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?


 
 
We must sometimes remind ourselves that even if we cross the finish line later than we wish, we still finish.
 
 
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.
 
 
Many of us say we want to experience something new, but we don't do, or seek out, anything new. Many of us say we want things in our lives to be different, yet we approach our lives the same way every day. For those stuck on the treadmill of life (walking or running in place), why not take action to discover new and different paths; to change your life positioning to explore enriching experiences and create new memories? Perhaps it's volunteering your time and/or talents; finding or living your life purpose; taking a mission trip, etc. Sometimes, it only takes one step to change your course/position. It could be the difference between just going through the motions and living a joyful life.
 
 
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.

 
 
Are you living, or moving toward, the life you want to live? Many are not, for myriad reasons. One reason I hear often is risk aversion based primarily on the fear of failure and/or past disappointments. As a result, folks get "stuck" going through the motions,  just hoping things will change. And while they may be uncomfortable in their current status, some take comfort in their discomfort, as counterintuitive as that sounds or may be.

As we know, things don't always work out as planned. But oftentimes they do. And those of us willing to take risk(s) try to take calculated risks. But the nature of life is that some risks, especially the greatest risks, are incalculable--unknown. The key in moving forward--beyond the unknown--is to be willing to accept that there are things beyond our control, and that there are always lessons and opportunities for growth.

There are risks in taking action to live the life you want to live. Likewise, there are risks in not taking action--for example, living lives of regret, complacency, and mediocrity. So why not take a step or two in the direction of pursuing what you want out of life? As the old adage says, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
 
 
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.

 
 
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.