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.
 
 
From time to time I hear people entertain the thought of starting their lives over with a clean slate. They talk about the places they would go, the things they would do, the profession and/or business they would have, the dream(s) they would pursue, etc. Mostly, they speak of hopes dashed, or dreams unfulfilled, and the accompanying regrets.

Sometimes when people are deeply entrenched in their circumstances they have a fatalistic view of life. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to think in terms of hope and possibilities. But those of us who are able and available can make a real difference in the lives of those who have lost hope, feel intimidated, or need encouragement to pursue their hearts' desires. It might be as simple as lending an ear, offering a kind word, or letting them know the types of resources available. It's a first step, a baby step. But it may provide a glimmer of hope and change a life.
 

What If?

09/23/2014

3 Comments

 
What if we:
  • spent as much time connecting with each other in-person as we spend on email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.?
  • sent handwritten notes to each other to express our gratitude, concern, love, sympathy, good news, etc.?
  • said hello to anyone with whom we come into contact--including strangers, and those with whom we have strained or no relationships?
  • made more deposits into others' lives than withdrawals?
  • offered to others the mercy and forgiveness we seek?
  • were kind to those who are unkind to us?
  • lived our lives without fear of failure?
  • lived our dreams?
  • practiced peace in our daily living?
  • remembered that charity begins at home?
  • focused on what we have rather than what we don't have?
  • lived lives that set good examples for our children?
  • lived lives in which our words and actions were consistent?
  • treated our elders with respect and compassion?
  • listened more than we talked?
  • spent time each day nurturing our minds, bodies, and souls?
  • treated each other the way we want to be treated?

Yes, what if?


 
 
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.

 
 
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.
 
 
It's difficult to listen to the radio and/or television, or use the internet without being  subjected to something hateful, vitriolic, demeaning, and hurtful about someone or some group of people. Sometimes, we allow others' views to influence our opinions, attitudes, and actions towards others.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Have a conversation with, or say hello to, someone who differs from us in: age, appearance, culture, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual preference, political leanings, socioeconomic status, attitude, etc.? Try to understand a viewpoint different from our own? How can we understand others if we maintain distance from them? Why do we judge or criticize what we don't know or understand? Why do we paint others with our broad brush of intolerance based on our lack of knowledge or understanding, our fear, perceptions, assumptions, preferences, etc.? Why must we agree with someone, or be like them, to love or care about them or, at a minimum, treat them with dignity, kindness, and respect?

TODAY, what if we:

  • Lend a helping hand to a stranger? We're all strangers to someone and need a helping hand from time to time.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Show compassion to a homeless, or less fortunate, person in need? Why do we shun those we perceive to be "less than" or "beneath" us? Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck; are fearful of losing our jobs and benefits; have significant education, credit card, medical, and/or other debt, and know that it's nothing but the grace of God that we are able to keep our own heads above water.

TODAY,
what if we move outside our circles and our comfort zones and treat others the way we want to be treated? What if we loved--or tried to love--our neighbors (our fellow man/woman) as ourselves?


 
 
Today I heard a song with the words, "you've been aimin' at nothin', and hittin' it every time." What a message! I can't recall any other words of the song, but what immediately came to mind was someone lazy and/or lacking ambition. Someone who talks a "good game", but takes no action. And then my thoughts moved in another direction.

Most of the people I know are just the opposite. We're ambitious and aiming at everything possible; so much so that we're trying to figure out how to have less "somethings" at which to aim. Juggling family and jobs or businesses; pursuing goals, dreams, and/or higher education; participating in social, community, and professional activities, etc. We want more; and feel we have to do more. Many of us say we do all we do because we want the best for ourselves and our families. It's usually our loved ones who take the hits from the sacrifices and compromises that must be made in the pursuit of our ambitions.
And if we're not careful, the result may be shattered families, lost or damaged friendships, a lack of joy, poor or compromised health, etc. So we must make sure that the striving we do for somethin' doesn't cause us to end up with nothin' because we failed to pay attention to what's most important.
 
 
Have you ever been on your way somewhere--usually on a tight schedule--and been forced to take a detour because the road is closed? Detours can be maddening, can't they? They can get us off course and delay our journey. And, if we haven't allotted sufficient time, they can cause us to be late for, or miss, our designated event, or change our plans entirely. But sometimes because of a detour we discover something we never knew existed. For example, have you ever been forced to take a different route and found yourself exclaiming, "I never knew that was here!"?

It's the same with life's detours. We're headed in a particular direction and something happens, unexpectedly, to change or delay our course/progress. If we take the time to be present in the moment and assess what's before us, we just might discover something worthwhile.
We never know if we will be on the road of someone else's detour or who will be on the road of our detour. A detour might spare us from something or open a door to something. I know of situations where people met their life partners because a blind date was late; changed plans after striking up a brief conversation with a stranger on a train and, as a result, made a lifelong friend; changed the course of someone's life by taking the time to offer support and encouragement at just the right time. But it's also possible that a detour may help us gain a new appreciation of the value and beauty of our original path. You know how we sometimes think the grass is greener on the other side--that is, until we get there.

I know it can be challenging not to become impatient and flustered when faced with life's detours. But we never know what we'll find on that other path. It may be a blessing. It's worth staying open to the possibilities.
 
 
What does it mean to win? To be victorious or succeed at something in the face of a struggle or difficulty, right? Have you won at anything lately? How about today? Did you hold your tongue rather than wound another with your words? Did you see the positive in something that had negative implications? Avoid showing road rage to someone who cut you off in traffic? Begin an exercise program? How about offering an encouraging word to someone in the midst of your own pain? Volunteer your time/talent for something that didn't involve you or your family? Did you turn away from gossip? Did you show compassion to someone with whom you have issues? Eat a healthy meal? Make a connection with someone you consider difficult? What about taking a first step towards a goal or dream? These are examples of victories if our usual inclination may have been to do otherwise. Victories that may seem small and inconsequential to others who don't know where we've been, our history, our struggles. But because we know our struggles, we might consider these "small" victories significant. They may encourage us to appreciate each step on our journey; to continue on our path. Maybe we won't throw a party--or, maybe we will--but we can at least do a little joyful dance in our heads and hearts in gratitude.

Once we get into the mindset of celebrating the "small" victories, we may find we won't wait for the large victories to validate us. And that matters because it's often the small victories that lead us to, and prepare us for, the large victories. It's important to remember that a small win is still a win.
 
 
It's often easiest to pursue a resolution or commitment in the beginning stages. That's when we may have significant enthusiasm thinking about all we want to accomplish. As with many things, however, that enthusiasm may wane when the process of meeting our goal(s) becomes challenging. This is why it's sometimes important to share our goals with someone/others who will help us be accountable. I appreciate having others ask me about my progress on my resolutions and/or commitments. They may be able to provide much needed support, perspective or encouragement if I have a setback or hit a bump in the road. It's also good to have others check our progress because we may be able to inspire them in reaching their goal(s). Some of us have the ability to hold ourselves accountable. But when we need help, it's worth finding someone/others who will check on us from time to time so those resolutions or commitments don't become just something we once thought about doing.