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.
 

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.
 
 
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.



 
 
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.

 
 
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.