Recently, I saw a little girl around the age of 3 dressed as a princess, waving a wand. She looked at me and said, "I'm on my boat." Clearly, she was using her imagination as we were standing on the ground. How wonderful it would be to one day learn that she owns a boat and/or a company that builds or sells boats. And it made me wonder, when do we lose that--our sense of imagination; our ability to envision things in our minds that don't [yet] exist? That's the stuff dreams are made of, right?

For the longest time, I thought everyone had dreams. It wasn't until I started speaking mine into existence and asking others about theirs that I discovered that's not the case. Some never had dreams; some had their dreams dashed; others believed their life circumstances made dreaming futile. But there are plenty of us who do have dreams. Those who think in terms of possibility rather than futility. In other words, that it's not over until it's over.

Having been blessed to realize most of my dreams, I know it's not easy. If you've been following this blog, you know I realized my dream to live in Paris, France as a result of illness. The dream existed many years before my move, and never in my wildest imagination could I have envisioned making the move while ill, let alone because of illness. That wasn't in my DNA. I didn't take such risks. Who in their right mind (some, I'm sure, questioned mine) would move to a foreign country, speaking little of the language, and wing it while ill? Me! Yes, indeed! Because that's where I needed to be to get the help/blessing I needed. And, honestly, when I moved it wasn't about living my dream, it was about getting help. But when the clouds began to lift, I saw a rainbow--the beauty in my journey. I was living my dream. Illness was a major blow to many aspects of my life, but it never occurred to me to let go of my dream. It felt like it was slipping away, and the journey to get there was far different than I imagined, but with the help of God and lots of love and support, I got there.

For those who have dreams and might be discouraged, I challenge you and encourage you to hold on. Don't lose your sense of wonder. Dare to imagine. Dare to dream. Speak your dream into existence, and take steps consistent with realizing it. Your path may be different than you envisioned--detours may be necessary. It may take longer than you imagined--life often brings delays. The ride may be bumpy. But hold on. Even when it's dark, hope can provide light. You never know what's on the horizon.

Living My Joy
Here are some of the lessons I've learned while living in Paris:

1) When we don't try to understand each other, any language--even our mother tongue--is a foreign language.

2) Common courtesy and respect will take you a long way.

3) It's easy to see beauty in the obvious, but heartwarming to see it in the not so obvious.

4) Different is not wrong or bad . . . it's just different.

5) Being set in your ways is bondage.

6) Curiosity and learning are necessary for growth.

7) You can make a friend anywhere. A person whose language you don't understand can become a friend if you use your heart to communicate.

8) You'll miss out on treasures if you're not willing to step outside your comfort zone.

9) Much of life is beyond our control, so it's important to make the most of what's within our control.

10) Allowing fear of the unknown to keep you from trying something new can block your blessings.

Universal, n'est ce pas?

Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Living My Joy
Are you giddy with excitement? After all, you've done it . . . you've realized your dream. It's time to celebrate! Your dream has come to fruition, and it's now time to live it. Give yourself credit for your vision and making the journey. I hope you took time to enjoy the journey. In my case, the journey was as important as--and at times more important than--the dream itself. The journey helped me learn my capabilities and who I could count on for encouragement and support.

Living my dream helped me learn more about what I'm made of and who I am. Because living your dream makes you deal with the realities of the dream in context. And reality can bite. Sometimes the bites are nibbles; sometimes they create wounds that require stitches. Don't get me wrong, my life in Paris is rich--full of diverse experiences. I have wonderful friends, there's a rich culture, a diverse population, great food, art, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine River, Louvre Museum, Opera Garnier, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, and so on and so on. But, like life, it's not always sunny. As a matter of fact, it rains quite often. And the only time birds have pooped on my head (and face) has been in Paris. It's become fairly routine. I mean, really, is there a message?! There are issues with unbelievable bureaucracy, daily life, etc. And my life in Paris revolves around my illness. Unfortunately, the realities of life don't take a vacation because you're living your dream.

What I've learned, however, is that it's all in how you cope. If/when the tough times come, it's paramount to be more focused on living (enjoying) your dream than surviving it. For example, when I'm faced with challenges unique to being in Paris, I take time to walk along the Seine River, look up at the Eiffel Tower if it's near and, more often than not, savor a macaron or other yummy pastry (that I ordered in "Franglais"--my combination of French and English). I've been through the fire and had to wing it in the midst of struggles while living my dream. But it's been worth it. I have no regrets. The Paris I see now--my Paris--is more beautiful than I imagined because it's touchable, relatable. I've learned to appreciate it despite its imperfections, which I see more clearly now. While it's often true that you can't know what you're getting until you get it, what you see when you take off the blinders and the rose colored glasses (the fantasies of your dream) can be a beautiful blossom. It may require a shift in your thinking, but learning to see things, people, and situations for what they are rather than what we want or imagine them to be, is one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life. Living my dream has taught me as much about life and myself as it's taught me about life in Paris. No matter how difficult, it's been a joyous, enlightening, and enriching experience.

Very few things in life are as perfect as we imagine, right? With that in mind, you may need to remind yourself a time or two that this dream is what you asked/worked for. As with anything else, you must take the good with the bad. And no matter how living the dream turns out for you, bear in mind that it took a lot of effort and courage to get where you are. Even if it turns out to be something less than you envisioned, don't overlook the blessings/advantages. You now know you're capable of doing something of this magnitude, and you'll always be able to say you lived your dream. No one can take that from you. And you don't have to live this dream forever. There's no shame in deciding you've had enough of the dream. Others may view it differently, but it was your dream and you fulfilled it, so you've succeeded in what you set out to do. And that means that if you're so inclined, you can plan and live another dream. You are strong, capable, and courageous. And even if you don't know it, you have inspired others. I applaud you. Bravo!

One of the greatest blessings of living my dream has been the ability to use the experience to help others. It would be a hollow victory if I were the only person served by realizing my dream. I pray that sharing some of my experiences has been a blessing to you. It's been a joy for me.
I've been asked a number of times how I realized my dream to live in Paris. Admittedly, I did so under very difficult circumstances--I needed a correct diagnosis of my illness. As a result, I had to skip and/or rush through some steps I would have otherwise taken. But I thought it might be helpful to discuss over the course of a few blog posts what worked for me, and the things I would have done had I had more time, to realize my dream.

For me, there were several stages in the process of living my dream: 
  • Perspective
  • Preparation for the planting season
  • The planting season
  • Realization of the dream
  • Living the dream
In this post, I'll address perspective--the lens through which I viewed my dream, and things I learned from the gift of hindsight while living my dream. My experience will differ from others' experiences, so take this for what it's worth to you. 

First, I learned that dreams are replete with fantasies of what living the dream will be like. But not all dreams are good; some are nightmares. There's no way to know until you live them. I was fortunate that my dream was a good one, but I had some nightmares along the way.

Second, I learned that not everyone will support your dream. Their lack of support may not be personal, but may be based in their own fears, doubts, or concerns. You must believe in your own dream and have the focus, tenacity, and strength to follow through. You must decide whether to share your dream and plans and, if so, with whom. Sometimes, it's difficult to discern who will and will not provide encouragement and support.

Third, there are many land mines, challenges, and setbacks that may discourage you from pursuing your dream. It's important to be realistic that the road to your dream may have some potholes.

Fourth, it may take a great deal of time and effort to realize a dream. Some people just fall into their dream. I wasn't one of those people. It's important to ask for help, if/when possible.

Fifth, it's crucial to enjoy the journey involved with living your dream because the journey is sometimes as important as the dream itself.

Sixth, living your dream may not bring you joy. While I have had many happy days living my dream, it was my joy that sustained me when living the dream became difficult. If my joy was based on external circumstances rather than my internal state of being, I would have been disappointed. You can't know what living your dream will be like until you get there, and nothing is good all of the time. Joy can help you endure the difficult times.

With the same perspective and the gift of hindsight, I wouldn't take a thing for my journey. Everything I experienced on the way to living in Paris and everything I've experienced since living in Paris has been worth it. I have no regrets. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity, I'm grateful, my life is richer for the experience, and I will continue to encourage others to pursue and live their dreams . . . and to live them joyfully.

At this time of the year, many are joyful and super motivated. They have new attitudes, hopes, dreams, goals, and plans, and are ready to put them into action. There are others, however, who are suffering from joystipation. They feel bound, discouraged, and unmotivated. It's not that they don't have goals, hopes, or dreams. Perhaps they don't have the resources to realize them. Or, perhaps their circumstances are such that they don't believe they can realize them--at least not now. Well, if you've explored this website and/or read my blog before, you shouldn't be surprised by what I'm about to say: If you're joystipated, it's time for a movement!

Why not get unbound and bloom where you're planted? Don't wait for the circumstances to change. Grow wherever you are now. Absent dire circumstances, I believe we all have the ability to do something. That something may be an alteration of our hopes, plans, or dream(s), or it may take us in a totally different direction. Sometimes it's our circumstances that lead us to our purpose if we are open to a detour in our plan(s). It's important to look for the blessing(s) in our current circumstances, if any, and if we can't find any, to work on creating some to help someone else. Ultimately, we'll be blessed in the process. And then, when/if our circumstances change, we'll be stronger, wiser, and better prepared for the next step.

Many of us know people who are blooming where they're planted. Using their circumstances to help others. Focusing on their blessings rather than their circumstances. Defining their circumstances rather than allowing their circumstances to define them. But if  you need some additional motivation, check out this video:
Nick's now married with a child on the way. Check out this link: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/How-Nick-Vujicic-Triumphed-Against-All-Odds-Video

*Wish I could take credit for it, but I first heard the concept "bloom where you're planted" at a program in Paris created to help foreigners get acclimated to their new environment.
Some years ago, I heard a minister define faith as jumping off the proverbial cliff and finding your wings on the way down. Whether I jump or am pushed, that's what I call "winging it". When I'm winging it, I'm exercising my faith in God--believing that everything will work out for my good. While that doesn't mean I will get my way, exercising my faith in any given situation is trusting that there is a plan for my life. And, usually, that plan requires operating outside my comfort zone. Adapting to life circumstances I could never have anticipated or envisioned.

I winged it when I moved to Paris. After being misdiagnosed by several doctors in the U.S., a friend who lived in Paris suggested I seek out additional medical opinions there. During my visit, I was properly diagnosed. It turned out that the specialists in my illness were in France. So I moved to get the help I needed. While I know that moving to Paris sounds glamorous, the reality was otherwise given my circumstances. I was ill, heavily medicated, and spoke very little French. Talk about winging it, I flapped my wings so frantically I no doubt lost some feathers. Within my first month, I had to deal with: moving into an apartment without electricity (including heat) for two weeks because the landlord forgot to call the electric company; explaining my situation to various medical practitioners (without causing myself additional harm as a result of my limited French); and having to resolve a leak in my apartment (as I didn't know the words for leak or plumber, I thought my neighbor had written me a welcome note!). Honestly, there were times when I thought I was in for a crash landing. But I got my wings on the way down. As a result of winging it, I was blessed with neighbors who graciously helped me navigate the issues with my apartment, and my doctors understood me just fine (with much patience and humor).

I had a dream to live in Paris since I was 16 years old. Through illness, I learned the value of winging it. Had I not jumped off the cliff and moved to a foreign country, I would not have gotten the medical assistance I needed. And the bonus was that I got to realize my dream.

Even though winging it intimidates me at times, I have found a little more comfort in it. The more I do it, the more I know I can do it. Because of the exercise, my flapping isn't as frantic--my wings are stronger now. I still sometimes resist moving outside my comfort zone. It's scary out there. But it's outside my comfort zone where growth opportunities present themselves and blessings can be found. And every time I jump off the proverbial cliff and wing it, I may not be happy, but I have faith that I'll land exactly where I'm supposed to be.

How do you feel about winging it?

Vienna, red shoes, and medicine.  What could possibly be the connection?  I'm glad you asked.  The answer is, one small act of kindness.  I was at the airport, on my way to Paris.  A couple at the check-in line struck up a conversation with me.  They were on their way to Vienna and Malta.  I told them I always wanted to go to Vienna.  They had been married there, and shared a wedding photo.  I shared with them my experiences in Malta.  We parted ways at the security line, but ran into each other again on the way to our gates.  The husband had just converted dollars into euros, and I began to lament the low value of the dollar.   I told them I had decided not to convert any money into euros until I arrived in Paris and could obtain a better rate.  Immediately, he opened his wallet and offered me 20 euros.  Stunned, then overwhelmed with emotion, I politely refused explaining that I was just being cheap.  I told them it wasn't that I didn't have money, but that I didn't want to lose money on the conversion.  The husband said they weren't concerned about any of that--to take the money.  Then my pride kicked in (because I couldn't see that this wasn't about me!), and I insisted that I didn't need the money.  Undeterred, the husband put the money in my hand.  I finally gave in, saying that I would pay it forward.  He said, "that's up to you.  Just take the money."  We decided to have lunch together, and then we parted ways promising to keep in touch.

As we were disembarking the plane in Paris, I admired the red shoes of a woman standing in front of me.  She was going to visit her daughter and some friends.  She asked how I was getting into the city.  At the time, there were strikes and her daughter had sent a message saying the metro might not be running.  I said I was taking a shuttle into the city.  After asking if I thought the shuttle might take her without a reservation, she asked if they took credit cards because she did not have euros.  In that moment, the act of the couple giving me the 20 euros hit me like a brick.  Why?  Because the shuttle cost 20 euros.  I told the woman that if the shuttle would take her, she didn't need euros.  I told her the story about the couple, and that the money hadn't been for me so I was paying it forward to her.  She had the same reaction I had when the couple offered me the money.  First she was stunned, and then emotionally overwhelmed.  She thanked me, but refused the money and set off to find an ATM.  Fortunately, she was able to catch the shuttle into the city.  Through additional conversation I found out she lives where one of my friends is planning to move.  She agreed to help him do some networking.

While riding the shuttle, we met a young doctor who was in Paris for a medical conference.  It was her first time in the city, and she was all alone.  I offered to show her a few places and made some suggestions on other things to do.  At dinner, she expressed her gratitude that I would do this for a total stranger, and I told her the story of the couple at the airport.  It moved her in the same way it moved me and the woman with the red shoes.

I absolutely love to give, so I understand the pleasure it must have given the couple to give me the 20 euros.  Just attempting to pass on the kindness they extended to me brought me immense pleasure.  And then it came right back to me.  I was renting a short-term apartment during my stay in Paris.  When I met with the landlord to pay the rent and security deposit, she would not accept the full security deposit.  When I asked why, she said that once she met me, she just didn't want to.

I learned so much from these experiences but one of the most important things was to never underestimate the power and reach of one small act of kindness--it could connect lives, make someone's day, and/or change a life.
I had the pleasure of attending a jazz concert in Paris headlined by a band from New Orleans.  The band's goal was to show France that the music of New Orleans was not lost with Hurricane Katrina. During the concert, most of the French audience was very reserved, displaying little outward manifestation of enjoyment.  From my experience living among the French, they can be having a joyous time but are typically more reserved than Americans about showing it.  Well, needless to say, the Americans in the audience had no such reservations.  Initially, we tried to blend in with the French by mimicking them--we gently patted our feet.  But the band was asking for more.  Accustomed to playing for American audiences, they began clapping their hands, swinging their instruments from side to side, and gesturing for the audience to follow their lead.  Seeing the disappointment on their faces when no one joined in, the Americans gave them what they were seeking.  We stood, clapped our hands, and swung from side to side.  The band started high-stepping and swinging more, thanking us for joining in.  Meanwhile, most of the French audience watched us, smiling politely.  At the time, we were a little embarrassed given the setting.  We could just hear the French saying "those Americans!"  But then the band told the audience that the participation made them feel loved and boosted their spirits because many of them lost everything after Hurricane Katrina.  All was well.

After the concert, a few of us Americans walked to the metro to catch our trains home.  As we stood on the platform, a group of French people who attended the concert walked up to us and expressed how much they enjoyed the concert and our dance with the band. When we told them we thought they were offended, they said they were actually thrilled.  They said they wanted to jump up and dance with us, but did not do so because they tend to be reserved.  But then right there on the metro platform, they asked us to teach them how to swing.  Then and there, we made our own music, and they danced and danced.  And then we noticed that the people on the opposite platform were dancing along, too. It was a sight to behold.  The music of the night created joy that, in the end, united people.  Nothing else mattered.
A bird pooped on my face!!!  Are you kidding me?!  I'm in Paris, France taking care of business and living my dream.  And it's like the bird said, "dream this!"  So here I was walking down the street with a friend, looking up and taking in the beauty around me.  And out of nowhere (I promise you I could hear it coming as it was quite the load), there was a huge green deposit of poop on my face.  It ran from my forehead, down behind my glasses into my eye, and down into my mouth.  Talk about nasty!  And my friend was of absolutely no use to me.  She was too busy howling with laughter.  So much so that I thought she might have a deposit of her own.  And each time I tried to ask if she had a tissue, she laughed harder.  Once the initial shock wore off, I noticed the stares and heard the snickers of those around me who witnessed the deposit.  But no one, NO ONE, offered any assistance.  So there I was trying to act dignified with green poop running down my face, squinting through one eye looking for something to clean myself up.  What a disgusting, humiliating experience.  (Unfortunately, this was not my only bird deposit experience, but that's for another post.)  No doubt, the deposit was a mood changer, but I was determined to shake/wipe it off and move on.

This experience makes me think about the deposits I leave on others' lives.  Are they always positive, or do I sometimes leave behind something that requires cleaning up?  And what if that person has nothing with which to clean off the deposit, and has no source of help--no joy to fall back on--to wipe/shake it off?  I read something powerful the other day--"Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."  So no matter what I may be going through, I want to be mindful of the kinds of deposits I make.