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.
 
 
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.


 
 
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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.

 
 
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.
 
 
For purposes of traffic control, yellow lights caution us to slow down because a red light is imminent. How many of us race through yellow lights in an attempt to avoid/beat the red light, only to get caught by the next red light or behind a car traveling slower than the speed limit? I've been there a time or two.

We are presented with yellow lights in our daily lives, as well. Things that caution us to slow down or take a step back. We can get in a hurry if there's something we want or want to do, only to wish--once we have it--that we had taken the time to heed the cautionary yellow lights we saw along the way. Yellow lights like intuition, listening, observing, things learned through due diligence, etc. But we want what we want when we want it. And if we choose to race through the yellow light(s) and run through the red light(s) too, we may find there are consequences--for example, with business decisions, finances, friendships, romantic relationships, in attempts to achieve goals or live a dream, employment situations, etc.

I don't know about you, but I've raced through/ignored enough yellow lights in my life that I now respect and honor their protection. Clarity and blessings can result from respecting life's yellow lights. So, I've learned to slow down, put on the brakes in the presence of yellow lights, as it's better to proceed with caution than race to a bad result.
 
 
We are ofttimes myopic in our thinking when we've set a goal(s), and march full force ahead in the pursuit of it. We know what we want, we know when we want it, and we know how we plan to go about accomplishing it. But sometimes in our quest, we overlook the beauty in the process. There's beauty in deciding to do something we've never done; trying something new or different; stepping outside our comfort zone; taking steps to improve ourselves. What about the joy of taking the first step toward reaching your goal? There's beauty there. Did we learn something new? There's beauty there. Did we meet new people who are making the same journey? There's beauty there. Did we learn something about ourselves we never knew? There's beauty there. Did we inspire or encourage someone else by beginning our project/moving towards our goal? There's beauty there. If we take the time to look, there's beauty to be found right there in the midst of our journey. And it's important not to miss it. Because in the event it takes longer than we planned to reach our goal(s), or the goal doesn't fulfill us in the way we thought it would, it just may be the beauty we found in the journey that helps to sustain us.
 
 
Have you seen the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? It's broadcast on television during the Christmas season, but I sometimes watch it at other times of the year as its messages resound throughout. In the movie, the life of the protagonist, George Bailey, is challenging--to say the least. As a young man, George dreamed of college and traveling the world. Those dreams were dashed when George's father died and George had to take over the family business. After that, George did what he could to make the best of his life--a great deal of which included helping others. And just when it seemed things were going well, something happened that shook George to his core. Having endured one setback too many, George got tired. He was at the end of his rope, and believed things would be better if he wasn't alive, or had never been born. But before he was able to act on his despair, George was sent a guardian angel who showed him the blessings he had and how his life made a significant difference in the lives of others. In the end, George saw that despite his challenges he had a life worth living, rich in love. It seemed like he was so accustomed to making sacrifices and being there for others that he didn't realize they would be there for him in his time of need.

Some of life's greatest lessons are learned in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We may be devastated or discouraged along the way, but it's important to hold on. As older people used to say when I was growing up, "just keep living . . . chances come around." Nothing good or bad lasts forever, so we must make the best of our circumstances and allow our blessings, our faith, our hope, our joy, to cushion life's harsh blows. One thing from the movie that really resonated with me was that George didn't reach out to his family and friends to say he needed help. He suffered in silence. Many of us do so, thinking no one will understand; no one will be there for us; others will criticize us; we can handle it on our own, etc. I've been there. But like George, I have learned that when we have others who will love and support us in the midst of and through our pain--and allow them to do so--we'll find that it is, indeed, a wonderful life.
 
 
Do it, why don't you? Live your dream. Do it while you can. Why live a life regretting what you didn't do? Take a chance on yourself. Why just watch others live their dreams when you can be doing the same? Do you have a fear of failure? If so, you're in good company. Just bear in mind that what you desire is on the other side of your fear. And if/when you get to the other side of your fear, you'll likely wonder why you wasted so much time. Wouldn't it be nice to know we will succeed at every pursuit? But how would we learn the lesson(s) we need to grow? It's the setbacks and disappointments of life that teach us some of our greatest lessons. They're stepping stones to help us reach higher ground. Lessons we need to learn to reach our intended destination.

Not trying is failure to me. As it's said, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So why not venture into living your dream. Dreams are gifts--opportunities to use our mind, our talent, and our creativity to stretch ourselves beyond our self-imposed boundaries. So let's stop making excuses and get busy living our dreams. Because when we do, we'll have more pep in our step, more curve in our swerve . . . Ok, I know that didn't work, but you get my point. If you need a pep squad, get one. If you need someone who will hold you accountable for the things you say you want to do, find that person. Whatever you need to do to take the first step and beyond, it's time to do it. It took me getting ill and facing the possibility of death to start living my dreams. Your inspiration needn't be that extreme. So live your dreams now, why don't you . . . while there's still time.

 
 
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Living My Joy
Conventional wisdom says we should live below our means, specifically, our financial means. Makes sense, right? Because living above our financial means can have repercussions that ripple throughout our lives.

I've been living above my means for years. Not my financial means, but my life's means--my own personal capabilities to make things happen. When confronted with circumstances I cannot handle on my own--for example, forgiving what seems unforgivable, mustering the strength and courage to handle serious health issues, dealing with life's various setbacks, living my dreams, etc.,--I find it necessary to tap into my faith line of credit. Sometimes, the amount available is very small. But I've found that each time I access the line, my faith balance grows. My repayment plan consists of regular deposits of gratitude for what I have and what's on the way, as well as sharing my journey (the challenges and the victories) with others to provide encouragement. Living beyond my means is recognition and acceptance that winging it is sometimes/ofttimes necessary. And through it all, I'm still standing.