Dear Younger Me

The band MercyMe sings a message of encouragement and hope to their younger self. I find it incredible to fathom what life might be like had I known then what I do now. At the ripe age of 50 this week, I am aware that inner peace means more than anything else. My younger self sure could have benefited from that memo.

Youth is full of exploration, self discovery and lots of mistakes. Unforeseen circumstances can wreak havoc but we still get to choose our response. When I read the apostles’ journeys from a historical perspective, I am amazed they stayed the course. Being human is not for the meek. Existing here requires work. It requires even more work if you’d like comfort and love of others. The old saying that “there’s no free lunch” is accurate. We can’t pick what family or genes we get, but we sure can pick our attitude and work ethic.

My mom got Alzheimer’s disease in her late 40s. It recently dawned on me that my mom was in assisted living at MY AGE. My mom had left my dad when I was 12 so her disease hit me hard. Her absence and lack of parenting seemed like neglect at the time but now, I recognize it was her disease. So many friends I have are now experiencing their parents’ dementia and it’s strange I had that journey already- in my late teens. Maybe my “helicopter parenting” comes from my desire that my children never experience what I did? As a college freshman, I got the call my mom had been institutionalized and felt lost. Back then the signs were regarded as Schizophrenia but now the diagnosis wouldn’t be missed. Having my mother sick and no home to go to felt like the world suddenly shifted on its axis and spun in the wrong direction out of control. Thankfully, my father opened his home to me.

Another revelation I’d like to tell my younger self would be to quit caring so much if someone dislikes you. They did! They forever will! You can’t stop someone from hating you. Nothing you do or say can change it. Get over it and move on already!! Once my husband, sensing my hurt and vulnerability said, “Sometimes people dislike you for the good things about you.” That was a startling jolt for me. I thought good equaled good. Positivity and hard work meant all would be okay. But actually, no, that’s not the case.

For me, aging has provided me more inner peace. It doesn’t come easily, however. It has to be cultivated, practiced and learned. Just like exercise trains muscles, inner peace comes from diligent effort. It’s taken me 50 years (yep, 5 full decades) to get over a lot of petty stuff and to accept certain things. All the inner turmoil of my younger years has been laid to rest. It just doesn’t matter anymore. I’d tell myself way back when to chill out and forgive. Let go of hurt and always hope for the best. Be open to others and always offer love. It’s amazing how much goodness and mercy exist when we allow ourselves to be a conduit of them. I wouldn’t go back to my youth. Sure, a bikini body was nice, but it doesn’t compare to inner peace. Heck, I’ve had 4 children, so what am I supposed to look like anyway?

Aging garners respect in some societies. Being older equals wisdom. I believe that is a practice our society could use. Most of my older friends (81-94) have deep wisdom that can’t be given or purchased but can be learned. I want to be like them when I fully grow up.

So, dear younger me and you, be happy, be grateful, work hard expecting nothing. Look for goodness everywhere, always. Get over insults and freely love. Look others in the eye and acknowledge everyone in your realm. Many around are hurting. Try to be the change you’d like to see in the world. Don’t stop believing that goodness and mercy matter. And above all, accept who you are and were created to be.

Kindergarten Congress

baby blur boy childIt has been a highly contentious week or so for government in America.  Since we seem to have devolved to bickering, ranting, name-calling and blame gaming, the thought struck me that maybe we should let kindergarteners make decisions instead.  Jesus said to come to Him as little children, not as multi-degreed, life experienced, accolade- laden adults.

Children give transparent, literal, and quite honest opinions.  For instance, when our daughter was in preschool, she saw a woman with a large belly and said out loud, “Look mommy, she has a baby in her tummy!” Nope, she DID NOT have a baby in her tummy, she said, she just “looked like it.” (Face palm inserted here.) Another example was when our son was in second grade and he got in trouble by his music teacher for blurting out during music class.  When his regular teacher heard about his infraction, she asked him why he did that because she just knew he would not do that in her class.  He said, “Yes, ma’am, I would blurt out in your class too…..you said to be honest.”  So there we go.  Honest to the point of fault.  Can we even fathom our leaders being honest to a fault?

Lenny Kravitz sings to “Let Love Rule” in a popular ’90s era song.  Children seem so much more open to it than we “life experienced” adults are.  At a small group meeting at the local retirement home, one woman remarked how it made her so bothered that people don’t “see” her anymore now that she is older.  When I asked her what she meant by being seen, she said just acknowledged when she is passed by.  It got me to ponder my neglect to acknowledge others in my flurry of activities.  Being too busy to be nice is not a good thing.  With that in mind, I have decided to simply “see” people I encounter from now on.  I was taught by an Indian friend that to say, “Namaste” basically means, “I see you.”  It is time to up the Namaste, both in my own sphere and in government.  Maybe then I won’t have to convince my coworker’s grandson to go ahead and run for Congress.

 

 

 

 

Ticket to Joy

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Popular culture has us thinking fulfillment lies in a far off, exotic destination. If we could just get there, life would be great, right? The 1,000 thread count sheets, private concierge and 5 star chef would make us truly happy.  I don’t knock it as it sounds amazing!  I just am sharing a different kind of fulfillment.

Today I heard a sermon about the importance of friends and being a friend like Jesus demonstrated. That prompted me to check on someone that I thought I was just dropping off a token of friendship to. I had no idea there was a lot more at stake.

It is ironic that we make our plans but God intervenes with His. Without knowing this friend had surgery and needed help, I called and went for a quick visit. Unbeknownst to me, they had a great need.  I am so grateful I heeded the prompt from the Holy Spirit. I cannot begin to share the peace and fulfillment of serving someone who truly needs help. I have never found more satisfaction on this earth than when I serve another’s need they can’t meet on their own.

It’s contradictory to human nature and our culture, but it’s awe inspiring. I am referring to the simple act of caring for others and being present. You don’t need  extraordinary abilities, special talents, or abundant knowledge. All you have to do is:  CARE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE AND THEIR NEEDS and SHOW UP. Simple as that. That is my secret for gaining true fulfillment. Who knows? Someone may get theirs by serving us one day. I’d hate to rob anyone of that.

RAINBOWS & BUTTERFLIES

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Sometimes we are inexplicably given the gift of a sign or message.  That sign can be the thing that helps us to persevere, hang on, or power through difficult times.  Having had a few trials myself, I have come to recognize two spontaneous messages of hope in my life.  Those two signs I find comfort in are: monarch butterflies and double rainbows.  (Nope, I do not have any imaginary friends or see unicorns- in case you are wondering.)

One of these signs appeared while I was vacationing at the beach. Longing for a modicum of peace, I decided to take a solo walk along the shore.  It was a bright, breezy day with vast, blue skies exploding in every direction.  I knew the crashing waves would drown out the sounds of the world and the smell of salt and laughter of gulls would relieve my internal and external tension.  I began to talk to God about all that was bothering me (He already knew, but hey?) and asked for guidance, wisdom, clarity and anything else He might throw in for good measure.  All of a sudden, out of NO WHERE appeared a lone, monarch butterfly.  It was bright yellow and fluttered about me for a good, five minutes.  It’s spontaneous presence was awe inspiring and felt like a divine message of hope was hitting my “Inbox.”

My second “message moment” occurred more recently.  A friend was sharing what she was enduring over the phone.  By chance, I looked up and saw not one, but TWO spectacular rainbows.  Their concise, colorful arches expanded the sky end to end and took my breath away.  Immediately, I pulled my car over and told her to hang on because I was sending her something via text RIGHT then.  The shot was a “shout from the sky” telling us to hang on because the same God who promised Noah no more floods was still with her too!  She agreed they were perfect and perfectly timed.

Some might reason these two phenomena away with scientific facts.  That’s okay.  I still get to choose that they hold deeper meaning for me.  I think I need these symbols of  hope to keep on keeping on. Also, I like hearing from the Creator, no matter His medium.  (And, no, I still haven’t, and don’t plan on seeing any unicorns.)

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SECOND PLACE

Sometimes, we get what others might conceive as “the shaft.” Second place can seem like failure to some: very, very good but not quite good enough.

Recently, the world was engrossed with the World Cup. Us fans observed when Croatia, who effectively battled their way to the final, ended up coming up short. They got second place and not their desired outcome. But, considering the fact the country hasn’t been to the finals of the World Cup in decades, they were quite successful. In reality, they had a great showing and proved that a lesser populated nation could produce an outstanding team of players on the world’s pitch.

Second place can actually be quite a relief. I remember my school’s spelling bee when I placed second and my opponent advanced to the county level. I also recall Girl’s State when I lost to my opponent at the gubernatorial level. I was relieved to stop with both those levels of loss/success. I wanted the opponent to advance so I didn’t have all the additional responsibility. I got a modicum of success without further responsibility. I gained “partial noteriety” with which I was satisfied. My resume was filled but I had no further obligation.

Another example could be observing the American princess, Megan Markle. She made her official appearance with the Queen and royal family recently at Buckingham Palace. She was observed as being positioned behind Princess Kate And Prince William and some interpreted this as insubordination. But in fact, it was planned that way due to the hierarchy of succession. We can only speculate the relief she must have felt in being behind the experienced royals and not thrust straightaway into the world’s spotlight. Second row could have been welcome relief for her. Pressure was abated due to her physical positioning.

It can be a gift to be second place or runner up. It can be a blessing to obtain the experience of the trial, game, match or race and not gain all the pressure to move on to the next level. Or, the failure, per se, can be what makes us stronger. Sometimes, life allows us the gift of experience rather than that of prestige. Prestige is fleeting and bases itself on success and winning. Experience, our perpetual teacher, bases itself on failure as well, thus, nothing is wasted. In actuality, failure is what makes success so sweet. Second place can very much be a gift.

U2 and Me TOO

40a46f00-bc99-42c8-be6a-baae3b06f233.jpegTheir mind bending words are,

“I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.”

The artist goes on to say,

“When I rejoice…”

No, this is not a contemporary hymn (it should be), but rather lyrics from the iconic band, U2’s song “Rejoice.” God resonates throughout their music. I confess I am an avid fan. Their story, their music, their lyrical questioning of how things are disturbs me in a good way. I’m impressed their band has not allowed egos or money to compromise their values and that giving back continues to be important to them. (Of course, a few zillion fans’ adoration, nice digs, and luxury travel aren’t bad either, I presume.)

Kendrick Lamar is another phenomenal, Pulitzer Prize winning (and a Grammy or so) influential artist with an important voice. His message to his fellow Compton- raised, struggling population is that they are visible and not forgotten. He said in a recent Vanity Fair article that he wants to give back and help rather than just leave it all behind and “luxuriate.” That is a powerful and promising choice he’s made.

What I’ve observed in my half century existence is that no matter our zip code, finances, or health status, there is a definitive choice we all have. We choose our outlook. I have known joyful people who have been through things that would buckle anyone’s knees and also the opposite. I gravitate to the former.

Circumstances are often completely out of our control. You can’t pick what family you were born into, nor your DNA (not yet, anyway), and sometimes, BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE. However, our perspective remains optional.

All can easily succumb to defeat when adversities bombard. Personally, I have been there but got really tired of my gray-skied view. I sought all resources I could to fight my own defeatism. Daily I guard myself against “Stinkin Thinkin.”

The brick wall of life will allow you to repeatedly beat your head against it as long as you’d like. There are certain questions for which there’s no good answer (or any, for that matter). Still, life goes on and we have to decide our position.

What then do Eeyores of the world do? They CHOOSE gratitude, kindness and positivity. I’m not fooling anyone that I don’t cry, get knocked down and suffer disappointment like anyone, but I won’t stay there anymore. I have found my own remedy for discouragement and bullying circumstances. My personal weapons of choice are: reading the Bible, prayer, practicing gratitude (a whole lot of it) and serving others. I haven’t found anything better to help me choose joy.

STINKIN THINKIN

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“Get Out of Your Own Way” is a song by U2 that by intention, is politically charged, but by title, encompasses what we all need to do. It is a perfectionist’s battle song.

I was once told by a counselor that I needed to conquer the negative voices in my head. She said I needed to replace my detrimental “cassette tape” with a new, positive one. (Obviously the reference is betraying my demographic because it was the 90s.) However, a modern analogy might be to replace the “download.”

We can be our own biggest foe. It’s hard enough having difficulties or enduring painful circumstances then by default, adding insult to injury with negative self- talk. Destructive thinking can be worse than the actual problem or outcome we fear most! We can self-inflict more damage than an army of enemies by believing the inner bully. It is a learned skill to defeat and reprogram the banter from adversarial to realistic. I learned through counseling. It did not come naturally and literally took years. Today, if a hint of negativity whispers in my ear, I can easily relegate it to the “lies” section and move on. I have no energy or time for negative self-indulgence. I have too much to accomplish to be burdened with the impossible weight of self loathing. Amen!