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.
 
 
I have a pet peeve. Well, actually, I have a few (remember, I'm still under construction), but one that has always stuck in my craw is when people don't say "thank you" in response to thoughtfulness, kindness, etc. Many years ago, a friend told me that whenever one does something from their heart, a thank you from the recipient should not be necessary. Deep down inside, I think that may be the right approach. But I'm not there yet. Clearly, there are some circumstances when a thank you isn't expected--for example, in the case of an anonymous gift to a known or unknown recipient. But when someone takes the time and/or makes an effort to show consideration to someone--and both the giver and recipient are known--I think a "thank you" should be given. Nothing extravagant is necessary, but at least an acknowledgement and expression of appreciation. For example, "thanks for opening or holding the door for me; thanks for letting me go before you in line at the grocery store; thanks for bringing me coffee; thanks for the thoughtful card and/or gift"; or waving to someone who allows you to move ahead of them in traffic, etc. Just common courtesy. Living abroad has made me more open-minded about many things, and I've learned a great deal about different cultures. But no matter where I've traveled or who I've met, a simple "thank you" in response to a gesture of kindness seems to be universal. Common courtesy. . . is it really too much to expect? Maybe. But I still have a ways to go on this one.
 

What If?

09/23/2014

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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?


 
 
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!
 
 
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

 

Streams

05/13/2014

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Have you experienced stress over the possibility of losing your job; having sufficient income to meet your financial obligations; establishing an emergency fund, etc.? If so, you're in good company. This is why I think it's important to have what I've heard referred to as "streams of income." Streams of income are simply multiple sources of income that may, for example, help ensure that the loss of one source of income doesn't cause significant financial upheaval. The additional income may also assist in meeting financial goals, etc.

I believe we all have gifts, skills, and/or talents we can utilize to generate streams of income. It's also possible to generate streams from our hobbies. Some may turn their professional expertise into streams. For example, some might provide consulting services to small start-up businesses. Some might consider creating an e-book on a subject within their expertise. Others might generate streams by cleaning their closets and/or basement and selling unneeded/unwanted clothing, household items, etc., on eBay or similar e-commerce websites, for example. Some may rent an extra room in their home; give private or group lessons on something about which they're passionate, such as a foreign language or music. Others might sell photos on a site such as Foap; create a side business on YouTube. Some may sell the crafts/products they make as a hobby on sites like Etsy or Scoutmob. The possibilities are endless.

Whatever your chosen activity, it may not be something you want to/can do on a daily or weekly basis. Moreover, not all streams will
provide a steady flow; some may trickle. Either way, it's another opportunity to invest in yourself and, hopefully, provide some financial breathing room.
 
 
Love. Look for it. It's all around.
Joy. Look for it. It's all around.
Laughter. Listen for it. It's all around.
Peace. Look for it. It's all around.
Kindness. Look for it. It's all around.
Compassion. Look for it. It's all around.
Forgiveness. Look for it. It's all around.
Hope. Look for it. It's all around.

Did you find what you were looking for? If not in others, hopefully inside of you.