watched my dad go down this path with colon cancer. I’ve seen others go through this. Why do I think I’m immune from this possibility? Why do any of us think the age old “it won’t happen to me?” I already know the end of the story. I know someday I’ll die of something. But I’m only 50! And that eventual reality is comfortably distant, isn’t it?

I think about the times in life that have focused me: the birth of my children, the loss of a loved one. Or on rare occasions, the poignant moments that stand out, that are frozen in my memory: the good stuff. Why, I ask myself, why can’t I keep the truly important things at the top of the list? Why do they always slip down below the urgent? Why is so much of life about keeping milk in the house?

Maybe we aren’t built to stand the intensity of the deepest emotion, the pinnacle experiences, on a 24/7 basis. They’re intense, these times of insight. They’re beautiful, magical. But intense. Who could live at that level all the time? And maybe, the very fact of routine in life is what keeps the magic in the other moments.

It seemed like a long time the tech was out of the room. Maybe it wasn’t. I was just rounding the corner of all of this in my mind when the door opened. “Ok, just keep up with your scheduled screenings. Looks good.” She smiled and opened the door for me. I went back to the dressing room to change, reassured and feeling vindicated that I had known I was fine all along. Nothing to see here.

Yes, it was all routine. Except for those few minutes on the exam table. They were a sharp reminder of what’s important in life. Funny how the extremes, good or bad, wonderful or frightening, can have the same effect. I left the clinic and walked back to my office, smiling, thankful that this wasn’t the day to switch out my lists. I have to remember to pick up milk on the way home, and the dry cleaning, not schedule a surgery.

Checked out: thanks, Dr. A!

This week I was so good…had my annual well-woman exam, a mammogram, and made an appointment to have my lipids checked. I work in the administrative department of the local hospital and there’s an OB/Gyn clinic literally down the hall from me. (Thank God I only need the Gyn services of the clinic…I’d have to kill myself if I needed the OB side! But I digress.) In anticipation of leaving this job when the house sells, I thought I should take care of some of these pesky things while it’s still an easy and relatively painless process. The mammography clinic is downstairs, as is the lab, so the excuse of having to leave work to get to these appointments doesn’t apply. Nice that it’s so convenient.

When I saw the doctor for my appointment, she went through all the routine questions, and since this was my first visit with her, asked the date of my last exam. I had to admit it was five years ago, shortly before we left Colorado. I know, I know…but I feel fine, and it’s incredible how quickly the years can slip by. And I’ve meant to get it done; I’m sure that counts for something. So now, I’m back on the straight and narrow. She made me feel a little better about my negligence. Told me it has been eight years since her last exam, so right away, I was reassured. I’m not the only woman in America who let this little life chore slip. And I was happy to report to her that I actually take supplements…flax seed oil, and the occasional Vitamin D, and now and then a calcium. Of course, I didn’t volunteer the frequency of my habit.  Still, I must be doing something right. I have all the parts I came with, except wisdom teeth, but that’s a different professional visit anyway.

After the exam, my doctor announced, in confident tones, that I would live forever, providing I schedule a mammogram immediately, and continue to follow my excellent program of diet and exercise. I do so go to the gym! No, I came clean with her. She gently encouraged me to get into a more regular exercise routine. Three times a year is simply not enough at my age.  Any day now I may wake up and have major issues. So far my knees are doing fine, thank you, and I have energy to burn. But the big M is just around the corner, and I have to be vigilant about my health. No more taking it for granted. Next time I see her the questions won’t be about my choice of birth control, we’ll be talking about the latest style in hormone patches and whether I’m experiencing my own personal summer.

I promptly scheduled the mammogram, was able to get that pleasure out of the way the same day, thanks to my ability to be worked in at a moment’s notice. The trip downstairs was just enough time to soothe myself, saying repetitively, “It won’t be too bad. How bad can it be? And besides, the waiting room is so well decorated!” Made me feel right at home, me being a woman, and as everyone knows, women appreciate the small decorative touches that take your mind off clamps pressing you quite mercilessly. The gown they gave me to wear during the exam had been thoughtfully warmed. The techs were extremely polite and pleased to note that, in fact, I had been a bit more responsible with my mammogram exams, having the last one only three years ago. I almost got a star on my chart. But not quite. However, the scolding was more in the form of encouragement to never again let more than a year and a day pass between these  tests. I’m at that age, you know. And really, they meant well.

After so much confrontation in the same day with my approaching infirmity, I couldn’t decide if I should celebrate the fact that I’m this old and doing as well as I am; or if I should go out with a bang and do something really meaningful to mark the end of life as I’ve known it. I’m going south (the Alaskan phrase for going down to the Lower 48) next week and have made a pact with myself to eat whatever I want for the whole week. I certainly won’t be exercising, and I’ll probably be living dangerously in other ways…staying up late, shopping extravagantly. Hope I can take all the excitement!

So if I can remember to skip breakfast on Monday (that fasting requirement) to have a blood draw to check my cholesterol levels, I’ll be set for a while. Of course, I still have to get the results of the tests I just had…but I’m going with the assessment that I’ll live forever…or anyway, long enough to wear out some essential part of myself…maybe a tummy tuck or brow lift will be life saving procedures I’ll need before long…have to stay on top of this stuff, you know.

Now if only my cream habit doesn’t show up in my blood work!

Choosing, not settling

Life is complicated. Few things, indeed, are perfect. Certainly no relationships meet that standard. So what does it mean to accept imperfections, or even differences, in another person? And does acceptance mean that you settle?

We’re initially drawn to others for the positives: the things we have in common, the personality traits or the physical characteristics that we admire in someone. Humor. Kindness. Creativity. Attractiveness. Love of adventure. Intelligence. Emotional maturity. Energy. Ambition. In the beginning, it’s all good. There is excitement in each connection, in every conversation. There’s so much to be explored, to be revealed.

In the beginning of a relationship, there’s big talk. Life, death, history. It seems like you could talk forever.

But eventually, the everyday crowds in, and the business of life takes over. After 29 years of marriage, we don’t tell each other our history. We don’t have to; we’ve lived it together. And we long ago shared our opinions and beliefs of many of the big life questions. We’ve had some evolution over time. But still, for the most part, we know who we are as individuals, and who the other person is.

We have some differences in our views. Differences in what we deem important. We have this conversation: have we just settled? Are we in a rut of relationship? We shouldn’t be clones. My life coach says, “If two are the same, one is unnecessary.” Meaning, unless you’re into having a spare of everything, you don’t need two people who are exactly the same. The differences add the spice, the variety, make the relationship unique among relationships.

I believe that in the end, we choose the significant others in our lives as much for their faults as for their good traits. Yes, at first, we’re drawn to someone by what we have in common and by their positive qualities. But after we see the negatives peek through, there’s a different process that occurs. Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is done subconsciously or not, there is a second process of selection, and this one is based on the negatives. We begin to determine what we can live with. As in, yes, there are things about Rob that annoy me, that irritate me. There are ways we are different. And I know, because over the years, he’s given me a hint or two about this, that there are things about me that frustrate him. I am not perfect for him. He is not perfect for me.

But I have chosen, not settled. Long ago, I saw the heart of this person that drew me. We were babies then, not even out of college. I don’t know how we beat the odds to survive this long. Somehow we did. It hasn’t been easy. We’re not perfect together. But we have created a dance between the two of us. It’s a unique dance, one that only we two know the steps to. I know when he’s having a bad day and needs quiet. I see him when he’s singing to oldies with the music cranked up so I worry the neighbors will complain. He knows when I am in sync, at peace. He sees me when I’m troubled and unhappy. He bears with me.

He’s turning 50 in a few weeks. We talk about a birthday plan. Should we go somewhere? Just the two of us? What does he want? I tell him I don’t care. It’s his special day. But I will choose to be with him, wherever he is. I chose long ago, and I’m still choosing.

It’s good now and then to revisit this in my mind. To know that I choose. To know I am not settling for what’s in front of me, just because the relationship exists.

As you think about your life, your commitments, I wish you the same peace, the same assurance. I wish for you the the certainty that comes from choosing for yourself, with full knowledge of the good, the bad, and the unique. And remember, if two are the same, one is unnecessary.

Unconditional love or approval?

I recently read a book that was amazing. Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, was first published in 1996. Somehow I missed it when it came out, all those years ago, and just stumbled across it one Saturday afternoon when I was rambling in a local bookstore. I actually bought a small gift book edition, a condensed version of the full text. I found the writing moving and insightful.

I eventually discovered, when I mentioned the little book to Rob, that he had the full text edition in his books, stored in the basement. I hadn’t even realized I had read an edited version. I dug it out and read the whole thing in a few short sittings.

The book is a combination of personal reflections based on the author’s life and stories of wisdom drawn from her experience and years as a physician and counselor. There are many pearls of insight, but the one that was most meaningful to me is this:

Children can learn early that they are loved for what they do and not simply for who they are. To a perfectionistic parent, what you do never seems as good as what you might do if you just tried a little harder. The life of such children can become a constant striving to earn love. Of course love is never earned, it is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.

Few perfectionists can tell the difference between love and approval. Perfectionism is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for love. “Unconditional love,” we say. Yet all love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval.

“Anything else is just approval.” That’s a challenging filter to pour my emotions through. Digesting this made me consider all the people in my life that I love. It can be a bit complicated to sort out all the reasons we love, and what feeds that emotion. This is not just an issue for parents and children. The principle applies to spouse, extended family, friends.

Of course the people in our lives may do things that may please us, or not. But the question is really less about what others do and more about how we respond. As a parent of young children, I always encouraged my kids to do their best. But I admit, what I often meant was “I know you can do better than that.” And the reality is that I was probably right when I had those feelings. They probably could have done better. But bottom line, the challenge was to take whatever they did and see the positive in it. Sometimes I got that, sometimes not. I believe, overall, I was able to escape being a perfectionist parent, but not because I completely understood the difference between love and approval. Maybe that was a grace that I was given, and in turn was able to extend.

It’s a fine line we walk….navigating between approval and love. Of course, I believe these two things can exist together, and should. I can choose to love, even when someone in my life is behaving in a way I don’t approve. Maybe the resolution comes when I recognize that although I may be the center of my own little universe, the people in my life are not obligated to behave in a way that I approve. No. They will make their own decisions and choices. As someone who is part of their universe, I may have an opinion about their actions. But it is my choice whether I love, or don’t love. I don’t get a choice when it comes to behavior. That’s their choice.

What about you? Are you loving the people in your life? Or just approving of them? Is there behavior that crosses the line? Spouses divorce. Rifts occur. Family members let go of others, quit speaking. I’m not saying there should be no boundaries, or that loving someone means you become a door mat. But it’s worth thinking about.  I want to be honest with myself. And I want my standard to be love, not just approval. And I hope that I’ll be given the same grace.

Intention vs behavior

I was watching a TV show recently and someone used the phrase “a call to excellence.”  I can’t remember what the program was about. But the phrase made me think about how striving for excellence differs from being a perfectionist. There’s an important distinction in the two concepts.

If I allow myself to be in perfectionist mode, I am never satisfied with the results of my efforts. I feel like my best is never good enough. Not that anyone else makes that judgment; I make it for myself. I am my own worst critic. But when I have the mindset of reaching for excellence, there is a subtle shift in how I see my efforts. I am able to become my own cheerleader, as though I am standing back and watching an athlete race or attempt a demanding physical feat. I see the aim for the best outcome.

Perfectionism is about critiquing results, finding fault with what was done, or not done. Striving for excellence is about encouraging the reach, the desire to be the best I can. Even the words “strive,” “reach,” “aim,” convey an implicit realization that the goal may not be achieved, the reach may exceed the grasp. But there is also an acknowledgement in those words of trying, putting my best forward.

I know I’m not perfect. But I love the challenge of excelling. Striving for excellence keeps me engaged and encouraged. When I feel the burden of perfectionism creeping into my thoughts, I feel disheartened and defeated.

Now, the next step: I can only judge for myself when I am honestly striving for excellence. Whether I achieve my goal or not, I know if I have truly given my best. But I can’t know that about anyone else. Not another living soul. I can see results from others that may look far short of excellence. But how can I know what another person can achieve at any given time, or in any given situation? This realization brings me full circle. I can only control the results of my own efforts. I can encourage and cheer others on, from my sideline position. But I can’t achieve for anyone else, and I can’t know if anyone else has reached for their own excellence. I have to trust, and then accept.

My life coach says we judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions. And this sums up the challenge for how we treat others. If I can forgive myself when I don’t achieve the excellence I strive for, why can’t I do that for everyone else in my life? Here it is again: grace. This is not being blind to shortcomings, whether in myself or others. Grace allows me to love and accept myself anyway. And to love and accept others anyway.

That is enormously freeing…not that I have been burdened with angst or carrying grudges. And I have been working to free myself of perfectionism for a long time (thank you, Flylady!) But it is helps me put this into words, think it through. The process allows me to be intentional in how I view myself and how I relate to others.

I am reaching for excellence, and living with grace.

Facing Future

I am 50. If I arbitrarily say that I was an adult at 25…finished with college, married, had a child…looked like a fully functioning adult…and if I optimistically hope that I live a healthy and productive life until I am 75 (achievable in this age of medical advances, and with my gene pool) I am exactly half way through my adult life. I have come a long way. I have a 29 year marriage, I have raised my kids,  lived in a lot of amazing places, experienced a lot of good.

This pivotal year, I am going to have a makeover. But this is not a physical makeover, other than what I do through normal means: diet, exercise, healthy habits. The makeover I am engaged in creating is one of a deeper nature. I am creating new behaviors for myself, in how I speak, in the way I express my desires, in the role I play in my own life.

Last weekend I had a powerful experience. I invited my sister in law, who is a professional life coach, to come and work with me, to evaluate and to help me define the areas of myself that I want to re-create. A disclaimer: this process is not “therapy;” coaching is not for someone who is battling a mental illness or disorder. Coaching is a one-on-one approach that allows the coach to give the client tools for improvement, then model the use of the tools, acting out the new behavior, and helping through accountability to put the new behaviors into sustainable practice.

I talk too much, too fast, I ramble. I have known this for a long time. It has come under a heading in my thinking of “that’s just the way I am.” But it isn’t who I have to be. I am not assertive, I am laid back. This has been a personality trait that I have even felt good about: “I’m low maintenance, easy to get along with.” But the reality is that this can be frustrating to people in my life, and although I have opinions and I express them, I should be more effective in communicating my desires. I need to be more engaged in determining the next steps in life.

I can find legitimate reasons for why I have been slow to act on these realizations. A lot of my adult life has been focused on the needs of the day, raising children, “keeping
milk in the house.” That time has passed, and now is the time to pause, to take stock, to think about who I want to be, who I choose to be, going forward.

For anyone thinking this is a sign of being self-absorbed, who is thinking, “just get over yourself,” I would say that is exactly what I want to do. I want to make changes that will
allow me to be more other-centered, will allow me to be more effective in my relationships, will remove barriers.

By definition, humans are fallible creatures. Everyone knows that. But though we can never be perfect, we can be better. We have the power to act, to change, to improve. I am facing future and I’m looking forward to the journey. What is your journey? I’ll be blogging about the things I am doing. Maybe you will see yourself reflected in some of my revelations. It is empowering to think that at the youthful age of 50, I can step up. It’s going to be a good year.

Cheerful vs happy

“I’m not happy. I’m cheerful. There’s a difference. A happy woman has no cares at all. A cheerful woman has cares but has learned how to deal with them.”  Beverly Sills, American opera singer.

I saw this quote recently and was immediately charmed. By this definition of happiness, could anyone really claim that state? Is there really anyone who has no cares at all? Not in my experience. But I know many people who regularly demonstrate grace under fire, grace under pressure, grace in the face of real life struggles. To some degree, life is all about perspective. If things are generally good, even a small disappointment can take on greater significance. A flat tire or lost cell phone can feel like a small tragedy. I have to acknowledge that most of my life has been blessed with health, children, friends, relationships, love…the kind of life that is easy to take for granted because it is stable.

I am increasingly aware that no life is simple, that even the people around us who look whole and happy have their cares, their own quiet battles. No one escapes some form of life challenge. Sometimes the issues are of our own making, sometimes not. Sometimes the stress is personal, sometimes it is from the heartache of watching a family member or friend struggle, and only being able to stand by and watch.

So what is the answer? Even in times of stress and heartache, life  goes on. How is that possible? It’s difficult to rise above grief, above loss, above pain. But the attempt to be cheerful is important. Is this just the “fake it till you make it” attitude? I think this is different. I think the message from this quote is that we acknowledge our troubles, we confront them, we choose life. We continue to embrace life. We look for the good to offset the bad.

I’ve sometimes been accused of being the proverbial ostrich, burying my head in the sand. And anyone who know me knows that I never seek confrontation with others. But I see a subtle difference here. When I have difficulty in my life, my confrontation is less with someone than with the issue itself. What can I do to make a difference? How can I overcome? After all, I can’t change another person, I can only change myself. I can only choose for myself. I can only be cheerful for myself.

I choose cheerfulness. I am not always able to claim happiness. But I can breathe deeply, I can focus on the good in my life, I can enjoy the comforts of the day: now in early December, a warm fire, a cup of hot coffee, twinkling lights, an early Christmas card from a friend. I choose to be a light in the darkness. Doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with this at times: of course I do. But with the help of faith in the power of God, faith in the power of good, faith in the power of hope, I will be cheerful. I will overcome.

It is a very empowering place to be. I’m liking the view from this vantage point.