Narrative of Strength

Yesterday, I was out walking, struggling with so many things. Why is it that when we struggle, we often rehearse our weaknesses?

A small voice inside whispered: Instead of another narrative of weakness, can we craft one of strength? Ha. I feel nothing like that right now. “Rehearse the strength you’ve seen in your life,” it whispered.

***It can take a minute to shift a story. ***

I remembered back to when I moved here. Just me and my Pontiac Sunbird with everything I owned. I had gotten accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Washington as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. So off I went.

I knew no one and nothing about this city that my mom claimed was the farthest point I could possibly go excepting Alaska and Hawaii. I moved into an apartment that I later learned was owned by a slumlord. When the people upstairs took a shower, it dripped into my living room. I had bug bites over my entire body. I found someone looking for a roommate and moved out, losing rent and deposit. Not a great start. 

I had this perfect NJ accent, having lived only 20 miles outside New York City my whole life. When I walked into the Public Speaking class that I would be teaching, I was met by half the football team, each one deciding my accent was fair game. I was intimidated. I worked hard to get rid of that accent so I could be taken seriously. Eventually, they had to get up and give speeches, and the power was mine. Never underestimate a 100 pound gal from New Jersey.

I eventually began to feel more at home here. I bought a house, opened a mortgage company and became a real estate agent at a great company in the Greenlake area. 

Always competitive, I ran a 10K with some of my fellow realtors. Who would get the fastest time? Again, never underestimate. I ran that thing in 38 minutes. I registered for a marathon and ran it in 3:38. I wanted to become an aerobics instructor, and I did that too. Classes of up to 60 students, a couple times a day. The guy who hired me became my husband. 

After marriage, I birthed five children and suffered three pretty rough miscarriages. All in eight years. Our second child had special needs, and one very dark night, when he was 6 months old, the doctor told us he would “never be any good.” Exact words. We hunted down anyone who had a more positive perspective, and although there were still some extremely difficult days, he made much progress. He definitely has special needs, but he walks and talks and jokes and brings us much joy. 

Over the next years, I became involved in the school my kids would attend. I taught classes, acted as vice principal, and poured my life into building relationships with fellow teachers and students. Oh, and possibly one of my greatest feats: getting myself and five children out the door by 7:15, ready for the day at school. Lunches (most often) in hand.
 
I am a social introvert, loving people but absolutely needing  time alone. Yeah, that pretty much never happened. Some days, when I got to take a shower, it was hard convincing myself to turn the water off. Just one more hour…

Then there is the repetitiveness that comes with raising children. Answering their why’s, reminding them to brush their teeth, pick up their toys, be nice to their siblings. All while trying to shape them into kind and compassionate humans.

I am still married. Anyone who has been married past the honeymoon knows what a feat that is. Choosing day after day to let love win–a combination of resilience, humor, and commitment that can only come by flexing those muscles one day at a time, over and over again. Some days I was pretty sore.

Ok, those are a couple things I came up with. It’s long, but maybe someone needs to read it. When others share their stories, I can more easily find my own. Many will have narratives showing far greater strength.

It’s obvious by watching the news that there is more than one way to spin a story. We have to take control of the way our story is being told. If we can’t do it on our own, maybe we get together with someone who loves us and knows us well. 

I recently sat with a friend and showed her a tattoo that my daughter had given me. It is a small lightening bolt on my ankle. She commented that it was a reminder that I am a superhero.  Well, that’s not exactly what I thought when I was getting it. But, thank you friend, for seeing something I didn’t. It helps my story.

We’ve lived a lot of days; let’s find the good, the true, and the wonderful parts of them. And since we are the ones telling the story, let’s create a narrative of strength. Let’s write a story where we are a superhero, no matter how many twists and turns that story has to take. 

***Would we want to read a story told any other way?***

Chase the Joy

Graduatiton

Sunday we had the privilege of watching our son Evan graduate from the University of Washington. We were there mostly for those five seconds his name would be called and he would walk across the stage. For the other 3+ hours, we hoped for something that would make it a little easier to sit there.

We got it in the form of a commencement address by noted author, poet, and screenwriter Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian. Someone should add comedian to that triad of adjectives. He brought a perfect mix of serious and funny to that hot crowded gym.

He began by noting the paradox of celebrating and being joyful in light of the mass murder of 49 young men in Orlando the day before. It really is the great paradox of life. Tragedy and joy occur simultaneously, parallel to each other in our world. Do we focus on grief or focus on joy? Many us feel like we are betraying one when choosing the other. He said it felt wrong to choose joy in the face of such tragedy.

The answer to the dilemma came from his 14-year old son. “Isn’t this a college graduation?” he asked. “Then you must choose joy, Dad. You must choose joy today.” There truly is a time for every purpose under heaven.

The lens we look through must be big enough to include both. We have to be able to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Our time spent in grief must, at some point, match our time spent in joy or we get unbalanced. Lack of balance throws us off and makes us walk with a limp.

Sherman told a story of needing to go through brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. When he finally woke up after surgery, he saw everyone standing around him, including the head of surgery, an eastern Indian doctor. His first thought was to tell his doctor an “inappropriate joke.”

“I bet it’s the first time an Indian ever scalped an Indian.” No one even cracked a smile. He thought maybe something was seriously wrong with him. His wife came over to him and gently leaned down. He panicked over what she was going to tell him. “Sherman, you’ve told that joke 11 times,” she said. Ah, he thought, the power of a good anesthetic drug!

He said the point is that everyone needs a good editor. Go ahead and tell an inappropriate joke if that keeps your sense of humor alive. But only tell it once. Keep someone in your corner who will edit you if need be. Make sure your sense of humor equals your sense of grief. Grieve when you must, but chase the joy that’s all around you the other times. Chase the joy. Whenever possible, chase the joy.

I got some valuable instruction at a college graduation yesterday. And some much needed laughter for my saddened soul.

Passion: Dream It or Live It

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“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.”

The Question We Have to Ask

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All of us on Facebook see that question multiple times a day. We pay little attention to what it’s really asking us. Because the answer to that question isn’t as simple as it might seem. The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging estimates we think about 70,000 thoughts a day.  “What’s on my mind?” Apparently so many things!

We live in an age where most of our stress comes from our thoughts, and chronic stress wreaks havoc on our cellular well-being. I have found this out the hard way! The bottom line is that our thoughts matter.

We have all had days where our thoughts have been off. Like, “killing-me-softly-John Wayne-slow death” off. One thought leads to another and we find ourselves in a place we don’t even recognize. “How was your day, babe?” Oh dear.

Most of us get tripped up when we are unaware what we are thinking and how we have been influenced. I was recently talking with friends about how social media affects our thinking. One admitted she complained to her husband that they were the only family she knew that had never gone hiking.  “You’ve been on Facebook, haven’t you?” he asked. Others joined in with similar stories. All of us can fall prey to comparison, from content to dissatisfied in a heartbeat. And we often don’t even recognize what happened.

But aren’t we smarter than making conclusions based on status updates and one-off pictures? Research suggests that we are born with a desire to evaluate ourselves, and we don’t get test grades on how we are doing with relationships, work, parenting, and other responsibilities. So we find other ways.

In You are the Placebo, author Joe Dispenza argues that competition is among our basic survival emotions. Survival emotions are selfish; their primary concern is safety. As we scroll the highlight reel of Facebook, they let us know where we may not be “winning.” Haven’t we all experienced a time where we were left with a sense of not measuring up after being on social media? It’s just our internal grading system wanting us to know that the competition may be out in front.

A couple practices can help us through the potential minefield of negative and comparative thoughts that become part of the 70,000 that flood us on a daily basis–thoughts that contribute to stress and, ultimately, lack of wholeness and well-being.

  1. We can recognize that our ego is always protecting us. As those who want to champion, support, and encourage others, we need to periodically check for thoughts that can make us competitive. Our ego isn’t concerned about logic; it’s concerned about survival.
  1. We can spend time each morning meditating on ideas that cause us to think positively. New brain cells are generated while we sleep. They don’t need yesterday’s thoughts giving them wings. Being aware of thoughts first thing gives us a better chance of thinking about things that are inspiring, positive, and beautiful.
  1. We can create habits that help us think differently. If something has been occupying all our attention, maybe a wide-angle perspective would be helpful. There is always way more happening around us than what we see in that one frame. We might just need to take 10 minutes and switch out our lens.
  1. We can breathe fresh thoughts into our being. When my thoughts become negative or overwhelming, I am learning to stop and breathe thoughts that help me shift. “I have more than enough for this moment.” “There is beauty all around me.” As I breathe in, I allow the positive thoughts to displace the others. I exhale all that is not helpful, trusting that those thoughts are physically leaving my body.

I have to set my mind on the good, the beautiful, the positive–even before I get out of bed. That gives opportunity for thoughts that include gratitude, kindness, compassion, and patience. They are always a good idea. Positive thoughts not only influence our well-being, they influence the well-being of those we touch. Every single day.

“What’s on your mind?” A question we need to ask all day long.