Am I Rising?

sunrise

When life has been challenging, sometimes I just want to go to bed and get out of the game. I want to pretend that my choices don’t matter to anyone else.

But those kinds of choices always matter. Especially if we’re a parent. Or a spouse. Or an employer. Or a friend.

“We do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us.”  Cheryl Strayed

We can read all we want about rising strong, but rising obviously doesn’t happen when we are standing tall.  It happens when we are down. When we are confused. When we are in pain. When we are struggling. It’s harder to recite the platitudes from that position. And even harder to live them.

But we always have a choice in how we orient our attitudes. Sometimes rising means looking someone in the eye and saying, “I don’t know how all this will work out. I can’t see it right now. But I am holding on to the hope that I will move forward.”

The most important lesson we can teach our children, or anyone touched by our lives, is that no one day is the end of the story. I watch those reality TV shows where a mom or dad says they are competing for their children to be proud of them and to know that they can achieve anything if they will just believe and work hard.

And that is great. But I think a more important lesson is that what I am doing now is part of a bigger picture. It’s not about whether I win or lose. It’s about whether I can trust the process of life. A loss might feel bad right now, but I will learn something. It may take a little time to recover because I gave it all I had. But it is not the end of the story.

Resurrection only happens after an event that looks a lot like defeat. It might take a “few days” before that can happen, and we need to get whatever help we need to process our loss, failure, or pain. But we really don’t have the luxury of despair. Our lives are beautifully interwoven with others. And our choices matter more than we might want at that time.

Wholehearted living is about taking responsibility for our lives and being vulnerable and taking risks and making decisions that may not please everyone. But is also about knowing we live in community and wanting to be generous with our lives. I want those who depend on my life to gain strength from it.

My greatest privilege as a wife, mother, friend and mentor is to model a life of rising.  Is it always easy? No. And I don’t always like it. But I don’t have the luxury of choosing anything else. When I fall, my response is incredibly important. Incredibly important people are watching. If I rise, they will rise with me.

Who Moved My Boundaries?

iron fence 1If we want to know if fear is operating in our lives, we can ask this question: Has any person caused me to adjust my boundary lines without my agreement?

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown talks about the importance of setting boundaries.

“The most compassionate people that I’ve ever interviewed… happened to be the most boundaried. They had very, very clear boundaries about what they were willing to do, what they were not willing to do, what they were willing to take on, and what they were not willing to take on.”

Years ago, I was struggling with someone I had been very close to. Originally, it was based on mutuality and friendship. But over the years, I slowly lost control of how that relationship operated. By default, my boundary lines kept being moved until I had none. I was afraid to say no to anything. Disapproval was always the result of a “no,” and disapproval came with consequences.

The problem with these types of relationships is that they begin just like any other relationship, but over the course of time, one gradually gains power over the other. One degree at a time, so we really don’t notice what’s happening.

I wish I had known about boundaries back then. Maybe this next line would have grabbed me by the throat and made me come face to face with my role in that relationship:

“I need to have really clear boundaries.  I need to set my boundaries, and not get involved to the degree where I lose control over how I feel about myself and what’s going on in that relationship. I think it is… much easier to be compassionate when we feel respected, and almost impossible to feel compassionate, and feel empathic for people when we feel like we’re being taken advantage of.”

A lot happened which caused this relationship to eventually end. I have done a lot of soul searching to understand the role of boundaries in my life, and the part I played in allowing the boundaries to be continually shifted. And fear was at the root of most of it. Fear of disapproval, fear of rejection, fear of change. When it all ended, and I had a chance to step back as observer, I was shocked at how easily I gave my boundaries away.

If someone had asked me if this person ever caused me to move a boundary, maybe I would have said, “Oh hell yes. What have I been thinking?” But I don’t know. Maybe fear was still too prominent. There would have been significant consequences for bringing boundaries to the table.

But even in the face of big consequences, fear is never the answer. If our boundaries are being moved, we are the only ones who can stop the pushback.  If we want to live with compassion toward others, we have to have compassion with ourselves. If we feel taken advantage of, if we feel we are having the life sucked out of us…we have nothing left to give.

Sometimes all we need is one life lesson to teach us about our never-agains. Our boundaries are about making sure we have life to give to those who need it. If we want compassion, love and kindness to be our life message, we must begin with ourselves. Boundaries are mandatory.

Something Good

bruce 3You wanna know what it’s like to be a giver? An all-out, hold nothing back, pour out everything you got kind of giver? Go see The Boss.

He has played over 2800 shows for more than 30 years. And he gives as much today as he did when he was just getting started. Maybe even more.

Springsteen is a song writer, a story teller, an anthem maker. His music has resonated with so many because he has been chronicling the sound of a generation. But also because the themes he writes about are more universal than that. “Born to Run,” the song that put him on the charts, was about being young and untethered and running after a dream. But it’s not only about being young.

“It was a record of enormous longing, tremendous losing–that never leaves you. You’re dead when that leaves you…” It’s about taking the next step and not knowing what tomorrow holds. “And so the song continues to speak to that part of you–it transcends your age and continues to speak to that part of you that is both exhilarated and frightened about what tomorrow brings. It’ll always do that, that’s how it was built.”

He obviously sees the songs differently today then when he wrote them.  When he wrote “Independence Day,” it was about unresolved issues with his father. Today he sees the song about adult compromise, something he didn’t understand when he wrote it. But the raw emotion of two people realizing they can no longer maintain their relationship applies to more than just father and son. And the line, “Soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away”  applies to…everything. It’s heart wrenching, and one of my favorite songs.

In between songs Thursday night, he said, “You walk alongside of your own mortality to do your work, to raise your family, to try to do something good.” And for emphasis repeated, “To try and do something good.” Yes. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he was asked how he keeps his show fresh considering all the dates and for all the hours he plays. He said, “It’s a matter of: Are you there at the moment? Are you living it?” 

Being present, living it in the moment, giving it everything you have. Those are some things I took away from the Boss last week at Key Arena. This proud-to-be-from-Jersey girl left feeling inspired. And wanting to do all those just a little more. Thank you, Bruce Springsteen, for not just singing songs. But for releasing anthems that remind us of the ties that continue to bind. You did something good that night.

IF you were brave…

climbRecently a prominent author and “virtual mentor” posted the following on Instagram: What would you do if you were brave?

It’s a good question. And I understand why he is asking it. But I have been reading so many questions like it recently, and I’m not sure it is always the question we need to hear.

Sometimes the question needs to be: What have you done because you are ALREADY brave? Because it isn’t always about moving ahead with career goals and doing bigger things. Sometimes it’s about recognizing that people do brave things every day.

If I keep looking at what I would do IF I were brave, I just might get caught up in the race to do more. And maybe some people need that nudge. But many of us are brave a million times over. And recognizing that might give us the confidence to breathe deeply and enjoy the moments we are in.

There are people doing brave everyday: caring for aging parents, loving a struggling teen through hard choices, choosing to have hope in seemingly hopeless situations, getting out of bed when it all seems too hard, walking through fear when confronted by a less than positive report, fighting for a special needs child, holding a family together all alone, navigating loss or rejection. To name only a few.

I am preparing to go to the gym while my body loudly reminds me I have rheumatoid arthritis. It says I should lay low. That I should be on the big drugs. That tomorrow could be worse. Some days it seems brave to simply believe that my thoughts have more control on my body than my diagnosis. I am going to the gym.

Sometimes my pain will affect my “to do” list but it ain’t gonna touch my “to be” list. If I sit around thinking what I would do “if” I were brave, I would be wasting time. Because I already am.

Identifying our skill sets and evaluating what is already there can help us with future decisions. Oh, I can do this next brave thing. Look at all the brave things I have already done.

Sometimes I think that’s better than asking what we would do IF we were brave. Let’s be those who see not only our own brave, but the brave in those we interact with everyday. Brave isn’t all about getting to the mountaintop; it’s mostly  about the climb. All of us involved in a climb choose to point our feet up the mountain. There is brave in all of us.

What can you do because you are ALREADY brave?

Behind Our Words…

words
Can we just talk for a moment about our words? I have listened to several podcasts recently by popular authors who discussed harsh criticism left on social media pages and websites. One author said some harsh comments left her wanting to “curl up in the pantry in a fetal position.” Another talked about insecurity, frustration, and coming to terms with criticism. I recently had to deal with my own self-doubt from a comment left on one of my blogposts.

In some ways, everyone would agree that when we put ourselves out there on social media, we leave ourselves vulnerable to criticism. If we can’t handle it, then don’t do it. Fair enough.

But you know, harsh criticism reveals more about the heart of the critic than the one being critiqued. Because our words reveal our hearts. And one quality we easily see is the difference between a generous and a stingy spirit. A stingy spirit cares about itself. There is an underlying assumption that it is better than others. And that it can’t afford grace for them. Somehow, being gracious with others depletes its own worth. So, they resort to harsh words and judgment. And walk away feeling smug and superior.

A generous spirit always has enough to give away. Even if there is something that needs to be addressed, a generous heart is always about building up and encouraging. We might be surprised how much a kind word to a person with over 700,000 followers might mean. We might think someone with that many followers would be immune to the power of words.

But here’s the thing. Behind that blog, behind that post, being that picture, is…a person. A person who practices courage and vulnerability by hitting “publish” every day. We can get comfortable with other’s pages and our own anonymity. And we have the “right” to say what we want. But, what does that reveal about us?

The older I get, the more I realize that every single one of us has a story. Every one of us wants to matter. I think it’s impossible to have a generous spirit without making a difference somewhere. It is being willing to ask the question: In a world filled with broken people, what can I give that might heal one of the broken places? What can I give which will help others know they matter?

When we push our words of grace out toward a broken and hurting world, they create places of rest and healing. Being stingy makes us smaller, but a generous spirit always enlarges us and everyone around us.

I want my words to give courage to someone. I want them to testify to a world filled with grace. Let’s consider how to cultivate a spirit of generosity. Our words are gifts which can help others move forward. Let’s choose them carefully.

Simply Enough

hands 1.png
There is a parable about a landowner who needed help at harvest. He offered a good wage for a day’s work and hired a number of employees. At the end of the day, he needed more help and hired others. When it came time to be paid, he called in those hired last and paid them the full day’s wage. Those hired first assumed they would get more. They didn’t and went away discontent.

I have always wondered why the employer didn’t pay the full-day workers first. They would have received what was promised and went away happy. They wouldn’t have seen what was given to those hired last. They were set up.

The reality is that this isn’t a parable about unfair labor practices.  It is about hearts. The first workers received exactly what was promised them. They apparently thought it was good enough when they accepted the offer. What made them discontent? They compared what they had to others and decided it wasn’t enough.

Oh, the problems that come when we compare. In this day where everyone’s “blessings” are posted and publicized, we can be like those first hirelings. Social media can set us up for comparison. In the parable, comparison revealed a discontented heart. When we see the blessings of others, do we become discontent with our own scarcity?

“The opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It is simply having enough.” Brene Brown

It’s a good idea to remember: We don’t need to have what others have. We don’t need to do what others are doing. We have enough.

Passion: Dream It or Live It

waterfalls

“Do what you love and you won’t work a day in your life.”

This quote gets thrown around like a guiding principle for life. Find your passion. Do what you love. Don’t settle. Don’t work.

For many, passion has become the number one deciding factor in pursuing careers. And it can be confusing, misleading, and wrong for so many people.

During times of career challenges, I have listened to people ask my husband: What are you passionate about? He couldn’t think of one thing, at least relative to work. He had been in sales and, as anyone who knew my husband could attest, sales was definitely not his passion. But he couldn’t think of a passion which would lead him to a new job. That question often led to discouragement.

I think a better principle might be: “Be passionate about your life and you will find a million ways to be passionate about your job.” Then, even though you may have a job that isn’t your passion, you see a bigger picture. Maybe seemingly “lesser values” need to come forward again. Maybe values like respect, faithfulness, excellence, and kindness are not fully developed and need to come forth.

Being passionate about life can influence so many others. It is how we think about our everyday, ordinary lives. No matter what our circumstances—which, by the way, are always in flux.

Knowing our value apart from what we do is paramount. If we wait to find our passion or decide that life only counts when we are living our dream, we miss a lot of life. It’s not about resigning to life as it is, but rather having a confidence that I am where I am for a reason. It isn’t a lazy “settling,” but a purposeful trusting. We need to recognize that the everyday things of today are training us for tomorrow. Which may or may not translate to “having the job we love.”

My husband eventually got another sales job. It was not his “dream job,” but he has given it everything he has, has treated people with respect, and has valued his customers with the highest level of customer service. The man without a passion for sales just got named one of the top sales reps in the country. And rewarded with an amazing trip to sunny tropical places!

Follow dreams, passions, and adventure whenever that is the right course. But always remember that our lives are intrinsically valuable apart from what we do. If we are passionate about our lives, every day affords the opportunity to practice excellence, respect, and kindness. We can make our everyday ordinary lives look like they matter a whole lot. Because really, they do.

“How we do anything is how we do everything.”