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.
 
 
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.

 
 
In my life I have found that beyond life's fog there is often

 
 
I've found that life is a lot like sticky glue. We often become attached to, and leave traces on, the things, people, places and circumstances we touch.
 
 
Are you carrying a load that's too heavy for you to bear? Problems here, problems there, problems problems everywhere--for example, with your family, in your relationships (personal, business or both), your finances, your job/business, your health, etc. Whether it's a problem in one area of our lives or in several areas at the same time, our problems can wear on us . . . literally. The weight of our issues may be written all over our faces as it's sometimes difficult to shield the external from the internal. We may not even realize we're wearing a scowl unless or until someone asks if everything is alright. Heavy loads can change our gait--the way we walk. Our shoulders may hunch as if we're carrying the weight of the world on them; and our heads may hang a little lower. Heavy loads can cause pain and agony--either of which can change our disposition. And if we're not careful, the weight of our problems may have social, financial, emotional and/or physical consequences.

We've all carried heavy loads at some point. While it may sound overly simplistic, I've found that the only way to lessen the weight of my load is to put it down; stop carrying it. To address what I can and move on. That doesn't mean I no longer care or that the problems are resolved; just that I can't/won't carry them anymore. Sure, it's easier said than done, but it's something I practice regularly. And when I say practice, I mean make the attempt so I can get better at it. Of course I fail from time to time, but each time I try to look for the lesson lest my joy be tempered. Because it's easy to become stuck agonizing over things beyond our control. And while it may seem as if time has been suspended--especially when we become engrossed in, or consumed by, our problems--life, in fact, goes on. So we, too, must go on.

Here's how I get there. I ask myself three questions in the face of an issue/problem:

1) How important is it?

2) Realistically, can I do anything about it?

3) Can I handle it on my own?

If it's important and within my power to do something about it, then I attempt to find a solution. If I'm unable to find a solution on my own,
I seek assistance from my support system or otherwise. If I'm unable to find a resolution after seeking assistance, I must accept that the problem is too heavy for me to carry.

Sometimes, I can clear my mind with a long walk. Meditation works for some. As a Christian, I believe there are some problems only God can work out. Their weight is too heavy for me to bear, whether alone or with someone. So I pray and release them because even though they may be too heavy for me, there's peace in knowing I don't have to wonder if God can carry the load.

 
 
What does it mean to win? To be victorious or succeed at something in the face of a struggle or difficulty, right? Have you won at anything lately? How about today? Did you hold your tongue rather than wound another with your words? Did you see the positive in something that had negative implications? Avoid showing road rage to someone who cut you off in traffic? Begin an exercise program? How about offering an encouraging word to someone in the midst of your own pain? Volunteer your time/talent for something that didn't involve you or your family? Did you turn away from gossip? Did you show compassion to someone with whom you have issues? Eat a healthy meal? Make a connection with someone you consider difficult? What about taking a first step towards a goal or dream? These are examples of victories if our usual inclination may have been to do otherwise. Victories that may seem small and inconsequential to others who don't know where we've been, our history, our struggles. But because we know our struggles, we might consider these "small" victories significant. They may encourage us to appreciate each step on our journey; to continue on our path. Maybe we won't throw a party--or, maybe we will--but we can at least do a little joyful dance in our heads and hearts in gratitude.

Once we get into the mindset of celebrating the "small" victories, we may find we won't wait for the large victories to validate us. And that matters because it's often the small victories that lead us to, and prepare us for, the large victories. It's important to remember that a small win is still a win.
 
 
Have you ever walked away, or distanced yourself, from a situation you thought was detrimental to your joy only to find that wasn't the entire solution? When I'm in this position, it's usually because there are emotions associated with the situation that I haven't dealt with. So I do my level best to muster the strength and courage to walk out of the situation but step in to any corresponding pain, sadness, anger, etc., and deal with it head-on for however long it takes. Now I know there are plenty of folks who do whatever is possible to avoid dealing with their emotions. If that works for them, fine. But in my life, I've found that trying to avoid my emotions results in carrying baggage. And that baggage gets heavy and begins to weigh me down. Without attention and resolution, the weight of that baggage may then begin to weigh on other aspects of my life. There's certainly no joy in that.

I once had a professor who said to students unprepared for class, "[y]ou can pay me now, or you can pay me later." He made it clear that, as with most other debt, paying later meant paying with interest. For me, this concept likewise applies to emotional debt. Sometimes it's not possible to handle debt (of any kind) on our own. It may require assistance--for example, debt counseling, debt forgiveness, etc. Whatever it takes, I want to pay those debts as soon as possible. The only time I want to carry baggage is on a trip. My goal is: no trip, no baggage.
 
 
Here's a poem I wrote about joy:
JOY

Cannot be explained;
Cannot be contained;
Touches everything and
Everyone in its path;
May not change who or
What it touches;
But leaves a definite impression;
Has an automatic memory bank;
So no matter the circumstance,
It's sure to return.

©Natalie Taylor, 2002
 
 
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The movie, "It's a Wonderful Life", reminds us that friends are a blessing. I feel blessed to know I have friends, and am humbled by their love. Here are some quotes that remind me of the gems in my life:

"
Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That's why it's a comfort to go hand in hand." Emily Kimbrough

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." Proverbs 18:24

"The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are." C.S. Lewis

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." Author unknown

"
Friendship isn't about whom you have known the longest... It's about who came, and never left your side...." Author unknown

"
I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar. " Robert Brault

"Friends pick us up when we fall down, and if they can't pick us up, they lie down and listen for a while." Author unknown


"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." Proverbs 17:17

"
Friends are like walls. Sometimes you lean on them, and sometimes it's good just knowing they are there." Author unknown


"
The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart." Elisabeth Foley

"Remember, you don't need a certain number of friends, just a number of friends who are certain." Author unknown


"No matter how sure you are that a friend will be there for you, it's still the greatest feeling when the time comes and there they are." Robert Brault

"A friend can tell you things you don't want to tell yourself." Frances Ward Weller

"
Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." Oprah Winfrey

"
The best kind of friend is the one you could sit on a porch with, never saying a word, and walk away feeling like that was the best conversation you've had." Author unknown

"The most memorable people in life will be the friends who loved you even when you weren't very lovable." Author unknown

"Any day is a great day to say 'thank you for being my friend.'"  Natalie Taylor

"No man is a failure who has friends." Quote from the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life"




 
 
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.