Wednesday, January 20, 2016

{Research}

The reading of many books,

the discovery of new ideas,

theories and plans and research.



Black and white,

wrong and right.

If you're certain of everything,

you never have to question anything.

So you...



Do the research.

Make the plan.

Control it all.

Eliminate surprise.



Then the doctor calls.

The friend betrays.

You lose the job.



All the research in the world

cannot prepare you for the

emotions you experience.



The tears in your eyes,

the ache in your heart,

and the weight in your chest.



Life is to be experienced,

not anticipated.

Human experience is raw

and real and beautiful and

awful and sacred and messy.



Nothing will save you.

Everything can save you.

Paradox and irony.

Trust and faith and hope.



You'll be ok.   I swear.

You are not alone.  

Maybe life is the research

and experiencing all of it

is what makes you fully alive.



Your soul is beautiful.

Diamonds are made in the fire

and pain carves out grace.

Live your one life fiercely.



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Monday, January 18, 2016

{Signal}

Back when I wrote a lot, I used to do this "Random Word of the Day" thing.  I would go to this website where you just click the mouse on the "word" button and a random word comes up.  And then I'd write about it.

I've gotten kind of rusty in my writing skills but haven't lost my desire to write and create, so I thought I would give this a go again.  I might publish it and I might not...I'm just doing it for the practice at this point.

Words and books are so fascinating to me.  I have always had a complete love affair with books and reading.  Of course, I love some books a lot more than others, but I cannot even tell you how reading has expanded my world and my horizons.  Maybe when you grow up in a little Mennonite sub-culture, reading is one way of breaking out of the box that you have no choice but to be in.

The word "signal" strikes me as a word that you could go many directions with.  But I want to write about something that is current in my life right now.

You know how sometimes you can feel stuck in a certain area of your life?  You find it hard to see options and you feel trapped by your circumstances, your emotions, or your finances.  You might feel uncomfortable with the way things are, but you aren't willing to take the big steps to change things. Fear is usually what holds us back.  

I've been doing a lot of listening to the wise Elizabeth Gilbert and I've also recently read her book called "Big Magic."  It is an extraordinary book with fresh perspective and if you would like to read it, leave a comment on the Facebook link and I will pick one person to send a copy of the book to. You'll enjoy it...I promise!  


Part of what she talks about in that book is making friends with your fear.  No one is ever going to be completely unafraid.  But her idea is that you just talk to your fear.  You thank it for being there and you acknowledge its role in your life (fear saves you from lots of seriously dangerous situations) but you let it know that it won't be needed right now, because, after all, you're just making a career change or running a 5K or giving a speech.  It is not a life or death situation.  

But back to the signal thing...I feel like when change needs to happen in our world, Life gives us little signals to make us uncomfortable with where we are.  I think for me, sometimes that is the only way I am willing to change...when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change. When we feel that restlessness and that discomfort, maybe that's a signal.  When we feel our heart being pulled towards certain stories and books and people, that may be a signal. 

I recently coined this quote "True change begins with an awareness of the why".  Why we act the way we do...why we feel the way we feel.  Awareness comes by paying attention to all of those little signals that come our way.

Often, when something happens in our emotions and our heart, our body will give us signals.  Maybe its that sick feeling in your stomach, or a fluttering in your heart, or a tightening in your chest or just a sense of dread.  Pay attention to those things.  They are part of the road map to awareness.

It can be exciting, really. Learning to pay attention to these signals (internal and external) and figure out what they are trying to tell you.  

Maybe it will even lead you to a place of creating some "Big Magic" with your life.  Because we are all prone to underestimate ourselves and I know you've got it in you to do something Big.  

Just start by following the signals.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

{Photography & Perspective}

There is a truth that I am coming to understand more and more.

"The miracle we seek is most often a shift in our perception."  The prayer that goes along with this, for me, is "Holy Spirit.  Help me to see this situation differently."  Simple yet oh.so.profound.  Maybe because it involves big ideas like surrender and trust.

I've also become convinced that, by and large, we see what we are looking for.  Therefore, perception becomes incredibly important in our daily lives.

Probably three or four years ago, I started taking pictures when I would go on my walks on our dirt road. I don't even remember how or why I started.  But I soon learned that it gave me pleasure to look for beauty and it made me feel gratitude.

I really believe that beauty is everywhere, if we have the eyes to see it.

Yes, in some seasons of life you may have to search for it much more diligently and other times it might be easy to spot.  But it is there all the same.

So I've been thinking about photography and perception and lessons I have learned (am learning) in the past while.

I thought I would share some of them with you.


LESSON #1 --
You see what you are looking for.

This time of year, in Wisconsin, it is ugly.  Everything is brown and white and bare and frigid.

Most of the world looks like this:


But...there is always beauty to be found.


LESSON #2 --

You have to slow down and pay attention to see the beauty around you.

The slower the pace, the more likely you are to have the perception to see beauty and the time to enjoy it.

In the midst of the boring, the brown, and the blah...I found this.


I guess I thought these birch stumps were kinda cool.





LESSON #3 -- 

You can choose what you focus on.  You GET to choose what you focus on.

I'm not talking about having this unrealistic view of life and being this super annoyingly perky person who is just always so damn upbeat that other people feel like you don't even live in the real world.

Its just that I don't think that is the danger most of us face.  And I'm pretty sure most of us could benefit from choosing to see and focus on the good and the positive.




LESSON #4 --

Utilize your filters.  Every one of us has filters through which we view the world.  Try to use one that not only helps those around you, but that also makes you happier in the meantime.

Example:  Looking for good in people instead of assuming people are assholes and out to hurt you.

 (Filter)

(No filter)



LESSON #5 --

If you don't like what you see, change where you are standing.  (Emotionally, physically, mentally)

The other day, I took this really cool picture of a barn...through the trees.


I think this scene looks quite peaceful and picturesque. 

But just so you know the rest of the story...when you get closer to the barn, there is a lot of junk and clutter around it and it really isn't all that pretty.


There is a dumpster, old equipment, other buildings, dirty snow, missing boards, you name it.

But there is also beauty to be found when you view it from a different vantage point.


LESSON #6 --

Try not to judge.  We have habit of categorizing anything and everything.

This is good.  This is bad.  This is pretty.  This is ugly.  This is failure.  This is success.

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you don't always know what something really is?

Could you just let it BE?  Suspend your judgment for a brief moment and see what happens. See how your world broadens and morphs into something different and possibly more helpful to your life.

Someone might look at this picture and see ugliness.


It is just a couple of rocks in the snow.

But someone else might see beauty and texture and colors and wonder.

Don't ruin it for them.  Let others around you see what they see and don't discourage them or try to "bring them back to reality."

Like the fact that they are just in the McDonald's drive through.  ;-)




Remember...the miracle you most often seek is just a shift in your perception.

But you've got to open your eyes and be willing to see!
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Sunday, January 3, 2016

{If It Makes You Happy}

Sheryl Crow may not be my hero, but she's belted out some pretty profound truths over the years in that gritty, rocker chick voice of hers.

"Every day is a winding road...I get a little bit closer to feeling fine" just happens to be part of the soundtrack to my favorite movie of all time.  (Erin Brockovich is the movie, in case just a teeny-tiny part of you was curious about that.)

And back when I was a teenager and borrowing my future husband's truck after blowing up the engine in my little Toyota Supra, I remember being introduced to Sheryl Crow's self-titled album and this catchy song called "If it makes you happy".  That tune and those words have stuck with me all these years.  "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad...if it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?"

I never did understand the reference to "playing for mosquitoes" but I'll just give her some artistic liberty with those lyrics. Or maybe I've misunderstood those third verse lyrics all these years.

And yes, I am going to make a point eventually.  Just stick with me, grasshopper.

I used to think that I need to explain and validate the things that I chose to do to feel that little spark of alive-ness that we all need in our daily life.

You know the one that I'm taking about?  That little bit of joy we feel from the simple things in life.  It might not make sense to anyone else, but to you, it's part of what gets you through your days. Those little interests and passions are what makes you uniquely you. I like to think it is a spark put there by the Divine.

It is probably akin to the concept of surrounding yourself with beauty.  I guess I spent a lot of years feeling like all of that stuff was frivolous.  I was raised to be very practical and down-to-earth and surrounding myself with beautiful things was not something I was taught.  So I guess I'm having to be my own teacher these days.

I'm starting to learn to be unapologetic for taking those little moments to feel happy about something that might be considered stupid or inconsequential to someone else.  And to give myself permission to be "frivolous" and "childish" in my joy.

I don't know if other people out there struggle with this, but I just wanted to give you your permission slip to gather around yourself those things that make you feel something good.

Maybe for you it is watching the steam curl off of your cup of coffee in the morning.  Or buying yourself a cozy blanket that makes you feel happy and safe when you curl up in it.  Maybe it is taking the time to create a card for a friend because feeling that inspiration gives you joy, even if you could buy a card for less money and spend less time on it.

I understand that happiness and joy aren't about "things", it is about what is going on inside and the deeper threads of peace and contentment that we can learn to have in our inner world.  But I feel like these exterior things are part of that package, at least for me.

In that spirit, I thought I would share with you a few things that make me feel happy...


Beautiful and inspiring and somewhat whimsical things, like this mug.  Or my fairy angel that I bought from the bar owner in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She used to hang on the wall behind a toilet in the bar and now she sits on my kitchen windowsill.


And then there are always books.  When I curl up in my reading chair with a great book and my navy blue snowflake blanket, I feel such a peacefulness in my soul.


This is an amazing book of quotes that I would recommend to anyone.


Another thing that sparks my joy is taking pictures of nature.  I'm not sure when this became a hobby but I have rarely felt such pure abandon in the last 5 years as when I am capturing the beauty of nature.


I find it hard to explain how liberating it has been for me to give myself permission to pursue and enjoy these little things in life that inspire me.  But I wanted to try to write about this today and I hope you can connect with the feeling and maybe it can encourage you to pursue those things as well. 

Joyful people inspire others.  Be one of those people.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Middle Places

You can be the middle child.  Maybe you're middle class.  You can be in the middle of middle school, like my son Derrick.  You might be middle age or in a mid-life crises.  You may be in the middle of a horrible sickness or disease.

It is hard to see the word middle as a positive, because by definition it means that you are at equal distance from the sides, edge, or begining to end of something.

The more I look at the word, it seems to kind of morph into "muddle" instead of "middle".  And being in the middle sometimes feels more like a place I'm ending up instead of a place I'm passing through.

For me, it is often in the middle of a task that I feel discouragement setting in.  Yes, I've gotten quite a ways, but I have so much further to go.  Do I give up and call it good enough or do I keep on?

Hope threatens to fade in the middle.  We have to pull together our resources and focus our thoughts to continue on when discouragement sets in.


There is a glory in beginning something.  People praise you.  "Look at her following those dreams!"  "See how she just went for it!"  Even when the new beginning meant that you quit something you shouldn't have, there is often applause because you were brave enough to try something new.

And the end...that's just pretty spectacular!  You stuck with it!  You persevered!  You were strong! The end should be a big deal.  A sense of pride and accomplishment should go along with it.  That is, if the end is how you pictured it.  What about an end that you didn't choose and had no control over? What about an end of a dream that you thought would surely happen?  Endings can be bittersweet as well or just simply sad and difficult.

But the middle is what I wanted to talk about today.  One of the problems with the middle is that you don't really know at the time when it will end.  Sometimes you don't even really know when this thing that you now find yourself in the middle of started.  But you know that where you are isn't where you want to be.

There is a lack of patience from others when you wander around in the middle for too long.  People want to see progress.  They like a good story.  Don't let the hero wander around directless for more than the acceptable amount of time.  But what is acceptable?  All of us have ideas about what that might be based on our own life experiences.  Some people think that a decision, any decision, really, would be better than staying stuck.  Some will try to tell you what you need to do.  They may even be right.  But sometimes you are only strong enough to get up each day and keep on trudging. You don't have the energy that may be required to take a giant leap forward.



It is always easier to see the way through someone else's "middle place" than your own.  You will feel judged by many when your "middle" turns into a year, or two, or maybe even three or more. People will start to get tired of listening to you talk about the same old thing.  And I get that.  Its the philosophy of "either stop complaining or do something about it."  But what if your current pain and sense of profound lost-ness are compounded by the fact that everyone else seems to know exactly what you need to do but you're still trying to figure it out?

And here is what I really want to talk about in this little writing session...and that is the pain and rejection that comes from feeling like you can't even talk about your middle place anymore because everyone's patience has run out.  So you begin to shut down.  It doesn't feel safe to venture into that territory anymore because you feel the impatience and the coldness from others.  You start to go deeper into yourself because that seems to be the best option.

I read this in Cheryl Strayed's new book called "Brave" and it stirred something so deep within me. I think that this can apply to more than just the grief of an actual death of someone you love. It can apply to many other kinds of grief as well.


I've been in a middle place for a long time.  I've made lots of good, strong choices and I've made lots of weak, make-you-stay-stuck kinds of choices.  I've even often known the difference.  But everyone's journey progresses at a different speed and authentic change is not something that can be rushed or forced.

Those whose grace for me has not run out are the relationships that I treasure the most.  Because those are the people who have shown Jesus to me.  He literally never runs out of grace.  I understand boundaries, believe me.  I know that people can't just allow others to drain them and monopolize their lives.

But what if you just need to listen one more time?  What if you need to pour yourself out by just being full of grace for someone who should probably "have it together" by now (whatever that means)? What if your compassion is just the thing that is needed to give a friend hope and to help them feel refreshed to try again?

Why are we so prone to deciding when we've had enough and to judge when and what someone else should do in their journey?  Could it possibly be because it makes US uncomfortable to sit with pain so deep and so long-lasting?  Could it be that we have a hard time accepting the fact that sometimes life just hurts and sometimes it just sucks?  And that maybe the difficult time is gonna last longer than we wish it would?  Are we afraid of our own ability to walk through the middle places with someone else and so we turn away in the name of boundaries and self-care?

We all love a good story.  But we love it when it is over.  We love the happy ending.  The closure. The hooray's and the back slaps.  The middle part is messy and ugly and not much fun at all. But as we all know, any good story has conflict and difficulty. We often hesitate to tell our stories while we are in the middle place. It is much easier to talk about it after the fact...once we've got it all figured out.   I will venture to say that it takes much more courage and bravery to be honest about our "middle places" than our completed tales.

My mentor and good friend, Renee, has told me more than once..."I'll be here as long as it takes for you to get through this."  Do you know how comforting that has been?  It makes me get tears in my eyes even now, just thinking about it.

Healing is a process.  Grief is a process.  Acceptance is a process. And a lot of times the only way to the other side is to wander around in the middle for a while.  There are lots of lessons learned in those middle places.  There is a level of pain that often promotes awareness and growth.  But some days, all a person can do is put one bleeding and tattered foot in front of the other and hope those around them have the grace to notice that they haven't sat down and given up...that they are still walking.  Still hoping.  Still learning.  And that one day, they'll be able to look back and say "I'm through"!

Will you still be around to rejoice with them when that happens?  Maybe that's something to think about the next time you are tempted to walk away from someone who is hurting.  Maybe instead you should sit down next to them, put your arm around them, and say "I'm here for as long as it takes, dear.  I'm not going anywhere."

Grace has a name.  Grace has a face.  It just might be yours.


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Friday, October 30, 2015

{Words Are Powerful ~ Only if you Let Them Be}

Mark Twain is quoted as having said these words "I can live for 2 months on a good compliment."

For me, it might be more like two days.  ;-)

But the point remains that when someone gives you a sincere compliment, it means a lot.  Words are such powerful little bullets, penetrating the heart's of others and sometimes being lodged there for years to come.

I can remember both uplifting and negative things that people have said to me in my lifetime, some of them literally being 10 or 15 years ago.  In fact, sometimes the negative sticks even longer than the positive.


I still remember being told that I walk funny -- way back when I was a teenager.  Since I was already self conscious about this, someone else mentioning it only confirmed what I already thought I knew to be true.

The same goes for a comment someone made to me within the last year or so about how I am a person who just likes attention and that I'll take negative attention over no attention at all.  While I don't believe this to be completely true, there is enough of doubt in my mind about myself in regards to this that I still wonder if this might be true of me.

I've also noticed that when I truly believe something good about myself and it rings true with who I believe that I am, I can easily accept a compliment about myself in that area.  Lately someone told me that they feel I am a very genuine person and I just said "Thank you" and felt grateful for the compliment.  The thing is...I already believe this about myself. I know I am a genuine person.  It resonates with me that someone would recognize this about me.  Along those same lines, if someone told me that I was disingenuine, I would brush it aside.  Because I believe in myself when it comes to this character trait.  Those negative words would have no power over me.

But if someone tells me I am beautiful or that I seem very even keeled emotionally, I would have a hard time accepting that compliment because I don't really believe it about myself.


I am starting to see that the MOST important thing is not what anyone else perceives me as being or not being.  The most important thing is what I believe is true about myself.  For me, that truth comes from a power and a being higher than myself.  Who does HE say that I am?  How does HE see me? And what choices am I making that align myself with that person that I already am?

Words are powerful. For sure.  As humans, I think we need to recognize this and be much more careful with our words and use them as weapons of kindness and love and peace instead of daggers of fear and jealousy and pride.


But more than anything, we need to know who we are despite what anyone else thinks of us...whether negative or positive.

That is where the real power lies.  So that when you hear that positive affirmation or that negative comment, you just check in with yourself and what you know to be true about yourself and YOU choose whether or not to give those words power in your life.

Probably the most difficult part of this is making choices that back up the person that you know that you are while knowing how much you still struggle to be that person and how often you mess up.

Grace.  Grace.  Grace.

For yourself in your journey and for other's in theirs.  And then let your words be something that encourages someone else to see who they really are and lifts them up closer to being that person.





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Monday, September 14, 2015

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

I struggle with depression.

I don't know that I've ever had the courage to say that out loud to a {potentially} large group of people before.  It feels in some strange way like saying it just.like.that gives it more power. But maybe it works the other way?


But when it's been 6 or 7 years and I'm still fighting the same battles to see good in my days, to recognize things to be grateful for, and to fight away the grey cloud that hovers just over my head, I guess eventually I have to face the reality of my life.

When I tell people that I struggle with depression, especially those who don't know me well, they always seem to surprised.

"But you're always smiling."

"You always seem so happy."

It goes to show you can't always tell what is going on with someone just by the face they show to the world.  I'm not trying to be ungenuine by smiling when I'm sad inside.  It's more that smiling is a long standing habit with me and I don't see the harm in keeping it up.  May as well not bring others down with me if I can help it.





Today is an absolutely gorgeous Wisconsin day.  I finished with my work and went and sat outside with a good book.  But I didn't feel happy.  I felt like I should feel happy. And then I felt guilty that I didn't.

So I did this exercise that I sometimes do these days.  It's an exercise to bring me back to the present moment, to help me recognize all that is around me that is wonderful, and it gets my mind out of it's default over-thinking mode.

This was my "observation chair" today
I noticed that my nails need to be re-done.  Although that wasn't
 one of the "5 things"


I thought I would share this with you all because maybe someone can use it in their days as well.

You look around (anytime, anywhere) and you really take in...

5 things you can see -- Today it was the boys' wiffle balls and football lying in the yard, our firewood pile to heat our house this winter, the leaves moving in the wind, the gorgeousness of the blue sky and our trusty van.

4 things you can hear  (This one sometimes takes a little patience)  Birds, a vehicle in the distance, the wind moving the leaves, more/different birds

3 things you can touch  (your own skin, the book in my hands, the grass on my feet)

2 things you can smell  (sunshine.  I think you CAN actually smell sunshine.  And summer.)

1 thing you can taste  (this one is hard sometimes, but usually you can taste something if you focus on it)



Maybe you can try this sometime and gain a little perspective and happiness in your day!
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