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.
 
 
We must sometimes remind ourselves that even if we cross the finish line later than we wish, we still finish.
 
 
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.



 
 
Have you struggled to accomplish something and attributed the struggle to an external source(s) or conflict(s)? Is it possible the struggle is, actually, within--for example, you feel inadequate, unworthy, fear failure, fear success, etc.? To determine the exact source of our struggle(s), it's often necessary to take time to assess and be honest with ourselves--to examine our patterns of behavior, our self-talk, whether/why we look for others' acceptance before acting, whether/why we allow others to limit us. And then we must garner the strength and courage to address the issue(s) head-on so we don't end up living our lives imagining what could have been if only we had faced the struggle(s) within.
 
 
It's been said that what others think of us is none of our business. But many of us spend a significant amount of time worrying about what others think and/or trying to please others, many of whom mean well and/or want the best for us. As a result, some live in bondage, full of fear and insecurities, unable to make decisions on their own. While there are times in life when we need guidance, support, and encouragement, it's important that we learn how and when to forge our own paths, without seeking validation/approval. We're all unique. How can we find our life's purpose or forge our own path if we don't learn to appreciate and rely upon our own faith, gifts, skills, strengths, values, talents, sensibilities, creativity, etc.? Always concerning ourselves with what others think may result in others dictating our life's journey. That makes it their journey, not ours. If we follow their path, anger, resentment, and dissatisfaction may result.

When we forge our own path, there will be mistakes, setbacks, and challenges. They are part of life's journey, and I don't know anyone who hasn't experienced them. Even if we're not successful on a path we take, it's the path we chose. That means we must accept responsibility for it, and the lessons are ours to learn. Is there the possibility of hearing, "I told you so", and "Oh, well", if the path we take turns out to be a bad one? Absolutely. And is it possible we'll need help? Yes.
But it's important to bear in mind that just like we chose one path, we can choose another. It may not be easy, but we shouldn't allow that to deter us. If we want to accomplish something, we should take as many paths as necessary to get there. Many successful people experienced some of their greatest successes after suffering disappointments and defeats on a path they chose. They succeeded because they stayed focused on their end game, and changed or corrected their course as necessary to get there.

In my own life, I've found it's easier to swallow the bitter pill of mistakes, challenges, and setbacks when I'm minding my own business--that is, forging my own path. Truth be told, those who may offer opinions have been there themselves.

 
 
Despite my best efforts, I continue to receive junk mail. The goal of those who solicit us with junk mail is to entice us, whet our appetite, pique our interest, sway our opinions, so we will accept or seek out what they're offering. If they can just get us to open the envelope or read the pamphlet, card, or insert, they may be successful in their pursuit. Some people appreciate receiving mail that solicits them for money, various products and/or services, participation in groups, etc. After all, it's possible something about which they weren't aware turns out to be of interest to them. Sometimes, it might be something they wouldn't be interested in under normal circumstances, but it reaches them at a time they're particularly vulnerable.

There's another type of junk mail we may receive--that presented to us via gossip, negativity, backbiting, discouragement, etc. Sometimes, we see it for what it is and immediately discard it. But what about when we're feeling vulnerable--for example, when someone hurts us and we hear gossip about them, or when we're struggling while pursuing a goal and someone discourages us? Acquiescing to this type of junk mail has a cost. It can permeate our spirit; cause us to make unwise decisions; and/or change the way we feel about someone/something. Personally, I try to treat it like any other junk mail and discard it. Otherwise, I'm allowing something worthless to distract me, and that has the possibility to detract from my joy.

 
 
As we age, many of us have the "pleasure" of experiencing gray hair. Some of us consider it rude, as it imposes itself on us like an unwelcome guest. Stubborn and confrontational, it appears--seemingly out of nowhere--in places it should not be seen. And while to others it may look silvery, bright, and sophisticated, we see it as dull, lifeless, gloomy, and aging. So, in a constant battle, we may pluck it, tuck it, pull it, curse it, cut it, color it and/or cover it--only to have it and "friends" (as if it were lonely the first time) come back again. But there are some of us who accept having gray hair as a natural progression of aging, while still others actually embrace gray hair as a welcome symbol of age and beauty.

Our life issues/problems
can be like gray hair. Forces to be reckoned with, they often make their presence known at inopportune times. We can pretend they don't exist or attempt to cover them up, but they will re-appear until adequately addressed. And when we are able to accept that they're a part of life and deal with them head-on, we build character, gain wisdom and, hopefully, welcome the lesson(s) as part of our maturation process. Those grays . . . those pesky, pesky grays.

 
 
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.