I used to complain like it was a badge of honor. Life was bringing me down, and I wanted everyone to know. I couldn't see it at the time, but being a constant complainer was a drag; it only served to make me feel worse about my life and, in the process, bring down others around me--at least those who did not also have complaining spirits. But as the adage says, "water seeks its own level", so I spent plenty of time with others with complaining spirits. Tragically, we were our own support group. Being around others who weren't in the group--you know, the grateful, joyful folks--was uncomfortable and annoying. What did they have to be "happy" about? They, too, had problems, so they were just faking it so everyone would believe their lives were great, or their problems weren't as bad as mine. That's how I used to think before I found, and committed to, joy. Back then I seemed to be more interested in complaining than taking action(s) to change my circumstances. I sometimes took "comfort" in bad circumstances rather than taking the risk of stepping outside my comfort zone to make things better. That was too scary. Have you ever been there? I should have been afraid of killing my soul because that's what was happening. No doubt, there were some circumstances that were beyond my control. But if I couldn't change my circumstances, what about working to change myself? Nope. I was mired in self-pity, so that option didn't occur to me at the time.

Now, I'm in a different support group--one for grateful, joyful folks. Some think joyful people don't need support and encouragement. To the contrary, we need it like everyone else--maybe more--since there is always something or someone trying to steal our joy. Don't get me wrong, I still complain from time to time, but it's no longer my way of life. As I've written in a previous blog post, joy is now my default mechanism. I've got more blessings than problems.
When I focus on my problems, I overlook my blessings--all that's good in my life. And even in my problems I can find blessings if I'm willing and able to look beyond the immediate. Honestly, if I found benefits in having a complaining spirit I might regain an appetite for it. But there's no value in it--not for me. So, I'll stick with being one of those grateful, joyful folks. The rewards are great!

Living My Joy
I know, this photo is very unpleasant for some. But I took it because the first thing that came to mind when I saw these critters was gossipers congregating, waiting around for a piece of cheese (news). Totally oblivious to the fact that it's just a matter of time before the trap.

Life often teaches us that when we gossip it says as much about us as the target(s) of our gossip. While we may not get caught up in drama for gossiping, we may end up hurting others and/or ourselves. And that's a trap of our own making. I find it's easier to have and maintain my joy when I focus on taking care of my own business rather than spreading someone else's.
We often see things in others they don't see in themselves--both positive and negative. It's often easy to nurture and encourage the positive. Depending on the relationship (for example, with a child, spouse, friend, mentee, employee), we may also attempt to help them address the negative--i.e., things that are hurtful and detrimental to them and/or others--by offering advice, guidance, support, and encouragement. But, as difficult as it may be to believe or accept, some people don't want our help. And sometimes they don't realize they need help. Other times, they're not ready for help. And, quite frankly, sometimes we want more for others than they want for themselves. So when we don't see positive results or a change in their actions, attitudes, or situation as a result of our "help", we may become tired, frustrated and/or discouraged. Have you ever given up when you feel you've done all you can, and your time would be better spent trying to help folks who are trying to help themselves? I've certainly been there.

But I also know/remember that there were times in my life when people tried to help me. They tried to plant seeds of faith, love, hope, support, and encouragement, among other things, in my life. But I couldn't see it, hear it, believe it, or receive it. Sometimes, it was because I chose not to. Sometimes, it was because the advice came from someone with whom I had baggage. But, most importantly, I wasn't ready. I needed more life experience(s). Unfortunately, I needed to learn some things the hard way. I had to be pruned before I was ready/able to understand both the help I needed and the help that was being offered. The seeds that had been planted had to be nurtured; the soil had to be prepared--I had to get rid of some weeds in my life. But when I was ready--which in some cases took years--those seeds grew and I was able to reflect upon, and appreciate, those who planted them--even though they were not always around to witness the growth.

What my own experiences taught me is that we may not always see the fruits of our labor when trying to help others. And even if we do, it may take longer than we expect. People are not always interested or ready when we want them/need them to be. Sometimes, we might have to be patient, get a little distance from the situation, let go, or move on. It may be that our role is to just plant the seeds. If it's meant to be, in due season, they will grow.

Living My Joy
Many of us spend significant time and effort trying to manage, enhance or maintain our outer beauty--for example, our hair, face, clothes, image. Do we spend as much time and effort on our inner beauty--our souls, who we really are? Because at some point, there will be cracks in our exteriors. In those instances, will the light of our souls that shines through be bright or dim?

As human beings, our lives have many layers. If the layers of our lives were peeled back, could we honestly say our inner selves are as beautiful as--or more beautiful than--our outer selves? If there were such a thing as a "SHA" (Soul Housing Authority), upon examination would our inner selves be written up with numerous concerns? Do we do enough self-examination to be able to assess honestly the state of our inner lives? How about to assess whether the things others say to and about us are true? We tend to agree with the positive things others say to and about us, but dismiss the negative things out of hand. But we know the truth (about the positive and the negative)--that is, if we're being honest with ourselves. Sometimes, we can dismiss things legitimately because we know the person doesn't know us or have sufficient information. And, sometimes, if/when we know someone has an agenda behind what they say to us, it's "convenient" to ignore them. But there may be value in what they say. We shouldn't miss a message just because we have an issue with the messenger. At a minimum, we should be open to examining whether there are issues that need to be addressed.

I believe that without adequate attention, time, and effort to pursue inner beauty, it's difficult to live and sustain a joyful life. Without internal work, our external beauty becomes our priority. But external beauty will not sustain us. Life's dark moments will come. There will be cracks in the exterior. It's what's on the inside that will strengthen us and provide light on our paths. It's the inside job that will help to keep that light bright.

. . . I remain a prisoner of hope and joy!

Sometimes the hits just keep coming. My vessel gets weary. Feels tossed from side to side after taking hit after hit after hit. And I'm hanging on by a toenail for dear life. Don't know how I can take any more. And then I remember I have an anchor. And that means that even though I may feel unsteady, I don't have to hold on so tight. I'm secure. And I remember it's in the eye of the storm that there is calm. Peace. So I take the time to be still. And in that stillness I realize that in spite of it all, I'm still standing. And that while the storm all around me may be fraught with peril, all storms come to an end. And that while it may not be easy to weather the storm, this too shall pass. So I lift my head and raise my hands in gratitude for my blessings--those I have and those I have faith are on the way. Why? Because I remain a prisoner of hope and joy.
Living My Joy
I'm fascinated by tulips. Specifically, how once cut they begin to stand tall and open, and the next thing you know they're drooping. And just when you think they're on their last leg they close and stand tall again. Curious about this behavior, I did a little (very little) research. And now I know that my fascination with tulips is related to my fascination with trees, which I wrote about here.

According to ehow.com,

"As a cut flower, tulips have the distinctive characteristic of continuing to grow in the vase and stretch toward a dominant source of light. This trait can cause a carefully arranged floral bouquet to disassemble itself into something quite different as the stems may extend by as much as 2 inches, causing the blossom heads to droop. The flowers also open wide in bright light, sometimes exaggerating the drooping effect, although they usually close again at night if the room temperature is moderate to cool."

Much like a tulip, I tend to grow and stretch toward my source of light (God) when I'm cut (wounded). While I'm prone to self-examination even when all is well, I find that I tend to dig deeper when I'm "enduring" life's pruning process. And, sometimes, during that process, my countenance changes and my head and shoulders droop from the weight of the circumstances. But before too long, I start to see a bright light and open myself to the lesson. Although my head and shoulders may still droop, as I get stronger the temperature of the lesson begins to moderate and cool down. Gradually, the wound begins to close, I regain my composure and begin to stand tall again. Tulips (and trees)
. . . so reminiscent of my life.

Living My Joy
Whenever I see this sculpture, I'm reminded of life's walls. They come in many shapes, sizes, textures, and dimensions. Some seem insurmountable. And walls serve different purposes. Some act as protection. Some as detours. Some as complete barriers. Some as nuisances. Some as tests. Some walls are dangerous to touch or climb. Some can be climbed over, passed under, or walked around. Some can be razed. And some walls require breaking through. But how can we know? Whether it's a hope, dream, goal, or daily life, I have found through much trial and error that the only way to approach my life's walls is through prayer for discernment. In its absence, I've suffered many broken bones or gotten stuck trying to break through walls that were intended to protect me or teach me lessons. It's important to know which walls are meant to be broken through, and which are not.
Do you remember this line from the movie Shawshank Redemption? It's one of my favorites. Isn't that what we're doing every day--getting busy living or dying? Of course, from the day we were born we've been on the path to dying. That's a fact. But it's what we're doing on the way that's most important.

There was a time in my life when I was on life's treadmill, going nowhere fast. Just going through the motions. Busy dying. Living every day as if "life was too long"*. Although I was surrounded by love, had an active social life, and had accomplished my professional goals and many of my personal dreams, I had no joy. And my challenges were bringing me down. I had established residency in the land of the walking dead. But I knew I had to move to the land of the living and joy.

And I did move. But it required some housecleaning--of my soul. A move into the land of the living and joy was impossible without getting rid of some junk. Stuff on the inside that had to die so I could live. And there was plenty of that. But afterwards, there was enough room in my soul for the lesson(s) I needed to learn from my challenges. I learned that my life had to serve a greater purpose than me and what I wanted. My quest for joy taught me to think of "JOY" as an acronym for "Jumping Outside of Yourself".

The house of my soul still needs cleaning on a regular basis, but I'm now a long-term resident in the land of the living and joy. And if my life does not include serving others, I'm not living it to the fullest. As it turns out, after all of that work, to some extent I'm still busy dying. How ironic is that? Well, it's different this time. Now, I'm busy dying to live.

What about you?

*A line from the movie "16 Blocks", which accurately described my thinking many years ago.
A couple of my friends have expressed concern because I have a thing for trees.  I've had it for years, but never understood why until I found joy (or medication, they would say).  I see divinity in trees--the way their branches reach up to the sky.  Seeking something higher.  It's as if they are trying to reach God.  But it's in the crookedness of the branches that I see myself.  Me, with my crooked branches, trying to straighten out my life to reach higher each day.  To do better, to be better--more loving, more giving, more caring, more compassionate, more forgiving.  Of course, I don't conduct a self-examination every time I see a tree.  How would I accomplish anything?  But when I take the time to just be still--which I do often--I focus on a tree and how representative it is of my life.  Sometimes an old branch will fall off a tree.  There were branches in my life that had to fall off for me to find and maintain my joy.  Branches full of baggage and pain.  Dead or too heavy for my trunk, so they had to go.  And in their place grew new branches, full of life, hope for growth.  And, just like a tree, there are times when I need pruning.  Like when I can't get rid of the bad branches on my own and it has to be done for me.  And pruning is so painful.  But it's so necessary.  Because if the dead branches don't fall off or get cut off, I take the chance that my trunk (my essence, my joy) will die.  And, for me, that's not an option.  So I view the pruning as necessary but something I try to avoid by getting rid of the dead branches on my own.   And each time I do it, my remaining branches seem to get a little straighter, reaching higher.  What a joy.