Throughout my illness, a number of people have asked me how I can have--or how I've been able to maintain--joy. My answer is always the same--specifically, that it's a choice. But choosing joy didn't happen overnight. It was a process. Until I could own it, I tried it on for size from time to time. That means that when I faced a challenge, instead of defaulting to feeling sorry for myself, I looked for the lesson and/or blessing. Sometimes, there was neither, so I had to make a conscious decision to live beyond the circumstance rather than establish residency in it. I wasn't always successful. It takes time to change life's default settings. But like many things in life, I found that the more I tried, the easier it became. And then one day I felt joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance, and realized I had finally established a new default setting for my life.

Many people struggle with issues of low self esteem, fear of failure, negativity, an absence of joy, etc., and have difficulty changing the trajectory of their lives. As I always say, just take a step in the direction in which you'd like to go. Try it on for size. You can do it. Surround yourself with people who are already on the path you seek; go to counseling; join a support group; find a mentor. There are blessings in that new direction. There can be joy in that new direction. You may have setbacks, you may experience pain. But refuse to allow anything or anyone to discourage you from moving in a new direction. Commit to a new lease on life. Be patient, and be kind to yourself. And remember that it's okay if you have to rent it (keep trying) until you can own it.
 
 
Back in the day, it was common to hear it said that someone sounded "like a broken record" if they discussed the same issue, circumstance, or problem whenever one saw or talked to them. The idiom--"like a broken record"--was apparently borrowed from the description of a scratched vinyl album that, when played, continued to repeat the same words and/or music each time it reached a particular groove. We sometimes experience ruts (scratches) in our lives--times we feel there's no forward movement, and nothing new on the horizon. In response to queries about how things are going, it's not unusual to hear/say the refrain, "same stuff, different day". As a result, interactions with us may come to be described as sounding/being "like a broken record". 

We don't have to remain stuck in our ruts. As with scratches on vinyl records we want to restore, we can seek solutions to get us to the other side of the scratches in our lives. While we may be tired and frustrated, it's within our power not to become resigned, discouraged, or complacent when we're in our ruts. Sometimes, we look for encouragement from others, but it's important that we learn how to encourage ourselves. It may not change our circumstances, but it can certainly change how we view our circumstances. Each day is a gift, and how we receive it and what we do with it are up to us.

It doesn't take much time to change how we handle getting to the other side of our ruts. It's sometimes a matter of deciding and committing to change our daily habits, our defaults--for example, not spending each day talking about what has us in the rut; not turning another's challenge into an opportunity for us to talk about our challenge. How can we see anything beyond our rut if our sole focus is inside of it day in and day out? We can use the time we would use focusing on our rut to try something new, such as take a foreign language class, try a new form of exercise, volunteer, etc. Or, we could create new habits of listening to music, reading scripture and/or daily affirmations, taking a walk, riding a bike, writing, etc. Doing something new or different, or creating new habits makes room, and provides opportunities, for interactions and conversations that have nothing to do with our problems. It may not change our problem(s), but it may help us feel better. And with better perspective, perhaps we can move beyond our rut and the broken record.
 
 
Years ago, I expressed to someone close to me feelings of frustration and exasperation that I was facing a difficult challenge so soon after surviving a major illness and surgery. Much to my surprise, the response was, "What makes you so special that you get to decide when you have problems? Do you think you deserve a pass because you just dealt with something serious?" Well, obviously!!! After all I'd been through I wanted to be offended, but those words--spoken in love--immediately resonated with me. Sure, I had been through a great deal, but no one ever promised that life would be easy, or that we get to deal with our problems one at a time or at "convenient" times. There I was about to throw a pity party, and the response in essence was, "don't invite me." Now I know many people would think the response lacked compassion, but I saw it differently. It was just the reminder I needed since I thought I had already learned the lesson that the "woe is me" approach has no redeeming value. As I've said fairly often on this blog, I'm not big on the approach because I haven't reaped any benefits from it--it's a time and energy drain as nothing changes for the better because I'm feeling sorry for myself, and pity parties usually attract only those who are likewise feeling sorry for themselves.

I'm now committed to throwing a different kind of party when challenges come my way--that is, a praise or gratitude party. I may not get there immediately, but I can always find something for which to be grateful--for example, that yesterday I didn't have the issue, or I had the freedom of not being aware of it; that this too shall pass; that I have more blessings than problems; that no matter the challenge, I don't ever have to walk alone. Getting to this approach took practice, but the more I used it, the easier it became. Now when I want to feel sorry for myself, I give it fifteen minutes. Beyond that, I find it's a colossal waste of time--time I could be busy living; using to seek solutions, if any; and/or to celebrate all that's right in my life. Party over here!
 
 
In life there are days/weeks/months/years when we feel challenged, maybe overwhelmed, by our circumstances--maybe in our marriage, with our children, as a result of the death of loved ones, on our jobs or due to periods of unemployment, because of illness, as caregivers for loved ones, etc. When the circumstances continue for an extended period of time, we may begin to believe things will always be that way. But as older people used to say when I was growing up, "there's never been a storm that didn't end." Of course, storms can leave damage in their wake. While we may not be able to control the storms, we can control how we respond to them and their damage.

One way we can control our response to life's storms is by asking for, or accepting, help--something that seems difficult for many of us. But why?
Maybe we genuinely believe we can handle things on our own. Maybe we're control freaks and believe no one can handle the situation as well as us. Maybe we're private and prefer not to share our problems. Perhaps we're ashamed of our circumstances. Maybe we're too proud to let others know we need help. Maybe we're more comfortable giving than receiving help. Or, maybe we like to play the martyr and want everyone to know the sacrifices we're making. Maybe we don't know how to make room for others to help. Maybe we just don't know how to ask for help.

No matter the situation, it's important that we ask for and accept help, when needed. As it's said, no man/woman is an island. We need each other. It's a blessing to give; it's a blessing to receive. When we try to do everything on our own, we take the risk of becoming angry, bitter, resentful, frustrated, discouraged, and mentally and/or physically drained. So, let's let others know we want and/or need help. Perhaps seeking help during our storms will encourage others to do the same.



 
 
We drink water to nourish and heal our bodies, run water to cleanse our bodies, and spray water to nourish our plants and lawns, grow our food, wash our vehicles, etc. And in the summer months, we often see people pour water over their bodies for temporary relief from the heat. Most of us have plenty of water at our disposal to use as we please. But how often, if ever, are we mindful of, and express gratitude for, the privilege of having easy and abundant access to clean, running water?

Last week, for the first time in my life, I thanked God for the water I was about to drink. I considered the blessing of having clean water at my fingertips for whatever purpose I choose to use it; and I realized I had been taking for granted its presence and availability in my life.

So many people around the world have limited access to clean water, and m
any have to walk for miles each day just to find water. So I'm giving thanks for water . . . a basic necessity for all, but a basic far too many have difficulty accessing.
 
 
Each time I ride the train it happens that the person seated beside me is someone battling illness. They end up encouraging me, I end up encouraging them, or we end up encouraging each other. It's been happening for the last five years. The first time I had the experience, I didn't really think about it. The second time, I thought it was interesting. The third time, I found it uncanny. Now, it's happened so often that I expect it.

My most recent trip was a little different in that I encountered Michael and his wife while we waited on the train. Michael shared that he had just completed a chemotherapy treatment, and they were going home until the next treatment in three weeks. A colon cancer survivor, Michael shared that he's now battling liver cancer that has metastasized to his lungs. Initially, I was blown away by both the gravity of the information and the fact that
what he told me wasn't reflected in his gait, countenance, demeanor, or attitude. And then my joy radar went off. It hit me that Michael was living his joy. And that's exactly what he told me. He had faced death, and might be facing it again, but he was living the joy he felt in his soul. And as Michael shared his testimony with me, he became more and more animated. His joy was running over--he couldn't keep it to himself. He felt blessed to have lived through his first bout of cancer after having to be revived twice. According to Michael, he was healed once, and had faith he would be healed again. But even if he wasn't healed, he was going to spread joy every opportunity he could because he's still here, still standing. What an inspiration!

Michael and I sat on that train sharing all our business that is rarely shared with others. I've found this to be fairly common among folks battling illness. I'm sure those around us could not believe we were total strangers as we discussed things most people--including myself--usually consider private. But in my experience, once you've walked a certain path, there are few things you hold private when trying to encourage someone on the journey. My journey is significantly different from Michael's, but there was comfort and understanding once we made a connection. As a result, there was no shame in discussing things that have the potential to strip one of their composure and/or dignity--for example, the residual effects of surgery, frequency of bowel movements, what it's like to wear a bag to collect your bodily fluids, the experience of wearing adult diapers, etc. TMI (too much information) for most, but for us, just par for the course on our journeys. There is no doubt in my mind that God allowed Michael to cross my path at just the right time. I don't know what it is about the train, but it happened again.

 
 
In my life I have found that beyond life's fog there is often

 
 
A fictional conversation:

Overcomer: I'm pursuing my dream to [fill in the blank].
Fear: You know you've had some issues in the past, my love. Don't you fear failing?!
Overcomer: Everyone has had issues. What I fear is living a life of regret for not trying to fulfill my dream.

Fear: But what if you fail?!
Overcomer: What if I succeed?

Fear: Let's talk about that. Don't you fear what success can bring?
Overcomer: I'll let you know when I get there.

Overcomer: Fear, there's something I need to tell you.
Fear: What is it, dear? You know you can tell me anything. And you can count on me to point out your weaknesses so you don't get beside yourself. I'll always be here for you.
Overcomer: That's the problem. I've been in bondage because I've allowed you to keep me focused on my weaknesses. While I'm mindful of my weaknesses, I've decided to no longer be controlled by them. Instead, I'm focusing on my growth, my faith, my strengths, and the lessons I've learned. To that end, I need to tell you that your lease has been terminated, effective immediately!!! I took the liberty of packing your bags.
Your stuff has been taking up way too much space in my life. Bye, bye.


 
 
Picture
LIVING MY JOY
Recently, I saw a little girl around the age of 3 dressed as a princess, waving a wand. She looked at me and said, "I'm on my boat." Clearly, she was using her imagination as we were standing on the ground. How wonderful it would be to one day learn that she owns a boat and/or a company that builds or sells boats. And it made me wonder, when do we lose that--our sense of imagination; our ability to envision things in our minds that don't [yet] exist? That's the stuff dreams are made of, right?

For the longest time, I thought everyone had dreams. It wasn't until I started speaking mine into existence and asking others about theirs that I discovered that's not the case. Some never had dreams; some had their dreams dashed; others believed their life circumstances made dreaming futile. But there are plenty of us who do have dreams. Those who think in terms of possibility rather than futility. In other words, that it's not over until it's over.

Having been blessed to realize most of my dreams, I know it's not easy. If you've been following this blog, you know I realized my dream to live in Paris, France as a result of illness. The dream existed many years before my move, and never in my wildest imagination could I have envisioned making the move while ill, let alone because of illness. That wasn't in my DNA. I didn't take such risks. Who in their right mind (some, I'm sure, questioned mine) would move to a foreign country, speaking little of the language, and wing it while ill? Me! Yes, indeed! Because that's where I needed to be to get the help/blessing I needed. And, honestly, when I moved it wasn't about living my dream, it was about getting help. But when the clouds began to lift, I saw a rainbow--the beauty in my journey. I was living my dream. Illness was a major blow to many aspects of my life, but it never occurred to me to let go of my dream. It felt like it was slipping away, and the journey to get there was far different than I imagined, but with the help of God and lots of love and support, I got there.

For those who have dreams and might be discouraged, I challenge you and encourage you to hold on. Don't lose your sense of wonder. Dare to imagine. Dare to dream. Speak your dream into existence, and take steps consistent with realizing it. Your path may be different than you envisioned--detours may be necessary. It may take longer than you imagined--life often brings delays. The ride may be bumpy. But hold on. Even when it's dark, hope can provide light. You never know what's on the horizon.

 
 
I've found that life is a lot like sticky glue. We often become attached to, and leave traces on, the things, people, places and circumstances we touch.